There had, for obvious reasons, been no problem with the approval of Saganami Island. And by the time Honor turned back up alive, it had been too late for Lord Owens to rethink his position. From the few things Abigail had said — and the emotions which had bubbled up behind them — Honor suspected Owens was both proud of, terrified for, bemused over, and baffled by the willful, determined young woman he'd somehow raised. But despite that, he'd managed to smile as he sent her off as if the entire idea had been his own from the start, which probably said good things about his mental flexibility.
   Since the initial shock of discovering her presence, Honor had gone out of her way to show Abigail no special favor. It was hard, because the young woman was everything Honor believed a middy should be. And she was, in the words of the Grayson cliché, cute as a button, too. But Honor had known that hovering in the background would have done Abigail no favors in the long run, and so she'd made herself maintain a public stance of no more than distant watchfulness. In private, she'd kept a rather closer eye on her, and she knew that at least some of what Abigail had encountered in the Star Kingdom had shocked or even dismayed her.
   It could not have been easy for the daughter of a Grayson steadholder, however Navy mad, to go from the pampered, genteel, over-protected environment of her father's home to that of Saganami Island. RMN midshipmen were deliberately kept harassed and harried for their entire first form. The sort of hazing by upperclassmen which was the norm in some military academies was strictly prohibited in the Star Kingdom, but the level of discipline demanded, the workloads assigned, and the energy with which instructors and senior midshipmen... encouraged one to meet the Navy's standards compensated quite nicely. Physical and mental exhaustion became familiar companions for first-form middies, and the students were deliberately run till they dropped, then yanked back up and made to run all over again. It wasn't nice, and some people questioned its necessity, but Honor agreed with the philosophy. Especially now. These young men and women would go straight from their classrooms into a shooting war. Coddling them would do neither them nor the men and women they would someday command any favors. Pushing, bullying, and demanding until their instructors and, far more importantly, they themselves knew how much they were capable of would be far more useful.
   But however much she might have approved, she knew it had been even harder for Ms. Midshipwoman Hearns than for almost anyone else in Academy history. And the sudden exposure to Manticoran ideas about sexual equality, mixed gym classes, mixed hand-to-hand combat classes, and lord only knew what else must also have been a shock to her system. And even if that hadn't, the invitations someone with her looks and natural poise must have attracted from her male classmates had to have been shocking enough to curl a properly raised Grayson girl's hair... among other things.
   Yet Abigail had weathered the storm. Honor had made it quietly clear to her that, as the only steadholder within light-years, she felt a certain special responsibility to make herself available as counselor and mentor to all Grayson midshipmen. Which was true, but which (as she had not said) was particularly true in the case of the single Grayson midshipwoman on the island. Abigail had thanked her and, once or twice, availed herself of the offer, seeking advice or guidance, particularly in social situations. But she was scarcely alone in that, and none of her classmates had felt it was any sign of a "teacher's pet" mentality.
   Honor was glad, and not just for Abigail's sake. The young woman had turned out to have a pronounced flair for tactics, and unlike Honor, she was a whiz at math. She was a bit hesitant about exerting her authority in training situations, which was hardly surprising in a young woman reared in the Grayson tradition. But her performance was acceptable even there, and it helped that she was a steadholder's daughter. Traditional Grayson women might not compete in what custom had hallowed as male occupations, but a steadholder's daughter was accustomed to wielding an authority few less nobly born women could expect to possess.
   Pleased as Honor was to see a female Grayson at the Academy, however, that wasn't the reason she'd invited Abigail tonight. Invitations to Duchess Harrington's thrice-a-week dinners were handed out on two bases. Every student in any of her classes would receive at least one invitation, which was one reason the number of midshipmen present at any dinner hovered at around twenty and sometimes rose as high as twenty-five. Additional invitations had to be earned on the basis of academic performance, however, and Abigail Hearns was well up in the top third of repeat attendees.
   It still bemused Honor that there was such fierce competition for places at the Admiral's table. She was quite prepared to take advantage of it to inspire her students to greater heights, but her own Academy experience had been that most middies would go to considerable lengths to avoid being trapped alone with any flag officer. In the infrequent instances in which beings of that exalted rank also taught (which was more common in the RMN than in almost any other navy, but remained vanishingly rare), the old adage about "out of sight, out of mind" operated powerfully in a middy's thought processes. But the jockeying for the relatively low number of slots in the sections Honor had been assigned had been intense from the outset, and that clearly carried over to the winning of her dinner invitations.
   Even knowing what they would face after the dishes were cleared away.
