David Weber
Echoes Of Honor


   It was still and very quiet in the palatial room. Four humans and thirteen treecats, four of them half-grown 'kittens, sat silently, eyes locked on the HD which showed only silent swirls of soothing, standby color. The only movements were the slow twitch, twitch, twitch of the very tail-tip of the treecat clasped in Miranda LaFollet's arms and the gently stroking true-hand with which the treecat named Samantha comforted her daughter Andromeda. Andromeda was the most anxious of the 'kittens, but all four were ill at ease, clustered tightly about their mother with half-flattened ears. Their empathic senses carried the raw emotions of the adults in the room—human and treecat alike—to them all too clearly, yet they were too young to understand the reason for the jagged-clawed tension which possessed their elders.
   Allison Harrington pulled her eyes from the silent HD and glanced once more at her husband's profile. He stared stonily straight before him, his face gaunt, and Allison needed no empathic sense to feel his tormented grief calling to her own. But he refused to acknowledge the pain—had refused from the very beginning—as if by denying it or battling it in the solitary anguish of his own heart without "burdening" her he could somehow make it not real. He knew better than that. Surgeons learned better, if only from watching patients face those demons alone. Yet that was knowledge of the head, not the heart, and even now he refused to look away from the HD. Both her small hands tightened on the single large one she had captured almost by force when he sat down beside her, but his expression was like Sphinx granite, and she made herself look away once more.
   Brilliant sunlight, double filtered through the dome covering Harrington City and then again by the smaller one covering Harrington House, streamed incongruously through the window. It should be night outside, she told herself. Blackest night, to mirror the darkness in her own soul, and she closed her eyes in pain.
   Senior Master Steward James MacGuiness saw her and bit his lip once more. He longed to reach out to her, as she had reached out to him by insisting that he be here, "with the rest of your family," for this terrible day. But he didn't know how, and his nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. Then he felt a soft, warm weight land solidly in his lap and looked down as Hera braced both hand-feet on his chest and reached up to touch his face ever so gently with one true-hand. The 'cat's bright green gaze met his with a soft concern that made his eyes burn, and he stroked her fluffy pelt gratefully as she crooned ever so softly to him.
   The HD made a small sound, and every eye, human and 'cat, snapped to it. Very few of the people of Grayson knew the subject of the upcoming special bulletin. The ones in this room, and in a similar room in Protector's Palace, did know, for the chief of the local bureau of the Interstellar News Service had warned them as a matter of courtesy. Not that most Graysons wouldn't suspect its content. The days of instant news had been left centuries behind along with the days when humanity inhabited only a single planet; now information moved between the stars only as rapidly as the ships which carried it. Humanity had readjusted its expectations to once more deal with news that arrived in fits and starts, in indigestible chunks and rumors awaiting confirmation... and this story had spawned too many "special reports" and too much speculation for the Graysons not to suspect.
   The HD chirped again, and then a message blurb blinked to life, each letter precisely formed. "The following Special Report contains violent scenes which may not be suitable for all audiences. INS advises viewer discretion," it said, then transformed itself into a time and date reference: "23:31:05 GMT, 01:24:1912 P.D." The numbers floated in the HD, superimposed on a slowly spinning INS logo, for perhaps ten seconds, announcing that what they were about to see had been recorded almost a full T-month earlier. Then they vanished, and the familiar features of Joan Huertes, the Interstellar News anchor for the Haven Sector, replaced them.
   "Good evening," she said, her expression solemn. "This is Joan Huertes, reporting to you from INS Central, Nouveau Paris, in the People's Republic of Haven, where this afternoon Second Deputy Director of Public Information Leonard Boardman, speaking on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, issued the following statement."
   Huertes disappeared, to be replaced by the image of a man with thinning hair and a narrow face which seemed vaguely out of place atop his pudgy frame. Despite his soft-looking edges, there were deep lines on that face, the sort which came to a man for whom worry was a way of life, but he seemed to have himself well in hand as he folded his hands on the podium at which he stood and gazed out over a large, comfortably furnished conference room crowded with reporters and HD cameras. There was the usual babble of shouted questions everyone knew would not be answered, but he only stood there, then raised one hand in a quieting gesture. The background noise gradually abated, and he cleared his throat.
   "I will not take any questions this afternoon, citizens," he told the assembled newsies. "I have a prepared statement, however, and supporting HD chips will be distributed to you at the end of the briefing."
   There was a background almost-noise of disappointment from the reporters, but not one of surprise. No one had really expected anything more... and all of them already knew from officially inspired "leaks" what the statement would be about.
