Manpower and its genetic slaves remained, in fact, immensely profitable, but these days that was actually only a happy secondary benefit of Manpower's existence. In fact, as the Alignment fully recognized, genetic slavery had long since ceased to be a truly competitive way to supply labor forces, except under highly specialized circumstances. Fortunately many of its customers failed to grasp that same point, and Manpower's marketing department went to considerable lengths to encourage that failure wherever possible. And, possibly even more fortunately, other aspects of genetic slavery, particularly those associated with the vices to which humanity had always been prey, made rather more economic sense. Not only were the profits higher for Manpower's customers, the frailties of human nature and appetites being what they were, but the various types of pleasure slave Manpower provided were enormously more profitable for it, on a per-slave basis, as well. Yet the truth was that although the vast amounts the slave trade earned remained extremely welcome and useful, the main purposes which today's Manpower truly served were quite different from anything directly related to money.

            First, Manpower and its genetic research facilities provided the perfect cover for the experimentation and development which were the true focus of the Mesan Alignment and its goals. Second, the need to protect Manpower explained why Mesa, although not a member of the League itself, was so heavily plugged into the League's political and economic structures. Third, the perversions to which genetic slavery pandered provided ready-made "hooks" by which Manpower's proprietors could . . . influence decisionmakers throughout the League and beyond. Fourth, the nature of the slave trade itself turned Manpower — and thus, by extension, all of Mesa's ruling corporations — into obvious criminals, with an instinctive imperative to maintain the current system as it was so that they could continue to feed in its comfortably corrupt depths, which distracted anyone from considering the possibility that Mesa might actually want to change the current system, instead. And, fifth, it provided a ready-made excuse — or plausible cover, at least — for almost any covert operation the Alignment might undertake if details of that operation should stray into sight.

            There were, however, some unfortunate downsides to that otherwise highly satisfactory state of affairs. Three of them, in fact, came rather pointedly to mind, given what he'd just been discussing with Aldona Anisimovna and Isabel Bardasano: Beowulf, Manticore, and Haven.

            It would no doubt have helped, in some ways, at least, if Leonard Detweiler had fully worked out his grand concept before establishing Manpower. No one could think of everything, unfortunately, and one thing Mesa's geneticists still hadn't been able to produce was prescience. Besides, he'd been provoked. His Detweiler Consortium had first settled Mesa in 1460 PD, migrating to its new home from Beowulf following the discovery of the Visigoth System's wormhole junction six T-years earlier. The Mesa System itself had first been surveyed in 1398, but until the astrogators discovered that it was home to one of the two secondary termini of the Visigoth Wormhole, it had been too far out in the back of beyond to attract development.

            That changed when the Visigoth Wormhole survey was completed, and Detweiler had acquired the development rights from the system's original surveyors. The fact that the planet Mesa, despite having quite a nice climate, also possessed a biosystem poorly suited to terrestrial physiology helped lower the price, given the expenses involved in terraforming. But Detweiler hadn't intended to terraform Mesa. Instead, he'd opted to "mesaform" the colonists through genetic engineering. That decision had been inevitable in light of Detweiler's condemnation of the "illogical, ignorant, unthinking, hysterical, Frankenstein fear" of the genetic modification of human beings which had hardened into almost instinctual repugnance over the five hundred T-years between Old Earth's Final War and his departure for Mesa. Still, however inevitable it might have been, it had not been popular with the Beowulf medical establishment of the time. Worse, the fact that Visigoth was barely sixty light-years from Beowulf had guaranteed that Mesa and Beowulf would remain close enough together (despite the hundreds of light-years between them through normal-space) to be a continuous irritant to one another, and Beowulf's unceasing condemnation of Detweiler's faith in the genetic perfectability of humanity had infuriated him. It was, after all, the entire reason he and those members of the Beowulf genetic establishment who shared his views had left Beowulf in the first place.

            It was quite clear that Leonard's decision to rename the Detweiler Consortium "Manpower, Incorporated," had been intended as a thumb in the eye to the entire Beowulf establishment, and that thumb had landed exactly where he'd aimed it. And if Beowulf had been . . .  upset by the Detweiler Consortium's practice of wholesale genetic modification of colonists to suit hostile environments like Mesa, it was infuriated when Manpower began producing "indentured servants" genetically designed for specific environments or specific tasks. At first, periods of indenturement on Mesa itself had been limited to no more than twenty-five T-years, although even after completing their indentures, the "genetic clients" had been denied the franchise and generally treated as second-class citizens. As they became an increasing percentage of the planetary population, however, the planetary constitution had been modified to make "indenturement" a lifelong condition. Technically, Mesa and Manpower continued to insist that there were no such things as "slaves," only "indentured servants," but while that distinction might offer at least some useful smokescreen for Mesa's allies and paid mouthpieces in places like the Solarian League's Assembly, it was meaningless to the institution's opponents.

            The hostility between Beowulf and Mesa had grown unspeakably bitter over the past four and a half centuries, and the anti-slavery Cherwell Convention which had been created by Beowulf had produced enormous headaches for Manpower, Mesa, and the Mesan Alignment. That was unfortunate, and it had posed some significant problems for the Alignment's overall strategy. The ferocity with which the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven harassed Manpower's operations, for example, had clearly presented a long-term threat. While both of those star nations combined constituted little more than a flyspeck compared to the Solarian League, their loathing for genetic slavery had made them implacable foes, and the Republic of Haven's vibrant economy and steady expansion had caused the Alignment considerable anxiety. Haven had been colonized over a hundred and fifty T-years before Mesa, and while it had lacked the enormous financial "nest egg" Leonard Detweiler had brought with him to Mesa, it had created a powerful, self-fueling economical base which promised to do nothing but continue to grow. And that had made the Haven Quadrant loom large in the Alignment's thinking, especially following the discovery of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction in 1585.

            It was the Manticoran Junction and the way it moved the entire Haven Quadrant to within shouting distance of the Sol System itself which had made a pair of insignificant, far off neobarb star nations a matter of major concern to the Alignment. Their direct connection to the League ran through the Beowulf System, and both the Republic and the Star Kingdom had fully imbibed the Beowulfan attitudes towards genetic slavery.