Mission Of Honor – Snippet 35

Well, his impact on Havenite law wasn’t her problem, thank God. On the other hand, his impact on the negotiations very well could be. Unless she could talk Senator Bourchier into carrying out just one last little assassination . . . .

She shook free of that thought (although from the taste of Bourchier’s mindglow when she looked at Tullingham, she’d probably agree in a heartbeat) and waved at the other three members of her own delegation.

“As you can see, Madam President, Foreign Secretary Langtry decided it would be a good idea to send along at least a few professionals to keep me out of trouble, as well. Allow me to introduce Permanent Undersecretary Sir Barnabas Kew; Special Envoy Carissa Mulcahey, Baroness Selleck; and Assistant Undersecretary the Honorable Voitto Tuominen. And this is my personal aide, Lieutenant Waldemar Tümmel.”

Polite murmurs of recognition came back from the Havenite side of the table, although Honor sensed a few spikes of irritation when she used Mulcahy’s title. Well, that was too bad. She didn’t intend to rub anyone’s nose in the fact that Manticore had an hereditary aristocracy and rewarded merit with admission into it, but she wasn’t going to spend all of her time here pussyfooting around tender Havenite sensibilities, either.

Even with her three assistants, her delegation was considerably smaller than Pritchart’s, but it ought to be big enough. And it was a darn good thing they were here. She’d spent most of the voyage between Manticore and Haven discovering just how grateful she was for the three seasoned professionals Langtry had sent along.

Kew was the oldest of the trio — with silver hair, sharp brown eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a nose almost as powerful as McGwire’s. Tuominen was shortish, but very broad shouldered. He’d always been known as something of a maverick within the ranks of the Foreign Office, and he was as aggressively “commoner” as Klaus Hauptman. Actually, despite the fact that he’d been born on Sphinx, not Gryphon, his personality reminded her strongly of Anton Zilwicki’s in many ways, although he was a considerably more driven sort, without Zilwicki’s granite, methodical patience. Countess Selleck was the youngest of the three. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and attractive in an understated sort of way, she was the intelligence specialist of the Manticoran delegation. She reminded Honor rather strongly of Alice Truman, and not just in a physical sense.

Lieutenant Tümmel was actually the one she’d found most difficult to fit smoothly into place, although that wasn’t even remotely his fault. The brown-haired, brown-eyed lieutenant was an extraordinarily competent young man, with enormous potential, yet she felt a lingering guilt at having accepted him as Timothy Mears’ replacement. Even now, she knew, she continued to hold him more or less at arms length, as if really accepting him would somehow be a betrayal of Mears’ memory. Or as if she were afraid letting him get too close to her would lead to his death, as well.

No one, she noticed, offered to introduce the members of Pritchart’s security detachment or her own armsmen. Not that anyone was unaware of their presence. In fact, Honor was more than a little amused by the fact that Pritchart’s detachment was all but invisible to the Havenites, from long familiarity, while the same thing was true for her armsmen from the Manticoran side of the room, yet both sides were acutely aware of the presence of the other side’s armed retainers.

And then there was Nimitz . . . quite possibly the deadliest “armed retainer” of them all. Certainly he was on a kilo-for-kilo basis, at any rate! And it was obvious from the taste of the Havenites’ mind glows that every one of these people had been briefed on the reports of the treecats’ intelligence, telempathic abilities, and lethality.

Just as it was equally obvious that several of them — who rejoiced in names like McGwire, Younger, and Tullingham — cherished profound reservations about allowing him within a kilometer of this conference room. In fact, McGwire was so unhappy that Honor had to wonder how Pritchart had managed to twist his arm hard enough to get him here at all.

With the formal greetings and introductions disposed of, Pritchart waved at the conference table, with its neatly arranged data ports, old-fashioned blotters, and carafes of ice water. The chairs around it, in keeping with the Plaza Falls’s venerable lineage, were unpowered, but that didn’t prevent them from being almost sinfully comfortable as the delegates settled into them.

Pritchart had seated her own delegation with its back to the suite’s outer wall of windows, and Honor felt a flicker of gratitude for the president’s thoughtfulness as she parked Nimitz on the back of her own chair. Then she seated herself and gazed out through the crystoplast behind Pritchart and her colleagues while the other members of her own team plugged personal minicomps into the data ports and unobtrusively tested their firewalls and security fences.

Nouveau Paris had been built in the foothills of the Limoges Mountains, the coastal range that marked the southwest edge of the continent of Rochambeau where it met the Veyret Ocean. The city’s pastel colored towers rose high into the heavens, but despite their height — and, for that matter, the sheer size and population of the city itself — the towering peaks of the Limoges Range still managed to put them into proportion. To remind the people living in them that a planet was a very large place.

Like most cities designed and planned by a gravitic civilization’s engineers, Nouveau Paris incorporated green belts, parks, and tree-shaded pedestrian plazas. It also boasted spectacular beaches along its westernmost suburbs, but the heart of the original city been built around the confluence of the Garronne River and the Rhône River, and from her place at the table, she looked almost directly down to where those two broad streams merged less than half a kilometer before they plunged over the eighty-meter, horseshoe-shaped drop of Frontenac Falls in a boiling smother of foam, spray, and mist. Below the falls which had given the Plaza Falls’ its name, the imposing width of the Frontenac Estuary rolled far more tranquilly to the Veyret, dotted with pleasure boats which were themselves yet another emblem of the Republic of Haven’s renaissance. It was impressive, even from the suite’s imposing height.

She gazed at the city, the rivers, and the falls for several seconds, then turned her attention politely to Pritchart.

The president looked around the table, obviously checking to be certain everyone was settled, then squared her own shoulders and looked back at Honor.

“It’s occurred to me, Admiral Alexander-Harrington, that this is probably a case of the less formality, the better. We’ve already tried the formal diplomatic waltz, with position papers and diplomatic notes moving back and forth, before we started shooting at each other again, and we’re all only too well aware of where that ended up. Since your Queen’s been willing to send you to us under such . . . untrammeled conditions, I’d like to maintain as much informality as possible this time around, in hopes of achieving a somewhat more satisfactory outcome. I do have a certain structure in mind, but with your agreement, I’d prefer to allow frank discussion among all the participants, instead of the standard procedure where you and I — or you and Leslie — simply repeat our formal positions to one another over and over while everyone else sits back, watches, and tries valiantly to stay awake.”

“I think I could live with that, Madam President,” Honor replied, feeling the slight smile she couldn’t totally suppress dance around her lips.

“Good. In that case, I thought that since you’ve come all this way to deliver Queen Elizabeth’s message, I’d ask you to repeat it for all of us. And after you’ve done that, I would appreciate it if you would sketch out for us — in broad and general strokes, of course — a preliminary presentation of the Star Kingdom — I’m sorry, the Star Empire’s — view of what might constitute the terms of a sensible peace settlement.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Honor agreed, sternly telling the butterflies in her stomach to stop fluttering. Odd how much more unnerving this was than the mere prospect of facing an enemy wall of battle.

She settled further back into her chair, feeling Nimitz’s warm, silken presence against the back of her head, and drew a deep breath.

“Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen,” she began, “I’ll begin by being blunt, and I hope no one will be offended by my candor. Please remember that despite any titles I may have acquired, or any diplomatic accreditation Queen Elizabeth may have trusted me with, I’m basically a yeoman-born naval officer, not a trained diplomat. If I seem to be overly direct, please understand no discourtesy is intended.”