'. . . but to answer your question,' Alex Maynard, CEO of GemStar, said to George Ribald, 'yes, we have redundant firepower. Even if the U.S. were to launch a preemptive strike on our killer sats, we would still retain enough retaliatory force to take them all out.'
'And how long for you to achieve space superiority?' Ribald pressed.
'Well, it depends what you mean,' Maynard responded. 'With our jamming birds, we expect to totally knock out coalition communications within five minutes. But depending on the time of day, it might take us anywhere from several hours to over a day to actually destroy the hardware in question.'
'I still say this is crazy,' Tom Brady said, already knowing that his protests were pointless. 'The U.S. didn't need satellites to nuke Hiroshima.'
'Oh come now, Mr. Brady,' Edward Feynman said. 'The coalition wouldn't dare use nuclear weapons in response. We've got a solid thirty-percent of the First World agreeing that the blockade is inhumane. We can't be faulted for taking steps to import food for our children.'
'Your PR teams can spin it however they want,' Brady said. 'The fact is, we will fire the first shots. No matter what happens from that point on, this will be the war that we started.'
'And what of it?' Peckard asked, finally returning to the discussion. 'It doesn't matter who starts the war; what matters is who finishes it.'
Brady didn't bother replying; he merely shook his head and left the room. Brady knew that he would be outvoted by a large margin; his abstention meant nothing at this point.
As he paced in the observation room outside, Brady wondered how it had come to this. Each step of the way, he had taken what he thought the prudent course of action. When Peckard had formed the Defense Trust two years previously, it seemed perfectly sensible. Brady had become aware, just as the others had, that their loose arrangement didn't make economic sense; certain obvious expenditures weren't undertaken, simply because the relevant party didn't stand to profit from it. In that light, when Peckard and his carrion, Feynman, had proposed the Trust, they sold it as a mere accounting gimmick to pool their assets and share the benefits of their collective defense spending. It was supposed to be just an extension of the non-binding arrangements with Carecoe and Prudence.
But once the coalition forces stepped up their blockade, Peckard's attitude began to change. He was no longer content with deterrence; he started running computer simulations of missile strikes on the U.S. and British vessels. For some reason, Peckard no longer wanted to rely on ever faster blockade runners, and more sophisticated tracking of coalition ships. No, now it seemed all Peckard wanted to do was attack.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much Brady could do about it: He was contractually locked in to the Trust for seven years, and most of the other voters were sheep who would follow Peckard's lead.
* * *
'Yes, that's right,' Maynard said. 'It's a pity Mr. Brady had to leave us, because he could offer some insight as well. But suffice it to say, we will have plenty of oil tankers ready to steam in the moment the blockade has been broken.'
'This might be stupid,' Paul Kennedy said, raising his right arm but only lifting his index finger, 'but how would our space attack look from a legal angle? I mean, can we be sued?'
'That's an excellent question, Mr. Kennedy.' Feynman rose from his chair. 'Yes, the U.S. federal government, just to take an example, has legal standing in Minervan courts, and the Pentagon satellites are its recognized property. So if and when the Trust's satellites destroy them, the Trust will be liable for that damage.
'However,' Feynman continued, 'the U.S. federal government is also liable for the hundreds of ships, including their cargo, that its naval vessels have impounded. Right now there are thousands of merchants who have actionable claims against the U.S. government. Of course, most haven't bothered to launch legal proceedings, since there's little hope for compensation. So what the Trust will do, if it comes to it, is buy up claims at a fraction of their face value, until we have more than enough to cover the monetary damages from our attack. In this way, there'll be no question that the Trust's actions are perfectly legal.'
'And now gentlemen,' Peckard said, sensing that there were no further questions, 'the most important part: How does the Trust make a fortune from all of this?'
The room chuckled.
'Assuming that everyone here keeps his mouth shut, we will be in the quite fortuitous position of being the only people to know precisely when the blockade will be disrupted. Consequently, the Trust will invest a large fraction of its assets in put options on commodities such as oil and livestock. And, just as I personally did during the Lotosian conflict, the Trust will also invest heavily in real estate calls. Naturally we'll diversify our holdings across a spectrum of relevant commodities, and of course we won't make ourselves too reliant on the timing in case something comes up, but . . . .'
Peckard paused and swept the room with a grin.
'. . . I expect the Defense Trust will have a very, very profitable quarter.'