A Rising Thunder – Snippet 21

 

Although his official title was simply Secretary of the Planetary Board of Directors, the red-haired, blue-eyed Pinder-Swun was actually the Vice Chairman and CEO of the system government. He was a little unusual for someone of his exalted political position in that he’d come late to politics, and then through the Chamber of Professions, rather than the Chamber of Shareholders. One of Beowulf’s leading physicists before his “temporary” election to the Chamber of Professions some twenty T-years before, he still cherished the illusion that he would someday be allowed to return to his beloved research. Everyone else knew that wasn’t going to happen.

 

“I doubt it,” Pinder-Swun repeated when everyone’s eyes swiveled to him, and shrugged. “First, from all I’ve seen, no one has a clue our conduit to Manticore even exists. Second, if anyone on Old Terra had figured out we’d warned Manticore, they would’ve sent someone a lot more senior — and probably a lot more official — to…remonstrate with us.” He shook his head. “No, this has something to do with Filareta, all right, but I don’t think it’s anything to do with our having alerted the Manties.”

 

“I think Joshua has a point,” Caddell-Markham said. “The problem is that if she’s not here to break our heads over our little security faux pas — and Joshua’s definitely right about that; if that was what they wanted, they would’ve sent someone more senior — that means Rajampet’s had another brainstorm. One that involves us. And given the fact that we’re two T-months from Manticore through hyper-space even for a dispatch boat, and that Filareta’s supposed to be leaving Tasmania (assuming he manages to make Kingsford’s schedule) in less than two weeks, whatever brilliant inspiration he might’ve had has to concern our terminus of the Junction.”

 

Faces tightened, and Mikulin nodded grimly.

 

“I can’t see anything else that would cause the Navy to send us a personal representative,” he agreed. “If it were a purely political matter, we wouldn’t be looking at someone from the military, and they would’ve come to call on you, Jukka, not Gabriel. Or if they’d wanted to handle it at a higher level, on you or Joshua, Chyang. And Gabriel’s right about the Junction. It’s a bit late in the day for them to suddenly decide to ask us if we have any insight into Manticoran capabilities which might have somehow eluded their own inspired analysts.” Mikulin’s contempt was withering. “Which means some ass in Kingsford’s or Rajampet’s office has decided there’s some way to use the Junction against Manticore.”

 

“I realize we’re not talking about mental giants,” Pinder-Swun observed, “but surely they have to realize any sort of attack through the Junction would be suicide!”

 

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Caddell-Markham said. “On the other hand, calling the geniuses running the SLN — and the rest of the League, for that matter — ‘imbeciles’ would be a gross slander on imbeciles.”

 

“Are you positive this is coming out of Rajampet or Kingsford?” Longacre asked.

 

“No, but who else would be sending Kingsford’s ops officer as his messenger girl?” Caddell-Markham asked.

 

“That depends on what it is they’re really after,” Longacre countered. “I’ll grant that Kolokoltsov and his apparatchiks have been acting as if they don’t have two brain cells amongst them, but as far as gaming the system he understands is concerned, he’s right there in Machiavelli’s league. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to grasp the possibility that there’s any universe outside the system he understands. Or, at least, that he failed to grasp it in time to avoid our current debacle.”

 

“And?” Caddell-Markham knew he looked skeptical, and he twitched his head apologetically. “I’m not disagreeing with your analysis of Kolokoltsov and the Mandarins, Jukka. I just don’t understand why he’d send someone from the military to deliver a political message.”

 

“That’s because you grew up as a straightforward military officer!” Longacre snorted.

 

“Maybe he did,” Mikulin said, “but I still think it’s a valid question.”

 

“Of course it is. But think about this.” Longacre looked around the other faces, ice-blue eyes more intent than ever. “We’re agreed Kolokoltsov and the others — probably especially MacArtney — stumbled into this because they were too arrogant and full of their own omnipotence to realize where it was headed. By now, though, Kolokoltsov, at least, has to’ve realized he’s looking down the barrel of a pulser at a full-fledged political and constitutional crisis. Rajampet’s twisting Article Seven like a pretzel to cover what he’s already done, far less what he plans on doing. In the end, that pretzel may break. If it does —when it does — the shit’s going to hit the fan in a way the Solarian League’s never seen. And even if none of the Mandarins suspect we’ve already warned Manticore what’s coming, they all know how close our relations with the Star Kingdom — Empire, I mean — are.”

 

He paused, and Caddell-Markham nodded.

 

The Star Empire of Manticore was far and away Beowulf’s biggest trading partner. Given that fact and Manticore’s unwavering support of Beowulf’s crusade against the genetic slave trade, it had been one of Beowulf’s closer allies for over three T-centuries. Indeed, unlike any other Solarian military organization, the Beowulf System Defense Force had a tradition of close cooperation with the RMN and carried out frequent joint exercises in defense of the Beowulf Terminus. More than that, Manticorans and Beowulfers had been intermarrying (among other things) ever since the Junction’s discovery in 1585 PD. At least four members of the Planetary Board of Directors, including its CEO, had relatives in Manticore. For that matter, quite a few Beowulfers (again, including members of the Board) had lost family members in the Yawata Strike. Even the masterminds responsible for the Solarian League’s foreign policy had to grasp what that was going to mean where Beowulf’s attitude was concerned.

 

As far as that goes, the director of defense reminded himself, by now it sure as hell ought to have occurred to someone in Kingsford’s shop that we must’ve known a lot more about Manticore’s capabilities than we ever shared with the Navy. It couldn’t be any other way, given all those joint exercises. So by this time, somebody’s got to be asking himself why we never mentioned those multi-drive missiles. Of course, no one ever asked us about them, but still…

 

“Well,” Longacre continued, “suppose it’s occurred to them that we’re not going to be happy when we find out about the attack on Manticore we’re not supposed to know anything about at the moment. And suppose it’s also occurred to them that if it comes down to a genuine debate over a formal declaration of war, we’re certain to exercise our veto to prevent it. What do you think they might want to do about that?”

 

“I don’t think there’s anything they can do,” Caddell-Markham replied. “I think they’re in so deep they figure the only thing they can do is keep bashing straight ahead and hope for the best.”

 

“Probably so, but that’s not going to keep someone like Kolokoltsov from trying to shove an ace or two up his sleeve, Gabriel.” Longacre shook his head. “No, he’s going to be looking for some way to change the equation. And one way to do that might be to get us involved in the attack. If we help them attack Manticore, we’ll be right in the same boat with them when it comes to defending our actions.”

 

“But no one with even half a brain could believe we would help them,” Pinder-Swun objected. “Not only do we have obvious commercial and cultural ties with Manticore, but our Assembly delegates’ve been calling for moderation ever since the Monica Incident. Not to mention Hadley’s motion! And we’ve been steadfast in rejecting the hysteria about the Green Pines bombing, as well. They have to realize how Manticore’s allegations of Mesan involvement in everything that’s happened to the Star Empire are going to play with our citizens!”

 

The secretary had that right, Caddell-Markham reflected. Indeed, Pinder-Swun himself was an outstanding example of why that was true, since his mother had been a liberated genetic slave. Liberated, in fact, if memory served, by a cruiser of the Royal Manticoran Navy.

 

“Of course Kolokoltsov’s perfectly well aware of that, Joshua,” Longacre agreed. “But if he’s taking the long view — trying to position his little quintet for an actual war, or at least a protracted crisis — then what he may want is to discredit us with the rest of the League.