And the Ramirezes had paid for it. The Legislaturalists had stripped them of their bank accounts and property as part and parcel of the process of looting the San Martin economy to shore up PRH's finances. InSec had hunted and harried them. One by one, most of the family's men and many of its women had perished. Some had been picked up by InSec, or later by StateSec, and simply disappeared. Others had been killed leading guerilla attacks, or in Peep raids on Resistance camps. By the time the Alliance took the planet, the family had been all but wiped out, and in the process, it had acquired an almost mythic stature in the eyes of all San Martin opponents of the Peep regime.
   And then the Ramirezes had returned. First in the person of Brigadier General Tomas Ramirez, Royal Manticoran Marine Corps, who, in a rare instance of slipping a round peg neatly into a round hole, had been selected to serve as the executive officer of the Allied occupation force. That had been a sufficiently emotional experience, especially for San Martinos who remembered Tomas' family, even the boy Tomas himself, from before the occupation. But then Tomas' father had returned, as well, literally from beyond the veil of death, and the effect upon the rest of San Martin's population had been... profound. Hysterical hero worship was not a San Martino vice, but the staunchly individualistic mountaineers had come perilously close to it when they realized one of the Ramirezes, one of the icons of the Resistance, was still alive.
   The squabbles over electoral processes ended overnight, and Jesus was drafted, almost without being consulted, to run for the presidency of the new government. All but one of his opponents withdrew when they realized who they faced, and the one woman who stayed the course was trounced at the ballot box, receiving barely fourteen percent of the vote and conceding defeat even before the polling closed. The last president of the old Republic of San Martin had been a Ramirez; so was the first president of the new Republic of San Martin, and the Allies — and especially Manticore, for whom the stability of San Martin was of particular concern — had all heaved a vast, collective sigh of relief.
   Which might have been just a mite premature after all, Elizabeth thought, studying her Prime Minister's expression.
   "All right, Allen. Just what, exactly, are they up to now?"
   "Well..." Cromarty tugged on one of his earlobes, then shrugged. "In simplest terms, Your Majesty, President Ramirez has instructed his ambassador to explore the possibility of San Martin's requesting annexation as our fourth planetary member."
   "He what?" Elizabeth stared at the Prime Minister, and Cromarty nodded.
   "That's essentially what I said when Ambassador Ascencio broached the possibility, Your Majesty. It came out of absolutely nowhere."
   "Is he serious?" Elizabeth demanded. "And even if he is, what in the world makes him think he could pull off something like that? I know he's popular, but if he's going to run around making offers like that one, the man must have delusions of godhood!"
   "In answer to your first question, I think the answer is that he's extremely serious," Cromarty said. "The letter he sent along via Ascencio certainly reads that way, and his analysis of the benefits and advantages such an arrangement might bring to San Martin is both persuasive and well reasoned. As, I might add, is his analysis of the advantages the arrangement would offer the Star Kingdom and our desire to insure the security of the Trevor's Star terminus. And he's apparently done a surprising amount of research into the legal precedents created by your father's annexation of Basilisk. Your uncle is on Gryphon this weekend, but I had some of the Foreign Office's senior legal specialists look over his conclusions, and their preliminary consensus is that he's quite right about the Crown's authority, with advice and consent of Parliament, to add worlds to the Star Kingdom."
   "But what about the rest of the San Martinos? Does he honestly think they'll stand for being sold down the river to Manticore?"
   "I doubt he thinks anything of the sort, Your Majesty," Cromarty said sternly. "But I also doubt that he expects them to feel they've been `sold down the river,' either. Apparently, the initial idea wasn't his alone. According to his letter, it had occurred independently to several of the more prominent members of their new Senate more or less simultaneously. They'd still been talking around the point with one another without anyone's quite having the nerve to propose it seriously, when a casual remark of his led them to believe he shared their interest. That was enough to get them moving, and the authorization to formally explore the possibility with us seems to have been proposed, debated before the Senate in closed session, and voted upon in less than two weeks."
   "You mean he has official Senate sanction for this?"
   "That's what his letter says, Your Majesty. And if their own Senate is backing at least an exploration of the matter, clearly a real possibility of pulling it off exists."
   "My God." Elizabeth sat back in her chair, cradling Ariel in her arms, while she pondered the possibilities suddenly opening before her.
