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"Here come the Manties, Citizen Admiral," Citizen Commander Morris called out, and Jane Kellet looked up quickly. She'd known the defenders would have the precious advantage of near real-time data on her command thanks to their FTL sensor net, but her own gravitics were quite capable of picking up impeller signatures at this range. Now she saw them on her plot, coming at her, and her eyebrows rose at the data codes beside their icons.

"Are you certain about those class IDs, Olivia?" she asked her tac officer.

"CIC's confidence is high, Citizen Admiral," Citizen Commander Morris replied. "We see no evidence that they're trying to spoof us, nor are they running under stealth. Of course, with that much power to their wedges, even Manty stealth systems would be pushed to the max. Our best count makes it five superdreadnoughts and eleven battlecruisers with eight light cruisers or destroyers screening them."

"And they're accelerating at four hundred and thirty-five gravities?"

"Aye, Ma'am. CIC makes it... four-point-two-six KPS squared. That's why their signatures are so clear."

"I see." Kellet leaned back in her command chair, stroking her chin, and Citizen Commissioner Penevski looked a question at her.

"I'm a bit surprised by their tactics, Citizen Commissioner," Kellet admitted. "Given their acceleration, they must have cut their pod strength to the bone. Everything they've got has to be inside their wedges, and that means we can't be looking at more than a hundred pods or so."

"Why would they do that?" Penevski asked.

"That's what I don't quite understand," Kellet said. "Unless..." She tapped some numbers into her plot and frowned at the vectors the display obediently generated. "Well, I suppose that could be it," she said finally.

"What could?" Pevenski's tone was that of a woman who was reining in her own frustration to be polite... and wanted the Citizen Rear Admiral to know it. Kellet's mouth quirked wryly at the thought, and she looked up at the people's commissioner.

"Their current course and acceleration will intercept our projected vector well before the point at which we'd make turnover for a zero-speed intercept of their base," she said. "They probably figure we have to maintain our profile that far whatever we intend to doand they're right," she admitted. "I suppose what they could be hoping to do is to blow past us with the maximum velocity differential they can generate and rake hell out of us in a passing engagement, but I wouldn't have thought they'd try something like that."

"Why not?"

"Because it buys them the worst of all worlds, Ma'am. Their current acceleration indicates that they're light on pods, so they've sacrificed a lot of firepower to achieve it. At the same time, our accel curve almost has to have told them we're coming in heavy with podson the battleships, at least; they probably figure the heavy cruisers are light, since they can't know how much reserve impeller strength the Mars-class has. Our closing speeds won't really matter very much to the kind of missile exchange they're inviting, and we'll hurt them badly at the very least. And after we do, they'll be behind us, headed out-system and unable to kill enough velocity to stay with us while we go sailing merrily inward and blow their fleet base to dust."

"Could they be intending to reverse acceleration before we actually intercept them?" Penevski asked.

"Certainly they could, and it's what I would have expected them to do, assuming they intended to fight us at all," Kellet agreed. "But in their place, I'd want to do that at some point after we've made turnover... especially since that would've let them pull a lower acceleration. Which, in turn, would have meant they could have brought along a maximum pod loadand used their EW to hide their signatures longer to keep us guessinginstead of stripping down and coming in wide open this way."

"Could it be that they just want to engage as far from their base as possible?" Penevski wondered.

"It could," Kellet conceded, "but, again, I can't see a reason they should. Their accel will let them come further out to meet us and match vectors soonerand further from their basethan they could have otherwise if that's what they want to do, Ma'am. What it won't do, however, is give them any particular advantage. Even with maximum pod loads, they'd have been able to match vectors far beyond our missile range of the base. Meeting us further out of range of it doesn't offer any advantage commensurate with the sacrifice in firepower they've accepted."

"Maybe surprise just panicked them into making a mistake, then," Penevski suggested.

"I suppose it's possible..."


Chapter Thirty-Four | Echoes Of Honor | * * *



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