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STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:06 pm

DrakBibliophile
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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 30

Well, that was fine with him. He wasn't especially happy himself. To Bourchier's credit, he'd refused to allow even Victor Cachat to simply steamroller him. Instead, he'd flatly insisted on clearing Simões' presence with some higher authority before he'd go any further. Wilhelm Trajan, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, hadn't been available -- he was off-planet at the moment -- so Bourchier had gone directly to LePic. Who, not unreasonably, had insisted on meeting Simões himself before he'd even consider authorizing his admittance into Pritchart's presence.

Zilwicki had no problem with that. What he did have a problem with was that their interview with the attorney general had been the first any of them had heard about what had happened -- or, at least, what Mesa claimed had happened -- in Green Pines. Discovering that he'd been branded as the worst mass murderer in recent memory tended to be just a tad upsetting, he'd discovered.

And thinking about how the people he loved must have responded to that lie was even more so.

"So, our wandering boy returns, I see," Pritchart murmured. She regarded all of them for a moment, then looked directly at Zilwicki.

"I'm afraid the galaxy at large thinks you're, well, dead, Captain Zilwicki," she said. "I'm pleased to see the reports were in error. Although I'm sure quite a few people in Manticore are going to be just as curious to know where you've been for the last several months as we are about Officer Cachat's whereabouts."

"I'm sure they are, too, Madam President. Unfortunately, we had a little, um, engine trouble on the way home. It took us several months to make repairs." Zilwicki grimaced. "We played a lot of cards," he added.

"I imagine so." The President cocked her head. "And I imagine you've also discovered there have been a few developments since whatever happened -- and I do trust you're going to tell us what it was that did happen -- in Green Pines?"

"I'm sure that will be covered, Ma'am," Zilwicki said grimly. "It wasn't much like the 'official version' I've just heard, but it was bad enough."

Pritchart gazed at him for a moment, then nodded slowly and looked at Simões.

"But I don't believe I know who this gentleman is," she continued.

"No, Madam President, you don't -- yet," Cachat replied. "This is Dr. Herlander Simões. Of the planet Mesa."

Pritchart's spectacular topaz eyes narrowed slightly. The first-class brain behind those eyes was obviously running at top speed, but all she did was sit back in her chair.

"I see," she said after a moment, gazing speculatively at the Mesan. "May I assume Dr. Simões is the reason you've been…out of touch, let's say, for the last, oh, six or seven T-months?"

"He's one of the reasons, Ma'am."

"Then, by all means be seated," she invited, waving a hand at the empty chairs on the other side of the table, "and let's hear what you -- and Dr. Simões, of course -- have to tell us."

* * *

"Readiness reports complete, Sir," Admiral Daniels reported. "All squadron and task group commanders report ready to proceed as ordered."

"Thank you, Bill," Fleet Admiral Filareta acknowledged.

He stood on the flag bridge of SLNS Philip Oppenheimer, flagship of the Solarian League Navy's newly designated Eleventh Fleet, gazing at the endless rows of status reports and thinking. The missile ships had taken a few days longer than expected to join him, which had given just enough time for a last set of dispatches from the Sol System to reach Tasmania. Which, in his opinion, was very much a mixed blessing.

The news that the Manties were closing wormhole termini to Solarian traffic was not something he'd wanted to hear. Whatever else it might indicate, it hardly sounded like the action of a star nation reeling from a surprise attack and terrified for its very life. One might have expected people in that position to be looking for ways to avoid infuriating something the size of the Solarian League, which didn't appear to have even crossed the Star Empire's mind. That was a disconcerting thought, and the fact that neither Rajampet nor his civilian masters seemed to share it was even more unpleasant. Judging from their amendment of his original mission orders, however, the only "thinking" they appeared to have done was to fasten on it as yet another Manty "provocation" to justify their own actions. They certainly hadn't been dissuaded by it, at any rate!

They probably think the Manties are just running a bluff, trying to convince us to back down, he reflected. And maybe they are. But maybe they aren't, too. Maybe it's an indication they're genuinely that confident they can stand up to us, instead, and I sort of wish at least someone in Old Chicago was willing to at least consider the possibility. That'd be asking too much, though, I guess, since it would require a brain bigger than a pea!

He shook his head mentally. It was far too late to be worrying about the blindness -- or desperation -- of the people behind his orders. It was too late to be worrying even about how large a hand Manpower might have had in drafting those orders in the first place, and at least four hundred and twenty-seven of the four hundred and thirty-one ships-of-the-wall which had been ordered to join him had actually arrived. That was a phenomenal accomplishment, by SLN peacetime readiness standards. In fact, he suspected the status reports on a half dozen or so of his SDs had been fudged by captains who had no intention of being caught short at a moment like this, but as long as they weren't covering up fundamental problems, that was fine with him.

The more the merrier, he thought sardonically, yet not even his cynicism was proof against commanding the most powerful armada the Solarian League had ever launched. As he looked at those status reports, at the glittering sea of icons, he was aware of the true size and power of the Solarian League Navy in a new and different way. His concerns about Manticoran weapons hadn't magically disappeared, by any means, yet despite those concerns, what he felt at this moment was the ponderous, unstoppable power of all those millions upon millions of tons of starships.

Four hundred and twenty-seven ships-of-the-wall. Thirty-two battlecruisers, thirty light cruisers, and forty-eight destroyers to screen the battle squadrons and provide the scouts they'd probably need. And fifty fast freighters (and personnel transports), all with military-grade hyper generators and particle screening. All told, his command counted almost six hundred starships, massing over three billion tons. Indeed, his wallers alone massed 2.9 billion tons, and counting the freighter and transport crews, he commanded over 2.7 million naval personnel, which didn't even count the transports' 421,000 Marines and support personnel. By any meter stick, it was an enormous force, and fifty percent of the missiles in his SDs' magazines were the new dual-drive Technodyne Cataphract-Bs. He would have preferred a heavier warhead, but that was what the five thousand pods loaded with Cataphract-Cs were for. At over sixteen million kilometers, their powered envelope was better than twice that of the Trebuchet capital missiles they'd replaced.

