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A Rising Thunder: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 22:14 EST



    “I don’t know, Luis.”

    Governor Oravil Barregos paused and took a sip of the really nice Mayan burgundy Admiral Luis Roszak had chosen to accompany dinner. It wasn’t actually very much like Old Terran burgundy, despite the name. Fermented from the Mayan golden plum, not grapes, it reminded Roszak more of a rich, fruity port, but no one had consulted him when it was named, and it was one of Barregos’ favored vintages. The governor’s expression was not that of a man savoring a special treat, however, and he sighed as he lowered the glass.

    “I don’t know,” he repeated, gazing down into its tawny heart. “After the way you got hammered at Congo and given how that maniac Rajampet seems to be calling the shots, I have to admit I’m feeling at least a minor case of…cold feet, let’s say.”

    Roszak sat back, nursing his own wineglass, and studied the Maya Sector Governor across his small kitchen table. He’d known Oravil Barregos a long time, and “cold feet” were something he’d never before associated with the other man. Especially not where the “Sepoy Option” was concerned.

    Then again, the admiral thought, we’ve never been this close to actually pulling it off, and none of our calculations considered the possibility of an outright shooting war between the League and someone like the Manties. Throw in “mystery raiders” with invisible starships, and I suppose even Alexander of Macedon might experience the odd moment of trepidation. And Oravil, bless his Machiavellian little heart, never believed he was a demigod to begin with!

    “I agree we got hammered,” he said after a moment. “And when it comes right down to it, it’s my fault we did.”

    He made the admission unflinchingly, and raised his free hand in a silencing motion when Barregos started to contest his self indictment.

    “I’m not saying I made wrong decisions based on what I thought I knew,” he said. “I am saying I was too damned complacent about thinking that what we all thought we knew was accurate. Or, rather, that we understood all its implications, let’s say.” He shrugged. “We knew Mesa was using Luft and his people as deniable mercenaries, and we assumed — on the basis of what happened at Monica with the Manties — that they might reinforce them with heavy Solarian-built units, which is exactly what they did. Our mistake — my mistake — was to assume that if they were using Solarian-built units, they’d be using SLN missiles, too. I built all my tactics around the assumption my opponents would be range-limited, unable to reply effectively.” He shrugged again, dark eyes bitter with memory. “I was wrong.”

    “If you were wrong, so was everyone else,” Barregos pointed out. “Edie Habib and Watanapongse both thought the same thing.”

    “Of course they did. They’re no more mind readers than I am, and it was a logical assumption. And there was no sign they had any missile pods on tow, either, since they didn’t. If they had been towing pods, though — if we’d seen something like that — even I might have remembered those long-ranged missiles Technodyne provided for Monica and at least considered the possibility that Mesa had given something similar to Luft.

    “My point, Oravil, is that I was the commanding officer. There’s an old saying, one I think too many officers and politicians routinely ignore: ‘The buck stops here.’ I was the commander; the responsibility was mine. And what made it my fault we got hammered was that if I’d thought about it at all, I didn’t have to close as far as I did. Even with those ‘cataphract’ missiles, we had them out-ranged. But I wanted to get right in on the edge of their powered envelope, get the best accuracy I could while staying too far away for them to fire effectively on us. If I’d been more cautious, settled for poorer firing solutions and just accepted that I was going to expend more ammunition, they wouldn’t have been able to hurt us anywhere near as badly as they did. In fact, we probably wouldn’t've gotten hurt at all.”

    “I still say it’s not your fault.” Barregos shook his head stubbornly. “You have to go with the information you’ve got when you plan something like a battle. I may not be an admiral, but I know that much! And no plan survives contact with the enemy. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you say that, and it’s as true in politics as it is in the military. It works both ways, too. They may have surprised you with the range of their missiles, but you surprised the hell out of them, too! And your deployment gave you the reserve to run the table once you’d taken out their battlecruisers.” The governor shrugged. “You got hurt a lot worse than we ever anticipated, but you still won the battle — decisively — because you were prepared to deal with Murphy when he turned up.”

