Ashes of Victory

( 40 )

Overview

The People's Republic of Haven made a tiny mistake when it announced the execution of Honor Harrington. It seemed safe enough. After all, they knew she was already dead. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Now Honor has escaped from the prison planet called Hell and returned to the Manticoran Alliance with a few friends. Almost half a million of them, to be precise … including some who know what really happened when the Committee of Public Safety seized power in the PRH. Honor's return from the dead comes at a ...
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Ashes of Victory

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Overview

The People's Republic of Haven made a tiny mistake when it announced the execution of Honor Harrington. It seemed safe enough. After all, they knew she was already dead. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Now Honor has escaped from the prison planet called Hell and returned to the Manticoran Alliance with a few friends. Almost half a million of them, to be precise … including some who know what really happened when the Committee of Public Safety seized power in the PRH. Honor's return from the dead comes at a critical time, providing a huge, much-needed lift for the Allies' morale, for the war is rapidly entering a decisive phase. Both sides believe that victory lies within their grasp at last, but dangers no one could foresee await them both. New weapons, new strategies, new tactics, spies, diplomacy, and assassination … all are coming into deadly focus, and Honor Harrington, the woman the newsies call "the Salamander," once more finds herself at the heart of them all. But this time, the furnace may be too furious for even a salamander to survive.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469281124
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 7/1/2013
  • Series: Honor Harrington Series , #9
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 1,362,658
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

David Weber
"A lifetime military history buff, David Weber has carried his interest in history into his fiction.  In the New York Times best selling Honor Harrington series, the spirit of both C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and history's Admiral Nelson are evident.  With over five million copies of his books in print, David Weber is the fastest rising star in the Science Fiction universe.  His Honor Harrington series boasts over 3 million copies in print, and Weber has had over thirteen of his titles on The New York Times Best Seller List.  War of Honor, book 10 in the series appeared on over twelve Best Seller lists, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA TODAY.
While he is best known for his spirited, modern-minded space operas, he has also developed a fantasy series, of which two books have been published:  Oath of Swords and The War God's Own.  David's solo work also includes three novels of the ""Dahak"" series, and the stand alone novels:  Path of the Fury and The Excalibur Alternative.
Weber's first published novels grew out of his work as a war game designer for the Task Force game Starfire.  With collaborator Steve White, Weber has written four novels set in that universe: Insurrection, Crusade, In Death Ground, and The Shiva Option. 
Recent bestsellers in planetary adventures also include the teamwork of John Ringo in the best selling Empire of Man series where the titles March Upcountry, March to the Sea, March to the Stars and We Few have made appearances on The New York Times List.
Weber's proliferation continues with author Eric Flint, where they joined forces in the Best Selling ""Ring of Fire"" alternate history series, for 1634: The Baltic War, coming in May.
A popular guest at science fiction conventions, Weber makes his home in South Carolina with his wife Sharon, three children and a passel of dogs."
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Admiral Lady Dame Honor Harrington stood in the gallery of ESN Farnese's boat bay and tried not to reel as the silent emotional hurricane thundered about her.

She gazed through the armorplast of the gallery bulkhead into the brilliantly lit, perfect clarity of the bay itself, and tried to use its sterile serenity as a sort of mental shield against the tempest. It didn't help a great deal, but at least she didn't have to face it alone, and she felt the living side of her mouth quirk in a wry smile as the six-limbed treecat in the carrier on her back shifted uneasily, ears half-flattened as the same vortex battered at him. Like the rest of his empathic species, he remained far more sensitive to others' emotions than she, and he seemed torn between a frantic need to escape the sheer intensity of the moment and a sort of euphoric high driven by an excess of everyone else's endorphins.

At least the two of them had had plenty of practice, she reminded herself. The stunned moment when her people realized their scratch-built, jury-rigged, half-derisively self proclaimed "Elysian Space Navy" had destroyed an entire Peep task force and captured the shipping to take every prisoner who wanted to leave the prison planet of Hades to safety lay over three standard weeks behind them. She'd thought, then, that nothing could ever equal the explosion of triumph which had swept her ex-Peep flagship at that instant, but in its own way, the emotional storm seething about her now was even stronger. It had had longer to build on the voyage from the prison the entire People's Republic of Haven had regarded as the most escape-proof facility in human historyto freedom, and anticipation had fanned its strength. For some of the escapees, like Captain Harriet Benson, the CO of ENS Kutuzov, over sixty T-years had passed since they'd breathed the air of a free planet. Those people could never return to the lives they'd left behind, but their need to begin building new ones blazed within them. Nor were they alone in their impatience. Even those who'd spent the least time in the custody of the Office of State Security longed to see loved ones once more, and unlike the escapees who'd spent decades on the planet inmates called "Hell," they could pick up the threads of the lives they'd feared they would never see again.

Yet that hunger to begin anew was tempered by a matching emotion which might almost have been called regret. An awareness that somehow they had become part of a tale which would be told and retold, and, undoubtedly, grow still greater in the tellings ... and that all tales end.

They knew the impossible odds they had surmounted to reach this moment, in this boat bay gallery, in this star system. And because they did, they also knew that all the embellishments with which the tale would be improved upon over the years--by themselves, as likely as not--would be unnecessary, peripheral and unimportant to the reality.

And that was what they regretted: the fact that when they left Farnese, they would also leave behind the companions with whom they had built that tale's reality. The unvoiced awareness that it was not given to human beings to touch such moments, save fleetingly. The memory of who they'd been and what they'd done would be with them always, yet it would be only memory, never again reality. And as the heart-stopping fear and terror faded, the reality would become even more precious and unattainable to them.

That was what truly gave the emotions whirling about her their strength ... and focused that strength upon her, for she was their leader, and that made her the symbol of their joy and bittersweet regret alike.

