A Rising Thunder – Snippet 09


“Go ahead and play it, Ephram,” the rear admiral said, standing at Turner’s shoulder and looking down at the com officer’s console.


“Yes, Sir.”


Turner touched a stud, and a brown-haired, green-eyed man in the uniform of a senior-grade RMN captain appeared on a small display.


“I am Captain Hiram Ivanov, Royal Manticoran Navy.” Ivanov’s voice was crisp and professional, and if he was dismayed by the disparity between Pyun’s force and his own there was no sign of it in those green eyes. “I’m aware that you’ve been instructed by Astro Control to activate your identification transponders and that no Solarian warships or Solarian-registry merchant vessels are allowed to approach within eighteen million kilometers of this terminus. Be informed at this time that while my Empress continues to desire a peaceful resolution to the current tensions between the Star Empire and the Solarian League, I have orders to enforce my government’s directives concerning this terminus by force. Moreover, I also hereby inform you that I have no choice but to construe the presence of so many ‘unidentified’ battlecruisers in company with a single merchant ship as a deliberate effort on your part to defy those directives. Should you continue to approach this terminus without active transponders and close to a distance of less than thirty million kilometers, I will engage you. I would prefer to avoid that, but the choice is in your hands. Ivanov, clear.”


Ivanov nodded almost courteously, and Turner’s display blanked. Pyun stood gazing down at it for a heartbeat or so, then inhaled deeply.


“Thank you, Ephram.” He patted the com officer on the shoulder and walked back across the flag bridge to Captain Gilmore.


“Well, that’s clear enough, too,” he observed dryly.


“Yes, Sir. And that thirty million-klick tripwire of his is consistent with what they say happened at Spindle, too.”


“Agreed. On the other hand, it would be consistent, don’t you think? Whether the ‘Battle of Spindle’ ever really happened or not.”


Gilmore nodded, but his expression was unhappy, which pleased the rear admiral no end, since it indicated the presence of a functioning brain. Plenty of Frontier Fleet officers were just as wedded to the notion of Solarian invincibility as any Battle Fleet pain in the ass, but Pyun hadn’t chosen his staff from among them. No one could ever reasonably call Steven Gilmore an alarmist, yet he was at least willing to admit the Manties might actually have learned a little something — or even developed a few new weapons systems — in the course of surviving a twenty-T-year war against the far larger People’s Republic of Haven.


Of course, neither he nor Pyun had been anywhere near the Talbott Sector when that incomparable military genius Josef Byng managed to get his flagship blown away at New Tuscany. Nor had they been in the vicinity when Sandra Crandall set out to avenge her fellow genius, so there was no way they could have any firsthand impression of the weapons Manticore might have used. Unlike Gilmore, however, Pyun had enjoyed the dubious pleasure of actually meeting Crandall, and based on that, the Manties’ version of what she’d done at Spindle carried a pronounced ring of truth. Which suggested the rest of their version of the Battle of Spindle was also at least reasonably accurate. Pyun might be willing to play devil’s advocate with Gilmore, but he shared his ops officer’s disinclination to simply dismiss the “preposterous” ranges which had been reported by at least some Solarian observers even before whatever happened to Crandall. Thirty million kilometers still sounded like too much to be true, but…


Pyun considered his orders once again. They were as clear as they were nondiscretionary, yet he hadn’t earned flag rank in the Solarian Navy without discovering how much easier it was for people who were going to be far, far away at the critical moment to issue such unflinching directives.


Maybe it is, but he’s still the Commissioner, and you’re still a Frontier Fleet officer assigned to his sector.


“Copy Captain Ivanov’s message to Captain Zyndram, Ephram. Inform the Captain that I see no reason to alter our intentions at this time.”


“Yes, Sir.”


He folded his hands behind himself and stood gazing into the master display once more.


*   *   *


“I don’t suppose the Admiral actually replied to this, Vincent?” Captain Nereu Zyndram, CO of SLNS Belle Poule, asked.


“No, Sir,” Lieutenant Vincent Würtz replied. The com officer started to say something else, but then he closed his mouth, and Zyndram smiled thinly.


