Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Thirty Six

       Last updated: Thursday, August 19, 2004 00:11 EDT



    “So much for the demise of the Freedom Alliance,” Baroness Medusa said bitterly.

    Gregor O’Shaughnessy simply nodded. There wasn’t much else to do as he and the Provisional Governor watched the news clips which Colonel Basaricek had appended to her official report.

    It was bad, he thought. Worse even than the Nemanja bombing. The casualty count was higher, the damage was spread across a wider area of the city and -- especially in the area of that tank truck bomb -- far more severe, and the sheer psychological shock effect after the extended false calm was equally severe. The commentary on the news clips Basaricek had included carried a new, harsher flavor than the reportage before Nordbrandt’s assumed death had. Much of that anger was directed at the FAK, but a disturbing amount of it was aimed squarely at the Kornatian government this time.

    “I don’t like how critical they’re being of Rajkovic and Basaricek,” Dame Estelle said, as if she’d been reading his mind, and he nodded again.

    “Hard to blame them, really, Milady. Oh, the newsies ought to know better. Probably do, really. But after the sense of euphoria, the belief the storm was over, this had to have a major psychological effect.”

    “Well, now we know why she didn’t bother to disabuse us of the fond assumption that we’d actually managed to kill her. And while you’re being so understanding about their reporters, Gregor, you might bear in mind that one reason those same reporters are hammering the government right now is to keep from admitting they were the ones -- not Vice President Rajkovic or Colonel Basaricek -- who announced that the lack of activity meant she had to be dead. Rajkovic was always careful to keep cautioning people that there was no proof of that.”

    “Granted, Milady. But it would be unrealistic to expect anything else out of them, really. And at least it proves Kornati really does have a free press, doesn’t it?”

    The baroness gave a sharp crack of laughter and shook her head.

    “You’re not usually the one looking for the silver lining, Gregor. Do I really sound like I need cheering up that badly?”

    “I wouldn’t put it quite that way, Milady.” He smiled crookedly at her. “In fact, I think I may be the one who needs the cheering up this time.”

    They turned their attention back to the grim sights and sounds from the wounded city. It didn’t take much longer to get to the end, and Dame Estelle turned off the HD with an almost vicious jab at the remote. She sat for a moment longer, still glowering at the blank unit, and then shook herself and turned back to O’Shaughnessy.

    “The timing on this could have been better,” she said with massive understatement. Twelve days had passed since Hexapuma had departed for Montana. Probably the cruiser was already in-system and decelerating towards the planet in the continued blissful belief that the situation in Split was under control.

    “Yes, Milady,” he agreed, “the timing could indeed be better. But however inconvenient it may be, my immediate impression is that this --" he gestured vaguely in the direction of the silent HD “ -- fundamentally changes our analysis of which flashpoint is the more dangerous. And the more deserving of our most effective intervention.”

    “No argument,” Dame Estelle said. “Although there is the interesting question of exactly how well inclined towards Aleksandra Tonkovic I am at this particular moment. And, assuming we do put Split at the head of our list, there’s also the question of whether or not we can afford to spend the time to hand it to Terekhov and Bernardus. It may be time for us to stop worrying about our ‘storm trooper’ image or whether or not we’ll be seen as supporting suppression and just drop Colonel Gray’s Marines in on Nordbrandt’s head. Crush her as quickly as possible and then hope we can repair any damage once the shooting’s stopped. And if we do that, we can send someone else -- like Captain Anders and Warlock -- like Khumalo wanted in the first place.”

    “Part of me’s inclined to think it is time to reach for a hammer, Milady,” O’Shaughnessy agreed. “But remember what Colonel Basaricek had to say about how well hidden Nordbrandt’s cells are. We can’t use a hammer unless we know where the nail is, and we don’t. Without proper intelligence backup to tell him where to find the enemy, Colonel Gray can’t really accomplish much more than the KNP. It’s not a case of the Kornatians not having enough manpower or firepower; it’s a case of their not being able to aim it properly.”

    “I know.” Dame Estelle scrubbed her face with the palms of her hands, and grimaced. “It’s probably as much sheer frustration as anything else,” she admitted. “But I want these people, Gregor. I want them badly.”

    “We all do, Milady.”

    O’Shaughnessy thought for a moment, scratching one eyebrow as he pondered. Then he shrugged.

