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Mission of Honor: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 21:12 EDT



    Honor Alexander-Harrington hoped she looked less nervous than she felt as she and the rest of the Manticoran delegation followed Alicia Hampton, Secretary of State Montreau’s personal aide, down the short hallway on the two hundredth floor of the Nouveau Paris Plaza Falls Hotel.

    The Plaza Falls had been the showplace hotel of the Republic of Haven’s capital city for almost two T-centuries, and the Legislaturalists had been careful to preserve it intact when they created the People’s Republic of Haven. It had served to house important visitors — Solarian diplomats (and, of course, newsies being presented with the Office of Public Information’s view of the galaxy), businessmen being wooed as potential investors, off-world black marketers supplying the needs of those same Legislaturalists, heads of state who were being “invited” to “request Havenite protection” as a cheaper alternative to outright conquest, or various high-priced courtesans being kept in the style to which they had become accustomed.

    The Committee of Public Safety, for all its other faults, had been far less inclined towards that particular sort of personal corruption. Rob Pierre, Cordelia Ransom, and their fellows had hardly been immune to their own forms of empire building and hypocrisy, but they’d seen no reason to follow in the Legislaturalists’ footsteps where the Plaza Falls was concerned. Indeed, the hotel had been regarded by the Mob as a concrete symbol of the Legislaturalists’ regime, which explained why it had been thoroughly vandalized during the early days of Rob Pierre’s coup. Nor was that the only indignity it had suffered, since the Committee had actually encouraged its progressive looting, using it as a sort of whipping boy whenever the Mob threatened to become dangerously rowdy. The sheer size of the hotel had meant looting it wasn’t a simple afternoon’s work, so it had made a useful diversion for quite some time.

    In the end, even something with two hundred and twenty floors had eventually run out of things to steal, break, or deface, and (fortunately, perhaps) a ceramacrete tower was remarkably nonflammable. Several individual rooms, and one complete floor, had been burned out by particularly persistent arsonists, but by and large, the Plaza Falls had survived . . . more or less. The picked-clean carcass had been allowed to molder away, ignored by any of the Committee’s public works projects. It had sat empty and completely ignored, and most people had written it off as something to be eventually demolished and replaced.

    But demolishing a tower that size was no trivial task, even for a counter-gravity civilization, and to everyone’s considerable surprise, the privatization incentives Tony Nesbit and Rachel Hanriot had put together after Theisman’s coup had attracted a pool of investors who were actually interested in salvaging the structure, instead. More than that, they’d honestly believed the Plaza Falls could be restored to its former glory as a piece of living history — and a profit-making enterprise — that underscored the rebirth of the Republic as a whole.

    Despite their enthusiasm, the project had been bound to run into more difficulties than any sane person would have willingly confronted, but they’d been thoroughly committed by the time they figured that out. In fact, failure of the project would have spelled complete and total ruin for most of the backers by that point. And so they’d dug in, tackled each difficulty as it arose, and to everyone’s surprise (quite probably their own more than anyone else’s), they’d actually succeeded. It hadn’t been easy, but the result of their labors really had turned into an emblem of the Republic’s economic renaissance, and even though Haven remained a relatively poor star nation (by Manticoran standards, at least), its resurgent entrepreneurial class was robust enough to turn the Plaza Falls into a genuine moneymaker. Not at the levels its renovators had hoped for, perhaps, but with enough cash flow to show a modest — Honor suspected a very modest — profit after covering the various loan payments and operating expenses.

    At the rates they’re charging, it certainly wouldn’t show much of a profit in the Star Empire, she thought, following their guide, but the cost of living’s a lot lower here in the Republic, even now. I hate to think what kind of trouble they’d have hiring a staff this devoted back in Landing at the sort of salaries they’re paying here! For that matter, these days they couldn’t get a staff this qualified back on Grayson this cheaply, either.

    Fortunately for the Plaza Falls’ owners, they weren’t on Manticore or Grayson, however, and she had to admit that they — and Eloise Pritchart’s government — had done the visiting Manticoran delegation proud.

    She stepped into the combination conference room and suite Pritchart had designated for their “informal talks,” and the president rose from her place at one end of the hand polished, genuine wood conference table. The rest of the Havenite delegation followed suit, and Pritchart smiled at Honor.

