He paused, reflecting on just how disastrous it could be if the message he was recording fell into someone else's hands. The odds of that happening were literally too minute even to be calculated, or he would never have recorded it in the first place, of course. Only eleven copies of it would be made—one for each of the "Renaissance Factor's" heads of state, on high-security, DNA-coded chips—and each of them would be transported by streak boat in locked, dead-man's switch-controlled, self-destruct-equipped cases for hand-delivery by the Alignment's most trusted couriers. Every precaution for transporting secure information which had been developed during six centuries of successful conspiracy and covert operations had been integrated into the conduits connecting his office to the message's recipients. If anyone had managed to compromise one of those conduits, the entire strategy was doomed anyway, so there really wasn't much point resorting to circumlocution to keep any unauthorized souls who might hypothetically see it from figuring out what he was saying.
The most secure messages can be in the honorverse. Including DNA-coded computer chips. The rest we've had for decades, barring the FTL transport, obviously.
"Frankly, it seems most likely to us from our sources in Old Chicago that if, in fact, Filareta gets himself as thoroughly smashed as Crandall did, the follow-up wave Rajampet is currently planning will get put on indefinite hold. There has to be a limit to how many superdreadnoughts even the SLN is willing to pour down a rat hole, after all.
"Even if that happens, however, we have . . . arrangements in place to see to it that at least a dozen members of of the Assembly will demand explanations. There's even a possibility—which, to be honest, I find particularly delicious—that Beowulf will be leading the pack. At the same time, we'll be sending the execute order to our first wave of 'spontaneous uprisings' against Frontier Security and its tyrannical ways. When that happens, it will be time for the Factor to come out into the open."
The Alignment's plan, still on track. With a decent chance of Rjampet's second wave getting frozen, the plan is to start the witch-hunts in the assembly and the spontaneous popular uprisings right after Second Manticore.
"The groundwork is all in place, and, so far, things have gone very much as planned. There's always room for that to change, though, and it's critical the next stage be properly handled. With only one or two exceptions, all of your first wave 'annexations' should be programmed to welcome the Faction's protection, but those exceptions—if they arise—are going to have to be very carefully approached. I know we've talked about this, but let me re-emphasize that even though we've picked all of these systems because of their potential industrial and economic contributions, it's absolutely essential that the Faction be seen as a beneficial, voluntary association. So, if it turns out any of your targets are unwilling to voluntarily join, accept that. There'll be time to add them later, and for the immediate future, it's much more important that all of you are self-evidently acting solely in self-defense in the face of the chaos and anarchy spreading steadily through the Shell and Verge."
They've already planned the first stage expansion, neighboring systems with strong economies who will join the Renaissance Factor. But for now, if anybody says no, they'll accept that in the name of image.
"But, while I'm nagging, let's go over a couple of my concerns about our potential problem children. Clinton, I know you and Prince Felix have been friends for years, but our latest analysis is that the Siegfried Parliament is likely to balk, at least initially, when you invite Felix to join the Factor. It looks to us like an alliance—for now, at least—is likely to emerge between the most conservative of his nobles, because they're afraid of losing the power they already have, and of the growing Siegfried industrial class, which is afraid of seeing the rules change just when it's on the brink of acquiring significant political clout. The thing that worries me about it is that you and Felix are so close. I think he's likely to try to force the issue, and our analysts' opinion is that there's about a forty percent chance he'd fail. On the other hand, the very nature of the alliance we're afraid of means it's ultimately going to come apart as the nobility's and the industrialists' interests diverge or even come into direct conflict. The steady worsening of the situation around them is going to have an effect, as well, so according to those same analysts' projections, the chance that Siegfried will ultimately request annexation by the Factor rises to well above ninety percent if we indicate we're prepared to accept their decision against joining—for now—gracefully. So, I think you're going to have to handle your impulsive old fencing partner rather delicately. The invitation has to be extended, but you need to stress to him that—"
And an example as to the extent of their research into their first-pick candidates and their internal politics.
