Deal 601: Dangled by strings you don’t know you have

In order to plan, one must have facts. But facts are notoriously hard to come by once hostilities are started. And even once you have facts in hand, it can be tricky to know for sure that they are the true facts and not some plausible sounding lies.

Melinda knew this, it had been driven into her during training, and again by experience in the field. And yet….

The message had arrived on the secure channel, delivered to her ear directly by her personal parrot. The parrot assured her that the keys were sound, and that the sender had to be a certain maid in service in the Palace. So Melinda was confident that the final pieces of a very large puzzle were falling into place, and it was time to make her report.

She had her parrot find its counterpart in HQ. After a short delay, he signaled that the channel was open and ready. She rattled off a succinct and precise summary of her recent observations capped by the information gleaned from the maid. As per protocol, she did not name the maid, only assured her superiors that she was confident of its authenticity. This report was, all in all, unremarkable. But collated with all the past reports from Melinda, and with all the contemporary reports from other agents in the field, it was part of picture of the country’s readiness for revolution.

But it was remarkable in one way that was not to come to light for some time to come. Melinda had been fooled. Or rather, her parrot had. And the information that was supposed to have been secretly obtained from the crown princess’s bedchamber was actually a clever plant.

When she and the maid had met casually in the market to exchange keys via entangled feathers, unknown to them a third party had been present and subverted the entanglement. The teddy bear that had sat, patiently, on the shop’s counter was not what it appeared, and the shopkeeper had been well compensated to keep that fact quiet. After all, who would expect a teddy bear to be an imposter?

The faint scent of out of season apple blossoms should have been a clue, but Melinda was not trained to detect a subterfuge that no one knew was even possible.

So for many months, Melinda gathered a mix of true and planted information from her palace source, verified what she could independently, and passed it all along where the picture it painted at HQ was just slightly askew from reality.

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