A Rising Thunder – Snippet 08
“Well, until they get around to not saying it, there’s not a lot we can do.” Ivanov shrugged again. “We’ll just have to wait and see if they really are stupid — and arrogant and pigheaded — enough to keep coming. And after they demonstrate that they are,” he showed his teeth, “we’ll just have to see if we can’t convince them to…reconsider their intransigence.”
“You know, Skipper,” Takoush observed, “I’ve always admired your way with the language.”
* * *
Although there was no way for Captain Ivanov to know it, Rear Admiral Liam Pyun, the commanding officer of Battlecruiser Division 3065.2 of the Solarian League Navy, rather agreed with the Manticoran officer’s assessment of the orders he’d been given. Unfortunately, they were orders, legally issued by one Hirokichi Floyd, the Office of Frontier Security’s commissioner for the Genovese Sector.
Floyd was one of the people who’d most resented OFS’ failure to add Zunker (and the terminus associated with it) to its long list of unofficially annexed star systems. It affronted his sense of the way the universe was supposed to run…and deprived him of his custom-hallowed rakeoff from the terminus’ lucrative use fees. To make matters worse, he’d been deprived by the then-Star Kingdom of Manticore, the most uppity of the neobarb star nations which were disinclined to grant the Solarian League the deference to which it was so obviously due. And, just for the frosting on Floyd’s cake of discontent, the Star Kingdom had pulled no punches when the terminus was discovered. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it was even then fighting for its life against the People’s Republic of Haven in a war which had begun at a place called Hancock less than three months earlier, Manticore’s explanation of why the League might choose to keep its fingers off Zunker had been presented rather more bluntly, one might almost say forcefully, than anyone ever spoke to the Solarian League, and Floyd had been a member of the delegation to which that “explanation” had been given.
Hirokichi Floyd was scarcely unique among Solarian bureaucrats in having personal reasons to loathe the Star Empire of Manticore and its intolerable insolence. Rear Admiral Pyun was only too well aware of that. Most of those bureaucrats, however, were far, far away from Liam Pyun, and he wished Floyd were equally far away.
“Sir,” Lieutenant Commander Turner, Pyun’s staff communications officer, said quietly, “we’ve received a transmission from Astro Control.”
“Have we?” Pyun never turned away from the master display. There was silence on HMS Belle Poule‘s flag deck for several seconds. It was a rather uncomfortable silence, and Pyun’s lips twitched humorlessly as he finally took pity on the com officer and looked over his shoulder at him.
“What sort of transmission, Ephram?” he asked.
“It’s addressed to the senior officer present, Sir.” Turner looked relieved by Pyun’s even-toned response, but he clearly wasn’t happy about the message itself. “Should I put it on your personal display, Sir?”
“No.” Pyun shook his head. “Put it up on the master.”
“Yes, Sir.” Turner didn’t — quite — shrug, but there was an undeniable, if respectful, element of “if you say so” in his body language. A moment later, the face of a dark-haired, bearded man appeared on the main communications display.
“I am Captain Fergus Arredondo, Zunker Terminus Astro Control Service.” The bearded man spoke with a pronounced Manticoran accent, despite the fact that he wore the uniform of the nominally autonomous ZTACS. Not surprisingly, Pyun reflected. Idaho was a Manty ally, and most of the experienced personnel handling traffic through the Zunker Terminus were actually Manties “on loan” to ZTACS.
“You are hereby advised that, by order of the Royal Manticoran Navy, this terminus is closed to all Solarian warships and Solarian-registered merchant traffic,” Arredondo continued. “Be aware that the Royal Manticoran Navy has issued instructions to Astro Control to inform all incoming shipping that vessels approaching this terminus are required to activate their transponders immediately upon receipt of this transmission. In addition, all Solarian vessels are prohibited from approaching within one light-minute of the terminus. The Star Empire of Manticore has declared this volume of space a prohibited zone and will act in accordance with international laws governing such zones. Arredondo, clear.”
“Well, that’s certainly clear enough, Sir,” Steven Gilmore, Pyun’s chief of staff said almost whimsically. “Arrogant, maybe, but clear.”
