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Chapter Thirty

The lift doors opened, and Citizen Captain Joanne Hall—known I to friends and family as "Froggie" for reasons which remained a deep, dark secret from the officers and crew of PNS Schaumberg—strode briskly through them.

"The Citizen Captain is on the bridge!" a petty officer announced, and Citizen Commander Oliver Diamato, who had the watch, looked up, then rose quickly. Hall gave him a level look, and he swallowed a mental curse. He should have seen her coming, or at least heard the lift door, before the citizen petty officer announced her presence, and he felt quite certain she would find some way to make that point to him in the very near future. She had a habit of doing things like that.

"Good morning, Citizen Commander." Citizen Captain Hall's dark hair and dark complexion were the exact antithesis of Diamato's golden hair and fair complexion, and her dark eyes gazed levelly into his blue ones. Her coloration was perfectly suited to the severe persona she presented to the universe . . . and somehow the "citizen" hung on the front of Diamato's rank title seemed an afterthought the way she said it.

"Good morning, Citizen Captain!" he replied. "I apologize for not noticing your arrival," he went on, taking the bull firmly by the horns. "I was reviewing the chips of yesterday's sims, and I got more immersed in them than I should have."

"Um." She regarded him thoughtfully for several long seconds, then shrugged ever so slightly. "God hasn't gotten around to issuing eyes for the backs of our heads yet, Citizen Commander. Bearing that in mind, I suppose there's no harm done . . . this time."

"Thank you, Citizen Captain. I'll try not to let it happen again," Diamato replied, and wondered if he was the only person on the bridge who found the entire exchange rather antique and unnatural. Not that he expected to hear anyone else say so, even if they did.

Citizen Captain Hall sometimes seemed not to have heard that the old elitist officer corps and its traditions had been overtaken by events, and she was a stickler for what she referred to as "proper military discipline." Then-Citizen Lieutenant Commander Diamato had been less than delighted when he first discovered that fact upon his assignment to Schaumberg as the battleship's brand-new assistant tactical officer eleven T-months before. A product of the post-Coup promotions, he had risen from junior-grade lieutenant under the old regime to his present rank in barely eight T-years under the New Order. Much of that was the result of raw ability—he was one of the better tactical officers the PN had produced during the present war—but his political commitment had also been a major reason for his meteoric elevation. The Navy's insidious rot under the Legislaturalist officer corps' iron defense of privilege had inspired him with all the contempt for the old elitist order that any good people's commissioner could have desired, and he had been deeply suspicious of someone as old-fashioned (and probably reactionary) as Citizen Captain Hall.

He had expected Citizen Commissioner Addison to share his reservations about his CO. The slender, sandy-blond people's commissioner was absolutely committed to the New Order, after all. Diamato only had to attend a single one of Addison's regular political awareness sessions to realize that, and his fierce egalitarianism ought to have made him and Hall natural enemies. Yet the commissioner had actually supported her, and as Diamato had watched her in action, her sheer competence had overcome even his doubts.

Yes, she was old-fashioned, and he very much doubted she had the proper political opinions. But in large part, that seemed to stem from the fact that she didn't have any political opinions. She did her job exactly as she had under the old regime—far better than most—and let her political superiors worry about policy.

It still struck Diamato as unnatural, but seven months ago she had demonstrated just how well doing things her way worked. Old Citizen Commander Young had been Schaumberg's tactical officer at the time, and Young was the sort of officer who forced Diamato to admit that even the New Order had its weak points. Young's political fervor and patrons had gotten him assigned to a position his ability (or lack of it) could never have earned, and Hall and Addison hadn't managed to get rid of him. Which was why the Citizen Captain had taken personal command of the ship and proceeded to give Citizen Lieutenant Commander Diamato a rather humbling lesson in just how good he himself truly was.

Everyone knew battleships couldn't fight proper ships of the wall and that battlecruisers were even more outclassed by battleships than battleships were by superdreadnoughts. Fortunately, ships of the wall usually couldn't catch battleships, and battleships usually couldn't catch battlecruisers. Unfortunately for the Royal Manticoran Navy, that rule didn't always hold true. It especially didn't hold true when the battleship's captain had the nerve to take her own impellers off-line and just sit there like a hole in space until the Manties were actually in extreme missile range. Hall had that kind of nerve, and less than a month after Citizen Rear Admiral Tourville blew out the Adler System picket, she had neatly ambushed a trio of raiding Manty battlecruisers. They hadn't had the remotest suspicion she was even there until they'd built vectors which gave them no choice, even with their superior acceleration rates, but to come into her engagement range.

