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NOT Day Thirteen, but Trigger Man related anyway.

I'm working on today's writing, but it occurs to me that the third part of the conversation between Captain Malcolm and Commodore Sortino is... well, necessary, to understand any excerpts going forward. That whole scene will need some heavy editing -- as a fellow named Channing reminded me earlier today (discussing a different project on my writing page, but it applies to this as well), there can be a density of exposition that kills things off. I may need to spread things around a bit. I can even think of a technique or two. But that's for later.

In the meantime, here's 2,300 words, finishing that scene out. I'm putting it in the extended entry blank, so if you want to read it, click on the "continue reading" link at the bottom of this entry if you're on Websnark reading this, or click on the link at the top of the page if you're reading this from an RSS feed.

In this bit, we also have the reason this story is called Trigger Man in the first place. And people who have access to my writing page can see this scene plus everything up until yesterday. As of today, I'm caught up sending out the password to folks, so if you don't have the password and would like it, send me a request at websnark AT gmail DOT com. If you sent one already and never heard from me, I'm sorry. Please send it again.




            Malcolm’s mind swum. “It... it’s incredible. It’s perfect. They’ll never know what hit them! We can end this war in two years!

            “That’s right. And we can make it clear that there’s no possible way for any power of any size to take on the Empire of Citidel and win. That if it looks like you can stymie us, we’ll change the god damn rules of the universe on you.” Sortino smiled slowly. “That is something the Concordians can’t compete with. They can drive at us in conventional interstellar warfare until they get enough of an opening to secure a new source of resources, but they can’t outthink us, or outdevelop us. And we can open up a second front in this war without substantially affecting our infrastructure or ability to supply it... if we can get there. And that’s the problem.”

            “What do you mean? We have fifth stage rated ships—”

            “We have some fifth stage rated ships. As many as we could build in this timeframe... as many as we could afford to build. Look around you, Malcolm. We needed entirely new shipyards to build the Bokken class of light cruisers. We needed the support facilities to supply a full task force and then to convey them. All that cost over thirty billion pounds imperial. That’s before the cost of putting even one ship together. And a single Bokkon class ship cost close to a hundred billion pounds imperial. How long do you think we can do that?”

            Malcolm whistled. “All right, good point,” he said, taking a long swig of the potent whiskey. His face was beginning to numb, but he wasn’t sure that was the alcohol so much as his expectations being blown apart. “Wait... that’s... that’s why you’ve got those huge cargo ships. And those ship tenders! They’re fifth stage rated, aren’t they?”

            “That’s right. One thing hasn’t changed with the new H/L drives – it doesn’t take substantially more hardware to drive twenty million tons of starship through a t-point than twenty thousand tons. So we’ve cheated. Cargo ships of immense size, also capable of carrying a few thousand IA soldiers. Ship tenders capable of hauling six frigates, or three heavy cruisers, two destroyers or one battleship, all on their own – hauling them through the t-point. Resupply and service ships designed to carry the components for stardocks and bases right through to Dublin. We’ll be able to set up shop there and be ready to star marching down the t-points to victory inside of five months... only there’s a problem.”

            “A problem?” Malcolm breathed out as it dawned on him. “How many people are on New Dublin?”

            “Well, we haven’t gotten recent data, what with the war and all... but if the synthetics are right based on trends, probably one to one point two billion people. And while they won’t have significant military resources, they will have a full skyguard plus some equivalent of the Imperial High Guard to protect against pirates or the like. And they may have some military hardware in-system. just because they’re helping supply the overall war effort, just like the rest of the Concordian planets.”

            “So they might be able to fight us off if we go in there with tenders and cargo ships. Even if we have some capital ships being hauled.”

            “That’s right. Or worse – much worse – they might be able to get a ship through the t-point to Cork. If they manage to get the word out before we’re ready, we lose at least half our advantage.”

            Malcolm nodded. “So... the Bokkens.... are there to secure the system?”

            “That’s right. The Bokkens, a group of three stealth corvettes to sneak up on the T-point – and let me tell you, the amount of money those corvettes cost was obscene, and a single heavy cruiser to act as command and control. Only we need to have a swift, decisive victory. We need to establish not only orbital superiority and t-point superiority but system superiority, and we need to do it fast.”

            Malcolm frowned. “With fifty-four ships, where they’ll at least have a skyguard, maybe have military ships and high guard, and certainly will be able to start launching things from the surface at us?”