   The question of what to do, ultimately, with the one-time Peep planets presently occupied by Allied troops had been a vexatious one from the beginning. She knew some members of Parliament, especially among Cromarty's own Centrists and the Crown Loyalists, secretly yearned for annexation as a simple resolution... and one that would increase the Star Kingdom's size and population base substantially, which was nothing to sneeze at when engaged in a war against the largest star nation in the vicinity. But none of them had dared to suggest it when they knew every Opposition party's leaders would trample one another trying to be the first to leap upon the idea and strangle it at birth.
   The Liberals would be horrified by the very notion that the Star Kingdom might become an old-fashioned, brutal, imperialist power. They'd raised enough hell over the annexation of Basilisk, whose sole habitable planet was peopled only by a batch of aliens about as primitive as any star-traveling race might ever hope to encounter. The idea of annexing other human —inhabited worlds would offend every ideological bone in their bodies.
   The Conservative Association would have been even more horrified. They were isolationist to the core, and the thought of adding huge numbers of new subjects who had no experience of an aristocratic society (and hence could scarcely be expected to bow and scrape properly before their betters) would be intolerable to them.
   The Progressives probably wouldn't care a great deal... as long as they were allowed to set up their own party organizations and electioneering machinery. The fact that the inhabitants of those planets would already have their own political factions and parties, however, would stick in even the Progressives' craws, since it would inevitably lessen their ability to seize upon new sources of strength at the polls.
   And even many Manticorans not blinkered by ideology or the calculus of electoral advantage would be dismayed by the thought of adding huge chunks of foreigners to the Star Kingdom. They would worry that adding so many foreign elements would dilute or even destroy the unique amalgam which had allowed the Star Kingdom to come so far and achieve so much with such a relatively small population.
   Elizabeth could understand all of that, and even sympathize with the last bit. But she also knew that the Star Kingdom's unique balance and accomplishments rested in no small part upon the steady stream of immigrants it had always attracted. There'd never been an overwhelming flood of such newcomers, but there'd always been some, and far from weakening the Star Kingdom, they'd added their own strengths to it. Elizabeth had always believed, firmly, that the continuation of that inflow was crucial to her kingdom's ongoing prosperity, and the thought of adding whole new planets held no dismay for her.
   Not that she expected selling the idea to Parliament to be easy.
   "Do you think we should support Ramirez, Allen?" she asked quietly, and the Prime Minister nodded.
   "I do, Your Majesty. First, we need the manpower. Second, Trevor's Star is absolutely essential to us in a strategic sense. And third, I think that ultimately the San Martinos', um, liveliness, let us say, would be of great benefit to our own society. Moreover, it would establish a precedent for annexing other worlds that request it... and give us an excuse not to annex those who don't request it. And, frankly, Your Majesty, it would bolster public morale. The incredible lift Duchess Harrington's return gave it is starting to wear off, and the new emergency Navy appropriations — and the taxes they entail — are starting to sink in. And, of course," his lips twisted sourly, "our `friends' in the Opposition see absolutely no reason not to take advantage of either of the above."
   He gave himself a little shake.
   "Under the circumstances, the knowledge that another entire planet chooses voluntarily to join the Star Kingdom and share our risks and the burden of supporting the war would do wonders. After all, who would choose to formally join what he expected to be the losing side of a war like this one? If that thought doesn't occur naturally to the electorate and our public policy think tanks, I assure you we'll bring it to their notice!" He chuckled. "The Opposition isn't the only bunch who can play the public opinion game, Your Majesty!"
   "I like your argument, Allen," Elizabeth mused, cuddling Ariel and pursing her lips while she considered all he'd just said. "Of course, it's all very preliminary, possibly even a little premature to speculate about, right now. But if it works out..."
   Her voice trailed off, and Cromarty watched her face as she stared into the empty air at something only she could see. He'd seen that expression on her face before, and as he saw it now, he felt a vast certainty that, preliminary and premature or not, yet to be ratified or rejected by public opnion, Parliament, and the voters though it might be, the actual decision had already been made by the slim, mahogany-skinned woman sitting across from him.
   And once that young woman makes a decision, the rest of the universe had better resign itself to the inevitable and get out of the way, he thought cheerfully. Because if it doesn't, it's going to get hurt.


   "I think your Graysons think I'm a bad influence on you, dear," Allison remarked as she and Honor walked down the third-floor hall of Honor's new mansion on their way to the ground-floor dining room. They turned a corner, and Allison paused at a sitting room's open door to properly admire the huge swath of ankle-deep carpet that stretched luxuriously from the door to an entire wall of one-way crystoplast and a breathtaking view of Jason Bay. It was the fourth such door she'd paused at, and each sumptuously furnished room had boasted its own, unique color combination and decorating style.
