Mission Of Honor – Snippet 51

She drew a deep breath and ran her mind over her own order of battle. Fourteen Nike-class battlecruisers, eight Saganami-C-class heavy cruisers, four Hydra-class CLACs, five Roland-class destroyers, and a handful of obsolescent starships like Denton’s Reprise and Victoria Saunders’ Hercules. Of course, she also had right on four hundred LACs, but they’d have to go deep into the Sollies’ weapons envelope to engage. So what it really came down to was her twenty-seven hyper-capable warships — the Hydras had no business at all in ship-to-ship combat — against Crandall’s hundred and forty. She was outnumbered by better than five-to-one in hulls, and despite the fact that Manticoran ship types were bigger and more powerful on a class-for-class basis, the tonnage differential was almost thirteen-to-one. Of course, if she counted the LACs, she had another twelve million or so tons, but even that only brought it down to around ten-to-one. And as far as anyone in Meyers knew, she had only the ships she’d taken to New Tuscany, without Oversteegen’s eight Nikes.

“If the people who set this up picked Crandall for her role as carefully as they picked Byng for his, she’s bound to believe she’s got an overwhelming force advantage. Especially if she assumes we haven’t reinforced since New Tuscany,” she said out loud.

“T’ my way of thinkin’, it’d take an uncommonly stupid flag officer, even for a Solly, t’ make that kind of assumption,” Oversteegen replied.

“And what, may I ask, have the Sollies done lately to make you think they haven’t hand-picked the flag officers out here for stupidity?” Michelle asked tartly.

“Nothin’,” he conceded disgustedly. “It just offends my sense of th’ way things are supposed t’ be, I suppose. I’d expect better thinkin’ than that out of a plate of cottage cheese!”

“I can’t say I disagree,” Terekhov said, “but fair’s fair. There might actually be a little logic on her side.” Michelle and Oversteegen both looked at him, and he chuckled sourly. “I did say ‘a little logic’,” he pointed out.

“And that logic would be?” Michelle asked.

“If she assumes all of this came at us as cold as it came at her — although assuming it did come at her cold could constitute an unwarranted supposition; she could have been involved in this thing up to her eyebrows from the very beginning — then she probably assumes we didn’t have any idea she might even be in the area. After all, when was the last time any of us can remember seeing Battle Fleet ships-of-the-wall putting time on their nodes clear out here in the Verge?”

“That’s true enough, Ma’am,” Lecter put in. “And, for that matter, as far as we know, Byng didn’t know she was out here. There was nothing in any of the databases we captured to suggest she might be. So if she wasn’t aware Anisimovna had mentioned her to the New Tuscans, she could very well believe that the first we knew about even the possibility of her presence is Reprise’s scouting report.”

“And she also can’t have any way of knowing what’s going on in the ‘faxes back on Old Terra or in Manticore,” Terekhov continued. “So whatever she does — assuming she does anything — she’s going to be acting on her own, in the dark, with no hard information at all on enemy ship strengths or the diplomatic situation.”

“Are you suggesting a Solly admiral’s going to just sit in Meyers, waiting for orders from home, after what happened in New Tuscany?” Michelle asked skeptically.

“I’m suggesting that any reasonably prudent, rational flag officer in that situation would proceed cautiously,” Terekhov replied, then bared his teeth in something which bore only a passing relationship to a smile. “Of course, what we’re actually talking about is a Solly flag officer, so, no, I don’t think that’s what she’s likely to do. Besides, we’ve all read their contingency plans from Byng’s files.”

Michelle’s mouth tightened.

It wasn’t as if the SLN’s “contingency planning” had come as a surprise, although she suspected the League would be most unhappy if the Star Empire chose to publicize some of its juicer details. There was “Case Fabius,” for example, which authorized Frontier Security commissioners to arrange Frontier Fleet “peacekeeping operations” which “accidentally” destroyed any locally owned orbital infrastructure within any protectorate star system whose local authorities proved unable to “maintain order” — meaning they’d been unable to induce the owners in question to sell to the transstellars OFS had decided would control their economies henceforth. Or “Case Buccaneer,” which actually authorized Frontier Security to use Frontier Fleet units — suitably disguised, of course — as “pirates,” complete with vanished merchant ships whose crews were never seen again, to provoke crises in targeted Verge systems in order to justify OFS intervention “to preserve order and public safety.”

All that was sufficiently interesting reading, but she knew what Terekhov was referring to. Byng’s files had also confirmed something ONI had suspected for a long time. In the almost inconceivable event that some neobarb star nation, or possibly some rogue OFS sector governor, attacked the Solarian League (or chose to forcibly resist OFS aggression, although that wasn’t specifically spelled out, of course), the SLN had evolved a simple, straightforward strategy. Frontier Fleet, which possessed nothing heavier than a battlecruiser, would screen the frontiers and attempt to slow down any invaders or commerce raiders, while Battle Fleet assembled an overwhelmingly powerful force and headed directly towards the home system of the troublemaker . . . which it would then proceed to reduce to wreckage and transform into yet another OFS protectorate.

“I see where you’re going with that, Sir,” Commander Pope said. “At the same time, not even a Solly admiral could think she’d get through the Lynx Terminus with less than eighty of the wall. For that matter, we’ve had a couple of squadrons based there ever since Monica, and there’s been enough Solly traffic through the terminus by now that they have to know the forts are virtually all online by now.”

“I wasn’t actually thinking about her trying to go directly after the home system,” Terekhov said.

“No, you’re thinkin’ she’s likely t’ see Spindle as th’ Talbott Quadrant’s ‘home system,'” Oversteegen said.

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” Terekhov agreed, and Michelle nodded.

“We can always hope something resembling sanity could break out in Meyers,” she said. “There’s no way we can count on that, though. And I think that’s especially true given how carefully the people who planned all this seem to have chosen their cat’s-paws. So, starting right now, we’re going to plan for the worst.”

She drew a deep breath and sat back in her chair.

“Gwen,” she said, looking at Lieutenant Archer, “I want you to have Bill make certain Admiral Khumalo and Baroness Medusa have both seen Commander Denton’s report. I’m sure they’ll want to sit down with him and Mr. O’Shaughnessy as soon as they’re within a reasonable two-way FTL range of Thimble, but see to it that they have all the information we have ahead of time.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“As soon as you’ve done that, tell Vicki I’ll want dispatch boats sent to every system in the Quadrant. Ask her to contact Captain Shoupe and start looking at the boats’ availability. First priority is Captain Conner at Tillerman, then Montana. He gets a complete copy of Denton’s report and data, and I’ll want to put together a personal message for him before the dispatch boat pulls out.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Gervais nodded, although he knew as well as she did that if Admiral Crandall had decided to respond forcefully, Jerome Conner’s pair of Nikes at Tillerman had probably already found out the hard way.

Michelle knew exactly what he was thinking, and smiled tightly at him. The fact that he was right didn’t change her responsibility to warn Conner as quickly as possible.

“In addition,” she went on, “when Bill makes sure Admiral Khumalo and Baroness Medusa are up to speed, tell the Admiral that unless he disagrees, I propose to send Reprise direct to Manticore to inform the Admiralty both of what she discovered at Meyers and that I am presently anticipating an attack in force on Spindle.”