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STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:04 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 20

"I think Michael's probably right, Augustus," Michelle said. "I don't propose that we take anything for granted, and I've got Cindy and Dominica busy working out the best way to generate massive redundancy in our sensor coverage, just in case, but I don't see us as the logical candidate for the next sneak attack. If they do go after anything in the Quadrant, I'd imagine it would be the Terminus itself, since I can't see anything else out this way that would have equal strategic value for anyone who obviously doesn't like us very much. And that, fortunately or unfortunately, we're just going to have to leave in other peoples' hands."

Her uniformed fellows nodded, and Baroness Medusa tilted back her chair.

"Should I assume that -- for the moment, at least -- you feel relatively secure here in the Quadrant, then?"

"I think we probably are," Khumalo answered, instead of Michelle. He was, after all, the station commander. "There's a great deal to be said for Admiral Oversteegen's analysis where these mysterious newcomers are concerned. And, frankly, at the moment, the League doesn't have anything to send our way even if it had the nerve to do it. That could change in a few months, but for now, at least, they can't pose any kind of credible threat even against ships armed 'only' with Mark 16s."

"Good." Medusa's nostrils flared. "I only hope that sanity is going to leak out somewhere in the League before anyone manages to get additional forces out our way. Or directed at the home system."

* * *

"Any change in the escorts' formation, Guns?" Commander Naomi Kaplan asked.

"No, Ma'am." Lieutenant Abigail Hearns replied. "They're maintaining interval and heading."

The slender, brunette lieutenant didn't add that the escorts in question had to have picked up the impeller signatures of the two destroyers overtaking them from astern. Naomi Kaplan had been HMS Hexapuma's tactical officer when Abigail Hearns had been the heavy cruiser's assistant TO, and Abigail had learned a great deal from her. Including the fact that only rarely did the commander need the painfully obvious explained to her in detail.

"I see." Kaplan nodded acknowledgment and tipped back in her command chair, frowning, as she contemplated the current tactical situation as seen from the probable mindset of one Captain Jacob Zavala.

Zavala had originally been the senior officer of Destroyer Squadron 301's second division. He'd inherited command of the entire squadron from Commodore Ray Chatterjee following the massacre of three quarters of DesDiv 301.1 at New Tuscany, however, and reorganized the squadron's surviving five ships into two understrength divisions. As part of that reorganization, he'd shifted his flag from HMS Gawain to HMS Kay and left Gawain in DesDiv 301.2, where her skipper, Captain Frank Morgan, had become the division's new senior officer. At the same time, Kay had been detached from DesDiv 301.2 and, along with Kaplan's own Tristram, now constituted a half-strength DesDiv 301.1. They'd been promised enough ships to make up the squadron's losses and bring both divisions back to full strength, but that had been before the Yawata Strike. Now it was anyone's guess how long they'd have to wait…or, for that matter, if they'd ever see the promised replacements at all. Frankly, Kaplan didn't think it was likely they would.

In the meantime, it seemed probable the squadron was going to find itself tasked for independent operations. Its Roland-class destroyers were big, powerful units, and the devastating, long-range punch of their Mark 16 missiles made them ideal commerce-raiders. They also made excellent convoy escorts, of course, but locating convoys in hyper was hellishly difficult, and the Talbott Quadrant's member star systems were already well protected against raiders once a ship dropped back into n-space. That meant Tristram and her sisters could be dispensed with in the escort role, which left them available for other duties. Given the fact that Manticore's confrontation with the Solarian League was likely to get a lot worse before it got any better, and given the further fact that the Madras Sector's star systems were not well protected against Manticoran raiders, whatever Frontier Fleet might fondly imagine, it wasn't hard to figure out how DesRon 301 was likely to find itself employed in the painfully near future.

Hence the current exercise.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this? Kaplan asked herself. I mean, there they sit, plodding along at barely forty thousand kilometers per second -- slow, fat, dumb, and happy. Sure, they've got a pair of light cruisers to back the destroyers, but that's still no match for a pair of Rolands, damn it!

She frowned some more, one dark-skinned hand playing with a lock of bright blonde hair. On the face of it, there wasn't much the putative Solly escorts could do to stop Tristram and Kay from skinning their convoy like a Sphinxian prong buck. Kaplan's Mark 16s had over three times the reach of the SLN's Javelin-class shipkillers, which meant she could destroy all of those merchies without ever even entering their escorts' range.

Of course, a Roland carried only 240 Mark 16s, and accuracy would be significantly degraded at maximum range, even against merchantships. True, the simulation's parameters assumed the raiders were accompanied by a missile transport from which they could resupply, but with the Yawata Strike's catastrophic consequences for missile production, no one wanted to waste any of the limited number available. So the logical move was to get as close to her prey as she could without ever entering the escorts' powered envelope. That would maximize the accuracy (and economy) of her own fire while maintaining her immunity from the defenders.

Which is exactly what I was planning to do. And so far I haven't seen any reason to change my mind. Not one I could put my finger on, anyway. But still…

Her eyes narrowed as she finally realized what was bothering her. She didn't know Captain Zavala as well as she wished she did, but he struck her as quite a different proposition from the larger-than-life, almost boisterous Commodore Chatterjee. No one who'd ever served with Chatterjee could have doubted the commodore's competence, but his enthusiasm and inexhaustible energy had been the first things to strike almost anyone on first acquaintance, and he'd had a very…direct approach to problems. Not only was Zavala barely two thirds as tall as Chatterjee had been, he was also far quieter, with a thoughtful, almost preoccupied air which she'd quickly realized was deceptive. Chatterjee had been well suited to his nickname of "Bear," but Zavala was a treecat -- compact, sleek, and with the confident, composed watchfulness of a patient predator.
*
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:58 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 21

She'd also done a bit of quiet research since he'd assumed command of the squadron and found that Commander Zavala been a senior tactical instructor at Saganami Island for four years. He'd been slated for command of a destroyer at the time Oscar Saint-Just had been toppled, but he'd lost that appointment in the Janacek build-down and been sent to the Academy instead. In fact, his Saganami Island stint had coincided almost exactly with Edward Janacek's tenure as First Lord of Admiralty, and being beached by the Janacek Admiralty was a recommendation in its own right, as far as Kaplan was concerned. From the look of things, he'd done a damned good job as an instructor, though, and the White Haven Admiralty had given him command with almost indecent haste. He'd posted a pretty good record as a destroyer skipper since, too. In fact, he'd been jumped straight past captain (junior-grade) to captain of the list on the basis of his performance with Eighth Fleet. Well, that was scarcely surprising. All false modesty aside, Kaplan knew the Navy wasn't choosing Roland skippers at random, and every CO in the squadron had amply demonstrated his or her capabilities before being selected.

Yet for this exercise, Zavala had relegated himself to the role of a passenger aboard his flagship. He was only there to observe, he'd explained, and that was the reason Kaplan's mental antennae were quivering.

