Weatherby’s patrol cabin was only a few compartments away from the bridge, and it was there that he retired. They were officially at war now. What the Threshold front may have lacked in size it certainly made up for with ferocity, if the scuttlebutt was to be believed. The Confederacy was losing here, and Warspite was one of a handful of reinforcements the Naval Arm could spare.
Weatherby fiddled with the display on his desk until it showed a chart of the system. Warspite was approaching the trailing Trojan point of Threshold VI, locally known as Argo. Twenty years ago, during the Threshold Rebellion, the navy had towed an asteroid into place there, built a base on it, and called it Resolution. In the aftermath, they’d moved the Brenner gate back to Highland there as well to take advantage of Resolution‘s guns. There would likely be a few other warships there, either newly arrived or refitting. Weatherby hoped to put together a squadron before he had to sail for the real battlefield.
The real battlefield was the immediate neighborhood of Argo, the gas giant itself plus eighteen major moons (eleven inhabited, three with atmospheres, one regarded as a good long-term terraforming prospect), twenty-six minor moons (some up to a hundred and fifty kilometers diameter), and forty-one deep-space habitats and manufactories. The total population of Argo’s orbital system approached a quarter billion, but the Naval Arm was not there in force solely for the people. Traditionally, Threshold’s economy had been agricultural, exporting luxuries like real meat and fruits to barren worlds like Nexus and Basis, where the hydroponics gardens were taxed enough merely providing calories for everyone; that had changed after the Rebellion showed the Confederacy that such a single point of failure was ill-advised, no matter how good the economics may have looked, and Threshold had been forced to reinvent itself. Today, it was the largest producer of naval supplies after Basis, which had the benefit of the Fleet Yards to drive consumption, and the third largest industrial producer in the entire Confederacy.
Weatherby told the computer to replay the battles and territorial gains and losses since the Exiles had opened the Threshold front four months ago. It was a show he’d watched a hundred times on the long cruise across Highland, analyzing every tiny detail, but there was always another flash of inspiration to be found.
It was a very tactically interesting battlefield, in Weatherby’s opinion. The Exiles presumably had their base at the leading Trojan point; Intelligence was, of course, ‘uncertain’, but Exile ships had been spotted inbound on the right vector. It was large, as well. Many of the habitats were on very high orbits around Argo, the highest being almost a standard year and a half long, which put them about forty million kilometers apart at their furthest, a day and a half steaming at one gravity. It was unlikely that Warspite would spend much time at a full gravity, though; it was a two-week cruise from Resolution to Argo, and refueling options once she got there would be limited. The Confederacy held about half the population centers around Argo, losing them to the Exiles at a rate of one or two per month, and the navy wasn’t willing to risk its precious tankers in the warzone to refill the storage tanks on a habitat they might lose next month anyway.
Weatherby watched habitats change color as they changed hands. He paused the playback to zoom in on one point, footage he’d watched more than any of the rest. It came down to three ships: Retribution, Reprisal, and Vengeance, called protected cruisers in the Exile inventory but on par with a Confederate battlecruiser, and that made them the most powerful combatants over Argo since Reprisal had defeated NPAS Lindemannsstadt in the second month of the campaign. The Exile naval planners had cottoned to this fact very quickly, and since then the three Exile cruisers had only been sighted in company. Three Confederate squadrons had attempted to engage them, and all three had taken a sound beating. Since then, no Confederate ships had accepted combat; they simply couldn’t expect to win small actions, and if they gathered a larger fleet the Exiles would notice and take the opportunity to push their sphere of influence further.
The solution the Naval Arm had come to was to send more ships. As Weatherby rewound the recording again, he couldn’t shake a nagging sense of wrongness. One of his first commanding officers once told him that there was an elegant solution to every tactical problem. Weatherby resolved to find it.