   "As this office has previously announced," Boardman said flatly, obviously reading from a holo prompter no one else could see, "four T-months ago, on October 23, 1911 P.D., the convicted murderess Honor Stephanie Harrington was captured by the armed forces of the People's Republic. At that time, the Office of Public Information stated that it was the intention of the Committee of Public Safety to proceed with the full rigor of the law, but only within the letter of the law. Despite the unprovoked war of aggression which the elitist, monarchist plutocrats of the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the puppet regimes of the so-called 'Manticoran Alliance' have chosen to wage upon the People's Republic, the People's Republic has scrupulously observed the provisions of the Deneb Accords from the start of hostilities. It is not, after all, the fault of those in uniform when the self-serving masters of a corrupt and oppressive regime order them to fight, even when this means engaging in acts of naked aggression against the citizens and planets of a star nation which wishes only to live in peace and allow other nations to do the same.
   "The fact that, at the time of her capture, Harrington was serving as an officer in the navy of the Star Kingdom, however, further complicated an already complex situation. In light of her repeated claim that under the terms of the Deneb Accords her commission in the Manticoran Navy protected her, as a prisoner of war, from the consequences of her earlier crime, the People's government, determined not to act hastily, requested the Supreme Tribunal of the People's Justice to examine the specifics of the case, the conviction, and the Accords in order to ensure that all aspects of the prisoner's legal rights should be scrupulously maintained.
   "Because Harrington's conviction had been returned by a civilian court prior to the commencement of hostilities, the Supreme Tribunal, after careful deliberation, determined that, under the provisions of Article Forty-One of the Deneb Accords, the interstellar protections normally afforded to military personnel did not apply. The Supreme Tribunal accordingly ordered that Harrington be remanded to the custody of the Office of State Security as a civilian prisoner, rather than to the People's Navy as a prisoner of war. In ordering Harrington remanded, People's Justice Theresa Mahoney, writing for the Tribunal in its unanimous opinion, observed that—" Boardman picked up an old-fashioned sheet of hardcopy from the lectern and read aloud from the obvious prop "—'This was not an easy decision. While both civil law and Article Forty-One are quite clear and specific, no court wishes to establish any precedent which might serve to place our own uniformed citizens at risk should our enemy choose to seek vengeance in the name of "retaliation" or "reciprocity." Nonetheless, this Tribunal finds itself with no legal option but to order the prisoner remanded to the custody of the civilian judicial system, subject to its own legal requirements. Given the peculiar circumstances surrounding this case, and bearing in mind the Tribunal's concern over the possibility of retaliatory acts on the parts of the People's enemies, the Tribunal would respectfully request that the Committee of Pubic Safety, as the People's representative, consider clemency. This consideration is urged not because the Tribunal believes the prisoner deserves it, for she manifestly does not, but rather out of the Tribunal's real, serious, and pressing concern for the safety of citizens of the Republic currently in the hands of the Manticoran Alliance.'" He laid aside his sheet of paper and folded his hands once more before him.
   "The Committee, and particularly Citizen Chairman Pierre, considered the Tribunal's opinion and recommendation most carefully," he said in a solemn voice. "Although the People would always prefer to show mercy, even to their enemies, however, the requirements of the law in this case were, as the Supreme Tribunal noted, quite clear. Moreover, however merciful the People would prefer to be, the People's government cannot show weakness to enemies of the People at a time when the People are fighting for their very lives. With that in mind, and given that the heinous nature of prisoner's crime—the cold-blooded, deliberate, and premeditated murder of the entire crew of the merchant freighter RHMS Sirius—was such as to preclude any reduction in the sentence handed down by the court at the time of her conviction, Citizen Chairman Pierre declined to exercise his pardon authority. Accordingly Harrington was remanded to the appropriate authorities at Camp Charon in the Cerberus System, and at oh-seven-twenty GMT this morning, January twenty-fourth, the Central Headquarters of the Office of State Security in Nouveau Paris received confirmation from Camp Charon that sentence had been carried out, as ordered."
   Someone gasped in the quiet, sun-drenched room. Allison wasn't certain who; it could even have been her. Her hands tightened like talons on her husband's, yet he didn't even flinch. The shock seemed blunted somehow, as if their long anticipation had crusted it in scar tissue that deadened the nerves, and neither she nor any of the others could tear their eyes from the HD. There was a dreadful, self-punishing mesmerization about it. They knew what they were going to see, yet to look away would have been a betrayal. They had to be here, however irrational it might be to subject themselves to it, and the demands of the heart had no need for reasons based in logic.
   On the HD, the conference room was also utterly silent as Boardman paused. Then he looked straight into the camera, his face grim, and spoke very levelly.
