World 77: Honor Harrington – Part 3.04e

CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2

Part 4: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 5

Previously: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 4

Timestamp: Immediately after Chapter 4

“Admiral… we’ve got a Destroyer from Guillotine 1. She’s got five Erewhonian flagged freighters with her,” the comm tech aboard PNS Saint Joan said.

Admiral Cesare Flochard belonged to a senior Legislaturalist family, as did most of the flag officers chosen for Operation Guillotine, and the entire operation had been given to him by President Harris personally, as a favor to his mother, who ran the Department of Energy as her personal fiefdom. The exact details of Guillotine had been rehearsed time and again, and so far, everything was going exactly to plan… at least in Jewel and Corona. Cesare’s sub-commanders were in orbit around each of the key planets of the distant binary, and the few remaining BCs and the entire new build SD core of the Jewelian Navy, which their spies had indicated barely had skeleton crews, were stooging around defending their shipyard in the outer-system.

Guillotine 2’s elements had ignored the Brokkir-Etri yard and its defenders, knowing that a decapitation strike was much more important. And even though the Queen was in hiding, and no one exactly seemed to know who, exactly was supposed to be surrendering to him, it wasn’t like the eight under-manned SDs and twelve BCs at the yard could stand up to the 20 SDs, 20 DNs, and 42 BCs of the Havenite occupation fleet. And as soon as Harpe finished fucking around in Atropos, the balance of power would be even more extreme.

Cesare frowned in thought, then asked. “Erewhonians?”

“Yes sir. Bulk freighters it looks like. They’re just sitting there, waiting for clearance. The Destroyer captain is demanding to speak to you sir.”

“Personally?” His frown deepened. Why would he need to talk to a lowly DD puke? “Why are we dealing with civilians right now?”

“The freighter captains are all clamoring about trying to get away from the shooting and how they’d been ordered to transit or be seized. They’re bound for Manderlay with heavy farm equipment, according to the manifests they’ve transmitted.”

Floachard rolled his eyes and stroked his salt-and-cayenne-pepper beard. Finally, he sighed. “Tell them to heave too for inspection and we’ll get to them eventually.”

“They’ll want to know how long,” his aide pointed out.

“Until I’m good god-damned ready…” he saw the comms-officer not sending his message and asked, “Problem, Lieutenant?” His tone was anything but pleased.

“The Destroyer’s captain is repeating her demand to speak to you, sir. She sounds upset. Says that there’s a problem.”

“Tell her to…” he paused, then nodded, “Very well. On screen.”

The woman who appeared on screen looked a bit too old… and definitely too attractive… to be a mere Destroyer captain… she was probably some Captain’s pet Dolist… She also looked frazzled and a more than a little upset. She wasn’t facing the pickup, and instead yelling for her communications officer to try again. “Tell them it’s all gone to hell!” she snapped.

“What, exactly, has gone to hell, Commander…” he paused, squinting to read her name plate. “Henchel?”

Commander Henchel’s blonde-hair whipped around and she swallowed hard, then salluted. “Admiral, sir! There are more BCs in Atropos than we’d anticipated and Admiral Harpe is having trouble pinning them down.”

“Merde! What does that idiot think he’s playing at. Just go for the planet!” Fochard growled, gripping the arms of his command chair.

“Sir,” she paused, clearly worried about how the Admiral would take her next bit of news.

“Spit it out, woman!”

“The… the planet… the Maegi have some kind of planetary super graser… it took out three DNs at a full light-minute.”

There was sudden silence on the Havenite flagbridge. “They have a what?”

“It… We think it’s a graser. Admiral Harpe thinks that… he sent us to through to ask you to hold the Terminal so he can free up the ships there. Sir… I think he’s going to nuke the planet.”

Flochard gulped… No matter how justified blasting the festering hellhole that was the Maegi-homeworld of Elysium might be, the Solarian League would not sit back as Haven casually engaged in a global Eridani Edict violation. “Err… yes. Thank you Henchel.” He waved his hand to have the link cut, then snapped. “Get everyone moving. We’re going to Atropos to crush this idiocy and reign in Harpe before this gets any worse. Tell Nimrod to leave four of the wall on station over the Capital then move to replace us at the junction and have Hastings leave four of his BCs and his CAs and move to support the junction.”

As the sixteen SDs and twenty-four BCs of TF120.1 lined up on the Jewel Junction to come to the aid of a man who had never asked for aid and who had, in fact, been dead for nearly a day, Admiral Flochard’s commands to Rear Admiral Florence Nimrod, currently holding the orbitals of Jewel itself, and Vice Admiral David Hastings, currently holding the orbitals of Emerald, were transmitted to a courier ship, since the junction was currently two light weeks from it’s primary, and three light months from Corona. Insanity, thought Cesare Flochard. Who could conceivably hold a binary system a quarter light-year apart with only battleships.

======

Oksana Strigoi, Erewhonian Intelligence Apparatus and sometimes Navy, who was not the actual Susaska Henchel, watched in amazement as the Havenites disappeared in one gigantic poof. “Son of a bitch,” she commented to her bridge crew aboard the recently captured PNS Muftard. “I cannot quite believe that worked.”

“We did have all their codes, ma’am,” her XO, commented. “And some doctored sensor data.”

“That they probably haven’t even looked at,” Strigoi said, chuckling. “They just assumed that Harpe’s forces have control over the other side of the Junction.”

“And if they’re very lucky, they might even live to appreciate that old adage about assumption.”

“What adage would that be?” she asked.

“When you make an assumption you make an ass out of you and umption.”

Strigoi blinked, then snorted. “That’s stupid,” she said, but she was chuckling.

