The tactical officer let her voice trail off, and Askew nodded. Bad enough if someone in their own company was passing potentially “interesting” information on to Admiral Byng’s staff without authorization. But if it had come into Aberu’s possession because Byng’s people were hacked into the tactical department’s information net – or, even worse, Captain Mizawa’s personal internal com channels – it said even worse things about Task Force 3021’s command structure.

And in either case – whether she got it from a spy or through some illegal hack – the fact that Aberu decided to tell the Captain she had the access isn’t exactly a good sign either, now that I come to think about it.
“Should I take it that she complained about my conclusions to the Captain, Ma’am?” he asked after a moment.
“She objected to your conclusions, your assumptions, your estimates, and your sources,” Zeiss said almost dispassionately. “She characterized you as alarmist, credulous, ignorant, incompetent, and ‘obviously not to be trusted with any significant independent analysis.’ That last phrase is a direct quote, by the way. And she informed the Captain that if this represented the caliber of his officers’ work and capabilities, the entire task force was obviously in deep and desperate trouble.”
Askew swallowed. Naval service had run in his family for the last eight generations, but all of those generations had been spent in Frontier Fleet. That wouldn’t cut a lot of ice with a Battle Fleet captain – or Admiral – and he couldn’t even begin to call upon the level of patronage and family alliances someone like Aberu could. If Byng or his staff decided an example had to be made of Maitland Askew, the destruction of his own naval career would become a virtual certainty.
“Ma’am –“ he began, with absolutely no idea where he meant to take the sentence. Fortunately, Zeiss interrupted him again before he had to find out.
“You did exactly what the Captain and I asked you to do, Matt,” she said firmly. “I realize that may seem like cold comfort if someone like Aberu decides to set her sights on you, but neither of us have any intention of simply cutting your air line because she’s a little miffed. Having said that, however, I have to admit that what she’s chosen to be miffed over actually worries me more than the potential fate of one of my subordinates, however much I like and value him.”
Askew couldn’t pretend he was happy about that last sentence, but neither could he argue with her professional priorities.
Captain Mizawa had commissioned the report to which Aberu had taken such exception as part of his own background planning for their current mission. Askew had no idea how much of the report’s content Mizawa was prepared to take at face value. For that matter, the assistant tactical officer wasn’t really certain how much of it he was prepared to take at face value. Nonetheless, he was now convinced – and he knew Zeiss was, as well – that the official ONI estimates of the Manties’ capabilities were badly flawed . . . to put it mildly.
Askew hadn’t given much thought to the Royal Manticoran Navy himself before Jean Bart had been posted to the Madras Sector in the wake of the attack on the Republic of Monica. He knew the RMN was a lot bigger than most of the neobarb fleets floating around out in the Verge and beyond. It could hardly be otherwise, given the size of the Manticoran merchant marine, the need to protect it, and the fact that Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven had been at war with one another for the last twenty-odd T-years. That much he’d been prepared to admit, in a sort of offhand, casually incurious way, but his own assignments had kept him clear on the other side of the Solarian League’s vast volume. He’d had rather more pressing concerns in his own area of operations. So even if he’d been vaguely aware of the Manty navy’s sheer size, that awareness hadn’t inspired him to think about it with any particular urgency. And if he’d thought about the ridiculous rumors about new “super weapons” coming out of the so-called Havenite Wars at all, it had mostly been to dismiss them as the sort of wildly exaggerated propaganda claims to be expected out of such a backward and distant corner of the explored galaxy. He certainly would have agreed that it was ludicrous to suggest that a single neobarb star system, be it ever so deeply involved in interstellar commerce, could have put together an R&D effort that could manage to outpace that of the Solarian League Navy!
Askew had found it extremely difficult to accept the possibility that his initial estimate of the situation might have been seriously defective, but Captain Mizawa had asked him to keep an open mind when he undertook his appreciation of the Manticoran threat’s severity. He’d done his dead level best to do exactly that, and the more he’d looked, the more . . . concerned Maitland Askew had become.
The actual hard data available to him was painfully limited. There’d never been much of it to begin with, and he’d decided at the outset that if he was going to come at his task with the “open mind” Captain Mizawa wanted, he’d have to start out by discarding the ONI reports which flatly dismissed the possibility of any threatening Manticoran breakthroughs. That left him gathering data on his own, and since they’d already been in hyper-space, on their way to their new duty station, there’d been precious little of that around until they reached the Myers System, the Madras Sector’s administrative center, and he was able to quietly talk things over with some of the officers of the Frontier Fleet detachment on permanent assignment to Commissioner Verrochio’s office.
Commodore Thurgood, the senior officer in Myers prior to Admiral Byng’s arrival, had been more than willing to share all of the information, analysis, and speculation available to him. At first, Askew had been strongly inclined to dismiss Thurgood as an alarmist, but he’d dug into the commodore’s documentation, anyway. And, as he’d dug, he’d begun to feel more than a little alarmed himself.
There was virtually no hard data from the actual attack on Monica. Any sensor data which had been available had either been destroyed along with Eroica Station’s military components and the ships the Manticorans had engaged, or else swept up afterward by the Manticoran “investigation teams” which had swarmed over the Monican wreckage. Yet even though hard data was effectively impossible to come by, Thurgood had drawn certain very disturbing conclusions from the reports of as many Monican survivors as he’d been able to interview.
First, unlike a majority of Solarian Navy officers, Thurgood had declined to write off what had happened as due solely to Monican incompetence. He’d personally known the Monican flag officers involved – especially Isidor Hegedusic and Janko Horster, the two admirals who had actually engaged the Manticorans and gotten themselves killed for their pains. While the highest levels of the Republic of Monica’s military had been as riddled by cronyism and political favoritism as any other Verge “star nation,” Thurgood had respected the personal abilities of both Hegedusic and Horster, and he’d also informed Askew that the Monican Navy’s basic level of competence had been surprisingly high.
Second, although he wasn’t supposed to have been, Thurgood had been briefed on the missile pods Technodyne had made available to Monica. As a consequence, he’d been aware that the missiles in those pods had possessed a substantially higher rate of acceleration and drive endurance — and therefore a substantially greater effective range — than the standard missiles of the Solarian League Navy.