Mission Of Honor – Snippet 34

“Leslie and Tony are here not only as representatives of the Cabinet but as representatives of two of our larger political parties,” Pritchart explained. “When I organized my Cabinet originally, it seemed pretty clear we were going to need the support of all parties if we were going to make the Constitution work. Because of that, I deliberately chose secretaries from several different parties, and Leslie is a New Democrat, while Tony’s a Corporate Conservative.” She smiled dryly. “I’m quite certain you’ve been sufficiently well briefed on our political calculus here Paris to understand just how lively meetings can be when these two sit in on them.”

Montreau and Nesbitt both smiled, and Honor smiled back, although she suspected Pritchart was actually understating things.

“As I explained in my memo,” the president continued, “I’ve decided, with your consent, to invite some additional representatives from Congress to participate in these talks, as well.”

“Of course, Madam President.” Honor nodded, despite the fact that she really wished Pritchart hadn’t done anything of the sort. She would have much preferred to keep these talks as small and private, as close to one-on-one with Pritchart, as she could. At the same time, she was pretty sure she understood the president’s logic. And given the fractiousness of Havenite politics — and the fact that selling anything short of victory to Congress and the Havenite people was likely to prove a challenging task — she couldn’t really disagree with Pritchart, either.

It’s an imperfect galaxy Honor, she told herself tartly. Deal with it.

“Allow me to introduce Senator Samson McGwire,” Pritchart said, indicating the man next to Nesbitt.

McGwire was a smallish, wiry man, a good twenty centimeters shorter than Honor. In fact, he was shorter than Pritchart or Leslie Montreau, for that matter. He also had gunmetal-gray hair, a great beak of a nose, blue eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a powerful chin. They were sharp, those eyes, and they glittered with a sort of perpetual challenge. From the way they narrowed as he shook her hand, she wasn’t able to decide whether in her case the challenge was because she was a Manticoran, and therefore the enemy, or simply because she was so much taller than he was. For that matter, it could have been both. According to the best briefing Sir Anthony Langtry’s staff in the Foreign Office had been able to provide, McGwire was not one of the Star Empire’s greater admirers. For that matter, his New Conservative Party was widely regarded as one of the natural homes for Havenite firebrands with personal axes to grind with the Star Empire.

Which is one reason we’re so happy to have Montreau as Secretary of State instead of that jackass Giancola, she thought dryly. I’m sorry anyone had to get killed in a traffic accident, but the truth is that dropping him out of the equation has to be a good thing for everyone concerned. In fact, I have to wonder what a smart cookie like Pritchart was thinking putting a New Conservative into that Cabinet post in the first place!

Not, she admitted, that our ending up with High Ridge as Prime Minister and Descroix as Foreign Secretary was any better. But it least Elizabeth didn’t have much choice about it.

“Senator McGwire’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee,” Pritchart continued. She tilted her head to one side, watching Honor’s expression closely, as if trying to determine how much Honor already knew about the senator. “He’s here in his capacity as chairman, but also as a representative of the New Conservative Party.”

“Senator,” Honor said, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Admiral.” He made no particular effort to inject any warmth into the single word, and his handshake was more than a little perfunctory. Still, if Honor was parsing his emotions correctly, he had no more illusions about the Republic’s disastrous military position than anyone else did.

“And this,” Richards said, turning to a dark-haired, green-eyed woman about thirty T-years younger than Honor, “is Senator Ninon Bourchier. She’s the senior ranking Constitutional Progressive member of Senator McGwire’s committee.”

“Senator Bourchier,” Honor acknowledged, and tried not to smile. Bourchier was quite attractive, although nowhere near as striking as Pritchart herself, and she had a bright, almost girlish smile. A smile, in fact, which went rather poorly with the coolly watchful brain behind those guileless jade eyes. There was more than a touch of the predator to Bourchier, although it wasn’t in any sense as if she had an active taste for cruelty or violence. No. This was simply someone who was perpetually poised to note and respond to any threat — or opportunity — with instant, decisive action. And of someone who thought very directly in terms of clearly recognized priorities and responsibilities. As a matter of fact, her mind glow tasted a lot like that of a treecat, Honor decided, which wasn’t especially surprising, since like Pritchart, Bourchier had been a dedicated member of the Aprilist movement. In fact, ONI had confirmed that she’d been personally responsible for at least seven assassinations, and she’d also been one of the civilian cell leaders who’d not only somehow survived Oscar Saint-Just’s best efforts to root out dissidents but also rallied in support of Theisman’s coup in the critical hours immediately after the SS commander’s date with mortality. And these days she was an influential member of Pritchart’s own Constitutional Progressive Party, as well.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you Admiral,” Bourchier said, gripping Honor’s hand firmly, and Honor’s urge to smile threatened to break free for just a moment. Bourchier’s greeting sounded almost gushy, but behind its surface froth, that needle-clawed treecat was watching, measuring, evaluating Honor with that predator’s poise.

“Really?” Honor said. “I hope our efforts won’t be disappointing.”

“So do I,” Bourchier said.

“As do we all,” Pritchart cut in smoothly, and gestured to a moderately tall — he was only five or six centimeters shorter than Honor — fair-haired, brown-eyed man who was clearly the youngest person present. He was also the most elegantly tailored, and she felt Nimitz resisting the urge to sneeze as he smelled the fair-haired man’s expensive cologne.

“The Honorable Gerald Younger, Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Pritchart said, and Honor nodded to him. “Mr. Younger is a member of our House of Representatives,” Pritchart continued. “Like Senator McGwire, he’s also a New Conservative, and while he’s not its chairman, he sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

“Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Younger said with a white-toothed smile.

“Representative Younger,” she replied, and carefully did not wipe the palm of her hand on her trousers when Younger released it. Despite his sleek grooming, he radiated a sort of arrogant ambition and predatory narcissism that made even McGwire seem positively philanthropic.

“And this, Admiral Alexander-Harrington,” Pritchart said, turning to the final Havenite representative present, “is Chief Justice Jeffrey Tullingham. He’s here more in an advisory role than anything else, but I felt it would probably be a good idea to have him available if any legal issues or precedents should happen to raise their heads during our talks.”

“That strikes me as an excellent idea, Madam President,” Honor said, at least partly truthfully, extending her hand to Tullingham. “It’s an honor to meet you, Chief Justice.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, fully aware — though it was possible he wasn’t — that both those smiles were equally false. He wasn’t at all pleased to see her here. Which was fair enough, perhaps, or at least reciprocal, since even though Honor agreed with Pritchart that having a legal expert’s perspective on the talks was probably a good idea, she wished this particular “legal expert” were far, far away from them. Technically, as the senior member of the Havenite Supreme Court, Tullingham was supposed to be above partisan issues. In fact, although Manticoran intelligence still knew little about his history prior to his appointment to the Court, his mind glow strongly suggested that he was even more closely aligned with McGwire’s and Younger’s New Conservatives than the analysts had suspected. And despite a carefully cultivated air of nonpartisan detachment, the taste of his personal ambition — and basic untrustworthiness — came through her empathic sensitivity even more clearly than Younger’s had.

And isn’t he just a lovely choice to head the court that has the power of judicial review over every law their Congress passes? She managed not to shake her head, but it wasn’t easy. From Pritchart’s emotions when she introduced him, she obviously has a pretty fair idea what’s going on inside him. So how many dead bodies did he have to threaten to exhume — or personally plant — to get named to the Supreme Court in the first place?