He was still a long way from truly leveling the playing field, assuming there was any truth in the Manty accounts of Spindle. As it happened, he was convinced there was quite a lot of truth in those accounts, but almost despite himself, he'd been deeply impressed when he saw the Cataphracts' performance numbers. Whether they'd come from Technodyne or the tooth fairy was far less important than how enormously his fleet's effective reach had been increased. He was going to be outranged by any surviving Manty system-defense missile pods, but he should at least come close to matching their shipboard missiles. If there was any validity at all to the Office of Strategy and Planning's assessment of the Star Empire's morale, that ought to be enough to convince them that no qualitative advantage could ultimately offset the sheer quantitative edge of the Solarian League.

Sure it will, he told himself. You go right on thinking that way. But don't get your ass so wedded to the concept that you end up getting yourself and a couple of million other people killed!

"Very well," he said at last, then drew a deep breath and turned to face Daniels once more.

"I believe we have a date with the Manties, Bill. Let's get this show on the road."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:05 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2095
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 31

May 1922 Post Diaspora

"What the hell. I've always liked a challenge."
-- Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore

Chapter Ten

"More coffee, Your Majesty?"

Elizabeth Winton looked up at the murmured question, then smiled and extended her cup. James McGuiness poured, smiled back at her, and moved on around the table, refilling other cups, and she watched him go before she sipped. It was, as always, delicious, and she thought yet again what a pity it was that McGuiness made such splendid coffee when Honor couldn't stand the beverage.

The familiar reflection trickled through her brain, and she set the cup back down and gave herself a mental shake. No doubt her staff back at Mount Royal Palace had its hands full covering for her absence, but they were just going to have to go on coping for a while longer. Despite the grinding fatigue of far too many hours, far too much adrenaline, and far too many shocks to the universe she'd thought she understood, she knew she and Eloise Pritchart were still far from finished.

She looked across the table in the admiral's dining cabin aboard HMS Imperator at the president of the Republic of Haven, who had just finished a serving of McGuiness' trademark eggs Benedict and picked up her own coffee cup. Despite a sleepless night, following a day even longer than Elizabeth's had been, the other woman still looked improbably beautiful. And still radiated that formidable presence, as well. Elizabeth doubted anyone could have intentionally planned a greater physical contrast than the one between her own mahogany skin and dark eyes and Pritchart's platinum and topaz, and they'd been produced by political and social systems which were at least as different as their appearances. Yet over the last day or so she'd come -- unwillingly, almost kicking and screaming -- to the conclusion that the two of them were very much alike under the surface.

I wonder if I would have had the sheer nerve to sail straight into my worst enemy's home system -- especially after what those "mystery raiders" did to us -- and admit my secretary of state doctored the correspondence that sent us back to war? After so long, so many deaths, because I got played, maneuvered into doing exactly what someone else wanted? Even having Simões' story to back me up, selling that to someone with my reputation for carrying grudges to the grave and back again took more plain old-fashioned gall and guts than any three women ought to have. Especially after I'd proven this "Alignment" could play me just as thoroughly as it ever played her.

Elizabeth's mind flicked back over the last two Manticoran days. Even her formidable intelligence was having difficulty coping with the tectonic shock which had just rumbled through her entire known universe. It seemed impossible, preposterous on the very face of things, that a mere two days could have changed everything she'd thought she knew about two decades of bitter warfare and millions of deaths, yet it had. And it explained so much.

"So," she said, sitting back from the table she shared with only Honor, Pritchart, and Thomas Theisman, "is Simões telling the truth or not, Honor?"

The two Havenites looked at Honor with slightly surprised expressions, and Honor smiled. Nimitz was sound asleep on his perch, and after the night which had just passed, she saw no point in waking him up.

"There's a reason Her Majesty's asking me, instead of Nimitz or Ariel," she told her guests. "As it happens, I've been hanging around with treecats long enough to have caught at least some of their abilities. I can't read minds, but I can read emotions, and I know when someone's lying."

It was astonishingly easy for her to make that admission to the leaders of the star nation she'd fought her entire adult life.

Pritchart blinked at her, then those topaz eyes narrowed in thought, and the President began nodding -- slowly, at first, then more rapidly.

"So that's why you make such a fiendishly effective diplomat!" she said with something very like an air of triumph. "I couldn't believe how well a total novice was reading us. Now I know -- you were cheating!"

The last word came out in something very like a laugh, and Honor nodded back.

"Where diplomacy's concerned, according to my mentors in the Foreign Office, there is no such thing as 'cheating,' Madam President. In fact, one of those mentors quoted an old axiom to me. Where diplomacy is involved, he said, if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying hard enough."

Elizabeth snorted in amusement, and Theisman shook his head.

"In this instance, however," Honor continued more seriously, "what Her Majesty is asking me is whether or not I can tell if Dr. Simões is telling the truth. I already informed her" -- she looked directly at Pritchart -- "that I knew you were, Madam President. On the other hand, I also assumed you would have expected from the beginning that Nimitz would have been able to tell me and that I would have passed his observations on to Her Majesty, so I didn't feel any particular scruples about that."

Pritchart nodded again, and Honor shrugged.

"What I can tell you about Simões is that his anger -- his outrage -- at this 'Alignment' is absolutely genuine. The pain inside that man is incredible."

She closed her eyes for a moment, and her nostrils flared.

"Everything I can 'taste' about his 'mind-glow' tells me he's telling us the truth, in so far as he knows the truth. Whether or not McBryde might have been passing along disinformation is more than I can say, of course. But, on balance, I think he was telling the truth, as well. It all fits together too well with what we've already seen, and with what Simões can tell us about their hardware."

"And there are still so damned many holes in it," Elizabeth half-snarled.

"Yes, there are," Honor agreed. "On the other hand, I'd say the Star Empire knows infinitely more than we knew yesterday, Elizabeth…given that we didn't know anything at that point."

Elizabeth nodded slowly, then looked at Pritchart.

"So, I guess what it comes down to," she said slowly, "it's where we go from here. Whatever happens, I want you to know I'm enormously grateful for the information you've provided us. And I think we can both agree that the war between Haven and Manticore is over."

She shook her head, as if, even now, she couldn't quite believe what she'd just said. Not because she didn't want to, but because it seemed impossible, like something which couldn't possibly be true because of how badly everyone wanted it to be true.

"Mind you," she continued, "I don't expect everybody to be delighted about that. For that matter, a few days ago, I probably would have been one of the people who wasn't delighted myself," she admitted.

"Trust me, there's the odd couple of billion Havenites who probably feel exactly the same way," Pritchard said dryly.

