Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 17

“Isn’t that risky?” Mackenzie asked.

“Not really.” Firebrand shrugged. “I know we got the first couple of shipments in using the ‘tramp freighter’ approach, but that’s actually a lot riskier than doing it this way. There just aren’t enough legitimate tramps visiting your system to cover any kind of volume shipments, Magpie. If you people are going to pull this off we need to move some serious mass and cubage, and, realistically, Seraphim doesn’t have enough independent business to attract a genuine tramp. The transstellars have choked your people out too thoroughly for that. So if we want to bring in the weapons and other equipment you’re going to need, we’ve got to get a bit more inventive. And the good news is that if we do it this way, the freight agents who arrange the shipments are going to have every reason to keep them totally off the books without asking too many questions. Frankly, they aren’t going to give a rat’s ass what’s being shipped, even if they realize it’s actually weapons, as long as they get paid off and it doesn’t come back on them.”

Mackenzie looked less than delighted, but Indiana nodded.

“He’s got a point, M — Magpie. He’s right about how hard it would be to find any kind of legitimate excuse for an independent freighter to drop in out here, anyway.” He grimaced. “That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? The fact that there’s nothing to attract anyone to do business with us?”

“Yes,” she admitted after a moment. Her expression firmed. “Yes, it is.”

“There’re going to be some other changes, as well,” Firebrand went on. “For one thing, the situation with the Sollies is heating up from our side, as well. To be honest, the distraction quotient you and the other people we’ve been talking to represent may be needed more badly — and sooner — than we’d been thinking.”

“I see,” Indiana said slowly while his thoughts raced.

Part of him was delighted by the prospect of accelerating the schedule. Another part of him was unhappily aware of how speeding things up might lead to mistakes, the kind of slip-ups that got people jailed…or killed. And although he’d never had any illusions about the philanthropic selflessness of his allies, Firebrand’s announcement had reminded him that he and the Seraphim Independence Movement were just that as far as Manticore was concerned: a distraction for their main enemy.

Well, it’s not like it was any kind of a surprise, he reminded himself. And it always comes down to self interest in the end, doesn’t it? I don’t doubt the Manties wish us well. Everything I’ve ever heard about them suggests they wouldn’t much care for what OFS has done to us here in Seraphim. But the real reason they made contact with us in the first place is that they’re up against the Solarian League. Against someone that big you need every distraction you can get, and it’d be unrealistic as hell to pretend that isn’t what Firebrand’s here to arrange.

I guess we’re just going to have to hope they don’t decide they’re in such deep shit that — however regretfully — they end up figuring they’ve got no choice but to use us as an expendable distraction.

“I know what you’re worrying about,” Firebrand said shrewdly. “Don’t blame you, either. But look at it this way, Talisman. Sooner or later the fact that we’ve been helping you — and quite a few other star systems, I might add — is going to leak, no matter how hard we try to keep it a secret. For that matter,” he shrugged, “there’s not going to be a whole lot of reason to try to keep it secret, once it’s a done deal. And when that happens, we’re not going to be able to afford a reputation as someone who uses, abuses, and betrays allies. That’s exactly what Frontier Security’s been doing for centuries, and the whole point of our support for you and the others is at least partly to prove we’re not Frontier Security. What I’m saying is that we’re not in such a deep crack that it’s going to make sense to us to throw you and the others to the hexapumas, because if we get a reputation for doing that kind of thing, no one’s going to trust us enough to work with us after the dust settles.”

Indiana nodded slowly, although it occurred to him that if Firebrand really was planning on “throwing them to the hexapumas” (whatever a “hexapuma” was), that would be exactly the argument he’d use to convince them he intended to do nothing of the sort. On the other hand, it did make sense…and if he and Mackenzie weren’t willing to take at least a few chances, he hadn’t had any business organizing the SIM in the first place.

“I have to admit I’m not as sublimely confident as I’d like to be,” he said.

“No reason you should be,” Firebrand agreed, then smiled at his expression. “Look, I’m a professional at this kind of thing. By definition, you guys are amateurs. I don’t mean to be casting any aspersions by that. I’m just saying that the nature of independence movements and revolutions is that the people in charge are generally getting on-the-job training, since it’s something most of them are only going to do once in their lives. And it’s not the kind of career that lets you sign up for training courses at most colleges ahead of time, either. Right?”

Indiana nodded, and Firebrand shrugged.

“All right, that means all of this is terra incognita for you, and we’re talking about your home star system. If it goes south, you and everyone you care about are going to be utterly screwed, Talisman — that’s just the way it is. I understand that. And I understand why you’re bound to be nervous. Having to rely on somebody else — somebody whose motives you know perfectly well aren’t the same as yours — ought to make you nervous. So don’t think anybody on our side’s going to get his tender sensibilities hurt if you exercise a little caution and…creative skepticism, let’s say.”