Chain of Command – Snippet 36
“How serious was the damage?”
“Cruiser Four-Two-Eight was a total loss, of course, when it exited jump space into a planetoid. A fire lance hit disabled the jump drive of Four-Two-Nine and the captain jettisoned the entire module to avoid contamination. It can maneuver but will use most of its reaction mass to decelerate and return to our fleet rendezvous. It will arrive in twelve days. Five-Two-Two has only intermittent power, has lost its coil gun and most of its sensor array, and is not immediately repairable. Five-Oh-One is lightly damaged and will be operational as soon as we are.”
So–discounting Cruiser Four-Two-Nine, which could not jump and so could not join the other ships in their next attack maneuver–they had only two operational cruisers left, including the flagship. Two ships to face whatever remained of the Human fleet, which included at least two cruisers and three destroyers at K’tok, two cruisers at Mogo, and seven more destroyers unaccounted for. The First Fleet had had fewer ships destroyed, lost fewer lives, than had the enemy, but the balance of force had changed hardly at all. Nuvaash took a breath to steady his voice before speaking.
“The new missiles performed well, Admiral.”
e-Lapeela looked up sharply but Nuvaash met his gaze and after a moment the admiral cocked his head to the side in a shrug.
“We expected to take out every starship. It worked well in testing but the test sequence, for reasons of secrecy, was limited. No weapon ever seems to perform as well in the field as in the tests. Still, we dealt them a shattering blow: eight ships destroyed versus only one of ours. It may not seem so here, surrounded by casualties and damage, but this was a great victory.”
“But to what end?” Nuvaash said. “They still hold K’tok.”
“To what end? I told you others waited in the shadows to join us. Victories steel their courage, quicken their blood, broaden their vision. Because of this victory–and that is exactly how it will be perceived, regardless of how much damage we sustained–others will join us. First a trickle, but like water cutting a sand bar, a trickle widens the passage and more water follows.
“And I have just received word by jump courier. The government has released the cruiser division on Akaampta from Cottohazz duty to my command, and the Home Fleet is readying another squadron to join us. Our enterprise prospers.”
“Not of the ground, I am afraid,” Nuvaash said. “We are stalemated. Human orbital bombardment has become less effective both in terms of volume and accuracy, and the Human ground forces have taken casualties which they seem unable to replace immediately. These are both fruits, in my opinion, of our earlier attack. All of our heavy ground force units took severe casualties in the aftermath of the invasion, however, and our three regular mobile cohorts have been rendered ineffective for offensive operations. If we are to resume the ground offensive we must reinforce out ground forces.”
“We are receiving three transports from home, carrying between them a reinforced ground brigade. I believe we can land part of a lift cavalry squadron by reentry gliders.”
“Reentry gliders?” the admiral demanded. “While the Humans hold orbital space? That would be suicidal for the transports.”
“If we used the transports, that would be so. But out cruisers have the ability to carry a limited number of reentry gliders in place of external ordnance modules. The extent to which the detonation of Human nuclear warheads interfered with our sensors during the last attack suggests a way for a ship or two to make a high speed approach and exit, dropping the reinforcements into the atmosphere as we pass.”
“We?” the admiral said.
Nuvaash shifted his position and let his earns fold back slightly in the position of respect.
“As the attack profile I am outlining is hazardous and untested, I assumed the admiral would lead the first raid in the flagship.”
e-Lappela leaned back in this chair and smiled. “I am surprised, Nuvaash. You strike me as cautious rather than aggressive, and yet now you recommend another audacious attack.”
“I recommend nothing, admiral. I only point out the facts as I understand them.”
And one of the facts he understood now was that the admiral was a murderer. But how many supposedly glorious triumphs throughout history, he wondered, were secretly purchased with murder?
Sam glided through the hatch to the wardroom and clipped his tether to end of the main table. No other officers were present and so Sam ordered cheese enchiladas for lunch and prepared to eat alone. That was fine; he had a lot of reading to catch up on.
