Chain of Command – Snippet 15

“Damaged?” Sam asked, nodding toward the open missile.

“Not so’s I can see, sir. We wasn’t hit back here but we take some jolts. I pull open every bird, run the internal diagnostics, make sure no ostie de crisse parts got shook loose, yeah?”

Listening to her mix of English and bits of Quebecois slang again reminded Sam of the yawning social gulf between Menzies and Filipenko. It was more than just enlisted and officer, it also had to do with education, experiences, and mannerisms. Filipenko’s background–growing up on Bronstein’s World–had toughened her, but not the same way the slums of Ottawa-Gatineau had toughened Menzies.

Sam hadn’t had a problem with her. He’d grown up with kids like her, at least when he was getting older. Also, he’d spent a year and a half in his company’s Montreal service center and had acquired a smattering of Quebecois trash talk. Filipenko, though …

“Good thinking, checking out the missiles.” Sam told Menzies. He turned to Filipenko and gestured to the massive cradles lining the hull of the missile room.  “These are our real stingers and nobody knows them better than Menzies. Chief, do the honors.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Menzies laid her hand on the open missile casing. “The DSIM-5 Bravo– Deep Space Intercept Missile Mark Five B. We call her the Mark Five Fire Lance. Manufactured by Lockheed-Siemens, this is the latest block four version: it has the better energy storage system and tweaked targeting mechanics.”

“I know some of that,” Filipenko said. “It has a nuclear warhead, right?”

“Yes, ma’am, here in the belly.”

She patted the smooth composite housing of the missile on the maintenance station and then explained how the thirty laser rods up front all aligned on target and then, when the nuclear warhead detonated, were completely vaporized, but not before–for just an instant, fewer than five nanoseconds–they were engorged with energy and discharged that energy in thirty incredibly powerful bolts of coherent x-ray energy.

“If it has a nuclear warhead, why not just crash it into their ships?”

Menzies glanced quickly at Sam and then back at Filipenko, her face expressionless.

“The missile can evade and it releases two dozen radar decoys, which can get it closer to the enemy ship. But the point defense lasers–at a certain range they do not miss something the size of a missile. But the fire lance only has to get within five thousand kilometers. It detonates and the x-ray lasers do the rest, tabarnak.”

Filipenko colored slightly with embarrassment and frowned. “Yes, of course. I remember, I’ve just been away from this for a while. But why thirty rods? Why not just one big one?”

“Insurance, ma’am. At them ranges it don’t take much deflection to miss: some vibration faible, the target starts to evade, you see? Thirty rods means a pattern of thirty shots, like the shotgun. Also we can independently target each rod ostie, take out up to thirty targets …or so they say.”

“What makes you think it won’t?”

Menzies looked back at the missile and frowned.

“Well, ma’am, is all new stuff, yeah?  Lots of times this new de saint-sacrament de câlice stuff don’t work as advertised. BuOrd says is fine, but they always say that. I hear talk–misaligned rods missing the targets in some tests, missing big.”

Filipenko eyebrows went up a fraction but her expression remained cool. “The Bureau of Ordnance is responsible for testing and evaluation. From what I know, they are very thorough.”

“Well, ma’am,” Menzies answered, with an edge of challenge in her voice, “is hard to pull them apart and see why mon crisse de missile is broke-dick-no-workee after it’s fired, being reduced to radioactive dust and all.”

“Thanks for the briefing, Chief,” Sam said quickly, now anxious to get Filipenko away before she and her chief petty officer started shouting at each other.

Sam led Filipenko back toward the spine of the boat. Sam had no idea which one was right about BuOrd–the Bureau of Ordnance. He knew nothing about their testing protocols, but he knew something about how the corporate world worked, and he knew there was a steady stream of former BuOrd officers moving into VP jobs at Lockeed-Siemens.

“You may be right about BuOrd,” Sam said once they were back in the transit tube. “Hope so. But the real takeaway here is that Menzies knows her stuff,”

Filipenko nodded. “Yes, I picked that up. I’m not crazy about her attitude, though. Wasn’t there a discipline problem?”

