A Rising Thunder – Snippet 24


“Well, I’m afraid I can’t agree that it’s a very good idea,” he told her flatly.


“Why not?” If Simpson was dismayed (or surprised) by his response, her tone gave no indication of it.


“Several reasons occur to me right off hand. First and foremost, there’s the question of pre-transit intelligence.” Caddell-Markham shook his head, his expression sober. “I’m sure you realize how much Manticore’s closure of the Junction is hurting us here in Beowulf. They’ve shut it down from their end, not ours, but with Manty merchant traffic all heading for home or already there and the Junction closed to all Solarian traffic, one of our major revenue producers is effectively completely off-line. I’m sure Admiral Kingsford and Admiral Rajampet were aware of that when they sent you to make this proposal to us, and no doubt there are some people right here on Beowulf who want to see our terminus reopened just as badly as anyone in Old Chicago might. But whether that’s true or not, the fact that it’s currently closed to Solarian traffic — including ours — means we don’t have a clear idea of what’s currently happening in and around the Junction. Everything we have heard and been able to piece together, however, suggests they’ve concentrated their defenses to cover the Junction from their side more thoroughly than at any time since the Star Kingdom took Trevor’s Star away from the People’s Republic. At the very least, the forces they already had in place have to be at a very high level of alert.


“Even leaving that consideration aside, though, there’s the problem of coordinating our own forces. Manticore may be only a single wormhole transit from Beowulf, but it’s light-centuries away in n-space. Trying to coordinate simultaneous assaults between two forces which are literally months apart in terms of communications time strikes me as a recipe for disaster. Especially when, if I understand what you said earlier correctly, there won’t be time to get a dispatch boat to Admiral Filareta with the news that your second force is even coming!”


“You’re right,” Simpson conceded, “and we’ve considered that. We can’t communicate directly with Admiral Filareta, of course, but we’ve already infiltrated one of our own dispatch boats into the Manticore System. It’s covered as a news service vessel, since the Manties are so ‘graciously’ allowing even Solarian courier and dispatch vessels passage, and we’ve arranged to rotate additional couriers through the Junction under similar covers throughout the entire operational window. The Manties’ own movements should make it evident to everyone in the system when Filareta arrives, at which point our dispatch boat transits to Beowulf and another thirty or so of our SDs transit directly into the Junction. The sudden arrival of another task force that powerful in their rear should certainly drive home to the Manties the sheer disparity between our resources and theirs.”


“Even assuming your courier boat’s allowed to make transit — which it might well not be, once Filareta arrives and the system goes to a high state of military alert,” Miternowski-Zhyang said, speaking for the first time, “what makes you think the Manties will let you make transit with that many wallers?” The assistant director of defense wasn’t making any particular effort to disguise her own incredulity. “I’m assuming from the number you’ve just given us that you’re talking about a simultaneous transit, but whether you plan on a simultaneous transit or a phased transit, those ships are still going to be emerging suddenly, without clearance, when the Manties are already facing the open arrival of four hundred Solarian wallers. As Director Caddell-Markham just pointed out, all our sources indicate their Junction defense forces are at a strength and readiness level we haven’t seen in years. And, to be blunt, whoever’s in command of those forces is going to shoot first and worry about IDs later.”


“That’s clearly a possibility.” Simpson nodded. “Fleet Admiral Bernard and the Office of Strategy and Planning feel the odds are in favor of their standing down — or being momentarily paralyzed, at least — in the face of such a sudden multiplication of threat axes, however.”


“‘The odds are in favor‘ of their standing down?” Miternowski-Zhyang sounded as if she couldn’t believe her own ears. “You’re talking about sending better than thirty ships-of-the-wall with—what? A hundred and eighty thousand men and women onboard? — into a situation from which they can’t possibly retreat, because the odds ‘are in favor‘ of the Manties not pulling the trigger?” She shook her head. “Fleet Admiral Bernard does understand Manticore’s been at war effectively continuously for twenty T-years, doesn’t she?”


“Of course she does.” Simpson’s tone had become a bit testy at last. “I would submit, however, Assistant Director, that there’s a vast difference between fighting something as ramshackle as the People’s Republic of Haven and fighting the Solarian League. And that has to be especially true after they just got their entire system-defense force royally reamed by whoever got through to their industrial platforms!”


Miternowski-Zhyang shoved herself further back in her chair, shaking her head yet again.


“I’m sure there is a ‘vast difference,’ Admiral,” she said with a noticeable edge of frost. “At the same time, I think we’ve probably seen a bit more of Manticore here than the Office of Strategy and Planning’s seen in Old Chicago. I’m not trying to cast any aspersions on the analysts and planners in question” — there might, Caddell-Markham thought, have been just a hint of insincerity in that last little bit — “but everything we’ve ever seen out of the Manties suggests their first reaction to any threat, especially to their home system, is going to be to kill it. And whatever they may have used at Spindle, I think we can safely assume they have even heavier weapons defending the home system.”


“Which someone else has already cleared a path through for us,” Simpson pointed out. “And which the damage to their industrial capacity will prevent them from replacing.”


“Assuming they hadn’t taken the elementary military precaution of having more of them stockpiled in secure areas, well away from their industrial platforms,” Miternowski-Zhyang shot back. She shook her head yet again, more sharply than ever. “I’m sorry, Admiral Simpson. I realize this isn’t your plan, that you’re simply in the position of describing it to us. But speaking as someone who’s spent the last thirty or forty T-years helping manage the naval side of our own system-defense force, there’s no way I could possibly sign off on such a high-risk, no-fallback operational plan.”


“And if Justyná could sign off on it, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham put in, “I’m afraid neither Chairman Benton-Ramirez nor I could.”


“I see.”


Simpson sat for a moment, looking back and forth between the two Beowulfers. Then she shrugged.


“I’m sorry to hear that. We’d hoped the BSDF would help flesh out the secondary force. In fact, I’m afraid my instructions are to officially request that of the Planetary Board of Directors, even if Chairman Benton-Ramirez is as likely to reject our request as you’re suggesting. Fortunately, we should be able to make up the necessary numbers out of SLN units, although without Beowulfan support we won’t have the redundancy to follow up once the terminus stabilizes again. I hope the Chairman will at least consider the…advisability of providing that minimal level of support to an operation of such obviously critical importance.”


Well, score one for Jukka’s “paranoid” analysis, Caddell-Markham thought. Although, to be honest, I find it difficult to believe anyone even in Rajampet’s office is crazy enough to think something like this could possibly succeed!


“If you intend to make a formal request for BSDF support, I will of course present it to Chairman Benton-Ramirez,” he said out loud. “And while I understand your viewpoint, I’m afraid my own recommendation will be that he turn it down. I’m sorry, Admiral, but I fully share the Assistant Director’s view of the probable outcome of any such operation. Under the circumstances, I can’t recommend anything which might be construed as approval of it.”


“Obviously, that’s your privilege, Sir,” Simpson said more than a little coldly.


“I see it not as a ‘privilege,’ but as a moral duty, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham said equally coldly. “In fact, to be frank, my initial reaction is that this entire plan is based on overly optimistic and extremely problematic assumptions which rest on completely unverified — and unverifiable — estimates of the Manties’ current vulnerability. I’m perfectly prepared to review any intelligence analyses which would appear to support those assumptions and estimates, but all of the intelligence available to us here in Beowulf, right on the other side of the terminus, suggests that Justyná’s view of the Manties’ probable response is unfortunately accurate. Indeed, I suspect the Planetary Board will officially go on record as opposing the entire operation as hasty, ill-conceived, and likely to result in extraordinarily heavy casualties.”