A Rising Thunder – Snippet 34


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


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


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


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


Pritchart shrugged a little uncomfortably.


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


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


“Oh, I’m not worried about that.” Elizabeth waved one hand.


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


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


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


“What?” Elizabeth asked after a moment.


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


“Yes, I have,” Honor agreed. “Why?”


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


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


“Too well, actually.”


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


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


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


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


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


“You know a lot of people, and not just Mesans or Sollies, are going to say this whole thing is one huge fabrication,” she went on out loud.