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Chapter Two

The tension in HMS Nike's sole operational boat bay was a cold, physical thing, yet it was but a thin echo of Honor Harrington's inner turmoil. Her shoulder felt light and vulnerable without Nimitz's warm weight, but bringing him here would have been a mistake. The empathic treecat's personality was too uncomplicated for him to hide his feelings as the moment's formality required. For that matter, there was no real reason she had to be here, and she made herself stand motionless, hands folded behind her, and wondered why she'd truly come.


She turned her head, almond eyes dark and still, as Captain Lord Pavel Young entered the bay. He was immaculate as ever in his expensive uniform, but his set face was leached of all expression and he looked straight ahead, ignoring the silent, armed Marine lieutenant at his heels.


His expressionless mask slipped for an instant as he saw Honor. His nostrils flared and his lips thinned, but then he inhaled deeply and made himself continue across the boat bay gallery toward her. He stopped before her, and she straightened her shoulders and saluted.


An ember of surprise guttered in his eyes, and his hand rose in reply. It wasn't a gesture of respect the way he did it. There was defiance and hatred in it, but also a tiny trace of what might almost be gratitude. She knew he hadn't expected to see her. That he hadn't wanted to see her here to watch his humiliation, but she felt strangely drained of triumph. He'd been her worst living enemy for thirty T-years, yet all she saw when she looked at him was his pettiness. The vicious, small-souled egotism that had believed his birth truly made him superior to those about him and would eternally protect him from any consequence of his own actions. He was no longer a threat . . . only a vile mistake the Navy was about to correct, and all that really mattered to Honor now was that she put him behind her forever.


And yet—


She lowered her hand from the salute and stepped aside as the junior-grade captain with the balance scale shoulder patch of the Judge Advocate General's Corps cleared his throat behind her.


"Captain Lord Young?" the stranger said, and Young nodded. "I am Captain Victor Karatchenko. You are instructed, by order of the Judge Advocate General, to accompany me ground-side, Sir. I am also required to officially notify you that you are under close arrest, pending trial by court-martial for cowardice and desertion in the face of the enemy." Young's face tightened at the measured words. In shock, perhaps, but not in surprise. This was his first official notice, yet he'd known what the board of inquiry had recommended.


"You will be in my custody until we reach the appropriate planetary authorities, Sir," Karatchenko continued, "but I am not your counsel. Accordingly, you are advised that client privilege does not apply and that anything you say to me may constitute evidence which I can be called upon to give at your trial. Is all of this understood, Sir?"


Young nodded, and Karatchenko cleared his throat again.


"Forgive me, Sir, but you're required to answer verbally for the record."


"I understand." Young's tenor sounded flat and rusty.


"If you will accompany me, then, Sir." Karatchenko stood aside and gestured to his cutter's docking tube. Another Marine officer waited at its far end. Young looked at him with empty eyes for a moment, then stepped into the tube. Karatchenko paused just long enough to salute Honor before he followed, and the gallery-side hatch closed behind them. Humming machinery evacuated the sealed tube, and a red zero-pressure light glowed. The cutter undocked, and Honor watched through the armorplast as it drifted out of Nike's bay on its thrusters.


She drew a deep, deep breath and turned her back upon it. The boat bay officer and his ratings came to attention, and she walked past them and out of the gallery without a word.


* * *


Captain Paul Tankersley looked up as Honor stepped into the lift.


"So he's gone, is he?" She nodded. "Good riddance," he snorted, then cocked his head. "How did he take the official news?"


"I don't know," Honor said slowly. "He didn't say a word. Just stood there." She shivered and shrugged irritably. "I should be dancing a jig, I suppose, but it all seems so . . . so cold, somehow."


"And better than he deserves." Tankersley's expression was as sour as his voice. "At least he'll get a fair trial before they shoot him."


The lift began to move, and Honor shivered again as Paul's words sent a fresh chill through her. She'd hated Pavel Young almost as long as she could remember, yet Paul was right about his probable fate. God knew he was guilty as charged, and the Articles of War provided only one sentence for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Tankersley watched her for a moment, then frowned and touched the override to stop the lift in mid-movement.