"And that's the sticking point, isn't it?" Elizabeth asked softly. "Stopping shooting at each other -- that much I'm sure we can manage. But it's not enough. Not if Simões' and McBryde's story is true after all."

"No, it's not," Pritchart agreed quietly.

"Well," Elizabeth smiled with very little humor, "at least I can feel confident now that you'll keep the Republican Navy off our backs long enough for us to deal with this Admiral Filareta."

"Actually," Pritchard said, "I had something else in mind."

"Something else?" Elizabeth's eyebrows rose.

"Your Majesty -- Elizabeth -- the Mesan Alignment wants both of us destroyed, starting with the Star Empire. I don't know if it honestly believes the SLN can do the job where you're concerned, or if it was anticipating we'd do it when we recognized the opportunity it had given us. But it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the Solarian attack on you is simply one more step in a strategy directed against both of us. So I think something a bit more pointed than simply stopping shooting at each other might be in order."

"Such as?" Elizabeth asked slowly, eyes slitted in concentration.

"I understand your missile production facilities have been taken off-line," Pritchard said. "Tom here tells me you've undoubtedly got enough of those ungodly super missiles in your magazines to thoroughly kick the ass of this Filareta if he really insists on following his orders. But that's going to cut into your reserves, and given that the Alignment managed to rip the hell out of your home system, I think it would be a good idea for you to conserve as much ammunition as you can in hopes we'll find someone a bit better suited to playing the role of target."

"And?" Elizabeth's eyes were opening wider in speculation.

"Well, it just happens that Thomas here has a modest little fleet -- two or three hundred of the wall, I believe -- waiting approximately eight hours from Trevor's Star in hyper. If you're willing to trust us in Manticoran space, perhaps we could help you encourage Filareta to see reason. And while I'm well aware our hardware isn't as good as yours, every indication I've seen is that it's one hell of a lot better than anything the Sollies have."

"Are you offering me a military alliance against the Solarian League?" Elizabeth asked very carefully.

"If McBryde was right, there isn't going to be much of a Solarian League very much longer," Pritchart replied grimly. "And given the fact that the same bunch of murderous bastards who shot up your home system are also directly responsible for you and I having killed a couple of million of our own people, I think we could say we have a certain commonality of interest where they're concerned. And it's not a case of selfless altruism on my part, you know. We're both on the Alignment's list. Don't you think it would be sort of stupid for either of us to let the other one go down and leave us all alone?"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Feb 26, 2012 9:58 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2095
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Rising Thunder - Snippet 32

Brown eyes and topaz met across the table littered with the remnants of breakfast, and it was very, very quiet.

"We're still going to have those problems, you know," Elizabeth said almost conversationally after a moment. "All those people on both sides who don't like each other. All that legacy of suspicion."

"Of course." Pritchart nodded.

"And then there's the little matter of figuring out where this Alignment's real headquarters is, and who else is fronting for it, and what other weapons it has, and where else it has programmed assassins tucked away, and exactly what it's got in mind for the Republic once the Star Empire's been polished off."

"True."

"And, now that I think about it, there's the question of how we're going to rebuild our capabilities here, and how much technology sharing -- and how quickly -- we can convince our separate navies and our allies to put up with. You know there's going to be heel-dragging and tantrum-throwing the minute I start suggesting anything like that!"

"I'm sure there will be."

The two women looked at one another, and then, slowly, both of them began to smile.

"What the hell," Elizabeth Winton said. "I've always liked a challenge."

She extended her hand across the table.

Pritchart took it.

* * *

"You're joking!"

Chairman Chyang Benton-Ramirez looked incredulously at Fedosei Mikulin and Jacques Benton-Ramirez y Chou. The three men sat face-to-face in the Chairman's high-security private briefing room, buried under the roots of the West Tower of the Executive Building in downtown Columbia. Benton-Ramirez had been more than a little irked when Mikulin insisted on meeting in person, rather than com-conferencing. He had plenty of other things he could spend time doing besides hiking clear over here and then taking the lift shaft down five hundred meters, but Mikulin was his most trusted advisor. That was why in addition to his at-large directorship he was Commissioner of Central Intelligence for the Republic of Beowulf.

And why Benton-Ramirez had accepted his "invitation" to join him here despite the inconvenience.

Benton-Ramirez y Chou, Third Director at Large of the Planetary Board of Directors (and one of the Chairman's cousins), on the other hand enjoyed a carefully ill-defined relationship with Central Intelligence. That was because he was also the Planetary Board's unofficial (very unofficial) liaison to the Audubon Ballroom. It would never have done for the Board (or -- especially! -- its intelligence services) to admit overt contact with the Ballroom, even here on Beowulf. If anyone had wondered why, the way Manticore had been hammered over the Green Pines Incident made the reasons crystal clear. Despite which, everyone knew that contact existed, and most people were pretty sure Benton-Ramirez y Chou, as the ex-chairman and current vice-chairman of the Anti-Slavery League, did the contacting. It was one of those "don't ask, don't tell" situations, and the fact that the customarily aggressive Beowulfan newsies had never once asked the question said volumes about how Beowulf in general regarded the genetic slave trade.

That wasn't why Benton-Ramirez y Chou was here today, though. No, he was here because another of the Chairman's cousins was deeply involved in what Mikulin had just reported.

"I'm absolutely not joking, Chyang," Mikulin said now. "I realize we're not supposed to spy on our friends, but everyone does, and I doubt anyone in Manticore smart enough to seal his own shoes doesn't know we do. Although, to be fair, I'm not sure how happy they'd be to find out just how highly placed some of our…assets actually are."

"Your niece wouldn't happen to be one of them, would she, Jacques?"

"No, she would not." Benton-Ramirez y Chou's voice was considerably colder than the one in which he normally addressed the Chairman. Benton-Ramirez y Chou was a small man, with dark hair and sandalwood skin. He also had almond eyes, which he shared with his sister…and his rather more famous (or infamous) niece. "And if I'd ever been stupid enough to ask her to become any such thing, she would have told me to piss up a rope," he added succinctly.

"Oh, I doubt she would've put it that way," Benton-Ramirez said with a chuckle which was oddly apologetic. "I'm sure Duchess Harrington would have been considerably less, um, earthy."