   "The People's Republic of Haven cautions the members of the so-called 'Manticoran Alliance' against the abuse or mistreatment of any Republican personnel in retaliation for this execution. The People's Republic reminds its enemies—and the galaxy at large—that this was a single, special case in which a condemned criminal had, for over eleven standard years, evaded the legally mandated punishment for what can only be called an atrocity. Any attempt to mistreat our personnel in response to it will carry the gravest consequences for those responsible when peace is restored to this quadrant. In addition, the People's Republic would point out that any such actions would, almost inevitably, lead to the worsening of conditions for prisoners of war on both sides. Honor Stephanie Harrington was a murderer on a mass scale, and it was for that crime, not any actions she might have performed as a member of the Star Kingdom of Manticore's armed forces since the outbreak of hostilities, that she was executed."
   He stood a moment, then inhaled and nodded sharply.
   "Thank you, citizens. That concludes my statement, My aides will distribute the video chips. Good day."
   He turned and strode briskly away, ignoring the fresh babble of questions which rose behind him, and the HD blanked once more. Then Huertes' image returned, her expression even graver than before.
   "That was the scene in the People's Tower this afternoon as Leonard Boardman, Second Deputy Directory of the Office of Public Information, speaking on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, made the announcement which, frankly, had been anticipated for over two T-months by informed sources here in the People's Republic. What repercussions today's events may have on the military front is anyone's guess, but many usually reliable sources here in the capital have told INS off the record that they anticipate Manticoran retaliation and are prepared to respond in kind." She paused a beat, as if to let that sink in, then cleared her throat. "In the meantime, here is the HD imagery provided by the Office of Public Information. INS wishes once again to warn our viewers of the graphic and violent nature of what you are about to see."
   The HD faded to black slowly, as if to give any members of INS' audience time to flee if they wished to... or to be sure that anyone who had been temporarily out of the room would have time to get back for the promised tidbit of violence. Then the display glowed back to life.
   The scene was very different from the conference room in which Boardman had made his announcement. This room was much smaller, with bare walls and floor of unrelieved ceramacrete. It was high-ceilinged, and a rough wooden platform took up almost all its floor space. A flight of steps ran to the surface of the platform, and a rope—free end looped into the traditional hangman's noose—dangled from the ceiling above the center of the platform. For several seconds, the HD showed only the empty room and the grimly functional gallows, but then the viewers heard the sudden, shocking sound of a door being thrown open and six people entered the camera's field of view.
   Four men in the red-and-black uniform of State Security formed a tight knot about a tall, brown-haired woman in a bright orange prison jumpsuit. A fifth man, in the same uniform but with the insignia of a full colonel, followed them in, then turned to one side and stopped. He stood at a sort of parade rest, one foot beside an unobtrusive pedal set into the floor, and watched the prisoner being led across the room.
   Her wrists were chained behind her, and more chains weighted her ankles. Her face showed no expression at all, but her eyes clung to the gallows, as if hypnotized by the sight, as her guards urged her forward. Her hobbled steps became slower and more hesitant as they neared the platform stair, and her expressionless mask began to crack. She turned her head, looking at the guards while desperation wavered in her eyes, but no one would look back. The StateSec men's faces were grim and purposeful, and as her resistance grew, they gripped her arms and half-led and half-carried her up the steps.
   She began to pant as they forced her to the center of the platform, and she stared up at the rope, then, with a painful effort every viewer could actually feel, forced herself to look away. She closed her eyes, and her lips moved. She might have been praying, but no sound came out, and then she gasped and jerked as a black cloth hood was pulled down over her head. Her panting breath made the thin fabric jump like the breast of a terrified bird, and her wrists began to turn and jerk against their cuffs as the noose was lowered over the hood, snugged down about her throat, and adjusted with the knot behind one ear.
   The guards released her and stood back. Her faceless figure swayed as the fully understandable terror of what was about to happen weakened her knees, and then the colonel spoke. His voice was harsh and gruff, yet there was an edge of compassion in it, like the tone of a man who dislikes what duty requires of him.
   "Honor Stephanie Harrington, you have been convicted of the high crime against the People of premeditated murder. The sentence of the court is death, to be carried out this day. Do you wish to say anything at this time?"
   The prisoner shook her head convulsively, chest leaping as she hyperventilated in terror, and the colonel nodded silently. He didn't speak again. He only reached out his foot and stepped firmly on the floor pedal with a heavy thrust of merciful quickness.
   The sound as the trapdoor opened was a loud, shocking thunk! and the grisly sound as the prisoner's weight hit the end of the rope was horribly clear. There was a short, explosive spit of air—a last, agonized gasp for breath, cut off in the instant of its birth—and then the brown-haired woman jerked once, hugely and convulsively, as the rope snapped her neck.