RMN battlecruisers were tough customers, especially given the superiority of the Star Kingdom's EW and missiles. Many Republican officers would have hesitated to engage three of them at once, even if she did out-mass them by almost two-to-one. That, in fact, had been Citizen Commander Young's earnest recommendation. Hall hadn't taken it, however . . . and she'd blown two of her enemies right out of space. The third had gotten away, but with enough damage to keep her out of action for months, whereas Schaumberg's repairs had required only five weeks of yard time. It had been a small-scale action, but it had also been a very difficult assignment, and Diamato had been on the bridge when it all went down. Despite the Manties' numerical advantage—not to mention the two destroyers screening them—Hall had made it seem almost routine. The only people who'd appeared more confident than her of her ability to handle it had been her bridge crew (aside from Young), and as Diamato watched their crisp efficiency, he had realized something he'd never quite grasped before.

A military organization was not the best laboratory for working out the proper forms of egalitarian social theory. The defense of a society which enshrined economic and political equality had to be undertaken by an authoritarian hierarchy with the clear, sharply defined sort of chain of command that put a single person ultimately in control, for combat operations were not a task which could be discharged by committee. The fact that, even after she won the battle by doing the exact opposite of what Young had recommended, it had still taken her and Addison another seven months to overcome the old tac officer's political influence in order to get rid of him had only made that even more obvious to Diamato.

That thought had caused him a few anxious moments when he reflected upon the existence of the Committee of Public Safety, but he'd soon realized that it was a false comparison. Military operations were a specialized and limited sphere of human activity. The larger macrocosm of the entire People's Republic required a different approach, and the combination of centralized power and multiple viewpoints represented by the Committee of Public Safety was undoubtedly the best possible compromise.

But Citizen Captain Hall's firm, demanding command style certainly had its place in the military. That, Diamato had come to realize, was the reason Addison supported her to the hilt. The people's commissioner didn't actually seem to like her very much, but he respected her, and the record of Schaumberg's accomplishments under her command was the reason Citizen Rear Admiral Kellet had chosen the battleship as Task Force 12.3's flagship.

"Don't beat your apology to death, Citizen Commander," Citizen Captain Hall said now, with a slight smile that took most of the sting from the words. "You are my tac officer. I suppose it's not totally unreasonable for you to spend some time reviewing tactical problems . . . even when you have the watch."

She stepped past him and seated herself in the command chair, and Diamato folded his hands behind his back while she ran her eyes over the readouts to catch herself up on the state of her command.

"Did Engineering find out what was causing that harmonic in Beta Thirty?"

"No, Citizen Captain." Diamato was glad he'd checked the status of the after impeller room with Citizen Lieutenant Commander Hopkins less than fifteen minutes ago. Letting the Citizen Captain catch one less than fully informed was a seriously unpleasant experience, and Citizen Commissioner Addison wouldn't do a thing to preserve one from the consequences. In fact, Diamato thought, he usually gets behind her and pushes when she comes down on someone.

"Um," she repeated. Then she leaned over and tapped a command code into the touchpad on her chair's arm. Her tactical repeater came on-line, and she frowned pensively at the data codes moving across the display. Diamato glanced inconspicuously over her shoulder and realized she was rerunning the same sim he'd been reviewing when she arrived. She let the one-on-one duel play through on a six-to-one time compression, then looked up so quickly she caught him watching her. He tensed for an explosion, but she only smiled.

"I see why you were so intent on this, Citizen Commander," she told him, and waved him over to stand beside her chair, then restarted the sim again.

"I hadn't realized at the time quite how neatly you pulled off this maneuver here," she went on, freezing the display, and Diamato nodded cautiously. He'd been rather proud of the shot himself. It wasn't one that was likely to prove practical in a fleet action, of course. Walls of battle didn't take kindly to units which suddenly pitched up perpendicular to their original vectors while simultaneously rotating on their long axes and turning through a radical skew turn. Doing that usually caused Bad Things to happen when impeller wedges collided, but the sim had been a single-ship duel, not a fleet action, and the unorthodox maneuver had given him an up-the-kilt shot at his simulated opponent that had inflicted extremely heavy damage.

"The question," Hall went on, leaning back and crossing her legs while she regarded him with an almost whimsical smile, "is whether you saw it coming or simply reacted on instinct." Diamato felt his expression try to congeal, but she shook her head. "Either possibility still puts you well ahead of the normal performance curve, Citizen Commander. I simply want to know which it was for future reference. So which was it?"

"I'm . . . not certain, Citizen Captain," he admitted after a moment. "It all came together without my consciously considering it, and I suppose you might call that instinct. But it wasn't all automatic. I . . . Well, I saw the pattern coming and recognized the possibility, so I had the whole thing sort of waiting in the back of my mind in case it actually happened, and—"

He shrugged helplessly, and she chuckled.

