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A Rising Thunder: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 19:32 EST



    “Excuse me, Sir, but an Admiral Simpson is on the com. She’s asking for a priority appointment with you.”

    “Admiral Simpson?”

    Gabriel Caddell-Markham, the Director of Defense for the Beowulf Planetary Board of Directors, arched an eyebrow at Timothy Sung, his personal aide, whose holo image floated above the director’s desktop com. It had taken Caddell-Markham years to master the art of moving only one eyebrow while the other remained motionless. Despite his wife Joanna’s more or less tolerant amusement at the affectation (the acquisition of which she ascribed to his many, many years in starship commands with no useful skills to spend his time mastering), he’d actually found it quite handy since he’d resigned from the Beowulf System Defense Force to pursue a political career.

    “Yes, Sir,” Sung replied in answer to his question.

    The dark-haired, brown-eyed Sung’s rather pale complexion contrasted sharply with his boss’s very black skin, yet there was an oddly familial resemblance between them. Probably because the defense director’s aide had been with him for the better part of eleven T-years. Given that Sung was only forty, that meant he’d been young and malleable enough to be influenced by older, more evil examples. That was Sung’s own explanation, anyway. Some senior government officials might have taken that explanation amiss, but given that the theory had originally been propounded by Joanna Markham-Caddell, Caddell-Markham wasn’t in the best of positions to do that. Besides, the younger man’s insouciance was one of the main reasons the director had chosen him as an aide in the first place. Sung had performed his own military service in the Biological Survey Corps, which was scarcely renowned for its spit-and-polish attitude, and the arched eyebrow was usually good for a snort when Caddell-Markham used it on him. Today, he seemed not even to have noticed.

    “She’s not one of our officers,” Sung continued. “In fact, I understand she’s on Admiral Kingsford’s staff.”

    Caddell-Markham’s eyebrow came down and his face tightened ever so slightly. It would have taken someone who knew him as well as Sung did to notice, but his aide nodded.

    “Yes, Sir. She obviously doesn’t want to get specific with me, but from her attitude, I think she has to be here about Filareta.”

    Timothy Sung was thoroughly briefed in on a vast assortment of highly classified information, which was why he knew about the plan to send Massimo Filareta to attack the Manticore Binary System, despite the plan’s Utter-Top-Secret, Burn-Before-Reading-and-Then-Self-Terminate Classification. And, like his boss, he thought it was the stupidest, most arrogant excuse for a strategy he’d ever heard of.

    What Sung wasn’t aware of — yet — was that the Beowulf system government had very quietly used an extremely “black” communications channel to warn Manticore Filareta was coming.

    “Since you say you think she’s here about Filareta, I assume she hasn’t said anything specific about the reason she wants to see me?”

    “No, Sir. As I said, she obviously doesn’t want to get specific with an underling.” Sung grimaced. “She was pretty emphatic about the urgency of her need to speak to you as soon as possible, though. And she did say it was something she didn’t want to discuss — with you, presumably, since she was ‘discussing’ damn-all with me — over the com.”

    “I see.”

    Caddell-Markham pursed his lips, then shrugged.

    “I further assume that as the skilled bureaucrat and politician-minder you’ve become, you haven’t told her I’m immediately available?”

    “No, Sir.” This time, Sung smiled slightly. “In fact, I told her you were out of the office and that I’d see if I could contact you. I’m afraid I may have implied you were closeted with some of the other Directors at the moment and it might not be possible to ‘disturb you.’”

    “So sad to see a stalwart military officer descending to such depths of chicanery,” Caddell-Markham observed with a smile of his own. Then the smile vanished, and he shrugged. “In that case, tell her I’m afraid I won’t be able to see her until sometime fairly late this afternoon. Go ahead and feel free to ‘imply’ that I’m out of the city at the moment — I’m probably in Grendel, in fact, now that I think about it. At any rate, I’ll be happy to meet with her absolutely as soon as I can get back to Columbia. And as soon as you’ve finished ‘implying’ that to her and scheduling the meeting, please be good enough to get the CEO, Secretary Pinder-Swun, Director Longacre, and Director Mikulin on a secure conference link.”



    “So has anyone ever actually met this Admiral Simpson?”

    Chyang Benton-Ramirez, the Chairman and CEO of the Planetary Board of Directors, was about eight centimeters taller than Caddell-Markham’s hundred and seventy-five centimeters. He also had dark hair which was turning white, despite the fact that he was barely seventy-five T-years old. Personally, Caddell-Markham suspected Benton-Ramirez preferred things that way, on the theory that it gave him an interestingly distinguished look in a society accustomed to prolong’s extended youthfulness. And the snowiness of his hair made a nicely distinctive visual contrast with the darkness of his bushy mustache. The political cartoonists just loved it, regardless of their own political persuasions, at any rate.