    “The bottom line, I think, Milady, is still that the Kornatians do need the technical support Tonkovic has been requesting. I think it’s probable they also need advice and a small, fast response strike force they can use as a precision instrument against identified targets. I know Ms. Tonkovic hasn’t asked for those, but I think her planet needs both of them far more than they need us to simply dump modern weapons on their own security forces. And if we decide to intervene in support of the local government at all, the political equation still calls for us to make the strongest possible statement about the quality of the assistance we’re prepared to offer our friends in the area. And for that, Hexapuma, especially with Mr. Van Dort on board, is still our biggest counter. Besides, Warlock isn’t in Spindle any longer.”

    The Provisional Governor nodded. Warlock was on her way to Tillerman, at the far end of Rear Admiral Khumalo’s southern patrol line. It would take almost three weeks just to get word to Captain Anders to take his ship to Split, and another twenty-six days for him to actually do it.

    Too many fires and not enough ships to put them out with, she thought.

    “Who is still available here in Spindle?” she asked after a moment.

    “I’d have to screen Captain Shoupe to be certain, but I believe that aside from Hercules, there’s only a destroyer or two and the service squadron ships.”

    “And a destroyer’s too small to make the kind of statement we want to make, while a superdreadnought’s too big, however ancient and decrepit she might be,” Dame Estelle said gloomily.

    “Probably, yes. The fact is, Milady, that if we immediately send orders to Hexapuma, she can be in Split in roughly twenty-eight days. And that’s probably about as quickly as we could get anything else bigger than a destroyer there. Not to mention the fact that they’d have Mr. Van Dort along, as well.”

    “I know.” Dame Estelle laid her palms on her desk and frowned thoughtfully down at the backs of her hands. “Whatever we’re going to do, we ought to do it quickly. I have a meeting with Tonkovic scheduled for this afternoon. She requested it as soon as the reports arrived, but I didn’t want to see her until I’d had a chance to view them myself. I believe it’s time I spoke clearly to her, without ambiguity. I don’t expect her to enjoy the conversation, and I think I’ll just see what she has to say before I make any hard and fast decisions. But go ahead and prepare a full download for Terekhov and Van Dort. Whether or not we actually decide to send them to Split, they’ll need to know what’s going on there.”



    “So that’s Montana,” Lieutenant Commander Kaplan said.

    She sat at the bridge briefing room’s conference table with Terekhov’s other department heads, Bernardus Van Dort, and one midshipwoman who was acutely aware of her own insignificant rank. The blue and white image of the planet about which Hexapuma had just settled into orbit floated before them in the conference table’s holo display. The service ships Khumalo had stationed there to support his “Southern Patrol” -- Captain Lewis Sedgewick’s HMS Ericsson and Commander Mira Badmachin’s HMS Volcano -- were bright dots of reflected sunlight in their somewhat higher permanent parking orbits, hanging above the image of the planet like tiny stars.

    “Pretty planet,” Lieutenant Commander Nagchaudhuri said. “The mountains remind me a little of Gryphon. Although --” he showed Helen a half-grin, “-- I understand the climate’s a lot better.”

    “Most climates are a lot better than Gryphon’s,” Commander FitzGerald said, smiling openly at the midshipwoman, and a general chuckle ran around the table.

    “Montana is a nice planet,” Terekhov said, his tone announcing that it was time to get down to business. “And, from all the background information available to me, the Montanans seem to be nice people.”

    “They are, Aivars,” Van Dort said. “Very nice people -- in their own, deliberately rough hewn way. They’re generous, gracious to guests, and incredibly stubborn.”

    There was something about his tone, some tiny shadow in his expression, that came and went so quickly Helen wasn’t certain she’d actually seen it. If she had, no one else seemed to have noticed it, and he went on briskly.

    “I’ve already contacted President Suttles and Chief Marshal Bannister. I can’t say Bannister seemed delighted to see me on his com, but we have a bit of a personal history that probably explains his initial reaction. Once I explained to him why we were here, he got rather more enthusiastic. Not hopeful, but willing, at least, to give it a try. And, as I’d hoped, Westman’s been to some pains to establish a communications link to the system government. If Westman will agree to meet with me at all, Suttles and Bannister think they can probably arrange the details within the next two or three days.”

    “I hate to have to ask this, Mr. Van Dort,” Terekhov said after a moment, “but my intel files say Trevor Bannister and Westman have been friends literally since boyhood. Is it your impression after speaking to Bannister that we can rely on his loyalty to the government?”

    “Captain,” Van Dort began in a surprisingly sharp voice, “that question is simply --"

    He chopped himself off and closed his mouth for a moment. Then he shook his head.

