Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 21

She’d also done a bit of quiet research since he’d assumed command of the squadron and found that Commander Zavala been a senior tactical instructor at Saganami Island for four years. He’d been slated for command of a destroyer at the time Oscar Saint-Just had been toppled, but he’d lost that appointment in the Janacek build-down and been sent to the Academy instead. In fact, his Saganami Island stint had coincided almost exactly with Edward Janacek’s tenure as First Lord of Admiralty, and being beached by the Janacek Admiralty was a recommendation in its own right, as far as Kaplan was concerned. From the look of things, he’d done a damned good job as an instructor, though, and the White Haven Admiralty had given him command with almost indecent haste. He’d posted a pretty good record as a destroyer skipper since, too. In fact, he’d been jumped straight past captain (junior-grade) to captain of the list on the basis of his performance with Eighth Fleet. Well, that was scarcely surprising. All false modesty aside, Kaplan knew the Navy wasn’t choosing Roland skippers at random, and every CO in the squadron had amply demonstrated his or her capabilities before being selected.

Yet for this exercise, Zavala had relegated himself to the role of a passenger aboard his flagship. He was only there to observe, he’d explained, and that was the reason Kaplan’s mental antennae were quivering.

An observer, yes, but to observe exactly what, I wonder?

She stroked one eyebrow with an index finger, remembering how straightforward the simulation had sounded when she read the initial ops order. In fact, it had gone beyond mere straightforwardness to the absurdly simple, and for the life of her she couldn’t remember the last time a good senior officer had organized a training sim as a “gimme.” The Manticoran tradition was to train its people in exercises which were deliberately harder than actual operations were likely to prove. That obviously wasn’t the case here, yet someone like Zavala was unlikely to forget the tradition. Which meant there was a nasty hook somewhere inside that tasty-looking bait. But what sort of hook…?

“Abigail,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am?” Lieutenant Hearns looked over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised.

“Do you have those reports on what happened at Torch handy?”

“Such as they are and what we have of them, yes, Ma’am.”

“I know we don’t have much detail,” Kaplan acknowledged, which was unfortunately true. Admiral Luis Rozsak and the Erewhonese were keeping any reports of the actual engagement pretty close to their vests. “But I’m thinking more about ONI’s speculations. About the performance of the missiles Mesa equipped those StateSec retreads with.”

“We don’t have any hard numbers, Ma’am.” Abigail’s own expression turned thoughtful as she paged through her orderly mental files. “In fact there’s nothing specific about the Mesan-supplied missiles at all. But one of the analysts on Admiral Hemphill’s staff did suggest they may not have been standard Solly issue. Is that what you were thinking of, Ma’am?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking about.” Kaplan nodded. “Refresh my memory.”

“Well, as you said yourself, it’s all speculative, Ma’am. But stripped of all the statistical analysis, his basic point was that we know Erewhon is building new units for Governor Barregos. We also know Erewhon has multidrive missiles of its own. They’re still the big, bulky capacitor-powered model, but they’ve got plenty of legs, and their warheads and seekers are better than anything the Sollies have. For that matter, Erewhon certainly ought to be able to manufacture the old Mark 13 extended-range missile for smaller launchers, and he suggested Barregos and Rozsak would have held out for at least the Mark 13. Whatever they may or may not be telling Old Chicago, they’re obviously aware missile ranges have been climbing in our neck of the woods. That being the case, they probably would have insisted on buying the longest-ranged birds they could get.”

She paused, as if to be sure her CO was with her so far, and Kaplan nodded again.

“The point he made — the one I’m pretty sure you’re thinking about, Ma’am — was that given Rozsak’s reported losses and assuming he had acquired longer-ranged missiles from the Erewhonese, he must either have fought like a complete and total idiot (which isn’t what his résumé would lead someone to expect) or else significantly underestimated his enemies’ range. If he hadn’t, he never would have entered it in the first place. If he did, he may have shaved the margin too tightly trying to get in close enough to maximize his hit probabilities.”

“Exactly.” Kaplan smiled thinly. “We don’t know what the range actually was, but I think your analyst was onto something, Abigail.”

“I admit it makes a lot of sense, Ma’am. But we’ve gotten really good intel on the Sollies’ weaponry since Spindle. We haven’t found any extended range missiles in any of their magazines. For that matter, there’s absolutely no reference to anything of the sort in their tac manuals or the training sims we captured from them. I’ve been playing with their missile doctrine — offense and defense — ever since we got access, and it’s all concerned with really short-range engagements, at least by our standards. And they obviously never saw the range of the Mark 16 or the Mark 23 coming at Spindle.”

“I know. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if whatever the Mesans handed their mercenaries for the attack on Torch was another little toy their good friends and fellow scum at Technodyne whipped up just for them. I’m thinking about those system-defense missiles they surprised us with at Monica.”

Their gazes met, and Kaplan saw the same memory in Abigail’s gray-blue eyes. The memory of how those system-defense missiles had ravaged Aivars Terekhov’s scratch squadron — and damned near killed Naomi Kaplan — from far beyond the threat range Kaplan herself had projected based on known Solarian missile performance.

“Those were awfully big missiles, Ma’am,” Abigail pointed out. She wasn’t arguing, Kaplan realized. She was simply thinking out loud. “We haven’t seen any sign these people have pods on tow, and no Sally cruiser or destroyer could launch birds that size without being virtually rebuilt. Even then, they probably couldn’t get more than four or five launchers and forty or fifty missiles aboard something the size of one of their light cruisers. And even completely ignoring the mass and volume penalties of launchers that size, I’d be surprised if one of their tincans could squeeze in more than twenty birds that big. On a good day.”