Scene 270 – Cunctatio

CUNCTATIO

RICHARD

I took a deep breath. “What do you mean, we can’t attack yet?”

Most of the generals and admirals around the table wilted under my gaze, but Senator Grain stayed strong. “These things take time, Mister President. And without Miss Sele as a rallying figure, the public is less enthusiastic than they could be.”

“She was killed by a Dominite! That’s got to count for something!”

“She may have been killed by a Dominite,” General Hoshi corrected. “We don’t have enough information to be sure.”

“So? When has that ever stopped us from declaring war?” I leaned forward. “Look, we’ve got the troops mobilized. They can surround that city and make landfall today. We should do it now, when we’ve still got popular opinion on our side!”

Seriously. Never thought I’d be the one arguing for war to a room full of military bigwigs.

“Their… allies in space still present a problem,” Grain said.

“Whose fault is that?” I muttered.

He ignored me. “Tsiolkovsky Station maintains three separate communications satellites for the city, and they cannot be jammed. But they might be able to jam us. Not to mention that they may have weapons capabilities that we don’t know about. If Domina can draw Ceres into this fight, our cities will be under constant threat from space-bourne artillery.”

I closed my eyes. Ceres didn’t have nukes, but they didn’t need nukes. A rock the size of a baseball, fired at Earth from the asteroid belt, would make a very big dent when it hit. And they had a lot of rocks.

“Have we tried talking to their allies in space? At least try and keep them from getting involved?”

“No.”

No, of course not. What was with this country and ignoring all the people who could kill us before it was too late? I wasn’t saying we needed to send them fruit baskets, but at least talk to them! Actually, sending them fruit baskets might have helped diplomatic relations. I’d file that one away for later.

“All right… don’t do anything overt. Miss Silk? What exactly is the nature of the agreement between Domina City and the space stations?”

My secretary adjusted her glasses, and checked her pad. “Just a simple trade agreement. Domina sends up waste the stations can process, they get food and raw materials. Most of the trade is information, actually. Same as the city’s trade with us.”

Which meant it was harder to replace. We had plenty of waste we could send the stations, but we didn’t even know what kind of data they wanted. It could be general data crunching, research data, or even just their favorite cartoons. We had no idea, because we never talked to them.

Sometimes I felt like I had been put in charge of a circus instead of a presidency.

I kneaded my forehead. “All right. Someone tell me what happens if we attack today, the second we’re ready.”

There was a pause.

“Tsiolkovsky will immediately jam our communications,” Hoshi said. “The Soviets will feign ignorance. We can still press forward, though. Short-wave radios will still work, as will some of the more hardened comms on the ships.”

“Shaohao will stay out of it,” another general said. Gregors, right? Or McGregor. There was a ‘Greg’ in there somewhere. “Bakerston needs us too much to fight against us, but they’ll find a way to stay out of the fight. Claim mechanical failure.”

“The ISS will fight with us,” Grain said.

“They don’t have any weapons,” I said. “If harsh language was enough to win this, we’d be fine just sending the Navy. What about farther out? The Lunar colonies don’t have any relations with the city.”

Silk cleared her throat. I nodded at her to speak. “Thank you, sir. While the Lunar colonies have no direct relations with Domina, they are well aware that much of their trade with Ceres and Lemuria will be disrupted if something happens to the city. Marius Alpha can fire god-rods if they are convinced of the need, and Rima Galilaei will have counters for our more exotic weaponry, such as the microwave stunners.”

“The stunners are a pain in the ass to use anyway,” a general grunted. “Stick with guns and tanks.”

“If we need tanks on that island, we’ve already lost,” an admiral said. “Nevermind the effect the sea air will have on the machines—have you ever tried to use a tank in a city?”

No one answered. He was right, and everyone knew it.

“We have other options,” I said, breaking the silence. “Let’s worry more about the colonies. What about Mons Agnes? They’re on our side, right?”

Silk winced. “They… likely won’t fight against us. Probably. At best, they’ll do the same as Bakerston, feign some sort of communications failure until the situation is resolved. America has very, very few allies in space, Mister President.”

I took another deep breath. “Will waiting improve this situation?”

More silence.

“It may be possible to convince some of our the city’s more mercenary allies to turn away,” Grain said. “Your secretary is right, no one will help us, not directly, but a few promises to the right people will help.”

“Our military is the strongest on the planet,” Greggy said. It wasn’t a boast, just a statement of fact. “We will win, if only by sheer force of numbers. Then anyone in space who took the opportunity to drop tungsten rods on us will regret it.”

I nodded. “Remind them not to poke the bear, got it. Grain, can you organize that?”

“Yes, Mister President.”

“Good. We’ll adjourn for today, reconvene tomorrow. We’ll hold a virtual conference if we have to. Any complaints? Good, everyone’s dismissed.”

They all carefully packed up their files and pads and left, leaving me alone with Silk and my bodyguards.

I leaned back in my chair. “Miss Silk, why do we have to fight?”

She adjusted her glasses, and raised a golden eyebrow. Everything about her was gold, or something gold-like. Bronze skin, perfectly brown hair, and eyes that sparkled like polished ancient coins. “You’re asking me, Mister President?”

“It’s either you or Jefferies.” I jerked a thumb at one of my bodyguards. “Jeff’s a soldier. He fights because people tell him to. You’re a secretary. You handle all the paperwork. Why would anyone go to war?”

“Because they didn’t have secretaries to arrange for otherwise.”

I smiled, but didn’t say anything, knowing she had a better answer coming.

She looked pained. “Mister President, I am not… accustomed to this. Killing. Watching people die, even enemies, it’s…” She paused. “It’s a lot to swallow. I imagine watching blips on a tac screen makes it easier.”

“It does. That’s why I watch through the helmet cams of the troopers on the ground.”

She smiled. “Good man.” Her cheer faded. “But that’s not enough. Leaders still treat the whole thing as a game, pieces moving on the board. Countless people will die in this war, Mister President. Doesn’t matter who wins.”

“You’re dodging the question, Miss Silk.”

“You kill because you want something,” she said bluntly. I blinked, trying to grasp her meaning—I wasn’t used to her being quite so forward. “It has been that way since humanity fell out of the trees. You want food, land, mates. You kill, kill, kill.”

I felt sick. “So it’s just greed.”

“Greed is important. It is one of the primary drives of progress. Greed for fame, greed for money, it doesn’t matter. Many great things have come from greed. The fact that you are trying to conquer a city largely to make a name for yourself does not, in itself, make this war unjustified or you an evil person.”

As usual, she hit the nail right on the head. More than usual, actually; she usually danced around the topic more. That had been the problem all along, the real question I had been asking.

Was this war right?

“Will we save more than we kill?” I asked quietly.

She looked at me, with those golden eyes that seemed to be far deeper than they had any right to be. For a second there, I felt like I was being sized up by something far greater than myself, something that could see a thousand years into the future and a million years into the past.

But just for a second.

It was just a feeling. I didn’t need to make a big deal of it.

“Yes,” Silk said. “Your actions will save many, many lives. More than those killed by your soldiers, more than your soldiers killed by the enemy. The solar system will be richer for this war, Richard Martinez. I promise.”

I smiled, and closed my eyes. “Thank you, Miss Silk. That is all I can ask.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 270)

I always like Richard’s scenes, but despite his humor, he’s a little too pragmatic to be fun here. He’ll be better after the war is over. Assuming Marius Alpha doesn’t drop a tungsten rod on his head at supersonic speeds.

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