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Old 01-24-2012, 10:19 AM   #1
machievelli
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Wrath of the Witch Maiden

A story that has been bludgeoning me to write it for over a week. Once I gave it the mental go ahead, it has been taking off and adding to itself even before I put it down on electronswith new characters adding themselves like well fit jigsaw puzzle pieces. Much more to follow...

Wrath of the Witch Maiden
Captain Rebecca Duvalier sat patiently in the office of the Fifth Space Lord, awaiting, as her older brother, a Chief Warrant officer still stationed in Silesia would call it, her 'turn in the barrel'. Tommy hated the patronage system so much that when he joined the navy he'd done so as an enlisted man, not the eldest son of the 3rd Baron Duvalier of Oak Glen of Gryphon. Their father had been as fiercely against Aristocratic privilege as the people of his small Barony, and they loved him for it.

But Rebecca had always dreamed of command, and when it came her turn, she applied and was accepted at Saganami Island. Her proudest moment was when she had been shuffled off of the armed Merchant Raider Genji, then on the Sidemore station to attend the Advanced Tactical course, the infamous Crusher even before she assumed command, even if it was due to officers trying to grease her way to higher command. She had met Admiral Dame Honor Harrington then.

She considered the standard line everyone seemed to use when they met a larger than life hero; 'I expected you to be taller'. The woman stood 20 centimeters taller than Rebecca did, and that real height was more than enough. The admiral during her time in charge of the Crusher had graced Rebecca with three invitations to her 'working dinners', and she had learned more at those impromptu exercises, in her own opinion, than half of the faculty of the Academy itself had taught her all of those years ago.

She had been honored when Harrington herself had asked for a green captain to command a light cruiser in Eighth fleet.

She idly rubbed the second star on her breast, sign of commanding a second hyperspace vessel of her Majesty. Her first command, a destroyer had spent years swanning about Manticore with home fleet. Protecting a vital point true, but hardly what she had signed up for. Her second, the light cruiser Loki had been shot up pretty badly at Chantilly when Admiral Bellefeuille had pounded HMS Hector and HMS Nike. In fact the missile that had destroyed her command and almost 90% of her crew of her crew hadn't even been aimed at them. No one was wasting missiles on something as small as a light cruiser; it had been an 'under' that had missed targeting Hector and shattered the small ship like a toy instead.

She and her surviving crew had spent hours drifting in the single pinnace that had escaped the ship, along with a few dozen life pods until Hector returned to pick them up. The last thing she remembered of that deployment was a capital ship missile arcing toward her command before they could redirect their own point defense, then the impact, bulkheads shattering, then she awoke with almost five months of her life amputated without anesthetic. She had wanted to take every wound of those other survivors upon herself. Of the 800 men and women of her crew, only a bare 95 had survived, and fifteen of them had died before they were picked up. Thirty were still in hospital as the woman that had gotten them killed sat here in this plush office. She had gone through almost four months of rehabilitation, and been witness to the epic Battle of Manticore, five hundred Superdreadnought fighting the battle that could have determined the fate of the entire war.

She remembered the first of those dinners when she had been handed a Cruiser squadron command, and made a simple error that cost her half of them. Dame Honor had seen her sitting gloomily in the corner of the of the room when she had been asked back the second time. While everyone else had almost run like children at recess to get their favorite places, she had asked the Admiral, politely, to allow her to sit this one out.

“Commander, mistakes happen in war. As Wellington said, the winner in a battle is the officer that makes the fewest mistakes. If you think people like me merely leap from the head of a god into full capability, you are wrong. I made mistakes when I was in your shoes, I have made mistakes where my crew died because of them. But what you do, if you survive, is go on, and make sure never to make that mistake again. Either that or get a desk job. Now assume your station.” It had not been a senior officer raking the junior over the coals, it had been almost... almost like an elder sister chiding you to do better. Or, she suddenly grinned at the image, a senior officer recognizing a scintilla of something she had in abundance, and trying to nurture it in her junior.

“Captain?” She looked up at the Yeoman. “The Admiral will see you now.” She stood to open the door.

“Thank you, Yeoman Patterson.” She replied. She marched into the office, snapping a salute worthy of Saganami Island. Admiral of the Green Sir Lucien Cortez, Fifth Space Lord of the Manticoran Navy returned it idly.

“Have a seat, Captain.” He looked at the fresh faced young woman before him. “We have a delicate situation here, that needs someone who is willing to take some risks, but isn't foolhardy. After the Battle of Manticore, we face two enemies, and one of them is the Solarian League.”

Rebecca felt a chill. The Solarian league was in it's own way, the proverbial 400 kilo Gorilla. Considered the preeminent naval power in human space, they had never lost a war, never had a ship captured. Anyone facing them in battle might as well have their Navy commit old fashioned 4thcentury pre-Diaspora ritual Seppeku.

Until about eight months ago, when an entire Solarian League light task force with 17 battlecruisers had surrendered to five 10thfleet battlecruisers commanded by Michelle Henke.

While defeating the Sollies suddenly looked workable, realists pointed out that counting mothball fleets, the Sollies had more superdreadnoughts in commission than the combined total of all the allies and Haven had destroyers, and the crews to man them.

Sir Lucien smiled gently. “I know where your thoughts are leading, Captain. But that is a problem above your pay grade. I am giving you Witch Maiden.”

She cocked her head. It was an odd name for a Manticoran vessel. “I don't understand, sir.”

“You served aboard HMS Genji during Operation Trojan Horse, correct?”

“Yes sir, as Tactical officer.”

“When Dame Honor made the initial agreement that led to our alliance with the Andermani, she had suggested the last three of the Caravan armed merchant cruisers be transferred to Andermani control. After all, thanks to Admiral Janacek, they were redesignated as Large fleet colliers. Genji was one of them.”

That was where she had heard it before; She had left the ship not long before the assassination that had ended the Cromarty government. The Janacek Admiralty had recalled all of them as their service cycles called for them to be refitted. The refits had been like a brutal lobotomy; ripping out the broadside missile tubes, and replacing the original inertial dampener with a 3rdgeneration Grayson Mod, the redesign had made them at least 50% faster than they had been. The ships had been renamed by the Andermani for their brief time in their hands.

“I remember. They named them Witch Queen, Witch Bride, and Witch Maiden.”

“Correct. Per the agreement, they were returned three months ago. But the name Genji had been assigned to the seventeenth Roland Class destroyer in the interim. So we've recommissioned her as Witch Maiden.” He handed her the order packet. “Your sailing under special orders from ONI. Admiral Givens will be briefing you before you take command. Good hunting.” He stood, and she stood, shaking the offered hand.

Special Instructions

Admiral Patricia Givens motioned for Duvalier to enter her office. There was another woman of Oriental extraction in a white Andermani Dress uniform there, and she stood, heels clicking as they face each other. “Captain Duvalier, may I introduce Commander Jinhua Kiel. Commander Kiel, Captain Rebecca Duvalier.” They shook hands and took their seats. Givens touched a control, and a map of Solarian League space appeared. She highlighted one section in red with blue dots interspersed through it. “This is the western edge of Solarian League space. Due to the volume of our carrying trade in the League, we were able to negotiate having small fleet stations seeded throughout the volume of their space.

“This is, of course, something their Battle Fleet on the interior, and Frontier Fleet in their outer rim protested; they didn't think we should have such access. We finally settled on a compromise; each station was to be no more than four light cruisers or no more than eight destroyers, with permission to have an on site light collier. In fact we purpose built the 1.5 megaton Giselle class ships just for these stations.

“The other part of the compromise, however is our problem here. The Sollies required that while our warshps can patrol, our courier boats have to stop at their main Battle Fleet nodal locations, so if we had a station at say Termagant, which is on your planned route, the nearest place we can transfer any signals would be Copperplate, fifty light years away, and no fleet signals were allowed to be sent on via the commercial couriers we had to hire. Any signals sent on to our ships had to be verified as personal only.”

They paused to consider this. In effect, the Sollies had demanded the right to read the mail for every crewman aboard those scattered ships. “Instead of allowing this, we have merely been sending all signals to the local Legations; except for family emergencies, and the couriers we hire have been merely telling our units they have mail. A ship is dispatched, picks it up, and returns.

“We are also allowed to send a larger fleet collier to deliver supplies to the detached units, and that is where you come in. Ostensibly, you are merely delivering missile pods to the detachments, and collecting the old ones for modification or disposal. As far as the Sollies know, they are just upgrades from the normal missile pods that they already have, and that has been true before the present situation. But the first part of that mission is different because you are delivering pods with full up MDMs supplied by our Andermani allies. They aren't up to the full potential of our own, but they will clear the backlog of supply on their side, and still give our detachments there three times the range of the Solarian navy if it comes to a fight.”

Kiel snorted at that. While the Andermani, like the Republic of Haven, had been playing catch up after the carnage of Operation Buttercup, the Andermani had not been as well supplied with additional tech transfers from some of the Solarian Leagues less reputable businesses. So while the Republic had fielded a three drive MDM design, though a crude one, the Andermani had only deployed a two drive one initially, with performance characteristics closer to the Mark 16 pods used by Manticoran Alliance BC(P)s. They had gotten a leg up when they allied with Manticore, but still that left thousands of the old pods to either recycle, or expend.

“Commander Kiel is the expert the Andermani are sending along with you.”

“Expert in what, Admiral?”

Givens blinked. “I beg your pardon, captain?”

“Is she an intelligence officer? Or a weapons technician?” When the Admiral didn't reply, Duvalier steepled her fingers. “The insignia on her left collar point, for her branch of service is not the crossed missiles of the Andermani weapons design bureau. Instead it is the crossed lightning bolts with hourglass of Imperial Intelligence.” She smiled. “My thesis in my senior year was Comparative Intelligence Gathering among the Star Nations around us. That symbol is for the Andermani Imperiales Generalstab-Intelligenz-Büro, the Imperial General Staff Intelligence Bureau.”

“You were right, Admiral. She is good.” Kiel commented.

“Captain, what I about to tell you is classified Alliance Top Secret, Code name Tannenbaum. The Andermani have penetrated Sollie Internal Security and Naval intelligence in more depth than we have. They have agents in every legation throughout Sollie space right down to Earth herself. Your mission is three fold, delivering the missiles is only part of it.

“You're going to be passing through the stations two tiers back from the frontier facing Manticore and all of our stations in that tier are in systems where Battle Fleet has mothball fleets. We need to know if those mothball fleets are being reactivated. If they have begun, we need estimates of when they will be operational again.

“Last, you are delivering a war warning to those units. They are going to be cut off, and all we can hope is that they will rip the Sollies up behind the lines as they run for home. For that matter, Battle fleet might have gotten off the ball and decided to smash us while they have the chance, and that means you might also be cut off.”

Givens looked at her for a long moment. “That is why we're sending this specific ship. She's slow, but her design is the first one to use the pod laying technology. We are announcing she's a new modification, so Janes merely has her listed as a fleet collier based on the Caravan. There's no way they'd let one of our pod laying superdreadnoughts near one of their mothball fleets, but you can lay down as much fire as one, with all of the fire control of a Medusa class. You'll have your core load of pods, and any you've picked up on the way. But your core load are going to be full up Mk 23s which are not to be dispersed to those units. We cannot afford to have them fall into Sollie hands. If it hits the fan, you are to break off, and proceed to Spindle in the Talbot Quadrant.

“Andermani intelligence,” she nodded to Kiel, “believes that while the Sollies will attack our shipping if the baloon goes up, the Andermani will still be treated as just our neighbors, though they expect that to change. With this in mind the Andermani have sent transponder codes for ten of their 7.5 megaton Dragon class merchant vessels that will be no where near you operational area. So you can use their IDs as needed.

“Any questions?”

Duvalier shook her head.

“Then you had best be about it. Good luck and good hunting.”

Rebecca was surprised that Kiel walked out with her. “I will report aboard in less than 2 hours, Captain. My team is already aboard, I need to report to the Embassy before I go back up.”

“Understood, Commander.” Duvalier stopped, and turned to the other woman. “I have heard my own rumors, have you heard any from your end?”

“Yes, I have, Captain. The Sollies have a serious blind spot where Manpower and Mesa are concerned. It is in fact worse than the one they have in regard to the Manticoran Alliance and Republic of Haven. Before the Empire joined in, you both had fought a war for the better part of 20 years, with innovation following innovation that has made your weapons from what they uderstand to something out of a science fiction epic in comparison, but they still think of you as neo-barbs beating each other over the heads with sticks and stone clubs

“Until we joined the Alliance they thought of us as the 'peaceful' neo-barbs. Now we are just another group of immature beings who want to get into the game, and pouting because it took so long.”

“You're joking about that part.” Duvalier challenged.

“I am doing no such thing. My uncle is in my same branch. He came home from work right after the alliance, and what I said is an exact quote from the Solarian League reply to a report that our navy has joined yours.”

“Secret sources?”

“So secret that I could tell you where we got it, but I would be forced to kill you.”

They looked at each other for a long moment before Rebecca smiled. “I return the complement, commander, you're good.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The woman watched the Manticoran walk away down the hall, and only then did she giggle.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 01-24-2012 at 10:32 AM.
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Old 01-25-2012, 10:11 PM   #2
machievelli
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Change of Command

The shuttle approached, and Rebecca looked through the port toward her new command. She didn't have the sleek lines of a typical warship with the hammerhead shape to hold chase armament. Instead she was merely a cylinder with the narrowed ends chopped off of a merchantman. She dwarfed anything smaller than a Superdreadnought, but unlike that warship she was a slug. Even after the addition of the new inertial compensator, she could barely pull 208gs, a merely 2 kilometers per second squared compared to the newer Invictus class SDs that could pull four and a half.

But she wasn't supposed to be a warship when an enemy saw her. They had been built to sucker in Silesian pirates and destroy them, and the record of operation Trojan Horse proved their worth. The 24 units of that operation had killed two battle cruisers, 11 heavy cruisers, 17 light cruisers 25 destroyers and fifty smaller craft, for the loss of only three. Of those lost only one, HMS Wayfarer, had been destroyed by enemy action. The other two had won their last battles, but had been considered too badly damaged to be worth repair. Those had been scrapped.

The ship did not have a boat bay; instead it had an enclosed portion of hold #2 where a shuttle could land inside. Even with the two pinnaces and four cargo shuttles already there, the was more than enough room for the new arrival. Once it had settled to the deck, the massive cargo bay door closed, and the huge compartment was pressurized. The chief of the boat checked the pressure, then cracked the hatch. Rebecca picked up her briefcase, put on her white beret, and stood as he did. The air had that odd tang all ships had. Nothing like the living breath of a planet, but since the Caravans were large enough to have a hydroponics bay, there was some planet smells. Four sideboys stood at the entrance, and they snapped to attention as she appeared.

Witch Maiden arriving.” She walked down the ramp and the instant her foot touched the deck the ranked Marines snapped to attention at the call, 'Witch Maiden aboard.”

She looked at the earnest young face of an Ensign, then snapped a salute. “Request permission to come aboard?”

“Permission granted, ma'am.” The young man answered. He was a third generation prelong recipient, and looked as if he were fourteen T years old. His voice even squeaked a little.

A tall man her own age stepped around the boy, and Rebecca blinked. She had known who her Executive officer would be, but she had not expected the cream and brown shape on his shoulder.

“Captain Duvalier.” He reached out, and she shook the offered hand. Gaelin Watson was a Sphinxian, and he, like Dame Honor Harrington was tall and well muscled. His blond hair was tied back into a pony tail.

She nodded gravely to him, then motioned toward the treecat on his shoulder. “I see you have something new to report, number one.”

He laughed, eyes bright with delight. “Happened on my last leave. Captain, may I introduce Holmes.” He motioned to the treecat. She reached up, and Holmes took her finger to shake hands with her. If anything, his eyes were more delighted than his human.

“Why not merely Sherlock?” She asked.

“Well you know how people answer when you state something so obvious the only answer is sarcasm?” She nodded. “I didn't want people to add that when they met him.”

“Ah.”

“If you will follow me, Ma'am?” They walked across the cavernous bay to one of the personal lifts. It closed, and shot upward. As it did, Gaelin hugged her, lifting her off her feet.

“Put me down Gaelin, or I'm going to knee you in the groin.” He did laughing. It had been almost four years since they had last met. She had been a year ahead of him at Saganami Island, and had spent most of that assigned first to 6th fleet, then Home fleet. They had always met in passing, one going to another assignment as the other was going the opposite direction. Now she was two ranks senior, and she still enjoyed seeing him.

“Status?”

“The last of the cargo pallets came aboard last shift. All of our passengers are aboard. All we were waiting on was you and our resident spook.”

“How did you know, Gaelin?” She asked suddenly tense.

“Remember, one year behind? I read your thesis when I became a senior. She's been all over the ship settling in her team, and I do have eyes.”

“Let's hope the enemy isn't as insightful.”

The lift opened on the bridge deck, and they walked down the companionway to the bridge itself. There were little changes from the last time she had stood here, the tactical section had been upgraded with enough data links to handle a salvo worthy of a Medusa, and communications held a new grav pulse transmitter/receiver station. She ran her hand across the back of the tactical officer's chair. That had been hers last time she stood there. But then she walked past it to the captain's chair. She hit the all hands chime, then, as everyone aboard looked up- from their work she reached into her tunic, and pulled out the crisp vellum sheet of her orders.

"From Admiral Sir Lucien Cortez, Fifth Space Lord, Royal Manticoran Navy," she
read, "to Captain Rebecca Duvalier, Royal Manticoran Navy, Twenty-third Day, eighth Month, Year Two Hundred and Ninety-seven After Landing.

“Madam: You are hereby directed and required to proceed aboard Her Majesty's Starship [i]Witch Maiden]/i], Fleet Collier 171 there to take upon yourself the duties and responsibilities of commanding officer in the service of the Crown. Fail not in this charge at your peril.

“By order of Admiral Hamish Alexander, Earl of White Haven, First Lord of the Admiralty, Royal Manticoran Navy, for Her Majesty the Queen."

She fell silent and refolded her orders.”People we depart on our cruise within the next four hours. Contact your superiors if there is anything that has to be amended in that time. But we will depart on schedule if I have to get you all out to push.” She paused, sending a mock glare at the pick up. “That is if someone doesn't hot wire the ship themselves in the interim.”

She shut off the pick up, looking at Gaelin who was stifling laughter. “You were always so... abrupt in your humor, Captain.”

She gave him a gamin grin. Her exec motioned to a small group standing nearby. “May I introduce your officers?” She nodded regally. “Commander Collins, our chief engineer. Speaking of hot-wiring something, he will have to tell you what he did as a teenager, The judge gave him a choice, fifteen years or the Navy. Lucky for us, he chose the Navy.” The man blushed, looking down before shaking her hand.

“I've heard about you, Mister Collins. You made Mustang after your first deployment on the old battlecruiser Achilles.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Lieutenant Hughes, our tac officer," The woman looked like she had been hammered our of duralloy, and her grip was firm.

"Surgeon Lieutenant Jeffereys, our doctor," Jeffereys was a thin spare balding man with old fashioned spectacles.

“I see you don't regen, lieutenant.”

“Yes, ma'am. That's part of the reason I became a doctor, to see if there were ways around that for others.”

"Major Reardon, commanding our Marine detachment," The man looked like he had stepped off a recruiting poster. While his rank was Captain, it was standard procedure to give a Marine or naval captain a courtesy rank of Major (or commodore for the navy) to avoid confusion. There could only be one captain aboard a ship.

"Lieutenant Heinreid, our com officer," The woman had a distracted look, but having dealt with other officers that hid rapier sharp minds, Rebecca did not assume inattentiveness.

"Lieutenant O'Malley, our astrogator." The woman had the look almost of a perky bird, spying everything about her. Her handshake was almost perfunctory.

“Any relation to Admiral O'Malley?”

“Yes, Ma'am. I believe he is a second cousin on my father's side.”

"Lieutenant Danials, our logistics officer.” The man had the look of a typical bean counter worried about the last grain of rice, but his smile was wide.

“And last but not least, Lieutenant Suggins, Flight Ops officer.” The young woman was wearing a Grayson Navy uniform rather than the Manticoran of everyone else.

“I thought flight ops had been removed during the refits.”

“Our ship was one of the last, and somehow she slipped through the cracks. Part of what they were doing when she returned from Andermani service was updating the layout of our LAC bays. We still carry twelve LACs, only now they are seven Shrike Bs, three Katanas, and two Ferret Cs.” The woman explained

Rebecca nodded gravely. “But that doesn't explain how we have a Grayson squadron aboard. I thought they were kept in the Grayson navy.” From a lot of Manticoran officers, it would have been a challenge, but the sterling work that small navy had done during two wars had put paid to such an insult. Her voice held no sarcasm, merely curiosity.

“Our CLAC was pretty badly shot up during the Battle of Manticore, Ma'am” The young woman replied. “We had been seconded to Admiral Truman's squadron.”

'Badly shot up' was an understatement. None of Truman's ships had been capable of recovering their birds afterward, not that a lot had remained.

“Which ship were you originally assigned to?”

“GSN Mordechai. We lost sixty percent of our LACs in that fight, ten out of twelve birds in my own squadron.” The accent wasn't really Grayson, it had the same basic tones, but it was... different; like the difference between people from East Prussia and Bavaria in Germany.

The name niggled at her, then it clicked. “You were one of the Masadan Refugees that relocated to Grayson.”

The girl's head came up. “Yes ma'am. My father was Chief Elder Suggins. I was eight when we came to Harrington Steading, and our Steadholder was the one that appointed me to Saganami Island.”

Rebecca reached out barely touching a sapphire blue ribbon with a small shield on it. “If I remember my foreign decorations, I see you've repaid her, lieutenant. Isn't that the Grayson Shield?” The award was equivalent to the Manticoran Order of Gallantry.

The girl seemed to swell with pride. “Yes Ma'am. My squadron killed a battlecruiser and two heavy cruisers. I was the senior survivor.”

Like any major military disaster where you won, medals had fallen like rain on the survivors. Beside that medal was the Monarch's thanks, next to the Grayson Protector's Gratitude.

“That explains the medals. But why is your squadron assigned to this ship?”

“When they asked for a volunteer squadron, I asked for the assignment, as did all of my people whether Grayson or Manticoran. The Katanas are all Grayson, but the others came from squadrons that had been decimated in that same battle.”

“Well let's hope there isn't too much for your team to do in this deployment. But if it hits the fan, I expect your best.”

“You'll get it, Ma'am.”

“I would like to invite you all to dinner after we leave Beowulf space. If I am correct, and I always am,” there was a polite chuckle at that, “we should be in hyper from there around 0900 tomorrow, so I expect to see you all at 1900.”

While a polite invitation, no one in his right mind would refuse to dine with their commanding officer. She nodded to them. “While the Exec and I discuss our passengers, the rest of you have things to do. Let's be about it.”

Light Dinner Conversation

Chief Steward Oselli had outdone himself, Rebecca thought. The food had been superb, the service both expert and ubiquitous. She looked down the long table. All of her officers were there, including Midshpman Michael Tregant on his first deployment, and ensign Kian Von Stueben from Kiel's staff. Along with her officers were the four senior passengers, three captains (all list and senior to her), and Commodore Joaquin Hernandez all headed out to assume command of different stations.

They had all laughed at Martin's story of how he'd been caught hot wiring the Solarian League Ambassador's limousine when that worthy had been at the opera. It might have worked if he hadn't been caught by an alert security guard as he tried to drive it out. It had almost come down to farce when the young man had tried to claim diplomatic immunity at his trial; after all, the security guard should have ignored his age, but not ignored the Solarian League flag on it's bumper. Rebecca looked down the table, and when she had caught the eyes of Tregant, touched her wine glass. The boy blushed, grabbed his own glass and stood.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Queen!" He said.

“The Queen!” Everyone drank. But before anyone could react beyond that, Suggins stood.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," she, "I give you Grayson, the Keys, the Sword, and the Tester!"

The Manticoran officers replied, the Andermani a bit slower; after all, they had been allies only a few years, and had probably never heard the Grayson Loyalty oath. Not to be outdone, ensign Von Stueben stood. His voice was almost a shout. “Damen und Herren, gebe ich Ihnen das Kaiser, das Kaiserin, den Kronprinz und die Kronprinzessin!

The reply in English, toasted the Emperor, his wife, his son and heir, and that man's wife.

Commodore Hernandez stood, surprising everyone. “Compadres, Viva la Raza!

“Amen!” Shouted a voice from the far end of the table. Everyone looked at Tregant, who blushed even deeper than before.

Then the commodore grinning widely sat.

“I haven't heard that last toast before.” Rebecca said. “Though it appears that our young protege down there has.”

“It is the old loyalty toast of the San Martin Navy before the old People's Republic conquered us.” Hernandez replied. Like all people from that world, he was stocky, built almost like a piece of machinery. “It was still used by every refugee from that conflict up to the present, a way to remember that we had been pushed out of our home, but would one day return. When our planet became the fifth member of the Manticoran home worlds, we were allowed to revive it.

“Unlike your other toasts, it must be called by the senior San Martin officer, and answered by the junior. If your young man had not given it, I would have given the reply.”

“My roommate at Saganami Island was one of them, so I got to hear it every day, even though he made it almost a religious experience.” Tregant replied defensively, causing another ripple of laughter. “Well the way he did it every night before going to bed made it almost a religious experience, like he was saying his nightly prayers.”

“A prayer finally answered, young man.” Hernandez replied.

“Aren't you a bit senior to be assuming what amounts to be only half a squadron, sir?” Millicent Heinreid asked.

“You are correct, Lieutenant.” The man nodded. “However between here and Adelaide, I have another duty. You see, a number of the officers we will be delivering to have been out on the limb for as much as two years.”

“But they should maintain station for only a T year to eighteen months.” Marcus Danials said. “The machinery would take two years if necessary, but the crews? They must be riding the ragged edge of fatigue. Were they allowed shore leave?”

“On a Sollie world?” Hernandez snorted. “On Beowulf and maybe Earth we could have a fine old time. On most of them however they pay more attention to the newsies controlled by the Department of Education and Information. According to them, we're not far from the Golden Horde or the old Mexican Banditios of my own prehistory. Steal what you can and rape every woman between six and ninety-six before burning it all down.

“Then right after Byng went to his reward, the rules changed. Battle Fleet demanded that no ships could leave station to be replaced unless all of them are. That was fine on this side of the League, but then they refused to allow us to relieve the last five on our route via the Quadrant, so the new ships had to travel from Beowulf, over five months one way. Termagant is one of those.”

“Well at least Beowulf went like clockwork.” Siobhan O'Malley replied. Of course, the Beowulf station was more of a tripwire than anything else. There was no delivery beyond the war warning and some replacements; after all as much as the Sollies hated Manticore, Beowulf loved them. In fact their navy not only acted as a primary shield for the local Wormhole terminus, but also allowed the crews of those ships shore leave on the planet; sort of like visiting Bangkok, Subic Bay, the Ginza, Shinjuku or Stockholm back in the 1st Century Pre-Diaspora. Places known for the...variety of onshore entertainment, at least by reputation.

Fifteen crewmen had been delivered, but instead of picking the men being replaced up to go along, it was merely a quick jaunt for a passenger ship back to Manticore, so they didn't have to wait the eight months before Witch Maiden returned via the Lynx Terminus.

“May all of our deliveries go as well.” Patrick Reardon said.

“Amen, Major.” Gaelin lifted his glass as if toasting.

“Amen.” the other officers repeated.


Stowaway

Rebecca sighed, pulling off her dress uniform tunic, and shrugging into her undress one. “Going out again, Ma'am?” She looked up as her steward came in with the cup of cocoa she always had before bed.

“You know my routine by now, Os.” She chided. “First night, walk the ship to get a feel for her.”

“But you did that last night.” His reply was just as chiding.

“Os, this ship dwarfs every command I have had.”

“But you have served on her before. Did you not 'get a feel for her' then?”

“But then I was merely the tactical officer. So I got a feel for my department. That is less than ten percent of what I hold now. Put the cocoa on the warmer, Os, I'll be back within the hour.”

“And who gets the honor of your surprise appearance this evening?”

“Flight ops. But don't tell them before I show up.”

“I would never do such a thing.”

“Never? What about Impeller one aboard Loki?”

“That is a base canard, ma'am. It was one of the techs who rigged the scanner that caught you there. After all, he had served aboard Charger when you were in command.”

“Yeah, right. A tech who happened to have a pie recipe you wanted perhaps?” She finished buttoning the tunic. “Back in a few.”

“Captain?” She paused at the hatch, looking back. Oselli smiled gently. “Admit it, ma'am, you did like that pie.” She merely shook her head, and opened the hatch. The marine outside her door snapped to, and she waved him back to rest. There were three lifts that led to officer's country; one each fore and aft, the third across from her cabin which went directly to the bridge. She would never use the bridge access one for these midnight forays; too obvious. She decided on the aft lift, turning to head that way.

As she approached the doors, the lift snapped open, There was no human in it, rather Holmes was there, hunkered down. He looked up, then picked up something in his mouth and charged toward, then past her. She caught a glimpse of something furry in his mouth as he passed, and she spun, watching him charge down to the first passageway to the left. An instant later she was running after him.

She reached the door she had anticipated, slamming her finger on the annunciator. There was no reply and she punched it again and again. The door opened, Gaelin looked surprised, dressed in a robe, rubbing his head with a towel as he looked out. “Yes, capt-” she went past him, scanning the cabin.

“Where is he?”

“Ma'am?”

“Your furry minion! Where is he?”

There was a bleek, and Holmes stalked out of the sleeping compartment. He sat, tail curled around his paws, and gave her a look. She had heard the term 'butter would not melt in his mouth' but until she saw his oh so innocent look she had never really understood it.

“Where is it?” she demanded of the cat. The cat signaled with his hands.

“Answer her question, Holmes.” Gaelin demanded as she looked at him confused.

“I went bush at home because I had heard about the study done by Professor Arif and Admiral Harrington's mother. The treecats are admitting how intelligent they are, and the professor has been teaching them sign language. When you asked where is it, he replied, 'where is what'.”

“And when did he have time to attend this professor's school?”

“That's the thing; Arif has proven that the cats are not only empathic with us, they are telepathic with their own. Show one treecat how to sign, and within a week every tribe for 50 klicks knows how. I picked it up when I heard, just for the chance to say hi before he picked me.”

There was a querulous 'meow' and Rebecca spun. Holmes looked like a cuckolding lover trying to explain why the woman he was with wasn't there just as she comes out of the bath with her hair wrapped in a towel.

“Damn it, Holmes, you have to know the rules! Regulations say no pets on board ships! Not even for you!”

The cat signaled, and Gaelin translated. “I found her in the hydroponics bay. She was lonely and distraught. Someone must have brought her aboard and left her here.”

“Wait!” Rebecca waved her hands. “You mean one of those people we dropped of in Beowulf brought a cat aboard my ship. Then when they realized the regs said they couldn't have it, they abandoned it here?”

“She.” Holmes challenged. “She is young but not an it.”

“Great, what is she, Holmes, your new girlfriend?”

“Irene Adler.” Rebecca look at Gaelin confused. “Sherlock Holmes' love interest in the stories.”

Holmes pointed his first two finger to the left, then curled his right true hand into an upright fist with all fingers facing toward them, then repeated them, then brought both true hands into a shape like a ball he then pulled apart, brought his right true hand up facing to his left with the index finger pointed upward, moving the finger sharply several times as if nudging something to his left before stalking off in disgust.

“What was that supposed to mean?”

“He said, 'Ha, ha. Very funny'.”

She heard the meow again. As she and the treecat (with Gealin's help) had been talking, the kitten had walked over, to stand with her paws set on the captain's left foot, looking up. It was a white Persian cat with the bright blue eyes of at least one Siamese ancestor.

She was not going to fall prey to a pair of baby blues. “Contact the Bosun and the Master at Arms. I want-” She hissed. Unwilling to be ignored, the kitten had leaped straight up, climbing her leg with twenty piton like claws.

Great, she thought. Twenty years learning my profession, getting shot at, losing my last ship, and suddenly I'm Mount Duvalier for some stupid cat! She caught it by the scruff of the neck, and the instant she lifted it, the claws slid into hiding, the legs curled up, and she gave a sonorous purr.

Rebecca set the purring bundle in the crook of her arm. “as I was saying, a full forensic sweep of the compartments those people were in. I want to know who had cat fur on his uniform when he left, because there is going to be hell to pay when I find out.”

Gaelin stepped over to her, then bent. He stood, a small tuft of white fur in his fingertips. “We will find everyone else with cat fur, Captain.”

“As your furry minion said, ha, ha.” She handed him the cat. “Find someone to take care of this fur ball.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 01-25-2012 at 10:49 PM.
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Old 01-31-2012, 10:12 AM   #3
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First stops

The first day went too quickly. Some of the crew were old hands, a few hard cases, but not as many as you'd expect. But most were kids straight out of training. They would need the drills to learn to work as a smoothly meshing machine. Each department head from the deck department to flight ops reported problems, mainly due to lack of training. She almost giggled when she discovered that her flight ops officer shared her first name. When Gaelin suggested they ask the officer to accept being called Becky, Duvalier stopped that. After all, except for Gaelin, no one would call her Rebecca, and even he had to wait until they were in private.

It would be thirteen days; ten days by their internal clocks to Leastway, the first stop on their mission. A Battle Fleet base, her orders were to stop to contact the local Embassy, pick up the mail for the squadron (Seven destroyers) at Sonderman, then make their way to that system for delivery. That first morning after departing Beowulf Rebecca and Watson made a list of drills and simulations that would fine tune her crew's responses in the coming weeks. As they finished, leaning back to enjoy their coffee, she asked how the investigation had gone.

Gaelin picked up a stalk of celery, handing it to Holmes as he answered. “There was cat fur in every bunk in the compartment, so no joy there. The Bosun also found dishes in the trash with remnants of cat food in them, but they had been cleaned of any traces of DNA. They also found a litter box and several cat toys.”

“Where is all of this evidence now?”

“Since we can't narrow it down further, I gave them to the person who volunteered to watch the cat until our return.”

“So it's a member of the core crew?”

“Yes, Ma'am.” Was he smiling?

“As long as it's taken care of, I don't care. Yes, Holmes, I know the cat is a she. I meant the situation, not the cat.”

The cat nodded complacently as he gnawed on the celery.

The crew didn't have any drills that first night; but any old hand knew that meant the crap would hit the rotary impeller pretty soon.

Rebecca was dreaming. She had visited her grand aunt, who had loved cats; in fact she had left her entire estate to the furry buggers. She had awakened one morning to find that they had created an additional blanket of fur with their bodies. It had been a unique experience she hoped never to repeat.

Yet she found herself reliving it. She had been glad when she made lieutenant because it meant either fewer roommates or when she had been assigned to this ship earlier, her own cabin. For some reason when she slept she would mentally regress to childhood, when she'd cover herself completely as if defending against the monsters that child had been afraid of. Her roommates had always thought it was funny as a midshipman, then an ensign or a lieutenant JG. Now she didn't have to worry about others giggling behind her back. In real life, and again in the dream she had awakened with a kitten curled up under the blanket with her, the fur tickling her nose-

She snapped awake, feeling the delicate fur against her nose. She reached for the lamp on her table, hearing a querulous “Meow” as she shifted. The light snapped on, and she found herself nose to back with Irene. The cat rolled, an eye opening, then closing again as the kitten purred. She sat up, glaring at the fur ball. Like any cat, it ignored her, secure in it's world.

Grumbling, she climbed out of bed, and got dressed. She was going to skin both Gaelin and Oselli alive, roll them in salt, then run them naked through the companionways. When she found out who brought the cat aboard, she was going to make sure he ended up assigned to this dreary duty for so long he'd wish he'd been born a Sollie!

She stalked into her office, bringing up the computer with a savage punch on the key. Work, she always had paperwork to do. She'd stay here until Gaelin got up in... she looked at the chrono, and groaned; four and a half hours from now. She dived into the paperwork. Suggested reorganization of the watches, she flipped through them, reading them carefully before either agreeing or not. Most of this would normally be handled by Gaelin, but she was in the mood-

A cup with rich cocoa was gently set beside her. “Thank you, Os.”

“You're welcome, Ma'am. Having trouble sleeping?”

“As if you didn't know.” She snarled. She looked up into his bland face. Again with unmelted butter. “So you volunteered to watch the kitten. Now explain how she ended in my bed instead of yours.”

“Actually it was Holmes' idea.”

“Putting a cat in my bed was his idea?” She pictured skinning the little snot along with his master.

“When he started trying to find a volunteer, Holmes told him; 'Irene has chosen. She likes Cat Like Joker'.”

“And I am 'Cat Like Joker'? Where did that come from?”

“Commander Watson tells me that the Cats come up with names for those humans around them, names more like their own. When the Commander asked, Holmes said your sense of humor is almost as obtuse as their own. 'But she will improve with age', he added.”

She started to retort when something hit her lap. She looked down at the kitten, who returned the gaze, meowing at her. She looked up to snarl at Oselli but he was disappearing into his pantry. He returned a moment later with a tray. He set it down, and set out a small plate with slices of vegetables and ranch dressing to dip them in. Then he set two small glass dishes, the kind used to make either single serving custards or cupcakes, filled with water and chopped meat.

As much as she seemed to be attracted to Rebecca, dinner called. The kitten leaped onto the desk, immediately burying her nose in the food. “We will discuss this later, Os.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

She settled down to work. An hour passed, and she was so engrossed, she didn't notice when the kitten leaped into her lap. She did notice when she climbed the arm of the chair, then settled down on her shoulder. “So you think you're a tree cat.” She said. The kitten merely began to clean herself without moving. “You know my grand aunt had a cat like you. She called him Buzzard, when he would sit on her shoulder, though I think his name was Marcus. Don't get too comfortable where you are, squirt.”


Leastway

One Battle Fleet division was pretty much like any other, Rebecca mused as her ship slowed to come into the assigned orbit. A hundred odd ships in lazy orbit above hers. There were only a couple of squadrons of superdreadnoughts, but there were over 200 hundred such fleets. By that count, there would be more than 3200 superdreadnoughts alone. Just the idea that her own nation expected to challenge such might with what, less than six hundred super dreadnoughts split between Grayson, the Andermani, and Manticoran navies sounded like a boy scout troop taking on an all up Marine division.

“Captain, Ambassador Conrie wishes you to come down personally. Signals for you specifically.” Heinreid reported.

“Thank you Millie.” She turned, not noticing the flash of pleasure on the com officer's face as she thumbed the annunciator for flight ops.

“Flight ops, Lieutenant Suggins here.”

“Could you have my cutter prepped for a trip down to the capital?”

“At once, captain.”

“Thank you, Rebecca.” She said. “Commander?”

“Yes, Ma'am?” Gaelin asked.

“You have the con.”

She thumbed another button. “Yes, captain?” Kiel replied.

“I am heading down. Do you need to come down to your embassy?”

“Thank you, but no, Captain. We're already passing information between us and the embassy as we speak.”

“I expect a report if that is acceptable.”

“We are allies, Captain. Of course you will receive a report.”

“Thank you, Jinhua.” She stood, walking to her personal lift. She stepped off in the #2 hold, noticing that Oselli was talking with the flight crew. “What are you up to, Os?”

“Just asking the crew to pick up some things.” He dissembled.

She gave him an old fashioned look, then looked at the crew. “Feeling a need to stretch your legs, Rebecca?”

Suggins snapped to attention. “Just making sure nothing happens to you, ma'am.”

“That is all well and good, but I can't have my department heads doing the job of their juniors. I am sure you have at least fifteen pilots who could do this instead. Choose one for the next trip. If something happened to me on one of these trips who would command the squadron?”

“Put that way ma'am I have to agree. Mister Shan, call Lieutenant JG Haskell down to replace me.”

“I didn't mean this minute, Rebecca. But the next time.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” They boarded the cutter. The cargo hatch opened, and the small craft whispered out into the vacuum. It dropped like a homesick meteor, sliding into the entry lane smoothly. Landing was an elegant city of towering buildings usual on a world where contra gravity was common. She wondered why so many planets had a Landing, and it was almost always the capital. Of course the planet Boston had Plymouth Rock instead, which she had found, was because it was where the Pilgrims had landed in the New World in the 4th century Pre-Diaspora.

The Ambassador's limo was waiting, and they were whisked to the Embassy. Conrie was a heavy set man from Landing on Manticore, a career military officer holding the rank of Commodore, but doing a two year stint as an Ambassador. He welcomed her with a smile, the bristly beard making him look like a young Santa Claus. “A pleasure, Captain. I have dispatches that are addressed to you, and update information on the situation back home.” He motioned her to a seat, and a servant delivered coffee and sweet rolls.

“First less than 24 hours after you departed, we received word; Last month Admiral Crandall of the Solarian League Battle fleet attacked Spindle with 71 Superdreadnoughts and their escorts.”

Rebecca stiffened, but the Ambassador was still smiling. “71 super dreadnoughts, eight batlecruisers with escorting destroyers faced sixteen heavy cruisers firing Apollo pods. 23 superdreadnoughts were either destroyed or mission killed with the first 1500 pod launch. The remainder surrendered.”

For a long moment, Rebecca said nothing. The Royal Manticoran navy had not only defeated the assault, they had obliterated it! “I assume the Sollies aren't very happy with us then.”

“Things are still moving along, at least until Old Chicago comes up with their pravda.” At her confused look the Ambassador smiled. “Back in the first century Pre Diaspora, a science fiction writer went to another nation then called the Soviet Union as a tourist. When he and his wife returned, he wrote an article about the incident.

“There had been a diplomatic incident, and it took the nation he was in a week to come up with the 'truth',” He used his fingers to mimic quotation marks, “of what had occurred. In the Russian language the word pravda means truth, and the Sollies are still trying to explain what happened in New Tuscany, so we may have months before they declare what is Pravda about Admiral Crandall's attack.”

He handed her a small stack of chips. “The mail for the Sonderman squadron. Also the Sollies on the local level are at it again. Under our original agreement with the Sollie government, our units have been buying their food on the local economy. But Sonderman, is refusing to sell wheat or flour to our ships, instead they are supposed to buy bread already baked.

“We think the local system is playing silly buggers just because they can. So you will have to buy flour, sugar, whole grain and yeast here to deliver.” He handed her a credit chip. “3'0,000 dollars; it should be enough to cover it all. If it is not, you are authorized to spend your ship's discretionary funds, and will be reimbursed when you report it.”

Her mind went over the figures, and came up confused. “Sir, the amount is a bit much. What do they need that is going to cost that much? Raw wheat isn't that expensive, neither is flour.” He handed her of all things, a list of a dozen different grains. Rye, wheat, barley she had heard of. But what the hell was spelt? For that matter what was Amaranth and Zamfir? She motioned toward them.

“Zamfir is indigenous to Zeta 2 Riticulae. Amaranth is indigenous to Central America on Earth. Spelt is a hexaploid type of wheat indigenous to Europe.”

“So the commander of the Sonderman station is what, a health nut?”

“Truer words were never spoken. Captain Cleary of HMS Daedelus came home from his last leave with an entire list of different dishes for pasta and bread. His significant other swears by them, and he's at least showing willing.”

Showing insanity can be caught from your loved ones, she thought. “Very well, sir.” She stood, shaking his hand, and left. She handed the chip off to Ensign Tregant, who had come as an impromptu aide de camp. “Fill this list out. Before I head back up I'll have a cargo shuttle down to pick it and you up.”

“Yes, ma'am.” He put it in his handcomp. Captain-”

“Don't ask, Mr. Tregant.” She boarded her cutter, and went back up to the ship, passing the cargo shuttle dropping past them.

Secrets

Gaelin looked up as she came onto the bridge. “Captain, something odd.”

“Well don't make me play 20 questions, Number One.”

“After you left, we received a signal from one of the destroyers in orbit, SLNS Yellowlees.”

“All right, I'll bite. What was the message?”

“That is where it became odd, Captain. When I told them you were not aboard, her captain asked that you check operation Amistad in our ONI database. I took one look, and backed out as fast as I could.”

Intrigued, she took her seat, and typed in the word Amistad.

WARNING! CAPTAIN'S EYES ONLY. UNLESS THE CODE WORD IS GIVEN BY A SOLARIAN NAVAL OFFICER OR NAVAL ATTACHE, YOU WILL IGNORE IT, AND NOTIFY ONI IMMEDIATELY!

“I see where odd is a good term.” She commented. “I will be in my office.” She walked to the left and dropped down to the quarter's deck, nodding to the Marine at her door.

She paused as a ringing sound came from the pantry. A ball with a bell in it rolled across the deck, followed by an ecstatic Irene. She batted the ball several times, then pounced, rolling in her delight. She saw Rebecca, picked up the ball in her mouth, and ran to the woman.

“Hello, fur ball.” She commented, walking to her desk. Oselli came out of the pantry, and smiled.

“What is this?” She held up the ball, then hissed as Irene started to scale Mt Duvalier again. She caught the little monster, then put her on her shoulder, where she meowed plaintively for her toy.

“That is a lattice ball with a bell in it.” He replied. She closed her eyes. She had a wicked temper, and her father, to teach her to master it, had taught her how to count to ten in Scot's Gaelic. When that had not been enough, he had taught her first Irish Gaelic, then Welsh Gaelic before she had learned to master it. She blamed her wicked sense of humor on that training.

“I can see what it is, Os. But I don't remember a ball with a bell in it as listed among her toy-” She looked at him. “You didn't.”

“Well I thought she might like some more toys along with some cat food. It really isn't good to feed her human food all the time, so I asked your cutter crew to pick a few things up.”

“A few things.” She repeated. “And what pray tell were these few things?”

“Oh a 25 kilo bag of dry cat food, four cases of assorted single serving wet foods, cat litter for her box and a few toys.”

“And what made you think I wasn't planning on merely taking the little monster down to the planet and turning it over to the local animal control?” She asked mildly.

He gave her a look like a monk who had just seen the bishop spit in the holy water font. “You would never do such a thing, Captain.”

She sighed. “No, Os, I'm not dumping her in Solarian space. After all, we're still relatively cordial, and I don't want the blame I'd get if I let her loose on an unsuspecting world. I'll just keep her around until we get back to Gryphon and she can join the other two hundred odd furry freeloaders at Grand Aunt Grace's place. But pandering to the little fur ball stops now.” She sat. “Get me a beer, Os, I need it.”

The instant she sat the cat was in her lap, purring as she kneaded Rebecca's thigh. “Stop it.” She lifted the, holding it with her hands under the forelegs. “I am immune to your charms.” She told the kitten. It replied by licking her nose. She sighed, setting it in her lap, then flinched as it climbed to her shoulder. She idly tossed the ball, and Irene leaped from her shoulder to follow it. When the cat returned, she flung the ball away again, repeating as needed. She typed in Amistad, then keyed it for captain's access. She read for several minutes, then keyed her com. “Yes ma'am?” Heinried asked.

“Contact SLNS Yellowlees with a whisker laser, Millie.”

“Yes ma'am. Please hold.”

With less than half a light second between them, it didn't take very long. The officer that answered merely said, “Wait one.” And she found herself facing a man perhaps five years her junior in the uniform of a Solarian commander.

“Captain, I am Captain Rebecca Duvalier of HMS Witch Maiden.”

“Matthew Surtees.” He introduced himself. “I believe you have read the file I requested?” She nodded. “I am a member of the group mentioned in that file.”

“I understood that after I had read it.”

“If you will, we can meet here.” He touched a control, and a chart notation came up on her screen. “I will be there for the next 24 hours. May we expect you?”

“Yes. As to whom I can tell, my own file is vague.”

“You are allowed to tell your executive officer if they are to be trusted, but no one else. The fewer who know, the longer the secret will keep.”

“Agreed. See you then.”

Yellowlees clear.” The screen cleared.

She considered, then touched the annunciator. “Number One, come to my office please.” She leaned back, then noticed the moisture beaded beer stein beside her. She lifted it, drinking the smooth beer. It was one she had not tried before, but she smacked her lips as she lowered the glass. Her door annunciator buzzed, and she tapped it. “Yes?”

“The Exec is here, ma'am.”

“Send him in.” The door snapped open. “Have a seat, Gaelin. Os! We need-” His pantry opened, and she smiled at the two steins on his tray. “Perfect, Os.” He picked up her empty stein, passed out the two he had, and set a tray of nibbling foods on the desk.

“Before we go any further, Gaelin, this is covered under Operation Brown. While I am allowed to give you part of what is covered, you will not be able to access all of it until you are yourself a captain.” She glared as Irene leaped on the desk, hooked two pieces of roast beef with a paw, and dived for cover. “Is that understood, Number One?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

She nodded. “Four and a half years ago, Catherine Montaigne, then still Countess of the Tor returned to the Star Kingdom after a self imposed exile. That return led to the Manpower Scandal.”

Gaelin grinned savagely. The fact that several members of both houses of parliament had been buying genetic slaves, despite the Cherwell Conventions had rocked the kingdom to it's foundations. Only swift damage control had stopped it from bringing the High Tower government down. “Remind me to send a personal thank you card.” She knew how Gaelin would feel; his grandfather had been a slave rescued from a slaver almost 50 years earlier.

“Send one to Anton Zilwicki when you do, same address.” Irene was back in her lap, and meowed imperatively. Without looking away from the conversation, she picked up a thin slice of Camembert, which the cat accepted as her due. “Due to her connections to the Anti-Slavery League, and the Audubon Ballroom, she had access to a lot of information on the Genetic slave trade. With the assistance of Zilwicki this gave an in depth look into the operations of Manpower and Mesa throughout human space. For obvious reasons, they were not going to give this to the Janacek Admiralty. Right before she was assigned to Marsh Station, Dame Honor Harrington was handed this information.

“Dame Honor created her own operation, code named Wilberforce. Her intent was to make a serious dent in Manpower's operations in Silesia and the Anderman Empire. After the second battle of Sidemore and the collapse of the High Tower government, she handed her information to Admiral Givens. The admiral broke the data down into several different operations; Operation Brown, which is the overall code name, Operation Wilberforce in Silesia and the Anderman Empire, Operation Tubman for agents on Mesa itself, Operation Turner for the Republic of Haven, Operation Spartacus for contacts within the government of Beowulf, and operation Amistad for contacts within the Solarian Navy.

“The plan is to end Genetic slavery within our lifetimes.”

Gaelin sipped his beer. “A bold plan. So this captain is a member?”

“Yes.” They want us to go here.” She handed him the astrographic coordinates; less than three hours from Leastway. “Here is where we will meet SLNS Yellowlees.”

“Do we know why?”

“No, if Amistad is initiated, we're not supposed to ask. But we go in fully ready to fight, in case Mesa has penetrated the operation. We can handle a destroyer easily.”

“Assuming that is all that is there.”

“There is that.” She agreed. “Leave it alone, you scamp!” She shouted. Irene had snagged another piece of roast beef, and the cat dived below the desk with her prize.

“Any questions, Number One?”

“No, Ma'am.”

“Then as soon as the cargo shuttle is aboard, we're outward bound.”

He snapped to. “Oh, captain? I did some research. Irene is not a Persian cat.”

“Excuse me?”

“Persians have flat faces. Irene has fine features like a Siamese. Also, her blue eyes are also an indicator.” He pointed below the desk. “Irene is a Turkish Angora. Which makes it even more fun.”

“Fun?”

“In the 1st century Pre-diaspora, an author named Ian Fleming created a character named James Bond. His primary opponent for several books was a man named Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of a secret organization named Spectre. When they made video representations, Blofeld was almost always shown as a man in a gray suit with a Nehru Jacket, and petting a Turkish Angora cat.”

She looked down at the little monster. Now that she thought of it, the cat had a stereotypical cat's head without the squashed face of a Persian. Irene looked up, inhaled the beef she had stolen, and began to purr. She had seen the holo-movies of the James Bond series, and could see the resemblance.

“Great, not only do I have a cat, but the damn thing makes me the bad guy.”

Gaelin tossed a salute then left. She finished the vegetables, then shared the half dozen pieces of meat remaining with her own furry minion.

Sub rosa

Space flared as HMS Witch Maiden dropped out of hyper. Her crew was at Condition 2, half of the energy mounts manned, half of the indigenous squadron ready to launch, the pod launching system up and ready to roll. As the scan cleared, Diedre Hughes spoke. “Contact! War Harvest class destroyer, ID SLNS Yellowlees designated Alpha one. Contact, merchant ship, Godfrey class, designated Alpha two.” Her team marked both for destruction.

The situation was tense, but her crew was coming together.

“Signal from SLNS Yellowlees.” Heinreid reported.

“Pipe it in, Millie.”

The main screen lit. Surtees looked out of the screen. “Captain Duvalier?”

“Captain Surtees.”

“If you would bring a Marine team aboard our prize, we can explain.”

“Understood. Are you going to be there?”

“Yes, Captain. I can't wait to meet you in person.”

“See you in a few.” Rebecca told him. Then she keyed her intercom.

“Flight ops.”

“Prep a pinnace, Rebecca. Full Marine Combat team.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

The pinnace approached the merchantman, settling against the docking port. Sergeant Major Carlyle went first, his fifty men and women following with the lethal grace of professionals. He scanned the interior as his people ran down the passageways checking. After all, it could still be a trap. Once he had their reports, he signaled. Rebecca joined them. Her eyes locked on the wide passageways leading into the cargo bay, then on the two Solarian officers that awaited her. Surtees was short, a heavy set man a few centimeters shorter than her own 1.5 meter height.

“A slaver.” She hissed.

“Yes, captain. We caught her when she came into Leastway a week ago. She was stopping to check on the status of your ships in Sonderman. A full load, 3,000 slaves, fifty crewmen.”

“A handsome prize.” She looked at the second officer. He looked like what central casting would send over for a heroic Naval officer. Blonde hair falling in a tail down his back.

“My apologies. My exec, Lieutenant Duncan Railsbach of Beowulf.”

Railsbach stuck his tongue out at her, and for a moment, she was disturbed. Then she saw the genetic code imprinted on that member. This man had at one time been a genetic slave.

“Don't feel too depressed about what I must have suffered, captain.” Railsbach said with a laugh. My 'mother' was rescued by Beowulf's Biological Survey Corps when I was still less than four years old. But you can feel all the pity you want for her. We were both 'pleasure line' slaves.” His eyes hardened with the last sentence. The pleasure lines were supposedly created and came out of the vat ready to satisfy every desire on command. Of course there was no way to genetically code either skill or docility. That was 'trained' into them, both male and female; if you want to justify several years of beatings and rape by calling it 'training'.

Rebecca nodded. “But you didn't space them and free the slaves?”

“No. The president of Sonderman is working with Mesa. If we turned them over to the authorities, it would be the slaves being spaced so he could use 'lack of evidence' to have the crew freed. So we waited for your arrival.” Surtees shrugged. “It's going to cost us a good chunk of prize money, but we're turning her, the slaves and the crew over to you.”

“I don't know what the navy will do.” Rebecca said. “But I swear I will make sure you do not lose monetarily because of this.”

“We knew that.” Surtees said. He handed her a data chip, then grinned. “Their own records. Saves culling the goats from the sheep.”

“Thank you.”

“We're headed to Sonderman next. Perhaps we can meet for the first time and have dinner when you arrive.”

“If that doesn't blow your cover, captain, I would be honored.” She shook hands with both of the men, then watched as the Sollie Marines followed their captain onto their own pinnace.

She inspected the 3 megaton freighter. Given the name Gloria by her owners, the ex-slaves had requested that she be renamed Harriet Tubman. Conditions were poor, but being able to spread into the now disabled clearing/ murder areas gave them adequate space. Food on the other hand was horrific. While the 'crew' had been dining well, their 'passengers' (she refused the Mesan term Cargo) had subsisted on a diet that livestock would have accepted, but a human being should not have to endure.

She ordered that enough decent supplies for a week to be shipped over, though it would be almost three weeks supply for her own ship. However she could have a local Ambassador pay to replace the supplies she was giving away. Marcus Danials was a bit disturbed when she spoke to him, but that could wait.

Then she rode back to the ship with a third of the marines, and the first of the prisoners. She swam the tube, idly saluting the boat deck officer, and found herself corralled by Danials.

