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STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu May 13, 2010 10:46 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 40

Chapter Twelve

"May I help you, Lieutenant?"

The exquisitely tailored maître d' didn't sound as if he really expected to be able to assist two such junior officers, who'd undoubtedly strayed into his establishment by mistake.

"Oh, yes -- please! We're here to join Lieutenant Archer," Abigail Hearns told him. "Um, we may be a few minutes early, I'm afraid."

She managed, Ensign Helen Zilwicki observed to sound very . . . earnest. Possibly even a little nervous at intruding into such elegant surroundings, but very determined. And the fact that her father could have bought the entire Sigourney's Fine Restaurants chain out of pocket change wasn't particularly in evidence, either. The fact that she was third-generation prolong and looked considerably younger than her already very young age, especially to eyes not yet accustomed to the latest generations of prolong, undoubtedly helped, yet she clearly possessed a fair degree of thespian talent, as well. The maître d' was clearly convinced she'd escaped from a high school -- probably a lower-class high school, given her soft, slow Grayson accent -- for the afternoon, at least. His expression of politely sophisticated attentiveness didn't actually change a millimeter, but Helen had the distinct impression of an internal wince.

"Ah, Lieutenant Archer," he repeated. "Of course. If you'll come this way, please?"

He set sail across the intimately lit main dining room's sea of linen-draped tables, and Abigail and Helen bobbed along in his wake like a pair of dinghies. They crossed to a low archway on the opposite side of the big room, then followed him down two shallow steps into a dining room with quite a different (though no less expensive) flavor. The floor had turned into artfully worn bricks, the walls -- also of brick -- had a rough, deliberately unfinished look, and the ceiling was supported by heavy wooden beams.

Well, by what looked like wooden beams, Helen thought, although they probably weren't all that impressive to someone like Abigail who'd grown up in a (thoroughly renovated) medieval pile of stone over six hundred years old. One which really did have massive, age-blackened beams, a front gate fit to sneer at battering rams, converted firing slits for windows, and fireplaces the size of a destroyer's boat bay.

Two people were seated at one of the dark wooden tables. One of them -- a snub nosed, green-eyed officer in the uniform of a Royal Manticoran Navy lieutenant -- looked up and waved as he saw them. His companion -- a stunningly attractive blonde -- turned her head when he waved, and smiled as she, too, saw the newcomers.

"Thank you," Abigail told the maître d' politely, and that worthy murmured something back, then turned and departed with what in a less eminent personage might have been described as relieved haste.

"You know," Abigail said as she and Helen crossed to the table, "you really should be ashamed of the way you deliberately offend that poor man's sensibilities, Gwen."

Personally, Helen was reminded rather forcefully of the old saying about pots and kettles, given Abigail's simpering performance for the same maître d', but she nobly forbore saying so.

"Me?" Lieutenant Gervais Winton Erwin Neville Archer's expression was one of utter innocence. "How could you possibly suggest such a thing, Miss Owens?"

"Because I know you?"

"Is it my fault nobody on this restaurant's entire staff has bothered to inquire into the exalted pedigrees of its patrons?" Gervais demanded. "If you're going to blame anyone, blame her."

He pointed across the table at the blonde, who promptly smacked the offending hand.

"It's not polite to point," she told him in a buzz saw-like accent. "Even we brutish, lower-class Dresdeners know that much!"

"Maybe not, but that doesn't make it untrue, does it?" he shot back.

"I didn't say it did," Helga Boltitz, Defense Minister Henri Krietzmann's personal aide, replied, and smiled at the newcomers. "Hello, Abigail. And you too, Helen."

"Hi, Helga," Abigail responded, and Helen nodded her own acknowledgment of the greeting as she seated herself beside Helga. Abigail settled into the remaining chair, facing Helen across the table, and looked up as their waiter appeared.

He took their drink orders, handed them menus, and disappeared, and she cocked her head at Gervais as she opened the elegant, two centimeter-thick binder.

"Helga may have put you up to it, and I can't say I blame her," she said." This has to be the snootiest restaurant I've ever eaten in, and trust me, Daddy's taken me to some really snooty places. Not to mention the way they fawn over a steadholder or his family. But you're the one who's taking such a perverse enjoyment over thinking about how these people are going to react when they find out the truth."

"What truth would that be?" Gervais inquired more innocently yet. "You mean the fact that I'm a cousin -- of some sort, anyway -- of the Queen? Or that Helen here's sister is the Queen of Torch? Or that your own humble father is Steadholder Owens?"

"That's exactly what she means, you twit," Helga told him, blue eyes glinting with amusement, and leaned across the table to whack him gently on the head. "And much as I'm going to enjoy it when they do find out, don't think I don't remember how you did exactly the same thing to me!"

"I never misled you in any way," he said virtuously.

"Oh, no? If I hadn't looked you up in Clarke's Peerage, you never would've told me, would you?"

"Oh, I imagine I'd have gotten around to it eventually," he said, and his voice was considerably softer than it had been. He smiled at her, and she smiled back, gave his right hand a pat where it lay on the table between them, then settled back in her chair.

If anyone had suggested to Helga Boltitz eight months ago that she might find herself comfortable with, or actually liking, someone from a background of wealth and privilege, she would have laughed. The idea that someone from Dresden, that sinkhole of hardscrabble, lower-class, grub-for-a-living poverty could have anything in common with someone from such stratospheric origins would have been ludicrous. And, if she were going to be honest, that was still true where the majority of the Talbott Quadrant's homegrown oligarchs were concerned. More than that, she felt entirely confident she was going to run into Manticorans who were just as arrogant and supercilious as she'd always imagined they'd be.

But Gervais Archer had challenged her preconceptions -- gently, but also firmly -- and, in the process, convinced her that there were at least some exceptions to the rule. Which explained how she found herself sitting at this table in such monumentally well-connected company.

"Personally," Helen said, "my only regret is that I probably won't be here when they do find out."

At twenty-one, she was the youngest of the quartet, as well as the most junior in rank. And she was also the non-Dresdener who came closest to sharing Helga's attitudes where aristocrats and oligarchs were concerned. Not surprisingly, given the fact that she'd been born on Gryphon and raised by a Gryphon highlander who'd proceeded to take up with the closest thing to a rabble-rousing anarchist the Manticoran peerage had ever produced when Helen was barely thirteen years old.

"If you really want to see their reaction, I suppose you could tell them yourself this afternoon," Abigail pointed out.

"Oh, no way!" Helen chuckled. "I might want to be here to see it, but the longer it takes them to figure it out, the more irritated they're going to be when they finally do!"

Abigail shook her head. She'd spent more time on Manticore than she had back home on Grayson, over the last nine or ten T-years, but despite the undeniable, mischievous enjoyment she'd felt when dissembling for the maître d', there were times when she still found her Manticoran friends' attitude towards their own aristocracy peculiar. As Gervais had pointed out, her father was a steadholder, and the deepest longings of the most hard-boiled member of Manticore's Conservative Association were but pale shadows of the reality of a steadholder's authority within his steading. The term "absolute monarch" fell comfortably short of that reality, although "supreme autocrat" was probably headed in the right direction.

As a result of her own birth and childhood, she had remarkably few illusions about the foibles and shortcomings of the "nobly born." Yet she was also the product of a harsh and unforgiving planet and a profoundly traditional society, one whose deference and rules of behavior were based deep in the bedrock of survival's imperatives. She still found the irreverent, almost fondly mocking attitude of so many Manticorans towards their own aristocracy unsettling. In that respect, she was even more like Helga than Helen was, she thought. Hostility, antagonism, even hatred -- those she could understand, when those born to positions of power abused that power rather than meeting its responsibilities. The sort of self-deprecating amusement someone like Gwen Archer displayed, on the other hand, didn't fit itself comfortably into her own core concepts, even though she'd seen exactly the same attitude out of dozens of other Manticorans who were at least as well born as he was.

I guess you can take the girl off of Grayson, but you can't take Grayson out of the girl, she thought. It wasn't the first time that thought had crossed her mind. And it won't be the last, either, she reflected tartly.

She started to say something else, then paused as their drinks arrived and the waiter took their orders. He disappeared once more, and she sipped iced tea (something she'd had trouble finding in Manticoran restaurants), then lowered her glass.

"Leaving aside the ignoble, although I'll grant you entertaining, contemplation of the coronaries certain to follow the discovery of our despicable charade, I shall now turn this conversation in a more sober minded and serious direction."

"Good luck with that," Helen murmured.

"As I was about to ask," Abigail continued, giving her younger friend a ferocious glare, "how are things going dirtside, Helga?"

"As frantically as ever." Helga grimaced, took a sip from her own beer stein, then sighed. "I guess it's inevitable. Unfortunately, it's only going to get worse. I don't think anyone in the entire Quadrant's ever seen this many dispatch boats in orbit around a single planet before!"

All three of her listeners grimaced back at her in understanding.

"I don't suppose we can really blame them," she went on, "even if I do want to shoot the next newsy I see on sight! But exactly how they expect Minister Krietzmann to get anything done when they keep hounding him for 'statements' and 'background interviews' is more than I can imagine."

"One of the less pleasant consequences of an open society," Gervais said, rather more philosophically than he felt.

"Exactly," Abigail agreed, then smiled unpleasantly. "Although I'd like to see the newsy back home on Grayson who thought he could get away with 'hounding' Daddy!"
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun May 16, 2010 11:04 pm

DrakBibliophile
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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 41


"Well, fair's fair," Helen said judiciously. They all looked at her, and she shrugged. "Maybe it's because I've spent so much time watching Cathy Montaigne maneuver back home, but it occurs to me that having Thimble crawling with newsies may be the best thing that could happen."

