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Honor of the Queen
By David Weber
Baen BooksCopyright © 1993 David Weber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE CUTTER PASSED FROM SUNLIT brilliance to soot-black shadow with the knife-edge suddenness possible only in space, and the tall, broad-shouldered woman in the black and gold of the Royal Manticoran Navy gazed out the armorplast port at the battle-steel beauty of her command and frowned.
The six-limbed cream-and-gray treecat on her shoulder shifted his balance as she raised her right hand and pointed.
"I thought we'd discussed replacing Beta Fourteen with Commander Antrim, Andy," she said, and the short, dapper lieutenant commander beside her winced at her soprano voice's total lack of inflection.
"Yes, Ma'am. We did." He tapped keys on his memo pad and checked the display. "We discussed it on the sixteenth, Skipper, before you went on leave, and he promised to get back to us."
"Which he never did," Captain Honor Harrington observed, and Lieutenant Commander Venizelos nodded.
"Which he never did. Sorry, Ma'am. I should've kept after him."
"You've had a lot of other things on your plate, too," she said, and Andreas Venizelos hid another-and much more painful-wince. Honor Harrington seldom rapped her officers in the teeth, but he would almost have preferred to have her hand him his head. Her quiet, understanding tone sounded entirely too much as if she were finding excuses for him.
"Maybe so, Ma'am, but I still should've kept after him," he said. "We both know how these yard types hate node replacements." He tapped a note into his pad. "I'll com him as soon as we get back aboard Vulcan."
"Good, Andy." She turned her head and smiled at him, her strong-boned face almost impish. "If he starts giving you a song and dance, let me know. I'm having lunch with Admiral Thayer. I may not have my official orders yet, but you can bet she's got an idea what they're going to be."
Venizelos grinned back in understanding, for he and his captain both knew Antrim had been playing an old yard trick that usually worked. When you didn't want to carry out some irksome bit of refit, you just dragged your feet until you "ran out of time," on the theory that a ship's captain would rather get back into space than incur Their Lordships' displeasure with a tardy departure date. Unfortunately for Commander Antrim, success depended on a skipper who was willing to let a yard dog get away with it. This one wasn't, and while it wasn't official yet, the grapevine said the First Space Lord had plans for HMS Fearless. Which meant this time someone else was going to buy a rocket from the Admiralty if she was late, and Venizelos rather suspected the CO of Her Majesty's Space Station Vulcan would be less than pleased if she had to explain the hold-up to Admiral Danvers. The Third Space Lord had a notoriously short fuse and a readiness to collect scalps.
"Yes, Ma'am. Ah, would you mind if I just happened to let slip to Antrim that you're lunching with the Admiral, Skipper?"
"Now, now, Andy. Don't be nasty-unless he looks like giving you problems, of course."
"Of course, Ma'am."
Honor smiled again and turned back to the view port.
Fearless's running lights blinked the green and white of a moored starship, clear and gem-like without the diffraction of atmosphere, and she felt a familiar throb of pride. The heavy cruiser's white skin gleamed in reflected sunlight above the ruler-straight line of shadow running down her double-ended, twelve-hundred-meter, three-hundred-thousand-ton hull. Brilliant light spilled from the oval of an open weapon bay a hundred and fifty meters forward of the after impeller ring, and Honor watched skinsuited yard techs crawling over the ominous bulk of Number Five Graser. She'd thought the intermittent glitch was in the on-mount software, but Vulcan's people insisted it was in the emitter assembly itself.
She twitched her shoulders, and Nimitz scolded gently as he dug his claws deeper into the padded shoulder of her tunic for balance. She clicked her teeth and rubbed his ears in wordless apology, but she never took her eyes from the view port as the cutter continued its slow tour of Fearless's exterior.
Half a dozen work parties paused and looked up as the cutter ghosted past them. She couldn't make out expressions through their visors, but she could imagine the combination of exasperation and wariness some of them would wear. Yard dogs hated to have a captain peering over their shoulders while they worked on her ship ... almost as much as captains hated turning their ships over to the yard dogs in the first place.
