Admiral Yuri Rollins paced slowly up and down his flag bridge as PNS Barnett moved ponderously in-system. His hands were back in his tunic pockets in his favorite thinking posture, and he clamped an unlit pipe between his teeth. That pipe was one of his few real affectations—smoking had only recently become fashionable once more among Haven's Legislaturalists—but he found it comforting at the moment.
Smoking goes in and out of fashion on Haven, it seems. Except with Tourville, who simply doesn't care.
So far, things had gone exactly as planned. They'd been shadowed, as expected, from the moment they pulled out of Seaford, but the three light cruisers watching over his force had gotten just a bit too confident. Commander Ogilve and five of his squadron mates had left ten hours before the rest of the fleet, and, unlike the Manties, they'd already known what course Rollins intended to follow. The Manties had known they were safely outside Rollins' range until Napoleon and her consorts suddenly appeared behind them, pinning them against the task force. It had been a massacre; in fact, the first of them had been destroyed without getting off a single answering broadside.
Their destruction had been a satisfying start to the operation, though Rollins didn't deceive himself about what the other Manticoran pickets had been doing. They'd hypered out in all directions almost the instant his own ships crossed the alpha wall. By now, they must be arriving wherever Parks had taken his ships, and that meant the Manty admiral would be in motion shortly. Parks might not have exact intelligence on his enemies' course, but an attack on his main forward base had to be high on his threat list. Under the circumstances, Rollins had to assume Parks was already en route, with a probable ETA of no more than seventy-two to eighty-four hours.
How Rollins caught the pickets before they could warn Hancock, and his estimated window before Parks hears from the survivors and comes to rescue his station.
Which should still be more than adequate, for one thing was certain: the delay to query the Argus net's latest data had confirmed that Parks wasn't here now. The platforms didn't have the reach to see anything within ten light-minutes or so of the primary, but they would certainly have noted anything that came in far enough out to clear Hancock's hyper limit, and nothing heavier than a cruiser had.
He paused in his pacing to gaze into the master display. As planned, his own force lagged well astern of Admiral Chin. In fact, he intended to halt his ships eleven light-minutes from Hancock, right on the hyper limit, for he had no intention of miring his sluggish superdreadnoughts any deeper than he had to. Chin's task group would more than suffice to eliminate any Manty battlecruisers—and their base—and if it turned out after all that this was some sort of subtle trap, he refused to let it close upon the core of his task force's true fighting power.
That caution Simon noted, mostly I just wanted to point out they also kept a slow approach so they could query the Argus satellites.
Nike and her squadron mates accelerated at a steady .986 gees, screened by Van Slyke's heavy cruisers and the ten light cruisers Cartwright and Ernie Corell had exempted from their picket deployments. The task group seemed to crawl at such a low accel, yet there were limits to even the best electronic warfare capabilities. While the RMN's stealth systems were highly efficient against active sensors like radar, the only effective way to limit detection range against an impeller wedge was to reduce its power.
Impeller drive under max stealth can pull just under one G. In a later book where a similar maneuver is required it turns out Peep ships have chemical thrusters that can pull more than 5.
She would have preferred, in a way, to have Mike on the bridge with her, but unlike any of her earlier ships, Nike was big enough for a duplicate command deck at the far end of her core hull. Known informally as Coventry, Auxiliary Control was manned by a complete backup of her own bridge crew under Henke's supervision. It was a chilling thought in some ways, but knowing someone she trusted was waiting to look after her ship for her eased her mind more than she'd once expected it could.
BCs and larger have a secondary bridge, besides the flag bridge which may or may not be present, to take over if the main bridge is hit. Presumably they also get the same data and keep abreast of what the A crew is doing. The Fourth Imperium in Mutineer's Moon had a similar system, but the two bridge crews saw and interacted with each other as holograms.
Just as an aside, I'd feel a touch uncomfortable sitting through a major battle in the one room of the ship called "Coventry."
She settled herself more comfortably in her own chair and checked the plot. The minelayers had already completed their part of the initial operation and started back for the base, and she wished with all her heart that Paul were among the people they were about to pick up. But he wasn't, and at least the base wasn't totally helpless. It mounted no offensive weapons, but it was fitted with generators for a spherical sidewall "bubble" almost as strong as Nike's own, and its active antimissile defenses were excellent. They'd been unable to adapt its defensive fire control to handle parasite pods, so it still had no offensive punch, but it could protect itself quite well— until, at least, some Peep capital ship got into beam range.
Base defenses include a BC-grade bubble-generator and an awful lot of counter-missiles and laser clusters.
Edward Saganami had set the RMN's standards in his final engagement when he died defending a convoy against five-to-one odds. His inheritors had proven themselves worthy of their founder over the centuries, and that sort of tradition wasn't built in a moment; somehow she couldn't picture any Manticoran admiral letting it be torn down without a fight.
The RMN's tradition of self-sacrifice in the face of impossible odds. Which is the reason Admiral Chin can't buy the defenders running and leaving the base to fend for itself.
She looked back at her plot and let her thoughts turn to the missile pods. Nike's redesigned inertial compensator and more powerful impellers let her tow a total of seven of them; Achilles, Agamemnon, and Cassandra could manage six each, but the older, Redoubtable-class ships could tow only five. "Only" five. The right corner of her mouth twitched at the thought.
