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«Field Of Dishonor», David Weber

"It is always a bad thing when political matters are allowed to affect... the planning of operations."

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel 160 Ante-Diaspora (1943 C.E.)

PROLOGUE

Иллюстрация к книге

It was very quiet in the huge, dimly lit room. The Advanced Tactical Training Course's main lecture hall boasted the second largest holo tank of the Royal Manticoran Navy, and the rising, amphitheaterlike seats facing the tank seated over two thousand at full capacity. At the moment, thirty-seven people, headed by Admiral Sir Lucien Cortez, Fifth Space Lord, and Vice Admiral The Honorable Alyce Cordwainer, the RMN's Judge Advocate General, sat in those seats and watched the tank intently.

The image of a tall, strong-faced woman floated in it, sitting erect and square-shouldered yet calmly in her chair, hands folded on the tabletop before her beside the white beret of a starship's commander. The golden planets of a senior-grade captain gleamed on the collar of her space-black tunic, and she wore no expression at all as she faced the HD camera squarely.

"And what, precisely, happened after the task group's final course change, Captain Harrington?" The voice came from off-camera, and a blood-red caption in the holo tank identified the speaker as Commodore Vincent Capra, head of the board of inquiry whose recommendations had brought the audience here.

"The enemy altered course to pursue us, Sir." Captain Harrington's soprano was surprisingly soft and sweet for a woman of her size, but it was also cool, almost remote.

"And the tactical situation?" Capra pressed.

"The task group was under heavy fire, Sir," she replied in that same, impersonal tone. "I believe Circe was destroyed almost as we altered course. Agamemnon was destroyed approximately five minutes after course change, and several of our other units suffered both damage and casualties."

"Would you call the situation desperate, Captain?"

"I would call it... serious, Sir," Harrington responded after a moments thought.

There was a brief silence, as if her invisible questioner were waiting for her to say something more. But her detached calm was impregnable, and Commodore Capra sighed.

"Very well, Captain Harrington. The situation was 'serious,' the enemy had altered course to pursue you, and Agamemnon had been destroyed. Were you in contact with Nike 's flag bridge and Admiral Sarnow?"

"Yes, Sir, I was."

"So it was at this time he started to order the task group to scatter?"

"I believe that was his intention, Sir, but if so, he was interrupted before he actually gave orders to that effect."

"And how was he interrupted, Captain?"

"By a report from our sensor net, Sir. Our platforms had picked up the arrival of Admiral Danislav's dreadnoughts."

"I see. And did Admiral Sarnow then order the task group not to scatter?"

"No, Sir. He was wounded before he could pass any other orders," the quiet, unshadowed soprano replied.

"And how was he wounded, Captain? What were the circumstances?" The off-camera voice was almost irritated now, as if frustrated by Harrington's clinical professionalism.

"Nike was hit several times by enemy fire, Sir. One hit took out Boat Bay One, CIC, and Flag Bridge. Several members of the Admiral's staff were killed, and he himself was severely injured."

"He was rendered unconscious?"

"Yes, Sir."

"And did you pass command of the task group to the next senior officer?"

"I did not, Sir."

"You retained command?" Harrington nodded wordlessly. "Why, Captain?"

"In my judgment, Sir, the tactical situation was too serious to risk confusion in the chain of command. I was in possession of knowledge—the fact that Admiral Danislav had arrived—which might not be known to Captain Rubenstein, the next senior officer, and time was very limited."

"So you took it upon yourself to assume command of the entire task group in Admiral Sarnow's name?" Capra's question was sharp—not condemnatory, but with the air of making a crucial point—and Harrington nodded once more.

"I did, Sir," she said, without even a flicker of emotion as she admitted violating at least five separate articles of war.

"Why, Captain?" Capra pressed. "What made the situation time critical enough to justify such an action on your part?"

"We were approaching our preplanned scatter point, Sir. Admiral Danislav's arrival gave us the opportunity to lead the enemy into a position from which he could not escape interception, but only if we remained concentrated and offered him a target worth pursuing. Given the damage I knew Captain Rubinsteins' com facilities had suffered, I judged there was too great a risk that the task group would scatter as previously planned before Captain Rubenstein could be fully apprised of the situation and assert tactical control."


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