The space about the system's two inhabited planets was crowded with shipping, showing far greater numbers of impeller signatures than would have been permitted in such proximity when Eighth Fleet departed for the Haven System. But those ships weren't the evidence her fears might have been too dark—that the damage had actually been less severe than she'd dreaded. No, those ships were the proof it had been even worse, for they were still only sorting through the wreckage, better than two weeks after the actual attack, and warning beacons marked prodigious spills of debris—and bodies—which had once been the heart and bone of the Star Empire of Manticore's industrial might.
A week for word to reach Honor on Haven and a week for her to return, all thanks to the Trevor's Star wormhole. I don't know, it amuses me that now that the old pre-war frontier is unimportant, Manticore's communication loop is so short everywhere crucial except
Talbott. A week to get a message to Earth, to Haven and
to New Berlin. Four days to pass a message to Grayson, three to Erewhon. I believe a week or two to reach any point in Manty Silesia, if you're not going to be moving at merchantman speeds and stopping at every system. Then roughly six weeks for a given point in Silesia, three weeks to reach Spindle with it's relatively central position, and three weeks for them to pass on orders and news to other Quadrant worlds.
Oh, and two weeks later the cleanup is still ongoing.
There was wreckage after the Battle of Manticore, too, but not like this. Oh, no. Not like this. This time every single warship we lost was caught docked, not destroyed in action. And most of the dead are civilians this time.
The funny (read, depressing) thing is, that may be a good thing. I do believe there are more dead bodies from Oyster Bay than their are uniformed RMN personnel. Even if everyone on Hephaestus
had been military, that would have eaten a quarter of the Navy right then and there. As it is, I suspect the naval losses are still tremendous, but Manticore is at least not going to be knocked over by opportunists.
"Thank you, Your Grace." Fargo gave her a small half-bow, then cleared his throat. "The First Lord asked me to screen you. He's actually on Sphinx at this moment. Well, more accurately, he's aboard a shuttle which happens to be headed in your direction at this moment. His ETA is about twelve minutes, and he asked me to tell you he would very much like to join you aboard your flagship when he arrives, if that would be convenient."
Hamish on Sphinx when Honor arrived, and RVing with her now.
She took it in the formal handshake to which they were always careful to restrict themselves on official occasions, and she felt a fresh stab of concern as she realized his fingers were actually trembling slightly with exhaustion and the terrible, midnight-black grief that rode his shoulders like some hunched, ravenous beast. She stood there, looking into his eyes for a heartbeat which seemed to last forever, seeing that beast's shadows in those blue depths, and then she let go of his hand. Before even she realized what she was doing, her arms went about him, instead, and she closed her own eyes, leaning forward to rest her cheek on his shoulder.
For just an instant, he stiffened as she abruptly abandoned formality. But only for an instant, and then his arms tightened around her, hugging her while Samantha and Nimitz crooned to one another.
"Welcome home," he whispered in her ear. "Oh, God—welcome home, Honor."
* * *
"Well," Honor said in a determinedly light tone as the lift carried them towards her quarters, "we've just put naval discipline back a century or so."
"Frankly," Hamish said, one arm still around her, "I'm not too worried about the precedent. After all, how many fleet commanders are going to be married to first lords?"
"Not many, I suppose," she conceded, but she tasted the determination with which he sought to match her own light tone and knew how hard he found it.
Eh, I doubt anyone is really going to have a problem with a husband and wife not being all formal in their first meeting after a major disaster, even if one is a naval officer and one is the Navy's civilian head.
"All three of your aunts," he said, and his voice was soft, now, the voice of her lover and husband, shadowed with his own grief at inflicting this upon her. "Your Uncle Al was away on business, but Jason and Owen were both at home. So"—he inhaled deeply again—"were all the kids. And your cousin Devon, and his wife, and two of the children. Matthias and Frieda. Holly and Eric. Martha." He closed his eyes. "Al is all right—or as close to it as a man can be when his wife and kids are. . . And Devon's daughter Sarah, and your cousin Benedict and cousin Leah, were all away. But the rest were all there. It was your Aunt Claire's birthday, and . . . ."