            “Fifty-seven ships, counting the corvettes and the Usnach.”

            “The Usnach?”

            “The INHCX-6701 Usnach. That’s my ship – the C-n-C I mentioned.”

            “Oh, right.” Malcolm frowned. “A sticky problem. It’s certain we could take the system, unless we’re unlucky enough to have a convoy doing repair and refit in the system, but doing it while containing them, keeping them out of the t-point and keeping the populace from developing nasty tricks? Hell, we won’t even have troops to land initially, will we?”

            “No, we won’t. They’ll be second wave only.”

            Malcolm frowned, thinking. He was trained in strategy and tactics, as all naval officers were. In particular, he was schooled in fighting a ship, and using that ship as an overall strategic effort. All cruisers, with no frigates or destroyers, no cover fire ­­– not even fighter support....

            “Commodore... I don’t see how we can do it,” he finally said. “Not within the Conventions of War.”

            “Yes... the Conventions of War,” Sortino said, absently. He then turned to face Malcolm, eyes narrow. “Captain, can you summarize what the Conventions of War say about antimatter weapons?”

            Malcolm blinked. “Sir?”

            “You brought up the Conventions of War, Captain. I assume you’re familiar with them.”

            “Yes, sir. Sir, they prohibit strategic use of antimatter under any circumstances.”

            “Why?”

            “It’s too destructive, sir. Using enough antimatter to have any effect on a target means having too much effect. Using them has been classified as a war crime.”

            “No, Captain. Using them strategically has been classified as a war crime. What do the conventions say about tactical use of antimatter weaponry?”

            “Sir... they don’t need to say anything. Antimatter isn’t effective tactically.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because, sir.” Malcolm shook his head – the question seemed absurd. “Yes, you could make an antimatter torpedo that would kill a ship it hit, but if you didn’t hit that ship it becomes a hazard to both sides. Plus, any ship that’s carrying an antimatter weapon is asking for destruction – all it would take is one hit causing the weapon’s Pennet trap to fail, and then there’s no more ship. It’s far more effective to carry fusions to crack ships with, because until you arm them....”

            “Yes, yes. Only we’re not discussing ship-to-ship combat here. We’re discussing planetary subordination.”

            “Which is strategic use of antimatter and therefore illegal.”

            “Think creatively, Malcolm. Yes, an antimatter bombardment would be wholly illegal. No matter how satisfying it would be to blow them straight to Hell, and no matter that we can rain down conventional ordinance until just as many cities are destroyed and just as many people are dead and get medals for it. But we don’t have to use antimatter on their cities or on their land. We don’t have to invoke Hell. If we do a spread of five high altitude antimatter missiles, which themselves disperse ten very small antimatter warheads apiece, detonating many kilometers over the surface, what would happen?”

            Malcolm bit his lip. “Well, there would be shockwaves – plenty of damage—”

            “Yes, but less than direct conventional missile attacks. Plus, there would be little radiation and fallout. Go on.”

            “Atmospheric disruptions would be pretty severe. The weather would go straight to Hell for a while... there’d be massive EMPs....”

            “And what would that cause on the ground?”

            “Theoretically? It would disrupt power systems, knock out electronics, screw up communications....”

            “Exactly. It would sow chaos into the wind. That would give the task force enough time to hunt and kill any ships in the sky, give the stealth corvettes a chance to secure the t-point... and if we coordinate the second wave’s entry tightly enough, give the Imperial Army a perfect ground to land troops in. Am I right?”

            “I... it could work, though I don’t see how this is tactical instead of strategic.”

            “Semantics, Alex. We send in an antimatter carrier along with the task force. We let the task force move in and hunt, monitoring the ground situation from C-n-C. We try to force conditions to be right to deploy antimatter as a spoiler. If we manage those conditions, we exploit the opportunity and manage tactical antimatter use.” Sortino smiled. “You see?”

            “Barely. I’m not sure we’d be on the moral high ground, though.”

            “Are you that worried about the moral high ground, Alex? If it means making them pull their forces off Campos?” He spoke more quietly. “And off Aurora?”

            Malcolm flushed. “Commodore, I don’t give a damn how we knock them out. I’m just saying there are consequences....”

