Mission Of Honor – Snippet 55
“Actually, it’s fairly simple,” Honor replied. “According to Mesa, Captain Zilwicki went to Green Pines as a Ballroom operative for the specific purpose of using nuclear explosives against civilian targets. I’m sure your own analysts can tell you that Anton Zilwicki was probably the last person in the galaxy who would have signed off on that sort of operation, no matter what justification he thought he had. In addition, however, you should be aware that before Captain Zilwicki departed for Mesa — and, yes, he was on-planet — he stopped by my flagship at Trevor’s Star to discuss the Webster assassination and the attack on Torch with me. At which time” — her eyes bored suddenly into Pritchart’s across the president’s desk — “he was accompanied by Special Officer Cachat.”
This time astonishment startled the question out of Pritchart, and Sheila Thiessen stiffened in shock behind the president. Both women stared at Honor for several seconds before Pritchart shook herself.
“Let me get this straight,” she said in an odd, half-exasperated, half-resigned tone, raising her right hand, index finger extended. “You’re telling me the intelligence officer in charge of all of my spying operations in the Erewhon sector entered a closed Manticoran star system and actually went aboard a Manticoran admiral’s flagship?”
“Yes.” Honor smiled. “I had the impression Special Officer Cachat’s methods are just a bit . . . unorthodox, perhaps.”
“A bit?” Pritchart snorted and rolled her eyes. “Since you’ve had the dubious pleasure of meeting him, Admiral, I might as well admit I’m usually undecided between pinning a medal on him and shooting him. And I see I am going to have to have a little discussion with Director Trajan about his current whereabouts. Although, to be fair to the Director, I doubt very much that Cachat bothered to inform him about his agenda before he went haring off to Trevor’s Star. Not, mind you, that anyone’s disapproval of his travel plans would have slowed him down for a minute.”
“I see you have met him personally,” Honor observed dryly.
“Oh, yes, Admiral. Oh, yes! I have indeed had that . . . pleasure.”
“I’m glad, since that probably means you’re going to be readier to believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“Where Victor Cachat is concerned? Please, Admiral! I’m prepared to believe just about anything when he’s involved!”
“Well,” Honor said, suppressing an urge to chuckle, “as I say, he and Captain Zilwicki came to visit me back in April. In fact, they came for the specific purpose of assuring me that they — both of them — were certain the Republic was not involved in the attack on Queen Berry and Princess Ruth.”
Her tone had become far more serious, and Pritchart’s nostrils flared.
“Given the flavor of Special Officer Cachat’s mind glow,” Honor continued, stroking Nimitz, “I had no choice but to accept that he genuinely believed that. In fact, I have to admit I was deeply impressed by his personal courage in coming to tell me so.” She looked into Pritchart’s eyes again. “He was fully prepared to suicide, Madam President. Indeed, he expected to suicide after delivering his message to me, because he was pretty sure I wasn’t going to allow him off my flagship afterward.”
“But you did,” Pritchart said softly, and it wasn’t a question.
“Yes, I did,” Honor acknowledged, and gave her head a little toss. “To be honest, it never occurred to me not to. He . . . deserved better. And, even more importantly, perhaps, I not only believed he was telling me the truth, I agreed with his analysis of what had probably happened.”
Thiessen’s eyes narrowed, but Pritchart only cocked her head.
“And that analysis was –?”
“That, barring the possibility of some sort of unauthorized rogue operation, the Republic had had nothing to do with the Torch attack,” Honor said flatly. “And, by extension, that Admiral Webster’s assassination almost certainly hadn’t been sanctioned by your Administration, either. Which, in my opinion, made Manpower the most likely culprit.”
“Then why didn’t you –” Pritchart began with an obviously involuntary flash of anger.
“I did.” Honor’s voice was even flatter. “I discussed my meeting, and my conclusions, with — Well, let’s say at the highest level of the Government. Unfortunately, by then events were already in motion. And, frankly, all I could really tell anyone was that Special Officer Cachat believed the Republic hadn’t been involved. I think you’ll agree that despite my own belief that he was right, that scarcely constituted proof.”