An observer, yes, but to observe exactly what, I wonder?

She stroked one eyebrow with an index finger, remembering how straightforward the simulation had sounded when she read the initial ops order. In fact, it had gone beyond mere straightforwardness to the absurdly simple, and for the life of her she couldn't remember the last time a good senior officer had organized a training sim as a "gimme." The Manticoran tradition was to train its people in exercises which were deliberately harder than actual operations were likely to prove. That obviously wasn't the case here, yet someone like Zavala was unlikely to forget the tradition. Which meant there was a nasty hook somewhere inside that tasty-looking bait. But what sort of hook…?

"Abigail," she said.

"Yes, Ma'am?" Lieutenant Hearns looked over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised.

"Do you have those reports on what happened at Torch handy?"

"Such as they are and what we have of them, yes, Ma'am."

"I know we don't have much detail," Kaplan acknowledged, which was unfortunately true. Admiral Luis Rozsak and the Erewhonese were keeping any reports of the actual engagement pretty close to their vests. "But I'm thinking more about ONI's speculations. About the performance of the missiles Mesa equipped those StateSec retreads with."

"We don't have any hard numbers, Ma'am." Abigail's own expression turned thoughtful as she paged through her orderly mental files. "In fact there's nothing specific about the Mesan-supplied missiles at all. But one of the analysts on Admiral Hemphill's staff did suggest they may not have been standard Solly issue. Is that what you were thinking of, Ma'am?"

"That's exactly what I was thinking about." Kaplan nodded. "Refresh my memory."

"Well, as you said yourself, it's all speculative, Ma'am. But stripped of all the statistical analysis, his basic point was that we know Erewhon is building new units for Governor Barregos. We also know Erewhon has multidrive missiles of its own. They're still the big, bulky capacitor-powered model, but they've got plenty of legs, and their warheads and seekers are better than anything the Sollies have. For that matter, Erewhon certainly ought to be able to manufacture the old Mark 13 extended-range missile for smaller launchers, and he suggested Barregos and Rozsak would have held out for at least the Mark 13. Whatever they may or may not be telling Old Chicago, they're obviously aware missile ranges have been climbing in our neck of the woods. That being the case, they probably would have insisted on buying the longest-ranged birds they could get."

She paused, as if to be sure her CO was with her so far, and Kaplan nodded again.

"The point he made -- the one I'm pretty sure you're thinking about, Ma'am -- was that given Rozsak's reported losses and assuming he had acquired longer-ranged missiles from the Erewhonese, he must either have fought like a complete and total idiot (which isn't what his résumé would lead someone to expect) or else significantly underestimated his enemies' range. If he hadn't, he never would have entered it in the first place. If he did, he may have shaved the margin too tightly trying to get in close enough to maximize his hit probabilities."

"Exactly." Kaplan smiled thinly. "We don't know what the range actually was, but I think your analyst was onto something, Abigail."

"I admit it makes a lot of sense, Ma'am. But we've gotten really good intel on the Sollies' weaponry since Spindle. We haven't found any extended range missiles in any of their magazines. For that matter, there's absolutely no reference to anything of the sort in their tac manuals or the training sims we captured from them. I've been playing with their missile doctrine -- offense and defense -- ever since we got access, and it's all concerned with really short-range engagements, at least by our standards. And they obviously never saw the range of the Mark 16 or the Mark 23 coming at Spindle."

"I know. In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if whatever the Mesans handed their mercenaries for the attack on Torch was another little toy their good friends and fellow scum at Technodyne whipped up just for them. I'm thinking about those system-defense missiles they surprised us with at Monica."

Their gazes met, and Kaplan saw the same memory in Abigail's gray-blue eyes. The memory of how those system-defense missiles had ravaged Aivars Terekhov's scratch squadron -- and damned near killed Naomi Kaplan -- from far beyond the threat range Kaplan herself had projected based on known Solarian missile performance.

"Those were awfully big missiles, Ma'am," Abigail pointed out. She wasn't arguing, Kaplan realized. She was simply thinking out loud. "We haven't seen any sign these people have pods on tow, and no Sally cruiser or destroyer could launch birds that size without being virtually rebuilt. Even then, they probably couldn't get more than four or five launchers and forty or fifty missiles aboard something the size of one of their light cruisers. And even completely ignoring the mass and volume penalties of launchers that size, I'd be surprised if one of their tincans could squeeze in more than twenty birds that big. On a good day."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:02 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 22

"Agreed. But suppose Technodyne came up with something smaller that still offered a significant range increase over the standard Javelin? They wouldn't have to have the kind of legs we ran into at Monica to come as a nasty surprise to someone who thought she knew exactly what kind of range they did have. And somehow I can't escape the suspicion that Captain Zavala may just have read the same reports -- and the same ONI 'speculation' -- you and I read. In which case, I think we might want to consider the possibility that these foolishly overconfident escorts know something we don't know about their missiles."

"I don't have any problem with that, Ma'am," Abigail agreed with a smile.

"Of course, there's the little problem that we don't know just how much of a range extension Captain Zavala might have opted for," Kaplan mused out loud. Several of her other bridge officers were listening in now, and other smiles began to blossom. "I think the simplest way for him to go about it would have been to simply double their effective range," she went on. "Of course, he may have settled on some other multiplier just to be difficult, but their accuracy at any sort of extended range is going to be a lot worse than ours. Unless he's decided to go ahead and give them Ghost Rider, as well!"

It's always possible he's done exactly that, she reflected to herself. But let's be reasonable here. The idea's to make exercises difficult, not automatically suicidal! Well, unless you're Lady Gold Peak pinning back Admiral Oversteegen's ears, at least.

She chuckled at the thought, but it was unlikely Zavala would have been quite as nasty as Lady Gold Peak. After all, the countess and Oversteegen had something of a history, according to the rumor mill.

"Sixteen million kilometers, you think, Ma'am?" Abigail asked politely, interrupting her thoughts.

"Let's make it seventeen," Kaplan demurred. "It gives us a little more of a fudge factor, and with Ghost Rider, we ought to be able to punch out merchies at that range without wasting too many attack birds."

"Yes, Ma'am." Abigail glanced down at her displays, lips pursed, then looked back up at Kaplan. "I'll need five or six minutes to reconfigure my firing plans, Ma'am."

"Well, by my calculations it's going to take us another three hours to get to seventeen million klicks," Kaplan observed dryly. "I think we've got time."

* * *

"Used up quite a few missiles there, didn't you, Captain Kaplan?" Jacob Zavala inquired testily. "They don't grow on trees, y'know! Especially not now."

"No, Sir, they don't," Naomi Kaplan acknowledged with a mildness which would have raised warning flags with anyone who knew her well. "On the other hand, we did take out every one of the freighters without ever entering the escorts' reach."