    “Good morning, Admiral.”

    “Madam President,” Honor responded, with a small half-bow.

    “Please allow me to introduce my colleagues.”

    “Of course, Madam President.”

    “Thank you.” Pritchart smiled exactly as if someone in that room might actually have no idea who somebody — anybody — else was. In fact, Honor knew, every member of Pritchart’s delegation had been as carefully briefed on every member of her delegation as her delegation had been about Pritchart’s delegation.

    Formal protocol and polite pretenses, she thought, reaching up to touch Nimitz’s ears as she felt his shared amusement in the back of her brain. You’ve just gotta just love ‘em. Or somebody must, at least. After all, if people weren’t addicted to this kind of horse manure, it would have been junk piled centuries ago! But let’s be fair, Honor. It does serve a purpose sometimes — and the Navy’s just as bad. Maybe even worse.

    “Of course, you’ve already met Secretary of State Montreau,” Pritchart told her. “And you already know Secretary of War Theisman. I don’t believe, however, that you’ve actually been introduced to Mr. Nesbitt, my Secretary of Commerce.”

    “No, I haven’t,” Honor acknowledged, reaching out to shake Nesbitt’s hand.

    She’d been sampling the Havenites’ emotions from the moment she stepped through the door, and Nesbitt’s were . . . interesting. She’d already concluded that Pritchart was as determined as she was to reach some sort of negotiated settlement. Leslie Montreau’s mind glow tasted as determined as Pritchart’s, although there was more caution and less optimism to keep that determination company. Thomas Theisman was a solid, unflappable presence, with a granite tenacity and a solid integrity that reminded Honor almost painfully of Alastair McKeon. She wasn’t surprised by that, even though she’d never really had the opportunity before to taste his emotions. The first time they’d met, after the Battle of Blackbird, she hadn’t yet developed her own empathic capabilities. And the second time they’d met, she’d been a little too preoccupied with her own imminent death to pay his mind glow a great deal of attention. Now she finally had the opportunity to repair that omission, and the confirmation that he, at least, truly was the man she’d hoped and believed he was reinforced her own optimism . . . slightly, at least.

    But Nesbitt was different. Although he smiled pleasantly, his dislike hit her like a hammer. The good news was that it wasn’t personally directed at her; unfortunately, the good news was also the bad news in his case. In many ways, she would have preferred to have him take her in personal dislike rather than radiate his anger at and profound distrust of anything Manticoran so strongly. Of course, he was about her own age, so everything she’d said to Pritchart about her own life-long experience of mutual hostility between their star nations held true for him, as well. And however unhappy he might have been to see her, and however clearly he resented the fact that the Republic needed to negotiate an end to hostilities, he also radiated his own version of Pritchart’s determination to succeed. And there was something else, as well. An odd little something she couldn’t quite lay a mental finger on. It was almost as though he were ashamed of something. That wasn’t exactly the right word, but she didn’t know what the right word was. Yet whatever it was, or wherever it came from, it actually reinforced both his anger and his determination to achieve some sort of settlement.

    “Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” he said, just a bit gruffly, but he also returned her handshake firmly.

    “Mr. Nesbitt,” she murmured in reply.



    “Leslie and Tony are here not only as representatives of the Cabinet but as representatives of two of our larger political parties,” Pritchart explained. “When I organized my Cabinet originally, it seemed pretty clear we were going to need the support of all parties if we were going to make the Constitution work. Because of that, I deliberately chose secretaries from several different parties, and Leslie is a New Democrat, while Tony’s a Corporate Conservative.” She smiled dryly. “I’m quite certain you’ve been sufficiently well briefed on our political calculus here Paris to understand just how lively meetings can be when these two sit in on them.”

    Montreau and Nesbitt both smiled, and Honor smiled back, although she suspected Pritchart was actually understating things.

    “As I explained in my memo,” the president continued, “I’ve decided, with your consent, to invite some additional representatives from Congress to participate in these talks, as well.”

    “Of course, Madam President.” Honor nodded, despite the fact that she really wished Pritchart hadn’t done anything of the sort. She would have much preferred to keep these talks as small and private, as close to one-on-one with Pritchart, as she could. At the same time, she was pretty sure she understood the president’s logic. And given the fractiousness of Havenite politics — and the fact that selling anything short of victory to Congress and the Havenite people was likely to prove a challenging task — she couldn’t really disagree with Pritchart, either.