====

Eight hours later, summoned by the courier, the twelve DNs and two SDs of TF120.2, microjumped from the Hyperlimit to the edge of the interference zone around the wormhole. By that point, they could clearly see that the situation at the Junction had changed. Instead of a Destroyer squadron left behind by Flochard… they found Solace with five of the wall and fourteen BCs waiting for them. The fifteen LACs that had been brought into Jewel in the hold of the freighter Corleone (which was owned by Andros-Brandyne and very much not flagged to Erewhon no matter what her transponder might say) had completely surprised the token picket that Flochard had left behind, and turning to face their smaller opponents had left their skirts open to point blank fire from Muftard.

Solace’s forces had made the transit unopposed after accepting the surrender of the remaining ships of Flochard’s Taskforce. Ships without wedge or sidewall just could not fight ships ready and waiting, no matter how heavy the imbalance of forces. Flochard’s face had resembled an eggplant when he’d (begrudging every moment of it) ordered his ships to power down after the first two SDs were simply blasted out of space by the waiting Manticoran.

Now she appeared on the screens of the incomming TF120.2 and gloated, laughing as she taunted Admiral Nimrod and her captains about how she’d slaughtered Harpe and how Flochard had begged for his life before she’d blown him out of space. So angry were the Havenites that they came in hot, missiles firing the moment they ranged on the smaller Manticoran (and others) Fleet, even as the bitch on their screens continued mocking them while her own ships turned and ran.

So angry was Admiral Nimrod that she didn’t even notice the five freighters in parking orbit around the junction even as her forces streamed past them. If they noticed anything, it was how light the counterfire from the BCs and wallers of the Manticoran fleet were. They rightly assumed that many of them were damaged and, like sharks scenting blood in the water, all they could think of was closing for the kill.

That distraction was, perhaps justified. The freighters were, after all, just freighters. No one would have paid them any attention. And had it been two days earlier, that’s all they would have been. But the technicians of the Svalbards called Uris and Tyrash had been quite busy, gutting everything they could from four of those freighters, leaving little more than glue and string to hold the sides of the freighters on and stuffing their even more eggshell than normal frames with every missile pod they could.

As the fourteen ships of the Havenite wall roared past, building acceleration as fast as they could, the freighters essentially exploded, their sides disintegrating as explosive charges ripped them to pieces and then each of the max hull freighters poured the contents of three thousand missile pods down onto just fourteen ships. The missiles were ship killers, twelve to a pod, and quite dumb on their own. They had almost no ECM or ECCM and no ships to control them. They acquired their targets entire randomly, and hundreds of them obliterated each other as their spreading formation caused them to brush each other with their wedges… but there were simply too many to stop entirely.

144,000 outdated missiles that had been stripped off of battlecruisers of the Jewel Navy and stuffed into pods where they might still be useful were flushed at only fourteen ships of the wall and their escorts from a distance that was, in the language of space-warfare, essentially knife range.

The tactical officers of TF120.2 never even had time to get over their shock before they were expanding plasma.

“Complete destruction, Ma’am,” Ray Chatterjee said from sensors. “I think we might have used too much boom.”

“Had to be done, Ray. We had no way of knowing how many they’d have on this side,” Solace said. “Did that courier head toward Corona or Jewel?”

The courier that had doubtlessly brought the Havenites she’d just destroyed had not been part of the pursuit group and had, as the trap sprang, hypered out… and while they might have just run for it, the odds were that they’d be heading to one of the other elements of Guillotine 2.

“Corona, Ma’am,” Ray said.

“Excellent. Take us to Jewel… and send word to Admiral Torag that we’re on our way,” Solace said, stroking Ruth’s soft belly. Torag was the commander of the Jewel Fourth Fleet, currently at Brokkir-Eitri putting together what was not Jewel’s first SD squadron, but it’s third.

By the time the DNs of TF120.3 could be summoned from Corona, they’d arrive just in time to for Jewel’s Crown Fleet and her sixteen brand-shiny new Koenig Class SDs, which had been doing joint war-games with the Andermani in Weissen, to arrive. Solace had no doubt that Queen Elspeth would be more than happy to show the Havenites her displeasure at their attempted conquest of her domain.

And in far off Manticore, which would not learn of the events of Operation Guillotine for two more weeks, plans were, even now, being finalized, plans which would see Admiral Whitehaven dispatched to Yeltsin and Admiral Donislav dispatched to Hancock Station. If all went well, Operation Perseus would be just as big a disaster for Haven as Operation Guillotine had been.

But as much as Haven had had its nose bloodied, they had the ships to spend. Their fleet was larger than all the fleets outside of the Solarian League combined and their production facilities, though much slower individually than those of Jewel or Manticore or even The Andermani, outnumbered all those polities by twenty to one. As much as Solace had joked about it, she knew this war would be anything but short, and if victory were to be had at all, it would be hard won.

“Well, Ray?” she asked as the ship jumped to hyper for the very short trip to Jewel, “What do you think?”

“Think ma’am?” he asked, confused.

“Think RMN’s going to do. Lynch me for starting a war or bury me in even more medals?”

He chuckled. “Ma’am, you’d complain if they hung you with the Manticore Cross.”

Frances Yeargin, who’d been recovered from Corleone where she’d been in command of the LACs, ground her teeth. How could they joke around when… she paused, looking over as Naomi jumped onto her shoulder and, bleeking happily, pawed her nose and stole her berret. Pulling the hat down over her fluffy ears, the treecat mimicked France’s own scowl, and the woman had to laugh despite herself. “Okay, okay, you little thief. Maybe I do need to lighten up. And beware of sneak attacks. It’s like my great aunt once said… always suspect an ambush, right?”

