The display in front of Adenauer blossomed suddenly with icons as the first missile pod's Apollo faithfully reported what its brood could see, now that their eyes had been opened. The light codes of three hostile superdreadnoughts, screened by three light cruisers and a quartet of destroyers, burned crisp and clear, and for a heartbeat, the tactical officer did absolutely nothing. She simply sat there, gazing at the display, her face expressionless. But Michelle had come to know Adenauer better, especially over the last six days. She knew the commander was operating almost in fugue state. She wasn't actually even looking at the plot. She was simply . . . absorbing it. And then, suddenly, her hands came to life on her console.

            The missiles in the attack salvo had been preloaded with dozens of possible attack and EW profiles. Now Adenauer's flying fingers transmitted a series of commands which selected from the menu of preprogrammed options. One command designated the superdreadnoughts as the attack missiles' targets. Another told the Dazzlers and Dragons Teeth seeded into the salvo when to bring their EW systems up, and in what sequence. A third told the attack missiles when to bring up their final drive stages and what penetration profile to adopt when they hit the enemy force's missile-defense envelope. And a fourth told the Mark 23-Es when and how they should take over and restructure her commands if the enemy suddenly did something outside the parameters of her chosen attack patterns.

            Entering those commands took her twenty-five seconds, in which the attack missiles traveled another 3,451,000 kilometers. It took just under four seconds for her commands to reach from Achilles to the Apollos. It took another twelve seconds for her instructions to be receipted, triple-checked, and confirmed by the Apollo AIs while the shrouds on the attack missiles were jettisoned. Forty-five seconds after the first pod's missiles had jettisoned their shrouds, the follow-on salvo opened its eyes, looked ahead, and saw its targets, still two and a quarter million kilometers in front of it. They were 4.4 light-minutes from Achilles . . . but their targeting orders were less than sixty seconds old, and the computers which had further refined and analyzed the reports from the first pod's Apollo were those of a superdreadnought, not a missile, however capable.

            The simulated targets' fire control had only a relatively imprecise idea of where to look for the attack missiles before their third-stage drives came suddenly on-line. They'd still been so far out when they shut down for the ballistic leg of their flight that the defenders' onboard sensors hadn't been able to fully localize them. The target ships had gotten enough to predict their positions to within only a few percentage points of error, but at those velocities, and on such an enormous "battlefield," even tiny uncertainties made precise targeting impossible. And precise targeting was exactly what was necessary for a counter-missile to hit an attack missile at extended range.

            The defenders saw the Mark 23s clearly when the attack missiles' final stages came suddenly and abruptly to life, but by then it was already too late. There was no time for any long-range counter-missile launch, and even the short-range CMs had rushed targeting solutions. Worse, the EW platforms supporting the attack came on-line at the worst possible moment for the defenders. The counter-missiles' rudimentary sensors were totally outclassed, and there was no time for missile-defense officers to analyze the Manticoran EW patterns. Point defense clusters blazed desperately in a last-ditch effort to stop the MDMs hurtling in on the superdreadnoughts, but there were too many of them, they were closing too quickly, and the ballistic approach had robbed the defenders of too much tracking time. Many of the Mark 23s were destroyed short of target, but not enough.

            The imagery on Adenauer's plot froze abruptly as the attack missiles and their Apollos slammed into their targets, were picked off by the defenses, or self-destructed at the end of their programmed runs. For an instant or two, the plot simply stayed that way. But then it came abruptly back to life once more. Just as a single pod had preceded the attack wave, another single pod followed in its wake. Its missiles had jettisoned their shrouds at the same moment the attack missiles executed their final runs, and Michelle watched in something very like disbelief, even now, as the results of the initial strike reached Achilles in less than five seconds.

            One of the superdreadnoughts was obviously gone. Her wedge was down, she was streaming atmosphere and shedding debris, and the transponders of her crew's escape pods burned clear and sharp on the plot. One of her sisters was clearly in serious trouble, as well. From her impeller signature, she'd taken massive damage to her forward ring, and her emission signature showed heavy damage to the active sensors necessary for effective close-ranged missile-defense. The third superdreadnought appeared to have gotten off more lightly, but even she showed evidence of significant damage, and a second, equally massive attack wave was already tearing down on her.

            My God, Michelle thought quietly. My God, it really works. It not only works, but I'll bet we've still only begun to scratch the surface of what this means. Hemphill told me it would be a force multiplier, and, Jesus, was she right!

            She watched the second salvo bearing down on its victims, and even though it was only a simulation, she shivered at the thought of what it would be like to know that wave of destruction was coming.

            Lord, if Haven knew about this, they'd be begging for a peace treaty! she thought shakenly.

            She remembered something White Haven had said after Operation Buttercup, the offensive which had driven Oscar Saint-Just's People's Republic to its knees. "It made me feel . . . dirty. Like I was drowning baby chicks," he'd said, and for the first time, she fully understood what he'd meant.