Mission Of Honor – Snippet 45

Chapter Fourteen

“Ms. Montaigne has arrived, Your Majesty.”

Elizabeth Winton looked up from the HD she’d been watching and suppressed a flare of severe — and irrational — irritation. After all, Mount Royal Palace chamberlains were chosen for their positions in no small part because of their ability to radiate calm in the midst of crisis, so it was scarcely fair of her to want to throttle this one for sounding precisely that way, she thought. The reflection was very little comfort on a morning like this, however, when all she wanted was someone — anyone — upon whom to work out her frustrations. She heard Ariel’s soft sound of mingled amusement, agreement, and echoes of her own anger and (she admitted) dismay from his perch beside her desk.

“Thank you, Martin.” Her own voice sounded just as calm and prosaic as the chamberlain’s, she noted. “Show her in, please.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” The chamberlain bowed and withdrew, and Elizabeth darted a glance of combined affection and exasperation at the ‘cat, then looked back down at the patently outraged talking head on the recorded Solarian newscast playing on her HD.

I cannot believe this crap, even out of those Mesa bastards, she thought. Oh, we were already afraid the Ballroom was involved. And I guess I’m no different from anyone else about having . . . mixed feelings about that. I mean, hell, all the civilian fatalities combined aren’t a spit in the wind compared to what Manpower’s done to its slaves over the centuries. For that matter, you could nuke half the damned planet and not catch up with Manpower’s kill numbers! But nuclear weapons on a civilian target? Even low-yield civilian demo charges?

She shuddered internally. Intellectually, she knew, the distinction between nuclear weapons and other, equally destructive attacks was not only logically flawed but downright silly. And it wasn’t as if nukes hadn’t been used against plenty of other civilian targets over the last couple of millennia. For that matter, Honor Alexander-Harrington, her own cousin Michelle, and other naval officers just like them routinely detonated multi-megaton nuclear devices in combat. But emotionally, Green Pines still represented a tremendous escalation, the crossing of a line the Ballroom, for all its ferocity, had always avoided in the past.

Which is what’s going to make the new Mesan line so damnably effective with Sollies who already distrust or despise the Ballroom . . . or don’t like the Star Empire very much.

For herself, she would have been more likely to buy a used air car from Michael Janvier — or Oscar Saint-Just’s ghost! — than to believe a single word that came out of the Mesa System. Still, she was forced to concede, the Mesan version of their “impartial investigation’s” conclusions hung together, if one could only ignore the source. There might be a few problems with the timing when it came to selling Green Pines as an act of bloody vengeance, but the Solarian public had become accustomed to editing unfortunate little continuity errors out of the propaganda stream. Besides, Mesa had actually found a way to make the timing work for it!

The attack on Green Pines had occurred five days before the abortive attack on Torch by what everyone (with a working brain, at least) realized had been Mesan proxies. Torch, Erewhon, and Governor Oravil Barregos’s Maya Sector administration were still playing the details of exactly how that attack had been stopped close to their collective vest, but there wasn’t much doubt the attackers had been the mercenary StateSec remnants Manpower had recruited since the Theisman coup. Judging from Admiral Luis Roszak’s losses (and according to Elizabeth’s classified Office of Naval Intelligence reports, those losses had been far higher than Roszak or Barregos had publicly admitted) those mercenaries must have been substantially reinforced. They’d certainly turned up with several times the firepower anyone at ONI had anticipated they might possess.

I wonder whether that assumption on our part comes under the heading of reasonable, complacent, or downright stupid? she thought. After Monica, we damned well ought to’ve realized Manpower — or Mesa, or whoever’s really orchestrating things — had more military resources than we’d ever thought before. On the other hand, I don’t suppose the analysts ought to be too severely faulted for not expecting them to provide presumably traceable ex-Solly battlecruisers to StateSec lunatics who’d been recruited in the first place as disposable — and deniable — cat’s-paws. Worse, Pat Givens’ people at ONI have a pretty solid count on how many StateSec starships actually ran for it after the coup. Admiral Caparelli based his threat assessment on the numbers we knew about, or we’d never have expected Roszak and Torch to deal with it on their own. We’re all just damned lucky they managed to pull it off, after all.

