Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Mission of Honor: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, March 8, 2010 06:39 EST



    “I can’t believe this,” Fleet Admiral Winston Kingsford, CO, Battle Fleet, half-muttered. “I mean, I always knew Josef hated the Manties, but, still . . . .”

    His voice trailed off as he realized what he’d just said. It wasn’t the most diplomatic comment he could possibly have made, since it was Fleet Admiral Rajampet who had personally suggested Josef Byng as the CO of Task Group 3021. Kingsford had thought it was a peculiar decision at the time, since the task group was a Frontier Fleet formation and Byng, like Kingsford, was a Battle Fleet officer. He’d also expected Fleet Admiral Engracia Alonso y Yáñez, Frontier Fleet’s commanding officer, to resist Byng’s appointment. For that matter, he’d expected Byng to turn it down. From a Battle Fleet perspective, a Frontier Fleet command had to be viewed as a de facto demotion, and Josef Byng had certainly had the family connections to avoid it if he’d chosen to.

    All of which suggested it might not be a good idea to even hint at “I told you so” now that things had gone so disastrously awry.

    “Believe it,” Rajampet said heavily.

    The two of them sat in Rajampet’s luxurious office at the very apex of the Navy Building’s four hundred stories. The view through the genuine windows was spectacular, and in another thirty or forty years it would almost certainly belong to one Winston Kingsford.

    Assuming he didn’t screw up irretrievably between now and then.

    “Have you looked at the technical material yet, Sir?” he asked.

    “Not yet.” Rajampet shook his head. “I doubt very much that you’ll find any clues as to secret Manticoran super weapons in it. Even if they’ve got them, I’m sure they’ll have vacuumed the sensor data before they sent it on to us. And since Sigbee surrendered all of her ships, I’d imagine they did a pretty fair job of vacuuming her computers, too. So I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of insight into their hardware out of this even if they do oh-so-graciously return our property to us.”

    “With your permission, Sir, I’ll hand this over to Karl-Heinz and Hai-shwun, anyway.”

    Admiral Karl-Heinz Thimár commanded the Solarian League Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, and Admiral Cheng Hai-shwun commanded the Office of Operational Analysis. OpAn was the biggest of ONI’s divisions, which made Cheng Thimár’s senior deputy . . . and also the person who should have seen this coming.

    “Of course,” Rajampet agreed, waving one hand brusquely. Then his mouth tightened. “Don’t hand it over until I’ve had a chance to talk to Karl-Heinz first, though. Someone’s got to tell him about Karlotte, and I guess it’s up to me.”

    “Yes, Sir,” Kingsford said quietly, and gave himself a mental kick for forgetting Rear Admiral Karlotte Thimár, Byng’s chief of staff, was — had been — Karl-Heinz’s first cousin.

    “Actually, getting them started on this is probably a damned good idea, even if we’re not going to get much in the way of hard data out of it. I want the best evaluation OpAn can give me on these new missiles of theirs. I don’t expect miracles, but see what you can get out of them.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “And while they’re working on that, you and I are going to sit down and look at our deployment posture. I know the entire Manty navy’s a fart in a wind storm compared to Battle Fleet, but I don’t want us suffering any avoidable casualties because of overconfidence. Kolokoltsov has a point, damn him, about the difference in missile ranges. We’re going to need a hammer they won’t be able to stop when we go after their home system.”

    “When we go after their home system?” Kingsford stressed the adverb, and Rajampet barked a grating laugh.

    “Those civilian idiots can talk about ‘if’ all they want to, Winston, but let’s not you and I fool ourselves, all right? It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’ and you know it as well as I do. Those Manticoran pricks are too arrogant to recognize what their real options are. They’re not going to go for this ultimatum of Quartermain’s, and in the end, that means we’ll be going in. Besides –”

    He broke off rather abruptly, and Kingsford raised one eyebrow at him. But the CNO only shook his head, waving his hand in another brushing away gesture.

    “The point is,” he continued, “that it’s going to come to shooting in the end, no matter what sort of ‘negotiations’ anyone may try to set up. And when it does, the strategy’s actually going to be pretty damned simple, since they’ve only got one really important star system. They don’t have any choice, strategically. If we go after Manticore itself, they have to stand and fight. No matter how long-ranged their missiles may be, they can’t just cut and run, so I want to be sure we’ve got enough counter-missiles and point defense to stand up to their missile fire while we drive straight for their planets. It may not be pretty, but it’ll work.”

    “Yes, Sir,” Kingsford said yet again, and he knew his superior was right. After all, that concept lay at the bottom of virtually all of Battle Fleet’s strategic doctrine. But however much he might agree with the CNO about that, his brain was still working on that aborted “Besides” of Rajampet’s. Something about it bothered him, but what . . . ?

    Then he remembered.

