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VietLang
06-07-2007, 08:30 PM
Chapter 44 - Council of War


There was a picture of the Emperor in Lenin's wardroom. Leonidas IX stared down the length of the long steel table, and ranked on both sides of his image were Imperial flags and battle banners. Paintings of naval battles from the history of both the First and Second Empire hung on all the bulkheads, and in one corner a candle burned before an icon of St. Katherine. There was even a special ventilation system to keep it burning in zero gee.
David Hardy could never help smiling at that icon. The thought of such an image aboard a ship with that name was amusing; he supposed that either Kutuzov knew nothing of the history of communism-after all, it had been a very long time ago-or his Russian nationalistic sympathies overcame it. Probably the former, since to most Imperials Lenin was the name of a hero from the past, a man known- by legend but not detail. There were many such: Caesar, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon, Churchill, Stalin, Washington, Jefferson, Trotsky, all more or less contemporaries (except to careful historians). Preatomic history tends to compress when seen from far enough away.
The wardroom began to fill up as the scientists and officers entered and took their places. Marines reserved two seats, the head of the table and the plate immediately to its right, although Horvath had tried to take that seat. The Science Minister shrugged when the Marine objected with a stream of Russian, and went to the other end, where he displaced a biologist, then chased another scientist from the place to his right and invited David Hardy there. If the Admiral wanted to play games of prestige, let him; but Anthony Horvath knew something of that business too.
He watched as the others came in. Cargill, Sinclair, and Renner entered together. Then Sally Fowler, and Captain Blaine-odd, Horvath thought, that Blaine could now enter a crowded room with no ceremonial at all. A Marine indicated places to the left of the head of the table, but Rod and Sally sat in the middle. He can afford to, Horvath thought. He was born to his position. Well, my son will be too. My work on this expedition should be enough to get me on the next honors list.
"Attention!"
The officers stood, as did most of the scientists. Horvath thought for a moment and stood as well, He looked at the door, expecting the Admiral, but Captain Mikhailov was the only one there. So we have to go through this twice, Horvath thought.
The Admiral fooled him. He came in just as Mikhailov reached his seat, and muttered, "Carry on, gentlemen," so quickly that the Marine gunner had no chance to announce him. If anyone wanted to snub Kutuzov, they'd have to find another opportunity.
"Commander Borman will read from the expedition orders," Kutuzov said coldly.
"'Section Twelve. Council of War. Paragraph One. The Vice Admiral Commanding shall seek the advice of the scientific staff and senior officers of MacArthur except when delay would in the Admiral's judgment, and his alone, endanger the safety of the battleship Lenin."
"Paragraph Two. If the senior scientist of this expedition shall disagree with the Vice Admiral Commanding, he may request a formal Council of War to render advice to the Admiral. The senior scientist may-'"
"That will be sufficient, Commander Borman," K├╝tuzov said. "Pursuant to these orders and upon formal request of Science Minister Horvath, this Council of War is convened to render advice on subject of aliens requesting passage to the Empire. Proceedings will be recorded. Minister Horvath, you may begin as you will."
Oh, wow, Sally thought. The atmosphere in here's like the chancel of St. Peter's during High Mass in New Rome. The formality ought to intimidate anyone who disagreed with Kutuzov.
"Thank you, Admiral," Horvath said politely. "Given that this may be a long session-after all, sir, we are discussing what may be the most important decision any of us will ever reach-I think refreshments might be in order. Could your people provide us with coffee, Captain Mikhailov?"
Kutuzov frowned, but there was no reason to reject the request.
It also lowered the frost level in the compartment. With stewards bustling about, and the smell of coffee and tea in the air, a lot of the frigid formality evaporated, as Horvath had intended.
"Thank you." Horvath beamed. "Now. Ag you know, the Moties have requested that we convey three ambassadors to the Empire. The embassy party will, I am told, have full authority to represent the Mote civilization, sign treaties of friendship and commerce, approve cooperative scientific efforts-I needn't go on. The advantages of presenting them to the Viceroy should be obvious. Are we agreed?"
There was a murmur of assent. Kutuzov sat rigid, his dark eyes narrowed behind craggy brows, the face a mask molded from ruddy clay.
"Yes," Horvath said. "I should think it quite obvious that if there is any way we can do it, we ought to extend every courtesy to the Motie ambassadors. Wouldn't you agree, Admiral Kutuzov?"
Caught in his own trap, Sally thought. This is recorded-he'll have to make sense.
"We have lost MacArthur," Kutuzov said gruffly. "We have only this one vessel. Dr. Horvath, were you not present at conference when Viceroy Merrill planned this expedition?"