Würtz was young, the flag captain thought. In fact, he was younger than he thought he was, prey to both the confidence and the trepidation of his youth. There was no way, in young Würtz’ worldview, that any neobarb Navy could possibly stand up to the SLN. As far as the lieutenant was concerned, the Manty accounts of the Battle of Spindle could only be disinformation. No other possibility was admissible. Yet despite that, another part of the youngster was secretly afraid the Manty claims might contain at least a particle of truth, after all. And like the vast majority of Belle Poule‘s company, Würtz had never seen actual combat. The possibility that he might see it very soon now had to be gnawing away inside him.


Fair enough, Zyndram thought. You have seen combat, Nereu. And you’ve been around long enough to have a better feel than young Vincent for when someone’s shooting you a line of shit, too. Which is why you’re feeling a little nervous just this moment, yourself.


Nereu Zyndram had felt profound reservations about this operation from the moment Rear Admiral Pyun shared their orders with him. Those reservations hadn’t grown any smaller since, either. On the other hand, he’d known Pyun for a lot of years. There wasn’t much chance the admiral was going to start ignoring orders just because he thought they were stupid.


*   *   *


“He doesn’t seem very impressed by my warning, does he?” Hiram Ivanov observed as the icons of the Solarian formation continued their remorseless, silent advance on the terminus.


“Typical pain-in-the-ass Solly response, Sir, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Lieutenant Commander Brian Brockhurst, Sloan Tompkins‘ tactical officer, replied, his voice harsh. “Or maybe I should say lack of response!”


“I don’t mind your saying it, BB,” Ivanov said in a rather milder tone. “On the other hand, let’s not jump to any conclusions. We’re a long way from Spindle, and there’s no way this fellow could’ve gotten any detailed information from Old Terra yet. All he’s got is whatever’s come through from Idaho and trickled into his information net. So it’s entirely possible he’s basing his assessment of the opposing force levels on…flawed data, let’s say.” The captain’s expression turned bleak. “He may be almost as ill-informed about our actual capabilities as we were about whoever ripped up the home system last month.”


Brockhurst’s own mouth tightened. His older brother, his sister, and their families had lived on a space station called Hephaestus prior to the attack on the Manticore Binary System, and a part of him wanted vengeance on someone — anyone. If he couldn’t get at the people who’d actually launched “the Yawata Strike,” he’d settle for any legitimate target he could get at. Nor was he inclined to be any more sensitive to the Star Empire’s enemies’ perceptions, or the reasons for them, than he had to be.


“Closing velocity when they get to thirty million klicks?” Ivanov asked after a moment, and Brockhurst punched in the numbers.


“Just a shade under nine thousand KPS when they cross the line, Sir.” He looked back up at his CO. “That’ll add about another three-point-two million klicks to the powered envelope.”


Ivanov nodded. He’d factored that into his calculations when he warned the Sollies not to approach within thirty million kilometers of the terminus. That was actually exceeding the letter of his orders, but the Royal Manticoran Navy’s tradition was that an officer was expected to use his own judgment — and discretion — within the understood intent of his orders. Case Lacoön, the Royal Navy’s long-standing contingency plan to close all termini normally under its control to Solarian shipping, didn’t really apply to blowing Solarian battlecruisers out of space thirty million kilometers short of any of the termini in question. On the other hand, it was obvious the Navy was shortly going to move to full implementation of Lacoön Two. When that happened, Manticore would begin seizing control of every terminus it could, whoever those termini legally (or nominally, at least) belonged to, and closing all of them to the Sollies, as well.


Whatever that took, and whatever the range at which the Navy found itself opening fire.


The fat is well and truly in the fire, no matter what happens, Hiram Ivanov thought grimly. If those bastards in Old Chicago were going to do the reasonable thing, they’d already’ve done it. Since they haven’t, things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get any better, and I think it’s time to begin making that clear to the other side.


“All right, BB,” he told Brockhurst after a moment. “We’ll go with Volley Alpha if our uncommunicative friends do cross the line.”