The treecat returned the beret and shrugged… then leapt to Solace’s chair and tackled Ruth for no apparent reason. Frances shook her head. Despairing of ever understanding the universe, she sighed and turned back to directing the damage control teams dealing with keeping HMS Basilisk running. She still had battles to fight before Jewel was free of invaders.

Next: Crown of Stars – Part 5

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World 77: Honor Harrington – Part 3.04d

CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2

Part 4: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 4

Previously: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 3

Timestamp: Immediately after Chapter 3

By the time Solace got back to her ship, McAvoy’s orders had arranged for complete resupply of the six ships she was taking with her, but that would take several hours to complete. She took to the bridge, counting down the seconds, knowing that the Erewhonians were doing their best, and that they were doing quite decently. Still, every second lost was another sliver cut from their chances to save Jewel and give the Havenites a bloody nose to go (hopefully) with the black eyes that Manticore would be able to deliver with advanced warning… but was the warning in time? Would it arrive with enough lead time to do anything but watch disaster unfold? The imponderables raced themselves around her head like Barnabie chasing Sven for stealing some treat the fat treecat had been saving for later.

“Captain?” Commander Yeargin said, “A moment of your time?”

Solace raised an eyebrow, then asked, “What’s up?”

“I think perhaps we should do this in your office,” she looked around, then motioned for the second officer to join them. “Ray should be there too.”

Solace hid a frown, then nodded and rose, leading the trio with Naomi on her shoulder and Ruth bringing up the rear. Once they were all safely out of the way of the crew’s listening ears, she turned to face her officers, the two cats flanking her on the desktop. “Speak,” she order.

“Captain Smythe, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I’m going to have to ask you to relinquish your command and surrender to Marines,” Frances said, face serious as a heart attack.

Ray Chatterjee choked, glaring at the XO. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped.

“Ray,” Solace said, holding up a hand to still the man. “Let her speak. What’s up, Frances?”

“What’s up?” the other woman gasped, shocked by Solace’s apparent ignorance… or shocked that Solace was pretending ignorance. “You violated the sovereignty of an Embassy! I… I can’t believe you did that! It’s so incredibly illegal!” She stamped her foot and glared, then glared harder as Ray started laughing. “What’s so funny!?”

“I think you missed a key element of what just happened,” Solace said softly. “We didn’t raid the Havenite Embassy to Manticore. Or even the Havenite Embassy to the Anderman Empire for that matter. The Embassy that might or might not have been raided was the Havenite Embassy to Erewhon. Manticore and the Empire are under no obligation to respect the sovereignty of an Embassy not in their territory. Erewhon’s responsibility is to provide all reasonable safeguards for the Embassies they are host to, but whoever did whatever was in and out before the Erewhonians could even be notified.”

“But Erewhon’s an ally!” Frances protested.

“They are now,” Ray said. “But they weren’t at the start of the day. Strictly speaking, the Alliance is only provisional at the moment until a copy of the treaty is signed by the Queen.”

Solace shrugged, as if the provisional status of the Alliance was a secondary concern. “Erewhon has deniability. None of their people were involved. None of my people were in uniform and only one of us was seen inside the embassy, and that one was seen by someone that has a history of antagonism to me. I can’t believe Duval actually was useful for something, but there you have it. Was it Casus Belli? Certainly. But not nearly so much as what Haven is doing right now. The units they dispatched for Operation Perseus have been ordered to provoke us, to destroy any of our light units they can. They’ve already declared war. We just don’t know it yet. Or rather, the Home Office doesn’t. I do. And I’m the ranking officer in this system. So we’re going to proceed on the basis of the fact that we, the entire Manticoran Alliance, are at war with the People’s Republic of Haven.” She fixed Frances with a stern gaze. “Am I clear?”

Commander Yeargin met that gaze, holding it for a couple of seconds, then looked away, flushing with a mixture of anger and embarrassment, then nodded. “Yes Ma’am.”

“Good. Then we’re going to forget all about this, right Ray?”

He nodded. “Already done, ma’am.”

“Excellent… ah… and that reminds me,” she began, then exited her office before the cats could even settle who got to ride on her shoulder. “Ops, how many Haven flagged ships are in system right now?”

“Fifteen freighters, two liners, and three messenger ships. All civvie ma’am.”

“Nothing military?” Ray asked, then kicked himself. If there had been military vessels, the Captain would have dealt with them before now, if for no other reason than to stop them from getting the out message that the Embassy had been hit.

“No sir.”

Solace nodded. “Ray, bring us to battle condition two. Boatbays, I want all shuttles and pinnaces loaded with Marines in fifteen minutes. Comms, record this, ‘Attention Havenite ships. This is Captain Solace Smythe of HMS Basilisk. Due to the unwarranted and unlawful aggression of your government, you are commanded, under the authority of the Manticoran Alliance, to immediately surrender your ships. Any attempt to leave this system will result in your ships being fired upon. You are instructed to take to your lifeboats and debark all passengers. You have fifteen minutes to comply or your vessel will be boarded by Manticoran Marines.’,” she said in her most no-nonsense voice.

“On the chip, ma’am,” the comms officer said.

“Good. Transmit a copy of that to Admiral McAvoy for his approval. If he signs off on it, I want our shuttles on approach vectors for each of the Havenite ships in twenty minutes and we’ll transmit that in T-minus thirty.”

======

Three and a half-hours later, with nineteen ships surrendered and one made an example of, Task Group Highwater pulled out of Erewhon orbit. McAvoy had signed off, but waved her shuttles off, saying that his people would handle the boarding and securing. Three of the freighters had proven to be armed, and one of them had been stupid enough to fight against an SD. Their after third had been vaporized by Bessy’s spinal graser. One of the messengers and two of the freighters had chosen to abandon ship and scuttle themselves rather than allow themselves to be seized.

