Mission Of Honor – Snippet 33

Chapter Ten

Honor Alexander-Harrington hoped she looked less nervous than she felt as she and the rest of the Manticoran delegation followed Alicia Hampton, Secretary of State Montreau’s personal aide, down the short hallway on the two hundredth floor of the Nouveau Paris Plaza Falls Hotel.

The Plaza Falls had been the showplace hotel of the Republic of Haven’s capital city for almost two T-centuries, and the Legislaturalists had been careful to preserve it intact when they created the People’s Republic of Haven. It had served to house important visitors — Solarian diplomats (and, of course, newsies being presented with the Office of Public Information’s view of the galaxy), businessmen being wooed as potential investors, off-world black marketers supplying the needs of those same Legislaturalists, heads of state who were being “invited” to “request Havenite protection” as a cheaper alternative to outright conquest, or various high-priced courtesans being kept in the style to which they had become accustomed.

The Committee of Public Safety, for all its other faults, had been far less inclined towards that particular sort of personal corruption. Rob Pierre, Cordelia Ransom, and their fellows had hardly been immune to their own forms of empire building and hypocrisy, but they’d seen no reason to follow in the Legislaturalists’ footsteps where the Plaza Falls was concerned. Indeed, the hotel had been regarded by the Mob as a concrete symbol of the Legislaturalists’ regime, which explained why it had been thoroughly vandalized during the early days of Rob Pierre’s coup. Nor was that the only indignity it had suffered, since the Committee had actually encouraged its progressive looting, using it as a sort of whipping boy whenever the Mob threatened to become dangerously rowdy. The sheer size of the hotel had meant looting it wasn’t a simple afternoon’s work, so it had made a useful diversion for quite some time.

In the end, even something with two hundred and twenty floors had eventually run out of things to steal, break, or deface, and (fortunately, perhaps) a ceramacrete tower was remarkably nonflammable. Several individual rooms, and one complete floor, had been burned out by particularly persistent arsonists, but by and large, the Plaza Falls had survived . . . more or less. The picked-clean carcass had been allowed to molder away, ignored by any of the Committee’s public works projects. It had sat empty and completely ignored, and most people had written it off as something to be eventually demolished and replaced.

But demolishing a tower that size was no trivial task, even for a counter-gravity civilization, and to everyone’s considerable surprise, the privatization incentives Tony Nesbit and Rachel Hanriot had put together after Theisman’s coup had attracted a pool of investors who were actually interested in salvaging the structure, instead. More than that, they’d honestly believed the Plaza Falls could be restored to its former glory as a piece of living history — and a profit-making enterprise — that underscored the rebirth of the Republic as a whole.

Despite their enthusiasm, the project had been bound to run into more difficulties than any sane person would have willingly confronted, but they’d been thoroughly committed by the time they figured that out. In fact, failure of the project would have spelled complete and total ruin for most of the backers by that point. And so they’d dug in, tackled each difficulty as it arose, and to everyone’s surprise (quite probably their own more than anyone else’s), they’d actually succeeded. It hadn’t been easy, but the result of their labors really had turned into an emblem of the Republic’s economic renaissance, and even though Haven remained a relatively poor star nation (by Manticoran standards, at least), its resurgent entrepreneurial class was robust enough to turn the Plaza Falls into a genuine moneymaker. Not at the levels its renovators had hoped for, perhaps, but with enough cash flow to show a modest — Honor suspected a very modest — profit after covering the various loan payments and operating expenses.

At the rates they’re charging, it certainly wouldn’t show much of a profit in the Star Empire, she thought, following their guide, but the cost of living’s a lot lower here in the Republic, even now. I hate to think what kind of trouble they’d have hiring a staff this devoted back in Landing at the sort of salaries they’re paying here! For that matter, these days they couldn’t get a staff this qualified back on Grayson this cheaply, either.

Fortunately for the Plaza Falls’ owners, they weren’t on Manticore or Grayson, however, and she had to admit that they — and Eloise Pritchart’s government — had done the visiting Manticoran delegation proud.

She stepped into the combination conference room and suite Pritchart had designated for their “informal talks,” and the president rose from her place at one end of the hand polished, genuine wood conference table. The rest of the Havenite delegation followed suit, and Pritchart smiled at Honor.

“Good morning, Admiral.”

“Madam President,” Honor responded, with a small half-bow.

“Please allow me to introduce my colleagues.”

“Of course, Madam President.”

“Thank you.” Pritchart smiled exactly as if someone in that room might actually have no idea who somebody — anybody — else was. In fact, Honor knew, every member of Pritchart’s delegation had been as carefully briefed on every member of her delegation as her delegation had been about Pritchart’s delegation.

Formal protocol and polite pretenses, she thought, reaching up to touch Nimitz’s ears as she felt his shared amusement in the back of her brain. You’ve just gotta just love ’em. Or somebody must, at least. After all, if people weren’t addicted to this kind of horse manure, it would have been junk piled centuries ago! But let’s be fair, Honor. It does serve a purpose sometimes — and the Navy’s just as bad. Maybe even worse.

“Of course, you’ve already met Secretary of State Montreau,” Pritchart told her. “And you already know Secretary of War Theisman. I don’t believe, however, that you’ve actually been introduced to Mr. Nesbitt, my Secretary of Commerce.”

“No, I haven’t,” Honor acknowledged, reaching out to shake Nesbitt’s hand.

She’d been sampling the Havenites’ emotions from the moment she stepped through the door, and Nesbitt’s were . . . interesting. She’d already concluded that Pritchart was as determined as she was to reach some sort of negotiated settlement. Leslie Montreau’s mind glow tasted as determined as Pritchart’s, although there was more caution and less optimism to keep that determination company. Thomas Theisman was a solid, unflappable presence, with a granite tenacity and a solid integrity that reminded Honor almost painfully of Alastair McKeon. She wasn’t surprised by that, even though she’d never really had the opportunity before to taste his emotions. The first time they’d met, after the Battle of Blackbird, she hadn’t yet developed her own empathic capabilities. And the second time they’d met, she’d been a little too preoccupied with her own imminent death to pay his mind glow a great deal of attention. Now she finally had the opportunity to repair that omission, and the confirmation that he, at least, truly was the man she’d hoped and believed he was reinforced her own optimism . . . slightly, at least.

But Nesbitt was different. Although he smiled pleasantly, his dislike hit her like a hammer. The good news was that it wasn’t personally directed at her; unfortunately, the good news was also the bad news in his case. In many ways, she would have preferred to have him take her in personal dislike rather than radiate his anger at and profound distrust of anything Manticoran so strongly. Of course, he was about her own age, so everything she’d said to Pritchart about her own life-long experience of mutual hostility between their star nations held true for him, as well. And however unhappy he might have been to see her, and however clearly he resented the fact that the Republic needed to negotiate an end to hostilities, he also radiated his own version of Pritchart’s determination to succeed. And there was something else, as well. An odd little something she couldn’t quite lay a mental finger on. It was almost as though he were ashamed of something. That wasn’t exactly the right word, but she didn’t know what the right word was. Yet whatever it was, or wherever it came from, it actually reinforced both his anger and his determination to achieve some sort of settlement.

“Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” he said, just a bit gruffly, but he also returned her handshake firmly.

“Mr. Nesbitt,” she murmured in reply.