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.”