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Chapter Eighteen

"Well, Chief," Captain Scotty Tremaine said, "what do you think?"


"Me, Sir?" Chief Warrant Officer Sir Horace Harkness shook his head. "I think the rest of the Navy got itself reamed a new one while we were off at Marsh. And I think they expect us to do something about it now."


"Chief, that is so cynical of you." Captain Tremaine shook his head with a lopsided smile.


"No, Sir. Not cynical, just experienced. Look at it. Everywhere we've been with the Old Lady, we've kicked ass and taken names. And the minute those assholes working for High Ridge send us off to the back of beyond, what happens? And who do they always send in to do the dirtiest jobs after it all hits the fan? The Old Lady. And us, of course," Harkness added with becoming modesty.


Tremaine's smile grew wider, but he really couldn't argue with Harkness' analysis. And everything he'd seen so far, especially in the classified situation reports and ONI analyses to which his rank allowed him access, suggested things were even worse than the warrant officer knew.


"I'm sure Duchess Harrington is vastly relieved to know you're along, Chief," he said. "In the meantime, we've got an entire squadron of carriers waiting for us to whip their LAC groups into shape. Now, Her Grace hasn't seen fit to tell me exactly what we're going to be doing, but from the force mix I've seen and a few things Admiral Truman's let drop, it's not going to be picketing the approaches to the home system. So I was thinking it's time you and I spent a few productive afternoons thinking up particularly evil training scenarios for those poor souls entrusted to our care."


"Actually, Sir," Harkness said with a grin of his own, "I've already been giving some thought to that. You want to get Lieutenant Chernitskaya in on this?"


"Of course I do. She's our tac officer, after all. And it distresses me to see such innocence and lack of guile in an officer of her seniority and native talent. It's time we began initiating her into the true deviousness of our profession."


"Officers really have a way with words, don't they, Sir?"


"We try, Chief. We try."


* * *

"So you're fairly satisfied with the Cutworm target list, Ma'am?"


"As satisfied as I can be, Andrea," Honor agreed, sitting back from the table and wiping her lips on a napkin. The scattered remains of lunch lay on the table between her, Jaruwalski, Brig-ham, Alice Truman, and Samuel Miklós, and she looked up with a smile as James MacGuiness refilled her cocoa mug and handed Nimitz a fresh stick of celery.


"I don't like spreading our forces this thinly," she continued more seriously, looking back at her subordinates as MacGuiness silently withdrew from the dining cabin of Imperator's enormous admiral's quarters. "But we've got to get this op moving. We've been sitting here for over three weeks since we finally activated the command, and we still don't have our entire assigned order of battle. Part of me wants to go right on waiting until we do, so we'd have the strength to hit better-defended targets, but we can't. And given the pressure to move, it's probably as good a distribution as we could hope to come up with."


"That's true enough, Honor," Truman agreed, "although I don't think I'm any crazier than you are over the notion of splitting up into such small penny packets. On the other hand, we ought to catch them fairly unprepared."


"I know." Honor sipped cocoa, letting her mind run back over the framework of the operation which had been assigned the randomly generated codename of "Cutworm." It was a silly name, but no sillier than "Operation Buttercup" had been. And unlike some navies—including, apparently, the Havenite fleet, upon occasion—the Royal Manticoran Navy had a pretty good track record for selecting operational designators which didn't give clues as to what those operations were intended to do.


"To be honest," she said finally, lowering her mug, "I think part of what I'm suffering from is opening-night jitters. But all of us need to remember that Thomas Theisman and Lester Tourville, at least, have frighteningly steep learning curves. The fact that we're almost certain to get away with it the first time around is really, really going to . . . irritate them. Which means they're going to devote some serious effort to figuring out what to do about us before we come calling the next time."


"Agreed, Your Grace," Miklós said. "Still, their options are going to be constrained by the availability of forces, unless they do exactly what we want them to do in the first place, and divert rear area security detachments from their frontline formations. In which case, we'll have achieved our primary objective."


