"Because so few units got out, and because those who did had suffered so much damage to their sensor systems," and because you won't let me,"I've still been unable to reconstruct the events at Hancock with any higher degree of certainty and confidence than the official board managed immediately after the operation," she went on. "I've got a lot of theories and hypotheses, but very little hard data."
   "I'm aware of that, Esther," Saint-Just said with ominous affability. "There doesn't seem to be much question but that Kellet allowed herself to be ambushed by LACs, however, does there?"
   "It could certainly be described that way," McQueen agreed, showing her teeth in what not even the most charitable would have called a smile.
   "Then my point stands." Saint-Just shrugged. "We've known for years that they have better LACs than we do, but they're still just LACs, when all's said and done. If it hadn't been for the circumstances under which they were allowed into range, they surely wouldn't have been any real threat."
   "They weren't allowed into range, Citizen Secretary," McQueen said very precisely. "They utilized stealth systems far in advance of anything we have — and far more capable than any LAC should mount as onboard systems — to intercept before anyone could have detected them. And once in range, they used energy weapons of unprecedented power. Powerful enough to burn through a battleship's sidewall."
   "Certainly they used their stealth systems effectively," Saint-Just conceded, his almost-smile as cold as her own had been. "But, as I already said, we've known for years that they were upgrading their LACs. And as you yourself just pointed out, our sensor data is scarcely what anyone could call reliable. My own analysts — civilians, to be sure, but most of them were consultants with the Office of Construction before the Harris Assassination — are uniformly of the opinion that the throughput figures some people are quoting for the grasers mounted by those LACs are almost certainly based on bad data." McQueen's face tightened, but he waved a hand in a tension-defusing gesture. "No one's arguing that the weapons weren't `of unprecedented power,' because they clearly were. But you're talking about battleship sidewalls, attacked at absolutely minimal range, not ships of the wall, or even battleships or battlecruisers attacked at realistic ranges. The point my analysts are making is that no one could fit a graser of the power some people seem afraid of into something the size of a LAC. It's simply not technically feasible to build that sort of weapon, plus propulsive machinery, a fusion plant, and the sort of missile power they also displayed, into a hull under fifty thousand tons."
   "It wouldn't be possible for us," McQueen agreed. "The Manties, however, have rather persistently done things we've been unable to duplicate. Even our pods are less sophisticated than theirs. We make up the differential by using larger pods, more missiles, and bigger missiles, because we can't match the degree of miniaturization they can. I see no reason to assume that the same doesn't hold true for their LACs."
   "I see no reason to assume that it automatically does hold true, either," Saint-Just returned in the voice of one striving hard to be reasonable. "And the LACs they've been operating — still are operating, for that matter — in Silesia show no indication of the sort of massive, qualitative leap forward my analysts assure me would be necessary to build LACs as formidable as some people believe we're facing. Granted, it's the job of the Navy to err on the side of pessimism, and it's better, usually, to overestimate an enemy than to under estimate him. But at this level, we have a responsibility to question their conclusions and to remind ourselves they're only advisors. We're the ones who have to make the actual decisions, and we can't allow ourselves to be stampeded into timidity. As you pointed out yourself, quite rightly, when you proposed Icarus in the first place, we have to run some risks if we're to have any hope at all of winning this war."
   "I haven't said we don't, and I haven't proposed sitting in place out of fear," McQueen said flatly. "What I have said is that the situation is unclear. And the LACs aren't the only thing we have to worry about. Citizen Commander Diamato was quite adamant about the range of the shipboard missiles used against Citizen Admiral Kellet's task force, and nothing we have in inventory can do what they did, either. And that doesn't even consider what happened to Citizen Admiral Darlington in Basilisk. Unless the Manties were in position to bring their entire Home Fleet through, or unless our intelligence on the terminus forts was completely wrong, something very unusual was used against him, and all any of the survivors can tell us is that there were one hell of a lot of missiles flying around."
   "Of course there were. Both of us have pods, Esther, as you yourself just pointed out. Our intelligence on the numbers of forts was accurate, we simply underestimated the numbers of pods which had already been delivered to them. Besides, I just received a report from one of our sources in the Star Kingdom which suggests that the answer was probably White Haven and Eighth Fleet."
   "We have?" McQueen cocked her head, and her eyes flashed. "And why haven't I heard anything about this report over at the Octagon?"