It wasn't as if anyone was going to fail to recognize her, even though as a general rule the Queen of Manticore seldom addressed all her subjects at the same time. In fact, these days she couldn't. She couldn't even simultaneously address all of the subjects of the "Old Star Kingdom," far less the entire Star Empire, since no one could drive a signal through a wormhole junction to Trevor's Star or the Lynx Terminus. Normally, when she spoke publicly at all, it was to relatively small gatherings—at "town hall meetings," civic organizations, charitable associations, and similar events. Clips of her remarks from those occasions, and sometimes even entire speeches, were frequently rebroadcast, but the tradition was that the reigning monarch did not engage in partisan politics. Everyone knew she (or he) really did, given that the monarch was acting head of government as well as head of state, but not in the rough-and-tumble of political strife. Which meant the prime minister was the usual face of Her Majesty's Government, except on particularly critical occasions.
The rarity of general addresses from the monarch, apparently a part of their political tradition.
"We believe the attack was made possible through the development of a radically new starship drive technology. We believe we have, after a painstaking analysis of Perimeter Security's records, identified the hyper footprint of the attackers' arrival, although it wasn't recognized as such at the time. We also believe it would be extraordinarily difficult, if not outright impossible, for a similar operation to be repeated without the attackers being detected and engaged far short of their targets.
We bloody well hope so, at any rate.
"In the meantime, however," she continued, "those in the League whose stupidity and arrogance made them so amenable to our enemies' manipulation have not suddenly become wise. As some in the media have been reporting, the Solarian League Navy, having failed to learn its lesson at Spindle, has decided to move directly against the Manticore System. We anticipate the arrival of several hundred Solarian superdreadnoughts in our space within the next two to three T-weeks."
If the silence of her audience had been profound before, it became absolute as she made that admission.
"When those ships arrive, they will not be here on a peaceful diplomatic mission. All of us have known for our entire lives how corrupt the Solarian League has truly become. We know who truly runs the Solarian bureaucracy. We know about the 'sweetheart deals' between Solarian transstellars and the venal, utterly dishonest Frontier Security commissioners who pimp for them. We know about the vast gulf between the League's soaring professions of belief in human dignity and human worth and OFS' support of debt peonage throughout the Verge. Between the League's solemn condemnation of the interstellar genetic slave trade and the reality of high League officials and bureaucrats on the payrolls of criminal enterprises like Manpower, Incorporated."
All the things "everyone knows" are wrong with the League publicly aired. And public announcement of Filareta's attack three weeks before it arrives.
"Knowing what we know, none of us can be surprised by the fact that the Solarian League Navy intends to demand the Star Empire of Manticore's unconditional surrender. The intention is to turn us into yet another OFS-administered satellite of the League. We've all seen, only too often, what happens to local government, local administration of justice, local economies, and the right of self-determination when the 'enlightened' supervision of the Office of Frontier Security engulfs an independent star nation. Make no mistake about it—that is precisely what the League intends to do to us.
"It intends to do so out of a desire for vengeance for the defeats it's suffered at our Navy's hands. It intends to do so because it cannot tolerate the example of a 'neobarb' out-system star nation which refuses to slavishly comply with the League's whims. It intends to do so because it resents the size and power of our merchant marine. And it intends to do so out of the basest motives of greed as it contemplates the potential revenue source of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction."
Reasons for the coming war.
"There is no hope of dissuading the Solarians from their chosen course," she said slowly and distinctly. "The Solarian League, for all its past glories and high achievements, has become an appetite, a voracious hunger, and trillions of its citizens, living safe, satisfied, self-centered, and secure lives on its core worlds, have no concept of what routinely happens to the weak and the helpless along its frontiers.
"It's time they found out."
Because this speech will be so popular for rebroadcast in the League?