"Not if I'd asked her to spy on Elizabeth, she wouldn't have been," Benton-Ramirez y Chou smiled tartly. "In fact, what she'd probably have done is rip off my head for a soccer ball!"

"All right, point taken," the Chairman acknowledged. "But I assume from what you're telling me, Fedosei, that whoever our informant is, we can place significant confidence in this report?"

"Yes," Mikulin said flatly.

"Damn." Benton-Ramirez shook his head. "I know we were hoping they'd at least stop shooting at each other, especially after we warned both of them Filareta was coming, but I never expected this!"

"None of us did," Mikulin agreed. "But, to be honest, the fact that Elizabeth and Pritchart have decided to bury the hatchet is actually a hell of a lot less important than the reason they decided to bury it."

There was something very odd about his voice, and the Chairman glanced at Benton-Ramirez y Chou. The other man's expression was an interesting mix of agreement and something that looked like lingering shock, all backed by a white-hot, blazing fury. Despite the self-control he'd learned over the decades, Jacques Benton-Ramierz y Chou had always been a passionate man, yet Benton-Ramirez was more than a little taken aback by the deadly glitter in those dark-brown eyes.

"What do you mean?" The Chairman sat back, eyes narrowed. The fact that Eloise Pritchart had gone unannounced to the Manticore Binary System and apparently agreed to some sort of alliance against the Solarian League, especially after how savagely the Star Empire had been weakened, struck him as one of the more fundamental power shifts in the history of mankind. So if Mikulin found something else even more significant…

"I think the notion of a Manticore-Haven military alliance is going to be interesting enough to the rest of the universe, Fedosei," he observed.

"I'm sure it is," Mikulin said grimly, "but what's even more 'interesting' to me -- and to the rest of Beowulf, I'm pretty damn sure -- is that the reason Pritchart made this trip to Manticore is that Zilwicki and Cachat have resurfaced. And it turns out that where they've been all this time was either on the planet Mesa or on their way back from it."

Benton-Ramirez's narrowed eyes widened, and Mikulin shrugged.

"We only have very a preliminary report at this point, Chyang," he pointed out, "and our source hasn't been able to give us everything. Or even come close to everything, for that matter. But from the little bit we do have, it seems Zilwicki and Cachat were in Green Pines -- both of them were there, together -- about the time the explosions went off. And it sounds like they were involved, albeit peripherally, as well. Hopefully we'll have better intelligence on that pretty soon, but the key point is that they brought out a Mesan with them, and the Mesan in question is providing all kinds of information. Information that, frankly, contradicts almost everything we've thought we knew about Mesa."

"I beg your pardon?"

Benton-Ramirez' tone sounded preposterously calm, but it wasn't really his fault. It was simply that no one could process information like that without the equivalent of a massive mental hiccup. If there was a single star system in the entire galaxy upon which Beowulfan intelligence had expended more effort than Mesa, or about which it was better informed, he couldn't imagine which one it might be. Ever since Leonard Detweiler and his malcontents had relocated to Mesa, the system had been Beowulf's dark twin. The source of one of the galaxy's most malignant cancers, and the undying shame of the society from which its founders had sprung.

The possibility of errors in Beowulf's intelligence appreciations of Mesa was one thing. In fact, Benton-Ramirez had always assumed there had to be such errors, since Mesa was painfully well aware of Beowulf's interest in it and had always taken steps to blunt Central Intelligence's operations there. But Mikulin clearly wasn't suggesting mere "errors" -- not in that tone of voice, or with that expression.

"If what we've heard so far is any indication, most of what we thought we knew about Mesa isn't just mistaken, it's a deliberate fabrication on Mesa's part," Mikulin said now, his voice harsh. "I'm not ready to sign off on the reliability of what we're hearing at this point. To be honest, there's a big part of me that doesn't want to admit even the possibility that we might have been that far off, and the meeting between Elizabeth and Pritchart took place less than forty hours ago. All of this is still pretty damned preliminary, and God only knows how many holes there could be in it. But, assuming there's any validity to it at all, Mesa's had its own plans -- plans that go a hell of a lot deeper than just making money off the genetic slave trade or even rubbing our collective nose in how much contempt they have for the Beowulf Code -- literally for centuries. Not only that, but the Manties have been right all along in saying it's behind what's been happening in Talbott and the Yawata Strike, as well. And not just because Talbott brought the Star Empire's borders too close to the Mesa System, either. Apparently, they've got plans of their own where the entire human race is involved, and I think we can be pretty sure that if they had plans for the Star Empire and the Republic of Haven, they've got to have a page or two for dealing with us, as well."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:02 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2095
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

A Rising Thunder - Snippet 33

Chapter Eleven

"What are the odds your people will actually ratify this, do you think?" Elizabeth Winton asked almost whimsically.

"Not as good as they would have been once upon a time," Eloise Pritchart admitted from the other side of the small Mount Royal Palace conference table. "I've used up a lot of credit with Congress -- and the voters, for that matter -- in the last three T-years. And admitting our Secretary of State doctored the correspondence in the first place isn't going to make our firebrands any happier."

"That's what I thought, too. Pity. I was hoping you'd have a better chance with your legislative branch than I'm going to have with mine."

Elizabeth pursed her lips, looking at the document on the display in front of her. As treaty proposals went, it was about as bare bones as things got, she reflected. Neither she nor Pritchart had traded away their star nations' sovereignty for a handful of beads, but she was sure critics and partisans on both sides were going to carry on as if they had. And little though she liked to admit it, there was still plenty of wiggle room. They hadn't tried to nail things down in fully finished, set-in-stone form. Instead, they'd roughed out a list of absolutely essential points to be submitted to the Havenite Congress and Elizabeth's own Parliament, coupled with a specific provision that other treaties would deal with the still-outstanding points a little thing like twenty years of bitter warfare were likely to have created.

Still, if someone had told her she and Pritchart could accomplish this much, agree to this much, in only seven days, she would have suggested they be confined in a nice, safe cell. Yes, there were still huge gray areas, but what they'd gotten down in written form proved that knowing one was about to be hanged (or invaded by the Solarian League) truly did concentrate one's mind wonderfully. This treaty, rough as it was, created an alliance between the Star Empire of Manticore and the Republic of Haven which committed each of them to the defense of the other. There hadn't been time -- with one exception -- to consult with the Star Empire's allies, but Eloise had been careful to bring every one of those allies' ambassadors on board, and most of them had initialed the draft on their governments' behalves. The Andermani ambassador hadn't, yet that was hardly surprising, given the traditional Andermani realpolitik. By the same token (and for the same reasons), he hadn't voiced any official opposition to it, either, though, and the Andermani Empire was an "associated power" rather than a full member of the Manticoran Alliance, anyway.