   "Because I just received it this morning. It came in through a purely civilian network, and I directed that it be forwarded to you immediately. I assume you'll find it in your message queue when you get back to your office." Saint-Just sounded completely reasonable, but no one in the room, least of all Esther McQueen, doubted for a moment that he'd saved this little tidbit until he could deliver it in person... and in front of Rob Pierre. "According to our source, who's a civilian employed in their Astographic Service, White Haven brought all or most of his fleet through from Trevor's Star in a very tight transit. I'm not conversant with all the technical terms, but I'm sure the report will make a great deal of sense to you and your analysts when you've had a chance to study it. The important point, however, is that what happened to Darlington was simply that he walked into several dozen superdreadnoughts who weren't supposed to be there and into the fire of a store of missile pods we thought hadn't been delivered."
   He shrugged, and McQueen bit her tongue hard. She knew Pierre well enough by now to realize he understood exactly what Saint-Just had just done, and why... and that it had worked anyway. For herself, she had no doubt the report said exactly what he'd said it did. And it made sense, too. Indeed, she'd considered the possibility, but the Manties had played things awfully tight about exactly how they'd pulled off that little trick. Unfortunately, the rabbit he'd just produced about one thing the Manties had done lent added authority to his voice when he argued about other things the Manties had done. As he proceeded to demonstrate.
   "I think my analysts are probably on the right general track about Hancock, too," he went on, as if his analysts had already suggested that Eighth Fleet had successfully rushed to the defense of Basilisk, as well. "The LACs in Hancock just happened to be there. No doubt they do represent an upgrade on what we've already seen in Silesia, and Hancock would be a reasonable place for them to work up and evaluate a new design. The logical answer is that they were already engaged in maneuvers of some sort when we turned up and they were able, by good luck for them and bad luck for us, to generate an intercept. Unless we want to stipulate that the Manties' R&D types are magicians in league with the devil, though, the worst-case evaluation of their capabilities is much too pessimistic. Probably there were more of them than any of Kellet's survivors believed and they made up the apparent jump in individual firepower with numbers. As for the missiles Diamato talked about, he's the only tac officer who seems even to have seen them, and none of his tactical data survived Schaumberg's destruction. We have no way to be sure his initial estimates of their performance weren't completely erroneous. It's far more likely there were additional ships back there, ships he never saw because of their stealth systems, and that the apparent performance of the missiles was so extraordinary because what he thought was terminal performance was actually a much earlier point in their launch envelope." He shrugged. "In either case, no one else has seen any signs of super LACs or missiles since, and until we do see some supporting evidence..."
   He let his voice trail off and shrugged again, and McQueen drew a deep breath.
   "That all sounds very reasonable, Oscar," she said in a very even tone. "But the fact that they haven't used whatever they used then since might also suggest — to me, at least — the possibility that they've decided to hold off on using their new toys until they have enough of them, in their estimation, to make a real difference."
   "Or until they're pushed so far back they have no choice but to use them," Saint-Just suggested a bit pointedly. "I agree with your basic analysis, Citizen Secretary, but it's been over a year since you launched Icarus, and you've hit them hard a half dozen times since then without seeing any sign of new hardware. Let's say for the sake of argument that they do have a new LAC and a new missile and that the performance of each falls somewhere between what your analysts think we actually saw and what my analysts believe is theoretically possible. In that case, where are those new weapons? Isn't it possible the Manties haven't used more of them because they don't have any more? That we ran into prototypes of a design they still haven't been able to debug sufficiently to put into series production? That being the case, they may still be months from any actual deployment. And the need to defeat them before they do get it into full production lends still more point to the importance of continuing to hit them as hard, frequently, and quickly as possible."
   "That's certainly possible," McQueen agreed. "On the other hand, it has been over a year. My own thought is that even if they were prototypes, a year is more than long enough for the Manties to have put them into at least limited production. And we have been pushing the pace since Icarus. They know that at least as well as we do, and I would have expected to see them using their new weapons, even if they only had a relatively low number of them, in an effort to knock us back on our heels... unless they're deliberately holding off while they build up the numbers to hit us hard at a moment of their own choosing. They've lost nine star systems, but none were really vital, after all. While I hate to admit it, we're still at the stage of hitting them where we can hit them, not necessarily of attacking the targets I wish we could hit.
   She paused for a moment, gazing levelly at Saint-Just, but it was Pierre she watched from the corner of her eye. The Citizen Chairman frowned, but he also nodded almost imperceptibly. McQueen doubted he even realized he had, but the tiny response was encouraging evidence that he, at least, was reading her reports and drawing the proper conclusions from them. More to the point, perhaps, it was an indication that even if Saint-Just had just scored points in his ongoing fight over the control of NavInt and his suspicion that she was deliberately slowing the operational pace to make herself appear even more irreplaceable, the Chairman still recognized what was going on.