“Ma'am, we have a discrepancy in our supplies.”

“Can this wait, Marcus?”

“Well it can...” His voice was mild, but for a mere bean counter that tone was the equivalent of a screaming fit.

“Walk with me and explain.” She walked to the personnel lift followed by the man.

“We picked up the grains as requested, and my clerks were checking it as it was divided for delivery to the picket ships. But we're missing some of it.”

“Missing? You mean it wasn't delivered?”

“No, ma'am. It disappeared after the cargo was checked by my department.”

“How bad is the shrinkage?”

“We picked up 5200 kilos of grains, 1100 kilos of sugar, and 22 cases of yeast. Yet 200 kilos of barley, a hundred kilos of sugar, and two cases of yeast are missing.”

“And does that amount, and what is missing suggest anything to you?” She smiled as she asked.

“Not really, ma'am.”

“My god, you have led a sheltered life, Marcus. Barley plus sugar plus yeast is what you make beer from. Someone aboard is obviously making their own.”

“But that's-”

“Against regulations, I know.” She considered. “Make a note for the log, I will check my own sources.”

“Yes, ma'am.” She got off at the berthing deck, Danials returning to his workspace. She nodded to the marine guard as she entered.

“Os?” The man popped out of the pantry.

“In your travels aboard ship, have you happened to see a brewing vat?”

“No, ma'am.”

All right, wrong question. Try this instead. Have you found beer that we did not load in our original stores?”

“Well, actually, yes I have.” He admitted.

“And why have you not told me about it?”

When I found this... beer, I had to test it to see if it was palatable.”

She crossed her arms, leaning against the desk. As she did Irene climbed her back to rest on her shoulder. “Of course you did.” She replied mildly. “And how was it?”

“You can answer that yourself.”

“You mean you gave me bootleg beer in my own cabin? Not only me but the Exec as well?”

“Yes, ma'am.” He replied blandly. “And how did you find it?”

“It was excellent beer, but that's not the point. Do you know who is making this beer?”

“Engineering rating third Dollaryde from Fusion 2.”

“And have you informed the Bosun, the Master At Arms, and the engineering officers of this?” She looked at his bland face. “Talk to me Os.”

“I think Lieutenant Tallyrand the watch officer in Fusion 2 found out about it first. But I know all of the officers you wish to have me inform have been apprised of the situation...”

“I hear a 'but' coming.”

“However, Commander Collins, Senior Chief Riley, and Chief Stapleton are all avid beer drinkers, as you and the Exec are.”

She looked at him for a long time. “Let me see if I have this right. Every officer that should have dealt with this before me is party to concealing it?”

“Well it is good beer, Ma'am.”

“All right, I give up. But if I have even one junior rating showing up for duty with beer on his breath, the whole lot of you will be in irons. Is that clear, Chief Steward?”

“Yes, ma'am.” He answered quietly.

“And tell that lot of reprobates that the ax hasn't fallen yet, but it might yet. Tell Dollaryde from me that he is to buy the ingredients out of his own pocket, not pilfer our own supplies.”

“He has been. In fact, he is not making any money on this venture. He takes what the crew pays for it, and uses it by putting in in the ship's discretionary fund when we buy our own supplies, merely adding his needs to the orders from where we are.”

She rubbed her face. “I'm not the captain of a ship, I'm running an extended day care service. Have someone inform Lieutenant Danials so he won't come and tell me that supplies are being pilfered again.”

“But Mister Danials is a wine drinker.”

“Then to get him on his good side, tell Dollaryde I am docking his pay for one full week to improve our supply officer's wine cellar. After all he seems to have found a way to convince every other senior officer to assist him. Either that or he shuts down business.”

“Yes ma'am.”

“That is all, Os.”

“Would the captain like another beer?”

She glared at him. “Yes, but don't push your luck.” She went to her desk, the kitten dropping into her lap. The regulations gave her some latitude, and since the rating had been turning out a consistently good product, and no one had either shown up drunk or poisoned, she could let it slide for now.

And, as she sipped the beer delivered, after all, it really was good beer.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-09-2012, 10:26 PM   #4
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Division

Lieutenant Michael Bond, enroute to the Capwell station near the middle of [i]Witch Maiden's[/] route snapped to attention in front of the Captain's desk. She leaned back, the white cat on her lap purring as she stroked it. The image reminded him of something, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember where the thought came from.

“Ah, Mister Bond.” She smiled, and again he was struck by deja vu. “We are assembling a prize crew for the slaver we were handed, and you have been chosen to command her. We've shifted enough decent food to keep you going until you reach Beowulf, where you can ask for assistance for resupply to her destination. Unless replaced, I expect they will have you take her all the way to Torch. You are the only officer not assigned directly to my ship, except for a snottie that was outward bound and been assigned as your third watch officer, with one of my own snotties taking second.”

“May I ask why I was given this command, Ma'am?”

“Ten years in the merchant fleet, and outstanding OERs, that is why, Mr. Bond.” Again she gave him that enigmatic smile. “Just as the midshipmen going with you come from merchant families where they were expected to work their way up through the ranks.” She handed him his orders. “Do not attempt to blow past either the Beowulf navy or our own picket. If asked, tell them that your own commanding officer,” she motioned to herself, “is consigning the ship under Code Amistad. No, you do not have the need to know for what that means. Will you accept this?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

She set the kitten aside, walked around the desk, and extended her hand. “Then good luck and god speed, Lieutenant.” Bond shook it. He left, and she returned to her desk.

She had started the next of the reports when the annunciator sounded. “Mister Tregant wishes to speak to you, captain.”

“Send him in.” The hatch opened, and the young man came in, snapping to attention. “Stand easy, Michael.” He relaxed into parade rest, still too formal to her mind. May I help you?”

“You can answer a question, ma'am.” He said stiffly. She leaned back, steepling her fingers. The kitten had her gotten her catnip mouse and bounded into Rebecca's lap. She had found it was hard to play the tough captain when a certain little fur ball thought you were her favorite play ground. “Michael, sit down and relax.”

“I'd rather stand, Ma'am.”

“You have a question?”

The boy, for he was only in his early twenties, (though fourth generation prolong made him look all of fourteen) fidgeted, then blurted out, “What have I done wrong, ma'am? Why are you sending me home?”

She tapped the stud on her desk. Oselli looked out of his pantry. “Two brandies, one small and one large.” The steward disappeared, then returned with the requested drinks. Once he had delivered them and returned to his pantry, she picked them up, shifting their placement so the large one was in front of the young officer. “Sip some of that, Michael.”

“Ma'am I'd prefer-”

That was not a request, Mister Tregant.” He looked as if he was going to refuse anyway, but angrily picked up the snifter, and took a healthy snort. Of course this caused him to choke and gasp, but she ignored this until he was able to breath normally again.

“You think you've done something wrong, that I am sending you home as too young to play with the big kids. Am I correct, midshipman?” He nodded, and she almost smiled at his expression. As much as he was trying to be the model officer he looked at the moment like a sulking boy; something she would not tell him, and smiling would have made him feel worse.

“Sit down. This time, it is an order.” The boy sat, face still white from the sting of the liquor. She came around the desk, then leaned her hip into it. “When this prize was handed over, I knew we'd need a prize crew. When I chose who would be on that prize crew I asked the department heads who would be best for the job. Not 'who can we do without' but who was best. Captain Bond needs two good officers to command the bridge watches, and those officers have to be competent for more than just standing the other watches; they have to know the ship as well as possible, and frankly without shorting either my own crew or the ships we're carrying replacements for, there was no 'good' decision.

“But when I asked, your name came up more often than Abigail Carruthers. While she had been skating because the crew hadn't been fully formed, you buckled down. You have been on this ship for three months before I came aboard, and you spent that time finding out what she can do. You've spent so much time doing it that the primary complaint against you by your senior officers is that you're going to burn yourself out before the end of the deployment.

“Every division from Deck to Tactical to Engineering has given you glowing recommendations. When you didn't know the answers, you asked or studied to find them.” She smiled. “Oh I am sure that there might be officers aboard who think buttering my bread for me is a good idea, but the Exec is not among them, and he was the first one I asked. He felt anyone who was willing to correct a senior chief in impeller two, and to be proven right, would make a fine officer down the line.”

“Well if Abbie is so incompetent, why not send her?”

“Oh I could have. But as I said, Bond needs the best we have. That is why I pulled a snottie from the outgoing replacements. When we reach Tidewater Abigail will be replacing him. You and he are both men with families in the merchant marine; his for three generations, yours for five. Both of you have spent half your lives in space on ships being groomed to eventually be captains of those merchant ships. You know more about cargo stowage than anyone except for four of our senior Quartermaster ratings, and all of them are three or four times your age.”

She let that sink in, picking up her own snifter and sipped. “As it is, I hate to lose you, but we're not making you work.” She waved when he started to reply. “Oh you bust your hump aboard. No one aboard works harder and you have impressed me every day. There are not enough hours in a day for you to do everything you think you should be doing, but a midshipman needs to learn to stretch himself. He has to be given challenges he has never faced to grow into his position.

“We all went through the same process, and assigning you here instead of a warship was doing you a disservice. We are not challenging enough for you here, except in tactical and maneuvering. The only challenges you faced here was being an officer telling crewmen what to do instead of doing it yourself. Oh Abbie can tell the senior rating to 'raise the flagpole', but you're quite beyond that stage. You can tell if a cargo has been loaded correctly without being told, and what impeller setting best from the point of economy.” She tapped his glass, and he numbly took another drink, but he'd learned, so this one was only a sip.

“So tell me, Michael. If you were sitting in my chair, who would you send? The one you think will slack off, or the one who is going to give 120% to succeed?”

He nodded. “When you put it that way...”

“I expect the Admiralty to either leave you on board until she is delivered to Torch, or grabbing you out of her to slap you onto a warship as soon as you reach home. With the efficiency report you'll have I expect the latter because we stressed all you do know, andwhat you can't learn here. You don't leave good officers on milk runs; not when you need to fill the crews of warships with the best. That efficiency report was written by me, and endorsed by every department head aboard, so no one in BuPers is going to assume you're an incompetent slacker.” She finished her drink, and at her motion, so did he.

“Any further questions?” He shook his head. “Then let me say again, I hate to lose you. But if Carruthers is to learn how to do it right, she can't have you answering her questions to make her look good. If you need someone to pity, think of her, because her work load just increased exponentially. She stood, and stuck out her hand. Tregant stood, taking it shyly. “Now go out there and prove all of us right, Michael. If someone suggests we dumped you like Irene was dumped on us, spit in their eye, and prove them wrong.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

Oh, and by the by.” She handed him a chip. “That is for the commander of our Beowulf station. Maybe they can find out who broke the regs.” As she said it, Irene went back to her favorite mountain climbing pass time. When the kitten had reached her shoulder she sighed, petting her idly. “I really want to know.” The last was said almost savagely.

The young man scratched the kittens head, chuckling. “I can do that little thing for you, ma'am. Should I consider taking her back with me as well?”

“No.” Rebecca looked at the purring fur ball. “Someone that cold doesn't deserve her. I'll just take care of her until I get home.”

He coughed, looking away. It looked like they'd need a crowbar to get the kitten off the ship. “Of course, ma'am.”

She gave him a minatory look. “I would like to think you're not being sarcastic to your captain, Midshipman.”

“Perish the thought, Skipper.”

“Then get your gear over to the [i]Tubman]/i].”

He snapped a salute, and left. She pulled the kitten down, holding her with her hands under the cat's forelegs. “You know you make me look like a marshmallow.” She sternly told the cat. All she got in reply was a purr.

Interrogation Andermani style

The crew of Witch Maiden watched their prize disappear into hyper, then went on their way, bound for Sonderman. Of the 800 odd replacements aboard, seventy enlisted personnel were going to that station to replace overly senior ratings along with nine ensigns, five lieutenants JG, and two lieutenants to replace officers that had been promoted.

The captain of a Queen's ship had broad power to authorize enlisted and noncom promotions, as long as they stayed within the establishment laid down by BuPers for that command; which was set by BuPers in their infinite wisdom; so many first class, so many chiefs, so many senior chiefs, and so on. If a promotion exceeded establishment, they were required to return the "overly senior" personnel to Admiralty control for reassignment as soon as possible. It was a pain in the posterior, but every officer knew it was also intended to prevent captains from showing too much favoritism.

Of course if that newly frocked senior chief was necessary to your command, you could try to have the establishment set aside. However it was all up to the bean counters back home.

If BuPers decided the person did not qualify, the only way they could rectify any mistake on the commander's part would be to reduce the returning ratings to what it considered appropriate rates, which would appear almost a demotion for cause. Oh, it wouldn't be called that in their personnel jackets and their reasoning would be listed, but that promotion then demotion would follow them for the remainder of their careers. Any officer who ever read those jackets would be likely to assume they had been promoted out of favoritism, and they'd have to work harder than anyone else to prove they hadn't. So it was something to be used sparingly.

At the same time some of those men and women had reached the level where they would normally be promoted even without such help from their captains, and a number of them, like the replacement officers, were there to replace people who had been promoted simply by seniority, which while not set in stone as it was from Captain of the list up, was still a factor. The senior of those two lieutenants was being delivered to replace a man due for promotion to lieutenant commander; too senior to leave as executive officer of a mere destroyer.

Then of course was the fact that half of the men being replaced were not going home for reassignment; they were instead being shuffled onto other ships of the stations still further on. When she picked up the new commander at Sonderman for example, that woman would only be going as far as Vespasian two stations along where she would replace the captain of one of their cruisers, and that man from Vespasian would go on to the end of the line; Shanghai, where he would assume command of the station.

This made her diversions from the levies more of a problem. She would either find a qualified officer in those being returned; who wouldn't mind a stopgap assignment in Sollie space, or give up one of her own, and since Bond had been a tac officer, it would have to be Diedre Hughes.

But JG Zachary, her second had proven to be a disappointment. As assistant tac officer, he was perfectly qualified on paper. But Hughes' reports on their last four simulations had shown a glaring lack; he tended to get flustered, forgetting to alter penaid settings in those longer and harder engagements, not changing the drive settings on one launch which in one case had caused the missiles they were firing to run out of drive far short of what they would have by setting the slower, long ranged settings.

Rebecca and her officers knew what their own missiles could do, and by using simulations created by the Andermani for their own less capable older missiles, were coming to grips with the straitened range limitations; just under twenty-seven million kilometers for the Andermani design compared to the sixty-five million of the full up MK 23s in her issue pods. Therefore instead of sucking an enemy unit into killing range, they had to assure that the enemy with their piddling range of only 7.5 million were dead before they could close.

But Zachary was treating them like Mk23s, so when in one engagement the pod launch rails had been declared out of action, he had instead dumped half a dozen Andermani Hammerflug einer (Hammer flight one, meaning first version) which had shown rare initiative, but had not taken into account that the enemy was just out of powered range for the shorter range missile. Two salvos, 120 missiles had been expended to no purpose; unless you count the multimillion dollar price tag for every missile and their pods. Then you were talking about waste.

Gaelin slipped Holmes another stalk of celery, shaking his head as he and his captain shared a working lunch that day. “Well we could stick Abigail in as tac third. As much as she tends to skate when the work load is light, she did pretty well at Saganami Island in her tactical classes.”

“That's all well and good, Number One.” She replied, handing Irene a sliver of bacon from her BLT. “But what do we do after Tidewater? She's gone to a new ship to replace, what's his name? Ramsey. So we hand them a snottie who is finally going to have to pull her weight, and dump carrying Zachary back on Diedre's shoulder between there and Capwell. If we could get one good JG out of Sonderman we could bump him over to, oh, engineering. He seems competent there.”

“He seemed competent in tactical if his file is accurate.”

There is that.” The annunciator rang, and she tapped the button. “Yes?”

“Commander Kiel to see you, Captain.”

“Send her in.” The hatch hissed open, and the woman strode in. Instead of the white of a dress uniform, she wore instead the midnight blue tunic over space-black trousers of an Andermani undress uniform. “Have you had lunch, Jinhua?”

“I have, Kapitain.”

“Something to drink perhaps?”

“If we still have some of Herr Dollaryde beer, yes, please.”

Rebecca smiled. “I expected you to find out about him. Let's say everyone is trying to make sure he doesn't blot his copybook before the deployment is over.”

“And as yours are doing that, my own herren are trying to gain his recipe, or at least trying to see if he has a proper doppelbock in his repertoire.” She nodded to Oselli, taking a sip of the foamy stein.

“I doubt you are here to admit to trying to steal a valuable secret from my ship. By the way, your report was interesting. I am going to forward it to the Admiralty at Quintain after our Sonderman stop.”

“Gutt.” She took the chair Rebecca motioned her toward, sitting primly. “As an ally, I came to request that you turn the interrogation of our prisoners over to my team for a short time.”

Rebecca felt her face stiffen, and saw an answering flinch from Gaelin. Oddly enough, Holmes merely kept chewing his celery blissfully. When it came to the 'severity' of interrogation of slavers or pirates, the Andermani had been accused of what amounted to atrocities in not only the Sollie press, but even back on Manticore. While it was true that a pirate or slaver had no rights under law after being caught, there were elements of society both at home and here in Sollie space that would throw out those convictions if any surviving pirate had ever reached another court alive.

“You mean those recordings that pop up from time to time.” The Andermani woman replied, taking a deep draught.

“Yes, to put it bluntly.”

“I expect and admire your bluntness, Kapitain.” “This is one of those recording, a full recording which has been shown to your own Admirals Caparelli and Givens before we sailed. I have queued it to the last three minutes so you can verify that it is a true recording.”

Rebecca took the chip, feeding it into her desk unit. The scene came up, and she winced. This was one of the recordings that had been released by the Landing Times back home about three months earlier. An unnamed cruiser had taken a slaver passing through the Gregor wormhole junction pretending to be a Sollie merchant ship. It ran for almost ten minutes of men being beaten, tortured, then spaced alive.

The scene before them was the last moments of pleading by the slaver's brutalized crew as they were dragged to the open airlock, men screaming for mercy as one by one they were thrown into a pile in the airlock, then the reading of their sentence of death before the hatch cut off their replies. A hard-faced junior lieutenant pushed the button, and a video camera outside on the hull showed bodies shot into space by the evacuated air.

Rebecca started to stop it, but Jinhua shook her head. “Wait for it, Kapitain.”

The scene cut back to the interior as the officer lowered his hand. "Und Schnitt! That' Verpackung S.-A.! " a voice from off scene shouted Rebecca was able to translate the terse German as, 'And cut, that's a wrap'. The officer tapped the hatch open, and she watched as the 'dead' slavers came out of the airlock, some rubbing parts of their bodies, and complaining about how the others had been a little too rough there. One of them had rubbed an arm, and a 'burn' on it peeled off as if it had been attached with glue rather than being inflicted. A woman came forward, and hugged one of the 'slavers', chattering gaily as he chided her about what they had done. The Andermani ratings and officers were offering drinks and snacks to the 'enemy' as she watched.

The recording stopped on that happy scene. Rebecca looked at Gaelin, at his cat, then at the Andermani officer.

“Our Emperor's father rescued the woman he would later make empress from a slaver in Silesia about eighty years ago when he as an Oberleutnant zur Raum, what you would call a lieutanant JG. After viewing the records of that ship, including the brutalizing acts of her crew, he spoke with his own father, then the Kronprinz, to come up with something so terrifying that slavers would give the Empire a wide berth. Between them, and with the permission of the Empress, they created operation Goebbels.

“They hired actors within the Empire, and when the next slaver was captured, they first dealt with the crew, then staged a scene not unlike what you have just witnessed. They shot scenes of the capture, including the 'execution' of the captain of that vessel, scenes of happy freed slaves, which were real, then the 'torture' of the crew for information before they were themselves 'executed' just as you saw there.” She saw the light dawn in her audience's eyes.

Suddenly Rebecca remembered her first deployment as a brand new midshipwoman to a cruiser assigned to Silesia. They had captured a small pirate in Walther, and had been headed for the planet at high speed when they had spotted an incoming Andermani destroyer. The captain had signaled the Andermani requesting that the ship take his captives into custody, as the Manticoran vessel was under orders to go on Schiller.

She has been with the marines sent to get them from the brig, and if being caught by the Maniticoran navy had been bad enough, when they heard they were going to turned over to the Andermani rather than Walther's governor had caused them to panic. They had literally begged not to be turned over, the surviving officer even implicating the governor is supplying their destroyed ship.

She had reported this information to the captain, who had reluctantly (At least she thought) agreed that they would hold onto the prisoners for a while longer. The additional evidence had been used to force the replacement and execution of the governor, and the ones who had helped with further information were instead sent to a Manticoran prison.

“I assume that captains assigned to Silesia know about this little charade?”

“Of course, Kapitain. We might have been on different side regarding what would become of Silesia, but we have never been adversaries when it came to how pirates and slavers should be dealt with. This,” She waved at the still paused recording, “has kept slavers out of our Empire, and limited the pirates we deal with in the space around our empire to the incredibly stupid.”

“You know, I hated Captain Keys when I saw one of those recordings afterward.” She mused. “So you are going to let them see one of these?”

“Oh we will not bother with that. With the help of your crew we will create one of our own right here.”

“With our help?” Gaelin asked.

“Yes. I watched you theater group when they performed that play right before we reached Leastway.”

Jessica had been surprised to discover that she had her own theatrical company, and their breadth of play was surprising. In the two plus weeks since they had left Manticore they had performed the Mikado and of all things, Hamlet. How those would help the Andermani was beyond her.

“One of your crew matches our slaver captain across the board. Height, weight, hair color and voice register. With your permission, your 1st Class Quartermaster Riley will be perfect.”


The fifty slavers had settled into sullen waiting. Under the Cherwell Conventions, none of them had rights. Oh the Manticorans had acted as if the Universal Rights of Man the Solarian League accepted were to be used, but not under the Conventions. One of the Manticorans with a treecat had circulated through the prisoners, asking if they had been well fed and well treated to this point. But soon the executions would begin.

There was a stir at the entrance to the gymnasium they had been using as a brig, and a stillness followed that stir. Every heart stuttered as they recognized those uniforms so unlike the Manticorans that had taken them prisoner. One of these new jailers stepped forward, a huge man of Asian descent, in a uniform that sent terror through them. He looked at them, then pointed at the Captain of the slavers. “You!”

Abigail Carruthers didn't really understand her orders. Though she did not know it, Quartermaster 1st Riley had compared her to a film actress named Margaret Dumont. While a prolific actress in her time, unfortunately she was best known for her straight woman roles in seven Marx Brothers movies. She was so perfect for the roles because she never really understood the jokes.

Because of that they had not tried to explain beyond the simplest scenario for the young woman. The exec had come down to explain.

“You are going to be part of this exercise, Midshipwoman.” the officer told her. “You will escort the prisoner and the Andermani men moving them. When they enter the interrogation room, you will close the hatch, and wait outside it. If you hear any screaming, you are to open the hatch. When you do, you will bite down on this capsule.” It was small, barely 12 millimeters long; a lozenge laying beside her tongue even now as two Andermani dragged the man toward her. All she could see of the man was his curly brown hair. They dragged him into the interrogation room, and the Andermani waved for her to stay outside as the hatch closed. Not sure what to do, She turned about face, her back to the hatch.

There was moaning, pleading from within. But her orders said screaming. Then a shout. “Sie Schweine, Sie denken, dass Raub recht ist?”

Now there was screaming. A man pleading, and she turned, hitting the button that would open the hatch. For a moment as it snapped open, she was wondering what was happening. One of the Andermani ratings was merely leaning against the bulkhead, watching as the other Andermani and a man she thought she recognized faced each other with paper in their hands.

“Please.” The man she was sure was a crewmember begged. “Please!”

“Ein Schwein mögen Sie doesn' t verdienen seine Männlichkeit!” The Andermani roared, and the man she was sure she recognized screamed as if in mortal agony.

She remembered her orders; If you hear any screaming, you are to open the hatch. When you do, you will bite down on this capsule. She bit down. The liquid had no taste she could sense, so why...

Her stomach roiled as if she had eaten a full meal, then as if she'd spent a day drinking. Between biting down on the capsule and what occurred next was less than five seconds. She had the sense anyone does when they feel nausea, and the sickening surge of their own stomach rebelling. Before she could do more she collapsed, vomiting. She fell to her knees, her stomach offering everything she had eaten in the last 24 hours. Hell, she thought as she vomited helplessly, everything for the last week!

She heard the hatch close, then hands dragged her from it, even as she continued to vomit until only bile came up.

A hand caught her face, and she heard the Ship's doctor Lieutenant Jeffereys say, “Drink.”

“I... Oh god, I can't-”

Damn it, drink!” She felt a cup against her lips, and cool water filled her mouth. Her stomach rebelled even as he forced her to drink, but water, it seemed, was what her body wanted. As if by magic. Her stomach settled.

In the Captain's office, the scene was being watched. “So it begins.” Jinhua whispered. On screen. A man was dragged to the airlock, an obvious blood trail coming from his groin, then was just as obviously spaced.

“Have at, commander.” Rebecca ordered.

She smiled, then took the lift down. There was an obvious blood stain she stepped over, entering the interrogation room. The slaver's captain looked up as the Andermani officer entered the compartment. Jinhua sat, then signaled. The man stared as his 'torture and execution' played out on the video screen.

Jinhua lit a cheroot, blowing a smoke ring. “There are only three ways you will leave this compartment alive, my friend. The first is if you stand on those Universal Rights of Man you claim for yourself as you deny it for the slaves you carry. In that case my assistant Herr Gruber will come in. He will determine what chemicals will not work, and he will use those we know will work to drain that brain of yours of all we consider valuable. He will use them, one after another until we know everything you do.

“However we have discovered that some of the chemicals combine... badly. If we were patient, I am told, we could use every one of them on you in sequence over as period of weeks with no harm. But this is not the time for patience on our part. Such a course will leave you a mindless vegetable, and your execution will be a blessing.

“The second is if you lie to us and we discover nothing of value in your worthless head. In other words, you have caused us to waste our time. We will assure you have a mind remaining, but there is a catch; we will use a mild hypnotic that will make you compliant, and while the rest of your crew is handed over to the prison they will see you, happy and safe being moved to the next port of call as if free.” Jinhua blew a stream of smoke toward the air return.

“We wait a few days, then release you as if you had been a real help to our investigations. We have used this method in the Empire for over a century. The record for such a traitor's survival is eleven T hours. Pleading that we, the horrible neo-barbs had set you up is never accepted.

“The last assumes you wish to live a full life, Mein Freund.” She smiled. “You tell all you know, even if you admit to knowing nothing. Of course we do use chemicals to prove you do not lie, but no more. You receive a sentence of life, but it is in a Manticoran prison, with all the comforts an effete Solarian would expect. It may take what used to be considered a full human lifetime before you achieve parole, but you do have that chance.”

She smiled benignly. “At least if you begin talking in the next thirty seconds.”

The slaver crew, after witnessing the 'execution' were divided using the records the Sollies had supplied into sheep and goats. Then they were questioned singly. Five of them had been ordinary spacers who had not known what type of ship had hired them. None had taken advantage of the slaves, and some of the slaves had recorded the kind treatment those five had at least tried to offer before departing. Only seven others, all senior officers and ratings had any information of value, and were locked away in the brig. The rest were spaced after a trial and a pulser dart in the back of the head. Dumping them in hyperspace meant they would be lost forever.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-18-2012, 11:24 PM   #5
The_Catto
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It took me a little bit to get into the story, but after three quarters of the first chapter, I couldn't stop reading. I really like the idea of the Holmes and Irene. It's as if they are familiars, and I wonder whether or not they'll stay for the majority, if not the rest of the text.

The part about Dollaryde brewing the beer was hilarious. How everybody knew but not saying anything just because it was so damn good, haha. Outstanding!

I tried to find technical errors (note: tried) but all I found were just the slight misplacements of ']' instead of '[' and the like.

Halfway through the second chapter you have [i]Witch Maiden]/i], the start of the fourth you have [i]Witch Maiden[/] and halfway through the fourth you have [i]Tubman]/i]...
See, the most minor of errors. All that I could find. And I did try, haha.

Anyway... It's a good read and I am looking forward to how it develops. How Rebecca grows as a Captain now that she has the most important command of her career. All that responsibilty can take a toll, but she seems to be handling pretty good so far.

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Old 02-20-2012, 06:43 AM   #6
machievelli
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Catto View Post
It took me a little bit to get into the story, but after three quarters of the first chapter, I couldn't stop reading. I really like the idea of the Holmes and Irene. It's as if they are familiars, and I wonder whether or not they'll stay for the majority, if not the rest of the text.

The part about Dollaryde brewing the beer was hilarious. How everybody knew but not saying anything just because it was so damn good, haha. Outstanding!

I tried to find technical errors (note: tried) but all I found were just the slight misplacements of ']' instead of '[' and the like.

Halfway through the second chapter you have [i]Witch Maiden]/i], the start of the fourth you have [i]Witch Maiden[/] and halfway through the fourth you have [i]Tubman]/i]...
See, the most minor of errors. All that I could find. And I did try, haha.

Anyway... It's a good read and I am looking forward to how it develops. How Rebecca grows as a Captain now that she has the most important command of her career. All that responsibilty can take a toll, but she seems to be handling pretty good so far.
You know if the bloody system would just leave italics alone, I'd be happy.

Next part coming right up


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
machievelli is offline   you may: quote & reply,
Old 02-20-2012, 07:06 AM   #7
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Sonderman

The ship dropped out of hyper, and began to move toward Sonderman. It was the capital of the sector, as every Manticoran station within Sollie space was. Per her instructions, Rebecca deployed a shell of GhostRider recon drones with their FTL commo locked down, using just light speed whisker lasers to report. Like all of the sector capitals, there was a reserve mothball fleet, and her drones were focused on both that fleet and local shipyard. The ship herself moved inward, moving at a slug-footed 100gs speed.

The Sollies had a strange dichotomy of what their fleet deployed, and what the Sollies could deploy. The People's Republic of Haven, first under the Legislaturists, then the Committee for State Security had been able to buy technology equal to what Manticore had deployed. But that same quality had not often been issued to either Battle Fleet or Frontier fleet. This meant that while (so far) an entire task force has been destroyed along with all of Admiral Byng's task group captured, there was better tech out there.

So some of those worlds would might detect these drones, but the self-destruct protocols should still work if someone tried to capture them.

In the makeshift equivalent of CIC, Commander Kiel along with her own crew examined that floating mothball fleet. Over half of Battle Fleet's strength rested safely in mothballs as their commanders sat on some beach accruing seniority.

“No activity so far.” Diedre Hughes reported.

“Ah, but look, lieutenant.” Kiel said, highlighting a ship that was not part of that silent flotilla. “An Asimov class tender. The class used to survey the storage fleets for readiness.”

“What would that readiness state be?” Rebecca asked from the bridge.

“Low, for this specific fleet anchorage.” Kiel replied. “Scientist class superdreadnoughts. From what we've seen, they still have auto-cannon point defense. Nazareth class battlecruisers, almost a century old. Rickover class heavy cruisers the same age, Lancelot class light cruiser over fifty years old, and some of the first Rampart class destroyers, not even equal to your ships of the first Haven war. With the local infrastructure they would need to spend an estimated six months to bring these ships up to modern standards.”

Rebecca nodded to herself. “We'll be sure to pass that on. Is Yellowlees in system, Number One?”

“Five hundred kilometers above, and three hundred ahead of our assigned orbit, ma'am.”

“We have data to pass back to them from the interrogations.” She tapped the annunciator for CIC again. “Commander Kiel, suggestions on where we can meet?”

“The Sollies have the same rule your own Navy does. If we meet him even by accident, you must file a field incident report.” Gaelin groaned, and Rebecca had to agree. To maintain security any serving officer was required to file a field incident report when they had personal contact with officers of opposing nations. Rebecca honestly believed that the fifteen page document was created with the very idea that a serving officer should keep to his own. God alone knew she'd filed maybe half a dozen of them in her time dealing with the Andermani before the alliance, Silesians, and Sollies.

“Well it is their problem, not ours.” Rebecca laughed. “We're contacting them under Operation Amistad. So let's pick a good restaurant and I'll buy dinner to make up for it.”

“Might I suggest Gianello's?” Kiel suggested.

Rebecca blinked. “You know an Italian restaurant on Sonderman?”

“May I be frank, Captain?” Kiel asked.

“Please, commander.”

“One type of food that is rare in the Empire is Italian. It seems our first Emperor did not like Italian food. Yet I rather enjoy it. When I was assigned, I had our intelligence list every decent Italian restaurant on our path.”

“A true intelligence officer.” Rebecca commented drily. “So once we achieve orbit we invite him and his exec to dinner?”

“That would probably set off alarms in Sollie ONI.” Kiel demurred. “However if we send a message suggesting they be at Gianello's say on the next Friday...”

Rebecca nodded. “Agreed, commander. I happen to love Italian.”

*****

Once in orbit, the cargo shuttles of Witch Maiden went into action. The ship carried more than the 300 pods to be delivered; she also carried several hundred thousand tons of parts to keep this station operational. The Giselle class fleet tenders were an attempt at a full scale repair ship writ small, and due to the tonnage limit, they were at best half-assed. The ships did not carry enough stores to do their jobs for very long. The primary reason why supply ships (such as Witch Maiden was pretending to be) carried stores was to alleviate that problem. She delivered alpha and beta nodes for their charges, new infusions for their hydroponic units, but that wasn't her most important cargo.

Leisure time had always been a problem in space travel. Like being assigned to the old fashioned wet navy submarine, all you had to see was the interior of the vessel for (back then) months of time.

On space craft even from the start it had been as bad if not worse. The original designers of the first American space capsules had not even bothered to put in a window so the pilot could see space! Of course those same designers had considered the pilots to be redundant.

The first manned mission to land on Mars in the 1st Century Post Diaspora had been a horror for the crew studied even now; Almost a T year locked in a metal can with fifteen other people to look at and sporadic contact with Old Earth had almost induced what had once been called cabin fever, from stories of people jammed into a log cabin in the dead of winter with no entertainment at all.

The next mission had taken that into account. Any entertainment that didn't end up with administrative punishment, the ever present 'Captain's Mast' was pretty much allowed. Books, videos both motion picture and copies of broadcast shows were supplied. Rebecca's action regarding the brewery was within the regs as long as the strictures she had mentioned were followed.

18 centuries had not changed that. In fact the entertainment offered blossomed. Larger warships, Battlecruisers or larger found themselves forming small bands, dance teams, and even theatrical companies as was aboard Witch Maiden.

Books, games from simple board game up to computer simulations were shared. A dozen books from Rebecca's own library had been among this unofficial trade, along with Dollaryde's beer, was a commodity worth trading. The squadron allowed visits from the local squadron so they could feel the gravity they were used to, and air that felt real without dropping to the surface of Sonderman.

What should have been a week grew until it filled almost three, but Rebecca could not see a reason to refuse them.

Palimpsest

After almost 3 weeks, Rebecca was eager to move on. There were no remaining stores to move, no stores left to trans ship. She was ready to move on to new stations. She noted the arrival of the local courier without recording it mentally.

She had made her manners not only with the squadron, but even with the Sollies. She had 'been there, done that' beyond what her orders had assumed.

The annunciator from CIC sounded, and she thumbed it idly. “Captain here.”

“Captain, will you meet me in your office?”

She paused. “Of course, Commander Kiel.” She replied. “Number One, you have the con.” She stood, walking to the lift. She dropped to the berthing deck, saluting her Marine guard. Commander Kiel stood beside him and followed as she walked into the office.

“We're out of here in half an hour, Commander. Be brief.” Rebecca ordered.

“Have you read the letters sent to you from the courier, Kapitain?”

“I have not.” Rebecca replied.

“I would ask that you do.” Kiel said woodenly. “I received a message regarding it.” She leaned forward pushing the annunciator button for the steward. “Two large brandies, please.” She ordered Oselli, then looked at Rebecca. “Please indulge me, Captain.”

Rebecca sighed, then keyed the message queue. The first letter was from her brother, a short note mentioning that he was being reassigned to Home Fleet, and when he would arrive, which had been dated almost a month earlier. There was also an attachment of almost two gigs made up of permanent document files of books he had found she might want to read. “All right, I have read it.”

“Please bring up the first book and open it.”

“I do not have time for this right now, commander.”

“It is important.” Jinhua picked up her brandy, and sipped it.

She tapped that file, named The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was an old favorite, and she wondered why Tommy would have forgotten that. “I still fail to see why this is important at this very moment.”

“It is a message sent with a special coding sequence created by the Empire called Palimpsest, coming from your ONI. Put in your brother's middle name using the Find option.”

She harrumphed, typing in the name. “I know there is no one named Patrick in the...” When her finger hit the find button, the screen suddenly jumbled, then came up with something new.

TO; CAPTAIN HMS WITCH MAIDEN
FROM: DIRECTOR ONI

HOME SYSTEM WAS ATTACKED WITHOUT WARNING BY PERSONS AS YET KNOWN, AIMING AT OUR DOCKING AND PRODUCTION FACILITIES. THEIR ATTACK WAS DEVESTATING, AND EXCEPT FOR THE PERSONNEL OF WEYLAND IT WAS A TOTAL SUCCESS. STATIONS HEPHAESTUS AND VULCAN WERE DESTROYED WITH ALL HANDS INCLUDING TRANSIENTS.

THE DISPERSED YARDS IN GRYPHON WERE ALSO A TARGET, AND AGAIN, DESTRUCTION WAS TOTAL. DEATH TOLL STILL NOT COMPLETED, BUT EXPECTED TO BE EIGHT MILLION OR MORE, 0VER HALF OF WHOM WERE RMN PERSONNEL AND DEPENDENTS.

WITH THE POSSIBLE THREAT OF YET ANOTHER ATTACK FROM THE SOLARIAN LEAGUE, WE FACE OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE. YOU WILL INFORM COMMANDER OF THE SQUADRON AT YOUR PRESENT LOCATION AND YOUR CREW. THE FOLLOWING FILES USING THE ANDERMANI CODING OPTION PALIMPSEST IS A LISTING OF DEAD AND WOUNDED FROM THAT ATTACK. EXCEPT FOR FILE PRINCE CASPIAN WHICH IS PERSONAL.

MESSAGE ENDS

“Oh my god.” She turned numbly to her intercom. “First Officer to my office, immediately. Lieutenant Heinreid, send the following message via whisker laser to HMS Vicarious.” She tagged the file she was reading along with the unopened files.

There was a long pause. “My god, Captain. Sending now.”

The door annunciator sounded. “First officer to see you, Captain.”

“Send him in.” She opened the file marked Prince Caspian, and again input her brother's middle name. She stared at the screen as the blood drained from her face.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?” She looked up, seeing the concern that appeared on his face, Holmes suddenly whimpering. She minimized the file she had just opened, and motioned for him to come around her desk. He looked at the message, his eyes first widening, then hardening. Then she keyed up the personal. “Oh Jesus.” He whispered. “I'm so sorry, ma'am.”

“Get us out of the system, Number One. I think I need some time alone.”

“I'll see to it, Rebecca.” He squeezed her shoulder, and marched out. She stared at the screen as if it would clear and none of the tragedy would exist, even though she knew it would still be there.

TO: BARONESS DUVALIER
WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR BROTHER THOMAS PATRICK DUVALIER, AND YOUR FATHER ROBERT MICHAEL (3RD BARON) DUVALIER WERE BOTH KILLED IN THE ATTACK ON HMS HEPHAESTUS.

YOU HAVE OUR CONDOLENCES FOR YOUR LOSS.

There was another message in the queue, and she opened it. Michael Tregant had just sent a quick note; Bupers had assigned him to HMS Hexapuma still undergoing repairs at Hephaestus...

Something nudged her hand, and she look blankly at the snifter before picking it up. The brandy burned a line of fire down her throat. She looked at Kiel, who still sat there, her own snifter empty. “Is there something else, Commander?”

The woman held out her glass, and Oselli poured. “My father was the admiral in command of the 3rd superdreadnought squadron. His ship, IANS Seydlitz was docked at your Vulcan station when that attack occurred. I also lost two of my older brothers in the Battle of Manticore. Unlike you, that leaves my oldest brother Sun Chi still alive.” She rolled the glass around in her hands. Then she raised it. “To our honored dead.”

They both sipped the brandy. “Os, have you ever seen me drunk?”

For a moment, she wondered if he would tell her he was also sorry, but that did not happen. “I have yet to have that privilege, ma'am.”

“Well you will if you don't leave. Leave the bottle. In fact break out the 25 year old Scotch my father-” she choked on the word. “-my father sent with me and leave it here as well.”

Going on

The first thing she noticed was that her back was cold. Her mouth tasted as if she had been drinking industrial waste. She was lying on her side, her arm draped around someone, Irene cuddled against the back of her head. She opened her eyes, seeing a foaming mass of black hair less than five centimeters from her eyes as her hand discovered the other person she was hugging so possessively was also a woman who had stolen all of the covers.

They were both at least partially dressed, she wore her uniform trousers and undershirt, Jinhua still wore her shift, but nothing else. She didn't remember taking anything off, nor much of the past... she turned her head and looked at the chronometer, eighteen hours.

She sat up to avoid disturbing either of her bed mates, and looked around blearily. It looked like her closet had partially exploded, discarded clothes scattered everywhere. Now her head was throbbing from the hangover, and she climbed to her feet somehow. She only had a hangover when she drank a lot, and sharing one half bottle of brandy and liter of scotch shouldn't be enough to give her one.

There were four empty bottles on the floor. Brandy, scotch, a bottle of T Bourbon, and some kind of Andermani Schnapps lay there like the dead soldiers they were. On her night stand sat two glasses of water, and two headache powders. She picked up one with a shaking hand, emptying it into a glass, and chugged the pain reliever down.

“You snore.” She looked to Jinhua, who had rolled over, looking up at her. “And you are a very affectionate bed mate. Is there one of those for me as well?”

Rebecca handed the other glass to the woman, who took the remedy with the same economy she had shown knocking back Scotch, whiskey and Schnapps. “That may be, however I found that you hog the covers.”

“Better than curling up like a hibernating Potsdam Uber-Bear.” Jinhua looked at the chronometer. “I believe we indulged ourselves a bit much last night.”

“More over indulged, Jinhua.” Rebecca gestured to the floor.

Jinhua looked at the bottles, and gave a cry of dismay. “My T Bourbon! Meine Gott, my Schnapps! we must have really gotten hammered.”

Rebecca picked up the empty scotch bottle, cupping it in one hand, and intoned. “Alas, poor Glen Moran, I knew him, Horatio.” Jinhua giggled helplessly as she set the bottle back down. “I think you had them brought after telling me about Sun Chi's medical condition.”

“Ja, that might be why we drank them down.” Jinhua's brother was one of the very rare people who were allergic to the prolong treatments. At almost a hundred, he was approaching the end of his life rather than just reaching middle age. When her brother died, Jinhua would become Graffin du Sedlow, as she had become Baroness. Rebecca was now remembering that they had both gotten maudlin then, when that fact came up it reminded her of the fresh faced eager lad she'd sent to his death.

“Not to stand on seniority, I will allow you to use the shower first, Commander.”

“And to think, we drank far too much, shared the same bed, and yet I am merely a commander to you.” Jinhua sighed. “But since a Graffin is a higher social station, I accept, Kapitain.”

“In that case.” Rebecca bolted across the compartment, and the hatch closed on Jinhua's wail of protest.

An hour later, freshly scrubbed and uniformed, they sat down to a large breakfast. Oselli was quiet and attentive, and Irene again used her lap as her playground.

“It is as if we fought and lost both the Battle of Manticore and Grendelsbane on the same day.” Rebecca commented buttering a croissant.

“Whatever enemy you face, they have dealt us a serious blow.” Jinhua replied. She had taken a slice of toast, covering it with eggs and meat, mashing another down on it to stuff into her mouth.

“Us?” Rebecca bit into the bread.

“The Emperor would consider an attack that killed eleven of our own warships and twenty thousand of our people an attack on us regardless of why they attacked you.” Jinhua caught a piece of egg that fell from her mouth, setting it on the table, where Irene pounced on the offering. “He might back away, but we both know that if these people take the Star Kingdom down, we would be next after Haven.”

The hatch annunciator sounded, and Rebecca picked up her coffee with one hand as she hit the button. “Yes?”

“The First Officer, sir.”

“Send him in.” She signaled for more coffee as the hatch snapped open. Gaelin looked haunted, Holmes looked even more distraught, and she motioned toward a chair. Oselli took one look, and returned with a large brandy. The man drank it down as if it were water.

“Yawata Crossing was hit dead on by a mass of debris equal to two megatons yield.” He looked up unbelieving. “My entire family lived there, Captain.”

“Oh god.” She reached across, gripping his hand. He returned it with a bone crushing grip as he cried silently.

“The first watch is going down now.” He whispered. “I think each of the watches needs it, captain. Everyone aboard lost someone, even if it was only friends.”

“I agree, Gaelin.” She tapped his hand. “Talk to the Division heads before you put your head down. There's going to be a lot of grief released between here and Wotan. Tell them-” She shook her head. “Tell them and the Master at Arms that we all need this release. If they don't hurt someone or themselves, I am willing to turn a blind eye for the next two days; just as all of you gave me that.

“Now go on with you. Get drunk, Gaelin. Cry, scream, but come back whole.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” He waved off another brandy, staggering from the cabin. Rebecca met Jinhua's eyes, and both felt the same thing. Whoever had done this would pay. It didn't matter why they had done it, no reason was justification for mega deaths inflicted from ambush. She remembered an assignment in Basic tactical, where she had been instructed to go over the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. She had been struck by two recorded comments; one from Isoroku Yamamoto, when he had said, 'All we have done is awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve'.

The other was then rear admiral William 'Bull' Halsey. 'When this war is over, the only place they will speak Japanese will be in hell'.

Whatever they had intended, all this faceless enemy had done was make sure the Star Empire would hunt them down, and dance on their graves.

Wotan

The crew returned to normal. Grief cannot be maintained without the human mind going mad. But the crew that had left Manticore had hardened; their minds were on revenge. Three days enroute had purged their pain, but not their fury.

The stop at Wotan added to their grief, but not that much. The death toll had been less than eight million, though a few hundred thousand less deaths did not make what had happened easier. Of Rebecca's Academy class seventy percent had been killed between both wars with Haven, the battle of Manticore and this heinous attack. But you would have never told it from the crisp orders given and obeyed.

Tension between the League and the Star Empire were ratcheting up. The greeting from the Sollie Task Group commander had bordered on glacial. As this was going on, half a dozen Ghostrider recon drones had slipped past that massive fleet, half again as large as the last they had encountered.

The annunciator sounded from CIC, and Rebecca touched it. “Yes, Jinhua?

“Look at drone four's take.” Rebecca touched the drone, bringing up it's feed. The ship it was focused on was almost 8 million tons, a bit smaller than a modern Manticoran SD(P) but almost a megaton larger than the Scientist Class. It had a squared off stern and she examined it with interest. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes, Captain. This is the first visual sighting of the League's Pioneer Class podnaughts.”

“Her stern is odd, any ideas?”

“Since they do not have capital missile equal to our own, intelligence suggests they built them to use the new system defense pods issued by Technodyne. They are substantially larger than even our own system defense pods so it looks like they have built them to launch four pods instead of the six our own ships can deploy per salvo. Our own intelligence (Meaning the Andermani) suggests they carry only 320 pods, each capable of launching only eight birds each.”

“That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.” Rebecca replied after a moment. “If they waited a couple of years, they could possibly engineer the pods down to our size, and the entire class would need a major refit to carry them.”

But this does give them something to use right now.” Jinhua demurred.

“Any specifications on the missiles?”

“Maximum velocity at rest is 86,000 gravities, slower than our own. A single drive, but they have somehow extended the burn time on the impeller from 60 seconds to 75 seconds on a high speed attack, 225 seconds instead of 180 on a slow speed run at 43,000. Range for low speed approach estimated at approximately 14 million kilometers. The data gathered at Monica gave us a good read on their penaids as well.”

“Which means that if the balloon goes up any of our squadrons that do not have our cargo of the new pods is going to get hammered if they face off with a couple of these.”

“Captain, the Ambassador requests that you meet with her.” Heinreid turned. “They also requested Lieutenants Suggins and Weston.”

“Tell her we'll be right down, Millie.” Rebecca replied touching the annunciator. “Flight Ops.”

“Flight Ops, Lieutenat Suggins here.”

“Rebecca, I need for you and lieutenant jg Weston to fly me down to ground side.”

There was a pause. “Us personally?”

”You were named.”

“Very well, we'll meet you on the flight deck, ma'am.” Rebecca stood. “Number One, you have the con.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

The cargo shuttle dropped like a homesick meteor; guided by the hand of a woman of Masada. It slowed, wings spreading, turbines roaring as it decided that no, it would not die this day. The sleek aircraft slashed into the pattern like a shark into a pod of Tuna, dropping toward the runway as if it owned it. Compared to a shuttle of the local Sollies, it was half again as big, with twice the cargo capacity, yet it handled like a Pre Diaspora fighter bomber.

It dropped in, 200 tons pretending to be thistledown. A number of Sollie businessmen watched in envy as their own lifters came in.

Rebecca Duvalier stood as the pilot and her second came aft. She ignored the flight crew who were busy collecting four hundred kilos of barley. “Come along.” She ordered the flight deck officers. Those two ignored it as barley, yeast, hops, and sugar came aboard. It was a short drive to the embassy, and Rebecca noticed the angry looks the Manticoran flag drew as they passed. The embassy itself had armed guards both inside and outside the wall, and picketers with signs demanding that her nation 'come clean' about Admiral Byng's death, which she knew was now being reported as an 'unprovoked attack' by the Sollie Press.

Ambassador Logan was, like a lot of such people, an ex-Navy commodore. She had been beached twice, once when Baroness Morncreek had taken over from Admiral Janacek, then again when Admiral Harrington-Alexander had become First Lord. Duvalier had heard all of the stories as to why, but didn't comment.

“Ladies, gentleman.” She shook hands with them, then handed Rebecca Duvalier a chip, then another to Suggins. “Not much extra except for your chip, Captain. Our stations at Shanghai and Adelaide have been ordered out. We believe this is do to with Battle fleet sending in a squadron of Fleet Recovery ships to each of those stations to prepare those fleets for operations against us in the near future.

“However one thing has been suggested by ONI; that our enemy, the ones who attacked the home system without warning was Manpower, revealing not only a completely new weapon, but a completely new drive system. One completely undetectable by normal scans.”

“New weapon?”

“A missile that carries not a warhead, but rather a graser equal to a superdreadnought in throughput with a longer effective firing time. Some of them fired a steady beam for almost 10 seconds.”

She turned to Rebecca Suggins and Abraham Watson. “I asked for both of you for a reason. At the same time they hit Manticore, they also hit your home system.”

Both officers paled. “How bad was it?” Watson asked.

“Effectively total. High Admiral Matthews is among the dead, as are two of your brothers. I was not sure what to do in this case, but Steadholder Winslow as Secretary of the Navy was aboard the primary station of the Blackbird yards, and was killed. His heir, Isaac Winslow commands the Vespasian station.

“According to your custom, the senior officer is to report this to him, and arrange for him to return home. However Winslow was a staunch conservative, and I am unsure how he will take being informed of this by a woman.”

“I met Commodore Winslow before he took that station when his ship Purity passed through Manticore year before last.” Suggins replied. “I do not think he will be bothered by the messenger, as much as by it's content.”

“Then I leave it all in your hands. Captain,” She turned to Duvalier. “There are no amplifications or changes to your present orders beyond Adelaide and Shanghai stations being closed.” Her tone suggested that she had been cut out of the loop, and was irritated by that. “If you need any advice...”

“I am sorry, ma'am. My orders were verbal, and at that time I was told that they were not for dissemination.”

The Ambassador scowled. “Back home they do not realize how fragile our relationship with the League is. Shooting up a battlecruiser task group is one thing, but if they ever send Battle Fleet against us, we're history. So my instructions added to yours are to walk softly. We can't afford two wars with two enemies that outnumber us.”

Duvalier looked down to hide the surprise in her eyes. The woman was so far out of the loop that she hadn't even been told about Spindle! She looked up. “Understood, Ambassador.”

“I will notify home that you have been so instructed.” She warned.

“I realize that, Ambassador.'

“That will be all.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

The ride back was silent. The junior officers merely stared into space and Rebecca knew how they felt, so she did not try to start any small talk. They went to their stations, and Rebecca looked at the tons of food brought aboard. She smiled inwardly. She had noticed the most important part of that, the supplies for their bootlegging biermeister had been first. She strapped in, and the shuttle rolled to the runway. Then she was pushed firmly back into the cushions at it roared down the runway. It lifted, climbing smoothly toward space again.

Back aboard she paused. “Lieutenant Suggins, three of your crews are Graysons, correct?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“I will let you notify them. Tell them to stand down for 48 hours.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

She rode the lift to the bridge, and the ship got underway.

*****

Rebecca Suggins came into flight ops, and had the Manticorans leave as she called the Graysons together. They snapped to, both men and women standing there alert. “Stand at ease.” She ordered. Of them all, only Watson didn't look curious. “Brothers and sisters, the Tester has given us a grave duty. Our home system was attacked as Manticore was. Our shipyards were destroyed with great loss of life.” There were gasps at that. “We will hold Remembrance at 1600. Let us pray.”

Obediently every head bowed. “Merciful father, we ask that you stand with us in this, our hour of pain. Guide the souls of our departed brethren as they return to your bosom, and strengthen our arms for what is to come.” Her head lifted. “And when we find our enemy, we shall be your instrument of vengeance. So say we all.”

“So say we all!” They replied in unison.

“Amen.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-20-2012, 07:18 AM   #8
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Sonderman

The ship dropped out of hyper, and began to move toward Sonderman. It was the capital of the sector, as every Manticoran station within Sollie space was. Per her instructions, Rebecca deployed a shell of GhostRider recon drones with their FTL commo locked down, using just light speed whisker lasers to report. Like all of the sector capitals, there was a reserve mothball fleet, and her drones were focused on both that fleet and local shipyard. The ship herself moved inward, moving at a slug-footed 100gs speed.

The Sollies had a strange dichotomy of what their fleet deployed, and what the Sollies could deploy. The People's Republic of Haven, first under the Legislaturists, then the Committee for State Security had been able to buy technology equal to what Manticore had deployed. But that same quality had not often been issued to either Battle Fleet or Frontier fleet. This meant that while (so far) an entire task force has been destroyed along with all of Admiral Byng's task group captured, there was better tech out there.

So some of those worlds would might detect these drones, but the self-destruct protocols should still work if someone tried to capture them.

In the makeshift equivalent of CIC, Commander Kiel along with her own crew examined that floating mothball fleet. Over half of Battle Fleet's strength rested safely in mothballs as their commanders sat on some beach accruing seniority.

“No activity so far.” Diedre Hughes reported.

“Ah, but look, lieutenant.” Kiel said, highlighting a ship that was not part of that silent flotilla. “An Asimov class tender. The class used to survey the storage fleets for readiness.”

“What would that readiness state be?” Rebecca asked from the bridge.

“Low, for this specific fleet anchorage.” Kiel replied. “Scientist class superdreadnoughts. From what we've seen, they still have auto-cannon point defense. Nazareth class battlecruisers, almost a century old. Rickover class heavy cruisers the same age, Lancelot class light cruiser over fifty years old, and some of the first Rampart class destroyers, not even equal to your ships of the first Haven war. With the local infrastructure they would need to spend an estimated six months to bring these ships up to modern standards.”

Rebecca nodded to herself. “We'll be sure to pass that on. Is Yellowlees in system, Number One?”

“Five hundred kilometers above, and three hundred ahead of our assigned orbit, ma'am.”

“We have data to pass back to them from the interrogations.” She tapped the annunciator for CIC again. “Commander Kiel, suggestions on where we can meet?”

