Mission Of Honor – Snippet 13

Given that balance, and how much Manticoran and Grayson blood had been shed side by side in the Alliance’s battles, Matthews was prepared to forgive the Star Kingdom for High Ridge’s existence. Not all Graysons were, however. Even many of those who remained fierce supporters of Lady Harrington separated her in their own minds from the Star Kingdom. She was one of theirs — a Grayson in her own right, by adoption and shed blood — which insulated her from their anger at the High Ridge Government’s stupidity, avarice, and arrogance. And the fact that she and High Ridge had been bitter political enemies only made that insulation easier for them.

“I’m serious, Wesley.” Benjamin waved one hand, as if for emphasis. “Oh, Forchein’s always been a social and religious conservative — not as reactionary as some, thank God, but bad enough — but I’m pretty sure it was the combination of High Ridge’s foreign policy and Haven’s resumption of open hostilities that tipped his support. And, unfortunately, he’s not the only one that’s true of.”

“May I ask how bad it actually is, Your Grace?” Matthews inquired, his eyes narrower.

It wasn’t the sort of question he usually would have asked, given the Grayson tradition of separation between the military and politics. Senior officers weren’t supposed to factor politics into their military thinking. Which, of course, was another of those fine theories which consistently came to grief amid the shoals of reality. There was a difference, however, between being aware of the political realities which affected the ability of his Navy to formulate sound strategy or discharge its responsibilities to defend the Protectorate of Grayson and of becoming involved in the formulation of political policy.

“To be honest, I’m not really certain,” Benjamin admitted. “Floyd is taking some cautious political soundings, and I expect we’ll have a pretty good idea within the next week or so of who else might be inclined in Forchein’s direction.”

Matthews nodded. Floyd Kellerman, Steadholder Magruder, had become Benjamin’s chancellor following Henry Prestwick’s well-earned retirement. He’d been Prestwick’s understudy for the last two years of the old chancellor’s tenure, and the Magruders had been Mayhew allies literally for centuries. Lord Magruder hadn’t yet developed the intricate web of personal alliances Prestwick had possessed, but he’d already demonstrated formidable abilities as both an administrator and a shrewd politician.

“Having said that, however,” the protector continued, “I’m already pretty confident about where the problem is going to come from . . . and what our problem children — however many of them there turn out to be — are going to want.” He shook his head. “Some of them wouldn’t have supported us sticking with Manticore against Haven this time around if the Protector’s Own hadn’t already been involved at Sidemore. Their position is that High Ridge had already violated Manticore’s treaty obligations to us by conducting independent negotiations with Haven, which amounted to a unilateral abrogation of the Alliance. And while we do have a mutual defense treaty outside the formal framework of the overall Alliance, one whose terms obligate us to come to one another’s support in the event of any attack by an outside party, the Star Kingdom’s critics have pointed out that the Republic of Haven did not, in fact, attack Grayson in Operation Thunderbolt despite our involvement in defending Manticoran territory. The implication being that since High Ridge chose to violate Manticore’s solemn treaty obligations to us — along with every other party to the Alliance — there’s no reason we should feel legally or morally bound to honor our treaty obligations to them if doing so isn’t in the Protectorate’s best interests.

“And — surprise, surprise! — the way the Manticorans’ expansion into the Talbott Sector’s brought them into direct collision with the Solarian League has only made the people who are pissed off with Manticore even less happy. And to be honest, I can’t really blame anyone for being nervous about finding themselves on the wrong end of the confrontation with the League, especially after the way High Ridge squandered so much of the Star Kingdom’s investment in loyalty.

“Of course, none of our vessels have actually been involved in operations anywhere near Talbott, but we do have personnel serving on Manticoran warships which have been. For that matter, over thirty of our people were killed when that idiot Byng blew up the destroyers they were serving in. Which gives the people who worry about what may happen between the League and the Manticorans — and, by extension, with us — two legitimate pieces of ammunition. The Sollies may view the participation of our personnel, even aboard someone else’s ships, in military operations against the League as meaning we’ve already decided to back Manticore, and I don’t think it would be totally unfair to argue that the people we’ve already lost were lost in someone else’s fight. Mind you, I think it should be obvious to anyone with any sort of realistic appreciation for how Frontier Security and the League operate that standing up to the Sollies should be every independent ‘neobarb’ star system’s fight. Not everyone’s going to agree with me about that, unfortunately, and those who don’t will be airing their concerns shortly. Which brings me back to my original question for you. How satisfied are you with the system’s security?”