"Just how do you mean that?" Gervais asked. In the wrong tone, the question could have been dismissive, especially given the difference in their ages and relative seniority. As it was, he sounded genuinely curious, and she shrugged again.

"Politics is all about perceptions and understandings. I realize Cathy Montaigne's mainly involved in domestic politics right now, but the same basic principle applies in interstellar diplomacy. If you control the terms of the debate, the advantage is all on your side. You can't make somebody on the other side make the decision you want, but you've got a much better chance of getting her to do that if she's got to defend her position in the public mind instead of you having to defend your position. Controlling the information -- and especially the public perception of that information -- is one of the best ways to limit her options to the ones most favorable to your own needs. Don't forget, if the Sollies want a formal declaration of war, all it takes is one veto by a full member star system to stop them. That's a pretty significant prize for a PR campaign to go after. And, at the moment, the way we want to control the debate is simply to tell the truth about what happened at New Tuscany, right?"

Gervais nodded, and she shrugged a third time.

"Well, if all the newsies in the universe are here in Spindle getting our side of the story, looking at the sensor data we've released, and interviewing our people, that's what's going to be being reported back on Old Terra. They can try to spin it any way they want, but the basic message getting sent back to all those Sollies -- even by their own newsies -- is going to be built on what they're finding out here, from us."

"That's more or less what Minister Krietzmann says," Helga admitted, "although he's prone to use some pretty colorful adjectives to describe the newsies in question."

"I think Lady Gold Peak would agree, too, even if she is doing her dead level best to stay as far away from them as possible," Gervais said, and Abigail and Helen nodded. As Michelle Henke's flag lieutenant, he was in a far better position to form that kind of judgment than either of them were.

"What about Sir Aivars?" Helga asked. Helen, who was Sir Aivars Terekhov's flag lieutenant, raised both eyebrows at her, and Helga snorted. "He may be only a commodore, Helen, but everybody in the Quadrant knows how long he spent in the diplomatic service before he went back into uniform. Besides, Mr. Van Dort and the rest of the Prime Minister's cabinet all have enormous respect for him."

"We haven't actually discussed it," Helen replied after a moment. "On the other hand, he's passed up at least half a dozen opportunities I can think of to hide aboard the Jimmy Boy to avoid interviews, so I'd say he was doing his bit to shape public opinion."

Gervais grinned as she used the crew's nickname for HMS Quentin Saint-James. The brand-new Saganami-C-class heavy cruiser had been in commission for barely five months, yet she'd had her official nickname almost before the commissioning ceremonies concluded. Most ships wouldn't have managed the transition that quickly, but in Quentin Saint-James' case things were a bit different. Her name was on the RMN's List of Honor, to be kept in permanent commission, and the nickname was the same one which had been applied to the first Quentin Saint-James the better part of two T-centuries ago.

And if "Jimmy Boy" was a youngster, she was scarcely alone in that. In fact, aside from Admiral Khumalo's ancient superdreadnought flagship Hercules, there wasn't a single ship heavier than a light cruiser in Admiral Gold Peak's Tenth Fleet which was even a full year old yet. Indeed, most of the destroyers were no older than Quentin St. James and her sisters.

"Well," Helga said after a moment, "I imagine the Minister will go right on 'doing his bit', too. Don't expect him to like it, though."

"Some things are more likely than others," Helen agreed. Then she snorted.

"What?" Abigail asked.

"Nothing." Abigail looked skeptical, and Helen chuckled. "All right, I was just thinking about how the first newsy to shove his microphone in Daddy's face would make out. I'm sure Daddy would be sorry afterwards. He'd probably even insist on paying the medical bills himself."

"I wondered where you got that physically violent disposition of yours," Gervais said blandly.

"I am not physically violent!"

"Oh, no?" He did his best to look down his longitude-challenged nose at her. "You may recall that I was sent over to Quentin Saint-James with that note from Lady Gold Peak to the Commodore last week?" She looked at him suspiciously, then nodded. "Well, I just happened to wander by the gym while I was there and I saw you throwing people around the mat with gay abandon."

"I wasn't!" she protested with a gurgle of laughter.

"You most certainly were. One of your henchmen told me you were using something called the 'Flying Mare's Warhammer of Doom, Destruction, and Despair.'"

"Called the what?" Helga looked at Helen in disbelief.

"It's not called any such thing, and you know it!" Helen accused, doing her best to glare at Gervais.

"I don't know about that," he said virtuously. "That's what I was told it was called."

"Okay," Abigail said. "Now you've got to tell us what it's really called, Helen!"

"The way he's mangled it, even I don't know which one it was!"

"Well, try to sort it out."

"I'm guessing -- and that's all it is, you understand -- that it was probably a combination of the Flying Mare, the Hand Hammer, and -- maybe -- the Scythe of Destruction."

"And that's supposed to be better than what he just said?" Abigail looked at her in disbelief. Abigail herself had become proficient in coup de vitesse, but she'd never trained in Helen's chosen Neue-Stil Handgemenge. "Coup de vitesse doesn't even have names for most of its moves, but if it did, it wouldn't have those!"

"Look, don't blame me," Helen replied. "The people who worked this stuff out in the first place named the moves, not me! According to Master Tye, they were influenced by some old entertainment recordings. Something called 'movies.'"

"Oh, Tester!" Abigail shook her head. "Forget I said a thing!"

"What?" Helen looked confused, and Abigail snorted.

"Up until Lady Harrington did some research back home in Manticore -- I think she even queried the library computers in Beowulf and on Old Terra, as a matter of fact -- nobody on Grayson had ever actually seen the movies our ancestors apparently based their notions of swordplay on. Now, unfortunately, we have. And fairness requires that I admit most of the 'samurai movies' were at least as silly as anything the Neue-Stil people could have been watching."

"Well, my ancestors certainly never indulged in anything that foolish," Gervais said with an air of unbearable superiority.

"Want to bet?" Abigail inquired with a dangerous smile.

"Why?" he asked distrustfully.

"Because if I remember correctly, your ancestors came from Old North America -- from the Western Hemisphere, at least -- just like mine did."

"And?"

"And while Lady Harrington was doing her research on samurai movies, she got some cross hits to something called 'cowboy movies.' So she brought them along, too. In fact, she got her uncle and his friends in the SCA involved in putting together a 'movie festival' in Harrington Steading. Quite a few of those movies were made in a place called Hollywood, which also happens to have been in Old North America. Some of them were actually darned good, but others --" She shuddered. "Trust me, your ancestors and mine apparently had . . . erratic artistic standards, let's say."

"That's all very interesting, I'm sure," Gervais said briskly, "but it's leading us astray from the truly important focus we ought to be maintaining on current events."

"In other words," Helga told Abigail, "he's losing the argument, so he's changing the rules."

"Maybe he is," Helen said. "No, scratch that -- he definitely is. Still, he may have a point. It's not like any of us are going to be in a position to make any earth shattering decisions, but between us, we're working for several people who will be. Under the circumstances, I don't think it would hurt a bit for us to share notes. Nothing confidential, but the kind of general background stuff that might let me answer one of the Commodore's questions without his having to get hold of someone in Minister Krietzmann's office or someone on Lady Gold Peak's staff, for instance."

"That's actually a very good point," Gervais said much more seriously, nodding at her in approval, and she felt a glow of satisfaction. She was preposterously young and junior for her current assignment, but at least she seemed to be figuring out how to make herself useful.

"I agree," Abigail said, although as the tactical officer aboard one of the new Roland-class destroyers she was the only person at the table who wasn't a flag lieutenant or someone's personal aide, and gave Helen a smile.

"Well, in that case," Gervais said, "have you guys heard about what Lady Gold Peak is planning to do to Admiral Oversteegen?"

* * *

"It's time, Admiral," Felicidad Kolstad said.

"I know," Admiral Topolev of the Mesan Alignment Navy replied.

He sat once more upon MANS Mako's flag bridge. Beyond the flagship's hull, fourteen more ships of Task Group 1.1, kept perfect formation upon her, and the brilliant beacon of Manticore-A blazed before them. They were only one light-week from that star, now, and they'd decelerated to only twenty percent of light-speed. This was the point for which they'd been headed ever since leaving Mesa four T-months before. Now it was time to do what they'd come here to do.

"Begin deployment," he said, and the enormous hatches opened and the pods began to spill free.

The six units of Task Group 1.2 were elsewhere, under Rear Admiral Lydia Papnikitas, closing on Manticore-B. They wouldn't be deploying their pods just yet, not until they'd reached their own preselected launch point. Topolev wished he'd had more ships to commit to that prong of the attack, but the decision to move up Oyster Bay had dictated the available resources, and this prong had to be decisive. Besides, there were fewer targets in the Manticore-B subsystem, anyway, and the planners had had to come up with the eight additional Shark-class ships for Admiral Colenso's Task Group 2.1's Grayson operation from somewhere.

It'll be enough, he told himself, watching as the pods disappeared steadily behind his decelerating starships, vanishing into the endless dark between the stars. It'll be enough. And in about five weeks, the Manties are going to get a late Christmas present they'll never forget.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue May 18, 2010 11:08 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

Posts: 2120
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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 42

Chapter Thirteen

Audrey O'Hanrahan reached for the acceptance key as her com played the 1812 Overture. She especially liked the version she'd used for her attention signal, which had been recorded using real (if exceedingly archaic) cannon. She had a fondness for archaisms -- in fact, she was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms here in Old Chicago. Besides, the exuberance of her chosen attention signal suited her persona as one of the Solarian League's foremost muckraking journalists.

