Third, ten Manticoran warships, four of them mere destroyers and only three of them as powerful as a heavy cruiser, had taken the combined fire of all of the pre-deployed missile pods and, although quite obviously surprised by the missiles’ range and sheer numbers, not only survived as a fighting force but managed to destroy the entire military component of Eroica Station and nine of the fourteen modern battlecruisers Technodyne had provided to the Monicans. Not only that, but the six damaged Manticoran survivors of the engagement with Eroica Station had destroyed three more modern, fully functional battlecruisers in stand up combat. And they’d apparently managed to do that using nothing but their internal missile tubes, without any interference from pods at all.

Fourth, although there was no hard sensor data to explain exactly how they’d done it, it had been made abundantly clear – both during the engagement against Horster’s three battlecruisers and afterward – that the Manticorans had managed to emplace what amounted to a system-wide surveillance system without being caught at it. And while Thurgood readily admitted that the supporting evidence and logic were much more speculative, the speed of the Manties’ reaction to both Horster’s attack and Admiral Bourmont’s later maneuvers suggested that they might very well be capable of FTL communication with their recon platforms, after all.
There’d been more, but even Thurgood had conceded that a lot of it – like the preposterous missile attack ranges some of the system-defense forces observers had been reporting from the main Manticore-Haven front and the ridiculously high acceleration rates attributed to Manticoran starships – sounded unlikely. On the other hand, he’d pointed out, he had absolutely no effective way of personally testing or evaluating those outrageous claims. He hadn’t said so in so many words, but it had been evident to Askew that whether or not he could test or evaluate the claims in question himself, he was . . . strongly disinclined to reject them out of hand.
Askew had been taken aback by Thurgood’s attitude. His original response had been strongly skeptical, but rather than simply reject the commodore’s concerns, he’d painstakingly retraced Thurgood’s logic, searching for the flaws he suspected had to be there. Unfortunately, he hadn’t found them. In fact, as he’d dutifully searched for them, he’d come more and more firmly to the belief that Thurgood had a point. In fact, it looked as if he had several points.
And that was what he’d reported to Mizawa, Zeiss, and Commander Bourget, Jean Bart’s executive officer. He’d been a bit cautious about the way he’d reported it, of course. He was an SLN officer, after all, well versed in the ways of equivocation and careful word choices, and his own initial reaction to Thurgood had suggested how his superiors would probably respond to any wild-eyed, panicky warnings about Manticoran super weapons. Besides, even though the analysis had been requested only for Captain Mizawa’s internal use, there’d always been the possibility that it might – as, indeed, appeared to be the case – have come into someone else’s possession. If that happened, some other superior officer might prove rather less understanding than Captain Mizawa if young Lieutenant Commander Askew came across as too alarmist.
Apparently I wasn’t cautious enough, he reflected grimly.
“Should I assume, Ma’am, from what you said about Captain Aberu’s response, that Admiral Byng feels the same way?” he asked.
“I don’t have any idea how Admiral Byng feels,” Zeiss told him. She shook her head and grimaced. “From the way Captain Mizawa described the ‘conversation’ to me, it sounds like Aberu was expressing her own opinions. From what I’ve seen of her so far, I’d guess she’s one of those staffers who sees it as her duty to prevent obvious nonsense from cluttering up her Admiral’s desk. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that she’d taken it upon herself to quash this sort of ‘panicky defeatism’ on her own, without ever discussing it with Admiral Byng at all. Unfortunately, Matt, we don’t know that that’s the case. It’s equally possible that Admiral Byng sent her out to suggest rather firmly to the Captain that he leave the threat analysis business to the task force staff without the Admiral himself getting involved.”
“I see, Ma’am.” Askew gazed at her for several silent seconds, then cleared his throat. “May I ask what the Captain intends to do about Captain Aberu’s concerns?”
“He’s not about to toss you out the nearest airlock, if that’s what’s worrying you.” Zeiss actually produced a chuckle, but then her expression sobered again. “At the same time, though, he has to be a bit cautious about how he proceeds.”
Askew nodded glumly. Captain Mizawa’s family connections went quite a bit higher than Askew’s own, but they still ended well short of the lofty sort of influence Byng could bring to bear. Given that, especially against the background of the traditional Battle Fleet-Frontier Fleet rivalry, Mizawa would have to pick his ground carefully for any quarrel with Byng. Coming to the impassioned defense of his assistant tactical officer probably wouldn’t be the most career-enhancing move a flag captain could make.
And it wouldn’t solve the problem of Aberu’s pigheadedness, either, he thought.
“For the moment,” Zeiss continued, “he wants you to lie as low as possible. Just go about your duties, and he and I — and the Exec — will keep you as far away from Flag Bridge and the Admiral’s staff as we can. Bearing in mind that we don’t know exactly how your report came into Captain Aberu’s hands, it would probably be a good idea for you to keep your mouth shut about its contents, as well.”
She looked at him levelly, and he nodded again. If they did have someone working as Byng’s — or Aberu’s — informant, talking about his and Thurgood’s theories could very well get him charged with spreading defeatism.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. Then, a bit more daringly, “And may I ask how the Captain reacted to my analysis?”
Zeiss rocked back in her chair, regarding him narrowly for several heartbeats, then shrugged.
“Captain Mizawa — like Commander Bourget and myself — is inclined to take your more alarming hypotheses with a sizable grain of salt. I think the Captain was as impressed as I was by the caliber of your work, but as you yourself point out, the supporting data is really pretty damned thin on the ground, Matt. You and Commodore Thurgood may very well be onto something, but I think we’re all inclined to reserve judgment for the moment. I will say that your appreciation of the potential threat is likely to make all three of us approach the situation much more cautiously than we might have otherwise. It’s just that until we’ve acquired some of that missing hard data we can’t afford to get overly timid in our relations with the Manties.” She gave him another of those hard, level looks, then added, “Or with anyone else.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I understand.”
Askew didn’t try to keep his own worry — and not just for the possible implications for his naval career — out of his own voice, but he understood, all right.
“I thought you would, Matt,” Zeiss said quietly. “I thought you would.”