It was also horribly embarrassing, and the fact that none of them knew she could sense their emotions only made it worse. It was as if she stood outside their windows, listening to whispered conversations they'd never meant to share with her, and the fact that she had no choice--that she could no longer not sense the feelings of those about her--only made her feel perversely guilty when she did.

Yet what bothered her most was that she could never return what they had given her. They thought she was the one who'd achieved so much, but they were wrong. They were the ones who'd done it by doing all and more than all she'd asked of them. They'd come from the military forces of dozens of star nations, emerging from what the Peeps had contemptuously believed was the dustbin of history to hand their tormentors what might well prove the worst defeat in the history of the People's Republic. Not in tonnage destroyed, or star systems conquered, but in something far more precious because it was intangible, for they had delivered a potential deathblow to the terror of omnipotence which was so much a part of State Security's repressive arsenal.

And they'd done it for her. She'd tried to express even a fraction of the gratitude she felt, but she knew she'd failed. They lacked the sense she'd developed, the ability to feel the reality behind the clumsy interface of human language, and all her efforts had made not a dent in the storm of devotion pouring back at her.

If only--

A clear, musical chime--not loud, but penetrating--broke into her thoughts and she drew a deep breath as the first pinnace began its final approach. There were other small craft behind it, including dozens of pinnaces from the three squadrons of the wall which had come to meet Farnese and more than a dozen heavy-lift personnel shuttles from the planet San Martin. They queued up behind the lead pinnace, waiting their turns, and she tried not to let her relief show as she thought about them. She and Warner Caslet, Farnese's exec, had packed the battlecruiser, like all the other ships of the ESN, to the deckheads to get all of the escapees aboard. The massive redundancy designed into warship life-support systems had let them carry the overload (barely), but it had done nothing about the physical crowding, and the systems themselves were in serious need of maintenance after so long under such heavy demand. The personnel shuttles outside the boat bay were but the first wave of craft which would transport her people from the packed-sardine environment of their battlecruiser to the mountainous surface of San Martin. The planet's heavy gravity scarcely qualified it as a vacation resort, but at least it had plenty of room. And after twenty-four T-days crammed into Farnese's overcrowded berthing spaces, a little thing like weighing twice one's proper weight would be a minor price for the glorious luxury of room in which to stretch without putting a thumb into someone else's eye.

But even as she felt her crew eagerly anticipating the end of its confinement, her own attention was locked upon the lead pinnace, for she knew whose it was. Over two T-years had passed since she'd last faced the officer to whom it belonged, and she'd thought she'd put her treacherously ambiguous feelings about that officer aside. Now she knew she'd been wrong, for her own emotions were even more confused and turbulent than those of the people about her as she waited to greet him once again.

Admiral of the Green Hamish Alexander, Earl of White Haven and Commanding Officer, Eighth Fleet, forced his face to remain immobile as GNS Benjamin the Great's pinnace approached rendezvous with the battlecruiser his flagship had come to meet. ENS Farnese--and just what the hell is an "ENS?" he wondered. That's something else I should have asked her--was a Warlord-class unit. The big ship floated against the needle-sharp stars, well out from San Martin, where no unauthorized eye might see her and note her Peep origin. The time to acknowledge her presence would come, but not yet, he thought, gazing through the view port at the ship logic said could not be there. No, not yet.

Farnese retained the lean, arrogant grace of her battlecruiser breed, despite the fact that she was even larger than the Royal Manticoran Navy's Reliant-class. Small compared to his superdreadnought flagship, of course, but still a big, powerful unit. He'd heard about the Warlords, read the ONI analyses and appreciations of the class, even seen them destroyed in combat with units under his own command. But this was the first time he'd ever come close enough to see one with the unaided human eye. To be honest, it was closer than he'd ever anticipated he might come, except perhaps in that unimaginable time somewhere in the distant reaches of a future in which peace had come once more to this section of the galaxy.

Which isn't going to happen any time soon, he reminded himself grimly from behind the fortress of his face. And if I'd ever had any happy illusions in that respect, just looking at Farnese would disabuse me of them in a hurry.

His jaw set as his pilot, obedient to his earlier orders, swept down the big ship's starboard side and he studied her damage. Her heavy, multilayered armor was actually buckled. The boundary layers of antikinetic armor seemed to have slagged and run; the inner, ablative layers sandwiched between them were bubbled and charred looking; and the sensors and antimissile laser clusters which once had guarded Farnese's flank were gutted. White Haven would have been surprised if half her starboard weapons remained functional, and her starboard sidewall generators couldn't possibly have generated any realistic defense against hostile fire.

Just like her, he thought moodily, almost angrily. Why in Christ's name can the woman never bring a ship back intact? What the hell is it that makes her--

He chopped the thought off again, and this time he felt his mouth twist in sardonic amusement. His was not, he reflected, the proper mood for an officer of his seniority at a moment like this. Up until--he glanced at his chrono--seven hours and twenty-three minutes earlier, he, like all the rest of the Manticoran Alliance, had known Honor Harrington was dead. Like everyone else, he'd seen the grisly HD of her execution, and even now he shuddered as he recalled the ghastly moment when the gallows trapdoor sprang and her body--

He shied away from that image and closed his eyes, nostrils flaring while he concentrated on another image, this one on his own com less than eight hours earlier. A strong, gracefully carved, half-paralyzed face, framed in a short mop of half-tamed curls. A face he had never imagined he would see again.

He blinked and inhaled deeply once again. A billion questions teemed in his brain, put there by the raw impossibility of Honor Harrington's survival, and he knew he was not alone in that. When word of this broke, every newsie in Alliance space--and half of those in Solly space, no doubt, he thought--would descend upon whatever hiding places Honor or any of the people with her might have found. They would ask, plead, bully, bribe, probably even threaten in their efforts to winnow out every detail of their quarry's incredible story. But even though those same questions burned in his own mind, they were secondary, almost immaterial, compared to the simple fact of her survival.

