"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." ~ Douglas Adams
Minerva, Chapter 26
Vice President Anthony Black tried to conceal his disgust as he surveyed the room. This was the first time he'd met with this particular group of incompetent, overpromoted kiss-asses, and the circumstances were not pleasant. With Carson gaining in the polls, Lympman couldn't miss his photo ops in California . Consequently, Black had to endure the briefing with the 'experts' on Minerva.
The attack needed to be handled delicately; done right, it could be turned to their advantage. But it could just as easily blow up in their faces in November. Initially, the plan had been to let Adams split the Republicans, drawing the votes from all the militia nuts and Bible thumpers, leaving Carson with only the moderates. But now that the crazy bastards had launched an attack, it would definitely provoke a backlash against Adams , whose campaign was literally financed (and this would certainly be leaked by the Carson campaign) by right-wing extremists from the island.
The first priority, of course, was to firmly place the blame on Greene. It had been Republicans who sold out the piss-poor natives to big business; that's how the catastrophe got started in the first place. Nonetheless, the voters were nothing if not forgetful: there were plenty of people who would vote against an incumbent just because the country had been attacked during his watch.
'So what are you telling me, General?' Black interrupted. 'We can't do anything for two months?'
'Well,' Riggs said, a bit flustered, 'I wouldn't put it like that, Mr. Vice President. My men are working furiously to revamp our systems''
'Right right, because the Tomahawks are supposed to be satellite-guided,' Black interrupted yet again. 'Can we just lob a few over there anyway, in the meantime?'
As Democrats, the president and Black had to take great pains to appear strong on national security. The voters would give a Nixon or a Reagan time to develop a proper counterattack, but not the current administration.
'Well,' Riggs said, afraid of another interruption, 'we certainly could, but we'd be just as likely to hit a hospital as an airfield. I'm not sure how that would play on the BBC.'
Holy shit did Black hate generals!
'Thank you for the extemporaneous analysis, General Riggs, but the way these things work, you answer my technical questions, and I and the president will worry about the media.'
Black took a moment to think. Riggs was right; the only thing possibly worse than doing nothing was to kill a bunch of school kids with an errant bomb.
Black decided that this situation was serious. The last thing in the world he needed was to inherit a war in his own first term. He therefore had to start from scratch, and truly understand the situation. And that meant challenging the corner into which the Pentagon wizards had painted themselves.
'Let's back up a moment,' Black finally said. 'I understand why we don't just land Marines . . . these sadists aren't afraid to blow off teenagers' kneecaps. And yes, General Riggs, that wouldn't look good on the 6 o'clock news.
'But we're talking about two tiny islands, right? Can't we just set up a perimeter of ships and starve them out?'
Black was getting excited about his idea; it would be like a medieval siege.
'Well, that's basically what we have been doing, Mr. Vice President.' Riggs chose his words carefully. 'But the islands actually have fairly sophisticated submarines and missile systems. We've reached a sort of equilibrium with them, where we don't press too close, and they don't interfere when we seize a merchant ship.'
'So what you're saying,' Black summarized, 'is that the diameter of our perimeter is really big, and what should be a blockade is really a sieve?'
'Yes,' Riggs answered.
'How many people are on these islands?' Black asked after a moment of thought.
Riggs opened his mouth but did not speak.
'For permanent residents on both Minerva and Lotos,' Ryan Miller volunteered, 'our best guess is 1,370,000. But now that the aerial and naval blockade has been disrupted, the actual number of people on the islands at any one time will be significantly higher, since there are hundreds of thousands who 'commute' to work there.'
'Okay,' Black said, thinking. 'So now can you please tell me,' Black asked Miller, 'why we're having so much trouble? If I'm not mistaken, San Diego has more people. And it seems to me that the U.S. military could handle San Diego without a crisis.'
'With all due respect, Mr. Vice President,' Miller answered, 'that's not the best comparison. Minerva is not a typical city. To give you a simple example, they don't have any mechanism for combating inflation. So speculators can drive the price of essential items up during a blockade, and there are no laws to stop this. Now, it may not be good for their economy as a whole, but it definitely keeps thousands of smugglers around the world risking their lives to supply the islands. With any other country, General Riggs' blockade would have brought them to their knees months ago.'