"Which will no doubt be very satisfying to our next of kin," Truman observed dryly, and a chuckle ran around the table.


"All right," Honor said, sitting a bit more upright in her chair, "given the target list Andrea and Mercedes have come up with, how soon do you two—" she looked at Truman and Miklós "—think we can be ready to move."


"That depends partly on how ready the screen and Alistair are," Truman, as the senior of the two vice admirals, replied after a moment. "Speaking purely for the carriers, I think . . . another week. Miklós?"


She glanced at the other CLAC squadron commander and cocked one eyebrow.


"About that," he agreed. "We could go sooner if Unicorn and Sprite had gotten here on schedule. But—"


He shrugged, and everyone at the table understood his wry expression perfectly.


"They're not really fully up to standard yet, but they're coming along well. I'd be happier with more time for exercises, of course. Any flag officer always is. But, to be perfectly honest, the way we're breaking the formations up pretty much precludes the need for training above the divisional level. And we're hitting them deep enough we'll have another nine days to drill en route."


"That's what I was thinking." Truman nodded. "And on that basis, I think we're in pretty good shape. But if you don't mind, Sam, I've got some training scenarios I'd like to upload to your carriers, as well." Miklós looked faintly curious, and she gave him a rather nasty grin. "It would appear our good Captain Tremaine has pretty accurately deduced what we're going to be doing. He and Chief Harkness have put together some simulator packages built around individual LAC groups."


"Scotty and Harkness?" Brigham laughed. "Why do I find that particular combination of authors just a bit ominous, Ma'am?"


"Because you know them?" Honor suggested.


"Probably," Truman agreed. "On the other hand, Lieutenant Chernitskaya, Scotty's tac officer seems to have made quite a few contributions of her own. I think you'd like her, Honor. She's . . . devious."


"Chernitskaya?" Jaruwalski repeated. "Any relation to Admiral Chernitsky?"


"His granddaughter," Truman said.


"Viktor Chernitsky?" Honor asked.


"Yes. Did you know him?"


"We only met once, after he'd retired. Admiral Courvoisier once told me, though, that he thought Viktor Chernitsky might have been the greatest strategist he'd ever known. He always said it was a great pity Chernitsky was too old for prolong by the time it got to the Star Kingdom."


"I don't know about strategy, but if there's a gene for sneaky tactics, I think he passed that one on," Truman said.


"I'm always looking for new sims," Miklós said. "Mind telling me what's so special about these, though?"


"Mostly the op force. The bad guys in these simulations are about as sneaky as they get, and Scotty and his minions have consistently integrated ONI's most pessimistic assumptions about the Peeps' current hardware, as well. Somewhere—" Truman smiled at Honor "—he seems to have come up with the notion that the best simulations put you up against enemies who are better than anyone you're actually likely to meet."


"Makes sense to me," Miklós said. "But you said it was mainly the op force?"


"The other part is that Scotty seems to have visualized what we're going to be doing more clearly than most of the other COLACs. His sims are almost all built around raids and how the bad guys might respond. No one's given him any official briefings all the others didn't get, but he's clearly figured out what these operations are going to entail."


"Then by all means let's get them as widely distributed as we can," Honor decided.


"Yes, Ma'am," Jaruwalski acknowledged, making a note in her memo pad.


"And while she's doing that, Mercedes," Honor decided, "you and I are going to hop one of the shuttle flights back to Manticore. We can make the round-trip in thirty-six hours, even allowing for time at the Admiralty, and I want to touch base with Sir Thomas one last time before we actually kick off."


"Of course, Your Grace," Mercedes murmured, and Honor tasted her chief of staff's carefully concealed fond amusement. Obviously, Mercedes realized she was also looking forward to "touching base" with Hamish Alexander, as well as his First Space Lord. While Brigham clearly continued to nurse some serious reservations about the wisdom of the entire affair—Honor managed not to wince at her own unintentional double entendre—she'd apparently come to the conclusion that it had been good for Honor, at least in a personal sense.


