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Chapter Seven

Vice Admiral Gold Peak stood in the late-night quiet of her day cabin in a pair of comfortably worn sweats and fluffy purple treecat bedroom slippers. Her shoulders were hunched, her hands were shoved deep into her sweat shirt’s pockets, and she glowered—undeniably, she glowered—at the outsized holographic display. One side of that display showed a detailed, if small-scale, schematic of the Spindle System; the other side showed a breakdown of her current fleet strength. If she’d cared to turn her head and look at the smart wall behind her, she would have seen a star chart of the entire Talbott Quadrant, as well. At the moment, however, she was concentrating fairly hard on not looking at that chart, since she found herself rather in the position of someone with insufficient icing to cover the birthday cake she’d just been given.

Hell of a birthday party, she reflected morosely, although to be fair it wouldn’t be her birthday—her sixty-fourth birthday, to be precise—for another two days. Given the amount of time she’d spent trundling around the universe at relativistic velocities, her subjective age was a good three years less than that, but no one worried about that when it came time to keeping track of birthdays. And the Royal Manticoran Navy used its own calendar, not someone’s subjective experience, to determine relative seniority, as well.

She considered that last point for a moment, then grimaced as she thought about the rank insignia sitting in the upper drawer of the desk behind her. The ones she would be allowed to officially pin onto her uniform collar in two days.

I can just see Beth grinning all over her face when she saw the official date of rank. Hell, for that matter I’ll bet she damned well had the original date changed to make sure it fell on my birthday! Just the sort of thing she’d do.

There could be disadvantages to being the Empress of Manticore’s first cousin and next in line for the crown after Elizabeth Winton’s two children and her brother. Especially for someone who’d spent her entire career aggressively fighting even the appearance of nepotism. She remembered the day her best friend had ripped a strip off of her for the way her avoidance of anything which could have been construed as preferential treatment had slowed her career, and the memory made her snort in amusement.

Well, I’ve made up for it since, haven’t I, Honor? Forty-one years from the Academy to vice admiral, then only eleven T-months to full admiral! Talk about a career catching fire. Of course, her amusement faded, it would have been nice if the rest of the galaxy hadn’t decided to catch fire right along with it.

She shook her head as the weight of those waiting admiral’s stars ground down upon her. She wondered sometimes if perhaps the real reason she’d so zealously avoided favoritism was because she’d feared the responsibilities that came with exalted rank and hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself. She’d certainly found herself wishing over the last year or so that she could have handed the ones currently bearing down on her to someone else.

She imagined there was a lot of that going around, too.

She inhaled deeply and gave herself an impatient shake. Brooding about the unfairness of the universe was about the least effective way of dealing with that unfairness she could think of, and she made herself re-focus her attention on the numbers and ship names before her.

While there might be a few people who suspected her rapid promotion was due primarily to who she’d chosen as a cousin, there were undoubtedly a lot more who saw it as a reward for Tenth Fleet’s smashing triumph in the Battle of Spindle. For that matter, there was almost certainly a political element in it, as well, since the promotion was yet another way for Empress Elizabeth—Michelle was still working on remembering her cousin was an empress these days, not “just” a queen—to demonstrate her approval and support for Michelle’s actions. A way to reemphasize to the rest of the galaxy, and especially to the Solarian League, that the Star Empire of Manticore had no intention of backing down before the threat of the League’s massive economic and military power.

Michelle was confident her family connections had played the smallest part in the decision. She’d have been even happier if she could have been certain they’d played no part at all, but she happened to live in the real universe, and politics and diplomacy would always be politics and diplomacy. That was one reason she’d chosen the Navy instead of going into politics herself. Yet there was another aspect to it, as well, and she knew it.

