What Comes Before
Part VII: Calculations
If one's eyes are well adjusted to darkness, one may be able to see several figures standing in this small, dark, and damp room. The figures stand in a straight line. Their shining light bulb-like eyes offer the only evidence that these figures are actually alive as they flicker from time to time.
They seem to be waiting in anticipation. They are staring at the doors.
A few moments later, the doors slid open silently. Several other dark figures entered this room quickly, forming a semi-circle facing the line. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Nine for the semi-circle. Nine for the line.
"The Oracle Committee is present." said one among the semi-circle.
"Your conclusions," said one among the line.
"Activities by the Gaitori Isolationists, in part sponsored by the Ishiman Intelligence Services, will lead to war between the Gaitori and the Obish. It is in our best interest to aid the Obish." said another one among the semi-circle.
"Is there any objections?" asked the previous one among the line.
His question was answered by silence.
"So it is decided. The Intelligence Directorate will draw up a plan of aid to the Obish and send to the Steering Committee for review and approval. This meeting between the Oracle Committee and the Steering Committee is adjourned until further notice."
From: Ishiman Intelligence Services
To: Obish National Senate
We have recently intercepted several encrypted messages sent to and from the various Gaitori Isolationist (GI) cells in Gaitori territory. After deciphering some of these messages, we conclude that the GI intend to commit acts of terrorism within Obain. We strongly recommend Obain to activate emergency measures to prevent the terrorist plot from succeeding. We also recommend intensified screening of Gaitori nationals entering Obain.
Ishiman Intelligence Services.
"This is a disgrace!" shouted Admiral Kinthi. "To allow such atrocities to occur in front of our eyes is a dishonor!"
"Admiral, I would recommend you to tone down your voice. Please do not forget the body that you are addressing right now."
Admiral Kinthi did not forget. The body he is currently addressing is the Ishiman People's Assembly.
But he continued in his furious tone:
"The Order is prepared to take tremendous risks in controlling the Free Trade Zone. Can we honestly believe that the Gaitori is capable of defending the zone from the Order? Is anyone about to suggest that the Bazidanese is about to take up arms to defend the zone?"
"Admiral," said Assemblyman Riaurtei. "The Assembly is well aware of the Order's intentions-"
"Are you?" interrupted the admiral.
As chairman of the powerful Security Services Committee, Assemblyman Riaurtei is not one who is challenged frequently. His long service in the assembly has earned him widespread respect. But he replied to this challenge with surprising calm:
"Yes, we are. It took a long time. But we finally did."
The reason behind Riaurtei's conciliatory tone today is simple: The Cantharan Order had begun negotiations with the Gaitori regarding the establishment of a Cantharan military base in the Free Trade Zone. There is only one military base in the Free Trade Zone. And that one is to the far north, in the Fansi System, controlled by the Gaitori and responsible for search and rescue operations for any ship in distress in the zone. Although the negotiations were secret, they were eventually uncovered by the Gaitori press. When news of these negotiations became public knowledge, they created an uproar within the Ishiman Stellar Protectorate, the Bazidanese Star League, the Elejeetian Empire, the Gaitori Union, and Obain.
The Elejeetians has already denounced the negotiations and requested that the Gaitori Union terminate the talks. The Bazidanese have already called for a conference regarding the revision of the terms governing the Free Trade Zone. The conference died before it began because all parties invited declined to attend. The Elejeetians declared that the terms cannot be altered and boycotted the conference. The Cantharans announced that the negotiations are between the Gaitori and themselves and they will not be bound by any other states. The Gaitori government, despite the urging of its population, refused to attend. The Ishimans declared that since the 2 principal parties have declined, they will not be attending the conference either.
Following the collapse of the Bazidanese proposal, the Obish ambassador appeared before a closed session of the assembly and forwarded a stunning proposal: The Ishiman navy, augmented by Obish ships, will enter the zone and proclaim themselves as the new protectors of the zone. As one can imagine, such a proposal is shocking to the assembly since the Ishimans is a signatory to the Free Trade Zone Treaty which barred anyone, with the exception of the Gaitori, from sending warships into the zone.