On the other hand, she didn't know about certain rapidly approaching consequences of their relationship.


"While we're there," Honor continued serenely, "I'll inform Sir Thomas that, barring any unforeseen eventualities, we'll be launching Operation Cutworm in approximately seven days from now."


* * *

"All of that sounds excellent, Honor," Sir Thomas Caparelli said. He was tipped back in his chair behind the desk in his Admiralty House office, where Honor and Mercedes Brigham had just finished a final briefing on Cutworm.


"I'm sorry it's taken us so long to get organized, Sir Thomas," Honor said.


"Not your fault." He shook his head quickly. "After episodes like that fiasco in Zanzibar, and the pressure of the Alizon raid, we've been forced to do more redeploying of assets than anyone here at the Admiralty ever wanted to. The delays in building up your order of battle have been entirely our fault, not yours."


"I know. But at the same time, I also know how badly we need to do something to keep them from launching more attacks like the one on Zanzibar."


"We do. But you were absolutely right when you pointed out that attacking in insufficient strength would be worse than useless." He sighed. "I just wish it didn't feel so much like 'insufficient strength' is all we've got."


"We'll just have to maximize the edges we have," Honor replied. She glanced at Brigham for a moment, then went on. "Mercedes and I haven't mentioned anything about the new targeting systems in our staff sessions, Sir Thomas. We don't like to think about losing people or having them captured, but it can happen, and we decided to restrict that information as tightly as possible. But the last time I spoke to Commander Hennessy, he indicated that Admiral Hemphill's people were planning an all up test over in Gryphon space. Do we have the test results yet?"


"Yes, we do." Caparelli nodded. "I've only seen the preliminary report so far, not the details, but I understand it looked promising. Very promising. No one's talking about deploying it tomorrow, but it's beginning to look like it should be available, at least in small numbers, sometime in the next three to four months."


"That quickly?" Honor smiled. "If it lives up to Hennessy's billing, the Havenites are going to hate that. May I also ask how we're coming on the Andermani refits?"


"That's a bit less cheerful," Caparelli replied. "It's not coming along as well as I'd hoped. It's going to take at least a few weeks more than Admiral Hemphill's original projections suggested to get their pod-layers refitted with our old-style MDMs, and the Keyhole modifications to the later ships are going to take even longer. The good news is that we'll probably get a bigger 'python lump' of them delivered in a single shot. Of course," he grimaced, "Silesia's drawing a lot of the Andies' attention just now. Ours, too, for that matter."


"I haven't been following the reports on Silesia as closely as I should have," Honor admitted. "Still, the last I heard, things seems to be going fairly well."


"Compared to the cesspool the Confederacy used to be? Certainly. Compared to any halfway honestly governed section of the galaxy, though, it's entirely too interesting for my taste. Admiral Sarnow has his hands full, believe me."


"What do you mean?" Honor asked, just a trifle anxiously. Mark Sarnow was an old friend, and she would have thought he was an almost perfect choice for the new Silesia Station's CO.


"Oh, it's nothing he isn't going to be able to deal with eventually," Caparelli said reassuringly. "But some of the old Silesian administrators obviously didn't really believe us when we told them it wasn't going to go right on being business as usual. And although most of the appointive system governors were simply retired as part of the annexation deal, almost a quarter of the governors were 'freely elected' by their citizens."


"Trust me, Sir Thomas," Honor said dryly, "there was nothing 'free' about an old-style Silesian election. The winning candidate paid cash on the barrel head for every one of those votes."


"I know, I know. But we can't simply go in and depose elected governors, however they got themselves elected in the first place, without excellent justifying cause. Some of them are stupid enough to think that will let them get away with running things the old way, and, unfortunately, several of the stupid variety had their local Confederacy Navy command structure firmly in their pockets under the previous régime. There's been a lot of passive resistance to Admiral Sarnow's instructions to decommission so many of their older units, obsolescent pieces of junk or not. And there's been even more resistance and obstructionism to his policy of completely reshuffling the star systems' command staffs. He's made a couple of salutary examples which seem to be convincing all but the most brain-dead we mean business, but unfortunately, we can't account for almost thirty percent of the Confeds' official ship list."


