They were good, Aldona Anisimovna thought, watching approvingly from the studio’s control room. In fact, the New Tuscan Information Ministry had shown a far more sophisticated touch where little things like propaganda and special effects were concerned than she would have expected out of someone with a Verge tech base. Of course, they’d probably needed a bit more sophistication than most, given their local proles’ evident unhappiness.

She particularly liked the touch with the pre-interview conversation and Brulé’s efforts to put Captain Carmouche more at his ease. They wouldn’t be part of the formal report, of course . . . but they would “just happen” to have been left attached to the raw footage which would accompany the formal report. Where, of course, Commissioner Verrochio’s people would “just happen” to discover them. They’d give a certain additional sense of veracity to the final report when it was presented to Verrochio as part of the evidence supporting claims of harassment. Of course, while there’d been no particular effort to hide the fact that Anne-Louise Brulé worked for the Ministry of Information, no one had bothered to mention the fact that ‘Captain Carmouche’ was actually being portrayed by one Oliver Ratté, who was also employed by the Ministry of Information. Unlike Brulé, whoever, who was a recognizable anchor from the New Tuscan news broadcasts, Ratté was effectively anonymous. Although he’d appeared in innumerable propaganda efforts, he’d never appeared under his own face. Instead, his job had been to provide the body language, voice, and facial expressions the computers transformed into someone else entirely.
It was still the best and simplest way to produce high-quality CGI, especially for someone whose tech base might not have all of the latest bells and whistles. In fact, New Tuscany’s computer technology was probably at least a couple of centuries behind that of the Solarian League in general. They’d demonstrated over the years just how much could be accomplished by substituting technique and practice for technology, however, and this time around, Ratté was appearing under his own face. There would be absolutely no computer chicanery with this little masterpiece, and the same held true for all the others the New Tuscans were working up. After all, it would never do for any of the Manties’ contacts in the League to demonstrate that sort of fancy tricks by analyzing the recording.
And by the time Dusserre and his little helpers over at the Security Ministry get done massaging the planetary database, there won’t be any way to prove that Captain Carmouche and the good ship Antelope have never existed. In fact, she thought with amused satisfaction, there’ll be all kinds of evidence that they have existed. Of course the Manties are going to claim that neither of them have ever visited San Miguel, but who is Frontier Security supposed to believe? The poor, harassed New Tuscans who are asking for their intervention, or the nasty Manties who are trying to come up with reasons why Frontier Security shouldn’t investigate?
It was a nice touch, although it was scarcely necessary. Not that she had any intention of telling the New Tuscans that. From their viewpoint, there was every reason to set up an invulnerable defense in depth, since they could anticipate the Manties’ protestations of innocence. Especially given the fact that the Manties were innocent, she admitted. But what the Mesan Alignment in the person of one Aldona Anisimovna had seen no reason to worry New Tuscany over was that it really didn’t matter at all. No one was going to be looking at any records on New Tuscany. The Solarian League wouldn’t feel any particular need to do so; the Manties weren’t going to be in a position to do so ; and both sides were going to be far too busy with what the Alignment really wanted them to be doing to each other for it to matter one way or the other to anyone.
She watched Brulé and Ratté working their way smoothly through the well written and carefully rehearsed script and wondered if the sense of almost godlike power she felt as she watched the entire New Tuscany System dancing to the Alignment’s script was the same sort of thing Albert Detweiler felt? And if so, was it as addictive for him as she realized it could easily become for her? For that matter, if it was, did he care?
I understand what we’re trying to accomplish and why — now, at least, she thought. I wouldn’t have understood before he and Isabel explained it all to me, but I do now. But knowing only makes the game even more intoxicating. It defines the scope, the scale, in a way nothing else ever has before. But ambitious as it is, it’s still all . . . intellectual for me. The game is what’s real. I wonder if it’s that way for Albrecht and the others? And if it is, what are they going to do when we’ve finally pulled it off and there are no more games to play?
* * * * * * * * * *
“He said what?”
Lieutenant Commander Lewis Denton frowned at Ensign Rachel Monahan. The ensign sat just a little nervously in a chair across the desk from him in his compact day cabin. Despite the fact that Denton was only a lieutenant commander, and that HMS Reprise was only a somewhat elderly and increasingly obsolescent destroyer, he was still the captain of one of Her Majesty’s starships, and at the moment, Monahan seemed only too well aware of the fact that she was the most junior officer aboard that same starship.
She was also conscientious and, although Denton had absolutely no intention of saying so to a single living soul, remarkably easy on the eye. She wasn’t the very smartest junior officer he’d ever encountered, but she had a generous helping of common sense, and she was a long, long way from stupid. In fact, Denton was one of those officers who preferred attention to duty and common sense to erratic or careless (or, even worse, lazy) intelligence, and he’d been entirely satisfied with her performance since she’d joined Reprise’s ship’s company. That was one of the reasons he’d been giving her progressively bigger opportunities to demonstrate her competence and self-confidence, and, so far, she’d met all of them quite handily.
Which was what had led directly to her request for this interview, even if Denton didn’t have a clue in Hell what was going on.
“He said he was going to formally complain about our ‘harassment,’ Sir,” Monahan repeated now.
“Your harassment,” Denton said in the tone of a man trying to get some ridiculous concept straight in his own mind.
“Yes, Sir.”
Monahan sounded more than a little anxious, and Denton could understand that well enough. A great many junior officers who’d screwed up would make it their first order of business to get their version of what had happened in front of their commanding officers before any inconvenient little truths could come along to make matters worse. In Monahan’s case, though, that very notion was preposterous.
“About the harassing you obviously hadn’t done, Rachel. Is that what he was implying?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Had you done anything that could have gotten him pissed off enough at you to fabricate some sort of complaint in an effort to make trouble for you?”
“Sir, I can’t think of a single thing,” she said, shaking her head. “I did everything exactly by The Book, the way I’ve done it every time before. But it was like . . . I don’t know, exactly, Sir, but it was like he was waiting for me to do something he could complain about. And if I wasn’t going to do it, then he was ready to claim I had, anyway! I’ve never seen anything like it, Sir.”
She was obviously even more confused than she was worried, and Denton made another mental check mark of approval for her end-of-deployment evaluation. Despite her evident concern that he might wonder if she was trying to cover her posterior, she’d reported the entire episode to the XO as soon as she’d come back aboard ship. And the XO had been sufficiently perplexed — and concerned — to pass her report along to Denton before she’d even left his office. Which was the reason Monahan was now sitting in Denton’s day cabin repeating her account of the customs inspection.
“So you went aboard, asked for his papers, checked them, and did a quick walk-through, right?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“And he was giving you grief from the very beginning?”
“Yes, Sir. From the minute I cleared the personnel tube. It was like he was on some kind of hairtrigger, ready to bite my head off over anything, no matter how polite my people and I were. Skipper, I think I could have complimented him on the color of the bulkheads and he would have managed to turn it into some sort of mortal insult!”