A Rising Thunder – Snippet 28


So he hadn’t been surprised when one of his “friends” explained why they wanted him in command of the task force to be deployed to Tasmania. They wanted a Solarian naval presence close to the Manties — close enough to discourage them from diverting strength to Talbott to respond forcefully to Manpower’s proxies — and they wanted its CO to be someone they could trust to make that point to Manticore if the need arose.


And you just can’t quite brush off the suspicion that they may have sent Crandall out to Talbott with exactly the same “you’re just a diversion” explanation, can you, Massimo? Especially when you’re sitting here waiting for the damned missile colliers.


That was the final element which had him considering the sort of “paranoid conspiracy theories” with which Burrows had so little patience. The order to prepare to receive a massive influx of reinforcements had arrived on April the eleventh, with instructions to sortie no later than the twenty-fifth. Obviously, the reinforcements he was to expect had already been put into motion, and although the timetable had been tight, he’d felt reasonably confident of making the ordered departure date. Except that two days later, he’d received orders to await a convoy of ammunition ships loaded with the latest Technodyne ship-to-ship and system defense missile variants. As a follow-up dispatch had explained, it would delay the operation by no more than forty-eight hours, assuming the missile colliers experienced no delays of their own.


He’d been surprised Technodyne was supplying anything, given the legal firestorm still swirling around the huge arms manufacturer. But then he’d examined the new order a bit more closely and discovered that the “Technodyne” shipment had actually originated in the Mesa System.


Which was odd, since there was no Technodyne manufacturing facility in that star system.


Technodyne did have a corporate headquarters on Mesa, so it might have made sense for shipping orders to originate there, but there was no way the missiles themselves should be coming from that star system. Not if they’d actually been built by Technodyne, at least. Unless, perhaps, they were coming out of ammunition stockpiles already amassed by someone — someone other than the Solarian League Navy — in the aforesaid system.


As far as Filareta knew, not even Burrows had noticed that discrepancy. Nor had the chief of staff looked at the transit times involved. Oh, if anyone did look, they’d probably find that the colliers had been “diverted in transit” from some other, reasonably innocent destination, just like quite a few of his reinforcing superdreadnought squadrons. Massimo Filareta wasn’t “anyone,” however. He was as certain as a man could be that the missiles in question had actually left Mesa before his orders to sortie had been written on Old Terra, and they hadn’t been “diverted in transit,” either. They’d been intended for Tasmania from the outset…which, in turn, suggested that the same someone in the Mesa System from whose stockpiles they’d been drawn had calculated that Filareta’s command was going to receive exactly the orders it had received.


And those orders had been written only as a consequence of what had happened to Sandra Crandall.


Given all that, the Manties’ “preposterous” claims about Mesa began to seem a lot less preposterous. And the fact that “Technodyne” just happened to have been developing a longer-ranged, tube-launched shipkiller missile at the very moment the analysts back home in Old Chicago had finally become aware of Manticoran missile ranges was another of those “coincidences” Filareta found difficult to swallow.


No, he thought now, lowering his glass and staring down into the wine. No, you’re a pulser dart aimed at Manticore by your “friends,” Massimo. And so was Crandall. And someone else — someone back in the Sol System itself — has to be in on this, too. It’s the only way those oh-so-fortuitously available missiles could have been slipped into the order queue so smoothly. It could be Kingsford, I suppose. He’s spent long enough learning to punch Rajampet’s buttons. Or it could be Rajampet himself. I never would’ve thought he was smart enough to make a good conspirator, but someone else could be calling the shots for him the same way they were for Crandall…or me, for that matter. And when you come down to it, it doesn’t really have to’ve been someone at the top. Someone in the right position in Logistics could’ve stage-managed the whole thing, at least as far as the missiles are concerned. Not that it really matters how they managed that part. No, what matters is whether they pre-positioned me just in case I’d be needed, or because they figured all along that Crandall was going to get reamed? Because if they deliberately set her up to get wasted, they could be doing exactly the same thing to me.


On the face of it, he couldn’t see any advantage for anyone in the Mesa System in getting another three or four hundred Solarian ships-of-the-wall killed. On the other hand, he was damned if he could see what advantage they’d gotten out of what had happened to Crandall. So either they’d miscalculated in her case, or else they saw an advantage he couldn’t.


It was odd how neither of those possibilities reassured him.


*   *   *


The bored-looking electronics tech swiped her ID and presented a palm to the scanner before stepping onto SLNS Philip Oppenheimer‘s flag bridge. The scanner considered the card’s biometric data, comparing it briefly but thoroughly to the DNA of the proffered hand. Then it blinked a green light, and the officer of the watch glanced in the newcomer’s direction with a raised eyebrow.


“Permission to enter Flag Bridge, Ma’am?” the tech asked with a salute which might have been a bit sharper.


“Do we have a fault I don’t know about, PO…Harder?” the officer of the watch responded, checking the readout from the ID for the tech’s name before acknowledging her salute.


“I don’t think so, Ma’am,” Harder replied. “Just a routine, scheduled maintenance check somebody forgot to make. Or forgot to log, anyway.”


Harder’s tone made it clear she didn’t appreciate having been sent to tidy up someone else’s mistake.


“The Chief Engineer sent me to make sure it’s done and done right,” she continued. “Everything’s probably fine, really, but Captain Hershberger wants to be certain it really is, under the circumstances.”


“Well, I’m not about to argue with that,” the officer of the watch agreed, and nodded for Harder to get on with it.


The noncom pulled up her mincomp work order, then double checked the command station number to be certain before she headed across the bridge. She pulled the access panel on the back of Admiral Daniels’ console, laid out her toolkit, flopped down, on the decksole and slid under the complex collection of molecular circuitry with her testing equipment.


*   *   *


“Well, there’s a thing,” Anton Zilwicki said mildly.


He sat at the communications officer’s station on the Havenite dispatch boat’s cramped bridge. Such bare-bones craft couldn’t begin to match the sensor reach of a real warship, and their much simpler sensor suites had no dedicated plot, either. Instead, they used the main com screen to display such data as they managed to collect, and it was customary for the com officer to be responsible for them. As it happened, the dispatch boat’s official com officer — who seemed to be about twelve, anyway — was in sickbay with, of all ridiculous things, an impacted wisdom tooth.


The situation, Zilwicki thought, said volumes about just how poor medical care, and especially preventative medical care, had been under the People’s Republic of Haven. The restored Republic was working hard to get the backlog of completely preventable complaints — like dental problems — under control, but it hadn’t caught up yet.


Fortunately for Lieutenant Dahmer, the boat’s skipper, Anton Zilwicki had forgotten more about sensor systems and communications equipment than his ailing com officer had yet learned. Which explained why Zilwicki was monitoring the display as the small vessel accelerated towards the planet of Haven. Now he leaned forward, fiddling with the controls and frowning at the icons before him.


“What?” Victor Cachat demanded after a moment, and Zilwicki looked up over his shoulder.


“What ‘what’?”


“You said, and I quote, ‘Well, there’s a thing.”


“Did I?” Zilwicki raised both eyebrows and sighed. “A bad sign, Victor. Talking to myself, I mean.” He shook his head. “I hope you avoid this kind of mental disintegration when you get to be my age.”