“Um.” O’Shaughnessy frowned. He’d treasured a few reservations about the commander’s imagination over the many months he and Chandler had worked together. There was nothing wrong with his imagination where that particular bit of analysis was concerned, however.

“Okay,” the civilian continued after a moment. “Let’s assume you’re right. This new guidance system or whatever is limited right now to Eighth Fleet. Would you agree that we wouldn’t have let Haven know we’ve got it unless we were at least getting ready to deploy it more broadly?”
He cocked an eyebrow at Chandler, who nodded.
“Good. So, assume we do get it into general deployment over the next few months. What happens then?”
“Assuming we get a few months in which to put it into deployment, the Peeps are history,” Chandler replied. “It may take a few more months for the smoke to clear and the articles of surrender to get signed, but I can’t see anything that would save them under those circumstances. And, frankly, I can’t see any circumstances under which Her Majesty would settle for anything other than unconditional surrender this time around, can you?”
“Not hardly!” O’Shaughnessy snorted, but his expression was more worried than Chandler’s. The commander looked a question at him, and he shrugged.
“I just wish we knew more about what the Sollies are going to do,” he said. “I know it looks like they’re going to fold their hand after what’s happened at Monica, but I’ve just got this . . . I don’t know, this itchy feeling.”
“Itchy,” Chandler repeated thoughtfully.
“I know. I know! It’s not the sort of technical terminology that contributes to the mystique of our profession, Ambrose. Unfortunately, I can’t come up with a better adjective.”
“Why not?”
“If I knew that, I’d be able to find the better adjective I wanted,” O’Shaughnessy said tartly. Then he sighed. “I think it’s just the fact that it looks like the entire Monica operation was set up by Manpower and Technodyne. Not by Frontier Security, or any of the Solly bureaucracies — by a pair of corporate entities. Right?”
“So far,” Chandler acknowledged. “I think it’s obvious they had to be pretty sure they had Frontier Security — or at least Verrochio — safely tucked away in their pocket before they tried it, but that’s what it looks like.”
“And that’s what bothers me,” O’Shaughnessy said. “First, the sheer scale and . . . audacity of what they had in mind strikes me as being just a bit over the top even for one of the Mesa-based outfits. Second, look at the expense involved. I’m sure they’d have managed to recoup most of their investment one way or another if it had worked, but they invested literally hundreds of billions trying to bring this thing off. That’s a pretty stiff risk exposure even for someone like Manpower or Technodyne. And, third, if I’d been Manpower, and if all I really wanted to do was to prevent the annexation of the Talbott Cluster, I could have found an approach that would have been a lot less expensive and risky . . . and probably at least as effective.”
“Sure.” O’Shaughnessy shook his head. “This was a case of using an awfully big, awfully expensive sledgehammer when a tack hammer would have done the job. Not only that, but they had the tack hammer they needed all along! Look at their return on Nordbrandt, alone. And if Terekhov and Van Dort hadn’t literally stumbled across the Manpower connection — I’m not trying to downplay anything they accomplished, but they really did stumble across it, you know — then Westman would probably still be shooting at us in Montana, too. Investing a few hundred million in political action committees and funding and supplying other lunatics with guns and bombs would have let them keep the entire Cluster at the boil pretty much indefinitely, unless we wanted to resort to some sort of authoritarian repression. And it would have done that while simultaneously limiting Manpower’s exposure, risk, and expense. They might not have been able to prevent the Constitutional Convention from voting out an acceptable constitution, although I’m not even sure of that. But even if the constitution had been voted out, they could probably have counted on keeping the political unrest going at a level which would have forced us to stay home and tend to our knitting instead of causing them problems in their own backyard. So why go for this sort of grandstanding operation? Why invest so much more money and risk the kind of beating they’re taking in the Solly public opinion polls now that it’s blown up in their faces?”
“I hadn’t really considered it that way,” Chandler admitted thoughtfully. “I guess I just assumed it was pure greed, as much as self-defense, from their perspective. Keeping us completely out of the Cluster and taking control of the Lynx Terminus would have to be the optimum solution from their viewpoint, after all.”
“I don’t disagree. I just think it’s not the sort of solution Manpower would normally have reached for. With only a handful of exceptions — like Torch — the Mesan government’s never shown any particular interest in playing the interstellar politics game. And virtually everything Manpower and the other Mesan corporations have done has been more . . . insidious. They’ve worked through acquiring influence, through bribery and coercion, at least where anyone who could potentially fight back might be concerned. This just isn’t like them, and it makes me antsy when an established player suddenly starts changing. It leaves me with the feeling that there’s something going on under the surface. Something we ought to figure out before it comes up out of the depths and bites us right square on the ass.”
“You may have a point,” Chandler acknowledged after several seconds. “On the other hand, whatever they had in mind this time around, it clearly didn’t work.”
“This time around,” O’Shaughnessy agreed. “But we still don’t know how the Sollies are going to react in the long haul. And if they’ve tried something like this once, who’s to say they won’t come up with something equally . . . inventive for us in the future? That’s one reason I hope you’re right about what’s going to happen to the Havenites’ military position in light of Lovat. I may not be sure what they’re up to, but I know I want us to be as free as possible from other distractions if they decide to have a second try at getting us into a war with the Solarian League!”