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

A Rising Thunder – Snippet 36

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“Odd,” Honor said, “I don’t seem to recall his using those two words.”

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

“That’s one way to describe it.”

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

“You wish,” Honor muttered.

* * *

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

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

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

“Oh, for the love of –!” Richter began.

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