"What is it, Honor?" His deep, resonant voice was gentle, and she looked at him with a fragile smile that vanished almost instantly. "Damn it," Tankersley went on more harshly, "that man tried to rape you at the Academy, tried to ruin your career in Basilisk, and then did his dead level best to get you killed in Hancock! He ran away—tried to take his entire squadron with him—when you needed him, and God only knows how many of your people that did kill! Don't tell me you're feeling sorry for him!"


"No." Honor's soprano was soft enough he had to strain to hear it. "I'm not sorry for him, Paul. I just—" She paused and shook her head. "I'm afraid for myself. Of myself. He's finally crashing and burning after all these years, all this hatred. There's been some sort of—well, of a link between us all that time, however much I hated it. I've never understood how his mind works, but he's always been there, like some sort of evil twin. A . . . a part of me, somehow. Oh," she waved a hand, "you're right. He deserves it. But I'm the one who gave it to him, and I can't feel sorry for him, however hard I try."


"Damn straight you can't!"


"No, that's not the point." Honor's headshake was sharper. "I'm not saying he deserves sympathy, only that whether he deserves it or not shouldn't affect whether or not I feel any." She looked away. "He's a human being, not just a piece of machinery, and I don't want to hate anyone so much that I don't even care if the Fleet executes him."


Tankersley studied the left side of her sharp, gracefully carved profile. Her left eye was a sophisticated prosthesis, yet artificial or not, he could see the pain in it, and hatred stirred deep within him, dull but made fierce by his love for her. He started to speak sharply, angry with her for her feelings, but he didn't. He couldn't. If she hadn't felt them, she wouldn't have been the woman he loved.


"Honor," he sighed instead, "if you don't care what happens to him, then you're a bigger person than I am. I want him shot, not just for what he's tried to do to you over the years, but because of what he is. And if the tables were reversed, if he could have gotten you in front of a court-martial, he damned well would dance a jig! If you don't feel the same way, then the only thing wrong with you is that you're better than he is."


She turned back to meet his eyes, and he smiled almost sadly. Then he slid an arm about her. There was an instant of tautness, almost resistance, the habit of too much loneliness, too many years of command and self-discipline, and then she yielded and leaned against him. He was shorter than she, but she pressed her cheek into the top of his beret and sighed.


"You're a good man, Paul Tankersley," she said softly, "and I don't deserve you."


"Of course you don't. No one could deserve me. But you come closer than most, I suppose."


"You'll pay for that, Tankersley," she growled, and he squirmed away with a yelp as she pinched his ribs hard. He cowered against the lift wall, grinning hugely, and she chuckled. "That's only a down payment," she warned him. "Once I get Nike tucked in with Hephaestus, you and I are going to spend some sparring time in the gym. And if you survive that, I've got some seriously exhausting plans for later!"


"I'm not scared of you!" Tankersley said defiantly. "Nimitz isn't here to protect you now, and as for tonight—piffle!" He snapped his fingers, then drew himself up to his full height and twirled an imaginary mustache with an epic leer. "Fritz has been prescribing extra vitamins and hormone shots. I'll reduce you to palpitating putty, begging for mercy!"


"Now you'll really pay!" Honor swatted him with a grin, and he gave her an aggrieved look and adjusted the hem of his tunic fastidiously while she turned to release the override switch. She watched the position indicator begin to move once more—then went up on her toes with a most uncaptainly squeak as a wicked pinch to her posterior repaid her assaults on his person.


She started to turn on him, but the lift was still moving, and the panel flashed warning of imminent arrival. She snapped back to face the door, head still turned to glower down at him, and he grinned back unrepentantly.


"We'll see who pays who, Lady Harrington," he murmured smugly from the corner of his mouth, and then the doors opened.