However, the strength of Obish arguments is compelling. Rumors of Cantharan fleet movements to the south is alarming. Even the recent conquest of Earth is seen as a step to enhance the Order's chances of intimidating the Union and seizing control of the zone. The Obish ambassador argued that the Gaitori government is too weak to oppose the Cantharans. However, if they can be backed by the force of the Ishiman navy, then perhaps they will terminate the negotiations. The Obish ambassador argued that the presence of the Ishiman navy will deter Cantharan ambitions. Furthermore, such a drastic step might encourage the Elejeetian Empire to join them.
But the unease of the assembly regarding this drastic proposal is understandable. Taking the action will mean a violation of the very treaty that the Ishimans had signed and endorsed. To break their word is almost unthinkable for any Ishiman, much less the Ishiman People's Assembly.
Another compelling argument against the Obish proposal that everyone is aware of but no one dares to bring up is: How will the Salrilians respond to this Ishiman transgression? True, the Salrilians are not a signatory to the Free Trade Zone Treaty and they have nothing to lose in terms of trade even if the Ishimans shut down the zone. The Salrilians only trade with the Audemedon Axis and conduct limited trade with the Order. However, everyone is aware that the Salrilians are the sponsor behind the Cantharans. Surely they will not allow their protege to suffer a dramatic and public defeat.
Perhaps that is why the Obish tried to bring in the Elejeetians, hoping to allay those fears. Although even the Obish probably recognizes the danger in their proposal. No doubt even the mighty Elejeetian Empire will have to think twice before entering a situation that can pit them against both the Order and the Salrilians and possibly the Audemedons as well.
These considerations drastically undercut the force of the Obish proposal. Even Admiral Kinthi's enthusiastic support of the proposal swayed few members. Many members of the assembly has already calculated that even under the best case and most likely scenario, a situation can emerge where the Bazidanese will remain neutral. The Elejeetians, the Ishimans, the Gaitori, and the Obish will be pitted against the Cantharans, the Audemedons, and the Salrilians. The Cantharans can handle the Gaitori and the Obish. The Salrilians will be more than a match for the Ishimans. They will then divert their unused strength to help the Cantharans defeat the Obish and the Gaitori while the Audemedons will stalemate the Elejeetians. Under this scenario, the Ishiman coalition will collapse within a year.
It is knowing that members of the assembly has these calculations in mind when Admiral Kinthi decided to address the assembly himself and call for the adoption of the Obish proposal.
"As an admiral, I know more than most people, the dangers of death. And I am also keenly aware of the humiliation of defeat and the possible ruin that might follow. It is exactly because I am aware of the consequences of failure that I request that the assembly adopt the Obish proposal. Because failure on our part to stem the Cantharan threat will bring defeat, ruin, and destruction to our children. We might be able to avert such a fate for ourselves, but how many of us are willing to leave such a burden to our children? We must be brave, if not for our own sake, at least for the sake of future generations. I call upon the present generation to make the hard decisions so as to spare the next generation from making an even harder one: deciding between war and destruction or surrender and slavery.
Our ancestors have repeatedly made the right decisions. We owe it to ourselves as well as to them to make the right decisions. I would like to remind all of you what a past generation did in the name of justice and security. Despite Cantharan refusal, they dispatched transports and evacuated the Exchi'en colony on Torben 2 to avoid a Cantharan onslaught. They risked the wrath of the Salrilians by refusing to trade the lives of 50 Ishiman citizens for their stealth field technology.
I wish, that by the day of my death, I will be able to meet the great statesmen of times past and I will point out to them what we have accomplished. I can proudly tell them that we are worthy descendents of a breed of brave and just people who do not fear threats issued by unjust powers. I can tell them with my eyes meeting their eyes that we were courageous enough to save our next generation from ruin. I wish to tell them that the strength of character, passed down from one Ishiman generation to the next, has not been wasted by us. That we treasured it, used it and therefore enhanced it, and passed it on to our children.
Finally, I wish that I can go home and tell myself that my conscience has been served. That it is an honor to serve with all of you in making this momentous decision."
When Admiral Kinthi walked out of the assembly chambers, he saw his staff waiting anxiously for him. But he shook his head and headed towards his atmospheric shuttle. His staff followed. Once onboard, he directed the pilot to take them to his home. The short trip was marked by silence.
That silence was broken almost immediately as soon as the admiral and his staff entered his house.
"So, what did the assembly decide?" asked an eager commander.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure. They rejected the Obish recommendation. But they came up with an alternative that just might work."
"What is it?" they asked.
