Mission Of Honor – Snippet 58

February, 1922, Post Diaspora

“The Solarian League can’t accept something like this — not out of some frigging little pissant navy out beyond the Verge — not matter what kind of provocation they may think they have! If we let them get away with this, God only knows who’s going to try something stupid next!”

— Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall, SLN

Chapter Eighteen

“Well, this is a fine kettle of fish. Excuse me — another fine kettle of fish.”

Elizabeth Winton’s tone was almost whimsical; her expression was anything but. Her brown eyes were dark, radiating anger, determination, and not a little bit of fear, and the treecat stretched across her lap, instead of the back of her chair this time, was very, very still.

“It’s not exactly a complete surprise,” Hamish Alexander-Harrington, the Earl of White Haven, pointed out.

“No,” the queen agreed, “although the confirmation that this Anisimovna understated the number of superdreadnoughts rattling around the Verge probably comes under that heading.”

“I doubt anyone’s likely to disagree with that, Your Majesty,” Sir Anthony Langtry said dryly.

“And I doubt anyone in this room thinks discovering they’re really out there’s going to make things any better,” William Alexander, Baron Grantville, pointed out.

“That depends entirely on what sort of officer’s in command of them,” Admiral Sir Thomas Caparelli, the First Space Lord of the Royal Manticoran Navy, told the prime minister. “If this Crandall has the brains of a fruit fly, she’ll stay where she is and try to keep things from spinning any further out of control until she knows exactly what happened at New Tuscany and she’s had time to seek guidance from home.”

“And just what leads you to assume any Solarian flag officer sent to the Madras Sector is going to have two brain cells to rub together, Sir Thomas?” Elizabeth asked acidly. “I’m willing to concede that there might be one or two Frontier Fleet commodores who were already in the area who could seal their own shoes without printed instructions. But if the officer in command of those ships was sent out under the same master plan that sent Byng, she’s either a complete and total idiot who needs help wiping drool off her chin — and God knows the Solarian League’s got enough of them to go around! — or else she’s in Manpower’s pocket. In the first case, she’s going to react as if Mike’s fleet is a nail and she’s a hammer out of blind, unthinking spinal reflex. In the second case, she’s going to react as if Mike’s fleet is a nail and she’s a hammer because that’s what Manpower’s paying her to do. From the perspective of the nail, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.”

White Haven winced mentally at the queen’s succinct, biting analysis. Less because of the tone in which it was delivered than because of its accuracy. Of course, there was one little problem with her analogy.

“In this case, though,” he pointed out aloud, “the hammer doesn’t have a clue what it’s about to let itself in for. Or, at least, if it does, it’s going to be a lot less eager to start banging away.”

“How realistic is it to hope this Crandall realizes how big her disadvantage really is?” Grantville asked.

“If I knew the answer to that one, Willie, we wouldn’t need all of Pat Givens’ boys and girls over at ONI,” his brother replied. “Anyone who looks at what Mike did at New Tuscany with an open, unprejudiced mind is going to realize just how outclassed he and his ships were. Unfortunately, if she moved out immediately after Reprise spotted her at in Meyers, she won’t have had time to hear anything about Second New Tuscany. And even if she waited long enough to hear from the dispatch boat that got away from Mike, she’d have to be able to make the leap from what happened to a single battlecruiser to what could happen to an entire fleet of superdreadnoughts. As Her Majesty has just pointed out, it’s not unlikely anyone Manpower’s recruited for this command is going to be all that interested in looking at the data. And even if she is, I suspect she’s still too likely to figure her superdreadnoughts are a hell of a lot tougher than any battlecruiser ever built.”

“And that they’re enough tougher she doesn’t have to worry about any slick little tricks mere battlecruisers might try against them?” Grantville finished the thought for him with a question.

“Pretty much,” Caparelli agreed. “More than that, she may hope we haven’t been able to reinforce. In that case, she’s going to want to move quickly, before we do send in additional units.”

“Do you agree with Mike’s assessment about their probable targeting priorities, Sir Thomas?” Elizabeth asked, her fingers caressing Ariel’s ears.

“Judging from we’ve seen of their contingency planning from the databases she captured at New Tuscany, I’d say yes, Your Majesty.” The first space lord grimaced. “If it weren’t for the wormhole, I’d be positive they were going to jump straight at Spindle. Given the importance of the Lynx Terminus, though, it’s pretty much a coin toss. I don’t see them splitting up and going after individual star systems in the Quadrant until after they’ve nailed Tenth Fleet. Not assuming Crandall knows what happened at New Tuscany, at any rate. But the idea of seizing the terminus, holding it to keep us from reinforcing while simultaneously forcing Admiral Gold Peak to come to them if she wants to reopen her line of communications, would have to appeal to a Solly strategist.”

“I wish it would,” White Haven muttered, and Caparelli barked a laugh of harsh agreement.

“Hamish is right about that, Your Majesty,” he said. “We’ve got all but one of the forts fully online now. And we’ve got Apollo system-defense birds deployed in depth to cover them. In fact, we were planning on recalling Jessup Blaine from Lynx to refit his pod-layers with Keyhole-Two and Apollo.”

“So you and Hamish are both confident the Lynx Terminus could hold off seventy-one superdreadnoughts if it had to?”

“Your Majesty, at the risk of sounding immodest, the only real question would be how long it took us to blow all seventy-one of them out of space. Those forts were designed to hold that terminus without any outside support against the attack of two hundred and fifty of our own pre-Apollo podnoughts. Now that they have Apollo, their defensive capability’s been multiplied many times. We still aren’t sure by exactly how much, but it’s got to be at least a factor of four.”

“Then Admiral Blaine could –” Elizabeth began.

“Admiral Blaine already has, Your Majesty,” Caparelli interrupted. “I sent his new orders before I started over to the Palace. If he hasn’t already departed for Spindle, he’ll be underway within the hour. And even though he doesn’t have Apollo, his command would still eat those Solly superdreadnoughts for lunch. And there’s one other bit of good news to go with that one — Admiral Gold Peak’s Apollo ammunition ships are almost forty-eight hours ahead of the last schedule update she’s received.”

Elizabeth relaxed visibly, but Ariel raised his head and glanced at White Haven a moment before the earl cleared his throat. The quiet sound drew the queen’s attention, too, and an eyebrow rose.

“What Tom just said is completely accurate, Your Majesty,” he said, “and I unreservedly support both his analysis and his instructions to Admiral Blaine. The problem is that it’s unlikely Blaine could arrive at Spindle before the Sollies do, assuming they come straight from Meyers. So, if they do decide to move against Mike, she’s going to have to take them on with what she has, and even if the Apollo pods get there in time, she doesn’t have Keyhole-Two or pod-layers.”

“And if they hit Mike without Blaine and before the ammunition ships get there, what are her chances?” Elizabeth asked quietly.