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STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:47 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 10

Brockhurst looked as if he'd like to object. He hadn't been a huge fan of the Volley Alpha ops plan when Ivanov first trotted it out, and he still wasn't. But whether or not he wanted to object, what he actually did was nod.

"Volley Alpha, aye, Sir," he said. "I'll get it set up now."

* * *

"Coming up on the thirty million-kilometer mark in one minute, Admiral," Lieutenant Estelle Marker, Rear Admiral Pyun's staff astrogator announced.

"Thank you, Estelle," Pyun acknowledged, and cocked his head at Josette Steinberg. "Status?" he asked.

"We're as ready as we're going to be, Sir." It wasn't the most formal readiness report Pyun had ever received, but Steinberg had been with him for almost three T-years. Unlike Battle Fleet, they'd actually accomplished something during that time, too.

"Halo is deployed and prepared for full activation," the ops officer continued. "Captain Zyndram reports all missile-defense systems are manned and ready. The rest of the division is green-board, as well. I don't know what these people think they can hit us with at this range, Sir, but whatever it is, we're ready for it."

"Thank you," Pyun said, and returned to his contemplation of the master astro display. The distance to the terminus was as ridiculously high as Steinberg's readiness report implied, and he found himself wishing he shared the ops officer's dismissal of the range at which the Manties claimed to have devastated Sandra Crandall's command. For that matter, he was pretty sure Steinberg wished she really and truly disbelieved those claims.

Whatever else happens, at least the Solarian League Navy knows how to maintain a brave face, he thought.

The thought amused him, in a black-humor sort of way, yet he'd discovered he vastly preferred Steinberg's attitude to the panicky response he suspected the Manticoran reports had engendered elsewhere. Not that a little panic wouldn't do certain Battle Fleet officers he could think of a world of good. At the moment, though --

"Missile launch!" one of Steinberg's ratings suddenly announced. "CIC has multiple missile launches at three-zero million kilometers!"

* * *

HMS Sloan Tompkins, like her sisters Bristol Q., Yakolev and Cheetah, was a Saganami-C-class heavy cruiser, and each of them mounted twenty launchers in each broadside. With the RMN's ability to fire off-bore missiles, that gave them the ability to fire forty-missile strong double broadsides in a single launch, and they were armed with the internally launched Mark 16 dual-drive missile. Because of that, their tubes (and, just as importantly, their fire control) had been designed take advantage of the Mark 16's drive flexibility and fire what were actually quadruple broadsides -- salvos of eighty missiles each, not "just" forty -- in order to "stack" their fire and saturate an opponent's missile defenses.

At the moment, Hiram Ivanov's ships had literally dozens of missile pods limpeted to their hulls, as well, and those missile pods were loaded with full capability Mark 23 multidrive missiles, with even more endurance and powered range (and heavier laser heads) than the Mark 16. MDMs were in shorter supply than Mark 16s, though, and Ivanov had no intention of using them up unless he had to. So Volley Alpha used only the cruisers' internal tubes, and even the Roland-class destroyers attached to his force were mere spectators at the moment. They had barely a quarter of the cruisers' magazine capacity, and Ivanov had no more intention of wasting their limited ammunition than he did of wasting MDMs.

Which was why "only" two hundred and forty missiles, launch times and drive activations carefully staggered to bring all of them in as a single salvo, went howling towards Rear Admiral Liam Pyun's battlecruisers.

* * *

"Two hundred-plus inbound," Josette Steinberg reported tersely. "Acceleration approximately four-five-one KPS-squared. Activate all Halo platforms now!"

"Activating Halo, aye, Ma'am!"

"Damn," Steven Gilmore said, so quietly only Pyun could possibly have heard him. "That's got to be a warning shot, Sir!"

"You think so?" Pyun's eyes were on the tac display now, watching the scarlet icons of the Manticoran missiles streak towards his command.

"Has to be, Sir." Gilmore shook his head. "Even assuming they've got the legs to reach us without going ballistic, their targeting solutions have to suck at this range."

"I imagine that's what Sandra Crandall thought, too." Pyun showed his teeth. "Assuming the Battle of Spindle really happened, of course."

Gilmore started to reply, but a fresh report from Steinberg cut him off.

"Admiral, assuming these drive numbers hold up, those things are going to be closing at better than a hundred and seventy thousand KPS when they get here." She looked over her shoulder at Pyun. "It looks like I may've been wrong about whether or not they can reach us, Sir."

"Time to attack range four minutes, Ma'am," one of her ratings told her, and she nodded.

"Halo active," another rating confirmed.

* * *

"This is not good," Lieutenant Commander Austell Pouchard muttered under his breath.

"I think we could all agree with that, Lieutenant," Commander Hiacyntá Pocock, Belle Poule's executive officer observed caustically, and Pouchard grimaced as he realized he'd spoken more loudly than he'd meant to.

"Sorry, Ma'am," he said. "But if these numbers—"

He shook his head, and it was Pocock's turn to grimace. Pouchard was the flagship's senior tactical officer. As such, he, like Pocock, was assigned to Control Bravo, the SLN's equivalent of the Manticoran Navy's Auxiliary Control. Control Bravo was a complete duplicate of Captain Zyndram's command deck, tasked to take over if anything unfortunate happened to Control Alpha. Because of that, Control Bravo's personnel were supposed to be just as completely immersed in the tactical situation as anyone in Control Alpha, poised to assume command instantly in an emergency. In practice, though, there was a tendency for Control Bravo to be just a little detached. To stand back just a bit and watch the flow of a simulation or training exercise, looking for the patterns.

Except, of course, that this was no simulation.

Nonetheless, Pouchard had a point. If those incoming missiles could maintain their current acceleration numbers all the way in, stopping them was going to be a copperplated bitch. And somehow she couldn't convince herself the Manties would have fired a "warning shot" quite so massive. Even with pods, three heavy cruisers couldn't have unlimited ammunition, and she couldn't see them expending that many missiles if they didn't have the legs to reach their targets with maneuver time still on their clocks.

In theory, a purely ballistic missile with the standoff range of a modern laser head was just as accurate as one which could still maneuver. Even an impeller-drive starship couldn't produce enough Delta V to change its predicted position sufficiently to get out of the laser head's effective range basket during the three minutes or so of the missile's flight. But theory had a tendency to come unglued when it ran headlong into the reality of that same impeller-drive starship's maneuverability within the range basket coupled with the impenetrability of its impeller wedge. The actual vulnerable aspects of a modern warship were remarkably narrow, unless one could attack the throat of its wedge, and a ship's ability to make radical maneuvers at four or five hundred gravities could do a lot to deny incoming missiles a favorable angle of attack. A missile which couldn't maneuver to pursue its target was unlikely, to say the least, to achieve that angle. Which didn't even consider a ballistic target's total vulnerability to defensive fire. No. Like an old pre-space wet-navy torpedo at the very end of its run, a missile which had exhausted its drive endurance before reaching attack range represented a negligible threat to any maneuvering target.

Which was why Hiacyntá Pocock was grimly certain those acceleration numbers were going to stand up.

* * *

"Good telemetry on both the missiles and the Ghost Rider platforms, Sir," Lieutenant Commander Brockhurst reported. "Halo emissions match Admiral Gold Peak's reports almost perfectly."

Captain Ivanov only nodded. His attention was on his repeater plot.

* * *

"Admiral, CIC's picking up something --"

Liam Pyun turned towards Captain Steinberg. The operations officer's eyes were on a side display, then she looked up at the rear admiral.

"It's coming up on the master plot now, Sir," she said, and Pyun's eyes darted back to the display. The new icons pulsed to draw the eye, help him separate them out of the clutter, and he frowned.

"What the hell are those?" he demanded as the absurdly low ranges registered. Those things were less than ten thousand kilometers clear of his flagship!

"We don't know, Sir," Steinberg' admitted. "All we do know is that they seem to've been there all along. They just popped up a second ago when they cut their stealth."

"Cut their stealth?" Captain Gilmore repeated. "You mean the Manties got recon platforms that close to us without our ever even seeing them?"

"That's what it looks like," Steinberg grated harshly. "And I doubt they just dropped their stealth for no reason at all. They want us to know they're there."

"Ma'am," one of her assistants said, "we're picking up grav pulses all over the place. Dozens of point sources."

"Are these" -- Pyun used a light pointer to jab at the new icons in the master plot -- "some of those point sources, Chief Elliott?"

"Uh, yes, Sir. I think they are," the chief petty officer acknowledged.

"Oh, shit," Gilmore muttered.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jan 08, 2012 10:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2113
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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 11

We are so going to get hammered, a quiet little voice said in the back of Pyun's mind.

"How the hell did they fit FTL emitters into something that small?" Steinberg demanded almost plaintively.

The question was obviously rhetorical, which was probably just as well, since no answer suggested itself to Pyun. Not that it would have made any difference at the moment. What mattered was that the Manties had managed to do it. Unless he was badly mistaken, those had to be recon platforms -- dozens of them, as Chief Elliott had just pointed out -- and if they were capable of what the wilder theorists had proposed, they were feeding those Manty cruisers detailed tracking information at FTL speeds. Which meant their missile control loop had just been cut in half, and the implications of that…

Belle Poule vibrated as counter-missiles began to launch, but it was already evident to Pyun that his ships mounted far too few counter-missile tubes and point defense clusters to deal with this salvo.