Sam could have said the problem was Del Huhn’s sexual frustration, his temporary mania for rooting out every sexual affair between enlisted personnel, but he couldn’t say that, and what did it matter now anyway?

“Peacetime stuff,” he said, “and nothing to do with her job performance. Don’t worry about that. This is what’s important.” He gestured toward the hatches to the two missile rooms on opposite sides of the transit tube. “This is Puebla’s reason for existing.”

Filipenko frowned and looked at Sam for a moment. “You really love this stuff, don’t you?”

Sam glanced around and shrugged. “I like hardware and I like tactical theory. I’m not sure I’d like throwing these monsters at living targets nearly as much.”

Sam said the words because it would ease Filipenko’s path, but it wasn’t really true. He did want to fire these missiles into an uBakai naval formation and watch it come apart. Part of it was a hunger for revenge, whose growing heat had begun to replace some of the dead, black places in his heart. But part of it was something possibly more primitive still–the thrill of the hunt.

Filipenko looked around half-heartedly. “It all seems so … mechanical. The point defense lasers are controlled by that automated fire control system–what’s it called again?”

“ATITEP,” Sam said, “Automated Threat Identification, Tracking, and Engagement Protocol.”

“Yes, that one,” Filipenko said. “We don’t make any decisions except to turn the system on or off–guns up or guns down. We maintain these missiles but most of the firing decisions on them are made by ATITEP, as well.”

“You’re mostly right,” Sam said. “This is all pretty mechanical. Setting up the shot window, keeping the enemy from detecting you until you’re in that window–those are the tough parts.”

“But astrogation does most of that,” she said. “What do I do other than …preside?”

“Presiding–if you want to call it that–is what a department head does. It’s ninety-nine percent of your job: keep the equipment running, keep your personnel trained, disciplined, and effective. That other one percent is sitting in the Tac One seat when people are shooting at us, and you giving the captain the best tactical advice you can.”

“Which I know nothing about,” she said and shook her head.

Sam thought that the unspoken second half of that sentence might have been, nor do I want to.

“Look, Filipenko, I know you’d rather stay in Operations. Honestly, I’d be happier running Tactical. Somewhere on the boat there’s probably someone who wants to wear ballet slippers and be called Princess Anastasia. But since none of that is going happen, why dwell on it?

“We’ve got a couple weeks to get ready, especially since they pulled us out of the first wave. I’ve got some drills slated that will sharpen your tactical thinking, bring back those course lessons from a few years ago. You’ll get the hang of it quicker than you think. I bet you’ll make a good Tac Boss.”

“Well, thanks for the confidence,” she said, although without much enthusiasm.

“Hey, it’s not rocket surgery. I got pretty good at it and I’m just a dumb reservist. You’re got The Ring of Power, so how tough can it be?”

She looked at her Annapolis class ring and smiled at that, but Sam knew words could only do so much. What Filipenko really needed was just to get into the routine of the job and build up some confidence. He pointed back to the missiles.

“Look, deep space tactics are easy. It’s all a matter of speed and distance. If you can put a Mark Five Fire Lance within five thousand kilometers of an enemy ship, it will take care of the rest. In order to get it where you want it, you point the boat in the direction you want the missile to go and shoot it out of our spinal coil gun. The coil gun’s a linear magnetic accelerator that runs from here all the way up to the bow, right through the boat, just ventral of this access tube. It kicks the missile out with an exit velocity of six kilometers per second. If you know the relative velocity of the target, it’s grade school arithmetic to figure out whether you can put a missile moving six kilometers per second within five thousand kilometers of it.”

“There’s more to it than just that,” Filipenko said.

“Well, sure. That’s why they pay us. But that’s the core of the problem: putting one of our missiles within killing range of a target. Everything else is a variation on that theme.

“This is your job now. To do it right you have to understand your tools–and your people. You’ve got a good weapons division chief in there. She may be a little rough around the edges, but she’ll help you learn the ropes and she won’t let you down in a crisis. You just need to get along with her.”

“Sure. The way you get along with the captain.”