"True, but you could've saved at least twenty percent of your ammo expenditure if you'd closed another five or six million kilometers, and that still would've left you outside even Javelin range," Zavala pointed out.

"Yes, Sir, it would have." Kaplan nodded. "On the other hand," she continued in the same mild tone, "it probably wouldn't have left me outside the range of the missiles you actually gave the Sollies for the exercise."

"What's that?" Zavala cocked his head, blue eyes narrowed as he gazed quizzically at Kaplan. "Are you suggesting I'd cheat, Captain?"

"To quote one of my tac instructors at the Crusher, Sir, if you aren't cheating, you're not trying hard enough." Kaplan shrugged. "Just as a matter of curiosity, how much of a range boost did you assign?"

"You, Captain Kaplan, have a disrespectful and insulting opinion of my fair-mindedness," Zavala said severely, then snorted. "As a matter of fact, they had a nominal effective range of twelve million kilometers. A twenty-five percent jump seemed about right."

"Really?" Kaplan smiled. "I figured you'd settle for a nice round number and just double it, Sir."

"Now that, Captain, would have been underhanded, unfair, sneaky, and generally despicable. Which is why I'll probably do exactly that to Captain Morgan's division when it's his turn in the barrel." Zavala waggled a finger in Kaplan's direction. "And don't you go warning him, either!"

"Me? Warn him about it?" Kaplan laughed. "Oh, don't worry about that, Sir. As a matter of fact, I've already bet him a bottle of Glenfiddich Grand Reserve that he can't match our score on the sim. I've known Captain Morgan for a while, you know. And somehow I seem to've forgotten to mention to him the range at which we engaged the convoy. I hate to say it," she assumed a mournful expression, "but under the circumstances, I strongly suspect he's going to decide that if he closes to just outside Javelin range, he'll be able to punch out all of the merchies with a lot less missiles than we expended."

She shook her head sadly, and Zavala laughed.

"A woman after my own underhanded, unfair, sneaky, and generally despicable heart," he observed. "I definitely see an admiral's flag in your future, Captain Kaplan!"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Dec 23, 2012 10:06 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 23

Chapter Six

"This," Yana Tretiakovna announced, "is booooooring."

The tall, attractive, and very dangerous blonde flung herself backward into the threadbare armchair. She leaned back, crossed her arms, and glowered out the huge crystoplast wall at what any unbiased person would have to call the magnificent vista of Yamato's Nebula.

At the moment, she was less than impressed. On the other hand, she had a lot to not be impressed about. And she'd had a lot of time in which to be unimpressed, too.

"I'm sure you could find something to amuse yourself if you really wanted to," Anton Zilwicki said mildly, looking up from the chess problem on his minicomp. "This is one of the galaxy's biggest and most elaborate amusement parks, you know."

"This was one of the galaxy's biggest amusement parks," Yana shot back. "These days, it's one of the galaxy's biggest deathtraps. Not to mention being stuffed unnaturally full of Ballroom terrorists and Beowulfan commandos, not one of whom has a functioning sense of humor!"

"Well, if you hadn't dislocated that nice Beowulfan lieutenant's elbow arm wrestling with him, maybe you'd find out they had better senses of humor than you think they do."

"Yada, yada, yada." Yana grimaced. "It's not even fun to tease Victor anymore!"

A deep basso chuckle rumbled around inside Zilwicki's massive chest. When Yana had first signed on to assist in his and Victor Cachat's high-risk mission to Mesa, she'd been at least half-frightened (whether she would have admitted it to a living soul or not) of the Havenite secret agent. She'd agreed to come along -- mostly out of a desire to avenge her friend Lara's death -- and she was a hardy soul, was Yana. Still, the notion of playing the girlfriend (although the ancient term "moll" might actually have been a better one) of someone many people would have described as a stone-cold, crazed sociopathic killer had obviously worried her more than she'd cared to admit. In fact, Zilwicki thought, Cachat had never struck him as either stone cold or crazed, but he could see where other people might form that impression, given his Havenite colleague's body count. As for sociopathy, well, Zilwicki's internal jury was still out on that one in some ways.

Not that he hadn't known some perfectly nice sociopaths. Besides, Zilwicki had observed that who was the sociopath and who was the defender of all that was right and decent often seemed to depend a great deal on the perspective of the observer.

And sometimes the cigar really is a cigar, of course, he reflected. That's one of the things that make life so interesting when Victor's around.

Over the course of their lengthy mission on Mesa, Yana had gotten past most of her own uneasiness with the Havenite. And the four-month voyage from Mesa back to the Hainuwele System had finished it off. Of course, the trip shouldn't have taken anywhere near that long. The old, battered, and dilapidated freighter Hali Sowle their Erewhonese contacts had provided had been a smuggler in her time, and she'd been equipped with a military grade hyper generator. It wasn't obvious, because her original owners had gone to considerable lengths to disguise it, and they hadn't tinkered with her commercial grade impeller nodes and particle screening, but that had allowed her to climb as high as the Theta Bands, which made her far faster than the vast majority of merchant vessels. Unfortunately, the hyper generator in question had been less than perfectly maintained by the various owners through whose hands the ship had passed since it was first installed, and it had promptly failed after they managed to escape Mesa into hyper. They'd survived the experience, but it had taken Andrew Artlet what had seemed like an eternity to jury-rig the replacement component they'd required.

They'd drifted, effectively motionless on an interstellar scale, while he and Anton managed the repairs, and even after they'd gotten the generator back up, using the Mesa-Visigoth Hyper Bridge had been out of the question. They'd been better than nine hundred and sixty light-years from their base in Hainuwele (and well over a thousand light-years from Torch) but given the…pyrotechnics which had accompanied their escape, they'd dared not return to the Mesa Terminus and take the shortcut which would have delivered them less than sixty light-years from Beowulf. Instead, they'd been forced to detour by way of the OFS-administered Syou-tang Terminus of the Syou-tang-Olivia Bridge, then cross the four hundred and eighty-odd light-years from the Olivia System to Hainuwele the hard way.

The trip had given them plenty of time to hone their card playing skills, and the same enforced confinement had given the coup de grace to any lingering fear Yana might have felt where Victor Cachat was concerned. It had also given Cachat and Zilwicki plenty of time to debrief Herlander Simões, the Mesan physicist who had defected from the Mesan Alignment. Well, "plenty of time" was probably putting it too strongly. They'd had lots of time, but properly mining the treasure trove Simões represented was going to take years, and it was, frankly, a task which was going to require someone with a lot more physics background then Zilwicki possessed.

Enough had emerged from Simões' responses and from the maddeningly tantalizing fragments which had been proffered by Jack McBryde, the Mesan security officer who'd engineered Simões' defection, to tell them that everything everyone -- even, or perhaps especially, the galaxy's best intelligence agencies -- had always known about Mesa was wrong. That information was going to come as a particularly nasty shock to Beowulf intelligence, Zilwicki thought, but Beowulf was hardly going to be alone in that reaction. And as they'd managed to piece together more bits of the mosaic, discovered just how much no one else knew, their plodding progress homeward had become even more frustrating.

