Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 38

Dueñas looked blank, and Dubroskaya reminded herself not to sigh.

“Sir, our Rampart-class destroyers are only half that big, and their maximum acceleration rate, with zero safety margin on the compensator, is only five-point-zero-nine KPS squared.”

Understanding blossomed in Dueñas’ eyes.

“Manties,” he said.

“I don’t see how it could be anyone else with that accel, Sir,” Dubroskaya agreed.

The system governor didn’t look very surprised, she thought. Unhappy, yes; but not surprised.

“Damn,” Dueñas said mildly after a moment. “I’d hoped to get some additional reinforcements in here before they turned up.” Dubroskaya stiffened visibly, and the governor shook his head quickly. “That’s no reflection on you or your ships, Vice Admiral, I assure you. But I’d be happier if we had an even greater margin of superiority. One thing these people have already demonstrated is that they’re not exactly likely to be reasonable.”

Dubroskaya contented herself with a silent nod, although she wasn’t sure “reasonable” was a word Damián Dueñas should be throwing around at a time like this. Impounding the merchant vessels of a sovereign star nation and jailing their entire ships’ companies without trial or bail didn’t strike her as meeting the dictionary definition of that adverb, either, no matter what theoretical justification for it he might have concocted. On the other hand, the decision wasn’t hers to make, and she wasn’t going to shed any tears about pinning the Manty upstarts’ ears back the way they needed.

“Even assuming there’s any truth to the rumors about Spindle, Governor,” she said, “we’re not picking up anything that could be transporting the missile pods they’d need to equalize the odds here in Saltash.”

Those rumors were a lot more fragmentary than she would have preferred, but they did seem to strongly suggest that Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall’s visit to the Spindle System hadn’t gone very well. The only problem was that no one in Saltash had a clue as to how badly it might have gone. The battle (if a battle had actually been fought at all) had taken place little more than two months earlier, and there simply hadn’t been time for any reliable account of it to reach a backwoods star system like Saltash.

One thing Dubroskaya was confident of was that the stories they had heard — like the ones about what had happened to Josef Byng in New Tuscany — had obviously grown in the telling. There had to be at least some core of truth to the wild tales of disaster, but the destruction of dozens of SDs while the Manties got off scot free? Ridiculous! Still, the SLN had clearly taken losses and, presumably, retreated from the system in the face of unexpectedly heavy resistance, and that was more than bad enough for Oxana Dubroskaya. The fact that a Solarian fleet had failed to take its objective for the very first time in the SLN’s history was a sobering — and infuriating — thought, and she was determined not to let overconfidence lull her into creating her own disaster, which was one reason she was less than enthralled by Dueñas’ strategy. She and her staff had analyzed the badly garbled bits and pieces of information they had as carefully (and pessimistically) as possible, however, and it seemed evident that the Manties must have managed to get more system-defense missile pods into the system than Crandall had realized. They’d probably been longer-ranged than Crandall had expected, too, judging by the limited accounts they had. That was the only explanation they could come up with…and as she’d just pointed out to the governor, missile pods in Spindle weren’t going to help them in Saltash.

“I’m glad to hear that, of course, Vice Admiral.” Dueñas nodded. “But I’d like to settle this without an exchange of fire if we can, and having more of our warships in attendance might help assure that outcome.”

“I’d just as soon not shoot myself, Sir,” Dubroskaya said. “If the Manties are crazy enough to push it, though, they’ll soon discover they shouldn’t have.”

“I don’t doubt that at all, Vice Admiral,” Dueñas replied. “My concerns have nothing at all to do with your ships or your people. I’m just thinking about the political and diplomatic as opposed to the directly military implications.”

“Understood, Governor.” Dubroskaya nodded, although the truth was that she was far from certain of exactly what Dueñas’ political objectives were in this case. Still, whatever his intentions, his orders had been clear enough.

He wasn’t especially shy about handing those orders out, either, she thought with more than an edge of resentment. She’d been a flag officer for over twenty T-years, and she didn’t enjoy being ordered around by the governor of a single star system on the backside of nowhere that wasn’t even officially League territory. Unfortunately, her deployment orders made the chain of command clear and unambiguous. And according to Tucker Kiernan, her chief of staff, Dueñas was well-connected back on Old Terra, which suggested that pushing back against his presumptuousness might not be a career-enhancing move, however much the pain in the ass deserved it.

What I’d like to do is squash him like a pimple, she thought. But then she gave a mental snort. Not like he’s the first arrogant civilian you’ve had to take orders from, Oxana! And at least the Manties only sent along light cruisers. However…questionable his strategy may be, you’ve got more than enough force advantage to keep a lid on the situation.

“Thank you for getting this information to me so promptly,” Dueñas continued after a moment. “I need to confer with my people here in Kernuish. Please keep us apprised of any additional information that comes your way.”

“Of course, Governor.”

* * *

“What do you think, Cicely?” Damián Dueñas asked two minutes later.

“Probably the same thing you do,” Lieutenant Governor Cicely Tiilikainen replied from his com, and shrugged. “Dubroskaya’s right — they have to be Manties, with that acceleration rate.”

“But why haven’t they said anything yet?” Dueñas wondered out loud.

“Who knows?” Tiilikainen shrugged again. She’d never shown any particular enthusiasm for Dueñas’ plan, and he felt a flicker of anger at her obvious intention to stand back and make it abundantly clear it was his plan. “Maybe it’s some kind of psychological warfare ploy. They have to’ve thrown this together pretty quickly to get here this soon, so maybe they figure we don’t have any Navy detachment of our own. If that’s the way they’re thinking, they may figure that letting you worry about them for a while will soften you up for their demands.”

“Maybe.” Dueñas rubbed his chin, eyes narrowed in thought, carefully taking no note of the second-person pronoun in her last sentence. Then he gave himself a shake and straightened up.

“I’d better get dressed. Meet me in my office as soon as you can.”

“On my way now,” she said, panning her visual pickup to let him look out the side window of her air car as it sped through the sparse late-night aerial traffic of the city of Kernuish. “I’ll be waiting by the time you can get there.”