For starters, I have no special knowledge of Mr. Weber’s plans. All I know is what I have read in his books and a little on-line research. (So Mr. Weber, if I get this all spot on, don’t sue me or you will validate it). All of this is based on speculation and the two rules of good story telling:
- The story must be reasonable and believable.
- The story must be entertaining (or addictive)
It wouldn’t be believable for Manticore to come out to easily (and with no peril it wouldn't be fun either) and watching you team get utterly crushed would drive the fans away (and coming back from that wouldn’t be believable either) so it will be somewhere in between. Also that leads to some very fun sub plots that can come in.
Last we saw, the Sollies were about to hit Lynx like a ton of bricks on a hard floor and Mesa was about to drop a pile of pods in on Manticore. On a side note, I’m a bit surprised Weber didn’t bring out that option earlier. He could have had 8th fleet drift in a few pods or mistletoes while the destroyer/scout/decoys were playing their shell games in various Haven system. It sure would have resulted in some funky head games not to mention cost the Peeps dearly in Moriarties and trained crews. Anyway the question is what happens next. Here’s my theories:
The first interesting thing (and more or less a given) is when the Sollies attack the Lynx terminus. As with the ton-o-brick vs. floor, the floor wins. To counter it Honor and 8th fleet is sent through to Talbott putting a substation portion of the Apollo equipped ships and their auxiliaries in Lynx. While they are out of position (leaving, gone or on the way back; I'm not sure where Weber will put them), the Oyster Bay ballistic pods attack, and severely damage most of the Manticore yards and many of home fleet ships that didn't go to Lynx. I can't spot how it could be worked in but I it would be handy if the yard tech crews get out somehow (massed builders trials might do it but that seems a bit clumsy).
As a result of the fleets being out of position at home, Oyster Bay is blunted to some extent but still hurts Manticore a lot. Somewhere in all this, the Mesa spider drive ships attack. The partial failure of the ballistics component cause a less than complete success by the manned elements. As to what happens to the Mesa units, I’m inclined to go with them taking a royal beating including most of the units getting capture or more likely, destroyed. I’m, not sure which book that will happen in because it doesn't fit in the mold that seems to be set up for Torch of Freedom but Missions of Honor comes out second and it would play better if the reader doesn’t get a preview.
One Bit that would have to be in Torch of Freedom is whatever Zilwicki and Cachat have been up to. (I’m really glad Mr. Weber let Mr. Flint play with his toys, those two characters are some of the most enjoyable I have come across (in any storyline) and, based on the Storm from the Shadows foreword, they may have, in real life, saved Honor’s life) It doesn't take much guess work to figure out that they are going to be infiltrating Meas. What I suspect the upshot of that will be, is they learn of Oyster Bay, Mesa's other plans and both the spider and streak drives. They won't get the full story as it seems Mesa's plans are going to be parceled out over a few books at the least. On the other hand, the tech stuff is going to come out soon enough anyway so they will capture documentation, hardware or complete examples of a spider drive. At a minimum, they will get enough to, probably with a little magic on Hemphill's part (or Foraker's, keep reading ;-), figure out how to detect the spider drive. The first real question mark is the streak drive. Henke and the rest of the Talbott crowd is starting to twig to the fact that the "Mesan's mail is running a bit faster than every one else's" so I suspect that will come out also. It would fit their swashbuckling ways for Zilwicki and Cachat to capture a functional Mesa streak drive courier ship and make a run in it for Manticore via Lynx. The next question mark is the timing. They can't arrive to soon or the ship yards could be saved, but to late and it looses some dramatic/tragic weight. I'm going to guess they will show up in time to do some good regarding the manned units or just after the dust settles. (The other option is in time to save the yard dogs but not the yards them selves. For that to work the pods need to be really hard to spot or a pattern of nukes could soft kill them even with lousy target locks).
Now this is getting really speculative, but if Torch of Freedom ends with Zilwicki and Cachat on the way from Mesa to Manticore that would solve the problem of springing Oyster Bay without a preview.
Anyway As for the aftermath in Manticore; Elizabeth, with information from Zilwicki & Cachat, a Manty/Solly war looming and devastated ship yards, will do the "I still hate the Peeps but I need to ignore that" bit and make an abrupt command decision to send Honor directly (and uninvited) to Haven to offer not only peace but an alliance. Honor arrives with a very small task force (on the order of a single Apollo wall’er and a few screen ships to make sure they get Havens attention) as a pointed reminder that Manticore can still hurt them but isn't. Honor does here usual thing of steamrolling her way into what she wants by, with impeccable manors, assuming that she will get it. In this case, what she gets is immediate talks (as in least time to Haven orbit and "meet me at the shuttle pad" immediate) face to face with Pritchart. After hearing what Honor (and maybe Cachat) has to say Pritchart jumps in on the spot.
In a nice political whiplash, Haven sends units to help protect Manticore (some joyfully hated people all but die of indignation at this). In the other direction (and to the great displeasure of a few Havenites) Manticore sends tech crews displaced from the Manticore yards to Bolthole along with the Zilwicki and Cachat's finds. This would lay the ground work for a few threads like getting Hemphill and Foraker working together and the fun, technological and sociological, they could create. (I just realized, I don't think we have ever actually met Hemphill.)
That's about as far as I’m willing to lay out details but I'm actually more comfortable with the big picture further down the line than the details in close. The Mantcore/Haven alliance has two problems. First the Sollies want to pound Manticore and will be running scared when they notice that the only advantage they have left is quantity. The other is whatever Mesa is up to. As the old truisms goes; one problem, is one problem, but two problems, can be two solutions. In line with that, they begin attempting to use Mesa’s operations to turn groups of Sollies away from war. Some sectors immediately jump on board or get out of the way and others get caught in a meat grinder when Mesa plays hard ball. Other sectors governments are clearly to invested and will have to be removed by force. Some of them will fall to Mesa, others to Manticore and Haven. Either way the Sollies fracture along the lines of what Honor outlined in Storm From the Shadows. As for Mesa, the less than total success of Oyster Bay and the Zilwicki/Cachat debacle puts them in a bit of a bind but they invoke the "no plain survives contact with the enemy" line and continue on with a nice show of operational agility, pragmatism and determination.
Now that I look at all of that, I'm think I've covered both the books in the pipe and started in on the next one on the main line. So who knows, some of this might effect the story after all.