   "I feel sure the Manties' senior planners realize that as well as we do, Oscar," she went on. "It would take some gutsy decisions by their strategists to hold back at this point even if they do, of course, but if I were in their shoes and thought I could pick my moment, I'd certainly do it. And I'd do my best to keep my opponent from getting an early peek at my new systems until I was ready to use them, too. There's never been a weapon that couldn't be countered somehow, and I wouldn't want to give the other side a good enough look at my new weapons to begin figuring out a doctrine to offset them."
   "You've both raised excellent points," Pierre said, intervening before Saint-Just could reply. He knew the StateSec commander was increasingly unhappy about the degree to which the Navy, and even a few of StateSec's shipboard commissioners, were beginning to venerate McQueen. Saint-Just was too disciplined and loyal to move against her without Pierre's authorization, but he was also more attuned by nature to the implications of internal threats than to those of external ones. In many ways, Pierre shared Saint-Just's evaluation of the domestic threat McQueen represented, but he was afraid the SS commander's legitimate concerns in those areas caused him to underestimate or even dismiss the severity of the danger still posed by the Manticoran Alliance's military forces. Quiescent and apparently defensive minded though they'd been since Icarus, Pierre was far from convinced that they were down for the count.
   "For the moment, however," he continued, deliberately pulling the discussion back from the confrontation between his internal watchdog and his military commander, "our immediate emphasis ought to be on how we respond to the consequences of Harrington's escape. Our military operations have already been planned and set in motion, and there's not much we can do about them right this minute, but Huertes is still going to want a response from us, and we can't afford to let the Manties' version of what happened totally dominate the coverage in the Solarian League."
   "I'm afraid I don't see how we can prevent that, Citizen Chairman," Leonard Boardman said. His voice was a bit hesitant, but firmer than McQueen would have expected, and he didn't cringe too badly under the daggered look Pierre shot him.
   "Explain," the Citizen Chairman said flatly.
   "Huertes came to us once the story got back to her, Sir," Boardman pointed out. "It didn't originate in the Republic; it originated with the Manties' announcements in Yeltsin and Manticore. There's no possible way it could've gotten back to us here until well after they'd already dumped it through Beowulf to the rest of the Solarian League."
   He paused, and Pierre nodded, grudgingly and almost against his will. The Star Kingdom of Manticore's control of the Manticore Worm Hole Junction gave it an enormous advantage in terms of turnaround time on any message to the Solarian League, and on something like this, the Manties would have exploited it to the maximum.
   "That means anything we do in the League will be playing catch-up," Boardman went on a bit more confidently. "Here in the Republic, we'll have the opportunity to put our spin on it—" and just how, Esther McQueen wondered, can anyone possibly put a good "spin" on something like this, Citizen Secretary? "—but in the League, we'll be trying to overcome the Manties' spin. And, quite frankly, Sir, I'm afraid Huertes already knows at least something we don't."
   "Such as?" Saint-Just demanded, and McQueen hid a grimace. There didn't seem to be a great deal of sense in demanding an opinion about something when Boardman had just said they didn't know what that something was.
   "I have no idea — yet," Boardman replied. "But from the tone of her questions, she knows more than she told us about. It's as if she's trying to get us to commit ourselves so she can catch us out."
   "I don't much care for the sound of that," Wanda Farley, the Secretary of Technology grunted. The heavy-set woman had been silent throughout, and especially during the debate on the technical feasibility of the new Manticoran LACs, but now she frowned like a dyspeptic buffalo. "Just who the hell does she think she is, playing some kind of game with us?"
   Who she thinks she is, McQueen very carefully did not say aloud, is a real newsie trying to report the biggest human interest story of the entire war. I'm not surprised you're confused, after the way INS and the other services have let PubIn play them like violins for decades, but you idiots had better wake up pretty damned fast. They've caught us red-handed, with proof we fed them a special-effects chip and lied at the very highest level about Harrington's execution. Worse, they're not all cretins. Some of them see themselves as real reporters, with some sort of moral obligation to tell their viewers the truth. And even the ones who don't know that the folks back home know they let themselves be suckered. So they're pissed off at us for using them, and at the same time, they have to do something to win back their audience's confidence. So for the first time in fifty or sixty T-years, we're going to find ourselves with genuine investigative reporters climbing all over us right here at home, unless we decide to evict them all the way we did United Faxes Intergalactic. Which we can't do just this minute without convincing every Solly we've got things to hide. Which, of course, we do.
