The French helicopter lifted up from the deck of the George Washington, carrying Contre-Admiral François Videzun back to his own ship, hanging only half a kilometre from the American carrier. The two carriers were very close together, a reflection of the importance of the two units, surrounded by forty-seven ships from seven different nations. With the situation in the Far East threatening to explode, it would require a multinational taskforce to handle the problem…one trusted by the entire world community, one with ships from the entire globe.
What they had was Task Force INDIA, under the command of Admiral Jackson. It was a force of unprecedented unity, with major American, British, French and German combatants, and smaller units from Japan, Poland and Australia. It was the most powerful surface force on the planet; two large carriers, three smaller carriers and their escorts. The only question, however, was simple; would they be enough to convince the different nations in the Far East that war was…unwise?
Captain William Morrigan watched grimly as the helicopter vanished into the haze, heading towards its mother ship. The French carrier, the FS Charles de Gaulle, was the largest non-American carrier on the planet, even though it lacked the sheer power of the George Washington. The French Government had been less than enthusiastic about contributing ships to the multinational force, even though the National Front Government had grudgingly admitted that ships would not help them to contain the chaos in France, and it was reflected in the meeting between Contre-Admiral François Videzun and Admiral Christopher Jackson.
“Hard day at the office, sir?” He asked, as Admiral Jackson came into the bridge. Jackson, a short but very stubborn admiral, nodded tiredly. “What did they want this time?”
“Contre-Admiral François Videzun wants control of India-2,” Jackson said. Morrigan lifted an eyebrow; the plan was for the task force to divide itself into three separate sections, one force to patrol the Taiwan Straits, one to patrol the South China Sea, and one to remain in reserve.
“Want to bet that he has interests in the region?” Morrigan asked. The South China Sea had been disputed territory for years, ever since Vietnam broke free from China – or was invaded by the French, depending on which version you choose to believe. “I’m certain that the French Government has them.”
“No bet,” Jackson said. “The French certainly have interests in the region, from oil mining to building their diplomatic influence.”
Morrigan shrugged. The French Government, in many ways, had improved since the election of the National Front; they finally recognised that there was a serious terrorist threat, and they had supported the sanctions on Iran that had finally been established in 2008. On the other hand, they were determined to build up a counter-balance to American power, which suggested…
He vocalised his suspicions. “Do you think that the French have a private agreement with the Chinese?”
Admiral Jackson blinked. The Chinese had long claimed the entire South China Sea – including, not incidentally, the resource-rich islands in the region. Their attitude had almost led to open war between China and Vietnam – which had its own claims – on several occasions, a war that could set the entire region on fire. With the growing importance of Taiwan – and indeed China itself – to the world economy, the United Nations Security Council had acted with unusual speed and organised the dispatch of the multinational force.
“It’s possible, I suppose,” Jackson conceded. The French Government might have signed on to the task force, but they remained aloof from the diplomatic dealings that had surrounded it, from Beijing’s odd agreement to permit the task force to operate near waters China claimed, to Taiwan’s refusal to cooperate with the task force.
“My office,” he said suddenly. Morrigan nodded and motioned to Commander Patrick O’Reilly, his Executive Officer, to take command of the massive vessel. This close to Chinese waters; it was no time to put the ship on reduced alert.
“There are political considerations involved,” Jackson admitted, as soon as they were alone together. Morrigan nodded; he’d expected as much. “Everyone is acting way more reasonable than normal, and the National Command Authority is suspicious.”
“Which is why we’re keeping the French nearby?” Morrigan asked. “Anyone would think that we don’t trust them.”
“We don’t,” Jackson said shortly. “However, the suspicions are greater than that; one possibility is that the Chinese are planning to launch an attack on the fleet.”
Morrigan stared at him. “Sir – Admiral – they’re not insane,” he said grimly. “They can’t destroy this fleet, can they?”
“You tell me,” Jackson said seriously.
Morrigan considered the possibility. “They’ll have to do it with missiles,” he said finally. “They have a respectable force of submarines, but they’ll never get them near us, not unless they’ve managed to duplicate the stealth design that came out of California and Japan recently.”
