Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 36

Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 36

Chapter Ten

“Well, Hosea, I hope you’ve completed your homework assignment,” Naomi Kaplan said dryly as HMS Tristram bored through hyper-space, twelve hours after leaving Montana orbit. “I’d like to sound like I’ve got some clue what I’m talking about for the Commodore’s conference.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m happy about the amount of detail I’ve managed to turn up, Skipper,” Lieutenant Hosea Simpkins, Tristram’s astrogator replied with a wry smile. “I’ve pulled everything I could find out of the files, but Tester knows it isn’t much.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised.” Commander Kaplan shrugged and leaned back in her chair at the head of the briefing room’s conference table. “Go ahead and give us what you’ve got, though.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Kaplan’s Grayson-born astrogator didn’t bother to consult his notes. “Technically, Saltash’s an independent star system. Actually, it’s been an OFS client for about sixty T-years. The single habitable planet is called Cinnamon. Orbital radius is about nine light-minutes, population’s just under two-point-five billion. Planetary diameter’s only point-nine-six Old Earth, but gravity’s almost a full standard gravity, so it’s obviously a little denser than most. Hydrosphere is right on seventy-three percent, and its axial inclination’s only nine degrees, so it sounds like a fairly nice place to live.

“Unfortunately, the local political structure was a real mess sixty or seventy T-years back. The Republic of McPhee and the Republic of Lochore both claimed to be the sole legitimate system government, and they’d fought two or three wars without settling things. They were headed towards another war, and all indications were it was going to be a really ugly affair this time around, when the president of MacPhee called in Frontier Security to play referee.”

“Where have we heard this story before?” Lieutenant Commander Alvin Tallman muttered with a scowling expression.

“I hate to say it, Sir,” Simpkins told Tristram’s executive officer, “but in this case OFS really did end up doing one of the things it was ostensibly created to do. I’m not saying it did it out of the goodness of its heart, you understand, but if the League hadn’t intervened, McPhee and Lochore were probably getting ready to pretty well sterilize Cinnamon. That’s how bitter the situation had gotten.”

“Any idea why things were that bad, Hosea?” Kaplan asked, her eyes intent, and Simpkins shrugged.

“Not really, Ma’am. Given the intensity of the last war they actually fought, these people were as unreasonable as we Graysons were before we exiled the Faithful to Masada, but it doesn’t seem like religion was behind the antagonism in Saltash’s case. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that the two sides had obviously hated each other for a long time, and it looks like they’d simply reached the point of being so pissed off, if you’ll pardon my language, that they were ready to pull the trigger even knowing there was a pretty good chance they’d wreck the entire planet.”

“Well, that sounds promising as hell,” Lieutenant Vincenzo Fonzarelli sighed.

“It might not be that bad, Vincenzo,” Abigail Hearns said, smiling slightly at Tristram’s chief engineer. Fonzarelli looked back at her skeptically, and she shrugged. “We’re not really here to deal with the Saltashans directly, so it doesn’t matter if they’re as crazy as the Faithful…or even Graysons.” Her smile turned dimpled. “All we have to worry about is the OFS presence in the system.”

“That’s a reassuring thought,” Lieutenant Wanda O’Reilly observed waspishly. The communications officer’s resentment of Abigail’s promotion and (in her opinion) privileged status had abated — slightly — but it still rankled, and no one was ever going to accuse O’Reilly of giving up a sense of antagonism easily.

“I could wish we weren’t here to confront the Sollies, too, Wanda,” Kaplan said mildly. “Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be making the trip if there weren’t Sollies at the other end of it, now would we?”

“No, Ma’am,” O’Reilly acknowledged.

“So how much system infrastructure is there, Hosea?” Kaplan asked, turning her attention back to the astrogator.

“Not much, actually.” This time the Grayson did look down at his notes. “There’s some mining in the Casper Belt between Saltash Delta and Himalaya, the system’s only gas giant, although the total belter population — work force and dependents, combined — is way under a half million. And there’s a gas extraction plant orbiting Himalaya itself. There doesn’t seem to be much local heavy industry, though, and the system’s only real cargo transfer platform is Shona Station. Which also happens to be Cinnamon’s only significant orbital habitat.”

