Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 28

Most of the people seated around the long table grimaced, but she had a point. With Admiral Keeley O’Cleary’s departure for Old Chicago, and the deaths of Admirals Sandra Crandall, Dunichi Lazlo, and Griseldis Degauchy in the Battle of Spindle, Admiral Margaux Bordelon had inherited command of the surrendered personnel of SLN Task Force 496. Judging from her own conversations with Bordelon, Michelle Henke was confident the Solarian officer would have declined the honor if she’d had any choice.

Any impartial board of inquiry would have to conclude that Bordelon bore no responsibility for what had happened to Crandall’s task force. She might not have covered herself with glory, but Michelle doubted any Battle Fleet flag officer was likely to have accomplished that. As far as the battle itself was concerned, Bordelon had done precisely what she’d been ordered to do, and she’d conducted herself in punctilious accordance with the Deneb Accords since becoming senior officer of the Solarian POWs. None of which was likely to cut any ice where the consequences to her career were concerned. As TF 496’s two surviving senior officers, she and O’Cleary could pretty much count on being scapegoated for the deceased Crandall’s mistakes, unless their own family connections were lofty enough to avoid that fate.

It seemed unlikely they could be, in O’Cleary’s case, since she’d been the one to actually surrender to the handful of cruisers which had ripped Crandall’s SDs apart, but there might be some hope — career wise, at any rate — for Bordelon. After all, she wasn’t the one who’d “cravenly” (to use what appeared to be the Solly newsfax editorials’ favorite adverb, although “gutlessly” seemed to be running a close second and “pusillanimously” was clearly in contention, as well, at least for newsies with impressive vocabularies) surrendered. And she obviously intended to be as inflexible as possible in demanding Manticore meet the Deneb Accords’ obligations to properly “house, feed, and care for” prisoners of war. The fact that there were the next best thing to half a million of those prisoners, and that they’d arrived with absolutely no warning, couldn’t mitigate those obligations in any way, as far as Bordelon was concerned. She not only repeated her demands for “adequate housing” at every meeting with any of Medusa’s or Krietzmann’s representatives but insisted her protests against her personnel’s “mistreatment” be made part of the official record.

Clearly, she hoped her demands that her people should be properly treated (and the clear implication that they weren’t being) would produce the image of a decisive flag officer, refusing to buckle before the brutality of her captors, despite the situation she faced through no fault of her own.

Michelle liked to think she would have had more on her mind than career damage control in Bordelon’s place. In fairness, though, she had to admit there wasn’t a lot else for Bordelon to be worrying about at the moment. Particularly since the Solarian knew perfectly well that Medusa and Krietzmann were doing everything humanly possible to see to her people’s well-being. And it wasn’t as if any of the Solarians were actually suffering. The islands Prime Minister Alquezar had designated as POW camps were all located in the planet Flax’s tropics. With the moderating effect so much ocean exercised on temperature, those islands came about as close to having perfect climates as was physically possible. That might change during hurricane season, but hurricane season was months away, and proper housing and other support facilities were being constructed at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Yes, the majority of Bordelon’s personnel were still under canvas, yet that was changing quickly, and not even Bordelon could complain about the food or the medical attention.

“No, I don’t suppose I should expect her to admit it,” Krietzmann said now, in response to Medusa’s comment. “Doesn’t make me any less tempted to wring her neck every time she opens her mouth, though!”

Krietzmann’s Dresden accent was more pronounced than usual, and Michelle wondered if that was intentional. As the Quadrant’s Minister of War, he was directly responsible for the coordination, maintenance, and management of the various planetary militias and the Quadrant Guard local defense force organized under the Quadrant’s Constitution. It was a new departure for the Manticorans, but some the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had argued in favor of a locally raised and maintained military force to serve as backup for the Royal Navy, and the Grantville Government had agreed to it. For one thing, it would ease the burden on the Navy and the Royal Marines considerably, The Quadrant would also be responsible for maintaining the Quadrant Guard out of local tax revenues, which would prevent it from becoming a charge on the imperial treasury. And, finally, Grantville’s agreement had recognized the unspoken truth that the maintenance of a local force would help Talbotters sleep more soundly at night. Not only would it insure that OFS wouldn’t come calling while the rest of the Star Empire was distracted elsewhere, but it had been something of a sop to any local fears of “Manty tyranny” from the Old Star Kingdom’s direction.

At the moment, however, it was Krietzmann’s Guard which had responsibility for security where the POWs were concerned. That was enough to make Bordelon’s protests especially irritating to him all by itself, but that particular irritation wasn’t by itself. For some odd reason, TF 496’s unprovoked onslaught on their capital system hadn’t made Talbotters in general any fonder of Sollies, and Dresden’s hatred for all things Solarian had burned hotter than most to begin with.

“I trust you haven’t been as…forthright with Admiral Bordelon as you are with our cabinet colleagues, Henri,” Minister of the Treasury Samiha Lababibi said dryly, and Krietzmann snorted a laugh.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “Yet.”

“Then we all have something to be grateful for,” Prime Minister Alquezar observed. Alquezar, by far the tallest person seated at the table, turned to Admiral Augustus Khumalo. “And while Henri’s doing his best to leave Bordelon’s neck un-wrung, I believe you had something you and Admiral Gold Peak wanted to bring up, Admiral?”