And not, he admitted, simply because she was one of the most outstanding naval officers of her generation and a priceless military asset which had been returned to the Alliance literally from beyond the grave.

His pinnace arced down under the turn of Farnese's flank to approach the boat bay, and as he felt the gentle shudder when the tractors captured the tiny craft, Hamish Alexander took himself firmly in hand. He'd screwed up somehow once before, let slip some hint of his sudden awareness that the woman who'd been his protégée for over a decade had become something far more to him than a brilliant junior officer and an asset of the Royal Manticoran Navy. He still had no idea how he'd given himself away, but he knew he had. He'd felt the awkwardness between them and known she'd returned to active duty early in an effort to escape that awkwardness. And for two years, he'd lived with the knowledge that her early return to duty was what had sent her into the Peep ambush in which she had been captured ... and sentenced to death.

It had burned like acid, that knowledge, and he'd watched the Peep broadcast of her execution as an act of self-punishing penance. In an odd way, her death had freed him to face his feelings for her ... which only made things immeasurably worse now that he knew she wasn't dead, of course. He had no business loving someone little more than half his age, who'd never shown the least romantic interest in him. Especially not while he was married to another woman whom he still loved deeply and passionately, despite the injuries which had confined her to a life-support chair for almost fifty T-years. No honorable man would have let that happen, yet he had, and he'd been too self-honest to deny it once his face had been rubbed sufficiently in it.

Or I like to think I'm too "self-honest" to lie to myself, he thought mordantly as the tractors urged the pinnace from the outer darkness into the illuminated boat bay. Of course, I had to wait until she was safely dead before I got around to that sudden burst of honesty. But I did get there in the end ... damn it.

The pinnace rolled on thrusters and gyros, settling towards the docking buffers, and he made himself a silent promise. Whatever he might feel, Honor Harrington was a woman of honor. He might not be able to help his own emotions, but he could damned well see to it that she never knew about them, and he would. That much he could still do.

The pinnace touched down, the docking arms and umbilical locked, and Hamish Alexander pushed himself up out of his comfortable seat. He looked at his reflection in the view port's armorplast and studied his expression as he smiled. Amazing how natural that smile looked, he thought, and nodded to his reflection, then squared his shoulders and turned towards the hatch.

A green light glowed above the docking tube, indicating a good seal and pressure, and Honor tucked her hand behind her as the gallery-side hatch slid back. It was amazing how awkward it was to decide what to do with a single hand when it had no mate to meet it halfway, but she brushed that thought aside and nodded to Major Chezno. The senior officer of Farnese's Marine detachment nodded back, then turned on his heel to face the honor guard drawn up behind the side party.

"Honor guard, attenn-hut!" he barked, and hands slapped the butts of ex-Peep pulse rifles as the ex-prisoners snapped to parade-ground attention. Honor watched them with a proprietary air and wasn't even tempted to smile. No doubt some people would have found it absurd for men and women packed into their ship like emergency rations in a tin to waste time polishing and perfecting their ceremonial drill, especially when they all knew they would be broken up again once they reached their destination. But it hadn't been absurd to Farnese's ship's company ... or to Honor Harrington.

I suppose it's our way of declaring who and what we are. We're not simply escaped prisoners, huddled together like sheep while we run from the wolves. We are the "wolves" of this piece, and we, by God, want the universe to know it! She snorted in amusement, not at her Marines and their drill, but at herself, and shook her head. I think I may be just a wee bit guilty of hubris where these people are concerned.

The Navy side party snapped to attention as the first passenger floated down the tube, and Honor drew another deep breath and braced herself. The Royal Manticoran Navy's tradition was that the senior passenger was last to board and first to exit a small craft, and she knew who she would see well before the tall, broad-shouldered man in the impeccable black-and-gold of an RMN admiral caught the grab bar and swung himself from the tube's weightlessness into the gallery's one standard gravity.

Bosun's pipes twittered--the old-fashioned, lung-powered kind, out of deference to the traditionalists among the Elysian Space Navy's personnel--and the admiral came to attention and saluted Farnese's executive officer, standing at the head of the side party. Despite sixty years of naval service, the admiral was unable to conceal his surprise, and Honor could hardly blame him. Indeed, she felt an urchinlike grin threatening the disciplined facade of her own expression at the sight. She'd deliberately failed to mention her exec's identity during the com exchanges which had established her ships' bona fides for the Trevor's Star defensive forces. The Earl of White Haven deserved some surprises, after all, and the last thing he could possibly have expected to see aboard this ship was a side party headed by a man in the dress uniform of the People's Navy.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Admiral Lady Dame Honor Harrington stood in the gallery of ENS Farnese's boat bay and tried not to reel as the silent emotional hurricane thundered about her.

She gazed through the armorplast of the gallery bulkhead into the brilliantly lit, perfect clarity of the bay itself, and tried to use its sterile serenity as a sort of mental shield against the tempest. It didn't help a great deal, but at least she didn't have to face it alone, and she felt the living side of her mouth quirk in a wry smile as the six-limbed treecat in the carrier on her back shifted uneasily, ears half-flattened as the same vortex battered at him. Like the rest of his empathic species, he remained far more sensitive to others' emotions than she, and he seemed torn between a frantic need to escape the sheer intensity of the moment and a sort of euphoric high driven by an excess of everyone else's endorphins.

