Chain of Command – Snippet 23

“At present the surface objective is defended only by internal security forces, mostly military and civilian police. We rate their esprit and effectiveness as low.  uBakai lift infantry and armor could be shifted back from the colonial frontier quite rapidly, but Operations is persuaded that our orbital bombardment assets can either prevent a large-scale move of mechanized forces or impose unacceptable losses on them. I must emphasize the importance of maintaining the orbital bombardment force on station in order to reduce the ground threat to manageable proportions.”

She settled back in her chair and folded her hands over her lap.

That was an interesting way of putting it–that the Ops staff was persuaded that the orbital bombardment would work, as if Atwater-Jones did not share that opinion but it wasn’t her job to question it.

“Any more questions?” Captain Kleindienst asked and glowered at them. “Very well. Now for Destroyer Division Three’s specific part in this: Commander Boynton, the task force operations boss, will take over.”

Task force ops boss? He must have moved up from Bully.

“Aye, aye, ma’am.” Boynton put on a set of viewer glasses of his own and began speaking, probably reading from his prepared notes. “Because of the twenty-second burn the former captain of Puebla executed immediately after the first attack, USS Puebla is now seventy thousand kilometers in advance of the main body of DesDiv Three, and considerably farther in advance of the main body of the task force. Based on that, we’ve worked out the correction packages for Oaxaca, Tacambaro and Queretaro to use the thermal shroud of Puebla to occlude K’tok and mask their deceleration burns.

“At those distances the tolerances are very tight, but doable if you follow the burn schedules precisely. Let me beam that data bundle over now and you can pass it to your Ops people. For what it’s worth, and considering the mission change for the division, I think Captain Huhn was right to want his Ops Boss in the conference. Not sure why we need the tac-heads.”

“Noted,” Captain Kleindienst said dryly.

Sam saw Huhn’s holographic image shift beside him.

“Who will we use to mask our deceleration burn?” Huhn asked.

“No one,” Kliendienst said. “Change in plans. You are detached to direct control of the task force commander for the duration of the assault phase. I think the admiral’s going to chop you to DesDiv Four but we’ll see how things shake out.”

“You mean we’re going in with the assault force after all?” Huhn said, his voice wavering a bit. “I thought … I mean, we took a lot of damage, ma’am. And we’re very shorthanded, particularly officers.”

Kleindienst said nothing but moved a pair of viewer glasses down from on top of her head onto her face and for a moment her eyes lost focus as she studied the data projected by them.

“I’m looking at the list of repairs and you must have one hell of an A-gang, Captain Huhn. With the exception of being down one point defense laser, Puebla’s in better shape than any of the other three boats in the division. How are you dealing with only having seven PDLs?”

After a moment of silence Huhn turned and looked at Sam, as did Filipenko on his other side.

“Software patch on ATITEP is all we can manage for now, Ma’am,” Sam said. “Engineering says we can still get full coverage. We just won’t have as much redundancy.”

“Less defensive firepower in a stern-on engagement,” Kleindienst said.

“A destroyer’s preferred angle of engagement is bow-on, ma’am.”

Boynton, the task force operations chief, shifted in his chair and scowled. “Is that your professional judgment, Lieutenant? Sounds like hot air to me.”

Kleindiesnt’s eyes narrowed slightly and she turned to her left. “Commander Boynton, he’s quoting our basic manual on deep space tactical principles: DSTP-01, chapter four, something like section seven or eight. Which is it, Bitka?”

“Sorry, ma’am, I don’t remember. It was just something that stuck in my mind.”

“Well, I suppose there are worse things to stick in there. Anything else?”

Sam thought for a moment, unsure whether he should press his luck, but there was a problem they needed to address while they still could.

“Yes, ma’am, I am concerned about our ability to deal with another round of damage. We took a hit in an engineering parts bay, so a lot of our key replacement parts are gone, over and above the actual damaged components we had to replace. If you want us up front and active, we could really use a component resupply.”

“It’s not possible, Lieutenant,” Commander Boynton said, taking off his view glasses and tossing them on his workstation in anger. “If you had an astrogation background you’d understand that. You know Hornet’s crippled. You want one of the destroyers in your division to shuttle back and forth to Hornet for parts? It’s not feasible, either from the point of view of reaction mass or available time.”

Sam fought a momentary urge to answer that arrogant prick the way he deserved, but swallowed it and nodded seriously instead.

“You’re absolutely right, sir, which is why that’s not what I had in mind. I bet most of the parts we need are on the other three division boats, and as they’re heading back to Hornet anyway–”

“W-wait!” Captain Bonaventure of Oaxaca said, as if suddenly waking from a nap. “What’s that?”

“Make up your list, Bitka,” Kleindienst said, “but light a fire under it. Captain Bonaventure, you fill that list, but spread it out. No more than two cargo pods per boat. I want your three division boats headed back to Hornet ASAP. The admiral detached an Indian cruiser–INS Kolkata–as close escort back there but he wants it up front in his line of battle when the shooting starts. Our two cruisers at Mogo won’t get to us until at least two weeks after we reach K’tok orbit. Until INS Kolkata can rejoin, the cruiser force is down to four heavies.”

“Ma’am, I’m not happy about cannibalizing my parts lockers,” Bonaventure said. “As beat up as Hornet is, what guarantee is there she’ll be able to restock us when we get there?”

“None,” Kleindienst said. “Make it happen anyway.”

Then she turned to her right and glared at Atwater-Jones. “And what are you grinning about?”

Atwater-Jones smiled sweetly at the chief of staff. “Nothing in particular, Mum. I hail from a green and pleasant land and it makes me cheerful by disposition. Sometimes just thinking about Old Blighty makes me smile.”

Kleindienst turned back with a sour look. “Now, if there are no more questions, we’ve all got work to do. Let’s get on it.”

She cut the connection and all of the holo-images vanished, leaving Sam alone in his office. He waited for his commlink to vibrate, waited for the accompanying ID tone of the captain, but it did not come and Del Huhn faded a little more. After five minutes he gave up, squinted up the boat’s directory, and pinged Rose Hennessey, the chief engineer.

“Hennessey, I got six two-cubic-meter cargo pods worth of replacement parts lined up from the other three division boats, but I need a prioritized list of what you want and I need it fast.”

Six pods? Bitka …I want to have your babies!”