If Elizabeth was going to retain her in command of Tenth Fleet (and it would have been impossible to relieve Michelle without looking like Manticore was backing down), Michelle needed the rank to go with the growing strength of her command. No fewer than four vice admirals, all senior to her, had been added to Tenth Fleet over the last month or so. It was always awkward when a junior commanded a senior, so the Admiralty had cut this particular Gordian knot by once again promoting Michelle “out of the zone.” Which was why in two days’ time she’d be exchanging the pair of stars on each point of her collar for a trio and replacing the three broad rings on her uniform cuffs with four. Which, at the tender age (for a prolong society) of only sixty-four, was a meteoric rise, indeed.

Unfortunately, even with the number of flag officers being added to it, Tenth Fleet remained badly understrength for its obligations. With upwards of a dozen star systems to defend, spread throughout an area of responsibility which stretched over two hundred and thirty light-years from the Lynx Terminus to the Scarlet System and four hundred from Tillerman to Celebrant, she could have wished for at least twice her assigned order of battle. And that would have been if she’d been worried about defending it against any reasonably sized foe, rather than the Solarian League. But whatever she could have wished, her total strength, after the dust settled, was only seventy-seven hyper-capable combatants. On the other hand, twenty of those were CLACs, which gave her just over two thousand light attack craft, and present-generation Manticoran LACs were nothing to sneer at. Especially against someone whose designs were as obsolescent—or even outright obsolete—as the SLN’s had demonstrated themselves to be. The Sollies still might not be prepared to accept that anything as small as a LAC could possibly threaten a capital ship, but if they did think that, and if they attempted to prove it, they’d be sailing into a universe of hurt. The only problem was that what happened to them wasn’t going to keep a lot of Michelle Henke’s spacers from getting killed right along with them.

And not a single Apollo-capable unit in sight, she thought glumly. Not one. Not that I can really argue with the Admiralty’s decisions after what happened to the home system.

None of the followup dispatches had made any effort to hide the terrifying severity of the blow Manticore’s industrial capability had suffered. The sheer scale of the Yawata Strike’s loss of life had been horrifying, but to make it even worse, it had been concentrated in the sectors of the Star Empire’s labor force most essential to supporting the Navy. Effectively, every Manticoran shipyard was simply gone. Even the production lines which had supplied the fleet with missiles had been destroyed. The ships Manticore had, and the missiles which had already been manufactured, were all the Star Empire was going to have for a long, long time, and the defense of the home system, its population, and what remained of its industrial base (not to mention the wormhole junction which was absolutely essential to Manticore’s strategic survival) had to take priority over almost any other consideration. Especially since Solarian strategic doctrine was uncompromisingly oriented around seeking a knockout blow by crushing the capital system of any star nation foolish enough to cross swords with the League.

Under those circumstances, the two squadrons of Keyhole-Two-equipped pod-laying superdreadnoughts Michelle had been promised had been recalled to the home system almost before they’d arrived in Spindle. Only ships with the Keyhole-Two control platforms could fully utilize the FTL telemetry links of the Mark 23-E multidrive missiles which were the heart of the Apollo system, and all of them—and all of the Navy’s existing store of Mark 23Es—were desperately needed to defend the Manticore Binary System.

In partial exchange, she’d gotten twenty Keyhole-One SD(P)s, and in terms of combat power, that was a pretty impressive consolation prize. No, they couldn’t use Apollo, but they could handle more missiles than any Solarian superdreadnought could even dream of firing, their own missile defenses were incomparably better than anything the other side might have, and while they weren’t equipped with the Mark 23-E control missiles, the standard Mark 23s in their magazines enormously out-ranged any Solarian weapon. Accuracy at extreme ranges was going to be much poorer than it would have been using Apollo, yet the missile storm they could bring down on any opponent would be devastating. And, fortunately, six T-months had passed between Haven’s Operation Beatrice and the Yawata Strike. The tempo of combat had dropped virtually to nothing during that time period, as well, which meant there’d been no real ammunition expenditures to cut into those six months worth of wartime-rate missile production. And that meant the Royal Manticoran Navy had a lot of those standard Mark 23s already produced and distributed to the fleet.

