From the look in Byng’s eyes, he appreciated being called a Frontier Fleet officer even less than Michelle had expected him to. That was nice.

“Well, it’s not often we have the sort of . . . incident which occurred here in Monica, either, Admiral Gold Peak,” Byng replied after a moment. “Given the Union of Monica’s long-standing and friendly relations with the League, I’m sure you can understand why it seemed like a good idea to send someone of our own out here for a firsthand impression of events.”
“I certainly can,” Michelle agreed. “We felt a need to do the same thing after the unfortunate events here in Monica.” She shook her head. “I’m sure all of us regret what happened after Captain Terekhov attempted to ascertain exactly what President Tyler’s intentions were. According to our own investigations, those battlecruisers provided to him for his projected attack on the Lynx Terminus were supplied by Technodyne. Have your people been able to turn up anything more about that, Admiral?”
“No.” Byng showed his teeth in something a professional diplomat might have described as a smile. “No, we haven’t. In fact, according to the briefings I received when I was dispatched, we still haven’t managed to confirm where they came from.”
“Aside from the fact that they obviously came from the SLN. Originally, I mean.” Michelle smiled, adding the carefully timed qualifier as Byng appeared to swell visibly. “Obviously, once ships are listed for disposal and handed over to private hands for scrapping, the Navy’s responsibility for them is pretty much at an end. And the paper trail can easily become . . . obscured, as we all know. Especially if some criminal — and civilian, of course — type is doing his best to make it obscure.”
“No doubt. My own experience in those areas is somewhat limited, however. I’m sure our own investigation will be looking very carefully at the recordkeeping of our various suppliers. No doubt Technodyne will be included in that process.”
Michelle toyed with the notion of telling him about the indictments which had already been handed down against several of Technodyne’s senior executives. Given the Beowulf Terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, her own information loop from the Old League was far shorter than Byng’s could possibly be. She strongly suspected that he must at least have known which way the wind was setting before he set out for Monica, and the possibility that she might be able to push his blood pressure up into stroke levels made the temptation to rub his nose in the evidence that Technodyne had been caught with its hand in the cookie jar clear to the elbow almost overwhelming.
Down, girl, she told herself, suppressing the desire right womanfully.
“I’m sure it will be,” she said instead. “In the meantime, however, may I assume you’re also here in something of the role of observer of the Talbott Quadrant’s integration into the Star Empire?”
“Star Empire?” Byng repeated, raising his eyebrows in polite surprise. “Is that what you’ve decided to call it?” He gave her a small, almost apologetic wave of his hand. “I’m afraid I hadn’t heard that before I was deployed.”
His tone made his own opinion of the delusions of grandeur involved in calling something the size of Manticore’s new star nation article in “empire,” and Michelle smiled sweetly at him.
“Well, we had to call it something, Admiral. And given the political arrangements the Talbotters came up with at their constitutional convention, the term sounded logical. Of course, it’s early days yet, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.” Byng smiled back at her, but his smile was considerably colder than hers had been. “I’m sure it’s going to be interesting to see how . . . successfully your experiment works out.”
“So far, it seems to be going quite well,” Michelle said.
“So far,” he agreed, with another of those smiles. “In answer to your question, however, yes. I have been instructed to observe events out here in the Talbott area. I’m sure you’re aware the public back home was deeply interested in events out here. Especially after that unfortunate business on Kornati began to make it into the newsfaxes.” He shook his head sadly. “Personally, I’m confident the entire affair was grossly exaggerated — newsies do need to sell subscriptions, after all. Still, the Foreign Ministry does feel a certain responsibility to get a firsthand impression of events there, as well as throughout the Cluster. I’m sure you can understand why that would be the case.”
“Oh, believe me,” Michelle assured him with deadly affability, “I can understand exactly why that would be the case, Admiral Byng. And, speaking for Her Majesty and Her Majesty’s government, I’m sure all of the Star Empire’s new member systems will be prepared to extend every possible courtesy to you.”
“That’s very welcome news, Admiral.”
“And, while you’re here, Admiral, if there’s any way Her Majesty’s Navy can assist you — for example, if you would care to set up joint anti-piracy or anti-slavery patrols — I’m sure Admiral Khumalo would be as delighted as I would to coordinate our operations with you.”
“That’s very kind of you.” Byng smiled again. “Of course, unlike your new Star Empire, the League has no direct territorial interests in this region. Aside from the security of our own allies in the area, that is. And, of course, the security — and territorial integrity — of those star systems which have been taken under the protection of the Office of Frontier Security. I believe we can see to those obligations out of our own resources. At least, it’s difficult for me to conceive of a threat to those interests which we couldn’t deal with out of our own resources.”
“No doubt.” Michelle smiled back at him. “Well, in that case, Admiral Byng, I won’t keep you any longer. We won’t be in Monica for very long. This was just in the nature of making certain our new allies here were secure, so I imagine we’ll be on our way to Tillerman shortly. I need to pay a courtesy call on President Tyler first, however. Governor General Medusa has instructed me to inform him that the Star Empire is prepared to extend government-guaranteed loans to any of its citizens who might be interested in investing here.” Her smile turned sweeter. “I believe Baroness Medusa — and Her Majesty — believe it’s the least we can do to help Monica recover from the consequences of that unfortunate event.”
“That’s remarkably generous of your Star Empire,” Byng said.
“As I said, I’m sure everyone regrets what happened here, Admiral Byng. And Manticore’s experience has been that extending a helping hand to ex-enemies and treating them as equals is one of the better ways to see to it that there’s no repetition of all that unpleasantness.”
“I see.” Byng nodded. “Well, since you seem to have quite a lot that still needs doing, Admiral Gold Peak, I’ll bid you good day.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I hope your mission here is a successful one. Henke, clear.”