Investigative journalism of the bare knuckled, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners style O'Hanrahan practiced was considerably less lucrative than other possible media careers. Or, at least, it was for serious journalists; there was always a market for the sensationalist "investigative reporter" who was willing to shoulder the task of providing an incredibly jaded public with fresh, outrageous titillation. O'Hanrahan, however, had always avoided that particular branch of the human race's third oldest profession. The daughter and granddaughter of respected journalists, she'd proven she took her own reportorial responsibilities seriously from the very beginning, and she'd quickly gained a reputation as one of those rare birds: a newsy whose sources were always rock solid, who genuinely attempted to cover her stories fairly . . . and who never backed away from a fight.

She'd picked a lot of those fights with the cheerfulness of a David singling out Goliaths, and she'd always been an equal opportunity stone-slinger. Her pieces had skewered the bureaucratic reality behind the representative façade of the Solarian League for years, and she'd never hesitated to denounce the sweetheart deals the Office of Frontier Security was fond of cutting with Solarian transstellars. Just to be fair, she'd done more than a few stories about the close (and lucrative) connections so many senior members of the Renaissance Association maintained with the very power structure it was officially so devoted to reforming from the ground up, as well. And she'd done a series on the supposedly outlawed genetic slave trade which was so devastating -- and had named enough specific names -- that there were persistent rumors Manpower had put a sizable bounty on her head.

She'd also been one of the first Solarian journalists to report the Manticoran allegations of what had happened at Monica, and although she was no Manticoran apologist, she'd made it clear to her viewers and readers that the waters in Monica were very murky indeed. And as Amanda Corvisart showed the Solarian news media the overwhelming evidence of Manpower's and Technodyne's involvement, she'd reported that, too.

The Solarian establishment hadn't exactly lined up to thank her for her efforts, but that was all right with O'Hanrahan and her producers. She was only fifty-three T-years old, a mere babe in a prolong society, and if the market for old-fashioned investigative reporting was limited, it still existed. In fact, even a relatively small niche market in the League's media amounted to literally billions of subscribers, and O'Hanrahan's hard-earned reputation for integrity meant that despite her relative youth, she stood at the very apex of her particular niche. Not only that, but even those members of the establishment who most disliked her habit of turning over rocks they'd prefer remained safely mired in the mud paid attention to what she said. They knew as well as anyone else that if they read it in an O'Hanrahan article or viewed it in an O'Hanrahan 'cast, it was going to be as accurate, and as thoroughly verified, as was humanly possible. She'd made occasional mistakes, but they could have been easily counted on the fingers of one hand, and she'd always been quick to admit them and to correct them as promptly as possible.

Now, as she touched the acceptance key, the image of a man sprang into life in the holo display above her desk, and she frowned. Baltasar Juppé was scarcely one of her muckraking colleagues. He was nine or ten T-years older than she was, and influential, in his own way, as a financial analyst and reporter. It was a specialist's beat -- in many ways, as specialized a niche as O'Hanrahan's, if larger -- and it was just as well Juppé's audience was so focused. Human prejudice was still human prejudice, which meant people automatically extended more respect and benefit of the doubt to those fortunate souls who were physically attractive, especially when they had intelligence and charisma to go with that attractiveness And where O'Hanrahan was auburn-haired, with crystal-blue eyes, elegant bone structure, a graceful carriage, and an understated but rich figure, Juppé's brown hair always hovered on the edge of going out of control, his brown eyes were muddy, and he was (at best) pleasantly ugly.

Although they ran into one another occasionally, they were hardly what one could have called boon companions. They belonged to many of the same professional organizations, and they often found themselves covering the same story -- if from very different perspectives -- given the corruption and graft which gathered like cesspool silt wherever the League's financial structure intersected with the permanent bureaucracies. For example, they'd both covered the Monica story, although Juppé had scarcely shared O'Hanrahan's take on the incident. Of course, he'd always been a vocal critic of the extent to which Manticore and its merchant marine had penetrated the League's economy, so it was probably inevitable that he'd be more skeptical of the Manticoran claims and evidence.

"Hi, Audrey!" he said brightly, and her frown deepened.

"To what do I owe the putative pleasure of this conversation?" she responded with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

"I'm hurt." He placed one hand on his chest, in the approximate region where most non-newsies kept their hearts, and concentrated on looking as innocent as he could. "In fact, I'm devastated! I can't believe you're that unhappy to see me when I come bearing gifts."

"Isn't there a proverb about being wary of newsies bearing gifts?"

"There probably is, except where you're concerned," he agreed cheerfully. "And if there isn't one, there ought to be. But in this case, I really thought you'd like to know."

"Know what?" she asked suspiciously.

"That I've finally gotten my hands on an independent account of what happened in New Tuscany," he replied, and his voice and expression alike were suddenly much more serious.

"You have?" O'Hanrahan sat up straighter in her chair, blue eyes narrowing with undisguised suspicion. "From where? From who? And why are you calling me about it?"

"You really are a muckraker, aren't you?" Juppé smiled crookedly. "It hasn't hit the public channels yet, and it probably won't for at least another day or so, but as you know, I've got plenty of contacts in the business community."

He paused, one eyebrow raised, until she nodded impatiently.

"Well," he continued then, "those sources include one of the VPs for Operations over at Brinks Fargo. And he just happened to mention to me that one of his dispatch boats, just in from Visigoth, had a somewhat different version of events in New Tuscany."

"From Visigoth?" she repeated, then grimaced. "You mean Mesa, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, in a way," he acknowledged. "Not in the way you mean, though."

"The way I mean?"

"In the 'the miserable minions of those wretched Mesan outlaw corporations' deliberately slanted and twisted' sort of way."

"I don't automatically discount every single news reports that comes out of Mesa, Baltasar."

"Maybe not automatically, but with remarkable consistency," he shot back.

"Which owes more to the self-serving, highly creative version of events the so-called Mesan journalistic community presents with such depressing frequency than it does to any inherent unreasonableness on my part."

"I notice you're not all over the Green Pines story, and there's independent corroboration of that one," Juppé pointed out a bit nastily, and her blue eyes narrowed.

"There's been corroboration of the explosions for months," she retorted, "and if you followed my stories, you'd know I covered them then. And, for that matter, I suggested at the time that it was likely there was Ballroom involvement. I still think that's probably the case. But I find it highly suspect -- and convenient, for certain parties -- that the Mesans' 'in-depth investigation' has revealed -- surprise, surprise! -- that a 'notorious' Manticoran operative was involved." She rolled her eyes. "Give me a break, Baltasar!"

"Well, Zilwicki may be from Manticore, but he's been in bed with the Ballroom for years -- literally, since he took up with that looney-tune rabble-rouser Montaigne," Juppé riposted. "And don't forget, his daughter's 'Queen of Torch'! Plenty of room for him to've gone completely rogue there."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu May 20, 2010 10:52 pm

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 43


"Maybe, if he was a complete lunatic. Or just plain stupid enough to pull something like that," O'Hanrahan retorted. "I checked his available public bio, including that in-depth report what's-his-name -- Underwood -- did on him, as soon as Mesa's version hit the data channels. I'll admit the man's scary as hell if you go after someone he cares about, but he's no homicidal maniac. In fact, his more spectacular accomplishments all seem to've been defensive, not offensive. You come after him or his, and all bets are off; otherwise, he's not especially bloodthirsty. And he's for damned sure smart enough to know what nuking a public park full of kids would do to public support for his daughter's new kingdom. For that matter, the whole damned galaxy knows what he'll do if someone goes after one of his kids. You really think someone with that kind of resume would sign off on killing hundreds or thousands of someone else's kids?" She shook her head again. "Which am I supposed to believe? The public record of someone like Zilwicki? Or the kind of self-serving, fabricated, made-up-out-of-whole-cloth kind of 'independent journalism' that comes out of Mendel?"

From the look in her eye, it was evident which side of that contradiction she favored, even if a huge segment of the Solarian media had chosen the other one. While it was true the Solarian League's official position, as enunciated by Education and Information, refused to rush to judgment on the spectacular Mesan claims that Manticore -- or, at least, Manticoran proxies -- had been behind the Green Pines atrocity, "unnamed sources" within the League bureaucracy had been far less circumspect, and O'Hanrahan and Juppé both knew exactly who those "unnamed sources" were. So did the rest of the League's media, which had been obediently baying on the appropriate trail of Manticoran involvement from day one.

Which, as Juppé knew full well, had absolutely no bearing on O'Hanrahan's categorization of the original story.

"Much as I hate to admit it, given how much impact Mesa sometimes has on the business community here in the League," he said, "I can't really argue with that characterization of a lot of what comes out of their newsies. Mind you, I really am less convinced than you seem to be that Anton Zilwicki's such a choir boy that he wouldn't be involved in something like Green Pines. But that's beside the point, this time." He waved one hand in a brushing-aside gesture. "This story isn't from Mesa; it's straight from New Tuscany. It only came through Mesa because that was the shortest route to Old Terra that didn't go through Manty-controlled space."

O'Hanrahan cocked her head, her eyes boring into his.

"Are you seriously suggesting that whoever dispatched this mysterious story from New Tuscany was actually frightened of what the Manticorans might do if they found out about it?" she demanded in obvious disbelief.

"As to that, I'm not the best witness." Juppé shrugged. "I don't cover politics and the military and Frontier Security the way you do, except where they impinge on the financial markets. You and I both know a lot of the financial biggies are major players in OFS' private little preserves out in the Verge, but my personal focus is a lot more on banking and the stock exchange. So I don't really have the background to evaluate this whole thing. But I do know that according to my friend, and to the courier, they really, really wanted to avoid going through any Manty wormholes."

"Why?" Her eyes were narrower than ever, burning with intensity, and he shrugged again.

"Probably because this isn't really a story, at all. It's a dispatch from someone in the New Tuscan government to one of his contacts here on Old Terra. And it's not for public release -- not immediately, at any rate."

"Then why send it?"