* * *

"Coming up on Point Alpha," Brockhurst announced.

"Execute as specified," Ivanov said formally.

"Aye, aye, Sir. Executing…now."

* * *

There was little panic aboard SLNS Belle Poule, but only because her crew was too busy for that. There was no time for those who could actually see the displays, recognize what the readouts meant, to really consider what was happening, the stunning realization that they truly were as out-classed as the "preposterous" reports from Spindle had indicated.

And they were out-classed.

The Manticoran missiles came flashing in, still at that incredible -- impossible -- acceleration rate, and just before they entered the counter-missile zone, the electronic warfare platforms seeded among the attack birds spun up. Of the two hundred and forty missiles launched by Hiram Ivanov's three cruisers, fifty carried nothing but penetration aids, and they'd been carefully saved for this moment. Now "Dazzler" platforms blinded Solarian sensors even as their accompanying "Dragons Teeth" suddenly proliferated, producing scores of false targets to confuse and saturate their targets' defenses. The Solarian battlecruiser crews had never seen, never imagined, anything like it. Ignorant of the energy budgets the RMN's mini-fusion plants allowed, they simply couldn't conceive of how such powerful jammers could be crammed into such tiny platforms. The threat totally surpassed the parameters their doctrine and their systems had been designed to cope with.

Pyun's battlecruisers managed to stop exactly seventeen of the incoming shipkillers in the outer zone. The other hundred and seventy-three streaked past every counter-missile the Solarians could throw with almost contemptuous ease.

* * *

Liam Pyun watched his command's destruction ripping through his defenses. He'd always been more willing than most of his fellow officers to consider the possible accuracy of the outlandish reports coming back from the endless Manticore-Haven war. He'd had to be careful about admitting he was, given the contempt with which virtually all of those other officers greeted such "alarmist" rumors, but now he knew even the most bizarre of those reports had understated the true magnitude of the threat. No wonder the Manties had managed to punch out Byng's flagship so cleanly at New Tuscany!

His people were doing their best, fighting with frantic professionalism to overcome the fatal shortcomings of their doctrine and training in the fleeting minutes they had. They weren't going to succeed, and he knew it, but they weren't going to simply sit there, paralyzed by terror, either, and he felt bittersweet pride in them even as he cursed himself for having walked straight into this disaster.

But how could I have known? How could I really have known? And even if I had --

And then the Manticoran missiles burst past the inner edge of the counter-missile zone. They came driving in through the desperate, last-ditch, last-minute fire of the battlecruisers' point defense clusters, and the laser clusters were almost as useless in the face of the Manty EW as the counter-missiles had been. They managed to pick off another twelve missiles, but that still left a hundred and sixty-three shipkillers, and Pyun felt his belly knotting solid as his ships' executioners came boring in on the throats of their wedges. They were going to --

One hundred and sixty-three Mark 16 missiles, each with the better part of thirty seconds' time left on its drive, swerved suddenly, in a perfectly synchronized maneuver, and detonated as one.

* * *

"Nicely done, BB," Hiram Ivanov said approvingly as the FTL reports came in from the Ghost Rider drones and Sloan Tompkins' CIC updated the master tactical plot. "Very nicely. In fact, I think that rates a 'well done' for your entire department."

* * *

"They hit our wedges!" Steinberg blurted. "My God, they hit our wedges!"

Her tone was so disbelieving -- and so affronted -- that despite himself, Pyun actually felt his mouth twitch on the edge of a smile. The ops officer was staring incredulously at her displays as CIC's dispassionate computers updated them.

It was true. It had happened so quickly, the X-ray lasers had cascaded in such a massive tide, that it had taken Steinberg (and Pyun, for that matter) several endless seconds to grasp what had actually happened -- to realize they were still alive -- yet it was true.

The rear admiral would dearly have loved to believe Halo had succeeded in its decoy function. That the Manty missiles had been lured astray by his battlecruisers' sophisticated electronic warfare systems. But much as he would have preferred that, he knew differently. No defensive system in the galaxy could have caused every single missile in an attacking salvo to waste its fury on the roofs and floors of his ships' impeller wedges. No. The only way that could have happened was for the people who'd fired those missiles to have arranged for it to happen.

"Christ!" Captain Gilmore shook his head like a man who'd been hit one time too many. "How the hell --?" He stopped and gave his head another shake, then grimaced. "Sorry, Admiral."

Pyun only looked at him, then wheeled back towards Steinberg at the ops officer's inarticulate sound of disbelief. She looked up and saw the admiral's eyes on her.

"I --" It was her turn to shake her head. "Sir, according to CIC, Retaliate took one hit and Impudent took two. That's it. That's all!"

"Casualties?" Pyun heard his own voice asking.

"None reported so far, Sir."

"But that's ridic --" Gilmore began, then made himself stop.

"Ridiculous," Pyun agreed grimly. "Except for the minor fact that it happened. Which suggests it was what the Manties intended to happen all along. In fact, the hits on Retaliate and Impudent must've been unintentional." He smiled very, very thinly. "I suppose it's nice to know not even Manty fire control is perfect."

Steinberg looked back up at him, and Gilmore inhaled deeply.

"Sir, are you suggesting they deliberately targeted our wedges?" the chief of staff asked very carefully. "That it was some kind of…of demonstration?"

"I don't have any better explanation for it, Steve. Do you?"

"I --"

"Excuse me, Captain," Lieutenant Turner interrupted respectfully, "but we're receiving a transmission I think the Admiral had better hear."

"What kind of transmission?" Pyun asked.

"It's from the Manties, Sir. But it's not a direct transmission from any of their ships. It's coming from…somewhere else."

"'Somewhere else'?"

"Yes, Sir." The communications officer seemed torn between relief at his continued existence and unhappiness at something else. "Sir, I think it's being relayed from another platform. From several other platforms, actually." Pyun only looked at him, and Turner sighed. "Sir, it looks to me as if they must have at least ten or fifteen relay platforms out there, and they're jumping the transmission between them to keep us from locking them up. And, Sir, I think they're transmitting to us in real time."

Pyun started to protest. They were still over a light-minute and a half from the Manties. There ought to be a ninety second-plus transmission lag. But then he remembered all those grav pulses, and his protest died.

"Very well," he said. "Put it on the main display."

"Yes, Sir."

The same brown-haired, green-eyed man appeared, and Pyun felt his jaw muscles tighten.

"I trust," Captain Ivanov said, "that you realize we just deliberately didn't destroy your ships. As I've already said, my Empress would prefer to resolve the differences between the Star Empire and the League without further bloodshed. That doesn't mean more blood won't be shed anyway, but I'd really prefer not to have it happen here, today. If you persist in approaching this terminus, however, I will have no choice but to continue this engagement, and the next salvo won't be targeted on your wedges. You have ten minutes to reverse acceleration or translate into hyper. If you've done neither at the end of those ten minutes, I will open fire once more, and this time we'll be firing for effect. Ivanov, clear."

It was very quiet on Belle Poule's flag bridge. No one said a word. In fact, for several seconds, no one even breathed. All eyes were on Liam Pyun as he stood continuing to gaze at the blank display from which Hiram Ivanov had disappeared. Then the admiral squared his shoulders, drew a deep breath, and turned his back on the display.

"Captain Gilmore, instruct Captain Zyndram to reverse acceleration immediately. And tell him to get our hyper generators online."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:04 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2113
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 12

Chapter Four

"This," Yana Tretiakovna announced, "is booooooring."

The tall, attractive, and very dangerous blonde flung herself backward into the threadbare armchair. She leaned back, crossed her arms, and glowered out the huge crystoplast wall at what any unbiased person would have to call the magnificent vista of Yamato's Nebula.

At the moment, she was less than impressed. On the other hand, she had a lot to not be impressed about. And she'd had a lot of time in which to be unimpressed, too.

"I'm sure you could find something to amuse yourself if you really wanted to," Anton Zilwicki said mildly, looking up from the chess problem on his minicomp. "This is one of the galaxy's biggest and most elaborate amusement parks, you know."

"This was one of the galaxy's biggest amusement parks," Yana shot back. "These days, it's one of the galaxy's biggest deathtraps. Not to mention being stuffed unnaturally full of Ballroom terrorists and Beowulfan commandos, not one of whom has a functioning sense of humor!"

"Well, if you hadn't dislocated that nice Beowulfan lieutenant's elbow arm wrestling with him, maybe you'd find out they had better senses of humor than you think they do."

"Yada, yada, yada." Yana scowled. "It's not even fun to tease Victor anymore!"

A deep basso chuckle rumbled around inside Zilwicki's massive chest. When Yana had first signed on to assist in his and Victor Cachat's high-risk mission to Mesa, she'd been at least half-frightened (whether she would have admitted it to a living soul or not) of the Havenite secret agent. She'd agreed to come along -- mostly out of a desire to avenge her friend Lara's death -- and she was a hardy soul, was Yana. Still, the notion of playing the girlfriend (although the ancient term "moll" might actually have been a better one) of someone many people would have described as a stone-cold, crazed sociopathic killer had obviously worried her more than she'd cared to admit. In fact, Zilwicki thought, Cachat had never struck him as either stone cold or crazed, but he could see where other people might form that impression, given his Havenite colleague's body count. As for sociopathy, well, Zilwicki's internal jury was still out on that one in some ways.