There'd been times -- and quite a few of them -- when Zilwicki had found himself passionately wishing they'd headed towards the Lynx Terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, instead. Unfortunately, their evasive routing had been more or less forced upon them initially, and it would have taken even longer to backtrack to Lynx than to continue to Syou-tang. And there'd also been the rather delicate question of exactly what would happen to Victor Cachat if they should suddenly turn up in the Manticore Binary System, especially after the direct Havenite attack on the aforesaid star system, word of which had reached the Mesan news channels just over two T-months before their somewhat hurried departure. It had struck them as unlikely that one of Haven's top agents would be received with open arms and expressions of fond welcome, to say the least.
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Dec 26, 2012 10:00 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 24

For that matter, exactly who had jurisdiction over Simões (and the priceless intelligence resource he represented) was also something of a delicate question. Their operation had been jointly sponsored by the Kingdom of Torch, the Republic of Haven (whether or not anyone in Nouveau Paris had known anything about it), the Audubon Ballroom, the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, and Victor Cachat's Erewhonese contacts. There'd been absolutely no official Manticoran involvement, although Princess Ruth Winton's contributions hadn't exactly been insignificant. She'd been acting in her persona as Torch's intelligence chief, however, not in her persona as a member of the Star Empire of Manticore's ruling house.

Bearing all of that in mind, there'd never really been much chance of heading straight for Manticore. Instead, they'd made for Hainuwele, on the direct line to Torch. It was the closest safe harbor, given the available wormhole connections, and they'd hoped to find one of the BSC's disguised commando ships in-system and available for use as a messenger when they got there. They'd been disappointed in that respect, however; when they arrived the only ship on station had been EMS Custis, an Erewhonese construction ship which had just about completed the conversion of Parmaley Station into a proper base for the BSC and the Ballroom to interdict the interstellar trade in genetic slaves.

Artlet's and Zilwicki's repairs had been less than perfect, and Hali Sowle had limped into Hainuwele on what were obviously her hyper generator's last legs. Custis' captain been out of touch for two or three months himself while his construction crews worked on Parmaley Station, but he'd been able to confirm that as far as active operations between Haven and Manticore were concerned, a hiatus of mutual exhaustion had set in following the Battle of Manticore. Both Anton and Victor had been vastly relieved to discover that no one had been actively shooting at one another any longer, given what they'd learned on Mesa, but it had been obvious the good captain was less than delighted at the notion of finding himself involved in the sort of shenanigans which seemed to follow the team of Zilwicki and Cachat around. He'd apparently suspected that his Erewhonese employers wouldn't have approved of his stepping deeper into the morass he was pretty sure Hali Sowle and her passengers represented. They might have convinced him to change his mind if they'd told him what they'd discovered on Mesa, but they weren't about to break security on that at this point. Which meant the best he'd been willing to do was to take his own ship to Erewhon (which, to be fair, was the next best thing to twenty light-years closer to Hainuwele than Torch was) to fetch back a replacement generator for Hali Sowle. In the process, he was willing to take an encrypted dispatch from Victor to Sharon Justice, who'd been covering for him as the Republic's senior officer in the Erewhon Sector, but that was as far as he was prepared to go.

Zilwicki didn't try to pretend, even to himself, that he hadn't found the captain's attitude irritating. Fortunately, he was by nature a patient, methodical, analytical man. And there were at least some upsides to the situation. Neither he nor Cachat wanted Simões out of their sight, and while they had no particular reason to distrust Custis' captain or crew, they had no particular reason to trust them, either. If even a fraction of what Jack McBryde and Herlander Simões had told them proved true, it was going to shake the foundations of star nations all across explored space. They literally could not risk having anything happen to him until they'd had time for him to tell his tale -- in detail -- to their own star nations' intelligence services. Much as they might begrudge the month or so it would take Custis to make the trip to Erewhon, they preferred to stay right where they were until Justice could arrange secure transport to Torch. They'd both breathe an enormous sigh of relief once they had Simões safely squirreled away on Torch and could send discreet dispatches requesting all of the relevant security agencies send senior representatives to Torch.

No one expected it to be easy, and he knew Cachat was as worried as he was over the possibility that the Star Empire and the Republic might resume combat operations while they waited, but both of them were aware that they'd stumbled onto the sort of intelligence revelation that came along only once in centuries. Assuming it wasn't all part of some incredible, insane disinformation effort, the Mesan Alignment had been working on its master plan for the better part of six hundred T-years without anyone's having suspected what was happening. Under those circumstances, there were quite literally no lengths to which Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki wouldn't go to keep their sole source of information alive.

Which was why they were all still sitting here aboard Parmaley Station's moldering hulk while they awaited transportation elsewhere.

"You know," Yana said a bit plaintively, "nobody told me we were going to be gone on this little jaunt for an entire year."

"And we haven't been," Zilwicki pointed out. "Well, actually, I suppose we have, depending on the planetary year in question. But in terms of T-years, it's been less than one. Why, it's been barely ten T-months, when you come down to it!"

"And it was only supposed to be four," Yana retorted.

"We told you it might be five," Zilwicki corrected, and she snorted.

"You know, even Scrags can do simple arithmetic, Anton. And --"

The powered door giving access to the combination viewing gallery and sitting room was one part of Parmaley Station which had been thoroughly refurbished. Now it opened rather abruptly, interrupting Yana in mid-sentence, and a dark-haired man came through it. Compared to Zilwicki's massive musculature and shoulders, the newcomer looked almost callow, but he was actually a well-muscled young fellow.
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:01 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 25

"Ah, there you are!" he said. "Ganny El said she thought you were in here."

"And so we are, Victor," Zilwicki rumbled, and raised an eyebrow. "And since we are, and since you're here at the moment, may I ask who's babysitting our good friend Herlander? Unless I'm mistaken, it is your watch, isn't it?"

"I left Frank sitting outside his door with a flechette gun, Anton," Cachat replied in a patient tone, and Zilwicki grunted.

The sound represented at least grudging approval, although one had to know him well to recognize that fact. On the other hand, Frank Gillich was a capable fellow. He and June Mattes were both members of the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, part of the original BSC team which had discovered the Butre Clan here on Parmaley Station and brokered the deal that left the Butres alive and turned the station into a BSC/Ballroom front. Most people (or most people who didn't know Victor Cachat, at least) would have considered Gillich and Mattes about as lethal as agents came, and Zilwicki was willing to concede that Gillich could probably be counted upon to keep Simões alive for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.

"I thought I was the hyper-suspicious, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive one," Cachat continued. "What is this? Are you trying to claim the title of Paranoiac in Chief?"