    “Personal integrity is the single most important ingredient in the Montana honor code, Aivars.” His voice was very level, as if he were making a special effort to keep it that way. “Nothing’s more central to their notion of honorable conduct, and both Westman and Bannister are honorable men. If Bannister sympathized with the MIM deeply enough to aid Westman’s operations, he would’ve resigned his office and joined Westman openly.” He smiled crookedly. “Not the most effective possible approach, I suppose, but Machiavelli wouldn’t have been able to give his book away on Montana.” His smile vanished. “I think that’s one reason they resented Ineka Vaandrager’s negotiating techniques so deeply.”

    “It sounds like we could have worse honor codes to deal with,” Terekhov said. He looked as if he were about to add something more, but instead, he shrugged and turned to Captain Kaczmarczyk.

    “Given what Mr. Van Dort’s just said, Tadislaw, I think we need to reconsider our security arrangements for any meeting.”

    “Sir,” the Marine began, “with all due respect for Mr. Van Dort, and accepting that everything he’s just said about the Montanans is completely accurate, it’s still my responsibility to see to it that --"

    ”I know what you’re going to say, Major.” Terekhov’s voice was just a bit crisper. “But we’re here to help negotiate a peaceful settlement, or at least a cease-fire. And we’re not going to manage that if we offend local leaders or suggest we believe they’ll act dishonorably. More to the point, perhaps, everything we’ve seen from Mr. Westman suggests that he does take his personal integrity seriously. Under the circumstances, if he promises a safe conduct, I’m not going to a meeting with him surrounded by battle armored Marines bristling with plasma rifles and tribarrels. Nor am I going to insist that he come here.”

    He and the Marine locked eyes for a moment, and then Kaczmarczyk nodded.

    “Aye, aye, Sir,” he said levelly. “For the record, I’m not at all happy about exposing you or Mr. Van Dort to any unavoidable risk. But that’s your decision, not mine. I hope you won’t object, however, if I provide the tightest security I can within whatever guidelines you’re willing to agree to? Navy captains and Crown envoys aren’t exactly considered expendable assets, you know.”

    He did not, Helen noted, comment on the expendability or lack thereof of midshipwomen attached to the said Crown envoy as an assistant.




    “I find this latest news from home disturbing,” Aleksandra Tonkovic said in a low voice. “Very disturbing. The destruction, the deaths, the degree of panic…” She shook her head slowly. “To think that a handful of murderous lunatics could to this much damage to an entire planet. It just doesn’t seem possible.”

    “It doesn’t take a huge army to create panic when the people in it are willing to murder civilians in job lots. And the focused attention of the news media can make even a relatively small terrorist organization seem far larger than it is… Madam President,” Baroness Medusa said.

    Tonkovic’s eyes flicked to the Provisional Governor’s face as Dame Estelle addressed her not as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention but rather as the Kornati head of state. Dame Estelle looked back steadily for a heartbeat or two, then continued in the same measured tones.

    “Nonetheless, it seems evident from this latest series of attacks, and from Colonel Basaricek’s reports, that the FAK’s membership is, in fact, larger and more widespread than previously believed. Admittedly, they had weeks to plan and implement this most recent operation, but it took more manpower -- and better pre-attack intelligence -- to set it up than earlier reports indicated they should have.”

    Silence hovered between them until, after several moments, Tonkovic shrugged slightly.

    “Yes,” she acknowledged. “There are more of them than we’d thought. There must be. We already knew they had a tight cellular organization. Now we’re beginning to suspect Nordbrandt must have done at least some of the preliminary organizational work before the annexation plebiscite ever came along. We always knew she was a nationalist extremist. We just never suspected she might have been building up an organization like this all along. No doubt she initially intended it as a defense against Frontier Security.”

    “No doubt,” Dame Estelle agreed, noting once again that Nordbrandt had obviously hit a deeper nerve with the economic side of her terrorist platform than any of the Cluster’s oligarchs really wanted to admit. Even now, Tonkovic seemed constitutionally incapable of admitting that the discontent which had fueled Nordbrandt’s original recruiting drive clearly stemmed from a much broader spectrum of issues than the annexation plebiscite alone.

    “The fact that they’re more deeply entrenched and apparently more numerous than we’d suspected, however,” the Kornatian continued, “gives added weight to our request for reconnaissance support and modern weapons for our security forces. I know we’ve discussed the pros and cons of direct Manticoran military intervention, but I continue to believe there’s much point in the arguments coming from Vice President Rajkovic and the Cabinet against launching a full-scale military effort. We can deal with Nordbrandt’s butchers ourselves, if we only have the tools to find her and the weapons to defeat her once we do. But we do need that support, and I believe also that some evidence that the Star Kingdom stands with us at this moment would be psychologically very beneficial to the vast majority of Kornatians who continue to support the annexation.”