"So you do have the eye, Citizen Commander! I rather thought you might. Good. That's very good, Oliver." Diamato managed not to blink. He'd been her second officer for just under a T-month now and her tactical officer for over three, yet this was the first time she had ever used his first name. In fact, it was the first time she'd ever indicated she even knew what his first name was. Yet what truly astounded him was how good it felt to hear her use it with approval.

She cocked her head, watching him as if she were waiting for something, and his mind raced as he wondered what the hell he was supposed to say now.

"I'm glad you approve, Citizen Captain," he said finally.

"Ah, but you may not be for long, Oliver," she told him with something which looked unaccountably like an actual grin. "You see, now that you've demonstrated that you have it, you and Citizen Commander Hamer and I are going to be spending at least four extra hours a day developing it." Her grin grew broader at his expression, and she reached out and patted him on the elbow. "I'll have the Citizen Exec whip up half a dozen new problems for you in Simulator Seven," she promised. "I'll be interested to see your solutions to them by your next watch."


"Do you really think we can pull this off?" Everard Honeker asked very quietly. Lester Tourville almost gave a snort of laughter, but then he looked up with a much more serious expression as the people's commissioner's tone registered.

"That hardly sounds like the proper attitude for one of the New Order's forward-looking leaders of the People's vanguard," he said. His voice was more confident than the look in his eyes, and he watched Honeker closely, waiting for his reaction with an outward assurance he was far from feeling. He and his people's commissioner had been edging closer and closer to a true partnership for the better part of a T-year, yet this was the first time the citizen vice admiral had dared to expose his own contempt for his political masters quite so clearly.

It wasn't the best possible moment he could have picked, either, he reflected wryly. He'd retained Count Tilly as the flagship of Task Force 12.2 of the People's Navy, and Giscard's entire Twelfth Fleet had just departed the Secour System. In almost precisely twenty-four T-days, the various task forces would arrive simultaneously at their objectives and Operation Icarus would be on. Under the circumstances, this was scarcely a propitious moment to risk fracturing TF 12.2's command team. Then again, he'd been making a habit of doing things at less than optimum moments for quite some time now, and despite his apparent rehabilitation, he was hard pressed to think of a way he could dig his current hole much deeper. Besides, he was confident that Cordelia Ransom had disgusted Honeker just as much as she had disgusted Tourville himself.

The question, the citizen vice admiral thought, is whether or not his disgust with her is going to carry over to the rest of the Committee now that she's gone? It could be very . . . useful to me if it does. Maybe. Especially if Giscard and I are going to end up labeled as two of "McQueen's Men" whether we want to or not!

"Those of us in the vanguard of the People seem to spend a great deal of time looking over our shoulders to see who's following us," Honeker said after several silent seconds. Which, Tourville thought, could be taken several ways. The people's commissioner let him stew for a couple of more seconds, then produced a wintry smile. "Given the fact that some of those people tend to react just a little unreasonably where failure is concerned, my interest in the outcome of our assignment is more than simply academic, however. And, frankly, the thought of heading this deep into Manty space makes me nervous. Very nervous."

"Oh, well, if that's all that's worrying you, put your mind at ease, Citizen Commissioner," Tourville said with a broad grin, trying to hide his vast relief. "Unreasonably" wasn't a word people's commissioners were supposed to use—or not, at least, in connection with their political superiors—when speaking to the officers on whom they rode herd. Honeker's use of it constituted a major advance in the cautious dance they'd been dancing since Honor Harrington's capture, and hearing it made such things as the possibility of being blown to bits by the Manties seem almost minor.

"I'm sure I appreciate your display of confidence, Citizen Admiral," Honeker said dryly. "If it's all the same to you, however, I think I'd prefer something a little more detailed than 'put your mind at ease' when we're headed over two light-centuries into Alliance-held space to hit one of the Manties' allies' home systems with only thirty-six capital ships! If you'll pardon my saying so, this sounds entirely too much like what happened to Citizen Admiral Thurston at Yeltsin's Star, and I'd really rather not reprise his role there. As I recall, there were very few survivors from the first performance."

"There are some differences, Sir," Tourville said mildly, hiding raised mental eyebrows. Honeker's openness had just escalated his own probe by a few thousand percent, and he leaned back in his chair to consider how best to respond to it. The good news was that the two of them sat alone in Tourville's flag briefing room, and he had to assume Honeker would never have voiced his concerns unless he'd either disabled the bugs or else had complete confidence in his ability to control any access to the recordings.

