A Rising Thunder – Snippet 27


Chapter Nine


“I don’t suppose we’ve received any updates on those damned missile ships?”


Fleet Admiral Massimo Filareta’s hundred and ninety centimeters, broad shoulders, close cropped beard, strong chin, and dark eyes gave him an undeniably commanding physical presence. When he was angry, that presence tended to become actively intimidating, and at the moment, Admiral John Burrows, his chief of staff, estimated, he was somewhere well north of “irritated” and closing rapidly on “irate.” The rest of his staffers were busy finding other places to park their gazes, and quite a few seemed to have discovered that the wallpaper on their personal computers had become downright fascinating.


“No, Sir, we haven’t,” the short, fair-haired Burrows said calmly.


He’d been with Filareta long enough to develop a certain deftness at managing the fleet admiral, and to Filareta’s credit, he realized he needed a manager. He hadn’t risen to his present rank without family connections, but in Burrows’ opinion he was also one of a handful of truly senior officers who were actually competent. He was hardworking, levelheaded, and paid attention to the details all too many other flag officers simply ignored or shoveled onto their overworked staffs. At the same time, though, he was a man of passions, unruly emotions, and huge appetites, and he needed someone like Burrows to keep him balanced…or at least focused. Which was one reason John Burrows routinely faced an irritated Filareta with a confidence which filled lesser staffers with the sort of admiration normally reserved for counter-grav-free skydivers, alligator wrestlers, and similar adrenaline junkies.


“Of course we haven’t!” Filareta more than half snarled, and this time Burrows simply nodded, since he and Filareta were both aware the fleet admiral had known the answer before he ever asked the question.


Filareta clamped his teeth hard on his frustrated anger and turned to the briefing room’s smart wall bulkhead and the distant, fiery spark of the star named Tasmania. He clamped his hands equally tightly behind him and concentrated on fighting his temper under control.


What he really wanted to do was to turn that temper loose. A good. old-fashioned, red-in-the-face-and-screaming tantrum might relieve at least some of the anger, frustration, and (little though he cared to admit it even to himself) fear swirling around inside him. Unfortunately, any relief would have been purely temporary, and he didn’t need to be displaying his own reservations in front of his staff.


Especially not on the eve of the biggest combat deployment in the eight hundred-year history of the Solarian League Navy.


“All right,” he said, once he was fairly confident he’d locked down his temper. “Since we’re stuck here, twiddling our thumbs until they do deign to arrive, I suppose we should look at the results of yesterday’s exercise.” He looked over his shoulder at Admiral William Daniels, his operations officer. “Suppose you start the ball rolling, Bill.”


“Yes, Sir.”


The brown-haired, brown-eyed Daniels had been with Filareta almost as long as Burrows, but he wasn’t as good at fleet admiral-managing, and he couldn’t hide his relief as the meeting turned to something less inflammatory than the ammunition ships’ much-discussed tardiness.


“First, Sir,” he continued, “I’d like to observe that Admiral Haverty’s task force did particularly well in the missile-defense role. We all know ONI’s current opinion is that whoever leveled the Manties’ home system has to’ve blown a huge hole in their missile umbrella, and I know we all hope that’s true. If it isn’t, though, we’re going to need the kind of performance Haverty’s people turned in. In particular,” he activated his previously prepared report and a stop-motion hologram of a detailed tactical plot appeared above the briefing room conference table, “I’d like to direct everyone’s attention to this missile salvo here.” A flight of missile icons blinked scarlet on the plot. “As you can see, we adjusted the simulation’s parameters to reflect the reports of extended ranges we’ve been receiving. As of this time, we still don’t know what their actual ranges are, of course, but this simulation assigned them a fifty percent increase in powered envelope, and we didn’t warn anyone it was coming ahead of time. Despite that, though, if you watch what happens when Admiral Haverty’s task force detects them incoming,” he entered a command and the missile icons began moving steadily across the holographic plot, “you’ll see that –“


*   *   *


“What did you think of Daniels’ analysis of Haverty’s performance?” Filareta asked Burrows some hours later.


The two of them sat in Filareta’s dining cabin, forming a small island of humanity at the enormous compartment’s center, with the remnants of a sumptuous lunch on the table between them. Burrows was always a little astonished Filareta could eat as heartily as he did without ever appearing to gain a single gram. Of course, the fleet admiral did work out regularly, and there were those…other interests of his.


“I thought he was pretty much on the mark, Sir.” The chief of staff sipped from his wine glass. “I think we probably need to push the simulator parameters further out — I agree with you there, entirely — but he was right about how well Haverty did within the existing parameters. And, frankly, there’s at least some question in my mind about how far we want to go in simulating Manticoran range advantages.”


Not many officers would have admitted that so frankly, Filareta reflected, but Burrows had a point. If they started putting their fleet through simulations which assumed the Royal Manticoran Navy’s effective missile ranges really were as extreme as some reports claimed, it would devastate their own morale.


And if the bastards do have that kind of range — and accuracy — there’s no point training to fight them, anyway. We’ll be dead meat no matter what we do!


It wasn’t a thought he was prepared to share even with Burrows, although he suspected the chief of staff had reached the same conclusion. On the other hand, Burrows continued to believe — probably correctly, Filareta thought — that the Manty missiles at Spindle must have come out of system-defense pods, not shipboard launchers. No matter what else, missiles that long-ranged had to be huge, which meant no mobile unit could carry them in the numbers which had been reported. And if they had come out of system-defense pods, then even that incomparable military genius Rajampet was probably right about how the January attack on the Manties’ home system had depleted their supply of them.


Unfortunately, that attack had occurred at least six T-months before Filareta could possibly get there to exploit it. He wasn’t as confident as Rajampet that the Manties wouldn’t be able to make a lot of that damage good in the meantime. And, even more unfortunately, there were a few things Burrows didn’t know and Filareta was in no position to tell him.


The fleet admiral picked up his own wineglass, sipping with less than his usual appreciation while his mind flowed down internal pathways which had become entirely too well worn over the two T-weeks since he’d received his orders for Operation Raging Justice. Actually, they’d started wearing their way into his cortex the instant he heard about Sandra Crandall’s debacle. Or, at least, the instant he first heard the Manticorans’ analysis of how Crandall had come to be aimed at them in the first place.


Burrows, he knew, put zero credence in Manty claims that Manpower and/or other Mesa-based transstellars had deliberately fomented the incidents in the Talbott Quadrant. The chief of staff was no innocent virgin where corporate influence on naval policies was involved, but it was preposterous to suggest that any transstellar, however powerful, could actually control major fleet movements! That was the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories, as far as Burrows was concerned.


It might not have been if he’d known what Massimo Filareta knew.


Filareta couldn’t be positive Crandall had been influenced by Manpower, but he knew for damned certain that he had. He knew all about his own reputation as a hard-partying fellow, and he knew there were rumors about certain other of his more…esoteric tastes. As far as he knew, though, no one knew about his most deeply hidden cravings. No one, at least, but his “friends” at Manpower, who’d long since fallen into the habit of providing for those cravings. Those same “friends” had eased his way in other fashions, as well, and he’d always known that someday they’d want payback. But he’d been all right with that; it was the way the system worked, even if his particular set of incentives would have been regarded as beyond the pale even by jaded Solarian standards.