    “I don’t disagree,” Dame Estelle replied. “However, to be brutally frank, Madam President, there seems to me to be a slight discrepancy between your request, as Kornati’s head of state, for assistance from the Star Kingdom and your position, as Kornati’s chief delegate to the Convention. On the one hand, you’re requesting that we send assistance to your planet, making our support for your government clear, while on the other hand, you are insisting in debate here that the preservation of full local autonomy necessarily means full integration of your star system into the Star Kingdom isn’t possible.”

    Tonkovic’s lips compressed, and despite her years of experience as a politician, anger flickered in her green eyes. The Provisional Governor simply sat, hands folded loosely on the desk before her, and waited.

    “Madam Governor,” the Kornatian said after a moment, “I’d hoped we might deal with what all of us recognize as mass murder by a common criminal without engaging in acrimonious political debate.”

    “I’m not engaging in ‘acrimonious political debate,’ Madam President. I’m pointing out a fundamental inconsistency in your position. One which, I hope you’ll forgive my mentioning, I’ve pointed out to you several times before. I don’t for a moment believe you intend to deliberately sabotage the annexation effort. And I’m quite certain you believe your reading of the politics of the Convention here and of the annexation campaign, both here and in the Star Kingdom, is accurate. However, as Her Majesty’s personal representative in the Cluster, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t suggest to you that it is somewhat unreasonable to insist on one hand that we demonstrate our support for you against domestic terrorists while insisting on the other that we must grant you an extraordinarily broad special status and admit you to the Star Kingdom, as full citizens, without requiring you to abide by the same laws under which we require all the rest of our citizens to live.”

    “I’m not accustomed to having guns held to my head, Madam Governor,” Tonkovic said harshly.

    “Then I would suggest to you, Madam President, that you shouldn’t try to hold guns to other people’s heads,” Dame Estelle said unflinchingly. Their eyes locked, and silence hovered for a few, fragile seconds before she continued levelly.

    “I haven’t attempted, nor does the Star Kingdom have any desire to attempt, to arbitrarily dictate to your world or to your personal conscience. You sought annexation by the Star Kingdom; no one in the Star Kingdom enticed you into doing so in any way. If, in the end, you decide requesting annexation was a mistake, you have every right to change your mind. You also have every right to explain to the Star Kingdom the terms under which you would like to become a member of it. But, Madam President, the Star Kingdom retains the right to tell you your terms aren’t acceptable. And if they aren’t, the Star Kingdom is under no obligation to assist you in suppressing local criminal elements opposed not simply to the idea of annexation, but apparently to what they perceive as other long-standing grievances within your society. You cannot expect us to intervene as outside policemen in a conflict of this nature and magnitude while simultaneously insisting that you must receive special, privileged status, effectively placing you above the law, within the Star Kingdom as your price for joining it.”

    Tonkovic’s face was pale and set. Baroness Medusa found her sympathy for the other woman was severely limited. She’d tried repeatedly, while observing all the tactful, diplomatic niceties, to warn Tonkovic she was, indeed, playing with fire. Perhaps she’d finally found a big enough club to get through to her.



    “Obviously,” Tonkovic said in a taut voice, “there is a greater gap between my position and objectives and your perception of them than I had believed, Madam Governor. With all due respect, I would point out to you that there’s a distinct difference between political debates and strategies, whose objective is simply to obtain the most equitable balance between long-held, hard-won local freedoms and a new central government, and the cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians by a collection of homicidal criminals. Should I assume from what you’ve just said that my only options are to acquiesce to every single demand of Joachim Alquezar’s clique, or else to see my homeworld left entirely on its own to continue this struggle alone against butchers and murderers? Murderers who began their campaign of slaughter because they objected to our seeking closer relations with the Star Kingdom?”

    “I haven’t said anything about mutually exclusive options, Madam President. However, it may be that the crux of our problem is found in your use of the term ‘seeking closer relations with the Star Kingdom.’ What Mr. Alquezar and his supporters are seeking is membership in the Star Kingdom, not merely an alliance with the Star Kingdom. There’s a distinct difference between the two.”

    “We have now reached the point of straining over fine linguistic points of implication and inference,” Tonkovic said harshly. “I repeat, am I to understand that my official request for the Star Kingdom’s assistance in dealing with the so-called Freedom Alliance of Kornati is conditional upon my immediate acceptance in the name of the Split System of the Alquezar draft proposal for the Constitution?”

