Chapter Four

          "– this morning, so I think that situation's under control, Milady."

          "I see." Michelle tipped back in the chair behind the desk and contemplated Commodore Arlo Turner with a hidden smile of mingled satisfaction and exasperation.

          Turner, a heavyset, fair-haired man in his mid-fifties, was, like Michelle,  from the planet of Manticore itself. More than that, he was from the City of Landing, the Star Kingdom' capital, and she suspected that he'd always been one of those people who followed the daily newsfaxes expressly so he could keep up with the doings of what was still called "the rich and famous." When she first realized that, she'd been tempted to write him off as an inept, would-be social climber, but she'd quickly realized that would have been doing him a disservice he didn't deserve. He might be fascinated by the social gossip columns, and she didn't doubt he cherished a slightly wistful hope of someday attaining at least a knighthood of his very own, yet he was anything but inept. In fact, he was one of the more efficient administrators she'd ever worked with, and she had no doubt he was a competent tactician, too, despite his present residence in one of the Republic of Haven's prisoner-of-war camps. After all, she considered herself a reasonably competent tactician, and look where she'd ended up.

          Her lips twitched, the hidden smile almost breaking free, as that thought flickered through her mind, but it wasn't what had awakened her exasperation. Despite his efficiency, and despite her rather pointed hints to the contrary, he simply could not forget that she was Queen Elizabeth's first cousin and the Countess of Gold Peak in her own right. It would be grossly unfair to accuse him of anything remotely like fawning, yet he insisted upon addressing her as "Admiral Gold Peak," and instead of the sturdy, serviceable naval "Ma'am" she would really have preferred, he insisted upon the technically correct "Milady" whenever he addressed her.

          I suppose if that's the only thing I can find to worry about where he's concerned, I don't have any real room for complaint, she reflected, and glanced sideways for a moment at Lieutenant Colonel Ivan McGregor.

          McGregor, who had been born and raised on the planet of Gryphon, less than five hundred kilometers from what had since become the Duchy of Harrington, was Turner's antithesis in almost every way. Where Turner was fair-haired and blue-eyed, McGregor had black hair, dark brown eyes, and a swarthy complexion. Where Turner was heavyset — chunky, not overweight — and stood only a little more than a hundred and sixty-two centimeters in height, McGregor had a runner's build and topped a hundred and ninety-three centimeters. And if Turner was a gossip junkie, McGregor had every bit of the native Gryphon's distrust for the majority of the Star Kingdom's aristocracy, and his eyes reflected an echo of Michelle's own exasperation with Turner's choice of address at the moment.

          Despite which, the two men were fast friends and worked smoothly together.

          Until her own unanticipated arrival, Turner had been the senior officer of Camp Charlie-Seven, and McGregor, as the senior Marine officer in the camp, had been his adjutant and the commander of Camp Charlie's internal police service. He continued to hold both of those posts, and Turner had become Michelle's executive officer.

          If she were going to be completely honest, she had to admit her own duties consisted primarily of standing back and letting the two of them get on with the smoothly oiled partnership they'd built up during their thirteen months in captivity. Both of them had been captured in the opening stages of Operation Thunderbolt, and she was impressed by their joint refusal to allow the fact that they had been captured so early in the war, through no fault of their own to embitter them.

          There's a lesson there I'd probably better learn for myself, the way this war seems to be going. Her temptation to smile disappeared with the thought.

          "So you're satisfied, then, Arlo?"

          "Yes, Milady." The commodore nodded. "It was only a misunderstanding. The kitchens screwed up their records — it looks like a simple data-entry error. According to them, we still had plenty of fresh vegetables. I think Captain Bouvier's a little ticked that he didn't realize the reports had to be in error, given the delivery schedule, and he assures me we can expect delivery within the next few hours."

          "Good." Michelle nodded.

          Captain Adelbert Bouvier was the Republican Navy's designated "liaison officer" to its prisoner-of-war camps here on the Republic's capital world. Frankly, she found the Havenites' arrangements a bit . . . peculiar. Technically, Bouvier should probably have been considered Camp Charlie-Seven's commanding officer, although he wasn't called that. He was the Havenite officer with command authority over the camp and its inhabitants, at any rate, but he and his superiors seemed prepared to allow Camp Charlie to function with a sort of semi-autonomy which had astounded Michelle when she first encountered it.

          Right off the top of her head, she couldn't think of another example of a star nation which didn't bother to post its own personnel on the ground, as it were, to at least keep an eye on a camp full of prisoners of war, all of whom could be presumed to be trained military personnel with a distinct interest in being elsewhere. On the other hand, it wasn't exactly as if they needed to put a lot of boots on the ground here at Charlie-Seven.

          Reminds me a little of what Honor had to say about Cerberus, she reflected, glancing out the window of her office in the camp's main administration building. Not that it has anything in common with the way those motherless StateSec bastards treated their prisoners, thank God! But the Peeps — no, Honor was right about that, too; the Havenites — do seem to have a thing about islands.

          Camp Charlie-Seven occupied the entirety of a relatively small, somewhat chilly island in the planet of Haven's Vaillancourt Sea. It was almost eight hundred kilometers to the nearest body of land in any direction, which provided what Michelle had to concede was a reasonably effective moat. And if there were no guards actually on the ground, everyone in the camp knew their island was under permanent, round-the-clock surveillance by dedicated satellites and ground-based remote sensors. Even assuming that anyone on the island had been able to cobble up some sort of boat that actually stood a chance of crossing to the mainland across all that water, the sensor nets and satellites would have detected the attempt to launch said boat quickly, and Republican Marines could be on the ground on the island within fifteen minutes, if they really needed to.

          With that sort of security available, Secretary of War Theisman had opted to allow his prisoners to manage their own affairs, subject to a sort of distant oversight by officers like Captain Bouvier, as long as they kept things running relatively smoothly. It might be an unheard-of technique, but it appeared to be an effective one, and it was about as far as it was possible to get from the horror stories Michelle Henke heard from Manticorans unfortunate enough to fall into Havenite custody in the previous war.

          Which is undoubtedly the reason he did it. She shook her head mentally. There's a man who still thinks he has a lot to make up for. And not for anything he did, either. Honor was right — he is a decent man.

          In fact, she'd come to the conclusion that most of the Havenites she'd met were decent people. In a way, she wished that weren't the case. It was always simpler when one could think of the enemy as the scum of the galaxy. Reflecting on the fact that the people who were firing missiles at you — and who you were firing missiles back at — were just as decent as anyone you knew on your side could be. . . uncomfortable.