Jagen fought his predisposition to strategize based upon two-dimensional space. Positioning his space troopers efficiently was impossible—he knew—without keen perception of altitude. Verbal testing didn’t make it any easier, he had told Master Rhine. His old tutor’s tenor laughter echoed in his mind, disrupting the flow of the mathematical figuring churning through his subconscious.
“And in Zone (-4, 4, 3)?” asked Master Rhine. His mousy grey hair dangled over gaunt cheeks. It jiggled with every word.
Jagen placed a sweating palm to his brow. “It should contain Emperor Class sloops for flanking and containment.”
Master Rhine pursed his lips, frowning. He drummed two calloused fingers on the head of his porcelain desk. “You wish to try containment maneuvers in open space?”
“Of course not, Master. I wish to try containment maneuvers in limited space.” Jagen glanced down at his pad. “The asteroid cloud two zones west stretches ten zones north-south and up-down. It’s as good a wall as any against a mob of Class III brigantines.”
A smile bore a path in Master Rhine’s face nearly wide enough to touch his drooping locks. “Very wise, Nobleson. You have chosen one face of the battlefield wisely. Your choice of Medieval Earth study shan’t aid you much further, however.”
“My tutor, how brash of you.”
Master Rhine raised an eyebrow.
Jagen slid a finger across the screen of his pad, opening a calculator application. He poked at the digikeys with fervor, pouring over every scrap of old Earth warfare, physics, and calculus he could recall. With a final press he said, “I have it.”
“You’ve a plan for the other five sides of the battlefield already? Six thousand lives safely accounted for in mere moments?”
“The south side is easy, as you well know. A fleet hospital with adequate guard in X-formation, supported by First Class cruisers. No need to complicate the non-combat side. The other sides are a bit more interesting.”
“Well, let me hear it, boy.”
Jagen cleared his throat. “Our siege boats still carry mines, correct?”
Master Rhine nodded, squinting at Jagen even more deeply than usual for Test Day.
“Add one siege boat and one sloop to every squadron on the other four sides. As soon as combat begins, send out the sloops, pulling the siege boats in tow, so that the siegers may place their mines in front of the enemy mob. They’ll have only one direction to go: homeward.”
“Splendid work,” said Master Rhine, with a twist to his tone. He placed a hand on Jagen’s shoulder. His grin dissolved. “Now tell me what you plan to tell the families of the thousand marines you’d be trapping between mines and enemy cruisers.