    I wonder . . . Did he even mention Sandra Crandall and her task force to the others? And while I’m wondering, just how much did he have to do with getting her deployed to the Madras Sector in the first place?

    It took all of his self-control to keep his eyes from narrowing in sudden, intense speculation, but this was definitely not the time to ask either of those questions. And even if he’d asked, the answers — assuming Rajampet answered him honestly — would only have raised additional questions. Besides, however far into this particular pie Rajampet’s finger might be, the CNO was covered. Byng’s assignment, while not precisely routine, wasn’t completely unprecedented. It was certainly justifiable in the wake of the Battle Monica and all the charges and counter charges that had spawned, as well. And, equally certainly, Crandall had the seniority to choose, within reason, where to carry out her training exercises. So if it just happened she’d picked the McIntosh System for Exercise Winter Forage (or whatever she’d decided to call it in the end), and if that just happened to mean Task Force 496 was barely fifty light-years away from the Meyers System, that didn’t necessarily indicate any collusion on Rajampet’s part.

    Sure it didn’t, he thought. And I’ll bet that answers my first question, too. Hell no he didn’t tell them. And he’s covered no matter what happens, because she’s undoubtedly made up her own mind by now what she’s going to do, and he can’t possibly get orders to her in time to stop her. So, really, there was no point in telling them, was there?

    Winston Kingsford hadn’t commanded a fleet in space in decades, but he had plenty of experience in the tortuous, byzantine maneuvers of the Solarian League’s bureaucracy. And he was well aware of how much Rajampet resented his own exclusion from the cozy little civilian five some which actually ran the League. Minister of Defense Taketomo’s real power was no greater than that of any of the other cabinet ministers who theoretically governed the League, but Defense was — or damned well ought to be, anyway — at least as important as Commerce or Education and Information. It had a big enough budget to be, at any rate, and it was critical enough to the League’s prosperous stability. Yet Rajampet had been denied his place at the head table, and it irritated the hell out of him.

    But if we should just happen to get into a real, genuine war for the first time in three or four hundred years, all of that could change, couldn’t it? Kingsford thought. I wonder how many people Rajani would be willing to kill to bring that about?

    Despite his own trepidation, Kingsford felt a certain grudging admiration. It was always possible he was wrong, of course. In fact, he wouldn’t have thought Rajampet had that sort of maneuver in him. But it wasn’t as if Winston Kingsford felt any inclination to complain. After all, if Rajampet pulled it off, it was Kingsford who would eventually inherit that increased prestige and real political clout. And if everything went south on them, it wouldn’t be Kingsford’s fault. All he would have done was exactly what his lawful superior had instructed him to do.

    It never even crossed his mind that in most star nations what he suspected Rajampet of would have constituted treason, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. For that matter, under the letter of the Solarian League Constitution, it did constitute treason — or, at the very least, “high crimes and misdemeanors” which carried the same penalty. But the Constitution had been a dead letter virtually from the day the original ink dried, and what someone else in some other star nation, far, far away, would have called “treason” was simply the way things were done here in the Solarian League. And, after all, somebody had to get them done, one way or another.



    “Well, Sir,” he said, speaking for the recorders he knew were taking down every word, “I can’t say I’m looking forward to the thought of having any more of our people killed, but I’m afraid you’re probably right about your civilian colleagues’ hopes. I hope not, of course, but whatever happens there, you’re definitely right about our in-house priorities. If this thing does blow up the way it has the potential to, we’d better be ready to respond hard and quickly.”

    “Exactly.” Rajampet nodded firmly.

    “In that case, I’d better be getting the technical data over to ONI. I know you want to tell Karl-Heinz about Karlotte yourself, Sir, but I’m afraid we’re going to need to move pretty quickly on this if we’re going to have those models and analyses by tomorrow morning.”

    “Hint taken,” Rajampet said with a tight smile. “Head on over to his office. I’ll screen him while you’re on the way over. Probably be a good idea to give him something else to think about as quickly as possible, anyway.”



    Elizabeth III sat in her favorite, old-fashioned armchair in King Michael’s Tower. A three-meter Christmas tree — a Gryphon needle-leaf, this year — stood in the center of the room in the full splendor of its ornaments, mounting guard over the family gifts piled beneath its boughs. Its resinous scent filled the air with a comforting perfume, almost a subliminal opiate which perfected the quiet peacefulness which always seemed to surround King Michael’s, and there was a reason it was here rather than somewhere else in Mount Royal Palace. The stumpy, ancient stonework of the tower, set among its sunny gardens and fountains, was a solid, comforting reminder of permanence in Elizabeth’s frequently chaotic world, and she often wondered if that was the reason it had become her and her family’s private retreat. She might well conduct official business there, since a monarch who was also a ruling head of state was never really “off duty,” but even for business purposes, King Michael’s Tower was open only to her family and her personal friends.