“The Sollies have the same rule your own Navy does. If we meet him even by accident, you must file a field incident report.” Gaelin groaned, and Rebecca had to agree. To maintain security any serving officer was required to file a field incident report when they had personal contact with officers of opposing nations. Rebecca honestly believed that the fifteen page document was created with the very idea that a serving officer should keep to his own. God alone knew she'd filed maybe half a dozen of them in her time dealing with the Andermani before the alliance, Silesians, and Sollies.

“Well it is their problem, not ours.” Rebecca laughed. “We're contacting them under Operation Amistad. So let's pick a good restaurant and I'll buy dinner to make up for it.”

“Might I suggest Gianello's?” Kiel suggested.

Rebecca blinked. “You know an Italian restaurant on Sonderman?”

“May I be frank, Captain?” Kiel asked.

“Please, commander.”

“One type of food that is rare in the Empire is Italian. It seems our first Emperor did not like Italian food. Yet I rather enjoy it. When I was assigned, I had our intelligence list every decent Italian restaurant on our path.”

“A true intelligence officer.” Rebecca commented drily. “So once we achieve orbit we invite him and his exec to dinner?”

“That would probably set off alarms in Sollie ONI.” Kiel demurred. “However if we send a message suggesting they be at Gianello's say on the next Friday...”

Rebecca nodded. “Agreed, commander. I happen to love Italian.”

*****

Once in orbit, the cargo shuttles of Witch Maiden went into action. The ship carried more than the 300 pods to be delivered; she also carried several hundred thousand tons of parts to keep this station operational. The Giselle class fleet tenders were an attempt at a full scale repair ship writ small, and due to the tonnage limit, they were at best half-assed. The ships did not carry enough stores to do their jobs for very long. The primary reason why supply ships (such as Witch Maiden was pretending to be) carried stores was to alleviate that problem. She delivered alpha and beta nodes for their charges, new infusions for their hydroponic units, but that wasn't her most important cargo.

Leisure time had always been a problem in space travel. Like being assigned to the old fashioned wet navy submarine, all you had to see was the interior of the vessel for (back then) months of time.

On space craft even from the start it had been as bad if not worse. The original designers of the first American space capsules had not even bothered to put in a window so the pilot could see space! Of course those same designers had considered the pilots to be redundant.

The first manned mission to land on Mars in the 1st Century Post Diaspora had been a horror for the crew studied even now; Almost a T year locked in a metal can with fifteen other people to look at and sporadic contact with Old Earth had almost induced what had once been called cabin fever, from stories of people jammed into a log cabin in the dead of winter with no entertainment at all.

The next mission had taken that into account. Any entertainment that didn't end up with administrative punishment, the ever present 'Captain's Mast' was pretty much allowed. Books, videos both motion picture and copies of broadcast shows were supplied. Rebecca's action regarding the brewery was within the regs as long as the strictures she had mentioned were followed.

18 centuries had not changed that. In fact the entertainment offered blossomed. Larger warships, Battlecruisers or larger found themselves forming small bands, dance teams, and even theatrical companies as was aboard Witch Maiden.

Books, games from simple board game up to computer simulations were shared. A dozen books from Rebecca's own library had been among this unofficial trade, along with Dollaryde's beer, was a commodity worth trading. The squadron allowed visits from the local squadron so they could feel the gravity they were used to, and air that felt real without dropping to the surface of Sonderman.

What should have been a week grew until it filled almost three, but Rebecca could not see a reason to refuse them.

Palimpsest

After almost 3 weeks, Rebecca was eager to move on. There were no remaining stores to move, no stores left to trans ship. She was ready to move on to new stations. She noted the arrival of the local courier without recording it mentally.

She had made her manners not only with the squadron, but even with the Sollies. She had 'been there, done that' beyond what her orders had assumed.

The annunciator from CIC sounded, and she thumbed it idly. “Captain here.”

“Captain, will you meet me in your office?”

She paused. “Of course, Commander Kiel.” She replied. “Number One, you have the con.” She stood, walking to the lift. She dropped to the berthing deck, saluting her Marine guard. Commander Kiel stood beside him and followed as she walked into the office.

“We're out of here in half an hour, Commander. Be brief.” Rebecca ordered.

“Have you read the letters sent to you from the courier, Kapitain?”

“I have not.” Rebecca replied.

“I would ask that you do.” Kiel said woodenly. “I received a message regarding it.” She leaned forward pushing the annunciator button for the steward. “Two large brandies, please.” She ordered Oselli, then looked at Rebecca. “Please indulge me, Captain.”

Rebecca sighed, then keyed the message queue. The first letter was from her brother, a short note mentioning that he was being reassigned to Home Fleet, and when he would arrive, which had been dated almost a month earlier. There was also an attachment of almost two gigs made up of permanent document files of books he had found she might want to read. “All right, I have read it.”

“Please bring up the first book and open it.”

“I do not have time for this right now, commander.”

“It is important.” Jinhua picked up her brandy, and sipped it.

She tapped that file, named The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was an old favorite, and she wondered why Tommy would have forgotten that. “I still fail to see why this is important at this very moment.”

“It is a message sent with a special coding sequence created by the Empire called Palimpsest, coming from your ONI. Put in your brother's middle name using the Find option.”

She harrumphed, typing in the name. “I know there is no one named Patrick in the...” When her finger hit the find button, the screen suddenly jumbled, then came up with something new.

TO; CAPTAIN HMS WITCH MAIDEN
FROM: DIRECTOR ONI

HOME SYSTEM WAS ATTACKED WITHOUT WARNING BY PERSONS AS YET KNOWN, AIMING AT OUR DOCKING AND PRODUCTION FACILITIES. THEIR ATTACK WAS DEVESTATING, AND EXCEPT FOR THE PERSONNEL OF WEYLAND IT WAS A TOTAL SUCCESS. STATIONS HEPHAESTUS AND VULCAN WERE DESTROYED WITH ALL HANDS INCLUDING TRANSIENTS.

THE DISPERSED YARDS IN GRYPHON WERE ALSO A TARGET, AND AGAIN, DESTRUCTION WAS TOTAL. DEATH TOLL STILL NOT COMPLETED, BUT EXPECTED TO BE EIGHT MILLION OR MORE, 0VER HALF OF WHOM WERE RMN PERSONNEL AND DEPENDENTS.

WITH THE POSSIBLE THREAT OF YET ANOTHER ATTACK FROM THE SOLARIAN LEAGUE, WE FACE OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE. YOU WILL INFORM COMMANDER OF THE SQUADRON AT YOUR PRESENT LOCATION AND YOUR CREW. THE FOLLOWING FILES USING THE ANDERMANI CODING OPTION PALIMPSEST IS A LISTING OF DEAD AND WOUNDED FROM THAT ATTACK. EXCEPT FOR FILE PRINCE CASPIAN WHICH IS PERSONAL.

MESSAGE ENDS

“Oh my god.” She turned numbly to her intercom. “First Officer to my office, immediately. Lieutenant Heinreid, send the following message via whisker laser to HMS Vicarious.” She tagged the file she was reading along with the unopened files.

There was a long pause. “My god, Captain. Sending now.”

The door annunciator sounded. “First officer to see you, Captain.”

“Send him in.” She opened the file marked Prince Caspian, and again input her brother's middle name. She stared at the screen as the blood drained from her face.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?” She looked up, seeing the concern that appeared on his face, Holmes suddenly whimpering. She minimized the file she had just opened, and motioned for him to come around her desk. He looked at the message, his eyes first widening, then hardening. Then she keyed up the personal. “Oh Jesus.” He whispered. “I'm so sorry, ma'am.”

“Get us out of the system, Number One. I think I need some time alone.”

“I'll see to it, Rebecca.” He squeezed her shoulder, and marched out. She stared at the screen as if it would clear and none of the tragedy would exist, even though she knew it would still be there.

TO: BARONESS DUVALIER
WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR BROTHER THOMAS PATRICK DUVALIER, AND YOUR FATHER ROBERT MICHAEL (3RD BARON) DUVALIER WERE BOTH KILLED IN THE ATTACK ON HMS HEPHAESTUS.

YOU HAVE OUR CONDOLENCES FOR YOUR LOSS.

There was another message in the queue, and she opened it. Michael Tregant had just sent a quick note; Bupers had assigned him to HMS Hexapuma still undergoing repairs at Hephaestus...

Something nudged her hand, and she look blankly at the snifter before picking it up. The brandy burned a line of fire down her throat. She looked at Kiel, who still sat there, her own snifter empty. “Is there something else, Commander?”

The woman held out her glass, and Oselli poured. “My father was the admiral in command of the 3rd superdreadnought squadron. His ship, IANS Seydlitz was docked at your Vulcan station when that attack occurred. I also lost two of my older brothers in the Battle of Manticore. Unlike you, that leaves my oldest brother Sun Chi still alive.” She rolled the glass around in her hands. Then she raised it. “To our honored dead.”

They both sipped the brandy. “Os, have you ever seen me drunk?”

For a moment, she wondered if he would tell her he was also sorry, but that did not happen. “I have yet to have that privilege, ma'am.”

“Well you will if you don't leave. Leave the bottle. In fact break out the 25 year old Scotch my father-” she choked on the word. “-my father sent with me and leave it here as well.”

Going on

The first thing she noticed was that her back was cold. Her mouth tasted as if she had been drinking industrial waste. She was lying on her side, her arm draped around someone, Irene cuddled against the back of her head. She opened her eyes, seeing a foaming mass of black hair less than five centimeters from her eyes as her hand discovered the other person she was hugging so possessively was also a woman who had stolen all of the covers.

They were both at least partially dressed, she wore her uniform trousers and undershirt, Jinhua still wore her shift, but nothing else. She didn't remember taking anything off, nor much of the past... she turned her head and looked at the chronometer, eighteen hours.

She sat up to avoid disturbing either of her bed mates, and looked around blearily. It looked like her closet had partially exploded, discarded clothes scattered everywhere. Now her head was throbbing from the hangover, and she climbed to her feet somehow. She only had a hangover when she drank a lot, and sharing one half bottle of brandy and liter of scotch shouldn't be enough to give her one.

There were four empty bottles on the floor. Brandy, scotch, a bottle of T Bourbon, and some kind of Andermani Schnapps lay there like the dead soldiers they were. On her night stand sat two glasses of water, and two headache powders. She picked up one with a shaking hand, emptying it into a glass, and chugged the pain reliever down.

“You snore.” She looked to Jinhua, who had rolled over, looking up at her. “And you are a very affectionate bed mate. Is there one of those for me as well?”

Rebecca handed the other glass to the woman, who took the remedy with the same economy she had shown knocking back Scotch, whiskey and Schnapps. “That may be, however I found that you hog the covers.”

“Better than curling up like a hibernating Potsdam Uber-Bear.” Jinhua looked at the chronometer. “I believe we indulged ourselves a bit much last night.”

“More over indulged, Jinhua.” Rebecca gestured to the floor.

Jinhua looked at the bottles, and gave a cry of dismay. “My T Bourbon! Meine Gott, my Schnapps! we must have really gotten hammered.”

Rebecca picked up the empty scotch bottle, cupping it in one hand, and intoned. “Alas, poor Glen Moran, I knew him, Horatio.” Jinhua giggled helplessly as she set the bottle back down. “I think you had them brought after telling me about Sun Chi's medical condition.”

“Ja, that might be why we drank them down.” Jinhua's brother was one of the very rare people who were allergic to the prolong treatments. At almost a hundred, he was approaching the end of his life rather than just reaching middle age. When her brother died, Jinhua would become Graffin du Sedlow, as she had become Baroness. Rebecca was now remembering that they had both gotten maudlin then, when that fact came up it reminded her of the fresh faced eager lad she'd sent to his death.

“Not to stand on seniority, I will allow you to use the shower first, Commander.”

“And to think, we drank far too much, shared the same bed, and yet I am merely a commander to you.” Jinhua sighed. “But since a Graffin is a higher social station, I accept, Kapitain.”

“In that case.” Rebecca bolted across the compartment, and the hatch closed on Jinhua's wail of protest.

An hour later, freshly scrubbed and uniformed, they sat down to a large breakfast. Oselli was quiet and attentive, and Irene again used her lap as her playground.

“It is as if we fought and lost both the Battle of Manticore and Grendelsbane on the same day.” Rebecca commented buttering a croissant.

“Whatever enemy you face, they have dealt us a serious blow.” Jinhua replied. She had taken a slice of toast, covering it with eggs and meat, mashing another down on it to stuff into her mouth.

“Us?” Rebecca bit into the bread.

“The Emperor would consider an attack that killed eleven of our own warships and twenty thousand of our people an attack on us regardless of why they attacked you.” Jinhua caught a piece of egg that fell from her mouth, setting it on the table, where Irene pounced on the offering. “He might back away, but we both know that if these people take the Star Kingdom down, we would be next after Haven.”

The hatch annunciator sounded, and Rebecca picked up her coffee with one hand as she hit the button. “Yes?”

“The First Officer, sir.”

“Send him in.” She signaled for more coffee as the hatch snapped open. Gaelin looked haunted, Holmes looked even more distraught, and she motioned toward a chair. Oselli took one look, and returned with a large brandy. The man drank it down as if it were water.

“Yawata Crossing was hit dead on by a mass of debris equal to two megatons yield.” He looked up unbelieving. “My entire family lived there, Captain.”

“Oh god.” She reached across, gripping his hand. He returned it with a bone crushing grip as he cried silently.

“The first watch is going down now.” He whispered. “I think each of the watches needs it, captain. Everyone aboard lost someone, even if it was only friends.”

“I agree, Gaelin.” She tapped his hand. “Talk to the Division heads before you put your head down. There's going to be a lot of grief released between here and Wotan. Tell them-” She shook her head. “Tell them and the Master at Arms that we all need this release. If they don't hurt someone or themselves, I am willing to turn a blind eye for the next two days; just as all of you gave me that.

“Now go on with you. Get drunk, Gaelin. Cry, scream, but come back whole.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” He waved off another brandy, staggering from the cabin. Rebecca met Jinhua's eyes, and both felt the same thing. Whoever had done this would pay. It didn't matter why they had done it, no reason was justification for mega deaths inflicted from ambush. She remembered an assignment in Basic tactical, where she had been instructed to go over the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. She had been struck by two recorded comments; one from Isoroku Yamamoto, when he had said, 'All we have done is awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve'.

The other was then rear admiral William 'Bull' Halsey. 'When this war is over, the only place they will speak Japanese will be in hell'.

Whatever they had intended, all this faceless enemy had done was make sure the Star Empire would hunt them down, and dance on their graves.

Wotan

The crew returned to normal. Grief cannot be maintained without the human mind going mad. But the crew that had left Manticore had hardened; their minds were on revenge. Three days enroute had purged their pain, but not their fury.

The stop at Wotan added to their grief, but not that much. The death toll had been less than eight million, though a few hundred thousand less deaths did not make what had happened easier. Of Rebecca's Academy class seventy percent had been killed between both wars with Haven, the battle of Manticore and this heinous attack. But you would have never told it from the crisp orders given and obeyed.

Tension between the League and the Star Empire were ratcheting up. The greeting from the Sollie Task Group commander had bordered on glacial. As this was going on, half a dozen Ghostrider recon drones had slipped past that massive fleet, half again as large as the last they had encountered.

The annunciator sounded from CIC, and Rebecca touched it. “Yes, Jinhua?

“Look at drone four's take.” Rebecca touched the drone, bringing up it's feed. The ship it was focused on was almost 8 million tons, a bit smaller than a modern Manticoran SD(P) but almost a megaton larger than the Scientist Class. It had a squared off stern and she examined it with interest. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes, Captain. This is the first visual sighting of the League's Pioneer Class podnaughts.”

“Her stern is odd, any ideas?”

“Since they do not have capital missile equal to our own, intelligence suggests they built them to use the new system defense pods issued by Technodyne. They are substantially larger than even our own system defense pods so it looks like they have built them to launch four pods instead of the six our own ships can deploy per salvo. Our own intelligence (Meaning the Andermani) suggests they carry only 320 pods, each capable of launching only eight birds each.”

“That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.” Rebecca replied after a moment. “If they waited a couple of years, they could possibly engineer the pods down to our size, and the entire class would need a major refit to carry them.”

But this does give them something to use right now.” Jinhua demurred.

“Any specifications on the missiles?”

“Maximum velocity at rest is 86,000 gravities, slower than our own. A single drive, but they have somehow extended the burn time on the impeller from 60 seconds to 75 seconds on a high speed attack, 225 seconds instead of 180 on a slow speed run at 43,000. Range for low speed approach estimated at approximately 14 million kilometers. The data gathered at Monica gave us a good read on their penaids as well.”

“Which means that if the balloon goes up any of our squadrons that do not have our cargo of the new pods is going to get hammered if they face off with a couple of these.”

“Captain, the Ambassador requests that you meet with her.” Heinreid turned. “They also requested Lieutenants Suggins and Weston.”

“Tell her we'll be right down, Millie.” Rebecca replied touching the annunciator. “Flight Ops.”

“Flight Ops, Lieutenat Suggins here.”

“Rebecca, I need for you and lieutenant jg Weston to fly me down to ground side.”

There was a pause. “Us personally?”

”You were named.”

“Very well, we'll meet you on the flight deck, ma'am.”

Rebecca stood. “Number One, you have the con.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

The cargo shuttle dropped like a homesick meteor; guided by the hand of a woman of Masada. It slowed, wings spreading, turbines roaring as it decided that no, it would not die this day. The sleek aircraft slashed into the pattern like a shark into a pod of Tuna, dropping toward the runway as if it owned it. Compared to a shuttle of the local Sollies, it was half again as big, with twice the cargo capacity, yet it handled like a Pre Diaspora fighter bomber.

It dropped in, 200 tons pretending to be thistledown. A number of Sollie businessmen watched in envy as their own lifters came in.

Rebecca Duvalier stood as the pilot and her second came aft. She ignored the flight crew who were busy collecting four hundred kilos of barley. “Come along.” She ordered the flight deck officers. Those two ignored it as barley, yeast, hops, and sugar came aboard. It was a short drive to the embassy, and Rebecca noticed the angry looks the Manticoran flag drew as they passed. The embassy itself had armed guards both inside and outside the wall, and picketers with signs demanding that her nation 'come clean' about Admiral Byng's death, which she knew was now being reported as an 'unprovoked attack' by the Sollie Press.

Ambassador Logan was, like a lot of such people, an ex-Navy commodore. She had been beached twice, once when Baroness Morncreek had taken over from Admiral Janacek, then again when Admiral Harrington-Alexander had become First Lord. Duvalier had heard all of the stories as to why, but didn't comment.

“Ladies, gentleman.” She shook hands with them, then handed Rebecca Duvalier a chip, then another to Suggins. “Not much extra except for your chip, Captain. Our stations at Shanghai and Adelaide have been ordered out. We believe this is do to with Battle fleet sending in a squadron of Fleet Recovery ships to each of those stations to prepare those fleets for operations against us in the near future.

“However one thing has been suggested by ONI; that our enemy, the ones who attacked the home system without warning was Manpower, revealing not only a completely new weapon, but a completely new drive system. One completely undetectable by normal scans.”

“New weapon?”

“A missile that carries not a warhead, but rather a graser equal to a superdreadnought in throughput with a longer effective firing time. Some of them fired a steady beam for almost 10 seconds.”

She turned to Rebecca Suggins and Abraham Watson. “I asked for both of you for a reason. At the same time they hit Manticore, they also hit your home system.”

Both officers paled. “How bad was it?” Watson asked.

“Effectively total. High Admiral Matthews is among the dead, as are two of your brothers. I was not sure what to do in this case, but Steadholder Winslow as Secretary of the Navy was aboard the primary station of the Blackbird yards, and was killed. His heir, Isaac Winslow commands the Vespasian station.

“According to your custom, the senior officer is to report this to him, and arrange for him to return home. However Winslow was a staunch conservative, and I am unsure how he will take being informed of this by a woman.”

“I met Commodore Winslow before he took that station when his ship Purity passed through Manticore year before last.” Suggins replied. “I do not think he will be bothered by the messenger, as much as by it's content.”

“Then I leave it all in your hands. Captain,” She turned to Duvalier. “There are no amplifications or changes to your present orders beyond Adelaide and Shanghai stations being closed.” Her tone suggested that she had been cut out of the loop, and was irritated by that. “If you need any advice...”

“I am sorry, ma'am. My orders were verbal, and at that time I was told that they were not for dissemination.”

The Ambassador scowled. “Back home they do not realize how fragile our relationship with the League is. Shooting up a battlecruiser task group is one thing, but if they ever send Battle Fleet against us, we're history. So my instructions added to yours are to walk softly. We can't afford two wars with two enemies that outnumber us.”

Duvalier looked down to hide the surprise in her eyes. The woman was so far out of the loop that she hadn't even been told about Spindle! She looked up. “Understood, Ambassador.”

“I will notify home that you have been so instructed.” She warned.

“I realize that, Ambassador.'

“That will be all.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

The ride back was silent. The junior officers merely stared into space and Rebecca knew how they felt, so she did not try to start any small talk. They went to their stations, and Rebecca looked at the tons of food brought aboard. She smiled inwardly. She had noticed the most important part of that, the supplies for their bootlegging biermeister had been first. She strapped in, and the shuttle rolled to the runway. Then she was pushed firmly back into the cushions at it roared down the runway. It lifted, climbing smoothly toward space again.

Back aboard she paused. “Lieutenant Suggins, three of your crews are Graysons, correct?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“I will let you notify them. Tell them to stand down for 48 hours.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

She rode the lift to the bridge, and the ship got underway.

*****

Rebecca Suggins came into flight ops, and had the Manticorans leave as she called the Graysons together. They snapped to, both men and women standing there alert. “Stand at ease.” She ordered. Of them all, only Watson didn't look curious. “Brothers and sisters, the Tester has given us a grave duty. Our home system was attacked as Manticore was. Our shipyards were destroyed with great loss of life.” There were gasps at that. “We will hold Remembrance at 1600. Let us pray.”

Obediently every head bowed. “Merciful father, we ask that you stand with us in this, our hour of pain. Guide the souls of our departed brethren as they return to your bosom, and strengthen our arms for what is to come.” Her head lifted. “And when we find our enemy, we shall be your instrument of vengeance. So say we all.”

“So say we all!” They replied in unison.

“Amen.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-21-2012, 02:19 PM   #9
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Lancing a Boil

Vespasian was days away yet, but Rebecca had to deal with a problem she had not expected. Gaelin was having yet another working lunch with her as she did crew evaluations, and this one worried her.

“Any idea what went wrong?” She asked. For once she was not a kitten playground. Irene was stalking Holmes, who had subsumed his own grief for his person in the joy of play. The treecat was pretending he didn't notice the stalking shadow, but when she pounced he bounced almost half a meter into the air, coming down behind her. She spun, leaping at him, and they rolled in feline delight.

“No, Ma'am.” Gaelin replied. “She was actually getting better before we got the news in Sonderman. Then, her work went right out the airlock. She's barely eating, barely sleeping, and it shows not only in her work, but in her interactions with the crew.”

Rebecca had once had high hopes for Abigail Carruthers, but maybe it had been misplaced. As the only remaining 'snottie' of her crew, she didn't have to deal with anyone if she didn't wish to. The two remaining midshipmen going to other assignments had their own quarters, and the girl was alone in the compartment she had shared with Michael Tregant for so long. She hadn't needed the litany of faults Gaelin had just given her; every department head had given pretty much the same report over the last few weeks. Six times crewmen had been put on report by the girl, and most of those had been when she had made a mistake and was unwilling to admit it. None of them had even gone as far as an administrative punishment.

“What does the Doc have to say?”

“She refuses to talk to him. He did order her in last week for a physical, but he might as well have been a mechanic working on a machine for all the interaction there was. His diagnosis is depression, causing her to not eat and not sleep, causing more depression. She's flubbing work that even a newbie could handle, and it's frustrating her.”

“Suggestions?”

“I've tried to talk to her.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Hell, every department head has tried to. But you get the feeling that she thinks we're all right about her abilities and she's not worth the effort. I'm sorry to say, it ends up on your plate, skipper.”

“Well,” she joked. “that's why they pay me the big bucks.” She checked her schedule. “Schedule her here at 1500. Maybe I can kick her ass hard enough to get her back on track.”

“Right. I'll have Holmes take Irene down to hydroponics to give you an open window.”

“No.” She shook her head. “For some godawful reason Irene likes Abby. I know shrinks think pets calm people down, though I haven't noticed it with this little furball.” Irene chose that moment to leap into her lap, and Rebecca stroked the young cat idly. “Any other thing you need fixed? Changing the nature of the universe, repealing the laws of gravity perhaps?”

“No ma'am. Just use your godlike keeping everything else working like normal.” He teased.

“Oh that I might be able to manage.” She waved him off, and he gathered the treecat up to leave. For a long time, she considered the reports. She thought she knew what the problem was, enough of her own department heads had suggested it. But how to deal with her? She could try to be the big sister or mother figure, but Diedre Hughes did that a lot better than she did. She could be the stern taskmaster but both Gaelin and commander Collins did that much better. Doc Jeffrey's beat her out as the old grandfatherly curmudgeon as well, so that was out.

So it was time to wheel out the one thing she rarely did, being a cast iron bitch. The problem was, her way would make or break the girl. When the annunciator sounded, she brought up the personnel file when she hit the button. “Enter!” she barked. She glanced up quickly. She had noticed the change, but if anything Abigail was worse. It wasn't that she wasn't clean, it was more unkempt. Her hair hadn't been brushed in what were probably days, her uniform hung on her as if it belonged to an elder sister. Her nails had been bitten to the quick, and she saw the hand she raised to salute trembling. Her eyes were deep holes in her face, and her mouth a tight line.

She motioned to the chair opposite. “Sit.” She snarled. Abigail almost fell into the chair, slumping. She turned back to her reading. “Do you know what I am looking at here, midshipwoman?”

“My personnel file, Ma'am.”

Rebecca gave her a vicious smile. “It speaks! And coherently!” Her tone was savage. “What I am looking at, is the waste of what I estimate is 200,000 Manticoran dollars trying to make you a competent officer.” The girl flinched at her acid tone. “Well, we know you can speak. Any explanation as to what is wrong?”

“No ma'am. The girl shook her head. “I've been having trouble concentrating and I noticed it before any of my superiors noticed-”

“Oh, sharper of wit as well.” Every word dripped vitriol. “As if only you can see that you have gone from marginal to completely incompetent.”

The girl flinched as if the words were a lash. “That isn't what I meant, Ma'am.”

“Oh? You noticed before we did? That sounds like we're all blind to your failures.”

Again she flinched. Irene jumped up into the girl's lap, and she almost eagerly pet the little monster. “I meant that I knew I was going wrong before my work started to suffer.” She hadn't raised her head, her eyes on the cat in her lap. “I don't think I am suited to this life, ma'am. I have been considering tendering my resignation.”

Worse than she had thought, Rebecca mused. She had a good idea what had caused this, but if she couldn't get the girl to fight back she would do just that. Her lip curled in a sneer. “Michael was right. I should have sent you home instead of him. At least I would have a competent officer in your place.”

Abby's head came up in shock. “Michael said that?”

“Oh not in so many words.” Rebecca said mendaciously. “He felt that without him there for you to lean on, you might-might mind you, turn into a proper Queen's officer, not the failed lack wit I see.” She steepled her hands. “Well if you're going to throw away three and a half years of effort, who am I to stop you? But you can't tender that resignation to me, I refuse to accept it. I will not sully my decks with an incompetent pea-brain who has nothing to do. But before you destroy your life, maybe I can help you.” She thumbed a key. “Recording, efficiency report for Abigail Carruthers.” She rattled off the girl's service number. “In the last weeks her efficiency has fallen to the point where I don't trust her to seal her own boots.

“So what am I to do with her? I know any marginally competent enlisted man can do the job better than she ever could, so what can I assign her to? I know, I'll Let Lieutenant Danials have her all for his very own! He can assign her as quarters and billeting officer with a third class petty officer to keep track of what she does so she can't screw that up. End recording.”

She stood, coming around the desk, leaning into it as she crossed her arms. “There. Now you can resign in peace knowing that every officer who knew you agrees that you are an incompetent ass. I am just glad that Michael is dead.”

Abigail's head came up in shock. “Glad he's dead...”

“Of course. If he were alive he'd have to see the mess you've made of your life.” She acted surprised. “Do you think he'd want to see you mess up this badly?”

Irene yowled, and Abigail looked at the blood running from where the cat had clawed her. Irene dived under the table, then hissed up at the human.

“Of course he'd be disappointed, so are all of us. We expected someone willing to give some effort, but you can't even do that, can you? If he were alive he'd die of shame for the glowing recommendation he gave you.” She could see the hands, once limp had become fists, and Abby was shaking. “But of course you don't care about that, do you? You want to run home to momma and cry about how the world is too big and bad-”

“Ma'am.” Abigail whispered.

“Did I give you leave to speak?” Rebecca asked. “Only real human beings and crewmen get to speak on my deck. You are worse than a worm, you are excrement. You are something a good officer like Michael Tregant should have scraped off his boot in disgust-”

“Stop!”

“-something that looks like a woman, talks like one but is lower than any worm in the scheme of things-”

“Bitch!” Abigail leaped to her feet, her right arm coming back, her fist opening into an open palm, and she swung. If she had bothered to look up her captain's records, the girl would have known that Rebecca Duvalier had been the number 3 on the Coup De Vitesse hand to hand team in her junior year. She had not been on the team in her last year because of an accident that had broken her left leg in five places, but she still had five knots in her black belt, more than anyone aboard the ship except for Major Reardon and Sergeant Major Carlyle. Rebecca figured the girl thought she'd be knocked unconscious and spend a week in regen.

The only one surprised when her slap connected was Carruthers.

The girl froze as what she had done registered. Her captain's head had been spun to the side, and her eyes looked at the girl in silent reproach. Rebecca turned her head, dabbing at the spot of blood on her lip. “Better now?” She looked at her blood, then at the girl. “Sit.” She ordered. The girl dropped like a puppet with it's strings cut. “Now you are going to shut the hell up and listen to me, midshipwoman.” Rebecca stood away from her desk.

“You think you know what is happening, and you are blind to reality. Do you think for one bloody minute I wanted Michael to die? That it was a choice between you and him?” The captain leaned against the desk again. “It was a matter of who was most competent, and you came in second. Let me guess, you heard some rating comparing you to Michael in a negative manner, saying he was better.

“Then you found that Michael was dead, and suddenly you realized that you could have died instead of him, and that ate at you. Your instructors have done their best, at the Island, to prepare you for that burden, that reality. Yet the truth is, that no one can truly prepare you for it. We can teach you, train you, share our experience with you, but no one can be with you in that moment when somone you knows dies, and you realize it could have been you.

“So you wallowed in your survivor's guilt, and it will get worse when Death comes to my ship and starts reaping. The chain of command, your superiors, the men and women under your orders... all of them will be there when that happens. And yet, in that moment when you truly confront duty and your own mortality, you are alone, just as every one of us was our first time when it was real and not at one remove. And that, is a moment no training and no teacher can truly prepare you to face.

“You witnessed the Last View, when Edward Saganami died, so did every officer on this ship. You saw him die at Carson. Do you think for a minute that he couldn't have claimed the 'right to survive' as a reason to live? Instead he charged in to die because his ship, his crew his own life was less important to him than the convoy he saved.”

The girl sat there both quiescent and waiting. “Damn it Abigail we're cannon fodder! We're sent out to die so the civilians don't have to worry! We are supposed to die so that John Q Public can read their newspapers and see the world is running as expected.” She almost spat the last statement. “We die so those who depend on us can feel safe.” Rebecca leaned forward. “Do you think I like it? The hell I do. Kids like you are the future, and god help us, we need you. Every generation needs heroes, and by god if Michael is not here, we need you!”

The girl sat there, almost willing to have her captain chop off her head. Then she looked up. “Michael went to his death believing in me, captain.”

“That's right, Abby. He though you could do it. Was he right?”

It was like watching a dying flower suddenly set in a vase, the bloom brightening as it sucked up the water. “Or I'll die trying, Ma'am.”

She nodded. “Now get out there and prove us right!”

Abigail almost snapped to attention. “Yes, Ma'am!”

“Before you go, I have two things for you. I want to make us proud of you Abby. But the other is more serious. I want you to research the Twenty-Sixth Article of War, which covers physically assaulting your superior officer.” Rebecca walked around her desk, sitting in her chair as Abigail stared at her in shock. The captain brought up her monitor, deleting her insulting review “In case you wondered, if the offense is committed in time of war, it is punishable by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”

She looked up into the stunned junior officer's face. “So if you ever contemplate such an act, I hope you're willing to pay the price. Is there anything else, midshipwoman?”

“Yes, Ma'am.” The girl replied chastened. “You sound like you've been through this before. From my side.”

“Yes I have. Os!” Like a stage magician the man appeared with two snifters. She motioned for the girl to pick up her glass. “I was on my first posting to Silesia, a snottie just like you. We'd taken our fourth pirate of the cruise and the skipper wanted some prisoners to interrogate. There were three of us aboard. The one the captain judged most competent was Cathy Munroe, you remind me of her in some ways.

“But there is one type of pirate we rarely see, the ones that had been captured before, and their faces are in our data base. Oh most just go to their deaths like sheep, but you have the ones who would rather die with their teeth in someone's throat.” She sipped. “When our Marines boarded, this man waited until he saw Cathy. Not because he didn't like girls, but because she was the first one not in an armored skinny. He shot her three times before a marine blew him away.

“I spent a week in a funk until the XO did pretty much what I did with you. He called me everything but human and I tried to kill him.” The girl's head snapped up in shock. “Oh he was smarter about it than I was here. He'd been on the coup team just like me, and had asked me to spar. So there wasn't just us, there were a dozen witnesses. If anyone was going to be charged, it would have been both of us. Him for publically making insulting inferences to me, and me for trying to really hurt him.

“He beat me bloody when I lost control, and I spent three days in regen. While I was laying in sickbay expecting the Master at Arms to come and drag me away the captain came by and asked if I felt better about Cathy's death now. They knew, we senior godlike humans always know what's eating at you. It's just a matter of finding out how to let you get the pain outside and give you time to heal.

“When we stood down on Hephaestus, I bought him a drink and apoligized for my actions. He bought the second round and told me I might make a decent officer.” She finished the brandy. “Now once you have done your research project, I want you to move the other middies into that room your in right now. I want you to fill that empty void with living breathing people your own age. Micheal is dead, but you aren't, yet. Have a welcoming party, and give them a chance to vent just like you will when one of them sits in Michael's chair, or says something that reminds you of him. Dismissed.”

Abby stood, snapped a salute, and left. Rebecca finished her brandy, then took the bag of ice Oselli held out holding it against her cheek. “Thanks, Os. God, I didn't think she would hit that hard!”

Vespasian

As Witch Maiden entered orbit, her crew was busy. Here there was also an Asimov, but there were five tugs, and the four slips inside the shipyard were filled with Superdreadnoughts being brought online for the first time in maybe three decades.

The 'station' was made up of four light cruisers, three of the old Apollo and Susanoo classes, but the fourth made up for that. Based on the Avalon class, she was less than four years old, and a Grayson Unit.

There were still members of Manticore's Navy that assumed that the Graysons were too hung up on their own religion to think of 'real names' for their ships, and in a lot of cases, that was true. But if someone heard the chopped off Purity for this ship, and commented, they were in for a shock. Anyone polite enough to ask got a quiet explanation, but the prejudiced got a look as if they weren't worth the effort first.

Her full name was Purity Logan Detweiler, and she was named after an enlisted woman almost as unique as Admiral Steadholder Dame Honor Alexander-Harrington. Between Second and 4th Yeltsin the Grayson navy had grown from a core of two light cruisers some destroyers and LACs to a full Task Group, almost 50 ships, most larger than anything they had ever seen before. A growth of almost 2,000 percent. They did not have the manpower trained as yet to command such a force, and they still depended on 'loaners', Manticoran personnel in Grayson uniform.

At first they had requested few women except as instructors, because they were unwilling to have mixed crews on anything in service. But 3rd Yeltsin made them change their minds. In a burst of generosity Then Vice Admiral Hamish Alexander gave them eleven of the SDs captured in the battle. With crews of 6,000 each, there was no way the Graysons could man even one such massive vessel, so they finally agreed that after modification, these ships would have mixed crews. Once separate quarters, bathing facilities and bathrooms were retrofitted, fully 25% of each ship's crew were women, including officers.

To pay the 'loaners ' back for their assistance, the Graysons tended to bump them four ranks, so an Ensign would usually end up a commander. But that ran head on into one enlisted woman who refused to take that leap. Purity Detweiler was already a Senior Chief, and had already turned down two attempts by her own navy to commission her. When the Graysons offered first a Lieutenant's Commission, then a Warrant, the woman had again refused. They had instead promoted her to the highest enlisted rank. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

They had hoped that by doing so, at least one woman would be behind a desk, but Purity shot that down as well. She told them calmly that if the rank got her a desk, she'd take a bust back to her original rate rather than accept. As she was suddenly the ranking petty officer in their navy, they couldn't refuse, so she was assigned aboard GSN Manticore's Gift as Bosun, as every senior petty officer aboard ship was in the Manticoran Navy, and the Graysons had willingly accepted that title aboard their own ships.

During her term she met and married Raphael Logan, a man half her age. In talks with her friends she had joked that the only way to get a good man was to pick a young one and raise him right. A Grayson, and a member of the Protector's Armsmen, they had intended to settle down to a happy life.

She had been aboard when that ship commanded by Rear Admiral Robert Trailman as commander of BatDiv Twelve sailed into 4th Yeltsin. Trailman had been so against women being aboard that every female officer had been assigned to secondary, safer duties. Having a woman senior to every enlisted man aboard had been even worse. That is why when they sailed into hell, every person in Damage Control Central aboard were women, two officers, three enlisted.

The battle lasted only minutes, but one SD, GSN Glorious was destroyed and every surviving ship of the squadron was damaged, none more than Manticore's Gift. Half of her wedge had been shot away, all but one fusion plant in emergency shutdown, over three thousand dead and wounded, including the sickbay and most of her SBAs. With both her captain and her Admiral dead, it was a time where even a seasoned officer might panic and abandon ship.

But in that maelstrom of horror a calm voice stopped that rush. Purity Logan Detweiler took control as if dealing with a fractious school room. She spent the next three hours patiently checking compartment after compartment, checking with any survivors there were, directing them to other survivors. Everyone knew her breathless voice must be because she was terrified, but they also knew that no Grayson would be willing to say a frightened woman was better than a man. So they put aside their own fear, and listened to her.

There were almost a thousand wounded, some mortally, trapped in compartments aboard. Her calm voice was the last some of them would ever hear. But she drew her shattered crew together to first survive, then to begin what repairs they could. She guided damage control parties to the wounded, having them concentrated in compartments where what sick berth attendants remained would do what they could. Every time a party passed near DCC she firmly directed them to others instead. In every Grayson crewman's mind, she was sitting there, the other women cowering as she did all the heavy work. She was all right, they assumed, and didn't want them to waste their efforts.

When finally the last wounded was gathered, she told Commander Smith, the senior surviving officer. “That's all I can do, sir. I'm going to take a nap, but if you need me, call.” Those were her last words.

The damage control teams had finished everything else, and every man aboard now wanted to get Purity out of there. What they found shamed them to their core. The 'cowering women' they had assumed were there had been dead for hours, the bulkhead around them had shredded them during the hell of the attack. Purity had been sitting in the command chair, both of her legs below the knee ripped away by a splinter, only her suit's automatic tourniquets keeping her alive. She had sat there, alone among the dead, patiently knitting back the shattered ship's company, her voice breathy not from fear, but from pain. Then when the last of them was saved, she had died quietly, and alone.

She was the second woman to earn a Star of Grayson, and every man of the 2,752 survivors aboard wished she had lived long enough to wear it.

Years later, when the Avalon Class blueprints hit the desk of their Buships, the Steadholders had tried to have them named for Armsmen who had died in service. One of them was foolish enough to ask Allison Harrington, Steadholder Harrington's mother. She had told them that perhaps they should name them for women that had died in Grayson service, and when that worthy had tried to tapdance around it, she had pointed to the one woman who had died saving her own crew at the cost of her life, a holder of the Star of Grayson, just as her own daughter was. Wasn't that woman worthy of such an honor?

Careful checking of their own records showed that either the new class would be the largest in their fleet, or they would have to change their minds about women in combat, and name several classes after the women who had already died in their service. At 4th Yeltsin alone over two thousand women had died doing their duty to a navy that thought of them as second class citizens.

Like the Superdreadnought named after her daughter, it was Allison Harrington who christened the Purity Logan Detweiler, and her motto was that woman's last words. The class was also the first ship below the wall in Grayson service where women were not only welcome, but expected. Purity would have had it no other way.

Rebecca Suggins rode this time as a passenger as her shuttle approached the Purity. Like every home built class of ship in the Grayson Navy, she was subtly different from the ones in Manticoran service. At 270,000 tons the Avalon class had been the last one built to fire the Mk 15 missile that had then been in production, making her less efficient than even the newer Roland Class destroyers with their Mk16 dual drive missiles.

But the Graysons knew about the missiles, and instead built their Purity class to carry the more efficient weapon. That was why she had only twelve tubes to a broadside instead of the Avalon's sixteen. She also carried only four grasers in her broadsides instead of the seven grasers and lasers of that class, but her grasers were the same size carried by a Manticoran dreadnought. Any ship of the wall foolish enough to get close would know they had been kissed when she fired. The only advantage to those still hidebound Graysons of the last generations was her crew size, only 160.

The shuttle rolled gently, and docking tube kissed her side, then the green light of a good seal came up. This tube, like a passenger ship had it's own gravity plates, and she marched over instead of swimming. A pity really, she enjoyed the sensation. The deck officer was surprised, but waited as she stopped at the line that marked where the shuttle was, and the ship began. Suggins snapped a salute. “Request permission to come aboard?”

The young ensign, a Gryphon highlander from her accent snapped an equally sharp salute. “Permission granted, ma'am.” When Suggins stepped aboard, she lowered her hand, and shook the hand of the young officer. “Your first load of supplies. The crew replacements are enroute. I have messages from Witch Maiden for your captain.”

“Understood. Connolly!” A young man came running forward to snap to attention. “Escort Lieutenant Suggins to the Captain's quarters.”

She followed as he led her through the ship. The captain's quarters were almost the full length of the ship from boatbay one, and she admired the ship. Perhaps one day she'd get a command like this.

Commander Isaac Winslow smiled, coming around his desk with his hand extended. He was taller than her, but still short and squat compared to the Manticorans she knew. She shook hands with him after she saluted, and he led her over to the small conversation pit where a pot of tea and some snacks from home waited. He sat, motioning to a chair, but instead, she snapped to attention. He looked at her curiously, his smile fading.

“My lord, your Steadholder has fallen, and to you he leaves his Key.” She took a deep breath. “As senior Grayson officer of my command, I bring this news, and ask that you return home and assume that office. The Steadholder is dead, may the Tester bless his successor with a long life.”

He had gone pale as she spoke the ritual words, but he didn't look away. “Please, sit, lieutenant.” She did as he bid, accepting the tea and some of the scones she liked so much. The man, now Steadholder, acted as if he normally poured tea for a woman rather than vice versa. “That must have been as hard for you as it was for me.”

“I almost sent Lieutenant Watson of my squadron to pass it, my lord.” She admitted. “But I am senior to him by four class positions in our graduating class.”

“I understand. If you will give me an hour, I will compose a reply. Things are going to hell here too quickly for me to run home. My entire squadron will have to go home if I pull the Purity out, and if it goes south in the next weeks, we will need the advantage of removing that sword of Damocles when we do.” He motioned toward the resting ships even now being brought back to duty.

“I understand, sir. I am at your service.”

“How did a Grayson, no, a Masadan Refugee end up a lieutenant JG aboard a Manticoran ship?”

“You do know the Witch Maiden's provenance, sir?” He shook his head. “She is one of the armed merchant cruisers Manticore sent into Silesia in the last war. They were one of the first pod layers ever designed, and we have the throw weight of a Medusa or Harrington, though we can't command as many pods as those ships can.

“They were also the very first LAC carriers, and we carry twelve. I am senior officer of that squadron.”

“Senior?”

“Yes. At the Battle of Manticore I was an ensign, as all of my fellow LAC commanders were. Between us of the 5500 in my graduating class you have 1100 class positions from junior to senior. I only stood at 2200.”

“Good God you have had to grow up fast then.” From the average Grayson it would have been condescending, but he seemed contemplative. “Like our navy itself.” He sipped his tea. “Once this cruise if over, what did you plan?”

She shrugged. “Maybe getting another squadron of my own, or a junior tac position, sir.”

“Have your captain send over your file.” He told her. “We have a replacement coming aboard for our junior tac position, and maybe we can get him traded off.”

“I would rather you didn't, sir.” She set down her cup. “Lieutenant JG Mueller is old school Grayson to the core. He'd see it as an insult to him and his Steading.”

“I see. Well, can't fault me for trying.” He offered more tea, but she refused. “Then I will have my reply shortly. When does Mueller arrive?”

She checked her chrono. “He should be boarding any minute now, sir.”

“And how did he react to having you deliver the message rather than him?”

“He was... upset, sir.” Actually he had thrown a hissy fit worthy of a Grayson Admiral from when Honor Harrington had first arrived. Only her captain backing the girl had halted him in his tracks.

“Anything else?”

Yes, sir.” She held out a chip folder. “Orders from Alliance command and home. You may be ordered to operate under Case Rasputin rather than Case Laocoon two.”

“Differences between the two?”

“Both variations on Laocoon were written before what happened to Manticore a few weeks ago. The full download is on the chip. It is believed that Manpower attacked both their home system and our own at the same time. We have no new ships building because everything was destroyed in the attack that killed your father. None of us do. The missile pods we're handing over are the last that we can assume will be produced in the next year to eighteen months.

“Rasputin is set to target the mothball fleets in our operating areas before raiding their commerce. Two of our stations, Adelaide and Shanghai have already been ordered out of Solarian League space.”

“So I was right to think they were the worst danger. Well we both have things we must do, Lieutenant.” He stood. “May the Intercessor watch over you, Lieutenant.”

She shook his offered hand. “May he guide your path, sir.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-24-2012, 12:49 AM   #10
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Mach, you have a very in-depth, thought out and amazingly interesting story enfolding here. You love to write, you have the patience to review what WE write and yet you still find time to post these pieces of work. I respect that.

All I can say, sir, is great work, and I am indeed waiting for more!


(Abby got one hell of a verbal beatdown! Rebecca's arguments were well choreographed and it was timed extremely well.)

Also, the morning after Rebecca and Kiel's drinking session was written very well. Much less awkward than what, for example, I myself would have made it, haha. We've all had mornings after like those: Waking up next to someone and trying to remember what the hell actually happened. Funny and disturbingly interesting all at the same time.

On a last note, the attack on Home System was brutal. Enough to light the fire to a blazing inferno in the hearts of Rebacca's command. I sense War. Some very intense scenes approaching? I'll wait and see as the story progresses!

Thank you for the afternoon read, Mach. Very enjoyable!

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Old 02-24-2012, 09:59 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by The_Catto View Post
Mach, you have a very in-depth, thought out and amazingly interesting story enfolding here. You love to write, you have the patience to review what WE write and yet you still find time to post these pieces of work. I respect that.

All I can say, sir, is great work, and I am indeed waiting for more!


(Abby got one hell of a verbal beatdown! Rebecca's arguments were well choreographed and it was timed extremely well.)

Also, the morning after Rebecca and Kiel's drinking session was written very well. Much less awkward than what, for example, I myself would have made it, haha. We've all had mornings after like those: Waking up next to someone and trying to remember what the hell actually happened. Funny and disturbingly interesting all at the same time.

On a last note, the attack on Home System was brutal. Enough to light the fire to a blazing inferno in the hearts of Rebacca's command. I sense War. Some very intense scenes approaching? I'll wait and see as the story progresses!

Thank you for the afternoon read, Mach. Very enjoyable!
Thank you for the praise, but if you want to get the starting point for my work, you have to thank David Weber who is still writing the Honor Harrington series. Every event at home portrayed was first done by him in his books. My additions are this crew (The basic ship type was in Honor Among Enemies) and the background given in the last posting about both the Purity Detweiller Class and her namesake's background and death as well.

That literally came to me as I was scripting out the scene where the Ambassador was passing on the News about the Grayson attack. The first I knew about it was when Lt Suggins commented about the captain of that ship.

I had originally thought of a more compassionate note for that 'beatdown' Abby went through, but then I thought of the description of other officers trying and failing to get through to her, so 'compassion hadn't worked maybe she need a swift kick in the butt' from her skipper. As I pointed out before it began, that is a make or break technique. She gets her own back in the next section. If you have ever seen a movie where a junior officer requests permission to speak freely to a senior, you'll have an inkling of what's going to happen when Abby asks.

The scene with Rebecca and Jinhua's 'morning after' had to follow them getting drunk together, and Jinhua's reaction just a teasing friend joking the other out of any worries. Though what might have happened she didn't talk about...

We have alarums and tension aplenty as soon as the next part is posted, and some of their own people (Thankfully not aboard their ship) will be less than stellar in their portrayals. And the fun is yet to begin. I didn't name this Wrath for nothing...


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 02-24-2012, 03:36 PM   #12
The_Catto
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I've never heard of the Honor Harrington series before. I might have to look it up someday.

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I didn't name this Wrath for nothing...
... Definitely can't wait!

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Old 02-27-2012, 12:58 AM   #13
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Angel of Death

A/N, When doing research into the Katana class, I realized that the inhabited planet of the Chantilly System is named Vespasian (Merely spelled with a second E) so I named the planet Augustus.

Rebecca Suggins held the pad in her hand as she entered Pri-fly. There was what was called a 'fighter jock' mentality from 2000 plus years ago, back when mankind was in just one system, and 'carriers' meant wet navy ships. When Admiral Dame Honor Harrington had recreated that mentality for space combat, it had been renamed the 'LAC jock' mentality. As that ancient believed, a 'proper fighter jock' had two 'big brass ones'. Meaning something no woman would posses.

But enough Manticoran women had proven to have had two 'big brass ones' that the rules had changed, and she had been assumed to have 'them' even if nature had never gifted her with the genitalia.

As commander of 'Composite Squadron 1175', Suggins had assumed her role with aplomb. She had proven efficient in her new role as a detached squadron commander. Pri-fly was a series of comfortable lounge chairs where her pilots sat, ready to accept her orders.

She faced her team, bringing up the next simulation. “Listen up, please. It's simulation time again, and this time we're drilling with our resident A-Tac instead of Tac actual. He has his own ideas of what to do in this simulation-”

“That bozo!” a female voice roared from the commander's seats. Emily Sandhurst commander of HMSLAC Berserker, the lead Shrike was almost screaming. “That pencil neck idiot wants to tell us what to do? Again?”

“Stand down, Em.” Suggins said mildly. The woman flounced back in her chair angrily. “We're going to be working with him, team. Whether it's in sims or in real life, we have to add him to the equation.”

“Yeah.” Tony La Bianca, commanding HMSLAC Weasel, the lead ferret pilot snorted. “Add him and delete us.”

“Come on, guys, no one chooses his test.” Watson, commander of GSNSLAC Gabriel said. There was a groan, but more good natured this time.

“I know you Graysons look forward to going to Jesus, Abe, but if he's in charge, we're all going to meet him sooner than I'd like.” Marsha O'Neal, commander of HMSLAC Reaper, also Shrike element 2 commander replied.

“That's quite enough.” Suggins said, her voice a little sharper this time. Her squadron was atypical in more ways than one. Most squadrons were all one type, Shrikes, Ferrets, or Katanas. Except for tossing them together when losses harrowed the LAC ranks, no one had even considered the make up of her team. Even then in normal circumstances like went to like 90% of the time. But with a cruise of ten months anticipated, there would be no juggling around like that. A lot of squadron commanders would see this as torment. Suggins saw it as a challenge. The three types of bird had different flight characteristics and roles.

The Shrike had been designed as a shipkiller from the start, and literally built around her battlecruiser sized grazer with her missile tubes tacked on almost as an afterthought. The A models had proven deadly to battleships at Second Hancock Station, but design flaws had been detected. The newer B model had removed the small landing bay at the stern and replaced them with six more point defense clusters.

On the electronic warfare end the ships were light, except when it came to stealth. So the next type, the Ferret was designed. The grazer was replaced with more missile stowage, and among them were the first fruits of the Ghostrider technology that could be scaled down for them, primarily decoys. However the Ferret could not reply to a full up warship in energy weapon range, so the Ferrets with their 56 missiles compared to the 20 of a Shrike became long range snipers rather than closing in with their fellows.

Like always the Graysons went their own way again. They had assumed, logically, that an enemy might design their own LACs to confront the Alliance, and went one step further. And so the Katana class was born. They replaced the main gun with three superdreadnought sized point defense laser clusters, balanced out it's missile battery to 84 by replacing those missiles with a variant of the standard Mk 31 countermissile, the Viper. A mixed shipkiller and counter missile, the Viper used a single lasing rod to make them highly efficient LAC killers at the expense of having almost no offensive capability against larger vessels. When the second war with Haven began, they proved their worth as additional counter missile defense for larger warships since they carried what amounted to 234 counter missiles compared to the 100 of the Shrike, and the 150 of a Ferret.

But if they were exercising with the ship herself, they had again been tasked as augmenting her defense; and while Tac actual had learned well to handle the small ships in that role, the A-tac was still learning.

“Think of it as a learning experience.” She told her crews, drawing a groan from the command pilots.

“Him learning what not to do? Or us looking again on the brighter side of death?” Valerious Dracul asked. Son of an immigrant family from what used to be Romania on Old Earth, Valerious claimed to be a linear descendant of the original Vlad Tepes, as his ship, the Shrike HMSLAC Vampire proclaimed. A devotee of every holo or video made about vampires, talking about the brighter side of death came from an ancient film named Van Helsing. The first time he used the phrase. Someone had repeated word for word what the title character had said, 'There's a brighter side of death?' and his reply was exact, 'Of course. It's just harder to see'.

Everyone laughed. Suggins tapped the podium. "All right, people, stations.” They stood, walking down the passageway to their boats. Above each entry way there was a name for the LAC beyond it, Berserker, Reaper, Panther, Vampire to port opposite Weasel and Wolverine; the two Ferrets with Shrikes Lillian and Chocaholic to starboard. Last to port was the last Shrike, Sabertooth, then GSNSLAC Gabriel, with Michael and Azreal, her ship last to starboard.

The Graysons had been late in one thing, and that was in naming their LACs, and the all important nose art. The first LAC she had commanded had merely been LAC Montrose Echo four, meaning the fourth LAC in Echo, or number four squadron, assigned to the Carrier CLAC Montrose.

The Captain of GSNS Mordechai had instead assigned names from the bible, and somehow she had ended up in command of GSNSLAC Delilah. But regardless of the medals she bore, she had never told the Manticorans one thing; She had never commanded a Katana, she had not even commanded a Shrike. All of the women including loaners (ten of the twelve commanders and all of the junior officers and enlisted in her squadron) had been assigned to Ferrets. After all, a Ferret was supposed to hang back, be safe. But nowhere was safe during the hell of the Battle of Manticore.

In a desperate attempt to save some of her flock, Mordechai had ordered them to break through and join the 5,000 odd LACs of Manticore's home fleet. But that meant threading the gauntlet of almost 200 enemy superdreadnoughts and the tattered remains of their screen. He had assumed that the ships of the wall would ignore them, but the screen had not. Suggins had found herself racing toward certain death, and inside she had changed.

Her orders, crisp and cool had kept her own crew calm even as everyone senior to her died. Then she, not the squadron, but she herself had found the last ship blocking their flight, a damaged but still battle worthy battlecruiser. The sole survivor behind her had gone dry helping to kill one of the two heavy cruisers her squadron had claimed, so there was no doubt. The missiles she had not fired as yet- almost twenty, punched into the massive vessel, the last fired at less than 500 kilometers; not knife fighting range, but suicide range. Her ship had passed it seconds before the forward fusion plant had destroyed the ship, and she, along with her sole wingman had survived.

