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.To be hit was usually to be dead.The American looked Schubert in the eye, smiled back.“Auf Wiedersehen.” He backed up, snapped a salute, turned to his men.“Let’s see if you guys are worth a case of good German suds.” They left the bridge, a muted “oo-rah” amputated by the closing of the lift.Schubert turned, looked at the almost vanished thermal blooms of the Arat Kur belt fleet.“Weapons Officer?”“Ready, Herr Admiral.”“Release fifty of our hunter-killer drones.Target the two frigates the Arat Kur left at Vesta.I want them overwhelmed and destroyed within fifteen minutes.I require absolute local security.”“Drones released, active, and seeking.”“Very good.Commence extending launch tube.”“Jawohl.Extending telescoping launch tube.”“Engineering, crash-start fusion plants.Magazine, systems checks on all rail gun munitions.”“Checked and green, Admiral.”“Communications officer, send to Victorious, Yamamoto, Conte di Cavour, Iowa, Potemkin, and Dunkerque: ‘We have reason to believe that most of the Arat Kur vessels will soon be disabled for as long as half an hour, maybe more.But we commence our attack with the expectation that they shall remain uncrippled, ready for action, and will engage our dreadnoughts with their full armament and vigor.Stand by.’”“All ship captains have acknowledged, Herr Admiral, and are standing by.”“Ausgezeichnet.Helm, minimum attitude control to maintain a debris-clear sight-picture.Rail gun munitions shall be launched as predetermined: decoys and image-makers first, multidrone release pods next, multistage high-yield nuclear missiles last.”“Ready, Herr Admiral.”“On my mark—”Schubert checked his watch.It would be good to know the precise second when they began to make history.“And—mark!”Flagship USS Lincoln, Sierra Echelon, RTF 1, cislunar spaceCommander Ruth Altasso’s report started on a hushed note, ended on a shout: “The Arat Kur systems are—are down, Admiral Silverstein!”Ira nodded, smiled.“Does this mean their belt fleet is disabled, too?”“Too early to say, Ex, so we presume it isn’t.We can always be happy to learn otherwise later.”“Yes, sir.So what do we do with this suddenly drifting Arat Kur fleet, sir?” Ruth’s smile was wolfish.Ira hated disappointing her, but did.He turned to the communications officer.“Mr.Brill, send signal to Tango Echelon: ‘Sierra Echelon’s corvettes will retroboost, intercept, and commandeer all enemy shift-cruisers and select secondary craft.Tango Echelon is to ready its own corvettes, loading predesignated boarding parties and prize crews.’ My compliments to Admiral Vasarsky.”“And in case the Roach-boats come alive again?”“I was getting to that, Ex.We will retroboost enough to give us a little more time in optimal engagement range, where we can keep the enemy covered with all weapons.Mr.Brill, once our corvettes are within fifty kiloklicks of the Roach-boats, start broadcasting the prerecorded capitulation orders Commander Altasso is now authorized to release to you.Send on all frequencies.Ruth, in case some of the enemy don’t or won’t get the message, we have strict orders to vaporize any that come back to life without surrendering first.To that end, detail three of our stern wave of X-ray laser missiles to each of the enemy’s capital hulls.All missiles are to commence retroboost to match vector and close to one kiloklick from their individual targets.If any of those Arat Kur restart engines, repower weapons, or even turn on a toaster without our permission, the dedicated missiles are to fire on that target.Transfer control of those missiles to Tango Echelon as soon as Admiral Vasarsky’s van approaches and signals she’s ready for the handoff.”“Aye, sir.”“Once we’ve confirmed their hulls as prizes or destroyed, recall all our unexpended drones and missiles.We’ll need to scoop ’em up on the move.”“Yes, sir.And when you’re ready to assess it, I’ve had Nav ready a plot to bring us around Earth and sternchase Admiral Halifax’s Foxtrot echelon.If we crowd on the gees, we’ll still be able to get close enough to lend him a hand against the bogeys inbound from the belt.”Silverstein smiled at Ruth’s proleptic efficiency.“That assumes the Arat Kur get control back in time to dodge the shitstorm that Admiral Schubert is sending after them.And even if they do, they’ll have that shitstorm chasing them all the way into their engagement with us.Of course, all that assumes that they don’t turn to engage Schubert’s dreadnoughts—and if they do, they’ve just returned Earth to our possession without a fight.”Altasso’s grin once again acquired a wolfish cast.“Seems like everything’s going our way, Skipper.”Silverstein nodded and thought, Yes, it is.And that’s what’s worrying me.Chapter Forty-NinePresidential Palace, Jakarta, EarthCaine reminded himself once again that, as an ambassador, he could not publicly smile at an enemy’s distress.So he somberly watched the chaos mount in the Presidential Palace’s command center.It had a strong undercurrent of panic as well, the kind which arises during moments of desperate improvisation.With the possible exception of the now-silent Ktor, Apt-Counsel, the First Delegate was the only other calm exo in the room.He turned to his communications specialist.“How many uninfected radios and translators have you found?”“We had many reserve translators in storage, so that does not concern us.But we have only one functional long-range radio: it was disassembled for servicing.However, it would take at least thirty minutes to reassemble.”“Judging from the rate at which the next wave of human missiles is approaching, that is fifteen minutes more than we have left.What else?”“Only two personal sets and a number of smaller radios for suits, First Delegate.But without the computers to regulate signals traffic—”“I understand.There will be many voices singing athwart each other.Use the suit radios to contact any ground elements that may be activating backup sets they kept powered down.Use one of the personal sets to attempt to contact our ships in orbit.”Urzueth’s claws hung in dismay.“Esteemed Hu’urs Khraam, the range—”“We must try.The ships will probably attempt the same before too long.”“And the other personal pack, Hu’urs Khraam?” asked Darzhee Kut.“We must use it to recontact the humans.”First Voice rose up.“Why?”“Is it not obvious?”“It is not.”“Then listen to the latest operational summary, First Voice.” Hu’urs Khraam turned to the communications technician who had been collecting and summarizing field reports at the time the virus hit.“What is the status of our forces?”“Estimates only, Esteemed Hu’urs Khraam.The loss of communication—”“Understood.Give us your best estimates.”“At least ninety-five percent of our remaining PDF systems are offline, pending a software purge and reprogramming.Our aircraft are in LOS communication with our orbital elements, not us, and so, given the delay, may be the last planetside systems to fail.They will have no sensors, no communications, and be reduced to manual piloting systems.They may not have any way to fire their weapons [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]