At least the two of them had had plenty of practice, she reminded herself. The stunned moment when her people realized their scratch-built, jury-rigged, half-derisively self proclaimed "Elysian Space Navy" had destroyed an entire Peep task force and captured the shipping to take every prisoner who wanted to leave the prison planet of Hades to safety lay over three standard weeks behind them. She'd thought, then, that nothing could ever equal the explosion of triumph which had swept her ex-Peep flagship at that instant, but in its own way, the emotional storm seething about her now was even stronger. It had had longer to build on the voyage from the prison the entire People's Republic of Haven had regarded as the most escape-proof facility in human history to freedom, and anticipation had fanned its strength. For some of the escapees, like Captain Harriet Benson, the CO of ENS Kutuzov, over sixty T-years had passed since they'd breathed the air of a free planet. Those people could never return to the lives they'd left behind, but their need to begin building new ones blazed within them. Nor were they alone in their impatience. Even those who'd spent the least time in the custody of the Office of State Security longed to see loved ones once more, and unlike the escapees who'd spent decades on the planet inmates called "Hell," they could pick up the threads of the lives they'd feared they would never see again.

Yet that hunger to begin anew was tempered by a matching emotion which might almost have been called regret. An awareness that somehow they had become part of a tale which would be told and retold, and, undoubtedly, grow still greater in the tellings...and that all tales end.

They knew the impossible odds they had surmounted to reach this moment, in this boat bay gallery, in this star system. And because they did, they also knew that all the embellishments with which the tale would be improved upon over the years -- by themselves, as likely as not -- would be unnecessary, peripheral and unimportant to the reality.

And that was what they regretted: the fact that when they left Farnese, they would also leave behind the companions with whom they had built that tale's reality. The unvoiced awareness that it was not given to human beings to touch such moments, save fleetingly. The memory of who they'd been and what they'd done would be with them always, yet it would be only memory, never again reality. And as the heart-stopping fear and terror faded, the reality would become even more precious and unattainable to them.

That was what truly gave the emotions whirling about her their strength…and focused that strength upon her, for she was their leader, and that made her the symbol of their joy and bittersweet regret alike.

It was also horribly embarrassing, and the fact that none of them knew she could sense their emotions only made it worse. It was as if she stood outside their windows, listening to whispered conversations they'd never meant to share with her, and the fact that she had no choice -- that she could no longer not sense the feelings of those about her--only made her feel perversely guilty when she did.

Yet what bothered her most was that she could never return what they had given her. They thought she was the one who'd achieved so much, but they were wrong. They were the ones who'd done it by doing all and more than all she'd asked of them. They'd come from the military forces of dozens of star nations, emerging from what the Peeps had contemptuously believed was the dustbin of history to hand their tormentors what might well prove the worst defeat in the history of the People's Republic. Not in tonnage destroyed, or star systems conquered, but in something far more precious because it was intangible, for they had delivered a potential deathblow to the terror of omnipotence which was so much a part of State Security's repressive arsenal.

And they'd done it for her. She'd tried to express even a fraction of the gratitude she felt, but she knew she'd failed. They lacked the sense she'd developed, the ability to feel the reality behind the clumsy interface of human language, and all her efforts had made not a dent in the storm of devotion pouring back at her.

If only --

A clear, musical chime -- not loud, but penetrating -- broke into her thoughts and she drew a deep breath as the first pinnace began its final approach. There were other small craft behind it, including dozens of pinnaces from the three squadrons of the wall which had come to meet Farnese and more than a dozen heavy-lift personnel shuttles from the planet San Martin. They queued up behind the lead pinnace, waiting their turns, and she tried not to let her relief show as she thought about them. She and Warner Caslet, Farnese's exec, had packed the battlecruiser, like all the other ships of the ESN, to the deckheads to get all of the escapees aboard. The massive redundancy designed into warship life-support systems had let them carry the overload (barely), but it had done nothing about the physical crowding, and the systems themselves were in serious need of maintenance after so long under such heavy demand. The personnel shuttles outside the boat bay were but the first wave of craft which would transport her people from the packed-sardine environment of their battlecruiser to the mountainous surface of San Martin. The planet's heavy gravity scarcely qualified it as a vacation resort, but at least it had plenty of room. And after twenty-four T-days crammed into Farnese's overcrowded berthing spaces, a little thing like weighing twice one's proper weight would be a minor price for the glorious luxury of room in which to stretch without putting a thumb into someone else's eye.

But even as she felt her crew eagerly anticipating the end of its confinement, her own attention was locked upon the lead pinnace, for she knew whose it was. Over two T-years had passed since she'd last faced the officer to whom it belonged, and she'd thought she'd put her treacherously ambiguous feelings about that officer aside. Now she knew she'd been wrong, for her own emotions were even more confused and turbulent than those of the people about her as she waited to greet him once again.

* * *

Admiral of the Green Hamish Alexander, Earl of White Haven and Commanding Officer, Eighth Fleet, forced his face to remain immobile as GNS Benjamin the Great's pinnace approached rendezvous with the battlecruiser his flagship had come to meet. ENS Farnese -- and just what the hell is an "ENS?" he wondered. That's something else I should have asked her -- was a Warlord-class unit. The big ship floated against the needle-sharp stars, well out from San Martin, where no unauthorized eye might see her and note her Peep origin. The time to acknowledge her presence would come, but not yet, he thought, gazing through the view port at the ship logic said could not be there. No, not yet.

Farnese retained the lean, arrogant grace of her battlecruiser breed, despite the fact that she was even larger than the Royal Manticoran Navy's Reliant-class. Small compared to his superdreadnought flagship, of course, but still a big, powerful unit. He'd heard about the Warlords, read the ONI analyses and appreciations of the class, even seen them destroyed in combat with units under his own command. But this was the first time he'd ever come close enough to see one with the unaided human eye. To be honest, it was closer than he'd ever anticipated he might come, except perhaps in that unimaginable time somewhere in the distant reaches of a future in which peace had come once more to this section of the galaxy.

