A Rising Thunder – Snippet 17

 

“Exactly.” Kolokoltsov nodded. “Yeou Transstellar has a lot invested in President Yeou.” And in all of us, as well, he carefully did not add out loud. “I’m inclined to think this is at least mostly a case of Kun Sang reminding us of that investment.”

 

Quartermain and Abruzzi grimaced in understanding. Yeou Kun Sang was the president’s younger brother. He also happened to be on Old Terra at the moment (officially on a “personal family visit” to his older brother which just happened to have been announced as soon as word of the New Tuscany incidents hit his home world’s faxes) and the President and CEO of Yeou Transstellar Shipping. Yeou Transstellar was one of the Solarian League’s dozen largest interstellar shippers, and, like most of those shippers, it actually owned very few freighters. Its business model — like its competitors’ — relied on leasing cargo space from people who did own freighters…which meant that whether the great commercial dynasties of the Solarian League liked Manticore or not, they did a great deal of business with it.

 

“I’m surprised Kun Sang didn’t go directly to you, Omosupe,” Abruzzi said after a moment.

 

“So was I, at first,” Quartermain agreed. “But now that I think about it, Kun Sang’s always been inclined to stay out of the day-to-day details of managing the clan’s business with Commerce or Interior. And the Yeou family’s really old money, you know. They’ve been one of the first families of Sebastopol for the better part of a thousand years, and they like to pretend all that sordid business of trade is beneath them.”

 

“Yeah. Sure it is.” Abruzzi rolled his eyes.

 

“Well, part of the pretense is that everyone knows it’s only a pretense,” Quartermain pointed out. “And the fact that Kun Sang started out as a mere planetary manager and worked his way to the top tends to make it a bit more threadbare in the Yeous’ case. Still, now that he’s at the top, he’s more or less required by tradition to work through the interface of professional managers. The ‘hired hands’ that do all of those sordid, business-related things the aristocratic family doesn’t sully its own digits dealing with, especially where politics are concerned.”

 

“Exactly,” Kolokoltsov agreed. “Which I think is part of the point he’s making, assuming I’m reading the situation accurately. He still keeping his thumbs out of the soup, but at the same time he’s letting us know — indirectly, at least — that he’s sufficiently concerned to be on the brink of coming into the open.”

 

“Which, for a family that’s spent so much time operating in the Sebastopol mode, indicates a lot of concern,” Quartermain said soberly.

 

“Exactly,” Kolokoltsov repeated. “I’m pretty sure Kun Chol was reading from a prepared script, and what it all came down to was finding out how much worse we expect this to get and how long we expect it to last.”

 

“If we had the answer to either of those questions –” Abruzzi began, then cut himself off, shaking his head grimly.

 

“I notice neither Rajampet nor Nathan has joined our little tête-à-tête,” Quartermain observed.

 

“No, they haven’t, have they?” Kolokoltsov showed his teeth for a moment.

 

Nathan MacArtney, the permanent senior undersecretary of the interior, was the fifth “Mandarin,” and Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kasul Rajani was the Solarian League’s chief of naval operations.

 

“Is there a reason they haven’t?” Wodoslawski asked.

 

“Nathan’s out of the office at the moment,” Kolokoltsov replied. “He’s on his way out to Elysium — family business, I think — and I don’t really trust the security of his communications equipment until he gets there. Besides, he’s already out beyond Mars orbit. The light-speed delay would be almost a minute and a half.” The permanent senior undersecretary of state shrugged. “I’ll see to it that he gets a complete transcript, of course.”

 

“Of course.” Quartermain nodded. “And Rajampet?”

 

“And I think we all already know what Rajampet’s contribution would be.” Kolokoltsov’s colleagues all grimaced at that one, and he shrugged. “Under the circumstances, I thought we could just take his excuses and posturing as a given and get on with business.”

 

Quartermain nodded again, more slowly this time. The permanent senior undersecretary of commerce was a striking woman, with gunmetal gray hair and blue eyes that contrasted sharply with her very dark, almost black skin, but at the moment those blue eyes were narrowed in speculation. She had no doubt Nathan MacArtney was exactly where Kolokoltsov had said he was, but she wasn’t exactly blind to the fact that as much as MacArtney personally despised Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kaushal Rajani, he was also the closest thing to an ally Rajampet had among the civilian permanent senior undersecretaries who actually ruled the Solarian League. That was inevitable, really, given the fact that the Office of Frontier Security belonged to the Interior Ministry, which meant MacArtney’s personal empire was even more directly threatened than most by the specter of a successful “neobarb” star nation’s resistance to OFS’s plans. Not to mention the fact that Frontier Security’s entire position depended on the perceived omnipotence of the Solarian League Navy.

 

“So what, exactly, is the point of this meeting, Innokentiy?” Wodoslawski asked.

 

“I realize there’s not a lot we can do about the Manties’ shipping movements,” Kolokoltsov replied just a bit obliquely. “At the same time, I feel pretty confident that while Yeou Kun Sang may have been one of the first to ask those questions of his, he’s damned well not going to be the last. Under the circumstances, I think we ought to be thinking about how we want to respond — not just in private, Malachai, but publicly, with the newsies — when those other people start asking. And I’d appreciate it if you and Omosupe could give us a better feel for how bad this is really going to be, Agatá.”

 

“Exactly what do you think we’ve been trying to do? Especially since your little tête-à-tête with that son-of-a-bitch Carmichael?” Wodoslawski demanded tartly, and he shrugged.

 

“I know you’ve been warning us we were headed for trouble,” Kololokoltsov said in a slightly apologetic term. “And I may not’ve been paying as much attention as I should have. I’ve known it would be bad, but I haven’t really tried to conceptualize the numbers for myself, because it’s not my area of competence and I know it. I know they’re huge, but I’ve been a lot more focused on finding ways to prevent it from ever happening than on trying to really grasp numbers that big. I’m trying now, though, so could you go ahead and give it another try, please? What I’m looking for isn’t the reams of numbers and detailed alternate contingency estimates and analyses in all of those reports of yours but more of a broad overview. Something even an economic ignoramus can grasp. In that sort of terms, just how bad is this really likely to get?”

 

“That depends on how far the Manties are prepared to push it, now doesn’t it?” Wodoslawski snorted. “We can give you a pretty fair estimate, I think, for what happens if they settle for simply recalling all their own shipping, though.” She raised her eyebrows at Quartermain as she spoke, then returned her attention to Kolokoltsov when the permanent senior undersecretary of commerce nodded. “And the short answer to that part of your question is that it will really, really suck.”

 

“I’m not precisely sure what that technical term means,” Kolokoltsov told her with an off-center smile.

 

“It means Felicia Hadley has a point,” Wodoslawski replied without any answering smile at all, and Kolokoltsov scowled.

 

Felicia Hadley was the senior member of the Beowulf Delegation in the Legislative Assembly. That gelded body had exercised no real power in centuries, but it still existed, and Beowulf, unlike most of the League’s member systems, still took it seriously enough to send delegates who could seal their own shoes without printed instructions. Hadley was a prime example of that, and ever since the current crisis had begun, she’d been a persistent (and vociferous) critic of the government’s policies. She’d even formally moved that the Assembly empanel a special commission of its own to investigate exactly how those policies had come to be put into place! Fortunately, there’d been too few delegates present for a quorum when she made the motion, and Jasmine Neng, the Assembly Speaker (who, unlike Hadley, understood which side of her personal bread was buttered) had killed it on procedural grounds and removed it from the vote queue before most of the other delegates (or any of the ‘faxes) even realized it was there.