It wasn’t that Michelle entertained any doubts about what would happen to any Solarian admiral unwise enough to confront her combat power in space. The problem was that she had so much space to protect. She couldn’t possibly be everywhere she needed to be in sufficient strength to prevent an audacious Solarian flag officer from avoiding her combat power and carrying out devastating (there was that word again) raids on the infrastructure of the systems she was responsible for defending.

Then there was the interesting question of just what sort of reinforcements the Sollies might have en route to the Quadrant. And, for that matter, the even more interesting question (assuming her own suspicions about who’d been pulling the puppet strings behind the current catastrophe were correct) of what Manpower and Mesa might have up their collective sleeve.

And, finally, there was the body blow to the priority she’d been originally promised on the new Mark 16-equipped units.

News of the “Zunker Incident” had reached Spindle aboard a Navy dispatch boat only this morning, and Michelle found herself almost equally impressed by Captain Ivanov’s tactics and by the unwonted discretion shown by the Solarian flag officer involved. The confrontation had also confirmed—or reconfirmed, perhaps—the tactical superiority the Mark 16 conferred upon the RMN’s lighter units. Unfortunately, Michelle was certain there’d been other “Zunker Incidents” in the three weeks since the original, and every one of them would only increase Admiralty House’s demands for additional Mark 16-capable vessels. Especially given the decision to go ahead and implement Lacoön Two.

She could hardly fault the Admiralty for that priority, but Lacoön Two obviously required a lot of relatively fast, relatively well-armed hyper-capable platforms. Which, when she came down to it, was pretty much an exact description of the Nikes, Saganami-Cs and Rolands. Which, in turn, explained why the light combatants she’d expected to see were now going elsewhere at high rates of speed.

It’s an imperfect universe, Mike, she told herself tartly. Deal with it.

She snorted again, then squared her shoulders, hauled her hands out of her pockets, turned and marched back to her workstation. She picked up the cup of coffee Chris Billingsley had left for her and settled into her work chair. She and Augustus Khumalo were scheduled to meet tomorrow with Governor Medusa, Prime Minister Joachim Alquezar, Minister of War Henri Krietzmann, and the other senior members of Alquezar’s war cabinet to discuss her new deployment plan. Under the circumstances, she thought as she started punching up the appropriate files, it probably behooved her to have a deployment plan to discuss.

* * *

“So that’s about the size of it, on the housing side, at least.” Henri Krietzmann looked around the Governor’s House conference room in the planetary and quadrant capital of Thimble and shrugged. “It’s only been seven weeks since O’Cleary’s surrender, so despite Admiral Bordelon’s protests, we’re actually doing pretty damned well, I think. Especially considering the fact that we’re not the ones who went and invaded their star system!”

“Surely you don’t expect Bordelon to admit that, do you, Henri?” Baroness Medusa observed tartly.

Most of the people seated around the long table grimaced, but she had a point. With Admiral Keeley O’Cleary’s departure for Old Chicago, and the deaths of Admirals Sandra Crandall, Dunichi Lazlo, and Griseldis Degauchy in the Battle of Spindle, Admiral Margaux Bordelon had inherited command of the surrendered personnel of SLN Task Force 496. Judging from her own conversations with Bordelon, Michelle Henke was confident the Solarian officer would have declined the honor if she’d had any choice.

Any impartial board of inquiry would have to conclude that Bordelon bore no responsibility for what had happened to Crandall’s task force. She might not have covered herself with glory, but Michelle doubted any Battle Fleet flag officer was likely to have accomplished that. As far as the battle itself was concerned, Bordelon had done precisely what she’d been ordered to do, and she’d conducted herself in punctilious accordance with the Deneb Accords since becoming senior officer of the Solarian POWs. None of which was likely to cut any ice where the consequences to her career were concerned. As TF 496’s two surviving senior officers, she and O’Cleary could pretty much count on being scapegoated for the deceased Crandall’s mistakes, unless their own family connections were lofty enough to avoid that fate.