“And not exactly a surprise,” Pyun agreed. “Interesting that Idaho’s telling us the Terminus is closed ‘by order of the Royal Manticoran Navy’ rather than on its own authority, though, isn’t it?” He smiled humorlessly. “There probably isn’t anything Idaho could’ve done to keep the Manties from closing the terminus, whatever their own feelings might be. But this way they get to hide behind the Star Empire — ‘Look what they made us do!’ — without officially doing anything to piss us off.”
His eyes strayed to the single green light-bead of the Zambezi Treasure, the freighter Floyd had ordered his division to escort through the terminus, and wondered how Captain McKenzie had reacted to the transmission. He doubted, somehow, that McKenzie was any happier about it than he was.
Not that the Manties are likely to start right out shooting at him if push comes to shove, the rear admiral reflected.
“Any sign they’ve reinforced their picket, Josette?” he asked his operations officer, and Captain Josette Steinberg shook her head.
“No, Sir. I can’t speak to what they might have lying doggo with its impellers down, but judging from the signatures we can see, it’s still just the three cruisers and four of those big-assed destroyers of theirs.”
“Seven-to-six odds, their favor,” Gilmore observed. “In hulls, anyway. Of course, the tonnage ratio’s in our favor.”
Pyun nodded. His six battlecruisers were all Indefatigable-class ships, rather than Battle Fleet’s newer Nevadas, but their combined mass was still over five million tons, whereas the Manty picket couldn’t mass much over two million, despite the fact that the Manticoran “destroyers” were larger than most SLN light cruisers. By any traditional measure, his force advantage ought to be overwhelming.
One of the nagging little problems with traditions, however, was that they were subject to change.
I wonder how many missile pods they have? he thought. Whatever Floyd thinks, they have to have some. I mean, Idaho’s barely seventy light-years from their home system! No matter how much damage they’ve taken, they’ve got to have scraped up at least some additional firepower if they’re going to count on only seven ships to cover the entire terminus.
He would have been a lot happier if he’d had better information on what had happened in the Spindle System last month. He was sure the official version was on its way to Genovese from Old Terra, but Genovese was twenty light-years further from Sol than Zunker. It took the better part of a T-month for anything from Old Terra to reach Genovese, as opposed to the one week of hyper travel between Zunker and Genovese, so at the moment all he — and Commissioner Floyd — had to go on were the reports which had come through from Idaho. Which meant all they really knew was what the Manties had told them. Well, what the Manties had told them and the fact that someone — and not, apparently, the SLN — had kicked the ever-loving hell out of the Manty home system shortly after whatever they’d done to Admiral Crandall at Spindle. Assuming, of course, that they’d actually done anything to Admiral Crandall at Spindle.
Commissioner Floyd was inclined to think they hadn’t.
Rear Admiral Pyun was inclined to think Commissioner Floyd was an idiot.
“Anything from their picket commander, Ephram?” he asked out loud.
“No, Sir. Not yet, at least.”
Pyun turned his attention back to the master display.
* * *
“I don’t suppose we’ve heard anything back from our visitors, Justin?” Captain Ivanov asked. “No transponder signals? No snappy little comebacks to Captain Arredondo’s instructions?”
“No, Sir,” Lieutenant Justin Adenauer replied.
“Somehow I thought you would have mentioned it if we had,” Ivanov said dryly, then looked down at the display screen connecting him to Auxiliary Control at the far end of HMS Sloan Tompkins‘ core hull from his own command deck.
“I guess it’s time we got into the act, Claudine,” he observed.
“Bound to get interesting when we do, Sir.”
“There’s a lot of that going around.” Ivanov smiled grimly. “It seems we’ve been cursed to live in ‘interesting times.'”
“True.” Takoush nodded. “Of course, we can always try to make things more interesting for others than for us.”
“My goal in life,” Ivanov agreed, then turned back to Adenauer. “Record for transmission, Justin.”
* * *
“Admiral, we have another message,” Ephram Turner announced. “This one’s not from Astro Control.”
Pyun turned away from the master display and crossed to Turner’s station. Zambezi Treasure (and his battlecruisers) had been in n-space for almost exactly ten minutes. During that time they’d covered almost a million kilometers and raised their closing velocity relative to the terminus to approximately 2,200 KPS. He’d wondered how long the picket force commander was going to wait to contact him. In fact, he’d just won five credits on a side bet with Captain Steinberg on that very point.