"The assembly decided that the proposal can bring the kind of general war never before seen in history. So they rejected it in favor of a much more low-key approach:
Our Intelligence Services will funnel funds to the Gaitori Isolationists' political wing, the Gaitori Isolationist Party to help increase their representation in the Gaitori Parliament.
Our Intelligence Services will funnel funds to the Isolationists themselves to help them purchase arms in case the Cantharans try the direct approach.
Our government will directly propose a revision of the Free Trade Zone Treaty to all parties. But we will include an 'invisible' provision that will allow the Gaitori government to receive 50 million credits a year from us if they agree to support the Ishiman proposal of sending Ishiman ships to patrol the zone.
We will also strengthen the Obish by providing them with warship construction technology so they can build their own capital ships. In addition, we will also be transfering parts of our weapons technology for them to use. We will also be dispatching funds to upgrade the Obish military and help train their troops.
Now, most of these activities will be done through channels and obscure provisions in the budget so that no one, probably not even the Salrilians will notice what we're doing. We will be strengthening the Gaitori and the Obish so that if the Cantharans do force the issue, they will be in a position to resist them.
At the same time, we're not getting directly involved so the Salrilians may not think it necessary for them to get directly involved either. By the time the Order suffers its defeat at the hands of the Gaitori and the Obish, the Salrilians would've realized what happened. But it would be too late. Cantharan prestige would've suffered a dramtic setback that they won't be able to recover from for a long time."
Apparently, this surprising approach proposed and endorsed by the assembly was not something the admiral and his staff had considered before. As soon as he finished outlining the details of the plan, every member of his staff sank into a chair, lost in thought. One asked:
"What did the Obish say?"
"What do you expect? They're getting so many things from us that they can't complain. Their ambassador certainly loved the proposal. He said he'll give it his full support when recommending it to his government."
Another asked the important question:
"Do you think it'll work?"
The admiral shook his head.
"I honestly don't know. The way I see it, it carries about the same risks and chances of success as the Obish plan. But it entails a lower degree of involvement and can probably save more lives than the Obish plan if it works."
The staff returned to its silence, trying to evaluate the merits of this new plan. For nearly an hour, everyone remained at their position, whether standing or sitting, lost in thought. For they all realize the momentous decision at hand. Seldom has the galaxy come under a more serious crisis than the current Free Trade Zone crisis which could lead to the fall of empires and the deaths of billions. One wrong step, and the Order would've seized the initiative.
For too long, the Elejeetians, the Ishimans, and the rest has stood by while the Cantharans launched their crusades and expanded their territory. Now they've grown to the extent of rivaling the Ishimans. This new plan, if it works, can stem the Cantharan tide. By humiliating them, the oppressed peoples under Cantharan rule might be encouraged to rise up again.
But what of the Salrilians? Time and again, the Salrilians have demonstrated their ability to always stay a step before the counter-moves of its Ishiman and Elejeetian opponents. Will this plan really slip through the Oracular Net? Can the Salrilians be out-smarted and outmaneuvered?
Suddenly, the admiral said:
"Well, I don't know about you, but I sure am hungry now. Anyone wants to join me for dinner?"
"I'm pleased to inform this committee that everything is going according to our expectations. The Ishimans have begun transfering aid to the Gaitori Isolationists and Obain. Soon they will regret their decision. The Oracle Committee informed me that this operation, perhaps the most daring in the entire Cantharan Plan, has increased its chances of success from 84.89% to 88.10%. The Order will come to control the zone and the Gaitori. The Ishimans will be directly threatened, forcing them into deeper isolation. The Obish will also withdraw into seclusion and so will the Elejeetians. The Bazidanese will cease to be a factor at all."
"The next time you to talk to the Oracle Committee, ask them about the chances of us convincing the Ishimans to donate their 37.9 billion credits-"
"Actually, the Oracle Committee informed me that they upgraded their estimate of Ishiman investment in the Union and Obain to at least 50 billion credits."
"So much the better. Ask the Oracle Committee about the chances of the Ishimans donating that money to help us enlarge our Oracular Network instead of throwing it into a vacuum like this."
"I'll be sure to pass on the question although personally, and admittedly with no access to the Net, I doubt it'll happen any time soon."
You got your tenses mixed up a bit, but otherwise the story's pretty good.
I do not suffer from insanity
I enjoy every minute of it
-Cantharan Admiral za'Grom
After the capture of Earth
Thank you. My editing is never as good as it should be.