'That's right,' Riggs said. This Miller wasn't so na've after all.
'Keep talking,' Black said.
'We can't freeze their assets, since they rival New York as a banking center. You also need to remember that the majority of Minerva's exports are electronic in nature: software, financial services, data storage and processing. Since they control the satellites, we can't stop them from earning foreign exchange to pay for their black market imports.'
'Okay,' Black said. 'So they have inflation and pesos. That doesn't tell me why our Navy doesn't move in.'
Miller paused for a moment to let Riggs answer, but saw that the vice president was still looking squarely at him.
'Well,' Miller began, 'it's my understanding that the Minervan fighter jets are equipped with superior air-to-air missiles. It's not clear how our Navy fighters would fare in a dogfight situation. Up till now, our ships and patrol aircraft have respected a 200-kilometer radius from the islands. Their own defensive patrols, as well as informal communications with us, suggest that, at least for now, the Minervans are content to give us that. We have reason to believe, though, that they would retaliate with force if we pressed much harder.'
'Fine,' Black said, 'so we keep 200 kilometers away. How many miles is that?' he asked.
'Around 125,' someone answered.
'Okay,' Black continued, 'so we keep our boys 125 miles off the coast. I still don't see why we don't surround them and starve them.'
'It's a question of resources, Mr. Vice President,' Riggs said. Black continued to look at Miller.
'What the general is referring to,' Miller explained, 'is that there's a lot of ocean to cover. Since the smugglers are generally using ships faster than our frigates, we actually have to set up a perimeter around 150 miles out, in order to give ourselves room to stop a runner when we spot him. So right there, that's almost a thousand miles to cover. We've currently got two carrier groups, one on the east and one on the west side of the island. But again, you have to understand the tremendous advantage their control of the satellites gives them. They can watch our ships and patrol planes in real time. Even when we stop a ship, there are fifteen others slipping through the gaps created when we converge.'
'And why is it,' Black inquired, 'that smugglers have faster ships than the United States Navy?'
'They're not all faster,' Riggs offered. 'But over the years they've gotten much better. And they don't load them down, either. They'll send a dozen ships with light cargo rather than a standard merchantman.'
'In light of the new developments, there will be no difficulty in sending more ships. What if we deployed two more carriers, General? Could you accomplish your mission then?'
'We would certainly intercept more vessels,' Riggs said. 'I would like to think that the islanders would realize they were beaten, but who can say with people like this?'
'What do you think?' Black asked Miller. 'Will squeezing harder do the trick?'
'Absolutely not,' Miller responded without hesitation. 'They'd just shift to heavier air and submarine smuggling. In fact, even if we dispensed with boarding, and just sank blockade runners on sight, the island wouldn't fall.'
'And why is that?' Black asked. He was glad the boy had brought up the hindrance of boarding and seizing the runners; that had been one of Black's next questions.
'They're largely self-sufficient in terms of necessities,' Miller said. 'They've got huge seafood farms, plenty of desalination plants, and several nuclear reactors for power. They don't have many cars, and virtually no heavy industry, so they don't need much oil. I've already mentioned that what they produce, they only need electricity, computers, and their brains to make. They're also incredibly wealthy and ingenious; whatever else they truly need, they'll either pay to smuggle in, or they'll invent a substitute.'
'Makes me wonder why we don't all move there,' Black snorted. This Miller sounded more and more like he was infatuated with the enemy. Black had seen this sort of thing before, especially in the Bureau. Piss-broke agents would eavesdrop on mobsters for months, monitoring their spending habits and the starlets they screwed, and end up admiring them. It was disgusting.
'You mentioned submarines,' Black recalled. 'Why don't we send in twenty of them, have them surface off the coast, and take out their airfields?'
'Actually, Mr. Vice President,' Riggs answered, 'their airfields are separate from the islands themselves. And we have every reason to believe they're heavily protected by minefields as well as their own submarines.'
'Let me guess,' Black said, 'their submarines are better than ours?'
'Broadly speaking,' Riggs said, obviously prepared to receive another insult, 'no sir, they are not. But they do have sophisticated torpedo systems, and would be quite challenging in combat.'
