Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 32


Chapter 19

What did you say?”

Albrecht Detweiler stared at his oldest son, and the consternation in his expression would have shocked any of the relatively small number of people who’d ever met him.

“I said our analysis of what happened at Green Pines seems to have been a little in error,” Benjamin Detweiler said flatly. “That bastard McBryde wasn’t the only one trying to defect.” Benjamin had had at least a little time to digest the information during his flight from the planetary capital of Mendel, and if there was less consternation in his expression, it was also grimmer and far more frightening than his father’s. “And the way the Manties are telling it, the son-of-a-bitch sure as hell wasn’t trying to stop Cachat and Zilwicki. They haven’t said so, but he must’ve deliberately suicided to cover up what he’d done!”

Albrecht stared at him for several more seconds. Then he shook himself and inhaled deeply.

“Go on,” he grated. “I’m sure there’s more and better yet to come.”

“Zilwicki and Cachat are still alive,” Benjamin told him. “I’m not sure where the hell they’ve been. We don’t have anything like the whole story yet, but apparently they spent most of the last few months getting home. The bastards aren’t letting out any more operational details than they have to, but I wouldn’t be surprised if McBryde’s cyber attack is the only reason they managed to get out in the first place.

“According to the best info we’ve got, though, they headed toward Haven, not Manticore, when they left, which probably helps explain why they were off the grid so long. I’m not sure about the reasoning behind that, either. But whatever they were thinking, what they accomplished was to get Eloise Pritchart — in person! — to Manticore, and she’s apparently negotiated some kind of damned peace treaty with Elizabeth.”

“With Elizabeth?

“We’ve always known she’s not really crazy, whatever we may’ve sold the Sollies,” Benjamin pointed out. “Inflexible as hell sometimes, sure, but she’s way too pragmatic to turn down something like that. For that matter, she’d sent Harrington to Haven to do exactly the same thing before Oyster Bay! And Pritchart brought along an argument to sweeten the deal, too, in the form of one Herlander Simões. Dr. Herlander Simões . . . who once upon a time worked in the Gamma Center on the streak drive.”

“Oh, shit,” Albrecht said with quiet, heartfelt intensity.

“Oh, it gets better, Father,” Benjamin said harshly. “I don’t know how much information McBryde actually handed Zilwicki and Cachat, or how much substantiation they’ve got for it, but they got one hell of a lot more than we’d want them to have! They’re talking about virus-based nanotech assassinations, the streak drive, and the spider drive, and they’re naming names about something called ‘the Mesan Alignment.’ In fact, they’re busy telling the Manty Parliament — and, I’m sure, the Havenite Congress and all the rest of the fucking galaxy! — all about the Mesan plan to conquer the known universe. In fact, you’ll be astonished to know that Secretary of State Arnold Giancola was in the nefarious Alignment’s pay when he deliberately maneuvered Haven back into shooting at the Manties!”

“What?” Albrecht blinked in surprise. “We didn’t have anything to do with that!”

“Of course not. But fair’s fair; we did know he was fiddling the correspondence. Only after the fact, maybe, when he enlisted Nesbitt to help cover his tracks, but we did know. And apparently giving Nesbitt the nanotech to get rid of Grossclaude was a tactical error. It sounds like Usher got at least a sniff of it, and even if he hadn’t, the similarities between Grossclaude’s suicide and the Webster assassination — and the attempt on Harrington — are pretty obvious once someone starts looking. So the theory is that if we’re the only ones with the nanotech, and if Giancola used nanotech to get rid of Grossclaude, he must’ve been working for us all along. At least they don’t seem to have put Nesbitt into the middle of it all — yet, anyway — but their reconstruction actually makes sense, given what they think they know at this point.”

“Wonderful,” Albrecht said bitterly.

“Well, it isn’t going to get any better, Father, and that’s a fact. Apparently, it’s all over the Manties’ news services and sites, and even some of the Solly newsies are starting to pick up on it. It hasn’t had time to actually hit Old Terra yet, but it’s going to be there in the next day or so. There’s no telling what’s going to happen when it does, either, but it’s already all over Beowulf, and I’ll just let you imagine for yourself how they’re responding to it.”