She swallowed a chuckle at the thought, because while she had no intention of telling them so, she was impressed by how much Vulcan-and Venizelos-had accomplished during her two-week absence, despite Antrim's passive resistance to the node change. Replacing an impeller node was a major pain, and Antrim obviously hoped he could skate out of it, but that ambition was doomed to failure. Beta Fourteen had been a headache almost since Fearless's acceptance trials, and Honor and her engineers had put up with it long enough. It wasn't as crucial as an alpha node, of course, and Fearless could easily maintain eighty-percent of max acceleration without it. Then, too, there was the little matter of the price tag for a replacement-something like five million dollars-which Antrim would have to sign off on. All of which no doubt helped explain his reluctance to pull it, but Commander Antrim wouldn't be aboard the next time HMS Fearless had to redline her drive.
The cutter curled back up over the hull, crossing diagonally above the after port missile battery and the geometric precision of Radar Six. The long, slender blades of the cruiser's main gravitic sensors passed out of sight under the lower lip of the view port, and Honor nodded in satisfaction as her chocolate-dark eyes noted the replacement elements in the array.
All in all, she was more than pleased with how Fearless had performed over the last two and half T-years. She was a relatively new ship, and her builders had done her proud in most respects. It wasn't their fault someone had slipped them a faulty beta node, and she'd stood up well to an arduous first commission. Not that anti-piracy patrols were Honor's first choice for assignments. It had been nice to be on her own, and the prize money from picking off that Silesian "privateer" squadron hadn't done her bank balance a bit of harm. For that matter, the rescue of that passenger liner had been a piece of work anyone could be proud of, but the moments of excitement had been few and far between. Mostly it had been hard work and more than a little boring once she got over the sheer excitement of commanding her first heavy cruiser-and a brand spanking new one, to boot.
She made a mental note of a scuffed patch of paint above Graser Three and felt a tiny smile tugging at her lips as she contemplated the rumors about her next assignment, for the alacrity with which Admiral Courvosier had accepted his invitation to the traditional recommissioning party suggested there was more than a bit of truth to them. That was good. She hadn't seen the Admiral, much less served under him, in far too long, and if diplomats and politicians were normally a lower order of life than pirates, it should at least be an interesting change of pace.
"You know, that young man has a really nice ass for a round-eye," Dr. Allison Chou Harrington observed. "I bet you could have some fun chasing him around the command deck, dear."
"Mother!" Honor stepped on an unfilial urge to throttle her parent and looked around quickly. But no one seemed to have overheard, and, for the first time in her memory, she was grateful for the chatter of other voices.
"Now, Honor," Dr. Harrington looked up at her with a deadly gleam in those almondine eyes so much like Honor's own, "all I said was-"
"I know what you said, but that 'young man' is my executive officer!"
"Well, of course he is," her mother said comfortably. "That's what makes it so convenient. And he certainly is a handsome fellow, isn't he? I'll bet he has to beat them off with a stick." She sighed. "Assuming he wants to," she added thoughtfully. "Just look at those eyes! He looks just like Nimitz in mating season, doesn't he?"
Honor hovered on the brink of apoplexy, and Nimitz cocked his head reprovingly at Dr. Harrington. It wasn't that he objected to her comments on his sexual prowess, but the empathic 'cat was only too well aware of how much his person's mother enjoyed teasing her.
"Commander Venizelos is not a treecat, and I do not have the least intention of chasing him with a club," Honor said firmly.
"No, dear, I know. You never have had very good judgment where men are concerned."
"Now, Honor, you know I'd never dream of criticizing," the twinkle in Allison Harrington's eyes was devilish, yet there was a trace of seriousness under the loving malice, "but a Navy captain-a senior-grade captain, at that-ought to get over those silly inhibitions of yours."
"I'm not 'inhibited,'" Honor said with all the dignity she could muster.
"Whatever you say, darling. But in that case, you're letting that delicious young man go sadly to waste, executive officer or not."
"Mother, just because you were born on an uncivilized and licentious planet like Beowulf is no reason for you to make eyes at my exec! Besides, what would Daddy think?"
"What would I think about what?" Surgeon Commander Alfred Harrington (retired) demanded.
