"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Minerva, Chapter 13
'So you want us to do nothing?' Paul Kennedy, head of the Railworkers, asked. Several other men at the table, all dressed in blue jeans, grunted with approval.
'Of course not,' Peckard said and smiled. 'It's simply that I want all of you to conserve your forces. I've spent millions recruiting and training foreign specialists. Let them die for our streets. If my approach should fail, I want your men to be the last line of defense for our women and children.'
'If we hit them as soon as they land,' said George Ribald, commander of the Hampden Militia, 'we can protect downtown from their artillery. But if we just hole up in the city, letting them build up . . . .'
'I assure you, there will be no shelling of the city. I've acquired several helicopters for that purpose.'
Peckard took out the Holy Bible. He thought the move would be quite dramatic, especially in the windowless conference room.
'Gentlemen, we need to look at the big picture. If, as Mr. Brady has suggested, we mine the coastline and arm a merchant fleet, then yes, we could prevent the Lotosians from even landing. What the world would conclude,' Peckard continued, 'from such a success is this: 'When you invade Minerva, be sure to have a superior naval force.'
'But what we really want the world to conclude is this: 'Do not, under any circumstances, invade Minerva. Your troops will not stand a chance.'' Peckard opened the Bible to somewhere in the Old Testament. 'Gentlemen, the way to convince the world that we are invincible, is to do it with a ridiculously small number of men. In Judges chapter seven, we see that the Lord God commanded Gideon to send away his excess troops, in order that his victory over the Midianites would be a greater tribute to God's glory. In the end, Gideon used a mere three hundred men to conquer an enormous army.
'That is what we need to do.' Peckard closed the Bible. 'Now I'm not the Lord, so I brought in closer to six hundred men.' A few of the men chuckled. 'We need to show the world that Minervans are not to be pushed around. Our tiny island has a reputation of cowardice; standup comedians the world over crack jokes about Reliant's female officers. It's time to disabuse the world of its illusions. It is time to show everyone what a few hundred men in Minerva can do.'
Peckard paused. He thought the testosterone approach would go over well with the union types.
'And what exactly will these six hundred men do?' Kennedy was growing impatient with Peckard's evasiveness.
'Gentlemen,' Peckard said with a smile, 'what I've done is really quite clever. I've constructed a perimeter of grates around the downtown area. The Lotosians will think they're regular sewer grates. But as they walk on or near them, the Lotosian soldiers will be coated with a special gas.' Peckard had decided not to tell the men that the gas was slightly radioactive, since they might misunderstand. 'I've installed an entire network of surveillance devices that can detect the gas. Using data from the sensors, as well as infrared and conventional cameras, will allow my command center to track all of the enemy combatants.
'We've been training for a solid four months now.' Peckard smiled; he was truly pleased with himself. 'The teams have been chosen, and the men know the system. Targets are assigned to them through their helmets, and they take a concealed route to the appropriate sniper's nest. Over the last year I've placed hundreds of them around the city.
'I've also fortified all of the major buildings,' Peckard continued. He could see the men were very interested in what he had to say. 'I can have five expert snipers covering any open area you tell me in the entire downtown within three minutes. We will have total visual supremacy; we can see all of their movements, while they can see none of ours. We will rule the streets, even at night.'
'You can't guarantee that,' Kennedy objected. 'If your plan backfires, or if your foreign mercenaries decide to switch sides . . . .'
'Oh, but therein lies the beauty of it,' Peckard said. He had hoped someone would challenge him. 'Look at the deal I have arranged with these expert marksmen: I provide them with the most sophisticated body armor in the world, and comfortable havens from which to shoot. I pay them a fixed rate per kill, and fine them heavily for any collateral damage. We've been running it through the simulators, and my final crews are all quite lethal, while retaining the precision necessary to avoid civilian deaths. I promise you: Against my teams, the Lotosians will not stand a chance.'
'Is all this legal?' Brady asked. He was certainly convinced of the potential in Peckard's approach'a bit too convinced.
'An excellent question, Mr. Brady, and one that strikes close to home.' As Peckard had hoped, the men laughed. Brady had been the brunt of ridicule since his surrender to a woman. 'Yes, every training session is monitored by my insurers. And my attorneys bought written permission for the modifications to the city. I harbor no chemical or other exotic weapons. My men will pose no threat to the Minervan people; if we get out of line and you want to shut down our operation, just turn off the power and stop sending food up the elevators.'
Peckard looked the men over. They seemed intrigued but still unconvinced. Peckard pulled out a stack of papers and began distributing packets to each of the men.
'Gentlemen, as a token of my appreciation for your cooperation with my bold plan, here are the rights to purchase, at a set price, excellent parcels of real estate in your respective neighborhoods.' Peckard waited as the blue-collar types examined the call options.
'Now it is in all of our interests, financially, to minimize the property damage in any conflict. I know many of you have invested in, shall we say, persuasive weaponry. But before you use it'and depreciate your investments'at least give my teams a chance. And if my men rout the Lotosians all by themselves . . . well, then you suffer zero casualties, and with those rights before you, you'll all have an extra ten million or so for the association coffers.'
Peckard could almost see the mental scales tip with his bribe. This place is wide open, he thought and grinned. Before coming to the wretched island, he had never enjoyed such freedom to grease deals with side payments. Peckard knew that, soon enough, his maneuvers would pay off, quite handsomely indeed. Now he just had to convince the yahoos to use their influence to keep civilians from 'helping' once the fighting started.