For the next eight days, Solace pushed her ships as fast as they could go, and pushed their crews and command staffs almost as much as she ran them through evolution after evolution, getting a feel for her new subordinates and their capabilities. With ten hours to go before they emerged from hyperspace, she ordered all command staff to send everyone they could to their racks and prepare for battle upon the morrow.

“I regret that I can’t host you and your officers in style on the eve before combat,” she said to the captains in the remote conference. Getting shuttles back and forth between their ships would have required slowing down, and that wasn’t happening. “But when we have emerged from the fire and fury to come, I will raise a glass with each of you.” She didn’t mention the likelihood that not all of them would live to toast with her; they were all professionals. They knew what was coming.

The transition point she’d chosen was just outside of the conical area that radiated from the Wormhole Terminus to the Atropos System’s star in which hyper-translation was blocked. She’d picked a place just outside the G5 star’s nineteen minute hyper-limit, not knowing where in the system the Havenites might be, but figuring that they’d be either approaching the planet or the terminus if they were already in system.

======

Admiral Charles Harpe was having the time of his life. Given responsibility for the invasion of the Atropos system, he’d been given command of Task Force 118; twelve dreadnoughts, twenty-four battle-cruisers, and screen. Arrayed against him were the four terminus forts and thirty-two BCs of Atropos Fleet Command. Naval Intelligence hadn’t been certain if any of the Jewelian Defense Force’s new SDs would be in system, but figured that even if there were, they weren’t going to have more than four, considering that, as far as NavInt could tell, Jewel only had six that were operational.

As it had turned out, they had two. Both near the planet. Harpe’s orders had been clear. Secure the Terminus then move against the planet. The system outworks, which were extensive, including some of the fucking Mantie mobile shipyards, were to be left for last. That had chaffed a bit, knowing that the Manties would cut and run before he could get light units free to chase down those damned Tortugas, but sparing forces from an invasion to go after half-built ships and civilians who were just going to run anyway? It wasn’t feasible.

Part of him had wanted to drop some of his BCs out of hyper right into the outer system, but hitting the Terminus forts with overwhelming force before they could come on-line had been far more important. And that’s what Harpe had done.

TF118.1, aka the battlecruisers of Guillotine 1, had dropped from hyper at 02:40 universal, April 14th, and launched their birds at the Terminus defense forces from half a million kilometers (those forces being located another half a million kilometers from the terminus), then rolled to present their belly bands to the automated defenses. The Forts and their mine-fields had gotten off a few, uncoordinated shots, but they and a half dozen civilian ships caught in the maelstrom were obliterated within moments. Hopefully none of them had been Solarian or Andermani.

If they were, Haven would have to pay reparations… but such things happened in war. And it wasn’t as if it was the Republic’s fault. Those damned Merchant Princesses in Jewel and Manticore… and all their allies, to be honest… had been hoarding wealth, wealth that the Republic’s worlds needed so much more than these one and two system polities. But now that would come to an end. The Republic would swallow up Jewel and Manticore and Grayson and Alyzon and Zanzibar and Erewhon… then move on to Silesia and the Empire. Eventually the Republic would rival the Solarian League… and then… then… well… Charles Harpe didn’t know what would happen then… but it would be glorious! A brand new day for humanity. Of that he was certain.

He had let the civilians flee through the terminus. Part of the plan was to draw the Jewelian Homefleet out of position… but they’d never come through if he sat on the wormhole. That would be insanity. And so he had turned his fleet against the planet, knowing that the Jewelians would have to come out to face him or allow him to destroy their orbitals… including that ridiculously massive space station they called Hephaestus… why did royalists always name a space station that? He wasn’t certain if the Andermani had one with that name too, but he knew the Manticorans did.

He’d seen HMSS Hephaestus many years ago. It was like a floating city in space. Huge, varied, ultra modern. NMOS Hephaestus looked nothing like that. It looked ancient, like a floating church from old earth. They claimed it was a shipyard… but to Admiral Harpe it looked like a battlestation. It was so massive that its bays could swallow a dozen max hull freighters with ease… as it was doing right now, with every freighter in orbit either moving inside the titanic bulk or heading outsystem as fast as they could.

And yet the Maegi weren’t sending out their fleet. They’d moved them toward the lee of the planet, as if trying to hide behind it. It made no sense… but his job wasn’t to understand fanatics. It was to bring them to heel. And so he’d pulled away from the Terminus and closed on the planet at a third of maximum military power. Nice and easy.

The Jewelians had transited their entire Junction Guard Fleet, 64 BCs, in one massive transit an hour and twenty minutes later… and TF118.2, Harpe’s DNs, waiting in Hyper, signalled by the transit of a single destroyer that had been left behind exactly for this purpose, had dropped out behind the newcomers, just as planned.

Jewel’s BCs were the finest in known space, their skippers trained to a fare thee well, and individually they outmassed Harpe’s Sultans by nearly 20%, massing over a million tons each. Against sixty-four of them, TF118.1’s twenty-four BCs stood not a snowball’s chance in a blast furnace. But against twelve Chevalier-Class Dreadnoughts with the element of surprise? The slaughter was brief, brutal, and decidedly one-sided.

In that short exchange, thirty-seven of the Jewelian BCs were destroyed outright, with twelve more disabled and the last fifteen running for the outsystem as fast as they could. For that victory, Charles Harpe and the People’s Navy had paid the price of two dreadnoughts crippled, five Battlecruisers damaged, and only two destroyed. It was a butcher’s bill he was entirely happy with, though he was somewhat annoyed that Admiral Gravas, who’d been in command of TF118.2, had managed to get himself killed in the all too short exchange. That was just bad luck for all too reliable assistant.