Not that he hadn't known some perfectly nice sociopaths. Besides, Zilwicki had observed that who was the sociopath and who was the defender of all that was right and decent often seemed to depend a great deal on the perspective of the observer.

And sometimes the cigar really is a cigar, of course, he reflected. That's one of the things that make life so interesting when Victor's around.

Over the course of their lengthy mission on Mesa, Yana had gotten past most of her own uneasiness with the Havenite. And the four-month voyage from Mesa back to the Hainuwele System had finished it off. Of course, the trip shouldn't have taken anywhere near that long. The old, battered, and dilapidated freighter Hali Sowle their Erewhonese contacts had provided had been a smuggler in her time, and she'd been equipped with a military grade hyper generator. It wasn't obvious, because her original owners had gone to considerable lengths to disguise it, and they hadn't tinkered with her commercial grade impeller nodes and particle screening, but that had allowed her to climb as high as the Theta Bands, which made her far faster than the vast majority of merchant vessels. Unfortunately, the hyper generator in question had been less than perfectly maintained by the various owners through whose hands the ship had passed since it was first installed, and it had promptly failed after they managed to escape Mesa into hyper. They'd survived the experience, but it had taken Andrew Artlet what had seemed like an eternity to jury-rig the replacement component they'd required.

They'd drifted, effectively motionless on an interstellar scale, while he and Anton managed the repairs, and even after they'd gotten the generator back up, using the Mesa-Visigoth Hyper Bridge had been out of the question. They'd been better than nine hundred and sixty light-years from their base in Hainuwele (and well over a thousand light-years from Torch) but given the…pyrotechnics which had accompanied their escape, they'd dared not return to the Mesa Terminus and take the shortcut which would have delivered them less than sixty light-years from Beowulf. Instead, they'd been forced to detour by way of the OFS-administered Syou-tang Terminus of the Syou-tang-Olivia Bridge, then cross the four hundred and eighty-odd light-years from the Olivia System to Hainuwele the hard way.
The trip had given them plenty of time to hone their card playing skills, and the same enforced confinement had given the coup de grace to any lingering fear Yana might have felt where Victor Cachat was concerned. It had also given Cachat and Zilwicki plenty of time to debrief Herlander Simões, the Mesan physicist who had defected from the Mesan Alignment. Well, "plenty of time" was probably putting it too strongly. They'd had lots of time, but properly mining the treasure trove Simões represented was going to take years, and it was, frankly, a task which required someone with a lot more physics background then Zilwicki possessed.

Enough had emerged from Simões' responses and from the maddeningly tantalizing fragments which had been proffered by Jack McBryde, the Mesan security officer who'd engineered Simões' defection, to tell them that everything everyone -- even, or perhaps especially, the galaxy's best intelligence agencies -- had always known about Mesa was wrong. That information was going to come as a particularly nasty shock to Beowulf intelligence, Zilwicki thought, but Beowulf was hardly going to be alone in that reaction. And as they'd managed to piece together more bits of the mosaic, discovered just how much no one else knew, their plodding progress homeward had become even more frustrating.

There'd been times -- and quite a few of them -- when Zilwicki had found himself passionately wishing they'd headed towards the Lynx Terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, instead. Unfortunately, their evasive routing had been more or less forced upon them initially, and it would have taken even longer to backtrack to Lynx than to continue to Syou-tang. And there'd also been the rather delicate question of exactly what would happen to Victor Cachat if they should suddenly turn up in the Manticore Binary System, especially after the direct Havenite attack on the aforesaid star system, word of which had reached the Mesan news channels just over two T-months before their somewhat hurried departure. It had struck them as unlikely that one of Haven's top agents would be received with open arms and expressions of fond welcome, to say the least.

For that matter, exactly who had jurisdiction over Simões (and the priceless intelligence resource he represented) was also something of a delicate question. Their operation had been jointly sponsored by the Kingdom of Torch, the Republic of Haven (whether or not anyone in Nouveau Paris had known anything about it), the Audubon Ballroom, the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, and Victor Cachat's Erewhonese contacts. There'd been absolutely no official Manticoran involvement, although Princess Ruth Winton's contributions hadn't exactly been insignificant. She'd been acting in her persona as Torch's intelligence chief, however, not in her persona as a member of the Star Empire of Manticore's ruling house.

Bearing all of that in mind, there'd never really been much chance of heading straight for Manticore. Instead, they'd made for Hainuwele, on the direct line to Torch. It was the closest safe harbor, given the available wormhole connections, and they'd hoped to find one of the BSC's disguised commando ships in-system and available for use as a messenger when they got there. They'd been disappointed in that respect, however; when they arrived the only ship on station had been EMS Custis, an Erewhonese construction ship which had just about completed the conversion of Parmaley Station into a proper base for the BSC and the Ballroom to interdict the interstellar trade in genetic slaves.

Artlet's and Zilwicki's repairs had been less than perfect, and Hali Sowle had limped into Hainuwele on what were obviously her hyper generator's last legs. Custis' captain been out of touch for two or three months himself while his construction crews worked on Parmaley Station, but he'd been able to confirm that as far as active operations between Haven and Manticore were concerned, a hiatus of mutual exhaustion had set in following the Battle of Manticore. Both Anton and Victor had been vastly relieved to discover that no one had been actively shooting at one another any longer, given what they'd learned on Mesa, but it had been obvious the good captain was less than delighted at the notion of finding himself involved in the sort of shenanigans which seemed to follow the team of Zilwicki and Cachat around. He'd apparently suspected that his Erewhonese employers wouldn't have approved of his stepping deeper into the morass he was pretty sure Hali Sowle and her passengers represented. They might have convinced him to change his mind if they'd told him what they'd discovered on Mesa, but they weren't about to break security on that at this point. Which meant the best he'd been willing to do was to take his own ship to Erewhon (which, to be fair, was the next best thing to twenty light-years closer to Hainuwele than Torch was) to fetch back a replacement generator for Hali Sowle. In the process, he was willing to take an encrypted dispatch from Victor to Sharon Justice, who'd been covering for him as the Republic's senior officer in the Erewhon Sector, but that was as far as he was prepared to go.
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:17 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2113
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Rising Thunder - Snippet 13

Zilwicki didn't try to pretend, even to himself, that he hadn't found the captain's attitude irritating. Fortunately, he was by nature a patient, methodical, analytical man. And there were at least some upsides to the situation. Neither he nor Cachat wanted Simões out of their sight, and while they had no particular reason to distrust Custis' captain or crew, they had no particular reason to trust them, either. If even a fraction of what Jack McBryde and Herlander Simões had told them proved true, it was going to shake the foundations of star nations all across explored space. They literally could not risk having anything happen to him until they'd had time for him to tell his tale -- in detail -- to their own star nations' intelligence services. Much as they might begrudge the month or so it would take Custis to make the trip to Erewhon, they preferred to stay right where they were until Justice could arrange secure transport to Torch. They'd both breathe an enormous sigh of relief once they had Simões safely squirreled away on Torch and could send discreet dispatches requesting all of the relevant security agencies send senior representatives to Torch.

No one expected it to be easy, and he knew Cachat was as worried as he was over the possibility that the Star Empire and the Republic might resume combat operations while they waited, but both of them were aware that they'd stumbled onto the sort of intelligence revelation that came along only once in centuries. Assuming it wasn't all part of some incredible, insane disinformation effort, the Mesan Alignment had been working on its master plan for the better part of six hundred T-years without anyone's having suspected what was happening. Under those circumstances, there were quite literally no lengths to which Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki wouldn't go to keep their sole source of information alive.

Which was why they were all still sitting here aboard Parmaley Station's moldering hulk while they awaited transportation elsewhere.

"You know," Yana said a bit plaintively, "nobody told me we were going to be gone on this little jaunt for an entire year."

"And we haven't been," Zilwicki pointed out. "Well, actually, I suppose we have, depending on the planetary year in question. But in terms of T-years, it's been less than one. Why, it's been barely ten T-months, when you come down to it!"

"And it was only supposed to be four," Yana retorted.

"We told you it might be five," Zilwicki corrected, and she snorted.

"You know, even Scrags can do simple arithmetic, Anton. And --"

The powered door giving access to the combination viewing gallery and sitting room was one part of Parmaley Station which had been thoroughly refurbished. Now it opened rather abruptly, interrupting Yana in mid-sentence, and a dark-haired man came through it. Compared to Zilwicki's massive musculature and shoulders, the newcomer looked almost callow, but he was actually a well-muscled young fellow.

"Ah, there you are!" he said. "Ganny El said she thought you were in here."

"And so we are, Victor," Zilwicki rumbled, and raised an eyebrow. "And since we are, and since you're here at the moment, may I ask who's babysitting our good friend Herlander? Unless I'm mistaken, it is your watch, isn't it?"

"I left Frank sitting outside his door with a flechette gun, Anton," Cachat replied in a patient tone, and Zilwicki grunted.

