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Chapter Fifty

"It's on, Tom."

Thomas Theisman looked at the smiling face on his com and felt himself smiling in response.

"The official reply is here?" he asked, and Eloise Pritchart nodded.

"The dispatch boat got in about five hours ago. The Manticoran delegation will meet us on Torch in two months. We'll have to depart in about three weeks—twenty days, to be precise—to meet them."

"That's wonderful, Eloise!"

"Yes, it is," Pritchart agreed, but then her face sobered. "In a way, though, it's even worse."

"Worse?" Theisman repeated, surprised.

"I've got to sit down across the table from a woman who detests everything she thinks the Republic of Haven stands for and somehow convince her to make peace with the people who attacked her star nation on my personal orders." She shook her head. "I've had easier chores in my life."

"I know," he replied. "But we've got to try."

"We've got to do more than try, Tom." Pritchart's expression firmed up, and she shook her head again, this time with a completely different emphasis. "I'm coming home with a peace treaty. One way or the other. Even if it means telling Elizabeth what we suspect about Giancola."

"Are you certain about that? About telling her, I mean? It could blow up in our faces, you know. We've all heard about her temper, and if anyone ever had a right to be pissed to the max, she does. If she finds out we let Giancola manipulate us, especially after we accused her government of being the guilty party, Lord only knows how she may react."

"She's going to find out eventually, anyway," Pritchart pointed out. "And as you suggested, Harrington's going to be present. Hopefully, she really will have a moderating influence. But I actually suspect the treecats are going to be even more important, assuming the Manty reports on their capabilities are accurate. I think I'm willing to take a chance on telling her the truth, as long as I can do it face-to-face, with the treecats there to prove to her that I am telling the truth."

"I hope you haven't mentioned this particular brainstorm to Leslie?" Theisman's smile was only half humorous, and Pritchart chuckled.

"She's unhappy enough about going to Torch for the summit in the first place. I don't think she needs to know exactly what sort of diplomatic faux pas I'm prepared to commit if it seems necessary after we get there."

* * *

Admiral Sir James Bowie Webster, Baron of New Dallas, and the Star Kingdom of Manticore's ambassador to the Solarian League, regarded his morning's schedule with scant favor.

"This is goddamned ridiculous," he grumbled to Sir Lyman Carmichael, his assistant ambassador.

"What's ridiculous?" Carmichael responded, as if they hadn't had this identical conversation every Monday morning since Webster's arrival on Old Earth.

"This." Webster thumped a rather large fist on the hardcopy printout of his agenda, then opened his hand and waved it around his palatial office. "All this crap! I'm a naval officer, not a frigging diplomat!"

"Traditional prejudices aside," Carmichael replied mildly, "a career in diplomacy isn't quite the same as seeking employment in a brothel. And don't—" he raised an admonishing index finger as Webster opened his mouth "—don't tell me that's because whores have more principles!"

"All right, I won't. Especially," Webster grinned, "since you already appear to realize that yourself."

"One of these days," Carmichael promised him. "One of these days."

Webster laughed and leaned back behind his desk.

"Actually, my cousin, the Duke, would be better at this than I am, Lyman. You know that as well as I do."

"I've had the pleasure of knowing your cousin for many years now," Carmichael said. "I have immense respect for him, and he really is a skilled diplomat. Having said all that, I truly don't think he could do the job you've been doing."

"Now that," Webster said, "really is ridiculous!"

"No, it isn't. Your status as a naval officer, especially one who's held the offices you've held, is part of the reason, of course." Carmichael smiled. "One reason the Star Kingdom's traditionally assigned military officers and ex-military officers as our ambassadors to the League is the fact that they have a certain fascinating effect on Solly politicos. They don't see very many real military people at this level, and that rather blunt directness you Navy types seem to acquire contrasts quite nicely with the mouthfuls of platitudes and careful political maneuvering they're accustomed to.

"But mostly, in your case, to be honest, it's the fact that you don't lie worth a damn, Jim."

"I beg your pardon?" Webster blinked, and Carmichael chuckled.

"I said you don't lie worth a damn. In fact, you're so bad at it that the two or three times I've seen you try, the people you were talking to simply assumed you were deliberately pretending to lie in order to make a point."

Webster regarded him narrowly, and Carmichael shrugged.

