Mission Of Honor – Snippet 27

Honor accepted the invitation, choosing a chair which let her look out at that dramatic vista. She settled into it, lifting Nimitz down from her shoulder to her lap, and despite the tension of the moment and the millions of deaths which had brought her here, she felt an ungrudging admiration for what the people of this planet had accomplished. She knew all about the crumbling infrastructure and ramshackle lack of maintenance this city had suffered under the Legislaturalists. And she knew about the riots which had erupted in its canyon-like streets following the Pierre coup. She knew about the airstrikes Esther McQueen — “Admiral Cluster Bomb” — had called in to suppress the Levelers, and about the hidden nuclear warhead Oscar Saint-Just had detonated under the old Octagon to defeat McQueen’s own coup attempt. This city had seen literally millions of its citizens die over the last two T-decades — suffered more civilian fatalities than the number of military personnel who’d died aboard all of the Havenite ships destroyed in the Battle of Manticore combined — yet it had survived. Not simply survived, but risen with restored, phoenix-like beauty from the debris of neglect and the wreckage of combat.

Now, as she gazed out at the gleaming fireflies of air cars zipping busily past even at this hour — at those stupendous towers, at the lit windows, the fairy-dusting of air traffic warning lights — she saw the resurgence of the entire Republic of Haven. Recognized the stupendous changes that resurgence had made in virtually every aspect of the lives of the men, women, and children of the Republic. And much of that resurgence, that rebirth of hope and pride and purpose, was the work of the platinum-haired woman settling into a facing armchair while their bodyguards, in turn, settled into wary watchfulness around them.

Yes, a lot of it was her work, Honor reminded herself, one hand stroking Nimitz’s fluffy pelt while the reassuring buzz of his almost subsonic purr vibrated into her. But she’s also the one who declared war this time around. The one who launched Thunderbolt as a “sneak attack.” And the one who sent Tourville and Chin off to attack the home system. Admire her all you want, Honor, but never forget this is a dangerous, dangerous woman. And don’t let your own hopes lead you into any overly optimistic assumptions about her or what she truly wants, either.

“May I offer you refreshment, Admiral?”

“No, thank you, Madam President. I’m fine.”

“If you’re certain,” Pritchart said with a slight twinkle. Honor arched one eyebrow, and the president chuckled. “We’ve amassed rather a complete dossier on you, Admiral. The Meyerdahl first wave, I believe?”

“Fair enough,” Honor acknowledged the reference to her genetically enhanced musculature and the demands of the metabolism which supported it. “And I genuinely appreciate the offer, but my steward fed me before he let me off the ship.”

“Ah! That would be the formidable Mr. MacGuiness?”

“I see Officer Cachat and Director Usher — oh, I’m sorry, that would be Director Trajan, wouldn’t it? — really have compiled a thorough file on me, Madam President,” Honor observed politely.

“Touché,” Pritchart said, leaning back in her chair. But then her brief moment of amusement faded, and her face grew serious.

“If you won’t allow me to offer you refreshments, however, Admiral, would you care to tell me precisely what it is the Queen of Manticore sent you to accomplish?”

“Of course, Madam President.”

Honor settled back in her own chair, her flesh and blood hand still moving, ever so gently, on Nimitz’s silken coat, and her own expression mirrored Pritchart’s seriousness.

“My Queen has sent me as her personal envoy,” she said. “I have a formal, recorded message for you from her, as well, but essentially it’s simply to inform you that I’m authorized to speak for her as her messenger and her plenipotentiary.”

Pritchart never twitched a muscle, but Honor tasted the sudden flare of combined hope and consternation which exploded through the president as she reacted to that last word. Obviously, even now, Pritchart hadn’t anticipated that Honor was not simply Elizabeth III’s envoy and messenger but her direct, personal representative, empowered to actually negotiate with the Republic of Haven.

The possibility of negotiations explained the president’s hope, Honor realized. Just as the disastrous military situation her star nation faced and the possibility that Elizabeth’s idea of “negotiating” might consist of a demand for unconditional surrender explained the consternation.

“Her Majesty — and I — fully realize there are enormous areas of disagreement and distrust between the Star Empire and the Republic,” Honor continued in that same, measured tone. “I don’t propose to get into them tonight. Frankly, I don’t see any way we’d be remotely likely to settle of those disputes without long, difficult conversations. Despite that, I believe most of our prewar differences could probably be disposed of by compromises between reasonable people, assuming the issue of our disputed diplomatic correspondence can be resolved.

“As I say, I have no intention or desire to stray into that territory this evening, however. Instead, I want to address something that will very probably pose much more severe difficulties for any serious talks between our two star nations. And that, Madam President, is the number of people who have died since the Republic of Haven resumed hostilities without warning or notification.”

She paused, watching Pritchart’s expression and tasting the president’s emotions. The Havenite hadn’t much cared for her last sentence, but that was all right with Honor. Honor Alexander-Harrington had never seen herself as a diplomat, never imagined she might end up chosen for such a mission, yet there was no point trying to dance around this particular issue. And she’d offered Pritchart at least an olive leaf, if not a branch, with the phrase “resumed hostilities.”

As Pritchart had pointed out to her Congress when she requested a formal declaration of war, no formal peace had ever been concluded between the then-Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven. And while Honor wasn’t prepared to say so, she knew as well as Pritchart that the lack of a peace treaty had been far more the fault of the High Ridge Government than of the Pritchart Administration. She wasn’t prepared to agree that High Ridge’s cynical political maneuvering and sheer stupidity justified Pritchart’s decision, but it had certainly contributed to it. And despite the surprise nature of Thomas Theisman’s Operation Thunderbolt, it had been launched against a target with which the Republic was still legally at war.

Just as long as she doesn’t decide we’re willing to let her off the hook for actually pulling the trigger, Honor reflected coldly. We’ll meet her part way, acknowledge there were serious mistakes — blunders — from our side, as well, and that we were still technically at war. But she’s going to have to acknowledge the Republic’s “war guilt,” and not just for this war, if this is going to go anywhere, and she’d better understand that from the beginning.

“Her Majesty fully realizes the Republic’s total casualties have been much higher than the Star Empire’s since fighting resumed,” she continued after a handful of seconds. “At the same time, the Republic’s total population is also much larger than the Star Empire’s, which means our fatalities, as a percentage of our population, have been many times as great as yours. And even laying aside the purely human cost, the economic and property damages have been staggering for both sides, while the tonnage of warships which have been destroyed may well equal that of every other declared war in human history.

“This struggle between our star nations began eighteen T-years ago — twenty-two T-years, if you count from the People’s Republic’s attack on the Basilisk Terminus of the Wormhole Junction. And despite the position in which we find ourselves today, even the most rabid Havenite patriot must be aware by now that, despite all of ‘Public Information’s’ propaganda to the contrary, the original conflict between us began as a direct consequence of the People’s Republic’s aggression, not the Star Empire’s.