Back | Next

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Additional damage reports came in over the next several minutes, and Honor settled back in her command chair as she digested them. Intolerant's damages were the worst, and from the medical reports, it sounded very much as if Alistair McKeon was going to require a new CO for his battle squadron's first division. Honor had never gotten to know Allen Morowitz as well as she would have liked . . . and it didn't look as if she would ever have the chance to.

Star Ranger was the next most badly damaged. Her personnel casualties were even worse than Intolerant's, but that was largely because she was one of the older, manpower-intensive Star Knight-class ships. From the reports, her people seemed to have things under control, but she, too, was going to require an extensive shipyard stay. Given her age, and how long repairs were likely to take, it was probable BuShips would simply write her off, but at least Honor should be able to get her home.

Ajax's damage was much less severe. Assuming nothing else happened to her, her repairs should be both routine and rapid.

Taken altogether, things could have been far worse, she told herself. She'd allowed her task force to be mousetrapped, and the fact that the Havenites had used a variant of her own Sidemore tactics to do it lent it an additional sting. But the thing which had made it effective at Sidemore was the same thing which had made it equally effective here: no one in normal-space could "see" into hyper-space to detect units there. And at least she'd gotten the carriers clear before the bad guys dropped in on her.

"Is Rifleman still clear, Mercedes?" she asked looking up from the damage reports.

"As far as we can tell, they don't haven't a clue where she is," Brigham replied.

"Good. But tell her to stay where she is until we clear the hyper limit." Brigham looked a question at her, and Honor smiled thinly. "Whoever's in charge on the other side has already demonstrated she's pretty good. At the moment, it looks like all her available units, aside from Bogey Four, are still accelerating in-system. They probably hope we'll take enough lumps from the Arthur pods to slow us down, let them overhaul. But if I were in command on the other side, and if I had enough hulls for it, I'd have at least one more task group waiting in hyper."

"To drop just outside the limit, right in our faces just when we think we're about to get away clean," Brigham said.

"Exactly. Mind you, I think the odds are good that they've committed everything they have already, but let's make sure before Rifleman hypers out to tell Samuel where to pick up his LACs."

"Yes, Your Grace. I'll see to it."

* * *

"Is Moriarty ready?" Rear Admiral Emile Deutscher asked his chief of staff.

"Yes, Sir," the chief of staff replied.

"Good." Deutscher returned his attention to his tactical display. His two obsolete wallers had almost certainly been completely dismissed by the Manties as a threat. And, by and large, the Manties would have been correct about that. After all, at this range, without pods on tow, they couldn't possibly have a weapon with the range to reach them.

But the superdreadnoughts' real purpose, from the beginning, had simply been to attract the Manties' attention away from the real threat.


Deutscher looked back up at his chief of staff.


"Sir, why did Admiral Foraker call it 'Moriarty'? I've been trying to figure it out for weeks now."

"I wondered that, myself," Deutscher admitted. "So I asked Admiral Giscard the same question. He said one of Admiral Foraker's staffers had introduced her to some old, pre-space fiction. 'Detective stories,' he called them. Apparently this 'Moriarty' was some kind of mastermind character in one of them." He shrugged.

"Mastermind," the chief of staff repeated, then chuckled. "Well, I guess that does make sense, in a way, doesn't it?"

* * *

"We'll be entering the estimated range of Arthur's pods in another forty-five seconds, Your Grace," Jaruwalski said.

"Thank you." Honor turned her command chair to face the Ops officer. "Remind all of our tac officers of that."

"Yes, Ma'am."

* * *

"They're entering range now, Sir."

"Thank you," Deutscher said. "Send the execute."

"Aye, Sir!"

* * *

"Missile launch! Multiple missile launches, multiple sources!"

Honor snapped her command chair back around, staring at the master plot at Jaruwalski's sudden sharp announcement.

"Estimate seventeen thousand—I say again, one-seven thousand—inbound! Time to attack range, seven-point-one minutes!"

For just a moment, Honor's brain flatly refused to believe the numbers. Their scout ships' arrays had detected only four hundred pods in orbit around Arthur. The maximum number of missiles aboard them should only have been four thousand!

Her eyes darted across the plot, and then flared wide in sudden understanding. The others—all the others—were coming from the nine ships of Bogey One. Which was flatly impossible. Two superdreadnoughts and seven battlecruisers couldn't possibly have fired or controlled that many missiles, even if they'd all been pod designs! But—

"Where the hell did they all come from?" Brigham demanded, and Honor looked at her.

"The battlecruisers," she said, her mind going back to the Battle of Hancock.

