Palace of the Republics, Maseru
“So. This is it.”
It was, honestly, a rather unimpressive looking display. Blank sheets of paper and open envelopes lay spread across the mahogany table which dominated the Secretary-General’s office.
“Per the conclusions of the Politburo session on April First, twenty-one hundred,” Commodore Sone began as the aide who had delivered the items stepped back, “These are the documents that, once completed, will be delivered to the individual commanders…”
The man’s monotone voice seemed to fade into the background as Ata looked intently at the letters. Credit where credit was due, Duarte’s typically bland demeanor had hardly shifted in face of the task before him.
Then why am I worried? The Deputy Secretary-General wondered to himself. He certainly had no role in this part of the process. But the little black card they’d been giving him each day seemed to have a weight all of its own, and of course, there was the new fellow in his security detail, holding that briefcase. The same for the Secretary-General too, but at least the fellow seemed to be taking better to the change.
And of course, there had been that last Politburo meeting. Nuclear policy, or rather, their previous lack thereof. Honestly, as far as Ata was concerned, anyone who wasn’t at least a bit worried about the whole thing probably had no business being involved in it… but it seemed as though such a line of thought might disqualify most of the upper echelons in Maseru. The children had found their hammer, so of course, everything was to be a nail now. The imperialists, the aliens, at this rate Ata was half expecting some General to suggest stopping some hurricanes with atomic weapons. And all the talk of pre-delegating launch authority to commanders upon the commencement of hostilities… The idea of some mid-level army officer with a brand new pet nuke was something to keep him up at night.
Naturally, this little gathering here was just a continuation of that line of thought. Making sure that if the men in this room were too dead to give the orders, someone else would still ensure that plenty more could join them.
“… now, at any given point during peacetime, a minimum of one-third of our submarine flotilla remains at sea. Naturally that includes our ballistic missile submarines, which have, as previously discussed been outfitted to deploy special weapons if need be,” Sone was saying, following a lurid description of nuclear contingencies and consequences, “Of course, these baselines would shift in the event of crisis or conflict, but needless to say our undersea deterrent is far more survivable than anything the other branches can operate, and, despite all measures and precautions, perhaps more survivable than the means by which we coordinate them.”
Well, the man certainly did take a great deal of satisfaction in that. Ata couldn’t really blame him, it was no great secret that the Navy was the red-headed stepchild of all the armed services, after all, there was little sense in attempting to keep pace with the fleets of the imperial powers. In the event of a real war one might even go so far as to say that their role was to die gloriously more than anything. But such was not a sentiment one would raise around the good Commodore.
Duarte nodded slowly, pushing one of the papers on his desk towards himself, “And so these letters…”
“Of last resort,” the Commodore completed, “Our bold little submarines may outlive us all, but they will have your words to guide them. I should emphasize, these missives will ideally be read by no one, they will be destroyed should they require update or when you depart office, and your successor shall be requested to provide a new set. But should our sea-based deterrent lose all communications with the chain of command as per our set criteria, their captains will, given the absence of any other instructions, determine whether to open the letters. Should such occur, the orders contained therein will be followed.”
“A last will and testament,” Ata remarked, a comment which, judging from the irritated reactions, was clearly unasked for.
“Naturally, given the principles of mutual assured destruction, it is expected that there should be some sort of launch under such circumstances, though beyond that we have some freedom to determine the specifics of their actions,” Sone concluded, “Or alternatively to leave it to the captains’ best judgement, though that feels a little unhelpful…”
Duarted sighed, and reached over for a pen, “Well… I should certainly hope they can read my handwriting,” the Secretary-General said lightly.
“Please write clearly, sir,” Sone said, before quickly getting up, “In order to maintain the appropriate level of secrecy, we shall withdraw. Do seal the envelopes when finished…”
Perhaps it was his imagination, but Ata could hear the pen begin to scratch even as the door shut behind them all. The Commodore leaned against the wall, glancing at his watch.
“So. You think they’ll ever be opened?” Ata finally asked after a few moments of awkward silence.
“Won’t be around to worry about it if they are,” Sone responded, crossing his arms as he did.
“Say something should go wrong. If some accident should cause our submarines to mistakenly believe that the Union has been destroyed, and they launch. Or they launch at the wrong targets…”
“Our procedures are very thorough, and our commanders have been well briefed on the factors they should consider before opening the letters,” the Commodore said vaguely, “In wartime circumstances, it is likely that they would have already received more specific overriding instructions prior to any loss of communications. ‘Last resort’ ought to be taken quite literally here.”
“But all the same,” Ata pressed, “We don’t even know what those letters contain, and you have already suggested that there will be some kind of launch. If something should go wrong-”
“Then we won’t be around long enough to worry about it either,” Sone said with a humorless smile.