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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Without Authorization

Hannah Avram sat on her flag bridge, scanning the latest shipyard report, and marveled yet again at the change the past dreadful months had wrought in Richard Hazelwood. The uncharitable might argue, she supposed, that his complete loss of support from the planetary government had left him no choice but to join her own team, but Hannah thought differently. He'd been sullen and uncooperative for a month or so after what President Wyszynski persisted in referring to as her coup d'etat, but he'd seemed to come alive after Danzig's defenders smashed the first Theban probe of the system without losing a single ship.

They'd done almost as well against the second, but they'd paid to stop the third. She glanced around her bridge with a familiar stab of anguish. She'd made too many mistakes the third time, starting with her hesitation in opening fire. The assault had been led by Kongo-class battle-cruisers, undoubtedly (in retrospect) captured at Lorelei, and the sudden appearance of Terran ships had confused her just too long. They'd gotten off their initial salvos while she was still convincing herself they weren't a relief force.

Worse, she should have realized the Thebans would develop their own capital missiles. She hadn't, and the heavy external ordnance salvos of those leading ships had blown her beloved Dunkerque apart. Kirov had survived, though badly damaged, and Dunkerque's casualties had been mercifully light-over two-thirds of her crew had survived-but her ship's destruction had been agony . . . and it had been Dick Hazelwood, of all people, who'd helped her put it into its proper perspective.

She still remembered Maguire's astonished expression when Hazelwood chewed her out-respectfully, but without a ghost of his old wimpiness. She'd been hagridden with guilt for having hesitated, and for having decided against building additional capital missile-armed units as a first priority. That decision had left Dunkerque and Kirov to fight alone against the Thebans' initial long-ranged salvos as their battle-cruisers squatted atop the warp point, and her confident assumption of a monopoly on capital missile technology meant she'd loaded her own XO racks solely with offensive weapons.

She hadn't included any EDMs in her external loads, and that had sealed Dunkerque's fate. The enhanced drive missiles created extensions of a starship's drive field, interposing those false drive fields to fool incoming missiles' proximity fuses into premature detonation . . . and there hadn't been any. She'd skimped on them, "knowing" her battle-cruisers were beyond reach of any Theban weapon and desperate to throw the heaviest initial salvos she could. And so her ships had been shattered before their shorter-ranged consorts could close to effective range and the forts could come fully on-line, and her own survival had seemed an utterly inadequate compensation.

But Hazelwood had seen more clearly than she. He'd accepted that she'd made mistakes, but it had also been he who pointed out that her insistence on reinforcing the minefields had been decisive. Danzig's minelayers had more than quadrupled the original density of the fields, and though no one could emplace mines directly atop an open warp point, where they would be sucked in and destroyed by the point's gravity stresses, their strength had prevented the Thebans from advancing in-system. Penned up on top of the warp point, they'd been unable to employ effective evasive maneuvering, and their concentration on her battle-cruisers had given the forts time to bring their own weapons-and defenses-to full readiness. The result had been the destruction of eight Theban battle-cruisers, four heavy cruisers, and six light cruisers in return for Dunkerque, Atago, three destroyers, and heavy damage to Kirov and two of the forts. And that, as Commodore Richard Hazelwood had finished acidly, was a victory by anyone's standards!

He'd been right, of course, and Hannah was grateful for his support. Just as she was grateful for the way he'd torn into his duties as her construction manager. He should, she thought, have been assigned to BuShips instead of Fortress Command from the beginning, for he certainly seemed to have found his niche, and he'd taken a far from hidden satisfaction in cracking the whip over Victor Tokarov and friends. His personal familiarity with the Danzig System's economic and industrial sectors told him where all the bodies were buried, and he'd exhumed the ones most useful to her with positive glee. Indeed, to her considerable surprise, she and Dick Hazelwood had become friends-a possibility she would flatly have denied when she first met him.

She turned her attention back to her screen, finishing his latest report. Her new flagship, the battle-cruiser Haruna, and her sisters Hiei, Repulse, and Alaska, were the largest units the Danzig yards had yet produced. When her fourth sister, Von der Tann, was commissioned next month, they and Kirov would give her a solid core of capital missile ships. She wished they had some true battle-line units with proper energy armaments-each Theban attack had been more powerful than the last, and she was acutely nervous over what they might come up with next-but there were limits to her resources. Committing so much of her limited yard space to the battle-cruisers was risky enough, and about as far as she could go.

