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Chapter Seven

Honor slammed the throttles wide and rode the rudder pedals as she hauled the stick back into a near-vertical climbing turn. Twin, screaming turbines shook the airframe, and the artificial nerves in her rebuilt left cheek shivered with electric fire as acceleration squeezed like a fist. The sensation was strange but not really painful, and she watched the icons of the Heads-Up-Display on her flight helmet's visor shift as her vision tunneled.


Paul was "it" in their game of gun-camera tag at the moment, and her lips drew back in an acceleration-flattened smile as she shot away from his aircraft. She'd caught him napping this time, and she waited, watching the HUD and counting seconds. His nose flipped up and he committed to a pursuit curve . . . and she reversed her turn, slammed the stick forward, and pitched into an even steeper dive that had her floating against her harness straps as she howled down toward the distant sea.


No simulator, no small craft with its grav generators or pinnace with its inertial compensator and impeller drive, could match the sheer, wild delight of a moment like this. Honor's flight computers were simpleminded and minimal, for the Javelin had been designed to be one thing and one thing only: a pilot's aircraft—and her whoop of triumph was an eagle's shriek as she pulled out.


She roared into the north with wings swept for maximum speed and Paul in pursuit, and Saganami Island, site of the RMN's naval academy for over two and a half Manticoran centuries, grew below the aircraft's needle nose like a sunstruck emerald, rich with memories as she shot toward it at Mach six.


Honor was no stranger to salt water. She'd been born within sight and smell of Sphinx's Tannerman Ocean—in spite of which, Ms. Midshipman Harrington had found the Academy took some getting used to. The twenty-five percent lower gravity had made her feel wonderfully light on her feet, but Saganami Island lay at the mouth of Silver Gulf. The deep, glittering inlet which linked Jason Bay and the Southern Ocean was just twenty-six degrees below the capital planet's equator, and Manticore was near the inner edge of its primary's liquid-water zone while Sphinx lay barely inside its outermost limit. The fact that the Academy was on an island had helped, yet she'd taken weeks to adjust to the unending, enervating warmth.


Once she had, of course, she'd gone overboard in enjoying it. She could still remember the hideous sunburn she'd managed to inflict upon herself despite all warnings. Once had been enough, especially when poor Nimitz—still grappling with his own adaptation to the change in climate—had been forced to endure it with her via their link. Chastened but wiser for the experience, she'd explored her new environment with more caution and soon found that sailing tropical waters was just as much fun as roaming the colder, rougher seas of home. And the updrafts had made hang gliding almost as glorious as, if less excitingly treacherous than, those of Sphinx's Copper Wall Mountains. She and Nimitz had spent endless hours of precious free time soaring above the gulf's magnificent blue waters with a fine disdain for the emergency counter-grav units native Manticorans insisted on hauling along just in case.


Her disdain for counter-grav had worried some of the instructors, but hang gliding was a planetary passion on her homeworld. Most Sphinxians made it a point of honor (as silly, she admitted, as most points of honor) to eschew artificial assists, and Honor had been a qualified glider since age twelve—which might have helped explain her finely developed kinesthetic sense. Honor always knew where she was in the air, with an unerring instinct a Sphinx albatross might have envied . . . and one that had baffled the Saganami instructors.


The RMN maintained a vast marina of small sailing craft, and every midshipman, regardless of eventual specialization track, was required to qualify not only in sailplanes and old-fashioned airfoil aircraft but in even more old-fashioned seamanship as well as counter-grav. Critics might sniff at the requirement as a throwback to the bad old days when starship captains navigated the grav waves of hyper space as much by instinct as instruments, but the Academy clung to the tradition, and Honor, like most of the Navy's better shiphandlers, firmly believed it had taught her things and given her a confidence no simulator could—which didn't even consider how much fun it was!


At the same time, she had to admit that her own natural ability in the air, and her confidence and delight in proving it, had landed her in trouble more than once.