It seemed unlikely they could be, in O’Cleary’s case, since she’d been the one to actually surrender to the handful of cruisers which had ripped Crandall’s SDs apart, but there might be some hope—careerwise, at any rate—for Bordelon. After all, she wasn’t the one who’d “cravenly” (to use what appeared to be the Solly newsfax editorials’ favorite adverb, although “gutlessly” seemed to be running a close second and “pusillanimously” was clearly in contention, as well, at least for newsies with impressive vocabularies) surrendered. And she obviously intended to be as inflexible as possible in demanding Manticore meet the Deneb Accords’ obligations to properly “house, feed, and care for” prisoners of war. The fact that there were the next best thing to half a million of those prisoners, and that they’d arrived with absolutely no warning, couldn’t mitigate those obligations in any way, as far as Bordelon was concerned. She not only repeated her demands for “adequate housing” at every meeting with any of Medusa’s or Krietzmann’s representatives but insisted her protests against her personnel’s “mistreatment” be made part of the official record.

Clearly, she hoped her demands that her people should be properly treated (and the clear implication that they weren’t being) would produce the image of a decisive flag officer, refusing to buckle before the brutality of her captors, despite the situation she faced through no fault of her own.

Michelle liked to think she would have had more on her mind than career damage control in Bordelon’s place. In fairness, though, she had to admit there wasn’t a lot else for Bordelon to be worrying about at the moment. Particularly since the Solarian knew perfectly well that Medusa and Krietzmann were doing everything humanly possible to see to her people’s well-being. And it wasn’t as if any of the Solarians were actually suffering. The islands Prime Minister Alquezar had designated as POW camps were all located in the planet Flax’s tropics. With the moderating effect so much ocean exercised on temperature, those islands came about as close to having perfect climates as was physically possible. That might change during hurricane season, but hurricane season was months away, and proper housing and other support facilities were being constructed at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Yes, the majority of Bordelon’s personnel were still under canvas, yet that was changing quickly, and not even Bordelon could complain about the food or the medical attention.

“No, I don’t suppose I should expect her to admit it,” Krietzmann said now, in response to Medusa’s comment. “Doesn’t make me any less tempted to wring her neck every time she opens her mouth, though!”

Krietzmann’s Dresden accent was more pronounced than usual, and Michelle wondered if that was intentional. As the Quadrant’s Minister of War, he was directly responsible for the coordination, maintenance, and management of the various planetary militias and the Quadrant Guard local defense force organized under the Quadrant’s Constitution. It was a new departure for Manticore, but some of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had argued in favor of a locally raised and maintained military force to serve as backup for the Royal Navy, and the Grantville Government had agreed to it. For one thing, it would ease the burden on the Navy and the Royal Marines considerably, The Quadrant would also be responsible for maintaining the Quadrant Guard out of local tax revenues, which would prevent it from becoming a charge on the imperial treasury. And, finally, Grantville’s agreement had recognized the unspoken truth that the maintenance of a local force would help Talbotters sleep more soundly at night. Not only would it insure that OFS wouldn’t come calling while the rest of the Star Empire was distracted elsewhere, but it had been something of a sop to any local fears of “Manty tyranny” from the Old Star Kingdom’s direction.

At the moment, however, it was Krietsmann’s Guard which had responsibility for security where the POWs were concerned. That was enough to make Bordelon’s protests especially irritating to him all by itself, but that particular irritation wasn’t by itself. For some odd reason, TF 496’s unprovoked onslaught on their capital system hadn’t made Talbotters in general any fonder of Sollies, and Dresden’s hatred for all things Solarian had burned hotter than most to begin with.

“I trust you haven’t been as . . . forthright with Admiral Bordelon as you are with our cabinet colleagues, Henri,” Minister of the Treasury Samiha Lababibi said dryly, and Krietzmann snorted a laugh.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “Yet.”