She thought about her niece Ruth, and what would have happened to her if Luis Roszak’s men and women had been unwilling to pay the price demanded of them, and shuddered.

Obviously, there’s at least one batch of Sollies who cut against the stereotype, aren’t there, Beth? She thought. On the other hand, if Pat and Hamish are right, maybe they aren’t going to be “Sollies” all that much longer. And Torch’s and Erewhon’s willingness to help cover exactly whose navy lost what stopping the attack suggests all sorts of interesting possibilities about their relationships with Barregos, too, when you think about it. I wonder if that idiot Kolokoltsov even suspects what may be cooking away in that direction?

But whatever might or might not transpire in the Maya Sector, and despite any threat assessment errors which might have come home to roost for Admiral Roszak and his people, the fact remained that Mesa had neatly factored its own failed attack on Torch into its new propaganda offensive.

After all, its mouthpieces had pointed out, the Kingdom of Torch had declared war on the Mesa System, and a huge chunk of the Kingdom of Torch’s military and government leadership had long-standing personal ties to the Audubon ballroom. Obviously, Torch had figured out the Mesan attack was coming well in advance, since it had formally requested Roszak’s assistance under the provisions of its treaty with the Solarian League. (It hadn’t, but no one outside the immediate vicinity knew that . . . or was likely to believe it.) So the Mesan argument that Torch had orchestrated the Green Pines attack through the direct Ballroom links it had officially severed as an act of government-sponsored terrorism in retaliation for a legitimate attack by conventional military forces on a belligerent star nation had a dangerous, dangerous plausibility. Especially for anyone who was already inclined to distrust an outlaw regime midwifed in blood and massacre by that same “terrorist” organization.

Which also explains why the Ballroom finally crossed the line into using “weapons of mass destruction” against civilian targets, at least according to the Gospel according to Mesa, Elizabeth thought grimly. Torch’s formal declaration of war represents a whole new level in the genetic slaves’ battle with Manpower and Mesa. Effectively, it’s a major escalation in kind, so why shouldn’t they have escalated the weapons they’re willing to use, as well? Especially if they truly believed (wrongly, of course!) Manpower intended to genocide their own home world? Never mind the fact that they’re supposed to have killed thousands of their fellow genetic slaves and Mesan seccies at the same time. And never mind the fact that if they could get to Green Pines, they could almost certainly have gotten to dozens of far more militarily and industrially significant targets, instead. Every right-thinking, process-oriented, comfortably insulated, moralistic cretin of a Solly knows they’re terrorists, they think in terroristic terms, and they’d far rather kill civilians in a blind, frenzied orgy of vengeance than actually accomplish anything. God forbid anyone should think of them as human beings trying to survive with some tattered fragment of dignity and freedom!

She realized she was grinding her teeth and stopped herself. And, she reminded herself again, the fabrication Mesa had woven really did have a damning plausibility. For that matter, Elizabeth couldn’t shake her own strong suspicion that —

Her thoughts hiccupped as her office door opened once more.

“Ms. Montaigne, Your Majesty,” the chamberlain announced.

“Thank you, Martin,” Elizabeth said once more and rose behind her desk as Catherine Montaigne crossed the carpet towards her.

Montaigne had changed even less than Elizabeth — physically, at least — over the decades since their close adolescent friendship foundered on the rocks of Montaigne’s strident principles. Even now, despite the way their relationship had cooled over those same decades, Elizabeth Winton the woman continued to regard Montaigne as a friend, even though Montaigne’s involvement with a legally proscribed terrorist organization continued to prevent Elizabeth Winton the Queen from officially acknowledging that friendship. It couldn’t have been any other way, given all the thorny difficulties Montaigne’s effective endorsement of the aforesaid legally prescribed terrorist organization created where the Manticoran political calculus was concerned. Especially since the ex-Countess of the Tor had become the leader of what remained of the Manticoran Liberal Party.