    “All right, I’ll give you that.” Rozsak nodded. Then he smiled, and his eyes narrowed. “And where I was headed, using the strategy of the indirect approach, was to point out that you do a pretty good job of disaster-proofing your plans, too. We always knew we were going to have to make a lot of it up as we went along when the token finally dropped, Oravil. You’ve laid your groundwork; despite all the people I managed to get killed at Congo, we’ve still got most of our critical senior personnel in position; and I can’t really think of something closer to producing the conditions Sepoy envisioned than what’s going on with the Manties now. We just have to be ready to improvise and adapt when Murphy starts throwing crap at us on the political front, as well.”

    Barregos gazed at the admiral for several seconds, then snorted in harsh amusement.

    “‘Indirect approach’ is it? All right, you got me. But this is a little different from defending Torch against an Eridani violation, Luis. If I push the button on Sepoy, it’s for all the marbles. We have to come out into the open, and that’s going to put us up against Frontier Fleet, maybe even Battle Fleet, and we’re nowhere near the Manties’ size and weight!”

    “I think your plans for staying in the shadows a bit longer will hold up,” Rozsak demurred. “Oh, there’s a risk they won’t, but don’t forget the rumblings we’re getting from other Frontier Security sectors. I think the situation’s going to go a lot further south on Kolokoltsov and Rajampet than they ever imagined. It’s going to happen a lot faster than even you and I assumed it would, too, and this confrontation with the Manties is what’s driving it, because it’s destroying the League’s perceived omnipotence among the independent Verge systems. I’m sure the fear of where that’s going to lead is a big part of what’s driving Kolokoltsov to back MacArtney and Rajampet, but they don’t seem to’ve considered that a lot of the more restive protectorates may have read the evidence the same way as the independent systems. I think they’re in for a rude awakening on that front sometime really soon now, and when the shitstorm hits, they’re going to be so busy worrying about outbreaks closer to home that we’re going to sort of disappear into the general chaos, at least at first. They aren’t going to be sending any major fleets out here while they’re dealing with forest fires in the Core’s front yard. Especially when we keep explaining that we’re really good, loyal OFS thugs just doing what we have to maintain order in the League’s benevolent name.”



    Barregos frowned thoughtfully, his eyes focused on something only he could see. He stayed that way for a while, then inhaled deeply and refocused on his host across the table.

    “All right, I’ll give you that,” he said, deliberately reusing Rozsak’s own words. “And you’re right about where their attention’s likely to be focused … assuming they don’t just go ahead and steamroller the Manties after all. But that could still happen, especially after the Yawata Strike.”

    Rozsak nodded soberly. No one in the Maya Sector was yet clear on exactly how much damage the Manties had taken from that surprise attack. It had happened barely five weeks ago, and the Maya System was ten days from the Manticore Binary System by dispatch boat even using the shortcut from the Manticoran Wormhole Junction via Hennessy, Terre Haute, and Erewhon. What they did know, though, was that casualties — civilian casualties this time, unlike those suffered in the Battle of Manticore — had been horrific, and it sounded as if Manticore’s industrial capabilities had taken a major blow. That had to have serious implications in any conflict with the League, and the absence of any evidence as to who’d actually attacked the Manties increased the uncertainty quotient exponentially.

    “I’m not going to say the Manties aren’t in a deep crack,” the admiral said. “We don’t know how deep it is, but it’s not someplace I’d like to be. On the other hand, they’ve been in cracks before, and it’s usually worked out worse for the other side than for them, so I’m not prepared to write them off. And even if they do go down, they’re not going easy. Old Chicago’s still going to be concentrating primarily on them for at least a while, and the fact that Erewhon’s no longer part of the Manticoran Alliance works for us, too. No one on Old Terra’s looking in Erewhon’s direction at the moment, and if our reports go on stressing how our investment in the system is giving us additional clout to suck them deeper into the League’s pocket, we can keep it that way for quite a while.”