"I was not, but I have been told of it. Was it not made plain then that no aliens were to board this vessel? I speak of direct orders of Viceroy himself."
"Well-yes, sir. But the context made it very clear what he meant. There would be no aliens allowed aboard Lenin because it was possible they would prove hostile; thus, no matter what they did, Lenin would be safe. But now we know the Moties are not hostile. In the final expedition orders, His Highness left the decision to you; there's no prohibition like that in the order book."
"But he did leave it to me," Kutuzov said triumphantly. "I fail to see how that is different from oral instructions. Captain Blaine, you were present: Am I mistaken in impression that His Highness said 'under no circumstances' would aliens board Lenin?"
Rod swallowed hard. "Yes, sir, but -- "
"I think this matter is finished," the Admiral said.
"Oh, no," Horvath said smoothly. "Captain Blaine, you were about to continue. Please do so."
The wardroom was still. Will he do it? Sally wondered. What can the Tsar do to him? He can make it tough for him in the Navy, but- "I was only going to say, Admiral, that His Highness was not so much giving orders as laying out guidelines. I think that if he had intended you to be bound by them, he'd not have given you discretion, sir. He'd have put it in the order book."
Good for you, Sally cheered silently.
Kutuzov's eye slits narrowed even further. He gestured to a steward for tea.
"I think you underestimate the confidence His Highness has in your judgment," Horvath said. It sounded insincere and he knew it instantly. The point ought to have been made by someone else-Hardy, or Blaine-but Horvath had been afraid to prime them for this meeting. Both were far too independent.
The Admiral smiled. "Thank you. Perhaps he has more confidence in me than you, Doctor. So. You have demonstrated that I can act against express wishes of Viceroy. Certainly I will not do so lightly, and you have yet to convince me of necessity. Another expedition can bring back ambassadors."
"Will they send any after an insult like that?" Sally blurted. Everyone looked at her. "The Moties haven't asked for much, Admiral. And this request is so reasonable."
"You think they will be offended if we refuse?"
"I-Admiral, I don't know. They could be, yes. Very offended.
Kutuzov nodded, as if he could understand that. "Perhaps it is lesser risk to leave them here, my lady. Commander Cargill. Have you made study I requested of you?"
"Yes, sir." Jack Cargill spoke enthusiastically. "The Admiral asked me to assume the Moties have the secrets of the Drive and Field and estimate their military potential under those circumstances. I've plotted their naval strength -- " He gestured to a petty officer and a graph appeared on the wardroom intercom screen.
Heads turned, and there was a moment of shocked silence. Someone gasped. "That many? -- ""Good God!" -- "But that's bigger than the sector fleet -- "
The curves rose steeply at first, showing conversion of Motie passenger and cargo ships to navy vessels. Then they flattened out, but began rising again.
"You can see the threat is quite high," Cargill said smoothly. "Within two years the Modes could put together a fleet that would be a significant challenge to the entire Imperial Navy."
"This is ridiculous," Horvath protested.
"Oh, no, sir," Cargill answered. "I was quite conservative in my estimate of their industrial capacities. We have the neutrino readings, and a good estimate of their energy generation-number of fusion plants, thermal output- and I assumed efficiencies no greater than our own, although I suspect they're better than that. God knows they've no shortage of skilled workmen."
"Where do they get the metals?" de Vandalia demanded. The geologist sounded puzzled. "They've mined everything on the planet and, if we can believe what they told us, on the asteroids."
"Conversion of existing stuff. Luxury items. Supeerfluous transportation vehicles. Right now every Master has a fleet of cars and trucks that could be consolidated. They'd have to do without some things, but remember-the Moties have all the metals of a whole planetary system already mined out." Cargill was glib, as if he'd expected all this. "A fleet uses a lot of metal, but it's not really very much compared to an entire industrial civilization's resources."
"Oh, all right!" Horvath snapped. "I'll grant you the capability estimates. But how the devil can you call it a threat estimate? The Moties aren't a threat."
Cargill looked annoyed. "It's a technical term. 'Threat' in intelligence work refers to capabilities -- "
"And not intentions. You've told me that before. Admiral, all this means is that we'd better be polite to their ambassadors, so they won't go all out building warships."
"That is not my interpretation," Kutuzov said. He seemed less imperious now; his voice was more smoothly modulated, whether because he wanted to convince the others or because he was more confident was not clear. "It means to me that we take every precaution to prevent Moties from obtaining secret of Langston Field."
There was more silence. Cargill's graphs were frightening in their simplicity. The Mote fleet was potentially larger than those of all the outies and rebels in the sector combined.
