STORM FROM THE SHADOWS – snippet 66:
"But –" Michelle began, then cut herself off.
"But what, Milady?" Medusa asked.
"But it would be an equally stupid thing for Haven to do," Michelle pointed out. "Especially using their own ambassador's driver! Why would someone who had whatever it is they used to force Lieutenant Mears to try to kill Her Grace use it on their own ambassador's driver? What's the point in having a completely deniable assassination technique if you're going to hang a great big holo sign around your neck saying 'We did it!'?"
"That's one of those interesting questions, isn't it?" Medusa replied. "And, frankly, one of the reasons my own suspicion leans towards Manpower. Except, of course, for the fact that the only people who've demonstrated this particular capability are the Havenites."
"Maybe somebody did it just to drive us all crazy thinking and double-thinking the whole thing!" Khumalo rasped.
"No, Augustus. However crazy this looks, whoever did it had a reason," Medusa said. "A reason she thought justified taking all the risks inherent in assassinating an accredited ambassador in the middle of the Solarian League's capital city. From here, I can't imagine what that reason was, but it exists."
"Are there any theories about that 'reason' in the reports from home, Governor?" Michelle asked.
"As a matter of fact, there are," Medusa replied heavily. "Several of them, in fact — most of which are mutually incompatible. Personally, I don't find any of them especially convincing, but at the moment, I'm afraid, suspicion back home is focusing on Haven, not Manpower. And the superficial evidence against Haven is very damning. I have to admit that. Especially since, as I say, Haven has already demonstrated the ability to compel someone to carry out suicidal attacks, and that points directly at Nouveau Paris, too."
"And their motive is supposed to be what?"
"That's a matter of some dispute. I don't want to try to read too much between the lines here, not this far away from Landing. Officially, the Star Kingdom's position is that the assassination was arranged by 'parties unknown.' I have no idea how unanimously that position is supported within the Government, however. If I had to guess, based on what I've seen so far and what I know about the personalities involved, I'd guess that whatever the official position, there's a lot of suspicion that it was Haven. As to why, beyond the evidence the Solly police have been able to put together so far, I really couldn't say. Especially not on the very eve of the summit Pritchart suggested."
"Unless the entire objective was to prevent the summit from happening," Khumalo said slowly.
"I can't see that, Sir," Michelle said quickly. "Pritchart and Theisman both want this summit to go forward. I was there; I saw their faces. I'm sure of that much."
"Even assuming — which I'm perfectly willing to do — that your evaluation of them is accurate, Admiral," Medusa said, "the fact is that what you really know is that they did want the summit to go forward at the time they spoke to you. It's entirely possible that something we know nothing about has changed their thinking. In fact, derailing the summit is one of those 'theories' you asked about."
"But if that's all they wanted, why not simply withdraw their proposal?"
"Diplomacy is a game of perceptions," the governor replied. "There may be domestic or interstellar political considerations that make them unwilling to be the ones who kill the summit they originally proposed. This may be an effort to push Manticore into rejecting the summit. I don't say that makes a lot of sense from our perspective, but, unfortunately, we can't read Pritchart's mind from here, so we can't know what she may or may not have been thinking. Always assuming, of course, that Haven did carry out this assassination."
"Or assuming the Pritchart Administration carried it out, at least," Michelle said slowly.
"You think it may have been a rogue operation?" Khumalo said with a frown.
"I think it's possible," Michelle said, still slowly, her eyes slitted in thought. "I know the People's Republic was fond of assassinations." Her jaw tightened as she recalled the murder of her father and her brother. "And I know Pritchart was a resistance fighter who's supposed to have carried out several assassinations personally. But I don't think she would have wanted to do anything to jeopardize her meeting with Elizabeth. Not as seriously as she talked to me when she issued the invitation. Which doesn't mean someone else in the present Havenite government or covert agencies, maybe someone who's nostalgic for 'the good old days' and doesn't want the shooting to stop, couldn't have done this without Pritchart's approval."
"Actually," Medusa said thoughtfully, "that comes closer than anything that's occurred to me yet to making sense of any explanation for why Haven might have been behind this."
"Maybe." Khumalo clearly felt that "Because they're Peeps" was sufficient explanation for just about anything Haven might decide to do. Which, Michelle reflected, probably summed up the attitude of a majority of Manticorans. After so many years of war, after the forged diplomatic correspondence, after the "sneak attack" of Operation Thunderbolt, there must be very little the average woman-in-the-street would put past the Machiavellian and malevolent Peeps.
"At any rate," Khumalo continued, "it's obvious to me that this is going to have serious implications for our own deployment plans. Trying to figure out what those implications are, however, isn't going to be easy. The one thing I can say is that until this whole thing settles down, Milady, I want your squadron right here in Spindle. There's no telling which way we may have to jump if the wheels come off the Torch summit after all, and I don't want to be forced to send dispatch boats racing off in every direction to get you back here if that happens."
"I understand, Sir."
"Good." Khumalo's nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply, then gave himself a shake. "And on that note, Baroness, with your permission, I think we've probably discussed this as thoroughly as we can at this point. That being the case, suppose you and I see if we can't get at least a few hours of sleep before we have to get up and start worrying about it again?"