For those keeping score, Nike has a 20 missile broadside and can tow enough pods to fire another 70. Three of her fellows are carrying 60 more missiles for the opening round, the other 4 BCs 50. And every cruiser gets a BC broadside, at least for that opener. All of this being delivered with surprise at relatively close range. Sarnow and Honor designated this plan "Sucker Punch."
"Engage!" she snapped, and Task Group Hancock 001 belched fire.
Nike and Agamemnon alone spat a hundred and seventy-eight missiles at the Peeps, almost five times the broadside of a Sphinx-class superdreadnought. The other divisions of her squadron had fewer birds, but even Van Slyke's cruiser divisions had twice a Bellerophon-class dreadnought's broadside. Nine hundred missiles erupted into Admiral Chin's teeth, and every ship's drive came on line in the same instant. They swerved back onto their original heading, redlining their acceleration, and deployed decoys and jammers to cover themselves as they raced ahead down the Havenites' base course at 4.93 KPS2.
* * *
For one terrible moment, Genevieve Chin's mind froze.
Two superdreadnought squadrons couldn't have spawned that massive salvo, and the Manties only had battlecruisers! It was impossible!
But it was also happening, and forty years of training wrenched her brain back to life.
"Starboard ninety! All units roll ship!" she snapped, and her fist pounded the arm of her command chair as her ships began to turn. It was going to be close, for dreadnoughts were slow on the helm, and she cursed the precious seconds her own stunned surprise had lost her.
A hurricane of missiles tore down on Havenite ships whose startled missile defense officers had been slow to start their plots. There'd been no one on their sensors to run plots on, and they weren't clairvoyant.
Countermissiles began to fire, sporadically at first, then in greater and greater numbers. Dreadnoughts were lavishly equipped with active defenses, but the Manties had targeted the full fury of their fire on just four dreadnoughts and the same number of battlecruisers . . . and almost a third of the incoming missiles carried neither laser heads nor nukes. They were fitted instead with the best ECM emitters and electronic penaids Manticore could build, and they played hell with Havenite tracking systems. Missile impeller signatures split apart and recombined with insane abandon, jammers scrambled defensive radar, and sheer, howling electronic noise attacked squadron tactical nets that hadn't had the least idea they were about to be assailed. Half of them went down—only for seconds, perhaps, before they recovered, but for those seconds Admiral Chin's ships found themselves suddenly alone in the path of the storm. They were forced back into local control, and without centralized direction, two and even three ships attacked some missiles . . . while no one at all engaged others.
Countermissiles and laser clusters tore dozens—scores—of them apart, but nothing could have stopped them all, and Chin clung to her command chair as her massive flagship heaved in agony. Laser heads stabbed at New Boston with x-ray stilettos, people and alloy blew apart and vaporized under their deadly impact, and those were the light hits, the ones that had to get through sidewalls and radiation shielding first.
Nouveau Paris, Chin's lead dreadnought, was slow getting around, and over a dozen missiles detonated almost dead ahead of her. Lethal clusters of lasers ripped straight down the wide-open throat of her wedge, and Chin stared at the visual display in sick horror as she blew apart. One instant she was six megatons of capital ship; the next she was an expanding ball of fire.
The battlecruisers Walid and Sulieman died with her, and other ships took hit after hit. The dreadnought Waldensville staggered as her forward impeller ring was blown apart, and the battlecruiser Malik careened out of formation as her wedge went down completely. A heavy cruiser division tried to cover her against Manticoran sensors with their own wedges, but with neither wedge nor sidewalls, Malik was doomed. Even as Chin watched, her crew took to their escape pods, fleeing their helpless ship before the Manties localized her despite her screen and blew her apart. Waldensville's impeller damage had cut her maximum acceleration in half, the dreadnought Kaplan had lost a quarter of her port broadside, her sister ship Havensport was almost as badly damaged, and the battlecruiser Alp Arslan trailed atmosphere and debris.
How's that for a suckerpunch? First appearance of holyshithuge!
missile clouds, not the last by any means. Manticoran ECM as seen from the other side, white noise, communications disruptions and missile signatures splitting and recombining and dancing around most inconveniently. Also note that just "over a dozen" laser heads getting a throat-shot were enough to blow a dreadnought to smithereens.
A fresh salvo of Manticoran missiles scorched in on Malik. There were only a few dozen of them this time, yet the battlecruiser was a sitting target. Her cruiser screen did its best to stop them, but at least ten got through, and they weren't even laser heads. Megaton-range fireballs enveloped Malik in a star-bright boil; when it cleared, another eight hundred and fifty thousand tons of warship had been wiped away, and Chin swore with silent, bitter venom.
A dreadnought and three battlecruisers—all of them Sultans—gone just like that. The enemy's targeting had been as deadly as the sheer weight of his fire, and she'd walked straight into it. She made herself accept that, then looked back at the plot, and her teeth showed as she digested the data. She didn't know how battlecruisers had pumped so many missiles at her, but they'd exposed themselves to do it. Despite their higher accelerations, she had more than enough overtake advantage to bring them into beam range, and no battlecruiser could stand up to a dreadnought's energy armament.
Haven casualties, and determination to pay back Task Force Hancock 001 in kind.
"Fresh contact, Admiral. Correction—multiple contacts, bearing one-seven-niner by oh-oh-eight, range one-oh-six-point-niner million klicks!"