   "Not too shabby," she approved in a deliberately blasé tone. "Still," she went on just a bit critically, "if I were you, I think I'd have the bay dyed a deeper blue."
   "Very funny, Mother," Honor said severely, and pressed the door plate. The panel slid shut, and she turned to her unrepentant parent with a stern expression.
   "And just what, horrible person that you are, have you been doing to my poor Harringtons now?"
   "Why, nothing, dear!" Allison lowered long, dark lashes (one of many features Honor had deeply envied during her gawky, prolong-extended adolescence) and peeped innocently up through them at her towering daughter. "Nothing at all. It's just that they seem to have this fixation on schedules and message traffic. In fact, I believe `fixation' is probably too pale a word for it. `Obsession' would be better, and on more mature consideration, I'm not at all certain it might not properly be described as a pathological condition. Hmmmm... I didn't find anything in their genotype to explain it, but I'll bet that only means I missed something in the survey, because now that I think about it, it appears to be a nearly universal condition. Every single Grayson I meet seems to suffer from it, in fact, and—"
   "You are a wicked and unnatural creature, Mother," Honor told her diminutive parent, "and all this babbling is not going to distract me from the fact that you've been bedeviling my Harringtons. I knew you'd been up to something from the way Andrew and Miranda were very carefully not mentioning your arrival this afternoon. And, clever soul that I am, I deduce from your otherwise incomprehensible comments that you deliberately declined to inform Andrew or Simon of your intended arrival time. Would it happen, perchance, that my chain of reasoning is sound?"
   "It must come from your father's side of the family," Allison informed her with severe disapproval. "You never got that sort of dreary, plebeian logic from my genes, dear! Beowulfans' cognitive processes rely far more on the creative and intuitive manipulation of concepts without the drudgery of applying reason to them. Don't you realize how badly you can damage a perfectly good preconception or assumption if you insist on thinking about it that way? That's why I never indulge in such a vice."
   "Of course you don't," Honor agreed affably. "And you're evading the question again. Which was something you never let me get away with as a child."
   "Of course I didn't. A most unbecoming habit in a well-behaved child."
   "Mother!" A gurgle of laughter spoiled the severity of Honor's look, and Allison giggled.
   "Sorry. I just had to get it out of my system after spending the entire trip from Yeltsin aboard Tankersley with the twins' bodyguards, Jennifer, Mistress Thorn, and enough baggage for a six-month sojourn in the Sphinx outback. They're all very nice people, and I like them a lot, but do you realize how small the Tankersley really is? I didn't... until I discovered there was no place I could go where I didn't have to be on my best behavior."
   "You never spent a day in your life on your `best behavior'!" Honor snorted. "Um." She cocked her head. "Unless you wanted to charm something out of some poor unsuspecting male with your winsome smile and dimples, that is," she amended.
   "Oh, I can think of one or two times I behaved myself to get something out of a female, too," Allison said, then sighed. "That was before you were born, of course," she added pensively.
   "Two or three? Are you sure you wanted something out of that many females? That sounds like an excessive estimate, considering how relentlessly heterosexual you are. You're not even a hundred years old yet, you know."
   "I'm certain there were at least two, and I think there were three." Allison wrinkled her nose in thought. "I'm almost sure there were three," she announced. "My second-year teacher in grammar school was a woman, and I must have wanted something out of her before the year was over."
   "I see." Honor leaned back against the closed sitting room door and smiled down at her mother. "Feeling better?" she asked genially.
   "Oh, lots better!" Allison laughed, then shook her head. "Do you have any idea how your Graysons would react if I went on with one of them that way, Honor?"
   "Oh, I think Miranda might surprise you. And I know Howard and Andrew would."
   "Not a fair sample selection," Allison objected. "You've been breaking those three in gradually for years now!"
   "Agreed." Honor shrugged and the two of them started down the hall once more. "On the other hand, it was probably a good thing that I had a decade or so to `break in' the entire planet before you washed up there."
   "It did help," Allison agreed with a small chuckle, then shook her head in fresh amazement as they started down the huge, sweeping grand staircase to the mansion's enormous foyer. "I think this is even worse than Harrington House," she mused. "And Mistress Thorn has already discussed the distance from the kitchen to the dining room with me. She Does Not Approve, Honor. Rather vocally, as a matter of fact."
