I’m going to post three snippets per week for the remaining snippets

Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 41

Chapter Twelve

“I didn’t realize the Commodore had such a command of diplomatic language, Ma’am,” Alvin Tallman observed from his position in Tristram’s Auxiliary Control over his private com link to Naomi Kaplan.

“He does have a way with words, doesn’t he?” Kaplan replied. “I’ve always admired a well-turned phrase, and I was impressed by his subtlety, too. That comment about Tango Three’s beta node was a nice touch, too. But at least nobody on the other side’s going to be able to get away with claiming he didn’t give them clear warning, now are they?”

“They may not get away with it, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try to, Skipper,” Tallman pointed out.

“That much was a given going in. Personally, I’m with the Commodore. Better to be hanged for hexapuma than a pussycat. Besides,” Kaplan smiled coldly, “we tried it their way at New Tuscany. Now they can try it our way.”

* * *

“He’s got to be crazy, Ma’am,” Tucker Kiernan told Oxana Dubroskaya flatly. “Five light cruisers against four battlecruisers? They’ve got at most — what? Maybe eight tubes per broadside? Well, we’ve got twenty-eight per broadside!”

“Captain Kiernan has a point, Admiral,” Captain Maksymilian Johnson, SLNS Vanquisher’s commanding officer, said. “On the other hand, and not wanting to sound alarmist,” the flag captain continued, “if they’ve got the kind of range advantage some of the wilder reports from New Tuscany indicate, they may be planning on opening fire from well beyond our range.”

“Are you suggesting a batch of light cruisers is going to open fire at forty million kilometers, Sir?” Captain Kelvin Diadoro, Dubroskaya’s operations officer, sounded a little more incredulous than he probably should have speaking to someone with Johnson’s seniority, but the vice admiral couldn’t really blame him.

“I’m not necessarily suggesting anything of the sort, Kelvin,” Johnson replied with a touch of frost. “I would point out that forty million klicks does comport reasonably well with the claimed range at New Tuscany, but whether or not those claims have any relationship with reality is more than I’m prepared to say. What I am suggesting, however, is that this Zavala’s clearly suggesting he has a significant range advantage and he’s planning to use of it. And if it should happen he really does have that kind of range, it doesn’t matter how many missile tubes we have and how many he has, since we won’t be able to put fire on him without our birds going ballistic twenty or thirty million kilometers before they even reach him, at which point even a light cruiser’s counter missiles and point defense will eat them for lunch.”

“Maksymilian has a point, Admiral,” Captain Meridiana Quinquilleros, SLNS Success’ CO, said diffidently. All eyes swiveled towards her quadrant of the communications display and she shrugged. “I doubt any shipkillers a light cruiser could launch internally have anything like the range reported from New Tuscany, but they could still have more range than anything we’ve got. And whether or not it’s going to work the way he has in mind, that’s clearly what he has to intend to do if he’s actually planning on engaging us at all.”

“Point taken, Meridiana,” Dubroskaya said, and turned her own gaze on Diadoro. “Assume that is what he has in mind, Kelvin. Where does that leave us?”

“We’re talking about light cruisers here,” Diadoro pointed out, “and I don’t care how ‘missile heavy’ their tactical doctrine is, light cruisers — even big-assed ones like these — can’t have more than two or three hundred shipkillers on board. You just couldn’t fit them in, especially if they’ve got some kind of extended drive system to eat up still more mass and cubage. So call it fifteen hundred birds, each with the warhead of one of our own Spathas.” The Spatha was the SLN’s new-generation missile for destroyers and light-cruisers, with a considerably lighter laser head than the Javelins being issued to heavy cruisers and battlecruisers. “If they could hit us with all of them, it’d hurt, no question. But there’s no way one of them could put more than eight or nine — ten, max — birds into a single salvo, and at least some of those are going to have to be penaides. Without that, they wouldn’t have a prayer of getting through our missile defenses. So say they give up — what? a quarter? — of their total launch capability for penetration aids and electronic warfare platforms. That gives the five of them a maximum throw weight of about thirty-eight lightweight shipkillers per salvo against four Indefatigables. I’ve got to like those odds, Admiral.”