    It’s an imperfect galaxy Honor, she told herself tartly. Deal with it.

    “Allow me to introduce Senator Samson McGwire,” Pritchart said, indicating the man next to Nesbitt.

    McGwire was a smallish, wiry man, a good twenty centimeters shorter than Honor. In fact, he was shorter than Pritchart or Leslie Montreau, for that matter. He also had gunmetal-gray hair, a great beak of a nose, blue eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a powerful chin. They were sharp, those eyes, and they glittered with a sort of perpetual challenge. From the way they narrowed as he shook her hand, she wasn’t able to decide whether in her case the challenge was because she was a Manticoran, and therefore the enemy, or simply because she was so much taller than he was. For that matter, it could have been both. According to the best briefing Sir Anthony Langtry’s staff in the Foreign Office had been able to provide, McGwire was not one of the Star Empire’s greater admirers. For that matter, his New Conservative Party was widely regarded as one of the natural homes for Havenite firebrands with personal axes to grind with the Star Empire.

    Which is one reason we’re so happy to have Montreau as Secretary of State instead of that jackass Giancola, she thought dryly. I’m sorry anyone had to get killed in a traffic accident, but the truth is that dropping him out of the equation has to be a good thing for everyone concerned. In fact, I have to wonder what a smart cookie like Pritchart was thinking putting a New Conservative into that Cabinet post in the first place!

    Not, she admitted, that our ending up with High Ridge as Prime Minister and Descroix as Foreign Secretary was any better. But it least Elizabeth didn’t have much choice about it.

    “Senator McGwire’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee,” Pritchart continued. She tilted her head to one side, watching Honor’s expression closely, as if trying to determine how much Honor already knew about the senator. “He’s here in his capacity as chairman, but also as a representative of the New Conservative Party.”

    “Senator,” Honor said, reaching out to shake his hand.

    “Admiral.” He made no particular effort to inject any warmth into the single word, and his handshake was more than a little perfunctory. Still, if Honor was parsing his emotions correctly, he had no more illusions about the Republic’s disastrous military position than anyone else did.

    “And this,” Richards said, turning to a dark-haired, green-eyed woman about thirty T-years younger than Honor, “is Senator Ninon Bourchier. She’s the senior ranking Constitutional Progressive member of Senator McGwire’s committee.”

    “Senator Bourchier,” Honor acknowledged, and tried not to smile. Bourchier was quite attractive, although nowhere near as striking as Pritchart herself, and she had a bright, almost girlish smile. A smile, in fact, which went rather poorly with the coolly watchful brain behind those guileless jade eyes. There was more than a touch of the predator to Bourchier, although it wasn’t in any sense as if she had an active taste for cruelty or violence. No. This was simply someone who was perpetually poised to note and respond to any threat — or opportunity — with instant, decisive action. And of someone who thought very directly in terms of clearly recognized priorities and responsibilities. As a matter of fact, her mind glow tasted a lot like that of a treecat, Honor decided, which wasn’t especially surprising, since like Pritchart, Bourchier had been a dedicated member of the Aprilist movement. In fact, ONI had confirmed that she’d been personally responsible for at least seven assassinations, and she’d also been one of the civilian cell leaders who’d not only somehow survived Oscar Saint-Just’s best efforts to root out dissidents but also rallied in support of Theisman’s coup in the critical hours immediately after the SS commander’s date with mortality. And these days she was an influential member of Pritchart’s own Constitutional Progressive Party, as well.

    “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you Admiral,” Bourchier said, gripping Honor’s hand firmly, and Honor’s urge to smile threatened to break free for just a moment. Bourchier’s greeting sounded almost gushy, but behind its surface froth, that needle-clawed treecat was watching, measuring, evaluating Honor with that predator’s poise.

    “Really?” Honor said. “I hope our efforts won’t be disappointing.”

    “So do I,” Bourchier said.

    “As do we all,” Pritchart cut in smoothly, and gestured to a moderately tall — he was only five or six centimeters shorter than Honor — fair-haired, brown-eyed man who was clearly the youngest person present. He was also the most elegantly tailored, and she felt Nimitz resisting the urge to sneeze as he smelled the fair-haired man’s expensive cologne.