"Thirty percent, Sir?" Surprise startled the question out of Mercedes Brigham, despite her relative lack of seniority, and Caparelli chuckled with very little humor.


"It's nowhere near as bad as that sounds, Commodore," he reassured her. "At least half—more probably two-thirds—of the ships we can't account for were long gone before we ever came along. Hell, one of the more audacious system governors and his local naval commander were listing an entire squadron of battlecruisers—eight ships, and the next best thing to twenty thousand personnel—as present on active duty when they didn't even exist! The two of them, and maybe a half dozen other officers they needed to maintain the charade, were pocketing the nonexistent crews' salaries, not to mention every penny that was supposedly being spent on ammunition, reactor mass, maintenance, etc."


He shook his head, obviously bemused by anything which could operate on that sort of basis and still call itself a "navy."


"Still," he continued after a moment, his voice a bit bleaker, "some of those ships really did disappear, crew and all. I suspect that more than a few of the ones that did were already doing a little freelance piracy on the side, and I'm quite certain a lot of them think they can get away with doing it full-time, given how distracted we are by the Peeps. Which means, of course, that the very ship types Sarnow needs to chase them down are also the ones Eighth Fleet needs for operations like Cutworm. And then, of course, there's always Talbott."


"Are the reports about terrorist operations accurate, Sir?" Honor asked quietly.


"I think they've probably been sensationalized a bit by the media, and so far they're highly localized, but, yes. There've been some ugly incidents, especially in the Split System. Admiral Khumalo isn't exactly the sharpest stylus in the box, either, I'm afraid. Not a bad administrator, under most circumstances, but not really the right man to have on the spot when there's blood in the streets. Fortunately, Baroness Medusa is quite the opposite."


"I remember her from Basilisk," Honor agreed with a nod.


"Experience dealing with occasionally murderous aborigines is probably standing her in pretty good stead just at the moment," Caparelli said with an alum-tart smile. "Still, whatever I may think of Khumalo, it's hard to fault him for the way he keeps screaming for more ships. His area of responsibility's actually considerably larger than Sarnow's, and he's spread awfully thin. Unfortunately, there's only so much butter for our bread. We've had to send him at least a few modern ships, but overall, he's just going to have to make do with what he has. And we're just going to have to hope the situation there doesn't get any worse."


Honor nodded again. That seemed to describe the only thing they could hope for in quite a few places, at the moment, she reflected.


"Well, Sir Thomas," she said after a moment, climbing out of her chair and lifting Nimitz onto her shoulder, "we'll just have to do what we can to reduce pressure here closer to home."


"Yes, we will." He rose behind his desk. "And at least it looks like you've got a good command team to do the reducing with."


"That I do. If we don't manage to pull it off, it's not going to be their fault."


* * *

Late afternoon sunlight lay heavy and golden on the emerald green lawns of White Haven as Honor's armored limousine settled on the parking apron. The sting ships lifted away, and she climbed out of the car and stood for a moment, filling her lungs with the crisp northern air while her eyes devoured the towering, ancient trees.


Breeze moved through the swaying branches and plucked at her hair with tiny, gentle hands, and a deep, unabashedly sensual pleasure seemed to purr in her bones and muscles. Part of it was the reaction she always had after spending time on shipboard. The artificiality of her normal working environment was an inescapable fact of her life, but she'd been born and raised in the wilderness of Sphinx. She was as much a child of mountain forests and the vibrant, sometimes wild energy of sailboats on Sphinx's deep, cold oceans, as an officer of the Queen's Navy. It was an odd, sometimes painful, dichotomy which made her appreciate both her worlds even more deeply.