"Battlecruisers?" Brigham looked incredulous, and Honor chuckled without any humor at all.

"They aren't battlecruisers, Mercedes; they're minelayers. The Havenites build their fast fleet minelayers on battlecruiser hulls, just like we do. And we were so busy worrying about superdreadnoughts and pod-layers it never occurred to us to look closely at the 'battlecruisers.' So they've been sitting there, ever since they stopped accelerating, doing nothing but lay pods."

"Jesus!" Brigham murmured softly, and it was a prayer, not an imprecation. Then she drew a deep breath. "Well, at least they can't have the fire control to handle it all!"

"Don't bet on it," Honor said grimly. "They wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of setting this up if they hadn't figured they could actually hit something with it after they did."

* * *

"Moriarty confirms control, Sir."

"Good," Deutscher said, and sat back with a hungry smile.

* * *

"Engage Bogey One!" Honor snapped.

"Aye, aye, Ma'am," Jaruwalski responded. "Should I use the Agamemnons, too?"

"Yes," Honor replied. "Gamma sequence."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am," Jaruwalski repeated, and began issuing orders over the task force's tactical net.

Given the geometry—the effective closing speed between TF 82 and the launch platforms was almost thirty-six thousand KPS—the battlecruisers' Mark 16 MDMs, with one less "stage" than Imperator's larger missiles, had a maximum powered range of forty-two million kilometers. But the range was over fifty-three million, which meant the Mark 16s would have to coast ballistically for eleven million kilometers between stage activations. That would add an additional minute and a half to their flight time, bringing it to a total of thirteen and a half minutes, whereas Imperator's more powerful missiles could make the entire run under power, in only seven. Moreover, the smaller missiles' closing speed relative to their targets would be over twenty thousand KPS lower.

But by using the gamma sequence she and Jaruwalski had worked out months ago, Imperator would roll her first half dozen patterns with missile settings which duplicated those of the Mark 16s. The Agamemnons would roll six patterns each at the same rate, which would take seventy-two seconds, and those six salvos—each of two hundred and seventy-six missiles—would make the crossing at the Mark 16s' speed.

Only after the smaller MDMs were away would Imperator begin firing full-power patterns of her own, one double pattern every twenty-four seconds. The first of her 120-strong salvos would arrive on target eight and a half minutes after she first began rolling pods, five minutes before the battlecruisers' fire.

* * *

In Arthur orbit, the installation codenamed Moriarty came fully on-line for the first time. It wasn't a very huge installation. In fact, it was no larger than a heavy cruiser, and it had been transported in two prefabricated modules aboard a fleet supply ship, then assembled in place in less than forty-eight hours.

As warship tonnages went, four hundred thousand wasn't a lot . . . unless all of it was dedicated to fire control.

Moriarty was Shannon Foraker's system defense answer to the individual inferiority of the Republic's missile pods. The control station was a flat, light-drinking black, constructed of radar absorbent materials. It was almost impossible to detect, as long as it practiced strict emission-control discipline, and the Manticoran recon arrays had missed it entirely.

Now it reached out through the other innocent-looking orbital platforms which had been seeded about the system at the same time. Each of those platforms was, in effect, a less capable, simpler minded version of the RMN's own Keyholes. They formed a network, an expanding spray of tentacles, which gave Moriarty literally thousands of fire control telemetry links. And what those links lacked in Manticoran-style sophistication they made up in numbers, because they could control the missiles assigned to them without break all the way to their targets.

Moriarty had only one real weakness, aside from the fact that if it had been detected, killing it would have been relatively simple. That weakness was the light-speed limitation on its telemetry. It simply couldn't provide real-time corrections as its missiles raced down range. On the other hand, neither could Honor's telemetry links. Aside from the superior seeking systems and more capable AIs aboard the Manticoran missiles, the accuracy playing field had just been leveled.

And the Republic's salvo contained sixty-two times as many missiles as the largest salvo TF 82 was firing.

* * *

"Get on them! Get on them now!"

Captain Amanda Brankovski, Samuel Miklós' senior COLAC, knew her people didn't need any exhortations from her, but she couldn't help it. She watched the incredible cyclone of missile icons streaking across her plot towards the task force, and it seemed impossible that any of its ships could survive.

The five LAC wings, arranged "above" and "below" the heavier ships and fifty thousand kilometers closer to Arthur, belched an answering hurricane. Vipers and standard counter-missiles began to launch from the LACs as Mark 31s roared away from the starships, and incoming missiles began to vanish.