"Rod-is he right?" Sally asked.
"The figures are right," Blaine muttered grimly. "But- OK. Here goes." He raised his voice. "Admiral, I'm not certain we can protect the Field in any case."
Kutuzov turned toward him in silence and looked expectant.
"First, sir," Rod said carefully, "there is the risk that the Moties have already obtained that secret. From the Brownies." Pain crossed Rod's face, and he had to make an effort not to finger the bridge of his nose. "I don't believe they did, but it's possible. Second, they may have obtained it from the missing midshipmen. Both Whitbread and Staley knew enough to give them a good start..."
"Aye. Mr. Potter knew more," Sinclair seconded. "He was a verra studious lad, sir."
"Or Potter, then," Rod said. "I don't believe it happened, but it could."
"Ridiculous" -- "As paranoid as the Tsar" -- "They're dead." Several civilians spoke at once. Sally wondered what Rod was doing, but stayed quiet.
"Finally, the Moties know the Field exists. We've all seen what they can do-frictionless surfaces, differential permeabilities, realignment of molecular structures. Look what the Brownies did with Mac's generator! Frankly, Admiral, given that they know the Field is possible, it's only a question of time before their Engineers build one. Therefore, while protection of our technological secrets is important, it can't be the only consideration."
There was more excited chatter around the table, but the Admiral wasn't listening. He seemed to be thinking about what Rod had said.
Horvath took a breath to speak but controlled himself. Blaine had made the first visible impression on the Admiral, and Horvath was realist enough to know that anything he said would be rejected automatically. He nudged Hardy. "David, can't you say something?" he pleaded.
"We can take any precautions you like," Sally announced; "They accept the plague story, whether they believe it or not. They said their ambassadors would expect to be quarantined-surely they can't escape your security people, Admiral. And we won't have them long, you can Jump as soon as they're aboard."
"That is true," Hardy said thoughtfully. "Of course, we may irritate the Moties even more by taking their ambassadors-and never returning them."
"We wouldn't do that!" Horvath protested.
"We might, Anthony. Be realistic. If His Majesty decides that the Moties are dangerous and the Navy decides they know too much, they'll never be allowed to return."
"So there's no risk at all," Sally spoke quickly. "No threat to Lenin from Moties confined to quarantine. Admiral, I'm sure the lesser risk is to take them. That way we don't risk offending them until Prince Merrill-or His Majesty-can make decisions about the future."
"Um." Kutuzov sipped tea. His eyes showed interest. "You are persuasive, my lady. As are you, Captain Blaine." He paused. "Mr. Bury was not invited to this conference. I think it is time to hear from him. Boatswain, you will bring His Excellency to wardroom."
"Da, Admiral!"
They waited. The silence was broken by a dozen muttered conversations around the table.
"Rod, you were brilliant." Sally beamed. She reached under the table and squeezed his hand. "Thanks."
Bury entered, followed by the inevitable Marines. Kutuzov waved dismissal and they retired, leaving the Trader blinking at the end of the room. Cargill stood to give him his place at the table.
Bury listened attentively as Commander Borman summarized the arguments. If Bury was surprised by what he heard, he showed nothing, his expression remaining polite and interested.
"I ask for your advice, Excellency," Kutuzov said when Borman was finished. "I confess I do not want these creatures aboard this ship. Yet. Unless they are threat to safety of Lenin I do not believe I am justified in refusing Minister Horvath's request."
"Ah." Bury stroked his beard as he attempted to marshal his thoughts. "You are aware that in my opinion the Moties can read minds?"
"Ridiculous," snapped Horvath.
"Hardly ridiculous, Doctor," Bury said. His voice was calm and unruffled. "Improbable, perhaps, yet there is evidence of a rather unreliable human ability." Horvath started to say something but Bury continued smoothly, "Not conclusive evidence, of course, but evidence. And by reading minds I do not necessarily imply telepathy. Consider: the Moties' skill in the study of individual humans is such that they can literally play that person's role; play it so -well that his friends cannot detect the difference. Only their appearance betrays them. How often have you seen ratings and Marines automatically obey the orders of a Motie mimicking an officer?"
"Make your point," Horvath said. He could hardly argue with that; what Bury said was common knowledge.
"Therefore: whether they do so by telepathy, or by perfect identification with human beings, they read minds. Thus they are the most persuasive creatures anyone will ever encounter. They know precisely what motivates us, and precisely what arguments to make."
"For God's sake!" Horvath exploded. "Are you saying they'll talk us into giving them Lenin?"
"Can you be certain they can't? Certain, Doctor?"
