Chain of Command – Snippet 39
31 December 2133 (two days later) (tenth day in K’tok orbit)
The general quarters gong still sounded and Goldjune had already moved to the Maneuvering One chair when Sam arrived on the bridge. As he strapped into the command chair he studied the tactical schematic on the smart wall ahead of him–already obscured by the interference of a nuclear explosion in orbit, but almost on the far side of K’tok from Puebla.
“What the hell happened? Is it an attack?”
“Yes, sir,” Goldjune said. “Captain, the boat’s at general quarters, MatCon alpha, task group standing orbit and speed, reactor on standby, full charge on the ring, shroud secured, sensors active. No change in orbit since last watch change. At 0721, we had two sudden new contacts–looks like another jump emergence–and I sounded general quarters”.
“Very well, Mr. Goldjune, I have the boat. Where are they? Behind K’tok?”
“Yes sir. Another polar approach, only two cruisers this time. By the time I had the boat aligned, they had passed our firing window.”
Sam brought up his own tactical display and walked it back to the contact point. Only two uBakai cruisers?
“Helm, give me a lateral acceleration warning and then align the boat on his transit point, where they’ll break the disk.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
The claxon sounded as Marina Filipenko came through the hatch. She waited for the initial burn to start and then climbed up and into the Tac One chair.
“How many of them?” she asked.
“Two. They’re over there on the far side of K’tok”
Filipenko brought up her own display. “Um â€¦ Captain Rivera’s boat, Champion Hill, is in low orbit, tending the bombardment munitions.”
Sam pulled up the tactical recording, ran it forward at high speed and then backwards and couldn’t make any sense of what was going on. The one thing he was sure of was that the bandits had fired the missiles that had detonated and cluttered up their sensors. He glanced down to check who was in the Tac Two seat.
“Chief Patel, you take the long range sensors, up and active. This can’t be the whole story. There may be more leatherheads on the way. There have to be. Don’t let them sneak up on us.”
Two cruisers, popping out of jump space at ridiculously close range, doing a fast fly-byâ€¦ what was this supposed to accomplish?
“There he is, breaking the disc!” Filipenko called out.
Sam saw it on his own display, the uBakai cruisers emerging from the sensor shadow of K’tok, emerging from behind the disc of the planet. The data tag showed their range increasing at over twenty kilometers per second.
“No firing solution, sir. They’re going too fast and on a receding vector.”
Sam nodded but still couldn’t figure out what had just happened.
“Captain, I’m picking up an SOS from Champion Hill,” Chief Gambara in the Comm Chair said. “It’s an automated transmitter, not audio. They may be fucked up pretty bad, sir.”
“Helm, who’s in the best position to render assistance?” Sam asked.
“Cha-cha,” Goldjune answered, and then he turned to look at Sam. He didn’t look smug, he didn’t wear that half-sneer of contempt he used to specialize in. No, Larry Goldjune looked scared and confused, and hoping Sam had the answers he didn’t.
Wasn’t that interesting?
It took all of the morning and part of the afternoon to sort through the data records and figure out what happened. At 1130 hours it became Sam’s job.
Bitka, Commodore Bonaventure had said via tight beam commlink, I see in your service folder that when you were at Pearl River you took the course on squadron-level intelligence analysis, and ended second in the class. Say something smart about how to look at all of the data we are collecting
Sam thought for a moment and said the first thing he’d learned in the course that struck him as genuinely interesting. “Don’t waste your time trying to guess what the enemy’s going to do. Concentrate on what he’s capable of doing.”
Huh. Bueno, you’re hired. You are now the task group’s acting N-2. Find out what just happened.
And so he had. The hardest part had been trying to reconstruct what happened to Champion Hill. He didn’t have any crew interviews to work from yet since Cha-Cha was still recovering the survivors and they were undergoing medical triage. He did eventually have a copy of the data record from Champion Hill’s engineering department, which also included the command log up until the last moment. He also had an external video survey of the boat which made him dizzy the first time he looked at it.
The forward third of the boat was nothing but twisted, spidery wreckage. The bow itself, all the way back to about the bridge, was completely gone. A fire lance hit wouldn’t do this much damage. It wouldn’t do this sort of damage. This looked as if something had torn the nose off and shredded everything behind it, just peeled it back in places like a banana skin. Another new uBakai secret weapon?
The answer was hidden in the command data logs. Once he made sure he understood what the uBakai cruisers had been doing in their high-speed fly-by, he contacted Bonaventure.
“Commodore, that was a transport mission. The cruisers dropped sixteen large-capacity reentry gliders. It wasn’t easy to see them through the noise of that nuke they set off, which was probably the intention, but we’ve got a good composite picture from a couple different platforms. I’ve narrowed the likely landing area. It’s six hundred kilometers northwest of T’tokl-Heem, the colonial capital.”
What for, do you think? Bonaventure asked.
“All I can tell you is what those gliders are capable of carrying: about fifty tons of cargo each or one hundred and fifty passengers, or some mix of that, depending on their configuration. The most likely cargo, given the situation, is military, but that could be better-trained ground troops or heavy equipment–either armored vehicles or surface-to-orbit weaponry. I’d recommend keeping an eye on the landing site.”
Huh. In and out fast to drop off high-priority cargo. Stretched as thin as we are, it makes sense. And what about Champion Hill?
San shook his head. “I was worried about some new super-weapon, but Captain Rivera just had some really bad luck–no other way to put it. The recovered logs show she was firing a missile exactly when the uBakai hit her with a fire lance forward. The fire lance strike must have compromised the coil gun shaft, but the missile was still coming. It hit the shaft blockage already going between five and six kilometers a second. Fortunately, the warhead didn’t fire or no one would have survived, but it still packed a hell of a lot of kinetic energy.”
Yes, enough to blow the nose off and shred everything forward of about frame forty, Bonaventure said. Some of the wreckage is hot–radioactive hot. That would be the material from the warhead’s fission trigger, yes?
“Yes, sir. How many survivors?”
Fifty-two, but three of them might not make it and we’re going to have to freeze a lot of the other injured. Juanita Rivera was on the bridge. I doubt we’ll ever find her body, or any of her bridge crew. It took out the forward crew bay as well. We’ll shift as many survivors as we can to the Highstation. We don’t have the medical facilities to deal with them. The admiral should have left Hornet behind. Even just parked in high orbit, it would have been doing something–repair work, a hospital suite, letting our people rotate through for some plus-gee time. Something.
Sam knew his boss was right, but being right didn’t get them much.