A Rising Thunder – Snippet 02


He sat waiting, watching his com for the sixteen seconds his words took to reach Chalker and for the signal to come back. Precisely on schedule, Chalker’s face turned even darker.


“And what the fuck does that mean?” the Solarian snarled.


“It means my tactical officer has your flagship identified,” Pang said, and his smile was a razor.


For another sixteen seconds, Chalker glared out of Pang’s display. Then, abruptly, his facial muscles went absolutely rigid, as if some magic wand had turned his face to stone. He stayed that way for several seconds, then shook himself.


“Are you threatening me?” he demanded incredulously.


“Yes,” Pang said simply. “I am.”


Chalker stared at him, and Pang wondered what else the other man could have expected to happen.


“You think you can come waltzing into Solarian space and threaten Solarian citizens? Tell a Solarian warship you’ll open fire on it?” Chalker said sixteen seconds later.


“It’s not my wish to threaten anyone, Admiral. It is my intention to carry out my orders and to deal with any threat to the merchant shipping for which I’m responsible, and you’ve just announced your intention to fire on unarmed merchant vessels. Should you do so, I will fire on you, and I suggest you recall what happened to Admiral Byng at New Tuscany. If you actually intend to attack after doing that, go ahead and let’s get it over with. Otherwise, Sir, I have rather more important matters which require my attention. Good day.”


He punched the stud that cut the connection and sat back in his command chair, wondering if Chalker was furious enough — or stupid enough — to accept his challenge. If the Solly officer did anything of the sort, it would be the last mistake he ever made. There was no question about that in Pang’s mind, although he was a bit less certain about the potential consequences for the future career of one Pang Yau-pau.


Better to be hung for a hexapuma than a housecat, he thought. And it’s not like I could’ve found some kind of magic formula to keep the jerk happy, no matter what I did! At least this way if he’s stupid enough to pull the trigger, it won’t be because he didn’t know exactly how I’d respond.


He watched his tactical repeater, waiting to see what Chalker would do. Onyx and Smilodon were both Saganami-Cs, armed with Mark 16 multidrive missiles and mounting eight grasers in each broadside. At the moment, SLNS Lancelot, Chalker’s antiquated Rampart-class destroyer flagship and her consorts were far outside the effective range of their own pathetic energy armament, and the situation was almost worse when it came to missiles. The Sollies were within their missiles’ powered engagement range of Pang’s command, but Lancelot was barely twenty percent Onyx‘s size, with proportionately weaker sidewalls and a broadside of only five lasers and a matching number of missile tubes. If Chalker was foolish enough to carry out his threat, he could undoubtedly kill any merchant ship he fired upon. Lancelot‘s chance of getting a laser head through Onyx‘s antimissile defenses, on the other hand, much less burning through the cruiser’s sidewalls, ranged from precious little to nonexistent.


Good thing Chalker wasn’t on station when we arrived, though, I suppose, Pang thought. God knows what he’d’ve done if he’d been inside energy range when we transited the terminus! And when you come right down to it, it’s a good thing he’s such a loudmouthed idiot, too. It was only a matter of time until one of the incoming Solly merchies diverted to Nolan to let someone know what was going on out here. If the jackass had been willing to keep his mouth shut until he managed to get into energy range, this situation could’ve turned even stickier. In fact, it could have gone straight to hell in a handbasket if someone stupid enough to pull the trigger had managed to get that close before he did it.


Without a clear demonstration of hostile intent, it would have been extraordinarily difficult for Pang to justify actually opening fire on units of the SLN. He would have had little choice — legally, at least — but to allow Chalker to approach all the way to the terminus threshold, and that could have turned really nasty. Fortunately, Chalker had been unable to keep his mouth shut, and his open threat to fire on Manticoran merchant ships constituted plenty of justification for Pang to give him the Josef Byng treatment if he kept on closing.


Thank you, Commodore Chalker, he thought sardonically.


As a matter of fact, although Pang Yau-pau wasn’t prepared to admit it to anyone, even Sadowski, he was only too aware of his own crushing responsibilities and the sheer vastness of the Solarian League. Nor was he going to admit how welcome he’d actually found Chalker’s bellicosity under the circumstances. Any officer who commanded a Queen’s starship knew sooner or later he was going to find himself out on a limb somewhere where he’d have to put his own judgment on the line, yet at this particular moment Commander Pang and his small command had crawled out to the end of a very, very long limb, indeed.


They were a mere three wormhole transits away from the Manticore Binary System, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. The Dionigi System was only ninety-six light years from Manticore, but it was connected to the Katharina System, over seven hundred and thirty light-years away, by the Dionigi-Katharina Hyper Bridge. And the Nolan-Katharina Bridge, in turn, was one of the longest ever surveyed, at nine hundred and fifteen light-years. Even allowing for the normal hyper-space leg between Manticore and Dionigi, he could be home in less than two weeks, instead of the eighty days or so it would have taken his warships to get there on a direct voyage.


It would have taken a ship with a commercial-grade hyper generator and particle screening better than seven months to make the same trip through hyper, however, as opposed to only thirty days via Dionigi, which rather graphically demonstrated the time savings the wormhole networks made possible for interstellar commerce. And that, in turn, explained the sheer economic value of that same network…and Manticore’s commanding position within it.


Which explains why the Sollies back in Old Chicago are going to be at least as pissed off as Chalker, Pang reflected grimly. They’ve been mad enough for years about the size of our merchant marine, the way we dominate their carrying trade. Now they’re about to find out just how bad it really is. Once we get all of our shipping out of Solly space, they’re really going to be hurting, and we’ll have done it by simply calling our own freighters home, without using a single commerce-raider or privateer. But when Lacoön Two activates and we start closing down as much as we can of the entire network, it’s going to get even worse. They don’t begin to have the hulls to take up the slack even if all the termini stayed open; with the termini closed, with every ton of cargo having to spend four or five times as long in transit, to boot…