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Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Admiral. Period.

After surviving extraction from Prague, sneaking through Peep space and convincing the Manty contingent on Excelsior that they weren't really double agents—look, here's a Peep Admiral Defector for proof!—Mullins thought it was likely that he would die right here and right now. Or, at least, he halfway wished his heart would just stop or a rock would drop on him or something.

"What in the ever living hells was going through what might, with leniency, be referred to as your mind?!" Admiral Givens was not known for raising her voice. And she did not now. The very fact that they practically had to strain to hear her tongue-lashing, which was just winding up after more than thirty minutes that had traced the course of their idiocy from generations before, through infancy and up to the present day, made it worse.

"Well, we did get the Admiral back," Gonzalvez pointed out.

"It's clear proof that your mother dropped you on your head as a child that you think that question was other than rhetorical, Major Gonzalvez," the admiral continued. "The only reason that Excelsior didn't sanction you was that you brought the Admiral back. And that was a good thing. His information, I'll admit, was useful confirmation."

"Confirmation, Ma'am?" Mullins asked. "He had a head full of StateSec secrets and codes!"

"All of which, and more, Honor Harrington brought back two weeks ago," Givens said.

"Harrington?" Gonzalvez blurted. "She's dead."

"So we all thought," the admiral replied. "But, in fact, she ended up on the ground on Hades. She staged the largest prison breakout in history and returned with not only a half a million prisoners, but reams of data on StateSec procedures and communications and some political prisoners that the Havenites had insisted had been dead for years."

"So," Mullins said. "We went through all of that for confirmation?"

"Exactly," Givens snappped. "You two are the most consummate foul-ups I have in my entire organization. I cannot let you out of my sight for more than thirty seconds without you involving yourself in some intensely moronic encounter. I don't care if you live through them; the chaos that you leave in your wake more than makes up for your survival. The whole point is to enter and exit seamlessly, causing not a ripple while you are there. Not killing double agents, blowing up buildings, getting in car chases and otherwise disporting yourselves like you're playing a game. Is any of this getting through to you two hydrocephalic morons."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

"I'm not in this business to build structures just for you to kick them down like a couple of children who find a pretty vase to break! This is not going to be a short war and we need all the intelligence we can gather; sending you two to a planet is like asking to have the entire system shut out for the rest of the war! Am I getting through to you?"

"Yes, Ma'am!" they chorused.

"I don't even know why I waste my breath," she muttered. She finally took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers. "What I want to do is space both of you, both for the good of NavInt and for my own sanity. But, as a personal favor to Agent Covilla I have agreed to give you a reprieve."

"Ma'am?" Gonzalvez said, stunned.

"Agent Covilla said that the two of you were of some assistance to her in her mission to extract the Admiral," Givens replied, touching a button on her desk. She waved as a woman walked through the door. She appeared to be about thirty, standard, plain and blunt featured, with male-short blond hair. She was wearing the uniform of a captain with ONI markings. "She personally convinced me that despite your amateurish blunderings on Prague, not to mention the reason you were there, that I should let you off with no more than a warning. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

"No more unauthorized adventures?" Gonzalvez asked, glancing sideways at the woman. He had never seen her before in his life.

"That should go without saying. No, if you ever get that screwed up on a mission again, authorized or unauthorized, I will personally strap you to a missile and fire you out the tube. Do I make myself clear?"

"Clear, Ma'am," they both chorused.

"Captain Covilla?" Givens said. "Do you have anything?"

"No, Ma'am," the captain said. Her voice was gravelly; she'd either spent a lot of time shouting at some point or she'd had a bad experience with death pressure. "I'd like a moment of Captain Mullins' time."

"Very well," Givens said, pointing to the door. "Dismissed."


All three found themselves out in the corridor, looking around at the busy scurrying of NavInt.

"Confirmation," Gonzalvez muttered. "We put our butts on the line for confirmation!"

"Typical," Covilla growled. "Captain Mullins, if you could step down to my office, please?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Mullins said. "What about Captain Gonzalvez?"

"Well, he can get started on the paperwork."

"Paperwork?" Gonzalvez said suspiciously.

"Your unauthorized adventure was expensive," Covilla said. "We're going to have to sort out which part was duty and which part was not. And you're going to be paying back the non-duty portion. Come on, Captain."

He followed her to her office, noting that she had a decidedly un-ladylike gait that bespoke significant time in small-craft. He came to attention as she walked around her desk and sat in the room's sole chair.

"Do you have anything you want to add to the debrief?" she asked, flipping a pad across the desk. "You can stand at ease."

"I just have a question," Mullins said, spreading his feet apart and placing his hands behind his back in a position closer to parade rest.

"If it doesn't violate your need to know," Covilla responded with a thin smile.

"How was the rest of your trip back?" he asked. "I mean, after the scene at the shuttle-port, Rachel."

Covilla leaned back and steepled her fingers in a manner identical to Admiral Givens. "How long have you known?" she asked, swinging her chair back and forth. Her voice was now honey smooth.

"I wasn't sure until just now," Mullins said. "But the blonde at the shuttleport smoothed her hair back in a manner identical to the way you do. And her pushing into line was a bit too coincidental. As soon as I'd made that connection, backing up and finding all the places where you'd managed us was easy. So what really happened?"

"I was the backup for the defection," she said. "I had figured out that the Chinese laundry was compromised, doubled, but I couldn't abort the Admiral. So I blew up the laundry."

"When you said you had 'something to do' that first evening, you were serious," Mullins said with a chuckle.

"And I drove the Admiral to you," she continued. "I couldn't get him out and spoof StateSec at the same time."

"And the apartment?"

"Oh, that was really my boyfriend's," she replied, tiredly. "You use the weapons that God gives you, John. One of my weapons is my body."

"And it's one hell of a weapon," he said with a smile. "So where does this leave us?"

"I'm not sure," she replied. "I'm not in your chain of command, exactly, but we're close. If we continue it could be construed as fraternization."

"You know what?" John replied. "I really could give a rat's ass."

"Same here," she said with a smile, reaching up and peeling off the mask. She picked at a few pieces of plasflesh and rolled them on her finger. "I'm due about a year's leave. How about you?"

"I'm not sure I can get any ever again," Mullins replied with a shrug. "And I'm not going to be able to afford it."

"Don't worry about Patricia, I know where the bodies are buried," Rachel said. "As for the charge issue, I just told Gonzalvez that to get him out of our hair. Where should we go?"

"Anywhere but Prague," Mullins said with a shudder.

"I hear Gryphon is beautiful in the winter," she said with a grin.


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