A Rising Thunder – Snippet 19

 

Which meant, as her listeners understood perfectly well, the tribute extracted from OFS’s empire of protectorate star systems. That particular revenue stream was scarcely what anyone might have called enormous compared to the League’s overall economy, but it was stupendous in absolute terms, and it belonged entirely to the League’s bureaucracies. That was one reason — indeed, the reason, really — Frontier Security had been allowed to build its empire in the first place. And, of course, it was also the primary reason nothing could be permitted to undermine the League’s grip on the protectorates, which had been the entire reason for the belligerent policy which had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

 

Unbelievable, Kolokoltsov thought for far from the first time. Unbelievable that the monumental stupidity of just two people could set something like this in motion!

 

Of course, a small corner of his brain reminded him, not even Josef Byng and Sandra Crandall could have brought the League to such a pass without the help of Kolokoltsov and his fellow Mandarins.

 

Damn it, now I’m starting to use the word! He thought disgustedly.

 

“So you’re telling us we’re in a position to lose up to thirty percent of the entire League’s gross product?!” Abruzzi asked incredulously.

 

“We’re telling you we’re already losing a big chunk of that thirty-five percent,” Quartermain replied. “Exactly how big a chunk we won’t know until the dust settles and we see how much damage the Manties have actually done us. But I don’t want anyone thinking that’s all that’s going to happen. There’ll be a ripple effect across our entire economy, one that’s going to lead to a significant drop in activity in almost every sector if it lasts more than a very short time. And, as Agatá’s just pointed out, even in a best case scenario, this is going to hammer federal revenues. Most of the system governments won’t be hurt all that badly at first, thank God, but if this goes on for two or three quarters, that’s going to change.”

 

Shit,” Abruzzi muttered.

 

“There are a couple of brighter spots buried in all this,” Quartermain said after a moment. “As Rajampet’s pointed out often enough, what’s going to hurt us badly will hurt the Manties themselves worse. In a lot of ways, this really is a case of their having cut off their noses to spite their faces, as my momma used to say. And that’s just looking at the immediate economic and financial impact. If they throw us back on our own shipping resources, and if they close the wormholes so that we need more shipping than ever to meet our requirements, it’s got to lead to a huge upsurge in our own shipbuilding. Eventually, our merchant marine will have to expand to fill the vacuum, and once that happens, it’ll be difficult for Manticore to ever maneuver itself into a similar stranglehold position again.”

 

“Assuming there’s still a Manticore to do any maneuvering,” Wodoslawski added.

 

“Exactly,” Kolokoltsov said bleakly. He surveyed his colleagues’ faces for several moments, then sighed.

 

“Assuming Rajani’s strategy with Filareta works, all of this becomes a moot point. Assuming it doesn’t work, things are going to get a lot uglier before they get any better. In fact, my greatest concern right now is that if the Manties basically tell Filareta to pound sand — and, worse, if it turns out Rajani was wrong about their ability to make that stick — we’re going to find it difficult to revert to that ‘short of war’ diplomatic stance.”

 

Heads nodded in glum agreement, and Kolokoltsov castigated himself again for allowing Rajampet’s opportunism to seduce him into accepting the CNO’s strategy. He should have known better than to listen! Yet given what had happened to the Manties’ home system, the temptation to double down had been overwhelming. Surely their morale had to crack under the one-two punch of such a devastating assault and the realization that the League wasn’t going to back off! It had to be that way, didn’t it?

 

And it still may be. Sure, they’re recalling their freighters and closing their termini, but they’re doing all that with no idea Filareta’s close enough to hit them this quickly. When he turns up in their own backyard, things could change in a hurry.

 

Unfortunately…

 

“If the Manties don’t cave, and if we’re looking at this kind of nosedive in revenues, can we go back to that position at all?” Abruzzi’s question put Kolokoltsov’s own thoughts into words.

 

“I don’t know,” the permanent senior undersecretary of state said frankly, and Abruzzi scowled.

 

Kolokoltsov didn’t blame him. He still wasn’t positive his own proposed strategy — buying time by negotiating “more in sorrow than in anger” until the Navy acquired weapons capable of offsetting the Manties’ tactical advantages — would have worked, when all was said. Patience was not a Solarian virtue, especially where “neobarbs” were concerned. That was one reason he’d been convinced to back Rajampet’s new strategy, despite its potential to restrict his future options. But until this moment, he hadn’t fully realized how badly a failure by Filareta would restrict them.

 

If the Manties defeated Filareta — and especially if they also turned the economic screws Wodoslawski and Quartermain were describing — it would be impossible to convince the public that a return to diplomacy stemmed from anything but fear of still worse to come. It would be seen as an admission of impotence. Of ineffectuality. And that was the kiss of death. If the people running the League couldn’t demonstrate they were doing something effective, the electorate might start listening to loose warheads like Hadley and demanding changes. Even completely leaving aside personal consequences, the potential for political and constitutional disaster that represented was terrifying.

 

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I do know that if Rajani’s brainstorm turns into a spectacular failure — another spectacular failure, I should say — the situation isn’t going to improve! In fact, we may find ourselves essentially forced to do what Rajani wanted to do in the first place.”

 

“Whoa!” Wodoslawski stared at him. “I thought we were all in agreement that just serving up the Navy as target practice for Manty missiles was what they call a losing proposition, Innokentiy!”

 

“We still are. But whatever else may have happened, the Manties have to’ve lost a lot of their missile manufacturing capacity. Rajani has to be right about that, even if he’s wrong about everything else! So the odds are that they’d have to stand on the defensive, rather than coming after us, at least until they’re able to regenerate their industrial base. And as we’ve just been saying, they’ll be trying to do that at a time when they’ve cut off the lion’s share of their own interstellar cash flow.”

 

“And this helps us exactly how?” Abruzzi asked.

 

“It means they can’t reach just down our throats and rip out our lungs,” Kolokoltsov said flatly. “Not right away, at least. It gives us time to work on ways to negate their combat advantages. For that matter, it gives us time to see if their economy can survive, especially after so much of their home system got clear-cut. And, if we spin it right, we can use what they’ve done to our shipping routes to explain why we’re not yet in a position to take the war to them. Why we have to ‘hold the line’ until our economy and naval logistics recover from their ‘treacherous blow.’ And –“

 

“And at the same time we focus the anger over the economic meltdown on them, not us!” Abruzzi interjected, and Kolokoltsov nodded.

 

“That’s still going to be tough to pull off,” Quartermain pointed out, blue eyes narrow.

 

“No question,” Kolokoltsov acknowledged. “And I can think of a few of our member systems who won’t do a thing to make it any easier.”

 

Quartermain’s mouth tightened, her eyes glittering with more than a hint of anger, and Kolokoltsov snorted.

 

“We always knew that was at least a possibility, Omosupe. And I’ve been thinking about ways to, ah, rectify the situation.”

 

“Oh?” Quartermain cocked her head. “And have any solutions suggested themselves to you?”

 

“As a matter of fact, one or two have reared their heads,” Kolokoltsov said. “In fact, one of them came from Rajani, although I rather doubt he’s been thinking about it the same way I have. Let me explain…”