Mission Of Honor – Snippet 41

“Well, fair’s fair,” Helen said judiciously. They all looked at her, and she shrugged. “Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time watching Cathy Montaigne maneuver back home, but it occurs to me that having Thimble crawling with newsies may be the best thing that could happen.”

“Just how do you mean that?” Gervais asked. In the wrong tone, the question could have been dismissive, especially given the difference in their ages and relative seniority. As it was, he sounded genuinely curious, and she shrugged again.

“Politics is all about perceptions and understandings. I realize Cathy Montaigne’s mainly involved in domestic politics right now, but the same basic principle applies in interstellar diplomacy. If you control the terms of the debate, the advantage is all on your side. You can’t make somebody on the other side make the decision you want, but you’ve got a much better chance of getting her to do that if she’s got to defend her position in the public mind instead of you having to defend your position. Controlling the information — and especially the public perception of that information — is one of the best ways to limit her options to the ones most favorable to your own needs. Don’t forget, if the Sollies want a formal declaration of war, all it takes is one veto by a full member star system to stop them. That’s a pretty significant prize for a PR campaign to go after. And, at the moment, the way we want to control the debate is simply to tell the truth about what happened at New Tuscany, right?”

Gervais nodded, and she shrugged a third time.

“Well, if all the newsies in the universe are here in Spindle getting our side of the story, looking at the sensor data we’ve released, and interviewing our people, that’s what’s going to be being reported back on Old Terra. They can try to spin it any way they want, but the basic message getting sent back to all those Sollies — even by their own newsies — is going to be built on what they’re finding out here, from us.”

“That’s more or less what Minister Krietzmann says,” Helga admitted, “although he’s prone to use some pretty colorful adjectives to describe the newsies in question.”

“I think Lady Gold Peak would agree, too, even if she is doing her dead level best to stay as far away from them as possible,” Gervais said, and Abigail and Helen nodded. As Michelle Henke’s flag lieutenant, he was in a far better position to form that kind of judgment than either of them were.

“What about Sir Aivars?” Helga asked. Helen, who was Sir Aivars Terekhov’s flag lieutenant, raised both eyebrows at her, and Helga snorted. “He may be only a commodore, Helen, but everybody in the Quadrant knows how long he spent in the diplomatic service before he went back into uniform. Besides, Mr. Van Dort and the rest of the Prime Minister’s cabinet all have enormous respect for him.”

“We haven’t actually discussed it,” Helen replied after a moment. “On the other hand, he’s passed up at least half a dozen opportunities I can think of to hide aboard the Jimmy Boy to avoid interviews, so I’d say he was doing his bit to shape public opinion.”

Gervais grinned as she used the crew’s nickname for HMS Quentin Saint-James. The brand-new Saganami-C-class heavy cruiser had been in commission for barely five months, yet she’d had her official nickname almost before the commissioning ceremonies concluded. Most ships wouldn’t have managed the transition that quickly, but in Quentin Saint-James’ case things were a bit different. Her name was on the RMN’s List of Honor, to be kept in permanent commission, and the nickname was the same one which had been applied to the first Quentin Saint-James the better part of two T-centuries ago.

And if “Jimmy Boy” was a youngster, she was scarcely alone in that. In fact, aside from Admiral Khumalo’s ancient superdreadnought flagship Hercules, there wasn’t a single ship heavier than a light cruiser in Admiral Gold Peak’s Tenth Fleet which was even a full year old yet. Indeed, most of the destroyers were no older than Quentin St. James and her sisters.

“Well,” Helga said after a moment, “I imagine the Minister will go right on ‘doing his bit’, too. Don’t expect him to like it, though.”

“Some things are more likely than others,” Helen agreed. Then she snorted.

“What?” Abigail asked.

“Nothing.” Abigail looked skeptical, and Helen chuckled. “All right, I was just thinking about how the first newsy to shove his microphone in Daddy’s face would make out. I’m sure Daddy would be sorry afterwards. He’d probably even insist on paying the medical bills himself.”

“I wondered where you got that physically violent disposition of yours,” Gervais said blandly.

“I am not physically violent!”

“Oh, no?” He did his best to look down his longitude-challenged nose at her. “You may recall that I was sent over to Quentin Saint-James with that note from Lady Gold Peak to the Commodore last week?” She looked at him suspiciously, then nodded. “Well, I just happened to wander by the gym while I was there and I saw you throwing people around the mat with gay abandon.”

“I wasn’t!” she protested with a gurgle of laughter.

“You most certainly were. One of your henchmen told me you were using something called the ‘Flying Mare’s Warhammer of Doom, Destruction, and Despair.'”

“Called the what?” Helga looked at Helen in disbelief.

“It’s not called any such thing, and you know it!” Helen accused, doing her best to glare at Gervais.

“I don’t know about that,” he said virtuously. “That’s what I was told it was called.”

