Mission Of Honor – Snippet 03

Of everyone present, she and Rajampet probably personally disliked Manticorans the most. In Rajampet’s case, that was because the Royal Manticoran Navy declined to kowtow satisfactorily to the Solarian League Navy’s supremacy. In Quartermain’s case, it was because of how deeply she resented Manticore’s wormhole junction and its merchant marine’s dominance of the League’s carrying trade. Which meant, among other things, that she had a very clear idea of how much damage the Star Empire of Manticore could do the League’s economy if it decided to retaliate economically for Solarian aggression.

“How many ships did the Manties lose this time?” she continued in a resigned tone, clearly already beginning to reckon up the restitution the Star Empire might find itself in a position to extort out of the League.

“Oh, they didn’t lose any ships,” Kolokoltsov replied.

“What?!” Rajampet exploded. “That’s goddammed nonsense! No Solarian flag officer’s going to roll over and take something like that without –!”

“In that case, Rajani, I recommend you read Admiral Sigbee’s report yourself. She found herself in command after Admiral Byng’s . . . demise, and the Manties were kind enough to forward her dispatches to us along with their note. According to our own security people, they didn’t even open the file and read it, first. Apparently they saw no reason to.”

This time, Rajampet was clearly bereft of speech. He just sat there, staring at Kolokoltsov, and the diplomat shrugged.

“According to the synopsis of Admiral Sigbee’s report, the Manties destroyed Admiral Byng’s flagship, the Jean Bart, with a single missile salvo launched from far beyond our own ships’ effective range. His flagship was completely destroyed, Rajani. There were no survivors at all. Under the circumstances, and since Admiral Gold Peak — who, I suppose I might also mention, turns out to be none other than Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin and fifth in line for the Manticoran throne — had made it crystal clear that she’d destroy all of Byng’s ships if her demands were not met, Admiral Sigbee — under protest, I need hardly add — complied with them.”

“She –?” Rajampet couldn’t get the complete sentence out, but Kolokoltsov nodded anyway.

“She surrendered, Rajani,” he said in a marginally gentler voice, and the admiral closed his mouth with a snap.

He wasn’t the only one staring at Kolokoltsov in horrified disbelief now. All the others seemed struck equally dumb, and Kolokoltsov took a certain satisfaction from seeing the reflection of his own stunned reaction in their expressions. Which, he admitted, was the only satisfaction he was likely to be feeling today.

On the face of it, the loss of a single ship and the surrender of twenty or so others, counting Byng’s screening destroyers, could hardly be considered a catastrophe for the Solarian League Navy. The SLN was the biggest fleet in the galaxy. Counting active duty and reserve squadrons, it boasted almost eleven thousand superdreadnoughts, and that didn’t even count the thousands upon thousands of battlecruisers, cruisers, and destroyers of Battle Fleet and Frontier Fleet . . . or the thousands of ships in the various system-defense forces maintained for local security by several of the League’s wealthier member systems. Against that kind of firepower, against such a massive preponderance of tonnage, the destruction of a single battlecruiser and the two thousand or so people aboard it, was less than a flea bite. It was certainly a far, far smaller relative loss, in terms of both tonnage and personnel, than the Manticorans had suffered when Byng blew three of their newest destroyers out of space with absolutely no warning.

But it was the first Solarian warship destroyed by hostile action in centuries, and no Solarian League admiral had ever surrendered his command.

Until now.

And that was what truly had the others worried, Kolokoltsov thought coldly. Just as it had him worried. The omnipotence of the Solarian League Navy was the fundamental bedrock upon which the entire League stood. The whole purpose of the League was to maintain interstellar order, protect and nurture the interactions, prosperity, and sovereignty of its member systems. There’d been times — more times than Kolokoltsov could count, really — when Rajampet and his predecessors had found themselves fighting tooth and nail for funding, given the fact that it was so obvious that no one conceivable hostile star nation, or combination of them, could truly threaten the League’s security. Yet while they might have had to fight for the funding they wanted, they’d never come close to not getting the funding they actually needed. In fact, their fellow bureaucrats had never seriously considered cutting off or even drastically curtailing expenditures on the Navy.

Partly, that was because no matter how big Frontier Fleet was, it would never have enough ships to be everywhere it needed to be to carry out its mandate as the League’s neighborhood cop and enforcer. Battle Fleet would have been a much more reasonable area for cost reductions, except that it had more prestige and was even more deeply entrenched in the League’s bureaucratic structure than Frontier Fleet, not to mention having so many more allies in the industrial sector, given how lucrative superdreadnought building contracts were. But even the most fanatical expenditure-cutting reformer (assuming that any such mythical being existed anywhere in the Solarian League) would have found very few allies if he’d set his sights on the Navy’s budget. Supporting the fleet was too important to the economy as a whole, and all the patronage that went with the disbursement of such enormous amounts was far too valuable to be surrendered. And, after all, making certain everyone else was as well aware as they were of the Navy’s invincibility was an essential element of the clout wielded by the League in general and by the Office of Frontier Security, in particular.

But now that invincibility had been challenged. Worse, although Kolokoltsov was no expert on naval matters, even the synopsis of Sigbee’s dispatches had made her shock at the effective range — and deadliness –of the Manticoran missiles abundantly clear even to him.

“She surrendered,” Permanent Senior Undersecretary of the Interior Nathan MacArtney repeated very carefully after a moment, clearly making certain he hadn’t misunderstood.

Kolokoltsov was actually surprised anyone had recovered that quickly, especially MacArtney. The Office of Frontier Security came under the control of the Department of the Interior, and after Rajampet himself, it was MacArtney whose responsibilities and . . . arrangements were most likely to suffer if the rest of the galaxy began to question just how invincible the Solarian Navy truly was.

“She did,” Kolokoltsov confirmed. “And the Manties did board her ships, and they did take possession of their computers — their fully operable computers, with intact databases. At the time she was ‘permitted’ to include her dispatches along with Admiral Gold Peak’s so we could receive her report as promptly as possible, she had no idea what ultimate disposition the Manties intend to make where her ships are concerned.”

“My God,” Quartermain said again, shaking her head.

“Sigbee didn’t even dump her data cores?” MacArtney demanded incredulously.

“Given that Gold Peak had just finished blowing one of her ships into tiny pieces, I think the Admiral was justified in concluding the Manties might really go ahead and pull the trigger if they discovered she’d dumped her data cores,” Kolokoltsov replied.

“But if they got all their data, including the secure sections . . . .”

MacArtney’s voice trailed off, and Kolokoltsov smiled thinly.

“Than they’ve got an enormous amount of our secure technical data,” he agreed. “Even worse, these were Frontier Fleet ships.”

MacArtney looked physically ill. He was even better aware then Kolokoltsov of how the rest of the galaxy might react if some of the official, highly secret contingency plans stored in the computers of Frontier Fleet flagships were to be leaked.

There was another moment of sickly silence, then Wodoslawski cleared her throat.

“What did they say in their note, Innokentiy?” she asked.

“They say the data they’ve recovered from Byng’s computers completely supports the data they already sent to us. They say they’ve recovered Sigbee’s copy of Byng’s order to open fire on the Manticoran destroyers. They’ve appended her copy of the message traffic between Gold Peak and Byng, as well, and pointed out that Gold Peak repeatedly warned Byng not only that she would fire if he failed to comply with her instructions but that she had the capability to destroy his ships from beyond his effective range. And, by the way, Sigbee’s attested the accuracy of the copies from her communications section.