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Mission of Honor Snippets

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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:08 am

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 10

Which was true enough, but hadn't prevented the Battle of Manticore from killing better than two million human beings. Nor did it change the fact that Honor had demanded the surrender of his intact databases as the price for sparing his surviving superdreadnoughts. She'd been within her rights to stipulate whatever terms she chose, under the rules of war, yet she'd known when she issued the demand that she was stepping beyond the customary usages of war. It was traditional -- and generally expected -- that any officer who surrendered his command would purge his computers first. And, she was forced to concede, she'd had Alistair McKeon do just that with his own data when she'd ordered him to surrender his ship to Tourville.

I suppose if I'd been going to be "honorable" about it, I should have extended the same privilege to him. He certainly thought I should have, at any rate.

Her lips twitched ever so slightly as she remembered the seething fury which had raged behind his outwardly composed demeanor when they'd finally met face-to-face after the battle. Nothing could have been more correct -- or icier -- during the "interview" which had formalized his surrender, but he hadn't known about Honor's ability to directly sense the emotions of those about her. He might as well have been bellowing furiously at her, as far as any real ability to conceal his feelings was concerned, and a part of her hadn't cared. No, actually, a part of her had taken its own savage satisfaction from his anger, from the way he his sense of failure burned so much more bitterly after how agonizingly close to total success he'd come.

She wasn't proud of the way she'd felt. Not now. But then the deaths of so many men and women she'd known for so long had been too fresh, wounds too recent for time to have stopped the bleeding. Alistair McKeon had been one of those dead men and women, along with every member of his staff. So had Sebastian D'Orville and literally hundreds of others with whom she had served, and the grief and pain of all those deaths had fueled her own rage, just as Tourville's dead had fanned his fury.

So I guess it's a good thing military courtesy's as iron bound as it is, she thought. It kept both of us from saying what we really felt long enough for us to stop feeling it. Which is a good thing, because even then, I knew he was a decent man. That he hadn't taken any more pleasure in killing Alistair and all those others than I'd taken in killing Javier Giscard or so many of Genevieve Chin's people.

"Thank you for coming, Admiral," she said out loud, and this time there was nothing halfway about his smile.

"I was honored by the invitation, of course, Admiral," he replied with exquisite courtesy, exactly as if there'd been any real question about a prisoner of war's accepting an "invitation" to dinner from his captor. Nor was it the first such invitation he'd accepted over the past four T-months. This would be the seventh time he'd dined with Honor and her husband and wife. Unlike him, however, Honor was aware it would be the last time they'd be dining together for at least the foreseeable future.

"I'm sure you were," she told him with a smile of her own. "And, of course, even if you weren't, you're far too polite to admit it."

"Oh, of course," he agreed affably, and Nimitz bleeked the treecat equivalent of a laugh from his perch.

"That's enough of that, Nimitz," Tourville told him, wagging a raised forefinger. "Just because you can see inside someone's head is no excuse for undermining these polite little social fictions!"

Nimitz's true-hands rose, and Honor glanced over her shoulder at him as they signed nimbly. She gazed at him for a moment, then chuckled and turned back to Tourville.

"He says there's more to see inside some two-legs' heads than others."

"Oh?" Tourville glowered at the 'cat. "Should I assume he's casting aspersions on the content of any particular two-leg's cranium?"

Nimitz's fingers flickered again, and Honor smiled as she watched them, then glanced at Tourville once more.

"He says he meant it as a general observation," she said solemnly, "but he can't help it if you think it ought to apply to anyone in particular."

"Oh, he does, does he?"

Tourville glowered some more, but there was genuine humor in his mind glow. Not that there had been the first time he'd realized the news reports about the treecats' recently confirmed telempathic abilities were accurate.

Honor hadn't blamed him -- or any of the other POWs who'd reacted the same way -- a bit. The thought of being interrogated by a professional, experienced analyst who knew how to put together even the smallest of clues you might unknowingly let slip was bad enough. When that professional was assisted by someone who could read your very thoughts, it went from bad to terrifying in record time. Of course, treecats couldn't really read any human's actual thoughts -- the mental . . . frequencies, for want of a better word, were apparently too different. There'd been no way for any of the captured Havenites to know that, however, and every one of them had assumed the worst, initially, at least.

And, in fact, it was bad enough from their perspective as it was. Nimitz and his fellow treecats might not have been able to read the prisoners' thoughts, but they'd been able to tell from their emotions whenever they were lying or attempting to mislead. And they'd been able to tell when those emotions spiked as the interrogation approached something a POW most desperately wanted to conceal.

It hadn't taken very long for most of the captured personnel to figure out that even though a treecat could guide an interrogator's questioning, it couldn't magically pluck the desired information out of someone else's mind. That didn't keep the 'cats from providing a devastating advantage, but it did mean that as long as they simply refused to answer, as was their guaranteed right under the Deneb Accords, the furry little lie detectors couldn't dig specific, factual information out of them.

That wasn't enough to keep at least some of them from bitterly resenting the 'cats' presence, and a significant handful of those POWs had developed a positive hatred for them, as if their ability to sense someone's emotions was a form of personal violation. The vast majority, however, were more rational about it, and several -- including Tourville, who'd had the opportunity to interact with Nimitz years before, when Honor had been his prisoner -- were far too fascinated to resent them. Of course, in Tourville's case, the fact that he'd done his dead level best to see to it that Nimitz's person had been decently and honorably treated during her captivity had guaranteed that Nimitz liked him. And, as Honor had observed many times over the five decades they'd spent together, only the most well armored of curmudgeons could resist Nimitz when the 'cat set out to be charming and adorable.

He'd had Tourville wrapped around his furry little thumb in less than two weeks, despite the still thorny emotions crackling between the Havenite officer and Honor. Within a month, he'd been lying across Tourville's lap and purring blissfully while the admiral almost absently stroked his coat during meetings with Honor.

Of course, I have to wonder how Lester would react if he knew I can read his emotions just as well as Nimitz can, she reflected for far from the first time.

"I'm sure he didn't mean to imply anything disrespectful," Honor assured Tourville now, and the Havenite snorted.

"Of course he didn't." The Republican admiral leaned back in his chair and shook his head. Then he cocked that same head at Honor. "May I ask what I owe the pleasure of this particular invitation to?"

"Mostly it's a purely social occasion," Honor replied. He raised a skeptical eyebrow, and she smiled. "I did say mostly."

"Yes, you did, didn't you? In fact, I've discovered, if you'll forgive me for saying so, that you're most dangerous when you're being the most honest and frankly candid. Your hapless victim doesn't even notice the siphon going into his brain and sucking out the information you want."

His amusement, despite a bitterly tart undertone, was mostly genuine, Honor noted.

"Well, if I'm going to be frank and disarming," she said, "I might as well admit that the thing I'd most like to 'siphon out of your brain' if I only could would be the location of Bolthole."

Tourville didn't quite flinch this time. He had, the first time she'd mentioned that name to him, and she still couldn't decide if that stemmed from the fact that he knew exactly how vital a secret the location of the Republic's largest single shipyard -- and R&D center -- was, or if he'd simply been dismayed by the fact that she even knew its codename. In either case, she knew she wasn't going to pry its location out of him, assuming he actually knew what it was. He wasn't an astrogator himself, after all, although he undoubtedly knew enough about it for someone to have put the pieces together and figured out the actual location with his cooperation. Expecting Lester Tourville to cooperate over something like that would be rather like a Sphinxian woodbuck's expecting to negotiate a successful compromise with a hungry hexapuma, however, and that was one piece of data which hadn't been anywhere in any of the computers aboard his surrendered ships. It once had been, no doubt -- they'd confirmed that at least half his surrendered ships had actually been built there -- but it had been very carefully (and thoroughly) deleted since.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:07 am

DrakBibliophile
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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 11

And exactly why anyone should be surprised by that eludes me, she thought. It's not as if Haven hasn't had plenty of experience in maintaining operational security. Of course they were going to make sure there was as little critical data as possible stored in the computers of ships heading into a battle like that one! Quite aside from any demands by arrogant, unreasonable flag officers for anyone who wanted to surrender, there was no way to be sure we wouldn't capture one of their wrecks and find out the security failsafes hadn't scrubbed the computers after all. And only drooling idiots -- which, manifestly, Thomas Theisman, Eloise Pritchart, and Kevin Usher are not -- would fail to realize just how critical Bolthole's location is! It's not as if we haven't been trying to figure it out ever since the shooting started back up, after all. And I'm sure they know how hard we've been looking, even if we haven't had much luck cracking their security. Of course, we've had better luck if we'd still been up against the Legislaturalists or the Committee of Public Safety. We don't have anywhere near as many dissidents to work with, anymore.

"Bolthole?" Theisman repeated, then shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about."

He didn't bother trying to lie convincingly, since both of them knew he wouldn't get away with it anyway, and the two of them exchanged wry smiles. Then Honor sobered a bit.

"To be honest," she said, "I'm actually much more interested in any insight you can give me -- or are willing to give me -- into the Republic's political leadership."

