Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 20

“I think Michael’s probably right, Augustus,” Michelle said. “I don’t propose that we take anything for granted, and I’ve got Cindy and Dominica busy working out the best way to generate massive redundancy in our sensor coverage, just in case, but I don’t see us as the logical candidate for the next sneak attack. If they do go after anything in the Quadrant, I’d imagine it would be the Terminus itself, since I can’t see anything else out this way that would have equal strategic value for anyone who obviously doesn’t like us very much. And that, fortunately or unfortunately, we’re just going to have to leave in other peoples’ hands.”

Her uniformed fellows nodded, and Baroness Medusa tilted back her chair.

“Should I assume that — for the moment, at least — you feel relatively secure here in the Quadrant, then?”

“I think we probably are,” Khumalo answered, instead of Michelle. He was, after all, the station commander. “There’s a great deal to be said for Admiral Oversteegen’s analysis where these mysterious newcomers are concerned. And, frankly, at the moment, the League doesn’t have anything to send our way even if it had the nerve to do it. That could change in a few months, but for now, at least, they can’t pose any kind of credible threat even against ships armed ‘only’ with Mark 16s.”

“Good.” Medusa’s nostrils flared. “I only hope that sanity is going to leak out somewhere in the League before anyone manages to get additional forces out our way. Or directed at the home system.”

* * *

“Any change in the escorts’ formation, Guns?” Commander Naomi Kaplan asked.

“No, Ma’am.” Lieutenant Abigail Hearns replied. “They’re maintaining interval and heading.”

The slender, brunette lieutenant didn’t add that the escorts in question had to have picked up the impeller signatures of the two destroyers overtaking them from astern. Naomi Kaplan had been HMS Hexapuma’s tactical officer when Abigail Hearns had been the heavy cruiser’s assistant TO, and Abigail had learned a great deal from her. Including the fact that only rarely did the commander need the painfully obvious explained to her in detail.

“I see.” Kaplan nodded acknowledgment and tipped back in her command chair, frowning, as she contemplated the current tactical situation as seen from the probable mindset of one Captain Jacob Zavala.

Zavala had originally been the senior officer of Destroyer Squadron 301’s second division. He’d inherited command of the entire squadron from Commodore Ray Chatterjee following the massacre of three quarters of DesDiv 301.1 at New Tuscany, however, and reorganized the squadron’s surviving five ships into two understrength divisions. As part of that reorganization, he’d shifted his flag from HMS Gawain to HMS Kay and left Gawain in DesDiv 301.2, where her skipper, Captain Frank Morgan, had become the division’s new senior officer. At the same time, Kay had been detached from DesDiv 301.2 and, along with Kaplan’s own Tristram, now constituted a half-strength DesDiv 301.1. They’d been promised enough ships to make up the squadron’s losses and bring both divisions back to full strength, but that had been before the Yawata Strike. Now it was anyone’s guess how long they’d have to wait…or, for that matter, if they’d ever see the promised replacements at all. Frankly, Kaplan didn’t think it was likely they would.

In the meantime, it seemed probable the squadron was going to find itself tasked for independent operations. Its Roland-class destroyers were big, powerful units, and the devastating, long-range punch of their Mark 16 missiles made them ideal commerce-raiders. They also made excellent convoy escorts, of course, but locating convoys in hyper was hellishly difficult, and the Talbott Quadrant’s member star systems were already well protected against raiders once a ship dropped back into n-space. That meant Tristram and her sisters could be dispensed with in the escort role, which left them available for other duties. Given the fact that Manticore’s confrontation with the Solarian League was likely to get a lot worse before it got any better, and given the further fact that the Madras Sector’s star systems were not well protected against Manticoran raiders, whatever Frontier Fleet might fondly imagine, it wasn’t hard to figure out how DesRon 301 was likely to find itself employed in the painfully near future.

Hence the current exercise.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this? Kaplan asked herself. I mean, there they sit, plodding along at barely forty thousand kilometers per second — slow, fat, dumb, and happy. Sure, they’ve got a pair of light cruisers to back the destroyers, but that’s still no match for a pair of Rolands, damn it!

She frowned some more, one dark-skinned hand playing with a lock of bright blonde hair. On the face of it, there wasn’t much the putative Solly escorts could do to stop Tristram and Kay from skinning their convoy like a Sphinxian prong buck. Kaplan’s Mark 16s had over three times the reach of the SLN’s Javelin-class shipkillers, which meant she could destroy all of those merchies without ever even entering their escorts’ range.

Of course, a Roland carried only 240 Mark 16s, and accuracy would be significantly degraded at maximum range, even against merchantships. True, the simulation’s parameters assumed the raiders were accompanied by a missile transport from which they could resupply, but with the Yawata Strike’s catastrophic consequences for missile production, no one wanted to waste any of the limited number available. So the logical move was to get as close to her prey as she could without ever entering the escorts’ powered envelope. That would maximize the accuracy (and economy) of her own fire while maintaining her immunity from the defenders.

Which is exactly what I was planning to do. And so far I haven’t seen any reason to change my mind. Not one I could put my finger on, anyway. But still…

Her eyes narrowed as she finally realized what was bothering her. She didn’t know Captain Zavala as well as she wished she did, but he struck her as quite a different proposition from the larger-than-life, almost boisterous Commodore Chatterjee. No one who’d ever served with Chatterjee could have doubted the commodore’s competence, but his enthusiasm and inexhaustible energy had been the first things to strike almost anyone on first acquaintance, and he’d had a very…direct approach to problems. Not only was Zavala barely two thirds as tall as Chatterjee had been, he was also far quieter, with a thoughtful, almost preoccupied air which she’d quickly realized was deceptive. Chatterjee had been well suited to his nickname of “Bear,” but Zavala was a treecat — compact, sleek, and with the confident, composed watchfulness of a patient predator.