The sound represented at least grudging approval, although one had to know him well to recognize that fact. On the other hand, Frank Gillich was a capable fellow. He and June Mattes were both members of the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, part of the original BSC team which had discovered the Butre Clan here on Parmaley Station and brokered the deal that left the Butres alive and turned the station into a BSC/Ballroom front. Most people (or most people who didn't know Victor Cachat, at least) would have considered Gillich and Mattes about as lethal as agents came, and Zilwicki was willing to concede that Gillich could probably be counted upon to keep Simões alive for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.

"I thought I was the hyper-suspicious, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive one," Cachat continued. "What is this? Are you trying to claim the title of Paranoiac in Chief?"

"Hah!" Yana snorted. "He's not trying to do anything. He's just been hanging around you too long. That's enough to drive anyone -- except Kaja…maybe -- around the bend!"

"I don't see why the entire universe insists on thinking of me as some sort of crazed killer," Cachat said mildly. "It's not like I kill anyone who doesn't need killing."

He said it with a completely straight face, but Zilwicki thought it was probably a joke. Probably. One could never be entirely certain where Cachat was concerned, and the Havenite's idea of a sense of humor wasn't quite like most people's.

"May I assume there's a reason you left Frank playing babysitter and asked Ganny El where you might find us?" Zilwicki asked out loud.

"Actually, yes," Cachat replied, dark brown-black eyes lighting. "I think I've finally found the argument to get you to agree to take Herlander straight to Nouveau Paris, Anton."

"Oh?" Zilwicki crossed tree trunk arms and cocked his head, considering Cachat the way a skilled lumberjack might consider a particularly scrubby sapling. "And why should we suddenly depart from our agreed on plan of parking him on Torch and inviting all the mountains to come to Mohammed?"

"Because," Cachat replied, "a dispatch boat just came in from Erewhon."

"A dispatch boat?" Zilwicki's eyes narrowed. "Why would anyone in Erewhon be sending a dispatch boat out here?"

"Apparently Sharon decided it would be a good idea to let anyone from the Ballroom or the BSC who checked in with Parmaley Station know what's going on," Cachat replied. He shrugged. "Obviously, she didn't know I was going to be here when she sent the boat -- she sent it off about three weeks ago, and the earliest Custis could get to Erewhon is tomorrow."

"I'm perfectly well aware of Custis' schedule," Zilwicki rumbled. "So suppose you just go ahead and tell me 'what's going on' that's so important your minions are throwing dispatch boats around the galaxy?"

"Well, it happens that about three months ago, Duchess Harrington arrived in Haven orbit," Cachat said. "The news got sent out to all of our intelligence stations in the regular data dumps, but it still took over a month to get to Sharon, and she sent the dispatch boat out to distribute it to all our stations in the sector. It stopped off at Torch, too, according to its skipper. We were the last stop on the information chain." He shrugged again. "I imagine the only reason it got sent here at all was Sharon's usual thoroughness. But according to the summary she got from the home office, Duchess Harrington is in Nouveau Paris for the express purpose of negotiating a peace settlement between the Republic and the Star Empire."

Anyone who knew Anton Zilwicki would have testified that he was a hard man to surprise. This time, though, someone had managed it, and his eyes widened.

"A peace settlement? You mean a formal treaty?"

"Apparently that's exactly what she's there to get, and according to Sharon's summary, President Pritchart is just as determined as the Duchess. On the other hand, after twenty years of shooting at each other, I doubt they've already tied it all up in a neat bow. And since Duchess Harrington actually believed both of us before we ever set out for Mesa, I don't see any reason she wouldn't believe us if we turned up with Simões in tow. For that matter, she'll have her treecat with her, and he'll know whether or not we're telling the truth. Or whether or not Herlander is, when you come down to it."

"And if there's anyone in the Star Empire who could convince the Queen to listen to us, it's Harrington," Zilwicki agreed, nodding vigorously.

"Exactly. So my thought is that we leave the recordings of our interviews with Herlander here on our station to be picked up by the next BSC courier to come through and taken on to Torch. Redundancy is a beautiful thing, after all. In the meantime, though, you and I commandeer Sharon's dispatch boat, load Herlander on board, and head straight for Haven." Cachat grinned. "Do you think finding out about the Alignment's existence might have some small impact on the negotiations?"
*
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jan 15, 2012 10:41 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 14

Chapter Five

Innokentiy Kolokoltsov rose as Astrid Wang formally ushered his visitor into his office. His secretary was more subdued than usual, and it was obvious to Kolokoltsov that she was on her best behavior.

Astrid always did have a good set of instincts, he thought. Not that our manners are going to make very much difference this time around. Whatever else is going to happen, the Manties aren't the kind of neobarbs we can impress into acknowledging the Solarian League's supremacy. The pain-in-the-ass bastards've made that clear enough!

"Mister Ambassador," he said, with a small, formal bow instead of extending a hand across his desk.

"Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary," Sir Lyman Carmichael responded in a pronounced Manticoran accent, with an even shallower bow.

"May we offer you refreshment, Mister Ambassador?"

"No, thank you."

There was a distinct edge of frost in that reply, Kolokoltsov noted. Well, that wasn't unexpected. Lyman Carmichael was a career diplomat, but he didn't really have the disposition for it, in Kolokoltsov's opinion. He felt things too deeply, without the professional detachment which ought to be brought to the task. No doubt there was a place for passion, for belief, even for anger, but it wasn't at the table where interstellar diplomats played for the highest stakes imaginable. That was a place for clear-headedness and dispassion, and a man who could be goaded into intemperance was a dangerous loose warhead for his own side.

"As you will."

Kolokoltsov inclined his head again, this time indicating the chair on the far side of his desk, and Carmichael's lips tightened ever so slightly. There was a much more comfortably and intimately arranged conversational nook in the angle of the palatial office's picture windows, looking out over the towers and canyons of Old Chicago. That was where Kolokoltsov met with visitors when he was prepared to pretend other star nations were truly the Solarian League's peers. It was particularly important to make the point that the Star Kingdom of Manticore was not the League's peer, however, and so he seated himself again behind his desk and folded his hands on the antique blotter.

"How may I be of service, Mister Ambassador?" he asked with a pleasantness which fooled neither of them.

"I've been instructed by my government to deliver a formal note to Foreign Minister Roelas y Valiente."

Carmichael smiled thinly, and Kolokoltsov smiled back. Whatever the official flowchart of the Solarian League Foreign Ministry might indicate, Carmichael knew as well as Kolokoltsov that Roelas y Valiente was no more than a figurehead. Whoever the note might be addressed to, the Manticoran Ambassador was looking at its actual recipient.

"May I inquire as to the note's contents?" Kolokoltsov asked with a straight face.

"You may," Carmichael replied.

He didn't say anything else, however, and Kolokoltsov felt his jaw muscles tighten ever so slightly as the Manticoran simply sat there, smiling at him. Waiting.

"And those contents are?" he asked after a lengthy moment, keeping his voice even.

"As you're aware, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary, my government is deeply concerned over the escalating series of…incidents between the Solarian League military and the Star Empire. We realize there's a difference of opinion between Landing and Old Chicago about precisely how those incidents occurred and who was responsible for them." His eyes met Kolokoltsov's coldly. "Regardless of who bears responsibility for those which have occurred in the past, however, my government is desirous of avoiding any additional incidents in the future."

"I'm sure that will come as very welcome news to Foreign Minister Roelas y Valiente," Kolokoltsov said when the Manticoran paused again.

"I hope it will," Carmichael continued. "However, in pursuit of that object, the Star Empire, as you may or may not be aware, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary, has issued a general recall of its merchant shipping in the League."

Kolokoltsov stiffened. He'd only just begun receiving reports about disappearing Manticoran merchant vessels. Not enough of them had come in yet for any sort of pattern to reveal itself, but according to at least some of them the merchant vessels in question had canceled charters and contractual commitments without explanation. He'd been inclined to discount those particular reports, given the hefty penalties the captains and shipowners in question would face, but if the Star Empire's government had issued a nondiscretionary recall…

"In part," Carmichael said, "that recall represents an effort on our part to be sure none of the…unfortunate incidents which have so far involved only our military vessels spill over onto our civilian traffic. Obviously, we don't think a Solarian warship captain would lightly open fire on an unarmed merchant vessel in a fit of piqué, but, then, we didn't think a fleet of battlecruisers would open fire on a handful of destroyers riding peacefully in orbit, either." He smiled again, a smile as cold as his eyes. "Accidents, it appears, do happen, don't they? So my government has decided to ensure that no more of them transpire. There is, however, another reason for the recall, as well."

"And that reason would be exactly what, Mister Ambassador?" Kolokoltsov tone was level, its neutrality a deliberate emphasis of his decision to ignore the Manticoran's latest barb.

"You might think of it as an attempt to get the League's attention, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. We appear to have been singularly unsuccessful in our efforts to accomplish that so far, so my government has decided to resort to rather more direct measures."

"Are you implying that the recall of your merchant shipping should be viewed as an unfriendly act directed against the Solarian League?" Kolokoltsov asked in a voice he'd suddenly allowed to become frigid.

"I fail to see how simply withdrawing our shipping from Solarian shipping lanes could be construed as 'an unfriendly act,' Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary." Carmichael shrugged slightly. "On the other hand, I suppose it will have an unfortunate impact on the movement of the League's interstellar commerce."