"I tracked the courier down and asked that very question, as a matter of fact. Got the answer, too -- for a price." He grimaced. "Cost me the next best thing to five months' street money, too, and I hope like hell my editor's going to decide it was worth it instead of sticking my personal account for the charges. And to be honest, I don't think I'd gotten it even then if the man hadn't been so unhappy with his bosses' instructions."

"And why was he so unhappy?" Her tone was skeptical.

"Because the person he's supposed to deliver it to is over at the Office of Naval Intelligence, but his immediate boss -- somebody in the New Tuscan government; I couldn't get him to tell me who, but I figure it's got to be somebody from their security services -- doesn't want the Navy to go public with it," Juppé said. "They want it in official hands, because it doesn't track with the Manties' version of the story, but they're asking the Navy to keep things quiet until Frontier Fleet can get reinforcements deployed to protect them from the Manties."

"According to the Manties, they don't have any big quarrel with New Tuscany," O'Hanrahan pointed out. "They've never accused the New Tuscans of firing on their ships."

"I know. But, like I say, this stuff doesn't match what Manticore's been saying. In fact, the courier let me copy what's supposed to be the New Tuscan Navy's raw sensor records of the initial incident. And according to those records, the Manty ships were not only light cruisers, instead of destroyers, but they fired first, before Admiral Byng opened fire on them."

"What?"

O'Hanrahan stared at Juppé, and the financial reporter looked back at her as she frowned in concentration.

"That's ridiculous," she said finally. "The Manties wouldn't be that stupid. Besides, what would be the point? Is this mysterious 'courier' claiming the Manties are crazy enough to deliberately provoke an incident with the Solarian Navy?"

"As far as I know, he's not claiming anything, one way or the other," Juppé replied. "He's just delivering the dispatch and the scan records, and as I understand it, they're certified copies of the official data." He grimaced. "Hell, maybe the Manties knew all along that it was their man who screwed up, and they've been working on 'proving' it was the League because they figure the only way to avoid getting hammered is to put the blame on the other side."

"Oh, sure." O'Hanrahan's irony was withering. "I can just see someone in the Manty government being stupid enough to think they'd get away with something like that!"

"I was just offering one possible theory," he pointed out. "Still, I have to say that if there's any truth to Mesa's allegations about Zilwicki and Green Pines, the Manties don't seem to be playing with a full deck these days. In fact, I think 'out of control' might not be a bad way to describe them. And, for that matter, weren't you one of the people who pointed out just how stupid what's-his-name -- Highbridge? -- was in the lead up to this fresh war of theirs?"

"That was High Ridge," she corrected, but her tone was almost absent. She frowned again, clearly thinking hard, and then her eyes focused again, boring into his once more.

"I'm not about to jump at the first set of counter allegations to come along, especially when they're coming from -- through, at least -- someplace like Mesa. So why bring this red hot scoop to me?"

Her suspicion clearly hadn't abated in the least, and he shrugged yet again.

"Because I trust you," he said, and she blinked.

"Come again?"

"Look," he said. "You know me, and you know how it works. If this is an accurate report, if it's true, the Manties' position is going to go belly-up as soon as it's verified, especially given what Mesa's already saying about Green Pines. And if that happens, the markets are going to go crazy -- or maybe I should say crazier -- as soon as the implications for the Star Empire and its domination of the wormhole net sink in. I mean, let's face it. If the Manties did fake the sensor data they sent with their diplomatic note -- if this is another instance of what the Havenites say they were doing all along under what's-his-name -- and they've killed the entire crew of a Solarian battlecruiser when they know the original 'incident' was their own fault, all hell's going to be out for noon, and Green Pines is only going to squirt more hydrogen into the fire. The SLN's going to pound their miserable little star nation into wreckage, and that's going to have enormous consequences where the wormholes are concerned. There'll be fortunes -- large fortunes -- to be made if something like that happens."

"And?" she encouraged when he paused.

"And I'm an analyst, not just a reporter. If I peg this one right, if I'm the first one -- or one of the first two or three -- on the Net to advise investors to dump Manty-backed securities and stock issues, to reevaluate their positions in shipping, I'll make a killing. I'll admit it; that's what I'm thinking about. Well, that and the fact that it won't hurt my stature as a reporter one bit if people remember I'm the one who broke the story on the financial side."
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun May 23, 2010 11:07 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 44


"And?" she demanded again.

"And I'm not equipped to evaluate it!" he admitted, displaying frustration of his own at last. "Especially not given the fact that this one's got a strictly limited shelf life. Frontier Fleet's going to want to run its own evaluations and check it against what it got from the Manties, we both know that. And then, if it holds up, the guys at the top are going to need to get together, decide whether or not they want to release it right away or confront the Manties with it privately. I guess they could go either way, but I'm willing to bet that as soon as they're confident the data's accurate, they'll go public, whatever the New Tuscans want. That doesn't give me a very wide window if I want to break it first.

"But in the meantime, I don't know whether or not to trust the info, either, and if I do, and I'm wrong, I'll be finished. You've got the background and the contacts to verify this one hell of a lot better than I can, and you've worked with most of them long enough that they'll keep their mouths shut until you break the story if they know you're working on it. So what I'm offering here is a quid pro quo. I've got my copy of the original message, and of the sensor data. I'm prepared to hand it over to you -- to share it with you -- and to share credit for breaking the story if it turns out there's something to it. What do you say?"

Audrey O'Hanrahan regarded him intently for several endless seconds, and it was obvious what she was thinking behind her frown. As he himself had said, it wasn't as if either of them didn't know how the game was played. The old saw about scratching one another's backs was well known among journalists, and Juppé's offer actually made a lot of sense. As he said, he didn't begin to have the sources she did when it came to verifying something like this . . . .

"All right," she said finally. "I'm not going to make any commitments before I've actually seen the stuff. Send it over, and I'll take a look, and if it looks to me like there might be something to it, I'll run it by some people I know and get back to you."

"Get back to me before you go public with it you mean, right?"

"You've got my word I won't break the story -- assuming there is a story -- without talking to you first. And," she added in a more grudging tone, "I'll coordinate with you. Do you want a shared byline, or just simultaneous reports?"

"Actually," he smiled crookedly, "I think I'd prefer simultaneous reports instead of looking like either of us is riding on the other's coattails. After all, how often does a columns-of-numbers guy like me get to something this big independently as quickly as someone like you?"

"If that's the way you want it, it'll work for me -- assuming, as I say, there's something to it. And assuming you don't want me to sit on it for more than a couple of hours after I get verification?"

"No problem there." He shook his head. "I'm already working up two different versions of the story -- one version that breaks the exposé of the Manties' chicanery, and one version that warns everyone not to be taken in by this obviously fraudulent attempt to discredit them. I'll have both of them ready to go by the time you can get back to me."

"Fine. Then have that stuff hand-delivered to me ASAP."

"Done," Juppé agreed. "Clear."

He killed the connection, then leaned back in his own chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and smiled up at the ceiling.

The truth was, he thought, the "official New Tuscan scan records" were going to pass any test anyone cared to perform. He didn't know who'd obtained the authentication codes, but he could make a pretty fair guess that it had been the same person who'd coordinated the entire operation. Of course, they could have been grabbed considerably earlier. That might even explain why New Tuscany had been used in the first place. Cracking that kind of authentication from the outside was always a horrific chore, even when the hackers in charge of it were up against purely homegrown Verge-level computer security. The best way to obtain it was good old-fashioned bribery, which had been a Mesan specialty for centuries.

It didn't really matter, though. What mattered was that they had the "records," which didn't show what the Manties' records showed. And those records were about to be authenticated by no less than Audrey O'Hanrahan. He could have gone to any of half a dozen of her colleagues, many of whom had hard won reputations of almost equal stature and almost equally good sources. Any one of them could have broken the story, and he was quite positive every one of them would have, assuming the records proved out. But there were several reasons to hand it to O'Hanrahan, as his instructions had made perfectly clear, and only one of them -- though an important one -- was the fact that she was probably the most respected single investigative reporter in the entire Solarian League. Certainly the most respected on Old Terra.

It's all been worth it, he thought, still smiling at the ceiling above him. Every minute of it, for this moment.

There'd been many times when Baltasar Juppé had longed for a different assignment -- any different assignment. Building his personal, professional cover had been no challenge at all for the product of a Mesan gamma line, but that very fact had been part of the problem. His greatest enemy, the worst threat to his security, had been his own boredom. He'd known since adolescence that he had a far greater chance of being activated than either of his parents, and definitely more than his grandparents had had when they first moved to Old Terra to begin building his in-depth cover. But even though recent events suggested that the purpose for which the Juppé family had been planted here so long ago was approaching fruitarian, he hadn't really anticipated being activated this way for at least another several T-years.

Now he had been, and he thought fondly of the recording he'd made of his conversation with O'Hanrahan. It probably wasn't the only record of it, of course. He knew she had one, and despite all of the guarantees of privacy built into the League Constitution, an enormous amount of public and private surveillance went on, especially here in Old Chicago. It was entirely possible -- even probable -- that somewhere in the bowels of the Gendarmerie someone had decided keeping tabs on Audrey O'Hanrahan's com traffic would be a good idea. It would certainly make plenty of sense from their perspective, given how often and how deeply she'd embarrassed the Solly bureaucracies with her reporting. But that was fine with Juppé. In this case, the more records the better, since they would make it abundantly clear to any impartial observer that he'd done his very best to verify the story which had come so unexpectedly into his hands. And they would make it equally abundantly clear that O'Hanrahan hadn't known a thing about it until he'd brought it to her attention. Not to mention the fact that she was no knee-jerk anti-Manty . . . and that she'd been suspicious as hell when she heard about his scoop.

And establishing those points was, after all, the exact reason he'd screened her in the first place instead of simply very quietly delivering the information to her in person.

