A Rising Thunder – Snippet 03


On the face of it, it was ridiculous, and Pang would be surprised if as much as five percent of the total Solarian population had a clue — yet — about just how vulnerable the League really was or how bad it was actually going to get. Something the size of the Solarian League’s internal economy? With literally hundreds of star systems, system populations running into the tens of billions, and the mightiest industrial capacity in the history of mankind? That sort of Titan couldn’t possibly be brought to its knees by a “Star Empire” which consisted of no more than a couple of dozen inhabited planets!


But it could, if its pigmy opponent happened to control the bulk of the shipping which carried that economy’s lifeblood. And especially if the pigmy in question was also in a position to shut down its arterial system, force its remaining shipping to rely solely on capillary action to keep itself fed. Even if Solarian shipyards got themselves fully mobilized and built enough ships to replace every single Manticoran hull pulled out of the League’s trade, it still wouldn’t be enough to maintain the shipping routes without the termini.


Of course, it’s not going to do our economy any favors, either, Pang told himself. Not an insignificant point, especially after the Yawata Strike.


He wondered if the Star Empire’s continued possession of the termini would be a big enough economic crowbar to pry a few Solarian star systems free of the League’s control. If the bait of access was trolled in front of system economies crippled or severely damaged by the termination of cargo service, would those systems switch allegiance — openly or unofficially — to Manticore instead of the League? He could think of quite a few in the Verge who’d do it in a second if they thought they could get away with it. For that matter, he could think of at least a handful of Shell systems that would probably jump at the chance.


Well, I guess time will tell on that one. And there’s another good reason for us to make sure we’re the ones who control the hyper bridges, isn’t there? As long as we do, no one can launch naval strikes through them at us…and we can launch naval strikes through them at the League.


Attacking well defended wormhole termini along the bridges between them was a losing proposition, but the tactical flexibility the network as a whole would confer upon light, fast Manticoran commerce-raiders would be devastating. For all intents and purposes, the Star Empire, for all its physical distance from the Sol System and the League’s other core systems, would actually be inside the Sollies’ communications loop. The League’s limited domestic merchant marine would find itself under attack almost everywhere, whereas the Manticoran merchant marine would continue to travel via the termini, completely immune to attack between the star systems they linked.


No wonder Chalker was so livid. He might be so stupid he couldn’t visualize the next step, couldn’t see Lacoön Two coming, but he obviously did grasp the Manticoran mobility advantage which had brought Pang’s squadron to Nolan. He might not have reasoned it out yet. Solarian arrogance might have blinded him to the possibility that Manticore might actually conduct offensive operations against the omnipotent League instead of huddling defensively in a frightened corner somewhere. But the mere presence of Pang’s ships this deep into the Solarian space would have been enough to push his blood pressure dangerously high, and Pang suspected that deep down inside, whether Chalker consciously realized it or not, the Solarian officer probably was aware of the implications of Manticoran mobility.


He glanced at the date-time display in the corner of the master plot. Over ten minutes since he’d bidden Chalker good day, he noticed. If the Solly had been infuriated — and stupid — enough to do anything hasty, he’d probably have already done it. The fact that he hadn’t (yet) didn’t mean stupidity and arrogance wouldn’t eventually overpower common sense and self-preservation, but it seemed unlikely.


“Unlikely” wasn’t exactly the same as “no way in hell,” Pang reminded himself. All the same, it was time to let his people get a little rest…and it probably wouldn’t hurt for him to display his own imperturbability, either. Confidence started at the top, after all, and he looked back down at his link to AuxCon.


“I think Commodore Chalker may have seen the error of his ways, Myra,” he told Lieutenant Commander Sadowski. “We’ll stand the squadron down to Readiness Two.”


“Aye, aye, Sir,” she acknowledged.


Readiness State Two, also known as “General Quarters,” was one step short of Battle Stations. Engineering and life-support systems would be fully manned, as would CIC, although Auxiliary Control would be reduced to a skeleton watch. The ship would maintain a full passive sensor watch, augmented by the remote FTL platforms they’d deployed as soon as they arrived, and the tactical department would be fully manned. Passive defenses would be active and enabled under computer control; electronic warfare systems and active sensors would be manned and available, although not emitting; and Onyx‘s offensive weapons would be partially manned by their on-mount crews. Readiness Two was intended to be maintained for lengthy periods of time, so it included provision for rotating personnel in order to maintain sufficient crew at their duty stations while allowing the members of the ship’s company to rest in turn. Which still wouldn’t prevent it from exhausting Pang’s people if they had to keep it up indefinitely.


“Let Percy take AuxCon while you head back over to the Bridge to relieve me,” he continued to Sadowski. Lieutenant the Honorable Percival Quentin-Massengale, Onyx‘s assistant tactical officer, was the senior of Sadowski’s officers in Auxiliary Control. “We’ll pull Smilodon and the tin-cans back and let Onyx take point for the first twelve hours, or until our friend Chalker decides to take himself elsewhere. After that, Smilodon can have the duty for the next twelve hours. We’ll let the cruisers swap off while the destroyers watch our backs.”

And while we keep Othello out of harm’s way, he added silently to himself. Unlike her more youthful consort, Tornado, the elderly destroyer wasn’t armed with Mark 16s, and Pang had already decided to keep her as far to the rear as he could.


“Run a continually updated firing solution on him, Guns,” the commander said out loud to Lieutenant Commander Frazier. “And have CIC keep a close eye on his emissions. Any sign of active targeting systems, and I want to hear about it.”


“Aye, aye, Skipper.”


Jack Frazier was normally a cheerful sort, fond of practical jokes and pranks, but no trace of his usual humor colored his response.


“Good.” Pang nodded curtly, then looked back down at Sadowski. “You heard, Myra?”


“Yes, Sir.”


“Well, I figure you already know this, but to make it official, if it should happen that Chalker is stupid enough to actually fire on us or one of the merchies, you’re authorized to return fire immediately. And if that happens, I want him taken completely out. Clear?”


“I acknowledge your authorization to return fire if we’re fired upon, Sir,” Sadowski said a bit more formally, and Pang nodded again, then stood and looked back to Frazier.


“You have the deck until the XO gets here, Guns, and the same authorization applies to you,” he said. “I’ll be in my day cabin catching up on my paperwork.”