Back | Next


Amos Parnell sat in his office off DuQuesne Base's central war room and stared in sick horror at his terminal. The stocky, powerful CNO seemed shrunken, aged beyond his years, and his face was haggard.

His task force had returned to the Barnett System less than ten hours ago after its agonizingly slow passage from Yeltsin and what he supposed historians would call the Battle of Yeltsin. "Massacre of Yeltsin" would be more appropriate, and it was his fault. He'd taken the Manties' bait hook, line, and sinker.

He closed his eyes, covering his face with his hands, and knew he was a beaten man. Not just by the Manties, but inside. He'd gone into Yeltsin believing he had a three-to-one advantage, only to find himself facing a force even stronger than his own, and somehow the Manties and their allies had been able to preposition their powered-down wall of battle perfectly. It was as if they'd been clairvoyant, as if they'd been able to see every move he made in real time.

Their opening broadsides had taken him totally by surprise. A quarter of his fleet had been crippled or destroyed almost before he knew the enemy was there, and he had no idea how he'd extricated anything from the deadly trap. He couldn't remember. No doubt he could replay the com records and flag bridge recorders and reconstruct his orders, but he had absolutely no coherent memory of giving them. It was all a hideous nightmare of lightning-fast decisions and desperate improvisation that had somehow fought clear of Yeltsin with barely half the ships he'd taken into it, and half of them had been so battered their return to Barnett had taken more than twice as long as the passage out.

And now this. The President was dead. The entire government was dead, as were his own father, his younger sister, his brother, three of his cousins, and virtually their entire families, and Navy personnel had done it.

He ground his teeth in agony at the thought. The Manties' Hancock trap had succeeded even more completely against Admiral Rollins than the Yeltsin ambush had against him. Sixteen percent—the best sixteen percent—of the Fleet's wall of battle had been wiped out, and even as the Navy bled and died on the frontiers, another faction of its personnel had committed mass murder against its own people. He ached with agonizing, personal shame and thought longingly of the loaded pulser in his desk drawer. All it would take was a single squeeze of the stud . . . but he owed the Republic more than that. He owed it whatever he could do to stem the tide of disaster.

His office door opened, and he snatched his hands down and looked up. Commodore Perot stood in the doorway, and Parnell opened his mouth to demand the reason for the intrusion, then paused.

The commodore wasn't alone, for two men and a woman stood behind him. They wore InSec's uniform, and Perot's face was a sickly, ashen hue.

One of the InSec men touched Perot's shoulder, and he shambled into the office, his eyes stunned. Parnell stiffened and opened his mouth once more, but the woman spoke before he could.

"Admiral Amos Daughtry Parnell?" It came out hard and clipped, an accusation, not a form of address.

"What's the meaning of this?" Parnell tried to put iron into his voice, but he heard its wan, weary quiver.

"Admiral Parnell, I am Special Undersecretary for Security Cordelia Ransom, and it is my duty to inform you that you are under arrest."

"Arrest?" Parnell stared at her, feeling anesthetized and numb, as she drew a crackling sheaf of paper from her pocket. "On what charges?"

"On charges of treason against the people," Ransom said in that same, hard voice. She tossed the sheaf of paper onto his desk, and the admiral stared down at it dazedly, then picked it up in trembling hands.

From its date, the standard InSec detention order must have been written within hours of his Yeltsin dispatch's arrival on Haven, and like all InSec DOs, its wording was vague. The charges were listed in bald, terse sentences, but no amplification or specifics were offered.

He read the charges slowly, unable to believe this was happening, and then he came to the last page. It wasn't a standard detention order after all, for the signature block had been changed. The space which should have contained the Secretary of Internal Security's authorization of Parnell's arrest bore another name and title, and he stared at it numbly.

"By order of Rob S. Pierre, Chairman, Committee of Public Safety," it said.

* * *

Dame Honor Harrington stepped into the briefing room. She removed her white beret, and Nimitz swayed gently on her shoulder as she tucked the beret under her left epaulet and looked at the man awaiting her.

Vice Admiral Sir Yancey Parks returned her gaze levelly. She felt his emotions through her link to the treecat, and there was still no liking for her in them. She wasn't surprised. She might not know what had prejudiced Parks against her to start with, but she'd come to the conclusion that it didn't much matter, anyway. They were simply the wrong personalities to like one another.

Yet they were also professionals. They didn't have to like each other, and just as she felt Parks' dislike, she felt his stubborn determination to do his duty. It was a pity, she thought, that he couldn't feel her emotions. Perhaps that sort of understanding might have overcome their mutual dislike.

And perhaps not.

"I've just been reading your doctor's report on Admiral Sarnow," Parks said a bit abruptly. "I must say, I'm impressed. Very impressed."

"Yes, Sir. Commander Montoya is one of the finest doctors I've ever known—as I can attest from personal experience."

"So I understand." Parks' lips quirked in a dour smile, and he pointed at a chair. "Sit, Captain. Sit!" His voice had a testy edge, and he watched through wintry eyes as she obeyed.

"I owe Admiral Sarnow—and you—a very great vote of thanks." Parks didn't like admitting that, but he did it. "Of course, you were technically in the wrong not to pass command to Captain Rubenstein, but in view of the tactical situation—and the result—I have fully endorsed your decision, and my dispatch to Admiral Caparelli fully approves your conduct and commends your skill and courage."

"Thank you, Sir," Honor said quietly, and reached up to still Nimitz with a touch as the 'cat shifted on her shoulder.