“How big a population does it have, Hosea?” Abigail asked with a frown, and Simpkins checked his notes again.

“Almost a quarter million,” he said, and Abigail’s frown deepened.

“Something bothering you, Abigail?” Kaplan inquired, and Abigail gave herself a slight shake.

“Only that that’s a lot of civilians to be potentially getting in harm’s way, Ma’am,” she said. “I was just thinking about how ugly things almost got in Monica.”

Kaplan gazed at her for a moment, then nodded.

“I see your point. Hopefully nobody’s going to be stupid enough for us to have to start throwing missiles around this time, though.”

“Hopefully, Ma’am,” Abigail agreed, and Kaplan turned back to Simpkins.

“Should I take it there’s no indication that this Shona Station’s armed?”

“Not according to anything in the files, Ma’am.”

“Then given the Sollies’ well demonstrated ability to screw things up by the numbers, I suppose we’d better hope the files are accurate in this case,” Kaplan said dryly.

A flicker of laughter ran around the conference table, and Tallman cocked his head at his commanding officer.

“Do we actually know whether this Dueñas character is likely to be reasonable or not when we turn up, Skipper?”

“That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?” Kaplan’s smile was thinner than ever. “And the answer, I’m afraid, is that we don’t have a clue. Our bio data on him is even thinner than Hosea’s info on the star system. Officially, he’s not the system’s governor — legally it’s only a ‘courtesy title,’ it says here — ” she tapped her copy of the squadron’s orders from Michelle Henke and rolled her eyes, “but from what Hosea’s said, when he says ‘jump’ the only question anyone in Saltash asks is ‘how high.'”

“That’s about right, from everything I’ve been able to find, Ma’am,” Simpkins put in. She cocked an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged. “Under the terms of the Frontier Security ‘peacekeeping agreement,’ OFS was assigned responsibility for managing the system’s local and interstellar traffic. Just to make sure no one was sneaking any warships into position for attacks, you understand. Of course, it was necessary for Frontier Security to levy a slight service fee for looking after Saltash’s security that way.”

“How big a service fee?”

“Try thirty-five percent…of the gross, Ma’am,” Simpkins replied grimly, and Kaplan’s lips pursed in a silent whistle. That was steep, even for OFS.

“Do you know if that level was part of the original agreement?” she asked. “Or did Dueñas and his predecessors crank it up to give them a better level of graft after they were in place?”

“That I couldn’t tell you, Ma’am. Sorry.”

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27 Responses to Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 36

  1. John Roth says:

    The plot thickens. Since everyone knows that Saltash is a de-facto OFS protectorate, and given Lacoon 1, what are Manticore-flagged freighters doing around Saltash anyway?

    • Map-addict says:

      Maybe the Manticore-flagged freighters were caught before the recall order?
      Maybe they were caught in a panic-response to the recall order?
      I’ve been expecting to see some problems with that recall.

      Map-addict

      • Drak Bibliophile says:

        The Star Kingdom *may* have decided that Lacoon I didn’t apply to trade with systems like the Saltash system.

        • Greg Noel says:

          Hmmm… Your snerk collar didn’t cut your head off (and this would be a noticeable spoiler), so either you really don’t know and are speculating, or you’re, ah, misdirecting us (a more polite way of saying “deliberately lying”).

          Since it’s OFS rather that actual Solarian League, leaving the back door open this way to systems that aren’t fully subdued might be a political choice, so I suppose it’s possible. However, a back door is still a door, and the OFS is not a trivial force. If Manticore is allowing this, I’d expect that the Tenth Fleet would have been given a LOT more in the way long-range reconnaissance assets than they’ve shown so far.

          Hmmm… On the other hand, freighters operating outside the back door may be doing exactly that reconnaissance, whether formally or informally… Hmmm…

          • Drak Bibliophile says:

            Or people are off chasing the wild goose.