“And if they’ve got any missile pods along?” Dubroskaya asked.

“I know that’s what they probably used at New Tuscany — and Spindle, assuming there’s any accuracy at all to what we’ve heard.” Diadoro added the qualifier conscientiously, although he was one of the squadron’s officers who was confident the rumors about Spindle were wildly inaccurate. “And they could have a few along,” he continued, “but they can’t have many. They’d have to be tractored to their hulls, or our lightspeed platforms would have picked them up, and you just couldn’t fit more than a handful of pods big enough to carry that kind of missiles onto the skin of a light cruiser. Besides, there’re still the limitations of their fire control. A light cruiser’s only got so many telemetry channels; there’s no way they could control pod salvos big enough to get through our defenses. I’m not saying they might not get two or three leakers through, land a couple of lucky punches, and it’s possible they could have enough range on internally-launched birds to engage us before we could engage them. But they’re not going to be able to saturate our defenses heavily enough to let them win, especially with Spatha-grade laser heads. Not when they’ve got nine hundred thousand tons of warship and we’ve got three-point-four million tons.”

“I can’t fault Kelvin’s analysis, Ma’am,” Captain Ham Seung Jee of the Inexorable said. “The only problem I have is that the Manties have to be able to figure that out just as well as we can…and they’re trying it anyway.”

“I’d say that’s because they’ve screwed the pooch,” another voice said. The others looked at the com image of Captain Borden McGillicuddy, SLNS Paladin’s CO, and he waved one hand in a throwing away gesture. “They’re committed to coming down our throats,” he pointed out. “Even if they went to max decel at this point, they’re still going to have to come all the way to Cinnamon orbit before they can kill their current velocity. Whatever their damned range advantage, they’re going to enter ours, whether they want to or not.”

“You’re suggesting this is some kind of bluff on their part?” Ham asked.

“All I’m suggesting at this point is that I don’t think they got their ‘invisible recon platforms’ close enough to pick us up quite as early as they’d like us to believe,” McGillicuddy replied. “Maybe this Zavala character didn’t realize what he was walking into until just before he contacted Governor Dueñas. God knows we’ve all seen how arrogant Manties can be! Maybe he just came bulling straight in without bothering on scouting the inner system. After all, how likely was it that he was going to run into an entire division of battlecruisers in an out-of-the-way system like Saltash? By the time he figured out what he was actually up against, it was too late for him to fall back across the limit and hyper out. So maybe he decided that rather than rolling over he’d try to run a bluff on the strength of what’s supposed to’ve happened at New Tuscany and Spindle.”

“And when it doesn’t work?” Dubroskaya asked.

“Then he goes ahead and rolls over anyway, probably, Ma’am,” McGillicuddy said, and shrugged. “This time limit of his is going to put him a good thirty million klicks outside our powered missile envelope when it expires. That leaves him plenty of time to change his mind and adopt a more conciliatory tone before we could blow him out of space. If I were in his place, I might figure I didn’t have anything to lose throwing my threats around ahead of time. If the other side blinks; I run the table. If the other side doesn’t blink; I’m no worse off than I was and I can still surrender before he engages me.”

Dubroskaya nodded slowly. McGillicuddy’s hypothesis made a certain degree of sense, and Diadoro was certainly right about the limited magazine capacity and small broadside of a light cruiser. She wasn’t quite as confident as McGillicuddy about the Manties’ fundamental rationality, given the fact that they’d been foolish enough to pick a fight with the Solarian League in the first place, but the captain’s analysis of the other side’s unpalatable tactical situation had a lot to recommend it.

In fact, that was Dueñas’ basic plan in the first place, she reminded herself. The whole object was to draw the Manties into an untenable position — and get them to commit themselves in a way that clearly demonstrated their belligerence — before they ever figured out we were here. Which is basically what Borden’s arguing happened, after all.