Kolokoltsov sat rigidly in his chair, gazing across his folded hands at the Manticoran. He was no economist, no expert on international shipping, but the entire Solarian League was only too well aware of the extent to which the life's blood of its interstellar economy moved in Manticoran bottoms. It was one of the reasons so many Solarians so intensely resented and detested the Star Empire of Manticore. And it was also the reason -- coupled with the Manties' control of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction and its commanding position among the warp bridges in general -- that such a pissant little star nation had been able to…constrain Solarian foreign policy repeatedly over the last couple of T-centuries. But in all those years, Manticore had never threatened to actually withdraw its shipping from the League!

"I'm not an expert in interstellar commerce, Mister Ambassador," he said after a few seconds. "It would appear to me, however, that the Star Empire's actions will result in the violation of numerous commercial agreements and contracts."

"That, unfortunately, is correct, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. It's regrettable, of course, but fortunately the majority of the shipping lines in question are bonded. In those instances where they aren't, the injured parties will of course be able to seek redress through the courts. With what degree of success" -- Carmichael smiled thinly -- "no one can say at this point. I suppose a great deal will depend upon whose court adjudicates the matter, don't you?"

"You're playing with the lives and livelihoods of millions of Solarian citizens, Mister Ambassador," Kolokoltsov pointed out rather more sharply than he'd intended to.

"I suppose it could be interpreted that way. Considering the current -- and apparently still deteriorating -- relationship between the Star Empire and the Solarian League, however, my government believes it will be safest all around for our merchant vessels to remain safely in Manticoran space -- or, at least, outside of Solarian space -- until the matters under dispute between the Star Empire and the League have been satisfactorily resolved. At that time, of course, we would look forward to restoring our freighters and passenger liners to their normal runs."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jan 17, 2012 10:09 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 15

Steel showed in Carmichael's smile this time, and despite his many years of experience, Kolokoltsov felt his own face darkening with anger.

"Some people," he said carefully, "might interpret the Star Empire's decision in this matter as an active economic war against the League."

"I suppose they might." Carmichael nodded, then stabbed the Solarian with his eyes. "And some people might consider what happened in New Tuscany and Spindle acts of war against the Star Empire, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. I suppose it would behoove both the Star Empire and the Solarian League to demonstrate to the rest of the galaxy that they wish to find an amicable resolution of all of the tensions and…disputed matters currently lying between them. That, as I'm sure Foreign Minister Roelas y Valiente has shared with you from our earlier notes, has been the Star Empire's view from the very beginning."

Kolokoltsov felt a very strong temptation to reach across the desk and strangle the man sitting on its other side.

"I'm sure all of those disputed matters will be settled in due time, Mister Ambassador," he said instead.

"Oh, so am I, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. So am I." Carmichael smiled thinly.

"I'll pass your note to the Minister this very afternoon, Mister Ambassador," Kolokoltsov promised curtly. "Was there anything else we should discuss?"

"Actually, there is one other small matter, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary." The Manticoran's smile turned positively sharklike, and Kolokoltsov felt a stir of uneasiness.

"And what might that 'small matter' be?" he inquired.

"Well, it's occurred to the Star Empire that while removing its merchant shipping from Solarian space represents the best way to avoid the potential of incidents between them and Solarian warships, we would be derelict in our responsibilities if we didn't take measures to protect Solarian merchant shipping, as well."

"Protect Solarian shipping?" Kolokoltsov repeated a bit blankly, and Carmichael nodded.

"Yes. It's unfortunately true that public opinion in the Star Empire at this particular moment is very…exercised where the Solarian League is concerned. I'm sure you've had reports from your own ambassadors and attaches in the Star Empire about demonstrations, even some minor vandalism, I'm afraid. It's all very sad, but understandable, I suppose."

His tone could have turned the Amazon Basin into a Sahara. His own embassy had been besieged literally for weeks by "spontaneous demonstrations" of Solarian citizens outraged by "Manticoran high-handedness" and demanding justice for Admiral Josef Byng and Fleet Admiral Sandra Crandall. Some of those demonstrations had turned even uglier than their organizers in the Ministry of Education and Information had intended.

"At any rate, as the authorities here in Old Chicago have pointed out to my staff, it's not always possible to constrain private citizens from acting on their anger and their outrage, however inappropriately placed those emotions may be and however hard the authorities try. Unhappily, that situation obtains in the Star Empire, as well. More than that, my government has decided that it's absolutely imperative there be no further incidents until the current ones have been thoroughly investigated and resolved. While we don't believe that the Royal Manticoran Navy was the instigator of any of the…episodes which have so far occurred, we're aware that many in the Solarian League, including the Solarian League government, don't share our belief. In fact, many of them believe the RMN was the aggressor in all of these unfortunate cases. To date, our own investigation doesn't support that conclusion, but we aren't completely prepared to rule it out. So my government has decided it will be best to separate our warships from proximity with your own…and with your merchant vessels, as well."

"You're withdrawing all of your warships to Manticoran space?" Kolokoltsov said slowly.

"No, I'm afraid that would be quite impossible, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. The Royal Navy's responsibilities are far too widespread and demanding for us to do such a thing. Unhappily, that means our only alternative is to close all Manticoran warp termini to Solarian traffic, beginning immediately. Courier vessels and news service dispatch vessels will be allowed passage regardless of registry, but all Solarian registered freight carriers and passenger ships will, unfortunately, be denied passage until the current disputes are resolved."

"What?!"

The one-word question erupted from Kolokoltsov before he could stop himself. For the first time in decades, his carefully cultivated professional composure deserted him and he stared at the Manticoran incredulously.

"You can't be serious," he said in a marginally more controlled tone. "That would be illegal. It would constitute an act of war!"

"On the contrary, it's completely legal, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary," Carmichael replied coolly.

"The Shingaine Convention on free passage mandates that all warp termini be open to all traffic," Kolokoltsov shot back.

"Does it?" Carmichael arched his eyebrows, then shrugged. "Well, I'm prepared to take your word for that, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. Unfortunately, the Star Empire of Manticore isn't a signatory of the Shingaine Convention." He smiled pleasantly. "Besides, it's my understanding that that particular provision of the Convention has been violated several times already."

Kolokoltsov's molars ground together. The Shingaine Convention had been sponsored by the Solarian League seventy T-years ago expressly as a means to pressure the then-Star Kingdom of Manticore. The Star Kingdom had already been beginning its preparations for its decades-long war against the People's Republic of Haven, and it had demonstrated that it was only too prepared to use its control of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction as a lever to pressure the League's foreign policy in its own favor if it decided that was necessary. The League wasn't used to dancing to anyone else's piping -- it was supposed to provide the dance music in its relations with other star nations -- so it had convened a meeting of "independent star nations" in the Shingaine System which had obediently produced the Shingaine Convention. The Solarian League had immediately recognized it as the basis of its "open door" policy, with the clear implication that it would enforce its interpretation of interstellar law by force if necessary.

But as Carmichael had pointed out, the Star Empire had never signed it and so, technically, wasn't bound by its provisions. Nor had Manticore ever shown any particular desire to kowtow to Solarian pressure on the matter. For that matter, as Carmichael had implied, the League would be on shaky ground if it did insist on enforcing those provisions, since the Office of Frontier Security had excluded independent Verge star systems from warp termini it controlled on several occasions over the last half-T-century or so as a means to pressure them into accepting OFS "protection."

"Whether or not the Star Empire considers itself bound by the terms of the Shingaine Convention," Kolokoltsov said coldly, "this high-handed, unilateral, hostile action is not going to pass unremarked in the League. However you may care to dress it up, it does constitute an act of economic warfare, as your government is perfectly well aware, Mister Ambassador!"

"I suppose it could be described that way," Carmichael conceded judiciously. "On the other hand, it's far less destructive than a salvo of laser heads, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary. My government has attempted from the very beginning to resolve the tensions between the Star Empire and the League without further bloodshed. Your government has steadfastly refused to meet us halfway. Or even a third of the way. Allow me to point out to you that however much damage your economy may suffer from the Star Empire's reasonable and prudent acts to defuse further incidents, it will suffer far less than it would in an all-out war against the Royal Manticoran Navy. You may not believe me, but my government is trying to prevent that all-out war. We've tried diplomacy. We've tried the exchange of notes. We've offered joint investigations. We've provided you with detailed sensor records of the incidents which have occurred. None of that appears to have moved the Solarian League in any way."

He looked levelly across the desk at Kolokoltsov, and his eyes could have frozen helium.

"The Star Empire of Manticore cannot dictate the Solarian League's foreign policy to it, Mister Permanent Senior Undersecretary, nor will it attempt to. But it will pursue its own foreign policy, and if we cannot get you to listen to reason one way, we will seek another."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jan 19, 2012 10:17 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 16

April 1922 Post Diaspora

"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."
-- Assistant Director of Defense Justyná Miternowski-Zhyang, Beowulf Planetary Board of Directors

Chapter Six

"Permanent Senior Undersecretary Kolokoltsov is here for his fifteen hundred, Mr. President."