"You're simply an honest man. It comes across. And that's rare—very rare—for someone operating at the level you currently are. Especially here." Carmichael grimaced. "There's a taint of decadence in the air here on Old Earth, which may be why honesty's so rare. But why ever it is, they don't really understand you, in a lot of ways, because you do come out of the military, and very few of them do. But when you say something, personally or as the Queen's representative, they're confident you're telling them the truth. At the moment, especially with the dispute over our correspondence with the Peeps and the shenanigans in the Talbott Cluster, that's incredibly important, Jim. Don't undervalue yourself."

Webster waved one hand, as if he were uncomfortable with Carmichael's explanation.

"Maybe," he said, then shook himself. "Speaking of the Peeps, how do you feel about this summit meeting Pritchart's proposed?"

"I was surprised," Carmichael admitted, accepting the change of subject. "It's a very unusual departure, especially for the Havenites. In fact, it's so unusual, I'm inclined to think she really must be serious."

"God, that would be an enormous relief," Webster said frankly. "I don't like this Talbott business. There's more going on than we think. I'm sure of it. I just can't put my finger on what it is. But it's there, and I can't shake the feeling that in the long run, it may be even more dangerous to us than the Peeps are."

Carmichael sat back in his chair, even his trained diplomat's face showing surprise, and Webster barked a harsh laugh.

"I haven't lost my mind, Lyman. And I'm not blind to the current military situation—trust me on that one. But the Republic of Haven is small beer compared to the Solarian League, and if Mesa—and you know as well as I do that Terekhov is right about Mesa's involvement—can maneuver Frontier Security into doing its dirty work, the situation will be a thousand times worse. And the Sollies are arrogant enough that a lot of their so-called political leaders wouldn't even care."

"You're probably right," Carmichael said, forced to concede the point, however much he disliked doing so. "But you seriously think there's more to what's going on in Talbott than Mesa's traditional efforts to keep us as far away from them as possible?"

"Look at the scale of their effort," Webster said. "We're talking billions—lots of billions—of dollars worth of battlecruisers. Somebody ponied up the cash to pay for them, not to mention obviously orchestrating the efforts of OFS, local terrorists, and an entire star nation as a proxy. That's a huge effort, and it's also more direct then Mesa or Manpower have been in the last couple of centuries. Hell, since Edward Saganami!"

"But couldn't that simply be because of how threatening they find our proximity and because they know how distracted by Haven we are? I mean, they know we don't have a lot of resources to commit against them."

"I'm convinced that's an element in their thinking," Webster agreed, "but they're still coming further out of the shadows—not just with us; with the Sollies, as well. They're running the risk of coming to the surface, and they've always been bottom feeders before." He shook his head. "No. There's a whole new flavor to this one, and that makes me nervous."

"Now you're making me nervous," Carmichael complained. "Can't we just deal with one crisis at a time?" he added rather plaintively.

"I wish." Webster drummed on his desk for a moment, then shrugged. "Actually, I suppose we are, assuming this summit idea produces something. And in the meantime, I'm afraid it also means we have to make nice with the Peep ambassador and his people, at least in public."

"Well, we'll have the opportunity tonight," Carmichael said philosophically.

"I know," Webster said glumly. "And I hate the opera, too."

* * *

"Are we ready?"

"Yes." Roderick Tallman thought of himself as a "facilitator," and he was good at his job. Despite the fact that he was required to maintain an extremely low profile because of the nature of the things he "facilitated," there was always work waiting for him, and he knew without any sense of false modesty that he was indispensable.

"The money's in place?"

"Yes," Tallman said, managing not to sound wearily patient. He did know how to do his job, after all. "The credit transfers have been made, backdated, and then erased . . . mostly. I handled the computer side myself." He smiled and shook his head. "The Havenites really ought to hire a good Solarian firm to update their systems security. It shouldn't have been this easy to hack."

"Count your blessings," his current employer said sourly. "Their accounting software may be vulnerable, but we've tried about four times to break into their other secured files without much luck. Actually, I suspect you got into their banking programs from the Solly end, didn't you?"

"Well, yes," Tallman admitted. "I invaded their interface with their banks."

"That's what I thought." His employer shook her head. "Don't take this personally, but a lot of Sollies make some rather unjustified assumptions about their technological superiority. One of these days, that may turn around and bite all of you on the ass. Hard."

"I suppose anything's possible." Tallman shrugged. It wasn't as if anyone could threaten the League, after all. The very idea was preposterous.