    And to some people, she thought, looking at the tall, almond-eyed admiral sitting sideways in the window seat across from her, with her long legs drawn up and her back braced against one wall of the window’s deep embrasure, who had become both.

    “So,” the queen said, “what did your friend Stacey have to say over lunch yesterday?”

    “My friend?” Admiral Lady Dame Honor Alexander-Harrington arched one eyebrow.

    “I think it’s a fair choice of noun.” Elizabeth’s smile was more than a little tart. “Mind you, I don’t think anyone would have given very high odds on that particular friendship’s ever happening, given the way you and her father first met.”

    “Klaus Hauptman isn’t actually the worst person in the world.” Honor shrugged. “Admittedly, he made an ass out of himself in Basilisk, and I wouldn’t say we got off on the right foot in Silesia, either. And, to be honest, I don’t think I’m ever going to really like him. But he does have his own sense of honor and obligations, and that’s something I can respect, at least.”

    The cream-and-gray treecat stretched out on the window sill raised his head and looked at her with quizzically tilted ears. Then he sat up, and his true-hands began to flicker.

    <he 's smart enough to be scared of you,> his agile, flashing fingers signed. <and he knew what Crystal Mind would do to him if he didn't admit mistakes.>

    “‘Crystal Mind’?” Elizabeth repeated out loud. “Is that what the ‘cats call Stacey?”

    “Yes,” Honor replied, but she was looking at the treecat. “I don’t think that’s entirely fair, Stinker,” she told him.

    <'Fair' is a two-leg idea,> he signed back. <the People think better to be accurate.>

    “Which is one of the reasons I, personally, prefer treecats to most of the two-legs I know,” Elizabeth agreed. “And, for that matter, Nimitz’s estimate of Hauptman the Elder’s personality is closer to mine than yours is.”

    “I didn’t put him up for sainthood, you know,” Honor observed mildly. “I only said he isn’t the worst person in the world, and he isn’t. Arrogant, opinionated, frequently thoughtless, and entirely too accustomed to getting his own way, yes. I’ll grant you all of that. But the old pirate’s also one of the most honest people I know — which is pretty amazing, when you get down to it, given how rich he is — and once he figures out he has an obligation in the first place, he’s downright relentless about meeting it.”

    “That much,” Elizabeth conceded, “is true. And” — the queen’s eyes narrowed shrewdly, and she cocked her head — “the fact that he’s so strongly committed to stamping out the genetic slave trade probably helps just a tad where you’re concerned, too, doesn’t it?”

    “I’ll admit that.” Honor nodded. “And, frankly, from what Stacey had to say, he’s not taking the possibility of Manpower’s involvement in what’s going on in Talbott what someone might call calmly.”

    “No, I suppose not.”

    Elizabeth leaned back in her armchair, and the treecat stretched along its top purred buzzingly as the back of her head pressed against his silken pelt. He reached down, caressing her cheek with one long-fingered true-hand, and she reached up to stroke his spine in return.

    “He’s not exactly alone in that reaction, is he, though?” she continued.


    Honor sighed and scooped Nimitz up. She gave him a hug, then deposited him in her lap, rolled him up on his back, and began to scratch the soft fur of his belly. He let his head fall back, eyes more than half-slitted, and her lips quirked as he purred in delight.

    In point of fact, Elizabeth’s last question was its own form of thundering understatement, and she wondered what the response on Old Terra was like. By now, their newsies had to have picked up the reports coming out of Manticore, and it wouldn’t be very long before the first Solarian reporters started flooding through Manticore, trying to get to Spindle and New Tuscany to cover the story.

    “I’m sure you have at least as good a feel for how people are reacting to all this as Stacey does,” she pointed out after a moment.

    “Yes, and no,” Elizabeth replied. Honor looked a question at her, and the queen shrugged. “I’ve got all the opinion polls, all the tracking data, all the mail pouring into Mount Royal, analyses of what’s being posted on the public boards — all of that. But she’s the one who’s been building up her little media empire over the last T-year and a half. Let’s face it, the newsies are actually better than my so-called professional analysts at figuring out where public opinion is headed. And I’m sure she’s also hearing things from her father’s friends and business acquaintances, as well. For that matter, you move in some fairly rarefied financial circles yourself, Duchess Harrington!”

    “Not so much since I went back on active duty,” Honor disagreed. “Willard and Richard are looking after all of that for me until further notice.”

    Elizabeth snorted, and it was Honor’s turn to shrug. What she’d said was accurate enough, but Elizabeth had a point, as well. It was true that Willard Neufsteiler and Richard Maxwell were basically running her own sprawling, multi-system financial empire at the moment, but she made it a point to stay as abreast of their reports as she did those from Austen Clinkscales, her regent in Harrington Steading, and those reports frequently included their insights into the thinking of the Manticoran business community. And, for that matter, of the Grayson business community.