    Baroness Medusa allowed the hard, brittle silence to linger between them for several seconds. Then she smiled, ever so slightly.

    “No, Madam President. We aren’t quite at that point yet. However, if you request the Star Kingdom’s assistance, we will render that assistance in whatever we believe to be the most effective manner. Our representatives will deal directly with the representatives of your planetary government actually present on Kornati, on a face-to-face basis. And you had best understand that just as you retain the right to change your mind about seeking annexation, we retain the right to inform the Constitutional Convention that we will not extend membership in the Star Kingdom to any or all of the star systems represented here, collectively or as individuals.”

    She looked directly into Tonkovic’s eyes.

    “My Queen and her Government would very much prefer to avoid taking that drastic step. It is for that reason we’ve waited so patiently for so long for an internal resolution of the long delay in the reporting out of a draft Constitution. Yet our patience, as I’ve attempted to impress upon you before, isn’t unlimited. We will not allow this delay to stretch out indefinitely. I am now officially informing you, and will be sending a formal note to the same effect to all other delegations here on Flax within the next two hours, that we require the acceptance of a draft Constitution by this Convention within a period of no more than one hundred and fifty standard days. If I, as the Queen’s representative in Talbott, haven’t received a draft Constitution within that time, the Star Kingdom of Manticore will either withdraw the offer of membership to all systems in the Talbott Cluster or else present to the Constitutional Convention a list of specific star systems whose inclusion in the Star Kingdom will no longer be acceptable in Her Majesty’s eyes. I would suggest to you that it wouldn’t be wise of you to find your own system on that list.”

    The silence that followed was harder -- and colder -- than ever. Hatred burned in Aleksandra Tonkovic’s eyes. Hatred, Dame Estelle thought, all the stronger because Tonkovic was so unaccustomed to finding herself in the weaker position in any political confrontation. She was used to the political warfare of a single star system, to holding the whip -- either as head of state itself or at the very least as one of the movers and shakers of the controlling political establishment. She wasn’t accustomed to dealing with other star systems and their leaders as equals. And she was even less accustomed to the sour-tasting realization that she and her entire star system might be regarded as an insignificant, bothersome, backward, easily dispensed with distraction by someone like the Star Kingdom of Manticore.

    Whatever the outcome of the annexation debate, Dame Estelle Matsuko knew she personally had just made an implacable, lifelong enemy. Which was fine with her. She believed firmly that the best measure of anyone’s character was the enemies they made.

    She allowed the silence to linger once more, then gave Tonkovic a small, cool, polite smile.

    “Do you wish me to send orders to Captain Terekhov and the Hexapuma to proceed to Split and render assistance to your government, Madam President?” she asked pleasantly.



    “Which dispatch boat has the current duty, Loretta?” Rear Admiral Khumalo asked.

    “The Destiny, I believe, Sir. Lieutenant Quayle. May I ask why you wanted to know?”

    “Because we’re about to send him off to Montana,” Khumalo said. He and Captain Shoupe exchanged eloquent glances, and then the rear admiral shrugged. “There’s no one to blame for it except Nordbrandt. And it’s hardly the first time some poor Navy ship’s been harried back and forth between pillar and post. Can’t even blame the political leadership this time.”

    “No, Sir.” Shoupe sat for a moment, making mental calculations, then cocked her head at her boss. “Do you think Terekhov and Van Dort are going to get much done in the next eleven days, Sir?”

    “I gave up believing in miracles about the same time I gave up believing in the tooth fairy, Loretta,” Khumalo rumbled like an irritated boar. Then he snorted and shook his head. “I suppose it’s possible they might make a little progress, and at the moment, I’m prepared to settle for whatever we can get. But I don’t see any way they’re going to manage anything significant in that much time. And if they are making progress, we’re likely to undo most of it by snatching them out of the star system with absolutely no warning.”

    “I imagine you’re right, Sir,” Shoupe sighed. “I assume Baroness Medusa will send dispatches and directions along with the recall?”

    “You assume correctly.” Khumalo managed a tart smile. “In this case, to a large extent, ours truly isn’t to wonder why. Go ahead and draft a dispatch to Terekhov directing him to transport Mr. Van Dort to Split in the most expeditious manner and to render such assistance to Mr. Van Dort in his efforts there as may be directed in the Provisional Governor’s dispatches.”

    “Yes, Sir,” she said. “I’ll get right on it.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image