Mission Of Honor – Snippet 59

“From what I’ve seen of the tech readouts from their battlecruisers’ databases,” Caparelli replied for the earl after a moment, “and assuming the count on Crandall’s SDs is accurate and Admiral Gold Peak fights as smart as she’s always fought before, I’d say her chances range from about even to fairly good. There’s no way she could survive in energy range of that many superdreadnoughts — I don’t care what class they are — but I very seriously doubt that any Solarian superdreadnought’s going to survive to close to energy range. Their missile armaments are light, even by our pre-pod standards, and from our examination of the battlecruisers’ counter-missiles and those ‘Halo’ decoy platforms of theirs, they still don’t have a clue what the new missile threat environment really is. For that matter, assuming the stats we’ve pulled out of the computers are really accurate — which, to be honest, in some instances I find a little difficult to believe — at least two thirds of their reserve fleet’s still equipped with autocannon point defense, not lasers.”

“You’re joking,” Langtry said, his expression eloquent of disbelief.

“No, I’m not.” Caparelli shook his head for added emphasis. “As I say, it’s hard to believe, but that’s what the data says. In fact, it looks to Pat’s analysts as if they’ve only just recently really started to become aware of the increased missile threat. From the reports we’ve had from Second Congo, at least someone in the League’s been experimenting with extended-range shipkillers, but whatever Mesa may’ve told Luft and his lunatics, there’s no evidence the one doing the experimenting is the SLN. They’re upgrading their current-generation anti-ship missiles, but only marginally, and according to our captured data from Byng, the improvements are to seekers and EW capabilities, not range.

“Defensively, there’s some information in the data about something called ‘Aegis,’ which is supposed to be a major advance in missile defense. As nearly as we can tell, though, what it really amounts to is ripping out a couple of broadside energy mounts, replacing them with additional counter missile fire control and telemetry links, and then using main missile tubes to launch additional canisters of counter-missiles. It’s going to thicken their counter-missile fire, but only at the expense of taking several shipkiller missiles out of an already light broadside. And to make things worse from their perspective, their counter-missiles themselves aren’t as good as ours; the fire control software we’ve been looking at was several generations out of date, by our standards, at the start of the last war with Haven; and even on the ships where they’ve converted the autocannon to laser clusters, they don’t appear to have increased the number of point defense stations appreciably.”

He shook his head again, his eyes bleak with satisfaction.

“I don’t doubt that they’ve increased their anti-missile capability from what it used to be, Tony,” he said. “And it’s going to take more missiles to kill their ships than it would have before they did it. But the end result’s going to be the same, and if Admiral Gold Peak doesn’t have Apollo, she’s got at least four missile colliers stuffed full of Mark 23 flatpacks, her shipboard magazines are full of Mark 16s, mostly with the new laserheads, and every one of her Nikes has Keyhole One. Trust me. If this Solly admiral’s stupid enough to ram her head into Spindle, Admiral Gold Peak will give her the mother of all migraines. She may not be able to keep Crandall from taking control of the planet’s orbitals if she’s willing to suck up the losses involved, but she’ll be damned lucky if she has ten percent of her ships left when Tenth Fleet runs out of ammo.”

“Which will only make this mess even messier from a diplomatic standpoint,” Langtry pointed out. “Especially with this new story O’Hanrahan broke.”

“Oh, thank you, Tony!” Grantville snorted. “I could have gone all week without thinking about that one!”

“It was a master stroke, wasn’t it?” Elizabeth said sourly. “If there’s one newsy in the entire Solarian League no one could ever accuse of being in Manpower’s pocket, it’s Audrey O’Hanrahan. In fact, the way she was beating up on Frontier Security, Manpower, and Technodyne over Monica only gives this new ‘scoop’ of hers even more impact.”

“I still don’t understand how they did it.” White Haven shook his head. “It’s obvious from her past accomplishments that she’s got contacts that should have spotted any forged data, no matter how well it was done. So how did they manage to fool her this time around?”

“Well, Pat’s own analysts have all confirmed that the data she’s using in her reports carries what appear to be genuine New Tuscan Navy security and ID codes,” Caparelli said. “It may’ve been doctored — in fact, we know what parts of it were, and we’re trying to figure out how to demonstrate that fact — but it certainly looks like the official record of what happened. And to be fair to O’Hanrahan, she’s never claimed that she’s been able to confirm the accuracy of the data on the chips — only that all of her ‘informed sources’ agree it came directly from the New Tuscans and that it’s been certified by the New Tuscan Navy . . . unlike the data we’ve supplied.”

“Which only makes it worse, in a lot of ways,” Langtry observed. “She’s not the one beating the drums, just the one who handed them the drumsticks. In fact, in the last ‘faxes I’ve seen from Old Terra, she’s actually protesting — pretty vehemently — that other newsies and talking heads are reading a lot more into her story than she ever meant for them to.”

“So she’s got good intentions. Great!” White Haven said dourly. “If I recall correctly, Pandora wasn’t all that successful at stuffing things back into the box, either.”

“Fair enough,” Langtry agreed. “On the other hand, I detect Malachai Abruzzi’s hand in all this, as well.”

“But there’s no way this is going to stand up in the end,” Elizabeth protested. “Too many people in New Tuscany know what really happened. Not to mention the fact that we’ve already got the New Tuscan Navy’s sensor records for the period involved, complete with all the same security and ID codes — and time chops — and the real records don’t begin to match the ones someone handed her.”

“With all due respect, your Majesty,” Langtry said, “we have exactly the same kind of evidence and substantiation where our prewar diplomatic correspondence with Haven is concerned. In fact, I have to wonder if our little disagreement with the Peeps isn’t what suggested this particular ploy to Manpower. Or to Mesa, for that matter.” The foreign secretary grimaced. “It’s almost like some kind of’ perfect storm,’ isn’t it? First Mesa drops Green Pines on us, and then O’Hanrahan, of all people, gives us the follow-up punch with this cock-and-bull story from New Tuscany.”

“I think it was deliberately orchestrated,” White Haven said grimly. “Both stories came out of — or at least through Mesa — after all. I’ll lay you any odds you like that the whole business about dispatches from New Tuscany’s a complete fabrication. Somebody in Mesa planned this very carefully, and I’ll also bet you they deliberately set O’Hanrahan up to front for them exactly because she’s always been so careful to be as accurate as possible. And the fact that she was one of the few Solly newsies questioning their version of Green Pines and demanding hard evidence to back up their claims only makes her even more damaging on this story, since no one in the galaxy could possibly accuse her of carrying water for Mesa in the past.” The earl shook his head. “Playing her this way was probably a little risky from their perspective, but look at how it’s paid off for them.

“And even if the truth is staring them right in the eye, people like Abruzzi and Quartermain and Kolokoltsov are capable of projecting perfect candor while they look the other way,” Grantville added. “They’ll swear the version that suits their purposes is the truth, despite any evidence to the contrary, and figure that when the smoke clears and it turns out they were wrong, they’ll get away with it by saying ‘oops’. After all, it was an honest mistake, wasn’t it?”