The number of Honor's aunts, uncles and cousins, nieces and nephews, who are dead. Of the lot we've only met Devon, and then only briefly. Still, Oyster Bay is deeply personal, for Honor because it wiped out her extended family, for us, because they took out the Nasty Kitty.
"Andrew and Miranda were taking Raoul to Claire's party," he said, and her heart seemed to stop. "Your dad and the twins were supposed to be there, too, but there'd been some kind of delay. They were in transit between Manticore and Sphinx when the attack hit. They came through it just fine, and Andrew, Raoul, and Lindsey had swung by your parents' place to pick up your mom. They hadn't gotten to Claire's yet, either, but Miranda—"
"Raoul and your mother are fine," he said quickly, then made a harsh, ugly sound deep in his throat. "Well, as fine as they can be. But they were too close to the Yawata strike. Andrew got the two of them—and Lindsey—punched out in time, and they're all fine, although Lindsey came out of it with a badly broken collarbone. But—"
His hands slid down from her face, and his arms went back around her.
"He ran out of time, love," he whispered. "He got the three of them out, but he and Jeremiah were still in the limo when the blast front hit it."
Honor's parents and children are okay, but Andrew and Miranda LaFollet are dead. Farragut too.
Hamish Alexander-Harrington knew his wife as only two humans who had both been adopted by a pair of mated treecats ever could. He'd seen her deal with joy and with sorrow, with happiness and with fury, with fear, and even with despair. Yet in all the years since their very first meeting at Yeltsin's Star, he suddenly realized, he had never actually met the woman the newsies called "the Salamander." It wasn't his fault, a corner of his brain told him, because he'd never been in the right place to meet her. Never at the right time. He'd never had the chance to stand by her side as she took a wounded heavy cruiser on an unflinching deathride into the broadside of the battlecruiser waiting to kill it, sailing to her own death, and her crew's, to protect a planet full of strangers while the rich beauty of Hammerwell's "Salute to Spring" spilled from her ship's com system. He hadn't stood beside her on the dew-soaked grass of the Landing City duelling grounds, with a pistol in her hand and vengeance in her heart as she faced the man who'd bought the murder of her first great love. Just as he hadn't stood on the floor of Steadholders' Hall when she faced a man with thirty times her fencing experience across the razor-edged steel of their swords, with the ghosts of Reverend Julius Hanks, the butchered children of Mueller Steading, and her own murdered steaders at her back.
But now, as he looked into the unyielding flint of his wife's beloved, almond eyes, he knew he'd met the Salamander at last. And he recognized her as only another warrior could. Yet he also knew in that moment that for all his own imposing record of victory in battle, he was not and never had been her equal. As a tactician and a strategist, yes. Even as a fleet commander. But not as the very embodiment of devastation. Not as the Salamander. Because for all the compassion and gentleness which were so much a part of her, there was something else inside Honor Alexander-Harrington, as well. Something he himself had never had. She'd told him, once, that her own temper frightened her. That she sometimes thought she could have been a monster under the wrong set of circumstances.
And now, as he realized he'd finally met the monster, his heart twisted with sympathy and love, for at last he understood what she'd been trying to tell him. Understood why she'd bound it with the chains of duty, and love, of compassion and honor, of pity, because, in a way, she'd been right. Under the wrong circumstances, she could have been the most terrifying person he had ever met.
In fact, at this moment, she was.
It was a merciless something, her "monster"—something that went far beyond military talent, or skills, or even courage. Those things, he knew without conceit, he, too, possessed in plenty. But not that deeply personal something at the core of her, as unstoppable as Juggernaut, merciless and colder than space itself, that no sane human being would ever willingly rouse. In that instant her husband knew, with an icy shiver which somehow, perversely, only made him love her even more deeply, that as he gazed into those agate-hard eyes, he looked into the gates of Hell itself. And whatever anyone else might think, he knew now that there was no fire in Hell. There was only the handmaiden of death, and ice, and purpose, and a determination which would not—could not—relent or rest.