Yet there was more to it than that this time. She felt Nimitz at the back of her mind, savoring her sense of . . . content. That was the word, she decided, reaching up to rub the 'cat's ears gently. In the deepest sense of the word, "home," for her, had always been her parents' house on Sphinx. The house Stephanie Harrington's parents had built so many centuries before, which had sheltered so many generations of her family. Harrington House on Grayson was also "home" these days, in another sense, of course. And she supposed her Manticoran mansion on Jason Bay was, too, although somehow it still seemed more her "house" than truly home. Perhaps that was why she'd gone along with MacGuiness and Miranda—and her mother—when they insisted on rechristening that "Harrington House" as simply "the Bay House" to distinguish it from her home on Grayson.


But this, she thought, letting the quiet sounds of stirring wind, birds, and flowing water sweep through her, this had also become home. Certainly more than Jason Bay. More even than Harrington House on Grayson. Possibly as much so as the house in which she'd quite literally been born. Not because of the welcoming tranquility of the grounds, the sense of being welcomed and enveloped by the ancient house and its lovingly maintained grounds, although she certainly felt that, as well. But what made this truly home were the people who lived here.


Her three-man detail fell into formation about her even here as she headed up the graveled path. The door opened as they approached, and her heart leapt as Hamish Alexander stepped out of it. Nimitz's purr buzzed in her ear, rich with loving amusement as he tasted and shared her brilliant flash of joy, and then a float chair drifted smoothly and silently out of the door behind Hamish.


Samantha lay curled up on Emily's chest like a long, sinuous question mark, her chin resting on Emily's right shoulder, and Nimitz's purr abruptly redoubled. Honor laughed, but she couldn't really fault his reaction. Not when her own sense of homecoming had just redoubled, as well.


"Welcome home," Emily said softly, almost as if she'd been reading Honor's mind, as Honor climbed the steps.


"I can't believe how good it feels to be here," Honor replied, and then her eyes widened in surprise as Hamish put his arms around her. She stiffened for just an instant, in startlement, not resistance, looking over his shoulder at Emily. They had always been so careful to never openly embrace one another in front of her armsmen or the White Haven staff. In front of anyone, actually. And perhaps especially, by unspoken agreement, in front of Emily.


But as Honor looked at Emily, tasting her emotions, she realized they needn't have worried. There was still that thread of bittersweetness, that descant of sorrowful regret for all Emily had lost, but there was also a sense of intense . . . satisfaction. A welcoming happiness that echoed Hamish's own with a joy all Emily's own.


Honor's stiffness vanished. Her eyes prickled, and she let her cheek rest on Hamish's broad shoulder, hugging him with her left arm while she reached her right hand past him to Emily.


"It ought to feel good here," Emily said gently. "It's where you belong."


* * *

Honor looked narrowly back and forth between Hamish and Emily as they escorted her into the house. Now that the initial emotional high of homecoming had started to ebb just a bit, she realized there was something else going on under the surface of their emotions.


Nimitz sensed it, too. He had leapt lightly from Honor's shoulder to Emily's float chair, joining Samantha, but now he looked up at his person, and she tasted his own curiosity.


They're up to something, she thought. They've got some sort of surprise in store for me. 


She started to say something, then stopped. Whatever they had in mind, they were obviously looking forward to it with anticipation, and she wasn't about to do anything to spoil their surprise. And it was a surprise when they walked into Emily's atrium and found both her parents waiting for them.


"Mother? Daddy?" Honor stopped dead in the doorway when she saw them. "What are you doing here?"


"Always the diplomat," Allison Harrington said mournfully, shaking her head. "No soft soap from this girl. Brisk, businesslike, and straight to the point. Always makes you feel so welcome, doesn't she Alfred?"


"I think someone needs a spanking," her husband said tranquilly. "And not our daughter."


"Ooooooh! Promise?" Allison demanded, smiling at him wickedly.


"Mother!" Honor protested with a laugh.


"What?" Allison asked innocently.


"Filial piety precludes my answering that question the way it really deserves," Honor said repressively. "So, if you don't mind, and to return to my original question. What are you doing here? Not that I'm not delighted to see you both, of course. But having the entire Harrington family at White Haven at the same time doesn't exactly come under the heading of a discreetly low profile, now does it?"