    “At any rate,” she went on, “Stacey hasn’t had her ‘media empire’ all that long. She’s still working on getting everything neatly organized, and I think there are aspects of the business which offend her natural sense of order. But, I have to admit, the fact that she’s so new to it also means it’s all still fresh and interesting to her.”

    “So she did bring it up at lunch!” Elizabeth said a bit triumphantly, and Honor chuckled. But then her chuckle faded.

    “Yes, she did. And I’m pretty sure she said basically what your analysts are already telling you. People are worried, Beth. In fact, a lot of them are scared to death. I don’t say they’re scared as badly as some of them were immediately after the Battle of Manticore, but that still leaves a lot of room for terror, and this is the Solarian League we’re talking about.”

    “I know.” Elizabeth’s eyes had darkened. “I know, and I wish there’d been some way to avoid dumping it on all of them. But –”

    She broke off with an odd little shake of her head, and Honor nodded again.

    “I understand that, but you were right. We had to go public with it — and not just because of our responsibility to tell people the truth. Something like this was bound to break sooner or later, and if people decided we’d been trying to hide it from them when it did . . . .”

    She let her voice trail off, and Elizabeth grimaced in agreement.

    “Did Stacey have a feel for how her subscribers reacted to the fact that we already sat on the news about what happened to Commodore Chatterjee for almost an entire T-month?” the queen asked after a moment.



    “Some of them are upset about the delay, but she says e-mails and com calls alike are both running something like eight-to-one in support of it, and the opinion poll numbers show about the same percentages.” Honor shrugged again. “Manticorans have learned a bit about when and how information has to be . . . handled carefully, let’s say, in the interest of operational security. You’ve got a pretty hefty positive balance with most of your subjects on that issue, actually. And I think just about everyone understands that, especially in this case, we have to be wary about inflaming public opinion. And not just here in the Star Kingdom, either.”

    “That’s my read, too,” Elizabeth agreed. “But I’m still not entirely happy about mentioning the possible Manpower connection.” She sighed, her expression worried. “It’s bad enough telling people we’re effectively at war with the Solarian League without telling them we think a bunch of nasty genetic slavers may be behind it all. Talk about sounding paranoid!”

    Honor smiled wryly. Yet again, Elizabeth had a point. The notion that any outlaw corporation, however big, powerful, and corrupt it might be, was actually in a position to manipulate the military and foreign policy of something the size of the Solarian League was preposterous on the face of it. Honor herself had been part of the discussion about whether or not to go public with that particular aspect of Michelle Henke’s summary of her New Tuscan investigation’s conclusions. It really did sound paranoid — or possibly just like the ravings of a lunatic, which wasn’t all that much better — but she agreed with Pat Givens and the other analysts over at ONI. Lunatic or not, the evidence was there.

    “I agree some people think it’s a little far fetched,” she said after a moment. “At the same time, a lot of other people seem to be looking very hard at the possibility Mike’s onto something. And, to be perfectly frank, I’m just as happy to have that aspect of it out in the public ‘faxes because of the possible out it gives those idiots on Old Terra. If Manpower really was behind it, maybe it will occur to them that cleaning their own house — and letting their public know they’re doing it — is one response that might let both of us step back from the brink. If they can legitimately lay the blame on Manpower, then maybe they can admit they were manipulated into a false position. They’ve got to know that if they’ll only do that, we’ll meet them halfway at the negotiating table. And after what already happened to them in Monica, and with Technodyne, surely the groundwork for that kind of response is already in place!”

    “Sure it is. And you can add in the fact that they’re going to be pissed as hell at Manpower when they realize we’re right. So they’ve got all sorts of reasons to climb on board and do exactly what you’re suggesting. But they’re not going to.”

    Elizabeth’s expression was no longer worried; now it was grim, and Honor frowned a question at her.

    “If they’d been going to be reasonable, they never would’ve taken better than three weeks just to respond to our first note. Especially when their entire response amounted to telling us they’d ‘look into our allegations’ and get back to us. Frankly, I’m astounded they managed to leave out the word ‘ridiculous’ in front of ‘allegations’.” The queen shook her head. “That’s not a very promising start . . . and it is very typically Solly. They’re never going to admit their man was in the wrong, no matter how he got there, if there’s any way they can possibly avoid it. And do you really think they’re going to want to admit that a multi-stellar that isn’t even based in a League star system — and is involved up to its eyebrows in a trade the League’s officially outlawed — is able to manipulate entire squadrons of their battlecruisers and ships-of-the-wall?” She shook her head again, more emphatically. “I’m afraid a lot of them would rather go out and pin back the uppity neobarbs’ ears, no matter how many people get killed along the way, than open any windows into corners of the League’s power structure that are that filled with dirty little secrets.”

    “I hope you’re wrong about that,” Honor said quietly, and Elizabeth’s lips twitched.

    “I notice you only ‘hope’ I am,” she said.