* * *


Admiral Sir Thomas Caparelli, First Space Lord of the Royal Manticoran Navy, rose courteously as Francine Maurier, Baroness Morncreek, walked through the door. Admiral Sir Lucien Cortez stood beside him, and both of them waited until Morncreek had seated herself. The baroness was a small, slender woman, over seventy but still young and almost dangerously attractive in a dark, feline way thanks to the prolong treatment. She was also First Lord of the Admiralty, the civilian head of their service, and at the moment her face was tense.


"Thank you for coming, gentlemen," she said as her subordinates resumed their own seats. "I assume you've deduced the reason for this meeting?"


"Yes, Milady, I'm afraid we have." Caparelli towered over Morncreek, even seated, but there was no question who was in charge. "At least, I believe we have."


"I expected you would." Morncreek crossed her legs and leaned back, then looked at Cortez. "Has the court's board been selected yet, Sir Lucien?"


"It has, Milady," Cortez said flatly.


Morncreek waited, but the admiral said nothing more. Officially, no one outside his own Bureau of Personnel, which included the Judge Advocate General's Corps, was supposed to know who would sit in judgment on Pavel Young until the court actually convened. For that matter, no one was even supposed to know a court had been recommended. The fact that they did know, that information Cortez was sworn to keep privileged had become common knowledge among those "in the know," infuriated not just the admiral but most of the rest of the Navy. Cortez had no intention of feeding any more leaks, and since recent events had proved no secret was leak proof, his sole defense was a stubborn refusal to divulge information to anyone without a clear need to know it.


Morncreek knew exactly what the Fifth Space Lord was thinking, and why, but her mouth tightened and her dark eyes hardened.


"I'm not asking out of morbid curiosity, Admiral," she said coldly. "Now tell me who's on it."


Cortez hesitated a moment longer, then sighed.


"Very well, Milady." He drew a memo pad from his pocket, keyed its display, and passed it across to her. He still didn't mention any names aloud, however, and Caparelli hid a sour smile. He didn't really object to Lucien's hanging onto his secrets, but it was a bitter sign of just how bad things had become that Cortez had brought the memo along despite his obvious intention not to discuss the court's membership with anyone.


"We had to throw out three initial selections because the officers in question are out-system, Milady," Cortez said as Morncreek scanned the names, and she and Caparelli both nodded. By long tradition, the Bureau of Personnel's computers randomly selected the members of a court-martial sitting on a capital offense from all serving officers of sufficient rank. Given the Manticoran Navy's current deployments, they were hitting well above the average if only three of the initial choices had been unavailable.


"The members of the court, in order of seniority, are listed there. Admiral White Haven—" Cortez glanced sideways at Caparelli "—will be senior officer, assuming he returns from Chelsea in time. We anticipate that he will. The other members are all in-system now and will remain here."


Morncreek nodded, then winced as she read the other names.


"Should any of those listed become unavailable for any reason, we've selected three alternates, as well. They're listed on the next screen, Milady."


"I see." Morncreek frowned and rubbed the fingers of her right hand together as if they were covered in something sticky. "I see, indeed, Sir Lucien, and there are times I wish our procedures were a little more . . . discretionary."


"I beg your pardon, Milady?"


"The problem," Morncreek said with slow precision, "is that our scrupulously fair selection process has just presented us with one hell of a dogfight. I don't know about Captain Simengaard or Admiral Kuzak, but all four of the others are going to have their own axes to grind."


"With all due respect, Milady," Cortez said stiffly, "these officers all know their duty to be fair and impartial."


"I'm sure they do." Morncreek's smile was wintry. "But they're also, unfortunately, human beings. You know better than I how White Haven has been shepherding Lady Harrington's career. I happen to agree with you that he'll do his utmost to remain impartial and unbiased, but neither that nor the fact that her record has amply justified his support will prevent his inclusion on the court from infuriating Young's partisans. As for these other three—" She shuddered. "Given the current situation in the Lords, this court-martial has a frightening potential to turn into a fight between political factions, not an impartial legal proceeding."


Cortez bit his lower lip. Clearly, he wanted to dispute Morncreek's gloomy assessment; equally clearly, he was afraid she was right, and Caparelli shoved himself deeper into his own chair. He didn't know who else was on the list, and, frankly, he didn't want to know. He had fuel for enough nightmares without adding that to it.