   Unfortunately, getting someone like Farley to understand how things worked in a society without officially sanctioned censorship was a hopeless cause.
   "That doesn't really matter, Wanda." Pierre sighed. "What matters are the consequences."
   "I think our best bet is to be as cautious as we can without completely clamming up, Sir," Boardman said. "There's no point in our denying, to the Sollies, at least, that something happened at Cerberus and that at least some prisoners apparently managed to escape. At the same time, we can say, honestly, that we haven't yet heard back from the forces we'd already dispatched to Cerberus in response to concerns previously raised by StateSec personnel. That will indicate that we were as well informed as possible, given the communications lag, before Huertes came to us. And it will also buy us a little more time. We'll obviously have to ascertain the facts for ourselves before we can offer any comment, and we can respectfully decline to engage in useless speculation until we have ascertained the facts."
   "And then?" Saint-Just prodded.
   "Sir, it will depend on what the facts are, how bad they are, and how we want to approach them," Boardman said frankly. "If nothing else, however, I feel confident Huertes will have dropped the other shoe by then. Or, for that matter, we'll have direct reports from our own sources in Manticore. We can at least buy enough time for that to happen, and for us to decide on the best angle from which to spin the story."
   "And domestically?" Pierre asked.
   "Domestically, we can put whatever spin we like on it, Sir, at least in the short term. Whatever they may want to do for their home audiences, I doubt very much that any of the services is going to risk being tossed out of the Republic just to dispute Public Information's reportage locally. And if they try, we've got the mechanisms in place to stop them cold. In the short term. In the long term, at least a garbled version of the Manties' version is bound to leak out here at home, but that will take months at the very least. By the time it does get out, it will have lost a lot of its immediacy. I don't expect the greatest impact to be here at home, unless we really drop the ball. It's the consequences in the League that I worry about."
   "And me," McQueen said quietly. "It's largely the Solly tech transfers which have let us get within shouting distance of the Manties' naval hardware. If this story is going to jeopardize that technology pipeline, we could have a very serious problem."
   "Unless we finish the Manties off before it becomes `serious,' " Saint-Just observed with a wintery smile.
   "With all due respect, that isn't going to happen anytime soon," McQueen replied firmly. "Oh, it's always possible we'll get lucky or their morale will suddenly crack, but they've redeployed to cover their core areas in too much depth. We're punching away mainly at systems they took away from us, Oscar. If they let us hang onto the initiative, we'll wear them down eventually. That's the great weakness of a purely defensive strategy; it lets your opponent choose her time and place and achieve the sort of concentrations that grind you away. But we're still a long way from reaching any of the Alliance's vitals — except, of course, for what happened in Basilisk. Raids on places like Zanzibar and Alizon may have profound morale effects, but they don't really hurt the Manties' physical war-fighting capability very much, and now that they realize we're on the offensive, the systems where we really could hurt them, like Manticore, Grayson, Erewhon, and Grendlesbane, are far too heavily protected for us to break into without taking prohibitive losses."
   Saint-Just looked stubborn, and Pierre hid a sigh. Then he rubbed his nose again and squared his shoulders.
   "All right, Leonard. I don't like it, but I think you're right. Draft a statement for me on the basis you've suggested, then com Huertes and offer her an exclusive interview with me. I'll want to be briefed very carefully, and you'll inform her that certain areas will be off-limits for reasons of military security, but I want to come across as open and forthcoming. Maybe I can coax her into letting that other shoe fall... or bait her into trying to mousetrap me with it, at any rate. But what I really want is to remind her and her colleagues how valuable access to my office is. Maybe then they'll think two or three times before they do something that might piss us off enough to deny them that access.
   "In the meantime, Esther—" he turned to McQueen "—I want you to expedite operations. In particular, I want you to put Operation Scylla on-line as soon as possible. If we're going to take a black eye over Cerberus, then it's going to be up to you to win us some countervailing talking points by kicking some more Manticoran butt in the field."
   "Sir, as I told you yesterday, we—"
   "I know you're not ready yet," Pierre said just a bit impatiently. "I'm not asking for miracles, Esther. I said `expedite,' not charge off half-cocked. But you've demonstrated you can beat the Manties, and we need it done again as soon as you possibly can."
