Mission Of Honor – Snippet 54

“Really?” Honor turned her head, looking over her shoulder at him. “In that case, why don’t we already have an agreement?” she asked reasonably. “Carissa’s exactly right about Younger, and I wouldn’t be too sure McGwire doesn’t fall into the same category. But everything about Younger’s mind glow” — she reached up to Nimitz again, suggesting (not entirely accurately) where her certainty about the Havenite’s emotions came from — “suggests that he really doesn’t care what happens to the rest of the universe, as long as he gets what he wants. Or, to put it another way, he’s absolutely convinced he’s going to be able to make things come out the way he wants them to, and he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that.” She grimaced. “His and McGwire’s obstructionism isn’t just about getting the best terms they possibly can for the Republic. They’re looking to cut their own domestic deals, improve their own positions here in Nouveau Paris, and Younger would blow up the negotiations in a heartbeat if he believed it would further his own political ambitions.”

“I’m less afraid of his managing to completely sabotage the talks, Your Grace,” Selleck said, “than I am about his stretching them out. Or trying to, at any rate. From what I’ve seen of him, I think he’s calculating that the worse things get between us and the Sollies, the more likely we are to accept his terms in order to get some kind of a treaty so we can deal with the League without worrying about having the Republic on our back.”

“That would be . . . fatally stupid of him,” Kew said.

“I don’t think he really believes the Queen — I mean, the Empress — is willing to pull the trigger on the entire Republic if we don’t get a formal treaty in time, Barnabas,” Tuominen said heavily.

“And even if he does believe we’ll do that in the end, he doesn’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow,” Honor agreed. “As far as he’s concerned, he’s still playing for time and the time’s still there to be played for. And let’s face it — to some extent, he’s right. Her Majesty’s not going to turn the Navy loose on Haven’s infrastructure any sooner than she thinks she absolutely has to. If she were going to do that, she wouldn’t have sent us to negotiate in the first place.”

And I think I just won’t mention how hard it was to bring her to that position, Honor added mentally.

“The problem is that no matter how much time he thinks he has, we don’t have an unlimited supply of it, and this is only going to make that worse. So what I’m really worried about is that he’s going to miscalculate with . . . unhappy consequences for everyone involved.”

“I agree.” Selleck nodded firmly. “The question is how we keep him from doing that.”

“I don’t know we can do anything directly with him,” Honor replied. “On the other hand, President Pritchart’s obviously had a lot of experience dealing with him domestically. So I think the logical move is for me to have a private little conversation with her to make her aware of our concerns.”

* * *

“Good afternoon, Admiral Alexander-Harrington.”

Eloise Pritchart stood, reaching across her desk to shake Honor’s hand as Angela Rousseau escorted her into the presidential office.

“Good afternoon, Madam President,” Honor replied, and suppressed a smile as Sheila Thiessen nodded a bit brusquely to Spencer Hawke. After two a half weeks, the two bodyguards and paranoiacs-in-chief had achieved a firm mutual respect. In fact, they were actually beginning to like one another — a little, at least — although neither of them would have been willing to admit it to a living soul.

“Thank you for making time for me so promptly,” she continued out loud as she settled into what had become her customary chair here in Pritchart’s office. Nimitz flowed down into her lap and curled up there, grass-green eyes watching the president alertly, and Pritchart smiled.

“Right off the top of my head, Admiral, I can’t think of anyone who has a higher priority where ‘making time’ is concerned,” she said dryly.

“I suppose not,” Honor acknowledged with a faint, answering smile.

“Now that you’re here, can I offer you some refreshment?” the president inquired. “Mr. Belardinelli has some more of those chocolate chip cookies you like so much hidden away in his desk drawer, you know.”

She smiled conspiratorially, and Honored chuckled. But she also shook her head, smile fading, and Pritchart let her chair come fully back upright.

“Well, in that case,” the president said, “I believe you said you had something confidential you needed to discuss?”

“That’s true, Madam President.” Honor glanced at Thiessen, then back at the Pritchart. “I’m going to assume Ms. Thiessen is as deeply in your confidence as Captain Hawke is in mine.”

Her tone made the statement a polite question, and Pritchart nodded.

“I thought so,” Honor said. “On the other hand, you might want to switch off the recorders for this conversation.” She smiled again, thinly. “I’m sure your office has to be at least as thoroughly wired for sound as Queen Elizabeth’s. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me, but what I’m here to discuss has intelligence operational implications. Implications for your operations, not Manticore’s.”

Pritchart’s eyebrows arched. Then she glanced at Thiessen. Her senior bodyguard looked less than enthralled by Honor’s request, but she made no overt objection.

“Leave your personal recorder on, Sheila,” the president directed. “If it turns out we need to make this part of the official record after the fact, we can download it from yours.” She looked back at Honor. “Would that be satisfactory, Admiral?”

“Perfectly satisfactory from my perspective, Madam President.” Honor shrugged. “I doubt very much that anything I’m about to tell you is going to have repercussions for the Star Empire’s intel operations.”

“I have to admit you’ve managed to pique my interest,” Pritchart said as Thiessen quietly shut down all of the other pickups in her office.

“And I suppose I should admit that piquing your interest was at least partly what I was after,” Honor acknowledged.

“So now that you’ve done it, what was it you wanted to say?”

The president’s mind glow was tinged with rather more wariness than was evident in her expression or her tone, Honor noted.

“I wanted to address the allegations coming out of Mesa about the Green Pines atrocity,” Honor said, and tasted Pritchart’s surprise. Obviously, the president hadn’t expected her to go there.

“Specifically,” Honor continued, “the charges that Captain Zilwicki was on Mesa as a ballroom operative specifically to set up the explosions as an act of terrorism. Or, at least, as an act of what they call ‘asymmetrical warfare’ against someone he and the Kingdom of Torch believed were planning a genocidal attack on Congo. I realize there’s a certain surface persuasiveness to their version of what happened, especially given the Captain’s long term relationship with Catherine Montaigne, his daughter’s status as Queen of torch, and the fact that he’s made very little secret of his sympathy for the Ballroom. Despite that, I’m absolutely confident that Mesa’s version of what happened is a complete fabrication.”

She paused, and Pritchart frowned.

“I’m no more likely than the next woman to believe anything Mesa says, Admiral,” the president said. “Nonetheless, I’m a little at a loss as to how this has operational implications for our intelligence.”

“In that case, Madam President, I think you should probably sit down with Director Trajan and ask him where Special Officer Cachat is right now.”

Despite decades of political and clandestine experience, Pritchart stiffened visibly, and Honor tasted the spike of surprise tinged with apprehension (and what tasted for all the world like a hint of exasperation) which went through the president.

“Special Officer . . . Cachat, did you say?” From Pritchart’s tone, it was clear she was simply playing the game as the rules required, rather than that she actually expected Honor to be diverted.

“Yes, Madam President. Special Officer Cachat. You know — the Havenite agent who’s probably more responsible than anyone else for the fact of Torch’s independence in the first place? The fellow who’s been hobnobbing with Captain Zilwicki, Queen Berry, and Ruth Winton for the last couple of years? The one who’s your agent in charge for the Erewhon sector? That Special Officer Cachat.”

Pritchart winced ever so slightly, then sighed.

“I suppose I should be getting used to having you trot out things like that, Admiral,” she said resignedly. “On the other hand, aside from the evidence that you know far more about our intelligence community than I really wish you did, I still don’t see exactly how this ties in with Green Pines.”