Of course, the fact that he's confident wouldn't necessarily mean he has reason to be. And I suppose I still shouldn't overlook the possibility that he's trying to set me up, get me to say something he can use to nail my ass for StateSec. On the other hand, why wait this long or go to elaborate lengths when all he'd have had to do was remind someone back on Haven of just how splendidly Ransom and I had gotten along before her untimely departure? Besides, I've got to take some chances somewhere along the line.

The thoughts flicked through his brain in a heartbeat, and he smiled at Honeker.

"First of all, Sir, there are some substantial differences between Zanzibar and Yeltsin's Star. Zanzibar has a much larger population, but it's a largely agrarian world. The system's asteroid belts are richer than most, and it's developed a respectable extraction industry in the last thirty or so T-years, but it's primarily an exporter of raw materials—definitely still a third-tier economy. By this time, Yeltsin is at least second-tier, and I think an argument could be made for its rapidly approaching first-tier status. More to the point, the Zanzibar Navy is still essentially a sublight self-defense force which requires a substantial Manty picket for backup, whereas the Grayson Navy has turned Yeltsin into some kind of black hole for our ships."

He paused again, and Honeker nodded. But the people's commissioner still looked unconvinced, and Tourville couldn't really blame him.

"There are also differences between both the operational planning and the leadership of Dagger and Icarus," he went on, "and that's probably even more important than the inherent toughness of the objectives. I never served with Citizen Admiral Thurston, but I knew his reputation. He was a fairly good strategist on paper, but he was pretty much a headquarters type. A 'staff puke,' if you'll pardon the expression. Citizen Admiral Giscard is a shooter, not a chip-shuffler, and he and Citizen Secretary McQueen between them have avoided the weakest parts of Thurston's strategy for Yeltsin's Star."

"Which were?"

"Which were his elaborate maneuvers to draw the Manties and Graysons out of position prior to the attack," Tourville said without hesitation. "He got too clever and tried to manipulate them—to suck them out of his way so as to give himself a virtually unopposed shot at his objective. Worse, he seems to have fallen in love with his own plan. When he finally hit Yeltsin, he'd spent so much time convincing himself his preliminary operations had worked perfectly that he came in fat, dumb, and happy. Granted, he was up against an opponent with better electronic warfare capabilities, which contributed materially to his misappreciation of the enemy's forces when he finally saw them, but the mindset to be misled was implicit in his entire approach. So he walked right into the concentrated firepower of six superdreadnoughts at minimum range."

The Citizen Vice Admiral shrugged and moved his hands as if he were tossing something into the air above the briefing room table.

"If he'd come in more cautiously, kept the range open, he still had more than enough missile power to take the system. His battleships were no match for SDs on a one-for-one basis, but he had thirty-six of them, with two dozen battlecruisers to back them up. If he'd held the range open and pounded the Graysons with missiles, he would've had an excellent chance of annihilating the defenders anyway, but he didn't."

"That was a tactical failure on his part once all the pieces were in play, but, frankly, any strategist who depends on convincing his adversaries to do what he wants has made the kind of mistake even amateurs should know enough to avoid. Oh, it's always worth trying to mislead the other side, convince him you're going to hit him at Point A when you actually intend to blow hell out of Point B, but you should never—ever—set up a strategy under which the enemy has to do what you want if your own operations are going to succeed."

"But wasn't that what Thurston did? You just said he'd brought along enough firepower to win if he'd used it properly even when the enemy didn't do what he wanted."

"He did, but he lacked the will and preparedness to use it properly because his entire strategy had been built towards avoiding the need for a real fight. Frankly, he may have figured he had no option but to set it up that way if he was going to convince his superiors to let him try it. I once met Citizen Secretary Kline on a visit to the Octagon, and I hope you won't take this wrongly, Sir, but he was one of the worst arguments for civilian control of the military you could imagine."

He watched Honeker's eyes as he spoke, but the people's commissioner didn't even blink.

"Citizen Secretary Kline's biggest problem as a war minister," the citizen vice admiral went on after a moment, "was that he was too afraid of losing to let himself have a real shot at winning. To be fair, the Navy wasn't doing all that well in stand-up fights at the time—we were still reorganizing after the Harris Assassination, and we had a lot of people getting on-the-job training—but Kline's idea was to stand on the defensive and let the enemy come to us. I think he hoped that if we did that, the Manties would make the mistakes instead of us, but you may have noticed that they don't seem to make all that many mistakes. Besides, a primarily defensive strategy has to be a losing one when your operational area is two or three light-centuries across. You can't possibly picket every single star system in sufficient strength to defeat a determined attack, and trying to simply guarantees your opponent the right to pick his fights. Which, if he has a clue as to what he's doing, means he'll hit you in one of the places where you're too weak to stop him. If you hope to give yourself any kind of chance of actually winning a war, you simply have to take some chances in order to act offensively. I think some old wet-navy admiral from Old Earth said something along the lines of 'He who will not risk cannot win,' and it's still true today.