   She suppressed a fresh grin at the thought. It was unheard of for mere midshipmen to find themselves face-to-face with instructors from the rarified heights of the Advanced Tactical Course. Aside from the middies themselves, Andrea Jaruwalski, a full commander, was the most junior officer in the room, and those hectares of gold braid and gleaming planets and stars had not been invited solely for their dinner conversation. In fact, Lady Harrington's dinner parties were some of the most rugged instances of small group instruction in Saganami Island's history, and the surprising thing was the eagerness she sensed around her as the youngsters braced themselves for what they all knew was about to come.
   MacGuiness reappeared to check her cocoa mug, and she smiled up at him.
   "I think we're about done, Mac. Please tell Mistress Thorn her dinner was as delicious as always."
   "Of course, Your Grace," he murmured.
   "And I think we'll move this into the game room," she went on, pushing her chair back and rising. The prosthetic arm still felt heavy and unnatural on her left side after all this time, but it was becoming steadily less so, and her students had grown accustomed to seeing it. They were used to its occasional random twitches during her lectures, but they also seemed to have boned up on the prosthesis enough to know about the software overrides. None of her guests had turned a hair at the obvious mobility limits she'd set for the evening, at any rate, and she suppressed a small chuckle at the thought of their tact as she slipped the arm from its sling long enough to lift Nimitz very carefully with both hands.
   His surgery had been even more successful than hers — where simple muscle, bone, and tendon were involved, at least — and he was rapidly regaining the smooth, flowing mobility of old as long-disused muscles built back up. The taste of his simple joy as he regained his full natural range of movement had almost brought tears to Honor's eyes, and she knew how much pleasure he took from using that movement. But he shared with her a very deep and even more profound joy in her ability to pick him up with two hands once more, and his muzzle pressed firmly into her left cheek and his purr vibrated into her very bones as she set him properly upon her shoulder once more.
   Samantha hopped down to trot beside them, then looked up with a happy, buzzing purr of her own as Jaruwalski stooped and scooped her up.
   Honor smiled her thanks at the commander and, followed even here by Andrew LaFollet, led the way into the mansion's enormous game room. It had become the center for her post-dinner confabs, and she'd had some rather different "gaming" equipment moved in. Four compact but complete simulator stations had been constructed, each duplicating a scaled-down command deck. Compact though they were, they put a decided squeeze on the space of any room, even one this size, but none of her guests complained. Those simulators were the real reason for their visit here, and those who'd been here before hurried to claim favorite seats among the chairs and small couches crowded together to make room for the simulators. None of them went anywhere near Honor's personal chair beside the huge stone hearth (which had probably never had a fire on it in its entire existence, given the semitropical climate), but every other place was up for grabs. Not that a midshipman was going to argue with a captain or an admiral who had his or her eye set on a given seat, of course.
   "So, Ladies and Gentlemen," she said to the middies after everyone had settled. "Have you given some thought to the point I posed in class?"
   There was silence for a moment, then one midshipman raised his hand.
   "Yes, Mr. Gillingham? You wished to start the ball rolling?"
   "I guess so, Ma'am," Midshipman Gillingham said wryly. His voice was surprisingly deep for someone of his physical age and wiry build, and he spoke with the flattened vowels of a strong Alizon accent.
   "Someone has to," Honor agreed, smiling at his tone. "And you get extra points for courage for volunteering so eagerly."
   Several of Gillingham's classmates chuckled, and the young man grinned back at her... respectfully, of course.
   "Thank you, Ma'am," he said. Then his grin faded into a more serious expression and he cleared his throat. "The thing that bothered me just a little, Ma'am," he went on diffidently, "was when you said there's no such thing as a real surprise in combat."
   "That's a slight oversimplification," Honor corrected. "What I said was that given modern sensor capabilities, the possibility that anyone can slip one starship into combat range of another undetected is remote. Under those circumstances, `surprise' usually means not that one opponent truly failed to see what was coming, but rather that she simply misinterpreted what she saw."
   "Yes, Ma'am. But what if one side really doesn't see it coming?"
   Another hand went up, and Honor glanced at its owner.
   "Yes, Ms. Hearns? You wanted to add something?"
   "Yes, My Lady." No one raised an eyebrow at Hearn's form of address, despite the tradition that any senior officer was simply "Sir" or "Ma'am" to any middy. Knighthoods and peerages were important, but no one expected mere midshipmen to keep who was what straight. The tradition wasn't ironbound, however, and there wasn't a Grayson on Manticore, middy or not, who would have dreamed of addressing Honor by any other title.
   "It sounded to me," Hearns continued, "that what you were actually talking about was the need to generate a surprise, My Lady. To use deceptive maneuvers or EW or anything else to convince your opponent to see what you want him to see until it's too late, sort of like you did with your electronic warfare systems at Fourth Yeltsin."
