Mission Of Honor – Snippet 08

“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.

his agile, flashing fingers signed.

“‘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.

“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.