   He held her eyes, and his message was clear. He was willing to back her military judgment against Saint-Just's — mostly, at least, and for the moment — but he needed a miracle, and the sooner the better. And if he didn't get one, he might just rethink his faith in her... and his decision to restrain Saint-Just from purging her.
   "Understood, Citizen Chairman," she said, her tone resolute but not cocky. "If you want some Manticoran butt kicked, then we'll just have to kick it for you, won't we?"


   "So how does it feel to be alive again?"
   The question came out in a husky, almost furry-sounding contralto, and Honor's mouth quirked as she looked across from her place in the improbably comfortable, old-fashioned, unpowered armchair that seemed hopelessly out of place aboard a modern warship. HMS Edward Saganami's captain smirked insufferably back at her, white teeth flashing in a face barely a shade lighter than her space-black tunic, and Honor shook her head with a wryness that was no more than half amused.
   "Actually, it's a monumental pain in an awful lot of ways," she told her oldest friend, and Captain the Honorable Michelle Henke laughed. "Go ahead, laugh!" Honor told her. "You haven't had to deal with people who name superdreadnoughts after you — and refuse to change the name when it turns out you weren't quite dead yet after all!" She shuddered. "And that's not the worst of it, you know."
   "Oh?" Henke cocked her head. "I knew they'd named the Harrington after you, but I hadn't heard anything about their refusing to change the name."
   "Well, they have," Honor said grumpily, and rose to stalk around the spacious quarters the RMN's designers had provided for the brand-new heavy cruiser's lady and mistress after God. All of Saganami's personnel spaces were bigger on a per-crewman basis than those of older ships, but Henke's day cabin was as big as the captain's cabins of some battlecruisers. Which at least gave her plenty of room in which to pace.
   She set Nimitz on the back of the chair, and Samantha flowed up from where she'd perched on its arm to wrap her tail about him once more. Honor watched the two 'cats for a moment, grateful that the harsh, metallic-tasting bitterness of Nimitz's fear and sense of loss had retreated into something all three of them could handle, then looked back at Henke and began to pace with proper vigor.
   "I argued myself blue in the face, you know, but Benjamin says he can't overrule the military, the Office of Shipbuilding says it would confuse their records, Reverend Sullivan insists that the Chaplain's Corps blessed the ship under her original name and that it would offend the religious sensibilities of the Navy to change it now, and Matthews says it would offend the crews' belief that renaming a ship is bad luck. Every one of them is in on it, and they keep playing musical offices. Whenever I try to pin one of them down, he simply refers me — with exquisite courtesy, you understand — to one of the others. And I know they're all laughing in their beers over it!"
   Henke's grin seemed to split her face, and her throaty chuckle rippled with delight. She was one of the people who'd figured out the truth about Honor's link to Nimitz long ago, which lent a certain added entertainment to Honor's certainty about how much the highest Grayson leaders were enjoying themselves.
   "Well, at least the Admiralty agreed to back off from calling them the Harrington —class," she pointed out after a moment, and Honor nodded.
   "That's because the Star Kingdom has a slightly less low so-called sense of humor," she growled. "And," she added, "Caparelli and Cortez know I'd've resigned my commission if they hadn't gone back to designating them the Medusa —class. I only wish I thought I could get away with making the same threat stick against Matthews."
   She glowered, and Nimitz and Samantha bleeked in shared amusement as they tasted her emotions. She raised her head to shake a fist at them, but the living corner of her mouth twitched again, this time with true humor at the absurdity of her situation.
   "I think it's a sign of how much they care about you that a reactionary old batch of sticks is willing to give you such a hard time, actually," Henke observed. Honor shot her a sharp glance, and the other woman shook her head. "Oh, I know Benjamin is the cutting edge of what passes for liberalism on Grayson, Honor, and I respect him enormously, but let's face it. By Manticoran standards, the most liberal soul on the entire planet is a hopeless reactionary! And with all due respect, I don't think I could legitimately call either Reverend Sullivan or High Admiral Matthews liberals, even for Grayson. Mind you, I like them a bunch, and I admire them, and I don't feel particularly uncomfortable around them. In fact, I'll even admit they're both doing their level best to support Benjamin's reforms, but they grew up on pre-Alliance Grayson. Matthews has done an excellent job of adjusting to the notion of allowing foreign women into Grayson service, and an even better one of treating them with equality once they're there. But deep down inside, he and Sullivan — and even Benjamin, I suspect — are never really going to get over the notion that women need to be coddled and protected, and you know it. So if they're willing to give you a hard time, they must really, really like you a lot."