"Ah! Excellent -- excellent!" President Yeou Kun Chol, ostensibly the most powerful man in the entire Solarian League, beamed as Innokentiy Arsenovich Kolokoltsov (who arguably was the most powerful man in the entire League) followed Shania Lewis into his huge office. The president's desk was bigger than most people's beds, and he had to physically walk around it to get close enough to Kolokoltsov to offer his hand.

"Thank you, Shania," the president said to his personal secretary. "I think that will be all -- unless there's anything you need, of course, Innokentiy?"

"No. No, thank you, Mr. President. I'm fine."

"Good. Good!" The president beamed some more and nodded to Lewis, who smiled politely, bestowed a slight bow on Kolokoltsov, and disappeared. "Sit, Innokentiy. Please," Yeou continued as the expensive, inlaid door closed silently behind her.

"Thank you, Mr. President."

Kolokoltsov obeyed the invitation, taking the comfortable biofeedback armchair facing the desk, and watched Yeou walk back around to his own throne-like chair. The president settled himself behind his desk once again, and the permanent senior undersecretary crooked a mental eyebrow.

Yeou Kun Chol, in Innokentiy Kolokoltsov's considered opinion, was pretty much an idiot. He'd attained his immensely prestigious (and utterly powerless) position because he knew when to smile for the cameras and because the true powerbrokers of the Solarian League knew he was a nonentity, the sort of person who would have been ineffectual even if his august office had retained a shadow of true power. There were other factors, of course. Including the fact that however ineffectual he might be, his family was immensely wealthy and wielded quite a lot of power behind the League's façade of representative government. Letting him play with the pretty bauble of the presidency kept them happy and him from interfering with anything truly important (like the family business), which had paid off quite a few quiet debts. And to give the man his due, Yeou was sufficiently aware of reality to realize his office's powers were far more ceremonial and symbolic than genuine.

That was one reason it was unheard of for the president to actually invite a permanent senior undersecretary to an audience. He didn't send "invitations" to them; they told him when they needed to see him for the sake of official appearances. And at any other meeting Kolokoltsov could think of, the president would have joined him, taking another of the palatial armchairs arranged in front of his desk to allow comfortably intimate conversations. He most definitely would not have re-seated himself behind the desk, and Kolokoltsov wondered exactly where the unusual attempt to assert some sort of formality -- possibly even authority, if the thought hadn't been too absurd for even Yeou to entertain -- was headed.

"Thank you for coming so promptly, Innokentiy," Yeou said after a moment.

"You're welcome, of course, Mr. President." Kolokoltsov smiled. There was no point being impolite now that he was here. As long as Yeou didn't start meddling in things that were none of his affair, at least. "My time is yours, and your secretary indicated there was some urgency to your summons."

"Well, actually, there is some urgency to it, Innokentiy." The president tipped back in his chair, elbows on its armrests, and frowned ever so minutely at the permanent senior undersecretary for foreign affairs. "I just wanted to discuss with you -- get your feeling about, as it were -- this business with the Manties."

"I beg your pardon, Mr. President?" Kolokoltsov couldn't quite keep a trace of surprise out of his tone. "Ah, exactly which aspect of it, Sir?"

Kolokoltsov was aware that in most star nations a head of state would already have been thoroughly briefed about his nation's relationship with another star nation against whom it was very nearly in a state of war. Even for Kolokoltsov it was more an intellectual awareness than anything else, though. Yeou had received memos and reports from the permanent senior undersecretaries who were the League's true policymakers, but no one had ever so much as considered presenting him with any sort of genuine briefing. For that matter, even under the dead letter of the Constitution, the office of the president had been almost entirely symbolic. Had anyone been paying any attention to the Constitution, Prime Minister Shona Gyulay would have been the actual head of government, and any briefings would have gone to her, not to Yeou.

"I've read the reports, of course," Yeou told him now. "And I appreciate your efforts -- both yours and your civilian colleagues', and Admiral Rajampet's -- to clarify the…unfortunate events which have led to our current situation." The president's expression sobered. "Naturally, I can't pretend I'm happy thinking about all the people who have already lost their lives and where this all may be headed ultimately. But I must say I find myself particularly concerned at this moment about the Manticorans' decision to recall all of their merchant vessels." He shook his head, his expression even more sober. "It's a bad business all around, Innokentiy, but I'm worried about the immediate consequences for our economy. So I was hoping you could sort of bring me up to date on exactly what's been happening on that front."

* * *

"Yeou asked you about that?"

Agatá Wodoslawski's gray eyes widened, then narrowed speculatively as Kolokoltsov nodded. The attractive, red-haired permanent senior undersecretary of the treasury's holo image sat directly across the virtual conference table from him. Actually, of course, she was seated behind her own desk in her own office, and now she sat back in her chair, shaking her head with the air of a woman who wondered what preposterous absurdity was going to happen next.

"So he's finally waked up to the fact that something's going on with the Manties, has he?" Malachai Abruzzi's holo image said sarcastically. The dark-haired, dark-eyed permanent senior undersecretary of information was a short, stocky man with powerful hands, one of which he now waved dismissively. "I'm dazzled by the force of his intellect."

"'Dazzled' may not be exactly the right word for it," Permanent Senior Undersecretary of Commerce Omosupe Quartermain said, "but when you've been looking into a completely dark closet long enough, even a candle can seem blinding. And let's face it, our beloved President is a very dark closet indeed," she added, and Kolokoltsov smiled sourly.

Between them, she, Abruzzi, Wodoslawski and Kolokoltsov represented four of what certain newsies -- headed by that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned muckraker Audrey O'Hanrahan -- had begun to call "the Five Mandarins." O'Hanrahan had been forced to explain the term's origin to her readership initially, but once she had it caught on quickly. Abruzzi's publicity flaks were doing what they could to discourage its use, but it continued to spread with insidious inevitability. By now, even some of the tamer members of the Legislative Assembly were using it in news conferences and speeches.

It wasn't going to do them a lot of damage here on ancient, weary, cynical Old Terra. Old Terrans understood how the game was played, and they were far past the stage of expecting that ever to change. Besides, all politicians -- and bureaucrats -- were the same, really, weren't they? And that being the case, better to stay with the mandarins you knew rather than stir up all the turmoil of trying to change a system which had worked for seven T-centuries.

But there were other planets, other star systems, whose wells of cynicism weren't quite so deep. There were even places where people still believed the delegates they elected to the League Assembly were supposed to govern the League. Once O'Hanrahan's damned clever turn of phrase reached those star systems and they figured out what "mandarin" meant, the repercussions might be much more severe than here on the League's capital planet.

"I can't fault your observation, Omosupe," Wodoslawski said, "but why do I have the feeling this particular glimmer didn't come from the force of his intellect at all?"

"Because unlike him, you have a measurable IQ," Kolokoltsov replied. "Although, to be honest, it did take me several minutes to realize I was basically talking to his family's ventriloquist's dummy."

"Ah!" Wodoslawski said. "The light dawns."
*
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:37 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 17

"Exactly." Kolokoltsov nodded. "Yeou Transstellar has a lot invested in President Yeou." And in all of us, as well, he carefully did not add out loud. "I'm inclined to think this is at least mostly a case of Kun Sang reminding us of that investment."

Quartermain and Abruzzi grimaced in understanding. Yeou Kun Sang was the president's younger brother. He also happened to be on Old Terra at the moment (officially on a "personal family visit" to his older brother which just happened to have been announced as soon as word of the New Tuscany incidents hit his home world's faxes) and the President and CEO of Yeou Transstellar Shipping. Yeou Transstellar was one of the Solarian League's dozen largest interstellar shippers, and, like most of those shippers, it actually owned very few freighters. Its business model -- like its competitors' -- relied on leasing cargo space from people who did own freighters…which meant that whether the great commercial dynasties of the Solarian League liked Manticore or not, they did a great deal of business with it.

"I'm surprised Kun Sang didn't go directly to you, Omosupe," Abruzzi said after a moment.

"So was I, at first," Quartermain agreed. "But now that I think about it, Kun Sang's always been inclined to stay out of the day-to-day details of managing the clan's business with Commerce or Interior. And the Yeou family's really old money, you know. They've been one of the first families of Sebastopol for the better part of a thousand years, and they like to pretend all that sordid business of trade is beneath them."

"Yeah. Sure it is." Abruzzi rolled his eyes.

"Well, part of the pretense is that everyone knows it's only a pretense," Quartermain pointed out. "And the fact that Kun Sang started out as a mere planetary manager and worked his way to the top tends to make it a bit more threadbare in the Yeous' case. Still, now that he's at the top, he's more or less required by tradition to work through the interface of professional managers. The 'hired hands' that do all of those sordid, business-related things the aristocratic family doesn't sully its own digits dealing with, especially where politics are concerned."

"Exactly," Kolokoltsov agreed. "Which I think is part of the point he's making, assuming I'm reading the situation accurately. He still keeping his thumbs out of the soup, but at the same time he's letting us know -- indirectly, at least -- that he's sufficiently concerned to be on the brink of coming into the open."

"Which, for a family that's spent so much time operating in the Sebastopol mode, indicates a lot of concern," Quartermain said soberly.

"Exactly," Kolokoltsov repeated. "I'm pretty sure Kun Chol was reading from a prepared script, and what it all came down to was finding out how much worse we expect this to get and how long we expect it to last."

