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The Shadow of Saganami: Chapter Forty Two

       Last updated: Thursday, September 30, 2004 13:08 EDT



    “Thank you for coming, Captain Terekhov. And you, Mr. Van Dort.”

    In person, Helen thought as Darinka Djerdja led them into the Vice President’s presence, Vuk Rajkovic projected even more sheer presence than he had over the com. He was scarcely a handsome man, but, then, neither was Helen’s father, and no one had ever accused Anton Zilwicki of weakness.

    The Vice President stood at the head of the long, wooden table in the palatial conference room one floor down from the Executive Office in the Presidential Mansion of Kornati. The paneled wall behind him bore the great seal of Kornati above the crossed staffs of the planetary flag and the presidential standard. The chairs around the table were old-fashioned, unpowered swivel armchairs which, despite their obsolete design, looked almost sinfully comfortable. The carpet was a deep, cobalt blue, with the planetary seal in white and gold, and old-fashioned HD screens lined one entire wall.

    There were no windows. This room was located near the center of the Presidential Mansion, deep enough inside to defeat most external listening devices.

    “We wish no one’d had to come, Mr. Vice President,” Captain Terekhov said gravely. “But we’ll be delighted to do anything we can to assist you.”

    “Thank you,” Rajkovic repeated, and quickly introduced the other two men and one woman already present.

    Secretary of Justice Mavro Kanjer, of average height, average build, and medium complexion, stood before the chair immediately to the Vice President’s right. Of all the Kornatians, physically he was by far the least prepossessing. Colonel Brigita Basaricek, tall and fair-haired in the gray tunic and dark blue trousers of the Kornatian National Police, rose from the chair to Kanjer’s right as their off-world guests were ushered into the conference room. General Vlacic Suka, in the dark green tunic and cherry-red trousers of the Kornatian Defense Forces, stood to the Vice President’s left. Suka was almost as dark as Rajkovic, but taller, with grizzled gray hair, thinning on top, and a VanDyke beard considerably more aggressive and bushy than the Captain’s. His face was lined with age, fatigue, and worry.

    “Captain Terekhov,” the Vice President continued, “I’ve met over the com, and Mr. Van Dort’s familiar to all of us, of course. However --“

    He looked past Van Dort and arched his eyebrows politely.

    “Mr. Vice President,” the Captain said, “this is Captain Kaczmarczyk, commanding officer of Hexapuma’s Marine detachment. And Midshipwoman Zilwicki, who’s acting as Mr. Van Dort’s aide.”

    “I see.” Rajkovic nodded to Kaczmarczyk and Helen, then waved a hand at the waiting chairs. “Please, be seated.”

    His visitors obeyed, and he and his subordinates settled back down in their own chairs. The Vice President looked around the faces at the table, then back at the Captain.

    “I can understand why you’d want Captain Kaczmarczyk present, Captain. I’m sure he, Colonel Basaricek, and General Suka have a great deal to discuss. I understand,” he smiled thinly, “that the Captain’s Marines have already made quite an impression on our citizens.”

    “I hope not a bad impression, Sir.”

    “Oh, I suspect it made a very bad impression on a certain segment of our population, Captain,” Colonel Basaricek said with what Helen thought was an evil smile. “I can’t begin to tell you how bad an impression I hope you made on them.”

    “That was one of the objects of the exercise, Colonel,” the Captain acknowledged, and smiled back at her.

    Ragnhild Pavletic and her pinnace were parked prominently on one of the central pads of the Karlovac spaceport. The dorsal turret’s heavy pulse cannon were manned, and the entire pad was ringed by two full squads of battle-armored Marines, complete with heavy weapons. And as an additional touch, two full-spectrum battlefield sensor drones floated overhead on their counter-grav. One was high enough to be immune to virtually any man-portable weapon Kornati might possess; the second was much lower, deliberately exposed to possible hostile fire in order to make sure everyone could see it and know it was there.

    A third squad of armored Marines had added themselves to the security perimeter of the Presidential Mansion, and a third sensor drone was deployed above the mansion’s grounds.

    “The other object, Colonel,” Captain Kaczmarczyk said, “was to land a sufficient reaction force on the off-chance that we might be able to entice Nordbrandt’s people into going after Captain Terekhov and Mr. Van Dort. Unfortunately, they seem to’ve declined the bait.”