And now, nearly six hours later, he had crossed the hyper-limit and was approaching turn over to zero-zero with the planet these lunatics called Elysium. The world was a mottled mess of fungal forests, lichen covered mountains, and seas swimming with monstrosities. The entire planet, save for the polar plains, was a jungle hell, with spore storms… SPORE STORMS… that by all reports got so bad that a man could be buried in minutes… and they called the largest of their land-dwelling super-saurians Kaiju and even named individual ones and filmed their not infrequent territorial battles. If he’d had his druthers, he’d have just bombed the hellish globe from orbit… but that would be a violation of the Eridani Edict… even if he’d be doing these people a mercy.

And yet, they clung to their planet as if afraid to come out and fight him. Of course they did. He outnumbered them and outgunned them. Soon they’d surrender and-

“Hyper-footprint!” his signal tech called.

His head snapped around, “How large?”

“Eighty-four… We’re picking up three SDs, twelve DNs, forty-one BCs, and the rest are cruisers and destroyers. They’re firing on us. Missile impact in four-four seconds. One-eight-seven-three missiles incoming…. Correction, three seven four six missiles,” the tactical officer said, voice deadly calm as the entire enemy formation rolled and fired their second broadside… “Correction. Five-six-one-nine…”

The distance was short, barely a million and a half million kilometers, almost exactly five light seconds, and the Havenites had precious little time to prepare for the incoming tidal wave, but even by rolling their bellies to the enemy, they couldn’t stop that many laser-warheads from scoring against them. No one had that much point defense. They’d been suckered.

======

Solace’s planned exit point had changed. Not a lot, but enough. As Highwater, her fleet of eight Erewhonian BCs, four DNs, and three SDs (plus four destroyers as scouts and sixteen CAs as screen), approached the hyperlimit, they’d been greeted by the fleeing body of Brokkir-Eitri’s Atropos based Tortuga Flotilla. Brokkir-Eitri was the Andermani arm of Andros-Brandyne and if their Svalbard and Svalbard 2 class Mobile Shipyards had exactly the same technical specifications as a Tortuga or Tortuga 2… well, technically the Tortuga was a civilian vessel.

Technically.

Built on BC hulls, the only thing that kept them from being military vessels was the utter lack of armor on anything besides their hammerheads. They had the best of current generation Andermani sensor packages, last generation Manticoran telemetry, and, if they lacked energy weapons capable of damaging anything heavier than a light cruiser, they did not lack for counter-missiles or defensive-laser clusters. The Tortuga 2s, were more of the same, but on six DN hulls instead of four BCs. Each set of Tortugas was hellishly expensive for something that was neither a pure shipyard or a pure warship… but they were intended to be used where piracy and raids might happen and were designed to keep their crews safe until they could run for it. And that was what they’d done when they realized that Atropos had fallen.

After communicating their plans to the shattered remains of the Jewelian Defender Fleet’s Terminus Watch, they’d rigged what they couldn’t bring with them of the system’s outerworks to self-destruct if approached, and bugged out, bringing with them as many of their people and missile pods as they could tractor into their framework hulls. And they’d have kept on running until they’d reached Erewhon… if they hadn’t run into Solace… who’d promptly ordered the fifteen BCs, six missile colliers, nine freighters, and twenty-eight ships that comprised Nyd, Ing, Pynn, Man, Uris, and Tyrash to hold up one.

The JDF fleet was more than willing to listen, and after Solace had pulled rank on Minerva’s subordinates, they’d come up with another battleplan. That plan had meant leaving the two modules each from Uris and Tyrash (The Svalbard 2’s) with the freighters and two missile colliers with special instructions (and as many civilians as possible) then waiting for the Havenites to cross the proverbial line in the stars.

Really, whoever was over there had been foolish. With the Maegi hugging Elysium (and she wasn’t at all certain she understood why they were doing that), the Havenites would have been better served doing a short, insystem hyper jump to bring them from the wormhole to the hyper-limit. Sure, it would have given him less time to build acceleration, but he was clearly planning to slug it out with the Maegi over the planet. This would be his undoing.

As the countdown ticked to zero, she gave the order, and her ships transitioned to realspace, taking less than ten seconds to lock down their preset firing solutions, making what little adjustments had to be made before launching the first of what would be six salvos. Each Tortuga / Svalbard component could drop thirty-two missiles at a time from their pods while closed up. The Twos could do three times that much. Each Jewelian BC could fire twenty-four from each broadside, while the wallers ranged from thirty-one for the DNs to thirty-seven for Bessy. The BCs, DNs, and SDs of Highwater could have launched more, had they been willing to use missile pods of their own… but the pods tractored against their hulls had a totally different purpose… one the Havenites would not live long enough to appreciate, if Solace Smythe had anything to say about it.

Despite being utterly surprised, the Havenites were professionals, and they had had their missile tubes loaded, even if their crews had stood down to merely ready instead of battlestations. They managed to unleash two complete salvos of their own against an enemy they actually outnumbered. Without time for communication between ships, all 762 ship-killers of the first wave, and half that from the second wave, were aimed at the heart of Solace’s wall, the four DNs and three SDs. Which was only fair, considering that her first two salvos were targeted on the Havenite DNs in turn.

Two minutes later, it was all over. No Havenite DN was intact, and of the twenty-two BCs that had swarmed the Terminus less than twelve hours earlier, only three were still functional. At the terminus, the sole surviving Havenite Destroyer saw the disappearance of 95% of the Task Force and turned to dive into wormhole, clearly intending to broadcast what had happened to the Havenites who should be in Jewel even now. Unfortunately for the Havenites, the moment they reconfigured their wedge, leaving themselves utterly unshielded, they found themselves painted by three of Solace’s CAs who’d spent the last four hours sneaking up on the Terminus under maximum stealth.

