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"What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution."
V.K. Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior
to General A.N. Kuroparfon, Minister of
War, 200 Ante-Diaspora (1903 C.E.),
on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War
"The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."
Hereditary President Sidney Harris watched the long cortege wind out of sight along the Promenade of the People, then turned his back upon it. The conference rooms two-hundredth floor height had transformed the black-draped vehicles into mere beetles crawling harmlessly along an urban canyon, but their implications showed only too clearly in the grim faces that looked back at him.
He crossed to his chair and sat, propping his elbows on the long table and leaning his chin into his palms while he rubbed his eyes. Then he straightened.
"All right. I've got to be at the cemetery in an hour, so let's keep this short." He turned his eyes to Constance Palmer-Levy, Secretary of Security for the People's Republic of Haven. "Anything more on how they got to Walter, Connie?"
"Not specifically, no." Palmer-Levy shrugged. "Walter's bodyguards stopped the gunman a bit too permanently. We can't question a dead man, but we've identified him as one Everett Kanamashi . . . and what little we have on him suggests he was a fringe member of the CRU."
"Wonderful." Elaine Dumarest, the secretary of war, looked ready to chew splinters out of the table edge. She and Walter Frankel had been adversaries for yearsinevitably, given the budgetary-conflicts between their ministriesbut Dumarest was an organized individual. She preferred a neat and tidy universe in which to make and execute her own policies, and people like the Citizens' Rights Union were high on her list of untidy individuals.
"You think the CRU leadership targeted Walter?" Ron Bergren asked, and Palmer-Levy frowned.
"We've got our moles as deep into them as we can." she told the secretary of foreign affairs. "None of them suggested the leadership was contemplating anything drastic, but there's been a lot of rank-and-file anger over Walter's BLS proposals. They're getting more security conscious, too. I'm seeing signs of a real cellular organization, so I suppose it's possible their action committee authorized it without our finding out."
"I don't like the sound of that, Sid," Bergren murmured, and Harris nodded. The Citizens' Rights Union advocated "direct action in the legitimate interest of the people" (meaning a perpetually higher Dolist standard of living) but normally limited itself to riots, vandalism, occasional terrorist bombings, and attacks on lower-level bureaucrats as object lessons. The assassination of a cabinet minister was a new and dangerous escalation . . . assuming the CRU had, indeed, authorized the attack.
"We ought to go in and clean those bastards out," Dumarest growled. "We know who their leaders are. Give the names to NavSec and let my Marines take care of thempermanently."
"Wrong move," Palmer-Levy disagreed. "That kind of suppression would only make the mob even less tractable, and at least letting them go on meeting lets us get a read on what they're up to."
"Like this time?" Dumarest asked with awful irony, and Palmer-Levy flushed.
"Ifand I emphasize ifthe CRU leadership did plan or authorize Walter's murder, then I have to admit we dropped the ball. But as you just pointed out, we've been able to compile lists of members and sympathizers. Drive them underground, and we lose that capability. And, as I said, there's no direct evidence Kanamashi wasn't acting on his own."
"Yeah, sure." Dumarest snorted.
Palmer-Levy started to answer hotly, but Harris' raised hand stopped her. Personally, the President tended to agree with Dumarest, but he could see Palmer-Levy's point as well. The CRU believed the Dolists had a God-given right to an ever higher Basic Living Stipend. They blew up other people (including their fellow Dolists) to make their point, and it would have done Harris' heart good to shoot every one of them. Unfortunately, the Legislaturalist families who ran the People's Republic had no choice but to permit organizations like the CRU to exist. Quite aside from the potential for even greater violence inherent in any open move against them, they'd been around for so long, become so deeply entrenched, that eliminating one would only make room for another, so it made sense to keep an eye on the devil they knew rather than rooting it up for a devil they knew nothing about.
Yet Walter Frankel's assassination was frightening. Dolist violence was almost legitimized, part of the power structure which kept the mob satisfied while the Legislaturalists got on with the business of running the government. Occasional riots and attacks on expendable portions of the Republic's bureaucratic structure had become a sanctioned part of what passed for the political process, but there wasor had beena tacit understanding between the Dolist leaders and the establishment that excluded cabinet-level officials and prominent Legislaturalists from the list of acceptable targets.
"I think," the President said finally, his slow words chosen with care, "that we have to assume, for the moment at least, that the CRU did sanction the attack."
"I'm afraid I have to agree," Palmer-Levy conceded unhappily. "And, frankly, I'm almost equally worried over reports that Rob Pierre is sucking up to the CRU leadership."