   "I'm not surprised. As a matter of fact, people seem to be developing a nasty habit of giving me houses that are entirely too magnificent for my taste. Not that they see it that way, of course. They seem to think the problem is simply that my taste is insufficiently magnificent for one of my high station and general all round demigoddess status." She made a rude sound, and the live side of her face grimaced. "Actually, of course, it's all your fault for failing to instill a proper desire for the finer things in life into me. I told Mike that if her cousin were anyone but the Queen of Manticore I would've handed this oversized docking slip straight back to her. It'd take an entire battalion of servants to keep up with something this size back on Grayson, and even with all the remotes and the house AI, the staff here on Manticore is still over thirty!"
   She shook her head and led the way down the staircase.
   "It takes a good half hour to walk from one end of the place to the other," she went on, exaggerating only slightly, "and I feel like I need an inertial navigation box and way points just to get from the library to the bathroom. At least Harrington House has the excuse that it's also an administrative center, but this thing is pure ostentation!"
   "Calm down, dear," Allison advised. "Her Majesty just wanted to give you a shiny new toy to show everyone how much she likes you. And you must admit she really did manage to come up with something you'd never have thought to buy for yourself."
   "Oh, you hit that one right on the head," Honor agreed feelingly. "Mac loves it, of course. He feels it offers the proper setting for an individual of my towering stature." The living side of her face grimaced one more. "And Nimitz and Sam like it, too, because it's big enough they'll be able to spend years exploring before they find all its 'cat-sized nooks and crannies. And I suppose I actually like the two or three rooms I'll actually ever use. The view really is tremendous, too, and I don't have any real objection to comfortable surroundings. Maybe it's just that I've spent so much time aboard ship. Even the admiral's quarters on a superdreadnought are downright minuscule compared to this place, so maybe I just feel guilty about using up so much cubage."
   "I don't see any reason to feel guilty," Allison said as they reached the bottom of the staircase and headed across the statue and holo tapestry-decorated foyer's endless expanse of black-and-green marble. She paused to admire the water feature splashing at its center while the black, gold, and green darts of Sphinxian koi (which actually did favor the Old Terran species of the same name, allowing for the absence of scales, the extra fins, and the horizontal flukes of the tail) sailed about in the polished granite basin's forest of water plants and artistically placed cobbles.
   "You didn't build it or squander the money on space you don't really need," she went on after a moment. "And if someone else did, it's not like the planet is going to run out of living volume anytime soon. Besides, Honor — all kidding aside, the Queen really did give this place to you more to show the public how much she values you than because she ever imagined you'd need anything like it. From that perspective, it was as much a political move on her part as that statue of you outside Steadholder's Hall was on Benjamin's. But that doesn't mean she didn't really want to give you something special."
   Honor made an uncomfortable little gesture, and her mother laughed softly.
   "So that's the real reason for all this heat! You're feeling all embarrassed again."
   "I am not," Honor protested. "It's just—"
   "Just that you hate being `turned into' some sort of hero."
   Allison stopped and touched her daughter's elbow, halting her until she turned to face her.
   "Honor, I love you very much," she said then, her voice unwontedly serious. "You know I do, even though I probably haven't told you so as often as I should have. And I'm also your mother — the one who changed your diaper, watched you learn to walk and talk, sent you off to school, bandaged your skinned knees, hauled you and Nimitz down from picketwood trees, talked to your teacher after that fistfight in fifth grade, and put up with all the mess a twelve-year-old and a treecat can generate without even breaking a sweat. I know you, dear — know you, not the PR image — and I understand exactly why you're so uncomfortable with the thought that people think of you as a `hero.' But Elizabeth III didn't `turn you into' one, and neither did Benjamin Mayhew, or even the newsies and the 'faxes. You did it, by your own actions and your own accomplishments.
   "I know, I know." She waved a hand when Honor tried to edge in a protest. "You didn't do it so people would admire you, and most of the time you were doing all those `heroic' things you were scared to death. I told you I know you, Honor, and how could I know you without knowing that, as well? I've seen you grit your teeth each time some newsie or vote-grubbing politician calls you `the Salamander,' and I know all about the nightmares — and worse — you went through after Paul's death. But do you really think all those people who came to your funeral when we thought the Peeps had killed you don't understand that too? They may not know you as well as your father and I do, but they know you better than that! And truth to tell, I think that's one reason so many of them do think of you as heroic. Not because they expect you to be so stupid or so arrogant that you think you're invulnerable or because fear never enters your thoughts, but because you've demonstrated that you know you're not invulnerable—" her tiny wave indicated Honor's missing arm and the dead side of her face "—and they're smart enough to realize you are scared... and you do your job anyway."