"Well," his employer said, "if that's all taken care of, I suppose you'd appreciate your fee."

"You suppose correctly," Tallman told her.

"The most important thing of all," she said, not hurrying to hand over the untraceable hard copy bearer bond certificate, "is that this particular manipulation be completely untraceable. The only place it can lead is back to the Havenites."

"I understood that from the beginning." Tallman leaned back slightly in his chair. "You know my reputation. That's why you came to me in the first place, because my work is guaranteed and I've never had a client burned. The hard part wasn't making the actual changes. The hard part was simultaneously infiltrating four separate secure storage sites to get at the bank's backup files. Well that," he allowed himself the lazy, arrogant smile of a top professional, "and leaving exactly the right footprints. When the bank examiners pull their files, they're going to find that the Havenites managed to infiltrate three of their sites but failed to spot number four. That's where I nested the backup file that does show the transactions. It's actually rather neat, if I do say so myself. If they look really closely, they'll discover that those nasty Havenite hackers managed to erase the transactions from the sites they knew about, but the fourth file—that one is going to hang them. Trust me, when the examiners track this one back, they'll even be able to identify the terminal in the embassy where the transactions were supposed to have been entered."

"Good!" She smiled. "That's exactly what I needed to hear. And now, for your fee."

She reached into her smartly tailored jacket, and Tallman let his chair come back fully upright, reaching out his hand—then froze in shock.

"Wh—?" he began, but he never finished the question, for the pulser in her hand snarled. The burst of darts hit him at the base of the throat and tracked upwards across his neck and the left side of his face, with predictably gruesome results.

His employer grimaced with distaste, but she'd been careful to sit further back than usual. She was outside the splatter pattern, and she dropped the pulser on the desk, straightened her jacket fastidiously, and let herself out of the office. She walked down the hallway and took the lift to the parking garage, where she climbed into her air car and flew calmly off. Five minutes later, she landed several miles away from the late, lamented Tallman's office building.

This parking garage was in a much less desirable part of town. Most of the vehicles parked here were old, battered. The sort of things youth gangs looking for a quick credit would turn up their noses at.

She parked her own new-model, expensive sports vehicle in a stall beside one such battered, grimy air car, and climbed out into the shadows. She looked around carefully, then took a small handset from her pocket and pressed a button. Her face seemed to ripple and shudder indescribably, and her complexion—not just on her face, but everywhere—shifted abruptly, darkening and coarsening, as the nanotech which had coated every millimeter of her body turned itself off. The invisibly tiny machines released their holds, drifting away on the morning breeze, and in place of the rather tall, blonde woman who had murdered Roderick Tallman, there stood a dark-faced man, slightly below the average in height, with a wiry, muscular build and a bosom.

He grimaced and reached inside his shirt, removing the padding, and tossed it into the back seat of his air car. A quick squirt from a small aerosol can, and the padding dissipated into a wispy fog.

He adjusted his clothing slightly, then unlocked the grimy vehicle beside the air car in which he had arrived. He settled himself at the controls, brought up the counter-grav, and flew calmly away. He inserted the vehicle into one of the capital city's outbound traffic lanes, switched in the autopilot, and leaned back in his seat, wondering idly whether or not the vehicle he'd abandoned had been picked up and stripped yet.

If it hadn't, it would be very shortly, of that he was confident.

* * *

Sir James Bowie Webster smiled pleasantly, despite the fact that his teeth badly wanted to grit themselves, as he stepped out of his official diplomatic limousine in front of the Greater New Chicago Opera House. He'd never liked opera, even at the best of times, and the fact that the Sollies prided themselves that they did this—like everything else—better than anyone else in the known universe irritated him even more.

If pressed, Webster was prepared to admit that the citizens of planets like Old Earth and Beowulf at least meant well. The fact that they had little more clue than a medieval peasant about things that went on outside their own pleasant little star systems was unfortunate, but it didn't result from any inherent malevolence. Or even stupidity, really. They were simply too busy with the things that mattered to them to think much about problems outside their own mental event horizon. But the fact that they complacently believed that the Solarian League, with its huge, corrupt bureaucracies and self-serving, manipulative elites, was still God's gift to the galaxy made it difficult, sometimes, to remember that most of their sins were sins of omission, not commission.

