“So what do you make of the Manties’s latest little trick?” Albrecht Detweiler asked sourly.
He, Benjamin, and Daniel reclined on chaise lounges under the baking sun while turquoise waves and creamy surf piled on the eye-wateringly white beach, and despite the restfulness of their surroundings, his expression was as sour as his tone.

“You know, Father,” Benjamin replied a bit obliquely with a slight smile, “you’re a hard man to please, sometimes. We’ve got the Manties and the Havenites shooting at each other again. Wasn’t that what you wanted?”
“I may be a hard man to please sometimes,” Albrecht retorted, “but you’re a disrespectful young whelp, sometimes, aren’t you?”
“Isn’t that one of my functions?” Benjamin’s smile grew a bit broader. “You know, the lowly slave riding in the back of the chariot reminding Caesar he’s only mortal while the crowd cheers.”
“I wonder how many of those slaves actually survived the experience?” Albrecht wondered aloud.
“Odd how the history chips don’t offer much information on that particular aspect of things,” Benjamin agreed. Then his smile faded. “Seriously, though, Father, at this distance and this remove from Lovat it’s hard to form any significant or meaningful opinion of what they’ve done this time.”
Albrecht grunted in semi-irate acknowledgment of Benjamin’s point. Even with streak-drive dispatch boats, there was a limit to how quickly information could get around. And to be honest, they were overusing the Beowulf conduit, as far as he was concerned. He knew there was nothing to distinguish a streak-drive equipped vessel from any other dispatch boat as far as any external examination was concerned, but he didn’t like sending them back and forth between Mesa and Manticore any more frequently than he had to. Beowulf had closed its terminus of the Manticore Wormhole Junction to all Mesan traffic from the day of its discovery, with Manticore’s complete support and approval. None of the dispatch boats of the Beowulf conduit were Mesan-registered, of course, but there was always the unhappy possibility that Beowulfan or Manticoran intelligence might manage to penetrate that particular deception. It was unlikely in the extreme, but the Alignment had developed a wary respect for both Beowulf’s and Manticore’s analysts over the decades.
But there’s not really any choice, he told himself. It’s only sixty light-years from Beowulf to Mesa via the Visigoth Wormhole. That’s only five days for a streak boat. We can’t possibly justify not using that advantage at a time like this, so I guess I’ll just have to hope the wheels don’t come off.
If he’d been the sort of man who believed in God, Albrecht Detweiler would have spent a few moments in fervent prayer that the wheels in question would remain firmly attached to the vehicle. Since he wasn’t that sort of man, he only shook his head.
“One thing we do know is that Harrington just shot the shit out of another Havenite ambush attempt, though,” he pointed out.
“Yes, we do,” Benjamin agreed. “But we don’t have any hard and fast numbers on the two sides’ force levels, either. We think she was significantly outnumbered, but it’s not exactly like the Manties’ press releases are going to give out detailed strength reports on Eighth Fleet, now is it? And despite Collin’s and Bardasano’s best efforts, we still haven’t been able to get anyone far enough inside the Manties’ navy to give us that kind of information.”
“That’s all true enough, Ben,” Daniel said. “On the other hand, there are a few straws in the wind. For example, it sounds like they’ve managed to improve the accuracy of their MDMs by a hell of a lot. And I’m inclined to think — mind you, I haven’t had a chance yet for any sort of rigorous analysis of what information we do have — that the Havenites’ missile defenses’ effectiveness must’ve been reduced rather significantly, as well. Unless Harrington was reinforced a lot more powerfully than any of our admittedly limited sources have suggested, then the Manties’ announced kills represent an awfully high ratio for the number of hulls they could have committed to the operation.”
“I’d have to agree with that,” Benjamin conceded. “Do you or your people have any idea about just how they might have accomplished that, though?”
Just as Everett Detweiler was the ultimate director of all of the Alignment’s biosciences research and development, Daniel was the director of non-bioscience R&D, which meant he and Benjamin normally worked very closely together.
“I can only speculate,” Daniel replied, looking at his brother, and Benjamin nodded in acknowledgment of the caveat. “Having said that, however,” Daniel continued, “I’d have to say this sounds an awful lot like it’s another example of their damned FTL capability.”
He grimaced sourly. He felt fairly confident that his research people had finally figured out essentially what Manticore was doing, but duplicating the ability to create grav-pulses along the hyper-space alpha wall in anything but the crudest possible fashion wasn’t a particularly simple proposition. It was going to take a lot of basic research to figure out how they were doing it, and even longer to duplicate their hardware, given that the Alignment, unlike the Republic of Haven, hadn’t been able to lay its hands on any working examples of the technology.
And even the frigging Havenites can’t begin to do it as well as the Manties can . . . yet, at least, he reminded himself once again.
“If I’m right about what they’re doing, it’s the next logical extension of what they’ve already accomplished, in a lot of ways,” he said out loud. “We know they’ve got FTL-capable reconnaissance drones, so theoretically there isn’t any reason they couldn’t eventually cram the same capability into something the size of an MDM.”
“Come on, Daniel!” Benjamin protested. “There’s a hell of a size difference between a reconnaissance drone and even one of their big-assed missiles! And most missiles I know anything about are already crammed just about as full as they can be with other absolutely essential bits. Where would they put the damned thing?”
“I did say it was theoretically possible,” Daniel pointed out mildly. “We couldn’t do it, I’m pretty sure, even if we were certain how they were managing it in the first place. Not yet. But that’s the significant point here, Ben — not yet. They’ve been using this thing for over twenty T-years, and they thought it up, in the first place. That means they know how to do it better than anyone else does, and it’s obvious from the hardware they’ve deployed that they’ve been progressively downsizing the volume and mass constraints — and upsizing bandwidth — steadily. If I had to guess, I’d say that what they’ve probably done is to somehow squeeze an FTL receiver into a standard MDM. If they were to deploy one of their drones close enough to the target — and we know their stealth systems are probably as good as our own, if not better — then they’d have an effective FTL command and control loop. That would probably help to explain not only the increased accuracy, but also the apparent decrease in the effectiveness of the Havenites’ defenses, as well. It would let the Manties manage their attack profiles and penetration EW on something a lot closer to a real-time basis than anyone has been able to manage since they started pushing missile ranges up in the first place.”
