A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 15

“And rethink our deployments,” Cazenestro murmured.

Edward turned his head, glaring at the main display. In a way, the ship deployment that had just brought the Star Kingdom to the edge of destruction wasn’t his fault.

In another way, it totally was.

Cazenestro and Locatelli had both argued — strenuously — against splitting up the Navy that way. Edward had agreed with them, for whatever that was worth. Sphinx’s entire population was no more than five hundred thousand, compared to the over three million of Edward’s subjects living on Manticore.

A case could be made for assigning ships to the Manticore-B sub-system. While there were only around a quarter million people on the planet of Gryphon, the majority of them descendants of the TRMN’s original, immigrant personnel, the system included an extensive system of asteroid mining and a robust Navy R&D setup. Even so, the system came in a distant second to the overwhelming need to protect the capital. Manticore was, hands down, both the most valuable and the only logical target in the kingdom.

Edward, the Admiralty, and Carlton Locatelli had all wanted to deploy their available forces accordingly. But however lightly populated Sphinx and Gryphon might be, the two planets were still home to over a third of the current peerage’s holdings.

The men and women who controlled those holdings naturally wanted them protected. And unfortunately, given the Constitution’s tilt in favor of the aristocracy, they possessed an entirely disproportionate level of political clout.

Their demand that the Navy provide direct protection would have been a pain in the neck under any circumstances. What had pushed things past that point was the fact that Chancellor Breakwater had supported the insistent peers.

In Sphinx’s case, he’d leaned on the planet’s steadily growing orbital infrastructure, arguing it was too valuable to abandon to an invader. For Gryphon, he’d had to get a bit more creative. Given their origins, Gryphons tended to be highly loyal to the Crown, which meant the Chancellor was scarcely one of their favorite people. By loudly demanding that they deserved protection, he hoped to soften some of that animosity.

Personally, Edward suspected that his real motive in both cases was to collect favors and curry support as he shored up his power base in the House of Lords. That, of course, could never be publicly admitted, which made Gryphon’s defense a particularly telling card for him to play. They were innocent civilians who deserved the Navy’s protection, which gave Breakwater perfect cover for his favor-buying. But he also knew that both the Navy and the Crown were naturally inclined to protect those they saw as being uniquely their own. That fondness, he knew, would help undercut the fervency with which the Admiralty and the Crown opposed his arguments.

Breakwater and the affected Lords had pushed the Navy into splitting up its forces. That part wasn’t Edward’s fault.

But he was the king, and he should have cut off the debate with the kind of command decision that kings were supposed to make in such situations. The fact that he hadn’t was entirely his damn fault.

“We will absolutely rethink our deployments,” he promised Cazenestro.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Cazenestro said.

“And yes, we’ll be stronger once we’ve had time to catch our breath,” Edward said. “The problem is, so will they. And I’d really like to have better info on them than we do right now.”

“I agree,” Cazenestro said. “But I’m convinced we really and truly dodged the bullet here. If we’d backed them into a corner where they had to fight, instead of leaving them a convenient way out, they’d have found out in a hurry that there was only one battlecruiser in front of them. And we might have found out there were a hell of a lot more than four cruisers in front of us.”

“I know,” Edward said more quietly. “And we’d definitely lost a lot more men and women if we’d done that. But I still wish…” He trailed off.

Cazenestro was right, of course. Certainly from the tactical perspective. If they’d forced a fight and those two “freighters” had turned out to be Q-ships, it would have been disastrous. Vanguard and her two truly combat-capable consorts might quickly have been destroyed, leaving no effective defense between the invaders and the Star Kingdom’s capital. Flannery and Red Force would have much too far astern of the intruders to prevent that from happening.

As a military man, Edward knew that. But as a king, he also knew that sometimes pawns had to be sacrificed in return for critical information, and that the pawns in question were men and women, flesh and blood.

King Edward Winton hated knowing that. But it was his job to know it.

And so even while he accepted Cazenestro’s analysis, a part of him — the part responsible for discovering who and what had attacked his Star Kingdom, his subjects, his people — bitterly regretted how little concrete data they’d actually gained.

He would have sacrificed Vanguard and her entire company in cold blood if that had given him the information he so desperately needed. He would have loathed himself for doing it, but he would have done it.

But not today. Cazenestro was right. Not while the Star Kingdom still reeled from the devastation of the Battle of Manticore. Later, perhaps, but not today.