Which isn't going to happen any time soon, he reminded himself grimly from behind the fortress of his face. And if I'd ever had any happy illusions in that respect, just looking at Farnese would disabuse me of them in a hurry.

His jaw set as his pilot, obedient to his earlier orders, swept down the big ship's starboard side and he studied her damage. Her heavy, multilayered armor was actually buckled. The boundary layers of antikinetic armor seemed to have slagged and run; the inner, ablative layers sandwiched between them were bubbled and charred looking; and the sensors and antimissile laser clusters which once had guarded Farnese's flank were gutted. White Haven would have been surprised if half her starboard weapons remained functional, and her starboard sidewall generators couldn't possibly have generated any realistic defense against hostile fire.

Just like her, he thought moodily, almost angrily. Why in Christ's name can the woman never bring a ship back intact? What the hell is it that makes her --

He chopped the thought off again, and this time he felt his mouth twist in sardonic amusement. His was not, he reflected, the proper mood for an officer of his seniority at a moment like this. Up until--he glanced at his chrono--seven hours and twenty-three minutes earlier, he, like all the rest of the Manticoran Alliance, had known Honor Harrington was dead. Like everyone else, he'd seen the grisly HD of her execution, and even now he shuddered as he recalled the ghastly moment when the gallows trapdoor sprang and her body --

He shied away from that image and closed his eyes, nostrils flaring while he concentrated on another image, this one on his own com less than eight hours earlier. A strong, gracefully carved, half-paralyzed face, framed in a short mop of half-tamed curls. A face he had never imagined he would see again.

He blinked and inhaled deeply once again. A billion questions teemed in his brain, put there by the raw impossibility of Honor Harrington's survival, and he knew he was not alone in that. When word of this broke, every newsie in Alliance space -- and half of those in Solly space, no doubt, he thought -- would descend upon whatever hiding places Honor or any of the people with her might have found. They would ask, plead, bully, bribe, probably even threaten in their efforts to winnow out every detail of their quarry's incredible story. But even though those same questions burned in his own mind, they were secondary, almost immaterial, compared to the simple fact of her survival.

And not, he admitted, simply because she was one of the most outstanding naval officers of her generation and a priceless military asset which had been returned to the Alliance literally from beyond the grave.

His pinnace arced down under the turn of Farnese's flank to approach the boat bay, and as he felt the gentle shudder when the tractors captured the tiny craft, Hamish Alexander took himself firmly in hand. He'd screwed up somehow once before, let slip some hint of his sudden awareness that the woman who'd been his protégée for over a decade had become something far more to him than a brilliant junior officer and an asset of the Royal Manticoran Navy. He still had no idea how he'd given himself away, but he knew he had. He'd felt the awkwardness between them and known she'd returned to active duty early in an effort to escape that awkwardness. And for two years, he'd lived with the knowledge that her early return to duty was what had sent her into the Peep ambush in which she had been captured...and sentenced to death.

It had burned like acid, that knowledge, and he'd watched the Peep broadcast of her execution as an act of self-punishing penance. In an odd way, her death had freed him to face his feelings for her...which only made things immeasurably worse now that he knew she wasn't dead, of course. He had no business loving someone little more than half his age, who'd never shown the least romantic interest in him. Especially not while he was married to another woman whom he still loved deeply and passionately, despite the injuries which had confined her to a life-support chair for almost fifty T-years. No honorable man would have let that happen, yet he had, and he'd been too self-honest to deny it once his face had been rubbed sufficiently in it.

Or I like to think I'm too "self-honest" to lie to myself, he thought mordantly as the tractors urged the pinnace from the outer darkness into the illuminated boat bay. Of course, I had to wait until she was safely dead before I got around to that sudden burst of honesty. But I did get there in the end...damn it.

The pinnace rolled on thrusters and gyros, settling towards the docking buffers, and he made himself a silent promise. Whatever he might feel, Honor Harrington was a woman of honor. He might not be able to help his own emotions, but he could damned well see to it that she never knew about them, and he would. That much he could still do.

The pinnace touched down, the docking arms and umbilical locked, and Hamish Alexander pushed himself up out of his comfortable seat. He looked at his reflection in the view port's armorplast and studied his expression as he smiled. Amazing how natural that smile looked, he thought, and nodded to his reflection, then squared his shoulders and turned towards the hatch.

* * *

A green light glowed above the docking tube, indicating a good seal and pressure, and Honor tucked her hand behind her as the gallery-side hatch slid back. It was amazing how awkward it was to decide what to do with a single hand when it had no mate to meet it halfway, but she brushed that thought aside and nodded to Major Chezno. The senior officer of Farnese's Marine detachment nodded back, then turned on his heel to face the honor guard drawn up behind the side party.

"Honor guard, attennnnnn-hut!" he barked, and hands slapped the butts of ex-Peep pulse rifles as the ex-prisoners snapped to parade-ground attention. Honor watched them with a proprietary air and wasn't even tempted to smile. No doubt some people would have found it absurd for men and women packed into their ship like emergency rations in a tin to waste time polishing and perfecting their ceremonial drill, especially when they all knew they would be broken up again once they reached their destination. But it hadn't been absurd to Farnese's ship's company ... or to Honor Harrington.

I suppose it's our way of declaring who and what we are. We're not simply escaped prisoners, huddled together like sheep while we run from the wolves. We are the "wolves" of this piece, and we, by God, want the universe to know it! She snorted in amusement, not at her Marines and their drill, but at herself, and shook her head. I think I may be just a wee bit guilty of hubris where these people are concerned.

The Navy side party snapped to attention as the first passenger floated down the tube, and Honor drew another deep breath and braced herself. The Royal Manticoran Navy's tradition was that the senior passenger was last to board and first to exit a small craft, and she knew who she would see well before the tall, broad-shouldered man in the impeccable black-and-gold of an RMN admiral caught the grab bar and swung himself from the tube's weightlessness into the gallery's one standard gravity.