New light codes appeared in her command chair's tactical repeater, and her jaw clenched. Superdreadnoughts. Sixteen of them—two full battle squadrons—coming at her from the "helpless" repair base at 4.3 KPS2.
"Reverse course. Maximum deceleration!"
* * *
Honor's eyes blazed as the "superdreadnoughts" headed toward the Peeps. The repair base might not be armed, but its gravitic sensors had watched the savagery of the initial exchange, and its traffic control systems had sufficed to activate the preprogrammed electronic warfare drones Sarnow had left in orbit with it. Now the drones raced outward, and the Peeps had no choice but to go to maximum power in the other direction in the faint hope of escaping the "capital ships" lunging to complete their destruction.
And the next trick in this little show, the surprise appearance of two superdreadnought squadrons, actually EW drones, racing to the Task Force's rescue.
The admiral made an ugly sound deep in her throat. She folded her hands tightly behind her, and her staff sat silent in the face of her anger as she rocked up and down on her toes. The master plot confirmed the ops officer's report, but now that her instant, instinctive reaction had passed, her own tactical sense warred with the data. It didn't make sense. If battlecruisers could pump that many missiles at her—and she was beginning to suspect how they'd done it—surely ships of the wall could have laid down even more fire! Two squadrons of superdreadnoughts could have annihilated her entire force and come close to evening the odds against Rollins' total task force in a single blow, and if the Manties could get battlecruisers into range undetected, there was no reason they couldn't have done the same thing with SDs.
And if those were superdreadnoughts, why were the battlecruisers still running? They were accelerating away from her at almost five KPS2; combined with her own deceleration, that produced a cumulative vector change of 9.45 KPS2. Of course, no battlecruiser wanted to get any closer to a dreadnought than it had to, but their heading also meant they could reply to her ships' after chase armament only with their stern chasers. True, their fire was hammering Waldensville with ever mounting damage, but they could have turned to open their broadsides and quadrupled the weight of their fire, and with SDs coming to their assistance, Chin couldn't possibly have risked slowing her escape efforts by turning to reply in kind.
Her furious rocking motion slowed and her eyes narrowed as another thought chased itself through her mind. If those were SDs, why hadn't the Argus net detected their return to the system?
Genevieve Chin, ladies and gents, bit of a temper problem but no dummy. Once she has a minute to think she sees through the ruse with the drones, but they did make her hit the brakes enough that she won't be able to get them in energy range, a big plus.
She glanced back over her shoulder, and Honor raised one hand in the ancient thumbs-up gesture. Identification friend or foe circuits could always screw up, especially when ships had taken battle damage that could knock out their onboard transponders or change their emission signatures radically. But the minefield had recognized them; it wouldn't kill their own wounded ships, and, almost more important still, would not reveal its position to the enemy in the process.
Would have been awkward to get blown to heck by their own minefield, but apparently they can be programmed to let friendly ships through.
Commander DeSoto stiffened as a faint radar return flickered in his display. Adrenaline flared as he remembered the last time his radar had picked something up, and he stabbed a key, interrogating his data base threat files. The computers considered dispassionately, then blinked an obedient reply.
"Minefield dead ahead!" he shouted.
"Roll starboard!" Admiral Chin barked instantly, and her task group swerved once more in the face of a fresh threat.
Nothing like an ambush to create a properly paranoid tac officer. Funny that he has to ask the computer to compare readings to the library, instead of telling the computer to spit out a "mines ahead, dummy!" alert when it encounters that particular profile.
The Havenite task group slid into range of the clustered mines like an out-of-control ground car or a ground-looping air car. Chin's lightning-fast response had blunted the threat, yet her velocity was far too high to sidestep it completely. Her ships were up on their sides relative to the field, presenting the bellies of their wedges as they came in, but the people who'd laid that field had known their business. They'd also known the exact vector on which Admiral Sarnow intended to suck her into it, and the mines were a disk perpendicular to her line of approach, stacked as "high" as they were "deep."
Space erupted in a wall of light as the bomb-pumped laser platforms spewed concentrated fury at Chin's ships. Thousands of laser beams, each more powerful than any missile laser head could generate, stabbed and tore at their prey. The vast majority wasted themselves harmlessly against her interposed impeller bands, but there were too many of them and they had too much spread for the wedges to intercept them all.
New Boston shuddered as fresh wounds cratered her massive armor and wiped away weapons and their crews. Three beta nodes and an alpha node went with them, and her flag bridge displays flickered as Fusion Four went into emergency shutdown, but her other power plants took the load and damage control and medical parties charged into her wrecked compartments. New Boston was hurt, but she was still a fighting force as she cleared the attack zone.
Other ships weren't. Alp Arslan broke in half and vomited flame as her number two fusion plant's containment bottle failed, and the heavy cruisers Scimitar, Drusus, and Khopesh vanished in matching fireballs, their weaker sidewalls and radiation shielding no match for the fury that could rip straight through a dreadnought's defenses. Half a dozen destroyers joined them, and Waldensville, already lamed and crippled, reeled out of the holocaust as a dying hulk.
Genevieve Chin listened to the torrent of loss and damage reports, and her face was hard, hating stone. Again. They'd suckered her again! But how, damn it?! There was no way a minefield should be sitting way the hell out here, and she was the one who'd picked her approach vector! The Manties had matched her course, not lured her onto one of their choosing, so how in hell could they have known exactly where to put their field?