    His Board colleagues looked around at one another’s images, then turned back to him with various combinations of shrugs and head shakes.

    “Marvelous,” he said dryly.

    “I’ve never met her, Chyang,” Director at Large Fedosei Demianovich Mikulin said, “but I did have a chance to give her dossier a quick once over before the conference.”

    Despite the fact that he was the Board of Directors’ oldest member by the better part of two decades, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Mikulin actually looked younger than Benton-Ramirez. He was almost thirteen centimeters taller, as well. A physician by training, he’d been a member of the Board for over thirty T-years, always as a director at large rather than heading any specific planetary directorate. His colleagues in the Chamber of Shareholders and Chamber of Professions had returned him so persistently to the Board because of his demonstrated ability as an all-around troubleshooter, and Benton-Ramirez, like his last two predecessors, had learned to rely on Mikulin’s advice…especially in intelligence matters.

    “And her dossier told you what, Fedosei?” the CEO asked now.

    “She’s Kingsford’s operations officer,” Mikulin replied. “She’s also some sort of cousin of his, and she’s connected by marriage to Rajampet, as well. Despite that, she’s only a rear admiral, and according to her dossier her last shipboard command was as the captain of a superdreadnought. As far as we know, she’s never commanded a fleet or a task force or even a squadron in space. She does have a reputation as an operational planner, but that’s an SLN reputation, so I’d take it with a grain of salt, especially when someone with her family connections hasn’t been promoted beyond junior flag rank. She’s obviously trusted by her superiors when it comes to politics and bureaucratic infighting, though. As nearly as I can tell, Kingsford — or Jennings, at least — has used her as go-between on some fairly gray operations that no one wanted officially on the record.”

    Benton-Ramirez nodded. Fleet Admiral Winston Seth Kingsford was the commanding officer of the Solarian League Navy’s Battle Fleet. That made him Rajampet’s heir apparent as chief of naval operations, and Admiral Willis Jennings was Kingsford’s chief of staff. Neither was any stranger to the internecine warfare of the League bureaucracy.

    “I think we can safely assume, then,” the CEO said out loud, “that none of us are going to be too happy about any minor gray areas she may have been sent to go between in our case.”

    “Probably not,” Director of State Jukka Longacre agreed. “The thing I have to wonder is how unhappy we’re going to be?”

    The director of state’s amethyst eyes narrowed. Those eyes were his most striking feature — especially against his dark complexion and depilated scalp — but his powerful, hooked nose ran them a close second. Caddell-Markham had always thought that with the possible addition of a golden earring, Longacre would have made a wonderful HD pirate. In fact, he’d been Chairman of Interstellar Politics at the University of Columbia before his election to the Board seven T-years earlier.

    “You’re wondering if something’s leaked about our warning to Manticore?” Benton-Ramirez’ tone made the question a statement, and Longacre nodded.

    “I doubt it,” Secretary Joshua Pinder-Swun said.



    Although his official title was simply Secretary of the Planetary Board of Directors, the red-haired, blue-eyed Pinder-Swun was actually the Vice Chairman and CEO of the system government. He was a little unusual for someone of his exalted political position in that he’d come late to politics, and then through the Chamber of Professions, rather than the Chamber of Shareholders. One of Beowulf’s leading physicists before his “temporary” election to the Chamber of Professions some twenty T-years before, he still cherished the illusion that he would someday be allowed to return to his beloved research. Everyone else knew that wasn’t going to happen.

    “I doubt it,” Pinder-Swun repeated when everyone’s eyes swiveled to him, and shrugged. “First, from all I’ve seen, no one has a clue our conduit to Manticore even exists. Second, if anyone on Old Terra had figured out we’d warned Manticore, they would’ve sent someone a lot more senior — and probably a lot more official — to…remonstrate with us.” He shook his head. “No, this has something to do with Filareta, all right, but I don’t think it’s anything to do with our having alerted the Manties.”

    “I think Joshua has a point,” Caddell-Markham said. “The problem is that if she’s not here to break our heads over our little security faux pas — and Joshua’s definitely right about that; if that was what they wanted, they would’ve sent someone more senior — that means Rajampet’s had another brainstorm. One that involves us. And given the fact that we’re two T-months from Manticore through hyper-space even for a dispatch boat, and that Filareta’s supposed to be leaving Tasmania (assuming he manages to make Kingsford’s schedule) in less than two weeks, whatever brilliant inspiration he might’ve had has to concern our terminus of the Junction.”

    Faces tightened, and Mikulin nodded grimly.

