Mission Of Honor – Snippet 36

They gazed back at her, all of them from behind the impassive façades of experienced politicians, and she considered inviting them to just relax and check their poker faces at the door. It wasn’t as if those well-trained expressions were doing them any good against someone as capable of reading the emotions behind them as any treecat. And anything she missed, Nimitz wouldn’t when they compared notes later.

Still, judging by the way they taste, Pritchart, Theisman, and Montreau — at the very least — already know that as well as McGwire and Tullingham do. Interesting that none of them’ve made a point of their knowledge, though.

“As I’ve already told President Pritchart, both my Queen and I are fully aware that the view of who’s truly responsible for the conflict between our two star nations isn’t the same from Manticore and Haven. I’ve also already conceded to President Pritchart that the High Ridge Government must bear its share of blame for the diplomatic failure which led to the resumption of hostilities between our star nations. I think, however, that no one in Nouveau Paris, anymore than anyone in Landing, can deny that the Republic of Haven actually fired the first shots of this round when it launched Operation Thunderbolt. I’m confident the decision to do so was not lightly taken, and I don’t doubt for a moment that you felt, rightly or wrongly, both that you were justified and that it was the best of the several bad options available to you. But the fact remains that Manticore didn’t start the shooting in any of our conflicts with Haven.

“Nonetheless, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve come to a crossroads. I know some of you blame the Star Empire for all that’s happened. I assure you, there are more than sufficient people in the Star Empire who blame the Republic for all that’s happened. And the truth, of course, is that both sides must bear their own share of the responsibility. Yet at this moment, the Star Empire’s military advantage is, quite frankly, overwhelming.”

They weren’t liking what they were hearing; that much was painfully obvious to her empathic sense, despite their impressive control of their faces. But she also tasted the bleak awareness that what she’d just said was self-evidently true. It was strongest from Pritchart and Theisman, but she tasted a surprisingly strong flare of the same awareness from Nesbitt. Montreau and Bourchier clearly recognized the same unpalatable truth, but there was something different, less personal about their recognition than Honor tasted in Nesbitt’s.

Younger, on the other hand, seemed to be one of those people who were constitutionally incapable of accepting the very possibility of failure. It was as if he was able to intellectually recognize that Apollo gave the Manticoran Alliance a huge military advantage yet unable to accept the corollary that he could no longer “game” his way to the outcome he wanted.

McGwire and Tullingham, unlike Younger, clearly did recognize how severely the tectonic shift in military power limited their options, but that didn’t mean they were prepared to give up. She suspected they’d be willing to bow to the inevitable, in the end, but only after they’d cut the best personal deals they could.

Well, they’re welcome to cut all of the domestic political deals they want to, she thought grimly.

“The simple truth,” she continued, “is that it’s now within the power of the Royal Manticoran Navy to systematically reduce the orbital infrastructure of every star system of the Republic to rubble.” Her voice was quiet, yet she felt them flinching from her words as if they’d been fists. “You can’t stop us, however courageous or determined Admiral Theisman’s men and women may be, even with the advantages of the missile defense system — Moriarity, I believe you call it — Admiral Foraker devised before the Battle of Solon, as we demonstrated at Lovat.”

A fresh stab of pain ripped through Pritchart, and it was Honor’s turn to flinch internally, in combined sympathy and guilt. Guilt not so much for having killed Javier Giscard, as for the way in which killing him had wounded Eloise Pritchart, as well.

“There are those in the Star Empire,” she went on, allowing no trace of her awareness of Pritchart’s pain to color her own expression or tone, “who would prefer to do just that. Who think it’s time for us to use our advantage to completely destroy your fleet, along with all the casualties that would entail, and then to turn the entire Republic into one huge junkyard unless you surrender unconditionally to the Star Empire and the Manticoran Alliance. And, if you do surrender, to impose whatever domestic changes and limitations may be necessary to prevent you from ever again threatening the Star Empire or Queen Elizabeth’s subjects.”

She paused, letting her words sink home, tasting their anger, their apprehension, their resentment and frustration. Yet even now, hope continued to flicker, made even stronger in many ways by simple desperation. By the fact that there had to be some end less terrible than the total destruction of all they’d fought and struggled to build and accomplish.

“I would be lying to you, ladies and gentlemen,” she resumed finally, “if I didn’t admit that the Manticorans who would prefer to see the final and permanent destruction of the Republic of Haven probably outnumber those who would prefer any other outcome. And I’m sure there are any number of Havenites who feel exactly the same way about the Star Empire after so many years of warfare and destruction.

“But vengeance begets vengeance.” Her voice was soft, her brown, almond-shaped eyes very level as they swept the faces of the Havenites. “Destruction can be a ‘final solution’ only when that destruction is complete and total. When there’s no one left on the other side — will never be anyone left on the other side — to seek their own vengeance. Surely history offers endless examples of that basic, unpalatable truth. Rome had ‘peace’ with Carthage back on Old Terra in the end, but only when Carthage had been not simply defeated, but totally destroyed. And no one in the Star Empire is foolish enough to believe we can ‘totally destroy’ the Republic of Haven. Whatever we do, wherever the Star Empire and the Republic go from this point, there will still be people on both sides who identify themselves as Manticoran or Havenite and remember what the other side did to them, and no military advantage lasts forever. Admiral Theisman and Admiral Foraker demonstrated that quite clearly two or three T-years ago, and I assure you that we in the Star Empire learned the lesson well.”

Something like an echo of bleak satisfaction quivered around the Havenite side of the table at her admission, and she met Theisman’s gaze, then nodded very slightly to him.

“So the position of the Star Empire, Ladies and Gentlemen,” she told them, “is that it’s ultimately in the best interests of both Manticore and Haven to end this. To end it now, with as little additional bloodshed, as little additional destruction, as little additional grounds for us to hate one another and seek vengeance upon one another, as possible. My Queen doesn’t expect that to be easy. She doesn’t expect it to happen quickly. But the truth is that it’s a simple problem. Solving it may not be simple, yet if we can agree on the unacceptability of failure, it’s a solution we can achieve. One we must achieve. Because if we fail to, then all that will remain are more of those ‘bad options’ that have brought us to this pass in the first place. And if all that remain are bad options, then Her Majesty’s Government and military forces will choose the option most likely to preclude Haven’s threatening the Star Empire again for as many decades as possible.”

She looked around the conference table again, sampling the whirlwind emotions behind those outwardly calm and attentive faces, and shook her head slowly.

“I personally believe, both as an officer in Her Majesty’s service and as a private citizen, that that would be a disaster. That it would only sow the seeds of still another cycle of bloodshed and killing in the fullness of time. None of which means it won’t happen anyway, if we fail to find some other solution. That I won’t carry out my own orders to make it happen. So it’s up to us — all of us, Manticoran and Havenite — to decide which outcome we can achieve. And my own belief, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that we owe it not only to all the people who may die in the future but to those who have already died — to all our dead, Manticoran, Grayson, Andermani, and Havenite — to choose the right outcome.”