The last of her battered ships—the ones that survived—streamed out of the attack and rolled back down to engage the enemy once more, and her mouth was a knife-thin line as she absorbed her losses. She was down to only two battlecruisers, both old Tiger-class ships and both damaged, and five dreadnoughts, all damaged to greater or lesser degree. Kaplan's armament had been almost completely gutted, and Merston had lost half her energy weapons and a third of her starboard sidewall. New Boston, Havensport, and Macrea's Tor were hurt less badly, but the lighter ships of her screen had been devastated. Barely half of them remained combat effective, and God only knew what else the goddamned Manties had waiting for her!
She opened her mouth to order the pursuit broken off, then froze as the data on her plot changed once more.
The minefield really did a number on them, and Chin would have withdrawn if she hadn't finally gotten 2 BC kills. Still, that is a damn favorable exchange rate for Manticore. Mines are bigger and more powerful than missiles, though still working on the Excaliber-laser principle.
A fierce, harsh sound of exultation filled Nike's bridge, and Honor's eyes glittered. They were hopelessly outgunned by the ships behind them, but they'd already destroyed more than twice their own total tonnage! If Parks had left even a single battle squadron to support them, they could have annihilated the Peeps' lead element, maybe even saved the entire system, but the task group had nothing to reproach itself for. And maybe, just maybe, their fresh losses would finally convince the Peeps to break off after all.
Then the dreadnoughts rolled back down. Only four of them remained combat effective, but their course change had brought their full broadsides to bear, the range had fallen to little more than five million kilometers, they'd had time to absorb and adjust to the task group's defensive EW patterns, and their furious, humiliated gunners had blood in their eyes.
Two hundred and fifty-eight missiles erupted from the battered dreadnoughts and their surviving escorts, and twenty-two of them broke through everything the task group could throw at them.
HMS Defiant staggered sideways under the stunning body blow. Her port sidewall vanished, and half her after impeller ring vaporized. Two of her three fusion plants went into emergency shutdown, and she rolled over on her back, trailing air and shattered plating. There was no one left alive on her bridge, but her executive officer took one look at his displays in Auxiliary Control and knew she was done. The heel of his hand slammed down on a red button, and abandon ship alarms screamed over every speaker and suit com aboard her.
Barely a sixth of Defiant's crew escaped before the followup salvo killed her, but she was luckier than Achilles, and Honor's face went white as Commodore Isabella Banton's flagship blew up with all hands.
Retaliation, even a short dreadnought squadron can loose 260 missiles, though Manticoran point-defense kills over 90% of the inbound.
They'd planned to alter course at Point Delta all along, for the mines had been their last trump card. With no more tricks to play, their sole chance to buy the base—and Admiral Danislav—a few more hours lay in convincing the Peeps to alter their own vector away from it to pursue the task group. But fifteen degrees was the sharpest alteration they'd discussed. It would let the enemy cut inside them, hold them in missile range longer.
She knew what Sarnow was thinking, for the same thought had occurred to her. Coupled with what had just happened, that big a course change would make the temptation to pursue them almost irresistible. His decision was a cold, calculated bid to offer the chance to destroy his entire squadron as bait to win the base time that probably wouldn't matter anyway.
But they'll still do it.
"I see." Admiral Chin's smile was a hungry wolf's. Those "SDs" had to be drones; if they'd been real ships of the wall, the battlecruisers would never have stopped running to meet them. And the course change itself, with its obvious invitation to pursuit, meant only one thing. The Manties had just run out of tricks. They wanted her to chase them in order to keep her out of energy range of their base because they damned well couldn't stop her any other way.
She knew what they were up to. They'd suck her well clear of the base, then scatter. They'd lose the advantage of their massed point defense when they did, but the range would be opening again by then. Only her dreadnoughts would have the weight of fire to get through their individual defenses, and she could only fire at a few of them.
She was tempted to ignore them, but the base wasn't going anywhere, and she might just get lucky. The Manties had lost a quarter of their battlecruisers and one heavy cruiser, and other ships were hurting. If they were willing to let her chase them, she was willing to accept the invitation in hopes of killing a few more of them before they scattered.
Chin knows exactly what they're doing and why, but she's game because she's not actually in a terrible rush, expecting 3-4 days to take out the repair base at her leisure.
"It is Admiral Danislav, Sir!" Joseph Cartwright's confirmation of Webster's report was jubilant, and Sarnow fought his own elation. The enormous hyper footprint was well beyond Nike's onboard sensor range, but there was no question of who it was. The ten dreadnoughts at the formation's core burned sharp and clear, and Danislav must already be querying the sensor net.
The admiral made himself sit still and silent, watching the plot Webster was feeding from the sensor platforms' FTL transmissions. Danislav's ships held their arrival vector for ten seconds, then twenty, coasting without acceleration at the bare 8,000 KPS of their translation into normal space, and then the plot blinked. Danislav's heading changed, his ships went to an acceleration of four hundred and thirty gravities, and a new vector curled out across the display.
Numbers flashed with CIC's analysis. Twenty-six minutes. That was how much longer the Peeps had to keep chasing Sarnow to reach the point of no return. Just twenty-six minutes and they couldn't possibly escape Danislav's oncoming dreadnoughts.