Yet she had felt like a fraud as the Grayson Ambassador bestowed the Grayson Shield and Protector's Gratitude. When she had met Queen Elizabeth and had been given the Monarch's thanks, she had almost told that woman of her own cowardice, that she still had those missiles because others had died instead of her killing the cruisers. But she had said nothing.

When she had volunteered fior this assignment, the Manticoran navy had given her one of the Katanas fresh from the builder, assuming such a brave woman would want to get up close and personal with the enemy. But in her heart, she knew a coward was cowering in the corner, hoping she would never face that hell again.

She turned the corner, and stopped, staring at the nose art for her ship. While the ship Witch Maiden had been christened into the Andermani navy, albeit briefly, they had never designed of issued a plaque for that. Again when the rechristened Witch Maiden returned to Manticoran service a new plaque had not been issued. Someone in her first crew draft had noticed this, and had looked to his fellow crew members, and found Yeoman 1st class Pankowski. A devotee of old fashioned Japanese Anime and graphic novels of the last Century pre-Diaspora Pankowski had agreed to draw a proper ship's crest and motto.

Everyone that had boarded her had seen that new ship's crest; a young woman, dressed in a robe that exposed both legs and arms, one hand outstretched in claws toward the viewer, the other at shoulder's height with a ball of fire in her palm. Below it was the motto:

Who touches me dies.

When the squadron came aboard, their commanders had again availed themselves of Pankowski's services. Lillian had been the most fun to him, because after creating the logo, a woman sitting in a rocking chair knitting, the commander Hiram Logan had mentioned that 'Lillian' was his pit bull terrier. Everyone had roared when the new logo showed a woman with a pit bull head, blood dripping from her jowls as her 'paws' knitted.

Suggins had assumed she would merely be called 'Witch Maiden 001', or maybe 'Witch Maiden parasite actual', meaning the commander of the attached LACs. But her crew, and especially her LAC crews had blindsided her. The crews, dipping into the beer and booze a bit much had chosen the name the Manticoran Press had given her. So as every non Katana unit had been assigned a name of choice, the Katana had been given Angel names. Michael, equated with Jesus, the lead angel when he protects the followers of Christ. Gabriel, the Angel who would sound the last trump (As it is called) before Armageddon, and Azrael, Angel of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

She had been nicknamed 'Lady Death' by the Manticoran press after the Battle of Manticore, and as much as she had resisted that tag, it had stuck. When she had come aboard there had been bets among her LAC crews about her reaction to Pankowski's artwork. She had looked up at her own face (As she did now) above a female body that exemplified the Japanese Zochichi; literally 'big boobs' genre, where a woman had a bust size beyond even an adolescent’s dream of a large bust. The figure stood adamant, her left leg forward, and from her hands a scythe hung, the blade to her right. Her face was furious, and below it the logo, 'I've come for you'. She had surprised them all by laughing until she collapsed. Her attempt to change the name had fallen flat. After all Azrael was also the Grim Reaper, and they had a Reaper all ready. But that ship bore a skeleton warrior on a horse, and she had her self with ginormous udders.

So she looked at herself with an 'I' cup and merely smiled as she went aboard. Her crew, like her first commands all women, nodding to them as she assumed her command chair. She adjusted her headset, then touched the command push.

“Lady Death online.” She reported.

“Stand by.”

On the bridge Captain Duvalier motioned Samuel Zachery and midshipman Carruthers toward the tactical stations. “Man your stations.”

“Ma'am.” Zachery looked at the empty Tac actual seat, where Lt Hughes would be sitting.

The captain gave him a sour expression. “Lieutenant Hughes is having her appendix removed. If you wish we can signal the enemy and ask them to attack when she has recovered...” This was the second full week of drills twice a day where Hughes was absent, and the captain had not even been creative at first. But she had used her own brand of humor as well, saying Hughes was in the bath, having her hair or nails done. But after two weeks of resounding failures, she had not even tried anymore.

Zachary had flushed and refused, taking the Tac officer station. As they took their positions, the scenario loaded; two forces, one of two as yet identified ships 20 million kilometers (one light minute) ahead, with a second 20 million kilometers aft and closing, identified as four Nevada Class battle-cruisers. He spent a few seconds looking at their movement. The ones aft were running toward them at 4.8 kilometers per second. The ones forward... They had been closing for... eighteen minutes, but had decelerated at 3.9 kilometers per second, so now they hung there a light minute away maintaining their separation as Witch Maiden advanced at just under two kilometers a second.

“Flush our birds.” He ordered.

“Sir-” Abigail began. “Recon birds?”

“Do it.”

She sighed. “Lady Death flush your birds.” On the screens a dozen wedges appeared. Zachary marked their positions, and the squadron split; four Shrikes with a Ferret and a Katana slid forward as three Shrikes supported by a Ferret and two Katana moved aft.

“SSDD.”

“Keep it down Lillian.” The calm female voice cut across. The LACs moved away, taking station half a million kilometers both fore and aft.

Six minutes flowed by, the stern targets were closing fast, already over 30,000 kps of overtake. At that rate they would be within range in less than ten minutes.

“Roll pods. Bring beta targets under fire.” Abby's fingers flew as she programmed the pods, dumping them in swarms of six to fall aft. As the fourth pattern dropped all of them launched their missiles and 240 missiles screamed aft, targeted at one of their pursuers.

“Four minutes, ten seconds to attack range.”

Witch Maiden, targets ahead. Missile Pods!” Four pods opened fire at less than half a million kilometers ahead of the covering LACs. Then a hundred pods as far away as seven million kilometers all lit off. It wasn't a missile stream, it was a missile torrent as 800 missiles screamed toward them.

The covering force astern lifted, running toward the sudden menace, and the six LACs ahead began firing missiles into the comber of rampaging death.

“They are Pioneers!” Abby shouted.

The missiles began to die as counter missiles went out, but at this range there was time for only a single launch per tube, a single shot from the point defense lasers before they were in attack range. The lead LACs were smothered as the five survivors of the first wave rolled and fired from 10,000 kilometers away. Three survived that attack but the next was moving faster and thirty more missiles killed them.

Then it was Witch Maiden's turn as almost 700 missiles still bored in. Two minutes after the attack began the entire force was dead.

It was silent on the bridge as the screens went blank. Then a laconic voice from Chocaholic offered, “At least it was quick.”

“Can you say no effing way to stay alive?” came from Wolverine.

“You could have used some recon birds out there, Mister Zachary.” The captain said in a cold voice. “It would have taken the enemy almost four minutes to reprogram his birds, and pods are easy soft kills. That is, if you see them first.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Exercise complete.” She walked out of the bridge.

“As if we had a chance.” Zachary commented.

Rebecca walked into CIC and grinned at Gaelin. “You are so bad, XO.”

He started to answer, but another voice cut across. Zachary on the bridge said, “We couldn't have done any better.”

“Sir, may I have a word in private?” Abigail asked in a voice close to liquid helium in warmth.

The senior officers looked at each other, then tiptoed from the compartment, and into the passageway between the bridge and CIC. They hid against the bulkhead as the hatch opened, and the two younger officers came out. Zachary merely looked curious, but Carruthers looked like she was about to rip the bulkheads down with her bare hands. “Request permission to speak freely, sir?” The girl asked still looking away.

“Granted.”

She spun like a breech block closing, hands clasped behind her back. “Sir, with all due respect, you have your head so far up your ass that they have to pump in daylight. We had a chance in that last one to save ourselves, but you screwed up from the first second.”

“Abby-”

“If it had been real we'd all be dead, and it would be your fault! That's almost 30 times in the last few weeks where you made the mistakes and we poor peons had to try to fix it!”

“That is enough-”

“No sir, it is in my opinion not quite enough! I was better than you are right now in my beginning tactical class and I'll bet that if we trade places the next time, I'll do better with my eyes closed!” The senior officers watched as Zachary took a step toward the smaller woman, fists clenched.

“If hitting me will get you out of this stupid rut you've made for the entire deployment, then beat me to a bloody pulp! Go ahead!” She stepped up until she stood glaring up at him within easy reach. “Do it!”

Gaelin opened his mouth, and Rebecca's hand covered it. Then she stepped from the shadows. “Problems?” She asked softly. The pair spun around, their conversation not quite as private as they had hoped. Zachary unclenched his fists.

“No, captain. We were discussing the last exercise.”

“Really.” She crossed her arms, foot tapping, lips pursed. “At the top of your lungs, loud enough to be heard in CIC.” She lied.

“The midshipman just bet me she could do better, but we haven't set the stakes yet.” He looked at the girl. “What were you going to bet?”

“I prove myself better, and you buy the drinks until I am plastered, sir.” She snarled. “But I'm a light weight, so if I win you do it twice. If you win, I just have to get you drunk once.”

“You're on. When and where?”

“We're all standing here and nothing is planned except cargo handling.” The captain put in.

“Agreed.” The girl thrust out her hand sharply, and Zachary shook it.

“Then man your stations. I will let the exec know.” Rebecca turned, walking back toward CIC as the juniors returned to the bridge. The hatch had barely closed before she began to giggle like a school girl. “So far up his ass we have to pump in daylight?” She gasped. Gaelin was standing against the bulkhead, shoulders shaking convulsively.

“Such language! A good thing she asked to speak freely first, or we'd be seeing her at a Captain's Mast.”

Rebecca finally got over her giggles. Wiping her eyes. “Pick your nastiest scenario, Number One. Has to be a fair test.”

"Like the last one was? What Sollie in his right mind would waste half of his pods trying to nail this bucket?”

“One that knew about our pods, that's who.” She replied. “We'll face someone eventually that does, and someone with enough brains to pour water out of his boots would come up with it eventually. To your post.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

She walked forward, and the cold superior captain was back as she crossed the bridge to the command chair. “Whenever you are ready, Abby.”

“Waiting on the Exec, ma'am.” The girl replied crisply. “I've already warned pri-fly.”

“So nice to have attentive subordinates.” She hit the annunciator. “Number One, round two.”

The screens hashed, then they saw a single point source behind them, closing fast. It read CONTACT 20 MILLION KM; EIGHT BC, FOUR HEAVY CRUISERS SCREENING; APPROACH ACCELERATION 480G, SPEED NOW 30,000 KPS.

A shell of three dozen Ghostrider drones raced away forward.

“Contact! Enemy at 000, range 25 million km, four sources, acceleration 380 kps.”


“Ma'am, suggest turn to starboard of 45 degrees.” Abigail suggested as her fingers flashed across her board.

“Agreed, tactical. Helm, 45 degrees starboard. Come to 221 slash 000 true.”

“221 slash 000 true, aye, ma'am.” On the screen their heading changed to the suggested heading, and the ship charged forward now denying both forces a clear approach.

“Contact! Six sources, range 27 million kilometers, bearing 005!”

All well within range for the Hammers. She leaned back. “Azrael, this is A-Tac. Did you discuss our option with the Exec?”

“We have, A-Tac. He tells me it has not been tried, but we should be able to handle 60 birds each.”

She smiled savagely. “All birds, deploy in groups of four, low powered wedges only.”

“Roger, deploying now.” The LACs dropped away. At 2nd Hancock using both low powered wedges and stealth, they had been invisible to Manticoran sensors at 30 light seconds; nine million kilometers even charging in at 500 gravities. With wedges powered up but not running, had been undetected at just under a light second's range against Havenite sensors.

Even assuming parity, which no one who had run into the Sollies was willing to grant, that meant they would get into position for what she planned.

On the screen the teams of four raced away at more than twice their own speed of advance, the first team heading aft slowing and coming to rest at 14 million kilometers from the enemy now just under 18 million kilometers astern.

“Cargo five, four patterns of Hammers, now, now, now!” On the screen the pods dropped astern, then 240 missiles lanced aft. Zachary looked at the targeting information. “Abby-”

“Trust me, sir.” She said absently. “Wolverine, they're inbound.”

“We kind of noticed.”

In front of them, the other two teams were still running forward. “Skipper, suggest 25 degrees port to split our opponents.”

“Agreed, helm, steer 25 degrees port.”

Again the aspect changed. If they were on a clock face target Alpha was at 5 o'clock, Beta at 10, and Gamma at 2. The missiles just fired had just under five minutes to fly.

“Rails, four patterns of Mk23s, now!" She was setting their headings as they were dropping, and ordered a third set of four as those missiles fired. 720 missiles were aimed not at their targets, but at a point in space 14 million kilometers closer, where the LACs waited.

“Good lock.” Wolverine reported, and that group of missiles arced up and toward the enemy. Behind that wave came another and another at one minute intervals.

“Missile separation!' Alpha has fired pods tractored inside their wedges, at the LACs! 240 plus bound!”

Wolverine, weapons free, I repeat, weapons free!”

The third pattern was racing by the LACs as 24 point defense clusters and 16 missile tubes went to rapid fire. They thought the enemy missile would be ballistic after 13 million kilometers, but better to make sure. The enemy salvo went from over 240 to 200, 180, 150, a hundred, then dropped like a stone as lasers also went to rapid fire along with two massive grasers. The last of the salvo died 200,000 kilometers from the LACs as the first salvo from Witch Maiden screamed in. Even 12 warships were no match for it; after all, these had been designed to fight either the Manticoran Navy or Haven's forces, both of which had at least half again as many counter missile tubes, and almost twice as many point defense lasers. 200 missiles broke through the missile envelope, and almost 150 cleared the last ditch laser barrier. They all charged down on one battlecruiser, and her last ditch defenses weren't enough. The ship staggered, then disappeared as her fusion bottles went.

And 11 more salvos of equal size were inbound.

Forward, the missiles were bearing down on what the recon drones reported as two superdreadnoughts and two cruisers in Beta and four cruisers in Gamma. The same number of missiles had been fired at each, and the LACs offered not only mid course corrections but also exclusion files as the enemy had activated their Halo/Aegis variant anti missile defenses when the ship had fired. The missiles again chose one target, and one SD staggered away, a clear mission kill from Beta, another exploded in Gamma.

Ten minutes into the engagement, with seven battle-cruisers, four SDs and five cruisers dead, Rebecca shut down the simulation. It was a clear overwhelming victory. The screens again showed Augustus below them.

In Vine Et Veritas

A/N, after Rebecca and Jinhua had their drunken evening, I wanted to show the actuality rather than the aftermath. So I created the next section in what I call Drunk-Speak. To write in Drunk-Speak follow these simple guidelines:

1) script it out first. Know what they are going to say then;
2) rewrite the statement, but picture someone three sheets to the wind, with maybe a fourth being deployed, and:
3) Have fun with it!

Abby looked into her, what, fifth, sixth pint of beer? Samuel (Call Me Sam) Zachary was all right really, and while she had stuck to beer, he was drinking two shots of whiskey to each pint. He had just admitted that it was his love life that was causing the problem, and she was following it, sort of.

“There I wash, stanning onna, onna, the entryway thingie when my lover of three years told me she'd met someone on Heph, on Heph, onna station, and they were getting morted, no, wrong word. Hitch.

“Bad.” She said. She was peering owlishly at the menu. “Barkeep! Wha's this duppelback thing?”

“Doppelbock.” He replied, smiling. “Double strength dark Lager.”

“Gimmie one.” She said. Then she turned back to her partner. “Is that all?”

He shook his head, knocdking back another jigger, then pouring. “Nah. She was onna, onna the station when the attack hit, so I don even have a chance to reconcile.”

“Rilly bad, sir.” She sipped the dark beer. Not bad. “Sir, if you wan some advize, advise, suggestion, I think you need to-” She considered. “Thing ya do with chickens.”

“Fry?”

“Nah-”

“Barbeque?”

“Nah. Not chicken, eggs-”

Hatch?”

“No.” She sipped. “Laid.”

“Huh?”

“Get laid.”

He considered, sipping his next shot instead of knocking it back. “So who?”

“Sasha Dwyer likes you.” she replied. “Thins you re dreamboat.”

“Thinks?”

“Tha to.” She replied.

“Really?”

“Rilly, rilly.” She replied. She turned, motioning and almost knocking herself from the stool when she did. Only a quick grab by Zachary kept her in her seat. She pointed, one eye closing to clear the double vision she was dealing with. The woman she marked out was a 1st class petty officer 1.5 meters tall, with bright red hair. “She likes you lots. Becca said so.”

He pondered. “Tha Cap'n-”

“No.” She waved her arms, falling backwards, and again he rescued her. “Cap'n an, an, Lady Death, they have th same first name, who-da thunk?” She smiled, then her smile froze, and she took on a greenish tinge.

“Sir, I have ta, have ta-” She clapped her hand over her mouth, and staggered toward the freshers.

Zachary looked after her for several seconds. What was she suggesting? Wasn't that a violation of Article One-Nineteen? Then again it only applied to personnel in the same direct chain of command. Would an LAC crewman be in his line of command?

A cup of coffee landed in front of him, and he looked at it blearily for several seconds, then at the hand of the woman that had set it before him. What was the name? “Sasha?”

“Yes, sir.” She peeled his hand away from the shot glass, folding it around the cup she had delivered. “I thought you've had enough to drink tonight.”

He picked it up, the scalding beverage tearing up his throat. “God, need sugar.” She merely picked up a spoon, dumping sugar until he signaled her to stop. He finished the cup, then looked at the second cup she delivered, already sweetened.

“So you...what, like me?”

“With all due respect sir-”

“S'okay, I'm outta line.” He said. Of course the girl had been wrong, why else-

A hand caught his chin, and turned his face to look at her. “I wasn't saying no, sir. It's just as they say on Grayson, 'drink promotes the desire, yet removes the ability.” She leaned forward, her lips touching his cheek. “When we do... that, I want you to perform.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 02-27-2012 at 01:40 AM.
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Old 03-06-2012, 01:16 PM   #14
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The Gauntlet

This evolution took less time, primarily because the new Steadholder Winslow ran a taut station. His cruisers had half a dozen planets to patrol, showing the flag. But he had worked out when Witch Maiden would arrive, so all four were here.

Captain Duvalier found herself fighting when three of the ships requested Dolaryde as a new crewman. That included Purity where he'd been promised a warrant if he transferred. She found her own officers fighting alongside her. One of Jinhua's ratings had supplied a German style beer recipe which was the basis of his latest production of doppelbock and they also fought to keep the young brewmeister.

11 days after their arrival, Witch Maiden bid them farewell as she powered toward the hyper limit. The next stop was Copperplate. Some good did come of their time; both Zachary and Carruthers were remorseless in their attention to duty. Rebecca was unsure who might have told the midshipwoman why she had stayed aboard when Tregant had gone home to die, but she had buckled down and her concentration was just short of fanatical. Zachary, in a new relationship had settled down, and was delivering quality work again. The bridge had become a place people wanted to work on, and the captain was happy.

Nine days after leaving Vespasian, they entered Copperplate. The local Sollie fleet unit was barely willing to talk to them, and instead of the Manticoran Embassy, the local Andermani embassy called up to request that both Rebecca and Jinhua come down.

The city was under martial law, rioters fighting with police under banners that read MANTICORAN MURDERERS! The Andermani embassy stood on Embassy Row three blocks from what had been the Manticoran embassy, and now was a burned out husk.

“The League has gone insane.” Rebecca commented as they passed through yet another riot scene.

“Driven to it.” Jinhua commented. “The Sollies are pushing it hard.” She looked out at a crowd staggering away from a tear gas barrage. “It will end in their blood and those fools don't realize it.”

The guards that would usually be in dress uniform were instead in full combat gear, a pair opening the gates as the others were ready to protect the compound.

Ambassador Brigadier Count Nika Von Karlsruh stood when they entered, shaking hands, then leading them to the conversation pit. “Much has happened, Kapitain. Your embassy was expelled from Copperplate three days ago after they released the judgment of their 'impartial investigation' into the events in the Quadrant. Though as yet, they and the other Manticoran residents have not left.” Her tone was mild, but sarcastic.

“Then where are they?” Rebecca asked, remembering the ruins of the embassy.

The local authorities have relocated them to the space station for their own safety. A Solarian flagged line, the Solar Queen, is being chartered to return them home. But the rioting we have been having here has also occurred there. There have been a number of injuries.”

“I know there weren't many marines assigned. I have a full company of them aboard. With your permission, I can contact my ship and have them deployed to protect our people.” It took only minutes. She returned to the conversation. “You mentioned an investigation. What was there to investigate?” Rebecca asked.

“More a matter of spin control.”The ambassador poured tea, leaning back in her chair as she sipped. “It begins when the Manticorans slipped a contact nuclear weapon onto the station at New Tuscany-”

“We what?”

“As I said, spin control. They haven't been able to prove who placed the bomb, therefore you did.” She sipped the fragrant tea, then took a ginger biscuit. “You sent three destroyers into the system and discovered the Frontier Fleet battlecruisers in orbit, and your commodore Chaterjee ordered the bomb detonated. When Admiral Byng called upon them to surrender, your commodore refused, and was destroyed.” She smiled sardonically. “Of course the records of that were deleted when you took control of their ships later.”

Rebecca had set down the cup rather than smash it. “And they expect the League's people to believe this?” She asked in outrage.

“My father is a history professor at the University of Karlsruh on New Potsdam, specializing in Christian Era pre Diaspora Earth. The Nazis of that time used what was later called the Big Lie; telling a falsehood so large that no one would accept it was a lie. This is but the beginning.

“When the destruction of your destroyers was reported, your Admiral Gold Peak started phase two of your plan. She arrived in New Tuscany in command of a task force of cruisers escorting six ships you claim were battlecruisers, but were in reality pocket battleships. Your admiral promised a truce, then when they reached orbit, she then violated that truce; revealed their true nature, and demanded Byng's surrender. He did so to save his crews. Your Admiral took three ships, falsified the battle you claim was fought for public release deleted all records of the true events, then slagged down the computers assuring that the only data the League had was your 'spin'. The Jean Bart was taken beyond the system, and she along with her crew were destroyed there.”

“Madness!” Rebecca picked up her tea, drinking. “And how did we defeat a Sollie Superdreadnought task force?”

“Oh you will love this.” The ambassador offered the biscuits, then took a chocolate chip one for herself this time. “Your plot was obviously long range, because you had agents within the League who planted explosives on some of the ships of the fleet Admiral Crandall commanded. When she came to Spindle, with peaceful intent mind, your forces brazenly set them off, slaughtering the crews of 14 superdreadnoughts and decimated the crews of nine more. Then, your agents assured that Admiral Crandall did not live to tell the truth.” Rebecca nodded. Obviously she was not the only one to notice the shot placement from Crandall's 'suicide'.

“And why have we done this?” Rebecca asked.

“It is obvious.” The Ambassador said. “To force the Solarian League to allow your usurpation of their divine mandate to bring all of human space under the benevolent control of the Solarian League of course.”

She set down the cup again. “Are they insane?”

The ambassador shook her head. “They are becoming desperate. The Star Empire is the first real opponent they have faced since Earth's Last War; almost two millennia of being the biggest kid on the block. Always getting their way. I think they believe their superiority is given directly by a benevolent deity.

“An author once likened such an nation to a water empire. Land empires die when an enemy surrounds them, then masses in strength; or wears them down. But a water empire; the fusion of a land force with a Navy, can only collapse when attacked from within and weakened first. Look at Greece under Alexander, or Rome, or the United States two millennia later. That is what they fear.

“Their government has been static for all this time, yet the Office of Frontier Security has been expanding their hegemony, adding new 'client states' as they call their new conquests when they were in the mood. Every time they have done so, they have installed governors, or replaced them with governments more pliable in 'monitored elections'.

“We in the empire admittedly have used the same technique for several centuries; you find a small struggling nation that is weak, and gently convince them to join us. Sometimes not so gently. But not on anything approaching the League's rapacious appetite. Copperplate,” She waved her hand to encompass the world beyond, “was added to the League when a 'terrorist' organization began attacking Solarian businesses, 'forcing' the League to come in and take over to find the elusive brigands themselves about one hundred and fifty years ago.

“Of course everyone outside the League knows the terrorists were armed and funded by Solarian business interests because of Copperplate's economic competition with those same interests. So the Verge moved outward, and the new sepoy warriors of Frontier Security were drawn from here, further weakening the local forces trying to resist. So now Copperplate is a loyal and happy member of the League.

“Yet on just about every Shell world outside the Old League itself there are organizations that would leap in and seize control if they had the chance. It reminds me of the Arab/Israeli conflicts; every time the Jews won another battle, and seized more land, the Arabs would demand that Israel return the land just taken; as if it were a game of poker using no real money. When they made these demands, they also expected the Jews to merely leave the towns, farms, even businesses intact for the 'proper owners' to take over.

“Most of those usurpers firmly expect that if the League ever collapses, the businesses begun since their annexation will merely be left there to be taken. They no longer know what was theirs originally beyond a grandparent telling them 'once that land there belonged to my grandfather'; so all of it is theirs logically.

“While the League appears to be a monolith impossible to destroy, it is in reality the Old League squatting on the shoulders of those who want to go their own way, waiting for a hammer to shatter the surface and some of those underdogs see the Star Empire as that hammer. Worse yet, enough of the bureaucrats realize that it could be true.

“That the League bureaucrats cannot allow. Once such a break up begins the League will shatter like a broken Christmas ornament. To stop that they must crush the Star Empire in such a way that no one within the League dare to try to revolt. The ambassador sipped her tea. “Of course there is a new problem for you.”

“Always.” Rebecca was wishing for something alcoholic. “What next?”

“Fleet command on Old Earth has ordered Fleet Admiral Massimo Filareta to deal with your intransigence. He is at present in the Tasmania sector approximately three months travel distance from Manticore. He is to attack what little remains of your home fleet, occupy the orbitals, and force your Queen to surrender.”

“They'll have their heads handed to them is what will happen.” Rebecca replied confidently. “How could they honestly think they will win?”

Their analysis of the situation is different from yours and mine. Their Fleet command has, what is the term, 'cherry picked' their data.”

“What does that mean?”

Jinhua sighed. “In intelligence work, there are two ways to manage data, polar opposites of each other. The wise intelligence officer may have their own pet theory as to what is occurring, but will look at the data impartially. If the data fits the theory, you still look for anything that refutes it. Only when a clearer picture is revealed do you deliver it as fact.

“But there is a tendency in less honest analysts to do it in reverse. Everything that refutes their theory is removed, so the data has been picked over like a cherry picker choosing only the ripe fruit they want as it were. When you ask them for the situation, they deliver not the facts, but their spin on those facts.”

“So OOA has given them this handpicked mess?”

“Oh no.” Jinhua looked surprised. “The Office of Operational Management is not that stupid. After all they are primarily still junior level serving officers who can lose their places at the feeding trough if a disaster occurs and it was due to their analysis.”

“That is it exactly.” Nika replied. “Their senior staff officers have massaged the data to create their perfect scenario when OOA gave them the data. They added several modifiers based on what they 'knew' were true, and their equation was 2+2=Pi.” She took a chocolate cookie. “They assumed first that the Manticoran Press lied about their losses as the Solarian press would have. You claimed 138 SDs destroyed to 258 Republic SDs, but they assumed closer to two for every three, so they assume you lost closer to 200. That was over half of what your fleet had. The only thing that saved you was Eighth Fleet, which was the only force that was equipped with Apollo. So then premise two comes into play.

“Premise two is that Apollo was so new that your Eighth fleet was authorized to use it to frighten the Republic into pausing but no more. Partially this is exactly what happened; only your 8th fleet was authorized to use Apollo because production had not fully kicked in. Here is where the analysis falls apart. You are used to an R&D period of months while they are used to the same period being a decade or more. While a Solarian supplier would have just started the first full production line you had one fully dedicated line with three retooling. But this leads to premise three.

“Since supply of the newer Apollo missiles is limited, and you knew you would undoubtedly be attacked by the League again after your scout detected Crandall's task force, your navy used the threat of Apollo to hold off the Republic, yet stripped most if not all of the Apollo pods from home fleet and sent them to Spindle. You used your cruisers to control the pods because pulling the actual superdreadnoughts might have been detected. Yet you used the equivalent of a dozen full load outs for superdreadnoughts, about half of what you had at the time; again, as they had estimated. With Haven now negotiating, they have left what had been sent to Spindle.

“Premise three: Assuming premise one; your previous losses, and premise two, the shortage of Apollo missiles, you now have the Manpower attack. The enemy had to come through your defenses, so the 200 odd SDs you still had were devastated by their attack-”

“Wait, it was a complete surprise! Our active ships weren't even engaged!” Rebecca almost shouted.

“True, but they are assuming superior sensors on your part and again, a controlled press, so the enemy had to fight their way through your defenses, meaning losses on both sides. More than 300 Havenite superdreadnoughts failed to break through, so five hundred or more of this 'invisible enemy' succeeded where Haven failed, and decimated what remains of your home fleet in the process, though you have not admitted it. By their estimate, you have perhaps eighty remaining.”

“So we only have eighty or so SDs; how have we made our fleet as large as it would appear?”

“Transponders. You slip squadron A into Trevor's Star, change the transponders so it reads as squadron B, and have it return. A dozen ships become 24, and by having the ships cycle through six of your seven wormhole Junctions; obviously you can't use the Beowulf Junction because the League can monitor that one easily, but you now have 72 'ships' reported.”

Rebecca nodded. “I can see their logic, even if it is flawed. So Fleet Admiral Filareta will assume a walkover. What is he bringing to this party?”

“His original force was estimated by your ONI at approximately 300 of the wall though Imperial intelligence reported his force at 320. However every sector base around them has been ordered to reinforce his Fleet. Our own intelligence estimates if he waits a mere three months longer before he sails, he will have between 450 and five hundred of the wall with screen.”

“They might succeed.” Rebecca admitted. “Though only the Solarian League would be willing to accept the losses they will suffer in such a Pyrrhic victory. Even if they win it will have a butcher's bill anyone else would avoid!”

“They can afford those losses, after all, he is leading less than a tithe of their total forces.”

“Well if it happens, what I am doing here becomes more important.”

“I agree.” Nika set down her cup, then went to her desk and picked up a chip folder. “I have been authorized by your ambassador to pass on the mail for Termagant station, along with additional orders for you. Admiral Givens has simply ordered you to continue your present mission,” she smiled, “as if I knew what that was. Godspeed, Captain.”

The power of a bluff

Witch Maiden Cargo one and two inbound.” Lieutenant JG Benjamin Haskell reported to Copperplate Main 1 station.

“Cargo one, what is your cargo?” The station asked.

“We're a fleet auxiliary carrying personnel for our stations.” He replied. “When we heard about the rioting, our captain requested permission to transfer some of those Marines to replace the Andermani unit presently supplying security.”

“Thank God. We need to get those butchers out of here before they can cause any more trouble. cargo bay seven is closest to the Solar Queen. Follow the approach markers designated.” A series of beacons began to flash.

“Beacons in sight. On approach.” While Haskell had not been lying, he hadn't told the truth. The Marines weren't passengers; they were part of the ship's company. But officially fleet auxiliaries did not have assigned marine detachments. Witch Maiden with her design and true designation as a merchant cruiser, did.

The shuttles landed and the first and second platoon doubled out to stand at attention. Lieutenant Robards walked down the lines, then faced the hatch. “First platoon, right face, second platoon left face!” Now two lines of people in marine unpowered armor now faced it as well. “Forward, march!” The locals backed against the bulkheads as they passed. There were angry grumbling, but no one in their right mind wanted to mess with armed Manticorans.

The entry way for the Solar Queen was guarded by a group that would have given even an armed enemy pause. Unlike Manticore, the Andermani Empire used army units for both shipboard and embassy service. These had been seconded from the Totenkpof Hussars, meaning Ambassador Von Karlsruh was at least partially related to the imperial family. They also had a fearsome combat reputation. Robards looked to the left side of the entry way, where a reddish brown smear ran halfway down with another larger stain on the deck. “Halt!” He shouted, and the people snapped into stillness. “Lieutenant Michael Robards, Manticoran Marines.” He saluted.

The officer on duty snapped a parade ground salute. “Leutnant Tei Ping Krenzler, fourth squad, third platoon, third company, First battalion, Totenkpof Hussars.”

“We are here to relieve you.”

“We stand relieved.” They exchanged salutes again as the Marines marched aboard, a squad taking the Hussars' place.

“If I may?” Robards motioned Krenzler over to the stain. He ran his hand over it. “A good bluff.”

“Bluff sir?”

Robards smiled. “We have a team from the Empire aboard. I saw them interrogate a slaver.” He turned around. “Had to make do with what paint you could get?”

The man's eyelid lowered slowly in a wink. “I have no idea what you mean, Leutnant.”

“I do hope you took samples to prove you didn't kill anyone.”

“Of course.”

Separation

Rebecca read the new orders, sitting back with Irene purring on her lap. The kitten had grown to almost twice her original size and she had finally stopped treating her captain like a mountain to scale. Of course she was leaping onto her shoulder instead, which made that a mixed blessing. The deliveries to both Adelaide and Shanghai had been canceled of course. Her instructions were to parcel out the 600 pods that would have been delivered to her future stops. But that still meant she had everyone picked up so far (almost 200) and those bound for those now deactivated stations (another 150) who had to be sent home as quickly as possible. She tapped her annunciator. “Bridge, Lieutenant Hughes.”

“Diedre, could you have Commodore Hernandez and captains Phelps, Reagan and Grace report to my office, please?”

“At once, Ma'am.”

Ten minutes later, Hernandez came in followed by the captains. Only two, Robert Grace and Antonia Reagan, had come aboard on her pick ups so far, bound for Shanghai as the new squadron commander and to assume command of a cruiser in Adelaide respectively. She stood, saluting the two officers senior to her, though Grace was only her superior as a brevet commodore for the assignment.

“Sir, gentleman and lady, as you know, Stations Adelaide and Shanghai have been ejected from Solarian space. That means your assigned ships are enroute back to the Star Empire. Usually I would just carry you deadhead until we return home in four months, but the situation does not permit it. The Admiralty has ordered all of you along with those going to the named stations to return home by the quickest available transport, and the Solar Queen, which has been chartered to return our civilians and the embassy staff, leaves in fourteen hours.” She looked to Hernandez.

“Your orders are at your own discretion, sir. We only have five more stations to supply, and all of them have been in Solarian space for less than a year.”

“Understood. I think I will go along with you, if you don't mind, Captain.”

“Since you have been consistently beating my Number One at Shogi, sir, I personally would not mind.” The other officers chuckled at that.

“I don't mind.” Grace commented, his brown hair neatly combed. It was traditional that a captain of a ship was the only one allowed to wear a proper white beret, and he must have foregone any headgear at all. “It means I may get a full squadron of light cruisers instead of half of one.”

“You may at that.” Rebecca chuckled. “You will need to study this data on your way home, and you commodore can study it while we continue. Those of you homeward bound will be facing serious problems. The Sollies might be attacking us in the near future. All of the information including analysis by both ONI and Andermani intelligence is on the chips. It's been a pleasure to sail with you all.” She came around the desk, shaking hands with the captains. She winced as Irene leaped to her shoulder again, and she looked at the furball in disgust. “Great, another heartfelt discussion interrupted by you.” The other officers laughed as they filed from her office.

She sat, going through the files of the people returning home. She had already been forced to 'rob Peter to pay Paul' when she had taken Bond from his assignment along with the snottie. She shook her head. It didn't matter except that her own crew would have been shorted to make up for it. She earmarked Midshipman Flannery. Bound for Adelaide, he could replace Carruthers for Tidewater. And this Lieutenant Tyler, he could take Hughes' place at Capwell.

That left her an already well functioning tactical team, and from the looks of what was happening in the League, she expected she would need them.

Rioting actually increased as locals poured onto the station, but the incidents had not reached the dangerous stage as yet. After speaking with Major Reardon she had Robard's fifty people detached to the Solar Queen to assure that she would not be mobbed when the marines returned aboard. There was chip after chip of data transmitted from the refugees; of being literally dragged from their homes. Of local authorities informing them that their assets (Except for bank accounts) being seized to pay for their expulsion, of injured and even dead in the rush to force them out of the League. Picketers had suddenly massed at the entry way to the ship, and only hard faced marines (now standing double guard) had kept them at bay.
Rebecca had copies sent down to ambassador Karlsruh as the time counted down.

Two hours before departure, a third of the crew of the Solar Queen suddenly decided to walk off the job rather than assist 'Manticoran murderers'. The captain of Solar Queen hailed Witch Maiden with the news. “I'm sorry, Captain. Without my power room techs and engineers, we're stuck.”

“Do you know of any reason why your crewmen would suddenly walk off, sir?” Rebecca asked.

He shook his head. “Most of the people that walked were Union men. They're risking being blacklisted. Wait a moment, I've got an incoming call from the station. Please hold.” The Solar Line logo flashed up, and Rebecca leaned back in her command chair. She had been dealing with this for over twelve hours now, and had gone to simmer and was now at a full boil. She had a sneaking suspicion about what would come next... The screen came back up. “Copperplate claims your people have not reimbursed their people adequately for the damages caused down below-”

“Oh so first they run them out of town, then they expect them to pay for the damage their own citizens caused in the rioting?” She cut him off. “And how are they to pay for this?”

“The local banks are being told that their bank account are to be seized as well, but the banks have refused. The government wants them to allow the seizure.”

“They can go to hell.”

“But captain, I told you. The departments that walked were primarily my engineering crews. I can't depart without them.”

“You have almost 500 of my naval personnel aboard as passengers, paying passengers, mind. There are more than enough engineers among them to man those stations for you.”

He looked shocked. “Ma'am, my remaining crew might protest that, captain.”

“Then put them off as well. I am not going to leave my fellow citizens stranded with people who have already seized over a billion Manticoran dollars worth of property and merchandise yet want more!”

“I can't do that, Ma'am. If my crew walks, I will have to walk with them.”

“There are three officers aboard there even now that can command her through to home. If you would like, hand her over to one of them. But your ship leaves in-” she glanced at the chrono, “-eighty-five minutes, whether you are aboard or not.”

“I will do so under protest ma'am.” Covering your ass, she thought. “I will contact your senior officer and hand command over to him. Good luck.” You'll need it, his face suggested.

She rocked her command chair from side to side for a few moments, gathering her thoughts. “Millie, is there another, local legation that is friends with us at the moment?”

“Hold one, Ma'am. Yes, Secaucas and Beowulf both have local trade legations.”

“Contact both. Tell them I am going to dump data from this mess in orbit, and I request they forward it independently to both Manticore and Old Chicago on Earth.”

“Wait one.” She rapped at her keyboard, whispering into her throat mike. A moment later she repeated it. After another long moment, she turned. “Captain, Secaucas has regretfully refused to accept the commission. However the Beowulf Legation chief is online now.”

“Contact the Andermani Embassy, while you do, I'll speak with the representative from Beowulf.”

The screen by her left knee cleared. The woman reminded her of Jinhua; the same inscrutable face, but with a twinkle in her eyes. “This is Alissana Ming of Beowulf. We have been following the events in orbit with a great deal of alarm. How may we assist?”

“Andermani ambassdor on line two!” Millie shouted.

“Do you mind if we bring the Andermani ambassador in, madam? I would hate to have to explain what I am doing twice.”

“By all means, Captain.”

“Three way!” She ordered. The screen split into two views, each oriental woman looking a bit surprised. Rebecca first introduced them, each used the old Chinese 'shaking your own hands' motion that spaceflight and visual communications used when introduced. She rapidly filled them in on what was occurring on the station.

“So we are left with our own naval personnel replacing the crew of Solar Queen; 450 of her passengers, yet I do not expect the government of Copperplate will accept that.”

“Not surprising.” representative Ming sniffed. “Copperplate has always felt they needed to get their own back from the Galaxy.”

“Agreed.” Nika Karlsruh replied. “Manticore is not the first Extra-League star nation to suffer this.”

“Not only Extra-League.” Ming demurred. “Solarian League planets have dealt with this before. How may we help you, captain?”

“Yes, tell us.” Ambassador Karlsruh asked.

“Forwarding the entire sordid mess now.” signaled and Heinreid dumped it to the two diplomatic parties. “That is only so far.”

Rebecca watched as the two women downloaded the take. When they looked up, they looked as if their homes were mere kilometers, not almost a thousand light years apart. “What do you need, captain?” Beowulf answered.

“Tell us what we must do.” The Andermani replied.

*****

It took almost 95 minutes as the last of the Solarian crew departed. Her own detached naval personnel took those now vacant positions, which caused another furor from below; that the Manticorans had seized the ship in an act of piracy. She was sure it played well in the local media, but at this point she did not care.

Be honest, woman, she told herself tartly. That's what's really scaring the crap out of you. You're not afraid of getting killed. Well, not terrified of it, at any rate. What you're really afraid of is that you personally—you, Rebecca Duvalier are going to screw this one up. That this isn't really the right job for a woman who'd rather outwit them than just kill them all and let God sort them out, no matter how much the average Sollie ******* deserves it. That the Star Empire is going to find itself fighting for its life against the Solarian League because the wrong woman was in the wrong spot and you screwed the pooch today.

Solar Queen has detached her moorings.” Zachary reported.

Solar Queen, you do not have permission to depart. Return to your dock!” The station demanded.

Solar Queen's reaction thrusters pushed her clear of the station, but no tugs moved to assist. “Bring our impellers up. Helm close to within 400 kilometers at ten gravities, and reverse course so we come to dead stop at that distance. Have our tractor beams locked on her. We'll tow her to minimum safe distance.”

“Close at ten Gs aye.” With a thrust so gentle that even without her inertial compensator it would have been unnoticed through the grav plates, the ship slid forward. “Reversing at this time.” The ship flipped lazily end for end, now decelerating away, she came to a stop with her wedge a bare 100 kilometers clear. “On station, ma'am.

Witch Maiden, abort your approach! You're too close!”

“Tractor beams locked on.”

Solar Queen, make sure your grav plates are up.”

“We're ready, Witch Maiden. But take it slow.”

“Slow and steady it is. Helm, 20 gravities.”

“Twenty gravities now.” Aboard Witch Maiden they felt nothing as she moved forward. On the liner the 'felt' gravity was about 1.5 standard, about what would be felt on take off by a passenger aircraft.

Witch Maiden, Witch Maiden, you are assisting pirates in escaping lawful authority. You will disengage your tractor beam, and strike your wedge now!” The station yammered.

“Copperplate Main one, this is captain Duvalier of Witch Maiden. We are assisting in relief efforts after your 'lawful' authorities violated Solarian Law to steal their property and forcibly ejected them from your planet. We will continue in those efforts. Witch Maiden clear.”

Solar Queen now 200 kilometers from station, rate of advance 2.5 kilometers per second.” Zachary reported.

As the two ships moved away Abigail stiffened. “Ma'am, weapons and lidar coming active on the station. Sidewalls are spinning up.”

“Battle stations.” The siren sounded, and Rebecca could picture the sudden burst of energy as her crew raced to their stations.

Gaelin punched a button. “Chief Steward Oselli, carry Irene over to my quarters; she can share Holmes' survival module.”

“Thank you, Number One, I had forgotten that.” Rebecca murmured. “Millie, contact the station. At her nod, Rebecca's voice took on a cold tone. “Copperplate Main One, this is fleet collier HMS Witch Maiden. You have activated your weapons and aimed them at a unit of the Manitcoran fleet, and the ship we are assisting. You are committing an act of war. You will stand them down immediately, or we will be forced to take steps.” She looked at Heinreid, but that worthy merely shook her head. “Lieutenant Hughes?”

“Mister Zachary, light off our radar and lidar, concentrate on the military portion of the station alone. Hull map them!”

The man smiled as he did what he had been told. In animation they sometimes have a scene where the hero instead of speaking aloud will mumble, or whisper. In those scenes the 'villain' will lean in until his ear is mere centimeters from the victim, at which point the 'hero' screams or blows a trumpet, usually followed by a vision of drums exploding from the other ear. They were doing the space equivalent of bending over and screaming 'hey stupid!' in their ear. At this range, a lot of the station's surface sensor gear would be fried by the pulse.

Heinreid turned from her station. “Ma'am, Copperplate Main 1 station commander online. He seems... upset.”

“Do tell.” She turned facing forward on her own ship. “Helm, stand her on her toes, give us minimum safe distance from Solar Queen, run out the guns. Eight grasers as large as anything carried by a superdreadnought slid from her hull and their tracking crews locked them on the station. She gave them ten seconds to realize what they had gotten instead of a merchant ship before she ordered, “Put him through.”

The man whose face appeared looked stunned. “Commander, you have a choice. You will stand down your weapons immediately, shut down your sidewall generators, and cease tracking these vessels. You are already guilty of illegal confiscation, and unless you stand down your planet will also be charged with attempted extortion and attempted kidnapping for gain. You and your crew themselves will be charged with attempted onshore piracy.

“If you do not cease within ten seconds of the end of this conversation, I will consider it an additional act of war, and will take your station under fire and destroy it. Witch Maiden clear.”

“Wait!”

“The clock begins now.” She savagely waved to cut the channel. Solar Queen slid along just on momentum below her stern, then past. “Tactical?”

“Coming down on two- lidar has ceased. Sidewalls shutting down.” Hughes sighed. “I think we're clear, ma'am.”

“Only if the local fleet doesn't interfere.” She commented. “Status on Solar Queen?”

“Will be far enough away from both the station and us to bring up her wedge in seven minutes.”

“Maintain readiness until her wedge is up and running. Millie, contact the embassies.”

“Line two, Captain.” She touched the stud, and the split screen came up. Both women were looking out at her, and of all things the Beowulfan on had a bowl of what looked like popcorn in front of her!

“So far, so good.” She told them. “Do you have a good feed there?” Both nodded. “As long as the fleet stays out of it, we're golden.”

“And if they do not 'stay out of it'?” Nika asked.

“You two are my ace in the hole there. Witch Maiden clear.” She cut the line. “Number One, set condition two. Have our cooks deliver a meal. Sandwiches and drinks would be best since we may not have time for anything more elaborate.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” It was tradition in the Manticoran navy that if you expected a battle, the captain would assure that you had a meal before it happened if at all possible. At condition 2 half her crew were hurrying to eat and drink. As soon as they had, those people would go back on alert while their fellows stood down. A pair of stewards led by Chief Oselli arrived on the bridge with platters of sliced sandwich makings and pitchers of coffee, tea, and milk. As they circulated Oselli marched over to the captain's chair, and whipped the cover off a plate. A hamburger, rare with red onions Dijon mustard and tomato lay there surrounded by a raft of french fries with a small bowl of mayonnaise to dip them in. A cup of tomato soup, and another of tea completed it.

“You spoil me, Os.”

“Part of the job, ma'am.”

She had cut the burger in half, and was washing the last of the first half down with the last of the soup as Zachary swallowed his bite of pastrami on rye. “Solar Queen has an active wedge, rate of advance, 200 gravities.”

“Helm, Once we have enough separation, bring us astern of her and match velocity.”

“Bring her astern of Solar Queen aye.”

“And don't talk with your mouth full, chief. Honestly! What did your mother teach you?”

“To never draw to an inside straight.” He replied.

She choked a bit on a french fry, waving off Oselli's assistance. “Evil things happen to people that make me laugh while I am eating, chief.”

“Coming to 195/005, rate of advance 210 gravities until we match velocity with Solar Queen.” The chief replied.

“Status of the Solarian warships?”

“No change.”

Not that it would matter much for the next three hours. It would take them five hours to reach the hyper limit. The superdreadnoughts could pull half again their acceleration, and all the other warships could pull between two and a quarter more for the battlecruisers, and almost three times theirs if the commander only used destroyers.

“Signal from Copperplate.” She finished the last of her fries, drained the tea cup, and dusted the salt from her fingers.

“Bring it up, Millie.”

Conrad Wyler, president of Copperplate glared at her. The man that looked at her might have been imposing, if she didn't know he was a thief and extortionist. “Captain Duvalier, this is President Wyler.”

“Hello, sir. How may I help you?”

“By returning your piratical crew to our station for justice.”

She snorted. “Mister president, before you open your mouth again, let me warn you that all of the events proceeding our departure from your station have been recorded; including your blatant attempt to force the refugees to sign over their bank accounts, and were passed to the Embassy of the Andermani Empire, and the Beowulf Legation. The Fleet commander here is being apprised of your blatant thievery as we speak. This conversation is being relayed to them in real time, so cut the empty threats.

“You have stolen enough money from our people. We are not going to turn them over to you. Your use of coercion or bribery of the Solar Queen's crew is also part of that record, so your claim of piracy is just that, a claim. All events from this point on will be replayed on Manticore, on Beowulf, and before the Solarian Foreign ministry in Old Chicago within the month. In fact if we are not to careful, it will also hit all the newsfeeds on Earth.” She smiled, but only a predator would have labeled it as such.

“So the ball is in your court. When history records this, it will be your own greed that brought us to war. So do what you will.”

His face turned red, and she wondered if she could push him into a heart attack. “You Neo-barb bitch!”

“Since you have fallen to the level of insults, I see no further reason for this conversation. Witch Maiden clear.” She turned to tactical. “Tactical; assuming they maintain the standard 20 percent safety margin, lay out when we can be sure the fleet will not be able to bring us to action.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 03-06-2012, 01:16 PM   #15
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“Already done.” On her smaller screen a schematic of the system appeared. The inner ring was a brilliant cherry red with the next scarlet, then one that was rose, then a reddish orange, and finally orange. They were still well within the cherry. “The ships of the wall can catch us if they light off within the next hour and a half. The battle cruisers if they do so within the next two hours. Heavy cruisers have two hours eighteen minutes, light cruisers two and a half hours. Their destroyers can do it within the next three hours, two hours 50 minutes to be precise. If they wait any longer, they would have to follow us into hyper to maintain the pursuit.

“That is assuming the merely wish to destroy us. However if they wish to stop us short of the hyper limit to capture us, they only have half that time to begin their pursuit. For the destroyers that is one hour thirty minutes from... now.”

Four and a half hours later, the two ships vanished into hyper. The Solarian fleet had done nothing.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 03-09-2012, 10:55 AM   #16
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Getting back on Course

Witch Maiden ran with Solar Queen for only three hours. With a Manticoran sensor suite, Rebecca was betting on them if the Solarians decided to pursue. Any warship could run them down; after all a warship could reach 60 percent of light speed in hyper while a merchantman could only achieve 50%. But they would be beyond range of direct detection after only a few minutes. The warships would have to spread over the alpha beta and gamma bands, and there would be little chance they would match the specific band the pursued would use.

“Millie, contact Solar Queen.” She ordered. The screen came up, and Robert Grace grinned. “Hello, captain. What do you think?” He waved at the pristine bridge he sat on. “She's an equal to Hauptman's Atlas class liners. She did the Silesian run just like those liners. She's got a sensor suite equal to a Sollie Indefatigable.”

About equivalent to the pre war Homer class, she mused. Just like the Atlas class had the Homer class sensors and EW suite. “What about weapons?”

“Four tubes per broadside, and half a dozen antimissile tubes with ten point defense clusters. But they have those piece of junk Lim 14s.”

She nodded. The Lim 14 antimissile was about a generation back, meaning not even a match for the Manticoran prewar missiles. Even a light cruiser had more antimissile tubes as well. Hell, even a prewar Manticoran destroyer had more point defense. But she could protect herself, and that was all that mattered.

“Then I will bid you goodbye. Godspeed, captain.”

“Good hunting, Witch Maiden.” The screen cleared.

“Helm drop us to normal space. Chart our course for Termagant.”

“Dropping down to N-space aye.”

Termagant

Witch Maiden came across the hyper limit in a blaze of glory, the Warshawski sails glowed with the released energy of the transit. On the bridge Rebecca watched the display, in fact she had never lost the joy of such sights. She had fallen in lover with that display, and even the crash translations where junior crew threw up their guts had not marred it. Of course while nauseating, this was no crash translation.

The energy bleed died, and the ship's addled sensors came up. “Captain, contact, range 400,000 kilometers!” Zachary, who was manning the tactical station shouted.

“Ease down, Tactical.” She demurred. “We're in League space in the Shell, not in Silesia.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” The sensors reached out. “The contact is a Solarian War Harvest. Wait, three more contacts. All War Harvest class.”

She snorted. The War Harvest class was the most 'tweaked' class in Solarian fleet history. No two members of the class had the same EW suite or weapons fit. Saying it was a War Harvest was to say, 'three decades of EW and two of weapons fit'. In fact the Bridgeport class light cruisers were nothing more than enlarged War Harvests.

“Ease down, Tac. This is after all, their system.” Rebecca looked at the plot. The closest was well within a merchantman's sensor suite. “Millie, contact the closest unit.”

“Yes ma'am.” Heinreid nodded. “SLNS Rosealinde. Sending hail now.” She leaned into her console. “Rosealinde is accepting contact.”

“On my screen.” Rebecca looked down by her left knee as the screen came up. The man was swarthy, looking as if his family had come from the Levant. “Good day, captain. HMS Witch Maiden here.”

“Noted.” The man was cold. Looking for that customs squadron of yours?”

“Yes, Captain.” she replied brightly.

“They're patrolling as a unit rather than as single ships.” The captain sniffed. “They don't even leave that pathetic little collier here alone.”

“Any idea when they will return?”

The Solarian sneered. “Give it a couple of days. Your station commander is almost religious about his patrols.” He looked furious. “Is there anything else, Witch Maiden?”

“Not at this time, Rosealinde.”

“Good.” the communication ended.

“Is it just me or is he an *******?” Millie Heinreid asked.

“It isn't just you.” Rebecca replied. “Though the reaction suggests our station commander might be a problem. “Gaelin, who is the station commander?”

“Captain Stanislaus Lanzecki, ma'am.” The first officer replied. “You know... Captain?”

Rebecca caught herself. That was in the past, a past better left in her own memory. “Nothing of importance, Number One. Signal Rosealinde that we are proceeding to orbit.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Gaelin replied. The ship forged on at just over 200 gravities.

It was almost six hours to orbit. Witch Maiden slowed to a stop, and cutters dropped to gather, of all things, barley, hops and sugar. She smiled. Her crew depended on one 3rd class petty officer with a penchant for beer. As the shuttles did, their Ghostrider drones moved through the Solarian fleet and especially the mothballed units.

“CIC to bridge.” Rebecca glanced up, then back down signing the requisition order, handing it to the yeoman as she thumbed the button.

“Something new, Jinhua?”

“Yes, Captain. Look at this.” It was a close shot of the stern of yet another Sollie superdreadnought. But this one looked more like a Republic of Haven unit. She felt a shiver of dread.

“Send that down to my office and come down. Gaelin.” The first officer looked up. “Ask Commodore Hernandez to join us there, and come along.”

The foursome looked at the holo of the ship silently.

“I estimate 8 megatons, just a bit smaller than the Medusa class. She carries ten tubes per broadside, and ten beam weapons; I'd say both grasers and lasers from the different gun ports.”

“But the pod hatches are more like the Republic's.” Hernandez ran his fingers through the holo, as if he could touch the hatch in it. “They might have developed proper pods at last.”

Jinhua cleared her throat. “When Mesa attacked Torch, they revealed a new missile type. Commodore Rozak of the Solarian Mayan Sector did capture some from the battlecruisers that were mission killed; the only ships capable of firing the missile as it sat. They were based on the standard Solarian destroyer/light cruiser weight Spatha missile; with a second stage using a jury rigged antimissile drive.

“However, we do know that the League has been playing catch up since the truce from the first Haven war began. Grumman/Kawasaki of Old Earth is the supplier of the Spatha missile, and using a counter-missile as a second stage is a logical first attempt; we in the empire know this, our first attempt was basically the same. But we developed the second stage internal impeller before we deployed that variant. The same modification would work if they used G/K's Javelin. G/Ks competitor, Tecnodyne, supplies the Trebuchet capital missile and while they would probably have to switch out a standard missile drive for the second stage instead, it would increase the weapon's range. Our own Hammers being delivered were designed with our own Mjolnir capital missile after we developed the secondary drive ourselves.

“However, as First Torch showed, the newer missiles would need a longer tube; the new Spatha variant is 20 percent longer than the original missile, meaning only a battlecruiser can fire them without modification. The same would be true for the Javelin or Trebuchet if the variation I described is fielded. That means the first version of the Javelin would need a longer tube, and the Trebuchet would have to be pod mounted until they are able to put in longer tubes.”

