And, he reflected respectfully, Elizabeth Winton is smart enough not to forget that there’s always a tomorrow. I’m sure she’s pissed off as hell at Erewhon right now, but she also knows how much her own damned prime minister had to do with creating the new situation. And she’s pragmatic enough to roll with the punch of Erewhon’s tech transfers as long as Erewhon goes on refusing to participate in military operations against the Alliance. She doesn’t want to do anything that’s going to inflict irreparable damage on the possibility of future relations between the Star Kingdom and Erewhon.

“It has offered us an even better opportunity to firm up our own relationship with Erewhon than I expected,” he said out loud. “Completely irrespective of how it’s helped our funding drives back on Old Earth.”

“I’m afraid I’m a bit more focused on the hardware side of things,” Rozsak said. “Having Manticore and Haven shooting at each other again has given Admiral Chapman and Glenn Horton the perfect pretext for expanding their wall of battle just as fast — and as much — as they possibly can. Which, of course, is going to expand our own strength right along with theirs. And, frankly, I’m more than a little impressed with some of the tech transfers flowing the other way. Foraker and her crew have obviously been working hard on catching up with the Manties. And from what Greeley is saying over in the ESN’s Office of Research and Development, combining that with the Solarian tech we’ve been quietly feeding him is opening up some interesting possibilities of its own.”

“Really?” Barregos looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought about that possibility,” he admitted after a moment, then shrugged. “I suppose I’ve been so well aware of how the Manties have been pushing the envelope that it didn’t occur to me that the League might have anything significant to offer Erewhon.”

“I’m not sure the League would have ‘anything significant’ to offer Manticore.” Rozsak grimaced. “Even now, and even while I’m fully aware of how much that particular fact is likely to be working in our own favor in the not-too-distant, I’m still a little pissed off — well, irritated, at least — by the thought that the Manties are so far out in front of the SLN. It’s downright humiliating. Almost as humiliating as the realization that no one back on Old Earth seems to have the tiniest sliver of an awareness of just how bad things really are from their perspective. I’d like to think that someone in the Navy somewhere has at least the IQ of a gerbil!

“But Erewhon isn’t Manticore,” he continued. “The Erewhonese’s tech base isn’t nearly as advanced as the Manties’ is, and I’d estimate that they’re at least a generation or two behind the Manties’ deployed hardware. How far behind the Manties’ R&D they are is something I’m not even prepared to guess about at this point, but there are a lot of ways in which Solarian tech is letting them downsize and improve on some of the stuff they’re getting from Foraker’s teams. And,” he bared the tips of his teeth, “under the circumstances and given the way Haven surprised them, as well as the Manties, with Thunderbolt, neither Greeley nor Chapman seems to feel any great need to fall all over themselves passing on their own improvements to Haven.”

“I’m not really surprised to hear that,” Barregos said.

“No, I’m not either,” Rozsak agreed. Then he frowned.

“What?” Barregos asked, and the admiral shrugged.

“I’ve just been thinking about the other opportunities — and risks — involved in our current complicated little political calculus out this way. Admittedly, so far it’s working out in our favor — in ways I never would have anticipated, as well as the ones we’d figured on all along. But the downside of it is, first, that despite everyone’s best efforts, the fighting could spill over onto Erewhon after all, which wouldn’t exactly come under the heading of a good thing from our perspective. And, second, that with Manticore and Haven so busy shooting at each other, we’re right back to where we were when it comes to dealing with any little interstellar situations that crop up in our neighborhood.”

“Such as?” Barregos gave him a quizzical look. “I mean, I’m certainly not disagreeing with you, Luiz. God knows I trust your instincts! But from where I sit right this moment, it looks like any ‘little interstellar situations’ that come up are more likely to play into our hands than to create additional problems. After all, the more potential hot spots we can point to out here, the less likely anyone in Old Chicago is to get all hot and bothered about our ‘readiness campaign.'”

“Oh, from that perspective, I agree entirely. That’s a win-win situation from our viewpoint. And Edie, Jiri, and I don’t have anything more solid in the way of worrying about potential ‘blow-up-in-your-face’ hot spots than what Brigadier Allfrey and Richard Wise are reporting. It’s not that I have any specific worries in mind, Oravil.”

Rozsak didn’t use the governor’s given name very often, even in private conversation, and Barregos’ eyes narrowed slightly at the indication that his admiral’s concerns were serious.

“It’s just that we’re still at a vulnerable stage,” Rozsak continued. “We’ve got a dozen of the new destroyers, and a couple of the new light cruisers, in inventory now, but we’re still well short of any significant increase in our overall combat power. And we’re also at a point where we can’t call on anyone else — except for additional Frontier Fleet units, which we both know is the last thing we want to do — if something comes along that we end up needing backup to handle. I know that’s not likely to happen, but one of my jobs is worrying about unlikely things, and I don’t like the feeling of being spread too thin to handle all of our obligations if something does fall in the crapper.”

“I can appreciate that,” Barregos said after a moment. “At the same time, as you say, there doesn’t seem to be anything looming on the horizon.”

“Well, that’s the problem with horizons, isn’t it?” Rozsak smiled crookedly. “You can never see what’s on the other side of one until it comes at you.”