    “I can’t see anything else that would cause the Navy to send us a personal representative,” he agreed. “If it were a purely political matter, we wouldn’t be looking at someone from the military, and they would’ve come to call on you, Jukka, not Gabriel. Or if they’d wanted to handle it at a higher level, on you or Joshua, Chyang. And Gabriel’s right about the Junction. It’s a bit late in the day for them to suddenly decide to ask us if we have any insight into Manticoran capabilities which might have somehow eluded their own inspired analysts.” Mikulin’s contempt was withering. “Which means some ass in Kingsford’s or Rajampet’s office has decided there’s some way to use the Junction against Manticore.”

    “I realize we’re not talking about mental giants,” Pinder-Swun observed, “but surely they have to realize any sort of attack through the Junction would be suicide!”

    “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Caddell-Markham said. “On the other hand, calling the geniuses running the SLN — and the rest of the League, for that matter — ‘imbeciles’ would be a gross slander on imbeciles.”

    “Are you positive this is coming out of Rajampet or Kingsford?” Longacre asked.

    “No, but who else would be sending Kingsford’s ops officer as his messenger girl?” Caddell-Markham asked.

    “That depends on what it is they’re really after,” Longacre countered. “I’ll grant that Kolokoltsov and his apparatchiks have been acting as if they don’t have two brain cells amongst them, but as far as gaming the system he understands is concerned, he’s right there in Machiavelli’s league. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to grasp the possibility that there’s any universe outside the system he understands. Or, at least, that he failed to grasp it in time to avoid our current debacle.”

    “And?” Caddell-Markham knew he looked skeptical, and he twitched his head apologetically. “I’m not disagreeing with your analysis of Kolokoltsov and the Mandarins, Jukka. I just don’t understand why he’d send someone from the military to deliver a political message.”

    “That’s because you grew up as a straightforward military officer!” Longacre snorted.

    “Maybe he did,” Mikulin said, “but I still think it’s a valid question.”

    “Of course it is. But think about this.” Longacre looked around the other faces, ice-blue eyes more intent than ever. “We’re agreed Kolokoltsov and the others — probably especially MacArtney — stumbled into this because they were too arrogant and full of their own omnipotence to realize where it was headed. By now, though, Kolokoltsov, at least, has to’ve realized he’s looking down the barrel of a pulser at a full-fledged political and constitutional crisis. Rajampet’s twisting Article Seven like a pretzel to cover what he’s already done, far less what he plans on doing. In the end, that pretzel may break. If it does –when it does — the shit’s going to hit the fan in a way the Solarian League’s never seen. And even if none of the Mandarins suspect we’ve already warned Manticore what’s coming, they all know how close our relations with the Star Kingdom — Empire, I mean — are.”

    He paused, and Caddell-Markham nodded.

    The Star Empire of Manticore was far and away Beowulf’s biggest trading partner. Given that fact and Manticore’s unwavering support of Beowulf’s crusade against the genetic slave trade, it had been one of Beowulf’s closer allies for over three T-centuries. Indeed, unlike any other Solarian military organization, the Beowulf System Defense Force had a tradition of close cooperation with the RMN and carried out frequent joint exercises in defense of the Beowulf Terminus. More than that, Manticorans and Beowulfers had been intermarrying (among other things) ever since the Junction’s discovery in 1585 PD. At least four members of the Planetary Board of Directors, including its CEO, had relatives in Manticore. For that matter, quite a few Beowulfers (again, including members of the Board) had lost family members in the Yawata Strike. Even the masterminds responsible for the Solarian League’s foreign policy had to grasp what that was going to mean where Beowulf’s attitude was concerned.

    As far as that goes, the director of defense reminded himself, by now it sure as hell ought to have occurred to someone in Kingsford’s shop that we must’ve known a lot more about Manticore’s capabilities than we ever shared with the Navy. It couldn’t be any other way, given all those joint exercises. So by this time, somebody’s got to be asking himself why we never mentioned those multi-drive missiles. Of course, no one ever asked us about them, but still…

    “Well,” Longacre continued, “suppose it’s occurred to them that we’re not going to be happy when we find out about the attack on Manticore we’re not supposed to know anything about at the moment. And suppose it’s also occurred to them that if it comes down to a genuine debate over a formal declaration of war, we’re certain to exercise our veto to prevent it. What do you think they might want to do about that?”

    “I don’t think there’s anything they can do,” Caddell-Markham replied. “I think they’re in so deep they figure the only thing they can do is keep bashing straight ahead and hope for the best.”

    “Probably so, but that’s not going to keep someone like Kolokoltsov from trying to shove an ace or two up his sleeve, Gabriel.” Longacre shook his head. “No, he’s going to be looking for some way to change the equation. And one way to do that might be to get us involved in the attack. If we help them attack Manticore, we’ll be right in the same boat with them when it comes to defending our actions.”