Just as Juppé had frequently longed for something more exciting to do, he'd experienced more than a few pangs of jealousy where reporters like O'Hanrahan were concerned. The public admiration she received would have been reason enough for that, he supposed, but her life had also been so much more exciting than his. She'd traveled all over the League in pursuit of her investigations, and her admirers respected her as much for her sheer brilliance and force of will, her ability to burrow through even the most impenetrable smokescreens and most carefully crafted cover stories, as for her integrity. Even more, perhaps, he'd envied how much she'd obviously enjoyed her work. But what he hadn't known until this very day -- because he'd had no need to know -- was that just as his own career and public persona, hers, too, had been a mask she showed the rest of the galaxy. And now that he knew the truth, and despite the envy that still lingered, Juppé admitted to himself that he doubted he could have matched her bravura performance. Gamma line or no, there was no way he could have equaled the performance of an alpha line like the O'Hanrahan genotype.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue May 25, 2010 11:25 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 45

Chapter Fourteen

"Ms. Montaigne has arrived, Your Majesty."

Elizabeth Winton looked up from the HD she'd been watching and suppressed a flare of severe -- and irrational -- irritation. After all, Mount Royal Palace chamberlains were chosen for their positions in no small part because of their ability to radiate calm in the midst of crisis, so it was scarcely fair of her to want to throttle this one for sounding precisely that way, she thought. The reflection was very little comfort on a morning like this, however, when all she wanted was someone -- anyone -- upon whom to work out her frustrations. She heard Ariel's soft sound of mingled amusement, agreement, and echoes of her own anger and (she admitted) dismay from his perch beside her desk.

"Thank you, Martin." Her own voice sounded just as calm and prosaic as the chamberlain's, she noted. "Show her in, please."

"Of course, Your Majesty." The chamberlain bowed and withdrew, and Elizabeth darted a glance of combined affection and exasperation at the 'cat, then looked back down at the patently outraged talking head on the recorded Solarian newscast playing on her HD.

I cannot believe this crap, even out of those Mesa bastards, she thought. Oh, we were already afraid the Ballroom was involved. And I guess I'm no different from anyone else about having . . . mixed feelings about that. I mean, hell, all the civilian fatalities combined aren't a spit in the wind compared to what Manpower's done to its slaves over the centuries. For that matter, you could nuke half the damned planet and not catch up with Manpower's kill numbers! But nuclear weapons on a civilian target? Even low-yield civilian demo charges?

She shuddered internally. Intellectually, she knew, the distinction between nuclear weapons and other, equally destructive attacks was not only logically flawed but downright silly. And it wasn't as if nukes hadn't been used against plenty of other civilian targets over the last couple of millennia. For that matter, Honor Alexander-Harrington, her own cousin Michelle, and other naval officers just like them routinely detonated multi-megaton nuclear devices in combat. But emotionally, Green Pines still represented a tremendous escalation, the crossing of a line the Ballroom, for all its ferocity, had always avoided in the past.

Which is what's going to make the new Mesan line so damnably effective with Sollies who already distrust or despise the Ballroom . . . or don't like the Star Empire very much.

For herself, she would have been more likely to buy a used air car from Michael Janvier -- or Oscar Saint-Just's ghost! -- than to believe a single word that came out of the Mesa System. Still, she was forced to concede, the Mesan version of their "impartial investigation's" conclusions hung together, if one could only ignore the source. There might be a few problems with the timing when it came to selling Green Pines as an act of bloody vengeance, but the Solarian public had become accustomed to editing unfortunate little continuity errors out of the propaganda stream. Besides, Mesa had actually found a way to make the timing work for it!

The attack on Green Pines had occurred five days before the abortive attack on Torch by what everyone (with a working brain, at least) realized had been Mesan proxies. Torch, Erewhon, and Governor Oravil Barregos's Maya Sector administration were still playing the details of exactly how that attack had been stopped close to their collective vest, but there wasn't much doubt the attackers had been the mercenary StateSec remnants Manpower had recruited since the Theisman coup. Judging from Admiral Luis Roszak's losses (and according to Elizabeth's classified Office of Naval Intelligence reports, those losses had been far higher than Roszak or Barregos had publicly admitted) those mercenaries must have been substantially reinforced. They'd certainly turned up with several times the firepower anyone at ONI had anticipated they might possess.

I wonder whether that assumption on our part comes under the heading of reasonable, complacent, or downright stupid? she thought. After Monica, we damned well ought to've realized Manpower -- or Mesa, or whoever's really orchestrating things -- had more military resources than we'd ever thought before. On the other hand, I don't suppose the analysts ought to be too severely faulted for not expecting them to provide presumably traceable ex-Solly battlecruisers to StateSec lunatics who'd been recruited in the first place as disposable -- and deniable -- cat's-paws. Worse, Pat Givens' people at ONI have a pretty solid count on how many StateSec starships actually ran for it after the coup. Admiral Caparelli based his threat assessment on the numbers we knew about, or we'd never have expected Roszak and Torch to deal with it on their own. We're all just damned lucky they managed to pull it off, after all.

She thought about her niece Ruth, and what would have happened to her if Luis Roszak's men and women had been unwilling to pay the price demanded of them, and shuddered.

Obviously, there's at least one batch of Sollies who cut against the stereotype, aren't there, Beth? She thought. On the other hand, if Pat and Hamish are right, maybe they aren't going to be "Sollies" all that much longer. And Torch's and Erewhon's willingness to help cover exactly whose navy lost what stopping the attack suggests all sorts of interesting possibilities about their relationships with Barregos, too, when you think about it. I wonder if that idiot Kolokoltsov even suspects what may be cooking away in that direction?

But whatever might or might not transpire in the Maya Sector, and despite any threat assessment errors which might have come home to roost for Admiral Roszak and his people, the fact remained that Mesa had neatly factored its own failed attack on Torch into its new propaganda offensive.

After all, its mouthpieces had pointed out, the Kingdom of Torch had declared war on the Mesa System, and a huge chunk of the Kingdom of Torch's military and government leadership had long-standing personal ties to the Audubon ballroom. Obviously, Torch had figured out the Mesan attack was coming well in advance, since it had formally requested Roszak's assistance under the provisions of its treaty with the Solarian League. (It hadn't, but no one outside the immediate vicinity knew that . . . or was likely to believe it.) So the Mesan argument that Torch had orchestrated the Green Pines attack through the direct Ballroom links it had officially severed as an act of government-sponsored terrorism in retaliation for a legitimate attack by conventional military forces on a belligerent star nation had a dangerous, dangerous plausibility. Especially for anyone who was already inclined to distrust an outlaw regime midwifed in blood and massacre by that same "terrorist" organization.

Which also explains why the Ballroom finally crossed the line into using "weapons of mass destruction" against civilian targets, at least according to the Gospel according to Mesa, Elizabeth thought grimly. Torch's formal declaration of war represents a whole new level in the genetic slaves' battle with Manpower and Mesa. Effectively, it's a major escalation in kind, so why shouldn't they have escalated the weapons they're willing to use, as well? Especially if they truly believed (wrongly, of course!) Manpower intended to genocide their own home world? Never mind the fact that they're supposed to have killed thousands of their fellow genetic slaves and Mesan seccies at the same time. And never mind the fact that if they could get to Green Pines, they could almost certainly have gotten to dozens of far more militarily and industrially significant targets, instead. Every right-thinking, process-oriented, comfortably insulated, moralistic cretin of a Solly knows they're terrorists, they think in terroristic terms, and they'd far rather kill civilians in a blind, frenzied orgy of vengeance than actually accomplish anything. God forbid anyone should think of them as human beings trying to survive with some tattered fragment of dignity and freedom!

She realized she was grinding her teeth and stopped herself. And, she reminded herself again, the fabrication Mesa had woven really did have a damning plausibility. For that matter, Elizabeth couldn't shake her own strong suspicion that --

Her thoughts hiccupped as her office door opened once more.

"Ms. Montaigne, Your Majesty," the chamberlain announced.

"Thank you, Martin," Elizabeth said once more and rose behind her desk as Catherine Montaigne crossed the carpet towards her.

Montaigne had changed even less than Elizabeth -- physically, at least -- over the decades since their close adolescent friendship foundered on the rocks of Montaigne's strident principles. Even now, despite the way their relationship had cooled over those same decades, Elizabeth Winton the woman continued to regard Montaigne as a friend, even though Montaigne's involvement with a legally proscribed terrorist organization continued to prevent Elizabeth Winton the Queen from officially acknowledging that friendship. It couldn't have been any other way, given all the thorny difficulties Montaigne's effective endorsement of the aforesaid legally prescribed terrorist organization created where the Manticoran political calculus was concerned. Especially since the ex-Countess of the Tor had become the leader of what remained of the Manticoran Liberal Party.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sat May 29, 2010 9:32 am

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 46


And those difficulties just got one hell of a lot "thornier," Elizabeth thought sourly. Not just where domestic politics are concerned, either.

"Cathy," the queen said, extending her hand across the desk.

"Your Majesty," Montaigne replied as she shook the proffered hand, and Elizabeth snorted mentally. No one had ever accused Catherine Montaigne of a chutzpah deficiency, but she was clearly on her best behavior this morning. Despite the other woman's lifetime of experience in the public eye, Elizabeth could see wariness and worry in her eyes, and the formality of her greeting suggested Montaigne was aware of just how thin the ice underfoot had become.

Well, of course she is. She may be a lunatic, and it's for damned sure God forgot to install anything remotely resembling reverse gear when He assembled her, but she's also one of the smartest people in the Old Star Kingdom. Even if she does take a perverse pleasure in pretending otherwise.

