A Rising Thunder – Snippet 11

 

We are so going to get hammered, a quiet little voice said in the back of Pyun’s mind.

 

“How the hell did they fit FTL emitters into something that small?” Steinberg demanded almost plaintively.

 

The question was obviously rhetorical, which was probably just as well, since no answer suggested itself to Pyun. Not that it would have made any difference at the moment. What mattered was that the Manties had managed to do it. Unless he was badly mistaken, those had to be recon platforms — dozens of them, as Chief Elliott had just pointed out — and if they were capable of what the wilder theorists had proposed, they were feeding those Manty cruisers detailed tracking information at FTL speeds. Which meant their missile control loop had just been cut in half, and the implications of that…

 

Belle Poule vibrated as counter-missiles began to launch, but it was already evident to Pyun that his ships mounted far too few counter-missile tubes and point defense clusters to deal with this salvo.

 

*   *   *

 

“Coming up on Point Alpha,” Brockhurst announced.

 

“Execute as specified,” Ivanov said formally.

 

“Aye, aye, Sir. Executing…now.”

 

*   *   *

 

There was little panic aboard SLNS Belle Poule, but only because her crew was too busy for that. There was no time for those who could actually see the displays, recognize what the readouts meant, to really consider what was happening, the stunning realization that they truly were as out-classed as the “preposterous” reports from Spindle had indicated.

 

And they were out-classed.

 

The Manticoran missiles came flashing in, still at that incredible — impossible — acceleration rate, and just before they entered the counter-missile zone, the electronic warfare platforms seeded among the attack birds spun up. Of the two hundred and forty missiles launched by Hiram Ivanov’s three cruisers, fifty carried nothing but penetration aids, and they’d been carefully saved for this moment. Now “Dazzler” platforms blinded Solarian sensors even as their accompanying “Dragons Teeth” suddenly proliferated, producing scores of false targets to confuse and saturate their targets’ defenses. The Solarian battlecruiser crews had never seen, never imagined, anything like it. Ignorant of the energy budgets the RMN’s mini-fusion plants allowed, they simply couldn’t conceive of how such powerful jammers could be crammed into such tiny platforms. The threat totally surpassed the parameters their doctrine and their systems had been designed to cope with.

 

Pyun’s battlecruisers managed to stop exactly seventeen of the incoming shipkillers in the outer zone. The other hundred and seventy-three streaked past every counter-missile the Solarians could throw with almost contemptuous ease.

 

*   *   *

 

Liam Pyun watched his command’s destruction ripping through his defenses. He’d always been more willing than most of his fellow officers to consider the possible accuracy of the outlandish reports coming back from the endless Manticore-Haven war. He’d had to be careful about admitting he was, given the contempt with which virtually all of those other officers greeted such “alarmist” rumors, but now he knew even the most bizarre of those reports had understated the true magnitude of the threat. No wonder the Manties had managed to punch out Byng’s flagship so cleanly at New Tuscany!

 

His people were doing their best, fighting with frantic professionalism to overcome the fatal shortcomings of their doctrine and training in the fleeting minutes they had. They weren’t going to succeed, and he knew it, but they weren’t going to simply sit there, paralyzed by terror, either, and he felt bittersweet pride in them even as he cursed himself for having walked straight into this disaster.

 

But how could I have known? How could I really have known? And even if I had —

 

And then the Manticoran missiles burst past the inner edge of the counter-missile zone. They came driving in through the desperate, last-ditch, last-minute fire of the battlecruisers’ point defense clusters, and the laser clusters were almost as useless in the face of the Manty EW as the counter-missiles had been. They managed to pick off another twelve missiles, but that still left a hundred and sixty-three shipkillers, and Pyun felt his belly knotting solid as his ships’ executioners came boring in on the throats of their wedges. They were going to —

 

One hundred and sixty-three Mark 16 missiles, each with the better part of thirty seconds’ time left on its drive, swerved suddenly, in a perfectly synchronized maneuver, and detonated as one.

 

*   *   *

 

“Nicely done, BB,” Hiram Ivanov said approvingly as the FTL reports came in from the Ghost Rider drones and Sloan Tompkins‘ CIC updated the master tactical plot. “Very nicely. In fact, I think that rates a ‘well done’ for your entire department.”

 

*   *   *

 

“They hit our wedges!” Steinberg blurted. “My God, they hit our wedges!