At least he and Carmichael were making some progress dealing with the bloody events in Talbott. Accounts of the Battle of Monica were really only just beginning to trickle in to Old Earth, and from everything he'd seen so far, the revelations were going to get worse, before they got better. The good news, he supposed, was that it was remotely possible even the Solarian public might get exercised over such flagrant—

Webster never saw the pulser in the hand of the Havenite ambassador's chauffeur.

* * *

"What? What did you say?" William Alexander, Baron Grantville, demanded incredulously.

"I said Jim Webster's been shot," Sir Anthony Langtry said, his face ashen, his voice that of a man who couldn't—or didn't want to—believe what he heard himself saying.

"He's dead?"

"Yes. He and his bodyguard were killed almost instantly, right outside the Opera House, of all goddamned places!"

"Jesus." Grantville closed his eyes on a stab of pain. He'd known James Webster most of his life. They'd been personal friends, but not nearly so close as Webster and Hamish had been. This was going to hit his brother hard, and the entire Star Kingdom was going to be stunned—and enraged—by the highly popular admiral's death.

"What happened?" he asked after a moment.

"That's the really bad part," Langtry said grimly. The Foreign Secretary had come to Grantville's office in person with the news, and something about his tone sent a chill down Grantville's spine.

"Just the fact that he's dead is bad enough for me, Tony," the Prime Minister said a bit more tartly than he'd really intended to, and Langtry raised a hand, acknowledging the point.

"I know that, Willie. And I'm sorry if it sounded like I didn't. I didn't know him as well as you and Hamish, but what I did know about him, I liked a lot. Unfortunately, in this instance, the way he was killed really is worse."

The Foreign Secretary drew a deep breath.

"He and one of his bodyguards were shot and killed by the Peep ambassador's personal driver."


Despite all his years of political training and a basic personality which remained calm in the face of disaster, Grantville erupted to his feet behind his desk, leaning forward over it to brace both hands on its top. Eyes of Alexander blue blazed with consternation—and rage—and for just a moment it looked as if he intended to vault physically across the desk.

Langtry didn't reply. He simply sat, waiting for the Prime Minister to work through his shock the same way he had when the news first hit his office. It took several seconds, and then, slowly, Grantville settled back into his chair, still staring at Langtry.

"That's what happened," Langtry said finally, after the Prime Minister had seated himself once more. "In fact, it's pretty damned open and shut. The driver's dead, of course—Webster's second security man nailed him, and three Solly cops at the Opera as additional security saw the whole thing. In fact, one of them got his sidearm out in time to put at least one dart of his own into the driver, and one of the others got the entire thing on his shoulder cam. It's all on chip, and they sent the visual record out with the dispatch."

"My God," Grantville said, almost prayerfully.

"Wait, it gets better," Langtry said grimly. "The driver wasn't a Havenite national. He was a Solly, provided by the limo service with the transportation contract for the Peeps New Chicago embassy."

"A Solly," Grantville repeated carefully.

"A Solly," Langtry confirmed, "who's received the equivalent of just over a hundred and twenty-five thousand Manticoran dollars over the past half T-year—seventy-five thousand of them in the last three weeks—in unrecorded, unreported credit transfers from a Havenite diplomatic account."

Grantville stared at him, far beyond consternation and into the realm of pure shock.

"What could they have been thinking?" He shook his head. "Surely they didn't think they could get away with this?"

"I've asked myself both those questions. But, to be frank, there's another one that's far more pressing at the moment."

Grantville looked at the Foreign Secretary, who shrugged.

"Why?" he asked simply. "Why should they do this?"

* * *

"God damn them!" Elizabeth Winton snarled as she stormed back and forth like a caged tigress, pacing the carpet behind the chair in which she should have been sitting.

Her fury was a living, breathing thing in the conference room, and Ariel crouched on the back of her chair, ears glued flat to his skull, scimitar claws shredding its upholstery like kneading scalpels. Samantha was in little better condition, her eyes half-closed as she crouched on the back of Hamish Alexander-Harrington's chair and fought to resist the other 'cat's blazing rage.

"Don't these fuckers ever learn a goddamned thing?" Elizabeth hissed. "What the hell did they—"

"Just a minute, Elizabeth."

The Queen whirled back towards the table, her face still suffused with rage, as White Haven spoke.

"What?" she snapped.

"Just . . . calm down for a second," he said, his own expression that of a man who'd taken a physical wound. "Think. Jim Webster was my friend for over seventy T-years. You can't possibly be more furious about his murder than I am. But you just asked a very important question."