"I'll miss them," she told him again, still with that dreadful softness, "but I won't forget. I'll never forget, and one day—one day, Hamish—we're going to find the people who did this, you and I. And when we do, the only thing I'll ask of God is that He let them live long enough to know who's killing them."
I've read this particular sequence a few times, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. Obviously important for character insight, but past that? I don't think Honor is a monster, or unstoppable, for all that she can be a very scary person when she gets going. I just can't see Hamish, himself an accomplished commander with a legendary temper, looking into Honor's eyes and being afraid.
The final, official count of fatalities was still far from complete, but she knew only too well what it had been for her own family. Aside from her mother and father, the twins, and Hamish, Emily, Raoul, and Katherine, she had exactly five close surviving relatives in the Star Empire. That number would be reduced to four very soon now, because Allen Duncan—her Aunt Dominique's husband—had decided to return to Beowulf. There were too many memories on Sphinx, too much pain when he thought about his wife and all four of his children. Much as he'd come to love Manticore, he needed the comfort of his birth world and the family he had there.
Beyond him, her immediate family, her cousin Sarah, who'd suddenly become the second Countess Harrington, and Benedict and Leah Harrington, her Aunt Clarissa's surviving children, her closest living Manticoran relative was a fifth cousin. She knew how unspeakably lucky she was to still have her parents, her brother and sister, and her own children, but it was hard—hard—to feel grateful when all the rest of her family had been blotted away as brutally and completely as Black Rock Clan.
Honor's surviving extended family. And there are plenty of people who don't even have a dozen family members left.
Frankly, Honor wouldn't have blamed the 'cats if they'd decided that what had happened to Black Rock Clan was proof their long ago ancestors had been right to have nothing to do with humans. If they'd blamed even their own humans for letting things come to such a pass in a war which was none of the treecats' affair and turned their backs on any future relationship with them.
They hadn't done that. Perhaps it was because they were so much like humans, in some ways. Or perhaps it was because they weren't—because they were such uncomplicated, straightforward people, without humanity's unfailing ability to seek someone close at hand to blame for disasters. Whatever the reason, their response had been not simply grief, not simply shock, but anger. Anger directed not at their own two-legs, but at whoever was really responsible. Cold, focused, lethal anger. Honor had always known, far better than the rest of humanity, just how dangerous a single treecat's anger could be. Now the bitter fury of the entire species was directed to a single end, and if some people might have found the thought that a race of small, furry, flint-knapping arboreals could pose any serious threat to someone who commanded superdreadnoughts was ludicrous, Honor Alexander-Harrington did not. Perhaps that was because she was too much like a 'cat, she thought. She knew, without question or doubt, where her own anger was going to lead in the end, and so she understood the treecats only too well.
The treecats are planning their day of reckoning, once Victor and Anton give them a target. In the meantime, they get more
involved with the outside universe, and will eventually be stationed throughout Alliance ships and bases as an anti-Lone Gunmen precaution.
Spencer hadn't been happy about her decision to take Trafalgar out all by herself immediately after she'd finished her face-to-face briefings with Elizabeth at Mount Royal Palace. He'd tried to insist she ake at least one of her armsmen along, but she'd flatly refused. She hadn't been able to prevent him from flying top cover with no less than three sting ships, a tractor-equipped air car, and a standby SAR diver, but at least she'd been able to keep him high enough above her for her to find a shadow of the solitude she and Nimitz had needed so badly.
One of Honor's responses once she had a moment to herself was to take Nimitz and go sailing. Alone, or as close as she ever gets, and her armsmen's version of alone is faintly comical in it's own right. But that too, I think, is a form of running away from an insoluble problem, to just not deal with it for a couple of hours.