Albrecht’s mouth tightened as he contemplated the full, horrendous extent of the security breach. Just discovering Zilwicki and Cachat were still alive to dispute the Alignment’s version of Green Pines would have been bad enough. The rest . . . !

“Thank you,” he said after a moment, his tone poison-dry. “I think my imagination’s up to the task of visualizing how those bastards will eat this up.” He twitched a savage smile. “I suppose the best we can hope for is that finding out how completely we’ve played their so-called intelligence agencies for the last several centuries will shake their confidence. I’d love to see that bastard Benton Ramirez y Chou’s reaction, for instance. Unfortunately, whatever we may hope for, what we can count on is for them to line up behind the Manties. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them actively sign up with the Manticoran Alliance . . . especially if Haven’s already on board with it.”

“Despite the Manties’ confrontation with the League?” The words were a question, but Benjamin’s tone made it clear he was following his father’s logic only too well.

“Hell, we’re the ones who’ve been setting things up so the League came unglued in the first place, Ben! You really think someone like Beowulf gives a single good goddamn about those fucking apparatchiks in Old Chicago?” Albrecht snorted contemptuously. “I may hate the bastards, and I’ll do my damnedest to cut their throats, but whatever else they may be, they’re not stupid or gutless enough to let Kolokoltsov and his miserable crew browbeat them into doing one damned thing theydon’t want to do.”

“You’re probably right about that,” Benjamin agreed glumly, then shook his head. “No, you are right about that.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to stop there,” Albrecht went on. “Just having Haven stop shooting at Manticore’s going to be bad enough, but Gold Peak is entirely too close to us for my peace of mind. She thinks too much, and she’s too damned good at her job. She probably hasn’t heard about any of this yet, given transit times, but she’s going to soon enough. And if she’s feeling adventurous — or if Elizabeth is — we could have a frigging Manty fleet right here in Mesa in a handful of T-weeks. One that’ll run over anything Mesa has without even noticing it. And then there’s the delightful possibility that Haven could come after us right along with Gold Peak, if they end up signing on as active military allies!”

“The same thought had occurred to me,” Benjamin said grimly. As the commander of the Alignment’s navy, he was only too well aware of what the only navies with operational pod-laying ships-of-the-wall and multidrive missiles could do if they were allied instead of shooting at one another.

“What do you think the Andies are going to do?” he asked after a moment, and his father grated a laugh.

“Isabel was always against using that nanotech anywhere we didn’t have to. It looks like I should’ve listened.” He shook his head. “I still think all the arguments for getting rid of Huang were valid, even if we didn’t get him in the end, but if the Manties know about the nanotech and share that with Gustav, I think his usual ‘realpolitik’ will go right out the airlock. We didn’t just go after his family, Benjamin — we went after the succession, too, and the Anderman dynasty hasn’t lasted this long putting up with thatkind of crap. Trust me. If he thinks the Manties are telling the truth, he’s likely to come after us himself! For that matter, the Manties might deliberately strip him off from their Alliance. In fact, if they’re smart, that’s what they ought to do. Get Gustav out of the Sollies’ line of fire and let him take care of us. It’s not like they’re going to need his pod-layers to kick the SLN’s ass! And we just happen to have left the Andies’ support structure completely intact, haven’t we? That means they’ve got plenty of MDMs, and if Gustav comes after us while staying out of the confrontation with the League, do you really think any of our ‘friends’ in Old Chicago’ll do one damned thing to stop him? Especially when they finally figure out what the Manties are really in a position to do to them?”

“No,” Benjamin agreed bitterly. “Not in a million years.”

There was silence for several seconds as father and son contemplated the shattering upheaval in the Mesan Alignment’s carefully laid plans.

“All right,” Albrecht said finally. “None of this is anyone’s fault. Or, at least, if it is anyone’s fault, it’s mine and not anyone else’s. You and Collin gave me your best estimate of what really went down at Green Pines, and I agreed with your assessment. For that matter, the fact that Cachat and Zilwicki didn’t surface before this pretty much seemed to confirm it. And given the fact that none of our internal reports mentioned this ‘Simões’ by name — or if they did, I certainly don’t remember it, anyway — I imagine I should take it all our investigators assumed he was one of the people killed by the Green Pines bombs?”