Brankovski had five hundred and sixty LACs, one for every thirty attack missiles, and they punched a steady stream of counter-missiles into their teeth. Tethered and free-flying Ghost Rider decoys sang to the Republican MDMs' sensors. Dazzlers were launched into their faces, exploding in bursts of blinding interference. And Imperator and her consorts punched out wave after wave of Mark 31s.

The front of the Republic's missile attack eroded under TF 82's defensive fire like a cliff, crumbling under the assault of a stormy sea. But, like the cliff, it was only the front of a far larger mass. Thousands of MDMs were killed, yet more thousands remained, and Honor Harrington watched them reaching out for her command.

* * *

Emile Deutscher watched Moriarty's fire race towards the enemy. Even from here, he could see that virtually none of the attack missiles were becoming lost in midflight, as normally happened in MDM combat. All of them held their courses, and he felt totally certain no defenses, not even the Manties', could stop them.

Which left the little problem of the fire coming at him.

* * *

It took the massive attack seven minutes to reach Task Force 82. Of the seventeen thousand missiles in the initial launch, only sixty lost their telemetry links and self-destructed after wandering off course. The Mark 31s killed over three thousand in the outermost intercept zone. In the middle zone, bolstered by the Katanas' Vipers and the standard counter-missiles from the Shrikes and Ferrets, they killed another four thousand. Jammers blinded another sixteen hundred missiles as they tried to settle into final acquisition, and the incredible cauldron of missile, starship, and LAC impeller wedges was too much for Moriarty's arthritic light-speed telemetry to sort out any longer.

The surviving eighty-three hundred MDMs dropped into autonomous mode as they hit the inner counter-missile zone. Shipboard EW did its best to spoof and blind the attackers, last-second decoy launches drew some of them astray, and a seemingly solid wall of Mark 31s met them head on.

Four thousand more MDMs were wiped out of space. Another eleven hundred fell prey to decoys or jamming. Three hundred of the survivors were penetration-aid EW platforms, without laser heads, and almost half the remaining twenty-nine hundred lost lock and reacquired not starships, but the nearer, more readily seen LACs. They streaked in to the attack, but Manticoran LACs were extraordinarily difficult targets. "Only" two hundred and eleven of them—and the twenty-one hundred of Honor's men and women aboard them—were killed.

And then the final sixteen hundred missiles attacked TF 82's starships, most of them targeted on the two superdreadnoughts.

Only one thing saved HMS Imperator, and that was the damage already inflicted on Intolerant. Imperator's consort's defenses and electronic warfare capability were simply far below par. She was both easier to see and easier to hit. The near-sighted autonomous-mode MDMs mobbed her in huge numbers, ignoring Imperator, and her last-ditch defenses weren't equal to the task of protecting her.

Warhead after warhead, literally hundreds of them, detonated in a hellish pattern of strobes—bubbles of nuclear fusion spitting deadly harpoons of coherent radiation that crashed through Intolerant's wavering sidewalls and ripped deep, deep into her massively armored hull. Mike Henke's battlecruisers did their best to beat that tide of destruction aside, but they simply lacked the firepower, and they themselves were not immune from attack.

Honor clung to the arms of her command chair, feeling Imperator shudder under the pounding of her own hits, tasting Nimitz in the back of her brain, clinging to her with all his fierce love and devotion as death thundered and bellowed about their ship. Yet even as she did, her eyes were on the plot, watching the lethal wave of fire washing over Intolerant.

No one would ever know how many hits the superdreadnought took, but however many there were, it was too many. They ripped into her again, and again, and again, until, suddenly, she simply disappeared in the most brilliant, eye-tearing flash of them all.

Nor did she go alone. The light cruisers Fury, Buckler, and Atum vanished from Honor's plot, as did the battlecruisers Priam and Patrocles. The heavy cruisers Star Ranger and Blackstone were reduced to crippled hulks, coasting onward ballistically without power or drives. And HMS Ajax faltered suddenly as her entire after impeller ring went down.

Imperator took over a dozen direct hits of her own, yet the flagship's actual damage was incredibly light. Her thick armor shrugged off most of the hits with little more than superficial cratering, and despite the loss of half a dozen energy mounts, she remained fully combat capable.

Honor gazed into the bitter ashes of her display, tasting the cruel irony of her flagship's apparent inviolability as she saw the harrowed wreckage of the rest of her command. Of the twenty starships and five hundred and sixty LACs she'd taken across the hyper limit, only twelve starships, all but two of them damaged, and three hundred and forty-nine LACs survived. And even as she watched, Ajax and the heavy cruiser Necromancer were falling behind due to impeller damage.

