Mission Of Honor – Snippet 28

“But because we saw that aggression coming, our military buildup to resist it began forty T-years before even the attack on Basilisk, so for all intents and purposes, our nations have been at war — or preparing for war — for over sixty T-years. Which means we’ve been actively fighting one another — or preparing to fight one another — since I was roughly four T-years old. In a very real sense, my Star Empire’s been at war, hot or cold, against Havenite aggression, in one form or another, for my entire life, Madame President, and I’m scarcely alone in having that ‘life experience’ or the attitudes that come with it. After that long, after that much mutual hostility and active bloodletting, either side can easily find any number of justifications for distrusting or hating the other.

“But there are two significant differences between this point in the struggle between Manticore and Haven and almost any other point, Madam President. The first of those differences is that we’re no longer dealing with the People’s Republic. Your new government has claimed your primary purpose is the complete restoration of the old Republic of Haven, and I accept that claim’s validity. But you’ve also chosen, unfortunately — for whatever combination of reasons — to resume the war between Haven and Manticore, which leads many — indeed, most — Manticorans to doubt there’s any true difference between you and the Legislaturalists or the Committee of Public Safety.

“I hope and believe they’re wrong. That this Havenite regime does care how many of its citizens are killed fighting its wars. That it does want to safeguard the enormous progress it’s made recovering from generations of misrule and domestic political brutality. And that it does feel some sense of responsibility to see as few as possible of its people, military or civilian, killed rather than simply feeding them into the furnace of political ambition and spinal-reflex aggression.

“Which brings us to the second significant difference. To be blunt, and as I have no doubt you and Admiral Theisman realize just as well as Queen Elizabeth does, the Star Empire’s present military advantage is even more overwhelming than it was at the time of the Admiral’s coup against Saint-Just. We can, if we choose to do so, drive this war through to a decisive, unambiguous military victory. We can destroy your fleets from beyond any range at which they can effectively counterattack. We can destroy the infrastructure of your star systems, one by one, and for all of the undoubted courage and determination of your naval personnel, they can’t stop us. They can only die trying — which I, for one, have no doubt they would do with the utmost gallantry.”

She looked directly into Eloise Pritchart’s tawny eyes, watching their expressionless depths even as she tasted the combination of fear, frustration, and desperation concealed behind them.

“There are those in the Star Empire who would prefer, in no small part because of that history I just mentioned, to do exactly that,” she said flatly. “And I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit Her Majesty is strongly inclined in that direction herself. If, as I assume you have, you’ve had access to Internal Security’s and State Security’s secret files, I’m sure you understand why Queen Elizabeth personally hates Haven and distrusts all Havenites with every fiber of her being. I suspect just about anyone would feel that way about a star nation which murdered her father, murdered her uncle, her cousin, and her prime minister, and attempted to murder her.”

Pritchart said nothing, only nodded slightly in acknowledgment of Honor’s point, but Honor tasted a confusing whirlpool of emotion within the president. Obviously, Pritchart had learned about the assassinations — including King Roger’s — before Honor told her, and, equally obviously, she wasn’t surprised someone with Elizabeth’s fiery disposition would find it impossible to forget such offenses. Yet there was a strand of personal regret, as well. An understanding that someone as wounded as Elizabeth had every right to her fury, and a sense of sorrow that so much pain had been inflicted.

“Immediately following the Battle of Manticore,” Honor resumed, “our own losses were severe enough to preclude our launching any fresh offensives. I’m sure your own analysts reached that conclusion, as well. Now, however, our new construction and our repair of damaged units have reached a point at which we can detach sufficient vessels to launch decisive attacks on your star systems without exposing our own system to attack. And, to be brutally frank, the situation in the Talbott Quadrant is nowhere near as close to resolved as we’d believed it was.”

She paused again, tasting Pritchart’s reaction to that revelation. The Havenite president would have been more than human if she hadn’t experienced a surge of hope that Manticore’s possible preoccupation elsewhere would work in Haven’s favor. Yet there was also an even sharper strand of wariness, and Honor suppressed a desire to smile sardonically. She and her political advisers had discussed whether or not she should raise that particular point with Pritchart. Now, tasting the other woman’s mind glow, she knew she’d been right; Pritchart was too smart not to see the possible downside for Haven, as well.

Still, I might as well make certain we’re both on the same page.

“We continue to hope for a diplomatic resolution in and around Talbott,” she said, “but I won’t pretend we’re confident of achieving one. Failure to do so will obviously have potentially serious repercussions for the Star Empire, of course. I’m sure you and your advisers are as well aware of that as anyone in Manticore. But you need to be aware of this, as well.”

She held Pritchart’s gaze with her own.

“The threat of a direct conflict with the Solarian League is one we simply cannot ignore. Obviously, it’s also one of the reasons we’re seeking to compose our disagreements with the Republic. Any star nation would be insane to want to fight the Solarian League under any circumstances, but only one which was stupid, as well as insane, would want to fight the League and anyone else simultaneously. At the same time, I’m sure your own analysts have come to some of the same conclusions we have where the Solarians’ war-fighting technology is concerned. In case they haven’t, I can tell you that what’s happened so far has confirmed to us that the SLN is considerably inferior technologically at this time to either the Star Empire or the Republic. Obviously, something the size of the Solarian League has plenty of potential to overcome tech disadvantages, but our best estimate is that even if they were ready to begin putting new weapons systems into production tomorrow, we’d still be looking at a period of at least three to five years of crushing superiority over anything they could throw at us.

“The reason I’m telling you this is that you need to understand that while we don’t want to fight the League, we’re a long way from regarding a war against the Sollies as tantamount to a sentence of death. But we’re not prepared to fight the Solarians at the same time someone whose technology is as close to equal to ours as yours is comes at us from behind. So as we see it, we have two options where the Republic is concerned.

“One, and in many ways the less risky of them from our perspective, would be to use that technological superiority I spoke about a few minutes ago to destroy your infrastructure in order to compel your unconditional surrender. In fact, one month ago, I was instructed to do just that, beginning with this very star system.”

It was very, very quiet in Eloise Pritchart’s office. The emotions of the president’s bodyguards were a background of taut anxiety and anger restrained by discipline, yet Honor scarcely noticed that. Her attention — and Nimitz’s — were focused unwaveringly upon Pritchart.