Chain of Command – Snippet 33

Chain of Command – Snippet 33

Chapter Seventeen

26 December 2133 (two days later) (fifth day in K’tok orbit)

The four holo-conference attendees seemed to float in space, each one surrounded by a small sphere of imagery–a cabin, a wardroom, a work station, an empty conference room–the spheres forming the four corners of a small square surrounded by dimensionless gray. Atwater-Jones was holo-conferencing from the unarmed command ship, USS Pensacola, but from a conference room somewhere other than its habitat wheel, so she was in zero gee. Her long red hair was tied back into a ponytail, but a very loose one, so her hair floated around her head in a soft cloud, as if she were under water. It was a little distracting. The three destroyer captains, of course, floated in zero gee as well–they had no other option.

Sam had balked at another holo-conference–he had too much to do as it was without another meeting to attend–but he found himself looking forward to seeing Cassandra Atwater-Jones again. He liked her sense of humor. After five minutes, though, he wasn’t laughing; he found himself staring at the image of the British officer in disbelief.

“They hit Bronstein’s World? But the BW’s neutral, isn’t it? They don’t even have a military, just a police force.”

“That is quite correct, Captain Bitka,” Atwater-Jones said. “However, the US Eleventh Fleet Headquarters is located on land leased from the planetary authorities, close by the needle down station and in the administrative capital. There are also several orbital facilities owned by the United States Navy, as well as one owned jointly by India and Brazil. All of the orbital installations were destroyed and the Eleventh Fleet ground facilities were attacked from orbit, with considerable loss of life both in the facility and the surrounding civilian community.”

Sam shook his head and for a moment thought about Filipenko–she hit her hard.

“Beyond that,” she went on, “the coalition task force assembling near the system gas giant was taken under attack as well and has suffered casualties similar to ours, both in scope and apparent cause.”

“What does that mean for us getting reinforcements?” Juanita Rivera on Champion Hill asked.

Rivera was the acting commander of the destroyer division, and Sam had spoken to her several times about readiness and repair progress. She hadn’t been able to tell him what the long-term plan was, because task force hadn’t told her yet. They’d both hoped this briefing might answer that question.

In sharp contrast to Atwater-Jones, Rivera’s raven-black hair was cut to a uniform length of five centimeters and in zero gee stuck out like a porcupine’s quills. She was big, with big hands and a strong, squared-off jaw. She looked as if she lifted weights normally, but the extended zero-gee was getting to her, rounding her face and body. She probably wasn’t getting as much exercise as she should, but she still looked as if she could kick down doors that got in her way. So far her command style was just about as subtle as that, which was fine with Sam. The time for subtlety had passed, in his opinion.

Atwater-Jones said nothing for a moment.

“Our two detached cruisers–Exeter and Aradu–are en route to join us, as are the three destroyers under Commander Bonaventure escorting USS Hornet. They will be here in three days.  The admiral has also ordered your four remaining destroyers to leave orbit around the gas giant Mogo and join us. But as to reinforcements from Earth …well, that’s off, at least for the immediate future.”

Mierda,” Rivera said. “Any more bad news?”

The British intelligence officer shifted uncomfortably–the first time Sam had seen any hint that anything might put her off balance.

“I am afraid so. It seems our initial assessment that we destroyed an uBakai cruiser in the battle was incorrect.”

Sam sat back in his chair.

“But I’ve seen the wreckage imagery,” he said. “We all have. Now you’re telling us we didn’t kill a single uBakai ship? How is that possible?”

The other two destroyer captains in the holo-conference made noises of agreement, and Atwater-Jones’s expression didn’t change as she listened. Her briefing had already made clear that the task force still had no idea how the uBakai had turned their jump drives on remotely. Now this.

“Yes, I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow,” she said. “Believe me, the cruiser captains were even more distressed. They had thought to have been responsible for the one uBakai ship destroyed. But careful study of the sensor records indicates that the single enemy craft lost was destroyed well before any ordnance was launched by any of our vessels.”

“You mean the uBakai blew up one of their own ships?” Rivera said. “Bullshit! They aren’t that loco.”

“Blew up their own ship? Not deliberately,” Atwater-Jones answered, ignoring the implied challenge. “It appears to have been an accident. They were able to arrive seemingly out of nowhere because that is in fact precisely what they did. You see, they exited jump space well within the plane of the ecliptic, under ten thousand kilometers from K’tok. Our sensor records clearly show the energy signature of a jump emergence at the point we first detected them.”

“And no one in the task force saw it coming?” Rivera said, her voice taking on more of an angry edge.