   Honor felt her face heating, but Allison only smiled and squeezed her elbow.
   "I realized, when I thought you were dead, that I'd never told you often enough how very proud I was of you," she said quietly. "I know it makes you uncomfortable when someone praises you for doing something you considered to be your `job,' and I'm your mother, so there are times I wish to heaven that you'd picked some safer career. So I probably won't embarrass you again by harping on this. But you've made me a very proud woman, Honor Harrington."
   Honor blinked eyes that stung suddenly. She opened her mouth, but no words came out, and her mother smiled again, more normally, and gave her arm a little shake.
   "And as for the size of your house — piffle! If the Queen of Manticore wants to give you a present, then you darned well accept it. If I have to put up with all the ruffles and flourishes on Grayson, then you can take your medicine here in the Star Kingdom and smile about it, by God! Is that clearly understood, young woman?"
   "Yes, Momma," Honor said submissively, with only the tiniest quaver to betray her own emotions.
   "Good," Allison said smugly, and smiled brightly at James MacGuiness as the steward opened the dining room door to greet them.


   Several hours later, Honor and her mother were comfortably ensconced on one of the mansion's several terraces. As part of its ostentatious luxury the estate sat atop the coastal cliffs of the Eastern Shore section of Jason Bay and boasted just over two full kilometers of pristine, completely private beachfront. That was by straight-line, aerial measure; allowing for the indentations of the rugged shoreline, it was more like three and a half kilometers, by Honor's estimate. Of course, all of the Star Kingdom's planets were sparsely populated compared to someplace like Haven or one of the Solarian League's older daughter worlds. All three together had barely half the population that Old Earth alone had boasted in the last century Ante Diaspora, so land ownership was scarcely restricted to the ultrarich as it was on more densely peopled planets. For that matter, the estate was far smaller than the Harrington homestead back on Sphinx. But it was also less than twenty kilometers from the exact center of Landing City's business district, and the East Shore was considered the second or third most desirable residential site on the entire capital planet. That meant that even in the Star Kingdom, those hectares of dirt would have brought a fantastic price on the open market. Especially with the spectacular view available from the top of the craggy palisade of the cliffs.
   Manticore-A balanced on the western rim of the bay, and Manticore-B was a bright, brilliant star, clearly visible in the darkening eastern sky. The breeze off the bay gathered strength slowly but steadily, ruffling the fringes on the umbrella shading their loungers, and just a hint of a cloud bank hovered to the north, harbinger of the overnight rain the weather people were calling for. A blizzard of scaled, twin-tailed, gray-and-green lizard-gulls lifted and dove above the cliffs, or bobbed like corks on the swell beyond the surf line, singing to one another in the high, clear trills of their kind, and the scent of tidewater mingled with those of crown blossom, Old Earth roses, and the brilliant banks of mixed native and Terran flowers which softened the terrace's gray, flagstoned severity.
   "I suppose," Allison remarked from behind her dark glasses, "that I could grow accustomed to this sort of decadent luxury if I really put my mind to it. Difficult, of course, for one of my naturally puritanical bent, but possible. Possible."
   "Sure." Honor reached out a long arm, snagged another chocolate-chip cookie from the plate on the table between them, and bit into it blissfully. Her mother, she reflected, might have a point, for there were a few luxuries she would have hated to give up herself, like Susan Thorn, her Grayson cook.
   "Mistress" Thorn was another member of the LaFollet Clan — an aunt by marriage, if Honor had managed to pick her way successfully through the complex Grayson clan structure. Her native formality preferred the old-fashioned mode of address, and she would never have felt comfortable being addressed by her Steadholder by her Christian name. But that was all right, because she also was firmly of the opinion that no kitchen had been properly consecrated to its sacred calling until it had produced its first trays of cookies and fudge. Given the sort of cookies (and fudge) she produced, Honor wasn't about to argue with her, and she rather suspected that her own genetically modified, heavy-world metabolism was one reason Mistress Thorn so enjoyed cooking for her. It took a lot of calories to stoke her internal furnace, and Mistress Thorn was delighted to have an employer she could stuff to the eyebrows without having her worry about her weight or her figure, two subjects of enormous importance to any old-style Grayson lady.