She glanced at Hamish and Emily as she spoke, but neither of them seemed particularly worried. In fact, they seemed inordinately pleased.


"So you really were surprised," Emily said with immense satisfaction, confirming Honor's impression. "Good! You have no idea how difficult it can be to try to surprise someone who's an empath!"


"I'd figured out you were up to something," Honor told her, "but it never occurred to me that Mom and Dad might be sitting in here waiting for us. Which, if no one especially minds," she added pointedly, "brings me back to my original question. Again."


She swept the entire quartet—and the two obviously amused treecats, as well—with a demanding gaze, and Emily laughed. Laughed, Honor realized, around a bubble of intense joy. One which included her happiness at seeing Honor again, but which also partook of something else—something at least as powerful and even deeper.


"No one could possibly object to their presence," Emily said. "After all, it's a matter of public record that I invited you to dinner—I thought it was rather clever of me to time the invitation for a moment when I knew you'd be in Tom Caparelli's office and then go through the switchboard. And it's perfectly reasonable, when I invite a friend to supper, for me to invite her parents, as well. Especially," her voice softened, "when one of those parents is my newest physician."


"Physician?" Honor repeated.


"Yes." Emily smiled with a curious serenity. One that felt somehow more . . . whole in some indefinable fashion. "Your mother and I had a very interesting discussion when she told me you wanted my voice, as well as Hamish's, for the Briarwood recordings. The fact that you did meant a lot to me. But, in some ways, what your mother had to say meant even more. Hamish and I have an appointment of our own over there next week."


It took Honor an instant to realize what Emily had just said. Then the implications shot home.


"Emily!" Somehow, Honor found herself on her knees beside the float chair, holding Emily's right hand to her cheek with both of her own hands. The tears which had prickled at the backs of her eyes when Hamish and Emily welcomed her "home" spilled free, and Emily blinked her own eyes hard.


"That's wonderful!" Honor said. "Oh, Emily! I wanted to suggest the same thing so badly, but—"


"But you thought I wasn't ready for the notion," Emily interrupted, the force of her happiness at Honor's instant and obvious joy at the news flooding through the younger woman. "Well, I thought I wasn't, as far as that goes. That was before I discovered where you get your stubbornness, of course."


"I am not, and never have been, stubborn," Allison said with enormous dignity. "Determined, forceful, a compassionate healer—always a compassionate healer. Clearly committed. Insightful. Blessed with a unique ability to visualize the most successful possible outcome in any given situation. Always forging ahead in pursuit of—"


"Definitely a spanking," Alfred decided.


"Bully." Allison smacked him gently on the shoulder. "Bounder. Cad!" 


"'Stubborn' is a remarkably pale word to describe my esteemed female parent," Honor said, sitting back on her heels to look deeply into Emily's eyes, and wondering just how . . . forceful her mother's "suggestions" might have been. "I've often thought 'obstinate' would be a better fit."


"I imagine that's part of what makes her such a successful physician," Emily replied, her happiness and deep satisfaction an unspoken answer to the question Honor hadn't asked.


"Yes, it is," Honor agreed. "But this is really what you want? Truly?"


"More truly than you can possibly imagine," Emily said softly.


* * *

" . . . so I called Briarwood and made the appointment," Emily said much later, as all five of them sat in her private dining salon looking out into the embers of sunset as they sipped after-dinner coffee or chocolate.


"Who's your doctor?" Honor asked.


"Illescue," Allison replied for Emily, and grimaced when Honor looked at her. "I really would have preferred Womack or Stilson, but it was probably inevitable that Illescue would assign himself. And I have to admit, he's very good at what he does."


"Mother," Honor said in a semi-accusing tone, "when I met Dr. Illescue, I had the distinct impression I wasn't exactly his favorite person in the entire galaxy. Which I found peculiar, since I'd never met the man before. Is there something you'd like to tell me? Something which, perhaps, you might have told me before I went to Briarwood myself?"