“The CIA thinks they haven’t,” Jackson said. “Of course…”
The two men shared a glance. Like most servicemen, they had little faith in the CIA, which concentrated on hunting terrorists instead of analysing the capabilities of potentially hostile states. The CIA had missed Japan’s new fleet, the Taiwanese development of nuclear weapons, and the collapse of North Korea…
“Even with the stealth design, they’ll be lucky to get close enough to really hammer us with submarines,” Morrigan said, returning to familiar ground. “It’ll have to be missiles, ones fired in enough numbers to overwhelm us.”
“That’s one possibility,” Jackson said. “This is off the record – so don’t discuss it with anyone – but the Chinese have a new government. This government is more nationalistic than the last one, and it’s facing unrest in the streets. People thinking that the development of the Internet and the free market and the economy should naturally lead to more popular participation in government. In such circumstances, a government goes looking for a nice big war.”
“And they’ll get one if they try to take out this force,” Morrigan said. He shook his head. “I don’t buy it, sir; they’ll be starting a war with us, the European Union, Japan…they would have be mad to try anything.”
Jackson nodded. “Saddam was mad to invade Kuwait, let alone trying to stand up to us in 2003,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict how the Chinese will react, if faced with internal unrest and a growing Ghandi-like movement demanding increased democracy.”
Morrigan shook his head. “I don’t think that’s likely,” he said. “However, if it is, splitting the force might just be giving them what they want.”
Jackson grinned mirthlessly. “And the French want control over the force holding the region that the Chinese want,” he said. “If the Chinese just strike at India-1 – us – they might claim to be only going to war with America.”
Morrigan sighed. “Two more days until we reach the point that we have to split up,” he said. “What decision did you make?”
“Referred them to the Joint Chiefs,” Jackson said. He smiled suddenly. “Sadistic, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” Morrigan said. “What will they do?”
“Hum and haw and balance politics,” Jackson said. “It will be a cold day in hell when the Poles let the French have command of one of their ships, particularly after the fuss the French made when they supported us in Iraq. The British…won’t be keen on it either, so that nice German will continue to hold the command.” He sighed. “That British Admiral would probably be better, but the French won’t accept him…”
“Politics,” Morrigan said, making the word a curse.
“That’s right,” Jackson agreed. “Politics.”
“Politics,” Contre-Admiral François Videzun snarled, looking into the distance towards the shape of the American carrier George Washington. His own flagship, the nuclear-powered FS Charles de Gaulle, was powerful and capable, but nothing like as capable as the American ship, which was over a decade old.
“Yes, sir,” Captain Jean-Pierre Mauroy said. “Politics.”
Videzun ignored him, pacing the deck of his cabin. “That damned American refuses to take me seriously,” he snapped. “If he chose to issue the orders, he could please the government and help my career – his Joint Chiefs will go along with his orders, won’t they?”
“Yes, sir,” Mauroy said, who knew the required answer. “They refuse to take us seriously as a military power.”
“It was understandable when there were those old ivory tower men, practicing the art of closing their ears and eyes, while the bearded men took over most of the country, but now…now we are powerful again,” Videzun snapped. A life-long member of the National Front, Videzun had only received his command and admiral’s rank after the general purge that had followed the election of 2008. “We should be in the Mediterranean, helping to seal the flow of immigrant scum, rather than sitting here.”
“We do have interests here,” Jacques Picard, the political officer, said mildly. He held no formal rank, no place in the command chain; his business was simply to observe the crew of the ship. The purge that had wiped out the careerists, the officers who had received their positions for agreeing with the previous governments and the Muslims in the ranks had led – naturally – to political officers.
Videzun glared at him. “Are those interests more or less important than preserving France as a viable nation-state?” He asked. “We have work to do in France!”
“It is under control,” Picard said mildly. Videzun had often considered him to be nothing more than a simple accountant; he certainly had the look right. “The army has crushed opposition to our rule and the people support us. Removing them all back to Algeria and the Middle East will not be a difficult task.”
