A Rising Thunder – Snippet 10

 

Brockhurst looked as if he’d like to object. He hadn’t been a huge fan of the Volley Alpha ops plan when Ivanov first trotted it out, and he still wasn’t. But whether or not he wanted to object, what he actually did was nod.

 

“Volley Alpha, aye, Sir,” he said. “I’ll get it set up now.”

 

*   *   *

 

“Coming up on the thirty million-kilometer mark in one minute, Admiral,” Lieutenant Estelle Marker, Rear Admiral Pyun’s staff astrogator announced.

 

“Thank you, Estelle,” Pyun acknowledged, and cocked his head at Josette Steinberg. “Status?” he asked.

 

“We’re as ready as we’re going to be, Sir.” It wasn’t the most formal readiness report Pyun had ever received, but Steinberg had been with him for almost three T-years. Unlike Battle Fleet, they’d actually accomplished something during that time, too.

 

“Halo is deployed and prepared for full activation,” the ops officer continued. “Captain Zyndram reports all missile-defense systems are manned and ready. The rest of the division is green-board, as well. I don’t know what these people think they can hit us with at this range, Sir, but whatever it is, we’re ready for it.”

 

“Thank you,” Pyun said, and returned to his contemplation of the master astro display. The distance to the terminus was as ridiculously high as Steinberg’s readiness report implied, and he found himself wishing he shared the ops officer’s dismissal of the range at which the Manties claimed to have devastated Sandra Crandall’s command. For that matter, he was pretty sure Steinberg wished she really and truly disbelieved those claims.

 

Whatever else happens, at least the Solarian League Navy knows how to maintain a brave face, he thought.

 

The thought amused him, in a black-humor sort of way, yet he’d discovered he vastly preferred Steinberg’s attitude to the panicky response he suspected the Manticoran reports had engendered elsewhere. Not that a little panic wouldn’t do certain Battle Fleet officers he could think of a world of good. At the moment, though —

 

“Missile launch!” one of Steinberg’s ratings suddenly announced. “CIC has multiple missile launches at three-zero million kilometers!”

 

*   *   *

 

HMS Sloan Tompkins, like her sisters Bristol Q., Yakolev and Cheetah, was a Saganami-C-class heavy cruiser, and each of them mounted twenty launchers in each broadside. With the RMN’s ability to fire off-bore missiles, that gave them the ability to fire forty-missile strong double broadsides in a single launch, and they were armed with the internally launched Mark 16 dual-drive missile. Because of that, their tubes (and, just as importantly, their fire control) had been designed take advantage of the Mark 16’s drive flexibility and fire what were actually quadruple broadsides — salvos of eighty missiles each, not “just” forty — in order to “stack” their fire and saturate an opponent’s missile defenses.

 

At the moment, Hiram Ivanov’s ships had literally dozens of missile pods limpeted to their hulls, as well, and those missile pods were loaded with full capability Mark 23 multidrive missiles, with even more endurance and powered range (and heavier laser heads) than the Mark 16. MDMs were in shorter supply than Mark 16s, though, and Ivanov had no intention of using them up unless he had to. So Volley Alpha used only the cruisers’ internal tubes, and even the Roland-class destroyers attached to his force were mere spectators at the moment. They had barely a quarter of the cruisers’ magazine capacity, and Ivanov had no more intention of wasting their limited ammunition than he did of wasting MDMs.

 

Which was why “only” two hundred and forty missiles, launch times and drive activations carefully staggered to bring all of them in as a single salvo, went howling towards Rear Admiral Liam Pyun’s battlecruisers.

 

*   *   *

 

“Two hundred-plus inbound,” Josette Steinberg reported tersely. “Acceleration approximately four-five-one KPS-squared. Activate all Halo platforms now!”

 

“Activating Halo, aye, Ma’am!”

 

“Damn,” Steven Gilmore said, so quietly only Pyun could possibly have heard him. “That’s got to be a warning shot, Sir!”

 

“You think so?” Pyun’s eyes were on the tac display now, watching the scarlet icons of the Manticoran missiles streak towards his command.

 

Has to be, Sir.” Gilmore shook his head. “Even assuming they’ve got the legs to reach us without going ballistic, their targeting solutions have to suck at this range.”

 

“I imagine that’s what Sandra Crandall thought, too.” Pyun showed his teeth. “Assuming the Battle of Spindle really happened, of course.”

 

Gilmore started to reply, but a fresh report from Steinberg cut him off.