   The body hung limp, turning in a slow circle while the rope creaked, and the camera held on it for at least ten seconds. Then the HD went blank once more, and Huertes' soft contralto spoke from the blackness.
   "This is Joan Huertes, INS, reporting from Nouveau Paris," it said quietly. The heartrending keen of thirteen treecats answered it, and the soft weeping of Miranda LaFollet and James MacGuiness, and Allison Harrington reached out a trembling hand to touch her husband's hair as his armor of denial crumbled at last and he fell to his knees beside her while he sobbed into her lap.

Book One

Chapter One

   A Sphinxian would have considered the raw, autumn wind no more than brisk, but it was cold for this far south on the planet of Manticore. It swept in off Jason Bay, snapping and popping at the half-masted flags above the dense, silent crowds which lined the procession's route from Capital Field into the center of the City of Landing. Aside from the wind noise, and the whip-crack pops of the flags, the only sounds were the slow, mournful tap, tap, tap of a single drum, the clatter of anachronistic hooves, and the rattle of equally anachronistic iron-rimmed wheels.
   Captain Junior-Grade Rafael Cardones marched at the horses' heads, his spine, ramrod straight, and his eyes fixed straight ahead as he led them down the stopped-time stillness of King Roger I Boulevard between lines of personnel from every branch of the service, all with black armbands and reversed arms. The crowd watched in unnatural, frozen stillness, and the solitary drummer—a fourth-term midshipwoman from Saganami Island in full mess dress uniform—marched directly behind the black-draped caisson. The amplified sound of her drum echoed back from the speaker atop each flagpole, and every HD receiver in the Manticoran Binary System carried the images, and the sounds, and the silence which somehow seemed to surround and swallow them both.
   A midshipman from the same form walked behind the drummer, leading a third horse—this one coal black, saddled, with two boots reversed in the stirrups—and more people followed him, but not a great many. A single, black-skinned woman in the uniform of a captain of the list and the white beret of a starship commander walked behind the horse, gloved hands holding the jeweled scabbard of the Harrington Sword rigidly upright before her. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, the sword's gems flashed in the fragile sunlight, and eight admirals—Sir James Bowie Webster, CO Home Fleet, and all seven uniformed Lords of the Admiralty—were at her heels. That was all. It was a tiny procession compared to the pomp and majesty the stage managers of the People's Republic might have achieved, but it was enough, for those twelve people and those three horses were the only sight and sound and movement in a city of over eleven million human beings.
   Hats and caps were removed throughout the crowds of mourners, sometimes awkwardly, with an almost embarrassed air, as the cortege passed, and Allen Summervale, Duke of Cromarty and Prime Minister of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, stood beside Queen Elizabeth III on the steps of the Royal Cathedral and watched the slow-moving column approach. Very few of those watching the wheeled conveyance pass by had known what a "caisson" was before the newsies covering the funeral told them. Even fewer had known that such vehicles had once been used to tow artillery back on Old Earth—Cromarty had known only because one of his boyhood friends was a military history buff—or the significance they held for military funerals. But every one of those spectators knew the coffin the caisson bore was empty. That the body of the woman whose funeral they had come to share would never be returned to the soil of her native kingdom for burial. But that was not because she had been vaporized in the fury of naval combat or left to drift, forever lost in space, like so many of Manticore's sons and daughters, and despite the solemnity, and the quiet, and the grief flowing on the cold wind, Cromarty felt the anger and the fierce, steady power of the mourner's fury pulsing in time with the drum.
   A sound like ripping cloth and distant thunder grumbled down from the heavens, and eyes rose from the procession as five Javelin advanced trainers from Kreskin Field at Saganami Island swept overhead. Bold, white contrails followed them across the autumn-washed blue sky, and then one of them pulled up, climbing away from the others, vanishing into the brilliant sun like a fleeing spirit, in the ancient "missing man" formation pilots had used for over two thousand years to mark the passing of one of their own.
   The other four planes crossed directly over the cortege. Then they, too, disappeared, and Cromarty drew a deep breath and suppressed the urge to look over his shoulder. It wasn't really necessary, for he knew what he would see. The leaders of every political party, Lords and Commons alike, stood behind him and his monarch and her family, representing the solidarity of the entire Star Kingdom in this moment of loss and outrage.
   Of course, he thought with carefully hidden bitterness, some of them are here only because it is a funeral.Well, that and the fact that none of them quite dared turn down Elizabeth's "invitation." He managed not to snort in disgust and reminded himself that a lifetime in politics had made him cynical. No doubt it has. But I know as well as Elizabeth does that some of those people behind us are delighted by what the Peeps've done. They just can't admit it, because the voters would tear them apart at the polls if they did.
