Mission Of Honor – Snippet 19

“That would be . . . discomfiting for everyone concerned, wouldn’t it?” Anisimovna observed with an almost blissful smile.

“It most certainly would. Of course, so far, it doesn’t look like we’re going to need to do very much more to fan that particular flame. At the moment, Kolokoltsov and his colleagues don’t seem to have missed very many things they could have done wrong.” Albrecht’s smile was evil. “And our good friend Rajampet is performing exactly as expected.”

“And Crandall?” Anisimovna asked.

“We can’t be positive yet,” Benjamin replied. “We couldn’t give Ottweiler a streak drive, so it’s going to be a while before we hear anything from him. I don’t think there’s much need to worry about her response, though. Even without our prompting, her own natural inclination would be to attack as soon and hard as possible. And” — his smile was remarkably like his father’s — “we happen to know her appreciation of the Manties’ technology is every bit as good as Byng’s was.”

“Good.” Anisimovna made no effort to hide her own satisfaction. Then she frowned. “The only other thing that still worries me is the fact that there was no way for me to hide my fingerprints. If New Tuscany’s looking for some way to appease Manticore, they’re damned well going to’ve told Gold Peak about our involvement. Or as much about it as they know, at any rate.”

“Unfortunately, you’re exactly right,” Albrecht agreed. “They did roll over on us, and the Manties have broadcast that fact to the galaxy at large. On the other hand” — he shrugged — “it was a given from the outset that they were going to find out in the end. No one could have done a better job of burying his tracks than you did, so don’t worry about it. Besides,” he grinned nastily, “our people on Old Terra were primed and waiting to heap scorn on the ‘fantastic allegations’ and ‘wild accusations’ coming out of Manticore. Obviously the Manties are trying to come up with some story — any story! — to justify their unprovoked attack on Admiral Byng.”

“And people are really going to buy that?” Anisimovna couldn’t help sounding a bit dubious, and Detweiler gave a crack of laughter.

“You’d be astonished how many Sollies will buy into that, at least long enough to meet our needs. They’re accustomed to accepting nonsense about what goes on in the Verge — OFS has been feeding it to them forever, and their newsies are used to swinging the spoon! Their media’s been so thoroughly co-opted that at least half their reporters automatically follow the party line. It’s almost like some kind of involuntary reflex. And even if John Q. Solly doesn’t swallow it this time for some reason, it probably won’t matter as long as we just generate enough background noise to give the people making the important decisions the cover and official justification they need.” He shook his head again. “Like I say, don’t worry about it. I’m completely satisfied with your performance out there.”

Anisimovna smiled back at him and nodded in mingled relief and genuine pleasure. The assignment she’d been handed was one of the most complicated ones she’d ever confronted. It hadn’t come off perfectly, but it hadn’t had to come off perfectly, and from everything they’d said, it sounded as if the operation had accomplished its goals.

“And because I am satisfied,” Albrecht told her, “I’m probably going to be handing you some additional hot potatoes.” She looked at him, and he snorted. “That’s your reward for pulling this one off. Now that we know you can handle the hard ones, we’re not going to waste you on easy ones. And, frankly, the fact that we’ve lost Isabel is going to have us looking harder than ever for capable high level troubleshooters.”

“I see.” She put as much confidence and enthusiasm into her voice as she could, but Albrecht’s eyes twinkled at her.

“Actually,” he told her, “now that you’ve reached the center of the ‘onion,’ you’ll find that, in a lot of ways, my bark is worse than my bite.” He shook his head, the twinkle in his eyes fading. “Don’t misunderstand. There are still penalties for people who just plain fuck up. But, at the same time, we know the sorts of things we’re assigning people to do. And we also know that sometimes Murphy turns up, no matter how carefully you plan, or how well you execute. So we’re not going to automatically punish anyone for failure unless it’s abundantly obvious they’re the reason for the failure. And, judging from the way you’ve handled this assignment, I don’t think that’s likely to be happening in your case.”

“I hope not,” she replied. “And I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t.”

“I’m sure you will.” He smiled at her again, then leaned forward in his chair, crossing his forearms on the edge of the desk in front of him.

“Now, then,” he continued more briskly. “It’s going to be another couple of T-weeks before anyone can ‘officially’ get here from New Tuscany. That means the Manties are going to have that much more time to get their version of events out in front of the Sollies. Worse than that, from the Sollies’ perspective, it’s going to be leaking into the League’s media through the wormhole network faster than the government’s version of events can spread out from Old Terra. From our perspective, that’s a good thing . . . probably. It would take an old-fashioned miracle for those numbskulls in Old Chicago to do the smart thing and offer to negotiate with the Manties, so I think we can probably count on them to take the ball and run with it where . . . creative reinterpretation, shall we say? . . . of events in New Tuscany is concerned. Despite that, it’s entirely possible that there’s at least one — possibly even two — honest newsies on Old Terra. That could have unfortunate repercussions for the way we want to see this handled. Fortunately, we have people strategically placed throughout the League’s media, and especially on Old Terra.

“What I want you to do now, Aldona, is to sit down with Collin and Franklin. They’ll bring along some of our own news people, and the three of you will work with them to come up with the most effective way to spin what happened in New Tuscany to suit our needs. Given our allegations about Green Pines, a good sized chunk of the Solly media is going to be salivating for anything that puts Manticore in a bad light, which should help a lot, and now that you’ve brought us all that raw sensor data from both incidents — not to mention those nice authentication codes — we can get started on a little creative reinterpretation of our own for the Sollies. I’ve got a few ideas on how best to go about that myself, but you’ve demonstrated a genuine talent for this sort of thing, so sit down and see what you can come up with on your own, first. Thanks to the streak drive, we’ve got two weeks to massage the story here on Mesa any way we have to before it could possibly get to us by any normal dispatch boat. I want to use that time as effectively as possible.”

“I understand.”

“Good. And, in the meantime, although you really don’t have the need to know this, there’s going to be another little news story in about two more T-months.”

“There is?” Anisimovna glanced around, puzzled by the sudden, predatory smiles of all three Detweilers.

“Oh, there certainly is!” Albrecht told her, then waved at Benjamin. “Tell her,” he said.

“Well, Aldona,” Benjamin said, “in about another two months, a little operation we’ve been working on for some time, one called Oyster Bay, is going to come to fruition. And when it does –”