Mission Of Honor – Snippet 24

“Yes Ma’am. And what would you like me to tell her?”

“Inform her that the Republic of Haven is not only willing to allow her vessel to enter planetary orbit, but that I personally guarantee the safety of her ship, herself, and anyone aboard the — Tankersley, was it? — for the duration of her visit with us.”

“Yes, Ma’am. And should I discuss those superdreadnoughts of hers?”

“Let’s not be tacky, Admiral.” The president’s smile grew briefly broader. Then it vanished. “After all, from Admiral Chin’s report there’s not much we could do about them even if we wanted to, is there? Under the circumstances, if she’s prepared to refrain from flourishing them under our noses, I think we ought to be courteous enough to let her do just that.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Understood.”

“Good. And while you’re doing that, it’s time I went and got into shape to present a properly presidential appearance. And I suppose” — she smiled at Nesbitt and LePic — “it might not hurt to drag the rest of the Cabinet out of bed, either. If we have to be up, they might as well have to be, too!”

* * *

Admiral Lady Dame Honor Alexander-Harrington kept her face calm and her eyes tranquil as she sat gazing out the viewport of the Havenite shuttle. Only those who knew her very well would have recognized her own anxiety in the slow, metronome-steady twitching of the very end of the tail of the cream and gray treecat draped across her lap.

Captain Spencer Hawke, of the Harrington Steadholder’s Guard, Colonel Andrew LaFollet’s handpicked successor to command her personal security team, was one of those few people. He knew exactly what that twitching tail indicated, and he found himself in profound agreement with Nimitz. If Hawke had been allowed to do this his way, the Steadholder wouldn’t have come within three or four light-minutes of this planet. Failing that, her entire fleet would have been in orbit around it, and she would have been headed to its surface in an armored skinsuit aboard a Royal Manticoran Navy assault shuttle, accompanied not just by her three personal armsmen, but by a full company of battle armored Royal Manticoran Navy Marines.

Preferably as the Manticoran Alliance’s military representative for the signing ceremony as she accepted the unconditional surrender of an abjectly defeated Havenite government amid the smoking ruins of the city of Nouveau Paris.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — he also knew the Steadholder better than to suggest any such modest modification of her own plans. The Steadholder wasn’t one of those people who vented volcanic rage when she was displeased, but it would have taken a hardier soul than Hawke’s to willingly confront the ice which could core those almond-shaped brown eyes and the calm, reasonable scalpel of that soprano voice as she dissected whatever minor faux pas had drawn one to her attention.

Nonsense! He told himself. I’d risk it in a minute if I thought it was really critical. He snorted. Yeah, sure I would! He shook his head. No wonder Colonel LaFollet was going gray.

He glanced at Corporal Joshua Atkins and Sergeant Clifford McGraw, the other members of the Steadholder’s personal detachment. Oddly enough, neither of them looked particularly calm, either.

There are times, he reflected, when I actually find myself envying one of those armsmen with a cowardly, stay-at-home steadholder to look after. It’s got to be easier on the adrenaline levels.

* * *

Honor needed no physical clues to recognize the tension of her armsmen. Their emotions flooded into her through her empathic sense, and even if they hadn’t, she knew all three of them well enough to know what they had to be thinking at this moment. For that matter, she couldn’t find it in her to be as irritated with them this time as she’d been upon occasion, either. The fact that what was happening was her own idea didn’t make her feel any less nervous about it, herself.

Oh, stop that, she told herself, caressing Nimitz’s ears with her flesh and blood right hand. Of course you’re nervous! But unless you wanted to come in shooting after all, what choice did you have? And at least Pritchart seems to be saying all the right things — or Thomas Theisman’s saying them for her, anyway — so far.

That was a good sign. It had to be a good sign. And so she sat still in the comfortable seat, pretending she was unaware of the mesmerized gaze the Havenite flight engineer had turned upon her as he came face to face with the woman even the Havenite newsies called “the Salamander,” and hoped she’d been right about Pritchart and her administration.

* * *

Eloise Pritchart stood on the shuttle landing pad on the roof of what had once again become Péricard Tower following Thomas Theisman’s restoration of the Republic.

The massive, hundred and fifty year-old tower had borne several other names during People’s Republic of Haven’s lifetime, including The People’s Tower. Or, for that matter, the bitterly ironic one of “The Tower of Justice” . . . when it had housed the savagely repressive State Security which had supported the rule of Rob Pierre and Oscar Saint-Just. No one truly knew how many people had vanished forever into State Sec’s basement interrogation rooms and holding cells. There’d been more than enough, however, and the grisly charges of torture and secret executions which the prosecutors had actually been able to prove had been sufficient to win a hundred and thirty-seven death sentences.

A hundred and thirty-seven death sentences Eloise Pritchart had personally signed, one by one, without a single regret.

Pierre himself had preferred other quarters and moved his personal living space to an entirely different location shortly after the Leveller Uprising. And, given the tower’s past associations, a large part of Eloise Pritchart had found herself in rare agreement with the “Citizen Chairman.” Yet in the end, and despite some fairly acute personal reservations — not to mention anxiety over possible public misperceptions — she’d decided to return the presidential residence to its traditional pre-Legislaturalist home on the upper floors of Péricard Tower.

Some of her advisers had urged against it, but she’d trusted her instincts more than their timidity. And, by and large, the citizens of the restored Republic had read her message correctly and remembered that Péricard Tower had been named for Michèle Péricard, the first President of the Republic of Haven. The woman whose personal vision and drive had led directly to the founding of the Republic. The woman whose guiding hand had written the constitution Eloise Pritchart, Thomas Theisman, and their allies had dedicated their lives to restoring.

The well worn thoughts ran through her brain, flowing beneath the surface with a soothing familiarity, as she watched the Navy shuttle slide in to a touchdown. It was escorted by three more shuttles — assault shuttles, heavily laden with external ordnance — which went into a watchful counter-grav hover overhead, and even more atmospheric sting ships orbited alertly, closing all air space within fifteen kilometers of the tower to any civilian traffic as the passenger shuttle settled towards the pad with the crisp, professional assurance only to be expected from Thomas Theisman’s personal pilot. Lieutenant (JG) Andre Beaupré hadn’t been selected as the chief of naval operations’ full-time chauffeur at random, so he’d been the logical choice when Theisman decided he needed the very best pilot he could lay hands on to look after their unexpected visitor.

And so Thomas damned well should have, given the fact that almost everybody thinks we already tried to assassinate her aboard her own flagship! Pritchart told herself tartly. And even though we know we didn’t do it, no one else does. Worse, there have to be enough lunatics in a city the size of Nouveau Paris for someone to make an unofficial effort to kill the woman who’s systematically kicked our Navy’s ass for as long as anyone can remember. No wonder Thomas opted for such overt security! God knows the last thing we could afford would be for something to happen to Harrington — Alexander-Harrington, I mean. No one in the entire galaxy would ever believe it was really an accident.

Her mouth twitched sourly with the memory of another accident no one in the galaxy would ever believe had been genuine. The complications left by that particular mishap had a lot to do with why it was so vital to handle this visit with such exquisite care.

And maybe — just maybe — actually bring an end to all this butchery, after all, she thought almost prayerfully.