   "That was what I was getting at, yes," Honor said after a brief pause. She could hardly fault Hearns for her choice of example, but her students had a tendency to seek examples from actions in which she'd fought. It wasn't sycophancy — in most cases, at least. It was more a case of their looking for an example which felt "real" to them... and one which they knew she could address from first-hand experience.
   "And Fourth Yeltsin would certainly be one example of it," she went on. "Another would be Third Yeltsin, when Earl White Haven managed to mislead Admiral Parnell about his true strength until after Parnell had accepted action."
   "I understand that, Ma'am," Gillingham said. "But at Third Yeltsin, Earl White Haven used his stealth systems and low-powered wedges to keep the Peeps from seeing his additional units at all. They were a surprise because no one on the other side had detected a trace of them until it was too late."
   "Not exactly," Honor countered, and looked at Jackson Kriangsak. "Would you care to address that point, Admiral? You were there, after all."
   Several midshipmen's eyes widened at that, and they turned to give the portly Kriangsak much closer looks.
   "Yes, I was, Your Grace," Kriangsak agreed, managing not to break a smile at the sudden intensity of his audience's regard, and then turned to look at Gillingham.
   "What I believe Her Grace is getting at, Mr. Gillingham, is that when the Peeps detected our additional units it was too late for Admiral Parnell to avoid action entirely. But go back and review Earl White Haven's and Admiral D'Orville's after-action reports. For that matter, ONI interviewed Admiral Parnell to get his side of the battle, as well, before he left for Beowulf. If Parnell's account is still classified — it shouldn't be, but there's no telling what the red-tape types have been up to — drop me an e-note and I'll get you cleared for it." Gillingham nodded wordlessly, and Kriangsak shrugged.
   "What I believe you'll find from all three sources is that even with the best EW we had, and despite the fact that Admiral Parnell had convincing intelligence to suggest that our forces were far weaker than they actually were, he still correctly identified our extra ships of the wall early enough to avoid a decisive action. He was forced to withdraw and suffered heavy losses, but had he been even fifteen or twenty minutes slower in reacting, he would have lost virtually his entire fleet. Personally, I suspect that his faulty intelligence made it even closer than it would otherwise have been. He saw, as is far too often the case, what he expected to see. Initially, at least."
   "Absolutely," Honor agreed. "But one mark of a superior officer — and Amos Parnell is one of the best tacticians you will ever encounter, make no mistake about that, Ladies and Gentlemen — is her ability to overcome her own expectations. Parnell did that. Too late to avoid suffering a defeat, but much too soon for Earl White Haven to completely envelop him and destroy his forces entirely."
   "That's certainly true, Your Grace," Kriangsak said, nodding his head vigorously. "And we tried hard, too. My battlecruiser and her squadron were probably the best placed to get around on his flank, and he avoided us easily. Especially—" the rear admiral grinned wryly "—with the amount of fire a wall of battle can hand out. Which is nothing any battlecruiser squadron ever wants to tangle with."
   "All right, Sir, I can see that," Gillingham agreed. "But Earl White Haven clearly tried to achieve complete surprise. Are you and Admiral Harrington saying we shouldn't do the same thing?"
   His voice and expression were thoughtful, not challenging, and Honor rubbed the tip of her nose while she considered how best to encourage his willingness to question received wisdom while still making her own point.
   "What Admiral Kriangsak and I are saying," she said after a moment, "is that it would be a mistake to fall in love with one's own cleverness in attempting to manipulate one's enemy. The most dangerous tactical surprise of all is the one you suffer when you suddenly discover that your opponent has seen through your own deception and turned the tables on you. One of the most outstanding examples of that happened near a place called Midway back on Old Earth in the middle of the second century Ante Diaspora. In fact, I'd like you to pull up the Battle of Midway, Admiral Raymond Spruance, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Chiuchi Nagumo, and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on the Tac Department's data base — you'll find them in the historical, wet navy archives — and give me a short analysis of just how the Imperial Japanese Navy fell prey to that overconfidence. And be prepared to share it briefly with the rest of the class, as well, please."
   "Yes, Ma'am." Gillingham's respectful response sounded less than thrilled, but that was about the worst anyone could have said. Partly because her pleasant-voiced order came as no surprise — all of Honor's students quickly discovered her penchant for handing out such individual assignments — but also because she had a reputation for making those assignments interesting.
   "To continue, however," she went on, "what I wanted to suggest is that while it's always worthwhile to convince your opponent to underestimate you or to misinterpret what she's seen, you should never rely on having done that. Work for every advantage you can provide yourself, but base your planning on the assumption that the enemy will make one hundred percent correct deductions from her sensor readings."
