Bardasano leaned back in her chair, obviously thinking hard, then drew a deep breath.
“On that basis, I would definitely recommend bringing Aldona fully inside. Although I also think it would be a good idea to think things over very carefully before we decide whether or not we want to ‘resurrect’ Monica. And to consider it in light of the concerns I’ve already expressed about flying by the seat of our pants.”

“Granted,” he agreed. “And I’m not saying I’ve firmly decided one way or the other. I’m still thinking about it. However, if we did decide to take this approach, it wouldn’t be quite as improvisational as it might first appear, since we could use a lot of the spadework from the Monica operation. Oh,” he waved one hand like a man swatting at a gnat, “not in Monica itself, obviously. But in Myers, and with Crandall.”
Bardasano frowned slightly, then nodded.
“Use Crandall to motivate Verrochio, you mean?”
“Use Crandall, yes. And Verrochio. But I’m thinking of Crandall more as . . . reassurance for Verrochio. The motivation we’ll supply by way of Hongbo.”
“You want to make an explicit approach to Hongbo?” Bardasano’s tone was slightly dubious, and Detweiler snorted.
“We’ve already made an ‘explicit approach’ to Hongbo,” he pointed out. “So far, he’s done quite well out of us as our local manager for Commissioner Verrochio. It’s not as if he should be particularly surprised if we ‘request’ his assistance once more.”
“My impression is that he’d be . . . quite hesitant to try a variant on Monica this soon,” she said. “He’s smarter than Verrochio. I think he’s probably a lot more aware of the potential consequences if they try something like this a second time and screw up. Oh, he’s not worried about the Assembly or the courts. He’s worried about what his and Verrochio’s fellow OFS satraps will do to them if they get fresh egg on Frontier Security’s face.”
“I can see that,” Detweiler conceded. “And, of course, he’s not aware that if we succeed, his fellow Frontier Security commissioners are going to be the least of his worries. Be that as it may, though, I’m really hesitant to let all of our preparation go completely to waste. Especially since we’ll have to eliminate Crandall and Filareta after this if we can’t use them now.”
“Sometimes it’s better to just write an operation off, however much you’ve invested in it,” Bardasano cautioned. “That old cliché about throwing good money after bad comes rather forcibly to mind. And so does the one about reinforcing failure.”
“Agreed. And I fully intend to kick the entire notion around with Collin before we make any hard and fast decisions. I’ll want you in on those conversations, as well, for that matter. But it’s not just a case of pushing to recoup our investment. I’m genuinely concerned about the long term implications of whatever they used at Lovat. I think it’s just become even more important to keep them under the maximum pressure and prune them back any way we can, and what’s occurred to me is that with the summit off the table and the Manties going back to war with Haven, it shouldn’t be too incredibly difficult to convince someone like Verrochio that they’re under too much pressure from Haven to respond to a full bore threat from the Solarian League.”
“A ‘full bore threat’?” she repeated carefully.
“What I’m thinking is that with only a very little encouragement, New Tuscany would probably make an even better cat’s-paw than Monica did last time around. Frontier Fleet’s already dispatched a reinforcing detachment to Myers, which is probably enough to start bolstering Verrochio’s nerve all by itself. And I just happen to know that the senior officer of that detachment doesn’t much care for ‘neobarbs.’ In fact, he doesn’t care for Manties. Something to do with getting his fingers rather severely burned in an incident with a Manticoran freighter when he was a much more junior officer. Franklin’s contacts in the League meant we could get him assigned without ever having to approach him directly, so he doesn’t know a thing about our involvement in this. Given his background, though, I’m sure he’s already quite upset about the Manties’ wild allegations about the complicity of major League business interests — and, of course, those nasty Mesans — in what happened in Monica. If he were properly approached by H0ngbo and Verocchio, I’m fairly confident he’d be amenable to doing something about it, especially if the League’s assistance was officially requested by someone with legitimate interests in the area. Like, oh, New Tuscany, perhaps. And one of Verrochio’s outstanding characteristics has always been his temper. If Hongbo pumps a little hydrogen into the fire, instead of trying to put it out, Verrochio is going to be just itching for an opportunity to get even with Manticore for his current humiliation. And if he just happened to be aware — or to become aware — of the fact that our good friend Admiral Crandall is in his vicinity with an entire Battle Fleet task force of superdreadnoughts, it might stiffen his irate spine quite remarkably.”
“And you want Aldona fully inside to handle New Tuscany and Hongbo,” Bardasano said slowly. “Which means we aren’t going to be able to fob her off with any nonsense about Technodyne getting hold of Manty technology, or about us only wanting to prevent them from annexing the Talbott Cluster because of its proximity to Mesa, this time around.”
“That’s pretty much it, yes.” Detweiler shrugged. “Without Technodyne and Levakonic to front for us by providing Monica with battlecruisers anymore, she’s going to have to be aware of our real knuckleduster. And that’s going to suggest to someone as smart as she is that we’re up to rather more than she knew about last time. Especially since it’s going to become obvious to her that Crandall’s task force wouldn’t be where it is if we hadn’t arranged for it before the two of you ever set out for Monica. She’s going to wonder why we didn’t tell her about it then, and I don’t think it will take her very long to start making some reasonably accurate guesses about just how much else is happening that she doesn’t know about. I’d far rather tell her everything that really is going on than have her guess just enough to make some serious mistake trying to adjust for what she thinks is going on.”
“I think you really should discuss this with Collin,” Bardasano said. “If you still think it’s a good idea after that — and I’m not saying it isn’t; I just don’t know whether or not it is at this point — then I’d certainly recommend explaining everything to Aldona and putting her back in charge of it. But she’s going to need something more persuasive than mere greed and bribery to get Hongbo solidly behind her on this one.”
“In that case,” Detweiler said with a thin, shark-like smile, “it’s probably a very good thing we have all those bank records about the payoffs he’s accepted over the years from those nasty Manpower genetic slavers, isn’t it? I realize he might try to turn stubborn even so. I mean, after all, it’s not like the League judiciary is likely to do any more than slap him on the wrist over it. If he does, though, Aldona could always point out that if that same information were to the unfortunately leaked to those Ballroom lunatics . . . .”
He let his voice trail off and shrugged as he raised both hands shoulder-high, palms uppermost.
“I suppose that probably would motivate him suitably,” Bardasano agreed with a smile of her own. “The Ballroom does come in handy from time to time, doesn’t it?”