He turned back to his com to give Captain Harrington the news.
* * *
Twenty-four missiles sped toward the task group. Five of them lost lock over a million kilometers out as jammers blinded their sensors. Another three locked onto decoys. Two of them couldn't see their primary target and shifted to the secondary, arcing away to strike at the heavy cruiser Warrior, and countermissiles smashed six more of them to bits.
Eight of them broke through the outer defense zone and bore in, weaving and bobbing while their own ECM parried and thrust with the systems trying to kill them. They were outclassed . . . but they were also closing at fifty-five thousand KPS. Laser clusters killed one of them, then two more. A fourth. The surviving quartet made their final course correction, two more of them blew apart, and then the last pair of missiles detonated.
* * *
HMS Nike heaved and twisted as x-ray daggers sank deep into her armored flank. Laser Seven and Graser Five exploded into wreckage. Radar Five went with them, along with Communications Two, Missile Thirteen and Fourteen, Damage Control Three, Boat Bay Two, and ninety-three men and women.
And a fourth deadly splinter ripped into the back of Admiral Mark Sarnow's command chair.
It sheared through the chair, spinning end-for-end like a white-hot buzz-saw. The impact snapped the admiral's shock frame and hurled him forward, but the splinter caught him in midair. It severed his right leg just above the knee and mangled his left calf, chunks of the chair itself blasted into his back, and his ribcage shattered like a wicker basket as he impacted on the master plot and bounced back like a broken doll.
Samuel Webster flung himself toward his admiral while slamming blast doors chopped off the cyclone of escaping air. Sarnow's skin suit had already inflated emergency tourniquets on either thigh, and his scream was a faint, thready exhalation as Webster moved him gently to check his life-sign monitors.
The admiral stared up at his com officer, fighting the searing agony. "Don't scatter!" he gasped with all his failing strength, and his hand plucked at Webster's arm like a fevered child's. "Tell them not to scatter!"
Webster's face was white as Sarnow's terrible injuries registered, and his fingers darted across the skin suit's med panel. Blessed relief spread through the admiral, deadening the pain. Unconsciousness beckoned, but he fought it as he had the pain, clinging to awareness, as Ernestine Corell appeared beside him.
"Don't scatter!" he gasped again, and Corell looked at Webster.
"What did he say?" she demanded, and Webster shrugged helplessly.
"I don't know, Ma'am." Grief clogged his voice, and he touched Sarnow's shoulder gently. "I can't make it out."
Sarnow is wounded just after detecting the arrival of Admiral Danislav's DN squadron, before he could order Honor to hold their course and not scatter as planned, to sucker Chin into running into Danislav.
She knew what Sarnow had been about to say. She'd been his tactical alter ego too long not to know . . . but he hadn't said it.
Command passed with the admiral. She knew that, too, yet there were no flag officers left. Captain Rubenstein was senior officer now, but Onslaught's gravitics were gone, her com section heavily damaged; she could neither receive the sensor platforms' transmissions nor pass orders effectively . . . and Rubenstein didn't know Danislav had arrived or what the admiral had intended.
She felt George Monet watching her, knew he was waiting for her order to inform Rubenstein he was in command, and said nothing.
And here's another point where Honor does something debatable. Technically she's usurping a senior officer by not transferring command promptly, but Rubenstein will testify under oath he would have been unable to exercise tactical control anyways, and a whole heap of officers endorse her actions here. Still.
Captain Pavel Young sat white-faced and sweating in his command chair. Warlock was untouched, one of the few ships which could say that, and her gravitics had picked up the same information as Nike's. He knew the relief force had arrived, and terror gnawed at his vitals as he waited for his ship's unnatural exemption to end.
He stared at the flagship's cursor, tasting blood from a bitten lip as direct hits and near misses lashed at her, their savagery made somehow more terrible by the quiet of Warlock's bridge. But even through his near-panic a corner of his brain exulted, for Van Slyke's death had given him squadron command at last, and command experience in a battle like this, however it had come his way, would wash away the Basilisk fiasco's stigma at last!
They reached the prearranged scatter point, and he tensed to order a radical course change at the flagship's command. But no command came. They passed the invisible dot in space, still charging forward, still on course . . . still writhing under the enemy's fire, and his eyes widened in disbelief.
He stared at Nike's data code desperately, almost beseechingly. What the hell was wrong with Sarnow? There was no more need for this! The Peeps would spot Danislav's dreadnoughts within twenty minutes—thirty-five at the most! Surely he knew they'd break off the action then anyway. Why wasn't he letting them save themselves?!
And then Warlock's immunity ended. The missile wasn't even meant for her, but her port decoy sucked it away from Invincible. It detonated at twenty-four thousand kilometers, blasting through her sidewall to blot away Laser Four and rip Magazine Two open to space, and panic roared through Pavel Young's soul on the wail of damage alarms.
"Squadron orders!" His tenor's shrill, raw edges turned every head on his bridge in shock. "All ships scatter! Repeat, all ships scatter!"
Young being an idiot and a contemptible coward again. We spend waaay to much of the next book inside his none-to-healthy head, and it's all like this. Sick enjoyment at the death of a superior giving him command, sweating, not thinking things through, etc. But his squadron obediently scatters, seriously compromising the Task Force's point defense.
"Give me a direct link to Captain Young!"