   "Excuse me, My Lady, but that wasn't what you did at Fourth Yeltsin," Midshipwoman Hearns said quietly. Honor tasted a ripple of surprise from a few of the other middies, seasoned with just a trace of trepidation, at Abigail's polite contradiction, but she only cocked her own head and gazed at the midshipwoman, silently inviting her to continue. "You used EW to disguise your superdreadnoughts as lighter units in order to draw the enemy into your engagement range," the young woman went on obediently. "Your after-action report, or the part sufficiently declassified for me to access, at least, doesn't say so in so many words, but weren't you really counting on the Peep admiral to see exactly what you wanted him to see?"
   "Yes, I suppose I was," Honor said. "On the other hand, my battle plan reflected the fact that I had no choice but to offer action and that my SDs' acceleration was too low to force a close engagement if the Peeps chose to evade. It was imperative to keep the enemy out of powered missile range of the Grayson orbital farms, but it was equally vital to prevent them from simply withdrawing to extreme range and sending their missiles in ballistic at cee-fractional velocities. Under those very special circumstances, I had no choice but to adopt the plan I did. Which, I might add, wasn't a very good one. It was, in fact, a plan of desperation... and I wasn't at all certain it was going to work."
   Or that any of my ships were going to survive the experience if it did work. Not that I have any intention of worrying the lot of you with that particular aspect of it. Yet.
   "But what about the Battle of Cerberus, Ma'am?" Theresa Markovic asked politely. Honor turned her gaze to the red-haired midshipwoman, and Markovic raised one hand, palm uppermost. "You actually came in under reaction thrusters at Cerberus," she said. "And modern sensors or not, the enemy never did see you coming until you actually opened fire on them."
   "Um." Honor cocked her head. "I wasn't aware my after-action report had been released to the general data base, Ms. Markovic," she observed rather cooly, and smiled inwardly at the young woman's sudden total lack of expression. Then she glanced at Kriangsak. "I see the backdoor into the ATC second-tier tac base is still open."
   "Yes, Ma'am. We keep meaning to close it, but we never seem to get around to it," Kriangsak said blandly, and Honor felt a ripple of relief run through the midshipmen at the admiral's calm tone. It was interesting. From their emotions, virtually all of her current guests had discovered and made surreptitious use of the backdoor, and they were obviously relieved that Markovic (and so, by extension, themselves, if they got caught) would not be blasted to cinders. That was reasonable enough of them, but she wondered how long it would be before they realized that particular backdoor had been left for a purpose. Although it was moved every year and the modes of access changed each semester, it was always there, and the Academy made careful note of which students were enterprising and interested enough to find it.
   "In answer to your question, however," she told Markovic now, "Cerberus is certainly not an example I'd choose as a model for teaching someone how to plan a battle."
   "But... but it worked perfectly, Ma'am!" Gillingham protested, apparently unaware that to do so confirmed that he, too, had been peeking where he had no official business poking about. "Like Terri said, the Peeps never even saw you, and you wiped out their entire fleet without taking a single hit! I haven't been able to find another battle in the last three or four hundred years where that was true!"
   "Then I suggest you take a look at what Citizen Rear Admiral Lester Tourville did to Commodore Yeargin at Adler, Mr. Gillingham," Honor said grimly. "I believe the Board of Inquiry's report is available to all of you in the Department data base. Tourville managed to take our picket commander at least as much by surprise as anything I managed at Cerberus, and pulling it off was a lot harder. Or should have been."
   Gillingham's face smoothed into nonexpression at the bite in her voice, and Honor made herself draw a deep breath.
   "Not that it was the first time something like that happened to a picket force that ought to have been anticipating attack," she went on. "For example—" She considered the middies, then nodded at a dark-eyed blonde on the couch beside Theodore.
   "Ms. Sanmicheli," she said pleasantly. "Since Mr. Gillingham is going to be busy looking into the Battle of Midway for us, I'd appreciate it if you would look up the Battle of Savo Island from the same war and compare and contrast what happened to the Western Allies in that battle to what happened to Commodore Yeargin at Adler. And you might also look up the Battle of the Farnham System and look for parallels — and differences — between Savo, Midway, Adler and what happened to Baoyuan Anderman when someone tried a `sneak attack' on him there."
   "Yes, Ma'am," Sanmicheli acknowledged the order, and Honor smiled crookedly at her, then turned back to Gillingham.