"Despite the damage we've suffered, Home Fleet remains intact. Despite the damage to our production lines, Home Fleet's magazines are fully loaded. Our system-defense missiles are untouched. If the Solarian League wants a war, the Solarian League will have one. If that is the choice the League makes, then the war which began at New Tuscany and continued at Spindle will resume right here. Whatever they may think, the fleet they've dispatched against us is no match for our remaining combat power. If they choose to send a second, equally large, fleet after this one, the Admiralty is confident we have sufficient strength to defeat it, as well. No doubt the League believes we'll refuse to fight because of the vast difference between our ultimate capabilities. The League is wrong.
That much is certainly true.
"Within six T-months, we will have reestablished our missile production capability. It won't be as great as it was prior to the recent attack, but it will be sufficient to guarantee the security of our own star systems against any ships or weapons currently in the Solarian League Navy's inventory. That is the bottom-line analysis of the Admiralty, and you have my word—and the word of the House of Winton—that I am telling you the absolute truth when I say that."
Time frame to get MDM/Apollo production started again.
"There is, of course, a vast difference between being able to guarantee our own security in the near term and being able to defeat a behemoth like the Solarian League in the long term. I don't pretend to have a magic bullet to guarantee our ultimate victory. But I do have this. I have the courage of the Manticoran people. I have my own refusal to fail the trust those people have placed in the House of Winton. I have the determination of all Manticorans—those of the Old Star Kingdom and those of the Star Empire who have newly and freely joined us—to live in freedom. I have the skill and the high professionalism and the dauntless determination of the men and women of the Manticoran armed forces. And I have the absolute certainty that those things will never fail me . . . or you.
"I don't bring you any 'magic bullet,' because there is none. I make no promises of easy triumphs, because there will be no easy triumphs. I promise you only the truth, and the truth is that the price we will ultimately pay will be even higher than the one we've already paid. That the cost of the battle which waits for us will be sacrifice, loss, backbreaking toil, blood, and grief. But I also promise you this one more thing. I promise you victory. For seventy-plus T-years, the Star Empire has lived under sentence of death, yet we're still here. And we will still be here when the smoke finally clears. However long it takes, whatever sacrifice it entails, wherever the battle takes us, and no matter what foe we may face, we will triumph, and those who have wrought such destruction and suffering upon us, who have butchered our civilians, who have attacked us from the shadows like assassins, will discover to their infinite regret that in the defense of our homes, our families, and our children, we can be just as merciless as them."
And just a cool speech at the end there.
"What is it, Rafe?" she asked sharply.
"Your Grace, we've just picked up a hyper footprint. It's a single ship, about four light-minutes outside the system limit. It's quite near one of the FTL platforms, and it's squawking its transponder code."
"And?" she prompted a bit sharply when he paused.
"And it's a Havenite ship, Ma'am. In fact, according to its transponder, it's Haven One."
Haven stuck with the US convention for the president's ride.
"Honor?" The queen shook her head. "What are you doing on this channel? Or even here, instead of at Trevor's Star, for that matter? I thought you weren't due back until the middle of next week!"
"There's been a slight . . . change in plans," Honor said. "Something came up rather unexpectedly. I decided I'd better come home to discuss it with you personally, and I got Hamish to tap me in through Admiralty House's secure channels. That's why his identifier showed on your com."
Elizabeth frowned. Something about Honor's expression perplexed her, and she wondered why the other woman had gone to such obvious lengths to wake her up in the middle of the night to sit down in front of a secure com.
"What 'came up rather unexpectedly'?" she asked.
"It seems we have an unanticipated visitor," Honor said simply, and expanded her own com's field of view.
For a moment, it failed to register. But then Elizabeth Winton's jaw dropped as she recognized the platinum-haired, topaz-eyed woman standing at Honor's side.
"I apologize for waking you up in the middle of the night, Your Majesty," President Elizabeth Pritchart said calmly, "but I think we need to talk."