“Then we all have something to be grateful for,” Prime Minister Alquezar observed. Alquezar, by far the tallest person seated at the table, turned to Admiral Augustus Khumalo. “And while Henri’s doing his best to leave Bordelon’s neck un-wrung, I believe you had something you and Admiral Gold Peak wanted to bring up, Admiral?”

“And which you would prefer to discuss rather than Minister Krietzmann’s relationship with Admiral Bordelon, Mr. Prime Minister?” Khumalo responded innocently.

Khumalo was a full head shorter than Alquezar, but the planet of San Miguel’s gravity was only .84 g. For all his height, Alquezar looked almost frail beside the considerably more massive Khumalo.

“Admiral, I’d rather discuss almost anything rather than Henri’s ‘relationship’ with Bordelon!” the prime minister said emphatically, and Krietzmann grinned. Then Alquezar’s expression sobered. “And all humor aside, the truth is that at the moment the disposition of our naval forces is more important than just about anything else we could be discussing.”

Khumalo nodded, then glanced at Michelle before he turned back to the other people at the conference table.

“Since Admiral Gold Peak is the commander of our mobile forces, I’ll let her address the specifics of your question, Mr. Prime Minister. Before she does, though, I’d just like to emphasize that she and I have discussed the situation exhaustively, both between ourselves and with our squadron commanders, and with Minister Krietzmann and the members of his staff, as well. I don’t think anyone’s genuinely satisfied with the deployment stance we’ve come up with, but under the circumstances, I believe it’s the best available to us.”

He looked around the attentive faces, then back at Michelle.


“Thank you, Sir,” Michelle replied with rather more formality than had become the norm between her and the man who commanded Talbott Station. Then it was her turn to look around the table, making eye contact with the men and women responsible for the Quadrant’s governance.

“Essentially,” she began, “our problem is that while Admiral Khumalo and I believe we’ve decisively demonstrated our combat superiority, we simply don’t have enough hyper-capable units to cover the entire Quadrant. I doubt anyone back at Admiralty House is any happier about that than we are, although I’ll grant our unhappiness has a little more immediacy than theirs does. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way the deployment priorities are going to change anytime soon. Given the combination of what’s happened to the home system, the fact that we have no reason to believe at this time that the Sollies have an additional force anywhere near the size of Crandall’s in our own vicinity, and the activation of Case Lacoön, there simply aren’t any more ships for the Admiralty to send our way.

“So we have to make do with what we have, and while neither Admiral Khumalo nor I like that situation, it’s one Queen’s officers have had to deal with more often than we’d like to remember.

“After careful consideration, we’ve concluded that the best use of our current forces will be to cover each system of the Quadrant with four or five LAC squadrons for local defense, backed up by a couple of dispatch boats. The LACs should be more than adequate to deal with any ‘pirate’ stupid enough to come this way, and given what we’ve seen of SLN technology, they also ought to be able to deal with any Solly raiding force that doesn’t include a core of capital ships. Given Crandall’s losses, it’s unlikely there are enough Solarian capital ships anywhere near the Quadrant to provide that kind of force. Obviously, that’s subject to change—possibly without much warning—but even in a worst-case scenario, the local-defense LACs should be able to at least delay and harass any attackers while one of the dispatch boats goes for help.

“I realize there’s been some thought of splitting up our own capital ships in order to give our star systems greater protection.”

She carefully didn’t look in the direction of the two men sitting on either side of Samiha Lababibi. Antonio Clark, from the Mainwaring System, was the Quadrant’s Minister of Industry, while Clint Westman, a Montanan cousin of the famous (or infamous) Stephen Westman, headed the Ministry of the Interior. On the face of it, they should have been almost as unlikely allies of an oligarch like Lababibi as Krietzmann once had been, but the nature of their responsibilities gave them a certain commonality of viewpoint. Inevitably, all three were worried—deeply—about what would happen if the Quadrant’s star systems were hit by anything like the Yawata Strike. Westman and Clark, especially, had argued in favor of dispersing Tenth Fleet to give every star system at least some protection. After all, they’d pointed out, the decisive superiority of the Manticoran Navy had been conclusively demonstrated, so the traditional risks of defeat in detail for dispersed units must be less applicable than usual.

