The atmosphere in the room was tense, to put it mildly. If it were the cable on a ballista you could have used it to shoot the moon.. She wasn't sure whether that was because they didn't know what to say, and knew she was expecting them to say something ... or because they did know what to say, and knew she wouldn't like hearing it.
Colonel Thanh was the first to finally speak up. “Madame Governor,” he said, “is this a serious question? If it is a joke, you deadpanned it well. I can see my comrades are too terrified to laugh.”
“I am totally serious, Colonel. I'm open to any suggestions you have as to how to defend ourselves against the weapons described.”
He glanced at the others. “Is this some sort of training exercise? What you are talking about has not been seen in any of our lifetimes.”
“Nevertheless,” she said, “we may shortly be facing them.”
“But you're talking about things of the Ancients! Things out of legends!” protested one of the majors. “Tanks? Armored personnel carriers? Self-propelled guns? Even if they really existed once, no one has anything like that now.”
“The Honcho does. His men have uncovered a long-buried armory with well-preserved examples of these legends. The report from the spies I sent to Abilene confirms it.”
There was murmuring around the table at this. Thanh tried again. “With respect, Madame Governor, have you considered the possibility that your operatives have been used to feed you disinformation? People have been known to change sides. Perhaps this is intended to make us waste our time instead of preparing for their actual attack.”
“Colonel, I trust my people. Two of them died getting this report out to me.”
“But … why weren't we informed earlier?”
“Because until recently, it was only hypothetical. These self-propelled devices use a kind of fuel that has not been available for a long time. Since they are very heavy, it would be impractical to pull them here with horses. “
“However...?” he prompted.
“However, we have reason to believe that he has found a way to produce fuel for them.” She then rapidly explained about the Gifts the Honcho had received from the Church. How he was now able to pull oil out of the old wells, and “crack” off the gasoline and other components as needed. “This all means that, in all probability, he will be using these weapons to expand his empire. And we will be his logical first target.”
“Why us?” This from the major who had already spoken. “I've seen a report that he's only the Honcho because his older brother was killed by the Queen of Angeles. Why wouldn't he use them against her first?”
“For three reasons,” she replied, ticking them off on her fingers. “First, she is much farther away from him than we are, requiring more fuel to reach, so although he undoubtedly has plans to assault Californ, we will come first in his list of targets. Second, he will have to cross the Mojave Desert,which is tough on wheeled vehicles of any kind, not to mention his men. And third, because we have gold mines and he doesn't. The expansion of the Lone Star Empire will require a much larger army, an army that must be equipped, trained, fed … and paid. He can buy supplies from his trading partners, but he will need gold to get the quantities he needs for his ambitions. And we are the closest source.”
Heads nodded. Empires rise and fall like sand castles on a tide-swept beach, but one thing rulers always want is gold.
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