Mission Of Honor – Snippet 43
“Maybe, if he was a complete lunatic. Or just plain stupid enough to pull something like that,” O’Hanrahan retorted. “I checked his available public bio, including that in-depth report what’s-his-name — Underwood — did on him, as soon as Mesa’s version hit the data channels. I’ll admit the man’s scary as hell if you go after someone he cares about, but he’s no homicidal maniac. In fact, his more spectacular accomplishments all seem to’ve been defensive, not offensive. You come after him or his, and all bets are off; otherwise, he’s not especially bloodthirsty. And he’s for damned sure smart enough to know what nuking a public park full of kids would do to public support for his daughter’s new kingdom. For that matter, the whole damned galaxy knows what he’ll do if someone goes after one of his kids. You really think someone with that kind of resume would sign off on killing hundreds or thousands of someone else’s kids?” She shook her head again. “Which am I supposed to believe? The public record of someone like Zilwicki? Or the kind of self-serving, fabricated, made-up-out-of-whole-cloth kind of ‘independent journalism’ that comes out of Mendel?”
From the look in her eye, it was evident which side of that contradiction she favored, even if a huge segment of the Solarian media had chosen the other one. While it was true the Solarian League’s official position, as enunciated by Education and Information, refused to rush to judgment on the spectacular Mesan claims that Manticore — or, at least, Manticoran proxies — had been behind the Green Pines atrocity, “unnamed sources” within the League bureaucracy had been far less circumspect, and O’Hanrahan and JuppÃ© both knew exactly who those “unnamed sources” were. So did the rest of the League’s media, which had been obediently baying on the appropriate trail of Manticoran involvement from day one.
Which, as JuppÃ© knew full well, had absolutely no bearing on O’Hanrahan’s categorization of the original story.
“Much as I hate to admit it, given how much impact Mesa sometimes has on the business community here in the League,” he said, “I can’t really argue with that characterization of a lot of what comes out of their newsies. Mind you, I really am less convinced than you seem to be that Anton Zilwicki’s such a choir boy that he wouldn’t be involved in something like Green Pines. But that’s beside the point, this time.” He waved one hand in a brushing-aside gesture. “This story isn’t from Mesa; it’s straight from New Tuscany. It only came through Mesa because that was the shortest route to Old Terra that didn’t go through Manty-controlled space.”
O’Hanrahan cocked her head, her eyes boring into his.
“Are you seriously suggesting that whoever dispatched this mysterious story from New Tuscany was actually frightened of what the Manticorans might do if they found out about it?” she demanded in obvious disbelief.
“As to that, I’m not the best witness.” JuppÃ© shrugged. “I don’t cover politics and the military and Frontier Security the way you do, except where they impinge on the financial markets. You and I both know a lot of the financial biggies are major players in OFS’ private little preserves out in the Verge, but my personal focus is a lot more on banking and the stock exchange. So I don’t really have the background to evaluate this whole thing. But I do know that according to my friend, and to the courier, they really, really wanted to avoid going through any Manty wormholes.”
“Why?” Her eyes were narrower than ever, burning with intensity, and he shrugged again.
“Probably because this isn’t really a story, at all. It’s a dispatch from someone in the New Tuscan government to one of his contacts here on Old Terra. And it’s not for public release — not immediately, at any rate.”
“Then why send it?”
“I tracked the courier down and asked that very question, as a matter of fact. Got the answer, too — for a price.” He grimaced. “Cost me the next best thing to five months’ street money, too, and I hope like hell my editor’s going to decide it was worth it instead of sticking my personal account for the charges. And to be honest, I don’t think I’d gotten it even then if the man hadn’t been so unhappy with his bosses’ instructions.”
“And why was he so unhappy?” Her tone was skeptical.
“Because the person he’s supposed to deliver it to is over at the Office of Naval Intelligence, but his immediate boss — somebody in the New Tuscan government; I couldn’t get him to tell me who, but I figure it’s got to be somebody from their security services — doesn’t want the Navy to go public with it,” JuppÃ© said. “They want it in official hands, because it doesn’t track with the Manties’ version of the story, but they’re asking the Navy to keep things quiet until Frontier Fleet can get reinforcements deployed to protect them from the Manties.”
“According to the Manties, they don’t have any big quarrel with New Tuscany,” O’Hanrahan pointed out. “They’ve never accused the New Tuscans of firing on their ships.”
“I know. But, like I say, this stuff doesn’t match what Manticore’s been saying. In fact, the courier let me copy what’s supposed to be the New Tuscan Navy’s raw sensor records of the initial incident. And according to those records, the Manty ships were not only light cruisers, instead of destroyers, but they fired first, before Admiral Byng opened fire on them.”
O’Hanrahan stared at JuppÃ©, and the financial reporter looked back at her as she frowned in concentration.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said finally. “The Manties wouldn’t be that stupid. Besides, what would be the point? Is this mysterious ‘courier’ claiming the Manties are crazy enough to deliberately provoke an incident with the Solarian Navy?”
“As far as I know, he’s not claiming anything, one way or the other,” JuppÃ© replied. “He’s just delivering the dispatch and the scan records, and as I understand it, they’re certified copies of the official data.” He grimaced. “Hell, maybe the Manties knew all along that it was their man who screwed up, and they’ve been working on ‘proving’ it was the League because they figure the only way to avoid getting hammered is to put the blame on the other side.”
“Oh, sure.” O’Hanrahan’s irony was withering. “I can just see someone in the Manty government being stupid enough to think they’d get away with something like that!”
“I was just offering one possible theory,” he pointed out. “Still, I have to say that if there’s any truth to Mesa’s allegations about Zilwicki and Green Pines, the Manties don’t seem to be playing with a full deck these days. In fact, I think ‘out of control’ might not be a bad way to describe them. And, for that matter, weren’t you one of the people who pointed out just how stupid what’s-his-name — Highbridge? — was in the lead up to this fresh war of theirs?”
“That was High Ridge,” she corrected, but her tone was almost absent. She frowned again, clearly thinking hard, and then her eyes focused again, boring into his once more.
“I’m not about to jump at the first set of counter allegations to come along, especially when they’re coming from — through, at least — someplace like Mesa. So why bring this red hot scoop to me?”
Her suspicion clearly hadn’t abated in the least, and he shrugged yet again.
“Because I trust you,” he said, and she blinked.
“Look,” he said. “You know me, and you know how it works. If this is an accurate report, if it’s true, the Manties’ position is going to go belly-up as soon as it’s verified, especially given what Mesa’s already saying about Green Pines. And if that happens, the markets are going to go crazy — or maybe I should say crazier — as soon as the implications for the Star Empire and its domination of the wormhole net sink in. I mean, let’s face it. If the Manties did fake the sensor data they sent with their diplomatic note — if this is another instance of what the Havenites say they were doing all along under what’s-his-name — and they’ve killed the entire crew of a Solarian battlecruiser when they know the original ‘incident’ was their own fault, all hell’s going to be out for noon, and Green Pines is only going to squirt more hydrogen into the fire. The SLN’s going to pound their miserable little star nation into wreckage, and that’s going to have enormous consequences where the wormholes are concerned. There’ll be fortunes — large fortunes — to be made if something like that happens.”
“And?” she encouraged when he paused.
“And I’m an analyst, not just a reporter. If I peg this one right, if I’m the first one — or one of the first two or three — on the Net to advise investors to dump Manty-backed securities and stock issues, to reevaluate their positions in shipping, I’ll make a killing. I’ll admit it; that’s what I’m thinking about. Well, that and the fact that it won’t hurt my stature as a reporter one bit if people remember I’m the one who broke the story on the financial side.”