   He drew another deep breath as the procession finally entered the square before King Michael's Cathedral. The Star Kingdom's constitution specifically prohibited the establishment of an official state religion, but the House of Winton had been Second Reformation Roman Catholics for the last four centuries. King Michael had begun the construction of the cathedral which now bore his own name out of the royal family's private fortune in 65 After Landing—1528 Post Diaspora, by the reckoning of humanity at large—and every member of the royal family had been buried there since. The Star Kingdom's last state burial in King Michael's had been thirty-nine T-years before, after the death of King Roger III. Only eleven people from outside the royal house had ever been "interred" there, and of that eleven, three of the crypts were empty.
   As the twelfth non-Winton crypt would be, Cromarty thought grimly, for he doubted, somehow, that Honor Harrington's body would ever be recovered, even after the People's Republic's defeat. But she would be in fitting company even then, he told himself, for the empty crypt which would be hers lay between the equally empty crypts of Edward Saganami and Ellen D'Orville.
   The procession stopped before the cathedral, and a picked honor guard of senior Navy and Marine noncoms marched down the steps in perfect, metronome unison, timed by the endless, grieving taps of the drum. A petite, black-haired Marine colonel followed them, her movements equally exact despite a slight limp, and saluted the captain with the sword with parade-ground precision. Then she took the sheathed blade in her own gloved hands, executed a perfect about-face while the honor guard slid the empty coffin from the caisson, and led them back up the steps at the slow march.
   The drummer followed, still tapping out her slow, grieving tempo, until her heel touched the very threshold of the Cathedral. Then the drumbeats stopped, in the instant that her foot came down, and the rich, weeping music of Salvatore Hammerwell's "Lament for Beauty Lost" welled from the speakers in its stead.
   Cromarty inhaled deeply, then turned to face the mourners behind him at last. Queen Elizabeth headed them, with Prince Consort Justin, Crown Prince Roger and his sister, Princess Joanna, and Queen Mother Angelique. Elizabeth's aunt, Duchess Caitrin Winton-Henke, and her husband Edward Henke, the Earl of Gold Peak, stood just behind them, flanked by their son Calvin and Elizabeth's two uncles, Duke Aidan and Duke Jeptha, and Aidan's wife Anna. Captain Michelle Henke joined her parents and older brother after surrendering the sword at the foot of the Cathedral's steps, and the Queen's immediate family was complete. Only her younger brother, Prince Michael, was absent, for he was a Navy commander, and his ship was currently stationed at Trevor's Star.
   Cromarty bowed to his monarch and swept one arm at the cathedral doors in formal invitation, and Elizabeth bent her own head in reply. Then she turned, and she and her husband led the glittering crowd of official mourners up the stairs and into the music behind the coffin.
* * *
   "God, I hate funerals. Especially ones for people like Lady Harrington." Cromarty looked up at Lord William Alexander's quiet, bitter observation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the number-two man in Cromarty's cabinet, stood holding a plate of hors d'ouerves while he surveyed the flow and eddy of people about them, and the corners of Cromarty's mouth twitched. Now why, he wondered, was food always a part of any wake?
   Could it be that the act of eating encourages us to believe life goes on? Is it really that simple?
   He brushed the thought aside and glanced around. The protocolists' official choreography for the funeral and its aftermath had run its course. For the first time in what seemed like days, and despite the crowd about them, he and Alexander actually had something approximating privacy. It wouldn't last, of course. Someone would notice the two of them standing against the wall and come sweeping down on them to discuss some absolutely vital bit of politics or governmental business. But for now there were no eavesdropping ears to fear, and the Prime Minister allowed himself a weary sigh.
   "I hate them, too," he admitted, equally quietly. "I wonder how the one on Grayson went?"
   "Probably a lot like ours... only more so," Alexander replied.
   In what was very possibly a first, the Protectorate of Grayson and the Star Kingdom of Manticore had orchestrated simultaneous state funerals for the same person. The concept of simultaneity might strike some as a bit pointless for planets thirty light-years apart, but Queen Elizabeth and Protector Benjamin had been adamant. And the fact that there was no body had actually simplified matters, for there had been no point in arguing over which of Honor Harrington's home worlds she would be buried upon.
   "I was surprised the Protector let us borrow the Harrington Sword for our funeral," Cromarty said. "Grateful, of course, but surprised."
