Next to the last snippet. [Wink]

Mission Of Honor – Snippet 60

He grinned savagely, and his tone was viciously sarcastic as he went on.

“I can hear them now. ‘We’re so sorry that our very best efforts to sort out the facts went awry, but in the meantime we just happen to have conquered a small, insignificant star nation called Manticore. It’s all very unfortunate, but there it is, and you can’t pour the spilled milk back into the glass, you know. So we’ll just have to set up an interim government under the auspices of Frontier Security — only until the Manties get back on their feet and can elect a properly democratic government on the best Solarian pattern, so that misunderstandings like this don’t arise in the future, of course. We’d never dream of interfering with their right of self-determination beyond that! Cross our hearts!'”

“I suppose you’re right,” Elizabeth said drearily. “And if Sir Anthony’s right about Abruzzi and their Ministry of Information’s involvement in pushing this story, it sounds as if that’s exactly what they’re deciding to do.”

“It’s what they’re preparing the groundwork to do, at any rate, Your Majesty,” Langtry agreed quietly.

“And if those superdreadnoughts at Meyers actually do attack Spindle, then, especially against this backdrop of O’Hanrahan’s story, they’re almost certainly going to decide they’re in too deep to back out,” White Haven added.

“In that case, it’s probably a good thing I finally listened to Honor.” Elizabeth drew a sharp breath, then shook herself and smiled. It was a tense smile, and no one would ever have described it as a happy one, but there was no panic in it. “It looks like we’re about to get a chance to see how sound her strategic prescription for fighting the Solarian League really is. And if we are, then it’ll be a damned good idea to get the Republic of Haven off our backs while we do it. Do you suppose I ought to make that point to her when we send her a copy of Mike’s dispatch?”

The smile turned almost whimsical with the last sentence, and White Haven chuckled.

“Trust me, Your Majesty. My wife’s actually quite a bright woman. I’m pretty sure she’ll figure that out on her own.”

* * *

Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall had never been a good woman to disappoint. She was a big woman, with a hard, determined face and what one thankfully anonymous subordinate had once described as the disposition of a grizzly bear with hemorrhoids trying to pass pinecones. In fact, Commander Hago Shavarshyan thought, that had been a gross libel against grizzly bears.

Shavarshyan was in a better position than most to appreciate that, since he had the dubious good fortune of having been added to Crandall’s staff as a last moment afterthought. Apparently, it had occurred to her only after she’d decided to go to war against the Royal Manticoran Navy that it might, perhaps, be a good idea to have a staff intelligence officer who actually knew something about local conditions. Which was how Commander Shavarshyan found himself the single Frontier Fleet officer attached to a fleet whose staff , like every one of its senior squadron and division commanders, consisted otherwise solely of Battle Fleet officers, all of whom outranked him, and all of whom seemed to be competing to see who could agree most vehemently with their admiral.

Those thoughts floated through the back of Shavarshyan’s brain as he stood behind the briefing officer’s podium while Crandall and the other members of her staff settled down around the long briefing room table aboard SLNS Joseph Buckley.

“All right,” Crandall growled once they were seated. “Let’s get to it.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Shavarshyan squared his shoulders and put on his best professional expression, although everyone in the briefing room knew he’d received no fresh data in the thirty-five days since they’d left Meyers. That, unfortunately, wasn’t what Crandall wanted to hear about.

“As you know, Ma’am,” he continued briskly, “Admiral Ou-yang’s people and I have continued our study of Admiral Sigbee’s New Tuscany dispatches. We’ve combined their contents with all the information available to Frontier Fleet’s analysts, as well, of course, and I’ve compiled a report of all our observations and conclusions. I’ve mailed copies of it to all of you, which should be waiting in your in-baskets, but for the most part, unfortunately, I’m forced to say we really don’t have any startling new insights since my last report. I’m afraid we’ve pretty much mined out the available ore, Admiral. I wish I could offer you something more than that, but anything else would be pure speculation, at best.”

“But you stand by this nonsense about the Manties’ missile ranges?” Vice Admiral Pépé Bautista, Crandall’s chief of staff, asked skeptically. Bautista’s manner was more often than not caustic even with his fellow Battle Fleet officers, if they were junior to him. He clearly saw no reason to restrain his natural abrasiveness where a mere Frontier Fleet commander was concerned.

“Exactly which nonsense would that be, Sir?” Shavarshyan inquired as politely as possible.

“I find it hard enough to credit Gruner’s report that the Manties opened fire on Jean Bart from forty million kilometers out.” He grimaced. “I’d like to see at least some reliable sensor data before I jump onto that bandwagon! But even granting that’s correct, are you seriously suggesting they may have even more range?”

“Sir, I’d like to have better data myself,” Shavarshyan acknowledged, and that much was completely sincere. Lieutenant Aloysius Gruner was the commanding officer of Dispatch Boat 17702, the only unit of Josef Byng’s ill-fated command to escape before Byng’s death and Sigbee’s surrender. Gruner had been sent off very early in the confrontation, which explained how he’d evaded the Manties to bring back news of the catastrophe in the first place. Apparently, Admiral Byng, in yet another dazzling display of incompetence, had seen no reason even to order his other courier boats to bring up their nodes, which meant they’d all still been sitting helplessly in orbit when Sigbee surrendered. They were fortunate the one boat he had ordered to get underway had still been close enough to receive Sigbee’s burst-transmitted final dispatch — the one which had announced Jean Bart’s destruction and her own surrender — but there’d been no time for her to send DB 17702 detailed tactical reports or sensor data on the Manties’ weapons. And, through no fault of Gruner’s, he couldn’t provide that information either, since courier boats’ sensor suites weren’t what anyone might call sophisticated. Although he’d been able to tell them what had happened, more or less, they had virtually no hard information on how the Manties had made it happen. Additional information might well have been sent to Meyers by now, but if so, it was still somewhere in the pipeline astern of Task Force 496.

Of course it is, Shavarshyan thought bitingly. Anything else would actually have suggested there was at least a smidgeon of competence somewhere among the people running this cluster-fuck.

“At the same time, Lieutenant Gruner was there,” he continued out loud. “He saw what actually happened, and even if we don’t have the kind of data I’d prefer, he was very emphatic about the engagement range. Nothing in Sigbee’s dispatch suggests he was wrong, either. And given the geometry of the engagement, forty million kilometers at launch equates to something on the order of twenty-nine or thirty million kilometers from rest. Now, nothing we have — not even those big, system-defense missiles Technodyne deployed to Monica — have that kind of range, that kind of powered endurance, but thirty million klicks from rest would work out pretty close to the consecutive endurance for two missile drives at the observed acceleration. So, the only conclusion I can come up with, is that they must really have gone ahead and put multiple drives into their missiles. And if they’ve put in enough drives to give them a powered envelope of thirty million kilometers, I just think it might be wiser to consider the possibility that they might have even more range than that.”

His tone could not have been more respectful or nonconfrontational, but he’d seen Bautista’s jaw tighten at the reference to Monica. Not, Shavarshyan felt confident, so much at the reminder of the Technodyne missiles’ enhanced range as at the fact that the Manties’ missiles had out-ranged even them. Which, of course, was the reason the Shavarshyan had mentioned it.