A Call To Vengeance – Snippet 17

But Breakwater had never been the sort to settle for partial credit. For him, glory shared was glory lost.

“Well, find out.” With a snarl, Breakwater keyed off the uni-link. He stormed through the doorway, stopping short as he spotted Winterfall. “What are you doing here?”

Winterfall blinked in surprise. “You asked me here, My Lord,” he said. “You wanted a report on Harwich’s meeting with Countess Acton –”

“I meant, what are you doing at Angela’s desk?”

“I was running a regulation search for a constituent,” Winterfall said. It was true, just not the entire truth. “I saw you were busy, and since I assume Angela has already left for the day, I thought I might as well put the idle minutes to use.” He nodded toward Breakwater’s uni-link. “If I may, My Lord, it’s already on record that Admiral Locatelli gave the order for Aries and Taurus to inflate their wedges.”

“Are you trying to deflect me, Gavin?” Breakwater rumbled, his eyes narrowing. “Because I’m the one who taught you how to shift a conversation where you wanted it to go.”

“I’m not trying anything, My Lord,” Winterfall protested, fighting against the reflexive defensiveness. Sparking defensiveness in an opponent was another technique Breakwater had taught him. “I’m just a bit confused. Is someone saying now that Locatelli didn’t give the order?”

For a long moment Breakwater continued to stare at him. Then, his lip twitched. “That’s not the order I’m concerned about,” he said. “I’m trying to find out who told MPARS Sphinx Command to retask one of our navigational satellites to spew nonsense radio signals out into the void.”

“I thought it was a programming glitch.”

“Sphinx Command assures me that the broadcast profile changes couldn’t have happened by accident,” Breakwater said. “No, someone had to have ordered it.”

Winterfall nodded slowly. An interesting question, given that all major orders or policy decisions that concerned MPARS should at least be reported to Breakwater.

It was especially interesting given that the pool of possible suspects was almost vanishingly small. The only ones Winterfall could think of were Defense Minister Dapplelake, First Lord of the Admiralty Cazenestro, and System Commander Locatelli. He opened his mouth to point that out —

“Yes, there are only three possibilities,” Breakwater growled. “And it wasn’t any of them. Or if it was, the perpetrator certainly isn’t admitting to it.”

Perpetrator. Odd choice of words. “Well, some tech has to have done the actual reprogramming,” Winterfall pointed out. “We should be able to find him or her and backtrack up the chain.”

“One would think so, wouldn’t one?” Breakwater said acidly. “Only so far that approach isn’t working, either. Whoever that tech was also seems disinclined to claim his share of the glory.”

“Glory?” Winterfall echoed, frowning. “There’s glory involved?”

“Of course not,” Breakwater bit out. “But someone obviously did it on purpose, and I assume that person had a reason for it. Only I can’t get anyone tell me what the hell it was.”

“Interesting,” Winterfall murmured. In the three weeks since the Battle of Manticore he and Breakwater had run into several other instances of information silence. Usually it was just a matter of data that was backlogged or had been routed to the wrong person. But at least once it had appeared to be information that the Admiralty simply didn’t want to share with its lesser MPARS cousin. “Do you want me to talk to my sources?”

“You mean your brother?” Breakwater snorted. “Don’t hold your breath. As far as I can tell, he’s become a pariah among the upper echelons. You saw how they brushed aside any recognition of his contributions during the battle. I don’t know why Locatelli doesn’t like him, but the tension there is quite visible. No, I doubt the Admiralty even listens to him anymore. They certainly aren’t talking to him.”

“You’re probably right,” Winterfall said, keeping his voice neutral.

Because he’d done some investigation of his own, and had come to a rather different conclusion. The Navy might not speak to Lieutenant Travis Uriah Long, but they certainly talked about him.

Not the whole Navy, certainly, and never on the record. But those who’d been his superiors over the past few years were quietly but solidly complimentary regarding his service.

In some places it went even farther. Despite the fact that Travis hadn’t received any important commendations for his actions against Tamerlane, Casey’s commander had made it clear — and on the record — that the credit for the cruiser’s survival during her part of the battle rested largely with Travis.

Competent military officers didn’t ignore talent when they saw it. Senior officers like Locatelli didn’t engage in feuds with officers that much their junior. In the end, Winterfall had been forced to the only remaining conclusion.

Travis’s accomplishments were being downplayed because the Admiralty didn’t want any glory to reflect off him onto Winterfall. And, by extension, onto Breakwater.

It was petty, in Winterfall’s opinion. More so even than Breakwater’s Travis/Locatelli feud theory.

It was also infuriatingly counterproductive. The Navy and MPARS were on the same side, after all, with both forces dedicated to the defense of the Star Kingdom. They just had different views on how best to do that.

But it got worse. Even as the Navy proclaimed victory and Locatelli basked in the warmth of public acclaim, the Admiralty was finding itself faced with a terrible and inescapable fact.

Namely, that Breakwater was right.

The record spoke for itself. All three of the invading ships that had been destroyed — two of them full-fledged battlecruisers — had been taken out by a light cruiser, a destroyer, and an MPARS corvette. David and Goliath matchups, all of them; and in each case the smaller ship had won out. Locatelli’s battlecruisers, for all their size and glory and prestige, had accomplished precisely nothing.

The Star Kingdom didn’t need a few big warships, like Dapplelake and Cazenestro wanted. What it needed was a larger number of smaller ships, ready to swarm and overwhelm any war party that dared to breach the hyper limit.

Which was exactly what Breakwater had been suggesting for the past fourteen T-years.