Bosun's pipes twittered -- the old-fashioned, lung-powered kind, out of deference to the traditionalists among the Elysian Space Navy's personnel -- and the admiral came to attention and saluted Farnese's executive officer, standing at the head of the side party. Despite sixty years of naval service, the admiral was unable to conceal his surprise, and Honor could hardly blame him. Indeed, she felt an urchinlike grin threatening the disciplined facade of her own expression at the sight. She'd deliberately failed to mention her exec's identity during the com exchanges which had established her ships' bona fides for the Trevor's Star defensive forces. The Earl of White Haven deserved some surprises, after all, and the last thing he could possibly have expected to see aboard this ship was a side party headed by a man in the dress uniform of the People's Navy.

* * *

Hamish Alexander made his expression blank once more as the side party's senior officer returned his salute. A Peep? Here? He knew he'd given away his astonishment, but he doubted anyone could have faulted him for it. Not under the circumstances.

His eyes swept the rainbow confusion of the ranks beyond the Peep as the bosun's pipes continued to squeal, and another surprise flickered through him. That visual cacophony had never been designed for color coordination, and for just an instant, the assault on his optic nerve kept him from understanding what he was seeing. But realization dawned almost instantly, and he felt himself mentally nodding in approval. Whatever else Hades might have lacked, it had obviously possessed fabric extruders, and someone had made good use of them. The people in that bay gallery wore the uniforms of the militaries in which they had served before the Peeps dumped them in the PRH's "inescapable" prison, and if the confusion of colors and braid and headgear was more visually chaotic than the neatly ordered military mind might have preferred, so what? Many of the navies and planetary combat forces those uniforms belonged to hadn't existed in well over half a T-century. They had gone down to bitter defeat -- often clawing and defiant to the end, but still defeat -- before the juggernaut of the People's Republic, and again, so what? The people wearing them had won the right to resurrect them, and Hamish Alexander rather suspected that it would be ... unwise for anyone to question their tailoring.

The pipes died at last, and he lowered his hand from the band of his beret.

"Permission to come aboard, Sir?" he asked formally, and the Peep nodded.

"Permission granted, Admiral White Haven," he replied, and stepped back with a courteous welcoming gesture.

"Thank you, Commander." White Haven's tone was equally courteous, and no one could have been blamed for failing to realize it was an absent courtesy. But then, no one else could have guessed at the emotions raging behind his calm, ice-blue eyes as he glanced past the Peep to the tall, one-armed woman waiting just beyond the side party.

They clung to her, those eyes, but again, no one could reasonably have faulted that. No doubt people had stared at Lazarus, too.

She looks like hell…and she looks wonderful, he thought, taking in the blue-on-blue Grayson admiral's uniform she wore instead of her Manticoran rank. He was glad to see it for at least one intensely personal reason. In the Grayson Space Navy, her rank actually exceeded his own, for she was the second ranking officer of that explosively growing service, and that was good. It meant that at least he would not have to address her from the towering seniority of a full admiral to a mere commodore. And the uniform looked good on her, too, he thought, giving her unknown tailor high marks.

But good as she looked, he could not pull his eyes away from the missing left arm, or the paralyzed left side of her face. Her artificial eye clearly wasn't tracking as it was supposed to, either, and he felt a fresh, lavalike burn of fury. The Peeps might not actually have executed her, but it seemed they'd come close to killing her.

Again.

She has got to stop doing this kind of thing, he thought, and his mental voice was almost conversational. There are limits in all things...including how many times she can dance on the edge of a razor and survive.

Not that she would pay him any attention if he said as much. Not any more than he would have paid if their roles had been reversed. Yet even as he admitted that, he knew it wasn't the same. He'd commanded squadrons, task forces, and fleets in action, in an almost unbroken series of victories. He'd seen ships blown apart, felt his own flagship shudder and buck as fire blasted through its defenses. At least twice, he'd come within meters of death. Yet in all that time, he'd never once been wounded in action, and not once had he ever actually faced an enemy. Not hand-to-hand. His battles had been fought across light-seconds, with grasers and lasers and nuclear warheads, and for all that he knew his personnel respected and trusted him, they did not idolize him.

Not the way Honor Harrington's people idolized her. For once, the newsies had gotten something exactly right when they dubbed her "the Salamander" from her habit of always being where the fire was hottest. She'd fought White Haven's sort of battle all too often for someone of her comparative youth, and she had the touch, the personal magic, that made her crews walk unflinchingly into the furnace beside her. But unlike the earl, she had also faced people trying to kill her from so close she could see their eyes, smell their sweat, and God only knew what she'd been doing when she lost her arm. No doubt he'd find out soon enough, and, equally no doubt, it would be one more thing for him to worry that she might be crazy enough to repeat in the future. Which was irrational of him. It wasn't as if she actually went out looking for ways to get herself killed, no matter how it sometimes seemed to those watching her. It was just --

He realized he'd been motionless just a moment too long. He could feel the curiosity behind the countless eyes watching him, wondering what he was thinking, and he forced a smile. The one thing he couldn't have any of them do was to actually figure out what had been going through his mind, and he held out his hand to her.

"Welcome home, Lady Harrington," he said, and felt her long, slender fingers tighten about his with the careful strength of a native heavy-worlder.

* * *

"Welcome home, Lady Harrington."