David Hardy cleared his throat. Everyone turned toward the Chaplain, and Hardy seemed embarrassed. Then he smiled. "I always knew study of the classics would have some practical value. Are any of you familiar with Plato's Republic? No, of course not. Well, on the first page, Socrates, conceded to be the most persuasive man who ever lived, is told by his friends that either Socrates will stay overnight with them, or his friends will compel him to do so by force. Socrates asks reasonably if there is not an alternative-can he not persuade them to let him go home. The reply, of course, is that he won't be able to because his friends won't listen to him."
There was a short silence.
"Oh," said Sally. "Of course. If the Moties never meet Admiral Kutuzov, or Captain Mikhailov-or any of Lenin's crew-how could they talk them into anything? Surely, Mr. Bury, you don't imagine they could persuade MacArthur's crew to mutiny?"
Bury shrugged, "My lady, with all respect, have you thought of what the Moties can offer? More wealth than exists in the Empire. Men have been corrupted by far less -- "
And you've done it, too, Sally thought.
"If they're that good, why haven't they done it already?" Kevin Renner's voice was mocking, just short of Insubordination. With his discharge due as soon as they returned to New Scotland, Renner could afford any action that wouldn't get him formally charged.
"Possibly they have not yet needed to do so," Bury said.
"More likely they can't do it," Renner retorted. "And if they can read minds, they've already got every secret we have. They associated with Sinclair, who knows how to fix everything in the Navy-they had a Fyunch(click) assigned to my Lord Blaine, who's got to know every political secret -- "
"They were never in direct contact with Captain Blaine," Bury reminded him.
"They had Miss Fowler for as long as they needed." Renner chuckled at some interior joke. "She must know more about Empire politics than most of us. Mr. Bury, the Moties are good, but they're not that good, at persuasion, or at mind reading."
"I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Renner," Hardy added. "Although certainly the precautions suggested by Miss Fowler would be in order. Confine contact with the aliens to a select few: myself, for example. I doubt that they could corrupt me, but even if they could, I have no command authority. Mr. Bury, if he'll accept. Not, I suggest, Dr. Horvath or any scientist with access to complex equipment, and no ratings of Marines except under supervision both direct and by intercom. It may be rather hard on the Moties, but I think there could be little danger to Lenin."
"Um. Well, Mr. Bury?" Kutuzov asked.
"But-I tell you, they're dangerous! The technological abilities are beyond belief. Allah the Merciful, who can know what they can construct from harmless items? Weapons, communications equipment, escape gear -- " Bury's calm manner was evaporating and he struggled to contain himself.
"I withdraw the suggestion that Mr. Bury be given access to the Moties," Hardy said carefully. "I doubt if they would survive the experience. My apologies, Your Excellency."
Bury muttered in Arabic. Too late he realized that Hardy was a linguist.
"Oh, surely not," Hardy said with a smile. "I know my ancestry much better than that."
"I can see, Admiral," Bury said, "that I have not been sufficiently persuasive. I'm sorry, because for once I have no motives but the welfare of the Empire. If I were interested only in profits-I am not slow to realize the trade potentials and the wealth to be made from the Moties. But I consider them the greatest danger the human race has ever faced."
"Da." Kutuzov spoke decisively. "On that we may possibly agree, if we add one word: potential danger, Excellency. What we consider here is lesser risk, and unless there is risk to Lenin I am now persuaded that lesser risk is to transport these ambassadors under conditions suggested by Chaplain Hardy. Dr. Horvath: you agree?"
"If that's the only way we can take them, yes. I think it's shameful to treat them this way -- "
"Bah. Captain Blaine. Do you agree?"
Blaine stroked the bridge of his nose. "Yes, sir. Taking them is the lesser risk-if Moties are a threat, we can't prove it, and we may learn something from the ambassadors."
"My lady?"
"I agree with Dr. Horvath -- "
"Thank you." Kutuzov seemed to be sucking lemons. His face puckered into near-agony. "Captain Mikhailov. You will make preparations for confinement of Moties. The fiction is risk of plague, but you will see that they cannot escape. Captain Blaine. You will inform Moties that we will take their ambassadors aboard, but it is possible they will not wish to come once they know conditions we must impose. No tools. No weapons. Baggage to be inspected and sealed, not available to them on voyage. No miniatures or other inferior castes, only ambassadors. Give them what reasons you like, but those conditions are not subject to change." He stood abruptly.
"Admiral, what about the gift ship?" Horvath asked. "Can't we take -- " His voice trailed off, because there-was no one to speak to. The Admiral had stalked out of the wardroom.