    “I’d prefer a stronger verb myself,” Honor acknowledged. “But . . . .”

    “‘But’, indeed,” Elizabeth murmured. Then she pushed herself more briskly upright in her chair. “Unfortunately, I don’t think either of us can afford to treat ourselves to any of those stronger verbs of yours. Which, along with thinking about the possibility of past errors, brings me to what I really wanted to ask you about.”

    “Four days,” Honor said, and Elizabeth chuckled.

    “That obvious, was I?”

    “I have been thinking about it a bit myself, you know,” Honor replied. “The ops plan’s been finalized, even if everyone hopes we won’t have to use it; Alice Truman’s running the fleet through the rehearsal exercises; and I’m just about finished up with my briefings from Sir Anthony. So, about four days.”

    “You’re sure you don’t want a couple of more days with the fleet yourself?”

    “No.” Honor shook her head, then smiled. “Actually, I could probably be ready to leave even sooner than that, especially since I’m taking Kew, Selleck, and Tuominen with me. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m not going anywhere until after I’ve celebrated Raoul’s and Katherine’s first Christmas with Hamish and Emily.”

    “Of course ‘it’s all the same’ to me.” Elizabeth’s face softened with a smile of her own, and it was her turn to shake her head. “It’s still a bit hard sometimes to remember you’re a mother now. But I always figured on your at least having Christmas at home before we sent you off. Are your parents going to be there, too?”

    “And Faith and James. Which, by the way, made Lindsey happy, when she found out about it. This would’ve been the first Christmas she hadn’t spent with the twins since they were a year old.”

    “I’m glad for all of you,” Elizabeth said. Then she inhaled deeply. “But getting back to business, and allowing for your schedule, you’re sure about how you want to go about this?”

    “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was sure about it, and I’m not going to pretend I’m anything anyone would be tempted to call an expert at something like this, either. I just think it’s the best shot we’ve got . . . and that we can at least be pretty sure of getting their attention.”

    “I see.” Elizabeth looked at her for several seconds, then snorted. “Well, just remember this little jaunt was your idea in the first place. Mind you, now that I’ve had time to really think about it, I think it’s a good idea. Because whether you were right in the beginning or I was” — her expression sobered once more — “it would be a really, really good idea for us to get at least one forest fire put out. If this entire situation with the League turns out as badly as I am afraid it could, we’re not going to need to be dealing with more than one problem at a time.”



    Honor Alexander-Harrington stood as James MacGuiness ushered the tallish man in the uniform of the Republican Navy into her Landing mansion’s office. Behind her, beyond the crystoplast wall and the office balcony, the dark blue waters of Jason Bay were a ruffled carpet under a sky of dramatic clouds and brilliant late-afternoon sunlight, patterned in endless lines of white-crested waves as a storm pushed in from the open sea, and Honor supposed that made a fitting allegory, in many ways, for her relationship with her visitor.

    “Admiral Tourville,” she said, rising and extending her hand across her desk while Nimitz sat upright on his perch and cocked his head thoughtfully at the Havenite.

    “Admiral Alexander-Harrington.” Lester Tourville reached out to shake the offered hand, and she tasted his own flicker of ironic amusement. His lips twitched in a brief almost-smile under his bushy mustache, and she released his hand to indicate the chair in front of her desk.

    “Please, take a seat.”

    “Thank you,” he said, and sat.

    Honor settled back into her own chair, propped her elbows on the armrests, and steepled her fingers in front of her chest as she contemplated him. The two of them had, as the newsies might have put it, “a history.” He was the only Havenite officer to whom Honor had ever been forced to surrender; the man she’d defeated at the Battle of Sidemore in the opening phases of Operation Thunderbolt; and the fleet commander who’d come perilously close to winning the war for the Republic of Haven five months earlier.

    But as Andrew always says, “close” only counts with horseshoes, hand grenades, and tactical nukes, she reminded herself.



    Which was true enough, but hadn’t prevented the Battle of Manticore from killing better than two million human beings. Nor did it change the fact that Honor had demanded the surrender of his intact databases as the price for sparing his surviving superdreadnoughts. She’d been within her rights to stipulate whatever terms she chose, under the rules of war, yet she’d known when she issued the demand that she was stepping beyond the customary usages of war. It was traditional — and generally expected — that any officer who surrendered his command would purge his computers first. And, she was forced to concede, she’d had Alistair McKeon do just that with his own data when she’d ordered him to surrender his ship to Tourville.

    I suppose if I’d been going to be “honorable” about it, I should have extended the same privilege to him. He certainly thought I should have, at any rate.