The one ally there had been time to actually consult was the Protectorate of Grayson, three and a half T-days from the Manticore Binary System by dispatch boat. Elizabeth had sent Benjamin Mayhew word of Pritchart's totally unexpected visit the day the president arrived, and Benjamin Mayhew, with a decisiveness and speed unusual even for him, had needed only hours to decide where he stood. He'd sent back his enthusiastic support…and his only brother as his personal envoy.

Michael Mayhew had arrived yesterday, just in time to put his own signature on the draft as Grayson's plenipotentiary. Which, given most Manticorans' attitude towards their most constant ally, could only be a major plus. Not to mention demonstrating to all the Star Empire's allies as conclusively as humanly possible that William Alexander and his government were not Michael Janvier and his government.

So now all they had to do was submit it for the approval of the Manticoran Parliament and the Havenite Senate.

"All," she thought glumly. As in "all we have to do is find the philosopher's stone and we can turn as much lead into gold as we want." We can ask both of them to expedite on an emergency basis and point out that there's no time to be sending drafts back and forth for revision, but how much good is that really going to do? However big the crisis, we're talking about politicians, and that means any number of wannabe cooks can be counted on to shove their spoons in and start stirring, damn it.

"Actually, I think you're both being overly pessimistic," another voice said, and two pairs of eyes, one brown and one topaz, swiveled towards the speaker.

"I hate to point this out, Admiral," Pritchart said with a lopsided smile, "but I suspect you've had a bit less experience dealing with legislative idiots than Her Majesty and I have."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that, actually, Eloise," Elizabeth said, and grimaced when Pritchart looked back at her. "Don't forget, she's a steadholder. I realize steadholders have the sort of absolute power you and I only fantasize about, but she still has her own Chamber of Steaders to deal with, and she's been pretty hands-on about the job. Whenever we've let her out of uniform, at least. For that matter, she's a sitting member of the Conclave of Steadholders on Grayson and our House of Lords. She's spent her time in the trenches, and she was front and center of the Opposition during our delightful interlude with that ass High Ridge. She knows a lot more about how it works than that innocent demeanor of hers might suggest."

"I suppose that's true." Pritchart cocked her head. "It's hard to remember just how many hats you've worn, Your Grace."

"Her Majesty's comments aside, I won't pretend I've had as much legislative experience as you two," Honor replied. "On the other hand, she's right that I'm not a complete stranger to ugly political fights, and both of you are just about dead on your feet. My feeling is that both of you are so worn out from working on this thing that it'd be a miracle if you didn't feel pessimistic. In fact, if I'd thought it would've done any good, I'd've chased you off to bed every night to make sure you got at least eight solid hours."

Pritchart considered her thoughtfully and decided she wasn't really joking. And while the President of the Republic of Haven wasn't accustomed to being "chased off to bed," she rather suspected Honor Alexander-Harrington could manage it if she put her mind to it.

"Interesting you should say that, Honor," Elizabeth observed. "My beloved spouse was saying something rather similar last night. Or was it the night before?"

"Probably the night before. Justin's a lot better at making you rest than you are at remembering to rest."

"I don't doubt he is," Pritchart said. She kept her voice light, although she knew Honor, at least, had sensed the spike of pain which went through her as she remembered nights Javier Giscard had made her rest. "At the moment, though, I'm more interested in why you think our estimate is overly pessimistic, Admiral. I don't doubt you're right about how tired we both are, and I know how fatigue and worry affect people's judgment, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're wrong and you're right."

"Of course not, Madam President." Honor leaned back, sipping from a stein of Old Tillman and shrugged. "Despite that, though, I think you're both underestimating the selling power of what each of you have gotten out of the other. Your offer to help us deal with Filareta when you didn't have to do anything of the sort -- when you had every reason not to, in fact -- is going to buy you a lot of goodwill in the Star Empire. And Elizabeth's renunciation of any reparations will smooth a lot of ruffled feathers in Nouveau Paris…not to mention cutting the legs right out from under that snot Younger."

She smiled almost dreamily at the thought.

"Your own suggestion that we hand all of Second Fleet's units back to the Republic won't hurt, either, Honor," Elizabeth pointed out, and this time Pritchart nodded.
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Mar 01, 2012 10:08 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 34

"It certainly won't. And neither will Admiral Tourville's glowing report on how well his people were treated after surrendering," she agreed, then sighed. "I've always regretted ordering that attack, and the number of people who got killed -- on both sides -- because I did is always going to haunt me. But at least something good may come out of it in the end."

It was Honor's turn to nod, although the good Pritchart was referring to hadn't come solely out of the Battle of Manticore. Thomas Theisman's determination that any prisoners his Republic took would be decently treated had gone a long way towards washing the taste of StateSec's barbarisms out of the Star Empire's mouth. And for that matter --

"Your decision to bring all the tech people Admiral Griffith captured at Grendelsbane along with you is going to do even more from our side," she said quietly. "Especially the fact that you brought them all home -- made their repatriation a unilateral concession -- without knowing whether or not we were even going to talk to you."

"That was a master stroke," Elizabeth put in, her voice equally quiet, and shrugged when Pritchart looked back to her. "I'm not trying to suggest it was all political calculation, and neither is Honor. But once it sinks in that you'd decided to repatriate forty-two thousand Manticorans without any preconditions -- and forty-two thousand trained and experienced shipyard workers, at that -- one hell of a lot of entrenched ill feeling is going to take a shot on the chin. Especially given how desperately we need people like that after the Yawata Strike."

Pritchart shrugged a little uncomfortably.

"Well, we'll find out soon enough whether we're being too pessimistic or Duchess Harrington's being too optimistic, I suppose," she said. "Especially when we go public about my presence here in the Star Empire."