"Don't look at me, dear," Allison said, and jabbed her husband in the ribs with a knuckle. "This overgrown adolescent is probably responsible for any slight hostility you might have detected."


"Meaning what?"


"Meaning the two of them were at medical school together on Beowulf, and they didn't exactly see eye to eye."


"Daddy?" Honor leveled her gaze on her father, who shrugged.


"It wasn't my fault," he assured her. "You know what an invariably easy-going, pleasant sort I am."


"I also know where I get my temper," Honor told him tartly.


"Never laid a finger on him," Alfred Harrington said virtuously. "I was tempted a time or two, I'll admit. It's hard to imagine someone who could have been a bigger snot than Franz Illescue at twenty-five. He comes from one of the best medical families here in the Star Kingdom—his family's been physicians ever since the Plague Years—and he wasn't about to let a mere yeoman from Sphinx forget about it. Especially not a yeoman who was being sent to med school by the Navy. He was one of those people who thought the only reason people joined the Navy was because they couldn't get jobs in the 'real world.' I understand he's mellowed a bit with time, but the two of us were like a leaking hydrogen canister and a spark when we were younger."


"Tell her everything, Alfred," Allison admonished.


"Oh, well, there was one other minor matter," Alfred said. "He'd asked your mother out once or twice before I came along."


"Once or twice!" Allison snorted. "He'd been just a bit more persistent than that. I think he was trophy hunting—he always did think of himself as quite the ladies' man."


"Maybe he was," Alfred acknowledged. "But if so, at least he had impeccable taste, Alley. You have to admit that."


"Such a sweet man," Allison said, patting his cheek, and looked at Emily. "You see why I keep him?"


"Does all that history mean you're going to have a problem working with him, Mother?" Honor asked with an edge of seriousness after the chuckles had subsided.


"I've worked with him before," Allison told her calmly. "He's grown up quite a bit over the last half-century. And, as I say, he really is very good in his area. He wouldn't be Briarwood's senior partner if he wasn't. Given what the two of us do, it was inevitable we'd wind up at least consulting from time to time, and both of us recognized that long ago. So while I'd really prefer one of the other docs, I don't foresee any difficulty working with Franz."


"Good." Honor shook her head with a crooked smile. "The things one finds out about one's parents. And here for all these years I thought I was bad about picking up feuds."


"Well, you've refined an inherited ability to a truly rarefied height," her mother said, "but I suppose you did come by it honestly in the beginning."


* * *

"Imperator, this is India-Papa-One-One, requesting approach instructions."


"India-Papa-One-One, Imperator Flight Ops. Be advised our approach pattern is currently full. Please stand by."


"Flight Ops, India-Papa-One-One. Understand approach pattern is currently full. However, be advised that I have Eighth Fleet flag on board."


There was a moment of silence, and the pinnace's pilot grinned at his copilot.


"Ah, India-Papa-One-One, Imperator Flight Ops." The controller aboard the flagship sounded suddenly much brisker. "Come to approach vector Able-Charlie. You are cleared for immediate approach to Boat Bay Alpha."


"Thank you, Flight Ops. India-Papa-One-One copies approach vector Able-Charlie for immediate approach to Bay Alpha," the pinnace pilot acknowledged, without allowing even a trace of satisfaction to show.


* * *

"How was your visit to the Admiralty, Ma'am?"


"Good, Rafe." Honor looked at her flag captain as the two of them, accompanied by Nimitz, Mercedes Brigham, her three armsmen, and Timothy Meares rode the lift car from the boat bay towards Flag Bridge. "That's not to say everything Sir Thomas had to tell me was something I wanted to hear, but at least we're all on the same page. And," her mouth tightened slightly, "it's more important than ever that we get Cutworm launched successfully."


"Everything's ready, Ma'am," Cardones told her soberly.


"I expected it would be." Honor brought up the time display in her artificial eye, then looked over her shoulder at her flag lieutenant.


"Tim, general signal to all flag officers. They're all invited to supper. We should just about have time for that before we all pull out."


 


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