    Her lips twitched ever so slightly as she remembered the seething fury which had raged behind his outwardly composed demeanor when they’d finally met face-to-face after the battle. Nothing could have been more correct — or icier — during the “interview” which had formalized his surrender, but he hadn’t known about Honor’s ability to directly sense the emotions of those about her. He might as well have been bellowing furiously at her, as far as any real ability to conceal his feelings was concerned, and a part of her hadn’t cared. No, actually, a part of her had taken its own savage satisfaction from his anger, from the way he his sense of failure burned so much more bitterly after how agonizingly close to total success he’d come.

    She wasn’t proud of the way she’d felt. Not now. But then the deaths of so many men and women she’d known for so long had been too fresh, wounds too recent for time to have stopped the bleeding. Alistair McKeon had been one of those dead men and women, along with every member of his staff. So had Sebastian D’Orville and literally hundreds of others with whom she had served, and the grief and pain of all those deaths had fueled her own rage, just as Tourville’s dead had fanned his fury.

    So I guess it’s a good thing military courtesy’s as iron bound as it is, she thought. It kept both of us from saying what we really felt long enough for us to stop feeling it. Which is a good thing, because even then, I knew he was a decent man. That he hadn’t taken any more pleasure in killing Alistair and all those others than I’d taken in killing Javier Giscard or so many of Genevieve Chin’s people.

    “Thank you for coming, Admiral,” she said out loud, and this time there was nothing halfway about his smile.

    “I was honored by the invitation, of course, Admiral,” he replied with exquisite courtesy, exactly as if there’d been any real question about a prisoner of war’s accepting an “invitation” to dinner from his captor. Nor was it the first such invitation he’d accepted over the past four T-months. This would be the seventh time he’d dined with Honor and her husband and wife. Unlike him, however, Honor was aware it would be the last time they’d be dining together for at least the foreseeable future.

    “I’m sure you were,” she told him with a smile of her own. “And, of course, even if you weren’t, you’re far too polite to admit it.”

    “Oh, of course,” he agreed affably, and Nimitz bleeked the treecat equivalent of a laugh from his perch.

    “That’s enough of that, Nimitz,” Tourville told him, wagging a raised forefinger. “Just because you can see inside someone’s head is no excuse for undermining these polite little social fictions!”

    Nimitz’s true-hands rose, and Honor glanced over her shoulder at him as they signed nimbly. She gazed at him for a moment, then chuckled and turned back to Tourville.

    “He says there’s more to see inside some two-legs’ heads than others.”

    “Oh?” Tourville glowered at the ‘cat. “Should I assume he’s casting aspersions on the content of any particular two-leg’s cranium?”

    Nimitz’s fingers flickered again, and Honor smiled as she watched them, then glanced at Tourville once more.

    “He says he meant it as a general observation,” she said solemnly, “but he can’t help it if you think it ought to apply to anyone in particular.”

    “Oh, he does, does he?”

    Tourville glowered some more, but there was genuine humor in his mind glow. Not that there had been the first time he’d realized the news reports about the treecats’ recently confirmed telempathic abilities were accurate.

    Honor hadn’t blamed him — or any of the other POWs who’d reacted the same way — a bit. The thought of being interrogated by a professional, experienced analyst who knew how to put together even the smallest of clues you might unknowingly let slip was bad enough. When that professional was assisted by someone who could read your very thoughts, it went from bad to terrifying in record time. Of course, treecats couldn’t really read any human’s actual thoughts — the mental . . . frequencies, for want of a better word, were apparently too different. There’d been no way for any of the captured Havenites to know that, however, and every one of them had assumed the worst, initially, at least.

    And, in fact, it was bad enough from their perspective as it was. Nimitz and his fellow treecats might not have been able to read the prisoners’ thoughts, but they’d been able to tell from their emotions whenever they were lying or attempting to mislead. And they’d been able to tell when those emotions spiked as the interrogation approached something a POW most desperately wanted to conceal.

    It hadn’t taken very long for most of the captured personnel to figure out that even though a treecat could guide an interrogator’s questioning, it couldn’t magically pluck the desired information out of someone else’s mind. That didn’t keep the ‘cats from providing a devastating advantage, but it did mean that as long as they simply refused to answer, as was their guaranteed right under the Deneb Accords, the furry little lie detectors couldn’t dig specific, factual information out of them.

    That wasn’t enough to keep at least some of them from bitterly resenting the ‘cats’ presence, and a significant handful of those POWs had developed a positive hatred for them, as if their ability to sense someone’s emotions was a form of personal violation. The vast majority, however, were more rational about it, and several — including Tourville, who’d had the opportunity to interact with Nimitz years before, when Honor had been his prisoner — were far too fascinated to resent them. Of course, in Tourville’s case, the fact that he’d done his dead level best to see to it that Nimitz’s person had been decently and honorably treated during her captivity had guaranteed that Nimitz liked him. And, as Honor had observed many times over the five decades they’d spent together, only the most well armored of curmudgeons could resist Nimitz when the ‘cat set out to be charming and adorable.

