Back | Next
Contents


Chapter Ten

"My God."


Paul Tankersley's murmur mingled bemusement with incredulity, and Honor turned her head on the pillow of his shoulder to see why it did. The RMN took pains over its battlecruiser captains' comfort, which meant her sleeping cabin aboard Nike was larger and considerably more palatial than his quarters aboard Hephaestus. Now they lay comfortably intertwined in her wide bed, still just a bit sweaty, still just a little flushed, and glowing with shared pleasure.


Not that pleasure was what had provoked Paul's comment. He'd expressed himself eloquently, if wordlessly, on that topic already; now he watched the most recent broadcast from the city of Landing with something very like awe.


"I can't believe it," he said after a moment. "Look at that, Honor!"


"I'd rather not." She closed her eyes and inhaled his strong, warm scent, savoring the texture of his long hair trapped between her right cheek and his shoulder. "I'm just as glad they're chasing someone else, but I'm not all that interested in Young. He won't be bothering me again. Frankly, that's all I really care about, where he's concerned."


"That's just a tad narrow of you, my love," Paul mock-scolded. "This is an historical moment. How many men, do you suppose, get cashiered and inherit an earldom in three minutes flat?"


Honor made a face of distaste and opened her eyes just as the screen of her bedside terminal cut from file footage of the latest demonstrations outside Parliament to a well-lit HD set. The flat screen lacked the rich dimensional detail of a proper HD, and the sound was down, but she recognized Minerva Prince and Patrick DuCain of the syndicated Into the Fire, and their guests. Sir Edward Janacek and Lord Hayden O'Higgins were both retired first lords of admiralty, but they held very different convictions and, just as the choice of guests mirrored the political fracture lines, so did today's backdrop: two enormous holos, one of Pavel Young and one of Honor herself, glaring at one another. She didn't need the sound to guess the topic, but Paul twitched the volume up anyway, and she grimaced.


"—what extent, in your opinion, does this affect the balance in the Lords, Sir Edward?" the heavyset DuCain asked, and Janacek shrugged.


"That's very difficult to say, Pat. I don't believe the situation's ever arisen before, after all. Certainly Lord Young—excuse me, Earl North Hollow—must be admitted to the Lords. The result of the court-martial will be something of a political embarrassment to him, but he is a peer, and the law is clear. That means the balance between the parties will remain unchanged, and, frankly, given the court's blatantly partisan vote, I hardly think—"


"Partisan?" Lord O'Higgins interrupted. "Hogwash! That was hardly a one-party court, Ed, and it voted to cashier him by a two-thirds margin!"


"Of course it was partisan!" Janacek snapped back. "Whatever the vote, it was impaneled—under an officer who's both the Chancellor of the Exchequer's brother and one of Captain Harrington's strongest supporters—solely to embarrass the Opposition. There were numerous irregularities in Hancock, and not simply on Lord Young—Earl North Hollow's—part. Indeed, some of us are convinced the wrong captain was tried in the first place, and if you think for one moment the Opposition will take this insult lying down, you're sadly mistaken. Duke Cromarty and his Government can play party politics in a time of crisis if they wish, but be assured that the Opposition will call them to account for it!"


"Are you suggesting the court's membership was rigged, Sir Edward?" Minerva Prince demanded. Janacek started to reply, then closed his mouth tightly and cocked an eyebrow in knowing fashion.


"Poppycock!" O'Higgins snorted. "Sir Edward can suggest what he likes, but he knows as well as I that human interference in the selection of officers for courts-martial is impossible! The Admiralty computers select them at random, and the defense is entitled to examine the electronic records of the entire selection process. If there were any sort of chicanery, why didn't Young or his counsel move to strike the board's suspect members then?"


"Well, Sir Edward?" DuCain asked, and Janacek shrugged irritably.


"Of course it wasn't 'rigged,' " he admitted. "But the decision to proceed with the trial at all under such polarized, prejudicial circumstances reflects both utter disregard for reasoned judicial process and the worst sort of reckless, petty party politics. It can only be seen as—"


"Why is it, Sir Edward," O'Higgins interrupted again, "that anything the Government does is 'petty party politics,' but anything the Opposition tries to pull is high-minded statesmanship? Wake up and smell the coffee before plain old arrogance and stupidity cost you the twelve Commons seats you still hold!"


"Should we understand that you support the Government's position on the trial and the declaration of war, then, Lord O'Higgins?" Prince asked, cutting off any response from Janacek, and O'Higgins shrugged.