Lababibi had found herself in the same camp, although she’d been a rather less fervent spokeswoman for their position.

“There are several reasons we’re not proposing to do that,” Michelle continued. “The two most important ones, though, are that dispersing our capital ships wouldn’t provide any appreciable increase in system security against the sort of attack which hit the home system, but it would disperse the powerful, concentrated striking forces it’s vital to maintain to respond to any fresh Solarian activity in our area.

“At the moment, the Admiralty and ONI are still working on how the Yawata Strike was launched. From the information available so far, Admiral Hemphill is more convinced than ever the attack relied on a new, previously unknown drive technology. In effect, we believe the attackers were ‘invisible’ to our normal tracking systems. So far, at least, no one’s been able to suggest how whatever drive they used might work or how we might go about figuring out how to detect it in the future. In the meantime, however, analysis also suggests the attackers were probably operating in relatively small forces, relying on their cloak of invisibility rather than raw combat power. I realize that may sound absurd, given the damage inflicted, but I assure you that if a single podnought—or even a couple of Nike-class battlecruisers—had been able to get into range of the inner system totally undetected, that would have been ample to have inflicted all of that damage.

“My point is that the problem in Manticore wasn’t lack of combat power or lack of defenses; it was the inability to see the enemy coming. Scattering wallers around the Quadrant’s star systems isn’t going to appreciably increase our ability to detect these people. We can deploy enough remote sensor platforms—in fact, we’re already in the process of deploying them—to give each of our systems more detection capability than an entire squadron of SDs could provide. The LACs will give us large numbers of manned combat platforms to chase down and prosecute possible contacts; the dispatch boats will be available to send for help in the case of an attack in strength; and we’ll be deploying enough missile pods in planetary orbit to provide the long-range missile firepower of at least a pair of SD(P)s in each system. We won’t have the sort of sustained firepower superdreadnoughts could provide, or the area missile defense they could offer, but we’ll have enough to deal with anything short of a Solly battle squadron, assuming we see it coming.”

She paused, and this time she did look across the table at Lababibi, Clark, and Westman.

“I believe those deployments will give us at least as much defensive depth as splitting up my wallers could accomplish. In addition, however, it will permit Admiral Khumalo and me to concentrate my hyper-capable units into two striking forces, each with a powerful LAC element of its own. One will be deployed to Tillerman; the other will be based on Montana.

“Obviously, the Tillerman force will be closest to Monica and Meyers, which would normally be the most probable threat axis where any fresh Solarian adventures were concerned. Frankly, though, at the moment I’m not really very concerned about something coming at us out of the Madras Sector, given the fact that we just polished off seventy-plus superdreadnoughts that were stationed in that sector. It seems unlikely they have still more capital ships tucked away out here, even with Mesa and Manpower pulling every string they can reach.

“If the Sollies do decide they have anything else to spare and send it our way, it’s more likely to come in direct from the Core. That’s why I’m planning on basing the second force at Montana to cover the Quadrant’s flank, and the Lynx Terminus picket force will be available to cover any threat that might come in past Asgerd. There are some arguments in favor of staying right here in Spindle instead of moving to Montana, given Spindle’s more central location within the Quadrant, but so far Admiral Khumalo and I don’t find them persuasive. To be honest, our objective is to get sufficient combat power—enough combat density—deployed across a broad front to permit me to respond quickly to dispatches from the star systems behind me while simultaneously positioning me to operate offensively into Solly and Mesan space, if that should become desirable.”