“But that would not explain the missile tubes on this ship.” Gaelin said.

“It would if they fired Javelins out of the tubes, with Trebuchet in their pods. A lighter warhead than the Trebuchet, but effective enough for lighter combatants.” Jinhua pointed out.

“Did we get any information on the performance?” Rebecca asked. They all looked at Jinhua. She sighed.

“Assuming they made the same modification Mesa did, we have a baseline. Range at rest using the slower speed setting 16.6 million kilometers, 8.9 million with the higher setting. Acceleration 92 thousand gs at the high setting, 46 thousand at the longer ranged setting.

However they had to make modifications to the warhead at Torch, fewer lasing rods, and an older set of penaids. The Navy will be using the newer penaids, so we cannot be sure of the increase in capability.”

“Any idea when that squadron arrived?”

“Our intelligence assets below reported that two squadrons of them came through three months ago. One remained here,” She paused. “the other is bound for Capwell. They have a small squadron of tugs and have already gotten four mothballed SDs into the docks. Three other docks are occupied, but will be available in a few days.”

“That explains why our squadron commander is nervous.” Rebecca said softly. “Maybe he's just worried because he's facing MDMs without any of his own, but from what I can see, they pulled out older units when they did.”

“Yes, captain. The original force here was a full battle cruiser squadron with full screen. Now it's just those superdreadnoughts with a destroyer squadron.” Jinhua replied.

“As if 'just' eight SDs with a light screen are an improvement.” Gaelin commented dryly.

“At least he can outrun them.” Hernandez offered.

Conduct Unbecoming.

They sat in orbit for almost 96 hours before a hyper footprint revealed the return of Termagant station.

Rebecca came to the bridge after the Manticornan squadron had entered the system. She could avoid him, after all she had her own duties to... hide behind.

The lead ship was an Apollo, the Thunderbird with the gold icon of a squadron commander, followed by the collier, the Jeanette. The next two were Illustrious class, Furious and Bravura. Finally an Avalon, the Ashiburnipal.

“Mister Watkins, make our manners to the flag, and tell them we will begin transhipping their cargo as soon as they have made orbit.”

Gaelin flinched at her cold delivery. “Yes, Captain.”

She sighed inwardly. She'd explain later. No. “Gaelin, once you have sent that, come to my office.” She stood, walking to the lift.

Os knew something was wrong. A beer sat on a coaster by her computer. She sat, and Irene leaped into her lap. She sipped the beer, her free hand caressing the furball. When Gaelin arrived, Os first delivered a beer, then did his disappearing act. Gaelin sat sipping his own beer silently.

“I'm sorry about what just happened, Gaelin.” She told him. “Yes I know Lanzecki, we both do.”

“We do?”

“Remember Vicount Rearden?”

“Oh him.” So much could be said with just those two words. The pompous ass who had to rub his lineage in everyone's facing starting in their sophomore year. The one who ended his time at Saganami Island with everyone in every class that had dealt with him hating his guts. The one who used the power that such a title gave him to try to ruin the lives of anyone who had gotten on his bad side. Oh, him.

Lanzecki had a number of patrons in the Conservative Association, and that had saved his career more than once. Lanzecki had been the petty terror of their Academy years, and time had not mellowed him.

Promotion could be aided or slowed by patronage. Those who supported you would push to get you better assignments, or when you reached the right rank, plum commands. But those who were patrons of anyone who disliked you would pull the opposite direction. From Captain on through flag rank your fitness was not as important as your political connections or your enemies.

Few officers had attained a rank beyond captain of the list without having a review board sit on that promotion. Admiral Dame Honor Harrington was the best known of those few. It was hard for a Manticoran review board to say she wasn't competent as a flag officer when she was the only living holder of the Star of Grayson for Second Yeltsin; with the Crossed Swords added for Fourth Yeltsin. Yet when the Navy had wanted to hand her the stars of a Vice Admiral opponents had come from the woodwork. Oh she had been frocked as a Fleet Admiral by those idiot Graysons, and the fact that she had done well as a rear admiral to command her squadron in that battle didn't mean she was worth the third star! she would have to earn that if she were to remain in Manticoran service!

Two stars, three major commands, and a Parliamentary Medal of Valor later, her detractors still had not been silenced.

“So he's here.” Gaelin commented. “Not the best assignment.”

“He drew a reprimand during the Battle of Manticore. His ship was held back by an engineering casualty that was later assessed to be faked. The fault had been faked supposedly by his engineering officer, and that man had commited suicide after the battle. But he drew the reprimand because he only assumed the report was true. His patrons were able to keep him in service, but he and his ship was sent here in punishment.”

“Our punishment obviously.” He pushed the stein around for a moment. “But your objection seems personal.”

She rolled the stein between her hands. “Remember when my leg was broken?”

“Of course I do. I was in the mess hall when that car accidentally rammed into you.”

“It was no accident.” She sipped. “Remember what happened right before that?”

“You and Lanzecki got into a screaming argument in the mess.”

“Remember what I called him?”

“Remember! It became his nickname the rest of the year!” He shook his head. “Old Tub o' Lard.”

“He took it personally. One of his friends stole that car, and ran me down with it.” She looked up at his stunned face. “I was out of it from the pain. I'd never broken a major bone even in practice bouts. I saw him bail out of it before anyone got close, and I passed out.

“When I came to I reported it. The MPs found Lanzecki's friend an apparent drug overdose. They couldn't prove that Lanzecki had anything to do with it, and the assailant was dead, so they just labeled it an accident to avoid further problems.

“Let's just deal with the present problem, Gaelin. He's getting 450 pods instead of 300, that should make him happy.”

“Oh he seemed very happy that we are here, they're sending the cruisers ahead of the collier.”

She paused. “He did what?” She asked slowly.

He nodded. “Relax, captain, they are still about two and a half hours out.” He smiled, sipping his beer. “We're ready to go to battle stations.”

She glared at him. “You were waiting to tell me that on purpose.”

“Would I do that, captain?”

“In a heartbeat.” She shook her head. “Does anyone on this ship respect me?”

“So much so that we're starting to copy your sense of humor.”

“Heaven help me.” She held her head, then her shoulders quivered silently. For a moment, he was alarmed, then she fell back in her chair, laughing helplessly.

“Oh, you...” He grinned.

She finally stopped giggling, and gasped. “Gotcha... Gaelin.” She began laughing again.


She walked onto the bridge as the cruisers slowed. Her Tac team was busy, all four of their own cruisers were lashing her command with lidar and radar. The Jeanette was still an hour from orbit. There was no reason for this unless Lanzecki had something nasty planned for them. She didn't know what he was thinking, and this display was not something that would make her less nervous about his intentions.

The cruisers slowed then stopped and their impellers came down, placed in a diamond formation that assured that at least one of the cruisers could fire into her bow or sidewall from just within 800,000 kilometers; long range for energy weapons, but against a merchant hull without a shield wall or impeller it would be good enough.

“We're being hailed by Commodore Lanzecki.” Heinreid reported.

Rebecca nodded. “Put him through.” The screen cleared. Lanzecki was a balding man a few centimeters taller than herself. His hair had been combed over his bald spot, and she remembered that he didn't regen, because it would have helped with male pattern baldness. A pity he hated exercise; he looked like he'd gained fifty pounds in the intervening years.

“Captain.” She greeted him.

“That is brevet Commodore, Duvalier.”

“As you wish. I'm ready to transship your supplies.”

“There will be no transshipping yet. I will need a full manifest of your cargo. You have been short stopped.”

“I am sorry, Commodore, but my orders preclude that.”

“I don't care which desk bound stylus pusher gave you that order. You're under my guns and you will obey orders.”

She leaned back in her chair. “Commodore this is only one of eight stations I am to supply. The others need their pods as much as you do.”

“Too bad. Have you seen the task group assigned here?”

“Of course I have. Eight new podnoughts and twelve destroyers.”

“They outmass us by a thousand to one!”

“I realize that. However there are others-”

“I don't care about those other stations. My station need those Mk23 pods you're carrying.” She started at the statement, and he gave her a lazy grin. “Oh yes, my friends at home told me which ship was coming to supply us. I have a full readout on your command, Duvalier. Not only well armed, but stuffed full of Mk23s along with those crappy Andermani pods. More than enough to blow that fleet to hell when the balloon goes up. And more than enough to blast our way home through anything they put in front of us!

“When Jeanette gets here, you'll start trading out your Mk23s for this junk they saddled me with.”

“I have 450 of the Andermani pods-”

“If I wanted junk, I'd keep the pods I have already. Damn it captain, my orders are not up for discussion! I am senior in this station, and senior to you and I order you to send over your manifest.”

She smiled inwardly. “Sir, I repeat, my or-”

“Consider yourself relieved! I'm coming over there with my Master at Arms. By god I'll have you in irons!” The screen cleared.

“That could have gone better.” She replied. “I will be in my office, Gaelin.”


The entry hatch opened, and the pinnace came aboard. The boat bay officer came to attention as the short man stalked aboard, ignoring him and the side party “Where is that insolent captain of yours?”

“Sir, the captain is in her office, It's-”

“Get out of my way you imbecile! Secure this compartment, then the bridge and their LAC bays.” He ordered. Behind him a nattily dressed commander followed two dozen marines and as many MPs left the pinnace. “Master At Arms, MacKenzie, come with me.” He stormed across the deck to the lift followed by the hulking form of his Master At Arms and the officer. When the lift stopped on the proper deck, he stalked out, waving the Marine sentry away.

The hatch slid aside, and he stalked toward the desk. In person he didn't look any more impressive. Rebecca looked up from her computer. “I am bringing up my orders-”

“Shut you mouth, Captain. I don't care about your orders. I don't care if you received them on stone tablets from God himself! Who ever issued them is safe behind a desk light years away, and I am here on the sharp end. I am the one who knows what is happening here, and I am by god going to take what I want from this ship, starting with your command.” He waved at the officer. “Commander MacKenzie will assume command starting now.”

Rebecca stood, hands behind her back. “I would suggest you stop there before you get yourself in more trouble.”

His face went red, fists at his side. “Harris should have killed you with that car, If he had I wouldn't have had to hit him with that lethal dose of drugs. You jumped up tart, it's people like me who run the Navy, not gormless entities like you! My men are taking over your bridge and your Prifly even as we speak. Two more pinnaces are enroute to relieve every one of your senior officers. As for you 'shot while resisting arrest' will be the last notation on your file. Master at Arms, arrange it.”

Nothing happened. Lanzecki turned angrily, then stopped puzzled. The Master At Arms, a big hulking brute assigned to that duty by him personally had unsnapped his holster, and was slowly kneeling to put the pulser on the deck. He wasn't looking at his captain as he did so; and Lanzecki's eyes followed the gaze. Two marines in unpowered armor were standing in the entryway to the captain's pantry, leveled pulser rifles covering the three men.

The annunciator on her desk chimed, and she touched the stud. “Captain here.”

“Put the Commodore on, captain.”

“He can hear you, whoever you are. Make your report.”

“The LACs are gone. These retards up here won't even tell us when they launched. I'll find out if the commodore doesn't mind a little more breakage.”

“The commodore is at this moment being placed under arrest, and your statement has been recorded. I would suggest you disarm and surrender or the next breakage will be among your own people.” She shut off the call. “Major Reardon, take these men under arrest, please.”

The marines moved forward, cuffing their hands. Lanzecki looked like someone who had started the last draw of a poker hand with four aces only to discover that his opponent had a royal straight flush starting with a nine.

“Since you refused to read them, I am required to read the orders to you.” She looked at the screen.

TO: CAPTAIN HMS WITCH MAIDEN
FROM: DIRECTOR ONI
RE: ORDERS GIVEN VERBALLY

YOU ARE REMINDED HEREWITH THAT NO COMMANDER OF ANY STATION ON YOUR ROUTE IS AUTHORIZED TO AMEND OR COUNTERMAND YOUR ORDERS IN ANY WAY. YOU ARE NOT TO ALLOW ANY STATION COMMANDER TO SHORTSTOP YOUR VESSEL

UPON ANY ATTEMPT BY A STATION COMMANDER TO DO SO, THEY ARE TO BE INFORMED OF THESE ORDERS, AND THAT ANY SUCH ATTEMPT IS IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION OF YOUR ORDERS FROM THIS COMMAND.

NO REQUESTS FOR RECONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE, OR COMMENTS CONCERNING THIS DECISION IS DESIRED

SIGNED; VICE ADM PATRICIA GIVENS; DIRECTOR ONI. ISSUED DIRECTLY.

“Captain Lanzecki, I arrest you for attempted piracy, disobedience of a direct order, and violations of articles as yet unspecified under color of authority.”

“My ships will blow you to hell if you try to usurp my authority!”

She smiled. “To quote you, your ships are under my guns. You see, I have a guardian angel.”

*****

As the captain left the bridge, Watkins took her chair. “Millie, contact Azrael on whisker laser.”

“Yes, sir.” She turned to her console. A few seconds later she looked up. “Azrael on screen.”

“In position.” She reported.

“Prepare to execute Guillotine on my command.”

“Understood.”

The pinnace docked, and a few minutes later the hatch to the lift passageway opened. Major Carlyle looked in. “Report, Master Sergeant.”

“Most went down like pushing Terran chicks into deep water filled with hungry Sphinx sabrepike sir. Eighteen casualties among theirs.”

"Sir, Thunderbird is hailing us.”

“Put them on screen.” The large display screen lit with the light cruiser's bridge.

“I have prioritized the unloading of your cargo, Witch Maiden.” The lieutenant commander there began. “Once Jeanette reaches orbit you will begin moving your Mk23s into her holds. The commodore has authorized that your ship can fill her own weapons rails with the older pods you picked up along the way.”

“How gracious of him. And if we decline to acquiesce to his proposal?”

“You have four light cruisers out here, Witch Maiden. If you attempt to fire or bring up your wedge, we'll smash that ship like a cannon through tissue paper.”

“I doubt that, commander. Azrael, Guillotine.”

Before the man could ask what he meant an officer at the cruiser's tac station stiffened. “Sir, we've just been hit with lidar from... Jesus Christ, it's a Manticoran LAC lidar from two light seconds dead aft!”

“Sir, incoming message!” The communications officer there didn't ask for permission; he just hit the button.

“HMS Thunderbird, this is Lieutenant O'Neal, commanding HMSLAC Reaper. Eight of my squadron mates are covering your other ships, and four of them are now escorting HMS Jeanette to join us. You will stand down all weapons and sensors, and prepare to be boarded. Any attempt to attack HMS Witch Maiden will be met with lethal force.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 03-13-2012, 08:31 PM   #17
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Counting the Cost.

The only term she hated more than 'collateral damage' was 'acceptable losses'. 30 of her people were dead, along with 150 of Lanzecki's. Fifty of hers were wounded with fifteen of his. But it still broke down to 245 Manticorans dead and wounded.

The butcher's bill had begun the moment Lanzecki left the landing bay. His orders, through the Marine commander and Master At Arms had been for maximum frightfulness; terrorize the crew into submission. Of her casualties only eight had been shot, the others had been beaten, a number of them to death.

Of course he had given those orders verbally to the Master at Arms and Marine commander. When the events were later investigated, he could view it with alarm. It reminded her of the story about Henry II of England making the comment 'Will someone rid me of this turbulent priest', leading to Thomas Becket's death. What she had always viewed as the first recorded use of 'plausible deniability'.

The first to die were her people in the landing bay where the boarding party had beaten anyone who even thought to stand against them. The attempted capture had spread to the bridge, where the assault had run into her marines, and a dozen of the enemy had been halted in a welter of blood.

Other attempts against both impeller rooms had been halted with casualties on both sides, even as the pinnaces sent to arrest her officers had been ordered to surrender. No one knew which of the pinnaces had brought up their attack systems, but Gaelin had reacted, activating the starboard point defense clusters. 18 clusters engaged them, each laser firing a tube a second. Both pinnaces were destroyed before they even had a chance to surrender along with 120 people.

Then prifly, the bloodiest of all. She remembered her cold threat that any more breakage would be returned in kind; it had been, in spades.

The commendations list was short, mainly because the marines hadn't turned in one. Major Reardon had commented that 'I don't put someone in for an award for doing his job'. So corporal Gaines who had been the sniper that protected half her boat deck crew wasn't on it. In fact there were only three.

Two, for separate events had been for the Klumbach twins. When they had come aboard with the Andermani contingent they had been dubbed the Darling Duo. Short, they were barely 143 centimeters tall, they were dainty little women who you would have never expected to be so lethal. But when Sergeant Major Carlyle found out they had been assigned aboard, he had been excited, which for him was rare.

Down in the Marine gym he had introduced them as if they were HD stars, spreading his arms wide. Just for their own amusement, they had been standing hidden behind him, and when he spread his arms, they had faced different directions, took one pace forward, turned, and walked under his arms without even ducking their heads. Fengniao, Hummingbird in Chinese, wore a black Gi with red trimming and a red belt. Cao Mei, whose name meant strawberry wore a red one with black trimming, also with a red belt.

If it sounds choreographed, don't be surprised; the pair had been part of the Kaiserliche Raumakademie demonstration team for three T years. Along with a precision drill team, members of the pistol and Neue-Stil Handgemenge teams, the Klumbach twins were their own demonstration team, for both Aikido and Klingetanz; sword dancing. They had spent those years touring the middle and upper schools showing the next generation what they could aspire to. Carlyle had himself been part of the Saganami Island team.

At one point in the demonstrations the combined team would do, these sweet faced little women would spar with their larger fellows who had shown expertise in Neue-Stil Handgemenge;, literally new style hand melee, which had been developed on Potsdam. They would amaze the crowd by throwing around the larger more aggressive opponents with ease. After all Aikido used the enemy's energy to complete the throws.

Then they would face off together, not hand to hand, but armed. It would begin with one of them armed with a sword, the other with a yan yue dao; reclining moon blade in English, which is a staff taller than they were with a wickedly curved sword blade on the end. The bout would be fast and furious, so fast in fact that only a competition fencer could keep track of the strikes.

At one point the sister with the staff would drop into a forward split, her weapon up to catch a strike at her head. She spun the blade level, her sister leaping up into a somersault as the one on the ground rolled forward, using both hands to throw herself into the air, tucking her arms as her sister's sword cut through where her arms had been a second later. Just when you thought they were master of that specific weapon, they would pause, turn away from each other, flip their weapons into the air, catch them, turn, and repeat it using the opposite weapon. It had thrilled every crowd that had seen them do it, and boosted recruitment.

Both had become fixtures in the gym, sparring with all comers whether it was hand to hand or with a few of the Graysons who had learned the Grayson form of Kendo. Any Grayson could learn the sword, but their laws allowed only those who'd attained at least the rank of Swordmaster, or of steadholder, to carry a live blade. Mordechai Rubens, commander of GSNSLAC Michael had attained that rank before the age of twenty thanks to four generations of masters in his own family training him. His sword was in a display case in prifly.

During the fighting aboard, Fengniao had been on the boat deck. She was a first class missile impeller tech by rating, and had been doing last minute checks of the pods being transferred to the squadron when Lanzecki arrived. When his boarding party split up, and those assigned to the bay began beating the crew into submission, one of them had smashed the butt of her flechette gun into Chief Missile man O'Toole's chest, causing a classic flailed chest injury. Fengniao had leaped in to stop the woman from crushing the petty officer's skull.

What happened next was one of the two most watched videos in the upcoming weeks. Seeing the half-liter sized woman charging, the enemy marine had turned and swung at her. On the video, the smaller woman had grabbed the weapon, then spun the larger woman into a stack of missile pods hard enough to shatter her right arm. Using the force of that throw, she then spun to a halt in a textbook order arms. As if she were on the firing range, not in a fight for her life she raised it to her shoulder, and the four rounds of flechettes she fired took down seven of the attackers. An instant later, she was behind a 100 kilo standing toolbox as the shocked remnant of that force returned fire.

If they had been using tribarrels or pulsers, she would have been dead. Instead she was merely slammed down when the toolbox fell on top of her from the impact of that return fire. The last four died when Gaines engaged them from the walkway at the top of the hold.

The other most watched was her sister. In prifly, Cao Mei, who held a rating of Computer tech 1st class had been discussing the modifications needed for the LACs to command the Andermani missiles with Lieutenant Haskell, who was the ranking officer when the LACs were deployed. Then the brutes had flooded into prifly. One of them had shattered Haskell's skull, and when the bosun Senior Chief Riley dived between the downed man and the attacker, had clubbed down that man as well. Cao Mei had taken one step, her elbow smashing the glass that held Lieutenant Rubens' sword, then leaped back and up, drawing in the same motion as her body snapped completely around, the sword leading her spin.

She had landed, the blade imbedded in the stock of the flechette gun, looking at the man she had just killed, because after perhaps a second, his head had rolled from his shoulders, his right arm, cut completely through dropped, then his body realized he was dead, and collapsed. Less than a second later the Marine strike team that had been pursuing them entered, saw the injured, and opened fire. None of the attackers survived.

They weren't interested in prisoners.

But surprising everyone, Engineer 3rd Class Dollaryde earned the last commendation during that bloodbath. He had been sent up from Impeller one to ask the Bosun for something, and had been speaking to him when the attack occurred. While Cao Mei had been dealing with his assailant, Dollaryde had run to the first aid locker, grabbing a solid litter and a cervical collar. When a Marine had knelt to offer assistance he had screamed at the man not to move the Chief, dropping beside him, and gave terse instructions.

With the Marine holding Riley's head gently, Dollaryde had threaded the collar onto him, set it, then engaged the automatic function that would set it where the human head normally rested. Then he and three others had gently shifted the Bosun onto his back on the litter. The man's face was both terrified and blue, and Dollaryde ran back to the locker to bring a breathing bag. Speaking softly to calm the man, the young man had gently intubated him then squeezed the bag to force air into lungs that weren't working.

As they carried him down to sick bay, he kept working the bag, keeping the man breathing.

The break was only one vertebrae away from what is called a hangman fracture, and unlike that lethal break it had cut the nerves that run the voluntary muscles without killing you. Without them you suffocated within minutes, unable to speak, and knowing you would die. If he had been merely moved without the collar or the breathing bag, it could have killed him. Dollaryde's careful placement of the cervical collar and prompt transport saved the man's life.

Only after he was in sickbay had the young man broken down. His maternal uncle had suffered a similar injury in an accident. The people trying to help him had not been careful, and that man had died before the ambulance arrived.


The boarding parties from Witch Maiden took the cruiser's senior officers into custody, and the investigation began. The Captain's logs from Thunderbird for the last eight months were a series of self serving entries viewing the situation with growing alarm. His decision to shortstop her ship by force had been portrayed as a necessity due to her unreasoning hatred of him personally.

It might have stood up at a court of inquiry, his admission of guilt in her cabin could have been concealed if he won, as there were enough people who might assist to cover it up. But he had shot himself in the foot with his personal correspondence, because a team of computer specialists lead by Cao Mei Klumbach had broken the encryption in less than an hour.

There were a number of people back home who saw a conflict with the League as a death sentence for their nation, and they had kept him apprised in the most negative terms. But one of them (Who would soon be arrested because Witch Maiden's movement had been secret) had given the squadron commander an ace no one anticipated, and Lanzecki had made plans for his own future in that event; a master plan that would have set him up for life. He had secretly contacted Technodyne and offered to sell them both MK23 and Andermani pods. At the same time he intended to surrender his command to the local Sollie commander the instant that worthy moved against his squadron.

She was appalled by his duplicity; he would be giving not only the Sollies but Manpower every secret except for Apollo. Purity was not the only ship using the MK16 missiles, the next station; Capwell, had an Arthur class, the Avalon knockoff that fired it. Worse than that Witch Maiden not only carried 200 MK16Gs, they also carried over three hundred MK16E-1 conversion kits for their onboard missiles. that would convert the older MK16E into an efficient SD killer.

She knew Fleet's worst nightmare. That the Sollies would merely ignore them rather than fighting them. Less than two years from now the Sollies would have been able to come back with everything Manticore had at this very minute, at the same time that Manticore was desperately rebuilding just to try to match them! It would be a clean sweep for the Sollies, and whatever plan Manpower was working would take them both down.

That would have him executed for treason. In most cases a 'friend' might have slipped him a pulser with a single round to maintain his honor, but not in this case; his 'friends' would be back pedaling like mad to avoid being tainted by the same brush. For that matter the captains of his ships would have to hope their past was clean or they might go down with him.

She and commodore Hernandez were very busy during the following weeks. There was not enough brig space for all of the personnel that had been arrested, so the senior officers had been transported to Witch Maiden. She didn't have enough brig space either, but the sections of her hull that had been originally meant for POWs had been converted back to their original purpose, with only the Captains in the brig itself. Lanzecki had complained, of course. While his juniors were allowed some freedom, he was locked in a cell. But his complaints fell on deaf ears.

Hernandez had drawn on her draft of personnel ruthlessly; in fact when she departed there would be no one above the rank of Ensign going on to a new station. It was as bad with senior enlisted ranks; no one above Senior chief was outbound as well.

Worst yet there were no marines among the draft. She had already detached 20 with Tubman, and fifty with Solar Queen. Now she had to detach another 75 to the four cruisers and the collier. She had gone from a reinforced company to a reinforced platoon in this deployment. Only sixty-five marines of her original contingent remained aboard, and that was not the province of a captain(major) of marines, it was something assigned to a senior lieutenant. Reardon had tried to fight it, but finally assigned Lieutenant Forbin to command what remained, with second lieutenant Jeffries and Color Sergeant Bourne to assist.

But they couldn't leave the squadron in place; they did not know how far down the rot had spread. So once they were done transshipping the cargo, Hernandez would take them home. She understood his reasoning; one lieutenant who feared the court could take the ship she was on into piracy.

Witch Maiden stayed in orbit as Termagant squadron powered out of the system, then, as they vanished over the hyper wall toward Beowulf, went on her lonely journey.

Paradise

Francis Dollaryde stared moodily into his pint of beer. Then he lifted it toward the stern. “Bye, Chief.” he toasted in a whisper. He had not been only one of the crew who made sure to pass by when the thirty odd seriously wounded had been moved to the home bound squadron. Those remaining aboard would need perhaps two weeks to heal using quick heal, but Senior Chief Riley would need that long just to regenerate enough to breathe on his own again, so he was going home.

The Chief had been more of a father to the young man than his own father. Warrant 3 Patrick Dollaryde had always been uneasy, and unsure of what to make of his second son. In a century without the eye surgery for vision correction used when he was ten, he would have been wearing old fashioned eyeglasses. That, his smaller than average stature and his fascination with studying any subject to death would have labeled him as what used to be called a Nerd.

In a failed attempt to satisfy that hard man, he had learned about home brewing in middle school. His first attempts had been lackluster, but he had steadily improved. When he had joined the Navy he found his true calling. Not fusion theory or Impeller maintenance, but brewing beer for his fellow classmates.

He had been caught almost immediately, but as had happened here aboard ship, his product had proven important to those senior to him in rank. He had almost been failed in his final form because the local senior enlisted had wanted to keep him and his beer in the tech schools. But the commandant, who also loved his beer, had refused to keep him just for that reason.

He had reported aboard the ship after her refit, and had immediately set up shop. Again he had been caught almost immediately, this time by Senior Chief Riley. The chief had looked at his jury rigged vat, and it's location, and laughed. Then he had made several changes. As they worked together to move it, the Bosun had admitted that when he was a second class Engineering rating, he had tried to make beer as well, only not as well.

The new vats plural had been moved to the recycling center aft of hydroponics, where the expended wort would go directly to recycling, improving the hydroponic sections output. The heat of the center would aid fermentation, and make for a smoother brew.

He had more help here than he had at tech school. Every officer and NCO that had a favorite beer had brought him recipes, and that had increased with every stop they had made. The Andermani and men from Gryphon had expanded his repertoire into dark beers that were almost malt wines in their alcohol content.

He noticed movement by the entry hatch, and saw the Darling Duo arrive. They wore Qipao; what Europeans had named chengosam back on Pre Diaspora Earth. The pair had been targeted by a lot of the men and a number of women, and all had failed, some of them spectacularly. They paused, then made their way... to his table.

“May we?” One asked. Each wore the same basic pattern on their clothing, but again each was unique. The one to his left wore a Jade Green outfit with a gold dragon that swirled up to cup her right breast, the other wore a Sapphire blue with a silver dragon that matched the one on the other outfit, but instead cupped her left breast.

“Sure.” He motioned to each separately. “You can sit there, Fengniao. Cao Mei, you can sit there.” The women looked at each other, then the one in Jade sat in the chair he had motioned to, her sister in the other. A steward came by, and the young man whispered in the woman's ear.

“How did you tell us apart?” Cao Mei asked.

“You always wear matching patterns, but Fengniao always uses something to the right on her body, and you always use the same pattern in opposition.”

But when we're in uniform?” Fengniao asked with a lazy smile.

“You hang your braids on the side you favor.”

They looked at each other, then laughed together. Fengniao turned back to him. He waited as the steward delivered their drinks. Each took a sip. “Exhaustive surveillance. Right down to our favorites from your brewery.” Cao Mei said.

“I had found that I must study both of you. It is the only way to attract either of you.” He smiled shyly. “You always do everything together.” They laughed again.

“Have you tried schnapps?” Fengniao asked. At his negative Cao Mei pulled a flask from where it had been hidden. She poured a mere finger of the liquor into her beer, handed it to her sister, who did the same, then handed the flask to the young man. “The final test.”

He sniffed it, then added it to his own beer. Then, with both watching him, he sipped it.

“A fruit based liquor. 90 proof.” He took a second sip. “Peach?”

The women looked at each other, then at him. “Passed.”

“What do I win?” He asked.

“Finish your drink and come with us.” Cao Mei instructed. He chugged the laced brew, then stood.

“You are going to enter the gate of paradise, Herr Dollaryde.” Cao Mei took one of his arms.

“My given name is Francis.” He admitted.

“Remember, Francis.” Fengniao took the other arm, bending to whisper in his ear. “We do everything... together.”

He considered what they had just suggested, and his face broke into a goofy grin. “Well, damn.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:07 AM   #18
machievelli
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Drills and more drills

“That was... interesting.” She commented. It was yet another lunch meeting. This was Rebecca, Gaelin, the Tac team, and of course Irene. The cat leaped from lap to lap, extorting her due in snacks and caresses as the people talked.

“We didn't anticipate the screen.” Hughes replied. She nodded toward Gaelin, though it had been Rebecca who had slapped them down this time. When the small half squadron of SDs (armed with the suggested Manpower upgrades) supported by a half screen as well had closed to 17 million kilometers they had opened fire. They had destroyed all four SDs with Mk23s. But the instant they had fired the first salvo, all of the vessels had gone to full power. It had taken eight salvos launched over an 96 second period to kill each SD. But with the battlecruisers closing at 480gs, almost 5 kps, and the cruisers, at 5.25 kps, the destroyers at almost 5.5 kps they had been pushed.

The team had taken each enemy unit in turn by their class, but each battlecruiser had absorbed 300 missiles, five salvos each, another full minute, then another two salvos each to kill the four cruisers; again almost half of them wasted

Then the destroyers, fifty missiles each, one salvo each, wasting ten each as they closed.

They had won, but the last two destroyers had blown her command to hell as they died.

Abigail coughed. “Ma'am, we didn't consider everything we can fire off with due care. We used just the pod rails and the Mk23s, which slowed down our rate of fire. I was thinking of the storage of the Andermani and older pods.” She admitted.

“Explain.” Gaelin snapped. Rebecca allowed the diversion. They were all 'her' officers after all.

The girl flushed. “Well, I was checking out the unloading sequence for our pods, Ma'am.”

“The pressor beams?” She asked mildly.

“Yes.” Abigail flushed even deeper. “Michael had talked about the combined tractor-presser beams used for cargo shifting. They can move a stack of pods every fifteen seconds, so we could deploy a stack of 25 pods; That's 250 missiles in one salvo compared to only 60 from the standard rails. For that matter, we could dump four stacks, and throw a thousand missiles at them in one massive salvo in just under a minute.”

“But we can't control that many.” Gaelin replied. “We would be stretched by handling perhaps 500.”

“If it were just us, I say you're right.” The girl agreed, petting Irene. “But we fought that last battle without LACs. We know the LACs can handle up to 60 missiles each, and after talking with Commander Kiel, I think I may have come up with an answer. At Spindle, the sixteen cruisers used frequency hopping to control 1500 Apollos which controlled 15,000 missiles. We just have to set the frequencies of the missiles so that we have them in groups of 500, which give us enough control links to handle two salvos of 500 each.

“Then we launch the birds like I did last month, aimed not at the enemy, but toward our LACs positioned at the edge of our counter missile envelope. We leave the sensor shrouds on, sending them out with basic course corrections sent from us. Since they are not seeking, the enemy can't decoy them away until we activate the seekers. But we'll be gathering the Sollie attempts, and adding them to our exclusion files as the first salvo comes into play. Also, we can use the recon drones themselves for final acquisition. Once it is in acquisition, we switch to salvo two 30 seconds after the first, and so on.”

Rebecca considered what the girl had suggested. There were just under two thousand remaining Andermani pods to use if it came to that. They were shorter ranged, about 27 million kilometers compared to the 64 million of a Mark 23. But that was still almost twice what the Sollies could field.

“All right, bright and early tomorrow, we're going to try that, Abigail.” The girl flushed with pleasure. “How are the new crew fitting in, Gaelin?”

“You suggestion that we exercise the draft along with our crew gives us some more flexibility. Every department will be at about 120% until after Capwell, we'll transfer 40 ratings there.”

“Very good.” Rebecca leaned back. Irene leaped back into her lap, and she petted the kitten; no, cat now, idly. “That will be all for the moment. Gaelin, stay.” She leaned forward as her officers filed out, touching the annunciator. “Commander Kiel, please come to my office.”

“At once, Captain.” The two officers sat in companionable silence until the marine outside her quarters signaled Kiel's arrival. As she was admitted Oselli appeared with three steins of Dollaryde's latest brew and served them.

“The situation here in the League is spiraling out of control more rapidly than Admiral Givens suggested. Pretty soon we'll pop in and find the Sollies demanding our surrender. Part of the problem is that I don't think the Andermani transponder codes are going to be much help; your people are being painted as aggressors as well.”

“Not as aggressors as yet, captain.” Jinhua demurred. “More that we are obviously too stupid to agree with their just position.” They all chuckled at that. “So what has your fertile little mind come up with captain?”

“I'd love to take the credit, but I can't. Admiral Givens gave us this ace in the hole.” She opened her desk, handing a set of data chips to Gaelin. “Number One, these are transponder codes supplied to ONI by Beowulf. Five of their own flagged vessels, and five of different Sollie freighters large enough to match our configuration. All of their trade legations at our ports of call had been notified of these identities, so if we announce ourselves as one of them, they will know who we are. Pick one of the Beowulf IDs for our next port of call.” He nodded. “Commander, you were an excellent actor as the cold hearted interrogator. Feel up to being the clueless Beowulfian captain of a trash hauler?”

Jinhua cocked her head, looking puzzled, which drew a laugh from the others. “It will be a stretch, Captain. But I think I can handle it.” Sher put on what used to be called a Midwestern flat accent. “Of course talking like this will be a pain.”

“Take two aspirin and talk to me after we leave Rendova.”

Fengniao Klumbach leaned into the stack of pods, then smiled as her sister came through the main hatch. “Any idea why Francis asked us to meet him down here?”

Cao Mei blushed. “We have yet to try making love on a missile pod.” She suggested lightly, drawing a laugh from her sister.

“But he is so shy.” Fengniao replied. They had been enjoying their time with the younger man; actually half their own ages in point of fact. In a pre- prolong society it would be a vast difference with them being accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor or robbing the cradle. But in a society with third generation prolong it was actually not that uncommon.

Having a man pay attention to both of them had been what they always sought, and of the men they had favored with their affections, Francis had lasted longest. Both were worried about that. Sooner or later he would decide one of them was more fun than the other, or more attractive in one minor way, and while they knew they would eventually face that division, they would miss having both of them together instead of just one.

The hatch opened, and Dollaryde came in. He saw them, and stopped, blushing furiously.

“So shy.” Cao Mei whispered.

He walked over, and from behind his back he pulled a flask and a thermos jug, thrusting them toward the woman as if afraid to talk. The girls took the items, and at his motion, each opened them. Fengniao sipped, then her eyes lit up with pleasure. It was Schnapps, as good as the bottles she had in her locker. Her sister murmured in pleasure, and they traded. The thermos held a beer that was smooth and sweet.

“What type of beer is this?” Fengniao asked as she savored it.

“Cream stout. And the Schnapps is made aboard here by me as well.” He told them proudly.

“Wunderbar!” Cao Mei shuddered as she sipped. “When will you be selling this?”

“Not until the both of you agree.” He pulled a pad from the inside of his tunic. “The labels for both the Stout and the Schnapps. I told Pankowski if he exercised his boob fetish I'd let you girls give him a double oriectomy.”

They held the pictures. The two beverages had been named Double Dragon, with only the actual beverage, cream stout or Schnapps changed. But below that logo were two different drawings. The first showed two women, back to back, standing with one leg folded beneath them so the soles of their feet touched, their weapons flourished before them. The second showed the paired women facing each other, standing again with one leg folded beneath them, their weapons held back behind them, the empty hands reaching out to touch so that they were anchored together. Both faces were obviously the twins, and if someone knew them as well as Dollaryde did, they would even know which was which.

“Beautiful.” Cao Mei husked. “We would be honored to be on these labels.” Fengniao merely nodded.

“That wasn't what I wanted you to agree to.” He ran his fingers through his hair in a harried manner. “I wanted... considered... Felt...”

The twins shared the same thought. Here is where the other shoe dropped.

“Oh hell, I'm making a mess of this.” He said plaintively. “You're both wonderful-”

Clunk. The twins imagined. There had to be a 'but' coming soon.

“-and I wasn't sure of your answer. I... Oh hell.” He dropped to his knee. “We've only been seeing each other for the a couple weeks or so, and I know it may be sudden. But. Will you marry me?”

The twins shared a look. “Which of us are you asking, Francis?” Fengniao asked him gently.

“Which?” He looked confused. “Splitting you up would be like painting a line down the center of a room and staying on one side of it. Or chopping up an aircar because of a divorce settlement.” He looked at their confused faces. “I'm not saying this right.”

“That much at least is clear, Francis.” Cao Mei agreed. “Just say it. We will not be hurt if you choose one over the other.” Much.

“I don't want just one of you!” He wailed. “I meant, will both of you marry me?”

The women shared another look. As much as humanity had yet to find true telepathic communication among humans, Twins have always shared something that might be similar.

“It is sudden-” Cao Mei started.

“-but yes.” Fengiao finished the sentence.

He sagged, “Thank god. I thought-” Both women reached out, and their index fingers rested on his lips a centimeter apart. Then they dropped to their knees and hugged him together.

Rendova

Witch Maiden appeared over the hyper wall in a flash of expended energy. She rested, barely making 9 kilometers a second as the energy surge dissipated, then her Warshawski sails folded into her impeller wedges as she surge toward the planet 10 light minutes away.

“Captain, we're being hailed by the Sollie cruiser Tucson.”

“On screen.” The screen came up, and the commanding officer was looking at a Sollie Commander.

“What ship?” He demanded.

“Have you left our transponder off again Mister O'Neil?” She snapped.

“Sorry, skipper.” Leutnant Kreis replied. He of all the Andermani had the least German accent, so he had become the stand in for the navigation officer.

“I must apologize, Captain. I am Li Jinhua, captain of the Sunrise Festival.”

The man five light seconds away looked at his repeater. “Beowulf registry.” He mused. “What was your last port of call?”

“Eighty days out of Transvaal.” Jinhua replied.

“Nature of your business in this system?”

“Just checking in with our trade legation and to pick up some grain and three hundred kilos of peaches. With all of the furor caused by the Manticorans, we wanted to make sure we weren't sailing into a battle when we go on to Capwell with our cargo. Mister O'Neil, send our manifest.”

The Sollie looked at the completely erroneous data. “Farming machinery and seed stock for Cragend. Why are you going to Capwell?”

“At the bottom of the manifest, you can see a listing of consumer goods from Beowulf. We're dropping it off at Capwell for distribution.”

“Ah.” He relaxed. “You are cleared to approach. Is that all you're picking up?”

“Yes, Captain. Our shuttle will arrive and the goods we are picking up will be cleared through your local customs before loading.”

“Very well, Tucson clear.”

“O'Neil?” Kreis asked aggrieved. “I remind you of that unteroffizier actor?”

“Sorry, Ping, it was the first name I thought of.” Jinhua replied.

“Yeah, right.” Kreis replied. There were chuckles around the bridge as the ship sailed on toward Rendova.

Jinhua smiled, looking to Rebecca. “Captain, you have three hours to get ready.”

Rebecca looked confused. “Ready? Ready for what?”

“Well while I can prove who I am, I am sure the information the Beowulf legation has is non-discretionary as to it's recipient. You will have to go down with me to the capital to collect it.”

“I don't know how.” Rebecca plucked at her sleeve. “Unlike you I do not have a dozen uniforms of as many navies and foreign merchant houses.”

“Ah, but Leutnant Schindler is your size, and she does.”

Rebecca noticed several grins from her crew. “And what position in your merry band of cutthroats will I be playing?”

“Why my purser, of course.” Jinhua waved a hand airily. “Only the fifth mate, but some people only rise to their level of mediocrity.” Rebecca's eyes widened. “But think of your typical bean counter; constantly worried that the two columns will not match, swilling rotgut gin as they contemplate their next audit. Hoping against hope that someone in their department doesn't misplace a decimal point throwing their books into disarray!” There were several people appearing to be choking, and she saw more than one pair of glassy eyes.

“Yet always the dream, whispered to them on their mother's bony knee, 'One day, my daughter, all this can be yours'!” She waved toward the bridge.

“There will be a time, Jinhua.” Rebecca warned.

“I await your reply with bated breath.” She replied mildly. As Rebecca reached the hatch, Jinhua added, “And remember your clipboard; pursers love their clipboards.”

“Soon.” Rebecca replied in a threatening tone. The hatch closed.

“But not today.” Jinhua replied. The mixed crew on the bridge burst into hysterical laughter. “Ping, you have the con, though if someone calls, let me know immediately. I will be in CIC doing some real work.”

The approach was sobering. The usual nodal fleet was twice the size of the previous one, and there were more of both types of podnaughts among them. 250 ships were formed at geosynchronous orbit in a massive flat array close enough together that they probably cast an obvious shadow on the planet almost a quarter light second away. Jinhua rode down to the berthing area, and picked up Rebecca. Her face stayed tight when she saw the captain. Duvalier was not even close to being the proverbial clothes horse; she bought the uniforms issued to officers without going to the trouble to have them custom tailored. Yet her physique earned from countless hours of training at the Coup, along with the pantherish stride of an athlete made her the perfect captain.

But in this... Jinhua took a deep breath to stop herself from giggling. The captain looked -there was no better word for it- scruffy. The ship suit was a close fit, if you used the term suggesting horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons. It fit, but like something her older sister might have worn, if Rebecca had a sister. It sagged in some areas, was tight in others, and made her look unkempt.

Rebecca glared daggers at her as she lifted her clipboard with an eager expression that came nowhere near her eyes; like a waitress at the end of a double shift, and not willing to take any crap from the newest customer. “Ready!” She chirped.

“Not as obsequious as I would wish, but you will do, captain.” Jinhua said dryly as the hatch closed. She reported on the Solarian fleet insystem as they plummeted downward. “Both your embassy and ours has been expelled here, according to the Beowulf Legation. In fact the representative was positively frantic about some of the dispatches.”

“That can't be good.” Rebecca nibbled at her lip. “Does she have any word on Manticoran merchantmen?”

“Your navy sent an advisory three months ago to all Manticoran merchant vessels under the Wartime Commerce Security Act. It arrived here six weeks ago.”

“Lacoon One.” Rebecca whispered. The plan was to get any Manticoran civilians out of the line of fire, though one thing it would do is seriously damage the League's economy. Somewhere around twenty-five percent of the carrying trade within the League was wholly in Manticoran bottoms, and over two thirds spent part of that time in Manticoran bottoms. With the largest merchant fleet in space, edging out Haven by a small margin, that meant the same percentage of goods merely going from place to place within the League would sit there untouched. The situation was not unlike the Western nations in the last Pre-Diaspora century when they could be strangled by small third world nations who supplied the lion share of their fossil fuels.

Unlike then, the League could begin a crash building program to replace the missing hulls with their own shipping. But that would take years. The brightest estimate was six, the gloomiest fifteen. But even if the smaller percentage was accurate (which Rebecca doubted) and the shortest time for replacement was even remotely accurate (which she also doubted) that would mean a recession that would last the better part of two decades.

If either of the larger percentage or the longer time were accurate, that recession would double. If both larger estimates were accurate it wouldn't be a recession, it would be a depression spanning the better part of a T century. It would also force the bureaucrats to fish or cut bait.

That meant war.

The hatch opened, and they strode out into Cargo 2. The smallest of their cargo shuttles was already prepping. It was actually a shuttle bought by ONI and delivered when Witch Maiden arrived in Beowulf. Manufactured locally by Lockeed-Mikoyan, it was half the size of the Manticoran shuttles and correspondingly less efficient; though Beowulf had learned a lot from tech transfers from their friends, and it was still larger and faster than the average Sollie trash hauler. Lieutenant Dracul in a ship suit not unlike his Captain's sketched a salute, his accent sounding pure Romanian. “Sunrise Festival Cargo one ready to launch, ma'am.”

“Are we sure the transponder was changed to match?” Jinhua asked.

“Double checked by the Darling Duo.”

“Both of them? Were the impellers misaligned?” Rebecca asked.

“No. Fengniao was just hanging by with her sister until you...” The pair came down the ramp as his explanation died. They both looked a bit uncertain, an expression neither senior officer had seen on those faces before.

They stopped, Cao Mei (identified by her tool box) set her kit down, and they snapped to attention in perfect unison. “Request permission to speak to the Captain and Commander on a personal matter?” Fengniao asked.

Jinhua saluted them, but they held it until Rebecca had also returned it. “Personal.” Jinhua mused. “Would you not rather speak to us in the captain's cabin when we return?”

“Commander, we feel some urgency.” Cao Mei replied levelly.

Jinhua looked to Rebecca, then went on. “Then by all means, please.”

“With a little more privacy if we may.” Fengniao looked to Dracul.

“By all means, ladies.” Darcul saluted again, and trotted up the ramp.

Once he was gone Rebecca commented, “Stand at ease, ladies.” The woman snapped to parade rest. “Well, you have my attention. What is it?”

The girls shared a look. While they looked to be perhaps twenty, Rebecca knew they were both in their forties, and had served almost twenty-five years in their navy. Yet the look they shared would have been perfect for a pair of junior high school girls.

“Three days ago, Herr Dollaryde asked us to marry him.” Cao Mei blurted, and both girls blushed.

“Marry?” Jinhua asked. “Which of-”

“Both.” Fengniao said. “And we accepted.”

“That means we have to get permission, not only from our own superior-” Cao Mei motioned toward Jinhua, “-but also from you as his commanding officer, Captain.”

Rebecca blinked at the thought. Marriage throughout most of the Galaxy was closer to the Christian 'one wife, cleave only unto' variety, though there were enough religions out there where marrying as many women (Or men for the Woman of Hypollyta, a pseudo-Amazonian culture) as you could support was acceptable. Both the Star Empire and the Andermani Empire enshrined religious freedom, so that wasn't the problem.

Where it could get sticky was when you brought in the regulations of the two navies. The Andermani welcomed immigration of people they could use, and a Manticoran trained tech fit their criteria. But going the other way might be a problem. Losing two of their trained techs instead of gaining Dollaryde would rankle.

“Have you considered your living arrangements?” Jinhua asked.

“We are already sharing a compartment with him aboard ship.” Again the girls blushed.

“Not that.” Jinhua replied patiently. “Will the three of you live in the Empire? Or in the Star Empire?”

“We have not yet decided.” Fengniao replied. “Francis's home is in a suburb of Landing, and is only a flat. We do not have a home beyond our family home on Gregor, but there is plenty of room. And our sisters will love him.”

“I thought he had enough of that on his plate already.” Rebecca murmured, waving away their hurt expressions. “If he wants to marry the pair of you, I see no impediment.”

“Nor I.” Jinhua said with a giggle.

“So let him know, and congratulations.”

“He will be so happy that he gets to keep his spice.” Cao Mei said with a twinkle in her eye.

Rebecca paused. “I know I am going to regret it; what did he mean by spice?”

“He is a great fan of an ancient writer named Robert Heinlien. In one of his stories he said the plural of 'spouse' is 'spice', though the author meant wife swapping rather than two wives.” Fengniao offered.

“I won't even go there.” Rebecca backed away. “Let him know and tell him of my congratulations.”

“Our congratulations.” Jinhua put in.

“Yes, Ma'am” The pair snapped back to attention, and saluted. When they had been returned the hurried out.

“Was I ever that young?” Rebecca asked. Jinhua looked at her askance.

“They are only five T years younger than you are, Captain.”

“I mean giddy over a man.”Rebecca said reprovingly. “My father was always sure that I would end up like Aunt Grace, beloved only of cats.”

“Well you have an excellent start there with Irene.” Jinhua motioned and they started up the ramp together.”

“That's two, commander.” Rebecca said as the ramp cut off further replies.



The shuttle landed, and Rebecca unbuckled her seat belt. Jinhua followed suit, and they strode down the ramp together. A Beowulf limo awaited them, and they climbed in. It was a short hop to land inside the Beowulf legation, and Rebecca allowed Jinhua to proceed her. The Legate, Simon Bolivar de Chou greeted them at the door. The Legation was too small to be called an embassy, looking more like a wealthy shipping company's office, which in fact it was most of the time, with Bolivar de Chou as that company's agent.

“Legate, this is Captain Rebecca Duvalier of HMS Witch Maiden.”

“Ah, yes. It was wise of you to change your transponder.” Bolivar de Chou said, shaking her hand. “There has been an advisory posted that a Manticoran fleet collier by that name threatened to attack Copperplate station. Orders have been posted that you are to held for that threat and for piracy.”

“I expected that.” Rebecca said as they dropped their hands.

The man reached over his desk, and held out a set of chips. “I doubt you expected this. The League has decided to treat the Andermani Empire as a co-belligerent if the Emperor does not accept their terms.” He handed another chip to Jinhua. “This is a holographic recording of the two and a half T Hour diatribe delivered by the local Solarian League representative before your Ambassador was declared persona non grata. Beginning with the report that Fleet Admiral Filareta has been ordered to advance against Manticore with 427 of the wall.

“Your nation has been charged with duplicity all the way back to the start of the first Haven war. Your actions in covering Manticoran shipping in Silesia is shown as proof of that. Your then dividing Silesia between you and finally admitting your 'secret' alliance against Haven is also seen as proof.

“It ended with an ultimatum. Once they have 'dealt' with Manticore, and occupied all of the Junction wormholes, they intend to occupy Manticoran Silesia, and will then order your emperor to turn over the rest to Frontier Security.”

“The lunatics are running the asylum.” Jinhua sighed.

“Then the 'doctors' are not checking the meds.” He said with a tight grin that had no humor to it. “First the Manticoran squadrons in the League has begun ordering their merchant shipping out; they have extended it, with the agreement of the Emperor, to Andermani hulls as well. But that is not the worst. The worst is that some Manticoran vessels have occupied the Astro Controls of several nations outside the League, and closed those wormholes and the Manticoran Junction itself to all Solarian shipping. That happened six weeks ago.

“There have been harsh words exchanged at the Nolan-Katharina hyper bridge , and at least one warning attack against a Solarian Battlecruiser near the Idaho- Zucker hyper bridge since then.”

“Great.” Rebecca growled. “How does Beowulf stand, if you don't mind me asking?”

“The Board of Directors has already refused one 'request' from Battle fleet to allow them to deploy a fleet in our space. That fleet was supposed to transit the wormhole after Filaretta had attacked to surprise you into surrendering and help him mop up.” Bolivar de Chou hissed. “We on Beowulf have long memories. When the League 'deploys' a fleet as they are requesting, all revictualling and repair of the vessels becomes the responsibility of the system they have been deployed to. We would be expected to do all those repairs gratis. We made our own estimates of what might remain even if they win, and it would be tantamount to building our entire fleet twice over at our expense, since the Manticorans no longer have yards for such purpose, and they expect a fierce battle with you Andermani. Every ship that faces Manticore, Grayson, then the Andermani would have to come back to my home for major repairs.”

He sighed. “I am reminded of the sarcastic tombstone, 'I expected to die, I just didn't expect it this soon'.”

“The last is from me personally under Operation Spartacus, from an operative under Operation Tubman.” Rebecca stiffened. Jinhua did not, but Rebecca wasn't willing to play poker with the woman.

“Go ahead, sir.”

“We received information regarding an orbital warehouse in the Mesa system of Cashman Enterprises. That company is the supplier of weapons to the Mesan fleet, and according to the regulations our contact was able to verify, only Mesan Naval vessels, and ships delivering ordinance from Technodyne are supposed to dock there. Yet eight months ago, eight Solarian fleet colliers came into our system and docked there for five days.

“He is part owner of a mining boat, and as he left, he caught footage of material being loaded onto those ships.” He took a chip, flourished it, and inserted it into a reader. On the screen was what looked like an oversized missile pod. He paused it, and expanded until they could see it clearly. Definitely a missile pod, but over sized compared to what their navies used.

“System defense pod, but look at this one.” Jinhua asked permission, then adjusted it so they were looking at the next pod, which had been turned so they were looking down it's throat. “The missile is too small, so these are not like the pods they supplied to Monica. And there are ten tubes per pod, not eight.” She zoomed out one instead of closer. “It looks longer; like they just made the original pod larger in all dimensions. Still far too big to deploy from a ship.”

“But they could deploy them towed behind warships.” Rebecca commented.

“Yes, they could.” Rebecca agreed. “What, fifteen of them in one salvo?”

“Perhaps. More likely ten.” Jinhua stood. “Do we know where these colliers were bound?”

“Loose lips and good Mesan Beer.” Bolivar de Chou laughed. “They were to meet up with Fleet Admiral Filareta's fleet in Tasmania Sector.”

“So they are carrying missiles that might cut our range edge.”

“That isn't the reason I brought this to your attention.” Bolivar de Chou commented. “Our contact there reports to the Castleman trade legation, which has contacts both on Mesa and Beowulf. They didn't send the report until there were two. The first was a T year ago. A Jessyk Combine ship docked there then, and departed after 18 hours. A month and a half later, the People's Navy in Exile made their run at Torch, and ran into Commodore Rozak of the Maya Sector OFS.”

“Wait!” Jinhua said. “Nine months ago was when Spindle was attacked.”

“Exactly.” Bolivar de Chou said exultant. “Yet the Solarian fleet colliers were loading missile pods of a new design literally before anyone could have known.”

“Like they knew that Crandall had failed, and the Sollies were going to try one last heavy hammer on us.” Rebecca finished.

“Yes.” Bolivar de Chou agreed.

“You have sent this on to Beowulf.” Rebecca asked.

“Yes. But we can't guarantee it reaches Manticore in time. We will do what we can, but we are limited by our hyper space speeds.”

“And our enemy is not.” Jinhua looked at Rebecca. They shared a look.

“Thank you, sir.” They both bowed, then returned to the airfield. Rebecca growled as she was required to log in four hundred kilos of barley, ten kilos of yeast, two of hops, three hundred liters of peach must, and four hundred kilos of peaches.

She didn't speak, even when addressed directly, sticking to her persona as the lowly purser. Once customs was done the cargo was loaded, and she walked aboard gratefully. Jinhua nodded at her as she finally took her seat. There was silence as the shuttle ripped down the runway and into the air.

