A Rising Thunder – Snippet 26


Barregos frowned thoughtfully, his eyes focused on something only he could see. He stayed that way for a while, then inhaled deeply and refocused on his host across the table.


“All right, I’ll give you that,” he said, deliberately reusing Rozsak’s own words. “And you’re right about where their attention’s likely to be focused … assuming they don’t just go ahead and steamroller the Manties after all. But that could still happen, especially after the Yawata Strike.”


Rozsak nodded soberly. No one in the Maya Sector was yet clear on exactly how much damage the Manties had taken from that surprise attack. It had happened barely five weeks ago, and the Maya System was ten days from the Manticore Binary System by dispatch boat even using the shortcut from the Manticoran Wormhole Junction via Hennessy, Terre Haute, and Erewhon. What they did know, though, was that casualties — civilian casualties this time, unlike those suffered in the Battle of Manticore — had been horrific, and it sounded as if Manticore’s industrial capabilities had taken a major blow. That had to have serious implications in any conflict with the League, and the absence of any evidence as to who’d actually attacked the Manties increased the uncertainty quotient exponentially.


“I’m not going to say the Manties aren’t in a deep crack,” the admiral said. “We don’t know how deep it is, but it’s not someplace I’d like to be. On the other hand, they’ve been in cracks before, and it’s usually worked out worse for the other side than for them, so I’m not prepared to write them off. And even if they do go down, they’re not going easy. Old Chicago’s still going to be concentrating primarily on them for at least a while, and the fact that Erewhon’s no longer part of the Manticoran Alliance works for us, too. No one on Old Terra’s looking in Erewhon’s direction at the moment, and if our reports go on stressing how our investment in the system is giving us additional clout to suck them deeper into the League’s pocket, we can keep it that way for quite a while.”


“Probably,” Barregos conceded with a nod. That had been part of his own core planning from the outset, after all.


“Well, new construction’s already more than replaced everything I lost at Congo,” Rozsak pointed out. “We’re two and a half T-years into our master building program, too, and the Carlucci Group’s actually a bit ahead of schedule on the wallers. Not a lot — we’re still looking at somewhere around two more T-years before we’ll be able to put the first SD into commission — but the light units will be ready a lot sooner than that. They’re already starting to supply us with all-up multidrive missiles for our arsenal ships, as well, and however long the podnoughts are going to take, we should have the first pod battlecruisers in another ten months or so. Call it mid-October for the first units’ builder’s trials. Whatever happens with the Manties, I’m pretty damn sure they’ll last at least that long against anything a thumb-fingered ‘strategist’ like Rajampet can throw at them, if only because of the transit times involved! And, like I say, Kolokoltsov and MacArtney are going to be a lot more occupied with the unrest that’s headed for them out in the open than by our own discreet activities. On that basis, I’d say we’re almost certain to get at least a few squadrons of wallers ready for service before Rajampet decides we’re another nail that needs hammering.”


Barregos nodded again. It wasn’t as if Rozsak were telling him anything he didn’t already know. And as the admiral had also suggested, Oravil Barregos had known from the beginning that his plans were going to require fancy footwork. He’d seen this storm coming long ago, even if he’d never counted on actual hostilities between the League and someone like the Star Empire. The cataclysm poised to demolish the League’s arrogant complacency was going to come as an even greater shock to the men and women who thought of themselves as its masters than his original plans had dared anticipate, but to reach his destination he’d have to embrace the storm, use its downdrafts and savage crosscurrents.


And skydiving in a thunderstorm never was the safest hobby, was it, Oravil? He asked himself dryly. I guess it’s time you find out whether you’ve got the intestinal fortitude to really do this after all.


He took another sip of wine, thinking about all the years of effort and careful planning, of cautious recruitment and trust-building, which had led him to this point. And as he did, he realized that however nervous he might feel, what he felt most strongly of all was eagerness.


No one who’d ever met Oravil Barregos could have doubted for a moment that he was intensely ambitious. He knew it himself, and he’d accepted that he was the sort of man who was never truly happy unless he was the one wielding authority. Making decisions. Proving he was smarter, better, more qualified for the power he possessed than anyone else. Nor, he admitted, was he averse to wealth and all that came with it.


That, in many ways, was the perfect profile of an Office of Frontier Security commissioner or sector governor, and it explained a great deal about how he’d risen to his present position. But it didn’t explain all of it, and that was important, because the bureaucrats who’d accepted him as one of their own had made a fatal mistake. They’d failed to recognize that unlike them, Barregos actually cared about the people he governed. That he’d recognized the rot, seen the corrosion, realized the reaction Frontier Security’s abuse of the protectorates must inevitably provoke.


Whether or not he and Luis Rozsak and the other men and women committed to the Sepoy Option succeeded, the storm was coming, and the League’s confrontation with the Star Empire of Manticore could only speed the day its winds swept over the explored galaxy. And that was really the point, wasn’t it? When that storm broke, the chaos and confusion, the warlordism and the violence, which followed the shipwreck of any empire, were going to sweep across the protectorates, as well. They were going to sweep across the Maya Sector, and Maya’s wealth could only make it even more attractive to brigands and pirates and potential warlords.


That wasn’t going to happen to the people Oravil Barregos was responsible for. On oh so many levels, it wasn’t going to happen. And for him to prevent it, he and Rozsak had to build the strength to stand against the hurricane.


To stop the warlords, they had to become warlords…and the biggest, nastiest warlords on the block, at that.


“You’re right, Luis,” he said, setting the glass down with a snap. He looked across the table at the admiral who was not simply his accomplice in treason but his closest friend and smiled. “You’re right. So let’s just consider my cold feet warmed up.”


Rozsak smiled back at him and raised his own glass.


“I’ll drink to that,” he said.