"Aye, aye, Ma'am." Monet jabbed keys, and the blank screen at Honor's knee filled with Pavel Young's face. Sweat streaked his cheeks and ran into his beard, and his eyes were a hunted animal's.
"Get back into formation, Captain!" Young only stared at her, his mouth working soundlessly. "Get back into formation, damn you!"
The screen went dead as Young killed the circuit. For one stunned second, she couldn't believe it, and in that second a fresh salvo of laser heads slammed at Nike's defenses. Her ship heaved and shuddered, frantic damage control reports crackled all around her, and she wrenched her eyes from the com screen to George Monet.
"General signal to all heavy cruisers. Return to formation at once. Repeat, return to formation at once!"
Young ignores a direct order from the flagship to return to formation, his squadron eventually obeys but he keeps on running. At his trial, it will be argued that Honor had no authority to be issuing him orders.
The battered Havenite dreadnoughts slowed abruptly, and Honor bared her teeth. They'd figured it out at last. She didn't know how, but they knew . . . only they didn't know it was already too late.
The dreadnoughts completed their turn, decelerating as hard as they could, and she pictured the scene on their flagship's bridge. Their CO couldn't know what bearing the threat was coming from. Until her own sensors picked up Danislav's ships she could only decelerate back the way she'd come, and every second of deceleration increased Nike's relative velocity by nine KPS. Which made it time to make the Peeps' targeting problems a little worse.
"Execute Shell Game," she said.
Eve Chandler punched commands into her panel, and eight EW drones erupted away from the two battlecruisers. They scattered in four different directions, each pair tucked in tight, mimicking the signatures of their mother ships, and Nike and Cassandra altered course sharply to charge off on yet a fifth vector.
The sudden multiplication of targets did exactly what Honor had intended. Unable to be certain which were the real ships, the Peep commander chose not to waste her ammunition on might-have-beens . . . especially when she must have figured out she was going to need every missile she had very shortly.
All fire ceased, and the brutally wounded flagship of TG-H001 and her crippled consort raced for safety.
Battle ends, Admiral Rollins sees Danislav's reinforcements. He could take them, but reasons this means the whole abandoning of Hancock in the first place was a trap He even sort of signals Chin the only way he can FTL, by letting her see him pull out.
Hereditary President Harris looked around the magnificently decorated dining room and tried not to show his worry. It was his birthday, and the glittering horde of well-wishers had gathered as it always did, but this time there was a difference. The soft clink and clatter of tableware sounded completely natural; the near total absence of conversation did not.
His mouth quirked mirthlessly, and he reached for his wineglass. Of course there was no conversation; no one wanted to talk about what all of them knew was true.
He drank deep of his wine, hardly noticing its exquisite bouquet, and let his eye run over the tables. As it did on every President's Day, the Republic's government had virtually shut down for the celebration, since anyone in government who mattered simply had to be here. Only Ron Bergren and Oscar Saint-Just were absent. The foreign secretary had departed for the Erewhon Wormhole Junction, en route to the Solarian League and a desperate (and probably futile) effort to convince the League that Manticore had started the war. Saint-Just, on the other hand, had been working eighteen-hour days ever since Constance's assassination—without getting any closer to her killers. But every other cabinet member was here, as were the heads of all of Haven's most prominent Legislaturalist clans and their immediate families.
President's Day on Haven means the Hereditary President-for-Life's birthday. Shortly after the assassinations of two separate Cabinet-level officials, the entire body of high government gathers in one place, what could go wrong?
They'd been mouse-trapped. Harris made himself admit that. They'd set their plans in motion, confident the game was theirs to direct as it always had been, only to discover that, after fifty years of conquest, they had finally met a foe even more cunning than they were.
He'd read the dispatches. Given what Admiral Rollins had known, Harris had to agree he'd had no choice but to move against the Hancock System, yet hindsight proved only too clearly that the Manties had known all about the "secret" Argus net. They'd used it to offer Rollins an irresistible bait by "withdrawing" their ships, and the result had been devastating. The arrival of the dreadnoughts which had compelled Admiral Chin to surrender would have been bad enough, but it hadn't been the end. Oh, no. Not the end.
Harris shuddered. The second jaw of the Manty trap had failed by the thinnest margin when the rest of Admiral Parks' "dispersed" task force dropped out of hyper barely thirty minutes too late to intercept Rollins before he hypered out, yet his escape hadn't saved him in the end. Reinforced to almost a third again of his prewar strength, Parks had moved instantly against Seaford Nine and Rollins' weakened task force. Seaford's defenders had destroyed a couple of ships of the wall and damaged others, but only three of their own capital ships had survived, and Rollins' flagship hadn't been one of them. PNS Barnett had blown up early in the action, killing Rollins and his entire staff, and the command confusion that followed had finished Seaford off.
And then Parks had left one battle squadron to hold Seaford and returned to Hancock . . . just in time to meet Admiral Coatsworth as he moved in, expecting to find Rollins in possession. At least Coatsworth had gotten most of his ships out, yet his lead squadrons had taken a terrible pounding, and without Seaford's repair facilities, he'd been driven clear back to Barnett with his damaged units while his courier boats reported the disaster to Haven.
