Mission Of Honor – Snippet 29

“But those instructions were modified, Madam President,” she said softly. “Not rescinded, but . . . modified. Her Majesty’s been convinced to at least consider the possibility that the Republic of Haven truly isn’t the People’s Republic any longer. That it was not, in fact, responsible for the assassination of Admiral Webster on Old Earth, or for the attempted assassination of Queen Berry on Torch. To be honest, she remains far from convinced of either of those possibilities, but at least she recognizes them as possibilities. And even if it turns out the Republic was responsible, she’s prepared to acknowledge that killing still more millions of your citizens and military personnel, destroying still more trillions of dollars worth of orbital infrastructure, may be a disproportionate response to the Republic’s guilt.

“In short, Madam President, the Queen is tired of killing people. So she’s authorized me to deliver this message to you: the Star Empire of Manticore is prepared to negotiate a mutually acceptable end to the state of war between it and the Republic of Haven.”

The president didn’t even twitch a muscle. Her self control was enormous, Honor thought. Which it had no doubt had to be for her and Javier Giscard to survive under the eternally suspicious, paranoid eye of a megalomaniac like Oscar Saint-Just for so many years. She might have been carved from stone, yet her sudden burst of incredulous joy, leashed by discipline and wariness, was like a silent explosion to Honor’s empathic sense. However eager she might be for an end to the fighting, this woman was no fool. She knew how difficult “negotiations” might prove, and she was as aware as Honor herself of how many bloody years of hostility, anger, and hatred lay between the Star Empire and her own star nation.

“No one in Manticore expects that to be an easy task, even assuming that, in fact, the Republic wasn’t responsible for the assassinations which led Her Majesty to reject the summit you had proposed. Nonetheless, Her Majesty is prepared to make a best-effort, good faith attempt to do just that, and I’ve been authorized to begin that negotiating process for her and for the Star Empire.

“At the same time, however, Her Majesty has instructed me to tell you she is not prepared to stretch these negotiations out indefinitely. Given what I just told you about the situation in Talbott, I’m sure you understand why, and I fully realize that you here in Nouveau Paris feel — with what I recognize as good reason — that it wasn’t the Republic of Haven which failed to negotiate in good faith following the overthrow of the Saint-Just regime. Her Majesty was opposed to the stance of the High Ridge Government at the time, but the peculiarities of our constitutional system prevented her from simply removing him and replacing him with someone more responsive to the duties and responsibilities of his office. And, frankly, no one in Manticore had any reason to believe his intransigence, arrogance, and ambition would contribute to an active resumption of the war between Haven and the Star Empire. She, like virtually all Manticorans, regarded the situation primarily as a domestic political struggle — one which might have diplomatic implications, but certainly not as one likely to spin out of control into an active resumption of the war. Under those circumstances, she was unprepared to provoke a constitutional crisis to remove him rather than waiting until that same ambition and arrogance led to his inevitable eventual fall from office. I have no doubt that, as President, you’ve experienced similar difficulties of your own.”

Despite all her own self-discipline and focus, Honor nearly blinked at the sudden white-hot explosion of mingled fury, frustration, and something which tasted remarkably like . . . guilt? . . . that roared up inside Eloise Pritchart with her final sentence. It was, in some ways, an even stronger emotional spike than the president had shown when she realized Elizabeth was willing to negotiate after all, and it puzzled Honor almost as much as it surprised her. Most of all, because it didn’t seem to be directed at Manticore or High Ridge. It seemed to be aimed somewhere else entirely, and a corner of Honor’s mind whirred with speculation as it considered the hours of political briefings which had preceded her departure for the Haven System . . . and occupied much of the voyage, for that matter.

But she couldn’t allow herself to be distracted, and so she continued, her voice as level as before.

“Her Majesty deeply regrets her inability to call High Ridge to heel, and she’s prepared to acknowledge the Star Empire’s fault in that respect. Nonetheless, she and the current Grantville Government are firmly resolved to move forward with a prompt resolution of this conflict. If it can be resolved over the negotiating table, the Star Empire of Manticore is prepared to be as reasonable as circumstances permit in order to achieve that end. As an indication of that, I’ve been instructed to tell you that the only two points which the Star Empire will insist must be publicly and acceptably addressed in any peace settlement are the question of precisely who falsified the diplomatic correspondence between our two star nations and why, and a public acknowledgment of who actually resumed hostilities. The question of reparations must also be placed on the table, although the final resolution of that question may be open to a later round of negotiations. It is not, however, the Star Empire’s intention to insist upon cripplingly punitive terms, and Her Majesty hopes it will prove possible to completely regularize relations — commercial, scientific, and educational, as well as diplomatic — between our star nations as part of the same negotiating process. Manticore desires not simply an end to the killing, Madam President, but a beginning to a peaceful, mutually advantageous relationship with Haven based upon mutual respect, mutual interests, and — ultimately, at least — mutual friendship.

“If, however, it proves impossible to negotiate an end to hostilities in what Her Majesty considers a reasonable period of time, the offer to negotiate will be withdrawn.”

Honor met Pritchart’s gaze squarely, and her voice was unflinching.

“No one in the galaxy would regret that outcome more than I would, Madam President. It’s my duty, however, to inform you that if it happens, the Star Empire will resume active operations. And if that happens, the Royal Manticoran Navy will destroy your star nation’s Navy and its orbital industry, one star system at a time, until your administration, or its successor, unconditionally surrenders.

“Speaking for myself, as an individual, and not for my Star Empire or my Queen, I implore you to accept Her Majesty’s proposal. I’ve killed too many of your people over the last twenty T-years, and your people have killed too many of mine.”

She felt Javier Giscard’s death between them, just as she felt Alistair McKeon’s and Raoul Courvoissier’s and Jamie Candless’ and so many others, and she finished very, very softly.

“Don’t make me kill any more, Madam President. Please.”