Reports of the attack which had hit Yeltsin's Star simultaneously with the one on the Manticore Binary System were still incomplete. Transit time was under four days for a dispatch boat, as compared to the roughly six and a half between the Junction's Trevor's Star terminus and the Haven System, so she'd known for days now that the Graysons had been pounded, as well. What she was short on were details. Which wasn't surprising, really. No doubt Grayson had enough wreckage of its own that needed sorting through before it could issue anything like definitive reports.
Refinement of travel times. One of the new short stories had more details on the devastation of Grayson, but I haven't read it and here it's basically a footnote.
"How bad is it?" she asked quietly.
"Bad," he said flatly. "In fact, it's worse than the original estimates. Blackbird is gone, My Lady and it looks like we lost virtually a hundred percent of the workforce."
"They don't seem to have used as many of those graser-armed remote platforms of theirs," Yanakov continued, as if he'd heard her thoughts, "but they used a lot more missiles and kinetic strikes to compensate. According to the Office of Shipbuilding, at least ninety-six percent of the physical plant was destroyed outright or damaged beyond repair. And, as I say, personnel losses were near total."
Honor nodded, and fresh shadows gathered in her eyes. She'd been one of the major investors when Blackbird was built, and the economic loss was going to be a severe blow in a financial sense. That was totally immaterial to her, however, beside the human cost. Almost a third of the total workforce had been from Harrington Steading itself or employed by Skydomes. And over eighteen percent of those employees had been women—a stupendous percentage for patriarchal Grayson, even now.
No graser torpedoes at Blackbird, but the destruction seems to have been even more thorough. Well, it's not like the Graysons haven't rebuilt from nothing before, hells if this is going to keep them down.
"The only good news is that Blackbird was far enough away from the planet that we didn't take any collateral damage to the orbital habitats or farms. Or"—his eyes met hers—"to the planet itself, of course."
"We had even more new construction caught in the yards," he went on, "but we didn't have many ships in for repairs or overhaul, so at least we were spared that."
"And they want you back home to take over the system defenses," Honor said, nodding. But Yanakov shook his head.
"I'm afraid not, My Lady,"
Yanakov inhaled deeply—"I wanted to tell you myself that I've been appointed High Admiral."
For a moment, it didn't register. Then Honor's eyes widened, and she felt her head shaking in futile, instinctive rejection.
They sat in silence for several seconds until, finally, it was her turn to draw a breath.
"Wesley was out at Blackbird?" she said softly.
"Yes, My Lady. I'm sorry. He was there for a stupid, routine conference." Yanakov shook his own head, his eyes bright with mingled sorrow and anger. "Just one of those things. But I know how close the two of you were. That's why I wanted to tell you in person. And," he managed an unhappy smile, "to assure you that if you should happen to want the assignment, it's yours. After all, you're senior to me."
"Not on a bet, Judah," she replied almost instantly. "I know how much Hamish hates being tied to the Admiralty, and I know how much Wesley hated having to give up a space-going command. I don't think I'd like it any more than either of them." She shook her head again, much more firmly. "They're not getting me off a flag deck that easily! Not now, especially."
We lost High Admiral Wesley Matthews. It seems Grayson was keeping up that breakneck construction speed they're known for, though two years ago they were wondering how they'd ever pay for it all, I suppose the resumption of the war must have changed things. But the takeaway is that Grayson still has 100+ podnoughts and dozens of carriers in active service, their crews mostly intact. Even if they're going to be hitting a lot of the same logistics shortfalls and bottlenecks Manticore will, the GSN is still a going concern.
"I'm afraid they want me home in a hurry, My Lady. I'm headed back aboard the same dispatch boat and it's scheduled to break Manticore orbit in less than two hours. So I'm afraid I have to say goodbye now."
Honor stood, but instead of taking his hand, she walked around the deck and stood facing him for perhaps two seconds. Then she put her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
She felt him stiffen instinctively, even after all these years. Which, she supposed, showed you could take the boy out of Grayson, but you couldn't take the Grayson out of the boy. But then his automatic response to being touched so intimately by a woman who was neither his wife nor his mother or sister disappeared, and he hugged her back. A bit tentatively, perhaps, but firmly.