"If we had the answer to either of those questions --" Abruzzi began, then cut himself off, shaking his head grimly.

"I notice neither Rajampet nor Nathan has joined our little tête-à-tête," Quartermain observed.

"No, they haven't, have they?" Kolokoltsov showed his teeth for a moment.

Nathan MacArtney, the permanent senior undersecretary of the interior, was the fifth "Mandarin," and Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kasul Rajani was the Solarian League's chief of naval operations.

"Is there a reason they haven't?" Wodoslawski asked.

"Nathan's out of the office at the moment," Kolokoltsov replied. "He's on his way out to Elysium -- family business, I think -- and I don't really trust the security of his communications equipment until he gets there. Besides, he's already out beyond Mars orbit. The light-speed delay would be almost a minute and a half." The permanent senior undersecretary of state shrugged. "I'll see to it that he gets a complete transcript, of course."

"Of course." Quartermain nodded. "And Rajampet?"

"And I think we all already know what Rajampet's contribution would be." Kolokoltsov's colleagues all grimaced at that one, and he shrugged. "Under the circumstances, I thought we could just take his excuses and posturing as a given and get on with business."

Quartermain nodded again, more slowly this time. The permanent senior undersecretary of commerce was a striking woman, with gunmetal gray hair and blue eyes that contrasted sharply with her very dark, almost black skin, but at the moment those blue eyes were narrowed in speculation. She had no doubt Nathan MacArtney was exactly where Kolokoltsov had said he was, but she wasn't exactly blind to the fact that as much as MacArtney personally despised Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kaushal Rajani, he was also the closest thing to an ally Rajampet had among the civilian permanent senior undersecretaries who actually ruled the Solarian League. That was inevitable, really, given the fact that the Office of Frontier Security belonged to the Interior Ministry, which meant MacArtney's personal empire was even more directly threatened than most by the specter of a successful "neobarb" star nation's resistance to OFS's plans. Not to mention the fact that Frontier Security's entire position depended on the perceived omnipotence of the Solarian League Navy.

"So what, exactly, is the point of this meeting, Innokentiy?" Wodoslawski asked.

"I realize there's not a lot we can do about the Manties' shipping movements," Kolokoltsov replied just a bit obliquely. "At the same time, I feel pretty confident that while Yeou Kun Sang may have been one of the first to ask those questions of his, he's damned well not going to be the last. Under the circumstances, I think we ought to be thinking about how we want to respond -- not just in private, Malachai, but publicly, with the newsies -- when those other people start asking. And I'd appreciate it if you and Omosupe could give us a better feel for how bad this is really going to be, Agatá."

"Exactly what do you think we've been trying to do? Especially since your little tête-à-tête with that son-of-a-bitch Carmichael?" Wodoslawski demanded tartly, and he shrugged.

"I know you've been warning us we were headed for trouble," Kololokoltsov said in a slightly apologetic term. "And I may not've been paying as much attention as I should have. I've known it would be bad, but I haven't really tried to conceptualize the numbers for myself, because it's not my area of competence and I know it. I know they're huge, but I've been a lot more focused on finding ways to prevent it from ever happening than on trying to really grasp numbers that big. I'm trying now, though, so could you go ahead and give it another try, please? What I'm looking for isn't the reams of numbers and detailed alternate contingency estimates and analyses in all of those reports of yours but more of a broad overview. Something even an economic ignoramus can grasp. In that sort of terms, just how bad is this really likely to get?"

"That depends on how far the Manties are prepared to push it, now doesn't it?" Wodoslawski snorted. "We can give you a pretty fair estimate, I think, for what happens if they settle for simply recalling all their own shipping, though." She raised her eyebrows at Quartermain as she spoke, then returned her attention to Kolokoltsov when the permanent senior undersecretary of commerce nodded. "And the short answer to that part of your question is that it will really, really suck."

"I'm not precisely sure what that technical term means," Kolokoltsov told her with an off-center smile.

"It means Felicia Hadley has a point," Wodoslawski replied without any answering smile at all, and Kolokoltsov scowled.

Felicia Hadley was the senior member of the Beowulf Delegation in the Legislative Assembly. That gelded body had exercised no real power in centuries, but it still existed, and Beowulf, unlike most of the League's member systems, still took it seriously enough to send delegates who could seal their own shoes without printed instructions. Hadley was a prime example of that, and ever since the current crisis had begun, she'd been a persistent (and vociferous) critic of the government's policies. She'd even formally moved that the Assembly empanel a special commission of its own to investigate exactly how those policies had come to be put into place! Fortunately, there'd been too few delegates present for a quorum when she made the motion, and Jasmine Neng, the Assembly Speaker (who, unlike Hadley, understood which side of her personal bread was buttered) had killed it on procedural grounds and removed it from the vote queue before most of the other delegates (or any of the 'faxes) even realized it was there.
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:08 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 18

It was equally fortunate the newsies knew as well as anyone that the Assembly possessed no real power, because God only knew what would have happened if they'd actually bothered to cover its sessions. If any of their stringers had been there to report Hadley's passionate address to the empty seats of Assembly Hall the public might actually have believed what she was saying -- might even have started insisting someone in a real policymaking position listen to her! Of course, there was no mechanism for that to happen, but a lot of the Solarian electorate didn't realize that.

Hadley had also been warning anyone who would listen from the beginning that the League was playing with economic fire. She'd actually produced numbers to support her allegations, although Kolokoltsov hadn't paid a lot of attention to them. He hadn't needed her to tell him it would be bad, and as he'd just admitted, he wasn't a number-cruncher, anyway. He'd accepted Wodoslawski and Quartermain's warnings that the situation was potentially serious, but he'd left that side up to them while he concentrated on trying to control the non-economic aspects of the crisis. After all, if he'd only been able to convince the Manties to see sense, they wouldn't have pushed things to this point in the first place. The way he'd seen it, all he really needed to know was that there would be serious consequences if he couldn't make the Manties recognize reality, and to be honest, he hadn't wanted the distraction of dealing with hard potential numbers like the ones Hadley had been throwing around. Now, though…

"So how good a point does she have?"

"A damned good one, and if you'd actually read the reports my staff's been generating for the last couple of T-months, you'd already know that." Wodoslawski said bluntly. "Better than two thirds of our total interstellar commerce -- the percentage is higher for freight; lower for passengers and information -- travels in Manticore-registered bottoms at some point in the transport cycle, Innokentiy. Almost thirty percent of it travels in Manty ships all the way from point of origin to final destination; another twenty-seven percent travels in Manty bottoms for between thirty and fifty percent of the total voyage. And another ten or fifteen percent of it travels in Manty bottoms for up to a quarter of the total transit." Her expression was that of someone smelling something which had been dead for several days. "As you can see, simply pulling their own shipping out of the loop will reduce our available interstellar lift by better than half."

Kolokoltsov looked profoundly unhappy, and Quartermain made a sound halfway between a snort of amusement and a grunt of disgust.

"Agatá and I have been telling and telling all of you the Manties are in a position to inflict plenty of grief on us," she pointed out. "And I have to add that the figure she just gave you is what we're looking at if the Manties simply decide to go home and take their ships with them. Now that they're closing their termini to our shipping, it's not just the reduction in the number of hulls available to us; it's how much longer those hulls are going to take to reach their destinations. If transit times double, effective lift gets cut in half, which means things are going to get worse. A lot worse. Unfortunately, how much worse is impossible to predict at this point, to be honest. The shipping networks have always been incredibly complex and fluid, and I don't think anyone could give us hard numbers on just how badly simply taking the Manty-controlled termini out of it is going to extend shipping times. I can tell you it's going to be bad, though. And that assumes they stop at closing just their termini."

Kolokoltsov lips tightened at her last sentence.

Reports of withdrawing Manticoran shipping had been trickling into news accounts for weeks. Although Lyman Carmichael had officially informed Old Chicago of the Star Empire's decision to recall all its freighters and passenger liners only the week before, it was obvious the order must have gone out at least a couple of T-months earlier than that -- probably as soon as word of the Battle of Spindle reached Manticore. It had taken people a while to notice what was going on, mostly because the delay in transmitting instructions across such vast distances, even with Manticore's commanding position in the wormhole network, meant the recall had reached its recipients piecemeal. By this time, though, the trickle of withdrawing Manticoran merchant vessels had become a flood. More newsies than just O'Hanrahan had picked up on it now, and Kolokoltsov wondered how those newsies were going to react once it finally leaked out that the Star Empire had officially notified the League of its intention to close all Manticoran wormhole termini to Solarian-registry vessels.

Rajampet, predictably, had waved off the threat. It was only to be expected, he'd pointed out, and while it might be an inconvenience for the League, the impact on the Manties themselves would be even worse, given how huge a percentage of their total economy depended on servicing Solarian shipping needs. Besides, it would only be temporary -- just until the SLN got around to pinning back the Manties' ears and taking control of the wormhole network for itself.

Funny how the man in command of the navy responsible for protecting Solarian commerce can be so blasé about watching that commerce go right down the crapper, Kolokoltsov thought bitterly. I guess he doesn't see what's happening as the Navy's fault. After all, no one's actively raiding our shipping, now are they? Although exactly what else we should be calling what happened at Zunker eludes me.

