Mission Of Honor – Snippet 06

“You mean we hammer them hard enough over the negotiating table, demand a big enough kilo of flesh for leaving them intact, to make sure no one else is ever stupid enough to try this same kind of stunt?” Abruzzi said thoughtfully.

“I don’t know.” Wodoslawski shook her head. “From what you said about the tone of their note and what they’ve already done, don’t we have to assume they’d be willing to go ahead and risk exactly that? Would they have gone this far if they weren’t prepared to go farther?”

“It’s easy to be brave before the other fellow actually aims his pulser at you,” Rajampet pointed out.

Several of the others looked at him with combined skepticism and surprise, and he grunted.

“I don’t really like it,” he admitted. “And I stand by what I said earlier — we can’t let this pass, can’t let them get away with it. But that doesn’t mean Omosupe’s idea isn’t worth trying, first. If they apologize abjectly enough, and if they’re willing to throw this Gold Peak to the wolves, and if they’re ready to cough up a big enough reparation, then we’ll be in the position of graciously restraining ourselves instead of hammering their pathetic little ‘Star Empire’ flat. And if they’re still too stupid to accept the inevitable,” he shrugged, “we send in however much of Battle Fleet it takes and squash them like a bug.”

It was obvious how he expected it to work out in the end, Kolokoltsov thought. And the hell of it was that even though Quartermain’s idea was probably worth trying, Rajampet was even more probably right. Wodoslawski was obviously thinking the same thing.

“I think we ought to do some risk-benefit analysis before we go embracing any military options,” she said. “Omosupe, you’re probably in a better position over at Commerce to come up with what kind of impact it would have if Manticore closed down our shipping through the wormholes they control. For that matter, just pulling their merchantships off the League’s cargo routes would probably hit our economy pretty damned hard. But whether that’s true or not, I can tell you even without looking at the numbers that our financial markets will take a significant hit if the Manties disrupt interstellar financial transactions as badly as they could.”

“So we take an economic downtick.” Rajampet shrugged. “That’s happened before, even without the Manties getting behind and pushing it, and it’s never been more than a short-term problem. I’m willing to concede this one could be worse, but even if it were, we’d still survive it. And don’t forget this, either, Agatá — if we go all the way, then when the smoke clears, the Manticoran Wormhole Junction will belong to the Solarian League, not the Manties. That ought to save your shippers a pretty penny in transit fees over at Commerce, Omosupe! And even if it doesn’t,” he smiled avariciously, “all those fees would be coming to the League, not Manticore. Relatively speaking, it probably wouldn’t mean all that much compared to our overall gross interstellar product, but it sure as hell ought to be enough to pay for whatever the war costs! And it would be an ongoing revenue source that brings in a nice piece of pocket change every year.”

“And it would get the Manties out of our hair in the Verge, too,” MacArtney said slowly. “It’s worst over around Talbott right now, but I don’t like the way they’ve been sniffing around the Maya Sector, either.”

“Slow down, everybody,” Kolokoltsov said firmly. They all looked at him, and he shook his head. “Whatever we do or don’t do, we’re not going to make our mind up sitting around this conference table this afternoon. That’s pretty much what we did with their first note, isn’t it? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem to have worked out all that well, does it? And, for that matter, Malachai’s right on the money about the way we have to handle this for public consumption. I want to see how the Manties are spinning this in the ‘faxes, and before we start suggesting any policies, I want us to think about it this time. I want all the data we have analyzed. I want the best possible models of what they’ve really got militarily, and I want a realistic estimate on how long military operations against the Manties would take. I’m talking about one that uses the most pessimistic assumptions, Rajani. I want any errors to be on the side of caution, not overconfidence. And I want to see some kind of numbers from you and Agatá, Omosupe, about what a full scale war with Manticore could really cost us in economic and financial terms.”

There was silence around the table — a silence that was just a bit sullen on Rajampet’s part, Kolokoltsov thought. But it was also thoughtful, and he saw a high degree of agreement as he surveyed his fellow civilians’ faces.

“At this moment, I’m strongly inclined to agree with Rajampet’s reasoning,” Nathan MacArtney said after several seconds. “But I also agree with you and Agatá about looking before we leap, Innokentiy. And with Malachai about doing the spadework ahead of time, as well. For that matter, if the Manties have taken out Byng’s task force, there can’t be much left in-sector for us to be launching any offensives with. I know for damn sure that Lorcan Verrochio isn’t going to be authorizing any additional action by the handful of Frontier Fleet battlecruisers and cruisers he’s got left in the Madras Sector, at any rate! And I don’t think the Manties are going to go looking for yet another incident while this one’s hanging over their heads.”

“I doubt they are either,” Kolokoltsov agreed. “On the other hand, I think we need to put together a new note pretty quickly. One that makes the fact that we’re distinctly unhappy with them abundantly clear but adopts a ‘coolheaded reason’ attitude. We’ll tell them we’ll get back to them as soon as we’ve had an opportunity to study the available information, but I think we need to get that done more quickly than we did last time around. Unless there are any objections, I’ll ‘recommend’ to the Foreign Minister that we get a stern but reasonable note off no later than tomorrow morning.”

“Suit yourself,” Rajampet said, and there might have been just a flicker of something in his eyes that Kolokoltsov didn’t really care for. “I think it’s going to come down to shooting in the end, but I’m more than willing to go along with the attempt to avoid it first.”

“And there won’t be any unilateral decisions on your part to send reinforcements to Meyers?” Kolokoltsov pressed, trying hard not to sound overtly suspicious.

“I’m not planning on sending any reinforcements to Meyers,” Rajampet replied. “Mind you, I’m not going to just sit here on my arse, either! I’m going to be looking very hard at everything we can scrape up to throw at Manticore if it comes to that, and I’m probably going to start activating and manning at least a little of the Reserve Fleet, as well. But until we all agree a different policy’s in order, I’ll leave the balance of forces in the Talbott area just where it is.” He shrugged. “There’s damn-all we can do about it right now, anyway, given the communications lag.”

Kolokoltsov still wasn’t fully satisfied, and he still didn’t care for that eye-flicker of whatever it had been, but there was nothing concrete he could find fault with, and so he only nodded.

“All right,” he said then, and glanced at his chrono. “I’ll have full copies of the Manties’ note, Sigbee’s report, and the accompanying technical data distributed to all of you by fourteen-hundred.”