“Does that sound reasonable to you, Ben?” Albrecht asked after a long, thoughtful moment, and Benjamin nodded. It was evident from his expression that he didn’t much care for his brother’s hypothesis, but he nodded.
“If Dan is right, though, then this constitutes a major — another major — shift in the balance of military capabilities, Father,” he said. “Unless my staff’s analysis of the two sides’ overall relative ship strengths is way off, I don’t think there’s any way Haven is going to have enough of a numerical advantage to take Manticore out. Not if the Manties are able to get this thing into general deployment, at any rate. And once they do have it into general deployment, and their new construction programs start delivering, they’re going to make what White Haven did to the Havenites in the last war look like a squabble at a kids’ picnic.”
“And even if Haven somehow manages to survive, it’s only going to mean both of them are going to develop this capability — or at least it’s rough equivalent,” Albrecht observed sourly.
“I’d say that follows logically, Father,” Daniel agreed. “Haven comes closest to matching the Manties’ capabilities already. Their education system sucks, but they’re fixing that. In fact, let’s be fair, the main thing that was wrong with it to begin with wasn’t that they didn’t have at least a core cadre of competent teachers and scientists. It was that the Legislaturalists had managed to hobble the general system with so much political indoctrination and water it down with so much ‘feel-good’ insistence on passing students regardless of their actual academic achievements, that the ratio of competent researchers to useless drones was so far lower than Manticore’s. Research priorities tended to be assigned on the basis of who the researchers’ patrons were, rather than any impartial analysis of potential benefits, too. And the fact that they’d made so little investment in basic infrastructure improvement meant even the competent researchers they had didn’t have the resources or the sophisticated industrial platform Manticore, had, either, regardless of who their patrons might’ve been. But they always had a bigger talent pool than most people would have thought looking at what they managed to accomplish, and whoever’s running their R&D now is obviously making the best possible use of the pool they have.
“Not only that, but they’re the only ones who really have access to firsthand sensor readouts and observational data, not to mention captured hardware to examine. And let’s not forget the old saying about the man about to be hanged. They have a considerably more pressing motivation to figure out what the Manties are up to, or at least how to counter whatever they’re up to, even than we do. So either they’re going to figure out how to do this — or something like it — on their own, or else they’re going to get plowed under, like Ben says. And if Manticore doesn’t completely disarm them, then they’re going to do exactly what they did after the last war and go away and think about it until they have figured out how to do it. We’d probably have at least a few more years before they managed that, under that scenario, but that would be about it.”
“Don’t you think the Manties would insist on their complete disarmament this time, given what happened last time?” Albrecht asked.
“I think I would, in their place,” Benjamin said before Daniel could answer. “On the other hand, let’s say they do make that demand. Do you really think even Manticore could ultimately keep Haven from managing a secret rearmament program somewhere? I’m not talking about the short term. But as time passed, I’m sure someone who’s already figured out how to build a completely secret shipyard complex and R&D center once could figure out how to do it again. It would still be the best-case scenario from our perspective, though, since I don’t think it’s very likely Haven could manage to pull it off before we were ready. And I imagine Manticore would probably accept at least a modest build-down in its own active wallers once it had disarmed Haven.”
“Against which, they’d have the countervailing pressure to maintain fleet strength if this expansion of theirs into Talbott and Silesia prospers,” Albrecht observed.
“Probably.” Benjamin shrugged. “The problem is that all we can do at this point is speculate, and we don’t have enough information — or enough penetration, especially of the Manties, to get enough information — to base any sort of solid projections on.”
“Assume Daniel’s hypothesis is accurate,” Albrecht said. “On that basis, does this represent a significant threat to Oyster Bay?”
“No,” Benjamin said promptly. “It’s not range or fire control that could hurt us where Oyster Bay itself is concerned, Father, and there’s absolutely no evidence that anyone else anywhere, even the Manties, has remotely considered the possibility of the spider. If they don’t know about it, then the odds of their ever even seeing Oyster Bay, are virtually nil. If they do find out about the spider, though, and if they have time to develop some sort of countermeasure, then this could be a major problem for us in any period of sustained warfare.”
“So our real best-case scenario would be to see the Manties finished off before they get it into general deployment,” Albrecht mused.
“Yes, it would,” Benjamin agreed, looking at him a bit warily.
“Could you expedite Oyster Bay?”
“Not significantly, Father.” Benjamin shook his head with the expression of a man who’d heard pretty much what he’d been afraid he was going to hear. “The spider is an entirely new technology. Daniel and I think we’ve gotten all of the bugs out of it, but like I told you before, we’re still prototyping. Technically, I suppose, the Sharks are warships, but their primary function’s always been to serve as testbeds and training vessels, not strike units. I don’t see any way we could produce enough of the new hardware to carry out Oyster Bay much sooner than we’ve already been projecting.”
“I see.” Albrecht’s expression was enough like Benjamin’s to make it obvious he’d expected that response, and it was his turn to shrug. “In that case, I think this whole Lovat business gives rather more point to the desirability of remounting the Monica operation, covered by an appropriately new lambskin, as soon as we can, doesn’t it?”

