Mission Of Honor – Snippet 42

Chapter Thirteen

Audrey O’Hanrahan reached for the acceptance key as her com played the 1812 Overture. She especially liked the version she’d used for her attention signal, which had been recorded using real (if exceedingly archaic) cannon. She had a fondness for archaisms — in fact, she was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms here in Old Chicago. Besides, the exuberance of her chosen attention signal suited her persona as one of the Solarian League’s foremost muckraking journalists.

Investigative journalism of the bare knuckled, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners style O’Hanrahan practiced was considerably less lucrative than other possible media careers. Or, at least, it was for serious journalists; there was always a market for the sensationalist “investigative reporter” who was willing to shoulder the task of providing an incredibly jaded public with fresh, outrageous titillation. O’Hanrahan, however, had always avoided that particular branch of the human race’s third oldest profession. The daughter and granddaughter of respected journalists, she’d proven she took her own reportorial responsibilities seriously from the very beginning, and she’d quickly gained a reputation as one of those rare birds: a newsy whose sources were always rock solid, who genuinely attempted to cover her stories fairly . . . and who never backed away from a fight.

She’d picked a lot of those fights with the cheerfulness of a David singling out Goliaths, and she’d always been an equal opportunity stone-slinger. Her pieces had skewered the bureaucratic reality behind the representative façade of the Solarian League for years, and she’d never hesitated to denounce the sweetheart deals the Office of Frontier Security was fond of cutting with Solarian transstellars. Just to be fair, she’d done more than a few stories about the close (and lucrative) connections so many senior members of the Renaissance Association maintained with the very power structure it was officially so devoted to reforming from the ground up, as well. And she’d done a series on the supposedly outlawed genetic slave trade which was so devastating — and had named enough specific names — that there were persistent rumors Manpower had put a sizable bounty on her head.

She’d also been one of the first Solarian journalists to report the Manticoran allegations of what had happened at Monica, and although she was no Manticoran apologist, she’d made it clear to her viewers and readers that the waters in Monica were very murky indeed. And as Amanda Corvisart showed the Solarian news media the overwhelming evidence of Manpower’s and Technodyne’s involvement, she’d reported that, too.

The Solarian establishment hadn’t exactly lined up to thank her for her efforts, but that was all right with O’Hanrahan and her producers. She was only fifty-three T-years old, a mere babe in a prolong society, and if the market for old-fashioned investigative reporting was limited, it still existed. In fact, even a relatively small niche market in the League’s media amounted to literally billions of subscribers, and O’Hanrahan’s hard-earned reputation for integrity meant that despite her relative youth, she stood at the very apex of her particular niche. Not only that, but even those members of the establishment who most disliked her habit of turning over rocks they’d prefer remained safely mired in the mud paid attention to what she said. They knew as well as anyone else that if they read it in an O’Hanrahan article or viewed it in an O’Hanrahan ‘cast, it was going to be as accurate, and as thoroughly verified, as was humanly possible. She’d made occasional mistakes, but they could have been easily counted on the fingers of one hand, and she’d always been quick to admit them and to correct them as promptly as possible.

Now, as she touched the acceptance key, the image of a man sprang into life in the holo display above her desk, and she frowned. Baltasar Juppé was scarcely one of her muckraking colleagues. He was nine or ten T-years older than she was, and influential, in his own way, as a financial analyst and reporter. It was a specialist’s beat — in many ways, as specialized a niche as O’Hanrahan’s, if larger — and it was just as well Juppé’s audience was so focused. Human prejudice was still human prejudice, which meant people automatically extended more respect and benefit of the doubt to those fortunate souls who were physically attractive, especially when they had intelligence and charisma to go with that attractiveness And where O’Hanrahan was auburn-haired, with crystal-blue eyes, elegant bone structure, a graceful carriage, and an understated but rich figure, Juppé’s brown hair always hovered on the edge of going out of control, his brown eyes were muddy, and he was (at best) pleasantly ugly.

Although they ran into one another occasionally, they were hardly what one could have called boon companions. They belonged to many of the same professional organizations, and they often found themselves covering the same story — if from very different perspectives — given the corruption and graft which gathered like cesspool silt wherever the League’s financial structure intersected with the permanent bureaucracies. For example, they’d both covered the Monica story, although Juppé had scarcely shared O’Hanrahan’s take on the incident. Of course, he’d always been a vocal critic of the extent to which Manticore and its merchant marine had penetrated the League’s economy, so it was probably inevitable that he’d be more skeptical of the Manticoran claims and evidence.

“Hi, Audrey!” he said brightly, and her frown deepened.

“To what do I owe the putative pleasure of this conversation?” she responded with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

“I’m hurt.” He placed one hand on his chest, in the approximate region where most non-newsies kept their hearts, and concentrated on looking as innocent as he could. “In fact, I’m devastated! I can’t believe you’re that unhappy to see me when I come bearing gifts.”

“Isn’t there a proverb about being wary of newsies bearing gifts?”

“There probably is, except where you’re concerned,” he agreed cheerfully. “And if there isn’t one, there ought to be. But in this case, I really thought you’d like to know.”

“Know what?” she asked suspiciously.

“That I’ve finally gotten my hands on an independent account of what happened in New Tuscany,” he replied, and his voice and expression alike were suddenly much more serious.

“You have?” O’Hanrahan sat up straighter in her chair, blue eyes narrowing with undisguised suspicion. “From where? From who? And why are you calling me about it?”

“You really are a muckraker, aren’t you?” Juppé smiled crookedly. “It hasn’t hit the public channels yet, and it probably won’t for at least another day or so, but as you know, I’ve got plenty of contacts in the business community.”

He paused, one eyebrow raised, until she nodded impatiently.

“Well,” he continued then, “those sources include one of the VPs for Operations over at Brinks Fargo. And he just happened to mention to me that one of his dispatch boats, just in from Visigoth, had a somewhat different version of events in New Tuscany.”

“From Visigoth?” she repeated, then grimaced. “You mean Mesa, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, in a way,” he acknowledged. “Not in the way you mean, though.”

“The way I mean?”

“In the ‘the miserable minions of those wretched Mesan outlaw corporations’ deliberately slanted and twisted’ sort of way.”

“I don’t automatically discount every single news reports that comes out of Mesa, Baltasar.”

“Maybe not automatically, but with remarkable consistency,” he shot back.

“Which owes more to the self-serving, highly creative version of events the so-called Mesan journalistic community presents with such depressing frequency than it does to any inherent unreasonableness on my part.”

“I notice you’re not all over the Green Pines story, and there’s independent corroboration of that one,” Juppé pointed out a bit nastily, and her blue eyes narrowed.

“There’s been corroboration of the explosions for months,” she retorted, “and if you followed my stories, you’d know I covered them then. And, for that matter, I suggested at the time that it was likely there was Ballroom involvement. I still think that’s probably the case. But I find it highly suspect — and convenient, for certain parties — that the Mesans’ ‘in-depth investigation’ has revealed — surprise, surprise! — that a ‘notorious’ Manticoran operative was involved.” She rolled her eyes. “Give me a break, Baltasar!”

“Well, Zilwicki may be from Manticore, but he’s been in bed with the Ballroom for years — literally, since he took up with that looney-tune rabble-rouser Montaigne,” Juppé riposted. “And don’t forget, his daughter’s ‘Queen of Torch’! Plenty of room for him to’ve gone completely rogue there.”