Mission Of Honor – Snippet 05

“They’ve already released the news?” Abruzzi seemed stunned in a way even the news of Jean Bart’s destruction had failed to achieve.

“That’s what they tell us.” Kolokoltsov shrugged. “When you get right down to it, they may not have a lot of choice. It’s been two months since the first incident, and the communications loop from New Tuscany to Manticore’s only about three weeks. Word of something this big was bound to leak to their newsies pretty damned quickly after Byng managed to get himself blown away.” Rajampet’s eyes glittered at his choice of words, but Kolokoltsov didn’t especially care. “Under the circumstances, they probably figured they couldn’t keep it under wraps much longer even if they tried, so they’d damned well better get their version of it out first — especially to their own people.”

“Then the bastards really have painted us all into a corner,” Rajampet snarled. “If they’ve gone ahead and broadcast this thing to the entire galaxy, we’ve got even less choice about how hard we respond.”

“Just hold on, Rajani!” Abruzzi said sharply. The admiral glared at him, and he glared right back. “We don’t have any idea at this point how they’ve positioned themselves on this. Until we’ve at least had a chance to see the spin they put on it, we aren’t in any position to decide how we want to spin our own response to it! And trust me on this one — we’re going to have to handle it very, very carefully.”

“Why?” Rajampet snapped.

“Because the truth is that your idiot admiral was in the wrong, at least the first time around,” Abruzzi replied coldly, meeting the admiral’s eyes glare-for-glare. “We can’t debate this on their terms without conceding that point. And if public opinion decides he was wrong and they were right, and if we handle this even slightly wrong, the hullabaloo you’re still dealing with over Technodyne and Monica’s going to look like a pillow fight.”

“If it does, it does,” Rajampet said flatly.

“You do remember the Constitution gives every single member system veto power, don’t you?” Abruzzi inquired. Rajampet glared at him, and he shrugged. “If you wind up needing a formal declaration of war, don’t you think it would be a good thing if nobody out there — like, oh, Beowulf, for example — decided to exercise that power?”

“We don’t need any frigging declarations of war! This is a clear-cut case of self-defense, of responding to an actual attack on our ships and personnel, and the judiciary’s interpretation of Article Seven has always supported the Navy’s authority to respond to that kind of attack in whatever strength is necessary.”

Kolokoltsov started to respond to that statement, then made himself pause. Rajampet had a point about the judiciary’s interpretation of Article Seven of the League Constitution . . . historically, at least. The third section of that particular article had been specifically drafted to permit the SLN to respond to emergency situations without waiting weeks or months for reports to trickle back to the capital and for the ponderous political mechanism to issue formal declarations of war. It had not, however, been intended by the Constitution’s drafters as a blank check, and if Rajampet wanted to move the Navy to an actual war footing — to begin mobilizing additional superdreadnoughts from the Reserve, for example — someone was going to point out that he needed the authorization of that same formal declaration. At which point someone else was going to support Rajampet’s position.

At which point we’ll wind up with a constitutional crisis, as well as a military one, Kolokoltsov thought grimly. Wonderful.

He wondered how many of his colleagues grasped the true gravity of the threat they faced. If Rajampet was able to crush Manticore quickly after all, this would almost certainly blow over, as many another tempest had over the course of the League’s long history. But if the Navy couldn’t crush Manticore quickly, if this turned into a succession of bloody fiascoes, not even the most resounding ultimate victory would be enough to prevent seismic shockwaves throughout the entire tissue of bureaucratic fiefdoms which held the League together.

He suspected from Abruzzi’s attitude that Malachai, if no one else, had at least an inkling of just how dangerous this could turn out to be. Wodoslawski probably did, too, although it was harder to tell in her case. Rajampet obviously wasn’t thinking that far ahead, and Kolokoltsov honestly didn’t have a clue whether or not MacArtney and Quartermain were able to see beyond the immediate potential consequences for their own departments.

“I agree with you about the historical interpretation of Article Seven, Rajani,” he said out loud, finally. “I think you’d be well advised to consult with Brangwen about the precedents, though. And to make sure the rest of her people over at Justice are onboard with you for this one.”

“Of course I’ll check with her,” Rajampet replied a bit more calmly. “In the meantime, though, I’m confident I’ve got the authority to respond by taking prudent military precautions.” He smiled thinly. “And there’s always the old saying about the best defense being a strong offense.”

“Maybe there is,” Abruzzi said. “And I’ll even agree that apologizing later is usually easier than getting permission first. But I’d also like to point out that this one’s quite a bit different from ‘usually’. So if you intend to sell that to the Assembly in a way that’s going to keep some of the busybodies over there from demanding all sorts of inquiries and holding all kinds of hearings, we’re going to have to prepare the ground for it carefully, anyway. Some of those people over there think they really ought to be in charge, you know, and the ones who think that way are likely to try to use this. As long as there’s no strong public support for them, they aren’t going to accomplish much — all the inertia in the system’s against them. But if we want to deny them that public support, we’re going to have to show everyone that you not only have that authority but that we’re in the right in this particular confrontation.”

“Despite what you just said about my ‘idiot admiral’?” Anger crackled in Rajampet’s voice.

“If the adjective offends you, I’m sorry.” Abruzzi didn’t waste a lot of effort on the sincerity of his tone. “But the fact remains that he was in the wrong.”

“Then how in hell do you think we’re going to convince that ‘public support’ of yours we’re in the right if we smash the Manties like they deserve?” Rajampet sneered.

“We lie.” Abruzzi shrugged. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before. And, in the end, the truth is what the winner says it is. But in order to rebut the Manties’ version effectively, I have to know what it is, first. And we can’t make any military moves until after I’ve had a chance to do the preliminary spadework.”

“Spadework.” This time, Rajampet’s sneer was marginally more restrained. Then he snorted harshly. “Fine. You do your ‘spadework’. In the end, it’s going to be my superdreadnoughts that make it stand up, though.”

Abruzzi started to shoot something back, but Omosupe Quartermain interrupted him.

“Let’s not get carried away,” she said. The others looked at her, and she shrugged. “No matter what’s happened, let’s not just automatically assume we’ve got to move immediately to some sort of military response. You say they haven’t ruled out the possibility of a diplomatic settlement, Innokentiy. Well, I’m sure the settlement they have in mind is us making apologies and offering them reparations. But what if we turned the tables? Even the Manties have to be capable of doing the same math Rajani just did for us. They have to know that if push comes to shove, any qualitative advantage they might have can’t possibly stand up to our quantitative advantage. So what if we were to tell them we’re outraged by their high-handedness, their unilateral escalation of the confrontation before they even had our response to their first note? What if we tell them it’s our position that, because of that escalation, all the additional bloodshed at New Tuscany was their responsibility, regardless of how Byng may have responded to their ultimatum? And what if we tell them we demand apologies and reparations from them on pain of an official declaration of war and the destruction of their entire ‘Star Empire’?”