Prichard settled back, gazing at Honor for several seconds, then drew a deep breath.
“No,” she acknowledged. “No, I don’t suppose it did. But, oh, Admiral, how I wish someone had listened to you!”
“I do, too, Madam President,” Honor said softly. Brown eyes met platinum, both dark with sorrow for all the men and women who had died after that meeting.
“I do, too,” Honor repeated, more briskly, after a moment. “But the real reason I’ve brought this up at this point is that Captain Zilwicki and Special Officer Cachat did believe Manpower — and possibly even the Mesan system government — were directly implicated in the attacks. In addition, our own intelligence agencies have been steadily turning up evidence that there’s more going on where Manpower and Mesa are concerned than anyone’s previously assumed. Captain Zilwicki and Special Officer Cachat intended to find out what that something ‘more’ was, and according to what I believe to be an unimpeachable source — Catherine Montaigne, in point of fact — the two of them, jointly, were headed for Mesa.”
“Together?” Pritchart, Honor noted, didn’t sound particularly incredulous.
“Together.” Honor nodded. “Which means that while Captain Zilwicki was on Mesa, a point of which the Mesans obviously became aware, he was definitely not there on a Ballroom terrorist operation. Given the various . . . peculiarities where Torch is concerned, I think it’s very likely the Ballroom was involved in getting them onto Mesa in the first place. And it’s entirely possible that what happened in Green Pines was actually a Ballroom operation, or the result of one. The last thing Captain Zilwicki or Special Officer Cachat would have wanted would have been to compromise their own mission by becoming involved in a major terrorist strike, however, so any involvement they may have had must have been peripheral. Accidental, really.”
“I can see that.” Pritchart nodded slowly, and Honor reminded herself that, unlike most heads of state, the president had once been a senior commander in a clandestine resistance movement. That undoubtedly helped when it came to grasping the underlying logic of covert operations.
“I don’t know for certain why Mesa’s made no mention of Special Officer Cachat,” Honor said. “It may be they aren’t aware he was even present. More probably, the Star Empire’s who they really want to damage with this at the moment. Explaining that intelligence operatives of two star nations who’ve been at war with one another for over twenty years just decided on a whim to join forces with the Ballroom would probably be a bit much even for the Sollies public’s credulity. The best-case possibility, of course, would be that they weren’t aware of his presence and that he actually managed, somehow, to escape.”
“And Captain Zilwicki?” Prichard asked gently.
“And I very much doubt Captain Zilwicki did.” Honor made no effort to hide her pain at that thought. “They wouldn’t have handed this to the media — especially not with the assertion that he was killed in one of ‘his own’ explosions — unless they knew he was dead.”
“I’m deeply and sincerely sorry to hear that,” Pritchart said, and Honor tasted the truth of her statement in her mind glow.
“The important point, Madam President,” Honor said, “is that I think you can see from what I’ve just told you that everything Mesa’s claiming is a fabrication. There are probably nuggets of truth buried in it, but I doubt we’ll ever know what they actually were. From my perspective, the immediate and critical point is to keep this from sidetracking our negotiations. I don’t doubt it presents opportunities for self-interested parties to go fishing in troubled waters,” she carefully did not mention any specific names, “but it would be very unfortunate if someone managed to derail these talks. In particular, if Mesa’s allegations play into the situation between the Star Empire and the Solarian League in a way that heightens tensions still farther or even leads to additional military action, Queen Elizabeth’s flexibility where a negotiated settlement is concerned is likely to be compromised.”
She saw the understanding in Pritchart’s eyes, tasted it in the president’s mind glow, but she knew it had to be said out loud, as well.
“It may well be that at least part of Mesa’s objective is to do just that, Madam President. Manpower certainly has as much reason to hate the Republic as it does to hate the Star Empire. I could readily believe that someone in Mendel saw this as an opportunity to force the Star Empire’s hand where military operations against the Republic are concerned as well as a means to provoke an open war between us and the League. And I think” — she gazed into Pritchart’s eyes again — “that it would be a tragedy if they succeeded.”