Mission Of Honor – Snippet 10

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.