            • Greg Noel says:

              Yeah, I thought about what else might be a higher priority for reconnaissance, including untamed canards, and I came up pretty dry. Nothing stands out compared to the known (and very real) possibility of an attack across open space from a near-by system. Laocoön II closed off areas controlled by warp points, so they wouldn’t need much there (and should use heavier units: patrols, not reconnaissance), and, as far as I can recall, other border areas don’t touch directly on OFS-controlled areas, so even if reconnaissance assets are being siphoned off for unnamed tasks, I would still expect a LOT more to be in the Talbot cluster. Even if you assume Haven would be absorbing a lot (the end of the war hasn’t caught up with them yet), the intelligence boffins in Tenth Fleet should at least be wondering why they don’t have very much.

    • Greg Noel says:

      I can think of several scenarios:

      1. Communication is slow, and the Sollys aren’t likely to relay a message, so the freighter hadn’t received word. This is likely if the freighter had been trading in Solly space for some time. A variant is that the Sollys just didn’t process the message expeditiously, so it was delayed.

      2. In conjunction with the first possibility, the freighter had received word (possibly delayed), but broke down on its way home. They were hoping to get repaired before word of the conflict reached Saltash.

      3. The freighter is a smuggler flying a false flag, and picked the wrong cover identity since it didn’t know of the recall.

      4. The freighter isn’t Manticorian-owned, but is registered there (viz., a flag of convenience). Those ships may not have been notified. Even worse, it could be Solly-owned, but registered in Manticore. That would be a legal minefield of conflicting jurisdictions.

      5. The freighter is a fake, part of some convoluted Mesa plan to restore the confidence of the Solly forces by having them be victorious over a Manty force. (In this case, the too-prompt arrival of the task force might spoil the timing. On the other hand, Abigail’s presence suggests there’s going to be a fight; there’s no story reason for her to be there if she’s not going to be at risk.)

      6. Similar to the previous one, except that it’s the debut of the secret Mesa ships (or some of them). There’s nothing like actual combat against a real opponent to find out which of your bright ideas don’t work.

      7. The freighter has left by the time the task force arrives. (I have no idea what kind of bribe would have been needed to cause the release.) Saltash decides that if it worked for a freighter, a bunch of old tin cans should work even better.

      8. The freighter ignored the recall.

      And I’m sure that the actual answer is something I never considered. I’m waiting with interest to see what happens.

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Remember, we got that vignette early on in Lacoon about the freighter who just had to fulfill their contract or they would lose their ship. The Manti captain managing Lacoon let them go with an admonition not to get into trouble. Tolstoy’s gun may just have come down from the mantle.

      • Greg Noel says:

        There were some calculations that indicated that the particular ship in the vignette couldn’t have made it to Saltash in any reasonable time frame. However, if there’s one freighter that was let off, it’s probable that there were more, so Tolstoy’s gun may just be a virtual one.

        • OK, I’m confused by the reference to “Tolstoy’s gun.” I know about the literary dictum (near dogma) of “Chekov’s gun,” but the reference to Tolstoy escapes me. Can someone throw me a rope here?

          • Greg Noel says:

            Oops, you’re right, you shot me down; it’s Chekhov’s gun. I saw “Russian writer” and assumed he was correct, even though I knew Tolstoy was a novelist; it’s Chekhov that’s the playwright and would be concerned about foreshadowing on stage.

            • OK, thanks, Greg. Wasn’t trying to catch anyone out–I thought it might be Barfly terminology, or maybe a reference to something in Eric’s body of work–and not familiar enough with either to be sure that it wasn’t.

              Having said that, the scenario coalescing here, both in the snippet and in the comments, strikes me as being much of a muchness: there’s been a very great effort expended in developing the potential for more shooting incidents, almost too many of them. Remember Butler’s corollary to Chekov’s gun–“If one shows a loaded gun on stage in the first act of a play, it should be fired in a later act; otherwise, the gun should not be shown in the first place–provided there is no otherwise reasonable purpose for the gun being there.” One expects to find a firearm in a policeman’s house, or in a hunter’s home, or possibly a retired military officer. In such circumstances they would be remarkable for their absence rather than their presence, and their presence then does not demand their use.