"I'm sorry my invitation didn't come under more pleasant circumstances," Elizabeth said out loud, pointing at a waiting armchair when Montaigne released her hand, and the ex-countess' lips twitched ever so slightly.

"So am I," she said.

"Unfortunately," Elizabeth continued, sitting back down in her own chair, "I didn't have much choice. As I'm sure you'd already deduced."

"Oh, you might say that." Montaigne's expression was sour. "I've been under siege by newsies of every possible description since this broke."

"Of course you have. And it's going to get one hell of a lot worse before it gets better . . . assuming it ever does get better," Elizabeth said. She waited until Montaigne settled into the armchair then shook her head.

"Cathy, what the hell were you people thinking?"

The queen didn't need a treecat's empathic sense to recognize Montaigne's sudden flash of anger. Part of Elizabeth sympathized with the other woman; most of her didn't give much of a damn, though. Whatever else, Montaigne had voluntarily associated herself with some of the bloodiest terrorists (or "freedom fighters," depending upon one's perspective) in the history of mankind. Choosing to do something like that was bound to result in the occasional minor social unpleasantness, Elizabeth thought trenchantly.

The good news was that Montaigne had always understood that. And it was evident she'd anticipated that question -- or one very much like it -- from the moment she received Elizabeth's "invitation."

"I assume you're talking about Green Pines," she said.

"No, I'm talking about Jack's decision to assault the beanstalk," Elizabeth said caustically. "Of course I'm talking about Green Pines!"

"I'm afraid," Montaigne replied with a degree of calm remarkable even in a politician of her experience, "that at this moment you know just as much about what actually happened in Green Pines as I do."

"Oh, cut the crap, Cathy!" Elizabeth snorted disgustedly. "According to Mesa, not only was the Ballroom up to its ass in this entire thing, but so was one Anton Zilwicki. You do remember him, don't you?"

"Yes, I do." Montaigne's calm slipped for a moment, and the three words came out flat, hard, and challenging. Then she shook herself. "Yes, I do," she repeated in a more normal tone, "but all I can tell you is that to the best of my knowledge he wasn't involved in this at all."

Elizabeth looked at her incredulously, and Montaigne shrugged.

"It's the truth, Beth."

"And I suppose you're going to tell me the Ballroom wasn't involved 'to the best of your knowledge,' either?"

"I don't know. That's the truth," Montaigne insisted more forcefully as Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I'm not telling you they weren't; I'm only saying I don't know one way or the other."

"Well, would you like to propose another villain for the piece?" Elizabeth demanded. "Somebody else who hates Mesa enough to set off multiple nuclear explosions in one of its capital's suburbs?"

"Personally, I think the idea would appeal to most people who've ever had to deal with the sick bastards," Montaigne returned levelly, her eyes as unflinching as her voice. "In answer to what you're actually asking, however, I have to admit the Ballroom -- or possibly some seccy Ballroom wannabe -- has to be the most likely culprit. Beyond that, I genuinely can't tell you anything about who actually did it. I can say, though, that the last time I was on Torch -- and, for that matter, the last time Anton and I spoke -- no one on Torch, and sure as hell not Anton, was even contemplating anything like this."

"And you're confident your good friend and general all-around philanthropist Jeremy X. would've told you if he'd been planning this kind of operation?"

"Actually, yes," Montaigne shrugged. "I won't pretend my having plausible deniability about Ballroom ops hasn't come in handy from time to time. For that matter, I won't pretend I haven't outright lied about whether or not the Ballroom was behind something . . . or whether or not I had prior knowledge of the 'atrocity' du jour. But now that he and Web Du Havel -- and your own niece, for that matter -- have finally given the galaxy's genetic slaves a genuine home world of their own? You think he'd be crazy enough to plan something like this -- something that had to play into Mesa's hands this way? Don't be stupid, Beth! If he'd had even a clue something like this might happen, he'd have stopped it if he'd had to personally shoot the people planning it! And if he couldn't stop it, he'd sure as hell have discussed it with me if only because he'd recognize what kind of damage control was going to be necessary."

The ex-countess looked disgusted by her monarch's obtuseness, and Elizabeth gritted her teeth. Then she made herself sit back.

"Look," she said, "I know the Ballroom's never been as monolithic as the public thinks. Or, for that matter, as monolithic as people like Jeremy -- and you -- like to pretend. I know it's riddled with splinter factions and no one ever knows when a charismatic leader's going to take some chunk of the official organization with him on his own little crusade. But the bottom line is that someone nuked Green Pines, and the way it was done is sure as hell consistent with the Ballroom's modus operandi. Aside from the nuclear element, at least!"

"Assuming the reports out of Mesa are accurate, then, yes, I'd have to agree with that," Montaigne acknowledged in that same unflinching tone. "But you're right about the Ballroom's occasional internal divisions. For that matter, I'd have to admit some of the action leaders who'd accepted Jeremy's leadership before Torch became independent are royally pissed off with him now for 'betraying the armed struggle' when he 'went legit.' At least some of them think he's sold out in return for open political power; most of them just think he's wrong." She shrugged. "Either way, though, they're hardly likely to run potential operations by him for approval."

"Or material support?"

"Torch has made its position on actively supporting strikes like this crystal clear, Elizabeth. You've heard what they've said as well as I have, and I promise you, they mean it. Like I say, Jeremy's not stupid enough not to see all the downsides of something like this."

Elizabeth tipped back her chair, regarding her "guest" with narrow eyes and scant cheerfulness. There was a certain brittleness to the office's silence, then the queen raised an eyebrow and pointed an index finger at Montaigne.

"You've been talking in generalities, Cathy," she said shrewdly. "Why aren't you being more specific about how you know Captain Zilwicki wasn't involved in this?"

"Because --" Montaigne began firmly, then paused. To Elizabeth's astonishment, the other woman's face crumpled suddenly, and Montaigne drew a deep, ragged breath.

"Because," she resumed, "they've specifically linked Anton with this, and I don't think they just picked his name at random. Oh, I know how vulnerable our relationship makes me -- and, by extension, the Liberal Party and the entire Star Empire -- where something like this is concerned. But making that link in their propaganda is more sophisticated than Mesa's ever bothered to be before. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense from their perspective, because both of us know it does. I'm just afraid that . . . it didn't occur to them out of the clear blue sky."

She had her voice under iron control, but Elizabeth had known her for far too long to be fooled. There was more than simple pain in her eyes; there was something very like terror, and the Queen of Manticore felt the personal concern of friendship go to war with the cold-blooded detachment her position as a head of state demanded of her.

"Tell me, Cathy," she said, and her own voice was softer.

"Beth," Montaigne looked her squarely in the eye, "I swear to you on my own immortal soul that Anton Zilwicki would never -- never -- sign off on nuking a public park full of kids -- anybody's kids, for God's sake! -- in the middle of a town. He'd die, first. Ask anyone who knows him. But having said that . . . he was on Mesa. And I'm afraid the Mesans know he was. That that's the reason they decided to pin this on him, by name, and not just on Torch and the Ballroom in general. And --"
*
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:18 am

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Drak is having some issues accessing the site, so I'll be posting snippets until it's resolved:

Mission Of Honor - Snippet 47

Her voice broke off, and Elizabeth’s felt her own eyes widen.

“You think they caught him,” she said gently.

“Yes. No!” Montaigne shook her head, her expression showing an uncertainty and misery she would never have allowed herself to display in public.

“I don’t know,” she admitted after a moment. “I haven’t spoken to him in almost six T-months — not since June. He and . . . someone else were headed for Mesa. I know they got there, because we got a report from them through a secure conduit in late August. But we haven’t heard a word from them since.”

“He was on Mesa?” Elizabeth stared at her, stunned by the notion that Zilwicki had voluntarily walked into that snake pit. “What in God’s name was he thinking?”

Montaigne drew a deep breath, visibly forcing herself back under control. Then she sat for several seconds, considering the queen with an edge of calculation.

“All right, Elizabeth — truth time,” she said finally. “Six months ago, you weren’t exactly . . . rational about the possibility that anyone besides Haven could have been behind Admiral Webster’s assassination or the attack on Torch. I’m sorry, but it’s true, and you know it. Don’t you?”

Brown eyes locked with blue, tension hovering between them for a dozen heart beats. Then Elizabeth nodded grudgingly.

“As a matter of fact, I’m still not convinced — not by a long chalk — that Haven wasn’t involved,” she acknowledged. “At the same time, I’ve been forced to admit there are other possibilities. For that matter, I’ve even been forced to concede my own anti-Haven prejudices probably help account for at least some of my suspicion where Pritchart is concerned.”

“Thank you.” Montaigne’s eyes softened. “I know you, Beth, so I know how hard it was for you to admit that. But at the time, Torch and the Ballroom had pretty compelling evidence that whatever might have been the case with Admiral Webster, Haven wasn’t involved in the attack on Berry and Torch. Which suggested someone else had to be, and that led in turn to their taking a very hard look at Mesa.

“You just admitted your ‘anti-Haven prejudices’ might predispose you to assume Pritchart was behind it. Well, fair’s fair, and I’ll admit that our prejudices naturally predispose us to feel the same way about Manpower. But there was more to it, and a lot of that ‘more’ came from Anton and Ruth, not the Ballroom.”

“What kind of ‘more’?” Elizabeth asked, frowning intently.

“Well, the first thing was that we knew — and I mean knew, Beth, with absolute, goldplated certainty — Haven hadn’t been involved in the Torch operation. And the more Ruth and Anton modeled Manpower’s behavior in Monica, the less its actions looked like those of any plausible transstellar — even of a renegade, outlaw transstellar. They were more like something a star nation would have been doing.”