She still wasn't positive that was the best idea. They couldn't keep her arrival a secret forever, of course -- in fact, she was amazed it hadn't already leaked, given the number of ambassadors who'd been consulted -- but once Elizabeth handed the treaty over to Parliament, that little secret was going to be as thoroughly outed as any in the history of humanity. Nor was she blind to the PR advantages in publicizing her "daring mission." Yet she was still the woman who'd ordered the resumption of hostilities almost three T-years ago…and the one who'd ordered Thomas Theisman to Launch Operation Beatrice against this very star system.

"Oh, I'm not worried about that." Elizabeth waved one hand.

She and Pritchart had discussed the president's concerns in detail, and the empress was convinced the other woman was worrying unduly. Yes, the Battle of Manticore had killed an enormous number of people, but far fewer than the Yawata Strike, and all of them had been military casualties. Unlike the people behind the Yawata Strike, the Republic had scrupulously avoided preventable civilian casualties. After fifteen T-years fighting the People's Republic, even the most anti-Havenite Manticoran had been only too well aware of what a change that represented, and the contrast with the slaughter of the Yawata Strike only underscored the difference. Say what the most bigoted Manticoran might, the restored Republic had fought its war with honor, and the majority of Manticorans knew it.

"To be honest, I'm more concerned about Simões," Elizabeth went on. "We've got to go public with most of what Cachat and Zilwicki brought back from Mesa, or we're never going to sell this to your Congress, Eloise. For that matter, there are enough diehard Haven-haters in the Star Empire to make it a hard sell here without that, even with Filareta bearing down on us! But the bottom line is that it's still awfully thin for anyone who's inclined to be skeptical about what we've been saying about Mesa -- or Manpower, at least. And, frankly, with the best will in the universe, there's only so much Simões can confirm."

Pritchart sighed heavily in agreement. Then she surprised both of the Manticorans -- and herself -- with a sudden snort of amusement.

"What?" Elizabeth asked after a moment.

"I was just thinking about a conversation Tom Theisman and I had on that very subject," the President replied, and cocked her head at Honor. "I believe you've met Admiral Foraker, Your Grace?"

"Yes, I have," Honor agreed. "Why?"

"Because I've turned out to be even more prophetic than I expected. Right after Cachat and Zilwicki brought Simões in, we were discussing the intelligence windfall he represented, and Tom was waxing pretty enthusiastic…until I asked how valuable an intelligence source he thought Shannon Foraker would have been outside her own specialty."

"Oh, my." Honor gazed at her for a moment, then shook her head. "I hadn't really thought of that comparison, but it does fit, doesn't it?"

"Too well, actually."

Pritchart smiled tartly, but the unfortunate truth was that Herlander Simões really was a male version of Shannon Foraker…and in more ways than one. Like Foraker, he'd been so immersed in his tightly focused researcher's world that he'd been almost totally oblivious to the "big picture." For that matter, the people responsible for the Mesan Alignment's security had obviously taken pains to encourage his tunnel-vision. Also like Foraker, however, his apolitical disinterest in the system in which he'd lived had been shattered. Foraker's awakening had led directly to the destruction of twenty-four State Security superdreadnoughts in a star system called Lovat, and while it was unlikely Simões was going to inflict anything that overtly dramatic upon the Alignment, the long-term effects of his defection were likely to be far worse, eventually. But that was the problem, because "eventually" might not offer a great deal of short-term benefit when it came to getting the draft treaty ratified.

No one was ever going to get Simões back into obliviousness again, yet his fierce determination to do anything he could to smash the Alignment didn't change the fact that he could offer virtually nothing concrete about the Alignment's master strategy, its military resources, or exactly how the Mesa System's open power structure fitted into the Alignment's covert structure. None of those things had mattered to him before Francesca Simões' death, and he hadn't exactly been taking notes for a future defection after his daughter's termination, either.

The president thought once more of the tragedy of Jack McBryde's death. Most of what they "knew" about the Alignment came from the information he'd produced to convince Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki to help him and Simões defect. Kevin Usher's Federal Investigation Agency had turned up forensic evidence which strongly corroborated at least some of McBryde's allegations, and Pritchart was thankful they had even that much, but without McBryde himself to be debriefed in detail (and trotted out to testify before Congress and Parliament), they still had far more questions than answers. Questions whose answers almost certainly would have helped enormously with the ratification fight she expected.

And let's face it, Eloise, she told herself, McBryde would've been a lot more convincing than Simões as a "talking head" in front of the media, too. I believe everything Simões has told us, and God knows the man's got motivation by the megaton! But he simply doesn't know enough -- not firsthand, not in the areas that really matter -- to sell a determined skeptic our version of The Truth. And, bless him, but the man is a geek of truly Forakerian proportions.

She shuddered at the memory of the last time Foraker had testified before the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. Even today, her inability to translate her own technical expertise into political-speak was awesome to behold. In the end, Theisman had been forced to trot out Linda Trenis to interpret for his pet tech witch.

"You know a lot of people, and not just Mesans or Sollies, are going to say this whole thing is one huge fabrication," she went on out loud.
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:56 pm

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A Rising Thunder - Snippet 35

"Of course they are, even if no one with a functional cortex is going to be able to come up with a reason why we fabricated it." Elizabeth's voice was a growl of disgust. "I mean, obviously it's hugely to the Republic's advantage to make it all up as a way to justify stepping into the ring against something the size of the Solarian League beside the star nation it's been fighting for the last twenty years! The fact that I can't imagine why you did that isn't going to keep idiots from figuring there has to be a reason. Not that they're going to be able to suggest one that holds water, either!"

"Well, at least the 'cats will vouch for Simões' truthfulness," Honor pointed out, stroking Nimitz, who lay curled in her lap. The treecat raised his head with an unmistakably complacent purr, and Ariel added a bleeking laugh of his own from the back of Elizabeth's chair. The two of them looked so smug Honor laughed and gave one of Nimitz's ears a tug.

"As I was saying," she continued, "and at the risk of overinflating -- further overinflating, I should say -- two unnamed furry egos, the 'cats can confirm he's telling the truth, and a lot of people here on Manticore will trust their judgment. That may not cut much ice anywhere else, but nothing we could say would convince someone like Kolokoltsov to just take our word for it, anyway. And while I could wish he'd been involved in developing this 'spider drive' of theirs, instead of the 'streak drive,' the stuff he's already given Admiral Hemphill makes it obvious he knows what he's talking about. And what he does know about the 'spider drive' dovetails entirely too neatly with what happened to us for him to be some delusional nut. Not to mention" -- her voice hardened -- "pretty thoroughly demonstrating that Mesa must have been behind the attack, since no one else could've close enough to hit us that way."