   "But to return to Cerberus. My method of approach was made possible only by certain very special circumstances no reasonable admiral can expect to encounter. First, I knew exactly where the enemy was likely to translate out of hyper, which let me predict his most likely approach vector for Hell — I mean, Hades. Second, using that information I was able to position my own fleet so that we had Cerberus-A at our backs. And third, Mr. Gillingham, was the fact that no sane fleet commander would even have considered such a maneuver for a moment, which helped immensely in surprising the Peep fleet commander, who, so far as I know, was quite sane. You will find, however," she added dryly, "that while acts of insanity have the advantage of unpredictability, that doesn't normally make them good ideas."
   "I realize conditions were unusual, Ma'am." Markovic came to Gillingham's aid — courageously, Honor thought, given how thick and fast the extra assignments had been falling. "But your plan didn't look `insane' to me. And it certainly worked!"
   "Yes, it did. But have you looked past what went right to the appalling number of things that could easily have gone wrong?" Honor asked her reasonably.
   "Wrong, Ma'am?"
   "Very wrong," Honor said, and glanced at Michelle Henke. The two of them had discussed the Cerberus action at some length, and she saw Mike's small smile as they both remembered her horrified reaction to Honor's battle plan. "Captain Henke," Honor said now, "would you care to comment on the potential flaws in my battle plan?"
   "Certainly, Your Grace. Respectfully, of course." Amusement bubbled just under the surface of Henke's contralto, and Honor saw her more senior guests exchange smiles of their own. Most of the Navy knew about Honor's friendship with Henke, and Rear Admiral Kriangsak sat back and crossed his legs with a cheerful grin.
   "The first and most glaring weakness of Her Grace's battle plan, Ms. Markovic," Henke said calmly, "was that it left no margin at all for error. She effectively drained her reactor mass to zero with a burn of that duration and power. If the enemy had detected her approach and maneuvered radically against her, she would have lacked the fuel for more than a few hours of maneuvers under impeller drive. Which means she could easily have found herself completely without power at the moment the enemy closed for the kill... and not one of her ships had the fuel reserves to reach another star system if they'd been forced to run for it.
   "The next weakness was that her plan counted on the Peeps' sensor techs to be effectively blind. By using thrusters, she avoided the sensors which most tactical officers tend to rely upon — the Peeps' gravitics — but she was mother naked to everything else in their sensor suites. In fairness—" Henke's tone turned judicious, her expression serious, though her eyes twinkled at Honor "—it was reasonable enough to at least hope the Peeps, who don't usually maintain as close a sensor watch as we do, wouldn't think to look for her in the first place, but if they had looked, they would have found her.
   "In line with the second weakness," the captain continued, "was the fact that even though a reaction thruster approach allowed her to avoid the enemy's gravitics, the plume of ejecta it produced must have been quite spectacular... and energetic, and Peep stealth fields, which were what Her Grace had to work with herself, you will recall, aren't as good as ours. Again, Her Grace had taken the precaution of placing herself with the local star at her back. Had she not possessed `inside information' on Peep movement patterns at Cerberus, she would have been unable to do that, of course. In this case, as she mentioned, she knew her enemy's probable approach vector well in advance, which let her give herself the advantage of attacking `out of the sun,' as it were. If the enemy had failed to appear where she anticipated him, the entire maneuver would have been out of the question, and I'm certain she had a more, ah, conventional fallback plan for that situation. As it was, however, Cerberus-A's emissions were sufficiently powerful to greatly reduce the effectiveness of any sensor looking directly at it, and by the time Her Grace's vector had moved her clear of the star, she'd shut down her thrusters and other active emissions. Nonetheless, the circumstances only made it difficult for the Peeps to have picked up her approach; they didn't make it impossible, and an alert sensor crew could have given the enemy warning in plenty of time.
   "Finally, while I could continue to point out other potential weaknesses, I'll simply add that if the admiral in command of the Peep task force had picked up Her Grace's units, the smart thing to do would have been to pretend he hadn't. Once he'd spotted her, he could have run a track on her with passives alone, and she was coming in without any wedges at all. If he'd timed it right, he could have fired full broadsides of missiles into her, with flight times just too short for her to have gotten her units' wedges up, when all she would have had would have been her countermissiles and laser clusters. Those defenses alone, without sidewalls or wedges for passive interdiction, would never have prevented the destruction of her entire fleet."
   Henke paused for a moment, then cocked her head at Honor before she looked back at Gillingham.
   "All things considered," the captain told the midshipman judiciously, "Her Grace's plan may not have been the single rashest, most foolhardy, do-or-die, all-or-nothing throw of the dice in the history of the Royal Manticoran — or Grayson — Navy. If it wasn't, however, I have so far failed to find the plan that was."