    “They may not decline it indefinitely, Captain,” Secretary Kanjer said sourly in what would otherwise have been a pleasant tenor. “Although they have shown a pronounced distaste for taking on targets that can shoot back.”

    “I’m not sure that’s fair, Mavro.” General Suka’s voice was deeper than Kanjer’s, though less deep -- and considerably rougher -- than Rajkovic’s, and he shook his head at the Justice Secretary. “Oh, I’ll admit they’ve shown more discipline than I’d like when it comes to avoiding attacks on targets that are prepared to shoot back. And I’ll also admit it’s tempting to call them a pack of murdering cowards. But I’m afraid it’s not so much that they’re afraid, as that they recognize that going directly up against the armed forces or Colonel Basaricek’s special weapons teams would be a losing proposition.”

    “With all due respect, General,” Van Dort said, “while they may not be cowards in the physical sense, they certainly are cowards in a moral sense. They’ve adopted the coward’s strategy of striking at the helpless and the vulnerable, using them as pawns against an opponent -- their own legally elected government -- they can’t challenge directly.”

    He seemed to be watching the Vice President carefully out of the corner of one eye as he addressed the general. Secretary Kanjer looked as if he were in full agreement, but Rajkovic’s mouth tightened.

    “I don’t disagree with your basic analysis, Mr. Van Dort,” he said after a moment. “But, just between the people in this room, Nordbrandt couldn’t have assembled the cadre of killers she has if we hadn’t helped. I’m not saying her claims that we’ve created a veritable hell on earth on Kornati aren’t wildly exaggerated. But there are abuses here, and poverty, and those create embittered people.”

    So Bernardus -- Mr. Van Dort -- got him to admit it right up front, Helen thought. Clever.

    “Abuses are no justification for mass murder, Mr. Vice President,” Kanjer said sharply.

    Van Dort had briefed Helen on the Kornatian political system, and she knew Kanjer was one of the Cabinet officers who’d been appointed by Tonkovic before she left for Spindle. Cabinet meetings around here must be . . . interesting.

    “Justification for murder, no,” Rajkovic said in a frosty tone. “Reason, possibly yes.”

    He locked eyes with Kanjer, and Suka shifted uneasily at the apparent tension between the Vice President and the Justice Secretary. Basaricek, on the other hand, nodded.

    “With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, the Vice President has a point,” she told her own civilian superior. “The fact that so many people feel disenfranchised is another factor, of course, but the perception that the system’s fundamentally unfair, in some ways, is a huge part of what made it possible for Nordbrandt to get this far.”

    Kanjer looked as if he wanted to say something sharp to her, but he glanced at the Vice President’s expression and thought better of it.

    “Would you care to expand on that, Colonel?” Van Dort inquired in a tone, Helen noticed, which gave very little indication of whether he found Rajkovic or Kanjer more persuasive.



    “I think a lot of people have failed to realize,” Basaricek said, turning to face Van Dort directly, “that long before the plebiscite, the core of Nordbrandt’s Nationalist Redemption Party was composed of extraordinarily angry people. People who, rightly or wrongly, believed they had legitimate grievances against the system. Most of those people, in my opinion, would’ve done better to look a little closer to home for the causes of their failures and their problems. But if that was true for a lot of them, some of them had definite justification for feeling the government, or the courts, or the Social Support Administration had failed them. I know, because my people tend to find themselves in the middle when someone who’s just plain desperate tries to take matters into her own hands.”

    She glanced at Kanjer, and her expression held a definite edge of challenge. Not defiance, but as though she dared the Justice Secretary to deny what she’d just said. Kanjer looked like he would have preferred to do just that, but he didn’t. Helen wondered if that was because he didn’t want to disagree openly with Rajkovic, or because he knew he honestly couldn’t.

    “Even before the NRP’s more moderate members started falling away because of her opposition to the annexation,” Basaricek continued, “she'd been recruiting an inner cadre from that bitter, alienated hard core of her most fervent supporters. As the moderates bailed out on her, she came to rely effectively exclusively on the hardliners. There never were very many of them as a percentage of the total population, but even a tiny percentage of a planetary population is a large absolute number. Probably only a minority of even her closest supporters were prepared to cross the line into illegal actions, but that was still enough to let her organize FAK cells in most of our major urban areas.”