"Certainly I support Duke Cromarty's position on the declaration. But I can't support his position on the Young court-martial because the Government hasn't taken one. That's the point I keep trying to get through to my somewhat dense colleague. This was a military trial, under military law, on charges recommended by a formal board of inquiry convened immediately after the battle. More than that, one of the three supposedly pro-Young members of the court must have concurred in the guilty verdicts and Young's sentence."


"What d'you mean, 'pro-Young'?" Janacek demanded hotly. "Are you suggesting there was some sort of plot to get him off?"


"Heavens, no! Surely you don't think I'm suggesting that some sort of deal was struck, do you?"


"What sort of deal, Lord O'Higgins?" DuCain cut in once more, with more haste than grace, before a puce-faced Janacek could explode.


"I find it remarkable that Young was convicted on all specifications except those which carried a death sentence," O'Higgins replied in a colder, much more serious tone. "I find it especially remarkable given that the grounds for his dismissal from the Service were stated in almost precisely the language which would have been used if those capital charges had been sustained. I'm only a private citizen these days, but, to me, that combination suggests that someone who voted against the charges still believed he was guilty of them. If so, I'm disturbed that whoever it was refused to vote his or her conscience and convict, since that tends to indicate the triumph of politics over evidence. But at least they wanted him out of the Service and had the moral courage to see to it that happened. And thank God for it! If anyone who'd demonstrated this level of cowardice escaped with a mere slap on the wrist, the Navy—"


"That's monstrous!" Janacek snapped. "My God—your own precious court-martial refused to convict him of cowardice! Isn't it enough for you that he's been smeared and dishonored? That his father died of a stroke when he heard the verdict? How much longer do you intend to hound him?!"


"Until Hell freezes over, if necessary," O'Higgins said coldly. "He's the most contemptible example of—"


"How dare you?!" Janacek exploded. "I'll have you—"


"Gentlemen! Gentlemen, please!" Prince waved her hands in manicured distress, but DuCain only sat there, fighting a losing battle against laughter, as both ex-first lords ignored the anchorwoman to tear into one another. And then, suddenly, the shouting guests and their hosts vanished as the program's director cut to a commercial break.


Honor shook her head slowly, then turned to glare at Paul. Her undutiful lover was convulsed with laughter, and she snatched the control unit from his hand. The terminal went blank as she switched it off and tossed the remote onto the bedside table.


"Oh, that's just too hilarious for words, Paul!" she snapped. "Aren't they ever going to let this thing rest?"


"S-s-sorry!" Paul gasped, fighting to control his laughter, and his eyes were truly repentant. "It's just—" He shrugged helplessly, lips quivering with a rebellious smile.


"Maybe it is funny, in a macabre sort of way," Honor sighed, "but I hate it. Hate it! And I still can't poke my nose off the ship without some stupid reporter trying to pounce!"


"I know, love." His face had sobered, and he squeezed her tight. "But you're stuck in the repair slip where they can lurk for you, at least until Hephaestus turns Nike loose. So I'm afraid you're just going to have to put up with it until this whole thing blows over."


"If it ever does," Honor said dourly.


"Oh, it will. It's barely been a full day, you know. I'd think a lot of the sensationalism should die down once they formally bust Young out."


"You hope, you mean. There's still his investiture into the Lords, and the little matter of the declaration of war. I—"


Honor broke off as the sleeping cabin hatch hissed open and Nimitz flowed into the compartment. He leapt onto the foot of the bed and sat up on his rearmost limbs, head cocked, and Honor frowned as he turned his bright green eyes on her. Neither she nor Paul were bothered by their nakedness, for while Nimitz was clearly pleased for them, human amatory adventures simply didn't interest treecats—which meant he was here for some other reason.


She concentrated on the link between them. The empathic 'cats had always been able to sense human emotions, but as far as she knew, no other human had ever been able to sense a 'cat's emotions in return. She certainly hadn't been able to do so, not with any reliability, until two T-years ago, and her sensitivity to Nimitz's feelings was still growing. The change was just a bit disturbing, after almost forty years together, but it was a pleasant sort of disturbance . . . though she hadn't reported it to anyone else.


Paul had figured it out, and so, she suspected, had Mike Henke, James MacGuiness, and her parents. No one else had, and she trusted those five to keep her secret. She wasn't certain why that was important to her, but it was.


Now Nimitz sat patiently, gazing into her eyes while she worked on divining his message. It wasn't easy when all they could pass back and forth were emotions and a few extremely vague images, but she'd been practicing, and suddenly she chuckled out loud.