"Excuse me?" Tourville frowned at her. They'd touched upon the political leaders of the Republic several times in their earlier conversations, but only glancingly. Enough for Honor to discover not only that Operation Beatrice had been planned and mounted only after Manticore had backed out of the summit talks Eloise Pritchart had proposed, but also that Tourville, like every other Havenite POW who'd been interrogated in the presence of a treecat, genuinely believed it was the Star Kingdom of Manticore which had tampered with their prewar diplomatic exchanges. The fact that all of them were firmly convinced that was the truth didn't necessarily mean it was, of course, but the fact that someone as senior and as close to Thomas Theisman as Tourville believed it was a sobering indication of how closely the truth was being held on the other side.

In fact, they all believe it so strongly that there are times I'm inclined to wonder, she admitted to herself.

It wasn't a topic she was prepared to discuss with most of her fellow Manticorans, even now, but she'd found herself reflecting on the fact that the correspondence in question had been generated by Elaine Descroix as Baron High Ridge's foreign secretary. There wasn't much Honor -- or anyone else who'd ever met High Ridge -- would have put past him, including forging the file copies of diplomatic correspondence to cover his backside, assuming there was any conceivable advantage for him in having been so inflammatory in the first place. Actually, if anyone had asked her as a hypothetical question whether someone with Eloise Pritchart's reputation (and Thomas Theisman as a member of her administration) or the corrupt politicos of the High Ridge Government were more likely to have falsified the diplomatic exchanges which had been handed to the newsfaxes, she would have picked the High Ridge team every time.

But there are too many permanent undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries in the Foreign Office who actually saw the original messages. That's what it keeps coming back to. I've been able to talk to them, too, and every one of them is just as convinced as every one of Lester's people that it was the other side who falsified things.

"There are . . . things going on," she told Tourville now. "I'm not prepared to discuss all of them with you. But there's a pretty good chance that having the best feel I can get for the personalities of people like President Pritchart could be very important to both of our star nations."

Lester Tourville sat very still, his eyes narrowing, and Honor tasted the racing speed of the thoughts she couldn't read. She could taste the intensity of his speculation, and also a sudden spike of wary hope. She'd discovered the first time they'd met that the sharp, cool brain behind that bristling mustache was a poor match for the "cowboy" persona he'd cultivated for so long. Now she waited while he worked his way through the logic chains, and she felt the sudden cold icicle as he realized there were several reasons she might need a "feel" for the Republic's senior political leaders and that not all of them were ones he might much care for. Reasons that contained words like "surrender demand," for example.

"I'm not going to ask you to betray any confidences," she went on unhurriedly. "And I'll give you my word that anything you tell me will go no further than the two of us. I'm not interrogating you for anyone else at this point, Lester. This is purely for my own information, and I'll also give you my word that my reason for asking for it is to prevent as much bloodshed -- on either side -- as I possibly can."

He looked at her for several seconds, then inhaled deeply.

"Before I tell you anything, I have a question of my own."

"Go ahead and ask," she said calmly.

"When you demanded my surrender," he said, gazing intensely into her eyes, "was it a bluff?"

"In what sense?" She tilted her head to one side.

"In two senses, I suppose."

"Whether or not I would have fired if you hadn't surrendered?"

"That's one of them," he admitted.

"All right. In that sense, I wasn't bluffing at all," she said levelly. "If you hadn't surrendered, and accepted my terms in full, I would have opened fire on Second Fleet from beyond any range at which you could have effectively replied, and I would have gone right on firing until whoever was left in command surrendered or every single one of your ships was destroyed."

Silence hovered between them for several moments that seemed oddly endless. It was a taut, singing silence -- a mutual silence built of the understanding of two professional naval officers. And yet, despite its tension, there was no anger in it. Not anymore. The anger they'd both felt at the time had long since vanished into something else, and if she'd had to pick a single word to describe what the two of them felt now, it would have been "regret."

"Well, that certainly answers my first question," he said finally, smiling crookedly. "And I suppose I'm actually relieved to hear it." Her eyebrows arched, and he snorted. "I've always thought I was a pretty good poker player. I would've hated to think I'd misread you quite that badly at the time."

"I see." She shook her head with a slight smile of her own. "But you said there were two senses?"

"Yes." He leaned forward, propping his forearms on his thighs, and his eyes were very sharp. "The other 'bluff' I've been wondering about is whether or not you really could have done it from that range?"

Honor swung her chair from side to side in a small, thoughtful arc while she considered his question. Theoretically, what he was asking edged into territory covered by the Official Secrets Act. On the other hand, it wasn't as if he was going to be e-mailing the information to the Octagon. Besides . . . .

"No," she said after no more than two or three heartbeats. "I couldn't have. Not from that range."

"Ah." He sat back once more, his crooked smile going even more crooked. Then he inhaled deeply. "Part of me really hated to hear that," he told her. "Nobody likes finding out he was tricked into surrendering."

She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again, and he chuckled. It was a surprisingly genuine chuckle, and the amusement behind it was just as genuine, she realized. And it was also oddly gentle.

"You wanted my databases intact," he said. "We both know that. But I know what else you were going to say, as well."

"You do?" she asked when he paused.

"Yep. You were going to say you did it to save lives, but you were afraid I might not believe you, weren't you?"

"I wouldn't say I thought you wouldn't believe me," she replied thoughtfully. "I guess the real reason was that I was afraid it would sound . . . self-serving. Or like some sort of self-justification, at least."

"Maybe it would have, but that doesn't change the fact that Second Fleet was completely and utterly screwed." He grimaced. "There was no way we were going to get out of the resonance zone and make it into hyper before you were in range to finish us off. All that was going to happen in the meantime was that more people were going to get killed on both sides without changing the final outcome at all."

Honor didn't say anything. There was no need to, and he crossed his legs slowly, his expression thoughtful.

"All right," he said. "With the stipulation that any classified information is off the table, I'll answer your questions."
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:07 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 12

Chapter Three

"So you're satisfied with our own security position at the moment, Wesley?"

Benjamin IX, Protector of Grayson, leaned back in his chair, watching the uniformed commander in chief of the Grayson Space Navy across his desk. Wesley Matthews looked back at him, his expression a bit surprised, then nodded.

"Yes, Your Grace, I am," he said. "May I ask if there's some reason you think I shouldn't be?"

"No, not that I think you shouldn't be. On the other hand, I have it on excellent authority that certain questions are likely to be raised in the Conclave of Steadholders' New Year's session."

Matthews' expression went from slightly surprised to definitely sour and he shook his head in disgusted understanding.

The two men sat in Benjamin Mayhew's private working office in Protector's Palace. At the moment, the planet Grayson's seasons were reasonably coordinated with those of mankind's birth world, although they were drifting slowly back out of adjustment, and heavy snow fell outside the palace's protective environmental dome. The larger dome which Skydomes of Grayson was currently erecting to protect the entire city of Austen was still only in its embryonic stages, with its preliminary girder work looming against the darkly clouded sky like white, furry tree trunks or -- for those of a less cheerful disposition -- the strands of some vast, frosted spiderweb. Outside the palace dome, clearly visible through its transparency from the bookcase-lined office's window, crowds of children cheerfully threw snowballs at one another, erected snowmen, or skittered over the steep, cobbled streets of the Old Town on sleds. Others shrieked in delight as they rode an assortment of carnival rides on the palace grounds themselves, and vendors of hot popcorn, hot chocolate and tea, and enough cotton candy and other items of questionable dietary value to provide sugar rushes for the next several days could be seen nefariously plying their trade on every corner.

What couldn't be clearly seen from Matthews' present seat were the breath masks those children wore, or the fact that their gloves and mittens would have served the safety requirements of hazardous materials workers quite handily. Grayson's high concentrations of heavy metals made even the planet's snow potentially toxic, but that was something Graysons were used to. Grayson kids took the need to protect themselves against their environment as much for granted as children on other, less unfriendly planets took the need to watch out for traffic crossing busy streets.

And, at the moment, all of those hordes of children were taking special pleasure in their play because it was a school holiday. In fact, it was a planetary holiday -- the Protector's Birthday. The next best thing to a thousand T-years worth of Grayson children had celebrated that same holiday, although for the last thirty T-years or so, they'd been a bit shortchanged compared to most of their predecessors, since Benjamin IX had been born on December the twenty-first. The schools traditionally shut down for Christmas vacation on December the eighteenth, so the kids didn't get an extra day away from class work the way they might have if Benjamin had been thoughtful enough to be born in, say, March or October. That little scheduling faux pas on his part (or, more fairly perhaps, on his mother's) was part of the reason Benjamin had always insisted on throwing a special party for all the children of the planetary capital and any of their friends who could get there to join them. At the moment, by Matthews' estimate, the school-aged population of the city of Austen had probably risen by at least forty or fifty percent.

It was also traditional that the protector did no official business on his birthday, since even he was entitled to at least one vacation day a year. Benjamin, however, was prone to honor that particular tradition in the breach, although he'd been known to use the fact that he was officially "off" for the day as a cover from time to time. And it would appear this was one of those times. Events were building towards the formal birthday celebration later this evening, but Matthews was among the inner circle who'd been invited to arrive early. He would have found himself in that group anyway, given how long and closely he and Benjamin had worked together, but there'd obviously been other reasons this year.

The high admiral regarded his protector thoughtfully. This was Benjamin's fiftieth birthday, and his hair was streaked progressively more thickly with silver. Not that Matthews was any spring chicken himself. In fact, he was ten T-years older than Benjamin, and his own hair had turned completely white, although (he thought with a certain comfortable vanity) it had remained thankfully thick and luxuriant.