She hadn't meant to be wicked, but Ms. Midshipman Harrington's tendency to ignore her instruments and rely on her instincts had reduced certain instructors to frothing incoherence. Senior Master Chief Youngman, who ruled the marina with an iron hand, hadn't given her much trouble once they got to know one another. Youngman was from Gryphon, but she'd often vacationed on Sphinx to enjoy what she called real blue-water sailing. Once she'd checked Honor's abilities in person, she'd made her an assistant instructor.


Flight school had been another matter. With the benefit of hindsight, Honor shared Lieutenant Desjardin's appalled reaction to her blithe assertion that she didn't need instruments, but a much younger and brasher Honor had been furious when he grounded her for a full month for ignoring weather warnings and instruments alike on a night sailplane flight in her first term. Then there'd been her mock dogfight with Mike in their second form that, she admitted, really had gotten just a bit out of hand. And, of course, there'd been that unscheduled aerobatics display above the regatta. She hadn't known Commandant Hartley was winning at the moment she crossed his sloop in the run up to the ancient "Cuban Eight," but she still thought he'd been more miffed than the offense had required. It hadn't been her fault Kreskin Control had failed to designate the regatta's course restricted airspace. And it wasn't as if she'd inflicted any actual damage, after all; she'd cleared his masthead by a good forty meters, and he was the one who'd decided to go over the side.


She giggled as she remembered Hartley's thunderous rake-down, though neither it nor the legend-inspiring heap of black spots that went with it had seemed humorous at the time, then checked her HUD again as a threat warning pinged. Paul was still much too far away to tag her with a camera lock, but he was closing the range. She watched his icon trade altitude for still more speed, arrowing down to intercept her flight path, and smiled as she adjusted her fingers on the stick and reached for the air brakes. He was good, all right, but she'd been airborne long enough to get the touch back, and she doubted he was expecting . . . this!


She chopped the throttles, popped the brakes, and slammed forward against her harness. The suddenly extended spoilers slowed her as if she'd just dropped anchor, the wings automatically configured forward as her velocity fell toward a stall, and then she made it still worse by yanking up into a climbing loop. The Javelin hung on the brink of a spin, warning hooters bellowing . . . until she snapped the brakes closed and went back to full burner on her screaming turbines. Sheer, incredible power pulled the Javelin through, and Paul's plane was suddenly in front of her as she half-rolled to complete the Immelmann. She'd had to bleed too much speed to get behind him, though, and he almost outran her . . . until he pitched up in a sudden climb of his own.


Honor grinned wolfishly and followed him into a climbing scissors with the throttles wide open. She felt herself graying out and bared her teeth as she hung on to him. Their aircraft were identical, but a Javelin could exceed any pilot's physical limits, and her gee tolerance was higher than his. She used it ruthlessly, clinging to his tail, wracking in tighter than he could manage, and then her own camera pipper suddenly ringed his icon on the HUD.


She squeezed the trigger, pinging him with a radar "tag" and capturing him on the scoring chip, then broke to port, flipped around on a wing-tip, and went screaming back the way she'd come with a triumphant laugh.


"Sailor to Yard Dog. You're going to have to do better than that if you want to play with the big kids!"


* * *


The luxurious waiting room was hushed. Brilliant sunlight puddled on the parquet floor in warm, liquid gold, but Honor hardly noticed. The joyous exuberance of her flight with Paul seemed a distant, half-forgotten memory as she sat stiff and silent and tried to pretend she was as calm as she looked. Not that she was fooling anyone who knew her, for Nimitz couldn't keep still. He kept getting up from his nest in the armchair beside hers, prowling around and around in a circle as if searching for some softer spot in the cushion before he curled down once more.


It would have helped if she'd been permitted to speak to any of the dozen or so other officers present. Most were acquaintances and many were friends, but the Admiralty yeoman seated beside the door was there to do more than see to their needs and comfort. Witnesses in a Royal Navy court-martial were forbidden to discuss their testimony before they gave it. By tradition, that meant no conversation at all was permitted as they waited to be called, and the yeoman's presence was a reminder of their responsibilities.


She leaned further back, pressing the back of her skull against the wall behind her chair and closing her eyes, and wished they'd get on with it.