For once something inexplicable happens, and the villains assume this was Manticore's plan all along. The surprise opening shots of the war led to light Mantie casualties, and massive ones on the Haven side, plus the loss of their Seaford Nine base. :slow clap:
Oh well, Parks has pretty much redeemed himself with off-screen acts of badassery, taking Seaford then racing home just in time to meet the other Haven fleet. At least I can buy now that he is
a competent and capable officer when not getting into petty vendettas with junior officers he's never met.
"Those shuttles just altered course, Mr. President! They're headed straight in our direction, and—"
The PSF man never finished his sentence, for seven assault shuttles of the People's Navy screamed over the People's Palace. Four five-thousand-kilo precision guided warheads scored direct hits on the Presidential Dining Room, and Sidney Harris, his wife, his three children, and his entire cabinet and all of his senior advisors, ceased to exist in a fireball of chemical explosives.
Five seconds later, the Palace itself was little more than flaming rubble strewn across the cratered horror of its once immaculate grounds.
Huh, something happened. And these high society parties are normally so dull. Seriously, though, how the hell did that happen? Even in the 21st Century, violating DC's airspace without authorization would result in a pair of fighters on your tail, the ready five at the nearest airbase suiting up, and the White House surface-to-airs tracking you very carefully.
"I mean that we face the gravest crisis in our history," Pierre said softly. "This attack was launched by Navy personnel on the heels of the worst defeat our fleet has ever suffered. We must ask ourselves who had the authority to order those shuttles out on their 'exercise.' We must ask ourselves who had reason to fear the government's reaction to their failure against the Hancock System and the loss of Seaford Nine."
"Surely you're not suggesting that senior Navy officers were responsible?!"
"I am suggesting only that until we know who was responsible, we must consider every possibility, however terrible," Pierre replied in a level voice. "I hope with all my heart that I am doing our military personnel a grave injustice by even suggesting such a thing, but until we can be certain of that, we owe it to the Republic to guard against the chance that I'm not."
Neatly justifying the political officers.
"The government has been destroyed, ladies and gentlemen. Secretary Saint-Just and Secretary Bergren are the cabinet's sole survivors, and only Secretary Saint-Just is currently on Haven. He's already informed me that, as no more than Secretary Palmer-Levy's acting successor, he feels neither qualified to nor capable of assuming the burden of government. Which means that we, the people's representatives, have no option but to assume emergency powers until such time as formal government can he reestablished."
"Us?" someone yelped, and Pierre nodded once more.
"I realize our experience is limited, but who else is there?" He looked at his fellows appealingly. "We are at war with the Star Kingdom of' Manticore and its lackeys. In a time of such peril, the Republic must not drift uncontrolled, and until we can know positively that the military is reliable, we dare not place ourselves at its mercy. In the face of those inescapable and overriding concerns, we have no choice but to face our responsibility to provide the stability we so desperately need by organizing ourselves as a committee of public safety to assume direction of the state."
The People's Quorum stared at its speaker in shock. After so many decades of rubber-stamp approval of someone else's policies, barely a fraction of them had the least idea how to wield effective power. The very thought of it terrified them, yet none of them could deny the force of Pierre's logic. Someone had to assume control, and if there was the chance of a full-scale military coup . . .
Pierre let the silence linger for long, endless moments, then cleared his throat.
"I have, on my own authority, discussed our critical situation with Secretary Saint-Just. He has already moved to secure control of the essential administrative centers here on Haven and assures me of the loyalty of his own InSec personnel, but he has no desire to impose any sort of one-man rule on the Republic. In fact, he's practically begged me to explain the realities of our plight to you so that we can move quickly to establish the broad-based committee required to reassure our own people and the galaxy at large that no coup will be permitted to overthrow the Republic." Pierre shrugged helplessly.
"I see no option but to honor his request, ladies and gentlemen, and organize ourselves as a caretaker government until public safety can be restored."
The Glorious Revolution. Well, at this point they won't call it that or own up to axing the old regime, but just like that the old government is destroyed and the new one is taking over. Later we'll see it wasn't quite all this easy.
He'd gone into Yeltsin believing he had a three-to-one advantage, only to find himself facing a force even stronger than his own, and somehow the Manties and their allies had been able to preposition their powered-down wall of battle perfectly. It was as if they'd been clairvoyant, as if they'd been able to see every move he made in real time.
Their opening broadsides had taken him totally by surprise. A quarter of his fleet had been crippled or destroyed almost before he knew the enemy was there, and he had no idea how he'd extricated anything from the deadly trap. He couldn't remember. No doubt he could replay the com records and flag bridge recorders and reconstruct his orders, but he had absolutely no coherent memory of giving them. It was all a hideous nightmare of lightning-fast decisions and desperate improvisation that had somehow fought clear of Yeltsin with barely half the ships he'd taken into it, and half of them had been so battered their return to Barnett had taken more than twice as long as the passage out.
And now this. The President was dead. The entire government was dead, as were his own father, his younger sister, his brother, three of his cousins, and virtually their entire families, and Navy personnel had done it.
He ground his teeth in agony at the thought. The Manties' Hancock trap had succeeded even more completely against Admiral Rollins than the Yeltsin ambush had against him. Sixteen percent—the best sixteen percent—of the Fleet's wall of battle had been wiped out, and even as the Navy bled and died on the frontiers, another faction of its personnel had committed mass murder against its own people.