'You seem to have all the answers,' Black said, again looking at Miller. 'Please tell me why the United States Navy has to worry about the submarines of some piss-ant island. How much do we spend on our submarines?'
'That I can't answer,' Miller said, 'but you have to keep in mind, the only thing the Minervan subs need to do, is detect attacking subs and fire torpedoes at them. They don't need to go on six-month patrols to the Middle East , or carry around ICBMs. It's the same with their fighter jets. They're not nearly as versatile as, say, an F-14, but they don't need to be. All they have to do is get their missiles close enough to fire.'
'And how do we know all this about their weapon systems?' Black asked. He had grown quite suspicious of CIA 'intelligence' during his career.
'Well, we looked at their manufacturers' brochures,' Miller answered, trying not to chuckle. 'There's no secret as to what we're up against; we just aren't sure how many items they've purchased.'
'Well then,' Black said, 'if you're telling me their missiles and torpedoes are better than what we use now, why aren't we buying from them? I suppose because their firms wouldn't sell to the Pentagon?'
'Actually,' Miller answered, 'it would certainly be possible to get any number of units, perhaps through somewhat roundabout channels. But the initial designs were made to be incompatible with Western platforms.'
'Plus,' Riggs said with a hesitant smile, 'it would look bad, buying from the enemy.'
And also there wouldn't be any kickbacks or consulting spots for the generals, Black thought. But the whole issue was moot, since Black doubted that the enemy equipment really was superior. He had learned that military planners were always full of reasons why something couldn't be done.
'What about our base on the bigger island?' Black asked after a few moments of silence. 'How many men do we have there?'
'We still maintain about 500 Marines there, for peacekeeping purposes,' Riggs answered.
'And nothing's happened with them?'
'So far, nothing, Mr. Vice President. Of course they've been on high alert since the attack on our space-based resources, but, as I say, nothing has changed on the ground.'
'You're supposed to be the expert on their 'law'?' Black asked Miller, who nodded. 'What would happen if we airlifted 50,000 troops onto the bigger island?'
'Well, where would you put them?' Miller asked. 'There's not room at the current facility. And when you say 'airlift,' do you mean booking a regular flight, with passengers who just happen to be soldiers? Or do you mean flying U.S. military planes in, without getting prior approval from their air traffic controllers?'
'I'm not sure what I mean,' Black snapped, 'since I don't understand how the fuck we got into this spot. Yesterday Lympman has me speaking to seniors, and today I'm supposed to figure out our response to a laser attack that nobody saw coming.'
The men squirmed as Black stared into space.
'Okay Miller,' he said, 'let's say we book plane tickets for our troops into the country. What happens?'
'Well, nothing, so long as they don't have M-16s. Those aren't acceptable carry-ons. But to answer your broader question, I don't think anything would happen until our troops actually broke laws. Of course, if it came down to shooting, they'd be completely surrounded, and we couldn't supply them.'
'What do you recommend we do?' he asked Miller.
'Condemn the attacks in the harshest possible terms, seek financial redress in the Minervan courts, and remind the world of the continued violation of U.N. resolutions. Wait a few months, then cite the hardships on the Minervan children as we phase out the blockade, limiting it only to weapons and narcotics.'
'That's not going to happen,' Black informed Miller. 'What's your second recommendation?'
'Nuke them,' Miller said immediately. The men were startled.
'Oh?' Black said, a smile curling on his lips. Perhaps this Miller had some balls after all.
'It's the same as playing at the casino,' Miller elaborated. 'Given that you can't win in the long run, and given that you have to play at all, then the only thing to do is bet it all on one hand.'
'And why can't we win in the long run?' General Riggs demanded. It was true, they couldn't win with their hands tied, but these piddly islands were a far cry from Normandy .
'What do you expect them to do?' Miller asked. 'Do you really think all of their banks will volunteer customer records to the U.N.? Do you really think their laboratories will allow inspectors to walk in? Even if the public wanted it, there isn't any group that can surrender.'
'Didn't you miss the Lotosian fall?' Riggs pointed out.
'Yes, I failed to predict that,' Miller admitted.
Black sat back and thought. Now that he understood much better, he was intrigued by the whole situation.