Mik and I were sitting in an officers’ lounge in Venus One, and thankfully the place was abandoned. It had comfortable chairs and a little self-serve canteen that was fueling our brainstorming session, and we didn’t mind the chance to try to figure out our own tactical dilemmas outside the usual places – you know, offices and briefing rooms.
I was slouched back on a couch, unapologetically eating some grapes, while Mik had a sandwich he’d whipped up. We weren’t saying a whole lot.
“You know what this reminds me of?” I asked after a while, and Mik looked up from his sandwich.
It was incredibly helpful working with someone whose knowledge of antiquated Naval history matched or exceeded my own… but then, I suppose it doesn’t help you, dear reader, if you have no idea what the Belgrano was. Believe me, there’s no shame in it.
A couple of centuries ago, in the 1980s, the United Kingdom and Argentina went to war. The Argentineans had one ship that was a potential threat to the British squadron deployed to the area of the Falklands: the Belgrano. It was a fifty-year-old vessel, but one with enough armor and gun-power to still be a danger to the Royal Navy’s frigates and destroyers.
The Admiralty of the time was most concerned with the Belgrano, so they launched a special mission: they sent one of their most modern nuclear submarines to sink the ship before it had a chance to come out to fight. Now, in the pages of Naval history, this matchup is often seen with interest – these were ships from different eras of technology, so many people who get enthusiastic about ship classes and such things can talk for hours and hours and hours about the incident.
I’m not saying I have. I’m just saying it’s possible, is all. I mean, do you really think I could possibly spend hours talking about the tactical strengths of gun-armed surface combatants when set against nuclear-powered sub-surface combatants…
Anyway, as we sat in the officers’ lounge, it seemed to both Mik and me that we had a similar mission on our hands. We were being sent out after a very specific pair of ships, our orders being to make sure they didn’t get into range of our squadron.
But ours was a more complicated problem, I think, than the British faced with the Belgrano. Because these monitors were new, and Cyclops was old, and we couldn’t submerge to hide from Martian sensors.
“I think the biggest problem right now is that we don’t know where in the formation those two are going to be when we arrive… none of the [stuff] from Melbourne make[s] it look like those ships have a set orbital pattern.”
“Not a regular one, no,” I agreed with Mik’s assessment.
“So logically, we want to figure out a way to draw them out… to separate them. But what sort of distraction could we pose that gets their attention, but doesn’t bring the rest of the Mercury Squadron down on us?”
Yeah. It’d be a hell of a lot more convenient if the Martians just did what we wanted them to do, but the bastards had a habit of not being cooperative like that.
Mik finished his sandwich as he pondered the problem, and I laid down the empty fruit bowl that had held my snack. We needed to make this work…
That was my best contribution for a while, and Mik glanced up when I said it, then chuckled and shook his head, “Yeah.”
Silence rolled in again for a while, and a couple of Ensigns wandered into the lounge, only to see us sitting there and head out again. I guess we didn’t look like amiable company.
“When Shannon needed to duel Chesapeake, the skipper just sent a message into the port challenging single-ship combat,” Mik recalled.
That’s a great story of a frigate fight from the War of 1812 – a gentlemen’s duel between equally matched frigates. But that wouldn’t help us either, because it seemed somehow unlikely that the Martians would answer a polite invitation to send their monitors out to fight.
I say, we live in such uncivilized times – can’t even tell someone you’re going to shoot them before you do it!
“At Leyte, the Japanese got the escort carriers on their own by drawing away the main fleet,” I was grasping at straws here, completely and totally.
Mik nodded charitably, but then both of us sighed. How the hell would we convince the Martians to divide their heavy-hitters…
“Well…” I started to say something, but then I eliminated it as a possibility and stopped.
See, we were really being smart.
Eventually, I resigned myself to the simplest solution – one that seemed almost like a non-solution, and thus one that I figured had the slimmest chances of success.
“Well, if they’re not completely incompetent, the Martians are going to cruise straight out to meet Greg as soon as he appears on sensors. If they tried to wait in orbit to stop us, their chances would be slim.”
Mik nodded at my assertion – remember, in every defensive battle we’d fought since Belt Two (back in The Rogue Commodore), we’d done our best to keep the action away from the celestial body we were trying to defend. The Battle Over Earth was an hour out of orbit (not much, but some), the defense of Earth in The Gallant Few was done well away from the planet, and so on. Only in the Belt, where things are tighter, do we tend to defend a place from right above it.
And then look what can happen: back in The Rogue Commodore, remember how the pirates managed to land at Belt Two base despite our stiff defenses?
So, if the Martians weren’t completely useless – and we figured they couldn’t be – they’d come out to meet Greg. If they let him get all the way to orbit before they tried to stop him, his troops would have an even better chance of getting to ground.
Mik was thinking all of this at the same time I was, and now he stroked his goatee, “So we’re just going to count on them separating themselves by being slow?”
It was all we could come up with right then… and to be fair, it was something. Remember, the monitors appeared to simply be destroyers with huge guns mounted on the front. The drive power-to-mass ratio was below standard… it had to be. Which meant that, when the Martian battle line came out, the monitors would either stay in orbit, or lag behind.
They’d be isolated. Hopefully.
“We can keep trying to come up with smarter ways of doing it, but for now we can keep that in reserve as our fallback,” I shrugged.
“And if they all stick together somehow… we’ll just have to go after them in the melee. Hope it doesn’t come to that,” Mik sighed.
We sat quietly again for a moment, and then I grimaced and leaned forward in my seat, “I’d hoped it’d be easy to come up with a more brilliant, magic-bullet solution.”
Mik frowned, “Because we have magic now?”
“I can hope whatever I like, can’t I?”
Laughing, Mik shrugged, “I suppose.”
We were silent again for a moment, and then the next challenge came to mind: “So we know how to get them alone. What do we do with them when we get them by themselves?”
We didn’t get a chance to answer that; instead Commodore Wes Pellew turned up, and shortly thereafter we were at a bar.
As you may recall, that ended well.