    “May I ask how the population as a whole views her and her organization at this point?” Van Dort asked.

    Basaricek glanced at Rajkovic, who nodded for her to go ahead and take the question.

    “They’re afraid,” the KNP colonel said bluntly. “So far, we’ve had only scattered, isolated successes against them. They hold the advantage in terms of choosing where and when they’re going to strike, and what the public primarily sees is that the terrorists consistently manage to attack vulnerable targets, while the police and military have been largely unable to stop them.”

    “We’ve managed to stop them every time we gotten timely intelligence, Colonel,” Kanjer pointed out stiffly. “We have had our successes.”

    “Yes, Sir, we have. But I stand by my categorization: they’ve been scattered and isolated.” She went on speaking to her superior, but it seemed to Helen her remarks were actually directed to Van Dort and the Captain. “You know we’ve managed to break no more than half a dozen cells, including the two we pretty much wiped out the night we thought we might’ve gotten Nordbrandt herself. We managed to identify all but one of the other cells we’ve managed to take down by keeping tabs on people we already knew were particularly embttered members of the NRP. I’m afraid we’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities there, however. We’re looking for a couple of dozen of the party faithful who disappeared at the same time Nordbrandt did, and we’re keeping our eye on as many of the NRP’s one-time core members as we can, but there are limits on our manpower. And the truth probably is that most of them would never dream of murdering anyone.”

    She turned her head, looking directly at Van Dort.

    “It’s hard to explain to frightened people that this is primarily a war of intelligence,” she said. “That until we can identify and locate the FAK leadership, all we can do is adopt a reactive stance. Which means the terrorists are free to choose the point of attack, and they certainly aren’t going to attack where we’re strongest.”

    “I understand,” Van Dort said. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Rajkovic.

    “Mr. Vice President, Baroness Medusa and I have discussed the general situation in the Cluster and, specifically, here in Split. Captain Terekhov and I have further discussed it, in light of the dispatches we received from the Provisional Governor when she ordered us here from Montana. It seems to us that historical experience demonstrates that the successful suppression of this sort of movement must always include a two-pronged approach.

    “On the one hand, obviously, the military threat must be contained and neutralized. That’s usually fairly straightforward, if not necessarily simple. Colonel Basaricek’s just finished explaining a large part of the reason why it’s not simple. Nonetheless, it isn’t impossible, either, and Baroness Medusa’s prepared to offer assistance in the effort. She’s dispatching the chartered transport Joanna from Spindle, with two full strength companies of Royal Manticoran Marines on board. One company is drawn from the battalion assigned to her personal command on Flax. The other is drawn from rear Admiral Khumalo’s flagship, the Hercules. They’ll be accompanied by their integral heavy weapons platoons, two assault shuttles, and three Fleet pinnaces, and they’ll take over in the purely military support role when they arrive. That, unfortunately, will probably not be for another week or two, at the soonest. They will, however, remain on assignment to you until such time as the military situation is under control.”

    Helen watched all four of the Kornatians sit up straighter, their eyes brighter, and Van Dort smiled. But then his smile faded just a bit.

    “But in addition to neutralizing the military threat, remedial action must be taken to repair the abuses which helped create the threat in the first place. You can’t eliminate resistance by simply shooting resisters, not unless you’re prepared to embrace a policy of outright terror yourselves. Your tradition of vigilance where civil rights are concerned suggests to me that you probably aren’t prepared to do that. Besides, it would be ultimately futile, unless you’re willing to accept a permanent police state. Any time you arrest or kill someone who’s perceived as striking out against genuine injustice, you simply create another martyr, which only provides recruits to the other side. It doesn’t necessarily mean the terrorists are right; it simply means you’re generating a supply of people who think the terrorists are right. So to cut off their support at its base, you must make it evident you’re prepared to address the issues which spawned the resistance movement in the first place. Do it from a position of strength, by all means, and don’t allow yourselves to be driven into making huge, unjustified concessions. But those issues must be addressed, and some sort of consensus about them must be reached, if you’re to have any hope of finally and completely eliminating the threat.”

    The Kornatians looked at one another. Basaricek had no expression at all. Kanjer looked frankly mutinous, and General Suka looked as if he’d just bitten into something spoiled. Vice President Rajkovic looked thoughtful, and he leaned back, resting his right forearm on the conference table, and gazed at Van Dort speculatively.

