"They know we're here," Janko Horster muttered.
Horster glanced up, irritated by the interruption. But it was the senior tech rep, not one of his officers. The civilian obviously didn't realize he wasn't supposed to interrupt a flag officer's thought processes with questions at a time like this, and Horster decided to answer him.
"They know we're here," he repeated, and gestured at the plot. "Or at least they're afraid someone' s out here."
The range was still too great for his passive sensors to provide detailed information, but some things were brutally clear. Four of the Manties' ten impeller signatures had disappeared. Three had vanished with abrupt finality during the vicious missile exchange. Those three, he felt grimly confident, had been hard kills by Eroica Station. The fourth had gone off the display about four minutes after the others. Its strength had dropped precipitously before that, obviously because of battle damage. So either it had finally failed completely because of that damage, or else it had been shut down, which would almost certainly indicate a ship in the process of being abandoned. Whichever it was, the damned Manties had lost forty percent of their strength, and most, if not all, of their surviving units had to have been hurt.
"They've increased their deceleration to four hundred gravities," he told the civilian. "That's an increase of fifty gees over what they were holding it down to on the way in-probably because of their frigging pods-but it's a hell of a lot less than they ought to be capable of. So obviously they have impeller damage. But they've also got a ship out there somewhere that survived the shooting only to have its signature go off the display just a couple of minutes ago. So either its impeller damage was even worse than theirs, and its nodes just packed it in, or they're abandoning her. But they wouldn't be doing that this quickly unless they were afraid someone was in position to engage them."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I can't be positive , but they'd have taken longer to reverse course if they weren't. No captain's going to abandon his ship that quickly, not without surveying her damage and being certain he can't save her. And no commodore would leave her behind unless he figured he was going to have a fight on his hands and couldn't afford to be handicapped looking after cripples."
The civilian nodded slowly, and Horster smiled. It was an ugly expression, one that mingled fury over what had happened to his navy with vengeful satisfaction.
"They're dead meat," he said flatly. The civilian stopped nodding and looked at him with undisguised anxiety, and the commodore barked a laugh. "They don't have any of those damned pods left," he said, "and they never had anything bigger than a heavy cruiser to begin with, according to Admiral Hegedusic's tac analysis. At least a hundred of our missiles got into attack range before they detonated, too. They've been hammered-hammered hard- and they're going to be up against modern battlecruisers . Battlecruisers that can shoot back this time."
The civilian still looked dubious, and Horster could almost hear the thoughts running through the other man's brain. Yes, he had modern battlecruisers to kill them with, but Horster's crews had been aboard their ships for less than three weeks. Their people were still learning how to use their systems, how to master the capabilities, but it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. Their engineering and astrogation departments had been forced to wait until they could actually get aboard the new ships, but the tactical crews had managed to spend over two months in the simulators Levakonic had brought with him. That might not be the same as hands-on training, but it was one hell of a lot better than nothing.
And they were battlecruisers, with all the armor and sheer toughness that implied.