"Hah!" Yana snorted. "He's not trying to do anything. He's just been hanging around you too long. That's enough to drive anyone -- except Kaja…maybe -- around the bend!"

"I don't see why the entire universe insists on thinking of me as some sort of crazed killer," Cachat said mildly. "It's not like I kill anyone who doesn't need killing."

He said it with a completely straight face, but Zilwicki thought it was probably a joke. Probably. One could never be entirely certain where Cachat was concerned, and the Havenite's idea of a sense of humor wasn't quite like most people's.

"May I assume there's a reason you left Frank playing babysitter and asked Ganny El where you might find us?" Zilwicki asked out loud.

"Actually, yes," Cachat replied, dark brown-black eyes lighting. "I think I've finally found the argument to get you to agree to take Herlander straight to Nouveau Paris, Anton."

"Oh?" Zilwicki crossed tree trunk arms and cocked his head, considering Cachat the way a skilled lumberjack might consider a particularly scrubby sapling. "And why should we suddenly depart from our agreed on plan of parking him on Torch and inviting all the mountains to come to Mohammed?"

"Because," Cachat replied, "a dispatch boat just came in from Erewhon."

"A dispatch boat?" Zilwicki's eyes narrowed. "Why would anyone in Erewhon be sending a dispatch boat out here?"

"Apparently Sharon decided it would be a good idea to let anyone from the Ballroom or the BSC who checked in with Parmaley Station know what's going on," Cachat replied. He shrugged. "Obviously, she didn't know I was going to be here when she sent the boat -- she sent it off about three weeks ago, and the earliest Custis could get to Erewhon is tomorrow."

"I'm perfectly well aware of Custis' schedule," Zilwicki rumbled. "So suppose you just go ahead and tell me 'what's going on' that's so important your minions are throwing dispatch boats around the galaxy?"

"Well, it happens that about three months ago, Duchess Harrington arrived in Haven orbit," Cachat said. "The news got sent out to all of our intelligence stations in the regular data dumps, but it still took over a month to get to Sharon, and she sent the dispatch boat out to distribute it to all our stations in the sector. It stopped off at Torch, too, according to its skipper. We were the last stop on the information chain." He shrugged again. "I imagine the only reason it got sent here at all was Sharon's usual thoroughness. But according to the summary she got from the home office, Duchess Harrington is in Nouveau Paris for the express purpose of negotiating a peace settlement between the Republic and the Star Empire."

Anyone who knew Anton Zilwicki would have testified that he was a hard man to surprise. This time, though, someone had managed it, and his eyes widened.

"A peace settlement? You mean a formal treaty?"

"Apparently that's exactly what she's there to get, and according to Sharon's summary, President Pritchart is just as determined as the Duchess. On the other hand, after twenty years of shooting at each other, I doubt they've already tied it all up in a neat bow. And since Duchess Harrington actually believed both of us before we ever set out for Mesa, I don't see any reason she wouldn't believe us if we turned up with Simões in tow. For that matter, she'll have her treecat with her, and he'll know whether or not we're telling the truth. Or whether or not Herlander is, when you come down to it."

"And if there's anyone in the Star Empire who could convince the Queen to listen to us, it's Harrington," Zilwicki agreed, nodding vigorously.

"Exactly. So my thought is that we leave the recordings of our interviews with Herlander here on our station to be picked up by the next BSC courier to come through and taken on to Torch. Redundancy is a beautiful thing, after all. In the meantime, though, you and I commandeer Sharon's dispatch boat, load Herlander on board, and head straight for Haven." Cachat grinned. "Do you think finding out about the Alignment's existence might have some small impact on the negotiations?"
*
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:59 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 26

Chapter Seven

Vice Admiral Gold Peak stood in the late-night quiet of her day cabin in a pair of comfortably worn sweats and fluffy purple treecat bedroom slippers. Her shoulders were hunched, her hands were shoved deep into her sweat shirt's pockets, and she glowered -- undeniably, she glowered -- at the outsized holographic display. One side of that display showed a detailed, if small-scale, schematic of the Spindle System; the other side showed a breakdown of her current fleet strength. If she'd cared to turn her head and look at the smart wall behind her, she would have seen a star chart of the entire Talbott Quadrant, as well. At the moment, however, she was concentrating fairly hard on not looking at that chart, since she found herself rather in the position of someone with insufficient icing to cover the birthday cake she'd just been given.

Hell of a birthday party, she reflected morosely, although to be fair it wouldn't be her birthday -- her sixty-fourth birthday, to be precise -- for another two days. Given the amount of time she's spent trundling around the universe at relativistic velocities, her subjective age was a good three years less than that, but no one worried about that when it came time to keeping track of birthdays. And the Royal Manticoran Navy used its own calendar, not someone's subjective experience, to determine relative seniority, as well.

She considered that last point for a moment, then grimaced as she thought about the rank insignia sitting in the upper drawer of the desk behind her. The ones she would be allowed to officially pin onto her uniform collar in two days.

I can just see Beth grinning all over her face when she saw the official date of rank. Hell, for that matter I'll bet she damned well had the original date changed to make sure it fell on my birthday! Just the sort of thing she'd do.

There could be disadvantages to being the Empress of Manticore's first cousin and next in line for the crown after Elizabeth Winton's two children and her brother. Especially for someone who'd spent her entire career aggressively fighting even the appearance of nepotism. She remembered the day her best friend had ripped a strip off of her for the way her avoidance of anything which could have been construed as preferential treatment had slowed her career, and the memory made her snort in amusement.

Well, I've made up for it since, haven't I, Honor? Forty-one years from the Academy to vice admiral, then only eleven T-months to full admiral! Talk about a career catching fire. Of course, her amusement faded, it would have been nice if the rest of the galaxy hadn't decided to catch fire right along with it.

She shook her head as the weight of those waiting admiral's stars ground down upon her. She wondered sometimes if perhaps the real reason she'd so zealously avoided favoritism was because she'd feared the responsibilities that came with exalted rank and hadn't wanted to admit it to herself. She'd certainly found herself wishing over the last year or so that she could have handed the ones currently bearing down on her to someone else.

She imagined there was a lot of that going around, too.

She inhaled deeply and gave herself an impatient shake. Brooding about the unfairness of the universe was about the least effective way of dealing with that unfairness she could think of, and she made herself re-focus her attention on the numbers and ship names before her.

While there might be a few people who suspected her rapid promotion was due primarily to who she'd chosen as a cousin, there were undoubtedly a lot more who saw it as a reward for Tenth Fleet's smashing triumph in the Battle of Spindle. For that matter, there was almost certainly a political element in it, as well, since the promotion was yet another way for Empress Elizabeth -- Michelle was still working on remembering her cousin was an empress these days, not "just" a queen -- to demonstrate her approval and support for Michelle's actions. A way to re-emphasize to the rest of the galaxy, and especially to the Solarian League, that the Star Empire of Manticore had no intention of backing down before the threat of the League's massive economic and military power.