    “The Honorable Gerald Younger, Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Pritchart said, and Honor nodded to him. “Mr. Younger is a member of our House of Representatives,” Pritchart continued. “Like Senator McGwire, he’s also a New Conservative, and while he’s not its chairman, he sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

    “Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Younger said with a white-toothed smile.

    “Representative Younger,” she replied, and carefully did not wipe the palm of her hand on her trousers when Younger released it. Despite his sleek grooming, he radiated a sort of arrogant ambition and predatory narcissism that made even McGwire seem positively philanthropic.

    “And this, Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Pritchart said, turning to the final Havenite representative present, “is Chief Justice Jeffrey Tullingham. He’s here more in an advisory role than anything else, but I felt it would probably be a good idea to have him available if any legal issues or precedents should happen to raise their heads during our talks.”

    “That strikes me as an excellent idea, Madam President,” Honor said, at least partly truthfully, extending her hand to Tullingham. “It’s an honor to meet you, Chief Justice.”

    “Thank you, Admiral.”

    He smiled at her, and she smiled back, fully aware — though it was possible he wasn’t — that both those smiles were equally false. He wasn’t at all pleased to see her here. Which was fair enough, perhaps, or at least reciprocal, since even though Honor agreed with Pritchart that having a legal expert’s perspective on the talks was probably a good idea, she wished this particular “legal expert” were far, far away from them. Technically, as the senior member of the Havenite Supreme Court, Tullingham was supposed to be above partisan issues. In fact, although Manticoran intelligence still knew little about his history prior to his appointment to the Court, his mind glow strongly suggested that he was even more closely aligned with McGwire’s and Younger’s New Conservatives than the analysts had suspected. And despite a carefully cultivated air of nonpartisan detachment, the taste of his personal ambition — and basic untrustworthiness — came through her empathic sensitivity even more clearly than Younger’s had.

    And isn’t he just a lovely choice to head the court that has the power of judicial review over every law their Congress passes? She managed not to shake her head, but it wasn’t easy. From Pritchart’s emotions when she introduced him, she obviously has a pretty fair idea what’s going on inside him. So how many dead bodies did he have to threaten to exhume — or personally plant — to get named to the Supreme Court in the first place?



    Well, his impact on Havenite law wasn’t her problem, thank God. On the other hand, his impact on the negotiations very well could be. Unless she could talk Senator Bourchier into carrying out just one last little assassination . . . .

    She shook free of that thought (although from the taste of Bourchier’s mindglow when she looked at Tullingham, she’d probably agree in a heartbeat) and waved at the other three members of her own delegation.

    “As you can see, Madam President, Foreign Secretary Langtry decided it would be a good idea to send along at least a few professionals to keep me out of trouble, as well. Allow me to introduce Permanent Undersecretary Sir Barnabas Kew; Special Envoy Carissa Mulcahey, Baroness Selleck; and Assistant Undersecretary the Honorable Voitto Tuominen. And this is my personal aide, Lieutenant Waldemar Tümmel.”

    Polite murmurs of recognition came back from the Havenite side of the table, although Honor sensed a few spikes of irritation when she used Mulcahy’s title. Well, that was too bad. She didn’t intend to rub anyone’s nose in the fact that Manticore had an hereditary aristocracy and rewarded merit with admission into it, but she wasn’t going to spend all of her time here pussyfooting around tender Havenite sensibilities, either.

    Even with her three assistants, her delegation was considerably smaller than Pritchart’s, but it ought to be big enough. And it was a darn good thing they were here. She’d spent most of the voyage between Manticore and Haven discovering just how grateful she was for the three seasoned professionals Langtry had sent along.

    Kew was the oldest of the trio — with silver hair, sharp brown eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a nose almost as powerful as McGwire’s. Tuominen was shortish, but very broad shouldered. He’d always been known as something of a maverick within the ranks of the Foreign Office, and he was as aggressively “commoner” as Klaus Hauptman. Actually, despite the fact that he’d been born on Sphinx, not Gryphon, his personality reminded her strongly of Anton Zilwicki’s in many ways, although he was a considerably more driven sort, without Zilwicki’s granite, methodical patience. Countess Selleck was the youngest of the three. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and attractive in an understated sort of way, she was the intelligence specialist of the Manticoran delegation. She reminded Honor rather strongly of Alice Truman, and not just in a physical sense.