"Oh, there you are." Honor and her father stood eye to eye, towering over her diminutive mother, and she jerked a thumb downward. "Mother's casting hungry looks at my exec again," she complained.
"Not to worry," her father replied. "She looks a lot, but she's never had any reason to roam."
"You're as bad as she is!"
"Meow," Allison said, and Honor fought back a grin.
For as long as she could remember, her mother had delighted in scandalizing the more conservative members of Manticoran society. She considered the entire kingdom hopelessly prudish, and her pungent observations to that effect drove certain society dames absolutely berserk. And her beauty, and the fact that she doted on her husband and never actually did the least thing for which they could ostracize her, only made it worse.
Of course, if she had been inclined to follow the mores of her birth world, she could have assembled a drooling male harem any time she cared to. She was a tiny thing, little more than two-thirds Honor's own height and of almost pure Old Earth Oriental extraction. The strong, sharply carved bone structure which had always made Honor feel plain and unfinished was muted into exotic beauty in her mother's face, and the prolong process had frozen her biological age at no more than thirty T-years. She really was like a treecat herself, Honor thought-delicate but strong, graceful and fascinating, with just a hint of the predator, and the fact that she was one of the most brilliant genetic surgeons in the Kingdom didn't hurt.
She was also, Honor knew, genuinely concerned about her only child's lack of a sex life. Well, sometimes Honor was a bit worried about it, but it wasn't as if she had all that many opportunities. A starship's captain simply could not dally with a member of her crew, even if she had the desire to, and Honor was none too sure she did. Her sexual experience was virtually nil-aside from a single extremely unpleasant Academy episode and one adolescent infatuation that had trickled off in dreary unhappiness-because she'd simply never met a man she cared to become involved with.
Not that she was interested in women; she just didn't seem particularly interested in anyone-which might be just as well. It avoided all sorts of potential professional difficulties ... and she rather doubted an overgrown horse like her would provoke much reciprocal interest, anyway. That reflection bothered her a bit. No, she thought, be honest; it bothered her a lot, and there were times her mother's version of a sense of humor was less than amusing. But this wasn't one of them, and she surprised them both by putting an arm around her and squeezing in a rare public display of affection.
"Trying to bribe me into being good, huh?" Dr. Harrington teased, and Honor shook her head.
"I never try to do the impossible, Mother."
"That's one for your side," her father observed, then held out his hand to his wife. "Come along, Alley. Honor ought to be circulating-you can go make someone else's life miserable for a while."
"You Navy types can be a real pain in the ... posterior," Allison replied with a wickedly demure glance at her daughter, and Honor watched fondly as her parents vanished into the crowd. She didn't get to see them as often as she would have liked, which was one reason she'd been so happy when Fearless was sent to Vulcan for refit, instead of Hephaestus. Vulcan orbited Honor's own homeworld of Sphinx, ten light-minutes further out than the capital planet of Manticore, and she'd taken shameless advantage of the fact to spend time at home, wallowing in her father's cooking.
But Alfred Harrington was quite right about her responsibilities as a hostess, and Honor squared her shoulders for the plunge back into the festivities.
A rather proprietary smile touched Admiral of the Green Raoul Courvosier's mouth as he watched Captain Harrington mix confidently with her guests and remembered the gangling midshipman, all knees and elbows and sharp, angular face, he'd first met sixteen Manticoran years-over twenty-seven T-years-ago. She really had been a piece of work, he reflected affectionately. Absolutely dedicated, shy to the point of speechlessness and determined not to show it, terrified of math courses, and one of the most brilliant intuitive shiphandlers and tacticians he'd ever met. She'd also been one of the most frustrating. All that promise and potential, and she'd near as nothing flunked out on him before he could convince her to use that same intuition on her math tests! But once she'd gotten her feet under her, nothing could stop her.
Courvosier was a childless bachelor. He knew he'd invested so much of his life in his students at the Academy as compensation, yet few of them had made him as proud as Honor. Too many officers simply wore the uniform; Honor lived it. And it became her well, he thought.
He watched her chatting with the husband of Vulcan's commanding officer and wondered where that awkward midshipman had gone.
Excerpted from Honor of the Queen by David Weber Copyright © 1993 by David Weber. Excerpted by permission.
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