And the Admiralty knew it. Reason enough for them to try to freeze Breakwater out of important information. Motive enough to try to hold back the inevitable tide of history that was turning in MPARS’ favor.

But how reprogramming a random nav sat figured into the grand conspiracy Winterfall couldn’t imagine.

“I’ll look into it anyway,” he told Breakwater. “About Harwich’s meeting…?”

“Later,” Breakwater said, turning back toward his office door. Already a million kilometers away, Winterfall could see. “You said you were doing a regulation search. Did you figure it out?”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“Then screen your constituent,” Breakwater said. “From your own office. Be back here in one hour.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Winterfall didn’t actually have to go all the way back to his office for this one. But Breakwater had ordered him there, and lately the Chancellor seemed extra touchy about having his instructions followed to the letter. And so, to his office he went.

And from the privacy of his desk, he screened his mother.

She didn’t answer until the seventh ring. About average for her, in Winterfall’s recent experience. Probably dealing with her dogs, as usual, but not in the midst of some crisis that kept her from answering at all. The connection opened — “Hello, Gavin,” Melisande Vellacott Long’s voice came from Winterfall’s uni-link. “I didn’t expect you to screen at dinner time.”

“Hello to you, too, Mother,” Winterfall said. “Your dinner, or the dogs’?”

“The dogs’, of course,” she said, as if wondering why he even had to ask. “I never eat this early. Did you find that regulation I asked you for?”

“I did,” he confirmed. “You were remembering it correctly.”

“So I can run an in vitro breeding service here as well as my regular one? Wonderful. Where was it buried?”

“It wasn’t exactly buried,” Winterfall said. “It was part of a Landing land-use overview. And it didn’t specifically mention dogs, pets, or in vitro, which is why your search couldn’t find it.”

“Well, good,” Melisande said. “Now I can finally get that little bureaucrat off my back. Send me the link, will you?”

“Already done,” Winterfall said. “By the way, I keep meaning to ask. Have you talked to Travis lately?”

“No. Why would I have?”

“I just thought you might,” Winterfall said, floundering a little. The casualness of her dismissal — “There was something of a scare this afternoon. I thought you might have seen the news and checked to see if Travis was all right.”

“I don’t watch the news this late in the day,” Melisande said primly. “If there was a problem with Travis I’m sure you would have screened.”

Winterfall frowned. “Mother…when exactly was the last time you and Travis talked?”

“I don’t know,” she said in the same disinterested tone. “I have to go — Miggles is having trouble with his flews again.”

“Wait,” Winterfall said. “Three weeks ago — after the battle — didn’t you even screen him then?”

“He didn’t screen me,” Melisande said. “Why should I screen him?”

“Because he could have died?”

“If he had, you’d have screened,” Melisande said again. “And I really do have to go. Thank you for the link. We’ll talk later.” Without waiting for a reply, she keyed off.

Winterfall stared at his uni-link. If he had, you’d have screened? What in the hell kind of comment was that?

The comment of a woman who didn’t really care about her younger son.

Slowly, Winterfall lowered his arm to his desk, an eerie feeling trickling through him. Years ago, during one of their infrequent get-togethers, Travis had tried to tell his older half-brother about the growing rift between him and their mother. At the time Winterfall had been too busy to give it much thought, and what little thought he did give it was quickly dismissed as the over-exaggerations of a frustrated teenager.

Clearly, the situation had gotten worse.

Maybe even pathologically worse. Briefly, he wondered if he should talk to her about getting some kind of therapy, or at least see if she would visit a counselor. Being aloof toward Travis was one thing; not caring whether he lived or died was an order of magnitude worse.

Winterfall winced. Not that he could claim any high ground. Time and again over the years he’d passed up a chance to meet with or even screen his brother. Three weeks ago, with the realization that the Star Kingdom was being invaded and that Travis was facing imminent death, he’d seen the terrible folly of his neglect, and had vowed not to let such opportunities ever slip away again.

Now, three weeks later, he had yet to carve out time to even have lunch together.

He swore under his breath. Well, that was going to change. That was going to change right now. He lifted the uni-link again —

It pinged before he could key it.

He clenched his teeth. Breakwater. “Yes, My Lord?”

“Did you see the King’s latest announcement?” the Chancellor demanded.

“No, My Lord,” Winterfall said, frowning as he keyed his computer. Palace announcements…there it was. “You mean the outdoor memorial service and requiem for the fallen next month?”

“Keep reading,” Breakwater said stiffly. “The part about the Monarch’s Thanks earlier that afternoon.”

Winterfall skimmed the announcement. The senior officers from each of the ships that had taken part in the battle would embark from the Palace aboard the Royal Yacht Samantha and be taken to the Wintons’ private retreat on Triton Island for a luncheon, returning to Landing in time for the memorial service. “Seems like a nice gesture,” he said, wondering what Breakwater was seeing that he wasn’t.

“Look closer,” Breakwater growled. “The senior Naval officers are being invited. There’s no mention of Aries and Taurus.”

Winterfall gave the notice another look. The Chancellor was right: the two MPARS ships weren’t specifically mentioned.

On the other hand, they weren’t specifically excluded, either. Breakwater was probably reading more into the announcement than was actually there.

“I’m sure that’s just an oversight, My Lord,” Winterfall told him, choosing the most diplomatic approach to the problem. “If you’d like, I can call the Palace and have that clarified.”

“You do that,” Breakwater said. “And you make it clear that MPARS played a huge role in the battle and we will not be left out of the public consciousness. Whether Dapplelake likes it or not.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

“And when you’re finished, come back here,” the Chancellor continued. “I want to hear what Harwich and Acton had to say to each other.”