A Rising Thunder – Snippet 33


Chapter Eleven


“What are the odds your people will actually ratify this, do you think?” Elizabeth Winton asked almost whimsically.


“Not as good as they would have been once upon a time,” Eloise Pritchart admitted from the other side of the small Mount Royal Palace conference table. “I’ve used up a lot of credit with Congress — and the voters, for that matter — in the last three T-years. And admitting our Secretary of State doctored the correspondence in the first place isn’t going to make our firebrands any happier.”


“That’s what I thought, too. Pity. I was hoping you’d have a better chance with your legislative branch than I’m going to have with mine.”


Elizabeth pursed her lips, looking at the document on the display in front of her. As treaty proposals went, it was about as bare bones as things got, she reflected. Neither she nor Pritchart had traded away their star nations’ sovereignty for a handful of beads, but she was sure critics and partisans on both sides were going to carry on as if they had. And little though she liked to admit it, there was still plenty of wiggle room. They hadn’t tried to nail things down in fully finished, set-in-stone form. Instead, they’d roughed out a list of absolutely essential points to be submitted to the Havenite Congress and Elizabeth’s own Parliament, coupled with a specific provision that other treaties would deal with the still-outstanding points a little thing like twenty years of bitter warfare were likely to have created.


Still, if someone had told her she and Pritchart could accomplish this much, agree to this much, in only seven days, she would have suggested they be confined in a nice, safe cell. Yes, there were still huge gray areas, but what they’d gotten down in written form proved that knowing one was about to be hanged (or invaded by the Solarian League) truly did concentrate one’s mind wonderfully. This treaty, rough as it was, created an alliance between the Star Empire of Manticore and the Republic of Haven which committed each of them to the defense of the other. There hadn’t been time — with one exception — to consult with the Star Empire’s allies, but Eloise had been careful to bring every one of those allies’ ambassadors on board, and most of them had initialed the draft on their governments’ behalves. The Andermani ambassador hadn’t, yet that was hardly surprising, given the traditional Andermani realpolitik. By the same token (and for the same reasons), he hadn’t voiced any official opposition to it, either, though, and the Andermani Empire was an “associated power” rather than a full member of the Manticoran Alliance, anyway.


The one ally there had been time to actually consult was the Protectorate of Grayson, three and a half T-days from the Manticore Binary System by dispatch boat. Elizabeth had sent Benjamin Mayhew word of Pritchart’s totally unexpected visit the day the president arrived, and Benjamin Mayhew, with a decisiveness and speed unusual even for him, had needed only hours to decide where he stood. He’d sent back his enthusiastic support…and his only brother as his personal envoy.


Michael Mayhew had arrived yesterday, just in time to put his own signature on the draft as Grayson’s plenipotentiary. Which, given most Manticorans’ attitude towards their most constant ally, could only be a major plus. Not to mention demonstrating to all the Star Empire’s allies as conclusively as humanly possible that William Alexander and his government were not Michael Janvier and his government.


So now all they had to do was submit it for the approval of the Manticoran Parliament and the Havenite Senate.


“All,” she thought glumly. As in “all we have to do is find the philosopher’s stone and we can turn as much lead into gold as we want.” We can ask both of them to expedite on an emergency basis and point out that there’s no time to be sending drafts back and forth for revision, but how much good is that really going to do? However big the crisis, we’re talking about politicians, and that means any number of wannabe cooks can be counted on to shove their spoons in and start stirring, damn it.


“Actually, I think you’re both being overly pessimistic,” another voice said, and two pairs of eyes, one brown and one topaz, swiveled towards the speaker.


“I hate to point this out, Admiral,” Pritchart said with a lopsided smile, “but I suspect you’ve had a bit less experience dealing with legislative idiots than Her Majesty and I have.”


“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, actually, Eloise,” Elizabeth said, and grimaced when Pritchart looked back at her. “Don’t forget, she’s a steadholder. I realize steadholders have the sort of absolute power you and I only fantasize about, but she still has her own Chamber of Steaders to deal with, and she’s been pretty hands-on about the job. Whenever we’ve let her out of uniform, at least. For that matter, she’s a sitting member of the Conclave of Steadholders on Grayson and our House of Lords. She’s spent her time in the trenches, and she was front and center of the Opposition during our delightful interlude with that ass High Ridge. She knows a lot more about how it works than that innocent demeanor of hers might suggest.”


“I suppose that’s true.” Pritchart cocked her head. “It’s hard to remember just how many hats you’ve worn, Your Grace.”


“Her Majesty’s comments aside, I won’t pretend I’ve had as much legislative experience as you two,” Honor replied. “On the other hand, she’s right that I’m not a complete stranger to ugly political fights, and both of you are just about dead on your feet. My feeling is that both of you are so worn out from working on this thing that it’d be a miracle if you didn’t feel pessimistic. In fact, if I’d thought it would’ve done any good, I’d’ve chased you off to bed every night to make sure you got at least eight solid hours.”


Pritchart considered her thoughtfully and decided she wasn’t really joking. And while the President of the Republic of Haven wasn’t accustomed to being “chased off to bed,” she rather suspected Honor Alexander-Harrington could manage it if she put her mind to it.


“Interesting you should say that, Honor,” Elizabeth observed. “My beloved spouse was saying something rather similar last night. Or was it the night before?”


“Probably the night before. Justin’s a lot better at making you rest than you are at remembering to rest.”


“I don’t doubt he is,” Pritchart said. She kept her voice light, although she knew Honor, at least, had sensed the spike of pain which went through her as she remembered nights Javier Giscard had made her rest. “At the moment, though, I’m more interested in why you think our estimate is overly pessimistic, Admiral. I don’t doubt you’re right about how tired we both are, and I know how fatigue and worry affect people’s judgment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re wrong and you’re right.”


“Of course not, Madam President.” Honor leaned back, sipping from a stein of Old Tillman and shrugged. “Despite that, though, I think you’re both underestimating the selling power of what each of you have gotten out of the other. Your offer to help us deal with Filareta when you didn’t have to do anything of the sort — when you had every reason not to, in fact — is going to buy you a lot of goodwill in the Star Empire. And Elizabeth’s renunciation of any reparations will smooth a lot of ruffled feathers in Nouveau Paris…not to mention cutting the legs right out from under that snot Younger.”


She smiled almost dreamily at the thought.


“Your own suggestion that we hand all of Second Fleet’s units back to the Republic won’t hurt, either, Honor,” Elizabeth pointed out, and this time Pritchart nodded.