* * *


Captain Lord Pavel Young marched into the huge, still chamber with his eyes fixed straight ahead. The Judge Advocate General's Corps captain appointed as defense counsel stood waiting for him as his escorting Marines marched him across the scarlet carpet. One entire wall of the enormous room consisted of floor-to-ceiling windows. Rich wood paneling shone in the light streaming in, and Young tried not to blink against the brilliance lest the involuntary reaction be misconstrued. He relaxed ever so slightly in relief as he reached his own chair, but the turn away from the sunlight also faced him toward the long table with its six blotters and carafes of ice water. He felt the silent, watching audience behind him, knew his father and brothers were there, yet he couldn't tear his eyes from the table. A gleaming sword—his sword, the mandatory sword of mess dress uniform—lay before the central blotter, the symbol of his honor and authority as a Queen's officer delivered to the court for judgment.


A door opened, and he stood rigid at attention as his court-martial board entered in reverse order of seniority. The junior members stood by their chairs, waiting while the president of the court crossed to his own place, before all six sat simultaneously.


Admiral White Haven leaned forward, looked both ways down the table, then picked up the small, silver-headed hammer and struck the bell before him with two crisp strokes. The musical notes seemed to hover in the sun-laden air, and feet rustled and chairs scraped as everyone else was seated. White Haven laid the hammer aside, opened the old-fashioned folder before him, laid his hands on it as if to hold it down, and looked out across the courtroom.


"This court is now in session."


His baritone voice fell into the background silence and filled it, and his eyes dropped to the hardcopy documents before him.


"This tribunal has been assembled, pursuant to the procedures and regulations laid down in the Articles of War and Manual for Courts-Martial, by order of Lady Francine Maurier, Baroness Morncreek, First Lord of Admiralty, acting for, by the authority of, and at the direction of Her Majesty the Queen, to consider certain charges and specifications laid against Captain Lord Pavel Young, Royal Navy, commanding Her Majesty's Starship Warlock, and arising from his actions during an engagement with enemy forces in the System of Hancock."


He paused and turned the top sheet, laying it carefully to one side, and raised his ice-blue eyes to Young. There was no expression at all on his face, yet Young knew that dispassion was a lie. White Haven was one of the bitch's partisans, one of those who thought she could do no wrong, and he tasted rancid hate as he stared back at the admiral.


"The accused will stand," White Haven said quietly. Young's chair scuffed softly on the carpet as he pushed it back and obeyed, standing behind the defense table to face the court.


"Captain Lord Young, you stand accused before this court upon the following specifications.


"Specification the first, that on or about Wednesday, the twenty-third day of Sixth Month, Year Two Hundred and Eighty Two After Landing, while acting as commodore of Heavy Cruiser Squadron Seventeen in the System of Hancock consequent to Commodore Stephen Van Slyke's death in action, you did violate the Twenty-Third Article of War, in that you did quit the formation of Task Group Hancock-Zero-Zero-One, thereby breaking off action against the enemy, without orders so to do.


"Specification the second, that you did subsequently violate the Twenty-Sixth Article of War, in that you did disobey a direct order from the flagship of Task Group Hancock-Zero-Zero-One by disregarding repeated instructions to return to formation.


"Specification the third, that in direct consequence of the actions alleged in the first and second specifications of these charges, the integrity of the missile defense net of Task Force Hancock-Zero-Zero-One was compromised by the withdrawal of the units under your command, thereby exposing other units of the task group to concentrated enemy fire, which, in consequence of your actions, inflicted severe damage and heavy loss of life upon them.


"Specification the fourth, that the actions and consequences alleged in the first, second, and third specifications of these charges constitute and did result from personal cowardice.


"Specification the fifth, that the actions alleged in the first and second specifications of these charges constitute desertion in the face of the enemy as defined under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Articles of War, and, as such, an act of high treason under the Articles of War and the Constitution of this Star Kingdom."