“Jinhua-”

“Captain, if we were in the Empire or Silesia, I would be the one verifying the data from Operation Wilberforce.” She looked at Rebecca with a smile. “Enough said?”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 05-15-2012, 10:17 PM   #19
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Sailing into Danger

The dispatches were alarming. Witch Maiden still pretending to be Sunrise Festival forging toward the hyper limit, was under the command of Siobhan O'Malley as the captain, First Officer and Commander Kiel met in the office. The orders they now carried were for the Capwell unit to leave station and make for what was called the Bifrost Hyper Bridge.

It linked the OFS controlled planet Melpomene to Valhalla system's planet Bifrost in the the Verge about fifty light years from the Talbot cluster. In fact the Office Of Frontier Security already had Bifrost on their schedule to be absorbed in the very near future.

For Bifrost it was a mixed blessing. The bridge had been found only two years earlier, and like all hyper bridges, they were named after the discovering system, though Bifrost had succeeded thanks to help from Manticore, as so many fringe systems had before. Bifrost may have been dirt poor, and this would have bootstrapped their economy into viability. But Melpomene had been absorbed less than two years previously; meaning the OFS had assumed control of their end of the hyper bridge.

This conflict had come just in time if Bifrost was willing to grasp the nettle. Without the hyper bridge, the planet was far enough away to be left alone for decades, and Operation Lacoon two was perfect for saving the planet.

The problems it might cause for Melpomene were better not considered. There was an Intervention Corps still stationed there supported by orbital weapons platforms and a task group of perhaps two dozen light combatants; nothing larger than a heavy cruiser according to the last data dump, which unfortunately was almost two years out of date.

Witch Maiden's orders had changed as well. All of the remaining stations they were to supply had been released to Operation Lacoon two and the follow on Rasputin if necessary; though there were no reports as yet as to whether it had been activated yet. Lacoon had already been ordered, but Rasputin depended on a direct attack against a station or a declaration of war, which, so far, had not occurred.

After all, it was one thing to shoot up an active squadron that acted in an aggressive manner toward one of their systems, it was something else when you targeted hundred of billions of dollars of ships just sitting in orbit unable to defend themselves from even an LAC missile. Worse yet, in one of their own systems!

Admittedly, Rasputin was what is called a go to hell plan; the League attacking the small detachments of the Manticoran navy scattered through their own space, and those units doing what damage they could before they were destroyed. Such an attack without a declaration of war was illegal under International law, though the two major attacks launched by the League against first the Quadrant and now against the home system itself were by definition also illegal. Of course the present League unelected bureaucracy expected to control the courts that adjudicated the incidents.

Rebecca wondered if other nations had merely stumbled blindly into wars before this; the opposing sides making logical moves intended to merely threaten without actually shooting until some officer backed into a corner lashed out. If you looked at what had occurred in Spindle, the Sollies couldn't accept that anyone had destroyed one of their ships, and gotten away with it. Whether Crandall had been suborned or not, every step in this particular dance had been Frontier Fleet's automatic reaction to a perceived threat, writ large. And it was getting worse.

“As much as the Beowulf transponder helped, I don't think we should use it again.” Rebecca commented. “Beowulf is too close to us for their own safety. Once the balloon goes up, the Mandarins may decide to hell with Article five and blow their way through the Beowulf Navy anyway. They'll want the wormhole to use to attack us. That leaves Lynx as a logical attack route too.”

“But that would make things even worse for them.” Gaelin stroked Holmes as he considered. “Taking the Lynx teminus away from us would require pretty much another fleet the size of what Filareta is leading right now, and since we already know he's coming, the same sources we have inside the League will warn us about any build up against Lynx. It would take them the better part of a year to assemble and get there, and we could have home fleet sitting on it when they arrive.” He looked up, and Rebecca could still see his fury, fed by Holmes who mourned the loss of Black Water clan in the Yawata Strike and wanted revenge as well.

“That is for the politicians to fight out, Gaelin.” Rebecca sighed, stroking Irene before she leaped down then into Jinhua's lap. “Ours is but to do or die.”

“If it's all the same to you and the Admiralty, dying is not what I signed up for.” Gaelin snarled. They all laughed at that comment. As she had told Abigail a few months earlier, putting on the uniform meant you wore a target emblazoned on you. You had sworn your life to protect you citizens, and your death was a small price to pay.

“So we use a Sollie transponder. Any idea who we can use as our captain?”

“I hate to say it, skipper, but if we're contacted, I'd say Quartermaster 1st Riley.” Gaelin said.

Rebecca had just picked up her tea, and froze. It was pure luck that she hadn't been drinking when he had said that. She glared at him. “The man in charge of our theater? Are you out of your tiny little mind?”

“He does the best Sollie accent.” Gaelin replied blandly. Rebecca nodded. She had to admit that except for Lieutenant Dracul everyone of her officers had accents that were obviously native to Manticoran system planets.

“Tell him and have him practice for his biggest role.” She felt Irene hit her lap, and her hand stroked the back of the cat instinctively. “Now we'll run sims assuming we have to use both Mk23s and Hammers at the same time. Have Pri Fly ready to simulate guiding both to target.”

The next days were packed as the crew practiced sim after sim. Compared to their earlier sims, this was a full opera compared to just one movement of such a work. Several attempts failed, and the crew worked to make the next successful. Everyone went to bed dog tired but intent to succeed the next time.

Compared to every minute in hyper before, this was the most grueling; three days before they were to enter Capwell Rebecca ordered a full stand down from drills to assure everyone was not only ready but rested. She went to bed with Irene curled against her face, and awoke with the cat curled on her chest. She awoke surprised, her arms curling up to enfold the little furry monster. She rolled on her side, hitting the annunciator. “Captain here.”

“Transition to Capwell in two hours, Captain.” Os reported. Rebecca wanted an hour more of rest, but her sense of duty was adamant. She rolled from her bed, the cat meowing in complaint. She took a quick shower, dressed, and left her sleeping compartment. Breakfast was already there, and she sighed, shaking her head as Irene dragged a slab of ham from the plate.

“Monster.” She sighed, taking her seat. She ate, washing the food down with sips of Earl Grey tea. She fed the last strip of bacon to her furry minion, rubbing her ears before walking from the cabin. The bridge was smoothly running when she arrived. Even though tactical would have little to do, all three of the officers assigned were in position. She took her command chair, all of her personal readouts came from their enclosures, and she looked at the wonderous view most of humanity had never seen, hyperspace.

"Ready to begin translation in forty-one seconds, Ma'am," Lieutenant O'Malley reported from Astrogation.

"Very well, Miss O'Malley. The con is yours."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am. I have the con. Helm, prepare for initial translation on my mark."

"Ready for translation, aye," Chief MacDougal replied, and the helmsman's hand hovered over the manual override, just in case the astrogator's computers dropped the ball, while Rebecca leaned back to watch.

"Mark!" O'Malley said crisply, and the normally inaudible hum of Witch Maiden's hyper generator became a basso growl.

Rebecca swallowed against a sudden ripple of nausea as the visual display altered abruptly. The endlessly shifting patterns of hyper space were no longer slow; they flickered, jumping about like poorly executed animation, and her readouts flashed steadily downward as her ship plummeted "down" the hyper space gradient.

Witch Maiden hit the gamma wall, and her Warshawski sails bled transit energy like an azure forest fire. Her velocity dropped almost instantly from .3 C to a mere nine percent of light-speed, and Rebecca's stomach heaved as her inner ear rebelled against a speed loss the rest of her senses couldn't even detect. O'Malley's calculations had allowed for the energy bleed, and their translation gradient steepened even further as their velocity fell. They hit the beta wall four minutes later, and Rebecca winced again, less violently this time-as their velocity bled down to less than two percent of light-speed. The visual display was a fierce chaos of heaving light as the ship fell straight "down" across a "distance" which had no physical existence, and then they hit the alpha bands and flashed across them to the n-space wall like a comet.

Her readouts stopped blinking. The visual display was suddenly still, filled once more with the unwinking pinpricks of normal-space stars, the sense of nausea faded almost as quickly as it had come, and HMS Witch Maiden's velocity had dropped in less than ten minutes from ninety thousand kilometers per second to a bare hundred and forty.

Rebecca drew a deep breath and suppressed the automatic urge to shake her head in relief. One or two people around the bridge were doing just that, but the old hands were as purposely blasé about it as she herself. It was silly, of course, but there were appearances to maintain.

Her lips twitched at the familiar thought, and she glanced at her astrogation repeater. O'Malley had done her usual bang-up job, and Witch Maiden floated twenty-four light-minutes from Capwell, just outside the F7's hyper limit. Even the best hyper log was subject to some error, and the nature of hyper space precluded any observations to correct, but the voyage had been relatively short and O'Malley had shaved her safety margin with an expert touch.

She pressed a com stud on her chair arm while she took normal-space fixes to refine their position, and the voice of her chief engineer answered.

"Engineering, Commander Collins."

"Reconfigure to impeller drive, please, Mr. Collins."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am. Reconfiguring now," Collins acknowledged, and Witch Maiden folded her Warshawski sails into her impeller wedge.

There was no internal sign of the change, but the engineering readouts and visual display told the tale. Unlike Warshawski sails, which were invisible in normal space except for the brief moment in which they radiated the energy bleed of a translation, the stressed gravity bands of an impeller drive were almost painfully obvious. The merchant cruiser floated within her wedge, like a surfer poised in the curl of a wave which hadn't yet begun to move,

“Deploy a recon shell forward.” Rebecca ordered.

“Already deploying.” Abigail replied. “First dozen... Contact, whisker laser...” She paused. “Captain we intercepted one second of a Sollie Battle Fleet whisker communication with the inner system on our drone number four.” She turned to face her captain. “From astern.”

*****

“Sir, the bridge reports a hyper footprint just outside the hyper limit.” Commodore Raisic, his Chief of Staff reported. Vice Admiral Conway Sallinger looked up from his paperwork. His superior Admiral Logan had given his orders, as stupid as they were from his own viewpoint.

There is a fleet collier inbound from Manticore. It had dual drive missiles in storage, and they were going to capture them.

Easy to say for Mesa, he thought. Every attempt by Battle Fleet to capture the weapons had been a bust. Spindle should have worked, but a third of Crandall's SDs slaughtered by of all things heavy cruisers had put paid to that.

But a fleet collier... Logan knew the specs of the average fleet collier, and knew that what had been deployed could force her surrender, while taking down the half squadron of Mantie light cruisers.

“SLMV Rising Star.” Raisic reported. “Our little fleet collier is still a no show, sir.”

“Understood. What is her course?”

“Least time to Capwell.”

“Tell the Bridge to ignore them. We don't want the Manties frightened off.”

*****

Rebecca waited patiently as five of their Ghostrider drones were turned to head aft. While the sails were already reconfigured, they weren't inbound yet. “Helm, least time course to Capwell, half ahead.”

“Least time to Capwell, 108Gs aye.” MacDougal repeated.

“Contacts! Four ships.” Abigail tweaked the readings. “Mass readings... Superdreadnought sized. Contacts! Fourteen additional ships. Mass readings... Four battlecruiser sized, four heavy cruiser sized. Six destroyer or light cruiser sized.” Rebecca watched the icons of the ships appear. They weren't in a standard formation. They were divided into four lines by type, and after a moment she understood. It was like the Buffalo Horns of the Ancient Zulu infantry. The SDs and battlecruisers were deployed at galactic east and west, with the cruisers at Galactic North and the destroyers at Galactic south. Any ship approaching attempting to escape could try for the fringes of the system's hyper limit, but they would have two formations of warships with the Sollie long range missiles in firing range when sighted, assuming they didn't see-

Her palms met, fingers steepling. Why would half of a Superdreadnought task group be lying doggo out here... “Com, check for standard radio signals on the Ghostrider frequencies from in system.”

“Scanning.” Heinreid leaned over the system, her fingers flying. “Ghostrider radio sidelobes detected.”

“Patch in to them if at all possible.” She thumbed the annunciator. “Flight Ops?”

“Flight Ops, Sandhurst here.”

“Prep all LACs for missile defense. Two elements, first element two Katanas, one Ferret, three Shrikes. Second element all remaining birds.”

“Yes, ma'am. Keying in loadout now. We'll be ready in eight minutes.”

“We're getting the take from the in system birds.” Hughes reported. Wait, interrogative from the flag, HMS Gwynhaffer.”

“Wait one.” Rebecca looked at the sit-rep as she accepted that some Admiral of Battle Fleet had seen a way to kill one of the squadrons Manticore had seeded within their volume. As the Ghostrider drones reported, there was a a similar task group following the five icons of the squadron at 108Gs, just inside their own missile range. The older Mk20 pods had been retrofitted with the faster long ranged missiles developed from the first fruits of Ghostrider, with ranges of 12 million kilometers; if the battlecruisers and SDs hadn't been there the light cruisers would have pounded the small boys to scrap. With the other ships there, they were out-ranged by the newer issue missiles the Sollie SDs and battlecruisers carried. “Record transmission.” Rebecca ordered.

“Ready, Ma'am.”

“This is Captain of the list Rebecca Duvalier commanding HMS Witch Maiden. Be warned that there is a task group of pod superdreadnoughts and screen lying doggo aft of my position approximately 5 million kilometers. You are running into a trap. Send it.”

“On chip, sending now.”

They waited. According to regs, they could only use the FTL segment of the drones in a life threatening emergency. The Sollies would love to try to capture one of the drones, and even if the computers fried the systems as they were supposed to, the Sollies might reverse engineer the wreckage eventually. So they waited the twelve minutes it took for the signal to reach it's destination, and return.

The man who came on the screen caused Rebecca to grin, until he spoke. She had been a class mate of Tomaso Seguin and technically outranked him, having made Captain of the List two months earlier than he had. “Then there's no joy, Witch Maiden, we're running from a force of equal size. Right now their maintaining 16.6 million kilometers, and protecting our collier Isabeau, we cannot outrun them. I am ordering you to break for the hyper limit at your best speed and escape.”

“Record. Hello Tomaso. You probably don't know the ship I'm commanding. I have one of the old Merchant Cruiser modifications from Operation Trojan Horse, along with a full load out of Mk23s, and almost 2000 Andermani Hammer one pods.

“I hate to say it, Tomaso, but you need me and my ship. I'm the only one with the reach to hit both enemy formations, and with warheads that will take apart even a ship of the wall. I also have a mixed squadron of modern LACs that can beef up the missile defenses. Prepping half of them to support you at this time with the others covering us. They can also give mid course corrections to our missiles so they can extend your control range before using the FTL drones for finals. Standing by. Send it.”

The annunciator pinged. “Captain here.”

“Flight ops, Suggins here. We're all prepped with decoy rounds on all but the Katanas.”

“Good work. Launch with low powered wedges.” She turned to the side, drawing out the deployments, laying out the plan on the fly. “The unit heavy with Katanas will be aft of us 3 million kilometers. We have less point defense than the squadron, so we'll need them. The others will run in toward the squadron, and should be in position before the balloon goes up.” She sent the picture. “Got it?”

“Yes, ma'am. I'll lead the close in team.”

“Negative. We need our steadiest hand in charge of the other unit because once the shooting is done, that one is going to go for the space station to stop any ships attempting to flee.”

There was a long pause. “Understood, ma'am.”

“Good hunting.”

“Signal from Gwynhafer.”

“On screen.”

Tomaso was shaking his head ruefully. “I get a squadron, but you still get the best toys. Light 'em up, at your discretion, Rebecca.”

“On chip. Understood. Will begin rolling pods in...”

“Two hours, seven minutes, skipper.” Hughes called out. “If we deploy 200 Mk23 pods before we open fire; set them to fire in sequence we can control the salvos. That will take just under seven minutes before the missiles are fully deployed.” She shrugged. “We're limited by the rails capability with the Mk23s.”

“But we could dump pods like the Hammers instead!” Phillip suggested.

“No time to modify our systems now.” Rebecca commented drily. “We'll let BuShips know about the problem when we get home.” She repeated the data for the squadron's benefit. “Operation Hogmanay starts two hours, fifteen minutes from... Now! Send it.”

“Hogmanay?” Phillip asked, confused.

“My ancestors came from Scotland on Old Earth.” Rebecca told him with a grin. “Hogmanay is the Scot's New Year celebrated...” The grin became vulpine. “With fireworks.”

*****

“Deploying now.” Rebecca Suggins reported. As her Katana Azrael backed away, O'Neal's Reaper, Logan's [iLillian[/i], Vlad Dracul's Vampire, Robert's Panther and HMSLAC Weasel pulled away from the ship.

“Deploying now.” Emily Sandhurst reported. Her Shrike Berserker backed away under impulse thrusters, and she began her departure, followed by Chocaholic under command of Lieutenant Phillip Seacourt, slid from their moorings. Windom's Sabretooth The Ferret Wolverine under command of lieutenant Carstairs joined them, along with GSNSLAC Gabriel and GSNSLAC Michael.

Unit one under Sandhurst headed aft, settling into position three million kilometers closer to the waiting units. The rest turned and charged insystem at almost five times the Witch Maiden's present speed. In combat they had proven that at anything over five light seconds; less than two million kilometers, the LAC's low powered wedge was undetectable even by their own sensors. But even at low power, the small ships routinely pulled over 500gs. They would arrive in plenty of time.

Ahead of them was a harder problem; the enemy formation, matching the one of the task group that still sat there silent. Unlike the one aft, this one would have already deployed pods in tow. She ran the numbers in her head. The destroyers were probably either War Harvests or Ramparts, the smaller ship could tow one, the larger two. The heavy cruisers were probably Generals, meaning they could tow four pods each. The battlecruisers should be able to tow six each if they were Nevadas, five if they were Indefatigables. Finally the SDs should tow ten each if they only had the capability of a Scientist class, but it would be better to assume more capability; say twelve. So, best case, 66 pods in tow, with 88 as worst. So either 660 to 880 missiles from the pods alone.

Add to that 128 missiles from the SDs tubes, though the smaller models using the Javelin warheads, along with either 112 for the destroyer sized if they were Nevadas or 116 if they were Indefatigables. So 1100 down to 904 total missiles.

“Get a drone close enough to see if peanut gallery has deployed pods yet.” Rebecca ordered.

“Already done.” Abigail reported. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I count 66 pods deployed. They have full pod load outs for every ship, ma'am.”

Rebecca nodded. “Get me Berserker on a whisker laser.” Ten seconds later She heard the woman reporting. “Be advised, the Sollies have already deployed pods. You're facing 904 targets coming in their first salvo.” She sighed. “Do what you can, Emily.”

“With your permission, Captain, I have another alternative.” She gave the captain her plan. When it was accepted, She cut the com laser, contacting Chocaholic and Sabretooth. “Time to earn our princely salaries, Shrikes. Mordechai, you're in command.”

“May the intercessor watch over you, Emily.”

Rebecca touched the annunciator. Commander Kiel?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Your people are going to be setting the Hammers. Our lives are in your hands.”

“We want to survive as well, Captain. Depend on us.”

Fengniao climbed into her skin suit, then turned to help Cao Mei. They were assigned to different sections here, herself to the cargo hold, her sister to CIC where her programming skills might be needed. They hugged wordlessly, then turned. The compartment hatch flipped open, and Francis was there, hugging them both. “Stay alive, both of you, damn it.” Then he was gone, running down the passageway toward Fusion one, the bottle close to the skin of the ship where the original design as a merchant vessel had been placed.

*****

Counting down to two minutes, Captain.” Hughes reported. All of the pods are gone for our Mk 23 salvos for in system. Rolling the last of our Hammers for our own.”

“Very good, Guns.”

“There is a minor problem, skipper.” Gaelin commented.

“Lets see, a thousand missiles coming down our throats, half a task force just shooting at us, you have another problem added to that?” A number of her crew laughed. “By all means, Mister Watson, what is this 'minor' problem?”

“Under International law, if we are not using our own transponder, firing at the enemy is illegal.”

Rebecca harrumphed. “Com, reset our transponder at one minute.”

“The enemy is at fifty-one light seconds.” Henireid reminded her.

“Then we let them know with nine seconds to go. Set it.”

“Aye, ma'am.”

“Coming down on 75 seconds.” Hughes reported.

“All right people, it may be our last act in this world, but it's going to be done right. Wait, Millie, add this before the transponder goes active.”

The communications officer stared, then chuckled. “Inserted, Ma'am.” She waited. “Transponder active.”

“Fifty seconds.” Hughes reported.

“All right people, showtime.”

“Fifteen seconds.”

Rebecca looked around, then took a deep breath. “Execute!”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 05-23-2012, 05:35 PM   #20
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Witch Maiden in Full Cry

Vice Admiral Conway Sallinger listened to the report from his superior, then turned to Commodore Raisic, his Chief of Staff. “Prepare to bring up the wedge, low power. Signal all ships to move to the very edge of the hyper limit and stop.”

“Yes, sir.” Raisic nodded to the flag com officer Lieutenant commander Petrie.

The annunciator chimed, and Raisic tapped it. “Flag Bridge.”

“Sir, status change on Rising Star.” The sensor officer reported.

“What?” Raisic had ignored the ship for the better part of an hour and a half. He checked it on his own scan idly. The tracking officers had tracked her for about half an hour, of course. Practice was taken when you could get it, even if the target was one of your own civilian vessels, but after that exercise, she had been ignored. The ship had traveled 12.8 kilometers since her arrival, and was up to 11,860 KPS, now well out of missile range. But she had turned sharply to starboard, begun decelerating at 2.1KPS and-

The transponder changed, becoming a laughing demon, then blazed scarlet as she now became...

“Sir! The Rising Star was using a fake transponder! It's Witch Maiden!”

“Missile trace! Multiple missiles inbound on the flagship!” Tactical screamed. “Another salvo headed in system!”

Clausewitz stated in his book On War that surprise happens in the mind of leaders. No one said anything for almost 30 seconds as the comber of destruction charged toward one vessel on either end. Then another paired salvo leaped into being.

“Full power to the wedge! Bring up Aegis! Do something!” Sallinger screamed.

“Wedge will be up in thirty seconds. Sir, missiles... They're from aft!” Sallinger turned in shock.

Decoys suddenly came up, Dragon's teeth made the fifteen missiles from three LACS into a hundred, then several hundred. Tracking crews were caught off balance, and computers dithered.

It couldn't have happened at a worse time. Emily Sandhurst grinned savagely as her graser took SLNS Christopher Columbus dead in the opening into her pod storage doors. They shattered, ripping further into the ship as they smashed missile pods into wreckage. Two of her missiles exploded there dead astern, mission killing the towed pods, the others along with those from Sabretooth streamed past the stricken SD toward SLNS Jim Bridger. The lead LACs streaked past the ship at 13,000 KPS and now ripped into the stern of the Bridger.

Chocaholic's
missiles had followed, but Seacourt had noted that the wedge wasn't up yet. His ship arced up, and Columbus was savaged again as the small ship ripped into her roof. Unarmored compared to the rest of the ship, the heavy graser smashed through the interior like a wrecking ball made of energy. Then one of the massive ship's fusion plants failed, and the ship along with her attacker vanished in a fireball.

Bridger's pods had been mission killed, and she had taken a hit that jammed her pod bay doors as the two LACS raced past, their impenetrable wedges between them even if Bridger's crew had been ready to fire, now running up astern of the flagship SLNS Marco Polo. More missiles leaped out from the small vessels, their grasers shredding the pods trailing her like tissue paper. Then Berserker caught a beam worthy of a capital ship, and it was only Sabretooth remaining.

Sabretooth shrieked past the ship, only the gods themselves keeping them alive as they now ran up on the stern of SLNS Vitus Bering. A chase laser from Marco Polo missed the small ship, and Bering staggered as her own division mate's fire ripped through her, smashing everything in it's path. [i]Sabretooth]/i] passed the ship and was gone as a second fusion sun claimed [i]Bering]/i], the blast shielding her from attack.

All of this took less than twenty seconds. 12,000 Solarian crew members dead against twenty.

*****

Jinhua growled as the second SD vanished. “Klumbach! Abort Salven drei und vier.” She tapped the key to contact the cargo hold. “Fengniao, halt pod Einsatz!”

The twins replied “Zu Befehl!” 'As you command' at the same instant.

“Also, tausend Raketen mit so vielen Zielen.” She mused. “Cao Mei, zielen auf die drei führenden Schlachtkreuzer, 28 Hülsen je. Und die anderen sechzehn? Vier Schoten an jedem schweren Kreuzer. Ausführen!”

“Zu Befehl!
” Her fingers danced. “Raketen umgeleitet. Brennen in geordnete Folge!"

“CIC, this is the captain. What the hell is going on down there?” Rebecca demanded.

“Einen Moment, Kapitän.” She replied. Four seconds later a salvo of 280 missiles screamed downrange. Kiel leaned back in her chair. ”I am sorry, Captain. When those two SDs exploded, I had to delay the launch of the deployed birds, and stop dumping pods from the cargo bay until we had. We may need the extra missiles later.”

There was a long silence. “Next time let me know. After all I am supposed to be in charge here. Bridge clear.”

Kiel nodded. “Fengniao, wenn Cao Mei Ihnen sagt, starten 34 Hülsen. Richten Sie die restlichen Kreuzer mit 28, und die Zerstörer mit je einem.”

“Zu Befehl!


*****

“Talk to me, Matt!” Sallinger screamed.

Raisic shook his head. “Columbus and Bering are gone, sir. Bridger reports damage, not sure yet how bad. Our deployed pods were killed, and one of their missiles hit our stern hammer head, but no serious damage.” He switched screens. “The salvos are inbound at 470 KPS, raid one aimed at us, raid two at Bridger. Their third salvo is aimed at Iowa. First two 500 missiles each; raid three is 280. Raid one will be here in,” he checked the time, “two minutes forty seconds.”

“Get the SDs into hyper. Order the rest to pursue and destroy.” Sallinger growled. “We'll stay there for five minutes, then follow.”

“Understood. Notifying Rear Admiral Bartley.”

“Hyper in one minute.” Sallinger heard from the bridge communicator, then, “Bridger's hyper generator was damaged! She can't flee!”

One minute thirty seconds before impact, Marco Polo went into hyper. The missiles aimed at her redirected toward the remaining Bridger. The last thing Sallinger saw was Bridger, turning her broadside toward the missiles.

Counter-missiles leaped out, and that was when the jammers went into effect. The Andermani version of Dragons teeth, codenamed Jongleur or Juggler made the raid grow until almost 5000 missiles seemed to be coming, causing the counter-missiles to lose lock. Only fifty were plucked from the mass approaching. They raced across the outer defense envelope at almost forty percent of light speed, and then the Blitz; or Flash, again the equivalent of the Manticoran Dazzlers kicked in, howling like electronic banshees into the defense nets radar. Only seventy of the missiles had been jammers of any kind, five of them had been destroyed by counter missiles, and only a dozen more were killed by the point defense lasers.

That left 373 missiles. Bridger rolled to present her belly bands, but these missiles had over a minute remaining on their clocks. They attacked from every side, ripping into her sidewalls on both sides even as others went for the throat and kilt. Armor shattered like glass as energy transfer blew her apart. One minute, she was an eight megaton warship. The next she was gone. Then the second wasted salvo detonated as one.

*****

Rear Admiral Bartley stared in horror at what was happening. Three of the League's newest warships gone in less than three minutes. He stared at the missiles now aimed at his command. A salvo of 280 missiles were aimed right at him, racing at an impossible speed toward him as he watched, still outranged, Two more lit off, aimed at Nebraska and Irkutsk. He suddenly realized what Byng must have felt when the same hell came toward him in New Tuscany, but he at least could try to hyper out. “All ships! Go into hyper! Wait five minutes, then come back down!”

“Sir!” His staff navigator turned. “We and Nebraska are inside the hyper limit. All of us will be before those missiles arrive!”

“Drop the wedge! Now!”

*****

Vice Admiral Patrice Tshombe watched as the Manticoran squadron ran for their lives. His patron had stationed two ships, a courier and a small freighter in Capwell, and he was going to earn enough from this one mission to set himself up for life.

He had always hated the Manties. They acted so superior, so holier than thou with their platitudes. So what if some people too stupid to know they could be free were enslaved? So what if the Solarian Government was filled with stupid and venal men while the men who always did the real work, the bureaucrats ran everything?

He knew that the Navy and OFS had plans to eventually absorb the Manticorans. They had been dusted off occasionally and reworked for the last century. The Manticoran Junction was too valuable to leave in their neo-barb hands for too much longer; all their blatant attacks on the League Navy had done was push them into advancing that planning.

But by simple trickery, and only minor technical capability, they had not only leveled the playing field, but overwhelmed every attack that came at them. Missile pods. They were relics! It was is if the ancient English Long Bow had suddenly become the major weapon of war again!

The timing wasn't good; they had intended to wait until the Mantie fleet collier carrying the more advanced models of their missiles arrived. The courier that had hypered out of Termagant had reported the departure of not only the collier but the squadron itself. No one knew what had happened specifically, but the man who made his manners when departing had not been the pompous ass who had held the station before.

But after that, nothing. They had been supposed to stop at Tucson, but no reply from there. Maybe they were just delayed. But Commodore Seguin had becomes suspicious when Tshombe's Task Force 2471 had arrived. When half of them had been sent out to 'practice' he had calmed down a bit. Maybe the flybys of Sollie recon drones had bothered him.

Then the squadron had formed up, and made ready to depart. As soon as he had heard the reports that they were warming up their impellers, he had lit off his own, and began the pursuit. With them hampered by their own smaller collier, they couldn't out run him. He'd slowed to match their speed when he was in extreme missile range twenty minutes ago, and called upon them to surrender. No reply.

Well he'd just have to put on more pressure. “Com, contact HMS Gwynhafer and order them to surrender or be destroyed.”

“Yes si- Admiral, com traffic from the Mantie flagship.”

“So he finally sees reason. On screen.”

The Mantie looked like an ill tempered meter seventy fireplug. “Admiral, I have considered your demand. I answer with one. You will surrender your vessels, or they will be destroyed. Clear.”

Tshombe laughed, and some of the staff dutifully laughed with him. Four light cruisers demanding that four superdreadnoughts surrender? Was the man intoxicated?

“On the chip-”

“Sir, another com request from the Manties.”

He turned his couch to look at his communications officer. “We haven't even replied to his signal yet!” The man shrugged, and Tshombe motioned toward the main screen where Commodore Seguin seemed to look right at him. “You have no doubt had a good laugh at my ultimatum, Admiral Tshombe. But I am deadly serious. You will be brought under fire in two minutes.”

“Oh be for real!” Tshombe laughed.

The laughter died as Seguin replied immediately, “This communication is via our FTL drones.” He signaled someone off screen, and the holotank flashed as two dozen targets appeared, flashed, and vanished again. “You have two minutes, Admiral.”

“I don't need two [i]seconds[/i[] to recognize a bluff, commodore. Surrender or die.”

“Then the deaths are on your head. Captain Duvalier?”

The screen split, and there was a cold faced woman there. “I heard him.” Her eyes locked on Tshombe. “Rebecca Duvalier, commanding HMS Witch Maiden.”

Witch Maiden is not-”

“Spare me, Admiral. Colliers are civilian modifications. We both know that. Witch Maiden was one of our merchant cruisers in Silesia during the last war, the same class as your own Rising Star. They redesignated her when she was returned to Manticoran service.” Duvalier told him.

“Thirty seconds, Admiral.” Seguin replied. “Your response?”

“I will blow your squadron to hell, Commodore.”

Seguin smiled. “All I have to say, is bring it!” The screen blanked.

Tshombe glared at the tank. It was a bluff; Witch Maiden hadn't arrived yet, and even if she had, no fleet collier could control enough missiles to kill four SDs!

“Missile trace! Multiple missile traces inbound! And a second salvo outbound!” Tshombe stared in shock as the Sollie Merchantman Rising Star launched two large salvos, one toward the ships of Admiral Sallinger, the others at him! He stared in shock as suddenly one of the SDs in Sallinger's unit exploded. Then seconds later another! And the missiles hadn't even reached them!

“Fire!”

The ships turned, and the salvo belched out. 904 missiles speared toward the Manticoran ships.

To a Sollie task force, this would have been a horror. But for a Manticoran unit, it was business as usual since the old People's Republic had deployed their own pods. In fact this was on the light side. It was heavy enough that a short squadron would have been doomed back when that first occurred. But the Manticoran navy had doubled the number of point defense clusters and counter missile launchers across the board. In fact Gwynhafer herself had as many counter missiles and point defense clusters as the average Solarian SD.

Electronic warfare came into play, and a quarter of the missiles in the first salvo wandered off target and detonated harmlessly. But behind that launch came the missiles from the SDs' pods and internal launchers along with their Battlecruisers.

Then suddenly as the missiles were less than 10 million miles out some kind of decoys appeared. The five Manticoran vessels became fifty, then five hundred, then five thousand. More missiles lost lock, chasing the elusive targets.

Four hundred and fifty raced past all of this, then were taken under fire by some kind of fantastic counter missile coming from nowhere! They had a range of over three and a half million kilometers, and began killing missiles over seven million kilometers from the squadron. Some of them even seemed to hunt missiles with single minded intensity.

Yet there was a price. As the Solarian missiles crossed that deadly zone the Manticoran missiles raced through the squadron and seconds later the missile swarm inbound, interpenetrating the salvo then passed on racing toward the SDs that had fired them. Traveling at almost 50 percent of light speed, they had taken just under four minutes to travel 35 million kilometers to the squadron, and had resisted every attempt to decoy them.

Of course, there was a reason for that. They had been fired and until reaching the squadron, they had still had their dust shrouds covering their delicate sensors. First Witch Maiden, her deployed drones between her and the Squadron had passed on midcourse corrections to the blind missiles, only blowing them free as they passed the squadron. During their long flight Gwynhafer and her squadron mates had been recording all of the deceptive ECM put out by the Solarian Task Group and when they finally jettisoned the dust shrouds, those attempts had been excluded.

Two hundred enemy missiles raced on toward the squadron, then came under fire from fore and aft as point defense clusters ripped from empty space even as the cruisers began their own Armageddon drill of counter missile fire. Rolled up, only their impenetrable wedges to be seen, the cruiser threw double salvos of missiles into the incoming storm.

Only fifty reached point defense range, and none of them survived long enough to attack. The second salvo had done slightly better, only 744 missiles they had been harrowed as the first had first by electronic wiles, then the missiles of the LACs that rested between the combatants. Only 350 made it through that gauntlet to run into the missile storm. but eighty missiles faced the combined fire of four cruisers and had been killed before they were even in range.

“Admiral, there are some kind of LACs between us and the squadron!”

“Internal tubes, get those LACs!”

Now it was the Mk23s turn.

After they charged past the squadron, five hundred Manticoran missiles came in, aimed at SLNS Leif Ericsson. The Sollie fleet was woefully out of practice, their formation, while tight by their standards, was too far away from each other for mutual defense compared to the battle hardened Manticorans. Ericsson was all by herself as the missiles targeted her alone for destruction. She was launching her fourth salvo at the Manticoran squadron as her doom arrived.

Dragons teeth blossomed, turning 500 missiles into 5,000, then fifty thousand, overloading the defensive envelope. The counter missiles barely killed twenty, and the rest raced through that zone in less than thirty seconds. The Dazzlers screamed across the lidar and radar frequencies. Four hundred and sixty attack missiles struck at the ship in a time measured in only five seconds. Even the computers didn't know how many missiles actually struck her, but at the end of the attack there was only debris; all of her fusion bottles had blown during that attack.

And almost 3000 missiles were still inbound! The task force had thrown even more than that, but they had failed to kill even a light cruiser in return!

The second Manticoran salvo was aimed at Tshombe's SLNS Ponce Del Leone, and there was no way they could stop them. “Strike the wedge! Order the fleet to-” His chief of staff paused, then keyed a code in. An instant later the flag bridge of the ship was destroyed by a bomb.

Staggered by the blast, her captain turned to order the wedge struck as he'd heard. But he was a lifetime too late as almost 400 missiles ripped into her. Her inertial dampener failed, the crew dead in less than a second.

The third salvo broke through because the Shrikes had emptied their counter missile magazines, and were traveling too fast for the main grazers to get off more than two shots. Four hundred missiles broke through. The squadron ripped into the missile storm, but a few leaked through. HMS Hel vomited atmosphere as a missile ripped her. She staggered, but her weapons, except for two of her grazers kept firing.

The fourth salvo fared less well. The Shrikes maneuvered into the missile stream, arcing up, using their wedges as massive counter missiles. But not without cost. HMSLAC [i]Vampire]/i] was attacked by five missiles, and couldn't protect everywhere. Hyram Logan had a second of awareness before Lillian also blew up.

Now it was SLNS Zheng He's turn. She tried, but she blew apart.

There were less missiles, fewer platforms to launch them, and it had fallen to a manageable level. Then suddenly the salvos still charging toward the squadron exploded as SLNS Ferdinand Magellan dropped her wedge followed by the screen. A few seconds later, the Manticoran missiles also self destructed.

*****

“Coming back down in three, two one, now.” Sallinger gripped the arms of his chair as space came back to normal again. It was a few seconds before the screens cleared, and he winced when he saw what was happening. His screen was just sitting there, their wedges down.

In system it was worse. While the transponders of the task group were still there, their wedges were down as well. Then first one, then another of the SD transponders winked out until only one remained.

“Sir, we have a com from Witch Maiden.”

“Put them on screen” The main tank cleared, and a woman looked out of it.

“I am Captain Rebecca Duvalier, commanding Armed merchant cruiser [i]Witch Maiden[i/i]. I apologize for the destruction of your ships, but the actions of your senior officer in system required that I take this action. As I have informed your screen, I now inform you; they have surrendered and under the Deneb accords, I have allowed that. Since I do not have the manpower to occupy their vessels I have allowed them to remain intact until this action is completed.

“However I have also warned them that under Section 27, subsection 4; governing attempts to use a surrender as a ruse de Guerre, that if any of them brings up their wedges before we have departed the system, they have forfeited their rights under the Accords.

“You did not kill your forward momentum when you went into hyper, and your ship is now within the hyper limit. Now I call upon you to surrender. Our missiles will reach you before you can cross back over it, and your ship is too dangerous to allow to just sit there like the others. You have thirty seconds to comply.”

“The message would take longer than that to reach her.” Sallinger snorted.

“Incorrect.” He flinched as her reply came back. “We're using one of our recon drones to pass this message in real time. You now have 20 seconds.”

“Orders, sir?” For the life of him, he couldn't think of any that would do any good.

“Drop the wedge.”

*****

Witch Maiden slowed to a stop. Her pods ready to rip Marco Polo apart from 25 million kilometers away. Rebecca counted the cost. Six SDs destroyed, 37000 Solarian dead, against almost a hundred Manticorans. Hel had been hit hard, but was still combat effective. She knew there would be no joy in their own mess tonight; forty of their own had died.

“Admiral Sallinger, your crew is to go to the lifepods and small craft and abandon ship. You will then scuttle your vessel.”

“Why you-”

“I told you your ship was too dangerous to leave just sitting here, sir. We do not have enough personnel to put a prize crew aboard her, and under the Deneb accords, the actions of your superior have painted you all as inshore pirates. I could legally destroy all of you rather than accept your surrenders. That is my only other option if you refuse.”

Sallinger growled, then thumbed his annunciator. “Captain Quintain, you will set the scuttling charges, and abandon ship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Satisfied, Captain?”

Rebecca sighed. “Except for surviving the day, there is no satisfaction in war, sir. As Wellington said, the only thing worse than a battlefield lost is a battlefield won. Witch Maiden clear.”

“Admiral?” Raisic stood. “We had better get going, sir.”

“I'll be along, Matt. Go on.” The chief of staff looked at him for a long moment, then snapped to attention and flash a salute. Sallinger smiled softly, and returned it. “Get my people out, Matt.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned. “You heard him, get to boat bay four.” The staff and their yeoman and ratings filed from the compartment.

All alone, Sallinger stood, pulling a cigar from a pocket on his skin suit, the cellophane crinkled as he stripped it away, then he lit it, pulling the smoke into his lungs. Eighty T years of duty lay behind him, and the future was bleak. He would be the third Solarian Admiral to fail miserably against the Manticorans, and the worst was not his failure, it was the inability to even strike back.

The ship was silent. Ship's with crews were never silent. There would be muted conversations, the sound of people walking. The sound of keyboards being used. Now there was nothing. He walked to a bulkhead, and laid his hand against the metal of his ship, his last command.

The hatch hissed open, and Captain Peter Quintain, Captain of Marco Polo entered the Flag Bridge.

“I thought I told you to abandon ship, Captain.” Sallinger commented idly.

“A captain is in charge aboard his ship, sir. You taught me that as an ensign.”

“Yes, I did.” He remembered the fresh faced kid on his first cruiser. The eagerness. He'd watched that boy grow into a man, taking his own first command. When the Task Force had come here, he'd chosen that respected man as his flag captain. “Never thought this would happen, did you Pete?”

The captain shook his head. “The League had a good run. No one would have expected this to happen. To be beaten by neo-barbs!”

Sallinger snorted. “Did you keep studying history after I saw you last?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you can think of us as the old Chinese empire. It survived two millennia, because the bureaucrats were always there. No matter who sat on the throne for almost 2000 years, there were still the Mandarins and their precursors making sure the government kept running. From the Tang dynasty when the Mandarin system was created, through the Hong, Yuan under the Mongols, the Ming, Qing, right up to the formation of the first Chinese republic, they were always in the shadows, running everything because only they could read the records.

“No Pete, we stagnated, we let the bureaucrats seize power when the Constitution was created by giving the Assembly no power beyond a veto. Everyone looks at the League and sees it as a shining example of power, yet it's a facade, a false front concealing seven centuries of rot. And we're the soldiers marching out to die so the Mandarins can stay in power another day.”

He wandered over to the Flag communications panel. “How long before the charges blow?”

Quintain checked his watch. “Three minutes, sir.”

“More than enough time.” The bridge of the Witch Maiden came up. “Please record, captain Duvalier.”

“I would suggest you abandon ship, Admiral.”

“No, I will stay here if you don't mind.” He heard a step, and looked at the glass Quintain held out. He looked back at the bottle of two centuries old T brandy the man held. He took the glass, motioning, and Quintain drank with him. “Captain, we were sent here by Battle Fleet to protect the mothball fleet, but both Admiral Tshombe and I were also assisting Mesa by attempting to get models of your new long range missiles...” He sipped, then continued.

*****

Rebecca sat through the equivalent of a Death Bed confession, then sat unflinching as SLNS Marco Polo exploded. She touched her annunciator. “Prifly, are you ready?”

“Rubens here, Ma'am. We're fully loaded. And ready to deliver judgement.”

Rebecca grinned savagely. Though she didn't know it, Rubens had the same feral grin. “Good, rendezvous with Lieutenant Suggins. There's work for you yet.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 05-23-2012, 06:19 PM   #21
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Witch Maiden in Full Cry

Vice Admiral Conway Sallinger listened to the report from his superior, then turned to Commodore Raisic, his Chief of Staff. “Prepare to bring up the wedge, low power. Signal all ships to move to the very edge of the hyper limit and stop.”

“Yes, sir.” Raisic nodded to the flag com officer Lieutenant commander Petrie.

The annunciator chimed, and Raisic tapped it. “Flag Bridge.”

“Sir, status change on Rising Star.” The sensor officer reported.

“What?” Raisic had ignored the ship for the better part of an hour and a half. He checked it on his own scan idly. The tracking officers had tracked her for about half an hour, of course. Practice was taken when you could get it, even if the target was one of your own civilian vessels, but after that exercise, she had been ignored. The ship had traveled 12.8 kilometers since her arrival, and was up to 11,860 KPS, now well out of missile range. But she had turned sharply to starboard, begun decelerating at 2.1KPS and-

The transponder changed, becoming a laughing demon, then blazed scarlet as she now became...

“Sir! The Rising Star was using a fake transponder! It's Witch Maiden!”

“Missile trace! Multiple missiles inbound on the flagship!” Tactical screamed. “Another salvo headed in system!”

Clausewitz stated in his book On War that surprise happens in the mind of leaders. No one said anything for almost 30 seconds as the comber of destruction charged toward one vessel on either end. Then another paired salvo leaped into being.

“Full power to the wedge! Bring up Aegis! Do something!” Sallinger screamed.

“Wedge will be up in thirty seconds. Sir, missiles... They're from aft!” Sallinger turned in shock.

Decoys suddenly came up, Dragon's teeth made the fifteen missiles from three LACS into a hundred, then several hundred. Tracking crews were caught off balance, and computers dithered.

It couldn't have happened at a worse time. Emily Sandhurst grinned savagely as her graser took SLNS Christopher Columbus dead in the opening into her pod storage doors. They shattered, ripping further into the ship as they smashed missile pods into wreckage. Two of her missiles exploded there dead astern, mission killing the towed pods, the others along with those from Sabretooth streamed past the stricken SD toward SLNS Jim Bridger. The lead LACs streaked past the ship at 13,000 KPS and now ripped into the stern of the Bridger.

Chocaholic's
missiles had followed, but Seacourt had noted that the wedge wasn't up yet. His ship arced up, and Columbus was savaged again as the small ship ripped into her roof. Unarmored compared to the rest of the ship, the heavy graser smashed through the interior like a wrecking ball made of energy. Then one of the massive ship's fusion plants failed, and the ship along with her attacker vanished in a fireball.

Bridger's pods had been mission killed, and she had taken a hit that jammed her pod bay doors as the two LACS raced past, their impenetrable wedges between them even if Bridger's crew had been ready to fire, now running up astern of the flagship SLNS Marco Polo. More missiles leaped out from the small vessels, their grasers shredding the pods trailing her like tissue paper. Then Berserker caught a beam worthy of a capital ship, and it was only Sabretooth remaining.

Sabretooth shrieked past the ship, only the gods themselves keeping them alive as they now ran up on the stern of SLNS Vitus Bering. A chase laser from Marco Polo missed the small ship, and Bering staggered as her own division mate's fire ripped through her, smashing everything in it's path. Sabretooth passed the ship and was gone as a second fusion sun claimed Bering, the blast shielding her from attack.

All of this took less than twenty seconds. 12,000 Solarian crew members dead against twenty.

*****

Jinhua growled as the second SD vanished. “Klumbach! Abort Salven drei und vier.” She tapped the key to contact the cargo hold. “Fengniao, halt pod Einsatz!”

The twins replied “Zu Befehl!” 'As you command' at the same instant.

“Also, tausend Raketen mit so vielen Zielen.” She mused. “Cao Mei, zielen auf die drei führenden Schlachtkreuzer, 28 Hülsen je. Und die anderen sechzehn? Vier Schoten an jedem schweren Kreuzer. Ausführen!”

“Zu Befehl!
” Her fingers danced. “Raketen umgeleitet. Brennen in geordnete Folge!"

“CIC, this is the captain. What the hell is going on down there?” Rebecca demanded.

“Einen Moment, Kapitän.” She replied. Four seconds later a salvo of 280 missiles screamed downrange. Kiel leaned back in her chair. ”I am sorry, Captain. When those two SDs exploded, I had to delay the launch of the deployed birds, and stop dumping pods from the cargo bay until we had. We may need the extra missiles later.”

There was a long silence. “Next time let me know. After all I am supposed to be in charge here. Bridge clear.”

Kiel nodded. “Fengniao, wenn Cao Mei Ihnen sagt, starten 34 Hülsen. Richten Sie die restlichen Kreuzer mit 28, und die Zerstörer mit je einem.”

“Zu Befehl!”


*****

“Talk to me, Matt!” Sallinger screamed.

Raisic shook his head. “Columbus and Bering are gone, sir. Bridger reports damage, not sure yet how bad. Our deployed pods were killed, and one of their missiles hit our stern hammer head, but no serious damage.” He switched screens. “The salvos are inbound at 470 KPS, raid one aimed at us, raid two at Bridger. Their third salvo is aimed at Iowa;. First two 500 missiles each; raid three is 280. Raid one will be here in,” he checked the time, “two minutes forty seconds.”

“Get the SDs into hyper. Order the rest to pursue and destroy.” Sallinger growled. “We'll stay there for five minutes, then follow.”

“Understood. Notifying Rear Admiral Bartley.”

“Hyper in one minute.” Sallinger heard from the bridge communicator, then, “Bridger's hyper generator was damaged! She can't flee!”

One minute thirty seconds before impact, Marco Polo went into hyper. The missiles aimed at her redirected toward the remaining Bridger. The last thing Sallinger saw was [i]Bridge['/i], turning her broadside toward the missiles.

Counter-missiles leaped out, and that was when the jammers went into effect. The Andermani version of Dragons teeth, codenamed Jongleur or Juggler made the raid grow until almost 5000 missiles seemed to be coming, causing the counter-missiles to lose lock. Only fifty were plucked from the mass approaching. They raced across the outer defense envelope at almost forty percent of light speed, and then the Blitz; or Flash, again the equivalent of the Manticoran Dazzlers kicked in, howling like electronic banshees into the defense nets radar. Only seventy of the missiles had been jammers of any kind, five of them had been destroyed by counter missiles, and only a dozen more were killed by the point defense lasers.

That left 373 missiles. Bridger rolled to present her belly bands, but these missiles had over a minute remaining on their clocks. They attacked from every side, ripping into her sidewalls on both sides even as others went for the throat and kilt. Armor shattered like glass as energy transfer blew her apart. One minute, she was an eight megaton warship. The next she was gone. Then the second wasted salvo detonated as one.

*****

Rear Admiral Bartley stared in horror at what was happening. Three of the League's newest warships gone in less than three minutes. He stared at the missiles now aimed at his command. A salvo of 280 missiles were aimed right at him, racing at an impossible speed toward him as he watched, still outranged, Two more lit off, aimed at Nebraska and Irkutsk. He suddenly realized what Byng must have felt when the same hell came toward him in New Tuscany, but he at least could try to hyper out. “All ships! Go into hyper! Wait five minutes, then come back down!”

“Sir!” His staff navigator turned. “We and Nebraska are inside the hyper limit. All of us will be before those missiles arrive!”

“Drop the wedge! Now!”

*****

Vice Admiral Patrice Tshombe watched as the Manticoran squadron ran for their lives. His patron had stationed two ships, a courier and a small freighter in Capwell, and he was going to earn enough from this one mission to set himself up for life.

He had always hated the Manties. They acted so superior, so holier than thou with their platitudes. So what if some people too stupid to know they could be free were enslaved? So what if the Solarian Government was filled with stupid and venal men while the men who always did the real work, the bureaucrats ran everything?

He knew that the Navy and OFS had plans to eventually absorb the Manticorans. They had been dusted off occasionally and reworked for the last century. The Manticoran Junction was too valuable to leave in their neo-barb hands for too much longer; all their blatant attacks on the League Navy had done was push them into advancing that planning.

But by simple trickery, and only minor technical capability, they had not only leveled the playing field, but overwhelmed every attack that came at them. Missile pods. They were relics! It was is if the ancient English Long Bow had suddenly become the major weapon of war again!

The timing wasn't good; they had intended to wait until the Mantie fleet collier carrying the more advanced models of their missiles arrived. The courier that had hypered out of Termagant had reported the departure of not only the collier but the squadron itself. No one knew what had happened specifically, but the man who made his manners when departing had not been the pompous ass who had held the station before.

But after that, nothing. They had been supposed to stop at Tucson, but no reply from there. Maybe they were just delayed. But Commodore Seguin had becomes suspicious when Tshombe's Task Force 2471 had arrived. When half of them had been sent out to 'practice' he had calmed down a bit. Maybe the flybys of Sollie recon drones had bothered him.

Then the squadron had formed up, and made ready to depart. As soon as he had heard the reports that they were warming up their impellers, he had lit off his own, and began the pursuit. With them hampered by their own smaller collier, they couldn't out run him. He'd slowed to match their speed when he was in extreme missile range twenty minutes ago, and called upon them to surrender. No reply.

Well he'd just have to put on more pressure. “Com, contact HMS Gwynhafer and order them to surrender or be destroyed.”

“Yes si- Admiral, com traffic from the Mantie flagship.”

“So he finally sees reason. On screen.”

The Mantie looked like an ill tempered meter seventy fireplug. “Admiral, I have considered your demand. I answer with one. You will surrender your vessels, or they will be destroyed. Clear.”

Tshombe laughed, and some of the staff dutifully laughed with him. Four light cruisers demanding that four superdreadnoughts surrender? Was the man intoxicated?

“On the chip-”

“Sir, another com request from the Manties.”

He turned his couch to look at his communications officer. “We haven't even replied to his signal yet!” The man shrugged, and Tshombe motioned toward the main screen where commodore Seguin seemed to look right at him. “You have no doubt had a good laugh at my ultimatum, Admiral Tshombe. But I am deadly serious. You will be brought under fire in two minutes.”

“Oh be for real!” Tshombe laughed.

The laughter died as Seguin replied immediately, “This communication is via our FTL drones.” He signaled someone off screen, and the holotank flashed as two dozen targets appeared, flashed, and vanished again. “You have two minutes, Admiral.”

“I don't need two seconds to recognize a bluff, commodore. Surrender or die.”

“Then the deaths are on your head. Captain Duvalier?”

The screen split, and there was a cold faced woman there. “I heard him.” Her eyes locked on Tshombe. “Rebecca Duvalier, commanding HMS Witch Maiden.”

Witch Maiden is not-”

“Spare me, Admiral. Colliers are civilian modifications. We both know that. Witch Maiden was one of our merchant cruisers in Silesia during the last war, the same class as your own Rising Star. They redesignated her when she was returned to Manticoran service.” Duvalier told him.

“Thirty seconds, Admiral.” Seguin replied. “Your response?”

“I will blow your squadron to hell, Commodore.”

Seguin smiled. “All I have to say, is bring it!” The screen blanked.

Tshombe glared at the tank. It was a bluff; Witch Maiden hadn't arrived yet, and even if she had, no fleet collier could control enough missiles to kill four SDs!

“Missile trace! Multiple missile traces inbound! And a second salvo outbound!” Tshombe stared in shock as the Sollie Merchantman Rising Star launched two large salvos, one toward the ships of Admiral Sallinger, the others at him! He stared in shock as suddenly one of the SDs in Sallinger's unit exploded. Then seconds later another! And the missiles hadn't even reached them!

“Fire!”

The ships turned, and the salvo belched out. 904 missiles speared toward the Manticoran ships.

To a Sollie task force, this would have been a horror. But for a Manticoran unit, it was business as usual since the old People's Republic had deployed their own pods. In fact this was on the light side. It was heavy enough that a short squadron would have been doomed back when that first occurred. But the Manticoran navy had doubled the number of point defense clusters and counter missile launchers across the board. In fact Gwynhafer herself had as many counter missiles and point defense clusters as the average Solarian SD.

Electronic warfare came into play, and a quarter of the missiles in the first salvo wandered off target and detonated harmlessly. But behind that launch came the missiles from the SDs' pods and internal launchers along with their Battlecruisers.

Then suddenly as the missiles were less than 10 million miles out some kind of decoys appeared. The five Manticoran vessels became fifty, then five hundred, then five thousand. More missiles lost lock, chasing the elusive targets.

Four hundred and fifty raced past all of this, then were taken under fire by some kind of fantastic counter missile coming from nowhere! They had a range of over three and a half million kilometers, and began killing missiles over seven million kilometers from the squadron. Some of them even seemed to hunt missiles with single minded intensity.

Yet there was a price. As the Solarian missiles crossed that deadly zone the Manticoran missiles raced through the squadron and seconds later the missile swarm inbound, interpenetrating the salvo then passed on racing toward the SDs that had fired them. Traveling at almost 50 percent of light speed, they had taken just under four minutes to travel 35 million kilometers to the squadron, and had resisted every attempt to decoy them.

Of course, there was a reason for that. They had been fired and until reaching the squadron, they had still had their dust shrouds covering their delicate sensors. First Witch Maiden, her deployed drones between her and the Squadron had passed on midcourse corrections to the blind missiles, only blowing them free as they passed the squadron. During their long flight Gwynhafer and her squadron mates had been recording all of the deceptive ECM put out by the Solarian Task Group and when they finally jettisoned the dust shrouds, those attempts had been excluded.

Two hundred enemy missiles raced on toward the squadron, then came under fire from fore and aft as point defense clusters ripped from empty space even as the cruisers began their own Armageddon drill of counter missile fire. Rolled up, only their impenetrable wedges to be seen, the cruiser threw double salvos of missiles into the incoming storm.