"Pierre?" Surprise sharpened the President's voice, and the security chief nodded even less happily. Robert Stanton Pierre was Haven's most powerful Dolist manager. He not only controlled almost eight percent of the total Dolist vote but served as the current speaker of the Peoples Quorum, the "democratic caucus" which told the Dolist Managers how to vote.
That much power in any non-Legislaturalist's hands was enough to make anyone nervous, since the hereditary governing families relied on the People's Quorum to provide the rubber-stamp "elections" which legitimized their reign. But Pierre was scary. He'd been born a Dolist himself and clawed his way from a childhood on the BLS to his present power with every dirty trick ambition could conceive of. Some of them hadn't even occurred to the Legislaturalists themselves, and if he followed their instructions because he knew which side his bread was buttered on, he was still a lean and hungry man.
"Are you certain about Pierre?" Harris demanded after a moment, and Palmer-Levy shrugged.
"We know he's been in contact with the CRP," she said, and Harris nodded. The Citizens' Rights Party was the political wing of the CRU, operating openly within the People's Quorum and decrying the "understandable but regrettable extremism to which some citizens have been forced." It was a threadbare mask, but accepting it gave the Quorum's managers an often useful pipeline into the CRUs underground membership.
"We don't know exactly what they've been talking about," Palmer-Levy went on, "and his position as Speaker of the Quorum means he could have any number of legitimate reasons for meeting with them. But he seems to be getting awful chummy with some of their delegates."
"In that case, I think we have to look very seriously at the possibility that he knew the assassination was coming," Harris said slowly. "I'm not saying he had anything to do with planning it, but if there was official CRU involvement, he could have knownor suspectedwhat they were up to. And if he did know and didn't tell us, it could have been because he saw a need to cement his own relationship with them, even at our expense."
"You really think things are that bad, Sid?" Bergren asked, and the President shrugged.
"No, not really. But we can live with being overly pessimistic, whereas if the CRU did okay itand if Pierre knew something about it but chose not to tell usand we assume they didn't, we could talk ourselves into a serious domestic policy error."
"Are you suggesting that we abandon Walters BLS proposals?" George De La Sangliere asked. The portly, white-haired De La Sangliere had succeeded Frankel as secretary of the economy . . . not without strenuous efforts to decline the "honor." No one in his right mind wanted to take responsibility for the Republic's decrepit fiscal structure, and De La Sangliere's expression was unhappy as he asked the question.
"I don't know, George." Harris sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"I hate to say it, but I don't really think we can," De La Sangliere replied. "Not unless we can cut military spending by at least ten percent."
"Impossible," Dumarest snapped instantly. "Mr. President, you know that's out of the question! We have to maintain our fleet strength at current levelsat leastuntil we deal with the Manticoran Alliance once and for all."
De La Sangliere frowned without looking at her while he kept his eyes almost pleadingly upon his president, but the hope faded from them at Harris' expression.
"We should have hit them four years ago," Duncan Jessup grunted. The secretary of public information was a stocky, perpetually disheveled man who cultivated the public image of a grumpy but golden-hearted uncle. Public Information was the official government spokesman, its main propaganda pipeline, but it had also wrested the Bureau of Mental Hygiene away from the Ministry of Public Health twenty years before. Jessup employed the Mental Hygiene Police with a cold and ruthless dispatch which sometimes frightened even Harris, and his personal control of the MHP made him the most powerful member of the cabinet, after the President himself.
"We weren't ready," Dumarest protested. "We were overextended digesting our new acquisitions, and"
"And you got too fucking fancy," Jessup interrupted with a rude snort. "First that screw-up in Basilisk and then the disaster in Yeltsin and Endicott. All we've done is let them build their `alliance' while our military potential held steady. Are you seriously suggesting we're in a stronger relative position now than we were then?"
"That's enough, Duncan," Harris said quietly. Jessup glowered at him for a moment, then lowered his eyes, and the President went on more calmly than he felt, "The entire cabinet endorsed both operations, and I'll remind all of you that however spectacular those failures were, most of our other operations have succeeded. We may not have prevented the Manticorans from building up their alliance, but we have secured countervailing positions. At the same time, I think we all know the showdown with Manticore is coming." Heads nodded unhappily, and Harris turned his eyes to Fleet Admiral Amos Parnell, CNO of the Peoples' Navy, who sat at Dumarest's elbow. "How do the odds really stack up, Amos?"
