A Rising Thunder – Snippet 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

“My, he didn’t take that one well, did he?” Emily Alexander-Harrington observed.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re right, of course, Rosalinda,” Prince replied. “On the other hand, you know Patrick and I usually let our guests have at least some voice in where the discussion goes.”