   She shrugged, and Honor blinked at her.
   "Do you even begin to realize how ridiculous that sounds? They respect women, and want to protect them, so the fact that they're all willing to drive me totally insane means they like me?"
   "Of course it does," Henke replied comfortably, "and you know it as well as I do."
   Honor gave her a very direct look, and she gazed back with an expression the perfect picture of innocence until Honor finally grinned in ironic acknowledgment.
   "I suppose I do," she admitted, but then her smile faded just a bit. "But that doesn't reduce the embarrassment quotient one bit. You know some Manticorans are going to think I signed off on keeping the name. And even if they weren't going to, I think it's about as pretentious as anything could possibly get. Oh—" she waved her hand as if brushing away gnats "—I suppose it made sense, in an embarrassing sort of way, to name a ship after a naval officer who was safely dead, but I'm not dead, darn it!"
   "Thank God," Henke said quietly, and all the laughter had gone out of her face. Honor turned quickly to face her as she felt the sudden darkness of her emotions, but then Henke shook herself and leaned back in her chair.
   "By the way," she said in a conversational tone, "there's something I've been meaning to say to you. Have you seen the HD of your funeral on Manticore?"
   "I've skimmed it," Honor said uncomfortably. "I can't stand to watch too much of that kind of thing, though. It's like seeing a really bad historical holodrama. You know, one of the `cast of thousands' things. And that doesn't even consider the crypt at King Michael's! I mean, I realize it was a state funeral, that the Alliance thought the Peeps had murdered me and that that had turned me into some sort of symbol, but still—"
   She shook her head, and Henke snorted.
   "There was some of that kind of calculation involved, I suppose," she allowed, "if not nearly as much as you probably think. But what I had in mind was my own humble participation in your cortege. You knew about that?"
   "Yes," Honor said softly, remembering the images of an iron-faced Michelle Henke, following the anachronistic caisson down King Roger I Boulevard at a slow march through the measured tap-tap-tap of a single drum with the naked blade of the Harrington Sword upright in her gloved hands and unshed tears shining in her eyes. "Yes, I knew about it," she said.
   "Well I just wanted to say this, Honor," Henke said quietly. "And I'll only say it once. But don't you ever do that to me again! Do you read me on that, Lady Harrington? I never want to go to your funeral again!"
   "I'll try to make a note of it," Honor said, striving almost successfully for levity. Henke held her gaze for a long, still moment, then nodded.
   "I suppose that will have to do, then," she said much more briskly, and leaned back in her own armchair. "But you were saying your friends back on Grayson have done something else to offend your fine, humble sensibilities?"
   "Darn right they have!" Honor took another turn about Henke's day cabin, the hem of her Grayson-style gown swirling about her ankles with the energy of her stride.
   "Stop stomping around my quarters, sit down, and tell me what it is, then," Henke commanded, pointing to the chair Honor had previously occupied.
   "Yes, Ma'am," Honor said meekly. She sat very precisely in the chair, chin high, feet planted close together, hand resting primly in her lap, leaned forward ever so slightly, and looked at her friend soulfully. "Is this better, Ma'am?" she asked earnestly.
   "Only if you want to be thumped," Henke growled. "And in your present condition, I might even be able to take you."
   "Ha!" Honor snorted with lordly disdain, then leaned back and crossed her legs.
   "Better. Now tell!"
   "Oh, all right," Honor sighed. "It's the statue."
   "The statue?" Henke repeated blankly.
   "Yes, the statue. Or maybe I should call it `The Statue'—you know, capital letters. Maybe with a little italics and an exclamation point or two."
   "You do realize I don't have even a clue what you're babbling about, don't you?"
   "Oh? Then I take it you haven't been down to Austin City since my recent untimely demise was reported?"
   "Except to ride the pinnace down to pick you up from the Palace, no," Henke replied in a mystified tone.
   "Ah, then you haven't been to Steadholders' Hall! That explains it."
   "Explains what, damn it?!"
   "Explains how you could have missed the modest little four-meter bronze statue of me, standing on top of an eight—meter — polished! — obsidian column, in the square at the very foot of the main stairs to the North Portico so that every single soul who ever walks through any of the Hall's public entrances will have to walk right past it at eye level."