    “Probably,” Barregos conceded with a nod. That had been part of his own core planning from the outset, after all.

    “Well, new construction’s already more than replaced everything I lost at Congo,” Rozsak pointed out. “We’re two and a half T-years into our master building program, too, and the Carlucci Group’s actually a bit ahead of schedule on the wallers. Not a lot — we’re still looking at somewhere around two more T-years before we’ll be able to put the first SD into commission — but the light units will be ready a lot sooner than that. They’re already starting to supply us with all-up multidrive missiles for our arsenal ships, as well, and however long the podnoughts are going to take, we should have the first pod battlecruisers in another ten months or so. Call it mid-October for the first units’ builder’s trials. Whatever happens with the Manties, I’m pretty damn sure they’ll last at least that long against anything a thumb-fingered ‘strategist’ like Rajampet can throw at them, if only because of the transit times involved! And, like I say, Kolokoltsov and MacArtney are going to be a lot more occupied with the unrest that’s headed for them out in the open than by our own discreet activities. On that basis, I’d say we’re almost certain to get at least a few squadrons of wallers ready for service before Rajampet decides we’re another nail that needs hammering.”

    Barregos nodded again. It wasn’t as if Rozsak were telling him anything he didn’t already know. And as the admiral had also suggested, Oravil Barregos had known from the beginning that his plans were going to require fancy footwork. He’d seen this storm coming long ago, even if he’d never counted on actual hostilities between the League and someone like the Star Empire. The cataclysm poised to demolish the League’s arrogant complacency was going to come as an even greater shock to the men and women who thought of themselves as its masters than his original plans had dared anticipate, but to reach his destination he’d have to embrace the storm, use its downdrafts and savage crosscurrents.

    And skydiving in a thunderstorm never was the safest hobby, was it, Oravil? He asked himself dryly. I guess it’s time you find out whether you’ve got the intestinal fortitude to really do this after all.

    He took another sip of wine, thinking about all the years of effort and careful planning, of cautious recruitment and trust-building, which had led him to this point. And as he did, he realized that however nervous he might feel, what he felt most strongly of all was eagerness.

    No one who’d ever met Oravil Barregos could have doubted for a moment that he was intensely ambitious. He knew it himself, and he’d accepted that he was the sort of man who was never truly happy unless he was the one wielding authority. Making decisions. Proving he was smarter, better, more qualified for the power he possessed than anyone else. Nor, he admitted, was he averse to wealth and all that came with it.

    That, in many ways, was the perfect profile of an Office of Frontier Security commissioner or sector governor, and it explained a great deal about how he’d risen to his present position. But it didn’t explain all of it, and that was important, because the bureaucrats who’d accepted him as one of their own had made a fatal mistake. They’d failed to recognize that unlike them, Barregos actually cared about the people he governed. That he’d recognized the rot, seen the corrosion, realized the reaction Frontier Security’s abuse of the protectorates must inevitably provoke.

    Whether or not he and Luis Rozsak and the other men and women committed to the Sepoy Option succeeded, the storm was coming, and the League’s confrontation with the Star Empire of Manticore could only speed the day its winds swept over the explored galaxy. And that was really the point, wasn’t it? When that storm broke, the chaos and confusion, the warlordism and the violence, which followed the shipwreck of any empire, were going to sweep across the protectorates, as well. They were going to sweep across the Maya Sector, and Maya’s wealth could only make it even more attractive to brigands and pirates and potential warlords.

    That wasn’t going to happen to the people Oravil Barregos was responsible for. On oh so many levels, it wasn’t going to happen. And for him to prevent it, he and Rozsak had to build the strength to stand against the hurricane.

    To stop the warlords, they had to become warlords…and the biggest, nastiest warlords on the block, at that.

    “You’re right, Luis,” he said, setting the glass down with a snap. He looked across the table at the admiral who was not simply his accomplice in treason but his closest friend and smiled. “You’re right. So let’s just consider my cold feet warmed up.”

    Rozsak smiled back at him and raised his own glass.

    “I’ll drink to that,” he said.

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