Mission Of Honor – Snippet 56

Chapter Seventeen

“I have to agree with Duchess Harrington,” Thomas Theisman said as the imagery from Sheila Thiessen’s personal recorder came to an end. He tipped back in his chair, eyes pensive. “It would be a tragedy.”

“Especially if she’s telling the truth,” Leslie Montreau agreed. “Of course, that’s one of the major rubs, isn’t it? Is she telling the truth?” The secretary of state shrugged. “It all hangs together, and I’m inclined to think she is, but you have to admit, Tom. It would be very convenient from her perspective if we bought into this notion that Mesa’s version of Green Pines is a completely fabricated effort at disinformation.”

“You’re right,” Pritchart acknowledged, and looked at Denis LePic. The attorney general had been sitting there with a peculiar expression while the imagery replayed, and now she crooked an eyebrow at him.

“Why is it, Denis,” she asked shrewdly, “that you don’t seem any more astonished than you do to hear Duchess Harrington’s version of one of your senior intelligence officer’s perambulations about the galaxy?”

“Because I’m not,” LePic admitted in tones of profound resignation.

“Wait a minute.” Theisman looked at the attorney general — who also ran the Republic’s civilian intelligence services — in obvious surprise. “You’re telling me you really didn’t even know where Cachat was? I mean, he really did take himself off to a Manty flagship in the middle of a war without even mentioning the possibility he might do something like that? Forgive me, but isn’t he the man in charge of all FIS operations in Erewhon and Congo?”

“Yes,” LePic sighed. “And, no, he didn’t mention anything sort to me. Of course, I didn’t know we didn’t know where he was until this afternoon. Not until Eloise asked me to verify Duchess Harrington’s story, at any rate. For all I know — or all I can prove, anyway — he might’ve been ambushed and devoured by space hamsters!” The attorney general’s expression was that of a man whose patience had been profoundly tried. “And I’m fairly confident no one in Wilhelm’s shop’s been covering up for him, either. No one knew where he’d gone — not even Kevin.”

Montreau had joined the secretary of war in looking at LePic in disbelief. Pritchart, on the other hand, only sat back in her chair with the air of a woman confronting the inevitable.

“And how long has this state of affairs obtained?” Theisman asked politely. “I mean, in the Navy, we like to have our station commanders and our task force commanders report in occasionally. Just so we’ve got some notion of what they’re up to, you understand.”

“Very funny,” LePic said sourly. Then he looked at Pritchart. “You know Kevin’s been rubbing off on Cachat from the very beginning. By now, I don’t know which of them is the bigger loose warhead! If it weren’t for the fact the two of them keep producing miracles, I’d fire both of them, if only to get rid of the anxiety quotient.”

“I often felt that way about Kevin when we were in the Resistance,” Pritchart admitted. “But, as you say, both our pet lunatics have that annoying habit of coming through in the crunch. On the other hand, I believe you were about to tell Tom how long Cachat’s been incommunicado?”

“Actually, I was trying to avoid telling him,” LePic admitted, and smiled even more sourly. “The truth is that it tracks entirely too well with what Alexander-Harrington’s had to say. Our last report from him is over six T-months old.”

“What?” Montrose sat abruptly upright. “One of your station chiefs has been missing for six months, and you don’t have a clue where he’s gone?”

“I know it sounds ridiculous,” LePic said more than a little defensively. “In fact, I asked Wilhelm very much that same question this afternoon. He says he hadn’t mentioned it to me because he couldn’t have told me anything very much, since he didn’t know very much. I’m inclined to believe that’s the truth, mostly. Actually, though, I think a lot of the reason he kept his mouth shut was that he was hoping Cachat would turn back up again before anyone asked where he was.” The attorney general shrugged. “In a lot of ways, I can’t fault Wilhelm’s thinking. After all, he’s the FIS’s director. Cachat reports to him, not me, and as a general rule, I don’t even try to keep up with Wilhelm’s operations unless they develop specific, important intelligence that’s brought to my attention. And as Wilhelm pointed out, it’s not as if this were the first time Cachat’s just dropped off the radar, and he’s always produced results when it’s happened in the past.”

“But if someone else has gotten their hands on him, Denis, isn’t he in a position to do enormous damage?” Theisman asked very seriously.

“Yes and no,” LePic replied. “First of all, I think — as Duchess Harrington’s description of her conversation with him indicates — it would be extraordinarily difficult for someone to take him alive to start with. And, second, I doubt anyone would get anything out of Victor Cachat under duress even if they did manage to capture him. I don’t know if you’ve ever met the man, Tom, but, believe me, he’s about as scary as they come. Think of Kevin Usher with less of a sense of humor, just as much principle a lot closer to the surface, and even more focus.”

Theisman obviously found that description more than a little disturbing, and this time LePic’s smile held a glimmer of amusement.

“On the other hand, no one’s going to rely on even Cachat’s ability to resist rigorous interrogation forever. His assistant station chief in Erewhon is Special Officer Sharon Justice. She’s acting as special-officer-in-charge until Cachat gets back, and Wilhelm tells me that on Cachat’s specific instructions, one of her first acts as SOIC was to change all communication protocols. Somebody might be able to get the identities of at least some of his sources out of him — I doubt it, frankly, but anything is possible — but I don’t think anyone’s likely to be able to compromise his entire network with Justice in charge.”

“Justice. She was one of the StateSec officers involved in that business at La Martine, wasn’t she?” Pritchart said thoughtfully.

“She was,” LePic agreed.

“Which means she’s going to feel a powerful sense of personal loyalty to Cachat,” Pritchart pointed out.

“She does.” LePic nodded. “On the other hand, everything Cachat’s accomplished out there’s been done on the basis of personal relationships.” The attorney general shrugged. “I won’t pretend I don’t wish the man could operate at least a little more by The Book, but no one can argue with his results. Or the fact that he’s probably got more penetration — at secondhand, perhaps, but still penetration — into the Manties than anyone else we’ve got, given his relationship with Ruth Winton and Anton Zilwicki. Not to mention the fact that he’s damned near personally responsible for the existence of Torch.”

“I know. That’s why I took him away from Kevin and gave him to Wilhelm,” Pritchart said. “On the other hand, it does sound like what little we do know corroborates Duchess Harrington’s version of events.”

“I think so,” LePic agreed with the air of a man who didn’t really want to admit any such thing. “At any rate, Cachat’s last report did say he’d concluded that since we weren’t involved in the attempt on Queen Berry, it had to have been someone else, and that the someone else in question had motives which were obviously inimical to the Republic. He’d reached that conclusion, I might add, even before we’d learned here in Nouveau Paris that the attempt had been made. By the time his report reached Wilhelm, he’d already pulled the plug, handed over to Justice, and disappeared.”