"What question?" she demanded.

"Don't they ever learn," he said. She glared at him, and he looked back steadily. "Don't misunderstand me. And don't think for an instant, if it turns out the Peeps did this, that I won't want them just as dead as you do. For God's sake, Elizabeth—they already tried to kill my wife!"

"And your point is?" she asked in a slightly more moderate tone.

"And my point is that this whole thing is stupid. Assume the Peeps have access to whatever they used to make Timothy Meares try to kill Honor. In that case, why in hell would they choose their own ambassador's driver as their assassin? They could have picked someone with absolutely no connection to them, so they used his driver. Does that make any sense to you at all?"

"I—" Elizabeth began. Then she paused, obviously beginning to think at last.

"All right," she said, after a moment. "I'll grant that that's a legitimate question. But what about the credit transfers the Solly police turned up?"

"Ah, yes," White Haven said. "The credit transfers. Transfers made directly out of Havenite diplomatic funds. Not exactly the least incriminating payment method I've ever heard of. And if they used whatever they used against Honor, why bother to pay him at all? Let's not forget, that killer was on what anyone but an idiot must have recognized would be a suicide mission. Like the reports say, there were police eyewitnesses. At the very least, he was looking at certain arrest and conviction for murder. Would you do that for less than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars? How much good would the money do you lying dead on the sidewalk, or after it was confiscated by the courts when they convicted and sentenced you for murder? So if they could get him to do the job under those circumstances, the amount they could pay him certainly wasn't the controlling factor. And if it wasn't, why hand him money and establish a direct link between him and them in the first place?"

"Those are excellent questions, My Lord," Colonel Ellen Shemais acknowledged. Shemais' job as the head of Elizabeth's personal security detachment was at least half that of a spook. As a consequence, Elizabeth had made the colonel her liaison to the Special Intelligence Service, as well as her chief bodyguard.

"What do you mean, Ellen?" the Queen asked now.

"I mean Earl White Haven's objections are extremely well taken, Your Majesty," Shemais said. "It's got to be the stupidest way to arrange an ostensibly deniable assassination I've ever heard of, and the Queen's Own is something of an authority on the history of assassination."

"But according to this," Grantville said, tapping his own copy of the hard copy report from Old Earth, "they thought they'd erased all records of the payment. In fact, they did. It was only pure luck that they didn't pick up on the bank's extra security backup and change it, as well."

"I agree that it's possible we lucked out in that regard, Prime Minister," Shemais replied. "But the fact remains that they'd paid this man out of an official embassy account and then went back and erased the records. If they were going to pay him anything, why not pay him through a third-party cutout in the first place? For that matter, the Old Earth 'shadow' economy is riddled with conduits they could have used to pay him without leaving any record at all, much less one they'd have to go back and erase. Judging by the preliminary reports on the quality of the work they did on the backups they knew about, I'll grant that they probably felt completely confident that they'd buried their tracks. But why leave those tracks in the first place? And if they had a traceable connection to this man to begin with, why in God's name pick him as their assassin? They might as well have had their ambassador pull the trigger himself!"

"According to the last report ONI shared with the Foreign Office," Langtry said, "we still don't have a clue how they did whatever they did to Lieutenant Meares. There are all sorts of theories going around, but nothing solid. Still, at least one of them suggests that the lieutenant wasn't chosen just for his proximity to Duchess Harrington, but also because there was something unique about him. Possibly something in his medical or genetic background made him more vulnerable to whatever technique they're using. Is it possible that this fellow was the closest person they could lay hands on that fit whatever medical profile they need?"

"Possible, I suppose, Mr. Secretary," Shemais said. "And they did—or, at least, obviously thought they'd managed to—erase the direct financial connection between him and them. If it was a case of their needing someone with his specific profile, at least they went to a lot of effort to sanitize him. But to use their own ambassador's driver?" She shook her head. "Even granted that their hacker could eliminate the record of direct clandestine payments, the connection between him and their ambassador had to jump out and hit any investigator squarely between the eyes."

"Could they have counted on that?" Grantville wondered aloud. Everyone looked at him, and he shrugged. "If there's something to Tony's suggestion that this man may have had some quality they needed if they were going to use him the way they used Lieutenant Meares, then maybe they decided to make the best of a bad bargain. If they had to use him, maybe they figured we'd be asking ourselves exactly these questions."

