Mission Of Honor – Snippet 39

That thought elicited a quiet snort of amusement, and she ran back through the timing. It was obvious Elizabeth had reacted as promptly (and forcefully) as Michelle had expected. Additional dispatches had arrived since her initial approval of Michelle’s actions — along with the influx of journalists of every stripe and inclination — and it was evident to Michelle that very few people back home had appreciated the patronizing tone Roelas y Valiente and Gyulay had adopted in the Solarians’ so-called responses to Elizabeth’s notes. She also doubted it had surprised anyone, however, since it was so infuriatingly typical of the League’s arrogance.

When the first of the Solarian news crews reached Spindle, it had been obvious there was already plenty of blood in the water as far as they were concerned, even though they’d headed out for the Talbott Quadrant before the League had gotten around to issuing a formal press release about what had happened to Jean Bart. They’d arrived armed with the Manticoran reports of events, but that wasn’t the same thing, by a long chalk. And the Solarian accounts and editorials which had accompanied the follow-on wave that had departed after the official League statements (such as they were and what there was of them) were filled with mingled indignation, anger, outrage, and alarm, but didn’t seem to contain very much in the way of reasoned response.

Michelle knew it wasn’t fair to expect anything else out of them, given the fact that all of this had come at them cold. Not yet, at any rate. And so far, none of the ‘fax stories from the League which had reached Spindle had contained a single solid fact provided by any official Solarian source. Every official statement the Solly newsies had to go on was coming from Manticore, and even without the ingrained arrogance the League’s reporters shared in full with their fellow citizens, it wouldn’t have been reasonable for them to accept the Manticoran version without a healthy dose of skepticism. At the same time, though, it seemed glaringly evident that the majority of the Solly media’s talking heads and pundits were being fed carefully crafted leaks from inside the League bureaucracy and the SLN. Manticore’s competing talking heads and pundits weren’t being leaked additional information, but that was mainly because there was no need to. They were basing their analyses on the facts available in the public record courtesy of the Star Empire of Manticore which, unlike the Solly leaks, had the at least theoretical advantage of actually being the truth, as well. Not that many of Old Terra’s journalists and editorialists seemed aware of that minor distinction.

It was all looking even messier than Michelle had feared it might, but at least the Manticoran version was being thoroughly aired. And, for that matter, she knew the Manticoran version was actually spreading throughout the League faster than the so-called response emerging from Old Chicago. The Star Empire’s commanding position in the wormhole networks could move things other than cargo ships, she thought grimly.

At the same time Elizabeth had dispatched her second diplomatic note to Old Terra, the Admiralty had issued an advisory to all Manticoran shipping, alerting the Star Empire’s innumerable merchant skippers to the suddenly looming crisis. It would take weeks for that advisory to reach all of them, but given the geometry of the wormhole network, it was still likely it would reach almost all of them before any instructions from the League reached the majority of its local naval commanders. And along with the open advisory for the merchies, the same dispatch boats had carried secret instructions to every RMN station commander and the senior officer of every RMN escort force . . . and those instructions had been a formal war warning.

Michelle devoutly hoped it was a warning about a war which would never move beyond the realm of unrealized possibility, but if it did, the Royal Manticoran Navy’s officers’ orders were clear. If they or any Manticoran merchant ship in their areas of responsibility were attacked, they were to respond with any level of force necessary to defeat that attack, no matter who the attackers might be. In the meantime, they were also instructed to expedite the return of Manticoran merchant shipping to Manticore-dominated space, despite the fact that the withdrawal of those merchant ships from their customary runs might well escalate the sense of crisis and confrontation.

And, Michelle felt unhappily certain, office lights were burning late at Admiralty House while Thomas Caparelli and his colleagues worked on contingency plans just in case the entire situation went straight to hell.

For that matter, little though she cared for the thought, it was entirely possible the penny had officially dropped back home by now. But even if the Star Empire had received a formal response from the League — even if the League had announced it would pursue the military option instead of negotiating — Michelle hadn’t heard anything about it yet.

