Detweiler’s jaw tightened in an involuntary, almost Pavlovian response to that name. The automatic spike of anger it provoked was the next best thing to instinctual, and he reminded himself yet again of the dangers of allowing it to affect his thinking.

“I doubt even Beowulf will be able to put it together quickly,” he said after a moment. “I don’t doubt they could eventually, with enough data. They certainly have the capability, at any rate, but given how quickly the nanites break down, it’s extremely unlikely they’re going to have access to any of the cadavers in a short enough timeframe to determine anything definitive. All of Everett’s and Kyprianou’s studies and simulations point in that direction. Obviously, it’s a concern we have to bear in mind, but we can’t allow that possibility to scare us into refusing to use a capability we need.”
“I’m not saying we should, only pointing out a potential danger. And, to be frank, I’m less worried about some medical examiner’s figuring it out forensically than I am about someone reaching the same conclusion — that it’s a bioweapon and that we’re the ones who developed it — by following up other avenues.”
“What sort of ‘other avenues’?” he asked, eyes narrowing once again.
“According to our current reports, Elizabeth herself and most of Grantville’s government, not to mention the Manty in the street, are absolutely convinced it was Haven. Most of them seem to share Elizabeth’s theory that for some unknown reason Pritchart decided her initial proposal for a summit had been a mistake. None of them have any convincing explanation for what that ‘unknown reason’ might have been, however. And some of them — particularly White Haven and Harrington — don’t seem very convinced it was Haven at all. Since the High Ridge collapse, we no longer have enough penetration to absolutely confirm something like that, unfortunately, but the sources we still do have all point in that direction. Please bear in mind, of course, that it takes time for information from our best surviving sources to reach us. It’s not like we can ask the newsies about these things the way we can clip stories about military operations like Lovat, for example. At this point, and even using dispatch boats with streak capability on the Beowulf conduit, we’re still talking about very preliminary reports.”
“Understood. Go on.”
“What concerns me most,” she continued with a slight shrug, “is that once Elizabeth’s immediate response has had a little time to cool, White Haven and Harrington are still two of the people whose judgment she most trusts. I think both of them are too smart to push her too hard on this particular issue at this moment, but neither of them is especially susceptible to spouting the party line if they don’t actually share it, either. And despite the way her political opponents sometimes caricature Elizabeth, she’s a very smart woman in her own right. So if two people whose judgment she trusts are quietly but stubbornly convinced that there’s more going on here than everyone else has assumed, she’s just likely to be more open-minded where that possibility is concerned than even she realizes she is.
“What else concerns me is that there are two possible alternative scenarios for who was actually responsible for both attacks. One, of course, is that it was us — or, at least, Manpower. The second is that it was, in fact, a Havenite operation, but not one sanctioned by Pritchart or anyone in her administration. In other words, that it was mounted by a rogue element within the Republic which is opposed to ending the war.
“Of the two, the second is probably the more likely . . . and the less dangerous from our perspective. Mind you, it would be bad enough if someone could convince Elizabeth and Grantville that Pritchart’s offer had been genuine and that sinister and evil elements — possibly throwbacks to the bad old days of State Security — decided to sabotage it. Even if that turned around Elizabeth’s position on a summit, it wouldn’t lead anyone directly to us, though. And it’s not going to happen overnight, either. My best guess is that even if someone suggested that theory to Elizabeth today — for that matter, someone may already have done just that — it would still take weeks, probably months, for it to reach the point of changing her mind. And now that they’ve resumed operations, the momentum of fresh casualties and infrastructure damage is going to be strongly against any effort to resurrect the original summit agreement even if she does change her mind.
“The first possibility, however, worries me more, although I’ll admit it would appear to be a lower order probability, so far, at least. At the moment, the fact that they’re convinced they’re looking at a Havenite assassination technique is diverting attention from us and all of the reasons we might have for killing Webster or Berry Zilwicki. But if someone manages to demonstrate that there has to be an undetectable bio-nanite component to how the assassins are managing these ‘adjustments,’ the immediate corollary to that is going to be a matching suspicion that even if Haven is using the technique, it didn’t develop the technique. The Republic simply doesn’t have the capability to put something like this together for itself, and no one as smart as Patricia Givens is going to believe for a moment that it does. And that, Albrecht, is going to get that same smart person started thinking about who did develop it. It could have come from any of several places, but as soon as anyone starts thinking in that direction, the two names that are going to pop to the top of their list are Mesa and Beowulf, and I don’t think anyone is going to think those sanctimonious bastards on Beowulf would be making something like this available. In which case Manpower’s reputation is likely to bite us on the ass. And the fact that both the Manties and the Havenites’ intelligence services are aware of the fact that ‘Manpower’ has been recruiting ex-StateSec elements is likely to suggest the possibility of a connection between us and some other StateSec element, possibly hiding in the underbrush of the current Republic. Which is entirely too close to the truth to make me feel particularly happy.
“That could be bad enough. If they reach that point, however, they may very well be willing to go a step further. If we’re supplying the technology to some rogue element in Haven, then what would keep us from using it ourselves? And if they ask themselves that question, then all of the motives we might have — all of the motives they already know about because of Manpower, even without the additional ones we actually do have — are going to spring to their attention.”