But thick or not, we're neither one of us getting any younger, he reflected.

It was a thought which had occurred to him more frequently of late, especially when he ran into Manticoran officers half again his age who still looked younger than he did. Who were younger, physically speaking, at least. And more than a few Grayson officers fell into that same absurdly youthful-looking category, now that the first few generations to enter the service since Grayson's alliance with Manticore had made the prolong therapies generally available were into their late thirties or -- like Benjamin's younger brother, Michael -- already into their early forties.

It's only going to get worse, Wesley, he told himself with an inescapable edge of bittersweet envy. It's not their fault, of course. In fact, it's nobody's fault, but there are still a lot of things I'd like to be here to see.

He gave himself a mental shake and snorted silently. It wasn't exactly as if he were going to drop dead of old age tomorrow! With modern medicine, he ought to be good for at least another thirty T-years, and Benjamin could probably look forward to another half T-century.

Which had very little to do with the question the protector had just asked him.

"May I ask exactly which of our esteemed steadholders are likely to be raising the questions in question, Your Grace?"

"Well, I think you can safely assume Travis Mueller's name is going to be found among them." Benjamin's smile was tart. "And I expect Jasper Taylor's going to be right beside him. But I understand they've found a new front man -- Thomas Guilford."

Matthews grimaced. Travis Mueller, Lord Mueller, was the son of the late and (by most Graysons) very unlamented Samuel Mueller, who'd been executed for treason following his involvement in a Masadan plot to assassinate Benjamin and Queen Elizabeth. Jasper Taylor, was Steadholder Canseco, whose father had been a close associate of Samuel Mueller and who'd chosen to continue the traditional alliance between Canseco and Mueller. But Thomas Guilford, Lord Forchein, was a newcomer to that particular mix. He was also quite a few years older than either Mueller or Canseco, and while he'd never been one of the greater admirers of the social and legal changes of the Mayhew Restoration, he'd never associated himself with the protector's more strident critics. There hadn't been much question about his sentiments, but he'd avoided open confrontations with Benjamin and the solid block of steadholders who supported the Sword and he'd always struck Matthews as less inclined than Mueller to cheerfully sacrifice principle in the name of "political pragmatism."

"When did Forchein decide to sign on with Mueller and Friends, Your Grace?"

"That's hard to say, really." Benjamin tipped his swiveled armchair back and swung it gently from side to side. "To be fair to him -- not that I particularly want to be, you understand -- I doubt he was really much inclined in that direction until High Ridge tried to screw over every other member of the Alliance."

Matthews snorted again, this time out loud. Like Benjamin himself, the high admiral strongly supported Grayson's membership in the Manticoran Alliance. Not only was he painfully aware of just how much Grayson had profited, both technologically and economically, from its ties with the Star Kingdom of Manticore, but he was even better aware of the fact that without the intervention of the Royal Manticoran Navy, the planet of Grayson would either have been conquered outright by the religious lunatics who'd run Masada or at best have suffered nuclear or kinetic bombardment from space. At the same time, he had to admit the High Ridge Government had proved clearly that the Star Kingdom was far from perfect. In his considered opinion, "screw over" was an extraordinarily pale description of what Baron High Ridge had done to his alliance so-called partners. And like many other Graysons, Matthews was firmly of the opinion that High Ridge's idiotic foreign policy had done a great deal to provoke the resumption of hostilities between the Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom and its allies.

As far as the high admiral was personally concerned, that simply demonstrated once again that idiocy, corruption, and greed were inescapable elements of mankind's fallen nature. Tester knew there'd been more than enough traitors, criminals, corrupt and arrogant steadholders, and outright lunatics in Grayson history! Indeed, the name "Mueller" came rather forcibly to mind in that connection. And for every Manticoran High Ridge, Matthews had met two or three Hamish Alexanders or Alistair McKeons or Alice Trumans, not to mention having personally met Queen Elizabeth III.

And then, of course, there was Honor Alexander-Harrington.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Fri Mar 12, 2010 12:10 am

DrakBibliophile
Admiral

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 13


Given that balance, and how much Manticoran and Grayson blood had been shed side by side in the Alliance's battles, Matthews was prepared to forgive the Star Kingdom for High Ridge's existence. Not all Graysons were, however. Even many of those who remained fierce supporters of Lady Harrington separated her in their own minds from the Star Kingdom. She was one of theirs -- a Grayson in her own right, by adoption and shed blood -- which insulated her from their anger at the High Ridge Government's stupidity, avarice, and arrogance. And the fact that she and High Ridge had been bitter political enemies only made that insulation easier for them.

"I'm serious, Wesley." Benjamin waved one hand, as if for emphasis. "Oh, Forchein's always been a social and religious conservative -- not as reactionary as some, thank God, but bad enough -- but I'm pretty sure it was the combination of High Ridge's foreign policy and Haven's resumption of open hostilities that tipped his support. And, unfortunately, he's not the only one that's true of."

"May I ask how bad it actually is, Your Grace?" Matthews inquired, his eyes narrower.

It wasn't the sort of question he usually would have asked, given the Grayson tradition of separation between the military and politics. Senior officers weren't supposed to factor politics into their military thinking. Which, of course, was another of those fine theories which consistently came to grief amid the shoals of reality. There was a difference, however, between being aware of the political realities which affected the ability of his Navy to formulate sound strategy or discharge its responsibilities to defend the Protectorate of Grayson and of becoming involved in the formulation of political policy.

"To be honest, I'm not really certain," Benjamin admitted. "Floyd is taking some cautious political soundings, and I expect we'll have a pretty good idea within the next week or so of who else might be inclined in Forchein's direction."

Matthews nodded. Floyd Kellerman, Steadholder Magruder, had become Benjamin's chancellor following Henry Prestwick's well-earned retirement. He'd been Prestwick's understudy for the last two years of the old chancellor's tenure, and the Magruders had been Mayhew allies literally for centuries. Lord Magruder hadn't yet developed the intricate web of personal alliances Prestwick had possessed, but he'd already demonstrated formidable abilities as both an administrator and a shrewd politician.

"Having said that, however," the protector continued, "I'm already pretty confident about where the problem is going to come from . . . and what our problem children -- however many of them there turn out to be -- are going to want." He shook his head. "Some of them wouldn't have supported us sticking with Manticore against Haven this time around if the Protector's Own hadn't already been involved at Sidemore. Their position is that High Ridge had already violated Manticore's treaty obligations to us by conducting independent negotiations with Haven, which amounted to a unilateral abrogation of the Alliance. And while we do have a mutual defense treaty outside the formal framework of the overall Alliance, one whose terms obligate us to come to one another's support in the event of any attack by an outside party, the Star Kingdom's critics have pointed out that the Republic of Haven did not, in fact, attack Grayson in Operation Thunderbolt despite our involvement in defending Manticoran territory. The implication being that since High Ridge chose to violate Manticore's solemn treaty obligations to us -- along with every other party to the Alliance -- there's no reason we should feel legally or morally bound to honor our treaty obligations to them if doing so isn't in the Protectorate's best interests.

"And -- surprise, surprise! -- the way the Manticorans' expansion into the Talbott Sector's brought them into direct collision with the Solarian League has only made the people who are pissed off with Manticore even less happy. And to be honest, I can't really blame anyone for being nervous about finding themselves on the wrong end of the confrontation with the League, especially after the way High Ridge squandered so much of the Star Kingdom's investment in loyalty.

"Of course, none of our vessels have actually been involved in operations anywhere near Talbott, but we do have personnel serving on Manticoran warships which have been. For that matter, over thirty of our people were killed when that idiot Byng blew up the destroyers they were serving in. Which gives the people who worry about what may happen between the League and the Manticorans -- and, by extension, with us -- two legitimate pieces of ammunition. The Sollies may view the participation of our personnel, even aboard someone else's ships, in military operations against the League as meaning we've already decided to back Manticore, and I don't think it would be totally unfair to argue that the people we've already lost were lost in someone else's fight. Mind you, I think it should be obvious to anyone with any sort of realistic appreciation for how Frontier Security and the League operate that standing up to the Sollies should be every independent 'neobarb' star system's fight. Not everyone's going to agree with me about that, unfortunately, and those who don't will be airing their concerns shortly. Which brings me back to my original question for you. How satisfied are you with the system's security?"

"In the short term, completely, Your Grace." Matthews' response was as firm as it was instant. "Whatever High Ridge and Janacek might have done, ever since Willie Alexander took over as Prime Minister, especially with Hamish as his First Lord of Admiralty, our channels of communication have been completely opened again. Our R&D people are working directly with theirs, and they've provided us with everything we needed to put Apollo into production here at Yeltsin's Star. For that matter, they've delivered over eight thousand of the system-defense variant Apollo pods. And they've also handed our intelligence people complete copies of the computer files Countess Gold Peak captured from Byng at New Tuscany, along with specimens of Solly missiles, energy weapons, software systems -- the works. For that matter, if we want it, they're more than willing to let us have one of the actual battlecruisers the Countess brought back from New Tuscany so we can examine it personally. So far, we haven't taken them up on that. Our people in Admiral Hemphill's shop are already seeing everything, and, frankly, the Manties are probably better at that sort of thing than we are here at home, anyway.