All of which meant she was still very much on her own, despite all the government’s approval of her previous actions and assurances of its future support. She’d received at least some reinforcements, she’d shortstopped the four CLACs of Carrier Division 7.1 on her own authority when Rear Admiral Stephen Enderby turned up in Spindle. Enderby had expected to deliver his LACs to Prairie, Celebrant, and Nuncio, then head home for another load, and the LAC crews had expected nothing more challenging than a little piracy suppression. That, obviously, had changed. Enderby had been more than willing to accept his new orders, and his embarked LACs had been busy practicing for a somewhat more demanding role. She expected her decision to retain them for Tenth Fleet to be approved, as soon as the official paperwork could catch up, and the arrival of another division of Saganami-Cs had been a pleasant surprise — in more ways than one, given its commanding officer. For that matter, still more weight of metal was in the pipeline, although the original plans for the Talbott Quadrant were still recovering from the shock of the Battle of Manticore.

In a lot of ways, given Enderby’s diversion, she was better off at the moment then she would have been under the initial plan, but that might turn out to be remarkably cold comfort if there was any truth to the New Tuscans’ reports that major Solarian reinforcements had already been deployed to the Madras Sector, as well . . . .

Well, you’ve got orders for dealing with that, too, don’t you? she asked herself. Of course, they’re basically to “use your own discretion.” It’s nice to know the folks back home think so highly of your judgment, I suppose, but still . . . .

She inhaled deeply. Baroness Medusa, the Talbott Quadrant’s Imperial Governor, had dispatched her own note directly to Meyers at the same time Michelle had departed for New Tuscany and Josef Byng’s date with several hundred laser heads. It must have reached Verrochio two T-weeks ago, and she wondered what sort of response he’d made.

You’ll be finding out soon enough, girl, she told herself grimly. But even if he dashed off a response the instant Reprise got there with O’Shaughnessy, it couldn’t get back here for another T-week. And one thing Solly bureaucrats aren’t is impetuous about putting their necks on any potential chopping blocks. So even if he didn’t have a thing to do with anything that’s happened — however unlikely that is — I doubt he’s going to have been a lot faster out of the blocks than Roelas y Valiente was.

She remembered the old proverb that said “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” It was remarkably little comfort at the moment. She had absolute confidence in her command’s ability to defeat any attack Frontier Fleet might launch against Spindle. They’d have to transfer in scores of additional battlecruisers if they hoped to have any chance against her own Nikes, Saganami-Cs, Enderby’s CLACs, and the flatpack missile pods aboard her ammunition ships. In fact, she doubted Frontier Fleet had enough battlecruisers anywhere this side of Sol itself to take Spindle, even if they could send every one of them to call on her, and battlecruisers were the heaviest ships Frontier Fleet had. But Battle Fleet was another matter, and if the New Tuscans had been right about Solly superdreadnoughts at McIntosh. . . .

She gave an internal headshake and scolded herself once again. If there were Solly ships-of-the-wall in the vicinity, she’d just have to deal with that when she got confirmation. Which, of course, was one reason she’d assigned Oversteegen to defend against Mark 23s. She might relent and pull Apollo back out of the equation, but she doubted it, because the purpose wasn’t really to smack Michael, no matter how much he deserved it for being such a smartass. And no matter how much she would enjoy doing exactly that, for that matter.

No, the purpose was to force one of the best tacticians she knew to pull out all the stops in defense of the Spindle System. Seeing how well her own staff did against a truly capable Mark 23-equipped opponent would have been desirable enough in its own right, yet that was actually secondary, as far as she was concerned. She was confident of her own tactical ability, but there was always something new for even the best tactician to learn, and Michelle Henke had never been too proud to admit that. She’d be watching Rear Admiral Oversteegen closely, and not just to evaluate his performance. If he came up with something that suggested tactical wrinkles to her, she’d pounce on them in a heartbeat, because she might need them altogether too soon . . . and badly.