   Even the ebullient Henke stared at her, stunned into silence, and Honor returned her goggle-eyed gaze calmly. Not that she'd felt the least bit calm when she first saw the thing. It had been another of Benjamin's little "surprises," although she believed him when he insisted the idea had been the Conclave of Steadholders', not his. He was simply the one who hadn't bothered to mention its existence to her before she found herself face-to-face — well, face-to-column, anyway — with the looming monstrosity.
   No, she made herself admit judiciously, calling it a "monstrosity" wasn't really fair. Her own taste had never run to heroic-scale bronzes, but she had to agree, in the intervals when she could stop gnashing her teeth, that the sculptor had actually done an excellent job. The moment he'd chosen to immortalize was the one in which she'd stood on the Conclave Chamber's floor, leaning on the Sword of State while she awaited the return of the servant Steadholder Burdette had sent to fetch the Burdette Sword, and it was obvious he'd studied the file footage of that horrible day with care. He had every detail right, even to the cut on her forehead, except for two things. One was Nimitz, who'd been sitting on her desk in the Chamber while she waited but had somehow been translocated from there to the statue's shoulder. That much, at least, she was willing to grant as legitimate artistic license, for if Nimitz hadn't been on her shoulder, he'd still been with her, and far more intimately than the sculptor could ever have guessed. But the other inaccuracy, the nobility and calm, focused tranquility he'd pasted onto her alloy face...That she had a problem with, for her own memories of that day, waiting for the duel to the death with the treasonous Burdette, were only too clear in her own mind.
   She realized Henke was still staring at her in stupefaction and cocked her head with a quizzical expression. Several more seconds passed, and then Henke shook herself.
   "Four meters tall?" she demanded in hushed tones.
   "On top of an eight-meter column," Honor agreed. "It's really very imposing, I suppose... and when I saw it, I was ready to cut my own throat. At least then I really would be decently dead!"
   "My God!" Henke shook her head, then chuckled wickedly. "I always thought of you as tall myself, but twelve meters may be just a bit much even for you, Honor!"
   "Oh, very funny, Mike," Honor replied with awful dignity. "Very funny indeed. How would you like to walk past that... that thing every single time you attended the Keys?"
   "Wouldn't bother me a bit," Henke said. "After all, it's not a statue of me. Now, you on the other hand... I suppose you might find it just a little, ah, overwhelming."
   "To say the least," Honor muttered, and Henke chuckled again. There was a bit more sympathy in it this time, but her eyes still danced with wicked amusement as she pictured Honor's face when she'd first seen Benjamin IX's "surprise."
   "And they won't take it down?"
   "They won't," Honor confirmed grimly. "I told them I'd refuse to use the main entrance ever again if they left it there, and they said they were very sorry to hear it and pointed out that there's always been a private entrance for steadholders. I threatened to refuse to accept my Key back from Faith, and they told me I wasn't permitted to do that under Grayson law. I even threatened to have my armsmen sneak up on it some dark night and blow it to smithereens... and they told me it was fully insured and that the sculptor would be more than happy to recast it in case any accident befell it!"
   "Oh, dear." Henke seemed to be experiencing some difficulty keeping her voice level, and Honor reminded herself, firmly, that she had too few friends to go around killing every one of them who found her predicament hilarious. Especially, she acknowledged, since that seemed to include every single one of them.
   "My, my, my," Henke murmured finally. "Coming back from the dead does seem to be a little complicated, doesn't it?" She shook her head. "And what was that business about your having violated the Grayson Constitution?"
   "Oh, Lord!" Honor moaned. "Don't even mention that to me!"
   "What?" Henke blinked. "I thought someone told me it had all been settled?"
   "Oh, certainly it was `settled,' " Honor groused. "Benjamin decided the best way to deal with it was to take the `Elysian Navy' into Grayson service and give it a place in the chain of command. So he did."
   "And this is a problem?" Henke asked quizzically.
   "Oh, no!" Honor replied with awful irony. "All he did was create a special `Protector's Own Squadron' of the Grayson Space Navy, buy in all the captured ships for service as its core elements, and make me its official CO."
   "Did you say `core elements'?" Henke repeated, and Honor nodded. "And precisely what, if I'm not going to regret asking, does that mean?"
   "It means Benjamin has decided to offer slots in the GSN to any of the Cerberus escapees who want to take them, and he's established a special unit organization for them. He's calling it a `squadron,' but if he gets a fraction of the number of volunteers I think he's going to get, it's going to be more like a task force... or a bloody fleet in its own right! Anyway, he's planning to swear them all on as his personal vassals, then make me, as his Champion, the permanent CO. He's starting out with the ships we brought back with us, but he'll be adding to them, and he and Matthews are already making gleeful noises about pod superdreadnoughts and proper screening elements."