 

“Admiral, assuming these drive numbers hold up, those things are going to be closing at better than a hundred and seventy thousand KPS when they get here.” She looked over her shoulder at Pyun. “It looks like I may’ve been wrong about whether or not they can reach us, Sir.”

 

“Time to attack range four minutes, Ma’am,” one of her ratings told her, and she nodded.

 

“Halo active,” another rating confirmed.

 

*   *   *

 

“This is not good,” Lieutenant Commander Austell Pouchard muttered under his breath.

 

“I think we could all agree with that, Lieutenant,” Commander Hiacyntá Pocock, Belle Poule‘s executive officer observed caustically, and Pouchard grimaced as he realized he’d spoken more loudly than he’d meant to.

 

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “But if these numbers—”

 

He shook his head, and it was Pocock’s turn to grimace. Pouchard was the flagship’s senior tactical officer. As such, he, like Pocock, was assigned to Control Bravo, the SLN’s equivalent of the Manticoran Navy’s Auxiliary Control. Control Bravo was a complete duplicate of Captain Zyndram’s command deck, tasked to take over if anything unfortunate happened to Control Alpha. Because of that, Control Bravo’s personnel were supposed to be just as completely immersed in the tactical situation as anyone in Control Alpha, poised to assume command instantly in an emergency. In practice, though, there was a tendency for Control Bravo to be just a little detached. To stand back just a bit and watch the flow of a simulation or training exercise, looking for the patterns.

 

Except, of course, that this was no simulation.

 

Nonetheless, Pouchard had a point. If those incoming missiles could maintain their current acceleration numbers all the way in, stopping them was going to be a copperplated bitch. And somehow she couldn’t convince herself the Manties would have fired a “warning shot” quite so massive. Even with pods, three heavy cruisers couldn’t have unlimited ammunition, and she couldn’t see them expending that many missiles if they didn’t have the legs to reach their targets with maneuver time still on their clocks.

 

In theory, a purely ballistic missile with the standoff range of a modern laser head was just as accurate as one which could still maneuver. Even an impeller-drive starship couldn’t produce enough Delta V to change its predicted position sufficiently to get out of the laser head’s effective range basket during the three minutes or so of the missile’s flight. But theory had a tendency to come unglued when it ran headlong into the reality of that same impeller-drive starship’s maneuverability within the range basket coupled with the impenetrability of its impeller wedge. The actual vulnerable aspects of a modern warship were remarkably narrow, unless one could attack the throat of its wedge, and a ship’s ability to make radical maneuvers at four or five hundred gravities could do a lot to deny incoming missiles a favorable angle of attack. A missile which couldn’t maneuver to pursue its target was unlikely, to say the least, to achieve that angle. Which didn’t even consider a ballistic target’s total vulnerability to defensive fire. No. Like an old pre-space wet-navy torpedo at the very end of its run, a missile which had exhausted its drive endurance before reaching attack range represented a negligible threat to any maneuvering target.

 

Which was why Hiacyntá Pocock was grimly certain those acceleration numbers were going to stand up.

 

*   *   *

 

“Good telemetry on both the missiles and the Ghost Rider platforms, Sir,” Lieutenant Commander Brockhurst reported. “Halo emissions match Admiral Gold Peak’s reports almost perfectly.”

 

Captain Ivanov only nodded. His attention was on his repeater plot.

 

*   *   *

 

“Admiral, CIC’s picking up something –“

 

Liam Pyun turned towards Captain Steinberg. The operations officer’s eyes were on a side display, then she looked up at the rear admiral.

 

“It’s coming up on the master plot now, Sir,” she said, and Pyun’s eyes darted back to the display. The new icons pulsed to draw the eye, help him separate them out of the clutter, and he frowned.

 

“What the hell are those?” he demanded as the absurdly low ranges registered. Those things were less than ten thousand kilometers clear of his flagship!

 

“We don’t know, Sir,” Steinberg’ admitted. “All we do know is that they seem to’ve been there all along. They just popped up a second ago when they cut their stealth.”

 

“Cut their stealth?” Captain Gilmore repeated. “You mean the Manties got recon platforms that close to us without our ever even seeing them?”

 

“That’s what it looks like,” Steinberg grated harshly. “And I doubt they just dropped their stealth for no reason at all. They want us to know they’re there.”

 

“Ma’am,” one of her assistants said, “we’re picking up grav pulses all over the place. Dozens of point sources.”

 

“Are these” — Pyun used a light pointer to jab at the new icons in the master plot — “some of those point sources, Chief Elliott?”

 

“Uh, yes, Sir. I think they are,” the chief petty officer acknowledged.

 

“Oh, shit,” Gilmore muttered.