The Peep Commander, not being a true believer, surrendered immediately.

Admiral Harpe, who had miraculously survived, did not. His relative velocity was such that he could run, and so he and his surviving ships did, accelerating right towards the planet. If he was going down, he was going to take out that abomination of a space-station.

“How the hell are those bastards’ ships still there?” he demanded.

“We got some hits in, admiral!” his tactical officer insisted.

“Some hits! Some hits! We destroyed two DNs and a BC! HOW?”

“I… I don’t know. They had too much ECM… too many counter missiles?” the sensor tech guessed.

It was, in fact, a good guess. Faced with a vulnerable shipyard and distributed system platforms to protect, Brokkr-Eitri’s people had hit on an entirely new design of missile pod. Using the power supplied by the tractor beams of a warship or Svalbard… or a refinery say, the Urchin was a completely defensive pod, loaded with a pair of anti-missile laser clusters, two dozen counter missiles, and enough ECM and ECCM to choke a mule. The entire thing was the same size as a standard missile pod and had never seen usage outside of simulations run in this very system… but they’d had enough prototypes for each BC to have half a dozen tractored to their hull and six times that for the DNs.

They’d performed well… but every battlecruiser had taken damage, and two of Solace’s remaining heavy wallers (Palestine and Sundaland) were in pretty bad shape too… but it was better than what had happened to ESN Ford, which had exploded with all hands. ESN Azteca had cracked in half, but her people, at least those who survived the initial battering, had managed to stabilize her reactors. Her crew had been evacuated and was even now being redistributed to the rest of the squadron.

“We’re not going after them?” Frances Yeargin asked, looking at the light codes of the fleeing BCs.

“We have business in Jewel, Commander… and anyway, I think the Maegi have this.”

As the trio of invaders crossed the inner perimeter, a line only Maegi ships were allowed to cross, part of the planet glowed bright for a second… and then there were only two cruisers. A moment later the glow happened again… and then there was one.

“What in the name of god?!” were Admiral Charles Harpe’s last words as the planetary defense cannons, immeasurably powerful grasers with emitters the size of city blocks, powered by a geotap big enough to drop a Battleship into, roared a third time and there was no Admiral Charles Harpe.

Next: Crown of Stars – Part 4, Chapter 5

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Deltoren, Parzival, and bearblue, but all of you who read my work and comment are wonderful. Really.

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) on hiatus here and a Divine Trials Story over on Questionable Question (account required). Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have begun a series of smaller jump-threads called EssJay’s Omake Theatre. The first, Big Box Isekai is about a Warehouse Store that’s reborn in another world. The second, Zed & The Walrus-Men, is a more lighthearted look at what might have been if I’d been made a jumper at age sixteen.

World 77: Honor Harrington – Part 3.04c

CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2

Part 4: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 3

Previously: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 2

Timestamp: 5th April, 1905 PD

“Captain?” Frances Yeargin asked, “shouldn’t we be doing something?”

Solace studied the plot, having ordered her ship to perform a least time course to Maytag Orbit before briefing her crew on the contents of the communique. She looked up at her XO, then shook herself. “No. Not yet. What we have is a report. We need more information, and more ships.”

“Ships?” Frances asked, “You mean Admiral Brubaker?” She was, of course, talking about the rest of the squadron that, technically, HMS Basilisk was assigned to. Of course, that squadron was in Hennessy, a wormhole transit and a day’s cruise away from Erewhon.

“No time,” Solace said, frowning lightly. “We’ll have our courier relay the information to him, but we can’t wait for him to get here, and he won’t have authorization to move off station.”

“So…” the older woman asked, “Where are we going to get ships from? You can’t just pull those out of your bag of tricks, right?”

“Now now… it’s only slight of hand if you don’t know how it’s done,” Solace said, “Ray…” she turned to her third officer. “Have boatbay one ready a pinnace. I want to be in Maytag as soon as possible. And have comms relay a personal request for me to meet with the government and Ambassador Carson immediately upon landing.”

“What’s going on here, Captain,” Commander Strigoi asked. “What was in the message you received?” She looked slightly worried, but mostly deeply intrigued by Solace’s request to have the entire Erewhonian fleet move to condition one, which meant sending four of their DNs to battlestations on the terminus and the rest of their wall to protect the planet itself.

“I’ve just received confirmation that the Harris government has dispatched a fleet to invade Jewel,” Solace said. “They are clearly hoping to use the invasion to force Manticore to declare war on them to generate Casus Belli to in turn invade Alliance space. Any move to support Jewel will, of course, move Manticoran units away from either the home system or Hancock. At the same time, they’ve begun some kind of lightning raids to push for a distribution of units from Yeltsin and Hancock as it is. Within five or six weeks, there will be war.” Her face was set as the bridge of Basilisk went absolutely silent.

“You have confirmation?” Strigoi asked after a long, long second.

“No. This is from a deep cover agent inside the Harris Government and took way too long to reach us. I know of only one way to get confirmation, and it’s only possible if your leadership agrees.”

Strigoi considered, then smirked. “You want our permission to take the Havenite Embassy.”

The gasp from Frances Yeargin was, quite frankly, irritating. It had been the obvious tactical move and the fact that her XO hadn’t realized that was a little disappointing. That there was no similar gasp from Ray Chatterjee was some salve however. She’d have to work on Frances’s ability to think outside the box or she was going to fuck up by the numbers at some point once she got her own command.