            “And those are mine to consider, Alexander. But one thing is certain. You’re right that any hit against an antimatter carrier could mean that carrier disintegrating. So, for depressingly practical reasons, it can’t be the C-n-C ship that uses and deploys it. It will have to be one of the Bokkens, using the others as cover until it can deploy.” Sortino turned to look at Malcolm.

            Malcolm’s eyes grew wide. “You want me to use antimatter weapons against a planet?

            “I need someone I know I can trust,” Sortino said. “Someone committed to ending this war. Someone cool under fire and battle tested, but not without compassion. Someone with a personal stake in this war, but someone still capable of fighting his ship.”

            “You’re crazy. I’m not half the ship commander of your top elite. You want one of them.”

            “I don’t want to use the so called top elite at all on the Bokkens, Malcolm. They’re too locked into a style of combat. We may have less than sixty of these new light cruisers, but they’re still entirely new, with new technologies, needing new techniques. I don’t want someone who’s been fighting destroyers for years to walk in and try to apply their experience to this new ship. They’re too damn expensive to use in a battle of attrition and containment anyway, and that’s all these idiots know!”

            “So... that’s why you promoted me? Why you promoted all these others to captain out of turn? You’re putting together a new combat manual?”

            “That’s why I promoted them. You, I needed to promote for another reason.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Antimatter, of course.” Sortino paced back towards the far wall, draining the last of his drink. “Despite the fact that the Conventions of War prohibit the use of strategic antimatter weapons, there is a specific procedure for their use on the book. They have to be launched with the direct consent of the ship’s commanding officer. That commanding officer must be of command rank – at least a Ccaptain. And right up to the point where the missiles clear the bays, that captain needs to have the ability to abort the launch, even if a commodore is screaming for his head. Those are the rules... Captain Malcolm.”

            Malcolm stared at Sortino.

            “It’s actually ritualized, now. There’s a mechanism that antimatter carriers mount, right to the captain’s chair. It’s a couple of levers designed to be squeezed together, which completes a simple circuit. The ship’s synthetic detects that circuit is closed and therefore enables the missiles to be launched. I’d say it arms them, but you don’t arm antimatter. You just stop containing it so rigorously.” Sortino’s voice sounded almost clinical. Detatched. “It’s called the trigger. And the captain who pulls that trigger is called the trigger man.”

            “And you promoted me... to make me your trigger man?”
            “That’s right.” Sortino turned to face him, his eyes almost burning in the low light. “I promoted you to make you my trigger man, Alex. I’m offering you command of INLCX-6528 Sabre. Your duty, should you accept that command, is to learn the Sabre’s systems and crew, train, and deploy with the rest of the Task Force for the New Dublin System. We will be making transition carefully timed, to clear transition while New Dublin and hopefully any ship traffic in system will be on the far side of New Dublin’s star, so they don’t see us enter the system. We then go low and quiet and wait – carefully moving into position without being detected, until New Dublin is well and truly in its drought and hidden from the t-point. Then we attack, clearing the skyguard, establishing orbital superiority, and you would then pull the trigger on your ordinance, letting it be deployed at C-n-C’s command. We launch your missiles, causing a spread in both hemispheres to disrupt their power and communications, and we engulf and contain until the Army can arrive and take over.”

            Malcolm swallowed. “And if I refuse?”

            “If you refuse you’ll be assigned to command duty here at Scabbard, as a member of my staff.”

            “You won’t send me to fight in one of the non-carriers?”

            “I won’t trust you to fight in one of the non-carriers. You’d get a third-stage rated heavy frigate command or maybe even a very small cruiser. You’ll move on with your career. But if you’re the man I think you are, you’ll accept this assignment. And if you’re not the man I think you are, then your place isn’t on this task force.” He smiled, not unkindly. “Quite honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into what you’d do if you refused, Alexander. I didn’t think it very likely you would refuse.”

            Malcolm looked away. A chance to free Campos in months instead of years....

            “If it’s not against the Conventions of War, I don’t have a problem with this assignment,” he said, carefully. “I won’t do anything illegal, but if it is legal....”

            “Like I said, we’re going to be scrupulous about adhering to proper procedures and protocols,” the Commodore said.

            Malcolm looked down, and then nodded. “Then I’m your trigger man,” he said.

            Sortino smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

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Comments

Listen to Channing,dude. The man knows how to write.

He also knows how to comment on writing. I can tell brilliance when I see it.

The Sabre. Cute.

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