Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 42

The governor might have hoped to have even more firepower available, but four battlecruisers against five light cruisers was an overwhelming mismatch by anyone’s standards. And if she and Dueñas pulled it off — if they forced an entire Manty light cruiser squadron to tamely roll over and surrender — Education and Information’s talking heads would turn it into an overwhelming triumph. The sort of thing the Solarian public wanted to hear about as an antidote for the rumors of devastation coming out of Spindle.

And let’s be honest here. Borden’s got a point — Dueñas was luckier than hell I had even four BCs that could get here in time! If we hadn’t, he’d be well and truly stuck in orbit in a leaky skinsuit right now.

The rest of Battlecruiser Squadron 491 was either dispersed to other star systems or in shipyard hands, but that was par for the course for Frontier Fleet. Its squadrons were always understrength, and there were always too many places they needed to be at the same time. But in this instance, at least, Dueñas truly had lucked out.

Always assuming Borden’s right about the Manties screwing up, of course, she reminded herself conscientiously. Yet even as she did, she knew she didn’t really think McGillicuddy was wrong.

Assume Kelvin’s estimate is off, or that they really do have more range than we do, and they get a couple of dozen missiles through our defensive basket before we get close enough to hammer them, she thought. No, make it fifty to be on the safe side. Against four Indefatigables? Hell, even Javelin-range laser heads would hardly scratch our paint!

No, even if Borden didn’t get everything right, there’s no way these bastards can hope to take me on and walk away from it. They’re truly and royally screwed, whatever happens, and I think I’ll be able to live with being the first Solarian admiral to smack them down the way they deserve.

“Well,” she said mildly, “since they know we’re here now, I suppose we might as well go ahead and get our wedges up so we can welcome them properly.”

* * *

“They’re coming out to meet us, Ma’am,” Abigail Hearns announced three minutes later, as the battlecruisers’ nodes went fully online and a quartet of impeller wedges appeared on the tactical display and began moving away from their original position between Shona Station and DesRon 301.

“I see them, Guns,” Naomi Kaplan replied almost absently, but Abigail knew that tone of voice. Tristram’s CO was putting on her warrior’s face, settling into predator mode while her brain whirred like another computer.

“We’ll just have to see how serious they are about this, I suppose,” Kaplan added a moment later, and her smile was hungry. For DesRon 301, and especially for HMS Tristram, the Star Empire of Manticore’s confrontation with the Solarian League was personal.

Very personal.

That was as true for Abigail as for anyone else in the ship’s company, and she found herself wondering if that was one of the reasons Lady Gold Peak had picked Captain Zavala’s squadron for this operation in the first place.

* * *

Vice Admiral Dubroskaya’s battlecruisers accelerated towards the oncoming Manticoran destroyers at 3.89 KPS squared, eighty percent of their maximum theoretical rate of acceleration. There was no particular hurry, and even at that low accel, they’d move over four million kilometers closer to the Manties before Zavala’s twenty-seven-minute time limit expired. Of course, during that same time the Manties would move forty-two million kilometers closer to Cinnamon. The range between the two forces would be down to “only” 36,700,000 kilometers at that point, and the closing speed between them would give the Solarians’ Javelin anti-ship missiles an effective powered envelope at launch of better than twelve million kilometers.

Dubroskaya was more willing than Kelvin Diadoro to admit that the Manties tube-launched missiles might have more range than hers, but nothing the size a light cruiser could stow internally was going to have a lot more, she thought as she watched her ships’ icons moving across the display. For that matter, assuming constant accelerations on both sides, it would require only an additional fifteen and a half minutes for her to reach her own powered range of the Manties. Two of her ships — Success and Paladin — were Flight V Indefatigables, with the old SL-11-b launcher, with a forty-five-second launch cycle, but Vanquisher and Inexorable had the newer SL-13 launcher with a cycle time of only thirty-five seconds, and the Manties could probably do a bit better than that. Solarian destroyers and light cruisers certainly could have, given the smaller and lighter missiles with which they were armed, but any internally launched missile with enough range to threaten her squadron at this kind of range was going to have to be at least as large as her own Javelins. That was bound to slow their rate of fire, so call it thirty seconds for the other side’s launch cycle. That meant they’d have time for roughly thirty-one broadsides before she could range on them, but with no more than eight to ten tubes per broadside, that would be only three hundred and ten missiles, maximum, per platform, delivered in combined salvos of no more than fifty each. And as Diadoro had pointed out, at least some of those missiles were going to have to be configured as penetration aids and electronic warfare platforms. Her four battlecruisers mounted eight counter missile tubes and sixteen point defense stations in each broadside, which gave the squadron thirty-two CMs and sixty-four laser clusters against a probable threat of no more than forty shipkillers per launch.

She smiled coldly, contemplating the plot. No cruiser-sized missile ever built was going to get through that strong a defense in sufficient numbers to stop her before she was able to bring her own tubes into action, and her ships mounted twenty-nine of them in each broadside. Once she got into range, she’d be firing salvos of a hundred and sixteen missiles each…at which point her heavier Javelins would reduce the Manties to drifting wreckage in quick order.

* * *

“They don’t seem to be very impressed, Sir,” George Auerbach observed quietly, and Jacob Zavala nodded.

“It’s been my observation that the best way to impress a Solly is to shoot him squarely between the eyes,” he told his chief of staff, never looking away from the plot. “You wouldn’t want to shoot him anywhere else, though. You might hurt him.”

Auerbach winced slightly at his CO’s idea of humor, yet he couldn’t deny that Zavala had a point. Still, he was the squadron’s chief of staff, which gave him certain responsibilities.

“We’ll be coming up on Point Alpha in about ten minutes, Sir. Are you sure you want to go with Sledgehammer?”

“Doing your job again, I see, George,” Zavala said, turning away from the tactical display to smile briefly at Auerbach.

“As you say, Sir, it is my job.”

“I know, George. I know.”

Zavala reached up to put his hand on the taller Auerbach’s shoulder and squeezed gently. And, he admitted to himself, the chief of staff had a point. No one in DesRon 301 had been particularly happy with Fire Plan Zephyr, the alternative to Sledgehammer, yet he had to concede that it would be more elegant and might — might! — reduce the severity of the incident which was about to occur here in Saltash.

The problem was that it would also be riskier…and far less personally satisfying.

I wonder how honest I’ve been with myself about this? Zavala thought. It would be riskier, but how much have I allowed that satisfaction quotient to color my thinking?

He made himself stand back and consider the alternatives one more time.

Zephyr would be more in the way of a demonstration of the consequences of unreasonableness than a serious attack: a concentrated salvo of Mark 16s fired from far beyond the Sollies’ effective range to penetrate their defenses without hitting anything, much as Duchess Harrington had done to the Havenites’ Second Fleet with Apollo at First Manticore and Captain Ivanov had done more recently, in Zunker. In theory, a reasonable Solarian commander would realize most of his ships would be pounded into ruin in the fifteen or sixteen minutes it would take him to get into his own range of Zavala’s squadron. At which point, that hypothetical reasonable Solarian commander would conclude he had no alternative but to stand down after all.