A Rising Thunder – Snippet 18

 

It was equally fortunate the newsies knew as well as anyone that the Assembly possessed no real power, because God only knew what would have happened if they’d actually bothered to cover its sessions. If any of their stringers had been there to report Hadley’s passionate address to the empty seats of Assembly Hall the public might actually have believed what she was saying — might even have started insisting someone in a real policymaking position listen to her! Of course, there was no mechanism for that to happen, but a lot of the Solarian electorate didn’t realize that.

 

Hadley had also been warning anyone who would listen from the beginning that the League was playing with economic fire. She’d actually produced numbers to support her allegations, although Kolokoltsov hadn’t paid a lot of attention to them. He hadn’t needed her to tell him it would be bad, and as he’d just admitted, he wasn’t a number-cruncher, anyway. He’d accepted Wodoslawski and Quartermain’s warnings that the situation was potentially serious, but he’d left that side up to them while he concentrated on trying to control the non-economic aspects of the crisis. After all, if he’d only been able to convince the Manties to see sense, they wouldn’t have pushed things to this point in the first place. The way he’d seen it, all he really needed to know was that there would be serious consequences if he couldn’t make the Manties recognize reality, and to be honest, he hadn’t wanted the distraction of dealing with hard potential numbers like the ones Hadley had been throwing around. Now, though…

 

“So how good a point does she have?”

 

“A damned good one, and if you’d actually read the reports my staff’s been generating for the last couple of T-months, you’d already know that.” Wodoslawski said bluntly. “Better than two thirds of our total interstellar commerce — the percentage is higher for freight; lower for passengers and information — travels in Manticore-registered bottoms at some point in the transport cycle, Innokentiy. Almost thirty percent of it travels in Manty ships all the way from point of origin to final destination; another twenty-seven percent travels in Manty bottoms for between thirty and fifty percent of the total voyage. And another ten or fifteen percent of it travels in Manty bottoms for up to a quarter of the total transit.” Her expression was that of someone smelling something which had been dead for several days. “As you can see, simply pulling their own shipping out of the loop will reduce our available interstellar lift by better than half.”

 

Kolokoltsov looked profoundly unhappy, and Quartermain made a sound halfway between a snort of amusement and a grunt of disgust.

 

“Agatá and I have been telling and telling all of you the Manties are in a position to inflict plenty of grief on us,” she pointed out. “And I have to add that the figure she just gave you is what we’re looking at if the Manties simply decide to go home and take their ships with them. Now that they’re closing their termini to our shipping, it’s not just the reduction in the number of hulls available to us; it’s how much longer those hulls are going to take to reach their destinations. If transit times double, effective lift gets cut in half, which means things are going to get worse. A lot worse. Unfortunately, how much worse is impossible to predict at this point, to be honest. The shipping networks have always been incredibly complex and fluid, and I don’t think anyone could give us hard numbers on just how badly simply taking the Manty-controlled termini out of it is going to extend shipping times. I can tell you it’s going to be bad, though. And that assumes they stop at closing just their termini.”

 

Kolokoltsov lips tightened at her last sentence.

 

Reports of withdrawing Manticoran shipping had been trickling into news accounts for weeks. Although Lyman Carmichael had officially informed Old Chicago of the Star Empire’s decision to recall all its freighters and passenger liners only the week before, it was obvious the order must have gone out at least a couple of T-months earlier than that — probably as soon as word of the Battle of Spindle reached Manticore. It had taken people a while to notice what was going on, mostly because the delay in transmitting instructions across such vast distances, even with Manticore’s commanding position in the wormhole network, meant the recall had reached its recipients piecemeal. By this time, though, the trickle of withdrawing Manticoran merchant vessels had become a flood. More newsies than just O’Hanrahan had picked up on it now, and Kolokoltsov wondered how those newsies were going to react once it finally leaked out that the Star Empire had officially notified the League of its intention to close all Manticoran wormhole termini to Solarian-registry vessels.

 

Rajampet, predictably, had waved off the threat. It was only to be expected, he’d pointed out, and while it might be an inconvenience for the League, the impact on the Manties themselves would be even worse, given how huge a percentage of their total economy depended on servicing Solarian shipping needs. Besides, it would only be temporary — just until the SLN got around to pinning back the Manties’ ears and taking control of the wormhole network for itself.

 

Funny how the man in command of the navy responsible for protecting Solarian commerce can be so blasé about watching that commerce go right down the crapper, Kolokoltsov thought bitterly. I guess he doesn’t see what’s happening as the Navy’s fault. After all, no one’s actively raiding our shipping, now are they? Although exactly what else we should be calling what happened at Zunker eludes me.

 

The reports from Zunker and Nolan had arrived, almost simultaneously, over the weekend, and the newsies hadn’t yet picked up on them. That wasn’t going to last, though, and it was hard for Kolokoltsov to decide which incident would ultimately prove more infuriating to the Solarian public. The Zunker Terminus was officially the territory of a Manticoran ally, so closing it to Solarian traffic presented no gray areas. The Idahoans hadn’t signed the Shingaine Convention either, which meant were arguably within their rights under interstellar law to deny terminus access to anyone they chose. And they were also within their rights to request the Royal Manticoran Navy’s assistance in enforcing that decision. The fact that the local Manty commander had actually fired on Solarian battlecruisers showed just how far the Star Empire was prepared to escalate things, however, and the “insult” was going to arouse a passionate fury in at least some of the League’s citizens, especially those with whom Abruzzi’s propaganda had been most successful. Unfortunately, other members of that same citizenry were going to realize it wouldn’t have happened if that fool Floyd hadn’t pushed things. Even more unfortunately, some of them were going to figure out the Manty commander had deliberately not blown Admiral Pyun’s battlecruisers out of space. When they recognized the implications of that…

 

As far as public opinion was concerned, though, what had happened at Nolan might be even worse. Unlike Zunker, the Nolan Terminus was claimed by the Solarian League, not by the Manties or one of their allies. And when the terminus astro control staff — all of them Solarians — had refused transit to the Manticoran freighters queuing up to return home (he made a mental note to remind Abruzzi to play down any references to the Shingaine Convention when he spun that one), the Manty naval commander had marched them to their personal quarters almost literally at pulser point and put his own people aboard the command platforms. And then he’d offered to blow away the local Frontier Fleet detachment if it tried to intervene! Kolokoltsov could already hear how the ‘faxes were going to play up that “blatant act of aggression” in Solarian space!

 

“How much of the League’s gross product are we talking about here, Omosupe?” Abruzzi asked, and Kolokoltsov felt a flicker of surprise as he realized he’d never asked the same question.

 

“Damned near twenty percent of our total gross product depends entirely on our interstellar commerce,” Quartermain said in a flat tone. “Another fifteen percent will, at the very least, be seriously impacted.”

 

And,” Wodoslawski added grimly, “something Rajampet seems to have failed to keep in mind is that seventy percent of all federal revenue derives directly or indirectly from shipping duties and tariffs. The other thirty percent derives primarily from protectorate service fees.”