And Prichart brings the book full-circle with a midnight visit, though she came by way of Trevor's Star. Oh, and this bit takes place two weeks after the speech, one week before Filareta is due.
But if he'd been warned what to expect, it quickly became evident that the boat bay officer of the deck (who, at this extremely late hour of Invictus' shipboard day, was an extremely junior ensign with red hair, fair skin, and blue eyes, rejoicing in the name of Hieronymus Thistlewaite) hadn't been. That young man had spotted the duchess' arrival and mustered the proper side party for an admiral of her towering seniority. He looked just a bit nervous, since there were no older and wiser heads looking over his shoulder this time, but Ensign Thistlewaite seemed reasonably confident he had the situation under control.
Until, that was, Elizabeth Adrienne Samantha Annette Winton, Grand Commander of the Order of King Roger, Grand Commander of the Order of Queen Elizabeth I, Grand Commander of the Order of the Golden Lion, Baroness of Crystal Pine, Baroness of White Sand, Countess of Tannerman, Countess of High Garnet, Grand Duchess of Basilisk, Princess Protector of the Realm, and, by God's grace and the will of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth III of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, and Empress Elizabeth I of the Star Empire of Manticore, swung lithely out of the boarding tube at Duchess Harrington's heels.
None of the side party had expected their monarch's sudden arrival, and not even naval discipline was enough to hide their astonishment.
"Eighth Fleet, arri—" a voice began over the boat bay speakers, then chopped off abruptly as the petty officer behind it realized who else had just appeared aboard his ship.
The smooth efficiency of the side party's formalities slithered to a halt, and Ensign Thistlewaite's jaw dropped. Then it closed with an almost audible snap, his face turned a considerably darker red than his hair, and he stared appealingly at the duchess.
"Manticore, arriving!" the speakers said suddenly as the petty officer recovered abruptly, and the bosun's pipes began to twitter again while three additional side boys came dashing up from somewhere.
"Permission to come aboard, Sir?" Elizabeth said gravely, managing not to smile, as the twitter of pipes came to an end. The first two bodyguards who'd emerged from the tube behind her, wearing the uniform of the Queen's Own, appeared rather less amused than she obviously was, but Thistlewaite's blue eyes looked back at her with desperate gratitude.
"Permission granted, Ma'am—I mean, Your Majesty!"
Protocol for a royal boarding a starship, I suppose.
"Your Majesty," Honor said quietly into what could have become an awkward silence, "allow me to present President Eloise Pritchart, Secretary of State Leslie Montrose, Secretary of War Thomas Theisman, Attorney General Denis LePic, Director Kevin Usher of the Federal Investigation Agency, Special Officer Victor Cachat, and Dr.Herlander Simões." She smiled crookedly. "I believe you already know everyone else."
Who all came to this meeting.
"Your Majesty, we know who tampered with our prewar diplomatic correspondence. We did not know at the time the Republic resumed hostilities." She looked squarely at Elizabeth, facing the sudden resurgence of the queen's tension. "You have my word—my personal word, as well as that of the Republic of Haven—that it was only well after Operation Thunderbolt that we discovered, essentially by a fluke, that in fact the Star Empire was telling the truth about the High Ridge Government's correspondence. That the version which I saw in Nouveau Paris, and which my cabinet colleagues saw with me, had been altered before it ever reached us . . . and, despite the fact that it carried your own Foreign Office's valid authentication codes, not by any Manticoran. The two men responsible for it were Yves Grosclaude, our special envoy to you, and Secretary of State Arnold Giancola."
Admitting to the correspondence upfront, the sticky issue they hadn't really gotten around to during Honor's mission to Haven.
"So," she said, sitting back from the table she shared with only Honor, Pritchart, and Theisman, "is Simões telling the truth or not, Honor?"
The two Havenites looked at Honor with slightly surprised expressions, and Honor smiled. Nimitz was sound asleep on his perch, and after the night which had just passed, she saw no point in waking him up.