=====

“That’s the information I’ve got,” Solace said, looking at the five men and one woman gathered at the table around her. “I know you have no reason to trust my source, and I know I’m asking you to violate long standing tradition and international law… but my source is reliable.”

Alessandra Havlicek mmmm’d, looking around the table, then commented. “If what you’re saying is true, then this means our own neutrality matters not at all to the Havenites. If…” she qualified again. “You could be lying to us, but if so, it would be a damned stupid lie.”

“Haven would have our heads if it’s not true and we raid their embassy,” Admiral McAvoy said.

The Havlicek matriarch considered, then shook her head. “Not really. We’d just claim we were tricked after all, or blame it all on the Mantis. Might have to pay some wergild, but nothing major. If they’re willing to ignore neutrality and we let them make the first move… Tell me,” she looked to Solace, piercing eyes bright. “If I demanded to know the identity of your source before authorizing this, what would you say?”

Solace considered, then said, “Allies should trust each other. But not this much. All I can say is that this information comes from the desk of Constance Palmer-Levy directly.” The gasp from her audience was most satisfying, as she’d just revealed that she had highly placed sources inside the Havenite Office of Internal Security.

“Is this from ONI,” Ambassador Carson asked, “Or your private information network?”

“Private network?” Jack Fuentes asked. “Since when do Captains have their own information networks?”

“When they fund it themselves,” Carson commented, a tinge of annoyance in there. “It’s spectacularly extra-legal, but I believe it technically isn’t a crime.”

Walter Imbesi looked to Solace, then asked, “Captain… just how rich are you?”

“She’s rich enough to buy Erewhon an entire wartime navy,” Strigoi said from behind her. “Or at least New Temple is. By all indicators, New Temple loans funded the reconstruction of Midgard to the tune of eight trillion Manticoran dollars in loan guarantees and Khan Heavy Industries products carried on Andros-Brandyne hulls.”

“Something like that,” Solace agreed. The amount of money that the family had made out of restructuring Midgard’s economy post war was obscene beyond anyone’s expectations. The mineral rights the Midgardians had signed over in their eagerness to have a functional state alone were nothing short of outrageous, even if they did, occasionally, make Solace feel like a robber baron. That said, Loyal had assured her that the deals were scrupulously fair and priced to reflect the risk of doing business with a nation as prone to disaster as Midgard. “But I’m not going to bribe you into joining us. This is a war of ideology and independence, not greed. That we are all protecting our massive fortunes is secondary to the fact that we are protecting our people’s freedoms.”

“Pretty words,” Thomas Hall said, then sighed. “But yes. In this case, I think you’re telling enough of the truth. I’m willing to authorize the raid… but what do you want us to do if the information is confirmed?”

Solace raised an eyebrow, then leaned forward. “If Ambassador Voltaire’s records verify that he has a press release ready to go for the Solarians? I request that you allow me to borrow as much of your wall of battle as possible. I will then, with the provisional approval of Ambassador Carson and the authority of the Manticoran Alliance, take the joint Manticore-Erewhon Fleet to Atropos and from there to Jewel in an attempt to slow the invasion and allow as many civilian vessels as possible to evacuate through the Jewel Wormhole. I will then attempt to hold until Manticore can dispatch aid. Regardless of your stance on loaning us your wallers, I would also request one of your dispatch boats be sent ahead to Jewel at best speed with a warning for the Jewelian Home Fleet.”

“And if we give you our wall, what will protect us?” Imbesi asked.

“My own courier will be sent to Admiral Brubaker, asking him to bring his task group here at best speed before transiting to Manticore to warn Home Fleet and request reinforcement of Yeltsin and Hancock,” she stood. “Do I have your permission, Ladies and Gentlemen? We are on the clock.”

“Go,” Alessandra said. “We’ll talk with Ambassador Carson and work things out.”

======

Pontchartrain Duval hated Erewhon. The place was too… clean. It wasn’t right. How could these… these criminals, these untrustworthy parasites, these money men and accountants and mobsters… how could they make a society so ordered, so lawful, with so few laws and lawyers? How could they have such little crime, especially compared to Haven, when they were criminals themselves!? It made no sense!

For his own crimes, Duval had been promoted to head of security at this far flung outpost. It was supposed to be a plum assignment, one that others hated him for landing, a job with few responsibilities and great perquisites, but one far from the center of Havenite Politics. Just because he’d arrested a Legislaturalist scion for strangling Dolist girls after having his way with them. The boy had been hospitalized instead of hung, and Duval had been rewarded with exile. Should have shot the little bastard when he had the chance. Law and order… everyone treated the same under the law… that was what the system should be. But Erewhon didn’t really have laws… just traditions. How could anyone… what was that noise?

He’d just risen from his desk when his office door smashed open and a pair of black clad individuals pointed a pair of tribarrels at him. “Don’t move, Dirtbag!” snapped one, his accent clearly and distinctly Manticoran… Gryphon if he remembered correctly. Very carefully, Duval raised his hands, face flushed with outrage.

“This is an Embassy!” He snapped, “How dare you?! This is an act of war! A violation of international law! You’ll-” The other, taller, feminine, massive, crossed the room and stroked him hard in the head with the butt of her tribarrel.

“Don’t kill him,” the Manticoran said. “Sorry about that. She gets annoyed when people state the obvious.” The voice was young under the hood.

“Where is your Ambassador?” the woman asked, voice carrying the unmistakable bite of Andermani Chinese.

Duval glared at her, eyes half-focused, blood leaking down the side of his face. “Fuck you and fuck your emperor.”

The massive woman knelt down and hissed in his face, “I don’t serve the Emperor, you frenchified, jackbooted thug. Now tell me where the Ambassador is or I rip your arm off and beat you to death with it.” She gripped his shoulder hard enough that he felt the bone protest and he couldn’t stifle the gasp of pain.