She heard the words, but they seemed tiny and far away, at the other end of a shaky com link, as she gripped his extended hand. His deep, resonant voice was just the way she'd remembered it -- remembered, in fact, with rather more fidelity than she might have desired -- yet it was also completely new, as if she'd never heard it before. And that was because she was hearing him on so many levels. Her sensitivity to others' emotions had increased yet again. She'd suspected that it had; now she knew it. Either that, or there was something special about her sensitivity to his emotions, and that was an even more disturbing possibility. But whatever the cause, she heard not simply his words, or even the messages communicated by the smile in the blue eyes. No, she heard all the things he didn't say. All the things he fought so hard, and with such formidable self-control, against allowing himself even to hint that he might want to say.

All the things he might as well have shouted at the top of his lungs yet didn't even guess he was giving away.

For a fleeting moment of pure self-indulgence she let the emotions hidden behind his face sweep her up in a dizzying whirl. She couldn't help it as his joyous surprise at her survival swept over her. His soaring welcome came on its heels...and his desire to sweep her into his arms. Not a trace of those things showed on his face, or in his manner, but he couldn't possibly hide them from her, and the sheer lightning-strike intensity of the moment burned through her like an explosion.

And on its heels came the knowledge that none of the things he longed to do could ever happen.

It was even worse than she'd feared. The thought rolled through her, more dismal still for the moment of joy she had allowed herself to feel. She'd known he'd stuck in her mind and heart. Now she knew that she had stuck in his, as well, and that he would never, ever admit it to her.

Everything in the universe demanded its own price...and the greater a gift, the higher the price it carried. Deep inside, in the secret places where logic seldom treads, Honor Harrington had always believed that, and she'd realized over the last two years that this was the price she must pay for her bond with Nimitz. No other 'cat-human bonding had ever been so close, ever spilled across to the actual communication of emotions, and the depth of her fusion with her beloved companion was worth any price.

Even this one, she told herself. Even the knowledge that Hamish Alexander loved her and of what might have been had the universe been a different place. Yet just as he would never tell her, she would never tell him...and was she blessed or cursed by the fact that, unlike him, she would always know what he had never said?

"Thank you, My Lord," Lady Dame Honor Harrington said, and her soprano was cool and clear as spring water, shadowed only by the slight slurring imposed by the crippled side of her lips. "It's good to be home."

Copyright © 2000 by David Weber

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 13, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    Great

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Lots of "troop movement" for a huge paradigm shift in the Honorverse

    The events leading up to the end of the eighth book created a whole lot of bookkeeping details that have to be resolved before returning to the serious business of Blowing Things Up In Space. Most of these dangling threads are personal, legal, and political rather than military.

    The characters are still great, the writing style is good, although I think Weber's style suffers when separated from the urgency of combat. The fact that he is willing to devote 672 to what is essentially an epilogue/prologue link between two different series (with the same cast of characters) shows dedication to keeping his characters multidimensional and organic.

    But however necessary the events in this book may have been, it was a seriously slow read compared to its predecessors.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2001

    This Can't Be All.

    I became hooked on Honor with On Basilisk Station (the first novel) and immediately went out and bought the remaining 8 volumes. It is that good. I have not been disappointed unless you can count the fact that Ashes of Victory is the last one available. I can think of a lot of things Honor could be doing beyond Ashes. I have to believe Weber can too. Maybe he's tired of it. I know his readers aren't. My recommendation is to get the entire series (you won't want to finish one of the volumes and not have the next one right there ready to go). I don't usually take the time to offer reviews of books I've read but this series grabbed me hard. You find yourself deeply caring for the characters. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2001

    Fantasic Book GO HONOR!!

    this is probably the best book out of the series, of course there were some inconsisteies as Dave Weber mentioned at the end of the book, but overall this book was fantasic and the illustrator did a wonderful job showing the new ships and weapons. I must have re read this book at least 5 times and it keeps getting better. I cannot wait for the next book chronicling Honor Harrington's life and career.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2001

    We Want More Honor

    I am an avid Webber fan, and have been since the first book in the Honor Harington series. Webber's work is replete with interesting characters doing interesting things. Great space battles, great interaction between characters and great story lines are what David Webber is all about. This book picks up where Echoes of Honor leaves off and pushes the story forward. Although there aren't as many 'action scenes' in this book as in the earlier ones, this book sets up the 'Honorverse' for severe changes... and consequently more stories to tell. And it does so without skimping on the character development that is so important to the series. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2001

    Scraped together ashes

    I have read the entire Honor series and reread the series waiting for this final book. This book is 645 pages long and has approximatley 50 pages of story with 595 pages of background that also includes story lines from previous books. The 50 pages of story are very entertaining and are what I would expect in a Honor Harrington book written by David Weber, however, the 595 pages of background were just too much. If this had been the first in the series, I would have never finished this book and would have never read another.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2000

    victory indeed

    This is definately the best Honor Harrington book that David Webber has written. The plot keeps the reader hooked for the entire book and suprised at the ending. Honor was due for that promotion and when she finally received it, it was a vindication of all of her efferts in the previous 10+ years of the books. Webber also remained true to his vast universe of the future. The technologies of the series are so well thought out and practical that it seems that the author can see the future. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of sci fi space operas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2000

    Best of an Excellent Series

    It takes a really talented writer to construct a military universe as complicated as Weber has done in this series, but it takes an even more outstanding writer to take that well-contructed universe and blast it to the next level. This is the most interesting book in the entire series from the tactical standpoint, but one must read the rest to really appreciate what Weber has done here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2000

    ashes and victory

    As with the rest of the Honor Harrington series, David Weber has brought the saga of Honor Harrington another step forward in her journey. While the action in this novel is a bit slower than previous novels, it gives the reader a chance to view the more personal side of Honor and of those around her. This novel also allows those others to show that they are not just coasting on Honors coattails but are worthy of themselves. Perhaps this is in prelude of spin-off series or merely to allow the war with Haven to continue while Honor gets some much needed R&R. It is well worth the effort of reading and is a complement to the series. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2000