The reports from Zunker and Nolan had arrived, almost simultaneously, over the weekend, and the newsies hadn't yet picked up on them. That wasn't going to last, though, and it was hard for Kolokoltsov to decide which incident would ultimately prove more infuriating to the Solarian public. The Zunker Terminus was officially the territory of a Manticoran ally, so closing it to Solarian traffic presented no gray areas. The Idahoans hadn't signed the Shingaine Convention either, which meant were arguably within their rights under interstellar law to deny terminus access to anyone they chose. And they were also within their rights to request the Royal Manticoran Navy's assistance in enforcing that decision. The fact that the local Manty commander had actually fired on Solarian battlecruisers showed just how far the Star Empire was prepared to escalate things, however, and the "insult" was going to arouse a passionate fury in at least some of the League's citizens, especially those with whom Abruzzi's propaganda had been most successful. Unfortunately, other members of that same citizenry were going to realize it wouldn't have happened if that fool Floyd hadn't pushed things. Even more unfortunately, some of them were going to figure out the Manty commander had deliberately not blown Admiral Pyun's battlecruisers out of space. When they recognized the implications of that…

As far as public opinion was concerned, though, what had happened at Nolan might be even worse. Unlike Zunker, the Nolan Terminus was claimed by the Solarian League, not by the Manties or one of their allies. And when the terminus astro control staff -- all of them Solarians -- had refused transit to the Manticoran freighters queuing up to return home (he made a mental note to remind Abruzzi to play down any references to the Shingaine Convention when he spun that one), the Manty naval commander had marched them to their personal quarters almost literally at pulser point and put his own people aboard the command platforms. And then he'd offered to blow away the local Frontier Fleet detachment if it tried to intervene! Kolokoltsov could already hear how the 'faxes were going to play up that "blatant act of aggression" in Solarian space!

"How much of the League's gross product are we talking about here, Omosupe?" Abruzzi asked, and Kolokoltsov felt a flicker of surprise as he realized he'd never asked the same question.

"Damned near twenty percent of our total gross product depends entirely on our interstellar commerce," Quartermain said in a flat tone. "Another fifteen percent will, at the very least, be seriously impacted."

"And," Wodoslawski added grimly, "something Rajampet seems to have failed to keep in mind is that seventy percent of all federal revenue derives directly or indirectly from shipping duties and tariffs. The other thirty percent derives primarily from protectorate service fees."
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jan 26, 2012 10:03 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 19

Which meant, as her listeners understood perfectly well, the tribute extracted from OFS's empire of protectorate star systems. That particular revenue stream was scarcely what anyone might have called enormous compared to the League's overall economy, but it was stupendous in absolute terms, and it belonged entirely to the League's bureaucracies. That was one reason -- indeed, the reason, really -- Frontier Security had been allowed to build its empire in the first place. And, of course, it was also the primary reason nothing could be permitted to undermine the League's grip on the protectorates, which had been the entire reason for the belligerent policy which had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

Unbelievable, Kolokoltsov thought for far from the first time. Unbelievable that the monumental stupidity of just two people could set something like this in motion!

Of course, a small corner of his brain reminded him, not even Josef Byng and Sandra Crandall could have brought the League to such a pass without the help of Kolokoltsov and his fellow Mandarins.

Damn it, now I'm starting to use the word! He thought disgustedly.

"So you're telling us we're in a position to lose up to thirty percent of the entire League's gross product?!" Abruzzi asked incredulously.

"We're telling you we're already losing a big chunk of that thirty-five percent," Quartermain replied. "Exactly how big a chunk we won't know until the dust settles and we see how much damage the Manties have actually done us. But I don't want anyone thinking that's all that's going to happen. There'll be a ripple effect across our entire economy, one that's going to lead to a significant drop in activity in almost every sector if it lasts more than a very short time. And, as Agatá's just pointed out, even in a best case scenario, this is going to hammer federal revenues. Most of the system governments won't be hurt all that badly at first, thank God, but if this goes on for two or three quarters, that's going to change."

"Shit," Abruzzi muttered.

"There are a couple of brighter spots buried in all this," Quartermain said after a moment. "As Rajampet's pointed out often enough, what's going to hurt us badly will hurt the Manties themselves worse. In a lot of ways, this really is a case of their having cut off their noses to spite their faces, as my momma used to say. And that's just looking at the immediate economic and financial impact. If they throw us back on our own shipping resources, and if they close the wormholes so that we need more shipping than ever to meet our requirements, it's got to lead to a huge upsurge in our own shipbuilding. Eventually, our merchant marine will have to expand to fill the vacuum, and once that happens, it'll be difficult for Manticore to ever maneuver itself into a similar stranglehold position again."

"Assuming there's still a Manticore to do any maneuvering," Wodoslawski added.

"Exactly," Kolokoltsov said bleakly. He surveyed his colleagues' faces for several moments, then sighed.

"Assuming Rajani's strategy with Filareta works, all of this becomes a moot point. Assuming it doesn't work, things are going to get a lot uglier before they get any better. In fact, my greatest concern right now is that if the Manties basically tell Filareta to pound sand -- and, worse, if it turns out Rajani was wrong about their ability to make that stick -- we're going to find it difficult to revert to that 'short of war' diplomatic stance."

Heads nodded in glum agreement, and Kolokoltsov castigated himself again for allowing Rajampet's opportunism to seduce him into accepting the CNO's strategy. He should have known better than to listen! Yet given what had happened to the Manties' home system, the temptation to double down had been overwhelming. Surely their morale had to crack under the one-two punch of such a devastating assault and the realization that the League wasn't going to back off! It had to be that way, didn't it?

And it still may be. Sure, they're recalling their freighters and closing their termini, but they're doing all that with no idea Filareta's close enough to hit them this quickly. When he turns up in their own backyard, things could change in a hurry.

Unfortunately…

"If the Manties don't cave, and if we're looking at this kind of nosedive in revenues, can we go back to that position at all?" Abruzzi's question put Kolokoltsov's own thoughts into words.

"I don't know," the permanent senior undersecretary of state said frankly, and Abruzzi scowled.

Kolokoltsov didn't blame him. He still wasn't positive his own proposed strategy -- buying time by negotiating "more in sorrow than in anger" until the Navy acquired weapons capable of offsetting the Manties' tactical advantages -- would have worked, when all was said. Patience was not a Solarian virtue, especially where "neobarbs" were concerned. That was one reason he'd been convinced to back Rajampet's new strategy, despite its potential to restrict his future options. But until this moment, he hadn't fully realized how badly a failure by Filareta would restrict them.

If the Manties defeated Filareta -- and especially if they also turned the economic screws Wodoslawski and Quartermain were describing -- it would be impossible to convince the public that a return to diplomacy stemmed from anything but fear of still worse to come. It would be seen as an admission of impotence. Of ineffectuality. And that was the kiss of death. If the people running the League couldn't demonstrate they were doing something effective, the electorate might start listening to loose warheads like Hadley and demanding changes. Even completely leaving aside personal consequences, the potential for political and constitutional disaster that represented was terrifying.

"I don't know," he repeated. "I do know that if Rajani's brainstorm turns into a spectacular failure -- another spectacular failure, I should say -- the situation isn't going to improve! In fact, we may find ourselves essentially forced to do what Rajani wanted to do in the first place."

"Whoa!" Wodoslawski stared at him. "I thought we were all in agreement that just serving up the Navy as target practice for Manty missiles was what they call a losing proposition, Innokentiy!"

"We still are. But whatever else may have happened, the Manties have to've lost a lot of their missile manufacturing capacity. Rajani has to be right about that, even if he's wrong about everything else! So the odds are that they'd have to stand on the defensive, rather than coming after us, at least until they're able to regenerate their industrial base. And as we've just been saying, they'll be trying to do that at a time when they've cut off the lion's share of their own interstellar cash flow."

"And this helps us exactly how?" Abruzzi asked.

"It means they can't reach just down our throats and rip out our lungs," Kolokoltsov said flatly. "Not right away, at least. It gives us time to work on ways to negate their combat advantages. For that matter, it gives us time to see if their economy can survive, especially after so much of their home system got clear-cut. And, if we spin it right, we can use what they've done to our shipping routes to explain why we're not yet in a position to take the war to them. Why we have to 'hold the line' until our economy and naval logistics recover from their 'treacherous blow.' And --"

"And at the same time we focus the anger over the economic meltdown on them, not us!" Abruzzi interjected, and Kolokoltsov nodded.

"That's still going to be tough to pull off," Quartermain pointed out, blue eyes narrow.

"No question," Kolokoltsov acknowledged. "And I can think of a few of our member systems who won't do a thing to make it any easier."

Quartermain's mouth tightened, her eyes glittering with more than a hint of anger, and Kolokoltsov snorted.

"We always knew that was at least a possibility, Omosupe. And I've been thinking about ways to, ah, rectify the situation."

"Oh?" Quartermain cocked her head. "And have any solutions suggested themselves to you?"

"As a matter of fact, one or two have reared their heads," Kolokoltsov said. "In fact, one of them came from Rajani, although I rather doubt he's been thinking about it the same way I have. Let me explain…"
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