"What?" Paul asked.


"I think we'd better get dressed," Honor replied.


"Why?" Paul sat up on his elbows, eyebrows raised, and she grinned as she rose and reached for the silk kimono her mother had given her.


"Mac's about to make up his mind to disturb us, and I'd hate to shock him."


"Mac," Tankersley said wryly, "knows all about us, my love. He's certainly covered for us often enough."


Honor's grin turned into a smile of agreement. Her steward was twice her age and often seemed to regard her as a reckless adolescent without the sense to check the lock pressure before she stepped into it. But while he might fuss and fidget and certainly wasn't above manipulating her (always for her own good, of course), he was also the very soul of discretion. She knew he kept track of Paul's visits and acted to intercept any disturbance, for which she was profoundly grateful. He was also pleased for her, and that was even more important.


"I'm fully aware he knows about us," she said now. "That's the problem. He's afraid we might be, um, occupied, and if he screens me and I have to accept audio only, he's going to be sure he interrupted. So put some clothes on, exhibitionist!"


"Orders, orders, orders," Paul grumbled. He reached for a robe of his own and stood, then gathered his hair behind his head, and she watched with a touch of envy. Her own hair was finally long enough to gather in a ponytail—in fact, she had to do so whenever she wore a helmet—but Paul's hair hung down in a longer, thicker tail than any she could attain, though she was working on fixing that. Burying her face and fingers in his hair was so delightful she intended to make it a mutual exercise.


She chuckled and watched herself in a mirror as she ran a brush over her own silky mop. It was less curly than it had been; or, rather, its ends were just as curly as ever, but the strands were settling into a sort of elegant wave as they grew longer. She was glad of it, too. For a time she'd been afraid she'd have to wear it the same way Mike wore hers, and the ancient style called an "Afro" for reasons lost in the mists of etiology would have been just a bit too overpowering on someone Honor's size.


She grinned again at the thought and slid the brush into its storage space. She'd just put it away and rebelted her kimono when her terminal beeped.


"See?" she said smugly to Paul, and pressed the acceptance key. "Hi, Mac. What can I do for you?"


MacGuiness smiled from her screen at her cheerful tone, his relief that he hadn't, in fact, intruded at a delicate moment obvious.


"I'm sorry to disturb you, Ma'am, but Commander Chandler has passed two messages for you."


"Ah?" Honor cocked an eyebrow, and mental gears meshed as she dropped into her captain's persona. "What sorts of messages, Mac?"


"I believe the first is simply an update on the dockmaster's repair schedule, Ma'am. I haven't viewed it, of course, but Commander Chandler assured me it could wait until supper. I'm afraid the other is a bit more pressing, however. I believe it's from Admiral White Haven."


"Admiral White Haven?" Honor's spine stiffened, and MacGuiness nodded. "Does it carry any special priority?"


"No, Ma'am. But since it was from a flag officer—" MacGuiness shrugged slightly, and she nodded. Any admiral's message automatically carried a priority no lesser mortal could match.


"Understood, Mac. They're in the system?"


"Queued in your message bin, Ma'am."


"Thank you. I'll get right on them."


"Of course, Ma'am."


MacGuiness cut the circuit and vanished. Honor punched the playback key, and the screen relit with Eve Chandler's face.


"Mac tells me you're not available, Ma'am," Nike's exec said, "and this isn't urgent enough to disturb you, but I thought you'd like to know we've finally got the go ahead to pull Graser Six for complete replacement."


Chandler's tone was almost gloating, and Honor's smile matched it. Graser Six had suffered serious collateral damage from the hit that took out Graser Eight, but Hephaestus' surveyors had argued that it could be repaired "good as new." Repair would have the virtue of saving something like fourteen million dollars—if they were right; if they were wrong, HMS Nike might just find her starboard broadside ten percent short the next time she went into action. Ivan Ravicz, Honor's senior engineer, was adamant on the need for replacement, and she and Chandler had gone to the mat with Vice Admiral Cheviot in his support. It hadn't been easy, but Honor's arguments had been bolstered by Paul's behind the scenes coaching, and it sounded as if they'd paid off.