Only fifty reached point defense range, and none of them survived long enough to attack. The second salvo had done slightly better, only 744 missiles they had been harrowed as the first had first by electronic wiles, then the missiles of the LACs that rested between the combatants. Only 350 made it through that gauntlet to run into the missile storm. but eighty missiles faced the combined fire of four cruisers and had been killed before they were even in range.

“Admiral, there are some kind of LACs between us and the squadron!”

“Internal tubes, get those LACs!”

Now it was the Mk23s turn.

After they charged past the squadron, five hundred Manticoran missiles came in, aimed at SLNS Leif Ericsson. The Sollie fleet was woefully out of practice, their formation, while tight by their standards, was too far away from each other for mutual defense compared to the battle hardened Manticorans. Ericsson was all by herself as the missiles targeted her alone for destruction. She was launching her fourth salvo at the Manticoran squadron as her doom arrived.

Dragons teeth blossomed, turning 500 missiles into 5,000, then fifty thousand, overloading the defensive envelope. The counter missiles barely killed twenty, and the rest raced through that zone in less than thirty seconds. The Dazzlers screamed across the lidar and radar frequencies. Four hundred and sixty attack missiles struck at the ship in a time measured in only five seconds. Even the computers didn't know how many missiles actually struck her, but at the end of the attack there was only debris; all of her fusion bottles had blown during that attack.

And almost 3000 missiles were still inbound! The task force had thrown even more than that, but they had failed to kill even a light cruiser in return!

The second Manticoran salvo was aimed at Tshombe's SLNS Ponce Del Leone, and there was no way they could stop them. “Strike the wedge! Order the fleet to-” His chief of staff paused, then keyed a code in. An instant later the flag bridge of the ship was destroyed by a bomb.

Staggered by the blast, her captain turned to order the wedge struck as he'd heard. But he was a lifetime too late as almost 400 missiles ripped into her. Her inertial dampener failed, the crew dead in less than a second.

The third salvo broke through because the Shrikes had emptied their counter missile magazines, and were traveling too fast for the main grazers to get off more than two shots. Four hundred missiles broke through. The squadron ripped into the missile storm, but a few leaked through. HMS Hel vomited atmosphere as a missile ripped her. She staggered, but her weapons, except for two of her grazers kept firing.

The fourth salvo fared less well. The Shrikes maneuvered into the missile stream, arcing up, using their wedges as massive counter missiles. But not without cost. HMSLAC [i]Vampire[/i} was attacked by five missiles, and couldn't protect everywhere. Hyram Logan had a second of awareness before Lillian also blew up.

Now it was SLNS Zheng He's turn. She tried, but she blew apart.

There were less missiles, fewer platforms to launch them, and it had fallen to a manageable level. Then suddenly the salvos still charging toward the squadron exploded as SLNS Ferdinand Magellan dropped her wedge followed by the screen. A few seconds later, the Manticoran missiles also self destructed.

*****

“Coming back down in three, two one, now.” Sallinger gripped the arms of his chair as space came back to normal again. It was a few seconds before the screens cleared, and he winced when he saw what was happening. His screen was just sitting there, their wedges down.

In system it was worse. While the transponders of the task group were still there, their wedges were down as well. Then first one, then another of the SD transponders winked out until only one remained.

“Sir, we have a com from Witch Maiden.”

“Put them on screen” The main tank cleared, and a woman looked out of it.

“I am Captain Rebecca Duvalier, commanding Armed merchant cruiser Witch Maiden. I apologize for the destruction of your ships, but the actions of your senior officer in system required that I take this action. As I have informed your screen, I now inform you; they have surrendered and under the Deneb accords, I have allowed that. Since I do not have the manpower to occupy their vessels I have allowed them to remain intact until this action is completed.

“However I have also warned them that under Section 27, subsection 4; governing attempts to use a surrender as a ruse de Guerre, that if any of them brings up their wedges before we have departed the system, they have forfeited their rights under the Accords.

“You did not kill your forward momentum when you went into hyper, and your ship is now within the hyper limit. Now I call upon you to surrender. Our missiles will reach you before you can cross back over it, and your ship is too dangerous to allow to just sit there like the others. You have thirty seconds to comply.”

“The message would take longer than that to reach her.” Sallinger snorted.

“Incorrect.” He flinched as her reply came back. “We're using one of our recon drones to pass this message in real time. You now have 20 seconds.”

“Orders, sir?” For the life of him, he couldn't think of any that would do any good.

“Drop the wedge.”

*****

Witch Maiden slowed to a stop. Her pods ready to rip Marco Polo apart from 25 million kilometers away. Rebecca counted the cost. Six SDs destroyed, 37000 Solarian dead, against almost a hundred Manticorans. Hel had been hit hard, but was still combat effective. She knew there would be no joy in their own mess tonight; forty of their own had died.

“Admiral Sallinger, your crew is to go to the lifepods and small craft and abandon ship. You will then scuttle your vessel.”

“Why you-”

“I told you your ship was too dangerous to leave just sitting here, sir. We do not have enough personnel to put a prize crew aboard her, and under the Deneb accords, the actions of your superior have painted you all as inshore pirates. I could legally destroy all of you rather than accept your surrenders. That is my only other option if you refuse.”

Sallinger growled, then thumbed his annunciator. “Captain Quintain, you will set the scuttling charges, and abandon ship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Satisfied, Captain?”

Rebecca sighed. “Except for surviving the day, there is no satisfaction in war, sir. As Wellington said, the only thing worse than a battlefield lost is a battlefield won. Witch Maiden clear.”

“Admiral?” Raisic stood. “We had better get going, sir.”

“I'll be along, Matt. Go on.” The chief of staff looked at him for a long moment, then snapped to attention and flashed a salute. Sallinger smiled softly, and returned it. “Get my people out, Matt.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned. “You heard him, get to boat bay four.” The staff and their yeoman and ratings filed from the compartment.

All alone, Sallinger stood, pulling a cigar from a pocket on his skin suit, the cellophane crinkled as he stripped it away, then he lit it, pulling the smoke into his lungs. Eighty T years of duty lay behind him, and the future was bleak. He would be the third Solarian Admiral to fail miserably against the Manticorans, and the worst was not his failure, it was the inability to even strike back.

The ship was silent. Ship's with crews were never silent. There would be muted conversations, the sound of people walking. The sound of keyboards being used. Now there was nothing. He walked to a bulkhead, and laid his hand against the metal of his ship, his last command.

The hatch hissed open, and Captain Peter Quintain, Captain of Marco Polo entered the Flag Bridge.

“I thought I told you to abandon ship, Captain.” Sallinger commented idly.

“A captain is in charge aboard his ship, sir. You taught me that as an ensign.”

“Yes, I did.” He remembered the fresh faced kid on his first cruiser. The eagerness. He'd watched that boy grow into a man, taking his own first command. When the Task Force had come here, he'd chosen that respected man as his flag captain. “Never thought this would happen, did you Pete?”

The captain shook his head. “The League had a good run. No one would have expected this to happen. To be beaten by neo-barbs!”

Sallinger snorted. “Did you keep studying history after I saw you last?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then you can think of us as the old Chinese empire. It survived two millennia because the bureaucrats were always there. No matter who sat on the throne for almost two millennia, there were still the Mandarins and their precursors making sure the government kept running. From the Tang dynasty when the Mandarin system was created, through the Hong, Yuan under the Mongols, the Ming, Qing, right up to the formation of the first Chinese republic, they were always in the shadows, running everything because only they could read the records.

“No Pete, we stagnated, we let the bureaucrats seize power when the Constitution was created by giving the Assembly no power beyond a veto. Everyone looks at the League and sees it as a shining example of power, yet it's a facade, a false front concealing seven centuries of rot. And we're the soldiers marching out to die so the Mandarins can stay in power another day.”

He wandered over to the Flag communications panel. “How long before the charges blow?”

Quintain checked his watch. “Three minutes, sir.”

“More than enough time.” The bridge of the Witch Maiden- came up. “Please record, captain Duvalier.”

“I would suggest you abandon ship, Admiral.”

“No, I will stay here if you don't mind.” He heard a step, and looked at the glass Quintain held out. He looked back at the bottle of two centuries old T brandy the man held. He took the glass, motioning, and Quintain drank with him. “Captain, we were sent here by Battle Fleet to protect the mothball fleet, but both Admiral Tshombe and I were also assisting Mesa by attempting to get models of your new long range missiles...” He sipped, then continued.

*****

Rebecca sat through the equivalent of a Death Bed confession, then sat unflinching as SLNS Marco Polo exploded. She touched her annunciator. “Prifly, are you ready?”

“Rubens here, Ma'am. We're fully loaded. And ready to deliver judgement.”

Rebecca grinned savagely. Though she didn't know it, Rubens had the same feral grin. “Good, rendezvous with Lieutenant Suggins. There's work for you yet.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 05-23-2012 at 06:28 PM.
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Old 09-05-2012, 06:38 PM   #22
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Clearing the deadwood

It took almost half an hour before fresh orders went out. During that time both sections of the prop dead Solarian ships drifted, one outbound, the other inbound. Both were now well within Hammer range, which was good. Rebecca could have destroyed the outer section easily, but she had less than 200 Mk23 pods left, as she had fired every round intended to kill the inner section, and those that had not hit their targets had to be self destructed. Between them, she and the inner squadron could kill them; after all the only hit they had achieved was the single Spatha modification that had hit Hel, and the destroyer class warhead had done damage, but nothing she couldn't survive. But soon enough the outbound ships would reach the hyper limit.

All ships of both sections were ordered to bring up their wedges long enough to bring themselves to rest and no more. One destroyer, Agincourt needed a firm reminder because her captain fired the thrusters trying to gain enough momentum to drift back over the hyper limit. But having four satellites lashing it with lidar and radar from less than 5,000 kilometers was enough to convince them

Now the orders went out. All manned Sollie warships were to be evacuated and scuttled. Rear Admiral Bartley protested, but Rebecca, and Seguin speaking to Captain Soltoburn commanding Magellan were adamant. While everyone could gather any personal items that could not be replaced, they had only ten minutes to comply. Soon nuclear suns devoured almost another 20 million tons of shipping.

Space was crowded with life pods and small craft. The pods should have been able to make an unassisted approach to the planet, but too many of them had no fuel for their thrusters, or they malfunctioned; a sign of poor maintenance. The pinnaces and cutters had to take them in tow, and since the pods had no internal sumps, they were reduced to using the thrusters and speeds of only half a dozen gravities. To speed up the process, the pinnaces of the Mantie squadron with the exception on Merlin 1, the command pinnace of Gwynhaffer, and Witch 1, Duvalier's pinnace added their engines to the relief efforts. But it still would take almost four hours. The captains of each ship, along with the four flag officers that had survived were requested to stay on the station.

When they asked, they were told the station would have gone .through a change in management by the time they arrived

Grayson's revenge

“What do we do?” Robert Wesley, watch officer asked the commander of Capwell station, Commodore Ezra Sykes of Repair command for the system.

Sykes shook his head, his mind running over the terror that had happened in the system. He had been connected into the drones the task force had deployed to record it for transmission to Battle Fleet central afterward. But if he had to, he would have found a way to hack into it just to watch the Manitews get their comeuppance. As an engineer he had felt his hands twitch at the idea of having one of the newest Manticoran light cruisers to examine. He had watched as Salinger's unit had departed, though a while later he had been able to read the Admiral's drones reporting from the outer system near the hyper limit.

Then the Mantie squadron had run, pursued by the task group left in system, running toward the trap, followed by beaters for the hunters. What would happen considering the disparity in their weight of metal had been a forgone conclusion.

That thought was bitter ashes in his mouth now. The drones with the detached squadron had shown three SDs destroyed- three, two before the Manty monster missiles had even ranged upon them! Then the drones had died as the survivors had surrendered. The insystem unit had lost three more SDs of their own before surrendering.

He had listened with a tight lipped glare as another 20 million tons were also being destroyed as he stood here. The total for all was the equivalent of one of the smaller Self Defense Forces! Killed by one [i[fleet collier[/i]! It made the Battles of New Tuscany and Spindle look like pillow fights; at least there that had been killed by warships!

Now what? If the roles had been reversed, and this had been a neo-barb planet the winning Sollie fleet would be making demands, occupying the orbitals, bringing their boot down on the neck of the local government. What would the Manties do?

Now it was silent out there, the Mantie collier had gotten underway but was still equidistant from where the fleet sections had been. The Mantie squadron had come to a dead stop before giving the self destruct orders. But they were now inbound toward the space station! They would arrive in less than an hour. Instructions had already been given that all shipping at the station would stay there. Anything that did try to escape would be 'dealt with'. Of course it was like a man with a pulser threatening everyone in a sports arena if they moved.

“Sir.” Sykes looked up at yeoman Castigain. “Mister Jeffries for you.”

Sykes wanted to scream. Mr. Jeffries was the code name for his local contact for Manpower. They had been assuming they could rake off some of the Mantie weapons the task force would take today. He snorted. Yeah, Manpower could try to grab it from someone who had already ripped Battle fleet a new one! He went to his desk, putting on his headset. “Command here.”

“We need clearance to depart.” Mr. Jeffries, with a definitely female voice told him.

Before he could reply, the com officer turned. “Sir, the Manties on line two.”

“Please hold.” He told 'Mr.' Jeffries. “Put in on the mains.”

“Capwell Station, this is Captain Tomaso Seguin of HMS Gwynhaffer. As we are now in possession of the system, you are reminded again to cancel all departures. Any ship that attempts to leave their moorings will be fired upon. This is your last warning.”

Sykes wanted to curse and laugh at the same time. The Mantie Squadron was still 17 light minutes away. Even with those monster missiles he had already seen, there was no way they could stop anyone. He clicked over to his headset. “Mr. Jeffries, if you're going to run, now is the time.”

“Understood.” 'Mr.' Jeffries replied.

Most of the merchant vessels docked with the station were too terrified to even attempt to depart. But two, a two and a half megaton freighter and a dispatch boat began preparing to escape. Jason Dumont, Captain of the MAN Dispatch boat Pheidippides held onto the arms of his command chair, damning Helga Prokoviev, the local Manpower agent. His boat was one of the rare streak drive dispatch boats, and had only come here to pass some of the Alignment's orders for the 'wanton destruction by Manticore' of the mothballed warships planned by their Direct Action units.

Freighters had been sent in delivering contact nukes to local warehouses, which agents would place on the hulls of the mothballed warships across the League. And the date was perfect. On 17 July; the next birthday, of that bitch Elizabeth III of Manticore all of those nukes would go off, destroying over three trillion tons of obsolete ships in one massive terrorist attack.

The Alignment knew they had to push the League into fighting now and fighting hard. But thanks to the 'official' government, convincing a thousand plus planets to pull together, it was like herding cats. They had come up with this as their own Reichstag fire. After all the Mandarins might be able to fight a major war their citizens didn't even know about, but to beat the Manites and facilitate their absorption of the moribund League, the Alignment had decided that public opinion; which admittedly was usually as important as a single human skin cell where politics was concerned, could allow member planets to raise taxes to fund the new ships Battle Fleet would need after the fact.

They could also guide those planets to pass laws that would give their governments more authority, which would help when the Alignment took them over, one by one. It had happened before; the Nazis and Communists in the first century post Diaspora, the NATO alliance in the 2nd century, the last leading to Earth's last great war in the 5th century post Diaspora.

But that plan depended on no one knowing about the damn charges for another six months. No one knew what the Manties would do about the mothball fleets, destroying them now would be a surprising escalation in the present conflict, but also a logical progression from what had already been done by those neo-barb bastards. But with an Asimov sitting there, none of the SDs here had been rigged yet thanks to that damn fleet mobilization to replace the losses to date. Once they found a charge on any of the older dreadnoughts or battlecruisers, hell would be out for recess, big time.

Every mothball fleet throughout the League's volume had been targeted, and press releases had been slotted into the networks for release. They had even gone so far as to have local 'analysts' ready to explain the date if the press on Earth wasn't smart enough to figure it out for themselves.

Prokoviev might be overreacting, but that damn mobilization was going to find a charge sooner or later, and Mesa needed to know the wheels were coming off.

“Range from the station now one half kilometer, thrusters at 100gs, speed now .1 kilometer per second.” the helmsman reported.

“Captain, we're being hailed.”

“We don't have time to talk with the damn station. Ignore it.”

“Sir.” Something about her voice made him turn his chair around to face her station toward the aft bulkhead. “It's the Manties.”

He snorted. “So what? Even those hell missiles the collier used are out of range.”

She didn't reply, she merely tapped a key. “Dispatch boat Ruperton, Merchant SMV Gastericht, this is GSNLAC Azrael. you had been ordered to maintain your position in dock. You have ten seconds to decelerate and return to your berths, or you will be fired upon.”

“Fired on... with what?” Dumont asked rhetorically.

An instant later the threat sensors screamed. He looked at his repeater, and gaped. There was an LAC charging down on him at almost 100 kilometers per second! Even as he watched it swapped ends, now decelerating at just over 7.5 kilometers per second. He did the math, and grunted. They had made their threat too early. By the time they passed by him and were able to range on him with their chasers he would be well outside the safe distance for his wedge, and once the wedge was up, the ship was free and clear. While no one outside of the MAN design yards had recorded it beyond tests, the Streak drives impellers of a dispatch boat were capable of just under 7KPS, and nothing reported in the universe was fast enough to catch him before he fried he computer if he ran on the right course. “Ignore them.”

Rebecca Suggins bit her lip as the Mesan dispatch boat pulled away, ignoring her. She could use the poit defense clusters mounted on the stern and broadside as she passed, but unlike the events she had heard about from Montana, this wasn't a multi megaton freighter, it was a dispatch boat barely twice the mass of her command. Her pont defense lasers would blow through both sides of the boat, and probably cause her fusion plant to blow. The captain had told her to take prisoners if possible, and using either the PD clusters or her main SD PD cluster wouldn't give her that option.

She brought up her repeater, and input some data. All right, that would cripple a dispatch boat but not kill her crew. “Helm full about, go to emergency maximum speed.”

“Full about, emergency maximum speed on impellers.” Rehab Dolan replied. The tiny warship swapped ends, her speed leaping to just over 8 KPS, and she gained everything she had lost in the last few seconds.

“Come by astern with four point five kilometers separation.”

Rehab paused. The wedge of the LAC was ten kilometers wide, and that meant a kilometer inside that perimeter. “Within four kilometers, ma'am.”

Dumont had just asked the engineer Lloyd Costigan how soon the wedge could be up, and looked at the repeater. Something had changed. He hit the key, and the computer obligingly told him what had changed. That lunatic was going to cut past the stern of the boat well within the safety perimeter of her own wedge within mere meters of his own ship in less than five seconds! “Helm, all ahead full on thrusters! Impeller room, shut down the wedge! Sheila-” He spun his command chair, and he had already run out of time.

What happened next took less than three tenths of a second, too fast for even the fastest human reaction time to do anything. The helmsman had not even had time to lift his finger from the thruster trigger when the wedge of Azrael hit the partially formed wedge of the dispatch boat, causing both to feed back catastrophically. Aboard the dispatch boat alpha and beta nodes exploded like the Gods celebrating with fireworks measured in thousands of tons. The wedge itself sliced like a massive blunt ax, shredding everything aft of the emergency power room into dust thrown back along the LAC's course at 8.2 KPS. The fusion bottle thanks to over engineering surviving almost two seconds before exploding. If it had happened sooner, both ships would have died.

The capacitors in the emergency power room had been shattered along with the fusion room itself, and without them the boat's systems crashed, including the grav plates. The half of the crew still alive were suddenly subjected to the full 100G of the thrusters for two tenths of a second. The exec who had been running toward the control room suddenly found himself imbedded in a forward bulkhead with the force of having a hundred men pressing him into soft dough killing him instantly. Sheila Monahan, the communications officer was facing to the side instead of fore and aft. The straps meant to protect her from injury ripped into her body like blunt band saw blades stopping at her shattered spine. The helmsman was facing forward, and the same straps dumped his body in four segments only attached by strips of flesh.

Of the crew only the captain survived, and it was all luck. He was facing aft, so he was facing opposite of the gravity that would rip through his ship. The command chair survived the sudden force, so he didn't end as part of the closest bulkhead. The padding of that chair had been tested only to fifty gravities, but it did keep him from being shoved through the chair like paste through a toothpaste tube. However 100 gravities is the upper limit most navies tested to for emergencies, and Dumont had tested at 110gs, which rendered him unconscious, but alive.

Aboard Azreal, it was almost as bad but having no alpha nodes and a fifth generation pebble bed fission reactor instead of fusion, she avoided a lot of the damage her larger opponent had suffered. Only her forward nodes were effected, but 'only' eight explosions meant the damage was limited, not negated.

Ruth Logan could claim direct lineage with the Hero Purity Detweiler Logan, as her brother had married her. She had listened to her sister in law speak of the duty she felt she owed to her queen, and by extension by her Queen's alliances, to Grayson. She had stood with so many of the extended Logan clan as Purity had been buried on Grayson, and she had named her own first daughter Purity in her honor. But that was just not enough.

As Grayson began fielding their own LACs, she had asked first her father (Who had refused) then finally the Protector himself, begging for the chance to prove herself worthy of Purity Detweiler Logan's mantle. With not only Steadholder Owen's oldest daughter, but his own daughter Navy crazed, he had spoken with her father, and gotten permission for Ruth to at least try.

She had done better than that. She had gone through the combined Manticoran/Grayson power course for the new reactors, and had proven to have a flair for them. When the graduates faced the Dreaded ORSE, the Operational Reactor Safeguard Examination, she had scored not in the top ten, but as the best of her class. As much as the Graysons might have wanted to find a reason to hold her back, she had been assigned to one of the Grayson CLACs of the Protector's Own at Marsh. She had been one of the crew for the LACs during Cutworm and Sandskrit, and be the time her CLAC had been reassigned to Home Fleet, she had been a chief petty officer by nothing but merit.

When Rebecca Suggins had diffidently asked the older woman to serve as her chief engineer, Ruth had agreed.

Now as Azrael charged down on her far larger opponent, Ruth had worried. There was a flux in the power readings and they hadn't found the cause. While well within the safety limits of emergency power at 110%, but Ruth realized the captain wouldn't have asked for full emergency power if she expected to survive it. So as they charged toward the enemy, she grasped the kill switch. When pulled it would first shut down the impellers, then the innertial compensator, the timing carefully sequenced to assure the crew survived.

But she couldn't pull it yet. If she did, the prop dead Azrael would race past her enemy without doing any damage. So she had to wait. So she sat there patiently during those last seconds. If she thought of her husband, her sister wives, her daughter and son, no one aboard Azrael knew.

But as the hull screamed from the impact she pulled the switch toward her. At the same moment the system fed back, and thousands of megajoules of electricity ripped through her. In less than two tenths of a second the woman had been reduced to ash as her hand still pulled the switch down.

When the more stupid Graysons talked about how feeble women were, The Logan family was able to point at two medals, one the Star of Grayson, the other the Osterman Cross, both earned by Logan women.

Both posthumous.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
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Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
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Last edited by machievelli; 09-07-2012 at 09:21 PM.
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Old 09-07-2012, 10:13 PM   #23
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If you didn't notice it, I edited the last posting because of two glaring mistakes I realized only afterward. One technical for engineering, the other for the medal given to Ruth Logan.

First, without a Grayson Mod compensator, nothing is going to pull 8 KPS or more, yet a dispatch boat would be able to pull 7KPS without one.

The second one needs more explanation. They don't give out the more important medals for perfect attendance. I devalued the PMV by giving it to Ruth, and I had to search for something leser, but still important. I found that one in the Osterman Cross, which is when you risk your life to save others, and is given to Enlisted personnel rather than the Manticore Cross,which is given to officers.

Oddly enough, it is rare that medals 'fall like rain' as I commented about the Battle of Manticore. The last time I can verify from memory is the Battle or Rourke's Drift where 11 Victoria Crosses were bestowed. One of them I am sure caused some of the men who agreed to the awards to chuckle; that was in the case of Harry Hook.

Hook, at the time was first listed on the sick list, and as such was assigned to the hospital. More importantly, he was being fined 28 days field punishment. Under the Regs of the time, he was not allowed to bear arms, since he was defined as a prisoner rather than a soldier. Since he was also not being paid; technically 'he was fighting because he wanted to, without recompense'.

The other is thanks to my penchant for history, and service, the Coast Guard.

On May 11, 1898 a small squadron of the United States Navy, consisting of the torpedo boats USS Foote and USS Winslow, the gunboats USS Wilmington and USS Machias, and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Hudson, was operating off the northern coast of Cuba. On that date this squadron entered the Harbor of Cardenas to destroy three Spanish gunboats known to be there. They came under attack, and the lead ship, Winslow was taken under fire and disabled.

As was recorded later, 'In the face of "a most galling fire" from the Spanish guns for over thirty minutes, the Hudson, commanded by First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, sailed into the bay to save the crippled Winslow. Though under fire, Newcomb kept the Hudson positioned in shoal waters near the Winslow, risking running aground herself, until a line was passed to the Navy warship and made fast. The Hudson then towed the Winslow out of danger. During the time in the bay, both vessels continually fired on the Spanish positions. After the action three enlisted men who took the crippled ship home recieved the Congression Medal of Honor.

On June 27 1898 The President recommended medals for the eleven officers and crew of Hudson and the thanks of Congress for gallant services rendered in rescuing USS Winslow in the face of a most galling fire at Cardenas.

However there was a problem.You see, under the rules of the time (Before 1900), only military men were allowed to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the National Revenue Cutter Service was not defined as a military organization; it reports to the Secretary of the Treasury.

Under pressure from the President, Congress authorized the Cardenas medal. All members of the crew received one; The captain being given a gold one, the officers silver, and the enlisted men Bronze


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
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Old 09-11-2012, 12:10 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hurry View Post
Human bodies are not made to accept gravities around 100. The average modern combat pilot only puts up with 16 gravities, and is graying out under that. A lot of sci fi writers suggest graduated tests to see what the human body can accept, and around 100Gs is it. However that assumes you are facing away from the thrust, and not expecting you to take a lot of it; usually only a tenth of a second. 100Gs is 918.8 mps (Meters per second), and as described, is like having a hundred times your own weight, or like falling off a building a thousand meters high. The average bone breaks at around seven Gs if it is applied along the main line of resistance; I.E. say pressing down on the bone along it's long axis if you are unlucky. You only need the equvalent of four lateral Gs (Across the grain) to shatter even the strongest bone. It's a matter of preparation; the pilot mentioned above [i]knows he is going to get hit with 16 times his body weight. In this case the first anyone would know is when it is applied.

So your body is slammed down by the additional weight. The time means you have a chance of surviving, but the higher the gravities, the less chance.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 09-11-2012 at 10:10 AM.
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Old 09-11-2012, 10:16 AM   #25
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As someone who has been writing on this site for a long time, I as have others, have bemoaned when our readers look but don't touch, as it were. The view counter helps because we know someone is paying attention, and by judicious math, we can even figure out how many are looking at it in a given time.

When I posted the last portion, I also posted it on Fanfiction,and for the first time in about three months, I actually looked at the number of hits. I was astonished to see that I have scored almost twice as many hits there as I have here, and Adventures in Babysiting with only four chapters (Before arriving at the chop shop) posted as of today, I have averaged 25 hits per chapter posted.

They also break it down if you check the traffic graph, and I was stunned to see I have literally a worldwide readership; I have hits from as far away as the Russian Federation to Singapore (One of the higher readership areas for the work) and spanning almost all of Europe.

Talk about job satisfaction...


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 10-10-2012, 05:24 PM   #26
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Threats and SAR

The station commander stared in horror at the scene. The dispatch boat might have escaped to sound the alarm, but that lunatic LAC had gutted it like a fish. Before he could even recorded it mentally, two other LACS, one labeled as GSNLAC Gabriel, another labeled HMSLAC Weasel came out of stealth, decelerating madly. Gabriel swapped ends, then began to chase the now derelict Azrael. The other slowed then changed course to flash past the Mesan registered freighter. As it passed less than 50,000 kilometers away, her point defense emplacements ripped into the 2.5 megaton freighter's hull. Compared to the throughput of point defense of Witch Maiden, they were nothing to write home about; but when she slid to a stop eighty thousand kilometers from the station, and began to run back on the freighter, it was a shattered wreck.

“Capwell station, this is HMSLAC Weasel, Lieutenant La Bianca commanding. You were instructed to refuse clearance to ships attempting to depart. Think of what my squadron has already done as a gentle reminder. If you continue to resist, we can get more... strict with you.”

Sykes hit his annunciator. “Bluff someone too stupid to count! Both of you were part of the defense of the Manty squadron, and if you have one missile between you, I'll eat it without salt!”

For a long moment, there was nothing, then three beams almost as powerful as a destroyer main battery passed around the station. “This is lieutenant Watson of Gabriel, I do not need a missile to send that entire station to the Intercessor. So if you wish to have a lot more people, most of them civilians killed; call our bluff.”

The original LAC design had included a small shuttle bay, but adding the stern wall and additional stern firing point defense clusters had caused it's removal before the Shrike A had even finished it's production run. So the LAC crews were required to suit up and go EVA. Of course Gabriel had that problem because their mission was the wrecked Azrael, still flying past at over a hundred KPS, and it would take an hour for anything slower than an LAC to even match velocities.

However such evolutions were practiced, and Gabriel was able to come to a halt at a matching velocity to Azrael and bring herself alongside using just thrusters. Four of the crew members went across with SUTs, and the emergency hatch in the aft portion of the wreck was opened. The forward hatch was gone, along with almost everything forward of the impeller ring.

It was a nightmare inside; smoke floated in the air of the still sealed compartments, and only part of the emergency lighting had survived. Just from the visible damage they knew at least half of the crew was dead, and if the inertial compensator had failed before her wedge, the men expected to find nothing more than a paste where any other crew had been. But they searched on.

Back near the station Weasel had come alongside the freighter long enough to send across half of her crew to seize the ship, then had chased down the shattered dispatch boat as SAR shuttles from the station were now deployed to render assistance.

*****

Lieutenant JG Amanda St Croix leaned over the shoulder of Bosun's Mate 3rd Xavier in the number four cutter of SLNS Ferdinand Magellan. The readout was dropping. Not fast, but definitely. She had an urge to tap it, like checking a gauge you had thought was stuck, but shook her head instead. First the engines had flared out, and wouldn't restart. Now their environmental system had not only packed in, but a seal somewhere was venting their atmosphere into space as well. ”Estimate?”

“I'd say less than an hour, ma'am.” He replied.

“Then we'll have to ask the Manties for assistance.” She stood away. “ 'I would rather die a thousand deaths'.” She quoted.

“Who said that, ma'am?” Xavier asked.

She sighed. “Never mind, Xavier. Signal the Manties and tell them our situation.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” He flipped the switch. “This is Magellan cutter 4 requesting assistance.”

“This is Hel Pinnace two. Squawk your transponder and state your situation, cutter 4.” He gave the information. “Are your passengers in skin suits?”

Amanda leaned forward. “What kind of stupid question is that, Hel two?”

“Who is this, please?”

“Lieutenant Amanda De Croix, chief records officer.”

“Sorry, ma'am, we have three pods where life support has failed and none of the survivors aboard were in skin suits. We're using medical support bubbles to get them out safely.”

“Understood.” Amanda sighed. “All of our personnel here have their skin suits.”

“Then you are number four. We'll be there before you're totally depressurized, but not by much. Is there any other emergency there?”

“Not at this time.”

“See you in fifty-two minutes. Hel two clear.”

It took longer than that. Two more pods requested assistance. Only one of them had people in skin suits, and the one that did had reported that some of their people had not checked the tanks, so people were buddy breathing, linking pairs of suits to share a single tank. At least the life support system was able to assure all of her people had full tanks, though that depleted their air store long before the pinnace finally arrived. The transfer was rapid, and she was the last to abandon.

The Manties were shifting people around to take all fifteen from the cutter meaning there were almost a hundred. A young man in a Mantie skin suit came over to her, saluting. “Midshipman Giovanni Garibaldi, ma'am. We have to make a full power run to the station; there are more pods that are having problems here in the inner system, and we have to deliver all of you and come back to assist.”

“I see your efforts are beyond what we would have anticipated.” Amanda said. “Thank you.”

“Unless your people try to resist, we will treat them as people in need of rescue, ma'am.”

“After that trick your people pulled; planting a bomb on the Flag deck of Ponce Del Leone, I am surprised.”

Garibaldi looked at her curiously. “Ma'am, when could we have planted a bomb on one of the enemy flagships? We've been here for almost eighteen months, and your task force only arrived last week. We haven't even had any fleet visits.”

Amanda waved it off. “Everyone knows that was the trick you used to beat Admiral Crandall.”

Garibaldi sighed. “ 'Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, not even if I have said, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense'.”

“Buddha.”

He grinned. “Do you know you're the first person to get that quote?”

She gave him a lazy grin back. “I have a photographic memory. I remember everything. I was recording all data from the squadron when your attack began. One minute thirty-one seconds before your salvo attacked Ponce Del Leone, Admiral Tshombe ordered her wedge dropped in surrender. The bomb went off four seconds later. In the confusion, the ship was destroyed.”

He stared at her. “We couldn't have done it, ma'am. Did you bring the records from your ship?”

“Yes. However I will not turn them over to your officers.”

Garibaldi nodded. “With your permission, may I notify my captain of your allegation?”

“You will anyway.” She replied tartly.

“Yes I would.” He admitted. “However I would prefer your permission, ma'am.”

“ 'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly'.”

“Hamlet, Act one, scene six.”

“Scene seven, you dolt.”

Discoveries

As the cutters and pinnaces of both the Mantie and the Solarian ships delivered people to the station, the ones out system were busy transferring to Witch Maiden, who was inbound. The crews of the Sollie ships were sour about having to fill the partially empty cargo holds under guard, and about how tightly packed they were becoming.

As the inner system small craft were emptied, they first gathered everyone remaining in life pods, then began to run out at the now decelerating Witch Maiden. Even there the crowding didn't really abate; there were almost seven thousand Sollies still aboard as the last of the outer system pods were finally emptied.

The Manticoran captains had more pressing things to wonder about. First had come Midshipman Garibaldi's report. Right after it came a report from Gwynhaffer pinnace three (Excalibur), Lucretia Carlyle commanding. Her command had been the first to deliver Sollie survivors, and had stayed near the station long enough to pick up the survivors from the three derelicts. There weren't many from Azrael or the dispatch boat; only the commander of the boat had survived, and four from Azrael. She had also picked up the fifteen survivors of the Merchant SMV Gastericht, though that was a mixed blessing. She was not only a Jessyk Combine ship, she also violated the Equipment Clause of the Cherwell Accord.

But Ruperton supplied the biggest puzzle. One of the initial boarding crew from Weasel had been 1st class Engineer O'Donnell, and he'd commented that the surviving impeller room looked 'odd'. As someone who had served on a battlecruiser before being assigned to LACs, it meant something to Carlyle, who had gone aboard personally. That report, along with the survivors of Gastericht and Azrael was taken directly to HMS Gwynhaffer. Ten minutes later, Captain Seguin had requested that Duvalier come aboard his ship.

Now Duvalier, Commander Kiel, and the captains of the four cruisers and the chief engineers of all the ships present were looking at the holographic record taken by Carlyle's crew.

“I've never seen anything like it.” Commander Collins said. He was leaning forward, steepled fingers under his chin. “That power run is larger than a destroyer would have. That was why the boat crew was only eight instead of the twelve standard on a dispatch boat.”

“Any ideas?” Duvalier asked. The officers, with one exception, shook their heads. “Yes, Lieutenant Commander Riley?” She asked HMS Adamant's engineer. The man was a stocky citizen of Sphinx.

“I'm not sure how much I can tell you, ma'am.” He held up a hand before anyone could protest. “I worked for Admiral Hemphill's Weapons Design Bureau as a Jig on upgrading the impeller drive to take full advantage of the Grayson inertial compensators starting with Mod 2.” He looked around the room. “Most people don't know it, but if you turned out good work with the WDB you were asked to occasionally give input on questions concerning your specialty later. What I can tell you is that this dispatch boat appears to have an operating impeller drive that is beyond what I've seen so far, even in the theoretical work I was asked about.”

Kiel looked at the drive as the point of view changed. “Then we will have to bring it back and have your WDB look at it.”

“That's a pretty big souvenir, Commander.” Captain Seguin commented dryly. “Will you have room in the holds once you've cleared all of the Sollies out?”

“We'll make room.” Duvalier replied.

“Now that is taken care of, what about this report from Midshipman Garibaldi?” Captain Erica Frazier of HMS Hel asked.

“We've spoke with Captain Soltoburn and Admiral Bartley.” Duvalier told them. “Both refuse to allow us access. You've all been told about Admiral Sallinger's confession. It was sent to one of our own recon drones by whisker laser, so except for my bridge crew and those in this room, it is a secret. But the Sollies here are dancing to the Mesan's tune without realizing it. I submit that while we can maintain it as a secret, notifying the Sollies of what we were told will bring at least some of Battle Fleet to our side.”

“Before we do so, Captain.” Jinhua commented, drawing out a chip she slid into a reader. “We have fully informed Captain Duvalier of our special interrogation techniques, and ask that the survivors of MV Gastericht and the Mesans aboard the station be turned over to us for interrogation...”

Loose ends

Helga Prokoviev checked the scanners attached to the station companionway outside the Jessyk company office. The damned Manties hadn't occupied the station...yet. The pinnace Merlin had delivered a team to direct the naval prisoners into cargo holds, except for the few casualties caused by depressurization. But that wouldn't stand for long. The cruisers were five minutes out, and those damned LACs had even stopped shuttle flights to the surface.

As one of only a dozen Mesans assigned to the office, she was well and truly screwed. All she could do was clean out her computer. She might only be a Gamma line operative, but even she thought her predecessor was a moron. He had copied every directive slavishly, and there was enough in those files to get them all spaced even if they hadn't been part of that idiot's operations!

*****

“Section seventeen A Level two.” Lieutenant Rupert Thorndyke instructed the computer tech. The man nodded, whispering into the hush mike on his headset. The screen showed the office lobby. The tech shook his head.

“We have a tape delay loop on the lobby and companionway, Gunny. No access to the main office itself. I would say it's a go.”

There was only a click

Pokoviev heard a sound, looking up toward the main air vent grill even as something stung her throat on the right side. She jerked to her feet, left hand streaking toward her computer even as the right dove into her jacket. She swayed, then there was a whining sound as the first sheaf of pulser darts that should have shredded the grill tore her own left arm off. She stared at the detached arm stupidly as the hand with the pulser continued to come into view, rising toward her chin. The detached hand had landed on the keyboard, the index finger hitting the letter 'I' over and over. Then she fell forward, breaking her nose on the desk before slithering to a pile on the floor.

The door snapped open, and two Manticoran Marines raced in. One took the weapon from her hand as the other put a tourniquet on the amputation. “We got her. Need a med team, stat!” As the marine spoke the grill clanged to the deck as another Marine dropped to the deck. He slid the tranquilizer gun back into it's holster.

“Objective captured.”

The man who had set up the ambush stood erect, looking at Thorndyke. “Your cooperation is appreciated, sir.” The accent was pure Gryphon Highlander. His associate shut down the loops they had rigged into the scanner net, and raised his com. “Tag her, bag her, get her medical attention, but she wakes up aboard Witch Maiden.”

“Understood.”

The tech moved through the station, people avoiding him thanks to the Manticoran Navy uniform. He arrived at the office as a Marine Med team stabilized the target. He nodded to the three man Marine strike team as they escorted the med team out. Three more covered the other dozen or so Mesan personnel. “Take them to the docking bay. They have a date with Commander Kiel. I am going to see what I can find.” He took the company officer's desk, setting the arm aside. “Will one of you run this down to the medics? They might be able to reattach it.” A marine took it silently, and the tech looked at the monitor screen. “Now let us see what we can find here?” he commented, hands going to the computer. He looked at the series of letter I that had been hit. He took a strip of tape, marked it, 'do not touch # 8 or 9, or F8 or F9' before carefully inserting an additional disc drive.

Revelation

Witch Maiden came to a stop 500 kilometers from the station, wedge dropping as she assumed orbit. A pinnace came toward her from Gwynhaffer, and another from the station itself. As she came to rest her cargo bays opened, and the shuttles began towing pods toward the depot ship HMS Hugette. Of the 600 Hammer pods the ship had arrived with, she had 358 remaining after her attack on the outer segment of the task force. That would leave only 208 aboard after trading out for the older MK 20 pods. Of course her supply of Mk 23 pods were even slimmer; only 104 pod remained of that load out.

Duvalier had already earmarked the remaining Hammers as her own, so the remaining 192 odd pods were the original Mk 20s. All of the expended pods had been destroyed rather than leaving them for the Sollies to examine.

She checked the rest of the information, a dozen Mesans added to the survivors of Gastericht, along with the sole survivor of Ruperton, who should be charged with violations of International law since there was another ID listing her as MAN Pheidippides. She wished she could be there for that interrogation series.

*****

“You are joking, Herr Zerstörerkapitan.” Leutnant Kreis told her. His commander merely looked at him.

“And you say this why?”

“She is a child, not even close to one of the ship's acting troupe. To expect her to be right in this part is... unlikely.”

“Yet she matches this office worker Van Reidel perfectly. And from the records we have recovered, she is the one with the least knowledge of what the corporation is doing. Eine unschuldige Narren.” Schindler commented.

“Yes she is an innocent fool. But the others know that. When they see her spaced, as if we don't care, they will talk.” Jinhua shook her head. “I will speak with her, and the Captain.”

The prisoners came aboard Witch Maiden, and their fear spiked as the Manticorans that had escorted them turned them over to cold faced Andermani ratings. They were marched down to the brig section, where they were run dispassionately through induction. The showers were ice cold, the soap harsh. The towels barely soaked up any liquid, and the coveralls they were given were a brilliant International Orange. As they were marched from the showers two men grabbed the newest person assigned to the station, Jeanette Van Reidel. Before the others could protest, she was dragged away.

It was bad enough being prisoners of the Manticorans. But to be prisoners of the Andermani instead! The only thing worse would have been the old Audubon Ballroom!

For Van Reidel it was terrifying. She'd only been working for the Jessyk Combine for less than a year now, and that was before she had been posted off her home world. Before she discovered that only Manpower itself was more hated by the Audubon Ballroom and the nations of the Haven Sector. Something all those ads for employment opportunities back home never mentioned.

She didn't deal in slaves or even in making them; she was a clerk-typist for Christ's sake! Once she'd heard her first rumor about the company, she had done as she always had done back on Mesa, she researched it. Here, without the government sanitation of such records, she was appalled to discover that almost 30 percent of her people, even people she had known as friends as a child were slaves who had almost no rights, and her company had been bought up by the makers of those slaves centuries earlier.

Miss Prokoviev had been gentle but firm about it. To get off world she had signed a contract for three years, and unless she wanted to be sent home and terminated there with no future job prospects, she had to serve out that term. As soon as her contract term was up she had intended to find some corporation of her home world that didn't include having to learn to breath vacuum!

Now the nightmare she had of being caught aboard one of the company ships had happened, and she couldn't even get them to understand that she did not deserve to die. She had begged that they at least check how long she had been employed, But these cold men didn't seem to care. Then she saw the opening for an airlock ahead, and she fought them, finally making four large men carry her as they threw her into the airlock. She could see the hatch to space, and knew she had only seconds to live. She leaped up, pounding on the closed hatch. “For the love of god; I was a new hire! I didn't even have time to know what you think I am guilty of!”

There was a second of hope as she said it; when she thought they might be listening. Then there was the signal given when an exterior hatch opened, and she screamed as it opened behind her.

There had been the scream of air being ejected, and Van Reidel flew backward into a net. A net? She looked around at the people who stood there. The hatch wasn't a standard airlock, it led into another compartment, and from the skin suits and helmets, she realized that it had been depressurized enough to cause the same visual effect as being ejected into space. A man slapped an air mask on her as blowers filled the room with air again.

A woman in Andermani uniform helped her out of the net, then to a HD screen. In another compartment, a woman about her size also in an orange jumpsuit put on an air mask. Her face was covered in what looked like plastic, only her mouth uncovered. “Ready, Midshipman?”

“Yes, Leutnant Schindler.”

“Fifteen seconds. Heinrich?”

“Ready.”

Then Van Reidel watched as the same terrible scene she had gone through was repeated with this woman instead, drifting away from the ship, into the arms of a dozen men in SUTs. As she was caught, someone commented. “Better than projectile vomiting, eh Miss Carruthers? Got her.”

Schindler turned to the astonished woman. “We are sorry we scared you, but we needed something to get your fellow Mesans in the mood to talk. Tea, Miss Van Reidel?”

Her answer was unprintable.

After about an hour the guards came for another man, and escorted him to a quiet room. Jinhua sat at the desk, reading a file, looking up as he was forced into the chair across from her. She merely looked at him, then touched a button. On screen Van Reidel was begging for her life as the hatch opened, and her body was flung away. It cut to an exterior camera as a form drifted away from the ship. “Now you see we have no pity for any of you scum. She was chosen because she knew nothing we needed to know. You are next unless you find a reason for us to keep you alive.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 10-10-2012 at 05:30 PM.
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Old 10-31-2012, 02:24 PM   #27
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A few more Puzzle pieces

Rebecca looked up as the annunciator sounded. “Commander Kiel to see you, Captain.”

“Send her in.”

The commander looked a little tired. Rebecca checked the chrono; 0500. She knew why she was up this early, Irene had decided at 0400 that it was time to play and her favorite toy had best get her posterior up to play with her. Os had delivered some tea, and the captain had dealt with the present emergencies. The Sollie naval personnel had all arrived on the station, interrogation of the Jessyk Combine people had been wrapped up, cargo transfer would be done by first shift. She only had to decide on whether to blow the mothball fleet away or not.

“Up early?” She asked.

“Up very late.” Jinhua replied. She sat, and Os, with that genie like magic he possessed was there with hot tea and breakfast pastries. Irene leaped onto the desk, sniffed with irritation at something she hadn't requested, then dropped into the commander's lap. The woman buttered a croissant, and took a bite. “I also missed supper.”

“All work and no play makes the commander a dull girl.”

“Smart ass.” Jinhua took another, slicing it open to insert a wedge of cheese. “There are times like now when I wish I had not been such an inquisitive child.”

“Why now?”

“Because I have so many puzzles to put together that I do not know where to start.” She bit into her breakfast, chewing reflectively. “When I was perhaps six, I was a holy terror. As my maternal Gross-papa, who always loved an ancient writer named Heinlein would have said, I would unscrew the inscrutable. He came looking for me because I was quiet for too long.”

“Always a bad sign with children that age.”

“True, as I have found with my own daughter since. He found me in his study. I had been snooping about and found what I thought was a mere jigsaw puzzle, and begun to work upon it.”

“But it wasn't?”

Jinhua shook her head. “Oh it was a puzzle; rather six different puzzles dumped in the same box. It was a test given to first year Intelligence agents; while they are still training. It was designed to test their patience and analytical ability. The first time you are given the test it is not scored because just about everyone would fail it, primarily because patience is something we learn later in life, and analyzing problems is also something learned. Most would grow frustrated within a very short time, and merely put it aside.

“He found me after about six hours having patiently divided the several thousand pieces into stacks, and had finally begun working on one of the puzzles in the box. It was then that he knew I would find my career in intelligence.”

“I can realize why. You had the same bent as he did.”

Jinhua laughed. “Oh no, he was never in intelligence. He would have thrown the entire mass of pieces in the nearest recycler if he had been forced to work it for more than twenty minutes. His wife, who died before I was born, she had been the intelligence officer.

“I was reminded of it because of what I am doing right now.” She sipped some tea, then refilled her cup from the carafe Os had left. “Have you ever been involved in intelligence work?” Rebecca shook her head. “It is a lot like that test, but much worse.

“It is like working any jigsaw puzzle, but without the cover picture to give you an idea of what it is. Pieces are missing, and pieces from other puzzles have been mixed in and none of them are complete. So you must patiently separate the different puzzles, then put it together, not knowing if you end up with a landscape, or a portrait of a kitten.” She rubbed Irene's ears. “And every answer is you best guess, not the whole truth. Our superiors are always sure we are hiding something from them because they 'know' that we are trying to prove how excellent we are, and they also assume that our work is something simple that any fool with a middle school education can do. So when we fail, they assume it is stupidity, or arrogance concealing things, not that we might be looking in the wrong direction.

“I now have pieces from all of these different puzzles, and am trying to work out how they go together.”

“Sallinger's confession?”

“That is part of it, true. But there is this comment by Lieutenant De Croix about the mysterious explosion aboard the Ponce De Leon. From what I can ascertain without the Sollie records the blast gutted the flag bridge seconds before his command to drop the wedge was passed. A very convenient event, for someone.”

“Cui Bono.”

“Exactly.” Jinhua grinned. “Us? No. If your in system squadron had somehow done this, it would have been counter productive. Who ever did this stopped the ship from surrendering and murdered almost 7,000 Solarians in the process. The Solarians themselves? What ploy would require the deaths of that many by subterfuge? But we have a link to what happened, which begs another question.

“Whoever set off that device could not have known that Sallinger had surrendered and was alive. Let us take the most recent hobby horse of your own ONI into account, primarily because they are also involved in this system. The Mesans.”

“Was there anything in your interrogation of the Jessyk people that led to that thought?”

“No, and I only bring them up because of the time line. According to Sallinger's statement, both he and Tshombe had been in contact with Prokoviev, the local factor for the Mesan corporations. When our ship rather neatly disposed of the task force sent against us, she panicked and ordered those two ships to attempt to flee.”

Rebecca shrugged. “The Mesans know how we feel about them. It might just be she was saving some of her people from being captured.”

“If only the freighter had made the attempt, true. But the courier? While your government has pretty much declared war on Manpower, you have never tarred the entire planet's population with the same brush. How would you have known the dispatch boat had been chartered by any affiliate of Manpower? It might have been Lexicon Corporation, which has no connections that Andermani intelligence has ever found to the Slavers. If she had not ordered the boat to flee, you could not have merely assumed it was linked, and seize it. Not legally, at least.

“As for the freighter, she was docked at the station, and unless you were willing to seize her and her crew from people not connected with the attack on you, all you could have done is tow her out and scuttle her, leaving her crew alive on the station.”

“So you think Manpower somehow planted the bomb?”

“It is a possibility. Both Tshombe and Sallinger were part of this scheme to gain your missiles. If both men had died in that attempt, you would have been left thinking one of the how do they refer to them, the Mandarins had ordered it?”

“Or that some room temperature IQ Sector Admiral had.”

“Yes. However think of this. Why was Sallinger alive long enough to give that deathbed confession?

“They didn't plan on losing.”

“No, you miss the point. You have two admirals being paid by Manpower to seize these missiles. Oh they can pretty it up for their superiors; they know you are delivering missile pods and even your old ones are better than the ones being built by their own sources. It would have been an intelligence coup to deliver them to the Solarian R&D network.

“But if you were willing to murder that 7,000 people, and disable a warship worth perhaps 100 billion Solarian credits, why stop at one? You have two officers you have suborned. Why murder one, yet let the other live?”

“Why only the two?”

“The screening units did not need any people party to the plot. They would merely follow orders. But the commander of the task force must be part of it, and his senior subordinate is the only one who could challenge his decision to seize the Witch Maiden. He would know about any orders from Battle Fleet to do so.

“So it comes back to, how did Sallinger live long enough to reveal it?”

Rebecca leaned back, then reached down as Irene jumped into her lap, petting the cat idly. “So you think for some reason, they had intended to kill Sallinger as well... and missed?”

“Nothing so Machiavellian. When I read the report about De Croix's statement, I contacted the senior surviving Solarian officer of Marco Polo. I asked him if any of Sallinger's staff had been injured or killed in the last few days, and were either not replaced or not at their station. There was one, the assistant Communications officer, Lieutenant Commander Lisbet Shannon had been injured in a grav skiing accident on the planet, and had been transported to their sickbay mere hours before the balloon went up. She is now resting in the medical center of the station.”

“This woman would have been on the flag bridge of Marco Polo if she had not been injured...” Rebecca leaned forward. “So she was to what, commit suicide to stop Sallinger from surviving? That's madness!”

“Or an adjustment.” Jinhua replied. “Think of the assassination attempt on your Admiral Alexander-Harrington. The successful assassination of your Ambassador, Admiral Lord Sir James Bowie Webster on Terra. The attempt on Queen Berry's life on Torch.”

“What does that have to do with this?”

“Andermani intelligence linked them all together because we had a similar incident about twenty years ago. The Hofschulte incident.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Lieutenant Colonel Gregor Hofschulte, a thirty year veteran of our Army. Went through the gods alone know how many reviews for loyalty during that time, a trusted and respected officer. Yet he suddenly drew his sidearm and opened fire on Crown Prince Huang and his family, killing the Prince's son before the security detachment could kill him. Our intelligence believes he was adjusted by an as yet unknown process, and aimed at his target by persons as yet still unknown.”

“But that's-”

“Impossible? We would have thought it so as well. Every navy routinely makes sure that such an adjustment using one of our personnel would take weeks, even months. Yet he was out of contact with his superiors for only one day several weeks before the incident.”

“Why is that one day important?”

“After the attack, we researched every minute of his life from the time he was born.” Jinhua grinned. “I was only an ensign at the time, just in my first year of intelligence training, but half of my family was involved. Those of us that had chosen intelligence as our careers had tossed ideas around as to what might have happened. Except for that one day, there had been nothing in almost a year, but that had been a vacation, and the colonel had been in hospital for Encephalitis, and a scan of his brain had been done at that time, so if he had been adjusted that far back, we felt we would have caught it then.”

“Why was that one day important? Do you know where he was?”

“He went to his younger brother's funeral. He was actually out of contact for less than four hours.” Jinhua ran her finger across the tray, picking up a wedge of melon. “I think it was done then. So do a lot of others. Between his hospital stay and the incident he had seen the Prince several times. Even seen him with his family. But between that period of four hours and the attack he had seen only the Prince, or the Prince and his wife together. Yet when he attacked the boy was also there.”

“So they wanted to kill the entire family?” Rebecca was aghast. “For heaven's sake, why?”

“I think it was because Princess Yi Yu was still part of the succession.”

Rebecca searched her memory. She had heard of the disowned 'wastrel' princess; everyone had. It had been a juicy tidbit that the International press couldn't ignore. “But why kill his family?”

“Because the boy had been named as Huang's heir less than a month before those missing hours.” Jinhua said softly. “If he had not been added to the succession and Prince Huang had been killed, the succession would have fallen to Yi Yu, who was not removed from the succession until several weeks later.”

“But only if...” Rebecca slowed as she didn't finish the sentence. Only if Gregor IX was also targeted.

Jinhua nodded as if Rebecca had finished it. “Intelligence knew that the Emperor himself must also be a target. But whoever set up the plot could not kill him without assuring that his heirs were dead first. If Huang had ascended the throne then, politically the Empire would have been unchanged. But with Yi Yu in charge... “ The only Andermani royal in history to have knowingly bought a slave she later married! As Empress!

“So you think this commander Shannon has been adjusted?”

“I also think the Station agent Prokoviev has been.” At Rebecca's blank look, Jinhua sighed. “I read the report made by your Marine corporal Gaines, she is the one that shot the agent with a tranquilizer dart.” The woman pulled out her pad. “ 'The target must have heard me. She moved to draw a pistol, and the same time reached for her computer keyboard even as I shot her. She tried to fire her pulser, but blew off her own left arm with the shot'.” Jinhua set it down. “It reminded me of the attack on Admiral Alexander-Harrington. One moment normal, the next the person is acting with what looks like trained speed. If she had not shot her own arm off, we would not be trying to access the files on her computer.

“I had noticed the report of her injury, but I didn't know it had been self inflicted. As our resident intelligence operative, how would suggest we deal with her computer?”

