A Call To Arms – Snippet 26
“That sounds acceptable,” Breakwater said. “And the other five ships?”
“Again, we can reassign their current missile crews to MPARS,” Dapplelake said. “Unfortunately, we can’t spare the rest of the crews, so you’ll have to supply those yourselves. At current enlistment and graduation rates, I imagine you can get all of them up and running within the next three to four years. Does that work for you?”
“Not entirely,” Breakwater said, a frown creasing his forehead. “You say you can’t spare the rest of the crews. Why not? The corvettes already have full crews you could transfer to us. After all, those are men and women you don’t need elsewhere.”
“Hardly, My Lord,” Dapplelake said. “Most of the Navy’s ships are badly undercrewed, including the corvettes themselves. Even at Casey-Rosewood’s current graduation rate we’re only slowly filling those slots. More significantly, we’re going to need all the personnel we can get — ” he paused, overly dramatically in Winterfall’s opinion ” — since we’re about to bring the battlecruisers Swiftsure and Victory out of mothballs and back to full operational status.”
Winterfall felt his eyes widen, a small part of his mind noting in retrospect that Dapplelake’s pause hadn’t been overly anything. If anything, he’d underplayed the drama.
“That is, of course, ridiculous,” Breakwater said. The verbal bombshell had clearly caught him as much by surprise as it had Winterfall, but he was quickly recovering his balance. “We’ve been through this, My Lord, many times. Those ships aren’t needed, and the Star Kingdom simply doesn’t have the money or manpower to operate them.”
“I think we do,” Dapplelake said. “More importantly, so does the King.”
Breakwater’s eyes turned to Edward…and in the Chancellor’s face was something Winterfall hadn’t seen in a long time. Something that was almost as stunning as Dapplelake’s own pronouncement.
“Your Majesty?” Breakwater asked carefully.
“You heard correctly, My Lord,” Edward said. “If there are indeed pirates working this part of space — and you yourself have just conceded that point — then they must have a base nearby. We can’t simply wait for them to come after us and our neighbors. We have to go find them and deal with them.”
“And that requires more large ships than we have available,” Dapplelake added. “Hence, the reactivation.”
For a long moment Breakwater’s eyes flicked back and forth between the Defense Minister and the King. Then, he drew himself up. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty; My Lord,” he said. “But I cannot in good conscience support such an action. My responsibility — your responsibility — is to defend and protect our three worlds, not to send our men and women charging off on some grand adventure to right all wrongs in the galaxy. We’re not the region’s police force, and I have no intention of letting us become one.”
“You intend to stand against us, then, My Lord?” Burgundy asked. “Because if you do, I tell you right now that you will lose.”
For a moment the two men locked eyes, and Winterfall found himself holding his breath. There was a sizeable group of Lords who supported Breakwater or who at least tended to follow his lead. But it wasn’t nearly big enough to force a no-confidence vote and take down Burgundy’s government. Even if it was, the King would undoubtedly offer Burgundy whatever time he needed to work out a new coalition and form a new government.
The other obvious option, that Breakwater would threaten to take his case directly to the people, was even worse. Not only did the King enjoy the support of a sizeable majority of the populace, which would probably doom such an approach anyway, but Edward and Burgundy could never let such a challenge go unanswered. Even just the threat alone would probably get the Chancellor unceremoniously booted out of his job.
Or would it?
Because by all logic Breakwater should have been booted already. Like everyone else in the Cabinet, he’d submitted his resignation when King Michael abdicated and King Edward ascended the Throne. Edward had reappointed Burgundy and most of the others, but the common wisdom at the time had been that he would take the opportunity to remove Breakwater’s perennial thorn from the Monarch’s side.
Only he hadn’t. After a series of closed-door meetings at the Palace, Breakwater had been reinstated to his position.
And as far as Winterfall knew, no one knew why.
There were theories, of course. Lots of theories. One was that Breakwater did have enough support to take down Burgundy’s government, and the Chancellorship had been the price for his grudging support. Another was that he knew where too many political bodies were buried, and his appointment was again the price of silence.
Personally, Winterfall subscribed to the statesman theory: that however annoying Breakwater might be to Burgundy and his government, the man was so good at his job of running the Exchequer that the Prime Minister was able to rise above the politics of the situation and do what was best for the Star Kingdom.
Of course, none of the theories left Breakwater so steel-clad that he still couldn’t blow it. He most certainly could.
And he could do it right here, and right now. Fortunately, he knew how and when to choose his battles.
“Of course I would not stand against the express will of my king,” Breakwater said at last, bowing his head slightly toward Edward. “If he truly believes this is necessary, I will accept his decision.”
He shifted his gaze to Dapplelake. “I trust, My Lord, that the weapons and crews you promised will be delivered to my other corvettes in a timely manner?”
“They will,” Dapplelake said. “As has already been noted, we all have the same interest in adding more armed vessels to the Star Kingdom’s spaceways.”
“Then I believe we are adjourned,” King Edward said gravely. “Thank you all for coming. My Lord Burgundy, a moment more of your time, if you please.”
Breakwater remained silent as he and Winterfall walked from the palace to their waiting car. With every step Winterfall felt his own tension ratcheting upward as he waited for the inevitable explosion, and wondered how much of it would be directed at him.
Because he should have seen this coming. He really should. He’d noted the sudden flurry of private meetings over the past few days between the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and members of the Admiralty. But he’d put it down to an attempt at damage control in the wake of Salamander’s less than impressive encounter with Izbica and the men who’d commandeered her.
He’d accepted the scenario of Burgundy and Dapplelake scrambling to shore up support. It had never occurred to him to think they might pick that moment to go on the offensive.
They reached the car and got in. Breakwater closed the door behind him, and Winterfall braced himself.
“Interesting,” the Chancellor murmured.
Winterfall shot him a sideways look. Breakwater’s profile was no angrier than his voice. “Excuse me, My Lord?” he asked carefully.
Breakwater smiled tightly. “Relax, Gavin — I’m not angry with you,” he assured the younger man. “Surprisingly, I’m not even angry with Burgundy and his sledgehammer tactics. Intrigued, but not angry.”
Winterfall frowned. He hadn’t seen anything from the Prime Minister that could be construed as sledgehammer.
“I’m not sure I understand, My Lord.”
“Oh, come on,” Breakwater chided. “Surely by now you’re able to read between the man’s lines. He was prepared to go to the mat for those battlecruisers. Including, I dare say, calling in years’ worth of favors.” He lifted a finger. “The question is why? And why now?”
“I presume because the King wants them reactivated.”
“Yes, but why?” Breakwater persisted. “To pay off supporters? To spite me?” He shook his head. “No. Burgundy might do something like that. Not the King.”
“Personally, I wouldn’t have thought Burgundy capable of much of anything,” Winterfall murmured.