Chapter Twenty-One

“Well, what do you make of it?” Gregor O’Shaughnessy asked with a crooked smile.
“If you’re asking for my professional opinion on how we pulled it off, I don’t have a clue,” Commander Ambrose Chandler, Augustus Khumalo’s staff intelligence officer, replied.

He sat across a small table from his civilian counterpart on Baroness Medusa’s staff, the two of them enjoying the afternoon sunlight of the city of Thimble, the improbably named planetary capital of the planet Flax. Spindle-A, the GO primary component of the distant binary system in which Flax made its home, was warm on their shoulders, the table cloth flapped gently on the iodine-scented breeze, and their terrace table above the seawall looked out across the Humboldt Ocean’s tumbled blue and silver.
“Even if you could tell me how we did it, it probably wouldn’t mean very much to me, Ambrose,” O’Shaughnessy pointed out, and Chandler chuckled. O’Shaughnessy had come up through the civilian side of the Star Kingdom of Manticore’s intelligence community. He neither truly understood how the military mind worked nor shared the military’s perspective on quite a few problems. Fortunately, he was aware of that, and he tried — not always successfully — to make allowances for it when it was necessary too coordinate with his naval colleagues.
“I was more concerned with what I suppose you’d call the strategic implications of it,” O’Shaughnessy continued, and Chandler’s smile faded.
“Militarily?” he asked.
“Militarily and politically.” O’Shaughnessy shrugged. “I’m in a better position on the political side than on the military side, of course, but under the circumstances, any additional perspective I can get has to be worthwhile. I’ve got the oddest feeling that the entire Star Kingdom — excuse me, the Star Empire — is in the process of falling down that Old Earth rabbit hole.”
“‘Rabbit hole’?” Chandler repeated, looking at him oddly, and O’Shaughnessy shook his head.
“Never mind. It’s an old literary reference, not anything important. It just means I’m feeling mightily confused at the moment.”
“Well, you’re hardly alone there,” Chandler pointed out, then took another swallow of his beer and leaned back in his chair.
“Militarily,” he said bluntly, “Haven is screwed if — and please do note the qualifier, Gregor — whatever Duchess Harrington used at Lovat can be gotten into general deployment. I’m guessing that it has to be some further development of the grav-pulse telemetry we’re already using in Ghost Rider. Exactly how Admiral Hemphill’s shop did it, and what sort of hardware is involved, is more than I could guess at this point. I’m a spook, not a tactical officer, and I’m actually probably better informed about Peep hardware than I am about ours. Something about knowing your enemy. But it’s clear enough even from the preliminary reports that whatever Duchess Harrington did enormously increased her MDMs’ long-range accuracy, and that’s always been the biggest problem where they’re concerned.”
O’Shaughnessy nodded to show he was following Chandler’s logic. Despite his own lack of military experience, he wouldn’t have been Medusa’s senior intelligence analyst if he hadn’t managed to acquire at least some grasp of the navy’s current capabilities.
The dispatches informing Khumalo and Baroness Medusa about the Battle of Lovat had reached Spindle only the evening before. He had no doubt Chandler was still in the midst of assimilating everything else that had come with them, much as he himself was. And he also had no doubt that Loretta Shoupe, who — unlike Chandler — was a tactical specialist, would have been a better source if he’d been interested in the nuts and bolts of whatever was going on. He liked Shoupe, and he did intend to discuss Lovat’s military aspects with her, but right now he needed the big picture more than the specifics. Besides, Chandler was a fellow analyst. He’d probably have a better feel for the sorts of details someone like O’Shaughnessy needed than Shoupe would.
“The MDM and the missile pod between them turned the balance between energy armaments and missile armaments on its head,” Chandler continued, “but we’ve never been able to really take full advantage of the system because the range of the missiles has outstripped the effective range of our fire control. If Admiral Hemphill really has found a way to effectively integrate FTL telemetry into the system, that’s changed, though, and if we can do that and the Peeps can’t, then they’re going to find themselves as outclassed as they were when Earl White Haven kicked their asses the last time around. But to do that, Duchess Harrington is going to have to have enough ships with the capability to do whatever it is they’re doing. If she doesn’t, if the Peeps have enough hulls to soak up her hits and keep closing, then we’re back to worrying about whether or not our quality is sufficient to overcome their quantity.”
“Would we have used this thing in the first place if we didn’t have it in general deployment?” O’Shaughnessy asked.
“I’d like to think we wouldn’t have,” Chandler said, rather more grimly, “but I’m a lot less confident of that than I’d like to be.”
“Because of the collapse of the summit?”
“Exactly. Or, maybe to be more accurate, because of the way the summit collapsed. If I thought we’d backed away from it on the basis of a dispassionate analysis of our military advantages, I’d be a lot happier. But that isn’t what happened, is it? Political considerations — political considerations that are driven at least as much by emotions as by analysis — dictated the Government’s decision. Which means what we could be looking at here is a less than optimum military decision based on political necessity.”
“Aren’t all military decisions ultimately based on political necessities?” O’Shaughnessy asked just a bit challengingly, and Chandler snorted.
“You aren’t going to get me involved in that discussion, Gregor! I don’t have any problem at all with the notion that military policy and objectives have to be defined within a political context. And I’m an officer in the Queen’s Navy, which means I fully accept the validity and necessity of civilian control of the military, which means the subordination of military decision making to the political leadership. All I’m saying in this instance is that the decision to resume active operations was essentially a political one. Admiral Caparelli and the Strategy Board are responsible for determining the best ways to carry out decisions like that, but they can only do that within the limitations of the tools available to them. So I’m saying they may have decided to use a weapon system that’s not fully prepared for general deployment. Or, at least, to have used it at an earlier point in any deployment process than they would have under other circumstances.”
“At least partly in an effort to bluff the Havenites into thinking it is ready for general deployment, you mean?”
“Maybe. And I could be worrying more about it than I ought to be, too,” Chandler conceded. “After all, even if they’re ready to go to general deployment tomorrow, they still have to use this thing for a first time somewhere.”
“But you don’t think they are ready for general deployment, do you?” O’Shaughnessy said shrewdly. “Why?”
“Because,” Chandler replied, answering the blunt question with matching bluntness, “if we had this thing in general deployment already, we’d’ve gone straight for Nouveau Paris, not Lovat. Lovat’s an important target, but not nearly as important as the Peeps’ capital. And given the way everyone back home is feeling over Admiral Webster’s assassination and that business on Torch, do you really think anyone at the Admiralty or the Palace wouldn’t have gone for a knockout if they’d thought they had the capability?”