    “But no one with even half a brain could believe we would help them,” Pinder-Swun objected. “Not only do we have obvious commercial and cultural ties with Manticore, but our Assembly delegates’ve been calling for moderation ever since the Monica Incident. Not to mention Hadley’s motion! And we’ve been steadfast in rejecting the hysteria about the Green Pines bombing, as well. They have to realize how Manticore’s allegations of Mesan involvement in everything that’s happened to the Star Empire are going to play with our citizens!”

    The secretary had that right, Caddell-Markham reflected. Indeed, Pinder-Swun himself was an outstanding example of why that was true, since his mother had been a liberated genetic slave. Liberated, in fact, if memory served, by a cruiser of the Royal Manticoran Navy.

    “Of course Kolokoltsov’s perfectly well aware of that, Joshua,” Longacre agreed. “But if he’s taking the long view — trying to position his little quintet for an actual war, or at least a protracted crisis — then what he may want is to discredit us with the rest of the League.



    “Try this scenario. The Navy wants our assistance in carrying out its attack on Manticore. Maybe they want the BSDF to participate actively, or maybe they just want to use the Junction to threaten Manticore from the rear and expect us to help with the necessary ship movements. Anyway, whatever they want, they tell us about it, and we turn them down. Under Article Five of the Constitution, we can refuse to place the System-Defense Force under federal control unless the League’s formally at war, and the Beowulf Terminus of the Junction is outside the twelve-minute limit, which means it’s not ‘our’ property to dispose of, anyway. They might not want to buy that interpretation, especially given our treaty with Manticore, but technically Beowulf Astro Control is a chartered private company, not an official organ of our government, and it leases the terminus from its Manticoran discoverers. So we’ve got plenty of wiggle room to keep the lawyers happy for the odd decade or two if they try to push it. Which means that if we do turn them down, refuse to cooperate, we can legitimately argue we’re within our rights under the Constitution.

    “From their perspective, though, one of two things is going to happen when Filareta reaches Manticore. Either he succeeds and the Manties back down without a fight — which every one of us knows perfectly well isn’t going to happen — or else there’s going to be a battle. Kolokoltsov and the others may actually believe Filareta can win, given how badly Manticore’s been damaged. Of course, if any of their so-called analysts think anything of the sort after what happened to Crandall, I’d like to distribute a few kilos of whatever they’re snorting at my next fundraiser! At any rate, either Filareta wins, in which case our refusal to cooperate doesn’t hurt anything since the crisis is over, or else Filareta gets hammered…in which case, they blame his defeat on our lack of cooperation. You can bet your bottom credit that when the official report gets presented, we’ll be the reason Filareta got blown out of space, which will undercut our credibility as opponents to any post-Filareta hard-line position.”

    “You really think they’d believe they could get away with that?” Caddell-Markham wished his own tone sounded more incredulous.

    “I’m pretty sure they would,” Longacre replied. “Believe they could get away with it, at any rate. I think they’d probably be wrong, but let’s be honest, Gabriel. It wouldn’t be any rawer than a lot of other ‘facts’ they and Abruzzi’s shills at Education and Information have sold the public, now would it? I doubt any of them think they could count on brushing us permanently out of their way — even in the League, the truth has an annoying tendency of coming out eventually. But if there’s any basis to my suspicions, then what they’re after is a tactical objective, rather than a strategic one. If Filareta’s operation blows up in their faces, the Mandarins want us neutralized during any immediate public debate over exactly how that happened or who’s to blame for the resultant bloodbath.

    “In the longer term, they’ll hardly be heartbroken if they can keep us sidelined long enough to get the entire League committed to their policy vis-à-vis Manticore. We all know from personal experience that once a policy’s been set, it’s a lot harder to change it than it ever would have been to nip it in the bud. And they probably figure that if the Assembly’s signed off — even passively — on whatever policy they choose, it’s a lot less likely anyone’s going to be able to generate any effective resistance to that policy.”

    The director of state leaned back in his office chair, folding his arms across his chest, and the other participants in the holo conference looked at one another’s images. Caddell-Markham was pretty sure most of the others were thinking the same thing he was. Unfortunately, what Longacre had just suggested sounded entirely too likely for comfort.

    “All right,” Benton-Ramirez said after a moment. “Personally, I hope you’re being excessively paranoid, Jukka. I’m not prepared to bet against you, though. So the question before us becomes how we respond to whatever ‘request’ this Simpson is here to make.”

    “You want my honest, off-the-cuff, immediate reaction to it, Chyang?” Pinder-Swun asked.

    The CEO nodded, and the secretary gave a harsh, barking laugh. It sounded like the hunting cry of some forest predator, and Pinder-Swun’s always ruddy complexion was about half a shade darker than usual.

    “Okay,” he said. “What I’d really like to do is point them at the terminus and invite them to go right ahead!”

    He smiled nastily, and Caddell-Markham winced.