"Based on what we've seen out of the Havenites, I'm confident we could successfully defend this star system against everything the Republic has left. And based on our evaluation of the captured Solarian material, my best estimate is that while the Sollies probably could take us in the end, they'd need upwards of a thousand ships-of-the-wall to do it. And that's a worst-case estimate, Your Grace. I suspect a more realistic estimate would push their force requirements upward significantly." He shook his head. "Given all their other commitments, the amount of their wall of battle that's tucked away in mothballs, and the fact that they'd pretty much have to go through Manticore before they got to us at all, I'm not worried about any known short-term threat."

He paused for a moment, as if to let the protector fully absorb his own confidence, then drew a deep breath.

"In the long term, of course, the Solarian League could pose a very serious threat to the Protectorate. I agree with the Manties' estimate that it would take years for the SLN to get comparable technology into production and deployed. I think some of the individual system-defense forces could probably shave some time off of how long it's going to take the SLN in particular, and the League in general, to overcome the sheer inertia of their entrenched bureaucracies, but as far as I'm aware, none of those SDFs are in anything like the Star Kingdom's -- I mean the Star Empire's -- league. For that matter, I don't think any of them could come close to matching our combat power for quite a lengthy period. But in the end, assuming the League has the stomach to pay the price in both human and economic terms, there's not much doubt that, barring direct divine intervention, the Sollies could absorb anything we and the Manticorans combined could hand out and still steamroller us in the end."

Benjamin puffed his lips, his eyes worried, and rotated his chair some more. It was very quiet in the office -- quiet enough for Matthews to hear the creaking of the old-fashioned swivel chair -- and the high admiral found himself looking out the window again, at the throngs of children.

I'd really like for someone to grow up on this planet without having to worry about wars and lunatics, he thought sadly, almost wistfully. I've done my best to keep them safe, but that's not the same thing.

"I wish I could say I was surprised by anything you've just said," Benjamin said at last, pulling Matthews' eyes back to him. "Unfortunately, it's about what I expected to hear, and I don't doubt Mueller and Friends, as you call them, have reached about the same conclusions. They already think of us as 'Manticoran lackeys' who put Manticore's interests ahead of Grayson's. That's going to dispose them to take the least optimistic possible view, shall we say, of our long-term strategic position. Nor do I doubt that they're going to be perfectly ready to share their thoughts on the subject with their fellow steadholders."

"Your Grace, I could --"

"No, you couldn't, Wesley," Benjamin interrupted. The high admiral looked at him, and the protector smiled tartly. "I'm sure, High Admiral Matthews, that you would never suggest to the Lord Protector that it might be possible for you to prevaricate or even mislead the Conclave of Steadholders if you were called to testify before them."
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:13 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 14


Matthews closed his mouth and sat back in his chair, and Benjamin chuckled harshly.

"Don't think that I wouldn't appreciate the offer, if you'd ever been so lost to all sense of your legal and moral responsibilities as to make it. But even if I were tempted to encourage you to do any such thing, and even if it wouldn't be both morally and legally wrong -- which, granted, aren't always exactly the same things -- it would only blow up in our faces in the long run. After all, it's not exactly like it would take a hyper physicist to realize just how damned big the League is. If we tried to pretend the Sollies couldn't kick our posterior in the long run, we'd only look and sound ridiculous. Or, worse, like we were trying to carry water for the Manties. So I doubt you'd be able to do much good . . . in that respect, at least. "

Matthews nodded slowly, but something about the protector's tone puzzled him. He knew it showed in his expression, and Benjamin chuckled again, more naturally, when he saw it.

"I said I don't want you to mislead anyone about the long-term threat the League could pose, Wesley. I never said I didn't want you to underline your confidence in our short-term security, if you're actually confident about it."

"Of course, Your Grace." Matthews nodded with no reservations. In fact, even though he'd scrupulously used the phrase "any known short-term threat" in his response to the protector's question, in his own mind a better one would have been "any conceivable short-term threat."

"Good." Benjamin nodded back. "One thing we scheming autocrats realized early on, High Admiral, is that short-term threats have a far greater tendency to crystallize political factions, for or against, than long-term ones do. It's the nature of the way human minds work. And if we can get through the next few months, the situation could certainly change. For example, there's Lady Harrington's mission to Haven."

Matthews nodded, although he suspected he hadn't succeeded in keeping at least a trace of skepticism out of his expression. As the Grayson Space Navy's uniformed commander, he was one of the handful of people who knew about Honor Alexander-Harrington's planned mission to the Republic of Haven. He agreed that it was certainly worth trying, even if he didn't exactly have unbridled optimism about the chances for its success. On the other hand, Lady Harrington had a knack for accomplishing the improbable, so he wasn't prepared to totally rule out the possibility.

"If we can manage to bury the hatchet with Haven, it should be a major positive factor where the public's morale is concerned, and it would certainly strengthen our hand in the Conclave," Benjamin pointed out. "Not only that, but if anyone in the Solarian League realizes just how steep our present technological advantage is, and couples that with the fact that we're not being distracted by the Republic anymore, he may just figure out that picking a fight with Manticore is a game that wouldn't be worth the candle."

"Your Grace, I can't disagree with anything you've just said," Matthews said. "On the other hand, you and I both know how Sollies think. Do you really believe there's going to be a sudden unprecedented outburst of rationality in Old Chicago, of all places?"

"I think it's possible," Benjamin replied. "I'm not saying I think it's likely, but it is possible. And in some ways, this makes me think about a story my father told me -- an old joke about a Persian horse thief."

"Excuse me, Your Grace?"

"A Persian horse thief." Matthews still looked blank, and Benjamin grinned. "Do you know what 'Persia' was?"

"I've heard the word," Matthews admitted cautiously. "Something from Old Earth history, wasn't it?"

"Persia," Benjamin said, "built one of the greatest pre-technic empires back on Old Earth. Their king was called the 'shah,' and the term 'checkmate' in chess comes originally from 'shah mat,' or 'the king is dead.' That's how long ago they were around.

"Anyway, the story goes that once upon a time a thief stole the shah's favorite horse. Unfortunately for him, he was caught trying to get off the palace grounds with it, and dragged before the shah in person. The penalty for stealing any horse was pretty severe, but stealing one of the shah's was punishable by death, of course. Still, the shah wanted to see the man who'd had the audacity to try and steal a horse out of the royal stables themselves.

"So the shah's guardsmen brought the thief in, and the shah said, 'Didn't you know stealing one of my horses is punishable by death, fellow?' And the thief looked at him and said 'Of course I knew that, Your Majesty. But everyone knows you have the finest horses in all the world, and what horse thief worthy of the name would choose to steal any but the finest?'

"The shah was amused, but the law was the law, so he said 'Give me one reason why I shouldn't have your head chopped off right this minute.' The horse thief thought about it for a few moments, then said, 'Well, Your Majesty, I don't suppose there's any legal reason why you shouldn't. But if you'll spare my life, I'll teach your horse to sing.'

"'What?' the shah demanded. 'You claim you can actually teach my horse to sing?' 'Well, of course I can!' the thief replied confidently. 'I'm not just a common horse thief, after all, Your Majesty. I don't say it will be easy, but if I can't teach your horse to sing within one year, then you can chop off my head with my blessings.'

"So the shah thought about it, then nodded. 'All right, you've got your year. If, at the end of that year, you haven't taught the horse to sing, though, I warn you -- a simple beheading will be the least of your problems! Is that understood?' 'Of course, Your Majesty!' the horse thief replied, and the guards hauled him away.

"'Are you crazy?' one of them asked him. 'No one can teach a horse to sing, and the Shah's going to be even more pissed off when he figures out you lied to him. All you've done is to trade having your head chopped off for being handed over to the torturers! What were you thinking?' So the thief looks at him and says 'I have a year in which to do it, and in a year, the Shah may die, and his successor may choose to spare my life. Or the horse may die, and I can scarcely be expected to teach a dead horse to sing, and so my life may be spared. Or, I may die, in which case it won't matter whether or not the horse learns to sing.' 'And if none of those things happen?' the guard demanded. 'Well, in that case,' the thief replied, 'who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to sing!'"

Matthews chuckled, and the protector's grin broadened. Then it slowly faded, and he let his chair come back upright, laying his forearms on his desk and leaning forward over them.

"And in some ways, that's where we are, isn't it?" he asked. "We've been too closely allied with Manticore for too long, and we've already had personnel involved in active combat with the SLN. If the League decides to hammer the Star Kingdom over something that was clearly the League's fault in the first place, what makes anyone think they'll hesitate to hammer any of the uppity neobarbs' uppity neobarb friends, at the same time? What's one more star system when you're already planning on destroying a multi-system empire, with the largest independent merchant marine in the entire galaxy, just because you can't admit one of your own admirals screwed up by the numbers?"

Matthews looked back at his protector, wishing he could think of an answer to Benjamin's questions.

"So that's where we are," the protector repeated quietly. "In the long term, unless we're prepared to become another nice, obedient Frontier Security proxy and go around bashing other 'neobarbs' for the League, I'm sure they'll decide one of their flag officers should have another unfortunate little accident that gets our Navy trashed along with Manticore's before we turn into a threat to them. So all I can see for us to do is the best we can and hope that somewhere, even in the Solarian League, someone's going to be bright enough to see the shipwreck coming and try to avoid it. After all," Benjamin grinned again, this time without amusement, "the horse really may learn to sing."

