Mission Of Honor – Snippet 07

Chapter Two

“I can’t believe this,” Fleet Admiral Winston Kingsford, CO, Battle Fleet, half-muttered. “I mean, I always knew Josef hated the Manties, but, still . . . .”

His voice trailed off as he realized what he’d just said. It wasn’t the most diplomatic comment he could possibly have made, since it was Fleet Admiral Rajampet who had personally suggested Josef Byng as the CO of Task Group 3021. Kingsford had thought it was a peculiar decision at the time, since the task group was a Frontier Fleet formation and Byng, like Kingsford, was a Battle Fleet officer. He’d also expected Fleet Admiral Engracia Alonso y Yáñez, Frontier Fleet’s commanding officer, to resist Byng’s appointment. For that matter, he’d expected Byng to turn it down. From a Battle Fleet perspective, a Frontier Fleet command had to be viewed as a de facto demotion, and Josef Byng had certainly had the family connections to avoid it if he’d chosen to.

All of which suggested it might not be a good idea to even hint at “I told you so” now that things had gone so disastrously awry.

“Believe it,” Rajampet said heavily.

The two of them sat in Rajampet’s luxurious office at the very apex of the Navy Building’s four hundred stories. The view through the genuine windows was spectacular, and in another thirty or forty years it would almost certainly belong to one Winston Kingsford.

Assuming he didn’t screw up irretrievably between now and then.

“Have you looked at the technical material yet, Sir?” he asked.

“Not yet.” Rajampet shook his head. “I doubt very much that you’ll find any clues as to secret Manticoran super weapons in it. Even if they’ve got them, I’m sure they’ll have vacuumed the sensor data before they sent it on to us. And since Sigbee surrendered all of her ships, I’d imagine they did a pretty fair job of vacuuming her computers, too. So I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of insight into their hardware out of this even if they do oh-so-graciously return our property to us.”

“With your permission, Sir, I’ll hand this over to Karl-Heinz and Hai-shwun, anyway.”

Admiral Karl-Heinz Thimár commanded the Solarian League Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, and Admiral Cheng Hai-shwun commanded the Office of Operational Analysis. OpAn was the biggest of ONI’s divisions, which made Cheng Thimár’s senior deputy . . . and also the person who should have seen this coming.

“Of course,” Rajampet agreed, waving one hand brusquely. Then his mouth tightened. “Don’t hand it over until I’ve had a chance to talk to Karl-Heinz first, though. Someone’s got to tell him about Karlotte, and I guess it’s up to me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Kingsford said quietly, and gave himself a mental kick for forgetting Rear Admiral Karlotte Thimár, Byng’s chief of staff, was — had been — Karl-Heinz’s first cousin.

“Actually, getting them started on this is probably a damned good idea, even if we’re not going to get much in the way of hard data out of it. I want the best evaluation OpAn can give me on these new missiles of theirs. I don’t expect miracles, but see what you can get out of them.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And while they’re working on that, you and I are going to sit down and look at our deployment posture. I know the entire Manty navy’s a fart in a wind storm compared to Battle Fleet, but I don’t want us suffering any avoidable casualties because of overconfidence. Kolokoltsov has a point, damn him, about the difference in missile ranges. We’re going to need a hammer they won’t be able to stop when we go after their home system.”

“When we go after their home system?” Kingsford stressed the adverb, and Rajampet barked a grating laugh.

“Those civilian idiots can talk about ‘if’ all they want to, Winston, but let’s not you and I fool ourselves, all right? It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’ and you know it as well as I do. Those Manticoran pricks are too arrogant to recognize what their real options are. They’re not going to go for this ultimatum of Quartermain’s, and in the end, that means we’ll be going in. Besides –”

He broke off rather abruptly, and Kingsford raised one eyebrow at him. But the CNO only shook his head, waving his hand in another brushing away gesture.