    He’d had Tourville wrapped around his furry little thumb in less than two weeks, despite the still thorny emotions crackling between the Havenite officer and Honor. Within a month, he’d been lying across Tourville’s lap and purring blissfully while the admiral almost absently stroked his coat during meetings with Honor.

    Of course, I have to wonder how Lester would react if he knew I can read his emotions just as well as Nimitz can, she reflected for far from the first time.

    “I’m sure he didn’t mean to imply anything disrespectful,” Honor assured Tourville now, and the Havenite snorted.

    “Of course he didn’t.” The Republican admiral leaned back in his chair and shook his head. Then he cocked that same head at Honor. “May I ask what I owe the pleasure of this particular invitation to?”

    “Mostly it’s a purely social occasion,” Honor replied. He raised a skeptical eyebrow, and she smiled. “I did say mostly.”

    “Yes, you did, didn’t you? In fact, I’ve discovered, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, that you’re most dangerous when you’re being the most honest and frankly candid. Your hapless victim doesn’t even notice the siphon going into his brain and sucking out the information you want.”

    His amusement, despite a bitterly tart undertone, was mostly genuine, Honor noted.

    “Well, if I’m going to be frank and disarming,” she said, “I might as well admit that the thing I’d most like to ’siphon out of your brain’ if I only could would be the location of Bolthole.”

    Tourville didn’t quite flinch this time. He had, the first time she’d mentioned that name to him, and she still couldn’t decide if that stemmed from the fact that he knew exactly how vital a secret the location of the Republic’s largest single shipyard — and R&D center — was, or if he’d simply been dismayed by the fact that she even knew its codename. In either case, she knew she wasn’t going to pry its location out of him, assuming he actually knew what it was. He wasn’t an astrogator himself, after all, although he undoubtedly knew enough about it for someone to have put the pieces together and figured out the actual location with his cooperation. Expecting Lester Tourville to cooperate over something like that would be rather like a Sphinxian woodbuck’s expecting to negotiate a successful compromise with a hungry hexapuma, however, and that was one piece of data which hadn’t been anywhere in any of the computers aboard his surrendered ships. It once had been, no doubt — they’d confirmed that at least half his surrendered ships had actually been built there — but it had been very carefully (and thoroughly) deleted since.



    And exactly why anyone should be surprised by that eludes me, she thought. It’s not as if Haven hasn’t had plenty of experience in maintaining operational security. Of course they were going to make sure there was as little critical data as possible stored in the computers of ships heading into a battle like that one! Quite aside from any demands by arrogant, unreasonable flag officers for anyone who wanted to surrender, there was no way to be sure we wouldn’t capture one of their wrecks and find out the security failsafes hadn’t scrubbed the computers after all. And only drooling idiots — which, manifestly, Thomas Theisman, Eloise Pritchart, and Kevin Usher are not — would fail to realize just how critical Bolthole’s location is! It’s not as if we haven’t been trying to figure it out ever since the shooting started back up, after all. And I’m sure they know how hard we’ve been looking, even if we haven’t had much luck cracking their security. Of course, we’ve had better luck if we’d still been up against the Legislaturalists or the Committee of Public Safety. We don’t have anywhere near as many dissidents to work with, anymore.

    “Bolthole?” Theisman repeated, then shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    He didn’t bother trying to lie convincingly, since both of them knew he wouldn’t get away with it anyway, and the two of them exchanged wry smiles. Then Honor sobered a bit.

    “To be honest,” she said, “I’m actually much more interested in any insight you can give me — or are willing to give me — into the Republic’s political leadership.”

    “Excuse me?” Tourville frowned at her. They’d touched upon the political leaders of the Republic several times in their earlier conversations, but only glancingly. Enough for Honor to discover not only that Operation Beatrice had been planned and mounted only after Manticore had backed out of the summit talks Eloise Pritchart had proposed, but also that Tourville, like every other Havenite POW who’d been interrogated in the presence of a treecat, genuinely believed it was the Star Kingdom of Manticore which had tampered with their prewar diplomatic exchanges. The fact that all of them were firmly convinced that was the truth didn’t necessarily mean it was, of course, but the fact that someone as senior and as close to Thomas Theisman as Tourville believed it was a sobering indication of how closely the truth was being held on the other side.

    In fact, they all believe it so strongly that there are times I’m inclined to wonder, she admitted to herself.

    It wasn’t a topic she was prepared to discuss with most of her fellow Manticorans, even now, but she’d found herself reflecting on the fact that the correspondence in question had been generated by Elaine Descroix as Baron High Ridge’s foreign secretary. There wasn’t much Honor — or anyone else who’d ever met High Ridge — would have put past him, including forging the file copies of diplomatic correspondence to cover his backside, assuming there was any conceivable advantage for him in having been so inflammatory in the first place. Actually, if anyone had asked her as a hypothetical question whether someone with Eloise Pritchart’s reputation (and Thomas Theisman as a member of her administration) or the corrupt politicos of the High Ridge Government were more likely to have falsified the diplomatic exchanges which had been handed to the newsfaxes, she would have picked the High Ridge team every time.

