“Agreed.” Barregos nodded. “And its hammered the hell out of the Erewhonese economy, too. Produced its own little system-wide recession, as a matter of fact. On the other hand, I think even Imbesi would be prepared to admit that some sort of Manty retaliation for all the technology that got handed over to Haven was in order, and it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Of course, they’ve managed to pick up at least some of their losses from increased trade with Haven, but they’re suddenly on the other end of the tech imbalance, which is kicking up more than a few problems while their industrial sector tries to retool and adjust. Not to mention the fact that they aren’t any too fond of Haven at the moment, either, given who actually fired the first shot that landed them in their current mess.

“At any rate, right now, and not wanting to wish any additional unhappiness on our newfound friends in Maytag, it’s offering us quite a few interesting opportunities we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Among other things, CIG ended up needing a lot more capital investment from our side to get it up and running. That’s why we floated that new bond issue back on Old Earth, which is also one of the reasons we’re in better economic shape — and in a much better strategic position in Erewhon — at this point than we’d expected to be. Financially, the fact that the Sector was already so heavily invested in Erewhon gave us plenty of cover when the resumption of hostilities meant we had to raise additional capital from sources outside our immediate area. And Treasury was perfectly willing to sign off on the bonds — for the bureaucrats’ usual cut, of course.”

He smiled evilly, and Rozsak raised both eyebrows in silent question.

“Well,” Barregos told him cheerfully, “those same bureaucrats back on Old Earth insisted — positively insisted — that the bond issue in question be underwritten directly by the Treasury instead of the Sector administration. I think it had something to do with . . . bookkeeping issues.”

Rozsak snorted harshly in amused understanding. He wasn’t at all surprised that the Treasury Department personnel in question wanted to handle the accounting as much in-house as possible, since it was so much easier to cook their own books (and hide their inevitable peculation) than it was to skim off of someone else’s cash flow without detection. But that was merely the Solarian League’s basic SOP, and he was still a bit puzzled by the governor’s obvious amusement.

“And having them do the bookkeeping helps us exactly how?” the admiral asked after a moment. “Obviously it does, somehow, but I would’ve thought that having their fingers directly in the pie would be more likely to sound alarms at their end as we get further down the road.”

“As long as the graft keeps rolling in, they aren’t going to care what we’re really doing with the money at this end,” Barregos pointed out. “That’s a given, and it’s been part of our strategy from the very beginning. But what else it does for us is to make the debt a charge on the Solarian League, not the Maya Sector, and it never occurred to me or Donald that we might be able to get away with that!”

“And?” Rozsak asked.

“And, Luiz, if the day should ever come — perish the thought — when we good, loyal Solarians out here in the Sector should find ourselves in less than full accord with Frontier Security HQ or the Interior Department in general, we won’t be the ones responsible for paying the bondholders off. As far as we’re concerned, all that dreadful debt — close to sixty percent of our total investment in CIG, will be owed to Solarian citizens, not anyone out here. And the obligation to pay off those bounds, Donald tells me, will also belong to the League Treasury. Which means that as far as we’re concerned it will just . . . go away. Poof.”

He smiled beatifically, and despite his own monumental aplomb and self-control, Rozsak’s jaw actually dropped a half-centimeter or so.

“And,” Barregos continued even more cheerfully, “I’ve just had a memo from one of Wodoslawski’s senior aides. He wants to know if it would be possible to interest the Erewhonese directly in floating additional bond issues in the League to support their military expansion. It seems reports about Erewhon’s concern — its worry about finding itself caught between its old allies and its new ones if things go really sour — has inspired certain individuals back on Old Earth to be thinking in terms of combining personal opportunity with foreign policy objectives. According to the memo, Treasury and State would like to acquire a bigger financial stake in Erewhon as a means of gaining additional leverage with the Republic down the road.”

“Damn,” Rozsak said mildly, and shook his head. “Those poor bastards. They don’t even have a clue, do they?” Then he snorted. “Talk about history repeating! The whole thing reminds me of what Lenin had to say about capitalists selling rope to the proletariat!”

“I don’t know about that,” Barregos replied. “Frankly, you’re a lot better student of pre-space Old Earth history than I am. I know who you’re talking about, but I’m not familiar with the specific comment you’re actually referring to. If he meant those idiots in Old Chicago are stupid enough to be paying for the pulser darts likely to be coming their own way, though, yes. I’d say it does sort of . . . resonate.”

“You know,” Rozsak said thoughtfully, “I can’t say I was especially delighted when the Manties and the Havenites started shooting at each other again. To be honest, it seemed likely to make a lot of problems for us. Oh, I figured there’d be opportunities in it, too, of course, but I was more worried about the probable economic dislocation and what might happen if Erewhon got sucked into the fighting and took our investment plans with it.”

“That,” Barregos conceded, “would really and truly have sucked from our perspective.”

“Tell me about it!” Rozsak snorted. “Instead, it’s worked out so much in our favor that I’m starting to wait nervously for whatever bad news the karma department is waiting to hit us with by way of compensation.”

Barregos nodded. The Republic of Erewhon had been both surprised and more than mildly irritated by the Republic of Haven’s decision to resume hostilities against the Star Kingdom of Manticore less than a T-month after Berry Zilwicki’s coronation on Torch. In fact, Erewhon had been downright pissed off about it. There’d been just time enough for Maytag and Nouveau Paris to ratify the brand-new self-defense treaty between their two republics before the shooting started up all over again, and despite how severely pissed off the Erewhonese had been with the High Ridge Government, it hadn’t cared at all for the position in which Eloise Pritchart’s decision had placed it.

It was fortunate that the new treaty was defensive in nature, since, in light of the fact that Haven was clearly the aggressor this time around, that had at least obviated any requirement for Erewhon to sign on for active operations against its erstwhile fellow members of the Manticoran Alliance. On the other hand, as the Star Kingdom’s new economic policies had made painfully evident to Erewhon, Manticore was less than totally pleased by the technology transfers which had been part of the Erewhon-Haven agreements. Personally, Barregos felt confident that the real reason Manticore hadn’t been even less delighted (not to mention inclined to punish Erewhon even more harshly) was that the Manties were unhappily aware that Haven had probably captured enough even more modern Manty military technology in the course of Operation Thunderbolt to give the Republican Navy at least as much of a leg up as anything Erewhon could have handed over. It might have taken Shannon Foraker and Haven’s revitalized R&D establishment longer to capitalize on what they’d captured without the starting point Erewhon had given them, but Foraker was dismayingly competent from Manticore’s perspective. She’d have gotten there in the end on her own, eventually, and the Manties knew it.