    Lieutenant Tümmel was actually the one she’d found most difficult to fit smoothly into place, although that wasn’t even remotely his fault. The brown-haired, brown-eyed lieutenant was an extraordinarily competent young man, with enormous potential, yet she felt a lingering guilt at having accepted him as Timothy Mears’ replacement. Even now, she knew, she continued to hold him more or less at arms length, as if really accepting him would somehow be a betrayal of Mears’ memory. Or as if she were afraid letting him get too close to her would lead to his death, as well.

    No one, she noticed, offered to introduce the members of Pritchart’s security detachment or her own armsmen. Not that anyone was unaware of their presence. In fact, Honor was more than a little amused by the fact that Pritchart’s detachment was all but invisible to the Havenites, from long familiarity, while the same thing was true for her armsmen from the Manticoran side of the room, yet both sides were acutely aware of the presence of the other side’s armed retainers.

    And then there was Nimitz . . . quite possibly the deadliest “armed retainer” of them all. Certainly he was on a kilo-for-kilo basis, at any rate! And it was obvious from the taste of the Havenites’ mind glows that every one of these people had been briefed on the reports of the treecats’ intelligence, telempathic abilities, and lethality.

    Just as it was equally obvious that several of them — who rejoiced in names like McGwire, Younger, and Tullingham — cherished profound reservations about allowing him within a kilometer of this conference room. In fact, McGwire was so unhappy that Honor had to wonder how Pritchart had managed to twist his arm hard enough to get him here at all.

    With the formal greetings and introductions disposed of, Pritchart waved at the conference table, with its neatly arranged data ports, old-fashioned blotters, and carafes of ice water. The chairs around it, in keeping with the Plaza Falls’s venerable lineage, were unpowered, but that didn’t prevent them from being almost sinfully comfortable as the delegates settled into them.

    Pritchart had seated her own delegation with its back to the suite’s outer wall of windows, and Honor felt a flicker of gratitude for the president’s thoughtfulness as she parked Nimitz on the back of her own chair. Then she seated herself and gazed out through the crystoplast behind Pritchart and her colleagues while the other members of her own team plugged personal minicomps into the data ports and unobtrusively tested their firewalls and security fences.

    Nouveau Paris had been built in the foothills of the Limoges Mountains, the coastal range that marked the southwest edge of the continent of Rochambeau where it met the Veyret Ocean. The city’s pastel colored towers rose high into the heavens, but despite their height — and, for that matter, the sheer size and population of the city itself — the towering peaks of the Limoges Range still managed to put them into proportion. To remind the people living in them that a planet was a very large place.

    Like most cities designed and planned by a gravitic civilization’s engineers, Nouveau Paris incorporated green belts, parks, and tree-shaded pedestrian plazas. It also boasted spectacular beaches along its westernmost suburbs, but the heart of the original city been built around the confluence of the Garronne River and the Rhône River, and from her place at the table, she looked almost directly down to where those two broad streams merged less than half a kilometer before they plunged over the eighty-meter, horseshoe-shaped drop of Frontenac Falls in a boiling smother of foam, spray, and mist. Below the falls which had given the Plaza Falls’ its name, the imposing width of the Frontenac Estuary rolled far more tranquilly to the Veyret, dotted with pleasure boats which were themselves yet another emblem of the Republic of Haven’s renaissance. It was impressive, even from the suite’s imposing height.

    She gazed at the city, the rivers, and the falls for several seconds, then turned her attention politely to Pritchart.

    The president looked around the table, obviously checking to be certain everyone was settled, then squared her own shoulders and looked back at Honor.

    “It’s occurred to me, Admiral Alexander-Harrington, that this is probably a case of the less formality, the better. We’ve already tried the formal diplomatic waltz, with position papers and diplomatic notes moving back and forth, before we started shooting at each other again, and we’re all only too well aware of where that ended up. Since your Queen’s been willing to send you to us under such . . . untrammeled conditions, I’d like to maintain as much informality as possible this time around, in hopes of achieving a somewhat more satisfactory outcome. I do have a certain structure in mind, but with your agreement, I’d prefer to allow frank discussion among all the participants, instead of the standard procedure where you and I — or you and Leslie — simply repeat our formal positions to one another over and over while everyone else sits back, watches, and tries valiantly to stay awake.”

