Mission Of Honor – Snippet 04

“In other words, they’ve told us their original interpretation of what happened to their destroyers has been confirmed, and that the admiral responsible for that incident has now been killed, along with the destruction of his flagship and its entire crew, because he rejected their demands. And they’ve pointed out, in case any of us might miss it, that Byng’s original actions at New Tuscany constitute an act of war under interstellar law and that under that same interstellar law, Admiral Gold Peak was completely justified in the actions she took. Indeed,” he showed his teeth in something no one would ever mistake for a smile, “they’ve pointed out how restrained Gold Peak was, under the circumstances, since Byng’s entire task force was entirely at her mercy and she gave him at least three separate opportunities to comply with their demands without bloodshed.”

“They’ve declared war on the Solarian League?” Abruzzi seemed unable to wrap his mind around the thought. Which was particularly ironic, Kolokoltsov thought, given his original breezy assurance that the Manticorans were only posturing, seeking an entirely cosmetic confrontation with the League in an effort to rally their battered domestic morale.

“No, they haven’t declared war on the League,” the diplomat replied out loud. “In fact, they’ve refrained from declaring war . . . so far, at least. I wouldn’t say there’s any give in their note — in fact, it’s the most belligerent diplomatic communication I’ve ever seen directed to the League, and they’ve made no bones about observing that a de facto state of war already exists between us because of our flag officer’s actions — but they’ve made it clear they aren’t prepared to foreclose all possibility of a diplomatic resolution.”

“Diplomatic resolution?!” Rajampet exploded. He slammed one fist down on the conference table. “Fuck them and their ‘diplomatic resolutions’! They’ve destroyed a Solarian warship, killed Solarian naval personnel! I don’t care whether they want a war or not — they’ve got one!”

“Don’t you think it might be a good idea to at least look at Sigbee’s messages and the data the Manties have sent along, Rajani?” MacArtney demanded tartly. The admiral glared at him, and MacArtney glared right back. “Didn’t you hear what Innokentiy just said? Gold Peak took out Jean Bart from outside Byng’s effective missile range! If they outrange us that badly, then –”

“Then it doesn’t goddammed matter!” Rajampet shot back. “We’re talking about frigging battlecruisers, Nathan. Battlecruisers — and Frontier Fleet battlecruisers, at that. They don’t begin to have the antimissile defenses a ship-of-the-wall does, and no battlecruiser can take the kind of damage a waller can take! I don’t care how many fancy missiles they’ve got, there’s no way they can stop Battle Fleet if we throw four or five hundred superdreadnoughts straight at them, especially after the losses they’ve already taken in their damned Battle of Manticore.”

“I might find that thought just a little more reassuring if not for the fact that all reports indicate they apparently just finished taking out something like three or four hundred Havenite SDs in the same battle,” MacArtney pointed out even more acidly.

“So what,” Rajampet more than half-sneered. “One damned batch of barbarians beating on another one. What’s that got to do with us?”

MacArtney stared at him, as if he literally couldn’t comprehend what Rajampet was saying, and Kolokoltsov didn’t blame MacArtney at all. Even allowing for the fact that all of this had come at the CNO cold . . . .

“Excuse me, Rajani,” the diplomat said, “but don’t our ships-of-the-wall and our battlecruisers have the same effective missile range?” Rajampet glowered at him, then nodded. “Then I think we have to assume their ships-of-the-wall have at least the same effective missile range as their battlecruisers, which means they outrange us, too. And given the fact that the Republic of Haven has been fighting them for something like, oh, twenty T-years, and is still in existence, I think we have to assume they can match Manticore’s combat range, since they’d have been forced to surrender quite some time ago if they couldn’t. So if the Manties managed to destroy or capture three or four hundred Havenite superdreadnoughts, despite the fact that they had equivalent weapon ranges, what makes you think they couldn’t stop five hundred of our ships if they outrange us significantly? At least the Havenites could shoot back, you know!”

“So we send a thousand,” Rajampet said. “Or, hell, we send twice that many! We’ve got over two thousand in full commission, another three hundred in the yards for regular overhaul and refit cycles, and over eight thousand in reserve. They may’ve beaten the crap out of the Havenites, but they got the shit shot out of them, too, from all reports. They can’t have more than a hundred of the wall left! And however long-ranged their missiles may be, it takes hundreds of laser heads to take out a single superdreadnought. Against the kind of counter missile fire and decoys five or six hundred of our wallers can throw out, they’d need a hell of a lot more missiles than anything they’ve got left could possibly throw!”

“And you think they wouldn’t still be able to kill a lot of our ships and a lot of our spacers?” Wodoslawski demanded skeptically.

“Oh, they could hurt us,” Rajampet conceded. “There’s no way in the universe they could stop us, but I don’t doubt we’d get hurt worse than the Navy’s ever been hurt before. But that’s beside the point, Agatá.”

Her eyebrows arched skeptically, and he barked a short, sharp — and ugly — laugh.

“Of course it’s beside the point!” he said. “The point of this is that a jumped up neobarb Navy’s opened fire on the SLN, destroyed one of our warships, and captured an entire Solarian task group. We can’t let that stand. No matter what it costs, we have to establish that no one — no one — fucks with the Solarian Navy. If we don’t make that point right here, right now, who else is likely to suddenly decide he can issue ultimatums to the fleet?” He turned his glower on MacArtney. “You should understand that if anyone can Nathan!”

“All right,” MacArtney replied, manifestly unhappily. “I take your point.” He looked around the conference table at his civilian colleagues. “The truth is,” he told them, “that big as it is, Frontier Fleet can’t possibly be everywhere it needs to be — not in any sort of strength. It manages to maintain nodes of concentrated strength at the various sector HQs and support bases, but even they get stretched pretty thin from time to time. And most of the time, we send a single ship — at most a division or two –to deal with trouble spots as they turn hot because we can’t afford to weaken those concentrated nodes by diverting more units from them. And what Rajani’s saying is that because we’re spread so thinly, there are a lot of times when we don’t actually have the firepower on the spot to enforce our policies. But what we do have on the spot is a representative of the entire Navy. Under the wrong circumstances, an unfriendly power may well have enough combat power to destroy whatever detachment we’ve sent out to show it the error of its ways. But they don’t, because they know that if they do, the rest of the Navy — however much of it takes — is going to turn up and destroy them.”

“Exactly,” Rajampet agreed, nodding vigorously. “That’s exactly the point. I don’t care how damned justified the Manties may have thought they were. For that matter, I don’t care how ‘justified’ they may actually have been, and I don’t give a damn whether or not they were operating within the letter of interstellar war. What I care about is the fact that we have to make an example out of them if we don’t want to suddenly find ourselves eyeball-to-eyeball with other neobarbs, all over the galaxy, who suddenly think they can screw around with the Solarian League, too.”

“Wait.” Malachai Abruzzi shook himself, then looked at Kolokoltsov. “Before we go any further, what did you mean about their ‘discretion’ where the newsies were concerned, Innokentiy?”

“I mean they officially released the news of Byng’s attack on their destroyers — and their response to it — the same day they sent us this note,” Kolokoltsov said flatly. Abruzzi stared at him in obvious disbelief, and Kolokoltsov smiled thinly. “I imagine we should be hearing about it shortly,” he continued, “since, according to their note, they intended to release the news to their own media six hours after their dispatch boat cleared the Junction headed for Old Terra.”