Mission Of Honor – Snippet 09

“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.