* * *

"All right, boys and girls," Commander Michael Carus said. "It's official. We can go home now."

"Hallelujah!" Lieutenant Commander Bridget Landry said from her quadrant of his com display. "Not that it hasn't been fun," she continued. "Why I haven't enjoyed myself this much since they fixed that impacted wisdom tooth for me."

Carus chuckled. The four destroyers of the Royal Manticoran Navy's Destroyer Division 265.2, known as "the Silver Cepheids," had been sitting a light-month from Manticore-A for two weeks, doing absolutely nothing. Well, that wasn't exactly fair. They'd been sitting here maintaining a scrupulous sensor watch looking for absolutely nothing, and he was hardly surprised by Landry's reaction.

No, I'm not, he admitted. But somebody had to do it. And when it comes to perimeter security for the entire star system, better safe than sorry any day, even if it does mean somebody has to be bored as hell.

DesDiv 265.2 had been sent to check out what was almost certainly a sensor ghost but which could, just possibly, have been an actual hyper footprint. It was extraordinarily unlikely that anyone would have bothered to make his alpha translation this far out, be his purposes ever so nefarious, since his impeller signature would certainly have been detected long before he could get close enough to the Manticore Binary System to accomplish anything. But Perimeter Security didn't take chances on words like "unlikely." When a sensor ghost like this one turned up, it was checked out -- quickly and thoroughly. And if the checker-outers didn't find anything immediately upon arrival, they stayed put for the entire two T-weeks SOP required.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:53 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 15


Which was precisely what the Silver Cepheids had just finished doing.

"Should I assume, Bridget," Carus said, "that you have some pressing reason for wanting to head home at this particular moment?"

"Oh, how could you possibly suspect anything of the sort?" Lieutenant Commander John Pershing asked from the bridge of HMS Raven, and Lieutenant Commander Julie Chase, CO of HMS Lodestone chuckled.

"I take it your senile old skipper is missing something?" Carus said mildly.

"She's got one of those creative archaism thingies," Chase said.

"That's creative anachronisms, you ignorant lout," Landry corrected with a frown.

"Are you going off to play dress-up again, Bridget?" Carus demanded.

"Hey, don't you start on me!" she told him with a grin. "Everyone's got her own hobby -- even you. Or was that someone else I saw tying trout flies the other day?"

"At least he eats what he catches," Chase pointed out. "Or is it that what catches him eats him?" She frowned, then shrugged. "Anyway, it's not as silly as all those costumes of yours."

"Before you go around calling it silly, Julie," Pershing suggested, "you might want to reflect on the fact that 'the Salamander' is an honorary member of Bridget's chapter."

"What?" Chase stared at him from her display. "You're kidding! Duchess Harrington's part of this silly SCA thing?"

"Well, not really," Landry said. "Like John says, it's an honorary membership. One of her uncles is a real big wheel in the Society on Beowulf, and he sponsored her back, oh, I don't know . . . must've been thirty T-years ago. I've actually met her at a couple of meetings though, you know. She took the pistol competition at both of them, as a matter of fact."

"There you have it," Carus said simply. "If it's good enough for the Salamander, it's good enough for anyone. So let's not have anyone abusing Bridget over her hobby anymore, understand? Even if it is a remarkably silly way for an adult human being to spend her time, at least she's being silly in good company. So there."

Landry stuck out her tongue at him, and he laughed. Then he looked sideways at Lieutenant Linda Petersen, his astrogator aboard HMS Javelin.

"Got that course figured for us, Linda?"

"Yes, Skipper," Petersen nodded.

"Well, in that case pass it to these other characters," Carus told her. "Obviously, we have to get Commander Landry back to Manticore before she turns back into a watermelon, or a pumpkin, or whatever it was."

* * *

Commodore Karol Østby leaned back in the comfortable chair, eyes closed, letting the music flow over him. Old Terran opera had been his favorite form of relaxation for as long as he could remember. He'd even learned French, German, and Italian so he could listen to them in their original languages. Of course, he'd always had a pronounced knack for languages; it was part of the Østby genome, after all.

At this moment, however, he found himself in rather greater need of that relaxation than usual. The seven small ships of his command had been creeping tracelessly about the perimeter of the Manticore Binary System for over a T-month, and that wasn't something calculated to make a man feel comfortable. Whatever those idiots in the SLN might think, Østby and the Mesan Alignment Navy had the liveliest possible respect for the capabilities of Manty technology. In this case, though, it was the Manties' turn to be outclassed -- or, at least, taken by surprise. If Østby hadn't been one hundred percent confident of that when Oyster Bay was originally planned, he was now. His cautious prowling about the system had confirmed that even the Alignment's assessment of its sensor coverage had fallen badly short of the reality. Any conventional starship would have been detected long ago by the dense, closely integrated, multiply redundant sensor systems he and his personnel had painstakingly plotted. In fact, he was just a little concerned over the possibility that those surveillance systems might still pick up something soon enough to at least blunt Oyster Bay's effectiveness.

Stop that, Karol, he told himself, never opening his eyes. Yes, it could happen, but you know it's not very damned likely. You just need something to worry about, don't you?

His lips twitched in sour amusement as he acknowledged his own perversity, but at the same time, he was aware that his worrier side was one of the things that made him an effective officer. His subordinates probably got tired of all the contingency planning he insisted upon, yet even they had to admit that it made it unlikely they would truly be taken by surprise when Murphy decided to put in his inevitable appearance.

So far, though, that appearance hadn't happened, and Østby's flagship Chameleon and her consorts were past the riskiest part of their entire mission. Their own reconnaissance platforms were the stealthiest the Alignment could provide after decades of R&D and more capital investment than he liked to think about, and those platforms hadn't transmitted a single byte of information. They'd made their sweeps on ballistic flight profiles, using purely passive sensors, then physically rendezvoused with their motherships to deliver their take.

And, overall, that take had been satisfying, indeed. Passive sensors were less capable than active ones, but the multiple systems each platform mounted compensated for a lot of that. From the numbers of energy sources they'd picked up, it appeared the ships the Manties currently had under construction weren't as far along in the building process as intelligence had estimated. If they had been, there'd have been more onboard energy sources already up and running. But at least Østby now knew exactly where the orbital yards were, and the external energy sources his platforms had picked up indicated that most of them had projects underway. From the numbers of signatures, and they way they clustered, it looked as though more than a few of the yards were at early stages of their construction projects, and he hoped that didn't mean intelligence's estimate of the Manties' construction times was off. It was hard to be certain, given how cautiously he had to operate, but if all those new projects meant the yards in question had finished their older projects ahead of estimate . . . .

And the fact that the Manties seem to be sending all their new construction off to Trevor's Star for working up exercises doesn't help, either, he admitted sourly.

Which was true enough -- it didn't help one bit. Still, there was a lot of work going on in those dispersed yards of theirs, and while his estimates on what their space stations were up to were more problematical, he had no doubt there were quite a few ships under construction in those highly capable building slips, as well.

And we know exactly where they are, he reminded himself.

Now it was just a matter of keeping tabs on what their recon platforms had located for them. He'd really have preferred to send the platforms through on another short-range sweep closer to their actual execution date, but his orders were clear on that. It was more important to preserve the element of surprise than it was to monitor every single detail. And it wasn't as if there'd been any effort to conceal the things Østby and his people were there looking for. People didn't normally try to hide things like orbital shipyards (even if they'd wanted to, Østby couldn't imagine how someone would go about doing it), nor did they move them around once they were in position. And if anyone did move them, Chameleon and her sisters would be bound to know, given the distant optical watch they were keeping and the fact that the impeller wedge of any tug that started moving shipyards would certainly be powerful enough to be detected by at least one of the watching scout ships.

So all we have to do now is wait, he told himself, listening to the music, listening to the voices. One more T-month until we put the guidance platforms in place.

That was going to be a little risky, he admitted in the privacy of his own thoughts, but only a little. The guidance platforms were even stealthier than his ships. Someone would have to almost literally collide with one of them to spot them, and they'd be positioned well above the system ecliptic, where there was no traffic to do the colliding. He would have been happier if the platforms had been a little smaller -- he admitted that to himself, as well -- but delivering targeting information to that many individual missiles in a time window as short as the Oyster Bay ops plan demanded required a prodigious amount of bandwidth. And, despite everything, it was highly likely the Manties were going to hear something when they started transmitting all that data.

Not that it was going to make any difference at that late date, he reflected with grim pleasure. Everything he and his squadron had done for the last three and a half T-months all came down to that transmission's handful of seconds . . . and once it was made, nothing could save the Star Empire of Manticore.
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:16 pm

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Admiral

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 16

Chapter Four

"Have you got a copy of that memo from Admiral Cheng?" Captain Daud ibn Mamoun al-Fanudahi asked, poking his head into Captain Irene Teague's office.

"Which memo?" Teague rolled her eyes in an expression she wouldn't have let any other Battle Fleet officer see. In fact, she wouldn't have let al-Fanudahi see it as recently as a month or so ago. Displaying contempt -- or, at the very least, disrespect -- for a flag officer was always risky, but even more so when the officer doing the displaying was from Frontier Fleet and the object of the display was from Battle Fleet. And especially when the flag officer in question was the Frontier Fleet officer in question's CO.