The People's Republic of Haven's recent attack on the Star Kingdom of Manticore had been driven back in disarray by a combination of skill and old-fashioned, barefaced luck. The People's Navy had suffered shattering losses to both arms of its opening offensive, and the Royal Manticoran Navy's quick ripostes had taken half a dozen of the Peeps' forward bases. Unfortunately, the People's Navy still outnumbered the RMN by a terrifying margin, and events on the PRH's capital planet had produced a blizzard of political dispute and infighting on Manticore.


No one knew where the People's Republic was headed. Available reports suggested that the Navy had attempted a coup following its initial defeats, but if it had, it certainly hadn't done so very effectively. The attack that wiped out the entire Havenite government—and the heads of most of the prominent Legislaturalist families which had run it—had been as brilliant as it was savage, but there'd been no effective follow-through, and it had provoked the formation of a Committee of Public Safety in the People's Quorum. That committee now controlled the central organs of the PRH, and it was moving with merciless dispatch to assure that no military coup could succeed.


The result was chaos within the Havenite military. No one yet knew how many officers had been arrested, but the arrest—and execution—of Admiral Amos Parnell, the PN's chief of naval operations, and his chief of staff had been confirmed. There were also confused reports of resistance and infighting as the new committee pressed ahead with its purge of "unreliable" senior officers, and one or two of the Republic's member systems seemed to have seized the chance to rebel against the hated central government.


Every strategic bone in Caparelli's body cried out to ram the Star Kingdom's current advantage home. The enemy was in disorder, savaging himself internally, some, at least, of his star systems in open rebellion and his senior officers more than half paralyzed lest any act of initiative be misconstrued as treason against the new regime. God only knew how many of them might actually come over to Manticore's side if the RMN pressed a heavy offensive now!


The thought of watching such a chance slip through his hands turned Caparelli's stomach, but he hadn't been allowed to do anything about it. In fact, he might never be allowed to, and the reason was politics.


Duke Cromarty's majority in Parliament had disappeared with the defection of both the Conservative Association and Sir Sheridan Wallace's "New Men" to the side of the Opposition. The Government's support in the Commons was solid; in the Lords, it was well short of a majority . . . and there'd been no formal declaration of war.


Caparelli's teeth ground together in acid frustration. Of course there hadn't! The People's Republic had never declared war during its half-century of conquest; such formal niceties would only have served to warn its victims. The Star Kingdom, unfortunately, didn't do things that way. Without a formal, legal declaration, carried in both houses, the Constitution empowered the Cromarty Government only to defend the integrity of the Star Kingdom. Anything more aggressive required the declaration of a state of war, and the Opposition leaders insisted the letter of the law be obeyed.


Their solidarity was unlikely to last, for their philosophies and motives were too fundamentally contradictory, but for the moment those motives were reinforcing one another, not clashing.


The Liberals hated the very thought of military operations. Once their initial panic had passed, they'd responded with a spinal reflex opposition to all things military that never consulted the forebrain at all. They knew better than to publicly restate their long-standing position that Manticore's military buildup was an unnecessary provocation of Haven—even they saw the suicide potential in that, given the public reaction to recent events—but they'd found another way to justify resistance to sanity. They'd decided what was happening inside the People's Republic represented the birth of a reform movement committed to the overthrow of "the old, militaristic regime" in recognition of "the uselessness of resorts to brute force," and they wanted "to help the reformers achieve their goals in a climate of peace and amity."


Their allies in Earl Gray Hill's Progressive Party no more believed in the pacifism of this Committee of Public Safety than Caparelli did. They wanted to let the PRH stew in its own juice—after all, if the Republic self-destructed, there'd be no need for further military operations—which made them even stupider than the Liberals. Whoever the brains behind the Committee of Public Safety was, he'd acted with dispatch and energy to secure control. Unless someone from outside toppled him, he was going to hang onto it, and sooner or later he'd finish crushing the last domestic resistance and turn his attention back to Manticore.