Second Principle of Naval Leadership: Be technically and tactically proficient.
He put on viewer glasses and started re-reading TM-01 Deep Space Tactical Principles.
After five minutes Lieutenant Rice, the boat’s beefy supply officer appeared, drew a bulb of coffee from the dispenser, and clipped his tether next to Sam’s.
“How’s it going, Moe?” Sam asked, taking off his viewer glasses.
“Not too good, Cap’n. I mean, we’re in good shape, but the grunts down in the dirt are in trouble. With most of the cruisers gone we’ve only got ground bombardment coverage about a third of the time. The uBakai are starting to close in with mobile troops whenever there’s no one in a firing position. For now they’re okay but that Limey battalion is going to run short of ammunition if things heat up much.”
“Ammunition? Don’t they have their fabricators with them?”
“No, sir. The cohort’s fabricator platoon never got down to planet surface. It was going to come down the needle with its gear but was still onboard HMS Furious when the uBakai attack came. That’s the British transport that got nailed.”
“Aren’t there backup British fabricators in the fleet train?”
“There were, sir. They were aboard FS Mistral, the French auxiliary vessel we lost.”
That was a problem, but Sam didn’t see it as insurmountable. He’d spent enough years in the fabricator business to understand their versatility.
“The other two cohorts down there have their own fabricators, right? There’s nothing the Brits need they can’t fabricate for them.”
“Not quite, sir. Seems like no one has the software code to load the output specifications for the British munitions into the US or Indian fabricators. The British cohort HQ has the specs in their tactical data base. They just can’t get the other cohort fabricators to accept it. I talked to the task force N-4 and he says they’re trying to get the go-codes from home by jump courier missile, but they’re still negotiating with the fabricator manufacturers.”
“Who’s that?” Sam asked, but was suddenly reluctant to hear the answer.
“SubcontininenTech made the Indian fabricators, Dynamic Paradigms made the US ones.”
Of course, the company he worked for, squabbling over intellectual property while people’s lives were at stake.
“Okay, keep me apprised, Moe. Any deterioration on the ground, let me know right away.”
Moe raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise, but nodded. Of course he was surprised. Why would a destroyer captain in orbit be this interested in whether or not fabricators were working on the ground?
“Remember, I worked for Dynamic Paradigms until I got activated,” Sam explained. “Professional curiosity.”
It wasn’t the truth, or at least not the entire truth, the important truth, but it satisfied Moe, and for now that was all that mattered. Still, this new wrinkle was one more thing for him to worry about, one more tough call he might have to make fairly soon.
In his seven years at Dynamic Paradigms, he’d done a variety of jobs, but most of his time was spent in the Product Support Division, making sure installed fabricators worked as advertised. Sometimes all the different interfaces got scrambled, the processor locked up, and you had to just reset everything. Even when power was pulled from the unit, even when there was no available interface, the e-synaptic core of the processor was still alive, still barely powered by waste heat generators, waiting for the master cheat code which would reopen the system and let technicians reprogram it.
The code was all but unbreakable, a precise series of signals of different intensities, durations, and at different radio frequencies. But a handful of product support supervisors knew the code, and Sam had eventually been one of them. He knew the code which would unlock the Dynamic Paradigms fabricators in the US Marine cohort’s support platoon and let it accept the production instructions for the British munitions.
The problem was those codes were among the most closely guarded corporate proprietary secrets Dynamic Paradigms had. He had signed more non-disclosure agreements than he could remember. In addition, each code shared with an employee contained one signal sequence which was unique to that employee, so any use of it was immediately traceable. If he revealed that code now he was never going back to his old job, or any other job for any fabricator firm, or any corporate position anywhere that involved access to proprietary information. He would make himself unemployable, permanently, and in a pretty lousy job market to boot.
But his old company still might come through, do the right thing, and turn over the cheat codes. If not …well, no point in dwelling on that now.