    But there are too many permanent undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries in the Foreign Office who actually saw the original messages. That’s what it keeps coming back to. I’ve been able to talk to them, too, and every one of them is just as convinced as every one of Lester’s people that it was the other side who falsified things.

    “There are . . . things going on,” she told Tourville now. “I’m not prepared to discuss all of them with you. But there’s a pretty good chance that having the best feel I can get for the personalities of people like President Pritchart could be very important to both of our star nations.”

    Lester Tourville sat very still, his eyes narrowing, and Honor tasted the racing speed of the thoughts she couldn’t read. She could taste the intensity of his speculation, and also a sudden spike of wary hope. She’d discovered the first time they’d met that the sharp, cool brain behind that bristling mustache was a poor match for the “cowboy” persona he’d cultivated for so long. Now she waited while he worked his way through the logic chains, and she felt the sudden cold icicle as he realized there were several reasons she might need a “feel” for the Republic’s senior political leaders and that not all of them were ones he might much care for. Reasons that contained words like “surrender demand,” for example.

    “I’m not going to ask you to betray any confidences,” she went on unhurriedly. “And I’ll give you my word that anything you tell me will go no further than the two of us. I’m not interrogating you for anyone else at this point, Lester. This is purely for my own information, and I’ll also give you my word that my reason for asking for it is to prevent as much bloodshed — on either side — as I possibly can.”

    He looked at her for several seconds, then inhaled deeply.

    “Before I tell you anything, I have a question of my own.”

    “Go ahead and ask,” she said calmly.

    “When you demanded my surrender,” he said, gazing intensely into her eyes, “was it a bluff?”

    “In what sense?” She tilted her head to one side.

    “In two senses, I suppose.”

    “Whether or not I would have fired if you hadn’t surrendered?”

    “That’s one of them,” he admitted.

    “All right. In that sense, I wasn’t bluffing at all,” she said levelly. “If you hadn’t surrendered, and accepted my terms in full, I would have opened fire on Second Fleet from beyond any range at which you could have effectively replied, and I would have gone right on firing until whoever was left in command surrendered or every single one of your ships was destroyed.”

    Silence hovered between them for several moments that seemed oddly endless. It was a taut, singing silence — a mutual silence built of the understanding of two professional naval officers. And yet, despite its tension, there was no anger in it. Not anymore. The anger they’d both felt at the time had long since vanished into something else, and if she’d had to pick a single word to describe what the two of them felt now, it would have been “regret.”

    “Well, that certainly answers my first question,” he said finally, smiling crookedly. “And I suppose I’m actually relieved to hear it.” Her eyebrows arched, and he snorted. “I’ve always thought I was a pretty good poker player. I would’ve hated to think I’d misread you quite that badly at the time.”

    “I see.” She shook her head with a slight smile of her own. “But you said there were two senses?”

    “Yes.” He leaned forward, propping his forearms on his thighs, and his eyes were very sharp. “The other ‘bluff’ I’ve been wondering about is whether or not you really could have done it from that range?”

    Honor swung her chair from side to side in a small, thoughtful arc while she considered his question. Theoretically, what he was asking edged into territory covered by the Official Secrets Act. On the other hand, it wasn’t as if he was going to be e-mailing the information to the Octagon. Besides . . . .

    “No,” she said after no more than two or three heartbeats. “I couldn’t have. Not from that range.”

    “Ah.” He sat back once more, his crooked smile going even more crooked. Then he inhaled deeply. “Part of me really hated to hear that,” he told her. “Nobody likes finding out he was tricked into surrendering.”

    She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again, and he chuckled. It was a surprisingly genuine chuckle, and the amusement behind it was just as genuine, she realized. And it was also oddly gentle.

    “You wanted my databases intact,” he said. “We both know that. But I know what else you were going to say, as well.”

    “You do?” she asked when he paused.

    “Yep. You were going to say you did it to save lives, but you were afraid I might not believe you, weren’t you?”

    “I wouldn’t say I thought you wouldn’t believe me,” she replied thoughtfully. “I guess the real reason was that I was afraid it would sound . . . self-serving. Or like some sort of self-justification, at least.”

    “Maybe it would have, but that doesn’t change the fact that Second Fleet was completely and utterly screwed.” He grimaced. “There was no way we were going to get out of the resonance zone and make it into hyper before you were in range to finish us off. All that was going to happen in the meantime was that more people were going to get killed on both sides without changing the final outcome at all.”

    Honor didn’t say anything. There was no need to, and he crossed his legs slowly, his expression thoughtful.

    “All right,” he said. “With the stipulation that any classified information is off the table, I’ll answer your questions.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image