    The ceiling on any simultaneous mass transit of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction was around two hundred million tons. That meant the largest force the SLN could throw through the Beowulf Terminus in a single wave would be about thirty of its Scientist-class superdreadnoughts, after which the terminus would be destabilized and useless for over seventeen hours. That sounded like a lot of ships…until one reflected that a single missile salvo from a force composed solely of cruisers and battlecruisers had completely destroyed twenty-three units of the same class in the Battle of Spindle. What the Manticoran Home Fleet’s ships-of-the-wall — or even just the Junction forts — could do would make Spindle look like a love tap.

    “While I’ll admit to a certain vengefulness of my own, Joshua,” Benton-Ramirez said after a moment, his tone mild, “we might want to bear in mind that the spacers aboard those ships wouldn’t be the ones who decided to attack Manticore in the first place. Not to mention the fact that they’re our fellow Solarians…and somebody’s husbands, wives, sons, or daughters.”

    “I said it was my immediate reaction,” Pinder-Swun replied. “You’re right, though, of course. Although when I think about how often the Navy’s sat on its collective ass and watched slavers go trundling past, my sense of empathy becomes oddly deadened. Despite that, I agree we shouldn’t be encouraging Rajampet and Kingsford to get job lots of Navy personnel killed in one-sided massacres.”

    “So what do we do?” Benton-Ramirez looked around his colleagues’ faces once more. “Suggestions, anyone?”



    “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so promptly, Director,” Rear Admiral Marjorie Simpson said, reaching across the desk to shake Caddell-Markham’s proffered hand. Her smile actually looked genuine.

    “I’m sorry I wasn’t available when you first screened, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham replied with an equally warm (and false) smile. “According to Mr. Sung’s message, though, it sounded fairly urgent, so I cleared space on my calendar as quickly as I could.”

    “I appreciate that,” Simpson told him, but she also cocked her head at the fair-haired, gray-eyed woman who’d risen from one of the armchairs in front of Caddell-Markham’s desk. The rear admiral’s expression was politely inquiring, and Caddell-Markham released her hand and gestured at the other woman.

    “Allow me to introduce Assistant Director of Defense Justyná Miternowski-Zhyang,” he said. “Justyná is the assistant director for the BSDF’s naval component.” He smiled. “Given your own naval rank, it seemed likely your errand here on Beowulf was going to involve Justyná’s bailiwick. Assuming it does, it seemed simplest and most efficient to have her here at the outset.”

    “I see. And I appreciate your forethought,” Simpson said, although her own smile seemed just a little forced as she reached out to shake Miternowski-Zhyang’s hand in turn.

    “Please,” Caddell-Markham said then, waving at the waiting armchairs. “Let’s all have seats and get down to whatever brings you to Beowulf, Admiral. Can I offer any refreshment?”

    “I’m fine, Director,” Simpson demurred, shaking her head. “Perhaps later.”

    “Fine.” The director of defense tipped back slightly in his own chair and waved one hand in an inviting “go-ahead” gesture.

    Simpson paused for a moment, as if making certain her mental note cards were properly arranged, and he took advantage of the opportunity to study her unobtrusively. She wasn’t a particularly tall woman, although she was solidly if compactly put together. According to the dossier Mikulin had shared with him, she was in her early seventies, but her hair was still dark, without a hint of gray, and her brown eyes were commendably open and mild. Earnest. Even guileless, one might almost have said. Which, given her position and duties, had to be deceptive.

    “What I’m about to discuss with you,” she said finally, “is Top Secret, Level Seven classified material.”

    She paused again, briefly, as if for emphasis. In the Solarian classification system, there was only one level above that, and Caddell-Markham reminded himself to look suitably impressed.



    “I’m sure you and Assistant Director Miternowski-Zhyang have been fully briefed on what happened to Admiral Crandall’s task force at Spindle,” she resumed. “Obviously that came as a shock to all of us in the Navy. We’re not convinced by any means that the Manties’ version of what happened is accurate, of course. In particular, given what we know of Admiral Crandall’s standing orders, it seems unlikely her actions and attitudes were actually as provocative as they’ve been portrayed. It does seem probable that she…mismanaged the situation badly, but some of our analysts believe the com records the Manties sent us have been skillfully edited. Be that as it may, however — whatever actually happened and whoever really fired the first shot — we’re all left facing the consequences of Manticore’s actions.”

    She paused again, as if inviting a response to what she’d just said. Particularly, Caddell-Markham suspected, to her version of just whose actions were responsible for the consequences in question. Both Beowulfers had their expressions as thoroughly under control as her own, however.