    “I hope you’ll pardon me for saying this, Mr. Van Dort, but given the Trade Union’s reputation, this talk of reform sounds just a bit odd from you.”

    “I’m sure it does, Mr. Vice President,” Van Dort said wryly. “As a matter of fact, however, that’s precisely the process I’m in the middle of right now, myself. In a sense, the entire annexation plebiscite was an effort to make right all the regrettable things the RTU -- and I -- did in our efforts to protect ourselves from Frontier Security. I don’t know if you’ve heard that Ms. Vaandrager is no longer the RTU’s chairwoman?”

    Rajkovic’s eyes seemed to narrow, Helen thought, and Suka actually blinked. Van Dort smiled humorlessly.

    “Ms. Vaandrager was my mistake. I’ve acted, not completely too late, I hope, to correct it. I’m also attempting to convince certain stubborn, pigheaded Montanans that the Trade Union has turned over a new leaf and, more importantly, that the Star Kingdom isn’t interested in brutally exploiting their economy. And in addition, I’ve been working closely with Joachim Alquezar and Henri Krietzmann at the Constitutional Convention, and now with Baroness Medusa, in an effort to finalize a draft Constitution which will let the annexation move forward. Not, I’m sorry to say, without significant resistance.”

    Rajkovic’s expression went as blank as Basaricek’s at the obvious reference to Aleksandra Tonkovic. Suka’s face, on the other hand, darkened, and his jaw clenched, while Kanjer stiffened angrily.



    “My point is this, Mr. Vice President,” Van Dort said levelly. “If the annexation goes through, and if the Split System’s political and economic systems undergo the changes the annexation will inevitably bring in its wake, the abuses and poverty which, as Colonel Basaricek has pointed out, helped to fuel the FAK, will be enormously alleviated.”

    “Excuse me, Mr. Vice President,” Kanjer rumbled, his facial muscles tight, “but I seem to be hearing an indictment of our entire government and economy. While I certainly appreciate the offer of assistance from the Star Kingdom -- and from Mr. Van Dort -- I must say I don’t believe we represent a brutally repressive regime.”

    “Nor do I,” Suka said, eying his Vice President almost defiantly.

    “Gentlemen,” Rajkovic replied gently, “I don’t believe that either. I’m not certain it’s fair to say Mr. Van Dort does, for that matter. However, I think honesty compels us to admit we don’t exactly represent a perfectly equitable regime, either.”

    Kanjer clamped his jaw, and Suka looked rebellious. The Vice President shook his head and smiled at the general. “

    ”Vlacic, Vlacic! How many years have we known each other now? How many times have we sat down over an excellent dinner and shaken our heads over the problems we both see in our society and economy?”

    “I may have seen problems,” Suka said stiffly, “but we’re certainly no worse than many other star systems. And we’re far better than many, for that matter!”

    “Of course you are, General,” Van Dort said. “There are systems I could think of right here in the Cluster who, I believe, have problems more severe than any you face here. And God knows there’re systems outside the Cluster which are just plain nightmares. For that matter, I can think of star systems in the Shell, and even in the Old League itself, whose political structures are far more inequitable than anything here in Split. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas in which you can improve upon what you already have. And all I’m saying is that if the annexation goes through, those areas will be improved.”

    “And just why are you telling us this?” Kanjer demanded suspiciously.

    “For two reasons, Mr. Secretary,” Van Dort said.

    “First, it’s necessary to launch a propaganda counteroffensive. Yes, a huge majority of the franchised population voted in favor of annexation. But the franchise is so limited here, because of the non-registration of eligible voters, that the vote in favor was actually a minority of the total pool of potential voters. Nordbrandt knows that. She’s played upon it in her propaganda. And it’s not enough for the government to respond by simply reciting the vote totals over and over again. You have to come out swinging, in a way which convinces the majority of those who didn’t vote that annexation is a good thing. That it will have positive consequences for them in their own lives. At the moment, Nordbrandt’s arguing that it will benefit only the ‘moneyed interests’ and ‘oligarchs,’ and only at the expense of everyone else. You need to not only dispute her claims, but effectively debunk them.”

    Rajkovic and Basaricek were both nodding, and even Kanjer and Suka looked a bit more relaxed, Helen thought. But she also knew Van Dort hadn’t dropped the other shoe yet.