   Gillingham and Markovic looked at one another, then blinked and turned their gazes half-fearfully to Honor. But there was no thunder in Honor's expression. In fact, she smiled at the captain before she returned her own attention to Gillingham.
   "Captain Henke may have employed just a little hyperbole in her analysis, Mr. Gillingham," she said pleasantly. "But not very much. In fact, I adopted that plan because it was a `do-or-die, all-or-nothing' situation. I couldn't disengage and run without abandoning over a hundred thousand people on He — Hades. At the same time, my forces were badly outnumbered, I had only skeleton crews, almost all my personnel were extremely rusty, and we'd had no more than a few days to shake down our captured vessels and begin smoothing off our roughest edges. Any conventional battle plan would inevitably have resulted in the destruction of my own forces in return for light enemy casualties. It was possible I might have been able to trap them between my mobile units and the planet's fixed defenses, but that seemed most unlikely, since I estimated, correctly, as it transpired, that they'd come expressly because they feared the prisoners had managed to take Camp Charon. If that was true, there was no way they would allow themselves to come into effective range of the orbital defenses, which meant I could scarcely hope to `catch them between' those defenses and my ships. So I used a tactic which was a one-time-only, high-risk-high-return proposition. If it worked — as it did — I should have been able to win the battle quickly and at relatively low cost. If, however, it had failed, then, as Captain Henke has so admirably pointed out, the inevitable result would have been the destruction of my entire command. Only the fact that, in my judgment, my entire force would have been destroyed anyway if I failed to win quickly and decisively inspired me to adopt such a risky plan. Or could possibly have justified me in doing so."
   There was silence for several moments while she tasted the middies absorbing the starkness of the alternatives she'd just described, and then Markovic cleared her throat.
   "I don't suppose we ought to use your Cerberus tactics as a pattern for our own then after all, Ma'am," she observed diffidently.
   "Hardly!" Honor snorted. "And if I should happen to see them turning up in as a response to a test problem, whoever used them will think Captain Henke was downright kind compared to the comments I'll make!"
   A ripple of laughter ran around the room, but then Gillingham spoke up again, his voice thoughtful.
   "So what you seem to be saying, Ma'am, is that at both Fourth Yeltsin and Cerberus, you felt you had no choice but to fight anyway, despite an unfavorable force balance. And because you did, you tried to generate any advantages you could. But while the fact that they worked fully was critical to what happened at Cerberus, the success of your plans didn't depend as heavily on them at Yeltsin because, in a sense, it didn't matter if they worked completely there or not. You still had to fight, but at Yeltsin the real problem was simply to get into range in the first place. The balance of firepower was a lot closer to equal once you did get there, and the fact that you were able to fool the Peeps and encourage them to weaken their forces by dividing them was simply gravy, in a way. Is that what you're saying, Ma'am?"
   "Pretty much," Honor agreed. She looked around at the other senior officers present and made her selection. "Andrea? You and I discussed this the other day. Would you care to respond to Mr. Gillingham?"
   "Of course, Ma'am." It was Jaruwalski's turn to turn a thoughtful expression on Gillingham. "Tactics are an art, Mr. Gillingham," she told him, "not a science. There's no way to absolutely quantify them, no way to define secret formulas for victory. There are rules a good tactician follows, but they aren't absolutely binding on her... and certainly not on her opponents! The `secret' to winning lies, in my opinion, not in trying to manipulate the enemy, but in creating general situations in which you know the available menu of maneuvers and the balance of firepower will favor your force. The concept is really that simple. It's in the execution that things get tricky, and the ability to execute effectively is what sets a good tactician apart. But successful execution often depends on knowing when to break the rules — to take, to use an overused phrase, a `calculated risk'—because you have no choice or because you `feel' an opportunity." She paused. "Was that about what you'd have said, Ma'am?" she asked Honor.
   "In its essentials, certainly," Honor agreed. "But you should always bear in mind," she went on, meeting Gillingham's eyes as she took the thread of the conversation back into her own hand, "that that feel for when to break the rules is not something most of us are issued at birth. It's a talent and an ability we develop first by study, and then by doing, starting with lecture courses like Intro to Tactics, progressing to actual exercises in the simulators, and finally — if we're lucky enough to survive the event — to actual experience in combat. Your instructors at the Academy are here to teach you doctrine and the capabilities of your hardware. We also offer you a distillation of what we consider the best from past military thinkers, from Sun-Tzu to Gustav Anderman, as background, and we'll break down and analyze actual engagements, both from the current war and from wars past. We'll try our very best to teach you what not to do, based on the institutional wisdom of the Royal Manticoran Navy. We'll run you through sims in which you'll be everything from the junior officer of the watch on a destroyer in a single-ship duel to the one sitting in the admiral's chair on a superdreadnought flagship in a fleet action, and we'll critique your performance every step of the way.