Sane people like us never do that sort of thing,” Atwater-Jones said quietly, “because the plane of the ecliptic is full of debris, dust, asteroids–widely spaced to be sure, but chance emergence in the same space as even a fairly modest-sized piece of rock can be catastrophic, as you all know very well. That appears to have been what happened: one of their ships exploded immediately upon exiting jump space.” She glanced briefly at Sam and raised one eyebrow.

“Sane people like us listen carefully to what our astrogators say, and follow all the rules, even after the rules cease making sense.”

“So their admirals are smarter than ours, is what you’re telling us,” Rivera said.

“I’d say they gambled and won,” Atwater-Jones replied.

“I’d say they just revolutionized interplanetary warfare,” Sam said. The others turned to look at him. “Think about it. All of our tactics are built around the assumption jump drives get us from star system to star system but Newton thrusters move us around in the system. It makes perfect sense in peacetime, but these in-system jumps are the way tactical surprise returns to the battlescape. Sure, there’s a risk, but there’s a hell of a payoff if it works.”

Sam did not add that in a single stroke the uBakai had also rendered the destroyer rider concept obsolete, or at least a great deal less useful. The others sat silently for several long seconds.

“So we didn’t even get a piece of them?” Captain Mike Wu of Petersburg, finally said. Wu looked as if he was well over the fleet mass limit for his height. He frowned and rubbed the top of his shaved head with his small but fat-fingered hand–or at least seemed to, but the hand moved back and forth several centimeters above his head, rubbing the top of his invisible helmet.

“I’ve looked through the data dump on the attack. There are heat spikes, additional debris, even some outgassing.”

“Yeah, how do you explain that?” Rivera demanded.

“Oh, they did not escape entirely unscathed. One of USS Theodore Roosevelt’s missiles certainly hit an uBakai cruiser. We cannot tell how serious the damage was–not enough to disable it–but a fire lance hit can cause quite a lot of mischief short of that. And Captain Rivera, you may find this particularly heartening. USS Shiloh, one of your destroyers, was effectively overrun by the uBakai squadron as it passed behind K’tok, and as you know was destroyed with considerable loss of life. But in recovering survivors we also recovered its intact bridge data log.

“The late Captain Rothstein of Shiloh fired six missiles at the oncoming uBakai, and although they caused no hits their close-in detonation provided her with an interference barrier against the uBakai sensors. That kept them from hitting her boat until they were quite close. Rothstein redirected her point defense lasers to engage ship-sized targets instead of missiles, and appears to have done considerable damage to several of the four remaining uBakai cruisers.”

“Someone better put Miriam in for a decoration,” Rivera said. “It’s not much, but it might mean something to her husband and kids.”

“I quite agree,” Atwater-Jones replied.

Sam cleared this throat.

“I’ve got one more question. Why is this war so important?”

Atwater-Jones shifted in her chair and gave him a look partly quizzical, partly mocking.

“Important? I thought the admiral’s address made that clear. The salient point is the bio-compatibility of–”

“No,” Sam said, cutting her off. “I understand why it’s important to us. But we didn’t start the war, they did. And now they’ve escalated it by hitting Bronstein’s World. K’tok is just one of more than a dozen Varoki colony worlds, and some of them are Varoki bio-compatible. So why is this one so important to them?”

“Well …” Atwater-Jones began but then stopped. She frowned for a moment and looked away, perhaps to gather her thoughts, and then her face cleared.


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23 Responses to Chain of Command – Snippet 33

  1. Randomiser says:

    An unarmed command ship!!!?!

    • Dave Lachlan says:

      Yeah… that struck me as a bit “unusual”.. it could be a Diplomatic vessel that is deliberately unarmed that can thus go places at times of tension that an armed vessel cannot. Such a vessel is likely to have very good comms and habitability. Making it attractive for C3I, but vulnerable.. It also means that Atwater-Jones story survival chances have just gone up as the USS Pensacola survival will not challenge Sam’s ship’s importance.. The other ship captains might as well put on the red sweaters… ;)

  2. Randomiser says:

    What do you reckon the uBakai battle plan should be? Destroy the task force in detail? Or, given the weapons superiority, allow them to consolidate in order to provide a target that makes the risk of an in-system jump worthwhile?

    Would be nice to see what the uBakai admiral thinks of his attack.

    • Dave Lachlan says:

      Ship exchange rate so far has been in the uBakai favour – I think that they will let the humans consolidate and then if possible do a in system jump strike as the human jump capable ships fall back from K’tok.

      • Ron Raasch says:

        Agreed, a quick and dirty unconventional thing to do short term would be to add more navigational hazards to make a tactical jumps more costly. Normal space is still Newtonian and they didn’t jump in and then immediately back out so there are limits to what they can do. jury rig mines that disperse garbage that detonate based on jump sign on approach vectors to the fleet.