"Not as well as I'd like, Sir," Parnell admitted. "The evidence suggests Manticore has a considerably greater technical advantage than anyone thought four years ago. I've personally debriefed the survivors from the Endicott-Yeltsin operation. None of our people were involved in the final action there, and we don't have any hard data to support our analyses of what happened, but it's pretty clear the Manties took out a Saladin-class battlecruiser with only a heavy cruiser and a destroyer. Of course, the Masadans crewing Saladin were hardly up to our standards in terms of training and experience, but that's still a disturbing indication of our hardware's relative capabilities. On the basis of what happened to Saladin and reports of survivors from the earlier actions, we're estimating that, ton-for-ton, their technical superiority probably gives their units a twenty to thirty percent edge over our own."
"Surely not that much," Jessup objected, and Parnell shrugged.
"My personal gut feeling is that that's conservative, Mr. Secretary. Let's face it, their education and industrial systems are much better than ours, and it's reflected in their R&D establishment."
The admiral allowed his eyes to angle towards Eric Grossman as he spoke, and the secretary of education reddened. The catastrophic consequences of the "democratization of education" in the People's Republic were a sore point between his ministry and the ministries of economics and war alike, and the exchanges between him and Dumarest since the superiority of Manticore's technology had become evident had been acid.
"At any rate," Parnell went on, "Manticore has a definite edge, however pronounced it may actually be. On the other hand, we have something like twice their absolute tonnage, and forty percent of their wall of battle consists of dreadnoughts. RMN dreadnoughts may be bigger than our own, but ninety percent of our wall are superdreadnoughts. Added to that, we've got a lot of combat experience, and their alliance partners don't add much to their actual fighting power."
"Then why are we so worried about them?" Jessup demanded.
"Because of astrography," Parnell replied. "The Manties already had the advantage of the interior position; now they've built up a defense in depth. I doubt it's as deep as they'd likein fact, it's barely thirty light-years across at Yeltsinbut now that they've closed the gap at Hancock, they've got an entire network of interlocking fortified supply and maintenance bases all along the frontier. That gives them the advantages of forward surveillance, and each of those bases is a potential nexus from which they can raid our supply lines if we advance against them, as well. Their patrols already cover every axis of approach, Mr. Secretary, and it's only going to get worse once the actual shooting starts. We'll have to fight our way through them, taking out the bases in our path as we go to protect our flanks and rear, and that means they're going to have advance notice of our line of attack and be able to deploy their strength to meet us head on."
Jessup grunted and leaned back, lumpy face set in a frown, and Parnell went on levelly.
"At the same time, we've established our own bases to cover theirs, and as the attacker, we'll hold the advantage of the initiative. We'll know when and where we actually intend to strike; they'll have to cover all the points we might choose to attack, and do it with a numerically inferior fleet, to boot. I don't think they can stop us if we commit to an all-out offensive, but they're going to hurt us worse than anyone else has."
"Are you saying we should attack them, or not, then?" Harris asked quietly. Parnell glanced sideways at the secretary of war, who gestured for him to go ahead and answer, and cleared his throat.
"Nothing is ever certain in a military campaign, Mr. President. As I've said, I have serious reservations about the inferiority of our hardware. At the same time, I feel we currently have a decisive quantitative edge, and I suspect the gap in our technical capabilities is only going to get worse. I'll be perfectly honest with you, Sir. I don't want to take Manticore onnot because I think they can defeat us, but because they can weaken us but if we have to fight, we should probably do it as soon as possible."
"And if we do, how should we go about it?" Jessup asked sharply.
"My staff and I have drawn up plans, under the overall operational code name of `Perseus,' for several possible approaches. Perseus One envisions the capture of Basilisk as a preliminary in order to allow us to attack Manticore directly via the Manticore Wormhole Junction with simultaneous assaults down the Basilisk-Manticore and Trevor's Star-Manticore lines. It gives us the best chance to attain surprise and win the war in a single blow, but runs the greatest risk of catastrophic losses if we fail.
"Perseus Two is more conventional. We would assemble our forces at DuQuesne Base in the Barnett System, far enough inside the frontier that Manticore couldn't tell what we were up to. From there, we'd attack southwest against Yeltsin, the thinnest point in their perimeter. With Yeltsin in our hands, we would advance directly against Manticore, taking out the bases on our flanks to protect our rear as we went. Losses would be higher than a successful Perseus One, but we'd avoid the risk of the total destruction of our forces which Perseus One entails.
"Perseus Three is a variant of Perseus Two, directing two prongs from Barnett, one against Yeltsin and a second striking northwest, against Hancock. The intention is to present Manticore with two axes of threat, forcing them to split their forces against them. There's some risk of their concentrating their total strength to defeat one attack in detail, but the odds are against it because of the risks it would force them to accept against the other arm of our offensive. In my staffs opinion, our exposure to that sort of attack would also be offset by our own ability to dictate the pace of operations by choosing when to push with either prong.