"I've also read your report on the . . . incidents of the engagement," Parks went on in a flat tone, "and taken statements from all surviving captains. In light of those statements and the com records from Warlock's data base, there is no question in my mind that Lord Young first ordered his squadron to scatter without authorization and subsequently withdrew his ship and its support against your specific orders. The situation is complicated by the fact that he was, in fact, senior to you, but he had no way of knowing Admiral Sarnow had been incapacitated. At the moment he made his decision, he did so against what he believed to be Admiral Sarnow's orders and hence in defiance of his lawful superior while in the presence of the enemy. As such, I have had no choice but to remove him from command and assemble a captains' board to consider his actions."

He paused, and Honor watched him in silence. She'd known all about the board of inquiry. She might not like Parks, but she had to admit he'd acted both promptly and generously where the task group was concerned. Of course, she thought bitterly, there weren't very many people left to be generous to. Sarnow's force had suffered over twelve thousand fatal casualties, and none of them had been necessary.

She knew she would never be able to forgive Parks for letting it happen, yet she also knew he'd done the best he could. He'd made a bad call, but he hadn't known about the Peeps' spy satellites when he did it. Once he'd discovered their existence, his actions had been both rapid and decisive. The proof was in the pudding, she supposed, and the conquest of Seaford Nine and the total destruction of the Peeps' military presence in his command area was a very substantial pudding indeed.

But Parks knew how much he owed the task group. He'd been more than generous in his praise, and she'd already seen the honors list he'd proposed to the Queen. She was on it, as were Sarnow, Banton, Van Slyke, and at least a dozen other officers and twice as many ratings and noncoms. Too many of them were mentioned only posthumously, yet Parks had done what he could, and his report on his own actions pulled no punches. He'd fully admitted his mistakes—and been equally explicit in his praise for Admiral Mark Sarnow and the officers and enlisted personnel under his command.

Except for Lord Pavel Young. Young had been relieved from command and placed under open arrest even before Parks moved against Seaford, and Commodore Capra had taken Honor's own testimony in a recorded deposition for the board of inquiry. Now she waited to hear its verdict.

"It is the opinion of the officers of the board," Parks said quietly, "that Lord Young has proven his total lack of fitness to command a Queen's ship. The board has also concluded that the confusion his withdrawal caused in your missile defense net was directly responsible for an indeterminate but substantial number of casualties to other ships of the task group. It is the board's recommendation, which I have endorsed—" Parks looked squarely into Honor's eyes "—that Lord Young be returned to Manticore, there to be tried by court-martial for cowardice and desertion in the face of the enemy."

Honor's nostrils flared, and Nimitz hissed. A savage sense of satisfaction went through her, cold and deadly, not exultant. Parks sat silent, watching her, and she inhaled and squared her shoulders.

"Thank you, Sir. For all of our people."

The admiral shrugged, but her link to Nimitz was still open, and she felt Parks' mixed emotions. His own actions, however successful, left him open to serious criticism. Young's family could be expected to play on them in any defense they mounted, and his endorsement of the board's recommendations would make the Earl of North Hollow his mortal enemy whatever the trial's outcome. He knew it, and it worried him, but he'd endorsed them anyway.

"At any rate," he went on after a moment, "it's time you took Nike home for repairs, Dame Honor."

Honor nodded. The repair base had patched up the most critical of the task group's hurts, but most of its units had already departed for Manticore. There were too many damaged ships for the base's capacity; the worst cripples, the ones needing the most yard time for complete repairs, had to be sent home, and HMS Nike would take months to heal.

"You depart for Manticore within the next twelve hours," Parks said, "and I'm sending Lord Young home in your ship under quarters arrest."

Honor stiffened and started to open her mouth, but Parks' gaze pinned her to her chair.

"Yours is the next departing ship. Considering the serious charges against him, he is entitled to the promptest return—and trial—possible, and I will expect you to treat him with proper military courtesy. Until and unless he is tried and convicted, he remains a Queen's officer and your senior. I realize the uncomfortable position in which this places you, but I expect you to do your duty—as you always have."

His eyes softened, somehow, with the final words, and she was puzzled by the surge of genuine apology she sensed through her link to Nimitz. It muted her own angry distaste for sharing the same air as Pavel Young, and she bit her lip for just a moment, then nodded.

"I understand, Sir Yancey."

"I thought you would, Milady." Her eyebrows tried to rise at his totally unexpected form of address, and he smiled. It wasn't an effusive smile, but it was genuine, and he rose and extended his hand.

"Commodore Capra will transmit your formal orders to Nike," he said. "I will personally inform Captain Young of the board's recommendations—and my own—before I send him aboard."

"Yes, Sir."

"Then I think that concludes our business, Dame Honor. God speed." He shook her hand firmly, and she braced to attention and turned toward the hatch. It hissed open before her, and she started to step through it, then paused as the admiral spoke again.

"Oh, by the way, Dame Honor. I almost forgot to mention that you'll find another passenger waiting for you when you return to Nike."

"Another passenger, Sir?" Honor turned in the open hatch, her expression puzzled, and Parks chuckled with genuine humor.

"It seems Captain Tankersley was promoted from captain junior grade to captain of the list just before the Peep attack. As such, he's too senior to stay on as exec aboard the base here, and since he, um, did such a fine job of dealing with Nike's original engineering difficulties, I thought it only fitting to return him to Manticore for reassignment aboard her."

Honor stared at him, trapped between amazement and sudden joy, and Parks gave her the first completely natural smile she'd ever seen from him.

"I trust the two of you will find something to talk about during the voyage, Captain Harrington."


Back | Next