Mission Of Honor – Snippet 49

Chapter Fifteen

“Alpha translation in two hours, Sir.”

“Thank you, Simon.”

Lieutenant Commander Lewis Denton had been perfectly aware of that fact, but procedure mandated the astrogator’s report just in case he’d somehow failed to notice. He smiled at the familiar thought, but the smile was brief, and it vanished quickly as he glanced at the civilian in the assistant tactical officer’s chair.

Gregor O’Shaughnessy was doing a less than perfect job of concealing his tension, but Denton didn’t blame him for that. Besides, it wasn’t as if his own surface appearance of calm was fooling anyone, even if the rules of the game required everyone — including him — to pretend it was.

He glanced at the date/time display. Seventy-four T-days had passed, by the clocks of the universe at large, since HMS Reprise had departed from Spindle for the Meyers System, the headquarters of the Office of Frontier Security in the Madras Sector. Of course, it hadn’t been that long for Reprise’s crew, given that they’d spent virtually all of it hurtling through hyper-space at seventy percent of light-speed. But they’d still been gone for just over fifty-three T-days even by their own clocks, and the return leg of their lengthy voyage had seemed far, far longer than the outbound leg.

* * *

“More coffee, Ma’am?”

Michelle Henke looked up at the murmured question and nodded agreement. Master Steward Billingsley filled her cup, checked quickly around the table, topped off Michael Oversteegen’s cup, and withdrew. Michelle watched him go with a smile, then returned her attention to the officers around the conference table in HMS Artemis’ flag briefing room.

“You were saying, Michael?”

“I was sayin’, Milady, that findin’ myself up against Apollo seemed like just a tiny bit of overkill.”

He smiled at her, and although it would have taken someone who knew him very well, Michelle recognized the twinkle deep in his eyes. Not every subordinate flag officer who’d been so thoroughly (one might almost, she admitted, say shamelessly) blindsided by a weapons system the other side shouldn’t have possessed would have found the experience amusing. Fortunately, Oversteegen at least had a sense of humor.

“To be honest, it seemed that way to me, too.” She quirked a smile of her own at him. “I didn’t do it just to be nasty, though. I mean, I did do it to be nasty, but that wasn’t the only reason I did it.”

This time there was a general mutter of laughter, and Oversteegan raised one hand in the gesture of a fencing master acknowledging a touch.

“The other reason I did it, though,” she continued more seriously, “was that I wanted an opportunity to see someone — a live, flesh-and-blood someone, not an AI-administered simulation — respond to Apollo. I couldn’t find anyone here in Tenth Fleet who wouldn’t realize what was happening as soon as she saw it, but I could at least set up a situation in which she — or, in this case, he — didn’t know it was coming ahead of time.”

“And is your lab rat permitted t’ ask how he performed?” he inquired genially.

“Not bad at all for someone who lost eighty-five percent of his total command,” she reassured him, and another chuckle ran around the squadron and division commanders seated at the table with them.

“Actually, Sir,” Sir Aivars Terekhov said, “I thought it was even more impressive that you managed to take out three of the op force’s superdreadnoughts in return.”

More than one head nodded in agreement, and Oversteegen shrugged.

“I remembered readin’ your report from Monica,” he said. “You might say I had a proprietary interest in your actin’ tac officer’s performance. I was impressed by th’ way you used your Ghost Rider platforms t’ reduce th’ telemetry lag for your Mark 16s. Didn’t seem t’ me there was any reason I couldn’t do th’ same thing with Mark 23s.” He shrugged. “It’s not as good as Apollo, but it’s a lot better than nothin’.”

“You’re right about that,” Michelle agreed. “And, by the way, the dispatch boat which arrived this morning had several interesting items aboard. The latest newsfaxes from home — and from Old Terra — among other things.” She made a face, and Oversteegen snorted harshly. “In addition to that inspiring reading and viewing material, however, there were two additional items which I think you’ll all find interesting.”

One or two people sat up straighter, and she saw several sets of eyes narrow in speculation.

“The first is that we should be receiving an entire battle squadron of Apollo-capable Invictuses in about three weeks.” The reaction of almost explosive relief which swept around the table was all she could have asked for. “There was a bit of a glitch in the deployment order, and their ammunition ships will be here a week or so before they are.”

There were quite a few smiles, now, and she smiled back.

“Actually, the missile ships were originally scheduled to arrive two weeks after the wallers,” she continued, “but the squadrons we were supposed to get under that deployment plan wound up going somewhere else, so we had to wait until their replacements finished working up.”

She paused again, and Commodore Shulamit Onasis, the CO of Battlecruiser Division 106.2, frowned thoughtfully.

“I know that ‘cat-in-the-celery-patch look, Ma’am,” she said after a moment. “Why do I have the sense another shoe hanging in midair somewhere?”

“Well, I guess it might be because there is,” Michelle admitted cheerfully. She had everyone’s full attention again, she observed, and glanced at Cruiser Division 96.1’s commanding officer from the corner of one eye. “It seems that although somehow the newsies haven’t picked up on it yet, the reason our original reinforcing squadrons went somewhere else is that Duchess Harrington and Eighth Fleet have gone somewhere else, as well. To the Haven System, as a matter of fact.”

The youthful senior-grade captain she’d been watching stiffened, and there was a sudden and complete silence. Her own smile slid into something much more serious, but she shook her head.

“No,” she said. “She wasn’t planning on attacking the system. In fact, unless something went very wrong, about three weeks ago she delivered a personal message from the Queen to President Pritchart. Apparently our discoveries about Manpower’s involvement out here in New Tuscany have inspired a certain rethinking of who might actually have been behind Admiral Webster’s assassination and the attack on Queen Berry. On that basis,” she drew a deep breath and looked around the table, “and in light of the worsening situation with the Solarian League, Her Majesty has decided to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Republic after all, and she’s chosen Duchess Harrington as her lead negotiator.”

“My God,” Captain (SG) Prescott Tremaine, CruDiv 96.1’s CO, murmured. She turned her head to look at him fully, and he shook his head, like a man shaking off a stiff right cross, then gave her a crooked smile. “You were certainly right when you said you had a couple of things we might be interested in, Ma’am!”

“I thought that would probably be true, Scotty,” Michelle said with a grin. “In fact, I should probably go ahead and admit I saved that particular little tidbit until I could watch your expression.”

Most of the others chuckled at that one. Scotty Tremaine had been one of Honor Alexander-Harrington’s protégés ever since her deployment to Basilisk Station aboard the old light cruiser Fearless. Michelle wondered if he’d been as surprised as she was when she discovered that the Admiralty, in its infinite wisdom, hadn’t merely transferred him from the LAC community (where he’d not only made a considerable name for himself but actually survived the Battle of Manticore) but chosen to give a new-minted captain of the list such a plum assignment. Once she’d had time to think about it, however, she’d realized exactly why they’d done it. Even in a navy expanding as rapidly as the RMN, a flag officer had to have at least some experience in command of conventional starships, and aside from a brief stint in the “Elysian Space Navy” during the escape from Cerberus (where, admittedly, he’d performed extremely well), Scotty didn’t have any. Obviously, Lucien Cortez had decided to rectify that situation, even if giving him a division of Saganami-Cs had to have stepped on the toes of quite a few captains — or even commodores — with considerably more seniority.