About Eric Flint

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24 Responses to STORM FROM THE SHADOWS — snippet 73

  1. MadMcAl says:

    And that shots all speculation about Gervais Archer.
    “And despite Collin’s and Bardasano’s best efforts, we still haven’t been able to get anyone far enough inside the Manties’ navy to give us that kind of information.”

    Well, Gervais Archer is far eneough inside the RMN. He knows nearly everything one of the RMN-designated fleet commanders knows.

  2. MadMcAl says:

    And that shots all speculation about Gervais Archer.
    “And despite Collin’s and Bardasano’s best efforts, we still haven’t been able to get anyone far enough inside the Manties’ navy to give us that kind of information.”

    Well, Gervais Archer is far eneough inside the RMN. He knows nearly everything one of the RMN-designated fleet commanders knows.

  3. Mike says:

    OK, so now he’s playing the guessing game on us. “Oyster Bay”? “The Spider”? “Streak Drive”? And the “Sharks” must be something like the White Star fleet was in Babylon 5 — a combination of a prototype and a recon/strike force but more of a tactical weapon than a strategic weapon.

    I would guess that “the spider” must be the nervous system nano control technique, and Oyster Bay would be an operation designed to put it into use for more than just the random assasinations here or there.

  4. Johnak says:

    Just a thought: What if (and this is just wild speculation) they somehow can manage to use the gas with nanites used to control more than just a one person. Lets say they have taran ships, that can attach themselves to the hull of a warship and put the nervous gas inside. The entire crew can get infected and the warship would suddendly fight on your side. But that probably wouldn’t work, because all parts of a ship can be hermeticaly sealed… Sabotage would be a better approach. Someone working in the enviromental center can slowny distribute the gas into every part of the ship slowly, and the nanites would kick in only in the battle.

  5. Stephen says:

    Hmh, I wonder what would happen if they ever got the stuff into Honor? Would Nimitz pick it up? Would it work on Honor, with her genie biology and empathic abilities?

  6. Mike says:

    I know, I’m falling into the trap here of discussing imaginary technology as though it were real, but….

    The nanite thing is just silly, actually. I can envision something like that that kills the victim, or that disables the victim. But to actually take over the nervous system and make the victim do specific acts? And to be triggered by external environmental conditions like “being alone, flying in my aircar in a particular canyon” or “packing a suitcase full of a binary weapos system and then releasing it when close enough to a particular person in a particular room on a particular day”? Even if the nanites could manage to take over the nervous system so seamlessly, I don’t see how they could possibly be preprogramed the way they have been described to be.