   "If you're wise, you'll listen to everything we tell you and learn from it. But you will also remember this, Ladies and Gentlemen. When it finally comes down to it, when you are the officer in the hot seat and the missiles and beams flying straight at you are real, nothing we can possibly teach you will truly matter. Hopefully it will all be there in the back of your mind, as the platform of knowledge you'll need, but what will matter will be the decisions you make based on your read of the situation you actually face.
   "Some of you will not survive those situations."
   She let her eyes sweep her youthful audience, tasting their mingled soberness and youthful sense of immortality. That belief in their own invulnerability was inevitable in people so young, she knew. All she could do was try to prepare them for the hideous moment of shock when they felt their own ships' bucking and heaving to the enemy's fire and realized death could come for them as easily as for anyone else.
   "Even if you do every single thing right, you may find yourself in a situation where all the tactical genius in the universe is insufficient to balance the odds against you," she went on quietly. "It happened to Edward Saganami and Ellen D'Orville, and if it could happen to them, it can certainly happen to any of us. Indeed, I suppose I'm living proof that it can, because that was exactly what happened to Prince Adrian in Adler.
   "But whatever you face, you will have three things to support you. One is the tradition of the Royal Navy — and when you graduate from Saganami Island—" she let her eyes sweep all of the middies once more "—that tradition will be yours, whatever the uniform you wear. Listen to it. Strip it down to get rid of all the holodrama heroics and the hagiography and learn what it truly expects of you, and you will have a guide that never fails you. It may get you killed," she smiled wryly, "but it will never leave you trying to guess where your responsibilities lie.
   "And the second support you will have will be your own confidence in yourself. In your training, in your hardware, and more importantly, in your people. But most importantly of all, in your own judgment. It won't always be perfect. Sometimes, despite all we can do here at Saganami and in ATC, it will be execrable. But you must have faith in yourself, Ladies and Gentlemen, because there will be no one else. You will be it. Your ship, your people, will live or die on the basis of your judgments and your decisions, and even if you get it all absolutely right, some of them will die anyway."
   Her smile had vanished, and her face was stern, almost cold.
   "Accept that now, because it will happen. The enemy wants to live as badly as you do, and like you, the way for her to do that is to kill the ones trying to kill her. Which will be you, Ladies and Gentlemen. You and the people under your command. And I can assure you that there will be nights your dead will haunt you. When you ask yourselves if you could have saved a few more lives if you'd only been faster, or smarter, or more alert. Sometimes the answer will be yes, that you could have saved them. But you didn't. You did your best, and you did your job, and so did they, but they're still dead, and whatever the rest of the universe thinks, you will go to your own grave convinced you ought to have done better, should have found the way to keep them alive. Worse, you'll think back to what happened, replay it in your head over and over, with the invaluable benefits of hindsight and all the time in the world to think about the decisions you had only minutes to make at the time, and you'll see exactly where you screwed up and let your people die."
   She paused, and beside her, Kriangsak and Captain Garrison, the senior simulation programer for ATC, nodded, their faces as still as her own.
   "Accept that now," Honor repeated quietly after a moment. "Accept it... or find another line of work. And I warn you all now, as Admiral Courvosier, my own Academy mentor, warned me, that even if you think you understand exactly what I'm telling you, you'll discover in the event you weren't really prepared for the guilt. You can't be, not until it's your turn to shoulder it. But that will be the third thing that supports you in battle, Ladies and Gentlemen: the knowledge that your people will die uselessly if you screw up. It's not your job to keep them alive at all costs. It's your job to be certain they don't die for nothing. You owe them that, and they expect it of you, and that need to keep the faith with your people is what will keep your brain working and the orders coming even while the enemy blows your ship apart around you. And if you don't believe it will, then the command chair on the bridge of a Queen's ship is not the proper place for you."
   There was complete and utter silence in the game room, and Honor let it hover there for several seconds. Then she leaned back in her chair with a small smile.
   "On the other hand, your careers aren't going to consist solely of desperate battles to the death. I assure you that you'll find the odd moment of relaxation and even pleasure in the Queen's uniform — or that of your own worlds' navies," she added, nodding at Hearns and Gillingham. "Unfortunately," she went on, her tone turning droll, "tonight won't be among them."
   Another ripple of laughter answered her, and she nodded to Kriangsak.
