TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 05:

Stephens snorted caustically, and Watanapongse chuckled.

“Actually,” Rozsak continued more seriously, “it really would make good economic sense, however you look at it. And Erewhon’s in a logistical bind. After what happened on Torch, the Erewhonese have pretty much burned their bridges with Manticore. Well, actually, that’s not really the best way to put it. I’m sure Manticore — or at least the Manties’ queen — would be willing to welcome them back, but Imbesi and his friends dynamited the central span pretty damned thoroughly.

“Anyway, as I’m sure quite a few people back on Old Earth are well aware, Erewhon’s never built its own ships-of-the-wall. For that matter, it’s bought most of its cruisers from foreign suppliers, as well. Back before they joined the Manticoran Alliance, the Erewhonese bought most of those ships from Solarian builders; since signing up with Manticore, they’ve bought Manty-built. But that source is going to be closed, especially once they get around to signing that formal mutual defense pact with Haven. On the other hand, Haven’s not really in a position to sell them lots and lots of modern wallers, and even if Haven were, the Havenites’ general tech base isn’t as good — yet, at least — as Manticore’s. For that matter, it isn’t as good as the sort of ‘Manticore lite’ tech Erewhon has available on its own.

“So it’s going to make sense for Erewhon to begin expanding its own naval building capacity. They’ve built their own destroyers and other light units for a long time, so it’s not as if they don’t have the local expertise. They’ve just never felt able to justify investing in all the infrastructure that goes into building capital ships. Now, obviously, we’d prefer for them to buy Solarian for any wallers they might need.” The rear admiral managed to sound as if he actually meant that, Stephens noticed. “Unfortunately,” Rozsak continued, “we can’t force them to do that, and I’m afraid they’re not entirely happy about placing orders for such big-ticket items in Solarian yards. Some of them actually seen to cherish the dark suspicion that the League might hold up the delivery of their new ships in order to do a little judicious arm-twisting where the Erewhon terminus is concerned. Ridiculous, of course, but what can you expect out of a bunch of neobarbs?

“But if they’re not going to buy Solarian, and they can’t buy Manty or Havenite, then their only alternative is to finally bite the bullet and begin building up the yard capacity to build their own. Obviously, no single star system is going to be able to build a lot of wallers, and it’s probably silly of them to invest so much capital in a capacity that’s going to be so seriously underutilized. But if they’re determined to go ahead and do it, then we might as well invest in the project and help them build it. They’re going to be buying a lot of what they need from us, so it’ll be a shot in the arm for the Sector’s business community. It’s going to show its investors a tidy profit, too, and, like I say, it’s also likely to give us — ‘us’ in this case being the League as a whole, of course, as far as Old Chicago knows anything about — a toe in the door later on.”

“Okay.” Stephens nodded. “So, as you say, it makes sense — or it’s plausible, at least — for Erewhon to be expanding its naval building capacity. And I’m sure we can make our investment, or our official investment, at least, sound reasonable, too. But what happens when they start building ships for us?”

“There are actually three things to consider there,” Watanapongse said calmly. “First, they aren’t going to be building any capital ships for us. All of the wallers are going to be being built to standard Erewhonese designs for the ESN. Surely you don’t think a loyal sector governor would even be contemplating acquiring unauthorized capital ships of his very own? I’m shocked — shocked — by the very possibility that you might entertain such a thought! Of course, if anyone actually runs the numbers, they’re going to realize the Erewhonese are building more SDs than they could possibly pay for — or, for that matter, man! — but it wouldn’t be the first time a third rate, neobarb Navy’s eyes got bigger than its stomach. If anyone asks, they’re planning on putting the excess units straight into mothballs as a mobilization reserve, to be manned only if their navy expands in the face of an emergency situation. Given Battle Fleet’s mobilization plans, that should make sense to the geniuses back on Old Earth, for a while, at least. Hopefully, by the time we’re actually sending crews out to take possession of our part of the building program, it’s not going to matter all that much if someone notices. Don’t forget, we’re talking at least two or three T-years down the road, where wallers are concerned, even after the yard capacity is built. Probably more like four or five years, minimum, to the first deliveries.

“Secondly, we’re going to bury a few ‘official’ light units of our own in the Erewhonese program.” He shrugged. “Given how strapped for hulls Frontier Fleet always is, and given the worsening situation between Manticore and Haven, Governor Barregos obviously has legitimate security concerns. The Sector would make a pretty juicy prize, if any of the locals were gutsy enough — or crazy enough — to try and grab it. That’s not likely to happen, of course, but it is likely that privateers and piracy are going to spill over onto our local interests. I mean, the Sector trades with Erewhon, Manticore, and Haven on a regular basis. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to start thinking in terms of commerce protection.”

Stephens looked a little dubious, and Rozsak shook his head.

“Trust me, Brent. When I get done writing my evaluation as Frontier Fleet’s senior officer here in the Sector, everybody back on Old Earth’s going to understand that we’re critically short of the sort of light units — destroyers, maybe the occasional light cruiser — you need for commerce protection. Unfortunately, everyone’s always short of light units like that. Most systems with the kind of economic clout we have are full members of the League, which means they can raise their own system-defense forces to provide that sort of protection. We can’t; we’re officially a protectorate. That means the only place we can get the escorts we need is from Frontier Fleet, but Frontier Fleet doesn’t have them to spare. So, what I’ll be doing, is using discretionary funds, plus additional ‘special subscriptions’ the Governor is going to screw out of the local merchants and manufacturers, to buy a few extra destroyers which will then become the property of Frontier Fleet. They’ll be integrated into my own squadrons out here, they won’t cost the Navy (or any of the other bureaucracies back home) a single centicredit, and when the situation out here finally calms down, Frontier Fleet will cheerfully transfer them somewhere else.

“Or that’s what they think will happen, anyway.”

Stephens could have shaved with Rozsak’s smile

“And they’re also going to think that what we’re building are only destroyers,” Watanapongse added. “The ‘light cruisers’ are officially going to be Erewhonese units, not ours. We’ll be ‘borrowing’ a few of them from Admiral McAvoy once the piracy situation starts getting out of hand out here. It’ll be another example of how those silly neobarbs built more ships than they had the cash and manpower to keep operational, so in the interests of getting the League’s hooks even more deeply into the Republic of Erewhon, we’ll be providing naval assistance in the form of experienced officers to help the poor neobarbs find their way around. In the meantime, no one back home’s going to realize that our new ‘destroyers’ are going to be the next best thing to the same size as our Morrigan-class light cruisers.”