She saw one or two sets of eyes flicker at the reference to Mesa. Not everyone in the Quadrant endorsed her own suspicions of Mesa and Manpower, Incorporated. It wasn’t that anyone questioned Manpower’s involvement in what had happened at Monica and New Tuscany. Nor did anyone in the Quadrant doubt Mesa’s and Manpower’s implacable (and thoroughly reciprocated) hostility towards the Star Empire. More than one of the people sitting around that table, though, remained of the opinion that Frontier Security (and possibly other interests within the League) had been using Manpower as a catspaw. Certainly that made more sense, in their view, than the possibility that a single outlaw transstellar corporation was using the entire Solarian League as a catspaw!

Most of the others were prepared to grant at least the possibility that Michelle and Khumalo and their staffs might be correct—that Manpower or the Mesa System might indeed have been the prime mover. Might even have provided the “invisible” starships which had carried out the Yawata Strike. Michelle doubted any of them found the notion any less bizarre than she did, but they were at least open to it. And if she was reading the ONI appreciations from home accurately, opinion within the Admiralty and the Grantville Government was hardening in the same direction. There was, however, a vast gap between “prepared to grant the possibility” and “willing to bet the farm on it,” and she decided—again—not to go into all the details of the logic behind her proposed deployments.

She’d considered mentioning that she intended to base herself on Montana, closest to Mesa and what she believed was clearly the greater threat, while assigning the Tillerman force to Vice Admiral Theodore Bennington, who’d become her senior battle squadron commander upon his arrival from the home system. Under the circumstances, though, it would undoubtedly be wiser to let that particular sleeping dog lie. She didn’t expect Alquezar or Krietzmann to object, anyway, and they were the Talbott decision-makers who really mattered where fleet movements were concerned.

“In addition to the deployment plan Admiral Gold Peak and I are proposing,” Khumalo said after a moment, “there are certain other measures we’d like to set in motion. Three of them are especially important.

“First, as Prime Minister Alquezar, Minister Lababibi, Minister Krietzmann, Minister Clark, and I have already discussed, we need to complete our survey of the Quadrant’s industrial capabilities as quickly as possible. I suspect our local resources may be able to contribute more materially to our defense here than some people might think. Nobody’s going to be building any superdreadnoughts anytime soon, but several of our systems—Rembrandt, San Miguel, and Spindle itself come to mind—have sufficient local industry to provide significant support for both our local defense and striking forces. Obviously, we’ll be making technical advisors from Admiral Gold Peak’s repair and depot ships available wherever possible.

“Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, Admiral Gold Peak has proposed we begin a vigorous program to expedite the raising and training of naval personnel right here in the Quadrant. The Navy’s taken substantial losses in both the Battle of Manticore and the Yawata Strike, and unless I’m sadly mistaken, the emphasis in the home system and Trevor’s Star—where the bulk of our more . . . technologically sophisticated population is concentrated—is going to be on reconstituting our skilled labor force as rapidly as possible. I believe that, especially if we make use of the LAC simulators already available to us and request additional simulators from the home system, we’ll be able to produce and train a significant number of naval personnel. To be painfully blunt—and I hope no one will take offense—providing personnel with the education level we would expect from the home system or Trevor’s Star is going to be beyond our capabilities here for some time to come. Within the next several T-years, the effort being invested in improving the Quadrant’s educational systems is going to correct that problem. For the immediately foreseeable future, however, it’s going to remain with us. That means the personnel we’ll be able to train won’t be as fully trained as we might hope—won’t have as deep a skill set, let’s say—but they’ll still provide a very useful expansion of our manpower, and the technical aspects of their education can be continued aboard ship.

“The third initiative we’d like to consider very seriously is for us to use the Quadrant Guard as the basis for an expansion of planetary combat troops. Manticore has never had a powerful ground combat component and, frankly, a lot of what we did have has become committed to Silesia. Not because there’s a lot of armed resistance going on, but because we had to pretty much disband a sizable percentage of the existing Silesian forces when we started weeding out entrenched cronyism and military corruption. With them gone, we had no choice but to provide peacekeeping and law enforcement personnel—and cadre to train and supervise locally raised police forces—out of our none-too-large Marine and Army strength. That situation seems to be well in hand, but it’s still going to tie up those Marines and Army personnel for many months to come.