    An outstanding completion to the Honor Harrington Series

    Although I have not heard an 'offical' word that this is the last Honor Harrington novel, when I completed this novel I felt that it was a fine conclusion to 'main' storyline of the war with the Haven Republic and Honor's naval career. Although I have loved this series, this novel is a fitting end to it. The evolution of Honor's character from being an impulsive lead-from-the-front officer to being a mature person that not only has faith in her fellow officers, but in her friends as well, is complete in this novel. I believe that Webber 'yanked' Honor from the from lines just in time. Suspension of disbelief was starting to wear a bit thin. Honor pulling off another of her 'impossible' manuevers would have torn it completely. I like how Webber has always kept us grounded by having us follow Honor through bad times as well as the good. This series is called 'Honor Harrrington' not 'Big Space Battles' or 'The War with Haven.' We have followed her through thick and thin, and she now deserves her rest. (Just as David Webber deserves his.) I hope to see more 'side story' novels, or some other products based on this rich universe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2000

    Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

    Having read all the other Honor Harrington Novels, and then re-read while waiting for the Ashes Of Victory I expected Honor to actually do something in this book. We expect her to do more than a little rehab while we get bored with all the other story lines. Either this is an attempt to try to wrap up the series, or to meet a publishers deadline, or an attempt to open other story lines for sub-series of books. Weber needs to get back to what made Honor 'Honor' and focus on her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2000

    ashes, yes!

    Weber has a talent for setting up and describing space battle scenes. His description of manuevers, and hardware used in his Harrington series are well thought out. As for the rest of the book, which covers over 99% of this massive volume, he leaves a lot to be desired. He has many characters which takes his book on meaningless tangents. His characters spend most of their time pursing their lips, or pinching the bridges of their noses as they contemplate their mundane affairs! I found myself skipping entire wordy, diectionless chapters to reach the final battle scene, which never came. If you are in solitary confinement, and have many hours to spend buy this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2000

    A Sad Premonition

    As usual Mr. Weber writes an excellent yarn. The story begins only hours or days after the conclusion of the previous Honor Harrington novel (Echos of Honor) and follows all the threads readers and fans have come to know and love. But there may be a sad note involved. The novel wraps up so many story line conflicts that one is left with the sense that the author may be trying to wrap up the series; a truly dishearening idea for the many avid fans of Honor. Herein lies the one criticism I would offer: in his seeming effort to wrap it all up, a few of the plot lines don't flow quite as well as usual and seem a little bit forced. None the less, this is still a worthwhile and enjoyable entry into the universe of Honor Harrington

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2000

    Honor rules & Weber is Crown Prince

    This book holds to the high standards of all the earlier Harrington Series. If you are just starting PLEASE go to the first book, On Basilisk Station, and read on. You will not be disappointed. The background, detail and inventiveness Weber displays in Honor's world creates stories which beg to be read again. Weber has created a larger than life enduring character and she inhabits a universe that actually makes sense. The fabric of the stories mesh smoothly and the ancillary characters all work within the storyline, with a few sidebars to throw everyone off. Battles in many so called Space Operas often have gaps (unexplained) but Ashes and all the battles in the Honor books have a gripping realism I have found in few other books of the genre. The only problem I have with this series is the WAIT for the next book. Dear David please do not stop. PS: Treecats are soooo cool.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2000

    Take Me Back to Basilisk Station

    I know, I know - we can never go home again. I know that Honor is now in the senior, SENIOR ranks of the military and can't be at the helm of space battles any more. BUT...that doesn't excuse Weber from writing a boring, technojunk- filled, overlong book. David, are they paying you by the word? All of the Honor Harrington books have used the literary device of introducing characters and then following their individual stories. Weber has introduced soooo many characters that following even some of them in every book gives us character 'sound bites' not plot lines. Further, he skimped on the best stuff - like Rob Pierre's death and the hoopla and emotion surrounding Honor's return from the dead. Emotional upheaval regarding Honor and her Admiral's unacknowledged love dominates the first few chapters and then disappears. The characters have obviously suppressed everything...great sublimation techniques they teach those naval types. Finally, if Honor's mom gets any cuter, I give the population of Yeltsin's Star permission to shoot her....along with half the treecats! So there! Let's get back to good, old-fashioned story telling, please! Don't buy this weighty tome in hardbound. Wait for the paperback.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2000

    David Weber ROCKS!!!!

    This is a really great book. David Weber writes some of the best sci-fi that I have ever read, and this book is no exception. Weber has developed an incredibly detailed, believable world, with excellent character development.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2000

    Bad Honor

    Ashes of Victory would be a great 350 page novel - unfortunately it's 550 pages long. It's a bad sign when the first space battle takes place around page 400. This series has gone downhill since 'Honor Among Enemies'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2000

    Worth Waiting for.

    I was told of the Honor Harrington series at the Bookaccino chat room. I went to Barnes and Knoble and bought all 9 books of the series at their reccomondation, and I have got to say that they were correct. I have never enjoyed a series more than I have this one. I am a avid reader of Mccaffrey, and I have got to say These books are right up there . I cant wait for the next book of the series. He cant just keep us hanging. david, More Honor Harrington

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2000

    Worth the wait and waiting for more!!

    I know that someday David Weber will have to leave us 'wanting more'. But this one left me with the feeling that there has to be a followup with the loose ends we have. If you havn't read any in this series, you should start at the beginning (On Basilisk Station)Weber has given us nine volumes (and some short stories) to let us share the world of Honor Harrington, and I've willingly followed from the beginning.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2000

    She is BACK!!!!

    Another fine example of the qreat David Weber imagination. Although at times slow paced. It uses the opportunity to better draw the world and times of Honor Harrington, add multiple twists to the story, new charaters and let us asking for the next book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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