Michelle was confident her family connections had played the smallest part in the decision. She'd have been even happier if she could have been certain they'd played no part at all, but she happened to live in the real universe, and politics and diplomacy would always be politics and diplomacy. That was one reason she'd chosen the Navy instead of going into politics herself. Yet there was another aspect to it, as well, and she knew it.

If Elizabeth was going to retain her in command of Tenth Fleet (and it would have been impossible to relieve Michelle without looking like Manticore was backing down), Michelle needed the rank to go with the growing strength of her command. No less than four vice admirals, all senior to her, had been added to Tenth Fleet over the last month or so. It was always awkward when a junior commanded a senior, so the Admiralty had cut this particular Gordian knot by once again promoting Michelle "out of the zone." Which was why in two days' time she'd be exchanging the pair of stars on each point of her collar for a trio and replacing the three broad rings on her uniform cuffs with four. Which, at the tender age (for a prolong society) of only sixty-four, was a meteoric rise, indeed.

Unfortunately, even with the number of flag officers being added to it, Tenth Fleet remained badly understrength for its obligations. With upwards of a dozen star systems to defend, spread throughout an area of responsibility which stretched over two hundred and thirty light-years from the Lynx Terminus to the Scarlet System and four hundred from Tillerman to Celebrant, she could have wished for at least twice her assigned order of battle. And that would have been if she'd been worried about defending it against any reasonably sized foe, rather than the Solarian League. But whatever she could have wished, her total strength, after the dust settled, was only seventy-seven hyper-capable combatants. On the other hand, twenty of those were CLACs, which gave her just over two thousand light attack craft, and present-generation Manticoran LACs were nothing to sneer at. Especially against someone whose designs were as obsolescent -- or even outright obsolete -- as the SLN's had demonstrated themselves to be. The Sollies still might not be prepared to accept that anything as small as a LAC could possibly threaten a capital ship, but if they did think that, and if they attempted to prove it, they'd be sailing into a universe of hurt. The only problem was that what happened to them wasn't going to keep a lot of Michelle Henke's spacers from getting killed right along with them.
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:01 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 27

And not a single Apollo-capable unit in sight, she thought glumly. Not one. Not that I can really argue with the Admiralty's decisions after what happened to the home system.

None of the followup dispatches had made any effort to hide the terrifying severity of the blow Manticore's industrial capability had suffered. The sheer scale of the Yawata Strike's loss of life had been horrifying, but to make it even worse, it had been concentrated in the sectors of the Star Empire's labor force most essential to supporting the Navy. Effectively, every Manticoran shipyard was simply gone. Even the production lines which had supplied the fleet with missiles had been destroyed. The ships Manticore had, and the missiles which had already been manufactured, were all the Star Empire was going to have for a long, long time, and the defense of the home system, its population, and what remained of its industrial base (not to mention the wormhole junction which was absolutely essential to Manticore's strategic survival) had to take priority over almost any other consideration. Especially since Solarian strategic doctrine was uncompromisingly oriented around seeking a knockout blow by crushing the capital system of any star nation foolish enough to cross swords with the League.

Under those circumstances, the two squadrons of Keyhole-Two-equipped pod-laying superdreadnoughts Michelle had been promised had been recalled to the home system almost before they'd arrived in Spindle. Only ships with the Keyhole-Two control platforms could fully utilize the FTL telemetry links of the Mark 23-E multidrive missiles which were the heart of the Apollo system, and all of them -- and all of the Navy's existing store of Mark 23Es -- were desperately needed to defend the Manticore Binary System.

In partial exchange, she'd gotten twenty Keyhole-One SD(P)s, and in terms of combat power, that was a pretty impressive consolation prize. No, they couldn't use Apollo, but they could handle more missiles than any Solarian superdreadnought could even dream of firing, their own missile defenses were incomparably better than anything the other side might have, and while they weren't equipped with the Mark 23-E control missiles, the standard Mark 23s in their magazines enormously out-ranged any Solarian weapon. Accuracy at extreme ranges was going to be much poorer than it would have been using Apollo, yet the missile storm they could bring down on any opponent would be devastating. And, fortunately, six T-months had passed between Haven's Operation Beatrice and the Yawata Strike. The tempo of combat had dropped virtually to nothing during that time period, as well, which meant there'd been no real ammunition expenditures to cut into those six months worth of wartime-rate missile production. And that meant the Royal Manticoran Navy had a lot of those standard Mark 23s already produced and distributed to the fleet.

It wasn't that Michelle entertained any doubts about what would happen to any Solarian admiral unwise enough to confront her combat power in space. The problem was that she had so much space to protect. She couldn't possibly be everywhere she needed to be in sufficient strength to prevent an audacious Solarian flag officer from avoiding her combat power and carrying out devastating (there was that word again) raids on the infrastructure of the systems she was responsible for defending.

Then there was the interesting question of just what sort of reinforcements the Sollies might have en route to the Quadrant. And, for that matter, the even more interesting question (assuming her own suspicions about who'd been pulling the puppet strings behind the current catastrophe was correct) of what Manpower and Mesa might have up their collective sleeve.

And, finally, there was the body blow to the priority she'd been originally promised on the new Mark 16-equipped units.

News of the "Zunker Incident" had reached Spindle aboard a Navy dispatch boat only this morning, and Michelle found herself almost equally impressed by Captain Ivanov's tactics and by the unwonted discretion shown by the Solarian flag officer involved. The confrontation had also confirmed -- or reconfirmed, perhaps -- the tactical superiority the Mark 16 conferred upon the RMN's lighter units. Unfortunately, Michelle was certain there'd been other "Zunker Incidents" in the three weeks since the original, and every one of them would only increase Admiralty House's demands for additional Mark 16-capable vessels. Especially given the decision to go ahead and implement Lacoön Two.

She could hardly fault the Admiralty for that priority, but Lacoön Two obviously required a lot of relatively fast, relatively well-armed hyper-capable platforms. Which, when she came down to it, was pretty much an exact description of the Nikes, Saganami-Cs and Rolands. Which, in turn, explained why the light combatants she'd expected to see were now going elsewhere at high rates of speed.

It's an imperfect universe, Mike, she told herself tartly. Deal with it.

She snorted again, then squared her shoulders, hauled her hands out of her pockets, turned and marched back to her workstation. She picked up the cup of coffee Chris Billingsley had left for her and settled into her work chair. She and Augustus Khumalo were scheduled to meet tomorrow with Governor Medusa, Prime Minister Joachim Alquezar, Minister of War Henri Krietzmann, and the other senior members of Alquezar's war cabinet to discuss her new deployment plan. Under the circumstances, she thought as she started punching up the appropriate files, it probably behooved her to have a deployment plan to discuss.