Then there was the Conservative Association—reactionary, xenophobic, isolationist to the core . . . and pigheaded enough to make the Progressives look smart. The Conservatives believed (or claimed to believe) that the Republic's initial, shattering reverses would lead the new leadership to abandon any further thought of attacking the Manticoran Alliance lest still worse befall them, which overlooked both the tonnage imbalance and the fact that the People's Navy had to be lusting to avenge its humiliation. And last, and most contemptible, were the New Men, whose sole motive was a cynical bid to secure greater parliamentary clout by selling their votes to the highest bidder.


It was insane. Here they were, with a golden opportunity to strike deep and hard, and the politicians wanted to throw it away . . . and leave his Navy to suck up the losses when the bill came due!


He dragged his mind back from its increasingly well-worn path of angry resentment and cleared his throat.


"Just how bad is the situation, Milady? I spoke with Duke Cromarty yesterday and assured him the Navy would support him, but—" Caparelli broke off as Morncreek looked at him sharply, then he shrugged. "I thought you knew he'd commed me, Milady."


"Well, I didn't. Nor did he happen to mention it when we spoke this afternoon. Exactly what sort of 'support' did you promise him?"


"Nothing at all on the domestic side, Milady." Caparelli was careful to avoid words like "coup," and Morncreek relaxed a bit. "I simply assured him we would continue to obey the lawful orders of Her Majesty and her ministers if he instructed me to continue operations. We can do that without a declaration, but not for very long, I'm afraid. If I completely suspend all current construction and divert every dollar I can from our essential infrastructure, I could probably sustain operations for another three months or so. After that, we'd need a special appropriation—assuming we don't have a formal declaration to free the Exchequer's hands—and I don't see how we can expect to get that if we can't get the declaration in the first place."


He paused with a shrug, and Morncreek nibbled gently on a fingernail, then sighed.


"The next time the Prime Minister coms you directly, Sir Thomas, I would appreciate your informing me of the fact," she said, but there was as much weariness as frost in her voice. "I suppose the Duke could order you to continue offensive operations, as long as the money holds out, without a declaration, but I assure you there'd be a furor in Parliament that would make the Gryphon Crisis look like a pillow fight! A point," she added grimly, "I intend to emphasize in my next discussion with His Grace."


"Yes, Ma'am." Caparelli fought an urge to rise and come to attention; Lady Morncreek might be petite and attractive, but the snap of her authority was unmistakable. "I understand, Ma'am. And I assure you we only touched very briefly on what I suppose I might call the tactical situation in Parliament. In light of what you've just said, could you give us a feel for just what it is we're looking at there?"


"We're looking at something that couldn't get a lot worse," the First Lord said bluntly. "The Duke is fighting for every vote in the Lords—God only knows what promises he's going to have to make, or to whom—and even if he puts a new majority together, it's going to be incredibly fragile."


"Stupid bastards," Cortez muttered, then flushed crimson as he realized he'd spoken aloud. "Forgive me, Milady," he began quickly, "I only—"


"You only said what I'm thinking, Sir Lucien." Morncreek waved away his apologies and looked back at Caparelli. "It is stupid, and one of the great flaws of our system. Oh," she gestured irritably as Caparelli's jaw started to drop, "I'm not saying the fundamental system is unsound. It's served us well for the last four or five T-centuries, after all. But the House of Lords doesn't have to stand for election. That can be a tremendous strength when it comes to resisting popular pressure for unwise policies, but it can also be an equally tremendous weakness. An MP in the Commons knows what will happen in the next general election if he hog-ties the Government at a time like this; the Lords don't have to worry about that, and they've got a marked tendency to create single-viewpoint cliques around their own pet theories of the way things ought to be.


