Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Islands of Miranda, Part II

This is the second part of a short story draft. Part I

Early the next morning, Diego ferried over to the floating airstrip for his flight to Costa Rica. It was uneventful, and customs went smoothly; under the dual-nationality agreement between Costa Rica and Miranda, he was required to use his Costa Rican passport to enter, and therefore did. As he was getting his baggage, he called the Mirandan embassy and they sent out a car to fetch him. They were just pulling through the embassy gate when he received a call from his sister saying that she and her husband's stay in the Bahamas had been extended, so they would not be back until later in the week. He sighed and wondered what he would do for the rest of the week.

When he checked in at the embassy desk to let them know that he would be expecting a message from the Council the next day, he found that there was already a message for him, asking him to meet Graciela Tovar in the top floor meeting lounge.

Diego had seen pictures of Tovar before, but on entering the little meeting room with its collection of arm chairs and side tables, he discovered that she was one of those beautiful people to whom photographs do no justice. She sat in the armchair as if it were a throne, and rose graciously to shake his hand as if she were a princess.

"It is good to meet you in person," she said, sitting down again. "I assume that you know that everything is cleared away for your appointment except the formalities."

"Yes, Teddy Chavez told me."

"Ah, yes. Would you like some wine to celebrate?" When he assented, she nodded her head at the waiter, who opened a new bottle -- a Château Angélus Cabernet Souvignon 2112, a very good vintage that no one simply has on hand for casual celebration -- and poured the glasses.

"May the Islands return," Diego said.

"May the Islands return," Tovar replied. "I've always found that toast so interesting. It is not we how return to the Islands; it is the Islands that will return to us. There is a great deal to that." She looked at him over her glass. "I seem to recall that you have spent the last few years in the Mirandan Navy."

Diego nodded. "Captain of the Dominic Seabourne."

"Seabourne? Who was that? The name sounds familiar."

"He was one of the volunteers in the Mirandan Marines who died holding off the Venezuelan invasion long enough for the Evacuation. I confess that I never understood why we name ships for historical figures until I was assigned to the Seabourne and learned more about him. He is one of those who made possible the very fact that I exist; it was an honor to contribute to the continuation of his memory."

The corner of Tovar's eyes crinkled slightly in what may have been either appreciation or cynicism; Diego could not tell. "And before that, a degree at Our Lady of Coromoto."

"Yes, naval engineering."

"Did you like Nuevos Aves?"

Diego laughed. "A little too cold for me. I don't know why they put it so far north."

"My understanding is that at the time it was so that the Venezuelan navy wouldn't be tempted to think they could get away with raiding it. Thus all the seasteads are in the Pacific or the North Atlantic. A great deal of what we have ever done has been shaped by the Left-Populist government of Venezuela; they don't like us at all, because we represent -- well, a failure for them, I suppose. And they are hot-tempered and reckless. You have heard, I suppose, of their accusations that we are to blame for their recent computer problems?"

"Yes, I saw something of the kind. They do seem to rant a lot."

"Very true. They would be much better served to have the proof in hand before making these kinds of accusations. Especially," she said, looking reflectively at her glass, "in a case like this, when what they say is true."

Diego, who had been on the verge of taking a sip, lowered his glass slowly. "You mean that we really are hacking Venezuela's essential systems? That could be seen as an act of war."

"Oh, but Señor Páez, it is an act of war. A very deliberate act of war. I do not know why they have picked now -- my suspicion is that something that was being prepared for later was accidentally set off before its time -- but there is no question that it is now the first step in what is the increasingly inevitable war between the Left-Populist Republic of Venezuela and the Miranda Organization."

Diego absorbed this a moment, then said, "I notice that you did not say the Insular State of Miranda."

"Do you think the Council of Self-Governance would approve this sort of thing? Can you imagine the Marshal of Los Roques or the Ranger of Los Aves signing off on a war? No, it is very much the Miranda Organization itself. There have always been two groups inside the Organization, those who held that war was the path to the return of the Islands and those like myself who have argued that patient diplomacy is more promising."

She swirled the wine around in her glass. "Not that I cannot see sometimes the point of the other side. If you have never looked at it closely before, look at the angel statue on the northern side of the embassy before you leave. It is one of the original Angels of La Orchila, commissioned by Leo Theodore himself. One was destroyed in the invasion, and the other three were sold off by the Venezuelans to help them recover some of the cost of turning our grandparents into exiles. One of them vanished into some private collection somewhere, and the last two, the one here and then one in the Washington embassy, were bought back at very great expense. They used to stand in front of the Church of Los Ángeles Santos, which is now an office building for the Venezuelan Navy. It is enough of an insult to make any Mirandan angry."