    “I think I could live with that, Madam President,” Honor replied, feeling the slight smile she couldn’t totally suppress dance around her lips.

    “Good. In that case, I thought that since you’ve come all this way to deliver Queen Elizabeth’s message, I’d ask you to repeat it for all of us. And after you’ve done that, I would appreciate it if you would sketch out for us — in broad and general strokes, of course — a preliminary presentation of the Star Kingdom — I’m sorry, the Star Empire’s — view of what might constitute the terms of a sensible peace settlement.”

    “That sounds reasonable,” Honor agreed, sternly telling the butterflies in her stomach to stop fluttering. Odd how much more unnerving this was than the mere prospect of facing an enemy wall of battle.

    She settled further back into her chair, feeling Nimitz’s warm, silken presence against the back of her head, and drew a deep breath.

    “Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen,” she began, “I’ll begin by being blunt, and I hope no one will be offended by my candor. Please remember that despite any titles I may have acquired, or any diplomatic accreditation Queen Elizabeth may have trusted me with, I’m basically a yeoman-born naval officer, not a trained diplomat. If I seem to be overly direct, please understand no discourtesy is intended.”



    They gazed back at her, all of them from behind the impassive façades of experienced politicians, and she considered inviting them to just relax and check their poker faces at the door. It wasn’t as if those well-trained expressions were doing them any good against someone as capable of reading the emotions behind them as any treecat. And anything she missed, Nimitz wouldn’t when they compared notes later.

    Still, judging by the way they taste, Pritchart, Theisman, and Montreau — at the very least — already know that as well as McGwire and Tullingham do. Interesting that none of them’ve made a point of their knowledge, though.

    “As I’ve already told President Pritchart, both my Queen and I are fully aware that the view of who’s truly responsible for the conflict between our two star nations isn’t the same from Manticore and Haven. I’ve also already conceded to President Pritchart that the High Ridge Government must bear its share of blame for the diplomatic failure which led to the resumption of hostilities between our star nations. I think, however, that no one in Nouveau Paris, anymore than anyone in Landing, can deny that the Republic of Haven actually fired the first shots of this round when it launched Operation Thunderbolt. I’m confident the decision to do so was not lightly taken, and I don’t doubt for a moment that you felt, rightly or wrongly, both that you were justified and that it was the best of the several bad options available to you. But the fact remains that Manticore didn’t start the shooting in any of our conflicts with Haven.

    “Nonetheless, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve come to a crossroads. I know some of you blame the Star Empire for all that’s happened. I assure you, there are more than sufficient people in the Star Empire who blame the Republic for all that’s happened. And the truth, of course, is that both sides must bear their own share of the responsibility. Yet at this moment, the Star Empire’s military advantage is, quite frankly, overwhelming.”

    They weren’t liking what they were hearing; that much was painfully obvious to her empathic sense, despite their impressive control of their faces. But she also tasted the bleak awareness that what she’d just said was self-evidently true. It was strongest from Pritchart and Theisman, but she tasted a surprisingly strong flare of the same awareness from Nesbitt. Montreau and Bourchier clearly recognized the same unpalatable truth, but there was something different, less personal about their recognition than Honor tasted in Nesbitt’s.

    Younger, on the other hand, seemed to be one of those people who were constitutionally incapable of accepting the very possibility of failure. It was as if he was able to intellectually recognize that Apollo gave the Manticoran Alliance a huge military advantage yet unable to accept the corollary that he could no longer “game” his way to the outcome he wanted.

    McGwire and Tullingham, unlike Younger, clearly did recognize how severely the tectonic shift in military power limited their options, but that didn’t mean they were prepared to give up. She suspected they’d be willing to bow to the inevitable, in the end, but only after they’d cut the best personal deals they could.

    Well, they’re welcome to cut all of the domestic political deals they want to, she thought grimly.

