"I think that's an excellent idea, Madame Governor," Krietzmann said, sitting forward in his chair. "But part of our 'basic strategic situation' out here are the implications of the Old Star Kingdom's strategic situation closer to home. Specifically, I'm thinking about this summit meeting between Her Majesty and President Pritchart. How likely is that to lead to serious peace talks? And, short of serious peace talks, how long do we expect the cease-fire to last?"

            "Those are two excellent questions, Mr. Krietzmann," Michelle said. "Unfortunately, the answer to the first one is that no one knows. Both sides have obvious reasons to want to stop shooting at one another, if we can. But, by the same token, both sides appear to have painted themselves into something of a corner where the question of 'war guilt' is concerned. I don't see how any sort of peace talks can succeed if we can't even agree on who falsified whose diplomatic correspondence before the war. The initiative came from the Havenites' side. If that means they're willing to make some genuine concessions, a serious effort towards establishing — and admitting — responsibility for the forgeries, then I think the chance of 'serious peace talks' is at least pretty good.

            "Short of that, I'd guess the cease-fire is going to last for a minimum of several months. It's going to take that long just to get all of the messages setting it up sent back and forth. Then Beth — I mean, Her Majesty — and Pritchart are going to have to get to Torch for the actual summit. It's over a month's voyage for Pritchart, one way, and I doubt anyone is going to be willing to give up without spending at least a month or two proving to the other side — and to the galaxy at large — that however unreasonable the other fellows may be being, we're doing our dead level best to bring all this bloodshed to an end. And then you've got the voyage time home for Pritchart. Considering all of that, I'd say five T-months wouldn't be at all out of the question."

            "That's about what Gregor I have been estimating from this end," Baroness Medusa said with a nod.

            "And if it does last that long, what does it mean for us here in Talbott?" Krietzmann asked.

            "The main thing it would mean, Henri," Khumalo said, "is that the majority of the emergency war program construction will have time to come into service. And that, in turn, means the Admiralty's plans to beef up our naval presence here in the Quadrant could proceed without worrying about diversions to meet unanticipated needs on the main front. Which means Vice Admiral Gold Peak's new fleet's order of battle would come forward more or less as scheduled, and that we ought to see the first light attack craft squadrons being deployed within the next month or so."

            "Really?" Krietzmann looked as if he were more than half afraid to believe it. He obviously didn't think Khumalo was lying to him. It was more as if he found it difficult to believe the universe would allow things to go that smoothly.

            "Really," Khumalo assured him. "In the long run, I think the LACs are going to be even more useful here in the Quadrant than Tenth Fleet. I doubt any Solly with Frontier Security or Frontier Fleet would consider them any sort of threat, so they aren't going to have any deterrence value for someone like Verrochio. That's what Tenth Fleet is for. But once we get two or three squadrons of them deployed to every one of the Quadrant's systems, we'll pretty much have knocked piracy on its head. And, to be honest, the LACs are going to be the best means for gradually integrating the personnel of the local system navies into the RMN."

            "I certainly agree with that," Van Dort said firmly. "No pirate in his right mind is going to cross swords with a modern Manticoran LAC. Or, at least, not after the word gets around about what happens to the first couple of them to try it. And the LAC squadrons and their personnel are going to be seen by the locals as 'theirs' in a way hyper-capable ships aren't. They'll be the local police force, not the Navy that comes swinging through the vicinity to check on things every so often. And integrating local personnel into their complements is going to be the best way to start getting our people trained up on modern naval technology, as well."

            "That's the Admiralty's thinking, Sir," Michelle agreed. "It won't be the same as running them all through basic training back home, but what they have in mind is more of an orientation mission. Each LAC detachment will have its own simulators for training, and running local personnel through them will give our people a chance to evaluate their general skill levels and basic competence, which aren't necessarily the same thing. Ultimately, BuPers is going to have to set up whatever remedial education is necessary in-house, since both the Admiralty and the PM have already made it clear that there are going to be Talbotters in the RMN and that they are not going to get stuck with some kind of second-class status. That means bringing their basic educational levels up to Manticoran standards, not trying to do some sort of rote training or 'enough to get by' training like the old Peep Navy used with its conscripts. That's going to require a lot out of them in terms of extra classroom studies, at least until we get the general education system out here up to Manticoran standards, but there's no way to avoid that, and I think the people who actually want to transfer to naval service will be willing to make the effort. In fact, that's probably going to be one of those Darwinian filters that help us recruit the cream of the crop.

            "In the meantime, of course, the squadrons themselves will provide a defense in depth against the kind of . . . risk-averse scum who go into piracy as a career. And, frankly, there's another advantage to it from my perspective, given what you've just told me about Commissioner Verrochio. The quicker we can get the LACs up and running to deal with people like that, the quicker I can get my strength concentrated and pushed far enough forward to remind Mr. Verrochio to stay away from our cookies."