"At the moment, there's a distinct sense of euphoria, of having dodged the pulser dart, coupled with a desire to hide under the blankets till the threat goes away. Of course, it's not going to go away, but they don't want to face that. Eventually, they'll have to, and I pray to God they do it before it's too late, but even if they do, their positions will have hardened. The strain of our own military buildup's polarized our politics, and too many of the Opposition buy into the theory that opposing the use of force—for whatever reason—is inherently 'noble' and not a gutless renunciation of the will—and ability—to resist aggression or any other sort of organized evil! As long as someone else gets on with fighting the war, they can enjoy the luxury of continuing to oppose it to prove their moral superiority, and I'm afraid too many of them are going to do just that.


"Which brings us right back to Young's trial. I realize neither you nor Sir Lucien had any voice—or any legal right to one—in its selection, but I can't imagine a more dangerous board. This thing has the potential to blow the entire situation wide open at the very moment the Duke's turning over every rock on Manticore for the votes he needs for that formal declaration."


"Well, I know where he can get one of them," Caparelli said sourly. Morncreek raised an eyebrow, and he gave a wry smile. "Lady Harrington would certainly cast her vote in favor."


"I wish she could," Morncreek sighed, "but that, too, is out of the question. She's never taken her seat in the House, and this isn't the time for her to do it. The Duke feels that, even without the trial, admitting her to the Lords just now would almost certainly backfire. The Opposition would scream that he was only doing it to steal another vote, and given the irregularity with which she was raised to the peerage in the first place—"


The First Lord shook her head, and Caparelli had to nod in agreement. God, what he wouldn't give never to have to deal with politics again!


"So what do you want us to do, Milady?" he asked.


"I don't know." Morncreek rubbed her temple in a quick, nervous gesture. "And I'm pretty sure the Duke doesn't know yet, either. That was why he wanted me to find out who was on the court—for which I apologize. I realize it's a technical violation, but under the circumstances he had no choice."


Caparelli nodded his understanding, and the baroness rubbed her temple again, then sighed.


"The Prime Minister hasn't told me how he intends to handle it," she said at last, "but he really has only two options: push forward quickly, or put the brakes on. Getting it out of the way as quickly as possible might be the best tactic, but that could turn around on us, even if the court votes to convict. On the other hand, the longer we delay, the more the Opposition will try to extort out of the Duke by playing on his fear of its outcome. And the whole situation is further complicated by the fact that Young is legally entitled to a speedy trial and the possibility that if we delay until after we bribe, blackmail, and extort the votes for a declaration the Opposition will seize on the delay as a cynical political maneuver by the Government. Which," she admitted with a tight smile, "is exactly what it would be, after all."


She sighed again and shook her head.


"Captain Harrington seems to have a penchant for setting the Kingdom on its ear, one way or the other." She made the observation wryly, but Caparelli felt compelled to reply.


"In all fairness to Lady Harrington, Milady, this is not her fault. I fully realize how unpopular she is with the Opposition's leadership, but she's never done a millimeter less than her duty. Moreover, the charges against Lord Young were filed by Vice Admiral Parks on the recommendation of a formal board of inquiry. And, I might add, only because they were amply justified—even required—by Lord Young's own actions."


"I know, Sir Thomas, I know." Morncreek uncrossed her legs and stood, and her smile was penitent. "Please don't construe my last remark as a criticism of Captain Harrington or her record. It's just that some people have a positive gift for being at the center of things, and for the last few years, she's the one who's had it. I admire and respect her accomplishments, but I can't help wishing she'd been a little less . . . visible since Basilisk."


" 'Visible,' " Caparelli repeated softly, as if tasting the word, then surprised himself with a grin. "Now that, Milady, is certainly a fair description of Captain Harrington." His grin faded, and he cocked his head. "Shall I call her in and discuss the situation with her, Milady? In light of the political pressures, it might be wise to warn her to be on her guard. God knows the media will be waiting to pounce on anything she says!"


Morncreek considered the offer carefully, then shook her head.


"No, Sir Thomas. Oh, she needs to be warned, but this is much more a political matter than a naval one. I'll see her at the palace in the morning, and I can discuss it with her myself. I owe her that, and I'm afraid—" she smiled crookedly "—that sort of thing comes with my job."


 


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