   "My God," Henke murmured. Then she cocked her head. "Does he have the authority to do something like that? I mean, I'd hate to think how Parliament would react back home if Beth even thought about establishing a force like that!"
   "Oh, yes," Honor sighed. "The Grayson Constitution gives the Protector the right to do it. He's the only person on Grayson who does have the right to organize full-scale military units out of his personal vassals. It was one of the little points Benjamin the Great wrote into the Constitution to emphasize the Sword's primacy. Of course, he'll place it under the authority of Wesley Matthews, as Chief of Naval Operations, which should soothe any ruffled feathers, but people on Grayson take their personal oaths even more seriously than most Manticorans. If push ever came to shove between the Protector and the regular Navy — God forbid! — it would almost certainly come down on Benjamin's side. And the fact that virtually all the personnel for it, initially, at least, will be foreign-born and that `That Foreign Woman' will be its CO, at least on paper, has the conservatives in the Keys unable to decide whether to drop dead of apoplexy or scream bloody murder. Except, of course, that they can't possibly afford to raise a stink over it at the moment because of all the whooping and hollering going on over my return. Which is exactly what that stinker Benjamin is counting on."
   "Counting on?" Henke wrinkled her nose, and Honor laughed briefly.
   "Service in the Grayson Space Navy automatically confers Grayson citizenship after a six-year hitch, Mike. Benjamin rammed that little proviso through right after they joined the Alliance. He was one of the first people on the planet to recognize that the GSN was going to have to recruit from abroad to man its units, and he was determined to give anyone who signed on a stake in the planet they'd be fighting to defend. Of course, once everyone else figured out the same thing, there was a lot of resistance to the notion of offering citizenship to job lots of infidels. But Reverend Hanks signed on in strong support, and it came soon enough after the Maccabean coup attempt and `the Mayhew Restoration' that no one in the Keys could put together an effective opposition. It doesn't apply to Allied personnel serving on loan from their own navies, even if they hold rank in the GSN, but these won't be Allied personnel. Which means every person he enlists for his `Protector's Own' will eventually become a Grayson citizen, assuming she survives, and there are almost half a million escapees... most of whom have no planet to go home to. I'd be surprised if at least a third of them didn't jump at his offer, and that means he'll be adding something like a hundred and sixty thousand `infidels' to his population in a single pop."
   Including Warner Caslet, she thought. I'm not sure he'll accept, but I know Benjamin is going to make the offer to him. And I think I'd certainly accept it in his place. No matter what I or anyone else from Hell says, there'd be a lot of resistance to giving him a commission in the RMN, but the GSN's already recruited at least one ex-Peep... and made out very well on the deal!
   She smiled in memory of her first "Grayson" flag captain, but then her grin faded just a bit. Caslet was also a passenger aboard Saganami. The cruiser's crew had taken its cue from its captain and treated him as an honored guest, despite his insistence on so far retaining his People's Navy uniform, but she knew he wasn't looking forward to his arrival in the Star Kingdom. Nor would she have looked forward to it in his place. No doubt everyone would be exquisitely polite and correct, especially in light of what she and Alistair McKeon had had to say about his actions aboard Tepes and on Hell, but ONI must be rubbing its hands together and cackling with glee at the thought of his upcoming debrief. He had been Thomas Theisman's ops officer in Barnett, after all. And even though he'd been out of circulation on Hell for the better part of two T-years, he still represented a priceless intelligence windfall. They were going to wring every detail they could out of him, and while the commander had made peace with his decision to defect to the Alliance, Honor knew his stubborn sense of integrity was going to make the process both painful and difficult. His commitment to the defeat of the Committee of Public Safety was absolute, but his entire world had been the People's Navy for too many years to make "betraying" the people still in it anything but an agonizing ordeal.
   And even when it's over, no one is really going to trust him in Manticoran uniform, she thought sadly. They can't — not when they can't taste his commitment the way Nimitz and I can. But the Graysons can trust him. Or give him an honest chance to prove they can, at least. The Church of Humanity Unchained has always embraced the concept of redemption through Grace and good works... and been pretty darned insistent on the penitent's responsibility to "meet his Test." So unlike us cynical Manticorans, we Graysons are preprogramed to give people like Warner the chance to work their passages.