“I see.” President Boutin folded his hands in front of him on his desk blotter and cocked his head to one side. “I think you’re probably correct that there’s no need for New Tuscany and Mesa to pretend they’re bosom friends. At the same time, however, Alesta’s point about what happened to Monica is entirely valid. I’m sure I speak for the rest of my colleagues when I say we have absolutely no interest in experiencing the same unfortunate consequences. And, to return candor for candor, Mesa’s sheer distance from the Cluster, and your planet’s habit of . . . acting from behind the scenes, shall we say, offers you quite a bit of protection which would not be available to us if we should arouse the Manties’ ire. As you’ve already said, they have a pattern of using military force to achieve their policy ends, and please don’t be offended, but I’d really prefer not to have the Royal Manticoran Navy do to us what it did to Monica.”

“Mr. President, frankness is unlikely ever to offend me. And I entirely understand your feelings. However, I believe I can explain why what happened to Monica most definitely will not be happening to New Tuscany.”
“Speaking for myself, as Minister of War, and, I’m sure, for all of us, I would be fascinated to hear that explanation,” Nicholas Pélisard said, and his tone was even drier than Cardot’s had been.
“The most important single difference between what we’re envisioning this time around and the Monican operation is that we’ve decided our biggest mistake in Monica was attempting to maintain too great a degree of deniability. We stayed too far out of the loop — and relied too heavily on Monica to ‘front’ for us — when we arranged to supply President Tyler with the battlecruisers he required for his part of the operation.”
“Which was?” Dusserre inquired mildly, and she looked at him. “We’ve heard several possible explanations. I was simply wondering which one — if any of them — was accurate?” the security minister added mildly, and he smiled.
It was cynical, that smile, but behind it she saw something else. Something not even his years of calculation and power could hide. Dusserre was a player, someone who gravitated as naturally to power — and to his own position as New Tuscany’s chief policeman — as a moth gravitated towards an open flame, yet she wondered if he was truly aware of the fear she saw behind that smile. The sense that the entire power structure of his homeworld was sliding inexorably towards collapse. . . .
Albrecht and Isabel were right, Anisimovna thought. These people are desperate enough to save their little house of cards to be nicely receptive. What was it that Old Earth king said? Something about ‘After me, the flood’? Well, these people already feel the water lapping around their ankles, don’t they? That’s good.
“The objective,” she said aloud, looking him straight in the eye, “was for Tyler to secure control of the Lynx Terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction. Commissioner Verrochio, of the Office of Frontier Security, was prepared to support his actions — completely impartially, of course — while the League arranged for a new plebiscite, under OFS supervision, to determine the validity of the original plebiscite returns in favor of seeking annexation by Manticore. I’m afraid the Commissioner anticipated discovering widespread fraud in the Manticoran plebiscite.” She shook her head sadly. “If that had turned out to be the case, then obviously Frontier Security would have had no choice but to set those flawed results aside in favor of the results of its own plebiscite. Which would undoubtedly have led to the endorsement of a Cluster-wide government under the leadership and protection of the Monican Navy and recognized by the Solarian League as the legitimate government of the Cluster.”
She had the satisfaction of seeing even Dusserre’s eyes widen slightly as she admitted the breadth and scope of the original plan. She’d thought it was an audacious but workable plan herself, when she sold it to Roberto Tyler in the first place. Of course, she hadn’t realized then what the Alignment’s real objective was. And she had absolutely no intention of explaining that real objective to these people, either.
“I don’t think New Tuscany would have liked that very much, Ms. Anisimovna,” Honorine Huppé said after a moment, and Anisimovna chuckled.
“I don’t imagine you would have, Madam Minister. Of course, that wasn’t exactly foremost in our thinking when we formulated the plan. And, for that matter, New Tuscany’s unhappiness would all have been a matter of perspective, wouldn’t it?” She smiled winsomely as several of the New Tuscans bridled. “After all, the perspective is always different, depending upon who’s on the bottom and who’s on the top.”
Boutin had been about to say something. Now the president paused, his expression arrested, and closed his mouth slowly.
“Are we to understand, Ms. Anisimovna,” Cardot asked just a bit caustically, “that you now propose to take us to the mountaintop and show us the same vista you offered to President Tyler?”
“In general terms, yes,” Anisimovna told the foreign minister calmly. “Except for a couple of minor changes.”
“What sort of ‘minor changes’?” Vézien asked.
“Instead of striking directly for the Lynx Terminus and using its disputed possession — plus, of course, the brutal repression of patriotic resistance groups spontaneously arising in reaction to the corrupt plebiscite — as the opening wedge for inviting Frontier Security to intervene to prevent additional bloodshed, we intend to demonstrate Manticoran vengefulness and arrogant imperialism to the galaxy at large,” Anisimovna replied. “In particular, we’re well aware of the fashion in which Baroness Medusa and Prime Minister Alquezar are already attempting to freeze New Tuscany out of the Cluster’s new economic order. Alas, we have reason to believe this is only the first step in Manticore’s attempt to punish New Tuscany for its principled stand against that bogus Constitutional Convention from which you withdrew your delegates. Worse, we feel confident, is still to come.”
“What sort of ‘worse’?” Huppé asked, her dark eyes narrow.
“Harassment of your shipping, violations of your territory, that sort of thing,” Anisimovna replied with a sigh. “Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that they’ve already been harassing your merchant shipping, trying to squeeze you out of the Cluster’s markets.”