   For all that, however, Mistress Thorn had been scandalized the first time Alfred Harrington wandered into the Harrington House kitchen. The kitchen was her domain, and no mere male had any business mucking about in it. Even those of them who claimed they liked to cook actually only played at it, in her experience, and even the best of them cheerfully left the mess and clutter behind for someone else (and female) to clean up.
   There hadn't been anything she could do about it, short of quitting, however, and so she'd gritted her teeth and put up with it... only to discover that Alfred was, quite possibly, just as good a cook as she. She had the edge in pastries, cakes, and breads, but he had a better touch with meats and soups, and they ran a dead heat with vegetables. Within weeks, Alfred was the only denizen of Harrington House, including the Steadholder, who was not only permitted unlimited access to her kitchen but to address her by her first name. He was even, in a shocking breach of all precedent, allowed to teach her how to prepare his own patented spinach quiche. As one who was not and never would be a charter member of the Society of Cooks, Bakers, Chefs, and Wine Snobs, Honor had been perfectly happy to let him plan menus and discuss differences between Sphinxian and Grayson cuisine with Mistress Thorn to his heart's content. Her mother had always been content to let him rule the kitchen when Honor was a child, after all, and all Honor really cared about was the quality of the end product. Which had been good enough when either Alfred or Mistress Thorn were left to their own devices and had become still better once the two of them started collaborating.
   She bit into the cookie and looked over to where Nimitz and Samantha snored gently on the perch above the low wall of rough rock which guarded the terrace's seaward side. James MacGuiness had personally overseen the installation of the multibranched perch even before Honor moved into the mansion, and both 'cats loved it. She could taste their sleeping contentment, hovering on the surface of their dreams as if they were purring in the back of her brain.
   "Do you remember that awful sunburn you got your first week at Saganami Island?" her mother asked in tones of drowsy content all her own, and Honor snorted.
   "Of course I do — and so does Nimitz. I hope you're not planning on administering another `I told you so' at this late date, Mother!"
   "Not I," Allison averred. "I figure that if the burned hand teaches best, then the entire scorched epidermis simply has to get its point across. Even to you, dear."
   She turned her head to give her daughter a seraphic smile, and Honor chuckled. Her mother's birth world was dry and dusty by the standards of most human-inhabited worlds. It had enormous continents and few but deep seas. While it lacked the mountains and extreme axial tilt which made Gryphon's weather so... interesting, it also lacked the climate-moderating effect of Gryphon's extensive oceans. That meant she'd grown up accustomed to a pronounced "continental" climate, with long, hot summers and extremely cold winters, but Honor was a child of Sphinx. For her, the long, slow seasons of her chilly home world, with their rainy springs, cool summers, blustery autumns, and majestic winters would always be the norm, which had left her completely unprepared for the climate she'd encountered at Saganami Island. Manticore was much closer than Sphinx to the primary they shared, and Saganami Island, only a few dozen kilometers from where Honor and her mother sat at that very moment, was barely above the capital planet's equator. Allison had warned her about what that meant, but she'd been only seventeen T-years old, out on her own (or that was how she'd thought of the Academy's highly structured environment at the time, at least) at last, and too busy enjoying Manticore's lesser gravity and bone-deep warmth to pay much heed. Which had ended, inevitably, with one of the more spectacular sunburns in human history.
   "And why, O revered parent, did you bring the subject up, if not to engage in one of your homilies on the horrid fates which await daughters who ought to listen to their revered parents — especially their female revered parents — and don't? Are you dusting off your skills for use on Faith and James?"
   "Heavens, no. It's far too early for that." Allison chuckled. "You know how it is, Honor. If you go into training for anything too early, your skills are likely to peak prematurely. I figure I'll wait at least until they're walking before I start practicing proper parental judo on them. After all, that worked fairly well with you, didn't it?"
   "I like to think so." Honor helped herself to another cookie and offered the plate to her mother, but Allison shook her head. Her genes lacked the Meyerdahl modification which produced Honor's accelerated metabolism. There were times, as she watched the gusto with which her daughter and husband shoveled in anything edible that crossed their paths without the least concern about calories, when she rather regretted that. On the other hand, she could go considerably longer between hunger pangs... and took a certain pleasure in sweetly reminding them of that point when they woke her up rummaging noisily through cabinets or refrigerators in the middle of the night.