Grayson mores, apparently not used to hugging female friends.
"Obviously, all of us are dismayed by what happened to Admiral Crandall's task force at Spindle. And I think it would be fair to say," he continued in a deliberately judicious, soberly thoughtful tone, "that the efficacy of the Manticoran Navy's weapons has come as a most unpleasant surprise to all of us."
He allowed himself to glance—briefly—at Karl-Heinz Thimár and Cheng Hai-shwun. Other eyes followed his, but Thimár and Cheng had obviously realized this, or something like it, had to be coming. They sat there calmly, apparently oblivious to the looks coming their way. The bureacratic infighter's number one rule, ''Never let them see your fear," was well known to everyone around the table, but the two men ostensibly responsible for the SLN's intelligence arms were giving a bravura demonstration of it, and with very little sign of strain. Which, al-Fanudahi reflected, said a great deal about how highly placed their various relatives and patrons actually were.
Do you guys really have time for all these petty power games? What am I saying, there's always
time for petty power games and infighting. Until there isn't, in which case you're so thoroughly screwed anyways that it's not like a last-minute show of unity can save you.
"Given that attitude on their part," Rajampet said, "it's unlikely they'll be inclined to respond favorably to the government's diplomatic initiatives. At the same time, however, they have to be reeling from what's happened to them. Let's face it, Ladies and Gentlemen—we got reamed at Spindle. But compared to what's happened to the Manties' home system, what happened to Admiral Crandall's task force was only a minor inconvenience, as far as the Navy and the League are concerned. Even with her entire force off the table, we still have over two thousand of the wall in full commission, another three hundred in refit or overhaul status, and better than eight thousand in reserve. Task Force 496 represented less than half of one percent of our total wall of battle and our support structure is completely unscathed, whereas the Manties have just had their entire industrial base blown out from under them. There's no meaningful comparison between the relative weight of those losses. They represent totally different orders of magnitude, and it has to be psychologically even worse for the Manties because it happened so soon after Spindle. From what had to be an incredible peak of confidence, they've had their feet kicked out from under them. At the moment, no matter how much money they have in the bank, and no matter how big their merchant marine—or even their remaining navy—may be, they're effectively no more than a fourth-rate power in terms of sustained capabilities, and don't think for a moment that they don't know that as well as we do."
So right now the SLN has 2,000 active SDs, 300 in for refit and maintenance, and over 8,000
ancient mothballed ships. Granted the reserves probably aren't good for much more than missile bait without substantial
He wondered if any of those assembled flag officers were thinking about the constitutional implications of what Rajampet had just said. Even the broadest interpretation of Article Seven's "self-defense" clause had never been construed to cover a general mobilization of the Reserve without formal authorization from the civilian government. Kolokoltsov and his cronies, however, clearly doubted they could get that authorization without touching off a political dogfight such as the League had never seen. So at the moment, he and his fellow bureaucrats were simply going to look the other way and carry on with their "diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis" while Rajampet did the dirty work.
Plausible deniability is a hell of a thing, particularly when kicking off constitutional crises.
"At the same time, however, we realize there's no way to be certain of that, and we're prepared for the possibility that the Manties may be insane enough not to surrender. We're even prepared for the possibility that they may have sufficient of their new missiles available from existing stores to beat off Filareta's attack, at least temporarily. Which is why the redeployment of our active wall is designed to concentrate no fewer than an additional five hundred wallers on Tasmania—this time with complete logistical support and a powerful Frontier Fleet screen—within two and a half months. In three months' time, that total will reach six hundred. Which means we'll be able to dispatch a second wave, substantially larger and even more powerfully supported, against Manticore within a maximum of five months—long before they will have been able to restore sufficient industrial capacity to reammunition their own ships."
Already setting up Third
Manticore, with 600 SDs with actual screen and support ships this time.