Something icy flickered in her eyes, and Nimitz's purr cut off abruptly as he half-rose with a sudden snarl. It was very quiet for a heartbeat or two, but then she gave herself a shake, touched the back of the 'cat's head gently, and smiled apologetically at the other two women.

"You're right about all of that, of course, Admiral." Pritchart agreed in a tone which diplomatically failed to notice the anger and pain which were seldom far from Honor's surface these days. "And it may convince us, and probably even Congress or your Parliament. But it isn't going to change the woman-in-the-street's mind if she's not already inclined to go along with it. And no conspiracy theorist worth her paranoia badge is going to buy it for a heartbeat."

"The best we can do is the best we can do, Madam President," Honor replied in something much closer to a normal tone. She smiled her thanks for the Havenite head of state's tact, then glanced at her chrono. "And assuming the news got released on schedule, we'll be finding out in the next couple of hours just how the Manticoran public, at least, is going to react."

* * *

"-- most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, Patrick!" Kiefer Mallory snorted several hours later. The tall, handsome political columnist was one of the Star Empire's more sought after talking heads, and he knew it. Now his dark eyes glittered as he waved both hands in a gesture of frustration. "Mind you, we're all aware of the threat the Star Empire in general -- and this star system in particular -- faces. And I won't pretend I wouldn't be delighted to find someone prepared to support us. But really --!" He shook his head. "I know I'm not the only one who finds all of this suspiciously convenient for the people who got us into this mess in the first place!"

"Oh?" Jephthah Alverson, a longtime Liberal MP who'd thrown his allegiance to Catherine Montaigne following the High Ridge Government's implosion, leaned forward to look down the HD set's conference table and raise a sardonic eyebrow. "Let me see, now…That would be Baron High Ridge and Elaine Descroix, wouldn't it?"

Mallory, who'd been associated with the Progressive Party for at least three decades (and who'd served as one of the now-vanished Descroix's public spokesmen, before her spectacular downfall), flushed angrily.

* * *

"My, he didn't take that one well, did he?" Emily Alexander-Harrington observed.

"No, he didn't," Honor agreed. Which, she thought, stretched out on the comfortable couch in Emily's private suite, was remarkably foolish of him. Nimitz was comfortably ensconced on her chest, and she tasted his agreement. Even a complete novice should've seen that one coming!

"That's because, despite any surface slickness, he comes from the shallow -- very shallow, in his case -- end of the gene pool…intellectually speaking, that is," Emily replied from the life-support chair parked at the head of the couch. She'd followed Honor's thought almost as easily as the 'cat, and the two of them glanced at each other with matching smiles.

Hamish was stuck in Landing, submerged in the latest deluge of Admiralty business, but Honor had decided she deserved at least one day at home at White Haven after her participation in the Elizabeth-Pritchart political marathon. She'd spent most of that day with her parents and her younger brother and sister, and her family's still sharp-edged grief, especially her father's, had taken their toll on her and Nimitz. At least Alfred Harrington was finally beginning to develop the emotional scar tissue he needed to survive, yet Honor was grateful to have this time with Emily to herself. She needed the older woman's serenity at moments like this, and there wasn't a more insightful political strategist in the entire Star Empire.

Which may be even more useful than usual over the next few weeks, she thought, watching the broadcast as Mallory responded to Alverson.

* * *

"There's a limit to how long the Grantville Government can go on blaming High Ridge for its own current problems." Mallory's tone could have melted lead, but at least he'd paused long enough to be sure he had his temper on a tight leash. "No one's trying to pretend mistakes weren't made on High Ridge's watch, although some of us continue to question the wisdom of sentencing an ex-prime minister to prison for the actions of his government. I know that's not a popular position, but the precedent of criminalizing political opponents is likely to produce all kinds of ugly fallout down the road. And dragging out the 'usual suspects' to wave like some red herring whenever someone criticizes the current government's policies is scarcely a reasoned response to the criticism, Mr. Alverson!"

"Really?" Madeleine Richter asked. "I was under the impression he was convicted of bribery, vote-buying, perjury, extortion, and obstruction of justice, not the actions of his government. Did I read the news accounts incorrectly. Kiefer?" She smiled brightly. "As for Jephthah's point, while I'll agree it's not an extraordinarily polished response, in this instance it does have the virtue of cutting to the heart of the matter. And it's not like your criticism was exactly nuanced and carefully thought out, either."

Mallory's flush darkened and Rosalinda Davidson shook her head. Richter, the sitting MP for East Tannerton, was a senior member of the Centrist Party. As such, her support of the Grantville Government was as much a given as Mallory's opposition to it. Davidson, on the other hand, had been a Liberal Party MP until she got washed out of office in the post-High Ridge tsunami. Since then, she'd earned her living as a columnist and lecturer, and although she and Mallory weren't exactly bosom buddies, they were united in their distaste for the current government.

"You know," she said, a bit pointedly, "bashing people for past or present political affiliations isn't the reason we're here tonight, Madeline. Or I was under the impression it wasn't, at any rate. Minerva?"

She turned to Minerva Prince, who with Patrick DuCain, co-hosted the awesomely popular and long-running Into the Fire. The syndicated show was only one of the flood of programs trying to cope with the bombshell revelation of Eloise Pritchart's presence in the Manticore Binary System, but it had the highest viewership of them all.

"You're right, of course, Rosalinda," Prince replied. "On the other hand, you know Patrick and I usually let our guests have at least some voice in where the discussion goes."
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Re: STICKY: A Rising Thunder Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:02 pm

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Since the book should be available now, this is the last snippet.

A Rising Thunder - Snippet 36

* * *

"That's true enough," Emily agreed, smiling more broadly at Honor. "All that blood in the water's just what their ratings need!"

"I remember," Honor said feelingly, recalling her own Into the Fire appearance, when she'd been beached by the Janacek Admiralty. "And they're not above steering their guests' 'voices' when the water isn't sufficiently chummed, either."

* * *

"At the risk of undermining my own reputation as a troublemaker," Abraham Spencer said from the HD, "I suggest we all hang up our partisan political axes for the moment and concentrate on our official topic." The photogenic (and incredibly wealthy) financier smiled charmingly. "I know no one's really going to believe I'm not hiding in the underbrush to bash someone over the head myself when the moment's ripe, but in the meantime, there is this little matter of the Empress's proposed treaty with Haven. And that other minor revelation about the 'Mesan Alignment.'"