“Well if it were one of our operations, I would rig the computer to demand a password immediately if something happened to the power. So my men are already rigging an external power source so we can remove it completely from her office and bring it aboard. After all, we can't remain in system for long before someone will realize we're in control of it. There is also the problem with Dumont, the survivor from the dispatch boat's crew.”

“Problem? I had heard that he was conscious again with no injuries beyond being knocked unconscious by a gravity surge during the collision.”

“Oh physically he is fine. We tried using our little play with Miss Van Reidel to convince him to talk, but he refused. So we tried chemicals. Lieutenant Schindler, our best man with them stopped immediately because he reacted...oddly to the first attempt. Have you ever heard the term Azrael Block?” Rebecca shook her head. “It was developed back in the 1st century post-Diaspora. It was used for people with secrets so vital, that no one who knew them could be interrogated. By using a combination of simple hypnosis and drugs, you create a program that will cause the body to shut down if any attempt is made to question them; even physical force such as old fashioned torture.

“When he was injected, his body went into shutdown. Schindler of course knew about it, and immediately injected the antidote and had his body restarted.”

“So we take him with us. Have we taken custody of this commander Shannon yet?” Jinhua shook her head. “Then I think we had better before departure.”

“May I make a suggestion, Captain?”

“Could I stop you?” Rebecca asked with a smile.

“If you would rather-”

“Out with it.”

“I suggest we give all of the information regarding the Mesans, and Sallinger's confession to the Solarian Naval commanding officer, Admiral Bartley. Also, as a show of good faith to them, that we do not activate Rasputin yet.”

“I agree with you, but I had better talk with Tomas and his captains before we drop Rasputin.”

“One more thing.”

“There's more? This I have got to hear.”

“Miss Van Reidel was very grateful that we had not really been trying to kill her. She gave us the codes to access the other computers in the Jessyk offices. In return for them, she asked us to take her with us. By definition, she is defecting. I would vote yes on that, because of this.” She held up a data card. “She was in charge of cargo transfers, and some of them, instead of a manifest, were code worded. Just under four months ago, they received such a shipment code named Tannenbaum; Christmas Tree in Standard English.

“Almost 200 crates were delivered, and placed in bonded storage in the Customs house because they are supposed to be sent out again on another ship Jessyk was to charter. So some of your marines with a couple of my men went over, and 'convinced' them to let us look at this cargo. But they could only account for one hundred and thirty of them, as that is how many crates are still there. No record of them being transshipped, they are just... gone. After checking for any kind of booby trap, one was opened.” She set the card down on the desk.

“It contained a 20 megaton mine. We also found in the computer that while 200 odd were delivered here, the total inventory of the devices is almost four thousand being sent to every Battle Fleet base that has mothballed ships. On my own authority, I had one of the SDs that is in dock here checked by men using radiation detection gear. One of them had been placed in the inter hull dead space below her Number three fusion room.”

Rebecca's thoughts flashed down it. There was no need to add a bomb to the ship;
every warship had scuttling charges already installed in their design. Besides, they would have been installed at the local fleet yard when the ship was built, and sealed so there was no access. So why... Then it hit her. The inter hull dead space was something you didn't consider important unless you were in damage control. Just from the sheer mass alone, all ships required a secondary inner hull that the ribs of the main hull mounted on.

In destroyers or light cruisers, the space was small, less than 50 centimeters. But in a super dreadnought it was over a meter wide, and since damage control had to be able to check the hull for damage, they were used to check for damage to the outer hull without doing an EVA, and were not locked in any way.

The placement made sense too. If the ship were operational, the radiation from the fusion plant, as minor as it was, would cover it from detection. And unless the ship had just returned battle damaged, no one would have bothered to do a rad-sweep because just sitting in a parking orbit would not cause radiation problems.

“The device has a mechanical timer that had been activated before the extremely thorough anti-tampering system was activated. It is set to activate at 0421 on your Queen's birthday. According to my records, that is also the time she was born.” Jinhua finished. “I suggest we give them this as well.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:44 PM   #28
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Well... not sure how to start. I want to make this as helpful as possible, but you're not making this easy, since you obviously know at least as much about writing as I do. So I really have nothing to say about the writing style, grammar and such, because it's really good.

I like how you've managed to make Rebecca feel very much like a real character, with genuine emotions, almost right off after the first few paragraphs. The one thing I'm not so sure about is putting the whole flashback right at the beginning - it's not bad as it is, but perhaps it might be even better if it came a little later, after we (the reader) have had time to get acquainted with Rebecca. It's a little unsettling to be send in the character's past right off the bat. Or you could turn the flashback into a narrative and make it an introduction... I don't know, just going out on a limb here. You can also just leave it as it is, I guess.

Apart from that I'm really impressed at your knowledge of the fandom - I've read most of the Honor Harrington books, but I've skimmed over the technical details... probably more often than I should have. Your style is also pretty close to Weber's. It almost feels like reading a short story written by Weber himself.

One question - why did you call your character Duvalier ? It sounds like a Havenite name (since Weber seems to have assimilated Havenites to French, the same way he assimilated Andermani to Sino-German). Is there a special point to it, or did you just like the name ?

...codename Tannenbaum. Gosh, I love your codenames. They sound deliciously out of place.

And that's it for chapter one, but I'm enjoying myself so far.
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:34 AM   #29
machievelli
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Akyra View Post
Well... not sure how to start. I want to make this as helpful as possible, but you're not making this easy, since you obviously know at least as much about writing as I do. So I really have nothing to say about the writing style, grammar and such, because it's really good.

I like how you've managed to make Rebecca feel very much like a real character, with genuine emotions, almost right off after the first few paragraphs. The one thing I'm not so sure about is putting the whole flashback right at the beginning - it's not bad as it is, but perhaps it might be even better if it came a little later, after we (the reader) have had time to get acquainted with Rebecca. It's a little unsettling to be send in the character's past right off the bat. Or you could turn the flashback into a narrative and make it an introduction... I don't know, just going out on a limb here. You can also just leave it as it is, I guess.

Apart from that I'm really impressed at your knowledge of the fandom - I've read most of the Honor Harrington books, but I've skimmed over the technical details... probably more often than I should have. Your style is also pretty close to Weber's. It almost feels like reading a short story written by Weber himself.

One question - why did you call your character Duvalier ? It sounds like a Havenite name (since Weber seems to have assimilated Havenites to French, the same way he assimilated Andermani to Sino-German). Is there a special point to it, or did you just like the name ?

...codename Tannenbaum. Gosh, I love your codenames. They sound deliciously out of place.

And that's it for chapter one, but I'm enjoying myself so far.
As for Duvalier, if you check the names of British officers during both World Wars, there are many French names among them, thanks to the Norman Invasion no doubt. I just tossed the name out and it fit her. You will note I made her of Scot's descent, having her suggest the name Operation Hogmanay for example.

The reason the back story got slammed in at the start is I was picturing someone fresh from hospital, being thrown back out to fight again, someone Admiral Harrington (Later Harrington-Alexander) had earmarked as one of her own protégés to help in her career. As I mentioned, the patronage system of the system Weber uses has flaws; people who have their careers assited because people want to curry favor, or because it's helping someone of the 'proper' class get what they deserve. But Harrington got those boosts because of her ability, and a good officer helps other good officers get what they deserve.

As for my style; the only person who could have given me higher praise is Mr. Weber himself. I do have a highly retentive memory, so the techical data is there for me to remember in my own mind.

I do make mistakes; loading 2000 Andermani pods originally (While I did not go back and correct, I did reduce it to 1000). I also created my own version of a first generation pod for the Andermani to deploy; about equal to the Mk 14s of the Manticoran Navy which would have had them at a disadvantage to the Manticorans if they had gone head to head, but advanced enough to give the Royal Navy fits is they had fought it out.

The reason they are sending those pods rather than full up Mk23s is pure disinformation; if the Sollies did fight them, they would 'assume' the shorter ranged pods were the best the Navy could deploy.

As for the code name; I wanted something that would not link directly, but a good intelligence agent could deduce, which a real codename avoids. If the plot had been really set up by Manticore, and the bombs went off, it would be a nice Christmas Present for the Queen, eh? In reality most Militaries have listings of words to use and pick them randomly dumping abything obvious. We wouldn;t have used Operation Sushi against Japan for example (Note Overlord, the Normandy Invasion, Pestilence, the invasion of Guadalcanal, or Cornet, the suggested Invasion of Honshu) And as Weber has pointed out, the US now uses two word combinations. It makes me wonder who came up with Iraqi Freedom...


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 11-23-2012, 11:22 AM   #30
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Dealing with the pain

“How are you feeling, Rebecca?” Suggins looked up to see her Captain standing beside the bunk in sickbay. She flushed, had she been so unaware that the captain could just sneak up on her? She started to sit up, and the captain set a hand on her shoulder. “It's only been a couple of days, Rebecca. The doc said bed rest, and you're getting it.” She pulled a chair over, and allowed the convalescent to raise the head of the bed.

Rebecca looked into those calm eyes, her own emotions in turmoil. “I'm fine, ma'am.”

“That isn't what the doc says.” Duvalier replied. “He said you've been moping.”

The younger woman flushed. “I do not mope, ma'am.”

“When someone is only shaken up and knocked unconscious, has no serious injuries, yet spends their convalescence staring at the the bulkhead and crying, what would you call it?”

“Grieving.”

“All right, I'll accept that.” The captain replied equably. “You've done some good work for us in this system; your whole squadron is up for a special unit commendation. They saved the squadron from serious damage, not to mention gutting the SDs in the outer system.”

“Yes.” Rebecca admitted.

“And while some would look at it by sheer numbers lost and say it was cheap, you paid cash for those victories.” Duvalier continued. “When we're done reviewing the records, I think everyone we lost will be getting a medal of sorts.” The girl merely looked at her silently. “You are up for the Manticore Cross as are the commanders of all of your Shrikes. Ruth Logan is up for the Osterman Cross for saving your ship from destruction.”

“Saving it from my arrogant presumption, you mean.”

Duvalier took her hand, squeezing hard enough that Rebecca tried to pull it back. She released the hand, and Rebecca clutched it. “Now that I have your full attention, lieutenant, listen up. This is command lecture 101; how to deal with your own losses. We're in a war. The first rule of war is some of your own people are going to die. Some will go before you, some with you into the maw of hell. Rule two is, no matter how good you are, no matter what you did right, some of your people will die, and you can't change it.”

“Don't you think Emily knew she could get killed, or Seacourt with that charge down Columbus' roof? Or the in system birds? All four of them maneuvered intentionally to draw fire from the ships of the squadron, and they paid for it. They all chose the manner of their deaths and we do not have the right to rebuke them after the fact.”

Suggins was caught in the memory; Reaper shifting her ECM so she suddenly looked like a battlecruiser. [i]Vampire[/i[ turning to open her broadside to use every point defense cluster as her counter missiles were exhausted. Lillian moving into the path of the missile stream. She had sat there unable to even speak as her people, her friends died without her.

That was why she had chosen to ram her wedge into the dispatch boat. Oh she could claim it was the instructions to take prisoners if she could. But it was watching yet another squadron she was part of marching into death and leaving her behind to grieve. She didn't want to be left behind again.

“If you want to blame someone for the dead, blame me. I didn't have to agree to Emily's plan. I could have let them sit there untouched, because we were already out of range of the missiles of those we faced, and would have been for over an hour. Yet I agreed to allow a spoiling attack. You were way the hell in system, and couldn't have argued against it, so it was me that murdered them.” She waved a hand before Suggins could speak.

“They all died because I placed them where they were going. Oh, you chose which Shrikes were in which division, but I ordered your deployments.”

“That isn't what I was thinking, ma'am.”

“No?” The captain cocked her head.” I thought this was a one woman pity party. Every mistake was yours, and that gives you and only you the right to 'grieve'.” Duvalier's voice was sarcastic. “You lost people. We lost people. Counting Azrael we've lost half of Composite Squadron 1175. If it wasn't for Ruth's quick action, we'd be toasting sixty absent friends instead of fifty-six. Lieutenant Zachery would be mourning the loss of Sasha Dwyer, who helped get him off his ass again instead of spending half his free time here holding her hand and making wedding plans.

“The doctors told me during my psychiatric evaluations that reactions tend to be split in how survivors react when their people die first. Some feel they have failed, others guilty that they survived, even some just grateful to be alive. A third of my rehab time was with shrinks trying to get me over everyone who died aboard Loki in Chantilly. 465 of my crew died in that engagement; 95% of my people dead while I lay unconscious. It all fell on my Number One to do my job.” Duvalier explained.

“Five months later I woke up at Bassingford to find my crew butchered. There had been a court of inquiry, requested by Samuel Kane, my Exec. He felt he had failed. He had ordered the crew to abandon, but he didn't realize that communications was down. So he took what he could from the bridge, and got them to the boat bay. We took the boat bay crew with us, and it was only as the pinnace launched that he realized the crew was still trying to save the ship; they'd never gotten the order to abandon.

“Then they picked up Laura Cantrell, my chief engineer trying to report to the bridge using her suit radio. Fusion one was running away. She gave the abandon ship order while she tried to jettison it. She failed. It was later determined that about a third of the crew might have still been alive when the bottle lost containment and blew.

“I was exonerated; after all I was unconscious. Sam was exonerated because he had not realized that internal communications was completely down until Laura's report was made. He never accepted the court's decision. A month before I came back to the land of the living he used his sidearm.” She mimed shooting herself in the head.

“Sam had not seen action since his middie cruise, and that had been in Silesia on a battlecruiser. He'd never been in real combat, and never at the tempo we're facing. I chose him for my exec to get him some experience.” She gave a hollow laugh. “I was the one he sent his last letter to. He thanked me for my patience, then begged me to not think ill of him before taking the blame for all of those deaths.

“I received that letter after being told about his suicide. I didn't want to accept their decision either because I had been at fault, not him. I kept going through scenarios in my head; if I had only chosen another, or allowed the Admiralty to fill the position. A more experienced officer might have realized sooner. The fusion bottle didn't blow for almost ten minutes, I was sure someone more experienced would have caught it in time. Realized communications was down and used the suit radios to pass the order to abandon. Instead of 26 survivors, there would have been over one hundred and fifty it the estimate was correct.

“I had murdered them by my own incompetence, and my good friend took the blame and his own life to atone for it.”

“They only said might have been alive.”

“Do you think about 'might have been' when you condemn yourself?” Duvalier challenged. Suggins shook her head slowly. “Neither did I. They put me back together before I could follow Sam's example. That's why I'm here now talking to you. Because I don't want you blaming yourself for might have beens. I need you back on your feet. La Bianca is good, but he's not you.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Proud Record

As much as the talk had helped, Rebecca Suggins was still depressed. She looked up as her commanders trooped in pushing a hoverchair. “We need you, skipper.” Before she could say anything La Bianca picked her up and set her in the chair.

“What in the hell is happening?” She snarled. “Doc! Are you going to let them just drag me out of sick bay?”

Jeffereys looked up from the chart he was looking at. “What are your intentions, officers?”

“We're re-christening the squadron.”

“Again?” The doctor sighed. “Look, guys. You can't come up with a reason to drink yourselves into a stupor every day.”

“This is important doc.” Abraham Watson told him. “We need the skipper's approval.”

“This one time I will allow it. Only two drinks for her.” Despite her protests she found herself being pushed down the companionway to the lift.

Her protests died outside of Pri-fly. Above the hatch was a new logo. Pankowski had done the same logo as she had on her now destroyed ship, without the udders. The figure stood, her legs shoulder width, her hands on the hilt of a sword before her, with a Mona Lisa smile. Above her to the left were representations of the two SDs killed, the third where they got half credit for the kill, then the dispatch boat and freighter. The Logo read:

You Want A piece of me? Bring it!

They looked at Rebecca Suggins. What they didn't expect was for her to be laughing hysterically.

All the ducks in a row.

At 1400 local time, Rebecca walked down the ramp onto the station, followed by Jinhua and Tomas Seguin. They walked to a shuttle car guarded by three marines, and rode it over to the Naval section of the station, where five Superdreadnoughts were being refitted. With the six already completed, that meant about a quarter of the capital ships of this mothball fleet had been readied, though as yet were without crews. Three LACs had stopped the Asimov at the fleet orbit from continuing work, and no shuttles were allowed to go near the orbiting warships that were ready.

Rebecca nodded to the Solarian officers, Admiral Bartley, Commodore Raisic, Captain Soltoburn of Magellan, and their staff intelligence officers. “Please be seated.” She said. She stayed standing as they sat. “Lady and gentlemen, we have some information to pass on.” She began with Sallinger's confession, Jinhua handing out data chips to the Solarian officers.

“You can verify the authenticity; these are directly from our own communications logs. But the fact that he lived to make such a statement is disturbing." Then De Croix's accusation.

“Our squadron could not have placed explosives to kill Admiral Tshombe. Your own records would prove that. But someone did.” Then she went through the information about previous assassinations that were unexplained as yet in their own sector. “We have ascertained that there was only one crewman assigned to the Flag Bridge of SLNS Marco Polo who was not present during the action, the assistant Communications officer, Lieutenant Commander Lisbet Shannon.

“Considering the circumstances leading to Admiral Tshombe's death, we are taking Commander Shannon into custody. We believe she could have been adjusted to act as an assassin aimed at admiral Sallinger and failed only because she was incapacitated. Having her alive will give our medical personnel a chance to discover how the adjustments were done. We will promise to take good care of her, and all research into her condition will be recorded for delivery according to the Deneb Accords. We do not consider her a murderer, we consider her an additional victim.”

Finally the Jessyk Combine records, and the discovery of the mines. More data chips were passed out. “On these chips you have full records of all access done on the Mesan computers. This includes footage of our people discovering the weapons still in bonded storage with the records from that facility. We will escort your own representatives aboard one of the SDs in orbit to verify our claims of sabotage, another group aboard the SDs at present being refurbished, and a third group to see how far along their plan is by checking one still in the mothball anchorage.

“Since it can be verified from your own records that none of our personnel have been aboard the ones in orbit, if there are unplanned charges on those ships that will prove someone else had planted them. We are taking only two computers from the Jessyk facility here. The rest we leave for your own intelligence operatives. We'll leave the capture of any locals who are part of this plot up to you.”

She sighed. None of the other captains had agreed with Jinhua. Even being obsolescent pieces of crap, there were almost 30 SDs out there, and a foolish enough commander might believe Stalin's old adage about quantity having a quality all it's own regardless of the lives lost in an attempt. Not to mention 80 battlecruisers, 150 light and heavy cruisers, and almost 200 destroyers. “Finally, once we have done this, all warships not presently in dock will be destroyed in place by us before departure.”

“That's monstrous!” Bartley roared. He was 40 centimeters taller than Rebecca, and he stood now, looming over her. “How dare you-”

Rebecca slammed her hand down on the table, shocking the man into silence. No one junior to a Solarian Admiral dared to interrupt. “How dare you attack our ships in this system without a declaration of war? This is not the first time the League has acted outside the law, and I doubt it will be the last! If I leave you all of those ships I have no doubt we will face them in combat, and as you have already seen and heard, we have been blowing them to hell in job lots already!

“My own command, a Collier, destroyed six of your newest vessels in less than twenty minutes! What do you think will happen if you actually face ships of your same weight of metal? How many of your men will have to die before you realize it will take a slaughter of your own men to defeat us?” She glared at him. “I would rather destroy those vessels now before you put almost a million men and women on them to die for your nation's hubris!

“And according to law, I have that legal right. So your mothball fleet will be destroyed as I have explained. End of discussion.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 12-04-2012, 09:31 PM   #31
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Deeper mysteries and more threats

That should have been that, but it wasn't. The Sollies had held out on checking all of the SDs in mothballs rather than just one, which had been mined. Seven emplaced mines were discovered, but the most disturbing fact was that since the arrival of the mines on the station, only one of them had been visited by a shuttle from the station. The others had only been assessed after the arrival of the Asimov class L. Ron Hubbard. Instead of merely boarding and taking the crew into custody, the Sollies had treated it as routine; they had contacted the captain of the vessel and asked for a listing of who had gone aboard the vessels. Minutes later the exec of the ship had replied. The captain had called in the Bosun for the list. That man had gunned down the captain, deleted the work files for the ship, then killed himself to evade capture. The records of who had been sent aboard died with him. Checking the cargo aboard, 14 mines were discovered, still in crates. Another mine was found attached to the Hubbard itself, suggesting that there might be more adjusted or suborned personnel aboard since emplacing and arming them was not a one man job.

The Sollies asked permission to use all of the ships so equipped for the delicate task of removing the mines. Rebecca had agreed, since as Jinhua pointed out, from what she could see, the anti-tamper devices were extremely thorough. She commented that with the eighteen ships to work with the odds were that only three or four would survive as they tried one thing after another to disarm them.

After the last SD was towed away from the mothball orbit, the pinnaces and cargo shuttles towed out pods. For this they didn't need the longer ranged models; they merely deployed forty pods modified to fire single missiles. Then they were fired from 13 million kilometers; extreme range for the older missiles. Against non evading targets, it was easy.

Once the ships had been destroyed, the small craft returned to their mother ships and the squadron began to move away from the planet.

“Contact!” Abigail called. “Hyper footprint.” She gave the locus, and her fingers danced. Considering they had spent almost three weeks in system, her suggestion that the recon drones be deployed to watch for new arrivals had been accepted. That meant four were close enough for real time reporting on the twelve ships that had suddenly appeared.

“Two SD sized, but they aren't in our fleet listing.” Abigail reported. “Maneuvering to get a view through the side of the wedge. Four Gladiator class heavy cruisers. six War Harvest class destroyers. Bearing 045. Wedges up, but- satus change! Now inbound on intercept course at 383Gs.”

“Time to engagement range for Mk23s and Hammers?” Rebecca asked.

“They will be within range for the Mk23s in one hour.” Zachary reported. “Within range of the Hammers forty-five minutes later.”

“Helm, new course 45 degrees starboard, away from the enemy.” Duvalier tapped her all hands button on the intercom. “All hands, this is the captain. We have new arrivals. Two unidentified ships in the SD range with four heavy cruisers and six destroyers. Everyone have a good meal, then man your stations. We will call you to battle stations at need. Captain out.”

The ships of the small squadron turned, the enemy altering course to pursue. “Got him!” Abigail sang out. “One of our drones is 300,000 kilometers from the big boys. Bringing up the data now.” Rebecca brought up her own repeater. Almost 9 megatons, what were... She shut it off as Abigal whispered. “My, god. CLACs. Sollie CLACs!”

“Communications from the enemy, Ma'am.” Lieutenant Heinreid reported. “From Commander Lithgow, communications officer for Vice Admiral Takagawa. We are ordered to heave to and surrender.”

“Any information on Takagawa, Gaelin?”

“No we-” He stopped. “Commander Kiel has opened her files. Martin Takagawa. One hundred years old, graduate class of '44,” He snorted. “Ranked 6501 out of eight thousand At Battle Fleet's Annapolis Academy. Taught basic tactical at the academy until seven years ago.” He looked up. "About the time reports of Operation Buttercup percolated through the Sollie intelligence network. Strongest and most recent Battle Fleet advocate of light attack craft tactics; surprising, since LACs are deployed only by Frontier Fleet and system fleets. Reassigned to their Office of Ship Design at that time. Nothing more recent.”

“I'd say arriving here with a brace of brand new Battle Fleet CLACs can be defined as something recent, Number One.” She chided him.

The intercom chimed and Rebecca tapped it. “Yes, Jinhua?”

“Data from our intelligence being forwarded.”

“Oh good. Gaelin, check ONI's information as well.” The lift opened and messmen came out followed by Oselli. “It looks like a working lunch, people.”

The information was not good. The combatants in the Haven sector (as the Sollies called the region containing the Manticoran Alliance and Republic of Haven) had between them fielded five CLAC designs to date; the Minotaur and Hydra class, the Grayson Covington class, the Republic's Aviary class, and the Empire's Graf Zeppelin class in order of size. The smaller CLACs carried 100 and 135 respectively, the Aviarys carried 250, and the Graf Zeppelins originally carried 245 of their Adler class which had been designed from the LACs fielded during Operation Trojan Horse. With the alliance, the Graf Zeppelin's were being retrofitted to carry their own version of the the three LAC types fielded by Manticore, though they called them Würger (Shrike in German) [i]Zobel]/i] (Actually German for Sable, a relative of the ferret on Earth), and Flamberge- instead of Katana. Andermani intelligence did have some information about the prototype the Sollies were testing, and had assumed the larger hull and load out.

The Sollies had not received all of the data captured by the Republic since Operation Thunderbolt, so the Sollie LACs would probably be closer to the Cimiterre class in design; no real improvement in the energy range, heavy on missiles, with a short endurance; 96 hours in comparison to the weeks the fission powered Manticoran designs had. But either of the larger CLACs could swamp them if Rebecca let them.

“Contact the squadron, Millie.”

“Open mike, relays using FTL communications.”

“Thank you.” She waited as the screens filled. Tomaso, Captain Carlyle of HMS Hel Captain Regis of the Valiant class HMS Surprise, and Captain Rondeau, commanding her sister ship, HMS Captain. “Gentlemen and lady, we're a bit outweighed here.”

“Are you sure?” Isabelle Rondeau asked. “We could have a game of bridge while you handle it all again.” There was a general laugh. None of them had faced such odds before, but that didn't seem to affect their morale.

“That wouldn't be fair. Can't have you playing incomprehensible card games; everyone gets to work this time.” Rebecca teased back. She made some notations, then sent them to the other captains. “You will first pick up full loads of missile pods from Isabeau and move to here.” A line three million kilometers closer. “Our LACs will be here,” Another line again three million kilometers closer than the squadron, then a third line; Witch Maiden and Isabeau.

Witch Maiden will target the CLACs if they launch fighters. Once they are destroyed, we'll take the rest of the big boys. You and the LACs will target the LACs as they come at us. We're anticipating between 450 hundred and 500 birds. All of you have between six and 11 million kilometers range on our LACs, so they will allow you to engage first, and only open fire when the enemy closes to their own range. They will fall back on the squadron to within one million kilometers and support you from that point on.”

Rebecca finished the last of the hamburger and soup, nodding as Os removed the tray. “The enemy admiral sent two additional messages, captain.”

“And you are only telling me why now, Millie?”

“Pretty much the second was another demand that we surrender. The last was a demand that you reply before things get ugly.”

“Ah, veiled threats.”

“Captain, LACs deploying.” Abigail reported. On the screen hundreds of red lights began flashing as the CLACs flushed their birds. They didn't bother with forming up, they merely charged toward the squadron at over 600Gs. The LACs were closer from their very acceleration alone. The raid count was light; only 440.

“And not so subtle threats.” Rebecca tapped the button on her intercom.

“Prifly, Suggins here.”

“I know that as efficient as you are, you have already made sure the LACs are ready to fight.”

“Yes ma'am. All six are loaded for defensive operations.”

“And your pilots are ready to launch?”

“More than ready, ma'am.”

“Launch and move into a position on stealth mode at your discretion, Rebecca. You've been following the briefing for the squadron?”

“Yes ma'am. We're ready to go.”

“Millie, let me hear this last demand.”

The person speaking wasn't even the admiral. It was still lieutenant commander Lithgow. “HMS Witch Maiden you are accused of piracy and threatening Copperplate Station. You will surrender and prepare for boarding.

“All other Manticoran vessels will be allowed to depart if you do. However if they attempt to defend you, they will also be counted as guilty.”

“Another message.” Heinreid reported. “Sent as they began to deploy their LACs.”

Again the commander. “Witch Maiden, as you can see you are hopelessly outgunned. For the sake of your crews alone, we give you twenty minutes to surrender.”

“Time to Hammer maximum range?”

“One hour exactly, ma'am.”

“Record. This is Captain Rebecca Duvalier, commanding HMS Witch Maiden. I see your LACs have launched, and we refuse to accept your claim. We assisted a liner in departing station, and replied to a threat from Copperplate station against an unarmed vessel. We will depart the system in-” She paused the recording.

“One hour, ten minutes.”

She started recording again, “-one hour, ten minutes. Any attempt to force us to remain will be answered with lethal force. As for your threatening to use the LACs against us, back in history when there was what was called the Cold War still going on, the American press tried to get the people to view with alarm when their primary enemy, the old Soviet Union fielded their first aircraft carrier. The Pentagon, the primary command center for the US military of the time replied, and I paraphrase; 'It took us a year to know how to use them; we already know how to kill them.” She touched the com stud. “Millie?”

“Good recording on the chip.”

“Ma'am,” Hughes called out, “Abby sent me a close up of one of those LACs. They are some kind of Peregrine class. But like nothing I have ever seen.”

Rebecca brought up the class. It was the most recent LAC deployed by the League, though that mean almost a century old. In fact until the Royal Navy had begun construction and deployment of the LACs that had been assigned to the commerce raiders used in the first war with Haven, they had been among the best deployed anywhere.

Like the War Harvest class destroyers, they were constantly being refitted, usually by local yards so no two were alike from system to system, but all were usually 17-17,500 tons, top speed using the 80 percent rule, 590Gs, but these were pulling 610. “What's different?”

“Their radar and lidar match the Pergrines spotted in the Amaterasu system, but after that, pretty much across the board, ma'am. Mass reading on these are just under 15,000 tons. The Amaterasu Industries upgraded models usually carry 30 tubes; fifteen Strella model 4 LAC missiles to a broadside. But these are armed with only five tubes to a broadside, and they are slanted to fire forward at a sharper angle than the Grayson Purity class or Avalon C; a seventy degree slant.”

Curious. Both cruisers carried missiles considered too large for their class, which was why the thirty degree offset of the bore was necessary; but with the off-bore capability of modern Alliance missiles, it wasn't enough to matter. And Amaterasu was where one of the main Battle Fleet shipyards run by Technodyne were. “Analysis?”

The three people at tactical looked at each other. Hughes motioned toward Abigail, who replied. “I think they took the smallest upgrade on their shipboard missiles and retrofitted them to Peregrine hulls. If I am correct, that would mean these are armed with the Spatha upgrades, equal to what the battlecruisers were firing at us during our last battle. No way they're using the Javelins or Trebuchet variants; anything bigger would mean fewer tubes.”

Her mind raced. It would be a quick and dirty fix. By using an existing ship design, merely ripping out the old launchers and installing what would fit, it would mean a LAC only slightly behind the power curve compared to the Republic's Cimeterres, but with a heavier and longer ranged punch than your would anticipate from such a small craft. And in enough numbers, a serious danger.

The original LACs deployed when the class was envisioned six centuries earlier had carried what were considered destroyer weight missiles back then; even smaller than a modern day LAC missile. But in the third century post diaspora, design of the larger missiles for more modern combatants began and continued until an LAC couldn't deploy them because they were quite honestly too big for enough box launchers to make it worthwhile. Unless you had a lot of LACs, like these guys did.

“Assuming missiles as efficient as the Spatha upgrades, when will they be within range of our cruisers?”

“Forty-seven minutes, ma'am” Zachary reported.

She felt frustration. She didn't have enough long range missiles to kill every one of the enemy ships. Oh she could kill both CLACs, but she'd shoot herself dry killing the LACs before the screen because they were the main threat. Once she had she would be limited to Hammers; with only a 26.5 million kilometer range. If the screen commander over there had the brains it took to pour water out of a boot, he'd retreat to avoid her fire, as only Gwynhafer had missiles that could chase them down. Fleeing into hyper was out. Even if they let her run, she couldn't take the battle into hyper; the system was on the edge of one of the largest hyper waves in the League. The missiles would be worthless and if it were her six ships against ten warships, she would lose.

Then again... “Millie, delete my message. Pick the closest recon drone, and patch me through on standard radio aimed at the CLAC sending the messages to us. Signal all ships to form as ordered.”

She watched as her command moved as instructed. The LACs marked as in stealth were already in position, and it would be maybe five minutes more before the cruisers were also ready. “We're going to open the entire can of whup-ass this time, people, Tactical, begin dropping a fifty pod salvo, targeting the flag.”

She leaned back. “Contact the flag, Millie.”

The same lieutenant commander came on, confused because there was only a carrier wave. “There's nothing on this channel, Simmons.”

“This is Captain Rebecca Duvalier, Royal Manticoran Navy, commanding both HMS Witch Maiden and the squadron you are threatening. We are not surrendering. You have one minute to desist your pursuit and recall your LACs before I open fire on your flagship.”

“Who does she think she is?” The commander asked rhetorically over the open mike.

“I think am the one who is about to kill six thousand odd Solarian naval personnel.” She replied. He flinched. “We are communicating using a recon drone and our FTL technology, so this is happening in real time. You now have forty-five seconds.”

“You're bluffing. No one has missiles able to hit us at this range.”

“I don't play poker because I don't bluff, commander. You now have twenty-five seconds. So I suggest you put your admiral on, or face the consequences.”

“The Admiral is not available, Captain.”

“Then on his head it shall be. Ten seconds.” The man just kept glaring at her as time ran out.

“Engage.” Fifty pods leaped into life, aimed at the first CLAC. The commander paled as he saw the sheer weight of metal coming at them. “At this range, our missiles will take seven minutes eighteen seconds to reach you. You have six minutes to surrender all of your vessels. If you have not done so by that time, we will engage both your other CLAC and your LACs before they have reached their range of my command. There will be no further offers to allow the surrender of any of your vessels in that case. I will merely assume you all have the same death wish and annihilate you.”

“You are insane!”

“Possibly. Perhaps fobbing me off to a flunky ticked me off. But you will be dead in six minutes, forty seconds.”

“This is an act of war!”

“And attempting to seize my ships on spurious charges is not? I am sure a later Sollie court would judge your actions to be correct, but I would not believe such a court if they said water was wet. Besides you will not be alive to hear the verdict. You now have six minutes, fifteen seconds.”

The crew watched as the enemy reacted. The CLACs were equipped with the Aegis system used by Solarian SDs, but fighting the task force had given them a good read on the standard gambits, and whenever missiles lost lock, they redirected the wanderers back onto course as the tactical crew added the exclusion file. Rebecca hit the mute button. “Diedre have the missiles arc over the LACs with a minimum separation of one point five million kilometers. If they are using a more modern version than the R13, I want to see it.”

“Understood, ma'am.” She and her team began coding frantically. The R13 LAC counter missile manufactured by Mitsubishi-Vympel was the newest in the Solarian inventory according to ONI; a little less modern than the counter missiles used by Manticoran LACs of the prewar era, with an estimated range of 1.25 million kilometers. The missile stream passed untouched before turning back onto course.

“Captain-” The Sollie communications officer began.

Rebecca cut him off. “I am bored with you, commander Lithgow. The next voice I hear had best be your admiral.”

“He is unavailable.”

“I don't care if he's locked in his personal head with something racy to read. He now has four minutes, eleven seconds.”

The screen went to a logo of a blue Japanese dragon, then to another, older man. “This is Captain Hendricks commanding SLNS Soryu. Self destruct your missiles at once!”

“Captain, I will speak to your admiral, and only your admiral.”

“As you were told, he is unavailable.”

“Then that is what the court of inquiry will report when the loss of your ships is investigated. You have three minutes, forty-five seconds.”

“Be reasonable!”

“I think wanting to talk to the senior man before I kill thousands of his men is very reasonable. You have three minutes, twenty-five seconds.” The missiles were now almost thirty-five million kilometers downrange, and approaching forty percent of light speed.

“Radio side-lobe from Soryu!” Heinreid shouted. “Tight beam...” She turned toward the captain, confused. “Aimed at the middle of their LAC swarm.”

The clock ran down as the missiles closed inexorably on their target. Only two of the Gladiators were close enough to offer support. The missiles would enter their firing range just under a minute before the time limit expired.

The cruisers opened fire with their counter missiles, but fire discipline went from problematic to pathetic as Dragons Teeth erupted into life. Of the salvo over 450 survived to stream past the cruisers bound for the CLAC.

Then the wedges died. Rebecca nodded. “Blow them, Diedre.” Seconds later, the remaining 410 missiles exploded. “Millie, use all of the recons drones, omnidirectional broadcast.”

“Ready ma'am.”

“All Solarian vessels; you will bring up your wedges and slow to rest relative to the primary. You will not delete any data bases. Any ship that attempts to close with us or that deletes their data base will be destroyed. This is your only warning.” She thumbed the mute turned. “Number one, do we have a large enough group to man a Gladiator and some of those LACs with prize crews?”

“It will be tight out of our own resources. But I'll ask the squadron. Between us and the three older cruisers, we should.”

“Set it up. Millie, general signal to the squadron, decelerate to rest.” She turned back to the screen where the Solarian Captain was breathing a sigh of relief. She thumbed the mute again. “I am still waiting for Admiral Takagawa.”

“He is aboard the command LAC.”

“Connect us, please.”

The Captain nodded, and touched his panel. The bridge of the small ship looked unbelievably cramped, even compared to the Cimeterres captured at Marsh. Of course, the design was a century old. The man sitting in the command seat glared at her. “I am Admiral Takagawa, Captain Duvalier.”

“It is good to speak with you at last, sir.” She glanced down at the scroll across her screen. “Considering the lack of hard data from our war, your article in Battle Fleet Proceedings on LAC tactics in a modern threat environment seven years ago was almost prescient.”

His harsh look mellowed. “You've read it?”

“No. But my ship's senior intelligence officer did, and that was her opinion.”

“I wish Battle Fleet had listened sooner.” He sighed, leaning back in the seat. “Well, you've won this round. I have surrendered, so what are your terms?”

Rebecca sighed. “I hate to do it, sir, but I will be taking three of your LACs and one of the Gladiators as prizes. Then it is a choice between scuttling all of your remaining hyper capable ships, or scuttling the screen and the LACs leaving you the CLACs.”

He looked grim. “Are you offering me a choice?”

“Yes, sir. If we scuttle the CLACs the LACs aren't a threat that can follow us. And we could handle both if you try to follow with them alone.” She considered, then plunged on. “When I say you, I should mean your next senior officer. You and whatever staff members you wish to bring will be going with us.”

“Your prisoners.” He sounded as if he'd bitten an orange and discovered it was a lemon.

“As our honored guests. My senior intelligence officer, and the commander of our indigenous squadron would be glad to discuss your insights into LAC tactics.”

He looked at her for a long moment. “Scuttle the LACs.”

“Yes, sir. My boarding party will be there in thirty minutes. With your permission, we will download your library. After all, we can't expect you to go with us without it.”

“And my steward?”

“You may bring that person along as well, Admiral. He and my own steward can share recipes.”

“She.”

“Sorry.”

The next hours were hectic. All of the pinnaces from the Solarian Task Group and the Squadron deployed and began transferring the LAC crews to the CLACs. Two of the smaller ships, with prize crews aboard, approached and were tractored into the empty LAC bays aboard Witch Maiden.

Martin Takagawa stood as the pinnace approached his command LAC, Tetsuko. Five figures in SUTs came across to the airlock, and stepped out onto the deck. They were led by a woman. “Admiral?” She asked. He nodded. “I am Lieutenant Junior Grade Rebecca Suggins, Grayson navy, commander of Composite Squadron 1175 assigned to HMS Witch Maiden.” She held out her hand. “I read your article before I came over. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

He looked at her extended hand for a long moment, then shook it.

“Sir, my crew, Helmswoman 1st class Sasha Dwyer, 1st impeller tech Fengniao Klumbach, her sister 1st class Computer tech Cao Mei Klumbach, and 3rd class Fusion Engineering rating Francis Dollaryde.” He shook hands with each of them. “Any of your command crew that you feel are necessary can remain. The others can transfer to the pinnace.”

“Your five and myself should be able to handle her, Lieutenant.” She nodded. The crew spread out to their stations as the other Solarians came by. Suggins watched the men and women. They seemed to respect an Admiral ready to die alongside them in such a fragile ship instead of sitting safely aboard the carrier. Takagawa noticed her scrutiny. “A true commander leads, lieutenant.”

“I understand and agree, sir. I have already asked my Captain's permission, and extend an offer to you. We have all three variants of our own LACs aboard the Witch Maiden. If you will agree to give your parole, I would be honored if our crews could take you on a tour of them.”

He snorted. “What could they offer?”

She grinned, motioning toward the bridge. She waved for him to take his own command chair again as the small craft began to run toward Witch Maiden. Then, like ghosts, a trio of larger LAC slid alongside to escort them. “That, sir, is a Katana class Anti-LAC craft of my own navy. That one is a Ferret class which is heavy on missiles. The last is a Shrike class anti-shipping variant with a Battlecruiser class Grazer. All of them can pull almost 200Gs more acceleration than you have shown us so far.”

He gazed at the larger ship in wonder. “Those I would like to see much closer. I give my parole.”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 12-05-2012, 09:34 PM   #32
machievelli
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A/N I noticed only as I completed it, that Rebecca Suggins should have been Rebecca Huggins.

Yes, I do make mistakes.

Calm Before the Storm

Three days out of Capwell, the squadron had to transition between two grav waves. With Gwynhafer in the lead, Hel and [/i]Captain[/i] to either side of Isabeau Surprise and the captured SLNS Commitus on rearguard, Rebecca asked the other captains over for a final briefing and dinner. The ships continued forward as the pinnaces carried them over. Captain Breecher of Isabeau might have felt out of place, but the small collier was a big part of the coming operation.

Rebecca laid out her plan; dropping out of hyper at slow speed 20 million kilometers from Bifrost Astro control. As the cruisers closed, Isabeau and Witch Maiden would deploy enough pods to kill an SD squadron, just in case. Once the cruisers had taken control, they would collect the pods, if any remaining, and transport them to within five million kilometers where they would lay interlocking layers of both Hammers and older Mk20 pods before Witch Maiden and Commitus transited to go on to Spindle.

The captains hammered at the plan, looking for weaknesses, a process that took almost four hours. At the end of it, they broke before dinner. Os, with the assistance of Warrant Steward Saunders, Admiral Takagawa's steward turned out a bravura performance. Of her own crew only Gaelin, Jinhua, Lieutenant Huggins and Abigail were invited.

“So you know nothing of our nation?” Seguin asked the Admiral.

“Comparative governments is an elective in our universities.” Takagawa admitted. “Even in the Academy.”

“It's first year syllabus for us at Saganami Island.” Harcourt Carlyle replied. “And it can get you kicked into supply or Buships if you don't do well in the course. Abigail,” He looked down at the midshipman. “How'd you do in that course?”

“I passed, but just barely.” She admitted. “Trying to figure out the different Silesian political parties almost killed my chances.”

“Well I did only slightly better.” Rebecca commented. “A flat 2.9 grad point average. But that was under Commander Gowan back in the old days-”

“Yes.” Tomas commented. “Back when you had to kick the dinosaurs out of your path, walking from Earth to Manticore, both ways in hip deep snow.” They all laughed.

“And what does your class say about the League?”

“It depends on which class.” Isabelle replied. “Dealing with the League on the political level is like dealing with the ancient God kings of Persia, where someone labeled as the Voice of God spoke because mere humans should not hear his perfect voice.”

“It has survived for almost a millennia, does that not count for something?”

“Please, sir. No politics.” Rebecca asked. “Your bureaucrats have brought us to the brink of war by ignoring what is in front of their eyes, and anything we might say about your government beyond that simple statement would be confrontational.”

Takagawa accepted the statement with good grace. “These LACs you have deployed... how old is the design?”

“About eight years.” Huggins replied. “The original Shrike A-s were used during the last battles of the first war, as were the first model of the Ferrets. The Katanas were designed during the ceasefire by my own nation.”

Grayson designed it?” Takagawa was astonished. “Correct me if I am wrong, but less than two decades ago your system was using technology a millennia out of date.”

“Oh you're not wrong, sir.” Huggins replied. “But actually I am an immigrant to Grayson. My father was one of the last Chief Elders of the old Masadan Theocracy. I grew up learning all of the new technology without having to forget so much that was outdated.” She sipped her iced tea. “But I discovered as a child that the Graysons always look for other ways to do anything; like a cook handed a cordon bleu recipe but tweaking it anyway. The cruiser Gwynhafer on point is based on a Grayson modification of a Manticoran design. Across the board, if you take any Manticoran design my people build, we've put our own stamp on them.”

“So why come up with, what did you call them? Anti LAC craft?”

“The Graysons assumed that once the Alliance deployed CLACs and modern LACs, the enemy would follow suit. So Grayson designed LACs designed to kill other LACs.”

“How have they done in combat?”

“The standard appreciation by most LAC tacticians is that the Republic LACs deployed need to outnumber a force of Katanas by four to one just to lose to them.”

“And my own design would be eaten alive by your Katanas.” He said sadly. When he had toured the Katana class he had been like a child at Christmas. He had asked almost tentatively if they could run a scenario of his own design of the Solarian LACs against what had been deployed by the other nations of the sector. They had fared best against Shrikes alone, with their longer ranged punch they had annihilated the force sent against them. Against unsupported [i]Ferrets]/i] or Ferrets covering a force of Shrikes they did a bit worse; the Ferrets could keep the longer ranged missile hits to a minimum until their own missiles could begin to kill the Solarian strike, though even they were decimated.

Katanas survived in sufficient numbers to decimate the attacking Solarian LACs. Oddly enough the Republic's Cimiterre did best using their old Triple Ripple or modern Zizka maneuver by launching their dirty missiles from 12 million kilometers and allowing them to approach on ballistic courses. No one told him, but with Republic SDs at their back using their MDMs, or any of the Manticoran LACs with the same back up would slaughter his design in job lots.

“Come, we have a few things remaining on our plates, ladies and gentlemen.” Saunders and Oselli came out bringing a large cake shaped like a Solarian LAC. “Cindy mentioned that tomorrow is your birthday, sir.” The cake was set down in front of Takagawa. Cindy Saunders lit the candles, and the officers sang happy birthday to the older man. He looked around, then stood, blowing out the candles. They applauded as he cut the cake.

“What did you wish for, sir?” Huggins asked.

He looked around. “That peace returns between us.”

“Here, here.” Tomas replied. They ate, the conversation going to lighter things. Rebecca wiped her mouth, and looked at Abigail. She stood. No one who saw her would recognize the young woman that Rebecca had once slapped down hard.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Queen!" She called.

“The Queen!” Everyone drank. But before anyone could react beyond that, Huggins stood.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," she said, "I give you Grayson, the Keys, the Sword, and the Tester!"

The Manticoran officers replied, and since all were used to this toast save Takagawa it went well. Jinhua stood, her voice a proud note. “Damen und Herren, gebe ich Ihnen das Kaiser, das Kaiserin, den Kronprinz und die Kronprinzessin!”

The reply in English, toasted the Emperor, his wife, his son and heir, and that man's wife.

Seguin stood. “Compadres, Viva la Raza!”

“Amen!” Abigail cried out.

Rebecca looked to the Admiral. “Sir, our navies haven't spent a lot of time in social circumstances. If you would?”

Takagawa stood. “I know it will sound odd, ladies and gentlemen.” He raised his glass. “I give you the League, The Fleet, and the peace they protect.”

A last Surprise

Rebecca hugged Irene, carrying her down the passageway to Gaelin's quarters where she set the kitten in Holmes' survival module. The treecat gathered her in, nodding as Rebecca closed the module. She walked down the passageway to the lift, then took it to the passage leading to the bridge. Everyone was in position when she arrived. The screens still showed hyperspace; it was just about a minute before they dropped into N space.

“All battle stations manned.” Gaelin reported. She nodded, racking her helmet as her chair monitors deployed. “Thirty seconds.”

She sat, leaning back as the count came down to five. She was ready.

They came over the wall, sails flaring as they dissipated the energy.

“Sensors- oh god, Captain! A Havenite Mars class heavy cruiser! Range, one million kilometers!” Abigail screamed.

“What?” Rebecca brought up the repeater. The silhouette was unmistakable! “Tactical! Snapshot!”

“Plotting.” Hughes was as stunned as the others, but training took over. “Wait one, ma'am. The cruiser dropped her wedge!”

“She did what?” The scanner was blank, but a few seconds later she could see the radar return. The ship was really there. The enemy was passing port to starboard at a pace more like a cruiser on picket.

“Ma'am, com signal from the Havenite vocal only.”

“Let's hear it.”

“Manitcoran Vessels! Hold fire, I repeat, hold fire!”

“Republican cruiser, Identify yourself.”

“RNS Karttikeya, Captain Duvalier commanding.”

Rebecca wanted to giggle. “What a surprise, Captain. Captain Duvalier commanding HMS Witch Maiden here. State your purpose.”

“I was sent here supporting the team capturing the Bifrost Hyper Bridge. Request permission to report to command, Captain?”

“Why, cousin? To report your surrender?”

“Cousin? Oh.” He gave a deep throaty laugh. “Signaling your arrival.”

“I would rather not, Karttikeya. Give me a few moments here.” She hit the mute button.

“The bastards.” Gaelin snarled. She looked at him. “What do you think happened, Ma'am? They heard about the Yawata strike, stripped every system they could and threw them at Home Fleet! If they hit Home Fleet again with as many as they did before they'd survive long enough to bring Manticore itself under their guns. And if that failed all they would have to do is send two fleets the same size; they could do that and blow us apart!” He looked ugly with his hate. “They beat us, skipper, face it!”

She felt the same sinking feeling when they had IDed a Havenite cruiser here. No doubt once they had captured the Home system, they had sent ships out to let any detached ships know about the new management.

“Ma'am.” Abigail turned from her position. “We're getting mass readings from near the wormhole. There are two ships there. One is a Havenite minelayer, the other is Manticoran, the Saganami B class Isabella Banton.”

“Gaelin. Gaelin!” He snapped out of his funk. “Who commands the Banton.”

He turned to his station. “Casea Sandoval.”

She nodded. Of all the people she knew from her own class and those around it, Casea would have been the least likely to go over. “Captain Duvalier, who is your commander?”

“I am acting in concert with Captain Sandoval of HMS Isabella Banton.” He replied. “If you do not mind, Captain. I will let her explain the situation. We will stay here under your guns until she has.”

“Very good. Millie, contact the Banton with the FTL com.”

“Yes, ma'am.” She turned to her board. “Banton ready, ma'am.”

Rebecca stared at Casea. Her heart sank at the sight of the woman trim in her uniform. The woman smiled. “The prodigal has return! Welcome home.”

“To an occupied home with Havenite ships backing you?” She asked coolly.

The other woman looked confused. “You're behind the times, Rebecca. The war is over. In fact the Republic came in with two hundred Podnaughts of the wall to help us take out Filareta's fleet. We were sent because Bifrost is the closest hyper bridge, and if the Sollies try to send a fleet against the Quadrant, they would need to use it. We were light on pods, so Savo Island was sent to drop some of their pods here to support me with Karttikeya covering her.” She looked at one of her monitors. “You have the Capwell squadron with you? Good; I'll need them. But what is this HMS Commitus?”

“A prize from Capwell. A Gladiator that followed me home. Can I keep him, mom?”

Casea laughed. “Have you met your cousin?”

“The other Captain Duvalier? Voice only. We almost blew him away.”

“He was warned you might be a bit antsy. In fact I was considering having him go to Capwell to check to see what might have happened to you.”

“You do not want to send him there. I am not well liked in the system.”

“You're not?”

“After destroying a podnaught task force, the screen and LACs of a CLAC task group, and destroying the four hundred ships of the mothball fleet? I'd be lucky if they only drew and quartered me.”

“You destroyed all of that... with a collier and some cruisers?”

“Yep. You might want to look up the specs of my ship, Captain.” Rebecca replied.

“If you would bring Claude; that is your cousin. I think you should meet. And if you have pods left, we could use them here.”

“54 Mk23s, 208 Andermani Mjolnir 'Hammers', and 360 Mk 20s aboard with 160 more Hammers aboard Isabeau. What do you need?”

“All of them. Wait a minute, did you say a CLAC task group?”

“Yes. We brought along three of their LACS. Very nasty customers; they retrofitted them to fire the two stage Sollie missiles.”

“You are just a font of cheerful messages.” Sandoval hit her mute button, then again. “We don't have anyone checked out on the Mjolnirs. Do you?”

“I have an Andermanii team.”

“I'll take them too.”

“Yes, ma'am. Witch Maiden clear.” She contacted the Mars class, which brought up her wedge, and fell into the lead position.

Rebecca touched her intercom. “I have an announcement to make. While I have not been fully apprised of the circumstances, I am informed that the war with the Republic is over. A combined strike force of Republic and Manticoran ships has already seized the Bifrost Hyper Bridge ahead of us. We will stay in system long enough to off load all of our pods. We're home free people. Stand down from battle stations.” She didn't need to hear the cheers of her personnel.

One last thing

Francis Dollaryde stretched, yawning as his shift ended. He made his note in the engineering log, then walked aft to the vats. He opened one, smelling the heady aroma. Another week-

“Francis!” He turned to starboard. It sounded like one of the-”

“Longpo!” He spun to port. Was there an echo?

Suddenly the girls, one from either side came charging in. He caught them, falling on his ass as they tackled him, crying hysterically. He made soft noises to calm then down, then waited as they told him almost in stereo what had happened. He finally got them calmed down. He knew what he had to do.”


Jinhua sipped the wine Rebecca had given her. “Lieutenant Schindler will be taking over. I am heading back to Manticore, then on to home.” She motioned toward the chip she had set down on the desk. “The Empire has been asked to sit out this war with the Solarians; if they ever decide to talk, you will need someone for them to pass the messages through-”

The annunciator sounded. “Yes?”

“Ratings Dollaryde and Klumbach to see you captain.”

Rebecca looked at Jinhua, who shrugged. “Send them in, Corporal.”

She had never seen such grim faces as all three of the enlisted personnel marched in and snapped to attention. “Yes?”

“Captain. We already requested permission to marry.”

“I do remember, petty officer.”

“Well the girls were told that they're being assigned to the Banton. Ma'am, with all due respect, we don't want to be separated. So I am requesting a transfer to the Banton.”

Rebecca looked at Jinhua who was looking down to hide her grin. “Petty officer Dollaryde; if I were to transfer you to the Banton, I'd end up with a mutiny on my hands.”

“But-” She raised her hand. Jinhua looked up, working to keep from grinning like a loon.

“Ladies.” Jinhua said, “Neither of you are necessary to this mission, so you do not have to worry about being transferred to the Banton.” All three of them sighed with relief.

“There's something else, Ma'am.”

Rebecca gave a light chuckle. “I hope it isn't as apocalyptic as wanting to run away from my ship, mister Dollaryde.”

“Well...” He looked at the girls, then encircled each with an arm. “We want to get married right now.”

“This minute?” Rebecca asked.

“Sorry ma'am. I think I was a bit...”

“Pushy?” She touched the stud to summon Oselli. “Glasses.” He moved, and she saw the tray. He brought them over, and poured. Rebecca had her glass filled, and raised it. “As soon as we're home, I will authorize the paperwork. But stop being so precipitous. But for now, to the happy... triad.”

What Next?

It was a busy three weeks. The pods were deployed with the additional layers of Mk23s closer in, then the Republican pods, the Hammers, and finally the Mk20s. At the same time Dollaryde sold out all of his assorted brews and Schnapps; the Double Dragon going over very well.

The intelligence and tactical officers of both Banton and Karttikeya came aboard to examine the Solarian LACs. They also received all of the information gleaned from Takegawa's library; Jinhua had found a gold mine of tactics the Sollies were already working on, along with the simulations where the Sollies were faced with the varying opponents.

Commitus would go on as an escort; while she could be fought, she was badly undermanned, and the Admiralty would be salivating over having her there to examine. Finally the last pinnace and cargo shuttle was aboard, and Witch Maiden moved into position for her transit. Rebecca sat watching as the cruiser made her transit, making Witch Maiden number one.

Jinhua entered the bridge, coming to stand beside her. “There are more reasons to return home than I had thought My brother is on life support back home. He has only months to live.” She announced.

“I am sorry to hear that, Jinhua.”

“If I hurry, I can see him before he passes on.” She sighed. “What about you?”

“Either they leave me in command of the ship and have me be a trash hauler, or they send us out to raid the Sollies.” Rebecca replied. “But if I have my way...”

“If you have your way?”

“I'll have a chance to find something else to blow up.”

The ship transited, and was gone.

End


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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