"The dockmaster's promised to start on it first thing tomorrow," Chandler went on. She glanced down at something as if checking notes, then shrugged. "That's about it, except that he also says they'll have Boat Bay One back up by Wednesday. That's almost a week ahead of schedule, and it kills two birds for us. It'll simplify our boat traffic enormously, and with pressure in the bay galleries again, we won't have to worry about the integrity of the emergency seals on CIC. That means the yard dogs can work unsuited in the compartment, which should cut a few days off the schedule for that, too." She looked back up at her com's pickup and smiled. "They're still not as fast as Hancock Base was, Ma'am, but they're learning! Chandler, clear."


"Well, well, well! It's about time we got some good news around here," Honor said with undisguised pleasure as the screen blanked once more.


"Beg pardon?" Paul poked his head out a hatch behind her in a cloud of steam. "Were you talking to me?"


"Yes, I suppose I was." Honor gave him a smile over her shoulder. She hadn't even noticed him leaving the sleeping cabin, but it was typical of him. He never intruded into the internal affairs of her command, and he had a habit of finding somewhere else to be whenever she had to tend to anything that might remotely be considered privileged information.


"What about?" he asked now.


"According to Eve, we're getting replacement on Graser Six after all."


"You are? Outstanding! May I assume my own humble contributions to your case had something to do with it?"


"I wouldn't be surprised, but the important thing is that Admiral Cheviot finally told those useless bean counters in Survey to get their fingers out and listen to the real Navy for a change."


"Now, now, Honor! You shouldn't talk that way about Survey. After all, I used to do survey work, and you bluff, simpleminded spacedogs simply aren't equipped to understand the pressures they face. Of course, my recommendations were always unencumbered by anything so unworthy as the impact of cost considerations on efficiency ratings, but few individuals possess my resolute and fearless character. Most survey specialists toss and turn all night, bathed in cold sweat, clutching empty bottles of cheap rotgut in their palsied hands as futile protection against nightmares about their next cost accountability inspection." He shook his head sadly. "The last thing they need is some captain with an ironclad case for spending money on his ship."


"Poor babies. I weep for them."


"Bless you, my child. Such sympathy becomes you." Paul could manage an amazingly unctuous tone when he wanted to, and she grinned as he raised a hand in benediction. But then a buzzer sounded from the far side of the hatch, and he yelped in alarm. "Shut-off warning on the hot water! Gotta run!"


He disappeared back into the head before the sensors which had noted his absence shut down the shower, and Honor chuckled and punched for the next message in the queue. The screen flickered once more, and the Earl of White Haven's face appeared before her.


"Good afternoon, Dame Honor," he said formally. "I've just received notification that the Fifth Battlecruiser Squadron will be reassigned to Home Fleet when its repairs are completed. I realize you don't have your orders to that effect yet, but, in fact, you're being attached to Task Force Four."


Honor sat straighter and her eyes lit. After its losses in Hancock, she'd been half afraid BCS Five would be disbanded. Now she knew it wouldn't be, and assignment to TF Four would put it under White Haven's direct command.


"Your official notification should come through in the next day or so," the admiral continued, "and my understanding is that Admiral Mondeau will be taking over from Admiral Sarnow. Of course, you'll need at least another couple of months to complete your repairs, and the Admiralty is still looking for replacement ships to bring you up to strength, so I don't anticipate her momentary arrival, but I've spoken to her, and she intends to retain Nike as the squadron flag. That means you're going to be one of my flag captains, and I thought I'd screen to welcome you aboard."


Honor's satisfaction turned into a broad grin. Two back-to-back stints as flag captain—and to two different admirals, at that—was an enormous professional compliment, and she looked forward to serving under White Haven's command. She didn't put much stock in the media's chewed-over reports that he was some sort of secret patron of hers. That sounded too much like an Opposition-sponsored rumor intended to attack the court-martial's verdict, but she respected him enormously. And the fact that he was one of the Navy's star commanders should guarantee the squadron a place at the heart of the action, once the House of Lords got off its collective backside and voted to declare war on the Peeps.


"In the meantime, however," the admiral went on, "I would very much appreciate it if you could join me for supper this evening. There are a few points I want to discuss with you as soon as possible. Please com back by fourteen hundred to confirm. White Haven, clear."


The screen blanked, and Honor sat back on the bed and rubbed the tip of her nose. His tone had changed there at the very end. She couldn't quite put her finger on just what that change had been or what it might mean, but it had been there. A bit of . . . caution? Worry? Whatever it was hadn't seemed to be aimed at her, yet he clearly had something more than supper on his mind.


She sighed and shook her head, then rose and shed her kimono. Whatever it was could wait. Right now, she had a man in her shower, which was entirely too good an opportunity to waste.


 



Back | Next
Framed