"But," she said with emphasis, leaning forward, "we must not let ourselves be distracted from such things. Those are old ways. The times are changing." She leaned back again. "I do not fully know how Leo Theodore conned the Venezuelan government into giving him the Territorio Insular Francisco de Miranda; it was an astounding feat of diplomacy. But he took a haphazard collection of a few thousand people, used to fishing and tourism, and made them a nation, and that was an even greater feat, for whether he knew it or not, he was making something completely new. Because there was so little land, everything he did had to be done in a decentralized way, so he invented a way to do that --"

"The Miranda Organization."

"Exactly. And not bound by the limits of territory, or the limits of thought created by it, Miranda became the wealthiest country in the Caribbean in a generation. That's what the Left-Populists thought they were going to get; having bankrupted their own government, they saw a treasury for the taking. But all they got were some offices, some petty cash reserves, a few chartered corporations whose operations were entirely in Miranda and Venezuela. And the Islands. But Miranda itself was not bound to the isles and cays, and it survived their loss. The Miranda Organization was still recognized by treaty law as the legal entity representing Mirandan citizens in the greater world.

"The era of the nation-states is over. They are property managers, and very poor ones. When Leo Theodore founded Miranda in 2073, a new age began. It is foolish to pine for the days when we were bound to the earth. And the direction we are heading will do nothing for us."

"Because we are heading for a war we cannot win."

"No, because it is a war that will harm us even though we will win. Of course we will win; they are Left-Populists squeezing a country they have bankrupted several times over, and these are not the old days when the Mirandan Marines were mostly concerned with customs and park-rangering. We can shut down half their country by twiddling our fingers on a keyboard. None of this is the point. The danger is precisely that when we win we will have the archipelagos around our necks like millstones, and perhaps Venezuela, too."

Tovar snapped her fingers and the waiter -- who, Diego suddenly realized, was not merely a waiter -- handed her a folder, which she handed to Diego.

"What is this?" he asked, opening it. It was filled with technical diagrams.

"A new satellite that the Space Agency will be putting into orbit next month. Under your supervision, of course, assuming you don't stop it." She waved her glass at her assistant, who refilled it, and sipped it appreciatively while Diego looked through the papers.

"Satellite design is not my specialty," he said slowly. "But this looks like a rather strange satellite."

"Not if your satellite is a weapon."

"You mean, like a tactical laser?"

"I am told that it is not technically a laser, but yes, a beam weapon along those lines."

Diego shook his head. "That makes no sense; you could have a cheaper and more effective weapon by dropping iron rods."

"More effective, perhaps, but not with the same precision. It would be child's play to put a bombardment system in orbit that would drop things on Venezuela until there was no more Venezuela, but that would run afoul of a long list of treaties and get half the countries of the world on their side. But surgical strikes? It is the sort of thing we can do and then ask for forgiveness. And anywhere in Venezuela, from a position that the Venezuelans can never dislodge. Absolute strategic high ground."

"Surely our allies will not stand for it."

"You'll find, Diego, that our allies will stand for anything, or at least not oppose anything, that fattens their pocketbooks. It is how we have survived for so long. Everyone makes money if Venezuela loses -- including probably Venezuela, given how the Left-Populists have handled things. Either they'll be quiet, or they'll sternly lecture us not to do it again, and that's it. And, while I don't know, I suspect the Americans are actually in on it. They are still smarting from their loss in the Polynesian War. Let us do the testing, and risk the international outcry, and, if it proves effective, they can have an even better system up within the year. Probably already have it ready.

"One of the first things you'll have to decide, Diego, is whether we should go to war. Can I count on your support to oppose this?"

Diego handed back the folder, wondering what the catch was. "This is quite a serious matter," he said warily. "I would prefer to avoid a war, but I would have to look more closely at all of the relevant information."

On Tovar's face, there was a brief flash of what Diego could only interpret as extreme skepticism, almost immediately replaced by a pleasant smile. "Of course," she said. "I could not ask for anything more. It just seemed a good idea to give you fair warning about what you are about to step into."

"Thank you very much for that."

"Are you intending on flying to Italy as soon as get the official notice? The usual expectation is that you would meet the Pontifical Commission within a week or two."

"I'm not sure. I had originally intended to stay in Costa Rica for the rest of the week, but that was when I thought my sister would be back from her trip already; now she won't be back until I was expecting to leave. Now I'm thinking I might move it up."

"Hm. Well, prepare to be lectured."

"Teddy Chavez said the same thing to me; he said that I would be lectured on ancient history."

"I think it differs according to the person. With me it was forty-five minutes, nonstop, on papal sovereignty. Binaisa is harmless, but he likes to pontificate. Just smile and nod."

She rose and extended her hand with a directness that made it clear that the interview was over, so he shook her hand and left. As he left, he looked back, and saw her looking at him with that same very skeptical look that he had seen earlier.

to be continued

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