"A double-blind, you mean, Prime Minister?" Shemais said thoughtfully. "You're suggesting that they want us to think the connection is so obvious no halfway competent covert operations planner would go near it with a three-meter pole?"

"Something like that," Grantville agreed.

"I suppose it's remotely possible." Shemais frowned. "I don't say I think it's likely, though. But the bottom line is that either they didn't do it, and someone's gone to enormous lengths to convince us they did, or else they deliberately set it up this way to point a too obvious finger at themselves."

"Why would they do that, Ellen?" Elizabeth asked skeptically.

"As the Prime Minister already suggested, Your Majesty, making the best of a bad bargain. If there was some reason they had to use this particular man to pull the trigger, then they may have hoped the surface connection between them and him would be so blatant that they could scream they were being framed by a third-party. Which," she admitted, almost against her will, "I personally might have been inclined to place some credence in if it weren't for the history of payments and the fact that they went to such obvious pains to erase that history. Unfortunately for them, there was a previous financial relationship, plus the fact that, according to the bank investigators and the Solly police, they doctored the bank records at least a week before the assassination. Someone else might have found out that the man was on their payroll, which could have made him even more attractive from the prospect of framing them, but altering the records when they did indicates that they knew this was coming and wanted to be certain they'd cut the obvious linkage well ahead of time."

"So you think it was them, Colonel?" Langtry asked.

"I don't know what I think, Mr. Secretary. Not yet," the colonel said frankly. "I'd have to say there's a lot of circumstantial evidence indicating they did do it—as I say, the timing on the computer hack strongly suggests that they knew it was coming. But the tradecraft on this, assuming it was them, isn't just bad, it's atrocious. It's not just unprofessional, it's clumsy, especially for someone with as much institutional experience setting up assassinations as the old People's Republic. I suppose it's possible Pritchart's purge of the old régime's security services cost them some expertise, but still . . . ."

"But if we're going to entertain the possibility that it wasn't them, who else could have wanted Jim dead?" Grantville asked.

"I can't answer that one, Prime Minister," Shemais admitted. "There could be any number of other people who might have had an interest in killing him. But an analyst can get herself into a lot of trouble by wandering off into too much speculation based on too little hard data, and there are two salient points which stand out to me. First, the timing. It could simply be a coincidence, but I'm naturally suspicious of coincidences, and while we're in the middle of a war with another star nation, the reasons that nation might want one of our ambassadors dead go to the head of my own queue. And second, this entire affair certainly does sound very similar to the attempt on Duchess Harrington's life. In that case, unlike this one, there's not much question about why the Peeps wanted her dead, but it's the similarity of technique that strikes me so strongly. When we think about who else could have wanted Admiral Webster dead, we also have to think about who would have the resources and technical capability to put his assassination together this way. From what happened in Duchess Harrington's case, it seems evident that the Peeps have it, but we don't have any evidence that anyone else does. And if it wasn't them, someone went to an awful lot of trouble to convince us it was."

"I don't think it was anyone else," Elizabeth growled. She was marginally less furious, and Ariel allowed her to lift him from the sadly shredded top of her chair as she seated herself at last. She settled the 'cat in her lap, and frowned harshly.

"I'm willing to admit at least the theoretical possibility that it wasn't the Peeps," she said, "but I don't believe it was someone else. I think it was them. I think they did it for some reason we can't know, possibly something Webster had found out on Old Earth that they didn't want us to learn about. Maybe even something he hadn't realized yet that he knew. Like you say, Ellen, we can't know what might have seemed like a logical reason to them. And as for the credit transfers, they could have had him doing something else before they picked him for this one."

"But—" Hamish began, only to have her cut him off with a quick, sharp shake of her head.

"No," she said. "I'm not going to play the think and double-think game. For now—for the moment—I'll operate on the assumption that it may not have been the Peeps. You've got that much. We'll go ahead with the summit, and we'll see what they have to say. I'd be lying if I said what's happened wasn't likely to make me a lot less willing to believe anything they say on Torch, but I'll go. But I'm getting incredibly tired of having these bastards murder people I care about, members of my government, and my ambassadors. This is it, as far as I'm willing to go."

Anthony Langtry looked as if he wanted to argue, but instead, he only closed his mouth and nodded, willing to settle for what he could get.

Elizabeth glared around the conference room one more time, then climbed back out of her damaged chair, nodded to her three cabinet secretaries, and left, accompanied by Colonel Shemais.


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