    “Clearly,” she continued with an air of candor when neither of them rose to the bait, “what happened to Admiral Crandall indicates we in the Navy have badly underestimated Manticoran military capabilities. Our analysts are firmly of the opinion that the missile performance we observed at Spindle never came from anything that could be launched from cruiser or battlecruiser missile tubes, whatever they may be claiming or seeking to imply. But even with that caveat — even assuming what they actually used were heavy system-defense missiles — their capabilities were, frankly, little short of terrifying. It’s painfully evident that at the moment, at least, the Manty navy has a significant technological edge.

    “At the same time, however, the Solarian League has a tremendous quantitative advantage. There’s simply no way anything the size of the Manties’ ‘Star Empire’ could possibly match our productivity and available manpower. In the end, those advantages have to prove decisive.

    “Unfortunately, despite the fact that their defeat would be ultimately certain, God only knows how many of our own people would get killed along the way.” She shook her head, expression grave. “Even completely ignoring our moral responsibility not to throw away lives unnecessarily, those sorts of casualty levels would inevitably — and rightly — lead to universal repugnance in the League. Bearing all of that in mind, it seemed evident to everyone on Admiral Kingsford’s staff — and to Admiral Rajampet and his staff, for that matter — that Assemblywoman Hadley had a point. Even if not everyone agreed with her logic, the ultimate conclusion was effectively the same: despite the Navy’s understandable fury and desire for vengeance, any sort of precipitous operations against Manticore were out of the question. At the very least, every diplomatic avenue had to be explored first.”

    She paused again, and this time Caddell-Markham allowed himself to nod in sober agreement, despite his quick lick of anger at Simpson’s clumsy effort to suggest some sort of agreement with Felicia Hadley.

    “Unfortunately,” the admiral went on, “it’s become evident to Foreign Minister Roelas y Valiente and to Permanent Senior Undersecretary Kolokoltsov that Manticore has no intention of negotiating in good faith.” She sighed. “Whatever Assemblywoman Hadley and those who share her concerns may think, the Manties’ diplomatic correspondence — not to mention the obvious duplicity of the way in which they misrepresented the Republic of Haven’s diplomacy in the resumption of their long-standing war against Haven; the shameless, cynical imperialism of cold-bloodedly partitioning a sovereign star nation in the Silesian Confederacy’s case; the unilateral decision to close not just their own Junction but every other terminus they control against Solarian traffic; and their questionable actions in the Talbott Cluster — all make it clear they have every intention of pressing their current military advantage for all it’s worth.”

    That wasn’t, Caddell-Markham reflected, the way he would have described the Star Empire’s diplomatic exchanges with the League. Or any of the rest of its foreign policy over the last, oh, fifty T-years or so. As fantasies went, though, it stuck together fairly well, he supposed. Or would have, assuming anyone with the IQ of a gnat had been prepared to believe a single word that came out of the Office of Frontier Security.

    And isn’t it interesting that she never even mentioned Green Pines? He thought sardonically.

    “That was the unpalatable situation in the immediate aftermath of the New Tuscany and Spindle incidents,” Simpson said. “More recently, however, that situation has changed radically. I’m sure you here in Beowulf have an even better appreciation than most for just how badly the Manties were damaged by that attack on their home system.”

    For just a moment, despite her obviously formidable self-control, those brown eyes hardened. Obviously she and her superiors suspected Beowulf really did have a far better “appreciation” for events in Manticore than it had chosen to share with them. Caddell-Markham and Miternowski-Zhyang only nodded courteously, however. Her lips thinned ever so briefly, but then she shrugged and actually smiled.

    “We don’t know who was responsible for that attack. I assure you, ONI is working overtime to figure out who it could have been! The obvious fact that at least one other navy also has capabilities we can’t match at the moment doesn’t make any of us very happy. At the same time, it’s clear this mysterious third party has managed to significantly prune back Manty capabilities. In fact, our analysis suggests the Manticoran heavy industrial structure’s been effectively destroyed, with obvious consequences for their ability to support sustained operations. None of which has done anything to mitigate Manty ambitions, unfortunately. To be honest they seem to have become even more ambitious — or aggressive, at any rate — judging by their actions where the wormhole network is concerned. In fact, we have reports — unconfirmed at this time, but from usually reliable sources — that they’ve begun to go beyond shutting down their own termini by actually seizing control of any other termini they can reach, regardless of who they may belong to, to close them against us, as well.

    “Given the Manticorans’ clear, unwavering intention to hold to the aggressive course they’ve set, Prime Minister Gyulay concurs with Admiral Rajampet’s view that it would be criminally negligent to give them the gift of time to rebuild their military. Ultimately, that would almost certainly result in an unconscionable death toll for our own military. For that matter, it would result ultimately in a staggering death toll for the Manties, once we fully mobilized against them. So, the Navy intends to move quickly, taking advantage of this window of opportunity. We happen to have a force of approximately four hundred ships-of-the-wall either already at or within a very few days’ hyper travel of the Tasmania System. Within the next two or three weeks, those ships, reinforced by everything we’ve been able to get to them, will advance on Manticore under Fleet Admiral Filareta. They should reach Manticore no later than the middle of June.”