    And even if all that were possible, each batch would have to be individually preprogrammed for each individual action you wanted them to take. Having the warship “suddenly fight on your side” would involve the nanites thinking for themselves and operating every puppet individually (the tac officer fires the missiles, the missile crew loads the missiles, the astrogator plots the ships course, the helmsman flies the ship, etc., etc.).

  7. Tim says:

    Three entities who potentially could reverse engineer nannites have access to Mesan-tampered cadavers, Haven, Manticore and the Terrans. An engineered nucleic acid could hold more than enough data, but if it were ever sequenced, it would be revealed as synthetic, even with 21st century tech. If anything was saved from the assassin on Torch, someone there might also inconvenience the vile Mesans.

  8. MadMcAl says:

    The Nanites don’t reprogram the victim. They take over physical controll. No access to knowledge, higher functions and such. Only relative small easy and purly physical tasks.

    That at least was what DW wrote about it.
    The “Streak Drive” sounds like a new FTL-drive system. “Oyster Bay” is as far as I understand what to “The Spider” what the Manhattan Project was to nuclear weaponry, so it is one.
    The Sharks are not something like the White-Star-fleet. Rather something like the Omega-X-destroyers (the EA-Shadow-hybrid ships that are taken out by the White-Star-fleet), a relative small group of test platforms wich are considered for real use.

    Now speculating, it sounds as if “The Spider” is an sort of weapon system deployed by warships. And something they fear that is rather easily to counter when you know what it is.
    But also something that, without a counter for it, can ignore an Apollo-armed SD(P)-Fleet.

  9. mysfit says:

    As I recall, the nanites required a specific genetic make up to function correctly. In other words they don’t work on everyone.

    I expect that Honor’s physiology would not be a match………..

  10. JN says:

    I think the best use of nanites, in this context, was in “Wizard of Karres.” There, they incapacite quickly, but take an extended period to gain sufficient control for social utility.


  11. John Roth says:


    I thoroughly agree: the idea is laughable considering what we know today about how the brain works. However, as someone pointed out just a couple of hours ago in another forum, the Honorverse was created back when gravity going faster than light was still a viable theory. And when one of the leading theories of memory was that it was RNA coding, and you could implant memories by having someone swallow properly coded RNA. (Remember memory pills? I think Larry Niven did something along those lines).

    Unfortunately, the Honorverse has been going on long enough that the original supply of handwavium has become outdated.

    John Roth

  12. Mike says:

    @John 11:

    Yeah, I guess I read too much Steven Pinker to buy certain parts of this. Time for more suspension of disbelief.

    As for the physics of this series, they have always been really bad, but it’s space opera so that’s to be expected.

    That’s why I wish he would just progress the story quicker — it’s the story I’m reading it for. The detailed explanations of the tech and such are the things I’m reading it despite!

  13. BrianBridgePro says:

    Otoh, some of us LOVE infodumps!

  14. Hans Rancke says:

    Gravity waves going faster than light wasn’t a viable theory when I was a child (40 years ago). I remember my father explaining it to me. But then, neither was ships going faster than light.

  15. Tim says:

    My point was missed or ignored, the nannites would require data storage in a molecular form, however they work. Under scrutiny, it would have little or nothing in common with anything that belongs in a human body. And if you’ve got to have a book where the laws of physics aren’t screwed with, SF has limited choices.

  16. Create ripples on the alpha wall…

    Can they be seen on the far side, allowing ships in alpha to talk to ships in normal? Can ships in alpha create ripples in the beta wall, allowing signalling as seen in normal at 500+ c?

  17. John Roth says:


    First, one of the autopsies did note that there was something a bit off. I think it was the Haven rep to Manticore. However, his body would be returned to Haven. Likewise, the Haven driver’s body would be returned to Haven from Terra, so Terra has no cadavers to examine, and Manticore has exactly one – Honor’s flag lieutenant. We know where that investigation went. So at this point, Haven has three cadavers (even though it hasn’t identified that air-car driver as being controlled), Manticore has one, Torch has one (possibly – I don’t know where it went) and the other Empire in the stew (my memory is failing me, sorry) has one.

    Haven is the only one that has connected the dots and put all of the assassinations together.

    Now, as to the possibility of actually finding out what’s happening from an analysis of what’s left. I’d rate it rather low. They’d have to get it out of the brain in the first place, and then they’d have to figure out what it was doing.