Elizabeth nodded slowly, her eyes narrow. She recalled Michelle Henke’s suggestion to the same effect after she’d broken Josef Byng’s New Tuscany operation. It had seemed preposterous, but both ONI and SIS had come, at least tentatively, to the conclusion Michelle was onto something. As of yet, no one had any idea exactly what she was onto, unfortunately.

“Assuming it was Manpower — or Mesa, assuming there’s even as much difference between the two as we thought there was — the attacks seemed to fit in neatly with Manpower’s obvious ambitions in Talbott. In fact, they seemed to imply that everyone was still just scratching the surface of what those ambitions might really be. And, frankly, Torch’s position as an at least semi-official ally of the Star Empire, the Republic, Erewhon, and the Solarian League — or the Maya Sector, at least—had Anton and . . . Jeremy wondering just how many birds Manpower was trying to hit with a single stone.”

Now whose name, I wonder, did she’d just substitute Jeremy’s for? Elizabeth thought. She considered pressing the point, but not very hard.

“Under the circumstances, they decided someone needed to take a good, hard look at Manpower from inside the belly of the beast, as it were. They didn’t have a specific action plan, beyond getting inside Mesa’s reach. They wanted to be close enough to be hands-on, able to follow up leads directly instead of being weeks or even months of communications time from the investigation. I think they were probably thinking in terms of setting up a permanent surveillance op, if they could figure out a way to pull it off, but, mostly, they were looking for proof of Manpower’s involvement in Webster’s assassination and the attack on Berry.”

She paused, with the look of a woman deciding against mentioning something else, and despite her focused intensity, Elizabeth smiled ever so slightly.

Unwontedly tactful of you, Cathy. Don’t want to come right out and say ‘And they wanted that proof to be good enough it could convince even you to think logically about other candidates, Elizabeth,’ now do you?

“At any rate,” Montaigne went on more briskly, “the one thing they weren’t going to do was link up with any ‘official’ Ballroom cells on Mesa. We have reason to believe, especially in light of a few recent discoveries, that any Ballroom cell on the planet is likely to be compromised. So there’s zero possibility Anton or . . . any of his people were involved in any Ballroom operation against Green Pines. They were there expressly to keep a low profile; the information they were after — especially if it confirmed their suspicions — was far more important than any attack could have been; and they were avoiding contact with any known Ballroom operative.”

Elizabeth’s eyes had narrowed again. Now she leaned back and cocked her head to one side.

“Would it make this any simpler for you, Cathy,” she asked almost whimsically, “if you just went ahead and said ‘Anton and Agent Cachat’ instead of being so diplomatic?”

It was Montaigne’s eyes’ turn to narrow, and the queen chuckled, albeit a bit sourly.

“I assure you, I’ve read the reports on just exactly how Torch came into being with a certain closeness. And I’ve had direct reports from Ruth, too, you know. She’s done her best to be . . . tactful, let’s say, but it’s been obvious Agent Cachat’s still something of a fixture on Torch. And, for that matter, that he and Captain Zilwicki have formed some sort of at least semi-permanent partnership.”

“It would make it simpler, as a matter of fact,” Montaigne said slowly. “And since this seems to be cards-on-the-table time, I suppose I should go ahead and admit that the reason I hadn’t already brought Victor up is that I wasn’t certain it wouldn’t prejudice you against anything I had to say.”

“I’m a good and expert hater, Cathy,” Elizabeth said dryly. “Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, however, I’m not really clinically insane. I won’t pretend I’m happy to hear about shared skulduggery, hobnobbing, and mutual admiration societies between someone who used to be one of my own spies and someone who’s still currently spying for a star nation I happen to be at war with. But if politics makes strange bedfellows, I suppose it’s only reasonable wars should do the same. In fact, one of my closer associates made that point to me — a bit forcefully — not so long ago.”

“Really?” Montaigne’s eyebrows arched, and Elizabeth could almost see the wheels and the gears going around in her brain. But then the ex-countess gave herself a visible shake.

“Anyway,” she said, “Victor was the reason we knew Haven hadn’t ordered Torch attack. Or, at least, that no official Havenite intelligence organ was behind it, since he would have been the one tasked to carry it out if Pritchart had sanctioned it. And you’re right about the kind of partnership he and Anton have evolved. As a matter of fact, the way their abilities complement one another makes both of them even more effective. Victor has an absolute gift for improvisation, whereas Anton has a matching gift for methodical analysis and forethought. If anyone was going to be able to pry the truth out of that fucking cesspool, it was going to be them.”

Her nostrils flared. Then she paused again, lips tightening.

“But you haven’t heard from them in almost five months,” Elizabeth said gently.

“No,” Montaigne admitted softly. “We haven’t heard from them, we haven’t heard from the people responsible for transporting them in and out, and we haven’t heard from the Biological Survey Corps, either.”

“Whoa!” Elizabeth straightened suddenly in her chair. “Beowulf was involved in this, too?” She half-glared at Montaigne. “Tell me, was there anybody in the entire galaxy who wasn’t sneaking around behind my back to keep me from getting my dander up?”

“Well,” Montaigne admitted, smiling crookedly despite her own obvious deep concern, “actually, beyond a certain amount of Erewhonese assistance, that’s just about everybody. I think.”
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:18 am

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 48

“Oh, you think, do you?”

“I can’t be absolutely certain, of course. I mean, what with Torch and all the others, it was something of a . . . multinational effort.”

“I see.” Elizabeth sat back once more, then shook her head. “You don’t think having so many cooks stirring the soup could have anything to do with whatever obviously went wrong, do you?”

“I think it’s possible,” Montaigne acknowledged. “On the other hand, the way Anton and Victor normally operate, it’s unlikely anybody but them really knew enough to seriously compromise the operation. Still,” she drooped visibly again, “you’re right — something did obviously go wrong. I can’t believe Mesa just decided to include Anton in their version of what happened, and that means something blew, somewhere. What we don’t know is exactly what blew and how serious the consequences were. But –”

“But this long without any word suggests the consequences could have been pretty damned serious,” Elizabeth finished softly for her.

“Exactly.” Montaigne drew a deep breath. “On the other hand, Mesa hasn’t produced his body, or mentioned Victor or Haven, or taken the opportunity to take a swipe at Beowulf for its involvement. That suggests it didn’t blow completely. I know” — despite her best efforts, her voice wavered — “there can be advantages to simply ‘disappearing’ someone and letting her side sweat the potential consequences in ignorance. And given how we seem to have been underestimating, or at least misreading, Mesa’s role in this, and its possible sophistication, it’s possible they recognized that accusing Haven and Beowulf of involvement, as well, would be too much of a good thing. Too much for even Solly public opinion to swallow. But I keep coming back to the fact that if they could actually prove Anton was on Mesa, it would have been the absolute clincher for this fairy tale about his being involved in the attack. So if they didn’t offer that proof –”

“It seems unlikely they had it in the first place,” Elizabeth said.

“Exactly,” Montaigne said again, then chuckled.

“What?”

“I was just thinking,” the ex-countess said. “You always did have that habit of finishing thoughts for me when we were kids.”

“Mostly because someone as scatterbrained as you needed someone to tidy up around the edges,” Elizabeth retorted.

“Maybe.” Montaigne’s humor faded. “Anyway, that’s where we are. Anton was on Mesa about the time the nukes went off. I can’t prove he wasn’t involved, but if Mesa could prove he was, the bastards would have done it by now. So either he’s on his way home, and his transportation arrangements have hit a bump, or else . . . .”

Her voice trailed off, and this time Elizabeth felt no temptation at all to complete her thought for her.

“I understand,” the queen said, instead.

She tipped her chair back, rocking it slightly while she thought hard for the better part of a minute. Then she let it come back upright.

“I understand,” she repeated. “Unfortunately, nothing you’ve just told me really helps, does it? As you say, we can’t prove Captain Zilwicki — and, by implication, Torch and the Star Empire — weren’t involved. In fact, going public with the fact that he was on Mesa at all would be the worst thing we could possibly do at this point. But I’m afraid that’s going to make things rough on you, Cathy.”

“I know.” Montaigne grimaced. “You’re going to have to take the position that the Star Empire wasn’t involved, and along the way, you’re going to have to point out that even assuming Anton was involved, he’s no longer an ONI agent. Ever since he took up with that notorious incendiary and public shill for terrorism Montaigne, he’s been establishing his own links to the abolitionist movement and, yes, probably to those Ballroom terrorists. Under those circumstances, clearly neither you, personally, nor the Star Empire is in any position to comment one way or the other on what he may have been responsible for since going rogue that way.”

“I’m afraid that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do,” Elizabeth acknowledged. “And when some frigging newsy pounces on his personal relationship with you, the very best I’m going to be able to do is ‘no comment’ and a recommendation they discuss that with you, not me.”

“And they’re going to come after the firebrand rabble-rouser with everything they’ve got,” Montaigne sighed. “Well, it won’t be the first time. And, with just a little luck, they’ll give me the opportunity to get in a few solid counterpunches of my own. The idiots usually do.”

“But it’s going to make problems for your Liberals, too,” Elizabeth pointed out. “If — when — this turns as ugly as I think it’s going to do, Willie and I are both going to find ourselves forced to hold you at arms length . . . at best. And that doesn’t even consider the fact that at least someone inside the party’s going to see this as an opportunity to boot you out of the leader’s position.”

“If that happens, it happens.” Montaigne’s tone was philosophical; the flinty light in her eyes suggested that anyone who wanted a fight was going to get one. In fact, Elizabeth thought, the other woman was probably looking forward to it as a distraction from her personal fears.

“I’m sorry,” the queen said quietly. Their eyes met once more, and this time Elizabeth’s sad smile was that of an old friend, not a monarch.