"You mean that so-called revelation, don't you?" Mallory snorted. "It's not as if anyone's offering the kind of evidence we could take to court!"

"Whether the allegations are accurate or not, there's not much question about their explosiveness, Kiefer," DuCain pointed out.

"Assuming anyone in the entire galaxy -- outside the Star Empire, at least -- is going to believe in this vast interstellar conspiracy for a moment," Davidson riposted. She gave Alverson a scathing look. "Especially given the open ties between certain members of Parliament and the Audubon Ballroom."

It was Alverson's eyes' turn to narrow dangerously at the obvious shot at Catherine Montaigne, but Richter intervened before he could fire back.

"You might be surprised how many people will believe it, Rosalinda," she said coldly, reaching up to stroke her dark blue hair. That hair hadn't been dyed or artificially colored; it was the legacy of a grandparent who'd been designed to the special order of a wealthy Solarian with idiosyncratic tastes in "body servants."

"I won't say the devil is beyond blackening," she continued, "but I will say that anyone who looks at Mesa with an open mind has to admit the entire star system, not just Manpower, has never given a single, solitary damn what the rest of 'the entire explored galaxy' thinks of it."

"You know my own feelings where the Ballroom is concerned, Rosalinda," Spencer put in, his expression turning hard. "No matter how much I sympathize with genetic slaves and detest the entire loathsome institution, I've never sanctioned the sort of outright terrorism to which the Ballroom's resorted far too often. I've never made any secret of my feelings on that subject. Indeed, you may recall that little spat Klaus Hauptman and I had on the subject following the liberation of Torch."

One or two of the guests snorted out loud at that. The "little spat" had taken place right here on Into the Fire, and the clash of two such powerful (and wealthy) titans had assumed epic proportions.

"But having said that," he continued, "and even conceding that this information appears to have reached us at least partially through the Ballroom's auspices, I believe it. A lot of odd mysteries and unexplained 'coincidences' suddenly make a lot more sense. And as Madeline says, if any star system in the galaxy is corrupt enough to have given birth to something like this, it's sure as hell Mesa!"

"And on that basis we're supposed to believe there's some kind of centuries-long conspiracy aimed at us and the Republic of Haven out there?" Davidson rolled her eyes. "Please, Abraham! I'm entirely prepared to admit the Mesans are terrible people and genetic slavery is a horrible perversion, but they're basically nothing more than examples of the evils of unbridled capitalism. And, no, I'm not saying capitalism automatically produces evil ends. I'm simply saying that where Manpower is concerned -- and looking at all the other transstellars headquartered in Mesa with it -- we're talking about something that makes the worst robber barons of Old Terra's history seem like pikers. People like that don't try to destabilize something like the Solarian League when they're doing so well swimming around in the corruption of its sewers!"

"Then why do you think President Pritchart made this unprecedented, dramatic voyage to Manticore?" Prince asked, and Davidson turned back to the hostess with a shrug.

"There could be any number of reasons. It's even possible -- however unlikely I think it is -- that she genuinely believes Mesa is after both of us. On the other hand, I think it's also possible she and her intelligence types, possibly with the cooperation of the Audubon Ballroom and its … allies" -- she pointedly avoided looking in Alverson's direction -- "concocted the entire story. Or least embroidered it, shall we say?"

"For what possible reason?" Spencer demanded. Davidson looked at him, and it was his turn to shrug. "As Kiefer himself pointed out a moment ago, the Republic's standing with us against the Solarian League. Could you possibly suggest any logical motive for people we've been fighting for twenty years to suddenly decide, completely out of the blue, to get between us and something the size of the Sollies at a moment when we're more vulnerable than we've been in over a decade? Forgive me if I seem obtuse, Rosalinda, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why any Machiavellian worth his -- or in this case, her -- 'I-am-devious' Evil Overlord's badge would do something that stupid!"

* * *

"I believe Abraham, to use Hamish's delightful phrase, is about ready to rip someone a new anal orifice," Emily observed.

"Odd," Honor said, "I don't seem to recall his using those two words."

"That's because he doesn't," Emily replied with a smile, then elevated her nose with a sniff. "I, on the other hand, am far more genteel than he is."

"That's one way to describe it."

"Hush!" Emily smacked Honor on the head with her working hand. "I want to see if Rosalinda has a stroke on system-wide HD."

"You wish," Honor muttered.

* * *

"I just acknowledged that Pritchart might genuinely believe all this," Davidson told Spencer tightly. "I think there are other possibilities, as well -- convincing us we're both on someone else's 'hit list' in order to extort such favorable peace terms out of us comes to mind, for example -- but of course she could really believe it. Which doesn't mean someone else hasn't sold her a fabricated bill of goods and used her to sell it to us. You just mentioned the Ballroom. Surely if it would benefit anyone in the galaxy for us and the Republic to turn on the Mesa System with everything we've got, it would have to be the Ballroom and its ideological allies, don't you think?"

"That's the most paranoid thing I've ever heard!" Alverson snapped. "And I can't believe the mental hoops you're willing to jump through to avoid admitting even the possibility that this McBryde might conceivably've been telling the truth! For that matter, the treecats verify that Dr. Simões, at least, definitely is telling the truth. Which means --"

"If you're prepared to take the treecats' word," Mallory interrupted. Several of the others looked at him incredulously, and he scowled. "What I mean is that we've had plenty of experience with people who've been brainwashed -- or simply misled -- into genuinely believing something that's demonstrably false. So far as I'm aware, not even the treecats' most fervent champions have claimed they can know when that's the case. Suppose for a moment Rosalinda's right about someone like the Ballroom wanting to fabricate a story like this. I'm not saying that's necessarily what happened; I'm just asking you to consider the possibility. In that case, knowing you were going to have to sell your story to the Star Empire, wouldn't it make sense to brainwash your 'star witness' into absolutely -- and honestly -- believing what you've primed him to tell us?"

"Oh, for the love of --!" Richter began.

"And, on that note, we have to go to break," Prince interrupted, smiling brightly at the camera while DuCain struggled mightily not to laugh. "Don't go away! Into the Fire will be back in just a few moments to continue this…lively exchange."
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