   "Admiral Kriangsak, with Captain Garrison's able assistance, has very kindly constructed a small tactical problem for you, Ladies and Gentlemen," she informed them, and several apprehensive glances flickered towards Kriangsak, who simply smiled benignly. "We'll be dividing into three teams. Admiral Kriangsak will serve as the adviser to one team, Captain Garrison will advise the second, and Captain Thoma—" she nodded to the red-haired woman whose tunic, like Honor's own when she was in uniform, bore the bloodred ribbon of the Manticoran Cross "—will advise the third. Captain Henke and Commander Jaruwalski will play the role of referees and umpire the exercise."
   "And you, Your Grace?" Jaruwalski asked, as innocently as if she didn't know already.
   "And I, Commander," Honor told her with unconcealed relish, "will command the op force." One of the midshipmen groaned, and Honor gave them all a wicked smile. "This one is pass-fail, Ladies and Gentlemen. If you still have a ship left at the end, you pass. Otherwise..."
   She let her voice trail off menacingly, then bestowed another smile upon them.
   "And on that note, people, let's be about it!" she told them briskly.


   "Well that certainly went much better. In fact," Scotty Tremaine said judiciously, gazing at the scores for CLAC Squadron Three's latest engineering inspection, "one might even say that it went quite well, mightn't one, Sir Horace?"
   "One might," Sir Horace Harkness growled back. "I guess. Sort of."
   Unlike the youthful commander, the burly warrant officer's expression was not a happy one. Indeed, an objective observer, if asked to describe it in one word, would have been hard-pressed to choose between disconsolate, surly, or just plain disgusted. The less charitable might even have suggested "petulant."
   Despite the fact that the Book said the senior engineer in any LAC wing was supposed to be a commissioned officer, an awful lot of engineers, at both the squadron and wing levels, held warrants rather than commissions. Normally, a warrant was offered to a noncom who, because of his special knowledge or depth of expertise, or because he was needed for duties normally assigned to an officer, had to be placed on a footing of equality with at least the more junior of the commissioned officers with whom he dealt. Warrant officers stood outside the executive line of command, for the WOs might actually be thought of as the noncommissioned equivalent of staff officers. Even the design of their uniforms indicated their unique status, for their tunics were tailored like those of officers, but they carried sleeve stripes (although in silver, not gold) similar to those of petty officers and silver or gold crowns, depending on grade, as collar insignia. In addition, each WO's sleeve carried the insignia of his specialty above the stripes.
   A WO-1 was equivalent to a junior-grade lieutenant in a nonline specialty, while a chief warrant officer, or WO-3, like Sir Horace Harkness, was equivalent to a senior-grade lieutenant. A master chief warrant officer, or WO-5, was actually equivalent to a full commander... and had reached the highest rate any member of the Navy could attain without a formal commission. Given the basis on which they were offered their warrants in the first place, a WO was usually somewhat older than the average commissioned officer of his equivalent rank. On the other hand, the more youthful commissioned officers who found themselves warrant officers' legal superiors knew those WOs had been given their warrants expressly because they were so good — as in, much better than any wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-out-of-Saganami-Island, young whippersnapper could hope to be, though he might someday approach their abilities, if he worked really hard and listened to the voice of experience when it deigned to share its wisdom. As a result, the RMN's warrant officers carried far more clout than most civilian observers would have expected.
   Nonetheless, BuPers really had wanted commissioned engineers for any slot above the individual LAC squadron. BuPers, however, had been disappointed, and the reason its desires had never been more than a rather wistful hope was simple enough. The sudden, explosive expansion of the Royal Manticoran Navy's light attack craft strength after decades of steady build down had simply caught the Fleet short of LAC engineers. Severely short, as a matter of fact.
   It was certainly true that LACs allowed enormous reductions in manpower on a per-weapon basis as compared to regular, hyper-capable warships. By the same token, however, the manpower they did require tended to be more than a bit specialized. Nursemaiding one of the new fission plants, for example, was just as complex a job as running one of the far larger fusion plants aboard a hyper-capable combatant. The engineer running it might have instrumentation that was at least as good, and a lot more (and more sophisticated) remotes, proportionately speaking, but he was still one man, with only a single human assistant, running an entire fission plant, two impeller rooms, environmental, not just two but three sets of sidewall generators — four, actually, on the even newer Ferret —class LACs — and handling all power allocation and repairs (if needed) for at least one revolver missile launcher and magazine, point defense, sensors, ECM, and one humongous graser. The tac officer and captain had similarly outsized workloads, and their remotes and AIs weren't the same as having real live assistants to help spread the burden. To be sure, their instrumentation and computer support set new standards for capability and user-friendliness, but it was still one hell of a load to carry. It was also one which required high and consistent skill levels, since LAC crews were too small to rely on someone else catching a mistake, and the manning requirements for each bird were repeated over a hundred times per wing.