    Then he did.

    “And second,” he said quietly, ‘to be completely honest, President Tonkovic’s position at the Constitutional Convention isn’t helpful.”

    Suka’s already dark complexion turned an alarming shade of red. He quivered with visible outrage, and Kanjer sat bolt upright in his chair, his expression furious, but Van Dort faced him calmly.

    “Mr. Secretary, before you say anything, has President Tonkovic informed your government that she’s been informed by Baroness Medusa that a hard time limit for the approval of a Constitution exists? That if a draft Constitution hasn’t been approved within the next one hundred and twenty-two standard days, the Star Kingdom of Manticore will either withdraw the offer of annexation completely, or else provide a list of specific individual star systems whose admission to the Star Kingdom will be rejected?”

    Kanjer had started to open his mouth. Now he froze, eyes widening, and darted a look at Rajkovic. But the Vice President seemed as startled as the Justice Secretary himself.

    “Excuse me,” Rajkovic said after moment. “I have to be absolutely clear on this point. Are you telling us, as Baroness Medusa’s personal representative, that she’s informed President Tonkovic of this?”

    “She has,” Van Dort said levelly.

    “She informed President Tonkovic before she ordered you from Montana to Split?” the Vice President pressed.

    “According to her dispatches to me, yes.”

    The Kornatians looked at one another, and Helen could see them doing the math. Recognizing that a message from Tonkovic containing that same information could have reached Kornati almost three weeks earlier. That their head of state hadn’t informed them, neither in her capacity as their delegate to the Convention, nor as their head of state, who was constitutionally required to keep their Parliament informed in diplomatic matters, about an official message from the Provisional Governor.

    “It’s not my intention, or the Provisional Governor’s, to present Kornati with a constitutional crisis,” Van Dort said gently. “But this is something you’re going to have to deal with. How you do it is up to you. But it’s my responsibility to inform you that the problem, and the deadline, exist. And, to be perfectly honest, I believe it’s a point which is going to have to be addressed in your campaign -- should you decide to wage one -- to convince the non-voters of the Split System that annexation is a good thing for them.”

    “This… is going to create additional problems,” Rajkovic said slowly. Colonel Basaricek nodded in emphatic agreement; Secretary Kanjer and General Suka looked as if they were in a state of shock. “In the short term, however,” the Vice President continued, “may we assume you and Captain Terekhov are prepared to assist us actively in the military efforts to suppress the threat represented by the FAK?”

    “Of course we are, Mr. Vice President,” the Captain said. “The non-military response Mr. Van Dort’s described has to be part of long-term solution, but it also has to be very carefully thought through. And as he says, constitutional crises aren’t what we came to provoke. In the immediate short term, we’ll cooperate with you fully against Nordbrandt and her killers. And I really do believe, Sir,” he added, his blue eyes colder than ice, “that she won’t enjoy what happens.”



    “Well, thank God for that,” Annette De Chabrol murmured fervently as the Marianne accelerated steadily away from Kornati.

    Duan Binyan and Franz Anhier, the ship’s engineer, were careful to hold her acceleration down to an ambling pace appropriate to her decrepit appearance. But that was fine with De Chabrol. She was less concerned with acceleration rates than she was with headings, and at the moment Marianne was headed directly away from HMS Hexapuma.

    “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised Nordbrandt took it that well,” Zeno Egervary said, and Duan laughed sharply.

    “I don’t know how ‘well’ she took it,” he said. “We never spoke directly to her, after all. But there wasn’t much else she could do. I was never that worried about her reaction -- or, rather, I was less worried about her reaction than I was about the possibility of somebody spotting us actually unloading her goddamned weapons.”

    “You seemed confident enough we could pull it off when you were explaining everything to me,” De Chabrol said in a sour tone, but she smiled as she said it.

    “I was just more confident we’d be in deeper shit if we didn’t try than I was that we’d get away with it!”

    “Well, either way, I’m with Annette,” Egervary said. “Just get me away from that fucking Manty cruiser, and I’ll be a happy man.”

    “I’m always in favor of promoting happiness among my officers and crew,” Duan told him with a smile. “So we’ll just leave Mr. Manty sitting here in Split while we get on with business elsewhere.”

    He turned to De Chabrol, and his smile grew broader.

    “Plot us a course to Montana, Annette.”

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