"There's a reason Her Majesty's asking me, instead of Nimitz or Ariel," she told her guests. "As it happens, I've been hanging around with treecats long enough to have caught to at least some of their abilities. I can't read minds, but I can read emotions, and I know when someone's lying."
Well there's another secret out, at least to the high muckety-mucks of both Haven and Manticore. Also Anton, Victor and Herlander.
Pritchart blinked at her, then those topaz eyes narrowed in thought, and the president began nodding—slowly, at first, then more rapidly.
"So that's why you make such a fiendishly effective diplomat!" she said with something very like an air of triumph. "I couldn't believe how well a total novice was reading us. Now I know—you were cheating!"
Somebody finally calls Honor on her social hacks and it gets laughed off.
Elizabeth nodded slowly, then looked at Pritchart.
"So I guess what it comes down to," she said slowly, "is where we go from here. Whatever happens, I want you to know I'm enormously grateful for the information you've provided us. And I think we can both agree that the war between Haven and Manticore is over."
She shook her head, as if, even now, she couldn't quite believe what she'd just said. Not because she didn't want to, but because it seemed impossible, like something which couldn't possibly be true because of how badly everyone wanted it to be true.
Well that was easy.
"Well," Elizabeth smiled with very little humor at all, "at least I can feel confident now that you'll keep the Republican Navy off our backs long enough for us to deal with this Admiral Filareta."
"Actually," Pritchard said, "I had something else in mind."
"Well, it just happens that Thomas here has a modest little fleet—two or three hundred of the wall, I believe—waiting approximately eight hours from Trevor's Star in hyper. If you're willing to trust us in Manticoran space, perhaps we could help you encourage Filareta to see reason. And while I'm well aware our hardware isn't as good as yours, every indication I've seen is that it's one hell of a lot better than anything the Sollies have."
It's a good thing we're all such good friends now, because someone less close and dear to the Republic could take such a massive fleet turning up unexpected on their metaphorical doorstep as a downright hostile gesture, rather than the reinforcements they're meant as.
"Are you offering me a military alliance against the Solarian League?" Elizabeth asked very carefully.
"If McBryde was right, there isn't going to be much of a Solarian League very much longer," Pritchart replied grimly. "And given the fact that the same bunch of murderous bastards who shot up your home system are also directly responsible for you and I having killed a couple of million of our own people, I think we could say we have a certain commonality of interest where they're concerned. And it's not a case of selfless altruism on my part, you know. We're both on the Alignment's list. Don't you think it would be sort of stupid of either of us to let the other one go down and leave us all alone?"
In short, yes. Yes she is.
"We're still going to have those problems, you know," Elizabeth said almost conversationally after a moment. "All those people on both sides who don't like each other. All that legacy of suspicion."
"Of course." Pritchart nodded.
"And then there's the little matter of figuring out where this Alignment's real headquarters is, and who else is fronting for it, and what other weapons it has, and where else it has programmed assassins tucked away, and exactly what it's got in mind for the Republic once the Star Empire's been polished off."
"And, now that I think about it, there's the question of how we're going to rebuild our capabilities here, and how much technology sharing—and how quickly—we can convince our separate navies and our allies to put up with. You know there's going to be heel-dragging and tantrum-throwing the minute I start suggesting anything like that!"
"I'm sure there will."
The two women looked at one another, and then, slowly, both of them began to smile.
"What the hell," Elizabeth Winton said. "I've always liked a good challenge."
She extended her hand across the table.
Pritchart took it.
So ends the Second Haven War, and here begins the Grand Alliance. With a quick mention most, but hardly all, of the issues the new alliance will face with just one week to learn to coordinate before the Sollies arrive.
Here also ends the book, Mission of Honor.
That's the end of my digital cache, I will probably resume the analysis later but right now? I'm taking the rest of December as a break from the Honorverse.