At least she'd managed to build an impressive number of lighter units to support them. It could hardly be called a balanced fleet, but there was only one possible warp point to defend, and her "light forces" packed a hell of a defensive wallop. There were over thirty destroyers, uncompromisingly armed for close combat, with far lighter shields and far heavier armor than BuShips would have tolerated before meeting Theban lasers. And backing them were the real reason she'd come to think Hazelwood had missed his calling in Fortress Command: fourteen Sand Fly-class carriers built to his personal specifications.

They weren't the fleet or even light carriers of Battle Fleet, but tiny things, no larger than destroyers and thus suitable for rapid production. Their strikegroups were smaller than an Essex-class light carrier, but they were as big as the old Pegasus class, and they'd had time-thank God!-to bring their training up to standard. With the handful of local defense fighter pilots as a nucleus, they'd expanded their fighter strength at breakneck speed, and Danny Maguire had found a way to maximize their available flight decks by borrowing from the Rigelian Protectorate's ISW-3 tactics. Hannah had over three hundred fighters based on Danzig, the orbital forts, and a clutch of scarcely mobile barges. If battle was joined, she'd use the old Rigelian shuttle technique, staging them through her small carriers to strike the enemy. It was going to require some fancy coordination, but the exercises had been encouraging.

She sighed, closed the report file, and leaned back in her chair, running her fingers through her hair. With Dick to run the yards, Captain Tinker to run Sky Watch, and Bill Yan to deputize as her fleet commander, she'd been able to turn to the political side of her "Governor" role. She'd been lucky there, too. Commander Richenda Bandaranaike had proved a stellar legal gymnast, as devious as she was brilliant, and half of Hannah's civilian duties consisted of little more than confirming her recommendations. It had been a chastening experience for Wyszynski and Tokarov to confront Richenda's implacable ability to do whatever the governor wanted and then find some perfectly plausible legal justification for it.

The hardest part, as she'd feared from the beginning, was manpower. Danzig's population wasn't all that big, and manning and supporting her steadily growing naval force had strained it badly, but she'd been pleasantly surprised by the locals' response. Tokarov money or no, the old, defeatist planetary government was going to find the next election a painful experience, she thought gleefully. Wyszynski continued to cooperate as grudgingly as possible, beginning every discussion with a protest of her "patently illegal usurpation" of authority, but Danzig's citizens clearly disagreed. She hadn't even had to resort to conscription; volunteers had come forward in numbers too great for her limited training facilities to handle.

She stretched and checked the chronometer, then grinned tiredly and punched for another cup of coffee. It was late, and however capable her support team, there were never enough hours for everything. Assuming full responsibility for the political and military governance of an entire star system was even more wearing than she'd anticipated. Sometimes she almost hoped the Admiralty and Assembly would disapprove her actions. Once they cashiered her, she might actually get to sleep for six hours in a row!

Her steward appeared with the coffee as she turned to the next endless report, and she sipped gratefully. God, she was tired. And-

She jerked upright, cursing as coffee sloshed over her tunic. The shrill, teeth-grating atonality of the alarm blasted through her, and she shoved her reader display viciously aside, jerking her chair around to face Battle Plot.

The light codes of her own units flickered and changed as they rushed to general quarters with gratifying speed, but her attention was on the dots emerging from the Sandhurst warp point. Just as the last Theban attack had included those damned Kongos, the six lead ships of this attack were obviously more prizes. CIC identified them as Shark-class destroyers, and Hannah's lips twisted in a snarl. Not this time, you bastards!

"Dan! Switch the mines to manual override!" If the Thebans had managed to put their prizes' IFF gear back into commission, the mines wouldn't attack without specific commands to do so.

"Aye aye, sir. Switching now."

"If they stay out of the mines, we'll take them with missiles. No point losing fighters or taking damage by closing into their shipboard range."

"Understood, sir." Maguire studied his own console for a moment. "We've got a good set-up, sir."

"Then open fire," Hannah said softly.



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