“That diversion to Silesia is also the reason we’ve seen virtually no Army personnel transferred to the Quadrant. Well, that and the fact that the Quadrant isn’t Silesia and—with the exception of Nordbrandt and a couple of other lunatics—we haven’t faced anywhere near the same need for additional peacekeeping and law enforcement personnel as Silesia, particularly with the Guard in the course of formation. In addition, as we all know, our new-build construction is very short on organic Marine detachments, and Tenth Fleet’s entire attached Marine strength amounts to little more than a pair of brigades. That’s a lot of firepower, given their equipment and training, but it’s a very limited total number of men and women. If the situation with the League turns as ugly as we think it may—if we find ourselves forced to carry out offensive operations against the League, for example—that shortage in troop strength is likely to come home to roost with a vengeance.

“Because of those considerations, we believe it would be a good idea to use the Guard as a platform to begin raising, training, and equipping at least several divisions of infantry and atmospheric combat support units right here in the Quadrant. We can teach the technical skills an effective ground force would require much more rapidly than we can train personnel in the sorts of shipboard skills the Navy will need. In addition, our existing infrastructure can produce planetary combat equipment as good as or better than anything we’re likely to face out here in the Verge . . . and probably get it into the troops’ hands in adequate quantities by the time we can get the necessary recruiting and training programs into place. Frankly, it may turn out that the provision of the ground forces we’re almost certain to require may be the most effective immediate contribution to the Star Empire’s overall defense that the Quadrant can provide. And, finally, while the skills we’ll have to teach our planetary combat forces aren’t the same ones the Navy requires, they’ll still represent a powerful step upward for a lot of our member star systems here in the Quadrant—one which is going to carry over to their peacetime economies once the shooting ends.

“In addition to the actual increase in manpower and eventual overall education and training levels, however, the sort of programs we’re proposing should also contribute to the Quadrant’s sense of solidarity and unity and that, after all, is one reason for the Guard’s existence in the first place. We all know this is still a new political unit. We’re all still . . . settling down with one another, and the threat of outside attack is generating a lot of fully justified anxiety and uncertainty. We believe—I believe—that directly involving as many as possible of our citizens in their own self-defense will be the best antidote for that anxiety. We’re not proposing this as any sort of placebo. If it succeeds as well as we believe it can, it will contribute materially to our ability to defend the Quadrant and probably to the overall defensive strength of the Star Empire outside the Quadrant. For that matter, I personally would strongly oppose any dispersal of effort that wouldn’t contribute to that ability and combat strength. I’m simply pointing out that it could contribute in more ways than one.”

There was silence for several seconds, then Prime Minister Alquezar looked at Baroness Medusa.

“I’m inclined to endorse Admiral Khumalo’s and Admiral Gold Peak’s proposals, Madame Governor. I know Henri’s already had considerable input into them, and while I’d like the opportunity to read over the details for myself, I have the greatest respect for both Admiral Khumalo’s and Admiral Gold Peak’s judgment. With your concurrence, I’d like to suggest we authorize them to begin organizing to deploy Admiral Gold Peak’s units as they’ve proposed and that you and I review those details with an eye towards giving them a firm approval—and requesting the Quadrant Parliament’s approval for the necessary funding, of course—within the next two days.”

“That seems perfectly reasonable to me, Mr. Prime Minister,” Medusa agreed. “And that ought to give everyone else involved”—she allowed her own gaze to slew sideways to Lababibi, Clark, and Westman for a moment—“enough time to review them and put forward any suggestions they might care to make, as well.”

“In that case,” Alquezar said with a somewhat crooked smile, “I propose we adjourn. I’ll see all of you at the War Cabinet meeting Wednesday, I’m sure. By which time, no doubt, the ghost of Murphy will have visited yet another crisis upon us.”

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