Videzun looked sharply at him. He might have been a member of the National Front, but like many middle-ranking French officers, he was fairly competent. The competent rarely rose above Commodore – until the election had smashed the previous administration. A few demonstrations of power and the rabble of unruly students had subsided.
He shook his head, forcing his mind back to the present. “Simple logistics will make that difficult,” he said. “There are millions of the bastards.”
“Then we’ll force them into the sea and they can swim,” Picard said. Videzun nodded; he’d commanded the Mediterranean Fleet during the first real Europe-wide interdiction effort. As the chaos from the American war in the Middle East spread through North Africa, it had provided the French people with the bravery to overcome a lifetime of political correctness and political conditioning.
“Yes, that should work,” Videzun said. “However, what are we to do about the Americans?”
“Unless the Government chooses to recall the ships, what can we do?” Picard asked dryly. Mauroy nodded; Videzun glared at him. He expected total obedience from his second. “We have to raise the profile of France on the world stage, admiral, and the only way to do that is to perform well in the coming mission.”
“The Americans will steal all the glory,” Videzun muttered.
“The Public Relations Department will see that they do not,” Picard assured him. Videzun considered the Public Relations Department, pumping out propaganda every day on the successes of the National Front, the evils of the Arab immigrants within France and the need to reassume the leadership of Europe, and nodded slowly. “Now, Admiral, what are the plans for the mission?”
Videzun scowled. A bad report from Picard could ruin his career. “We have seven ships here,” he said. “That’s the largest force deployed outside France, by the way. Three of them are the escorts for the Charles de Gaulle; the other three are submarines intended to blockade ports.” He shrugged. “Probably Chinese ports, but you know the Americans; fair play and all that.”
He affected a fake upper-class accent. “Have to treat the children fairly and all that, what?”
“I think that’s a British accent,” Picard said. “And – will you have command of India-2?”
“I very much doubt it,” Videzun admitted. “The Americans aren’t too keen on allowing us command of some of their ships…”
“Arrogant bastards,” Mauroy commented.
Videzun nodded. “And the other nations involved in this coalition prefer the Americans to us,” he said softly. “In effect, we may not be able to fulfil the other mission.”
“We have to find a way,” Picard said. The other mission was simple; under the protection of the multinational force Vietnam – an ally of France at the moment, irony of ironies – would establish mining stations in the disputed territories, something that French companies stood to benefit from considerably.
“There may not be one,” Videzun said grimly. A failure with that part of his mission might mean that his career would be over; he might even be hauled in front of a People’s Court. “If we do not control the units in the region, the Americans will learn of it in time to stop it. You know what they’re like.”
Picard nodded. The Americans cared nothing for the economies of any nation, but their own. “If they prevent Vietnam from establishing their stations, a lot of companies stand to lose a lot of money,” he said.
“How true,” Videzun said. He thought coldly about the missiles the ship carried, the ones intended for whoever would pay the most. “How true.”
“China has no right to decree what happens within those waters,” Mauroy said insistently. Picard and Videzun exchanged glances; Videzun had handpicked Mauroy for the post, simply because he lacked the imagination to be a threat to Videzun personally. “It has no right.”
“I think you will discover that they think they have the right,” Videzun said dryly. “Now, are the flight schedules ready? I want a constant CAP over us as soon as we approach the disputed waters, whoever is in command.”
The bridge of the George Washington wasn’t that impressive to Sharon Green, a roving embedded reporter from CNN. She looked around at the busy naval officers, performing their duties, and wasn’t impressed; the newsroom at Atlanta was far more active during a scoop.
“Right this way, Miss Green,” Lieutenant Han Wushi, Public Relations Officer, said. The skinny oriental had come from China originally, his family having escaped when Han was a little boy, and he’d joined the navy to fight communism – the force that had forced his parents away from their nation.
“Thank you,” she said, as Han held the door open for her. The navy did so love showing off how gentlemanly its officers were. “It’s Sharon, you know.”
“I know,” Han said, as they stepped into the passage. The Admiral’s quarters were near the bridge, allowing instant access in the event of an emergency. “Right this way, Miss Green.”