“I assume that once Count Bloch’s made translation we’ll get back to making repairs?” he asked, deliberately changing the subject.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Cazenestro said, his expression going a little more grim as he gestured to the repeater display from Orpheus’ commanding officer’s control room. “We’re still sorting out how many people we lost,” the First Lord continued heavily. “So far it appears we have only two dead — ”

Edward suppressed a grimace. Only two dead.

” — but there are at least five more critically injured, and God only knows how many minor injuries are scattered around. And that doesn’t even consider how much damage we did to the ships themselves — and to Orpheus’ facilities, for that matter — scrambling to get the Reserve underway the way we did.”

He shook his head. “We’ve come out of this a lot better than we might have, Your Majesty, but I’ll be very surprised if we haven’t added at least another couple of months to our repair time on Damocles and Perseus. Especially Damocles, if Marcello’s engineer’s estimates about her nodes are accurate. Eryine doesn’t seem to have been as banged up as the other two, but that’s a case of damning with faint praise.”

“I know,” Edward said bleakly, gazing at the tabulation of injuries on the repeater. It would seem he’d managed to sacrifice a few pawns today, after all.

He stood abruptly.

“I’ll be in my office,” he said. “Call me immediately if anything changes.”

He strode off before Cazenestro could respond, his mind flitting to Locatelli’s HQ on Thorson. He wondered what the system commander was thinking now, watching Bloch and his ships sweep steadily closer to the hyper-limit. Now that he could step back from the immediate threat.

The admiral was probably mourning his nephew, Edward thought. And it was right that he should. As this second attempted invasion passed without the pitched combat which had cost so many lives it was only proper that he should reflect upon those who died stopping the first one.

It was right that he should weep for his nephew. Just as it was right that Edward would someday mourn his son.

But not today. Later perhaps. But not today.

* * *

With no further drama, and no further communication with Manticore, Pacemaker and its task force reached the hyper limit.

Two minutes later, they were safely in the Alpha band.

“Course, sir?” Katura asked.

“We head back to the rendezvous,” Llyn told him. “We’ll deliver our report, pull our people off the Barcan ships, and send everyone home.”

“The Barcans won’t be happy about that,” Katura warned.

“Happiness hasn’t been an option since we first entered this damn system,” Llyn countered tartly.

“I only meant that — ”

“I know what you meant,” Llyn growled. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the Grand Duke gets his second payment.”

“Yes, sir,” Katura said. “Do you want Shrike or Banshee to accompany them? I understand Captain Vaagen in particular has become a pretty good diplomat where the Grand Duke is concerned. He might be able to smooth over any bad feelings at this setback.”

Llyn scowled at the displays. Yes, it was a setback. But only a temporary one. The Axelrod Corporation wanted Manticore and the wormhole junction the fools down there didn’t even realize they were sitting on. And what Axelrod wanted, Axelrod got.

But the Grand Duke might not see it that way. And if he got twitchy enough — and decided to look deeper into this mysterious benefactor who was offering him the Star Kingdom of Manticore —

“No,” he told Katura. “We’ll send a coded message to the liaison at the rendezvous point to release the payment and follow the Barcans back home. He can take whatever heat the Grand Duke feels like unloading on him.”

“A bonus might be in order,” Katura suggested.

Llyn snorted. A bonus, for doing nothing but flailing around and crying and getting underfoot? Yes, that was exactly how far too many people these days thought the universe should operate. “The Grand Duke can get a bonus when he earns it,” he growled. “Sorry; if he earns it.”

“Yes, Sir,” Katura said, a little doubtfully. “Have you thought about Gensonne?”

“I’ve thought many things about him lately,” Llyn said sourly. “Any one in particular you had in mind?”

“I was just thinking that if he was hit this hard, he’s going to need help.”

“If he survived long enough to make it back to Telmach, he’ll be fine,” Llyn assured him. “His ship will need help — possibly a lot of it — but the man himself will be fine.”

“Yes, sir,” Katura said again. “I should point out that we could still split off Shrike or Banshee to deliver a report to the rendezvous.”

Llyn grimaced. A report? On what? That Gensonne — and, by extension Llyn himself — had failed?

Not a chance. There was still a way to salvage the situation. Llyn just had to figure out what it was.

“No, I want both ships with me,” he said. “After we say goodbye — and good riddance — to General Haus at the rendezvous, we’ll head to Telmach.”

“Understood.” There was a short pause. “Are you expecting trouble, sir? At either place?”

“I don’t necessarily expect it, Captain,” Llyn said. “But I fully plan to be ready for it.”