"Your Grace," Andrea Jaruwalski said quietly. Honor looked at her. "The remote arrays confirm the destruction of two of their minelayers and heavy damage to one of their superdreadnoughts."

"Thank you, Andrea." Honor was astounded by how calm, how normal, her own voice sounded. It was a pathetic return for what the Havenites had done to her, but she supposed it was better than nothing.

"Harper," she said, "get me a link to Admiral Henke."

"Yes, Your Grace."

Several seconds passed before Michelle Henke's strained face appeared on Honor's com.

"How bad is it, Mike?" Honor asked as soon as she saw her friend.

"That's an interesting question." Henke managed to produce at least the parody of a smile. "Captain Mikhailov is dead, and things are . . . a bit confused over here, just now. Our rails and pods are still intact, and our fire control looks pretty good, but our point defense and energy armament took a real beating. The worst of it seems to be the after impeller ring, though. It's completely down."

"Can you restore it?" Honor asked urgently.

"We're working on it," Henke replied. "The good news is that the damage appears to be in the control runs; the nodes themselves look like they're still intact, including the alphas. The bad news is that we've got one hell of a lot of structural damage aft, and just locating where the runs are broken is going to be a copperplated bitch."

"Can you get her out?"

"I don't know," Henke admitted. "Frankly, it doesn't look good, but I'm not prepared to just write her off yet. Besides," she managed another smile, this one almost normal-looking, "we can't abandon very well."

"What do you mean?" Honor demanded.

"Both boat bays are trashed, Honor. The Bosun says she thinks she can get the after bay cleared, but it's going to take at least a half-hour. Without that—" Henke shrugged, and Honor bit the inside of her lip so hard she tasted blood.

Without at least one functional boat bay, small craft couldn't dock with Ajax to take her crew off. There were emergency personnel locks, but trying to lift off a significant percentage of her crew that way would take hours, and the battlecruiser carried enough emergency life pods for little more than half her total complement. There was no point carrying more, since only half her crew's battle stations were close enough to the skin of the hull to make a life pod practical.

And her flag bridge was not among the stations which fell into that category.

"Mike, I—"

Honor's voice was frayed around the edge, and Henke shook her head quickly.

"Don't say it," she said, almost gently. "If we get the wedge back, we can probably play hide and seek with anything heavy enough to kill us. If we don't get it back, we're not getting out. It's that simple, Honor. And you know as well as I do that you can't hold the rest of the task force back to cover us. Not with Bogey Three still closing. Even just hanging around for a half-hour while we try to make repairs would bring you into their envelope, and your missile defense has been shot to shit."

Honor wanted to argue, to protest. To find some way to make it not true. But she couldn't, and she looked her best friend straight in the eye.

"You're right," she said quietly. "I wish you weren't, but you are."

"I know." Henke's lips twitched again. "And at least we're in better shape than Necromancer," she said almost whimsically, "although I think her boat bays are at least intact."

"Well, yes," Honor said, trying to match Henke's tone even as she wanted to weep, "there is that minor difference. Rafe's coordinating the evacuation of her personnel now."

"Good for Rafe." Henke nodded.

"Break north," Honor told her. "I'm going to drop our acceleration for about fifteen minutes." Henke looked as if she were about to protest, but Honor shook her head quickly. "Only fifteen minutes, Mike. If we go back to the best acceleration we can sustain at that point and maintain heading, we'll still scrape past Bogey Three at least eighty thousand kilometers outside its powered missile range."

"That's cutting it too close, Honor!" Henke said sharply.

"No," Honor said flatly, "it isn't, Admiral Henke. And not just because Ajax is your ship. There are seven hundred and fifty other men and women aboard her."

Henke looked at her for a moment, then inhaled sharply and nodded.

"When they see our accel drop, they'll have to act on the assumption Imperator has enough impeller damage to slow the rest of the task force," Honor continued. "Bogey Three should continue to pursue us on that basis. If you can get the after ring back within the next forty-five minutes to an hour, you should still be able to stay clear of Bogey Two, and Bogey One is pretty much scrap metal at this point. But if you don't get it back—"

"If we don't get it back, we can't get into hyper anyway," Henke interrupted her. "I think it's the best we can do, Honor. Thank you."

Honor wanted to scream at her friend for thanking her, but she only nodded.

"Give Beth my best, just in case," Henke added.

"Do it yourself," Honor shot back.

"I will, of course," Henke said. Then, more softly, "Take care, Honor."

"God bless, Mike," Honor said equally quietly. "Clear."


Back | Next