Several faces had tightened at her mention of the Constitutional Convention, and she concealed a mental smile of catlike satisfaction as she saw them. Frankly, she’d been flabbergasted — initially, at least — to learn that New Tuscany had, in fact, declined to ratify the new constitution. In their place, she would have been falling all over herself to get under the Manticoran security umbrella and share in the flood tide of commerce and investment which was likely to be coming the Cluster’s way. Except, of course, for that other little problem they had. She’d already concluded, just in the short trip from the spaceport to this meeting, that Bardasano’s analysis of the New Tuscan oligarchs and their motivations had been right on the money. In fact, the lid was screwed down even more tightly here on New Tuscany than she’d expected from Bardasano’s briefings. Uniformed security forces had been a high-visibility part of the ground car drive from the shuttle pad, and she’d noticed an extraordinarily high number of extraordinarily obvious (for a planet with New Tuscany’s tech base) security cameras on light standards and at intersections. No doubt there were other, far less obtrusive measures in place to monitor the situation without giving away their presence, but clearly the New Tuscan security forces wanted to do more than simply keep a close eye on things. They also wanted to make any potential troublemakers abundantly aware of the point that they were keeping that eye on things.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea, weren’t you, Mr. President? Her mental tone was mocking, although she supposed it wasn’t very funny from the New Tuscans’ perspective. If you didn’t ratify the constitution, you got left out in the cold where all that lovely investment and capital flow were involved. But if you did ratify it, you’d’ve had the Manties swarming all over New Tuscany, and they wouldn’t have approved of your ‘security measures’ at all, would they?
Looked at from that perspective, she supposed the New Tuscan decision to opt out of the constitutional process when Manticore and their fellow Talbott delegates declined to give them the domestic security carte blanche they’d insisted upon actually made a degree of sense. The last thing any properly exploitative oligarchs could afford was for their social inferiors to get uppity notions, after all. Unfortunately for New Tuscany, the mere example of what was about to happen in the rest of the Cluster was virtually certain to contaminate their star system with those very notions. Their only real hope had been to siphon off enough of the increasing commerce and Manticoran investment to provide an at least modest but real improvement in the general New Tuscan standard of living. Frankly, the chance of their ever having been able to control the situation through any combination of carrot and stick had never been realistic, in Anisimovna’s opinion, but it appeared to be the only one they’d been able to come up with.
Not surprisingly, since the only other approach would have been to recognize when they were beaten and try to make the best terms they could with the people they’ve been systematically pissing on — and pissing off — for the last two or three generations, she thought. Somehow, I don’t think they would have enjoyed the only terms they could get.
“As you say, it would appear the organization of this ‘Talbott Quadrant’ is an accomplished fact, Ms. Anisimovna,” Prime Minister Vézien said. His tone was sour, but she noticed he was regarding her shrewdly. “Yet somehow I can’t avoid the suspicion that you wouldn’t have come to call on us — or been so . . . forthcoming, shall we say? — about your involvement with Monica unless you thought that state of affairs could somehow still be . . . rectified.”
“I see you’re as perceptive as my briefings suggested you were, Mr. Prime Minister. Yes, we do believe the situation can be rectified, which I’m sure you here in New Tuscany would find almost as welcome as we would in Mesa. And, to anticipate your next question, yes, again. I have come here to discuss ways in which the two of us could assist one another in bringing that rectification about.”
“Forgive me for pointing this out, Ms. Anisimovna,” Alesta Cardot said, “but the last star system you recruited for this no doubt laudable objective doesn’t seem to have fared very well.”
“And there’s also the little matter of certain collateral damage inflicted by your previous efforts, if you’ll pardon me for saying so,” Dusserre added. The Security Minister met Anisimovna’s eyes very levelly, and she nodded slightly in acknowledgment of his point.
“Madam Minister,” she said to Cardot, “you’re absolutely correct about what happened to Monica. As I’ve already said, however, that was due to a completely unpredictable coincidence of circumstances — circumstances which are unlikely, at the very least, to ever repeat themselves. Moreover, even if they — or something like them — did repeat, they would have no significant impact on the strategy we have in mind this time. And, Mr. Dusserre,” she said, turning to face the Security Minister squarely, “I’m afraid we must plead guilty to supplying Agnes Nordbrandt and her fellow lunatics with the wherewithal for their campaign against the Kornatian authorities. I’m sure that’s made subsequent difficulties for you here on New Tuscany, and my own reading of events suggests that it helped Alquezar and his allies force through the constitutional provisions they favored all along. I regret that, but, in fairness, I ought to point out that at the time we decided to supply Nordbrandt, our objectives revolved around Monica, not anyone here in the Cluster itself. The consequences here on New Tuscany are unfortunate, but to be brutally honest, at that time New Tuscany was completely secondary to our calculations and concerns.”
“Well, that’s certainly frank enough, Ms. Anisimovna,” Cardot said dryly.
“In this case, Madam Secretary,” Anisimovna replied, “candor is clearly the best policy. And since that’s the case, there’s very little point in pretending that what I’m here to discuss is anything except a marriage of pragmatic self-interest. I’d be the first to admit you have a lovely planet here. Indeed, I quite enjoyed observing it from orbit and on the flight down, and the scenery around the spaceport is breathtaking. Nonetheless, it would be dishonest of me to pretend that Mesa has any intrinsic interest whatsoever in New Tuscany . . . aside from the fashion in which the two of us can assist one another in bringing about a state of affairs we both desire.”