 

Her tone was so disbelieving — and so affronted — that despite himself, Pyun actually felt his mouth twitch on the edge of a smile. The ops officer was staring incredulously at her displays as CIC’s dispassionate computers updated them.

 

It was true. It had happened so quickly, the X-ray lasers had cascaded in such a massive tide, that it had taken Steinberg (and Pyun, for that matter) several endless seconds to grasp what had actually happened — to realize they were still alive — yet it was true.

 

The rear admiral would dearly have loved to believe Halo had succeeded in its decoy function. That the Manty missiles had been lured astray by his battlecruisers’ sophisticated electronic warfare systems. But much as he would have preferred that, he knew differently. No defensive system in the galaxy could have caused every single missile in an attacking salvo to waste its fury on the roofs and floors of his ships’ impeller wedges. No. The only way that could have happened was for the people who’d fired those missiles to have arranged for it to happen.

 

Christ!” Captain Gilmore shook his head like a man who’d been hit one time too many. “How the hell –?” He stopped and gave his head another shake, then grimaced. “Sorry, Admiral.”

 

Pyun only looked at him, then wheeled back towards Steinberg at the ops officer’s inarticulate sound of disbelief. She looked up and saw the admiral’s eyes on her.

 

“I –” It was her turn to shake her head. “Sir, according to CIC, Retaliate took one hit and Impudent took two. That’s it. That’s all!

 

“Casualties?” Pyun heard his own voice asking.

 

“None reported so far, Sir.”

 

“But that’s ridic –” Gilmore began, then made himself stop.

 

“Ridiculous,” Pyun agreed grimly. “Except for the minor fact that it happened. Which suggests it was what the Manties intended to happen all along. In fact, the hits on Retaliate and Impudent must’ve been unintentional.” He smiled very, very thinly. “I suppose it’s nice to know not even Manty fire control is perfect.”

 

Steinberg looked back up at him, and Gilmore inhaled deeply.

 

“Sir, are you suggesting they deliberately targeted our wedges?” the chief of staff asked very carefully. “That it was some kind of…of demonstration?

 

“I don’t have any better explanation for it, Steve. Do you?”

 

“I –“

 

“Excuse me, Captain,” Lieutenant Turner interrupted respectfully, “but we’re receiving a transmission I think the Admiral had better hear.”

 

“What kind of transmission?” Pyun asked.

 

“It’s from the Manties, Sir. But it’s not a direct transmission from any of their ships. It’s coming from…somewhere else.”

 

“‘Somewhere else’?”

 

“Yes, Sir.” The communications officer seemed torn between relief at his continued existence and unhappiness at something else. “Sir, I think it’s being relayed from another platform. From several other platforms, actually.” Pyun only looked at him, and Turner sighed. “Sir, it looks to me as if they must have at least ten or fifteen relay platforms out there, and they’re jumping the transmission between them to keep us from locking them up. And, Sir, I think they’re transmitting to us in real time.”

 

Pyun started to protest. They were still over a light-minute and a half from the Manties. There ought to be a ninety second-plus transmission lag. But then he remembered all those grav pulses, and his protest died.

 

“Very well,” he said. “Put it on the main display.”

 

“Yes, Sir.”

 

The same brown-haired, green-eyed man appeared, and Pyun felt his jaw muscles tighten.

 

“I trust,” Captain Ivanov said, “that you realize we just deliberately didn’t destroy your ships. As I’ve already said, my Empress would prefer to resolve the differences between the Star Empire and the League without further bloodshed. That doesn’t mean more blood won’t be shed anyway, but I’d really prefer not to have it happen here, today. If you persist in approaching this terminus, however, I will have no choice but to continue this engagement, and the next salvo won’t be targeted on your wedges. You have ten minutes to reverse acceleration or translate into hyper. If you’ve done neither at the end of those ten minutes, I will open fire once more, and this time we’ll be firing for effect. Ivanov, clear.”

 

It was very quiet on Belle Poule‘s flag bridge. No one said a word. In fact, for several seconds, no one even breathed. All eyes were on Liam Pyun as he stood continuing to gaze at the blank display from which Hiram Ivanov had disappeared. Then the admiral squared his shoulders, drew a deep breath, and turned his back on the display.

 

“Captain Gilmore, instruct Captain Zyndram to reverse acceleration immediately. And tell him to get our hyper generators online.”