Unfortunately, Irene Teague had concluded that al-Fanudahi had been right all along in his belief the "preposterous reports" of the Royal Manticoran Navy's "super weapons" weren't quite so preposterous after all. A point which, in her opinion, had been abundantly proved by what had happened to Josef Byng at New Tuscany. And a point which apparently continued to elude Cheng Hai-shwun, the commanding officer of the Office of Operational Analysis, to which she and al-Fanudahi happened to be assigned.

"The one about that briefing next week," al-Fanudahi said. "The one for Kingsford and Thimár."

"Oh."

Teague frowned, trying to remember which of her voluminous correspondence folders she'd stuffed that particular memo into. Half the crap she filed hadn't even been opened, much less read. No one could possibly keep track of all of the memos, letters, conference reports, requests, and just plain garbage floating around the Navy Building and its annexes. Not that the originators of all that verbiage felt any compulsion to acknowledge that point. The real reason for most of it was simply to cover their own posteriors, after all, and the excuse that there simply weren't enough hours in the day to read all of it cut no ice when they produced their file copy and waved it under one's nose.

She tapped a command, checking an index. Then shrugged, tapped another, and snorted.

"Yeah. Here it is." She looked up. "You need a copy?"

"Bang one over to my terminal," al-Fanudahi replied with a slightly sheepish grin. "I don't have a clue where I filed my copy. But what I really needed was to see if Polydorou or one of his reps is supposed to be there."

"Just a sec." Teague skimmed the memo, then shrugged. "No mention of it, if they are."

"I didn't remember one." Al-Fanudahi grimaced. "Not exactly a good sign, wouldn't you say?"

"Probably not," Teague agreed, after a moment. "On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing. At least this way if they listen to you at all, he'll have less warning to start covering his arse before someone starts asking him some pointed questions."

"And just how likely do you really think that is?"

"Not very," she admitted.

If Cheng had so far failed to grasp the nature of the sausage machine into which the SLN was about to poke its fingers, Admiral Martinos Polydorou, the commanding officer of Systems Development was in active denial. The SysDev CO had been one of the masterminds behind the "Fleet 2000" initiative, and he was even more convinced of the inevitability of Solarian technological superiority than the majority of his fellow officers.

In theory, it was SysDev's responsibility to continually push the parameters, to search constantly for improved technologies and applications. Of course, in theory, it was also OpAn's responsibility to analyze and interpret operational data which might identify potential threats. Given that al-Fanudahi's career had been stalled for decades mostly because he'd tried to do exactly that, it probably wasn't surprising Polydorou's subordinates were unlikely to disagree with him. After all, Teague was one of the very few OpAn analysts who'd come to share al-Fanudahi's concerns . . . and he'd specifically instructed her to keep her mouth shut about that minor fact.

"There might be a better chance of getting some of those questions asked if you'd let me sign off on your report, Daud," she pointed out now.

"Not enough better to risk burning your credibility right alongside mine." He shook his head. "No. It's not time for you to come out into the open yet, Irene."

"But, Daud --"

"No," he interrupted her with another headshake. "There's not really anything new in Sigbee's dispatches. Aside from the confirmation their missiles have a range from rest of at least twenty-nine million kilometers, at any rate, and that'd already been confirmed at Monica, if anyone'd been interested in looking at the reports." He shrugged. "Someone's got to keep telling them about it, but they're not going to believe it, no matter what we say, until one of our units gets hammered in a way that's impossible even for someone like Cheng or Polydorou to deny. Everybody's got too much of the 'not invented here' syndrome. And they don't want to hear from anyone who disagrees with them."

"But it's only a matter of time before they find out you've been right all along," she argued.

"Maybe. And when that happens, do you think they're going to like having been proved wrong? What usually happens to someone like me --someone who's insisted on telling them the sky is falling -- is that if it turns out he was right, his superiors are even more strongly motivated to punish him. The last thing they want is to ask the advice of someone who's told them they were idiots after the universe demonstrates they really were idiots. That's why it's important you stay clear of this. When the crap finally hits the fan, you'll be the one who had access to all of my notes and my reports, who's in the best position to be their 'expert witness' on that basis, but who hasn't been pissing them off for as long as they can remember."

"It's not right," she protested quietly.

"So?" Teague had seen lemons less tart than al-Fanudahi's smile. "You were under the impression someone ever guaranteed life was fair?"

"No, but . . . ."

Her voice trailed off, and she gave her head an unwilling little toss of understanding. Not agreement, really, but of acceptance.

"Well, now that that's settled," al-Fanudahi said more briskly, "I was wondering if you'd had any more thoughts on that question of mine about the difference between their missile pods and tube-launched missiles?"

"About the additional drive system, you mean?"

"Yeah. Or even about the additional drive systems, plural."

"Daud, I'm on your side here, remember, and I'm willing to grant you that they might be able to squeeze one more drive into a missile body they could shoehorn into a pod, but even I don't see how they could've put in three of the damned things!"

"Don't forget our esteemed colleagues are still arguing they couldn't fit in even two of them," al-Fanudahi retorted, eye a-gleam with combined mischief, provocation, and genuine concern. "If they're wrong about that, then why couldn't you be wrong about drive system number three?"

"Because," she replied with awful patience, "there are physical limits not even Manties can get around. Besides --"

Daud ibn Mamoun al-Fanudahi leaned his shoulders against the wall of her cubicle and smiled as he prepared to stretch the parameters of her mind once again.

* * *

Aldona Anisimovna walked briskly down the sumptuously decorated hallway. It wasn't the first time she'd made this walk, but this time she was unaccompanied by the agitated butterflies which had polkaed around her midsection before. And not just because Kyrillos Taliadoros, her personal enhanced bodyguard, walked quietly behind her. His presence was one sign of how monumentally her universe had changed in the last six T-months, yet it was hardly the only one.

Then again, everyone else's universe is about to change, too, isn't it? she thought as they neared their destination. And they don't even know it.

On the other hand, neither had she on that day six T-months ago when she and Isabel Bardasano walked into Albrecht Detweiler's office and Anisimovna, for the first time in her life, learned the real truth.

They reached the door at the end of the hall, and it slid open at their approach. Another man, who looked like a cousin of Taliadoros' (because, after all, he was one), considered them gravely for a moment, then stepped aside with a gracious little half-bow.

Anisimovna nodded back, but the true focus of her attention was the man sitting behind the large office's desk. He was tall, with strong features, and the two younger men sitting at the opposite ends of his desk looked a great deal like him. Not surprisingly.

"Aldona!" Albrecht Detweiler smiled at her, standing behind the desk and holding out his hand. "I trust you had a pleasant voyage home?"

"Yes, thank you, Albrecht." She shook his hand. "Captain Maddox took excellent care of us, and Bolide is a perfectly wonderful yacht. And" -- she rolled her eyes drolly at him -- "so speedy."
*
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Mar 21, 2010 11:18 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 17


Detweiler chuckled appreciatively, released her hand, and nodded at the chair in front of his desk. Taliadoros and Detweiler's own bodyguard busied themselves pouring out cups of coffee with the same deftness they brought to certain more physical aspects of their duties. Then they withdrew, leaving her with Albrecht and his two sons.

"I'm glad you appreciate Bolide's speed, Aldona." Benjamin Detweiler set his cup back on its saucer and smiled slightly at her. "And we appreciate your using it to get home this quickly."

Anisimovna nodded in acknowledgment. The "streak drive" was yet another thing she hadn't known anything about six months ago. Nor, to be frank, was it something she would have expected out of Mesan researchers. Like most of the rest of the galaxy, although for rather different reasons, she'd been inclined to think of her home world's R&D community primarily in terms of biological research. Intellectually, she'd known better than most of humanity that the planet of Mesa's scientific and academic communities had never restricted themselves solely to genetics and the biosciences. But even for her, those aspects of Mesa had been far more visible, the things that defined Mesa, just as they defined Beowulf.

Well, if it surprised me, I imagine that's a pretty good indication of just how big a surprise it's going to be for everyone else, too, she thought dryly. Which is going to be a very good thing over the next few years.

The streak drive represented a fundamental advance in interstellar travel, and there was no indication anyone else was even close to duplicating it. For centuries, the theta bands had represented an inviolable ceiling for hyper-capable ships. Everyone had known it was theoretically possible to go even higher, attain a still higher apparent normal-space velocity, yet no one had ever managed to design a ship which could crack the iota wall and survive. Incredible amounts of research had been invested in efforts to do just that, especially in the earlier days of hyper travel, but with a uniform lack of success. In the last few centuries, efforts to beat the iota barrier had waned, until the goal had been pretty much abandoned as one of those theoretically possible but practically unobtainable concepts.

But the Mesan Alignment hadn't abandoned it, and finally, after the better part of a hundred T-years of dogged research, they'd found the answer. It was, in many ways, a brute force approach, and it wouldn't have been possible even now without relatively recent advances (whose potential no one else seemed to have noticed) in related fields. And even with those other advances, it had almost doubled the size of conventional hyper generators. But it worked. Indeed, they'd broken not simply the iota wall, but the kappa wall, as well. Which meant the voyage from New Tuscany to Mesa, which would have taken anyone else the next best thing to forty-five T-days, had taken Anisimovna less than thirty-one.

