Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 22

“Agreed. But suppose Technodyne came up with something smaller that still offered a significant range increase over the standard Javelin? They wouldn’t have to have the kind of legs we ran into at Monica to come as a nasty surprise to someone who thought she knew exactly what kind of range they did have. And somehow I can’t escape the suspicion that Captain Zavala may just have read the same reports — and the same ONI ‘speculation’ — you and I read. In which case, I think we might want to consider the possibility that these foolishly overconfident escorts know something we don’t know about their missiles.”

“I don’t have any problem with that, Ma’am,” Abigail agreed with a smile.

“Of course, there’s the little problem that we don’t know just how much of a range extension Captain Zavala might have opted for,” Kaplan mused out loud. Several of her other bridge officers were listening in now, and other smiles began to blossom. “I think the simplest way for him to go about it would have been to simply double their effective range,” she went on. “Of course, he may have settled on some other multiplier just to be difficult, but their accuracy at any sort of extended range is going to be a lot worse than ours. Unless he’s decided to go ahead and give them Ghost Rider, as well!”

It’s always possible he’s done exactly that, she reflected to herself. But let’s be reasonable here. The idea’s to make exercises difficult, not automatically suicidal! Well, unless you’re Lady Gold Peak pinning back Admiral Oversteegen’s ears, at least.

She chuckled at the thought, but it was unlikely Zavala would have been quite as nasty as Lady Gold Peak. After all, the countess and Oversteegen had something of a history, according to the rumor mill.

“Sixteen million kilometers, you think, Ma’am?” Abigail asked politely, interrupting her thoughts.

“Let’s make it seventeen,” Kaplan demurred. “It gives us a little more of a fudge factor, and with Ghost Rider, we ought to be able to punch out merchies at that range without wasting too many attack birds.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Abigail glanced down at her displays, lips pursed, then looked back up at Kaplan. “I’ll need five or six minutes to reconfigure my firing plans, Ma’am.”

“Well, by my calculations it’s going to take us another three hours to get to seventeen million klicks,” Kaplan observed dryly. “I think we’ve got time.”

* * *

“Used up quite a few missiles there, didn’t you, Captain Kaplan?” Jacob Zavala inquired testily. “They don’t grow on trees, y’know! Especially not now.”

“No, Sir, they don’t,” Naomi Kaplan acknowledged with a mildness which would have raised warning flags with anyone who knew her well. “On the other hand, we did take out every one of the freighters without ever entering the escorts’ reach.”

“True, but you could’ve saved at least twenty percent of your ammo expenditure if you’d closed another five or six million kilometers, and that still would’ve left you outside even Javelin range,” Zavala pointed out.

“Yes, Sir, it would have.” Kaplan nodded. “On the other hand,” she continued in the same mild tone, “it probably wouldn’t have left me outside the range of the missiles you actually gave the Sollies for the exercise.”

“What’s that?” Zavala cocked his head, blue eyes narrowed as he gazed quizzically at Kaplan. “Are you suggesting I’d cheat, Captain?”

“To quote one of my tac instructors at the Crusher, Sir, if you aren’t cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” Kaplan shrugged. “Just as a matter of curiosity, how much of a range boost did you assign?”

“You, Captain Kaplan, have a disrespectful and insulting opinion of my fair-mindedness,” Zavala said severely, then snorted. “As a matter of fact, they had a nominal effective range of twelve million kilometers. A twenty-five percent jump seemed about right.”

“Really?” Kaplan smiled. “I figured you’d settle for a nice round number and just double it, Sir.”

“Now that, Captain, would have been underhanded, unfair, sneaky, and generally despicable. Which is why I’ll probably do exactly that to Captain Morgan’s division when it’s his turn in the barrel.” Zavala waggled a finger in Kaplan’s direction. “And don’t you go warning him, either!”

“Me? Warn him about it?” Kaplan laughed. “Oh, don’t worry about that, Sir. As a matter of fact, I’ve already bet him a bottle of Glenfiddich Grand Reserve that he can’t match our score on the sim. I’ve known Captain Morgan for a while, you know. And somehow I seem to’ve forgotten to mention to him the range at which we engaged the convoy. I hate to say it,” she assumed a mournful expression, “but under the circumstances, I strongly suspect he’s going to decide that if he closes to just outside Javelin range, he’ll be able to punch out all of the merchies with a lot less missiles than we expended.”

She shook her head sadly, and Zavala laughed.

“A woman after my own underhanded, unfair, sneaky, and generally despicable heart,” he observed. “I definitely see an admiral’s flag in your future, Captain Kaplan!”