    “The simple truth,” she continued, “is that it’s now within the power of the Royal Manticoran Navy to systematically reduce the orbital infrastructure of every star system of the Republic to rubble.” Her voice was quiet, yet she felt them flinching from her words as if they’d been fists. “You can’t stop us, however courageous or determined Admiral Theisman’s men and women may be, even with the advantages of the missile defense system — Moriarity, I believe you call it — Admiral Foraker devised before the Battle of Solon, as we demonstrated at Lovat.”

    A fresh stab of pain ripped through Pritchart, and it was Honor’s turn to flinch internally, in combined sympathy and guilt. Guilt not so much for having killed Javier Giscard, as for the way in which killing him had wounded Eloise Pritchart, as well.

    “There are those in the Star Empire,” she went on, allowing no trace of her awareness of Pritchart’s pain to color her own expression or tone, “who would prefer to do just that. Who think it’s time for us to use our advantage to completely destroy your fleet, along with all the casualties that would entail, and then to turn the entire Republic into one huge junkyard unless you surrender unconditionally to the Star Empire and the Manticoran Alliance. And, if you do surrender, to impose whatever domestic changes and limitations may be necessary to prevent you from ever again threatening the Star Empire or Queen Elizabeth’s subjects.”

    She paused, letting her words sink home, tasting their anger, their apprehension, their resentment and frustration. Yet even now, hope continued to flicker, made even stronger in many ways by simple desperation. By the fact that there had to be some end less terrible than the total destruction of all they’d fought and struggled to build and accomplish.

    “I would be lying to you, ladies and gentlemen,” she resumed finally, “if I didn’t admit that the Manticorans who would prefer to see the final and permanent destruction of the Republic of Haven probably outnumber those who would prefer any other outcome. And I’m sure there are any number of Havenites who feel exactly the same way about the Star Empire after so many years of warfare and destruction.

    “But vengeance begets vengeance.” Her voice was soft, her brown, almond-shaped eyes very level as they swept the faces of the Havenites. “Destruction can be a ‘final solution’ only when that destruction is complete and total. When there’s no one left on the other side — will never be anyone left on the other side — to seek their own vengeance. Surely history offers endless examples of that basic, unpalatable truth. Rome had ‘peace’ with Carthage back on Old Terra in the end, but only when Carthage had been not simply defeated, but totally destroyed. And no one in the Star Empire is foolish enough to believe we can ‘totally destroy’ the Republic of Haven. Whatever we do, wherever the Star Empire and the Republic go from this point, there will still be people on both sides who identify themselves as Manticoran or Havenite and remember what the other side did to them, and no military advantage lasts forever. Admiral Theisman and Admiral Foraker demonstrated that quite clearly two or three T-years ago, and I assure you that we in the Star Empire learned the lesson well.”

    Something like an echo of bleak satisfaction quivered around the Havenite side of the table at her admission, and she met Theisman’s gaze, then nodded very slightly to him.

    “So the position of the Star Empire, Ladies and Gentlemen,” she told them, “is that it’s ultimately in the best interests of both Manticore and Haven to end this. To end it now, with as little additional bloodshed, as little additional destruction, as little additional grounds for us to hate one another and seek vengeance upon one another, as possible. My Queen doesn’t expect that to be easy. She doesn’t expect it to happen quickly. But the truth is that it’s a simple problem. Solving it may not be simple, yet if we can agree on the unacceptability of failure, it’s a solution we can achieve. One we must achieve. Because if we fail to, then all that will remain are more of those ‘bad options’ that have brought us to this pass in the first place. And if all that remain are bad options, then Her Majesty’s Government and military forces will choose the option most likely to preclude Haven’s threatening the Star Empire again for as many decades as possible.”

    She looked around the conference table again, sampling the whirlwind emotions behind those outwardly calm and attentive faces, and shook her head slowly.

    “I personally believe, both as an officer in Her Majesty’s service and as a private citizen, that that would be a disaster. That it would only sow the seeds of still another cycle of bloodshed and killing in the fullness of time. None of which means it won’t happen anyway, if we fail to find some other solution. That I won’t carry out my own orders to make it happen. So it’s up to us — all of us, Manticoran and Havenite — to decide which outcome we can achieve. And my own belief, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that we owe it not only to all the people who may die in the future but to those who have already died — to all our dead, Manticoran, Grayson, Andermani, and Havenite — to choose the right outcome.”

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