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Chapter Thirty-Six

"Stand by for translation on my mark," Citizen Commander Tyler said. "Coming up on translation in five... four... three... two... one... mark!"

Task Group 12.4.1, composed of Task Force 12.4's superdreadnoughts and their screening light cruisers, exploded out of hyper into n-space in brilliant, multipeaked flashes of azure transit energy barely a hundred and eighty thousand kilometers outside the twenty-two-light-minute hyper limit of the G0 star known as Basilisk-A. It was a phenomenally precise piece of astrogation, but Javier Giscard was unable to appreciate it properly as he fought the mind-wrenching, stomach-lashing dizziness the crash translation sent smashing through him. He heard others on Salamis' flag bridge retching and knew thousands of other people throughout his flagship's huge hull were doing the same, and even through his own nausea, he reflected on how vulnerable his task group was in that moment. His ships' crews were as completely incapacitated as he himself for anywhere from ten seconds to two full minutes, depending on the individual. During those seconds and minutes, only the ships' automated missile defenses were available to stave off attack, and had any hostile vessel been in position to take advantage of that brief helplessness, the price could have been catastrophic.

But no hostile ship was. Nor was one likely to be, for a star system was an immense target, and he had deliberately avoided a least-time course to the planet Medusa. Not that he was far off one. He intended to waste no time carrying out his mission, but even a slight diversion vastly increased the n-space volume into which his units might make translation. He preferred to have some room to work with... and it wasn't as if he was going to manage to evade the sort of sensor net the Manties must have assembled here. The PN had no hard data on the Basilisk net, but Giscard knew what the Republic's Navy had assembled to watch over its own core systems. The huge, sensitive, deep-system passive sensor arrays standing sentry over the Haven System for the Capital Fleet, for example, measured something on the order of a thousand kilometers in diameter and could detect the footprint of even a normal hyper translation at a range of up to a hundred light-hours. He had to assume the Manties' arrays were even better—after all, every other sensor they had was—which meant there was no point trying to sneak up on them with a slow, furtive approach.

Besides, the Manties were supposed to see him. If the timing worked properly, they would have almost an hour to react to his presence before Citizen Rear Admiral Darlington arrived. Which should give the defenders time to let themselves be well and truly caught between stools when they realized what was actually happening.

Of course, trying to achieve that sort of coordination comes awfully close to asking for the impossible, he acknowledged as his body's protests began to subside and his vision cleared enough for him to see his plot once more. But the beauty of it here is that we don't really have to achieve it. It'll be nice if we pull it off, sort of like frosting on the cake, but we should be all right either way. Should.

"Talk to me, Franny," he said.

"Uh, yes, S— Citizen Admiral." The astrogator shook herself and looked down at her readouts. "On profile, Citizen Admiral," she reported in a brisker, more normal-sounding voice. "Present position is three hundred ninety-five-point-niner million klicks from Basilisk-A, bearing oh-oh-five by oh-oh-three relative. Velocity is... fourteen-point-one KPS, and task force acceleration is three-point-seven-five KPS squared. Range to Medusa orbit is two hundred twenty-nine-point-niner-five million klicks. On current heading and acceleration, we should reach a zero-range intercept with the planet in one hundred thirty-two minutes, with a crossing velocity of forty-three-point-eight-two thousand KPS at the moment we cut its orbit."

"Andy? Anything headed our way yet?" Giscard asked.

"Not yet, Citizen Admiral," Macintosh replied promptly. "We've got a lot of impeller signatures running around in-system, and some of them are almost certainly warships, but nothing seems to be heading our way yet. Of course, we are being just a bit visible, Citizen Admiral. Their sensor net has to have us, and I expect we'll be seeing a reaction soon."

"Thank you." Giscard glanced at Pritchart, then plucked his lip while he considered the two reports. Tyler's only reconfirmed the superb job of astrogation that she'd done to hit her intended n-space locus so closely. The acceleration numbers made Giscard a little nervous, however, even though he'd ordered them himself, for they were higher than was truly safe. Not that the PN found itself with a great deal of choice about cutting safety margins. Like the Royal Manticoran Navy, the prewar People's Navy had restricted its ships' top drive settings to a maximum of eighty percent of their full officially rated inertial compensator capacity. That was because the only warning a compensator usually gave that it was thinking about failing was the abrupt cessation of function... which instantly turned a ship's crew into goo. Since higher power settings were more likely to result in failure, most navies (and all merchant shipping lines) made a habit of limiting their ships to a comfortable safety margin of around twenty percent.

Unfortunately, the new Manty compensators made that unacceptable to the People's Republic. Unable to match the new compensators' power levels, they had opted both to begin building dreadnoughts for the first time in eighteen T-years and to cut their prewar compensator safety margins in half. The new dreadnoughts were considerably less powerful than superdreadnoughts would have been, but their lower tonnage gave them something approaching the acceleration curves a Manty superdreadnought could pull with the RMN's new compensators. By the same token, cutting the safety margins let the People's Navy steal back most of the Manties' advantage across the board. Which didn't help a whole lot when the Manties decided to go to full military power and toss their safety margins out the airlock, but at least it reduced the differential a little.

But Macintosh's report was the really interesting one. Giscard hadn't expected to hear anything just yet, for any defensive picket would need at least ten or fifteen minutes just to get organized... and as much as forty if its CO had been so overconfident he'd let his units sit in orbit with cold impellers. For that matter, Giscard probably wouldn't know for some time even once the Manties began responding, given the quality of their stealth systems. Still, he'd be happier when Macintosh's sensor crews finally detected some reaction to their arrival. In no small part, that was simply because he always hated waiting for the other shoe to drop, but there was more to it this time. Until he had some sign of what the Manties intended to do, he would have no idea whether or not the diversionary effort had worked... or just what sort of hornet's nest he might be sailing into.

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