Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 44

“Captain Diadoro.” She never took her eyes from Zavala’s face and raised her voice enough to be sure the Manticoran could hear her.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“We will maintain this course and acceleration. Prepare to engage the enemy,” Vice Admiral Oxana Dubroskaya said, and cut the com connection.

* * *

“Well, so much for that,” Jacob Zavala said, turning away as Dubroskaya’s image disappeared from his own com.

“Hard to blame her in some ways, I suppose, Sir,” Auerbach said. Zavala arched an eyebrow at him, and the chief of staff smiled crookedly. “All she can have at this point about Spindle are rumors, if that. And it’d take somebody with a lot more imagination than we’ve seen out of any of the Sollies yet to really believe five tincans could take out four battlecruisers on the basis of rumors. For that matter, most of our officers would refuse to believe it if we were looking at it from the Sollies’ perspective. I mean, on the face of it, it’s ridiculous.”

“I’ll grant you it would take at least a soupçon of imagination,” Zavala acknowledged. “On the other hand, Dubroskaya sure as hell knows about New Tuscany, and she ought to be asking herself just how it was we came out on top there. And she damned sure ought to be asking herself why I’d have kept right on coming if I had any doubt of my ability to take her out.”

“Can’t argue with that, Sir. I’ll bet you it’s going to take all the Sollies a while to figure it out, though.”

“Well, this bunch of Sollies had better start figuring it out in a hurry,” Zavala said grimly.

* * *

“Point Alpha in fifteen seconds, Ma’am,” Abigail Hearns said quietly, looking into her plot and remembering another force of Solarian battlecruisers and the massacre of Tristram’s division mates in New Tuscany. The range had dropped to thirty-eight million kilometers, and the closing velocity was down to 23,819 KPS.

Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, a voice said quietly in the back of her mind. In time their foot will slip, for their day of disaster is near and their doom is coming quickly.

Abigail Hearns had always preferred the love and gentleness of the New Testament, but this was an Old Testament moment, and her eyes were intent and her hands steady on her tactical console.

“Stand by to engage,” Naomi Kaplan replied.

* * *

The Roland was the first destroyer class ever built to fire the Mark 16 dual-drive missile. That was the reason it was bigger than many navies’ light cruisers. And it was also the reason for some of the peculiarities of its design. Like the reason it had “only” twelve missile tubes, and all of them were arranged as chase armament, mounted in the hammerheads of its hull. And the reason it had so much more fire control than any other destroyer in space. It was designed to fire “off bore,” spitting missiles out of its “chase armament” to permit all its tubes to engage targets in both of a traditional ship’s broadside arcs. And its fire control redundancy was designed to let it “stack” salvos with staggered drive activations, the same way the much larger and more powerful Saganami-C-class heavy cruisers did. The Roland couldn’t control as many missiles as the Saganami-C; it was less than half the heavy cruiser’s size, and there were limits in everything. But it could stack a double salvo of twenty-four missiles, which was better than twice Captain Kelvin Diadoro’s worst-case estimate…and each of those missiles was just as deadly as anything a Saganami-C could have fired.

* * *

“Missile launch!” one of Diadoro’s tactical techs announced suddenly. “Multiple missile launches at three-six-point-seven million kilometers! CIC confirms one hundred and twenty — repeat, one two zero — missiles inbound. Acceleration forty-six thousand gravities! Time of flight at constant acceleration five-point-niner minutes!”

Oxana Dubroskaya stiffened in disbelief at CIC’s shocking acceleration numbers. That was sixteen hundred gravities lower than a Javelin, but a Javelin’s maximum powered endurance at that rate was only three minutes, with a terminal velocity of 84,000 KPS from rest and a powered envelope of only 7,575,930 kilometers. If the Manties could maintain that accel for six minutes, they really could engage her ships at this preposterous range!

That was her first thought, but an instant later the number of missiles registered, and she paled. A hundred and twenty?! That was ridiculous! No light cruiser could fire that many missiles in a single broadside! There wasn’t enough hull length to mount the damned tubes!

“Check those numbers!” she heard Diadoro snap.