        • Robert Krawitz says:

          The amount of schtuff in the asteroid belt (in the ecliptic) just isn’t that great. We’ve had plenty of spacecraft fly through it without damage. Unless the asteroid belt in the K’Tok system is much, much denser than ours, the uBakai were very unlucky indeed to have even one ship blow up.

          • John Cowan says:

            That’s not comparable. A submm grain of nickel-iron will bounce off a hull with no problem. Having one materialize inside some critical weapons or propulsion system is a whole different story.

            • Dave Lachlan says:

              Especially as the bit of material is likely in motion in a direction other than the ship…

              • Robert Krawitz says:

                Well, our real world spacecraft travel through the asteroid belt with trajectories quite different from the asteroids. Per, if the asteroids were actually in a plane (which there aren’t), there would be one 1m asteroid on average in an area the size of Rhode Island, and they follow a power law distribution such that there would be about 1 million asteroids of size 1mm in that same area.

                And they’re actually not in a plane; they’re scattered through a depth of about 1AU (they’re not all very close to the ecliptic).

                Unless something on the order of 1 um or less would cause a problem, it still looks like the uBakai would have to have been very unlucky to have one of their ships blow up. You’d think the astrogators would know that.

                Of course, this *is* SF after all…

  3. Daryl Saal says:

    Taylor Anderson’s Destroyerman series is very different in location and technology, but somewhat similar otherwise. Based on Mid WW2 technology in an alternate universe the US navy destroyer remnants in desperation sorted out why their torpedoes were ineffective.

    • Randomiser says:

      Oh yes, I think we can guarantee there is going to be a fix for the destroyer’s missiles, probably found on Puebla, since we are not seeing ‘inside’any other boat, but not by Bitka, unless things are going to get really ridiculous.

  4. Ron Raasch says:

    I am as interested to determine what make this the all in moment for the ubakai as Bitka. There got to be a more tangible reason than whats been discussed in the varoki sections thus far.

    • Mike says:

      Why do you say “there’s got to be” more? Plenty of historical events have been kicked off for more tenuous reasons than we’ve been shown here.

    • Richard H says:

      What do you want to bet that the Earthers have been trying to reverse-engineer a jump drive despite patent restrictions and self-destruct failsafes?

      We know there are factions on the other side beyond the uBakai. Would one of them have given support to someone trying to break the jump drive monopoly for ideological reasons?

  5. hank says:

    Problem with comparative loss rates-what are the sizes of the pre-war fleets?
    I mean, who can afford to lose more? And, assuming a long war, who has the higher building/training rates and/or reserves?
    Inquiring minds want to know!

    • Anonymouse says:

      Inquiring minds may have to wait.

      We are getting this all from Sam’s perspective. And his immediate concern is short term, ship tactics, not long term, fleet level, logistics.

      If we get any of that information, it will be from the Red Duchess or the dwindling supply of higher level officers.

      • Randomiser says:

        Well the Varoki make all the jump drives which kind of handicaps the humans, in the medium/long term.

        • Mike says:

          As I pointed out before, the Varoki retained their monopoly because of their extremely restrictive patent laws. There was a strong economic disincentive to reverse-engineer the drives.

          However, this war was a terrible idea. Now the humans have a very strong non-economic incentive to reverse-engineer the drives. ALSO, exactly how are the Varoki going to expect to enforce their patent laws against a species they are at war against? (Yes, I know not all Varoki are participating in the war, but if you are a human right now, aren’t you just going to say “F-you” to any Varoki who comes in and tries to claim their patent rights at the moment?

          • Dave Lachlan says:

            The war factions goal might to be to start a war that will end the humans threat for good.. it may not be genocide but a military solution to patent violations (actual, projected or imagined).

          • Randomiser says:

            Mike , maybe not if they are willing to sell me military grade jump drives …

            It also depends how much my economy depends on trade with the rest of the Cottohaz. So far this is just a ‘foreign war’, I’m not sure how much the humans will be willing to throw their trade relationships with every other sentient species into the toilet to win it, at this stage.

  6. Robert Westfall says:

    This new information just made IFF easy and fast. No friendly is going to jump close to the fleet. Now the question is can a jump flare be used to locate the ubakai for targeting? If so it could really improve the odds. If the ships of the fleet are loaded and ready to shoot, they might get the ubakai first. I am guessing that there must be some uncertainty when you exit the jump as to your exact location. Orienting and acquiring the targets has to take time.

    Also it looks like the enemy took more damage than they expected.

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