Young knew he was pale as White Haven finished reading and turned the fresh sheet with that same, maddening deliberation, but he stiffened his knees. His pulse hammered and his belly was a hollow, singing void, yet humiliation and hatred for the woman who'd brought him here lent him strength.


"Captain Lord Young, you have heard the charges," White Haven said in that deep, quiet voice. "How do you plead?"


"Not guilty to all specifications, My Lord." Young's tenor was less ringing than he would have liked, without the note of defiance he tried to put into it, but at least it didn't quaver.


"So noted," White Haven replied. "Be seated, Captain."


Young lowered himself into his chair once more, folding his hands on the table and gripping them hard together to still their trembling, and White Haven nodded to the prosecutor, who rose in turn.


"My Lords and Ladies of the Court," she began formally, "it is the intention of the prosecution to prove that the accused did, in fact, commit the offenses listed in the specifications against him. The prosecution further intends to demonstrate . . ."


Young tuned the words out by a deliberate act of will, staring down at his folded hands and feeling hate and fear swirl at his core like acid. Even now, he couldn't have said which of those emotions was stronger. For all his father's vocal, confident relief at how the court-martial's board had broken down, it would take only four of the six to convict. And if he was convicted, he would die. That was the only possible sentence for the last two crimes of which he stood accused.


Yet overwhelming as the terror that woke was, his hate swirled up to match it, fueled by the humiliation and degradation of the charges. Even if he was exonerated, the taint would always remain. The unspoken whisper "coward" would follow him wherever he went, whatever he did, and it was all Harrington's fault. Harrington, the bitch who had humiliated him at the Academy by rejecting his advances and shaming him before his friends. Harrington, who had beaten him into bloody, sobbing, puking wreckage the night he caught her alone to punish her as she deserved. Who had survived every attempt by him, his family, and its allies to derail her career. Who'd covered herself with glory and made him look like a fool on Basilisk Station, and then emerged from Hancock as the unwashed herd's heroine when she herself had violated the Articles of War by refusing to pass command to the unwounded senior officer! Damn it, she was junior to him, yet it was her orders—her illegal orders—he was accused of disobeying!


Bile choked him, and his hands clenched into white-knuckled fists before he could unlock them. He felt the sweat of hatred and fear prickling on his scalp and in his armpits, and drew a deep breath. He forced himself to sit square and straight in his chair while the audience and the ghouls of the media hung on the prosecutor's every word, and the muscles of his jaw clenched.


Her time would come. Somehow, somewhere, whatever happened to him, the bitch's time would come, and she would pay for every humiliation she'd ever inflicted upon him.


" . . . concludes the prosecution's opening statement, My Lords and Ladies," Captain Ortiz said finally. White Haven nodded for her to be seated, then looked out over the audience behind Young.


"This court wishes to remind all present that the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence until and unless the validity of the charges and specifications are demonstrated to the complete satisfaction of a majority of the court. This is not, however, a civil court, and the members of the court are not judges in the civilian sense of the word. We, as the prosecutor and defense counsel, are charged with an active role in determining the facts of the charges and specifications set forth against the accused. Further, we are charged with considering the impact of those facts not merely upon the accused but upon the discipline and fighting capability of the Queen's Navy. Should a member of the court address a question or questions to any witness, it will reflect not a violation of judicial impartiality, but the responsibility of the court to discover and weigh all facets of the truth.


"In addition, the court is aware of the intense public interest which has focused upon this case. It is, in fact, that interest which has led the Admiralty to open these proceedings to the public and allow the presence of the media. The court, however, admonishes the media that this is a court of military law, and that the media's representatives are present upon sufferance and not of right. This court will tolerate no abuse of its patience nor any violation of the Defense of the Realm Act, and the media is so warned."


He swept the press gallery with stern blue eyes, and the silence rang like crystal. Then he cleared his throat and raised a finger at the prosecutor.


"Very well, Ms. Prosecutor. You may call your first witness."


"Thank you, My Lord." Captain Ortiz rose once more and looked at the sergeant-at-arms. "My Lord, the prosecution calls as its first witness Captain the Countess Dame Honor Harrington."


 


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