    Simpson’s voice had become deeper and more measured, and this time the Beowulfers allowed their own eyes to widen in surprise leavened by more than a hint of trepidation.

    “Admiral Rajampet fully realizes the grave risks of the operation he’s instructed Admiral Kingsford to mount. Obviously, we hope the combination of the damage the Manties have already suffered and the speed with which Admiral Filareta can reach their home system will convince them to see reason. Failing that, we believe their defensive capabilities will have been sufficiently reduced for Admiral Filareta to succeed in defeating their remaining forces with a minimum of casualties. Nonetheless, the possibility does exist that he’ll take severe losses if it turns out their defensive canopy hasn’t been quite so badly eroded as our current analyses suggest. Which is what brings me to Beowulf.”

    She stopped speaking almost abruptly and sat back in her own chair, gazing at Caddell-Markham levelly.

    “I beg your pardon?” he said. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand how Admiral — Filareta, you said? — and his operations affect us here in Beowulf, Admiral Simpson.”

    “It’s actually fairly simple, Director,” Simpson replied. “In an ideal universe the psychological aspects of this operation will allow Admiral Filareta to succeed without firing a single shot. The idea is to demonstrate to the Manties that whatever their present, transitory advantages, they can’t ultimately hope to defeat something with the size and staying power of the Solarian League and the Solarian League Navy. To help push that lesson home, we need to apply pressure from as many directions as possible as closely to simultaneously as possible.”

    “Wait a minute,” Caddell-Markham said (after all, it wouldn’t do to appear too obtuse). “I do hope you’re not proposing to launch a second prong of this attack through the Beowulf Terminus, Admiral Simpson!”

    “That’s exactly what we’re proposing, Sir.”



    “Well, I’m afraid I can’t agree that it’s a very good idea,” he told her flatly.

    “Why not?” If Simpson was dismayed (or surprised) by his response, her tone gave no indication of it.

    “Several reasons occur to me right off hand. First and foremost, there’s the question of pre-transit intelligence.” Caddell-Markham shook his head, his expression sober. “I’m sure you realize how much Manticore’s closure of the Junction is hurting us here in Beowulf. They’ve shut it down from their end, not ours, but with Manty merchant traffic all heading for home or already there and the Junction closed to all Solarian traffic, one of our major revenue producers is effectively completely off-line. I’m sure Admiral Kingsford and Admiral Rajampet were aware of that when they sent you to make this proposal to us, and no doubt there are some people right here on Beowulf who want to see our terminus reopened just as badly as anyone in Old Chicago might. But whether that’s true or not, the fact that it’s currently closed to Solarian traffic — including ours — means we don’t have a clear idea of what’s currently happening in and around the Junction. Everything we have heard and been able to piece together, however, suggests they’ve concentrated their defenses to cover the Junction from their side more thoroughly than at any time since the Star Kingdom took Trevor’s Star away from the People’s Republic. At the very least, the forces they already had in place have to be at a very high level of alert.

    “Even leaving that consideration aside, though, there’s the problem of coordinating our own forces. Manticore may be only a single wormhole transit from Beowulf, but it’s light-centuries away in n-space. Trying to coordinate simultaneous assaults between two forces which are literally months apart in terms of communications time strikes me as a recipe for disaster. Especially when, if I understand what you said earlier correctly, there won’t be time to get a dispatch boat to Admiral Filareta with the news that your second force is even coming!”

    “You’re right,” Simpson conceded, “and we’ve considered that. We can’t communicate directly with Admiral Filareta, of course, but we’ve already infiltrated one of our own dispatch boats into the Manticore System. It’s covered as a news service vessel, since the Manties are so ‘graciously’ allowing even Solarian courier and dispatch vessels passage, and we’ve arranged to rotate additional couriers through the Junction under similar covers throughout the entire operational window. The Manties’ own movements should make it evident to everyone in the system when Filareta arrives, at which point our dispatch boat transits to Beowulf and another thirty or so of our SDs transit directly into the Junction. The sudden arrival of another task force that powerful in their rear should certainly drive home to the Manties the sheer disparity between our resources and theirs.”

    “Even assuming your courier boat’s allowed to make transit — which it might well not be, once Filareta arrives and the system goes to a high state of military alert,” Miternowski-Zhyang said, speaking for the first time, “what makes you think the Manties will let you make transit with that many wallers?” The assistant director of defense wasn’t making any particular effort to disguise her own incredulity. “I’m assuming from the number you’ve just given us that you’re talking about a simultaneous transit, but whether you plan on a simultaneous transit or a phased transit, those ships are still going to be emerging suddenly, without clearance, when the Manties are already facing the open arrival of four hundred Solarian wallers. As Director Caddell-Markham just pointed out, all our sources indicate their Junction defense forces are at a strength and readiness level we haven’t seen in years. And, to be blunt, whoever’s in command of those forces is going to shoot first and worry about IDs later.”