“H… he’s in the city… w… with his mistress,” he gasped, “B… building a… across the square… a… apartment twenty-three.”

“He’s lying,” said a voice he hadn’t heard in years. This time it wasn’t drunk, wasn’t pretending to be air-headed. It was cold, incisive, and if he hadn’t hated the owner quite so much he would never have recognized it. But he’d followed her career over the years, obsessively trying to prove to his superiors that she wasn’t an empty airhead, but St. Just had ignored him, telling him to drop it, telling him that the bitch was merely a good actor, as if that couldn’t work both ways. And now she was here.

Solace-and-Justice Smythe stood over him, not bothering with the mask, but not in any of her uniforms. She was in combat armor and held a baton in one hand. He recognized it. It was from his desk, an antique of the Napoleonic era of old earth, a field marshal’s baton. She flipped it and rammed the handle into his solar plexus. “Where,” she said, “is the Ambassador?” she punctuated each word with a jab, each one hurting more than the last, each making his need to flee rise higher and higher. He found himself wanting to curl into a ball, to flee screaming from those cold cold eyes.

He opened his mouth, uncertain what he was going to say, then just babbled, “He… he’s an… a fool… an… imbecile… Please. He doesn’t know anything.” He found himself saying, begging, and hating himself for it. “The codes… I… I can give you the,” he reached out a hand towards the desk and, trying to hide fear and a sliver of excitement at maybe taking the bitch with him… maybe he’d even survive…

Without even shifting her stance or taking her eyes of his, she twirled the baton and shattered his hand before it could lift the drawer handle that would trigger the explosive destruction of all his files and most of the office. He screamed, pulling his hand to his chest, then watched, wide eyed, as she motioned the big woman toward the desk.

“Rip the desktop off. The drawer is rigged to blow if you use the handle,” Solace said. Then, in a show of strength that couldn’t possibly be natural, the masked amazon, who had to be a skrag, tore the heavy wooden desk apart without appreciable effort. Moments later, they were accessing the Embassy’s security records as if they had already had the codes.

Solace looked up from the screen of a reader and said to the man, “Get your ambassador. Tell him that, in the name of the Erewhon Security Apparatus, Haven’s diplomatic credentials are hereby withdrawn. Before you depart, you will find, no doubt, a formal declaration of war. You and your people should consider yourselves prisoners of war, but you will be returned to your government in due time.”

And with that, she left the office, not looking back. She’d taken his baton… that bitch!

======

“Well?” McAvoy asked as Solace rejoined the meeting, not having bothered to change out of her outfit. “Any information?”

“Not much. Still don’t know much more about Perseus… but Guillotine consists of two attacks timed to roughly coincide. Atropos should be hit first, then Jewel. They’re apparently hoping to get some of Jewel’s defenses to move through to defend the Maegi,” she said in disgust. “No idea of force numbers, but if they’re planning on hitting three or four systems at once and not losing their own forward bases, I’m guessing it’s going to be about fifteen of the wall all told… I can’t be certain how much, exactly. We currently have, as far as I know, five squadrons of the wall at Hancock and four of the wall at Yeltsin, and Jewel has two of the wall and six battlecruisers. If I was going to hit that, I’d bring…” she considered. “I’d bring eight to ten at each location, assuming Haven has a good force report. But since they’re trying to get us to draw down our forces, I’m guessing they can only spare six squadrons of DNs and SDs to each attack wave… maybe four and three against Jewel.”

McAvoy looked stunned. “And you think you can stop them?”

“If my messages get to Jewel and Manticore fast enough?” Solace asked, “Yes. I think Admiral White Haven will figure something out for Yeltsin and Parks isn’t an idiot… if they can get warning to him in time. Jewel’s riskier.” She shrugged. “What, exactly they’ll do I can only guess at. I don’t have a complete tactical picture.”

“And you think you can make a difference with one squadron?” McAvoy asked, sounding doubtful.

“It’s not the strength… it’s the location. An ounce of surprise is worth a ton of throw weight.”

Hall nodded. “She’s got my vote. But only if you provide us with payment for the ships we’re giving you.”

“Payment?” Imbesi asked. “We’re not mercenaries!”

“Agreed,” Fuentes said, then added, “Sorry, Walter, I was agreeing with Thomas. I want an agreement from Andros-Brandyne that our ships will be replaced, at full cost, with Manticoran strength modern wallers.”

Solace considered, then turned to Ambassador Carson. “Write up the deal. My brother will sign for New Temple. But this means I’m in command of the fleet, not McAvoy,” she said to the Erewhonians.

“That’s fine,” Alesandra said. “We’re going to keep the Admiral here with four of the wall. Brazil, Swaziland, Wu, and Siam all have older sensors and half-strength crews. We’ll send you with Ottis, Ford, Palestine, Azteca, Sundaland, and Greenland.”

“Someday, you’ll have to tell me why you didn’t rename them when you got them from the Solies,” Solace said, standing. She raised her glass and saluted them. “But today is not that day. Lady, Gentlemen. To what I hope is a short victorious war.”

Next: Crown of Stars – Part 4, Chapter 4

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Deltoren, Parzival, and bearblue, but all of you who read my work and comment are wonderful. Really.

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) on hiatus here and a Divine Trials Story over on Questionable Question (account required). Please check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have begun a series of smaller jump-threads called EssJay’s Omake Theatre. The first, Big Box Isekai is about a Warehouse Store that’s reborn in another world. The second, Zed & The Walrus-Men, is a more lighthearted look at what might have been if I’d been made a jumper at age sixteen.