   "Of course," she said now, just a bit provocatively, "I suppose you might be just a little biased about how well it worked out, mightn't you?"
   "I might be. But I'm not, of course."
   "Oh, of course!"
   They chuckled together, but then Allison rolled over on her side and lifted her sunglasses to regard her daughter with unwonted seriousness.
   "Actually, Honor, there was a reason I brought it up, but it concerns Nimitz more than it does you."
   "It does?" Honor's eyebrow quirked, and her mother nodded.
   "In a way. I was thinking about how miserable Nimitz was while he endured the experience with you, and in turn, that got me to thinking about the nature of the link you two share." Honor cocked her head, and Allison shrugged.
   "I haven't had a chance to do more than screen your dad and tell him I'm on-planet, so I certainly haven't been able to discuss anything about your case or Nimitz's with him. On the other hand, I don't have to discuss anything to see that Nimitz is still limping almost as badly as ever. May I assume your father and the 'cat docs have decided to move more cautiously than usual because of the loss of his mental voice?"
   "That's about right." Honor spoke quietly, and her gaze was troubled as she glanced at the 'cats. She was just as glad they were asleep, because she couldn't stifle a bite of resentful grief over Nimitz's handicap. No, not his handicap: his mutilation. Because that's what it is — even more than what happened to my arm. She gritted her teeth and fought off a murderous stab of rage before it reached the surface. It got close enough to make Nimitz shift uneasily, but she managed to throttle it before she woke him completely, and he settled back down. Besides, there was no one on whom she could take vengeance. Both Cordelia Ransom and the StateSec thug whose pulser butt had actually done the damage had died aboard Tepes, and however much she might long to do it, she couldn't bring them back so she could personally kill them all over again.
   "They're about ready to start work on both of us, actually," she went on after a moment, her voice calm. "They've mapped the damage to my face—" she brushed her fingers over her dead cheek "—and it's as bad as Fritz's original examination suggested. We're looking at total replacement, and there's additional damage to the organic-electronic interface, thanks to the power surge that burned out the artificial nerves. It doesn't look as bad as Daddy was afraid it might be, but it isn't good, especially with my history of rejecting implants and grafts alike. At the moment, he's estimating about four T-months for the surgery and grafting, assuming we don't go through another complete round of rejections. But the training and therapy sessions should be shorter this time, since I've been through them once before and already know the drill, so we're probably looking at about seven months, total, for the face.
   "The eye is a little simpler, since the optic nerve was never damaged the way my facial nerves were. Even better, the surge when the Peeps burned it out seems to've been weaker. It damaged the electronic side of the interface, but the fail-safes and circuit breakers protected the organic side almost completely, so it's basically just a matter of plugging in the new hardware. But since I'm already going to be stuck in the shop for so long with the face, Daddy's decided to build a few extra capabilities into the new eye. It'll mean I have to learn how to activate and control the new features. Heck, after all the time my old eye's been down, I'm going to have to re learn all the old ones! But he managed to convince me it'll be worth it in the long run. Of course—" the living side of her face crinkled into a smile "—I think it's probably a bit unfair for a physician to take advantage of the fact that he's also your father when he starts in on convincing you of something. I almost expected him to say `Because I'm your father, that's why!' "
   "I can't imagine why he'd say something like that," Allison murmured. "It never worked when you were ten, so why in the world should he expect it to now?"
   "He shouldn't," Honor agreed. "Which didn't keep me from thinking for a minute that he was going to try it anyway."
   "And the arm?"
   "That's going to be both easier and harder than the face. The good news is that, despite the primitive facilities he had, Fritz did a really good job when he took it off."
   Allison nodded, but her serene expression didn't fool Honor. It couldn't have fooled anyone who could taste her jagged emotional response, even now, to the thought of her daughter, lying more than half-starved and wounded almost to death, while a doctor worked with frantic haste to amputate the shattered ruin of her arm with nothing but an assault shuttle's emergency med kit for equipment and supplies.
   "He took particular care with the nerves," Honor went on, her voice as serene as her mother's face, "and Daddy says we shouldn't have any trouble at all with the interfaces there. As I say, that's the good news. The bad news is that, unlike the face and the eye, I'm going to have to start from scratch with the arm."