   "It wasn't really his decision," Alexander pointed out. As Cromarty's political executive officer, he had been responsible for coordinating with Grayson through the Protector's ambassador to Manticore, and he was much more conversant with the details than Cromarty had had time enough to make himself. "The sword belongs to Harrington Steading and Steadholder Harrington, which meant the decision was Lord Clinkscales', not the Protector's. Not that Clinkscales would have argued with Benjamin—especially with her parents signing off on the request. Besides, they would've had to use two swords if they'd kept hers." Cromarty raised an eyebrow, and Alexander shrugged. "She was Benjamin's Champion, as well, Allen. That made their Sword of State 'hers,' as well."
   "I hadn't thought of that," Cromarty said, rubbing one eyebrow wearily, and Alexander snorted softly.
   "It's not like you haven't had a few other things on your mind."
   "True. Too damned true, unfortunately." Cromarty sighed again. "What have you heard from Hamish about his take on the Graysons' mood? I don't mind telling you that their ambassador scared the hell out of me when he delivered their official condolences, and the Protector's personal message to the Queen could've been processed for laser heads. I was distinctly glad that I wasn't a Peep after I viewed it!"
   "I'm not surprised a bit." Alexander glanced around again, reassuring himself that no one was in a position to overhear, then looked at Cromarty. "That bastard Boardman played his 'no retaliation' card too damned well for my taste," he growled with profound disgust. "Even the neutrals who are usually most revolted by the Peeps' actions expect us, as the 'good guys,' to refrain from any kind of reprisals. But from what Hamish says, the entire Grayson Space Navy is all set to provide as much grist for the Peep propaganda mill as Ransom and her bunch could possibly hope for."
   "Hamish thinks they'd actually abuse prisoners of war?" Cromarty sounded genuinely shocked, despite his own earlier words, for such behavior would be completely at odds with Grayson's normal codes of conduct.
   "No, he doesn't expect them to 'abuse' their prisoners," Alexander said grimly. "He's afraid they'll simply refuse to take any after this." Cromarty's eyebrows rose, and Alexander laughed mirthlessly. "Our entire population has come together, at least temporarily, because the Peeps murdered one of our finest naval officers, Allen. But Harrington wasn't just an officer, however outstanding, to the Graysons. She was some kind of living icon for them... and they aren't taking it very calmly."
   "But if we get into some sort of vicious circle of reprisal and counter-reprisal, the situation will play right into the Peeps' hands!"
   "Of course it will. Hell, Allen, half the newsies in the Solarian League are already mouthpieces for the Peeps! Pierre's official line on domestic policy is much more palatable to the Solly establishment than a monarchy is. Never mind that we've got a participating democracy, as well, and the Peeps don't. Or that the official Peep line bears about as much resemblance to reality as I do to an HD heart-throb! They're a 'republic,' and we're a 'kingdom,' and any good oatmeal-brained Solly ideologue knows 'republics' are good guys and 'kingdoms' are bad guys! Besides, INS and Reuters funnel Peep propaganda straight onto the airwaves completely uncut."
   "That's not quite fair—" Cromarty began, but Alexander cut him off with a savage snort.
   "Bushwah, to use one of Hamish's favorite phrases! They don't even tell their viewers the Peeps are censoring every single report coming out of Haven or any other branch of the 'Office of Public Information,' and you know it as well as I do! But they sure as hell scream about it whenever we do the same thing to purely military reports!"
   "Agreed, agreed!" Cromarty waved one hand, urging Alexander to lower his steadily rising volume, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer looked around quickly. His expression was a trifle abashed, but the anger in his blue eyes burned as brightly as ever. And he was right, Cromarty thought. Neither INS nor Reuters ever called the Peeps on their censorship... or, for that matter, on obviously staged "news events." But that was because they'd seen what happened when United Faxes Intragalactic insisted on noting that reports from the People's Republic were routinely censored. Eleven UFI staffers had been arrested for "espionage against the People," deported, and permanently barred from ever again entering Havenite space, and all of their reporters had been expelled from the core worlds of the Republic. Now they had to make do with secondary feeds and independent stringers' reports relayed through their remaining offices in the Havenite hinterland, and everyone knew the real reason for that. But no one had dared report it lest they find themselves equally excluded from one of the galaxy's hottest news zones.
   The Star Kingdom had protested the conspiracy of silence, of course. In fact, Cromarty himself had argued vehemently with the Reuters and INS bureau chiefs in the Star Kingdom, but without effect. The bureau heads insisted that there was no need to inform viewers of censorship or staged news. The public was smart enough to recognize a put-up job when it saw one, and standing on principle over the issue would simply get them evicted from the Republic as well. Which, they pointed out somberly, would leave only Public Information's version of events there, with no independent reporting at all to keep its propaganda in check. Personally, Cromarty thought their highly principled argument in favor of "independent reporting," like their supposed faith in the discrimination of their viewers, was no more than a smokescreen for the all important ratings struggle, but what he thought didn't matter. Unless the Star Kingdom and the Manticoran Alliance wanted to try some equally heavy-handed version of "information management"—which their own news establishment would never tolerate—he had no way to retaliate. And nothing short of some sort of retaliation was going to grow the Solarian League's newsies a backbone.