* * *

"So that's about the size of it, on the housing side, at least." Henri Krietzmann looked around the Governor's House conference room in the planetary and quadrant capital of Thimble and shrugged. "It's only been seven weeks since O'Cleary's surrender, so despite Admiral Bordelon's protests, we're actually doing pretty damned well, I think. Especially considering the fact that we're not the ones who went and invaded their star system!"

"Surely you don't expect Bordelon to admit that, do you, Henri?" Baroness Medusa observed tartly.
*
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:04 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 28

Most of the people seated around the long table grimaced, but she had a point. With Admiral Keeley O'Cleary's departure for Old Chicago, and the deaths of Admirals Sandra Crandall, Dunichi Lazlo, and Griseldis Degauchy in the Battle of Spindle, Admiral Margaux Bordelon had inherited command of the surrendered personnel of SLN Task Force 496. Judging from her own conversations with Bordelon, Michelle Henke was confident the Solarian officer would have declined the honor if she'd had any choice.

Any impartial board of inquiry would have to conclude that Bordelon bore no responsibility for what had happened to Crandall's task force. She might not have covered herself with glory, but Michelle doubted any Battle Fleet flag officer was likely to have accomplished that. As far as the battle itself was concerned, Bordelon had done precisely what she'd been ordered to do, and she'd conducted herself in punctilious accordance with the Deneb Accords since becoming senior officer of the Solarian POWs. None of which was likely to cut any ice where the consequences to her career were concerned. As TF 496's two surviving senior officers, she and O'Cleary could pretty much count on being scapegoated for the deceased Crandall's mistakes, unless their own family connections were lofty enough to avoid that fate.

It seemed unlikely they could be, in O'Cleary's case, since she'd been the one to actually surrender to the handful of cruisers which had ripped Crandall's SDs apart, but there might be some hope -- career wise, at any rate -- for Bordelon. After all, she wasn't the one who'd "cravenly" (to use what appeared to be the Solly newsfax editorials' favorite adverb, although "gutlessly" seemed to be running a close second and "pusillanimously" was clearly in contention, as well, at least for newsies with impressive vocabularies) surrendered. And she obviously intended to be as inflexible as possible in demanding Manticore meet the Deneb Accords' obligations to properly "house, feed, and care for" prisoners of war. The fact that there were the next best thing to half a million of those prisoners, and that they'd arrived with absolutely no warning, couldn't mitigate those obligations in any way, as far as Bordelon was concerned. She not only repeated her demands for "adequate housing" at every meeting with any of Medusa's or Krietzmann's representatives but insisted her protests against her personnel's "mistreatment" be made part of the official record.

Clearly, she hoped her demands that her people should be properly treated (and the clear implication that they weren't being) would produce the image of a decisive flag officer, refusing to buckle before the brutality of her captors, despite the situation she faced through no fault of her own.

Michelle liked to think she would have had more on her mind than career damage control in Bordelon's place. In fairness, though, she had to admit there wasn't a lot else for Bordelon to be worrying about at the moment. Particularly since the Solarian knew perfectly well that Medusa and Krietzmann were doing everything humanly possible to see to her people's well-being. And it wasn't as if any of the Solarians were actually suffering. The islands Prime Minister Alquezar had designated as POW camps were all located in the planet Flax's tropics. With the moderating effect so much ocean exercised on temperature, those islands came about as close to having perfect climates as was physically possible. That might change during hurricane season, but hurricane season was months away, and proper housing and other support facilities were being constructed at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Yes, the majority of Bordelon's personnel were still under canvas, yet that was changing quickly, and not even Bordelon could complain about the food or the medical attention.

"No, I don't suppose I should expect her to admit it," Krietzmann said now, in response to Medusa's comment. "Doesn't make me any less tempted to wring her neck every time she opens her mouth, though!"

Krietzmann's Dresden accent was more pronounced than usual, and Michelle wondered if that was intentional. As the Quadrant's Minister of War, he was directly responsible for the coordination, maintenance, and management of the various planetary militias and the Quadrant Guard local defense force organized under the Quadrant's Constitution. It was a new departure for the Manticorans, but some the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had argued in favor of a locally raised and maintained military force to serve as backup for the Royal Navy, and the Grantville Government had agreed to it. For one thing, it would ease the burden on the Navy and the Royal Marines considerably, The Quadrant would also be responsible for maintaining the Quadrant Guard out of local tax revenues, which would prevent it from becoming a charge on the imperial treasury. And, finally, Grantville's agreement had recognized the unspoken truth that the maintenance of a local force would help Talbotters sleep more soundly at night. Not only would it insure that OFS wouldn't come calling while the rest of the Star Empire was distracted elsewhere, but it had been something of a sop to any local fears of "Manty tyranny" from the Old Star Kingdom's direction.

At the moment, however, it was Krietzmann's Guard which had responsibility for security where the POWs were concerned. That was enough to make Bordelon's protests especially irritating to him all by itself, but that particular irritation wasn't by itself. For some odd reason, TF 496's unprovoked onslaught on their capital system hadn't made Talbotters in general any fonder of Sollies, and Dresden's hatred for all things Solarian had burned hotter than most to begin with.

"I trust you haven't been as…forthright with Admiral Bordelon as you are with our cabinet colleagues, Henri," Minister of the Treasury Samiha Lababibi said dryly, and Krietzmann snorted a laugh.

"No, I haven't," he said. "Yet."

"Then we all have something to be grateful for," Prime Minister Alquezar observed. Alquezar, by far the tallest person seated at the table, turned to Admiral Augustus Khumalo. "And while Henri's doing his best to leave Bordelon's neck un-wrung, I believe you had something you and Admiral Gold Peak wanted to bring up, Admiral?"
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Re: STICKY: Shadow of Freedom Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jan 13, 2013 10:02 pm

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Shadow Of Freedom - Snippet 29

"And which you would prefer to discuss rather than Minister Krietzmann's relationship with Admiral Bordelon, Mr. Prime Minister?" Khumalo responded innocently.

Khumalo was a full head shorter than Alquezar, but the planet of San Miguel's gravity was only .84 g. For all his height, Alquezar looked almost frail beside the considerably more massive Khumalo.

"Admiral, I'd rather discuss almost anything rather than Henri's 'relationship' with Bordelon!" the prime minister said emphatically, and Krietzmann grinned. Then Alquezar's expression sobered. "And all humor aside, the truth is that at the moment the disposition of our naval forces is more important than just about anything else we could be discussing."

Khumalo nodded, then glanced at Michelle before he turned back to the other people at the conference table.

"Since Admiral Gold Peak is the commander of our mobile forces, I'll let her address the specifics of your question, Mr. Prime Minister. Before she does, though, I'd just like to emphasize that she and I have discussed the situation exhaustively, both between ourselves and with our squadron commanders, and with Minister Krietzmann and the members of his staff, as well. I don't think anyone's genuinely satisfied with the deployment stance we've come up with, but under the circumstances, I believe it's the best available to us."