“Okay,” Abigail said. “Now you’ve got to tell us what it’s really called, Helen!”

“The way he’s mangled it, even I don’t know which one it was!”

“Well, try to sort it out.”

“I’m guessing — and that’s all it is, you understand — that it was probably a combination of the Flying Mare, the Hand Hammer, and — maybe — the Scythe of Destruction.”

“And that’s supposed to be better than what he just said?” Abigail looked at her in disbelief. Abigail herself had become proficient in coup de vitesse, but she’d never trained in Helen’s chosen Neue-Stil Handgemenge. “Coup de vitesse doesn’t even have names for most of its moves, but if it did, it wouldn’t have those!”

“Look, don’t blame me,” Helen replied. “The people who worked this stuff out in the first place named the moves, not me! According to Master Tye, they were influenced by some old entertainment recordings. Something called ‘movies.'”

“Oh, Tester!” Abigail shook her head. “Forget I said a thing!”

“What?” Helen looked confused, and Abigail snorted.

“Up until Lady Harrington did some research back home in Manticore — I think she even queried the library computers in Beowulf and on Old Terra, as a matter of fact — nobody on Grayson had ever actually seen the movies our ancestors apparently based their notions of swordplay on. Now, unfortunately, we have. And fairness requires that I admit most of the ‘samurai movies’ were at least as silly as anything the Neue-Stil people could have been watching.”

“Well, my ancestors certainly never indulged in anything that foolish,” Gervais said with an air of unbearable superiority.

“Want to bet?” Abigail inquired with a dangerous smile.

“Why?” he asked distrustfully.

“Because if I remember correctly, your ancestors came from Old North America — from the Western Hemisphere, at least — just like mine did.”


“And while Lady Harrington was doing her research on samurai movies, she got some cross hits to something called ‘cowboy movies.’ So she brought them along, too. In fact, she got her uncle and his friends in the SCA involved in putting together a ‘movie festival’ in Harrington Steading. Quite a few of those movies were made in a place called Hollywood, which also happens to have been in Old North America. Some of them were actually darned good, but others –” She shuddered. “Trust me, your ancestors and mine apparently had . . . erratic artistic standards, let’s say.”

“That’s all very interesting, I’m sure,” Gervais said briskly, “but it’s leading us astray from the truly important focus we ought to be maintaining on current events.”

“In other words,” Helga told Abigail, “he’s losing the argument, so he’s changing the rules.”

“Maybe he is,” Helen said. “No, scratch that — he definitely is. Still, he may have a point. It’s not like any of us are going to be in a position to make any earth shattering decisions, but between us, we’re working for several people who will be. Under the circumstances, I don’t think it would hurt a bit for us to share notes. Nothing confidential, but the kind of general background stuff that might let me answer one of the Commodore’s questions without his having to get hold of someone in Minister Krietzmann’s office or someone on Lady Gold Peak’s staff, for instance.”

“That’s actually a very good point,” Gervais said much more seriously, nodding at her in approval, and she felt a glow of satisfaction. She was preposterously young and junior for her current assignment, but at least she seemed to be figuring out how to make herself useful.

“I agree,” Abigail said, although as the tactical officer aboard one of the new Roland-class destroyers she was the only person at the table who wasn’t a flag lieutenant or someone’s personal aide, and gave Helen a smile.

“Well, in that case,” Gervais said, “have you guys heard about what Lady Gold Peak is planning to do to Admiral Oversteegen?”

* * *

“It’s time, Admiral,” Felicidad Kolstad said.

“I know,” Admiral Topolev of the Mesan Alignment Navy replied.

He sat once more upon MANS Mako’s flag bridge. Beyond the flagship’s hull, fourteen more ships of Task Group 1.1, kept perfect formation upon her, and the brilliant beacon of Manticore-A blazed before them. They were only one light-week from that star, now, and they’d decelerated to only twenty percent of light-speed. This was the point for which they’d been headed ever since leaving Mesa four T-months before. Now it was time to do what they’d come here to do.

“Begin deployment,” he said, and the enormous hatches opened and the pods began to spill free.

The six units of Task Group 1.2 were elsewhere, under Rear Admiral Lydia Papnikitas, closing on Manticore-B. They wouldn’t be deploying their pods just yet, not until they’d reached their own preselected launch point. Topolev wished he’d had more ships to commit to that prong of the attack, but the decision to move up Oyster Bay had dictated the available resources, and this prong had to be decisive. Besides, there were fewer targets in the Manticore-B subsystem, anyway, and the planners had had to come up with the eight additional Shark-class ships for Admiral Colenso’s Task Group 2.1’s Grayson operation from somewhere.

It’ll be enough, he told himself, watching as the pods disappeared steadily behind his decelerating starships, vanishing into the endless dark between the stars. It’ll be enough. And in about five weeks, the Manties are going to get a late Christmas present they’ll never forget.