   "At least they're giving the funeral equal coverage," the Duke said after a moment. "That has to count for something—even with Sollies!"
   "For about three days, maybe," Alexander agreed with another, scarcely less bitter snort. "Then something else will come along to chase it out of their public's infinitesimal attention span, and we'll be right back to the damage those gutless wonders are inflicting on us."
   Cromarty felt a genuine flicker of alarm. He'd known the Alexander brothers since childhood, and he'd had more exposure to the famous Alexander temper than he might have wished. Yet this sort of frustrated, barely suppressed fury was most unlike William.
   "I think you may be overreacting, Willie," the Duke said after a moment. Alexander eyed him grimly, and he went on, choosing his words with care. "Certainly we have legitimate reason to feel the Solarian news services are letting themselves be used by the Peeps, but I suspect their bureau chiefs are right, at least to an extent. Most Sollies probably do realize the Peeps often lie and take reports from the PRH with a largish grain of salt."
   "Not according to the polls," Alexander said flatly. He looked around once more and leaned even closer to Cromarty, dropping his voice. "I got the latest results this morning, Allen. Two more Solarian League member governments have announced their opposition to the embargo and called for a vote to consider its suspension, and according to UFI's latest numbers, we've lost another point and a quarter in the public opinion polls, as well. And the longer the Peeps go on hammering away at their lies and no one calls them on it, the worse it's going to get. Hell, Allen! The truth tends to be awkward, messy, and complicated, but a well-orchestrated lie is almost always more consistent—or coherent, at least—and a hell of a lot 'simpler,' and Cordelia Ransom knows it. Her Public Information stooges work from a script that's had all its rough edges filed away so completely it doesn't bear much relationship to reality, but it sure as hell reads well, especially for people who've never found themselves on the Peeps' list of intended victims. And in a crazy sort of way, the fact that we keep winning battles only makes it even more acceptable to the Sollies. It's almost as if every battle we win somehow turns the Peeps more and more into the 'underdogs,' for God's sake!"
   "Maybe," Cromarty agreed, then half-raised a hand as Alexander's eyes flashed. "All right, probably! But half the League governments have always been ticked off with us over the embargo, Willie. You know how much they resented the economic arm-twisting I had to do! Do you really think they need Peep propaganda to inspire them to speak up about it?"
   "Of course not! But that's not the point, Allen. The point is that the polls indicate that we're drawing more fire from the member governments because we're losing support among the voters and the governments know that. For that matter, we've lost another third of a point right here in the Star Kingdom. Or we had, until the Peeps murdered Harrington."
   His face twisted with the last sentence, as if with mingled shame for adding the qualifier and anger that it was true, but he met Cromarty's eyes steadily, and the Prime Minister sighed. He was right, of course. Oh, the slippage was minor so far, but the war had raged for eight T-years. Public support had been high when it began, and it was still holding firm at well about seventy percent—so far. Yet even though the Royal Manticoran Navy and its allies had won virtually every important battle, there was no sign of an end in sight, and the Star Kingdom's much lower absolute casualty figures were far higher than the Peeps' relative to its total population, while the strain of the conflict was beginning to slow even an economy as powerful and diversified as Manticore's. There was still optimism and a hard core of determination, but neither optimism nor determination were as powerful as they had been. And that, little though he cared to admit it even to himself, was one reason Cromarty had pressed for a state funeral for Honor Harrington. She'd certainly deserved it, and Queen Elizabeth had been even more adamant than he had, but the temptation to use her death to draw the Manticoran public together behind the war once more—to use a cold-blooded atrocity to make them personally determined to defeat the People's Republic—had been irresistible for the man charged with fighting that war.
   I guess that's why the tradition of waving the bloody shirt is so durable, he reflected grimly. It works. But he didn't have to like it, and he understood the tangled emotions so poorly hidden behind Alexander's eyes.
   "I know," he sighed finally. "And you're right. And there's not a damned thing I can see to do about it except beat the holy living hell out of the bastards once and for all."
   "Agreed," Alexander said, then managed a smile of sorts. "And from Hamish's last letter, I'd say he and the Graysons, between them, are just about ready to do exactly that. With bells on."