He looked around the attentive faces, then back at Michelle.

"Milady?"

"Thank you, Sir," Michelle replied with rather more formality than had become the norm between her and the man who commanded Talbott Station. Then it was her turn to look around the table, making eye contact with the men and women responsible for the Quadrant's governance.

"Essentially," she began, "our problem is that while Admiral Khumalo and I believe we've decisively demonstrated our combat superiority, we simply don't have enough hyper-capable units to cover the entire Quadrant. I doubt anyone back at Admiralty House is any happier about that than we are, although I'll grant our unhappiness has a little more immediacy than theirs does. Unfortunately, I don't see any way the deployment priorities are going to change anytime soon. Given the combination of what's happened to the home system, the fact that we have no reason to believe at this time that the Sollies have an additional force anywhere near the size of Crandall's in our own vicinity, and the activation of Case Lacoön, there simply aren't any more ships for the Admiralty to send our way.

"So we have to make do with what we have, and while neither Admiral Khumalo nor I like that situation, it's one that Queen's officers have had to deal with more often than we'd like to remember.

"After careful consideration, we've concluded that the best use of our current forces will be to cover each system of the Quadrant with four or five LAC squadrons for local defense, backed up by a couple of dispatch boats. The LACs should be more than adequate to deal with any 'pirate' stupid enough to come this way, and given what we've seen of SLN technology, they also ought to be able to deal with any Solly raiding force that doesn't include a core of capital ships. Given Crandall's losses, it's unlikely there are enough Solarian capital ships anywhere near the Quadrant to provide that kind of force. Obviously, that's subject to change -- possibly without much warning -- but even in a worst-case scenario, the local-defense LACs should be able to at least delay and harass any attackers while one of the dispatch boats goes for help.

"I realize there's been some thought of splitting up our own capital ships in order to give our star systems greater protection."

She carefully didn't look in the direction of the two men sitting on either side of Samiha Lababibi. Antonio Clark, from the Mainwaring System, was the Quadrant's Minister of Industry, while Clint Westman, a Montanan cousin of the famous (or infamous) Stephen Westman, headed the Ministry of the Interior. On the face of it, they should have been almost as unlikely allies of an oligarch like Lababibi as Krietzmann once had been, but the nature of their responsibilities gave them a certain commonality of viewpoint. Inevitably, all three were worried -- deeply -- about what would happen if the Quadrant's star systems were hit by anything like the Yawata Strike. Westman and Clark, especially, had argued in favor of dispersing Tenth Fleet to give every star system at least some protection. After all, they'd pointed out, the decisive superiority of the Manticoran Navy had been conclusively demonstrated, so the traditional risks of defeat in detail for dispersed units must be less applicable than usual.

Lababibi had found herself in the same camp, although she'd been a rather less fervent spokeswoman for their position.

"There are several reasons we're not proposing to do that," Michelle continued. "The two most important ones, though, are that dispersing our capital ships wouldn't provide any appreciable increase in system security against the sort of attack which hit the home system, but it would disperse the powerful, concentrated striking forces it's vital to maintain to respond to any fresh Solarian activity in our area.

"At the moment, the Admiralty and ONI are still working on how the Yawata Strike was launched. From the information available so far, Admiral Hemphill is more convinced than ever the attack relied on a new, previously unknown drive technology. In effect, we believe the attackers were 'invisible' to our normal tracking systems. So far, at least, no one's been able to suggest how whatever drive they used might work or how we might go about figuring out how to detect it in the future. In the meantime, however, analysis also suggests the attackers were probably operating in relatively small forces, relying on their cloak of invisibility rather than raw combat power. I realize that may sound absurd, given the damage inflicted, but I assure you that if a single podnought -- or even a couple of Nike-class battlecruisers -- had been able to get into range of the inner system totally undetected, that would have been ample to have inflicted all of that damage.

"My point is that the problem in Manticore wasn't lack of combat power or lack of defenses; it was the inability to see the enemy coming. Scattering wallers around the Quadrant's star systems isn't going to appreciably increase our ability to detect these people. We can deploy enough remote sensor platforms -- in fact, we're already in the process of deploying them -- to give each of our systems more detection capability than an entire squadron of SDs could provide. The LACs will give us large numbers of manned combat platforms to chase down and prosecute possible contacts; the dispatch boats will be available to send for help in the case of an attack in strength; and we'll be deploying enough missile pods in planetary orbit to provide the long-range missile firepower of at least a pair of SD(P)s in each system. We won't have the sort of sustained firepower superdreadnoughts could provide, or the area missile defense they could offer, but we'll have enough to deal with anything short of a Solly battle squadron, assuming we see it coming."

She paused, and this time she did look across the table at Lababibi, Clark, and Westman.

"I believe those deployments will give us at least as much defensive depth as splitting up my wallers could accomplish. In addition, however, it will permit Admiral Khumalo and me to concentrate my hyper-capable units into two striking forces, each with a powerful LAC element of its own. One will be deployed to Tillerman; the other will be based on Montana.

"Obviously, the Tillerman force will be closest to Monica and Meyers, which would normally be the most probable threat axis where any fresh Solarian adventures were concerned. Frankly, though, at the moment I'm not really very concerned about something coming at us out of the Madras Sector, given the fact that we just polished off seventy-plus superdreadnoughts that were stationed in that sector. It seems unlikely they have still more capital ships tucked away out here, even with Mesa and Manpower pulling every string they can reach.

"If the Sollies do decide they have anything else to spare and send it our way, it's more likely to come in direct from the Core. That's why I'm planning on basing the second force at Montana to cover the Quadrant's flank, and the Lynx Terminus picket force will be available to cover any threat that might come in past Asgerd. There are some arguments in favor of staying right here in Spindle instead of moving to Montana, given Spindle's more central location within the Quadrant, but so far Admiral Khumalo and I don't find them persuasive. To be honest, our objective is to get sufficient combat power -- enough combat density -- deployed across a broad front to permit me to respond quickly to dispatches from the star systems behind me while simultaneously positioning me to operate offensively into Solly and Mesan space, if that should become desirable."

She saw one or two sets of eyes flicker at the reference to Mesa. Not everyone in the Quadrant endorsed her own suspicions of Mesa and Manpower, Incorporated. It wasn't that anyone questioned Manpower's involvement in what had happened at Monica and New Tuscany. Nor did anyone in the Quadrant doubt Mesa's and Manpower's implacable (and thoroughly reciprocated) hostility towards the Star Empire. More than one of the people sitting around that table, though, remained of the opinion that Frontier Security (and possibly other interests within the League) had been using Manpower as a catspaw. Certainly that made more sense, in their view, than the possibility that a single outlaw transstellar corporation was using the entire Solarian League as a catspaw!
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