"Finally, there's Perseus Four. Unlike the others, Four envisions a limited offensive to weaken the Alliance rather than take Manticore completely out with one blow. In this instance, we would attack northwest once more, toward Hancock Station. There are two possible variants. One is to reinforce our forces at Seaford Nine and attack Hancock directly, while the other is to send a separate force out from Barnett, take Zanzibar, then hook up to the north while our Seaford Nine forces attack southwest to take Hancock in a pincer. The immediate objective is to destroy the only major Manty base in the area and conquer Zanzibar, Alizon, and Yorik, after which we should offer to negotiate a ceasefire in place. The loss of three inhabited star systemsespecially in an area only recently added to the Alliancewould have to shake the Manties' other alliance partners, and possession of the region would position us quite nicely for a later activation of Perseus
One or Three."
"And if Manticore chooses to continue operations rather than accept our peace terms?" Palmer-Levy asked. "In that case we could proceed with Perseus Threeunless we've been hurt far worse than I expector retreat to our pre-war positions and negotiate a ceasefire from there. The second option would be far more disadvantageous, but it would still be available if military operations blow up in our faces."
"And do you have a preference for one of the four attack plans, Amos?" Harris asked,
"My personal preference is for Perseus Three, if we want a permanent decision, or for Perseus Four, which substantially lessens our overall risk, if our objectives are more limited. Exactly what our actual objective is, of course, is a political decision, Mr. President."
"I see." Harris pinched the bridge of his nose again, then looked around the table. "Comments, ladies and gentlemen?"
"We've got to continue expanding our economic base if we're going to maintain the Basic Living Stipend payments," De La Sangliere said heavily, "And if the CRU did take Walter out, I think we have to be very cautious about curtailing the BLS."
Harris nodded somberly. Two-thirds of Haven's home-world population was now on the Dole, and rampant inflation was an economic fact of life. Faced with a treasury which had been effectively empty for over a century, desperation had driven Frankel to propose limiting BLS adjustments to the inflation rate, maintaining its actual buying power without increase. The carefully phrased "leaks" Jessup had arranged to test-flight the idea had provoked riots in virtually every Prole housing unit, and, two months later, Kanamashi had put twelve explosive pulser darts into Frankel's chest, requiring a closed-coffin state funeral.
It was, Harris reflected grimly, one of the less ambiguous "protest votes" on record, and he understood the near panic thoughts of actual BLS cuts woke in his cabinet colleagues.
"Given those considerations," De La Sangliere went on, "we've got to gain access to the systems beyond Manticore, especially the Silesian Confederacy. If anyone knows some way we can grab them off without fighting Manticore first, I, for one, would be delighted to hear of it."
"There isn't one." Palmer-Levy looked around the table, daring anyone to disagree with her flat assertion. No one did, and Jessup endorsed her comment with a sharp nod. Bergren looked far more unhappy than either of his colleagues, but the dapper foreign minister also nodded unwilling assent. "Besides," the security minister went on, "a foreign crisis might help cool off the domestic front, at least in the short term. It always has before."
"That's true." There was an almost hopeful note in De La Sangliere's voice. "Traditionally, the People's Quorum's always accepted a freeze in the BLS for the duration of actual military operations."
"Of course they have." Dumarest snorted. "They know we're fighting for more slops for their trough!"
Harris winced at her caustic cynicism. It was just as well Elaine was in charge of the war ministry and not something with more public exposure, he reflected, but he couldn't fault her analysis.
"Exactly." Palmer-Levy's smile was cold as she glanced at Parnell. "You say we may take losses against the Manticorans, Admiral?" Parnell nodded. "But would operations against them be extended?"
"I don't see how they could be too extended, Ms. Secretary. Their fleet simply isn't large enough to absorb the kind of losses we can. Unless they somehow managed to inflict an incredibly lopsided loss ratio, it would have to be a fairly short war."
"That's what I thought," Palmer-Levy said in a satisfied tone. "And it might actually work in our favor to take a certain number of casualties. I'm sure you could put the right spin control on it and use the deaths of our gallant defenders to mobilize public opinion in our time of crisis, couldn't you, Duncan?"
"I could, indeed." Jessup almost licked his chopsand did rub his handsat the prospect of such a propaganda coup, oblivious to the sudden, angry glitter in Parnell's eyes "In fact, we can probably build up a balance of support for future need, if we handle it right. It would certainly be a far cry from the kind of growing unrest we're seeing now, anyway."
"There you are, then," Palmer-Levy said. "What we need is a short, victorious war . . . and I think we all know where we can find one, don't we?"
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