"Now," Albrecht said, drawing her attention back to him, "Benjamin, Collin, and I have skimmed your report. We'd like to hear it directly from you, though."

"Of course," she replied, "but --" She paused, then gave her head a tiny shake. "Excuse me, Albrecht, but I actually expected to be making this report to Isabel."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible." It wasn't Albrecht who answered her; it was Collin, and his voice was far harder and harsher than Albrecht's or Benjamin's had been. She looked at him, and he gave a sharp, angry shrug. "Isabel's dead, Aldona. She was killed about three months ago . . . along with everyone else in the Gamma Center at the time."

Anisimovna's eyes widened in shock. Despite her recent admission to the Mesan Alignment's innermost circles, she still had only the vaguest notion of what sort of research had been carried on in the Alignment's various satellite centers. The only thing she'd known about the Gamma Center was that, unlike most of the others, it was right here in the Mesa System . . . which implied it was also more important than most.

"May I ask what happened?"

She more than half expected him to tell her no, since she presumably had no operational need to know. But Isabel had become more than just another of her professional colleagues, and Collin surprised her.

"We still don't have all the pieces, actually," he admitted. "In fact, we never will. We do know someone activated the self-destruct security protocols, and who it was. We're still guessing at some of the events leading up to that, but given that Isabel was on her way to take him into custody, we're pretty sure why he activated them."

He paused, expression grim, and Anisimovna nodded. If she'd had a choice between pressing a self-destruct button and facing what would be euphemistically described as "rigorous questioning," she would have chosen vaporization, too.

"What we still can't prove is exactly what he was up to before Isabel became suspicious of him. We're sure we've figured out his basic intentions, but we've had to do most of the figuring from secondary sources. There aren't any primary sources or witnesses left on our side, aside from the one low-level agent who seems to be the only person to've done everything right. But there's reason to believe the Ballroom was involved, at least peripherally."

"The Ballroom knew about the Gamma Center?" Astonishment and a sudden pulse of panic startled the question out of her. If the ex-genetic slave terrorists of the Ballroom had discovered that much, who knew how much else they might have learned about the Alignment?

"We don't think so." Collin shook his head quickly. "We do have a few . . . witnesses from the other side, and based on their testimony and our own investigations, we've confirmed that Zilwicki and Cachat were here on Mesa and -- almost certainly -- that the Center's head of security made contact with them."

Anisimovna knew her eyes were huge, but not even an alpha line could have helped that under these circumstances. Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat had been here on Mesa itself? This was getting better and better by the second, wasn't it?

"None of the evidence suggests they'd come expressly looking for the Center," Collin went on reassuringly. "We know how the traitor discovered they were here in the first place, so we're confident they didn't come looking to make contact with him, at any rate. It looks like he decided, for reasons of his own, that he wanted to defect and jumped at the chance when he realized they were here. In fact, we have imagery of him actually meeting Zilwicki -- that's what made Isabel suspicious in the first place. Zilwicki hadn't been IDed from the imagery before she went looking for . . . the defector, but she did know that low-level agent I mentioned had already fingered him as a Ballroom peripheral.

Unfortunately, the first person he reported that little fact to was the Center's chief of security."

He smiled thinly at Anisimovna's grimace.

"Yes, that was convenient for him, wasn't it?" he agreed. "We think that's what triggered the decision to defect, and it also put him in a position to keep anyone higher up the chain from realizing Zilwicki was on-planet. The only thing that screwed him up was the original agent's suspicions when one of his bugs caught them meeting in a seccy restaurant. We were just lucky as hell our man had the gumption and the balls to go directly to Isabel. Unfortunately, 'lucky' is a relative term in this case. Our man didn't know his 'Ballroom peripheral' was Anton Zilwicki, so Isabel didn't realize it either. If she had, she would have approached the whole thing differently, but she clearly had no idea how serious the security breach really was, and she decided to handle it personally, quickly, and, above all, quietly. Which, however reasonable it may've seemed, was a mistake in this case. When he realized Isabel was coming for him, the defector was able to trigger the charge under the Center. He took the whole damned place -- and all of its on-site records and personnel -- with him. Not to mention one of Green Pines' larger commercial towers -- and everyone inside it -- when the charge went off in its sub-basement."

Anisimovna inhaled suddenly, sharply. She might have known the Gamma Center was in the Mesa System, but she'd never guessed it might be located in one of the system capital's bedroom suburbs!

"The only good points were that it was a Saturday and early, so most of the Center's R&D personnel were safely at home, and the defector had apparently set up a fallback position to take out Zilwicki and Cachat in case they stiffed him. He used it, and we're ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent sure he managed to kill both of them . . . even if it did take another nuke to do the job. So they're both dead, at least. But not" -- his jaw muscles tightened, and his eyes went terrifyingly cold -- "without another Ballroom bastard using a nuke on Pine Valley Park. On a Saturday morning."
*
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Mar 23, 2010 11:28 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 18


Anisimovna's stomach muscles clenched. She knew Collin's family lived just outside Green Pines' central park. His children played there almost every weekend, and --

"No," he said more gently as he saw the shock in her eyes. "No, Alexis and the kids weren't there, thank God. But most of their friends were. And on a more pragmatic level, we picked up two of the local seccies Zilwicki and Cachat used." This time his smile was a terrible thing to see. "They've been dealt with, but not before they told us everything they ever knew in their lives, and, to give the devil his due, they both insisted Zilwicki and Cachat never intended to nuke the park. In fact, it wasn't their idea, either. One of their fellow lunatics apparently went berserk and made the decision on his own."

Anisimovna knew she looked shell-shocked, but that was all right. She was shell-shocked.

"On the other hand," Collin continued, "having three separate nukes go off in Green Pines on a single day isn't the sort of thing you can cover up. We took the position that we intended to conduct a very thorough investigation before we leveled any charges -- which was true enough -- but we knew we'd eventually have to go public with some explanation. No one wanted to admit the Ballroom could get through to pull something like this, but we decided that was the least of the evils available to us. In fact, once the seccies confessed, we decided we could charge that Zilwicki was the mastermind behind the whole thing. Which, in a way, he was after all."

"We considered adding Cachat to the mix," Albrecht said, "but he wasn't the kind of public figure Zilwicki was after that expose of Yael Underwood's 'outed' him a couple of years ago, and he managed to keep his involvement with Verdant Vista under the radar horizon. Nobody knows who the hell he was, and we couldn't come up with a plausible way to explain how we knew, either. Under the circumstances, we decided that trying to link Haven to it as well would be too much for even the Solly public to take without asking questions -- like what two agents from star nations at war with each other were doing on Mesa together -- we'd rather not answer. Fortunately, no one in the League expects a bunch of Ballroom terrorists to act rationally, and we've been chiseling away at 'Torch's' claim that it's not really a Ballroom safe harbor ever since we lost the planet. That made Zilwicki's involvement even juicer."

His eyes glittered, and Bardasano nodded. Once-in-a-lifetime propaganda opportunities like this one were gifts from heaven, and she understood the temptation to ride it as far as possible. At the same time, she was glad Albrecht had recognized that claiming it as a joint Manticoran-Havenite operation would have strained even the League public's credulity to the breaking point.

Probably about the only thing that could do that, she thought, but under the circumstances . . . .

"At any rate," Collin said, resuming the narrator's role, "we officially completed our investigation about a week ago, and since neither Zilwicki nor Cachat are around to dispute our version of events, we've announced Zilwicki was responsible for all three explosions. And that the nukes represented a deliberate terror attack launched by the Ballroom and the 'Kingdom of Torch.' The fact that Torch's declared war on us made that easier, and our PR types -- both here and in the League -- are pounding away at how it proves any Torch claims to have disavowed terror are bullshit. Once a terrorist, always a terrorist, and this attack killed thousands of seccies and slaves, as well."

He showed another flash of teeth.

"Actually, it only got a few hundred of them, but no one off Mesa knows that. And enough seccies disappeared when the regular security agencies came down on them after Zilwicki and Cachat's little friends confessed that no one in the seccy or slave communities who does know better is going to say a word. That's not going to help the Ballroom's cause any even with other slaves. And as far as anyone else is concerned, the whole operation was a deliberate attack on a civilian target with weapons of mass destruction -- multiple weapons of mass destruction. We're going to hammer them in the Sollie faxes, and having a known agent of Manticore involved in it gives us another club to use on the Manties, as well."

There was silence in the office for several seconds. Then Albrecht cleared his throat.

"I'm afraid that's the reason you won't be making your report to Isabel after all, Aldona," he said.

"I see."

Anisimovna considered asking about the nature of the research which had been carried out in the Gamma Center, yet she considered it neither very hard nor for very long. That was information she clearly had no need to know, but she was glad Isabel had caught the traitor before he'd managed to pass whatever it had been on to anyone else. For that matter, taking out Zilwicki and Cachat was going to hurt the other side badly down the road. And she could appreciate the way the disaster could be used as a public relations weapon against Torch and the Ballroom. But the price . . . .