“The point is,” he continued, “that it’s going to come to shooting in the end, no matter what sort of ‘negotiations’ anyone may try to set up. And when it does, the strategy’s actually going to be pretty damned simple, since they’ve only got one really important star system. They don’t have any choice, strategically. If we go after Manticore itself, they have to stand and fight. No matter how long-ranged their missiles may be, they can’t just cut and run, so I want to be sure we’ve got enough counter-missiles and point defense to stand up to their missile fire while we drive straight for their planets. It may not be pretty, but it’ll work.”

“Yes, Sir,” Kingsford said yet again, and he knew his superior was right. After all, that concept lay at the bottom of virtually all of Battle Fleet’s strategic doctrine. But however much he might agree with the CNO about that, his brain was still working on that aborted “Besides” of Rajampet’s. Something about it bothered him, but what . . . ?

Then he remembered.

I wonder . . . Did he even mention Sandra Crandall and her task force to the others? And while I’m wondering, just how much did he have to do with getting her deployed to the Madras Sector in the first place?

It took all of his self-control to keep his eyes from narrowing in sudden, intense speculation, but this was definitely not the time to ask either of those questions. And even if he’d asked, the answers — assuming Rajampet answered him honestly — would only have raised additional questions. Besides, however far into this particular pie Rajampet’s finger might be, the CNO was covered. Byng’s assignment, while not precisely routine, wasn’t completely unprecedented. It was certainly justifiable in the wake of the Battle Monica and all the charges and counter charges that had spawned, as well. And, equally certainly, Crandall had the seniority to choose, within reason, where to carry out her training exercises. So if it just happened she’d picked the McIntosh System for Exercise Winter Forage (or whatever she’d decided to call it in the end), and if that just happened to mean Task Force 496 was barely fifty light-years away from the Meyers System, that didn’t necessarily indicate any collusion on Rajampet’s part.

Sure it didn’t, he thought. And I’ll bet that answers my first question, too. Hell no he didn’t tell them. And he’s covered no matter what happens, because she’s undoubtedly made up her own mind by now what she’s going to do, and he can’t possibly get orders to her in time to stop her. So, really, there was no point in telling them, was there?

Winston Kingsford hadn’t commanded a fleet in space in decades, but he had plenty of experience in the tortuous, byzantine maneuvers of the Solarian League’s bureaucracy. And he was well aware of how much Rajampet resented his own exclusion from the cozy little civilian five some which actually ran the League. Minister of Defense Taketomo’s real power was no greater than that of any of the other cabinet ministers who theoretically governed the League, but Defense was — or damned well ought to be, anyway — at least as important as Commerce or Education and Information. It had a big enough budget to be, at any rate, and it was critical enough to the League’s prosperous stability. Yet Rajampet had been denied his place at the head table, and it irritated the hell out of him.

But if we should just happen to get into a real, genuine war for the first time in three or four hundred years, all of that could change, couldn’t it? Kingsford thought. I wonder how many people Rajani would be willing to kill to bring that about?

Despite his own trepidation, Kingsford felt a certain grudging admiration. It was always possible he was wrong, of course. In fact, he wouldn’t have thought Rajampet had that sort of maneuver in him. But it wasn’t as if Winston Kingsford felt any inclination to complain. After all, if Rajampet pulled it off, it was Kingsford who would eventually inherit that increased prestige and real political clout. And if everything went south on them, it wouldn’t be Kingsford’s fault. All he would have done was exactly what his lawful superior had instructed him to do.

It never even crossed his mind that in most star nations what he suspected Rajampet of would have constituted treason, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. For that matter, under the letter of the Solarian League Constitution, it did constitute treason — or, at the very least, “high crimes and misdemeanors” which carried the same penalty. But the Constitution had been a dead letter virtually from the day the original ink dried, and what someone else in some other star nation, far, far away, would have called “treason” was simply the way things were done here in the Solarian League. And, after all, somebody had to get them done, one way or another.