              My point–and I do have one–is that sending an entire DD flotilla to recover a single freighter (especially when Manty DDs are damned near the size of Solly CLs) approaches, in my thinking, overkill or something like it. And the risk is unacceptable: any reasonable plan intended to achieve Lacoon’s objectives would allow for the fact that not every merchie would get the word in time. (Back when I wore green it was a given that there was ALWAYS some dumb SOB who didn’t get “the word.”) Or that not everyone who got the word would take it to heart. And half-dozen DDs aren’t exactly expendable under the circumstances, especially for the sake of a single prodigal merchie. There’s something deeper going on here, and by that I mean more than just rescuing a stray merchie, and more than just stumbling on some half-baked rebellion. The key here, I believe, is in the presence of one particular character–Abigail Hearns. I don’t know if anyone else has articulated this idea, but I see her rapidly developing into the new Honor Harrington in the series, and the Mad Wizard isn’t about to waste a character that critical, that he has spent so much time developing, on a sideshow. Nor does he blow away a character that well-developed while they are still significant players in the story. E.g.–both Alistair McKeone and so did Javier Giscard bought it after they had been reduced to tertiary level characters in WoH and AAC–McKeone especially had become something of an afterthought once he succeeded in helping Harrington get back to Manty space. Weber has a soft spot for his Graysons, and he doesn’t off them casually or easily, so he won’t do that with Abigail. He will, however, put her where the fire is hot and getting hotter. So I say follow Lt. Hearns and before long you’ll find what’s really going down out on the Verge….

              (The usual disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the management, but they ought to be!)

              • John Roth says:

                Sending a squadron rather than a single ship on a “diplomatic” mission into hostile territory where there’s a good possibility that it’s a trap or the basis for an engineered “incident” seems to be SOP. Remember that they sent four destroyers to New Tuscany.

              • ET1swaw aka Rob says:

                He does sseem to have sympathy for his Graysons, but he sure enough wasted a good number of them (named characters with a following yet) during Oyster Bay (both in the Yawata Strike that wiped a good percentage of Honor;s relatives and in the Grayson system).

                /Rob

  2. Richard H says:

    … and we’re officially out of the sample chapters. I have to admit I kind of wish they’d provided one more chapter. I was left feeling like absolutely nothing happened (just setup, really) in the first 9 chapters of the book.

    As for what they’ll find… yeah, not even going to guess.

  3. Randall says:

    So since no one liked my idea for turning the captured solarian dreadnoughts into drones, what about stripping out most of their offensive weaponry, and converting them into assault troop transports? Even as slow as they are their probably still at least as fast as most military transports, much less civilian, and would be much safer in a hostile environment.

    • John Roth says:

      That’s been discussed to death in the forums, and the consensus is that all they’re good for is scrap, target practice or sale to some third-rate power that wants an SD for prestige or to overawe an equally backward neighbor. It isn’t so much that they’re simply death traps against when matched against Haven sector ships, it’s that they’re extremely manpower intensive compared to modern Manticore or Grayson designs, and refitting them for any other mission would be a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

      As far a speed goes, they’ve got the same .6 c velocity limit as everything else; they’d just need a bit longer to get up to that. It’s not that important over a long voyage.

      Assault troops. What assault troops? We know that Manticore is strapped for Army and Marine manpower with Silesia and that the Talbott Sector is just starting to build up its own ground forces. Haven probably has some, but Haven has its own transports.

      • Mark L says:

        Maybe they could sell them to Monica. I understand they have some shortages in their navy. And it is not as if they would be tempted to use them against the Star Empire of Manticore. Not when they know how the Sollie SDs were acquired.

  4. Scott says:

    I’m surprised that Haven light units aren’t being seconded to Manti fleets to assist in screening. By now, everyone with brains should be aware that attacking Manti units is a quick way to an ugly end. So it would be logical to switch to the raid as a method to counter Manti superiority. They can’t defend everywhere, so swamp them with raids.

    • John Roth says:

      This happens before the peace conference. Besides, IIRC for some reason Haven doesn’t have a lot of light units.

      As far as commerce raiders goes, the Sollys are going to do that, but we’re still early – before Filaretta got swatted and the Mesan mole convinced them to go to a commerce raiding strategy.

  5. Scott says:

    Thanks John, I’d forgotten the timeline.

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