    I suspect that the biggest single conclusion that they could come to is that someone has been following a rather different research and development path for quite a long time, which unfortunately doesn’t rule out anyone.

    I know my tendency when faced with the apparently impossible would be to put together a blue-sky team to come up with possible research avenues.

    John Roth

  18. Thirdbase says:

    @ John#17

    I believe that the nanobot assassination system has been only used 5 times, with only two of them being successful.
    The Hofshulte case in Andermani space, which failed.
    The “suicide” of Yves Grosclaude, successful.
    Honor’s Flag Lt. which failed.
    The attempt on Queen Berry, which failed.
    The assassination of Admiral/Ambassador Webster which was successful.

    The aircar pilot that killed both Arnold and Jason Giancola, was an actual accident.

    Of the bodies of those infected.
    Haven has what is left of Grosclaude, and possibly the driver that killed Webster.
    The Andermani have what ever records they have for Hofshulte.
    Manticore has Lt. Mears body.
    Torch may or may not have recovered the body of the assassin, the nerve agent used was so persistent, that they were going to burn the palace and rebuild it, because that would be easier. That doesn’t bode well for recovering bodies.

  19. Mike says:

    It was the Andermanis who reported that their investigation had found traces of something unusual in the body of the assassin.

  20. MadMcAl says:

    The Hofschulte case was successfull. It was a test for the stealth of the new technic.

    And it was Haven that discovered the nanoviruses. Not that this would do something good at this moment.

  21. Tim says:

    If the molecule/virus/nannite is anything like current drugs it would be distributed throughout the circulatory system, with only the part that actually ended up in the brain acting, Counter gravity technology might be easier than a microscopic device finding specific nerve tissue without external guidance. The Audubon ballroom might be a conduit for evidence to get to where it could do the most good. Blood samples from flagrantly homicidal/suicidal incidents would be expected to be retained in the jurisdictions where the incidents occurred. The Mesans cannot have a realistic expectation of this technology remaining hidden in the long term, just long enough for a larger purpose, already hinted at, so the fun part will be when we find out what larger strategy they have in mind.

  22. MadMcAl says:

    Yeah, but think about it. Mesa still needs time to conquer the SL, regardless what preparations they made.
    And regardless of the technology. And what will happen if somebody brings Shannon Forraker to the allready overproductive brain thrust of Manticore and Grayson? How long will it take to develope an effective counter to this spider?
    And yes, if the streak drive is, what I think it is, it will offer an big strategical advantage due to greater interstellar speed. But the tactical advantage lies still with the alliance due to the grayson-style compensator (who AFAIK nobody outside the current conflict, Erehwon and Torch has access to) and Apollo. And of course the advantages 20 years of war make in quality and quantity of officers, crew and shipbuilding.
    There is simply no other power outside of the second havenite war that has such an experience.
    It will be interesting where the ultimate advantage will lie (as if we didn’t know where it will lie in the end of the war ;))

  23. Thirdbase says:

    Checking in AAC, the Havenite driver was a Solly national, so his body on Earth.

    Hofshulte failed to kill his target.

    Haven has linked all 5 actions, but aren’t sure as to who would do it.
    They did confirm that Giancola’s death was an actual accident.

    Various Manties, Honor, Hamish, Mike, etc have linked two or more, but don’t know about Grosclaude, and again have dismissed Mesa.

    The Hofshulte case is throwing them all off, because Mesa has no reason to have tried to kill the Andermani Crown Prince.

  24. MadMcAl says:


    Hofschulte was successful in the real objective. The objective wasn’t to kill the andermani-heir. If it had, then it would have been an adittional gain. The main objective was to test the general viability of the nanovirus as assasination-tool and its stealth-capabilitys.
    And in this it succeeded fully.

    And Hofschulte throws everybody off, because at this time nobody had a reason to kill the andermani heir. Haven was preparing its war against Manticore. Manticore was at this time trying to find its own ass with everthing they had (High Ridge goverment in its prime). The SL couldn’t ignore the Andermani Empire any harder. Mesa had simply no reason at all. And AFAIK there are no other powers worth to be considered. Grayson is still Manticores little brother, even if it was way better managed at this time. Erehwon… nobody in his right mind would belive that Erehwon would try something like this, and they are no real military power and so far haven’t been outed as an R&D-stronghold like Manticore, Beowulf and Mesa.

    Actually the only assassination-attemp that “ties” this technology to Haven was the attack on Honor. The rest… they can point anywhere. One thing I am a bit disappointed about is the belief that nobody could have known about the summit outside Haven, Manticore, Grayson and New Berlin. They have to assume that the goverment of at least one of these nations has an conduit to an outside power. Even if only precautionary.

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