"So if I thought that what had actually happened was that Thurston had structured his proposals to understate the probability of a real fight in order to, um, entice the Octagon and the Committee into letting him try it despite the fact that he actually planned on fighting a serious battle, I'd have a lot more respect for him. Citizen Admiral Theisman or Citizen Admiral Giscard—or Citizen Secretary McQueen—might have done that. But if they had, they also would have carried through even if they knew their official diversionary strategy hadn't completely succeeded. Unfortunately, I think what happened was that Thurston really came up with a bad operational concept—or a weak one, at least—which simply happened to fit the profile of the 'low risk' counterattack for which his superiors were searching. He wasn't looking for a fight; he genuinely believed he could avoid one—have his cake and eat it too, if you will—and put his foot straight into it.

"The difference here is that Citizen Secretary McQueen isn't particularly interested in tricking the enemy into doing anything. Instead, she intends to take advantage of things the enemy's already done. And unlike Thurston or Citizen Secretary Kline, she's willing to take a few risks to win. So she expects us to actually do some serious fighting when we reach our objectives, but she's picked those objectives to give us the best shot of achieving our mission goals anyway."

"But Zanzibar has been a Manty ally for almost ten T-years now," Honeker pointed out. "That's why the Alliance put its new shipyard there, and they've picketed it since before Parks took Seaforth Nine away from us."

"They certainly have," Tourville agreed, "but at the moment, they're in very much the position we were in when Thurston launched Operation Dagger, if for rather different reasons. They've got an awful big chunk of their wall of battle in for overhaul at the very moment when they're strategically overextended by their successes. That means they can't possibly be strong everywhere—just as we couldn't—because they simply don't have the ships for it. And that means that someplace like Zanzibar, which is so far behind the front, and where there have been no active operations by either side for over eight years, is going to be lightly covered. They'll have enough firepower on call to deal with a raiding battlecruiser squadron or two . . . but that's why we have three battleship squadrons along for support."

Tourville paused once more, watching Honeker's eyes, then shrugged.

"Frankly," he said, "this is something we should have done years ago, Sir. We lost a lot of battleships trying to stop the Manties short of Trevor's Star, but we've still got over two hundred of them, and our superdreadnought strength has been rising again for the last T-year or so. That means we ought to be using the battleships as aggressively as possible. Since they aren't suitable for the wall of battle—and since our growing SD strength means we can finally stop putting them into it anyway—they should be committed to a strategy of deep raids. They've got the accel to run away from SDs and dreadnoughts and the firepower to squash battlecruisers. That makes them pretty damned close to the ideal tool to keep the Manties thinking about the security of their rear areas. And every ship of the wall we can force them to divert to guarding a star twenty or thirty light-years behind the front is just as much out of action as one we've blown apart. That's what Icarus is all about. What we'd prefer to do is to actually gain the initiative for the first time since the war began, but even if we don't, we should at least take the initiative away from the Manties. And that, Citizen Commissioner, is a damned sight better than anything we've managed yet!"

"So you actually have confidence in the ops plan?" Honeker sounded almost surprised, and Tourville gave a short, sharp bark of a laugh.

"I've got a hell of a lot of confidence in the plan, Sir," he said. "I think we'll probably lose some ships—the Manties may be out of position, but anyone who's ever fought them knows they won't go easy—but their forces are too light to stop us from getting in and doing one hell of a lot of damage. We'll take out more of their ships than they'll knock out of ours, and that doesn't even count the potential damage to their infrastructure ... or their morale." He shook his head. "If this succeeds even half as well as Citizen Secretary McQueen hopes, it will have a tremendous effect on the future course of the war."

And, he added silently, McQueen is also avoiding the other two mistakes Thurston made. She's staying the hell away from Yeltsin's Star . . . and she's not sending us up against Honor Harrington.

"I hope you're right, Citizen Admiral," Honeker said quietly. He still looked anxious, but he seemed less so than he had, and Tourville decided not to broach the subject of whether or not the people's commissioner's superiors might decide to consider the two of them members of any "McQueen Faction" if it came to fresh purges.

Let the poor bastard worry about one thing at a time, the Citizen Vice Admiral thought.

"Well, Sir, we'll know one way or the other in about three T-weeks," he said instead, and he smiled.


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