“I’ve always been ambivalent about the Ballroom,” she continued. “For personal reasons, in part. I understand all about ‘asymmetrical warfare,’ but assassinations and terrorist attacks cut just a little too close to home for me. I’m not hypocritical enough to condemn the Ballroom for fighting back in the only way it’s ever been able to, but I’m afraid that’s not the same thing as saying I approve of it. But whether I approve or not, I’ve always admired the sheer guts it takes to get down into the blood and the mud with something like Manpower. And despite our own political differences, Cathy, I’ve always actually admired you for being willing to openly acknowledge your support for the people willing to fight back the only way they can, whatever the rest of the galaxy may think about it.”

“That . . . means quite a bit to me, Beth.” Montaigne’s voice was as quiet as Elizabeth’s had been. “Mind you, I know it’s not going to change anything about our political stances, but it does mean a lot.”

“Good.” Elizabeth’s smile grew broader. “And now, if I could ask you for a personal favor in my persona as Queen of Manticore?”

“What sort of favor?”

Montaigne’s tone and expression were both wary, and Elizabeth chuckled.

“Don’t worry! I wasn’t setting you up for a sucker punch by telling you what a wonderful, fearless person you are, Cathy.” She shook her head. “No. What I was thinking about is that this news is going to hit the Haven System in about a week and a half, and I shudder to think about the impact it’s going to have on Duchess Harrington’s negotiations with the Pritchart Administration. I’m sure it’s going to have repercussions with all of our allies, of course, and thank God we at least consulted with them — unlike a certain ex-prime minister — before we opened negotiations this time around, but I’m more concerned about Haven’s reaction. So what I would deeply appreciate your doing would be writing up what you’ve just told me, or as much of it as you feel you could share with Duchess Harrington, at least, for me to send her as deep background.”

“You want me to tell the Duchess Anton was actually on Mesa?”

There was something a bit odd about Montaigne’s tone, Elizabeth thought, but the queen simply shrugged and nodded.

“Among other things. It would help a lot if she had that kind of information in the back of her brain. And I believe the two of you know one another, don’t you?”

“Fairly well, actually,” Montaigne acknowledged. “Since I came home to Manticore, that is.”

“Well, in that case, I probably don’t have to tell you she has an ironclad sense of honor,” Elizabeth said. “In fact, sometimes I think her parents must have had precognition or something when they picked her first name! At any rate, I assure you she’d never even consider divulging anything you may tell her without your specific permission.”

“If you’re confident of her discretion,” Montaigne said in that same peculiar tone, “that’s good enough for me.” She smiled. “I’ll go ahead and write it up for you, and I’m sure she won’t say a word about it to anyone.”
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Fri Jun 04, 2010 6:34 am

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 49

Chapter Fifteen

“Alpha translation in two hours, Sir.”

“Thank you, Simon.”

Lieutenant Commander Lewis Denton had been perfectly aware of that fact, but procedure mandated the astrogator’s report just in case he’d somehow failed to notice. He smiled at the familiar thought, but the smile was brief, and it vanished quickly as he glanced at the civilian in the assistant tactical officer’s chair.

Gregor O’Shaughnessy was doing a less than perfect job of concealing his tension, but Denton didn’t blame him for that. Besides, it wasn’t as if his own surface appearance of calm was fooling anyone, even if the rules of the game required everyone — including him — to pretend it was.

He glanced at the date/time display. Seventy-four T-days had passed, by the clocks of the universe at large, since HMS Reprise had departed from Spindle for the Meyers System, the headquarters of the Office of Frontier Security in the Madras Sector. Of course, it hadn’t been that long for Reprise’s crew, given that they’d spent virtually all of it hurtling through hyper-space at seventy percent of light-speed. But they’d still been gone for just over fifty-three T-days even by their own clocks, and the return leg of their lengthy voyage had seemed far, far longer than the outbound leg.

* * *

“More coffee, Ma’am?”

Michelle Henke looked up at the murmured question and nodded agreement. Master Steward Billingsley filled her cup, checked quickly around the table, topped off Michael Oversteegen’s cup, and withdrew. Michelle watched him go with a smile, then returned her attention to the officers around the conference table in HMS Artemis’ flag briefing room.

“You were saying, Michael?”

“I was sayin’, Milady, that findin’ myself up against Apollo seemed like just a tiny bit of overkill.”

He smiled at her, and although it would have taken someone who knew him very well, Michelle recognized the twinkle deep in his eyes. Not every subordinate flag officer who’d been so thoroughly (one might almost, she admitted, say shamelessly) blindsided by a weapons system the other side shouldn’t have possessed would have found the experience amusing. Fortunately, Oversteegen at least had a sense of humor.

“To be honest, it seemed that way to me, too.” She quirked a smile of her own at him. “I didn’t do it just to be nasty, though. I mean, I did do it to be nasty, but that wasn’t the only reason I did it.”

This time there was a general mutter of laughter, and Oversteegan raised one hand in the gesture of a fencing master acknowledging a touch.

“The other reason I did it, though,” she continued more seriously, “was that I wanted an opportunity to see someone — a live, flesh-and-blood someone, not an AI-administered simulation — respond to Apollo. I couldn’t find anyone here in Tenth Fleet who wouldn’t realize what was happening as soon as she saw it, but I could at least set up a situation in which she — or, in this case, he — didn’t know it was coming ahead of time.”

“And is your lab rat permitted t’ ask how he performed?” he inquired genially.

“Not bad at all for someone who lost eighty-five percent of his total command,” she reassured him, and another chuckle ran around the squadron and division commanders seated at the table with them.

“Actually, Sir,” Sir Aivars Terekhov said, “I thought it was even more impressive that you managed to take out three of the op force’s superdreadnoughts in return.”

More than one head nodded in agreement, and Oversteegen shrugged.

“I remembered readin’ your report from Monica,” he said. “You might say I had a proprietary interest in your actin’ tac officer’s performance. I was impressed by th’ way you used your Ghost Rider platforms t’ reduce th’ telemetry lag for your Mark 16s. Didn’t seem t’ me there was any reason I couldn’t do th’ same thing with Mark 23s.” He shrugged. “It’s not as good as Apollo, but it’s a lot better than nothin’.”

“You’re right about that,” Michelle agreed. “And, by the way, the dispatch boat which arrived this morning had several interesting items aboard. The latest newsfaxes from home — and from Old Terra — among other things.” She made a face, and Oversteegen snorted harshly. “In addition to that inspiring reading and viewing material, however, there were two additional items which I think you’ll all find interesting.”

One or two people sat up straighter, and she saw several sets of eyes narrow in speculation.

“The first is that we should be receiving an entire battle squadron of Apollo-capable Invictuses in about three weeks.” The reaction of almost explosive relief which swept around the table was all she could have asked for. “There was a bit of a glitch in the deployment order, and their ammunition ships will be here a week or so before they are.”

There were quite a few smiles, now, and she smiled back.

“Actually, the missile ships were originally scheduled to arrive two weeks after the wallers,” she continued, “but the squadrons we were supposed to get under that deployment plan wound up going somewhere else, so we had to wait until their replacements finished working up.”

She paused again, and Commodore Shulamit Onasis, the CO of Battlecruiser Division 106.2, frowned thoughtfully.

“I know that ‘cat-in-the-celery-patch look, Ma’am,” she said after a moment. “Why do I have the sense another shoe hanging in midair somewhere?”

“Well, I guess it might be because there is,” Michelle admitted cheerfully. She had everyone’s full attention again, she observed, and glanced at Cruiser Division 96.1’s commanding officer from the corner of one eye. “It seems that although somehow the newsies haven’t picked up on it yet, the reason our original reinforcing squadrons went somewhere else is that Duchess Harrington and Eighth Fleet have gone somewhere else, as well. To the Haven System, as a matter of fact.”

The youthful senior-grade captain she’d been watching stiffened, and there was a sudden and complete silence. Her own smile slid into something much more serious, but she shook her head.

“No,” she said. “She wasn’t planning on attacking the system. In fact, unless something went very wrong, about three weeks ago she delivered a personal message from the Queen to President Pritchart. Apparently our discoveries about Manpower’s involvement out here in New Tuscany have inspired a certain rethinking of who might actually have been behind Admiral Webster’s assassination and the attack on Queen Berry. On that basis,” she drew a deep breath and looked around the table, “and in light of the worsening situation with the Solarian League, Her Majesty has decided to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Republic after all, and she’s chosen Duchess Harrington as her lead negotiator.”

“My God,” Captain (SG) Prescott Tremaine, CruDiv 96.1’s CO, murmured. She turned her head to look at him fully, and he shook his head, like a man shaking off a stiff right cross, then gave her a crooked smile. “You were certainly right when you said you had a couple of things we might be interested in, Ma’am!”

“I thought that would probably be true, Scotty,” Michelle said with a grin. “In fact, I should probably go ahead and admit I saved that particular little tidbit until I could watch your expression.”

Most of the others chuckled at that one. Scotty Tremaine had been one of Honor Alexander-Harrington’s protégés ever since her deployment to Basilisk Station aboard the old light cruiser Fearless. Michelle wondered if he’d been as surprised as she was when she discovered that the Admiralty, in its infinite wisdom, hadn’t merely transferred him from the LAC community (where he’d not only made a considerable name for himself but actually survived the Battle of Manticore) but chosen to give a new-minted captain of the list such a plum assignment. Once she’d had time to think about it, however, she’d realized exactly why they’d done it. Even in a navy expanding as rapidly as the RMN, a flag officer had to have at least some experience in command of conventional starships, and aside from a brief stint in the “Elysian Space Navy” during the escape from Cerberus (where, admittedly, he’d performed extremely well), Scotty didn’t have any. Obviously, Lucien Cortez had decided to rectify that situation, even if giving him a division of Saganami-Cs had to have stepped on the toes of quite a few captains — or even commodores — with considerably more seniority.
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