A Rising Thunder – Snippet 22


“Try this scenario. The Navy wants our assistance in carrying out its attack on Manticore. Maybe they want the BSDF to participate actively, or maybe they just want to use the Junction to threaten Manticore from the rear and expect us to help with the necessary ship movements. Anyway, whatever they want, they tell us about it, and we turn them down. Under Article Five of the Constitution, we can refuse to place the System-Defense Force under federal control unless the League’s formally at war, and the Beowulf Terminus of the Junction is outside the twelve-minute limit, which means it’s not ‘our’ property to dispose of, anyway. They might not want to buy that interpretation, especially given our treaty with Manticore, but technically Beowulf Astro Control is a chartered private company, not an official organ of our government, and it leases the terminus from its Manticoran discoverers. So we’ve got plenty of wiggle room to keep the lawyers happy for the odd decade or two if they try to push it. Which means that if we do turn them down, refuse to cooperate, we can legitimately argue we’re within our rights under the Constitution.


“From their perspective, though, one of two things is going to happen when Filareta reaches Manticore. Either he succeeds and the Manties back down without a fight — which every one of us knows perfectly well isn’t going to happen — or else there’s going to be a battle. Kolokoltsov and the others may actually believe Filareta can win, given how badly Manticore’s been damaged. Of course, if any of their so-called analysts think anything of the sort after what happened to Crandall, I’d like to distribute a few kilos of whatever they’re snorting at my next fundraiser! At any rate, either Filareta wins, in which case our refusal to cooperate doesn’t hurt anything since the crisis is over, or else Filareta gets hammered…in which case, they blame his defeat on our lack of cooperation. You can bet your bottom credit that when the official report gets presented, we’ll be the reason Filareta got blown out of space, which will undercut our credibility as opponents to any post-Filareta hard-line position.”


“You really think they’d believe they could get away with that?” Caddell-Markham wished his own tone sounded more incredulous.


“I’m pretty sure they would,” Longacre replied. “Believe they could get away with it, at any rate. I think they’d probably be wrong, but let’s be honest, Gabriel. It wouldn’t be any rawer than a lot of other ‘facts’ they and Abruzzi’s shills at Education and Information have sold the public, now would it? I doubt any of them think they could count on brushing us permanently out of their way — even in the League, the truth has an annoying tendency of coming out eventually. But if there’s any basis to my suspicions, then what they’re after is a tactical objective, rather than a strategic one. If Filareta’s operation blows up in their faces, the Mandarins want us neutralized during any immediate public debate over exactly how that happened or who’s to blame for the resultant bloodbath.


“In the longer term, they’ll hardly be heartbroken if they can keep us sidelined long enough to get the entire League committed to their policy vis-à-vis Manticore. We all know from personal experience that once a policy’s been set, it’s a lot harder to change it than it ever would have been to nip it in the bud. And they probably figure that if the Assembly’s signed off — even passively — on whatever policy they choose, it’s a lot less likely anyone’s going to be able to generate any effective resistance to that policy.”


The director of state leaned back in his office chair, folding his arms across his chest, and the other participants in the holo conference looked at one another’s images. Caddell-Markham was pretty sure most of the others were thinking the same thing he was. Unfortunately, what Longacre had just suggested sounded entirely too likely for comfort.


“All right,” Benton-Ramirez said after a moment. “Personally, I hope you’re being excessively paranoid, Jukka. I’m not prepared to bet against you, though. So the question before us becomes how we respond to whatever ‘request’ this Simpson is here to make.”


“You want my honest, off-the-cuff, immediate reaction to it, Chyang?” Pinder-Swun asked.


The CEO nodded, and the secretary gave a harsh, barking laugh. It sounded like the hunting cry of some forest predator, and Pinder-Swun’s always ruddy complexion was about half a shade darker than usual.


“Okay,” he said. “What I’d really like to do is point them at the terminus and invite them to go right ahead!”


He smiled nastily, and Caddell-Markham winced.


The ceiling on any simultaneous mass transit of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction was around two hundred million tons. That meant the largest force the SLN could throw through the Beowulf Terminus in a single wave would be about thirty of its Scientist-class superdreadnoughts, after which the terminus would be destabilized and useless for over seventeen hours. That sounded like a lot of ships…until one reflected that a single missile salvo from a force composed solely of cruisers and battlecruisers had completely destroyed twenty-three units of the same class in the Battle of Spindle. What the Manticoran Home Fleet’s ships-of-the-wall — or even just the Junction forts — could do would make Spindle look like a love tap.


“While I’ll admit to a certain vengefulness of my own, Joshua,” Benton-Ramirez said after a moment, his tone mild, “we might want to bear in mind that the spacers aboard those ships wouldn’t be the ones who decided to attack Manticore in the first place. Not to mention the fact that they’re our fellow Solarians…and somebody’s husbands, wives, sons, or daughters.”


“I said it was my immediate reaction,” Pinder-Swun replied. “You’re right, though, of course. Although when I think about how often the Navy’s sat on its collective ass and watched slavers go trundling past, my sense of empathy becomes oddly deadened. Despite that, I agree we shouldn’t be encouraging Rajampet and Kingsford to get job lots of Navy personnel killed in one-sided massacres.”


“So what do we do?” Benton-Ramirez looked around his colleagues’ faces once more. “Suggestions, anyone?”


*   *   *


“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so promptly, Director,” Rear Admiral Marjorie Simpson said, reaching across the desk to shake Caddell-Markham’s proffered hand. Her smile actually looked genuine.


“I’m sorry I wasn’t available when you first screened, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham replied with an equally warm (and false) smile. “According to Mr. Sung’s message, though, it sounded fairly urgent, so I cleared space on my calendar as quickly as I could.”


“I appreciate that,” Simpson told him, but she also cocked her head at the fair-haired, gray-eyed woman who’d risen from one of the armchairs in front of Caddell-Markham’s desk. The rear admiral’s expression was politely inquiring, and Caddell-Markham released her hand and gestured at the other woman.


“Allow me to introduce Assistant Director of Defense Justyná Miternowski-Zhyang,” he said. “Justyná is the assistant director for the BSDF’s naval component.” He smiled. “Given your own naval rank, it seemed likely your errand here on Beowulf was going to involve Justyná’s bailiwick. Assuming it does, it seemed simplest and most efficient to have her here at the outset.”


“I see. And I appreciate your forethought,” Simpson said, although her own smile seemed just a little forced as she reached out to shake Miternowski-Zhyang’s hand in turn.


“Please,” Caddell-Markham said then, waving at the waiting armchairs. “Let’s all have seats and get down to whatever brings you to Beowulf, Admiral. Can I offer any refreshment?”


“I’m fine, Director,” Simpson demurred, shaking her head. “Perhaps later.”


“Fine.” The director of defense tipped back slightly in his own chair and waved one hand in an inviting “go-ahead” gesture.


Simpson paused for a moment, as if making certain her mental note cards were properly arranged, and he took advantage of the opportunity to study her unobtrusively. She wasn’t a particularly tall woman, although she was solidly if compactly put together. According to the dossier Mikulin had shared with him, she was in her early seventies, but her hair was still dark, without a hint of gray, and her brown eyes were commendably open and mild. Earnest. Even guileless, one might almost have said. Which, given her position and duties, had to be deceptive.


“What I’m about to discuss with you,” she said finally, “is Top Secret, Level Seven classified material.”


She paused again, briefly, as if for emphasis. In the Solarian classification system, there was only one level above that, and Caddell-Markham reminded himself to look suitably impressed.