   Allison nodded once more, this time with a grimace of sympathy. Despite the best the technical types could do, an artificial limb remained just that: artificial. The designers could do many things with their prostheses, but not even the Solarian League's medical establishment could make one which obeyed exactly the same nervous impulses, and in exactly the same way, as the natural limb it replaced had obeyed. There were too many idiosyncratic differences from individual to individual. It would have been possible to chart the unique impulses whoever was to replace the limb had used, after which modifying the software to obey them would have been fairly simple and straightforward. But doing that would have taken months and required the recipient to put her missing natural arm — and hand, and fingers — through every aspect of their full range of movement for the sensors recording the neural commands. In practical terms, it made more sense to build the limb with a software package that emphasized heuristic functions that learned from doing and then simply let the recipient (and the software) learn to use it. Even then, however, a certain sense of the alien or the once-removed about the new limb would always remain, however well she learned to control it, which was the real reason such prostheses weren't simple "plug and play" devices.
   Honor had learned to adjust for the fact that the artificial nerves in her face simply did not report sensory data the same way live ones did. At the moment, she felt nothing at all on her left cheek. Had her implants been working properly, however, she would have "felt" the pressure of the growing sea breeze quite differently on the two sides of her face... and even after so many years, the sensations from the left side would have felt artificial. Which was fair enough, since that was precisely what they would have been. She sometimes wondered if it would have been easier to adjust if they'd had to replace the nerves in both cheeks, but she had no intention of experimenting to find out.
   That artificiality was the main reason so many star nations, including the Star Kingdom, had no extensive market in bio enhancement. Some nations did, of course. The rogue bio-modifiers of Mesa came to mind almost automatically, but her mother's native Beowulf had also supported a lucrative enhancement market. In one way, Honor could understand the temptation, for there had been features to the eye the Peeps had burned out that she missed sorely, like the low-light vision and telescopic and microscopic functions. But even there, what she saw had never seemed quite as alive — as "real"—as what the unenhanced vision of her right eye had reported. It was something that probably could never be fully described to anyone who hadn't experienced it directly. For that matter, she supposed it might well be purely psychological, although it was reported with near total unanimity by everyone who'd received similar implants. The closest she'd ever been able to come to defining the difference even for herself was to think of what she saw through her left eye as a very, very good, three-dimensional flat screen presentation. Again, she'd often wondered whether or not replacing both eyes, so that she no longer had the "distraction" of her natural eye's input, would have ameliorated the problem in time. And, again, she had no intention of ever finding out.
   But there were people who'd made the opposite choice. Indeed, in some of humanity's far-flung cultures, like Sharpton, where the cyborg was a sort of cultural icon, it was as routine for an individual to replace limbs and eyes with artificial improvements as it was for someone on Manticore to have her teeth cleaned and straightened. Or her ears pierced, for that matter. Personally, Honor couldn't imagine doing such a thing. In fact, the very thought made her uncomfortable — probably because she'd spent so much of her life in space. After so many years in an artificial exterior environment, she felt no temptation whatsoever to turn her own body into an artificial interior environment, whatever advantages over mere flesh and blood it might have brought with it.
   Although the Star Kingdom didn't practice that sort of casual enhancement, it wasn't out of any horror of "cyborgian monstrosities." Honor had met a few people, mostly from places in the Solarian League, whose enhancement had been so obvious and extreme as to make her feel actively ill at ease, but those were exceptions. Most people who had themselves enhanced went to some lengths to make the enhancements appear as much like natural (albeit as perfectly developed natural) limbs, as possible, and the same held true for the minority of people who couldn't regenerate.
   She had no qualms over how her new arm would look or feel to anyone else, and she and her father had visited the firm which would build it to discuss the enhanced features they wanted, since if she had to have a prosthesis, it would have been stupid not to build in as many advantages as she could. The techs who would produce it had been given access to her BuMed records, and she felt confident that, externally, they would reproduce her original arm perfectly, right down to the small mole on the inside of her left elbow. The synthetic skin covering it would have precisely the right texture and coloration. It would even tan or sunburn exactly as her natural skin, and it would maintain exactly the same skin temperature as her right arm did.
   Internally, it would be far stronger and tougher than the limb it replaced, and she'd thought of several other small features she wanted incorporated into it, while her father had suggested a couple that hadn't occurred to her on her own. But marvelous as it would be, it would also be a totally inert, dead lump hanging from the stump of her natural arm, initially, at least. She would have to learn to use it all over again, from scratch, the way an infant learned to use her arms. Worse, she would have to unlearn the way her natural arm had once worked, because none of the old nerve impulses or commands would evoke precisely the same responses they once had.