* * *
   At that very moment, almost thirty light-years from Manticore, Hamish Alexander, Thirteenth Earl of White Haven, sat in his palatial day cabin aboard the superdreadnought GNS Benjamin the Great and stared at an HD of his own. A glass of bonded Terran whiskey sat in his right hand, forgotten while steadily melting ice thinned the expensive liquor, and his blue eyes were bleak as he watched the replay of the afternoon's services from Saint Austin's Cathedral. Reverend Jeremiah Sullivan had personally led the solemn liturgy for the dead, and the clouds of incense, the richly embroidered vestments and sternly, sorrowfully beautiful music, were a threadbare mask for the snarling hatred which hid behind them.
   No, that's not fair, White Haven thought wearily, remembering his drink at last and taking a sip of the watered-down whiskey. The hate's there, all right, but they really did manage to put it aside, somehow—for the length of the services, at least. But now that they've mourned her, they intend to avenge her, and that could be... messy.
   He set his glass down, picked up the remote, and went surfing through the channels, and every one of them was the same. Every cathedral on the planet, and virtually all of the smaller churches, as well, had celebrated the liturgy for the dead simultaneously, for Grayson was a planet which took its relationship with God—and its duty to Him—seriously. And as White Haven flipped his way past service after service, he felt the cold, hard iron of Grayson deep in his soul, too. Yet he was honest with himself, as well, and he knew why the iron was there. Why he was even more determined than they, perhaps, to avenge Honor Harrington's murder.
   For he knew something neither the people of Grayson, nor his brother, nor his monarch, nor anyone else in the entire universe knew, and however hard he fought to, he could not forget it.
   He knew he was the one who had driven her out to die.

Chapter Two

   It was very late, and Leonard Boardman really should have been on his way home for a well-earned drink before supper. Instead, he leaned back in his comfortable chair and felt a fresh glow of pride as he watched the HD in his office replay Honor Harrington's execution yet again. It was, he admitted with becoming modesty, a true work of art—and well it should be, after over two weeks of fine-tuning by Public Information's best programmers. Boardman wouldn't have had a clue where to start on the technical aspects of building something like that, yet it had been his script and direction which the special effects experts had followed, and he was well-satisfied with his handiwork.
   He watched it all the way through again, then switched off the HD with a small smile. Those few minutes of imagery not only filled him with a craftsman's satisfaction; they also represented a major victory over First Deputy Director of Public Information Eleanor Younger. Younger had wanted to seize the opportunity to attack Manty morale by having their computer-generated Harrington blubber, beg for mercy, and fight her executioners madly as she was dragged to the scaffold, but Boardman had held out against her arguments. They had plenty of file imagery of other executions to use as a basis, and they'd had stacks of HD chips of Harrington from the imagery Cordelia Ransom had shipped home to Haven before her unfortunate departure—in every sense of the word—for the Cerberus System. The techs had been confident that they could generate a virtual Harrington which would do anything Younger wanted and defy detection as a fake—after all, they'd produced enough "corrected" imagery over the last T-century—yet Boardman had been less certain. The Solarian news services had proven themselves too credulous to run checks on those corrections, but the Manties' were much more skeptical. And their computer capability was better across the board than the People's Republic's, so if they saw any reason to subject the imagery to intensive analysis, they were all too likely to realize it was a fraud. But by letting her die with dignity—with just enough physical evidence of terror to undermine her reputation as some sort of fearless superhero—Boardman had executed a much subtler attack on Manty morale... and given it that ring of reality which should preclude any analysis. After all, if someone was going to go to all the trouble of producing false imagery, then surely they would have taken the opportunity to make their victim look smaller and more contemptible, wouldn't they? But they hadn't. This imagery felt right, without heaping gratuitous belittlement on Harrington's memory, which meant it offered nothing to make anyone on the other side question or doubt it for a moment.
   That was important to Boardman as a matter of pride in workmanship, but even more significantly, his victory over Younger had to have strengthened his chances of outmaneuvering her to succeed Cordelia Ransom as Secretary of Public Information. He didn't fool himself into believing Ransom's successor would also inherit the power she had wielded within the Committee of Public Safety, but just the ministry itself would enormously enhance Boardman's personal power... and, with it, his chance of surviving and even prospering in the snake pit atmosphere of the city of Nouveau Paris.
   Of course, the additional responsibilities which that power and authority would entail would pose fresh perils of their own, but every member of the bureaucracy's upper echelons faced that sort of hazard every day. The Committee of Public Safety and, especially, the Office of State Security, had a nasty habit of removing those who disappointed them... permanently. It wasn't as bad as it was in the military (or had been, before Esther McQueen took over as Secretary of War), but everyone knew someone who had vanished into StateSec's clutches for lack of performance in the People's cause.