A Rising Thunder – Snippet 25
“I don’t know, Luis.”
Governor Oravil Barregos paused and took a sip of the really nice Mayan burgundy Admiral Luis Roszak had chosen to accompany dinner. It wasn’t actually very much like Old Terran burgundy, despite the name. Fermented from the Mayan golden plum, not grapes, it reminded Roszak more of a rich, fruity port, but no one had consulted him when it was named, and it was one of Barregos’ favored vintages. The governor’s expression was not that of a man savoring a special treat, however, and he sighed as he lowered the glass.
“I don’t know,” he repeated, gazing down into its tawny heart. “After the way you got hammered at Congo and given how that maniac Rajampet seems to be calling the shots, I have to admit I’m feeling at least a minor case of…cold feet, let’s say.”
Roszak sat back, nursing his own wineglass, and studied the Maya Sector Governor across his small kitchen table. He’d known Oravil Barregos a long time, and “cold feet” were something he’d never before associated with the other man. Especially not where the “Sepoy Option” was concerned.
Then again, the admiral thought, we’ve never been this close to actually pulling it off, and none of our calculations considered the possibility of an outright shooting war between the League and someone like the Manties. Throw in “mystery raiders” with invisible starships, and I suppose even Alexander of Macedon might experience the odd moment of trepidation. And Oravil, bless his Machiavellian little heart, never believed he was a demigod to begin with!
“I agree we got hammered,” he said after a moment. “And when it comes right down to it, it’s my fault we did.”
He made the admission unflinchingly, and raised his free hand in a silencing motion when Barregos started to contest his self indictment.
“I’m not saying I made wrong decisions based on what I thought I knew,” he said. “I am saying I was too damned complacent about thinking that what we all thought we knew was accurate. Or, rather, that we understood all its implications, let’s say.” He shrugged. “We knew Mesa was using Luft and his people as deniable mercenaries, and we assumed — on the basis of what happened at Monica with the Manties — that they might reinforce them with heavy Solarian-built units, which is exactly what they did. Our mistake — my mistake — was to assume that if they were using Solarian-built units, they’d be using SLN missiles, too. I built all my tactics around the assumption my opponents would be range-limited, unable to reply effectively.” He shrugged again, dark eyes bitter with memory. “I was wrong.”
“If you were wrong, so was everyone else,” Barregos pointed out. “Edie Habib and Watanapongse both thought the same thing.”
“Of course they did. They’re no more mind readers than I am, and it was a logical assumption. And there was no sign they had any missile pods on tow, either, since they didn’t. If they had been towing pods, though — if we’d seen something like that — even I might have remembered those long-ranged missiles Technodyne provided for Monica and at least considered the possibility that Mesa had given something similar to Luft.
“My point, Oravil, is that I was the commanding officer. There’s an old saying, one I think too many officers and politicians routinely ignore: ‘The buck stops here.’ I was the commander; the responsibility was mine. And what made it my fault we got hammered was that if I’d thought about it at all, I didn’t have to close as far as I did. Even with those ‘cataphract’ missiles, we had them out-ranged. But I wanted to get right in on the edge of their powered envelope, get the best accuracy I could while staying too far away for them to fire effectively on us. If I’d been more cautious, settled for poorer firing solutions and just accepted that I was going to expend more ammunition, they wouldn’t have been able to hurt us anywhere near as badly as they did. In fact, we probably wouldn’t’ve gotten hurt at all.”
“I still say it’s not your fault.” Barregos shook his head stubbornly. “You have to go with the information you’ve got when you plan something like a battle. I may not be an admiral, but I know that much! And no plan survives contact with the enemy. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you say that, and it’s as true in politics as it is in the military. It works both ways, too. They may have surprised you with the range of their missiles, but you surprised the hell out of them, too! And your deployment gave you the reserve to run the table once you’d taken out their battlecruisers.” The governor shrugged. “You got hurt a lot worse than we ever anticipated, but you still won the battle — decisively — because you were prepared to deal with Murphy when he turned up.”
“All right, I’ll give you that.” Rozsak nodded. Then he smiled, and his eyes narrowed. “And where I was headed, using the strategy of the indirect approach, was to point out that you do a pretty good job of disaster-proofing your plans, too. We always knew we were going to have to make a lot of it up as we went along when the token finally dropped, Oravil. You’ve laid your groundwork; despite all the people I managed to get killed at Congo, we’ve still got most of our critical senior personnel in position; and I can’t really think of something closer to producing the conditions Sepoy envisioned than what’s going on with the Manties now. We just have to be ready to improvise and adapt when Murphy starts throwing crap at us on the political front, as well.”
Barregos gazed at the admiral for several seconds, then snorted in harsh amusement.
“‘Indirect approach’ is it? All right, you got me. But this is a little different from defending Torch against an Eridani violation, Luis. If I push the button on Sepoy, it’s for all the marbles. We have to come out into the open, and that’s going to put us up against Frontier Fleet, maybe even Battle Fleet, and we’re nowhere near the Manties’ size and weight!”
“I think your plans for staying in the shadows a bit longer will hold up,” Rozsak demurred. “Oh, there’s a risk they won’t, but don’t forget the rumblings we’re getting from other Frontier Security sectors. I think the situation’s going to go a lot further south on Kolokoltsov and Rajampet than they ever imagined. It’s going to happen a lot faster than even you and I assumed it would, too, and this confrontation with the Manties is what’s driving it, because it’s destroying the League’s perceived omnipotence among the independent Verge systems. I’m sure the fear of where that’s going to lead is a big part of what’s driving Kolokoltsov to back MacArtney and Rajampet, but they don’t seem to’ve considered that a lot of the more restive protectorates may have read the evidence the same way as the independent systems. I think they’re in for a rude awakening on that front sometime really soon now, and when the shitstorm hits, they’re going to be so busy worrying about outbreaks closer to home that we’re going to sort of disappear into the general chaos, at least at first. They aren’t going to be sending any major fleets out here while they’re dealing with forest fires in the Core’s front yard. Especially when we keep explaining that we’re really good, loyal OFS thugs just doing what we have to maintain order in the League’s benevolent name.”