“CIC confirms, Sir.” The tech’s voice was hoarse but steady. “Tracking’s confidence is high.”

“My God,” someone murmured very quietly.

“Missile Defense Bravo!” Diadoro ordered.

“Missile Defense Bravo, aye, Sir!”

BatCruRon 491’s ships altered course, turning their broadsides to face the incoming missiles to clear their missile defense systems’ fields of fire.

* * *

Oxana Dubroskaya’s and Kelvin Diadoro’s calculations had been based on six erroneous estimates. They’d gotten one thing right when they assumed, correctly, that the missiles the Royal Manticoran Navy had used at New Tuscany had been fired from pods, but they’d been wrong when they assumed that only pod-launched missiles could have such extended range. And to compound that initial error, they’d assumed their counter missiles, point defense, and electronic warfare systems were as capable as those of Manticore. Just as they’d assumed Manticore’s penetration aids would be no more capable than their own, a Manticoran launch cycle of thirty seconds, and that Rolands could fire broadsides of no more than ten missiles per ship. And, finally, they’d assumed their laser heads were heavier than anything a “light cruiser” could launch.

It wasn’t really their fault, given the inevitable slowness of interstellar communication. They had no official reports about the Battle of Spindle. They hadn’t heard anything from the scattered Solarian forces which had already encountered Manticoran war-fighting technology during the course of the Star Empire’s Operation Lacoön. It might not have mattered if they had. The almost inevitable reaction of the Solarian League Navy in general to the sudden revelation that it was technologically inferior to any opponent had been a state of denial, and after so many centuries of unquestioned supremacy, it was going to take time for even the most flexible of its officers to realize just how inferior their hardware truly was. Yet without those reports, without word of what was happening in places like Nolan and Zunker, BatCruRon 491’s errors had been almost unavoidable.

Which didn’t make them one bit less deadly.

In fact, their launch cycle estimates had been six seconds low, but that was only because Zavala’s destroyers were launching stacked broadsides. The cycle time on his launchers was only eighteen seconds, but sequencing doubled broadsides put thirty-six seconds between each incoming flight of missiles. Unfortunately for BatCruRon 491, it also meant each of those salvos was better than twice as large as Kelvin Diadoro’s worst-case estimate.

The Mark 16s streaked through space, accelerating by over four hundred and fifty kilometers per second every second, building on their motherships’ base velocity as they roared towards Vice Admiral Dubroskaya’s battlecruisers. At that range, with that much time to build velocity, they would be closing at better than 180,500 KPS — just over sixty percent of the speed of light — when they entered the Solarians’ missile defense envelope, and the Indefatigable class’ software had never been intended to deal with incoming, evading targets closing at such ridiculous velocities.

Of course, that was only part of Battlecruiser Squadron 491’s problems.

* * *

“Their Halo systems are active, Ma’am,” Abigail Hearns announced, monitoring her displays closely. “CIC doesn’t see any upgrades from what we observed at Spindle. The software tweaks seem to be handling it.”

“Good,” Naomi Kaplan replied, watching her own plot as a second wave of missile icons followed the first, thirty-six seconds and thirty thousand kilometers behind it, and a third followed. Then a fourth. In one minute and forty-eight seconds, DesRon 301 launched four hundred and eighty Mark 16s.

Given the differential in powered envelope, Zavalla’s DDs could have fired twenty-six stacked broadsides (assuming they’d had anywhere near that much ammunition) before the Solarians had the range to engage it in turn, but he’d decided four — one for each of Dubroskaya’s ships — should be enough to show her the error of her ways. And if it wasn’t, there’d be plenty of time for additional launches to convince the surviving Solarians to see reason.

Assuming there are any surviving Solarians, of course, Kaplan thought with grim, vengeful satisfaction.

* * *

BatCruRon 491’s missile defense officers watched those impossible salvos stream towards them. Deep inside, every one of them hoped — prayed — the Manticoran missiles would go ballistic at any moment. That they’d been launched from so far out because the Manties had panicked, or because the enemy still thought he could bluff them. But even deeper inside, they knew that hadn’t happened.