"I'm sorry, Aldona." She looked up, surprised by the gentleness in Albrecht's voice. She was almost as surprised by that as she was to feel the tears hovering behind her eyes. "I know you and Isabel had grown quite close," he said. "She was close to me, too. She had her sharp edges, but she was also a very clear thinking, intellectually honest person. I'm going to miss her, and not just on a professional level."

She met his eyes for a second or two, then nodded and inhaled deeply.

"I imagine she's not the only person we're going to lose, now that everything is coming more or less into the open," she said.

"I imagine not," Albrecht agreed quietly. Then he gave himself a shake and smiled at her. "But in the meantime, we have a lot to do. Especially since, as you put it, 'everything is coming more or less into the open'. So, could you please go on with your report?"

"Of course." She settled back in her chair, forcing her focus back on to the report she'd come here to give in the first place, and cleared her throat.

"Things went essentially as planned," she began. "Byng reacted almost exactly as his profile had indicated he would, and the Manties cooperated by sending three of their destroyers, not just a single ship. When Giselle blew up, Byng instantly assumed the Manties had attacked the station and blew all three of them out of space. Personally, I suspect there may actually have been a fourth Manty out there, given how quickly Gold Peak responded. Someone must have told Khumalo and Medusa what happened, at any rate. The turnaround time suggests it had to be either a warship or a dispatch boat, and I'm inclined to wonder if a dispatch boat would've had the capability to monitor and control current-generation Manty recon platforms. No one in Byng's task force or on New Tuscany ever saw any additional Manties, but Gold Peak arrived with detailed sensor information on the entire first incident, and someone must have provided it to her. Just as someone must have been there in order to get their response force back so fast.

"That's actually the part of the operation I'm least satisfied with," she said candidly. "I didn't think there was anyone else out there at the time, either, and I'd hoped I'd have a little more time to work on tying New Tuscany more securely into our plans. I didn't, so when the Manties did turn up, New Tuscany pretty much left Byng to sink or swim on his own."

She shrugged.

"He managed to sink quite handily, actually, although I could wish Gold Peak had pushed him under a little more enthusiastically. She settled for blowing up just his flagship, and from everything I could see before Captain Maddox hypered out, it looked as if Sigbee was going to comply with all of Gold Peak's demands without further resistance."

"That's exactly what happened," Benjamin told her. Her eyebrows rose, and he chuckled grimly. "The Manties released their version of what happened at New Tuscany -- both incidents -- nine days ago. I'm sure it's all over Old Terra by now. According to the Manties, they got everything from Sigbee's secure databases."

"Oh, my," Anisimovna murmured, and it was Albrecht's turn to chuckle.

"Exactly," he said cheerfully. "Hopefully, this whole thing is going to spin out of the Manties' and the Sollies' control without any more direct interference on our part -- aside from whatever we can milk out of Green Pines, that is. But, if it looks like it's not, we can always start leaking some of that secure information ourselves, as well. So far, the Manties seem to be trying to respect the confidentiality of anything from the databases that doesn't pertain directly to their own problems with the Sollies. I don't know if those arrogant idiots in Old Chicago have even noticed that, but I'm sure they'll notice if the 'Manties' suddenly start leaking all of those embarrassing contingency plans of theirs to the media."
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Re: STICKY: Mission of Honor Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Mar 25, 2010 11:07 pm

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Mission Of Honor - Snippet 19


"That would be . . . discomfiting for everyone concerned, wouldn't it?" Anisimovna observed with an almost blissful smile.

"It most certainly would. Of course, so far, it doesn't look like we're going to need to do very much more to fan that particular flame. At the moment, Kolokoltsov and his colleagues don't seem to have missed very many things they could have done wrong." Albrecht's smile was evil. "And our good friend Rajampet is performing exactly as expected."

"And Crandall?" Anisimovna asked.

"We can't be positive yet," Benjamin replied. "We couldn't give Ottweiler a streak drive, so it's going to be a while before we hear anything from him. I don't think there's much need to worry about her response, though. Even without our prompting, her own natural inclination would be to attack as soon and hard as possible. And" -- his smile was remarkably like his father's -- "we happen to know her appreciation of the Manties' technology is every bit as good as Byng's was."

"Good." Anisimovna made no effort to hide her own satisfaction. Then she frowned. "The only other thing that still worries me is the fact that there was no way for me to hide my fingerprints. If New Tuscany's looking for some way to appease Manticore, they're damned well going to've told Gold Peak about our involvement. Or as much about it as they know, at any rate."

"Unfortunately, you're exactly right," Albrecht agreed. "They did roll over on us, and the Manties have broadcast that fact to the galaxy at large. On the other hand" -- he shrugged -- "it was a given from the outset that they were going to find out in the end. No one could have done a better job of burying his tracks than you did, so don't worry about it. Besides," he grinned nastily, "our people on Old Terra were primed and waiting to heap scorn on the 'fantastic allegations' and 'wild accusations' coming out of Manticore. Obviously the Manties are trying to come up with some story -- any story! -- to justify their unprovoked attack on Admiral Byng."

"And people are really going to buy that?" Anisimovna couldn't help sounding a bit dubious, and Detweiler gave a crack of laughter.

"You'd be astonished how many Sollies will buy into that, at least long enough to meet our needs. They're accustomed to accepting nonsense about what goes on in the Verge -- OFS has been feeding it to them forever, and their newsies are used to swinging the spoon! Their media's been so thoroughly co-opted that at least half their reporters automatically follow the party line. It's almost like some kind of involuntary reflex. And even if John Q. Solly doesn't swallow it this time for some reason, it probably won't matter as long as we just generate enough background noise to give the people making the important decisions the cover and official justification they need." He shook his head again. "Like I say, don't worry about it. I'm completely satisfied with your performance out there."

Anisimovna smiled back at him and nodded in mingled relief and genuine pleasure. The assignment she'd been handed was one of the most complicated ones she'd ever confronted. It hadn't come off perfectly, but it hadn't had to come off perfectly, and from everything they'd said, it sounded as if the operation had accomplished its goals.

"And because I am satisfied," Albrecht told her, "I'm probably going to be handing you some additional hot potatoes." She looked at him, and he snorted. "That's your reward for pulling this one off. Now that we know you can handle the hard ones, we're not going to waste you on easy ones. And, frankly, the fact that we've lost Isabel is going to have us looking harder than ever for capable high level troubleshooters."

"I see." She put as much confidence and enthusiasm into her voice as she could, but Albrecht's eyes twinkled at her.

"Actually," he told her, "now that you've reached the center of the 'onion,' you'll find that, in a lot of ways, my bark is worse than my bite." He shook his head, the twinkle in his eyes fading. "Don't misunderstand. There are still penalties for people who just plain fuck up. But, at the same time, we know the sorts of things we're assigning people to do. And we also know that sometimes Murphy turns up, no matter how carefully you plan, or how well you execute. So we're not going to automatically punish anyone for failure unless it's abundantly obvious they're the reason for the failure. And, judging from the way you've handled this assignment, I don't think that's likely to be happening in your case."

"I hope not," she replied. "And I'll try to make sure it doesn't."

"I'm sure you will." He smiled at her again, then leaned forward in his chair, crossing his forearms on the edge of the desk in front of him.

"Now, then," he continued more briskly. "It's going to be another couple of T-weeks before anyone can 'officially' get here from New Tuscany. That means the Manties are going to have that much more time to get their version of events out in front of the Sollies. Worse than that, from the Sollies' perspective, it's going to be leaking into the League's media through the wormhole network faster than the government's version of events can spread out from Old Terra. From our perspective, that's a good thing . . . probably. It would take an old-fashioned miracle for those numbskulls in Old Chicago to do the smart thing and offer to negotiate with the Manties, so I think we can probably count on them to take the ball and run with it where . . . creative reinterpretation, shall we say? . . . of events in New Tuscany is concerned. Despite that, it's entirely possible that there's at least one -- possibly even two -- honest newsies on Old Terra. That could have unfortunate repercussions for the way we want to see this handled. Fortunately, we have people strategically placed throughout the League's media, and especially on Old Terra.

"What I want you to do now, Aldona, is to sit down with Collin and Franklin. They'll bring along some of our own news people, and the three of you will work with them to come up with the most effective way to spin what happened in New Tuscany to suit our needs. Given our allegations about Green Pines, a good sized chunk of the Solly media is going to be salivating for anything that puts Manticore in a bad light, which should help a lot, and now that you've brought us all that raw sensor data from both incidents -- not to mention those nice authentication codes -- we can get started on a little creative reinterpretation of our own for the Sollies. I've got a few ideas on how best to go about that myself, but you've demonstrated a genuine talent for this sort of thing, so sit down and see what you can come up with on your own, first. Thanks to the streak drive, we've got two weeks to massage the story here on Mesa any way we have to before it could possibly get to us by any normal dispatch boat. I want to use that time as effectively as possible."

"I understand."

"Good. And, in the meantime, although you really don't have the need to know this, there's going to be another little news story in about two more T-months."

"There is?" Anisimovna glanced around, puzzled by the sudden, predatory smiles of all three Detweilers.

"Oh, there certainly is!" Albrecht told her, then waved at Benjamin. "Tell her," he said.

"Well, Aldona," Benjamin said, "in about another two months, a little operation we've been working on for some time, one called Oyster Bay, is going to come to fruition. And when it does --"
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