Mission Of Honor – Snippet 02

Even if it would have been helpful if he’d been able to give a modicum of his attention to dealing with this other little problem, the diplomat thought grimly.

“I’m talking about the Talbott Cluster, Rajani,” he said out loud, letting just a trace of over-tried patience into his voice. “I’m talking about that incident between your Admiral Byng and the Manties.”

“What about it?” Rajampet’s tone was suddenly a bit cautious, his eyes wary, as instincts honed by a T-century of bureaucratic infighting reared their heads.

“It would appear the Manties were just as pissed off as their original note indicated they were,” Kolokoltsov told him.

“And?” Rajampet’s eyes turned warier than ever and he seemed to settle back into his chair.

“And they weren’t joking about sending their Admiral Gold Peak to inquire into matters on the ground in New Tuscany.”

“They weren’t?” The question came from Wodoslawski, not Rajampet, and Kolokoltsov glanced at her.

She was twenty-five T-years younger than he was — a third-generation prolong recipient with dark red hair, gray eyes, and quite an attractive figure. She was also fairly new to her position as the real head of the Treasury Department, and she’d received it, following her predecessor’s demise, only as a compromise between the other permanent senior undersecretaries. She knew perfectly well that she’d been everyone else’s second choice — that all her current colleagues had allies they would really have preferred to see in that slot. But she’d been there for over a decade, now, and she’d solidified her powerbase quite nicely.

She was no longer the junior probationary member of the quintet of permanent undersecretaries who truly ran the League from their personal fiefdoms in the Foreign Ministry, Commerce Department, Interior Department, Department of Education and Information, and Treasury Department. She was, however, the only one of them who’d been out-system and unavailable when the first Manticoran diplomatic note arrived. As such, she could make an excellent claim to bearing no responsibility for how that note had been handled, and from her expression, Kolokoltsov thought sourly, she was thoroughly aware of that minor fact.

“No, Agatá,” he said, moving his gaze to her. “No, they weren’t. And just over a T-month ago — on November the seventeenth, to be precise –Admiral Gold Peak arrived at New Tuscany . . . to find Admiral Byng still there.”

“Oh, shit,” Permanent Senior Undersecretary of the Interior Nathan MacArtney muttered. “Don’t tell us Byng opened fire on her, too!”

“If he did, I’m sure it was only because she provoked it!” Rajampet said sharply.

“With all due respect, Rajani,” Permanent Senior Undersecretary of Education and Information Malachai Abruzzi said tartly, “I wouldn’t bet my life on that.” Rajampet glared at him angrily, and Abruzzi shrugged. “As far as I can tell from the Manties’ first note, none of their ships did a damned thing to provoke him the first time he killed several hundred of their spacers. That being so, is there any reason we ought to assume he wouldn’t just as cheerfully kill a few thousand more for no particular reason?”

“I’ll remind you,” Rajampet said even more sharply, “that none of us were there, and the only ‘evidence’ we have of what truly happened was delivered to us, oh so generously, by the Manties. I see no reason to believe they’d be above tampering with the sensor data they provided to us. In fact, one of my people over at Operational Analysis commented at the time that the data seemed suspiciously good and detailed.”

Abruzzi only snorted, although Kolokoltsov suspected he was tempted to do something considerably more forceful. The vast majority of the Solarian League’s member star systems looked after their own educational systems, which meant, despite its name, that Education and Information was primarily concerned with the information half of its theoretical responsibilities. Abruzzi’s position thus made him, in effect, the Solarian League’s chief propagandist. In that role, it had been his job to find a positive spin to put on Josef Byng’s actions, and he’d been working on it ever since the Manties’ first diplomatic note reached Old Chicago.

So far, he hadn’t had a lot of success. Which wasn’t too surprising, Kolokoltsov thought sourly. When a Solarian admiral commanding seventeen battlecruisers opened fire without warning on three destroyers who didn’t even have their wedges and sidewalls up, it was going to be just a trifle difficult to convince even the Solarian public he’d been justified. Nor was there much chance that any reports or sensor data the Navy finally got around to providing were going to make things any better — not without an awful lot of “tweaking” first, at least! Rajampet could say whatever he liked about the data the Manties had provided, but Kolokoltsov agreed with Abruzzi’s original analysis. The Manties would never have sent them falsified data. Not when they knew that eventually the League would be receiving accurate tactical data from its own people.

“All I’ll say, Rajani,” Abruzzi said after a moment, “is that I’m just glad the Manties haven’t leaked this to the newsies . . . yet, at least. Because as hard as we’ve been trying, we haven’t been able to find a way to make them look like the aggressors. And that means that when this does hit the ‘faxes, we’re going to find ourselves in a very difficult position. One where we’ll probably have to apologize and actually offer to pay reparations.”

“No, damn it!” Rajampet snapped, betrayed by anger into forgetting, at least briefly, his former wariness. “We can’t establish that kind of precedent! If any pissant little neobarb navy decides the SLN can’t tell it what to do, we’re going to have a hell of a problem out in the Verge! And if Byng’s been forced into another exchange of fire with them, we have to be even more careful about what sort of precedents we set!”

“I’m afraid you’re entirely correct about that one, Rajani,” Kolokoltsov said, and his frigid tone snapped everyone’s eyes back to him. “And, unfortunately, I’m equally afraid Nathan’s mistaken about the Manties’ degree of discretion where the newsies are concerned.”

“What the hell do you mean?” Rajampet demanded. “Go ahead — spit it out!”

“All right, Rajani. Approximately ninety minutes ago, we received a second note from the Manticorans. Under the circumstances, the fact that we decided to opt for a ‘reasoned and deliberate’ response to their original complaint — and refused to let anyone think we were allowing ourselves to be rushed by any Manticoran demands — may have been less optimal than we’d thought. I don’t imagine getting our response to their first note a couple of days after they banged off their second note to us is going to amuse Queen Elizabeth and her prime minister very much.

“And the reason they’ve sent us this second note is that when Admiral Gold Peak arrived in New Tuscany she issued exactly the demands the Manties had warned us about in their first note. She demanded that Byng stand down his ships and permit Manticoran boarding parties to sequester and examine their sensor data relative to the destruction of three of her destroyers. She also informed him that the Star Empire of Manticore intended to insist upon an open examination of the facts and intended to hold the guilty parties responsible under the appropriate provisions of interstellar law for the unprovoked destruction of their ships and the deaths of their personnel. And” — Kolokoltsov allowed his eyes to flip sideways to Abruzzi for a moment — “it would appear it wasn’t all part of some sort of propaganda maneuver on their part, after all.”

“I don’t –” Rajampet’s wrinkled face was darken and his eyes glittered with fury. “I can’t believe anyone — even Manties! — would be stupid enough to really issue demands to the Solarian Navy! They’d have to be out of — I mean, surely this Gold Peak couldn’t possibly have thought she’d get away with that? If Byng blew her damned ships into orbital debris, the only person she’s got to blame for it is –”

“Oh, he didn’t blow up any of her ships, Rajani,” Kolokoltsov said coldly. “Despite the fact that she had only six battlecruisers and he had seventeen, she blew his flagship into . . . what was it you called it? Ah, yes! Into ‘orbital debris.'”

Rajampet froze in mid-tirade, staring at Kolokoltsov in disbelief.

“Oh, my God,” Omosupe Quartermain said quietly.