16% of the Haven wall of battle is gone for no real benefit. Great start to the war, guys! Seriously, though, props to Parnell. He was badly outnumbered, the enemy had sent one of their best commanders, with the advantage of the FTL comms, and he still managed to get a lot of his people out. Shame about what comes next.
"Admiral Parnell, I am Special Undersecretary for Security Cordelia Ransom, and it is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest."
"Arrest?" Parnell stared at her, feeling anesthetized and numb, as she drew a crackling sheaf of paper from her pocket. "On what charges?"
"On charges of treason against the people," Ransom said in that same, hard voice. She tossed the sheaf of paper onto his desk, and the admiral stared down at it dazedly, then picked it up in trembling hands.
From its date, the standard InSec detention order must have been written within hours of his Yeltsin dispatch's arrival on Haven, and like all InSec DOs, its wording was vague. The charges were listed in bald, terse sentences, but no amplification or specifics were offered.
He read the charges slowly, unable to believe this was happening, and then he came to the last page. It wasn't a standard detention order after all, for the signature block had been changed. The space which should have contained the Secretary of Internal Security's authorization of Parnell's arrest bore another name and title, and he stared at it numbly.
"By order of Rob S. Pierre, Chairman, Committee of Public Safety," it said.
The first time I read this book, this
is where it finally clicked. Rob S. Pierre, Robespierre, and the Committee, and I understood that some bad things were going to go down, and the new regime really wouldn't be a marked improvement over the old one. Sometimes I can be slow.
Vice Admiral Sir Yancey Parks returned her gaze levelly. She felt his emotions through her link to the treecat, and there was still no liking for her in them. She wasn't surprised. She might not know what had prejudiced Parks against her to start with, but she'd come to the conclusion that it didn't much matter, anyway. They were simply the wrong personalities to like one another.
Yet they were also professionals. They didn't have to like each other, and just as she felt Parks' dislike, she felt his stubborn determination to do his duty. It was a pity, she thought, that he couldn't feel her emotions. Perhaps that sort of understanding might have overcome their mutual dislike.
And just like that, the subplot of 'Parks doesn't like Honor and Sarnow' ends. Just now, they realize they can be professionals, or hell, freaking grown-ups
and work together without necessarily liking each other.
"I've also read your report on the . . . incidents of the engagement," Parks went on in a flat tone, "and taken statements from all surviving captains. In light of those statements and the com records from Warlock's data base, there is no question in my mind that Lord Young first ordered his squadron to scatter without authorization and subsequently withdrew his ship and its support against your specific orders. The situation is complicated by the fact that he was, in fact, senior to you, but he had no way of knowing Admiral Sarnow had been incapacitated. At the moment he made his decision, he did so against what he believed to be Admiral Sarnow's orders and hence in defiance of his lawful superior while in the presence of the enemy. As such, I have had no choice but to remove him from command and assemble a captains' board to consider his actions."
He paused, and Honor watched him in silence. She'd known all about the board of inquiry. She might not like Parks, but she had to admit he'd acted both promptly and generously where the task group was concerned. Of course, she thought bitterly, there weren't very many people left to be generous to. Sarnow's force had suffered over twelve thousand fatal casualties, and none of them had been necessary.
But Parks knew how much he owed the task group. He'd been more than generous in his praise, and she'd already seen the honors list he'd proposed to the Queen. She was on it, as were Sarnow, Banton, Van Slyke, and at least a dozen other officers and twice as many ratings and noncoms. Too many of them were mentioned only posthumously, yet Parks had done what he could, and his report on his own actions pulled no punches. He'd fully admitted his mistakes—and been equally explicit in his praise for Admiral Mark Sarnow and the officers and enlisted personnel under his command.
Again with Parks being all competent and professional, and owning up to his tactical mistakes if not necessarily the reasons. Well, even Parks wondered if a part of him didn't scatter the fleet and leave Sarnow home because he just didn't want to deal with the guy any more.
"You depart for Manticore within the next twelve hours," Parks said, "and I'm sending Lord Young home in your ship under quarters arrest."
Honor stiffened and started to open her mouth, but Parks' gaze pinned her to her chair.
"Yours is the next departing ship. Considering the serious charges against him, he is entitled to the promptest return—and trial—possible, and I will expect you to treat him with proper military courtesy. Until and unless he is tried and convicted, he remains a Queen's officer and your senior. I realize the uncomfortable position in which this places you, but I expect you to do your duty—as you always have."
His eyes softened, somehow, with the final words, and she was puzzled by the surge of genuine apology she sensed through her link to Nimitz. It muted her own angry distaste for sharing the same air as Pavel Young, and she bit her lip for just a moment, then nodded.
"It seems Captain Tankersley was promoted from captain junior grade to captain of the list just before the Peep attack. As such, he's too senior to stay on as exec aboard the base here, and since he, um, did such a fine job of dealing with Nike's original engineering difficulties, I thought it only fitting to return him to Manticore for reassignment aboard her."
Honor stared at him, trapped between amazement and sudden joy, and Parks gave her the first completely natural smile she'd ever seen from him.
"I trust the two of you will find something to talk about during the voyage, Captain Harrington."
Honor is taking Nike
back to Manticore for several months of repair work, and taking both Tankersley and Young back with her. And now Parks is respecting her devotion to duty and gently ribbing her about Tankersley. Seriously, this is the weirdest sub-plot, resolved in the last pages like it was never any thing.