“In the short term, completely, Your Grace.” Matthews’ response was as firm as it was instant. “Whatever High Ridge and Janacek might have done, ever since Willie Alexander took over as Prime Minister, especially with Hamish as his First Lord of Admiralty, our channels of communication have been completely opened again. Our R&D people are working directly with theirs, and they’ve provided us with everything we needed to put Apollo into production here at Yeltsin’s Star. For that matter, they’ve delivered over eight thousand of the system-defense variant Apollo pods. And they’ve also handed our intelligence people complete copies of the computer files Countess Gold Peak captured from Byng at New Tuscany, along with specimens of Solly missiles, energy weapons, software systems — the works. For that matter, if we want it, they’re more than willing to let us have one of the actual battlecruisers the Countess brought back from New Tuscany so we can examine it personally. So far, we haven’t taken them up on that. Our people in Admiral Hemphill’s shop are already seeing everything, and, frankly, the Manties are probably better at that sort of thing than we are here at home, anyway.

“Based on what we’ve seen out of the Havenites, I’m confident we could successfully defend this star system against everything the Republic has left. And based on our evaluation of the captured Solarian material, my best estimate is that while the Sollies probably could take us in the end, they’d need upwards of a thousand ships-of-the-wall to do it. And that’s a worst-case estimate, Your Grace. I suspect a more realistic estimate would push their force requirements upward significantly.” He shook his head. “Given all their other commitments, the amount of their wall of battle that’s tucked away in mothballs, and the fact that they’d pretty much have to go through Manticore before they got to us at all, I’m not worried about any known short-term threat.”

He paused for a moment, as if to let the protector fully absorb his own confidence, then drew a deep breath.

“In the long term, of course, the Solarian League could pose a very serious threat to the Protectorate. I agree with the Manties’ estimate that it would take years for the SLN to get comparable technology into production and deployed. I think some of the individual system-defense forces could probably shave some time off of how long it’s going to take the SLN in particular, and the League in general, to overcome the sheer inertia of their entrenched bureaucracies, but as far as I’m aware, none of those SDFs are in anything like the Star Kingdom’s — I mean the Star Empire’s — league. For that matter, I don’t think any of them could come close to matching our combat power for quite a lengthy period. But in the end, assuming the League has the stomach to pay the price in both human and economic terms, there’s not much doubt that, barring direct divine intervention, the Sollies could absorb anything we and the Manticorans combined could hand out and still steamroller us in the end.”

Benjamin puffed his lips, his eyes worried, and rotated his chair some more. It was very quiet in the office — quiet enough for Matthews to hear the creaking of the old-fashioned swivel chair — and the high admiral found himself looking out the window again, at the throngs of children.

I’d really like for someone to grow up on this planet without having to worry about wars and lunatics, he thought sadly, almost wistfully. I’ve done my best to keep them safe, but that’s not the same thing.

“I wish I could say I was surprised by anything you’ve just said,” Benjamin said at last, pulling Matthews’ eyes back to him. “Unfortunately, it’s about what I expected to hear, and I don’t doubt Mueller and Friends, as you call them, have reached about the same conclusions. They already think of us as ‘Manticoran lackeys’ who put Manticore’s interests ahead of Grayson’s. That’s going to dispose them to take the least optimistic possible view, shall we say, of our long-term strategic position. Nor do I doubt that they’re going to be perfectly ready to share their thoughts on the subject with their fellow steadholders.”

“Your Grace, I could –”

“No, you couldn’t, Wesley,” Benjamin interrupted. The high admiral looked at him, and the protector smiled tartly. “I’m sure, High Admiral Matthews, that you would never suggest to the Lord Protector that it might be possible for you to prevaricate or even mislead the Conclave of Steadholders if you were called to testify before them.”