    “That’s clearly a possibility.” Simpson nodded. “Fleet Admiral Bernard and the Office of Strategy and Planning feel the odds are in favor of their standing down — or being momentarily paralyzed, at least — in the face of such a sudden multiplication of threat axes, however.”

    “‘The odds are in favor‘ of their standing down?” Miternowski-Zhyang sounded as if she couldn’t believe her own ears. “You’re talking about sending better than thirty ships-of-the-wall with—what? A hundred and eighty thousand men and women onboard? — into a situation from which they can’t possibly retreat, because the odds ‘are in favor‘ of the Manties not pulling the trigger?” She shook her head. “Fleet Admiral Bernard does understand Manticore’s been at war effectively continuously for twenty T-years, doesn’t she?”

    “Of course she does.” Simpson’s tone had become a bit testy at last. “I would submit, however, Assistant Director, that there’s a vast difference between fighting something as ramshackle as the People’s Republic of Haven and fighting the Solarian League. And that has to be especially true after they just got their entire system-defense force royally reamed by whoever got through to their industrial platforms!”

    Miternowski-Zhyang shoved herself further back in her chair, shaking her head yet again.

    “I’m sure there is a ‘vast difference,’ Admiral,” she said with a noticeable edge of frost. “At the same time, I think we’ve probably seen a bit more of Manticore here than the Office of Strategy and Planning’s seen in Old Chicago. I’m not trying to cast any aspersions on the analysts and planners in question” — there might, Caddell-Markham thought, have been just a hint of insincerity in that last little bit — “but everything we’ve ever seen out of the Manties suggests their first reaction to any threat, especially to their home system, is going to be to kill it. And whatever they may have used at Spindle, I think we can safely assume they have even heavier weapons defending the home system.”

    “Which someone else has already cleared a path through for us,” Simpson pointed out. “And which the damage to their industrial capacity will prevent them from replacing.”

    “Assuming they hadn’t taken the elementary military precaution of having more of them stockpiled in secure areas, well away from their industrial platforms,” Miternowski-Zhyang shot back. She shook her head yet again, more sharply than ever. “I’m sorry, Admiral Simpson. I realize this isn’t your plan, that you’re simply in the position of describing it to us. But speaking as someone who’s spent the last thirty or forty T-years helping manage the naval side of our own system-defense force, there’s no way I could possibly sign off on such a high-risk, no-fallback operational plan.”

    “And if Justyná could sign off on it, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham put in, “I’m afraid neither Chairman Benton-Ramirez nor I could.”

    “I see.”

    Simpson sat for a moment, looking back and forth between the two Beowulfers. Then she shrugged.

    “I’m sorry to hear that. We’d hoped the BSDF would help flesh out the secondary force. In fact, I’m afraid my instructions are to officially request that of the Planetary Board of Directors, even if Chairman Benton-Ramirez is as likely to reject our request as you’re suggesting. Fortunately, we should be able to make up the necessary numbers out of SLN units, although without Beowulfan support we won’t have the redundancy to follow up once the terminus stabilizes again. I hope the Chairman will at least consider the…advisability of providing that minimal level of support to an operation of such obviously critical importance.”

    Well, score one for Jukka’s “paranoid” analysis, Caddell-Markham thought. Although, to be honest, I find it difficult to believe anyone even in Rajampet’s office is crazy enough to think something like this could possibly succeed!

    “If you intend to make a formal request for BSDF support, I will of course present it to Chairman Benton-Ramirez,” he said out loud. “And while I understand your viewpoint, I’m afraid my own recommendation will be that he turn it down. I’m sorry, Admiral, but I fully share the Assistant Director’s view of the probable outcome of any such operation. Under the circumstances, I can’t recommend anything which might be construed as approval of it.”

    “Obviously, that’s your privilege, Sir,” Simpson said more than a little coldly.

    “I see it not as a ‘privilege,’ but as a moral duty, Admiral,” Caddell-Markham said equally coldly. “In fact, to be frank, my initial reaction is that this entire plan is based on overly optimistic and extremely problematic assumptions which rest on completely unverified — and unverifiable — estimates of the Manties’ current vulnerability. I’m perfectly prepared to review any intelligence analyses which would appear to support those assumptions and estimates, but all of the intelligence available to us here in Beowulf, right on the other side of the terminus, suggests that Justyná’s view of the Manties’ probable response is unfortunately accurate. Indeed, I suspect the Planetary Board will officially go on record as opposing the entire operation as hasty, ill-conceived, and likely to result in extraordinarily heavy casualties.”

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