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In Enemy Hands
By David Weber
Baen Books Copyright © 1997 David Weber
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-671-57770-0
The atmospheric dust count was up today. Concentrations weren't enough to bother native Graysons after almost a thousand years of adaptive evolution, but they were more than sufficient to worry someone from a planet with lower levels of heavy metals.
Admiral of the Green Hamish Alexander, Thirteenth Earl of White Haven and designated commander of Eighth Fleet (assuming it ever got itself put together), was a native of the planet Manticore, and the capital world of the Star Kingdom of Manticore did not boast such levels. He felt mildly conspicuous as the only breath-masked member of the entourage on the landing pad, but the better part of a century of naval service had given him a healthy respect for environmental hazards. He was perfectly willing to feel a little conspicuous if that was the price of avoiding airborne lead and cadmium.
He was also the only person on the pad who wore the space-black-and-gold of the Royal Manticoran Navy. Over half of his companions were in civilian dress, including the two women who wore the ankle-length skirts and long, tabardlike vests of traditional Grayson fashion. Those in uniform, however, were about equally divided between the green-on-green of the Harrington Steadholder's Guard and the blue-on-blue of the Grayson Space Navy. Even Lieutenant Robards, White Haven's aide, was a Grayson. The admiral had found that a little disconcerting at first. He was much more accustomed to having members of allied navies come to the Star Kingdom than to meeting them on their home turf, but he'd quickly become comfortable with the new arrangement, and he had to admit it made sense. Eighth Fleet would be the first Allied fleet which was actually composed of more non-Manticoran than RMN units. Given the "seniority" of the Manticoran Navy, there'd never been much question that the RMN would provide the fleet commander, but a good two-thirds of its starships would be drawn from the explosively expanding GSN and the far smaller Erewhon Navy. As such, White Haven, as CO 8 FLT (Designate), really had no choice but to build his staff around a Grayson core, and he'd spent the last month and a half doing just that.
All in all, he'd been impressed by what he'd discovered in the process. The GSN's expansion had spread its officer corps thin-indeed, something like twelve percent of all "Grayson" officers were actually Manticorans on loan from the Star Kingdom-and its institutional inexperience showed, but it was almost aggressively competent. Grayson squadron and task force commanders seemed to take nothing at all for granted, for they knew how quickly most of their officers had been pushed up to their present ranks. They drilled their subordinates mercilessly, and their tactical and maneuvering orders spelled out their intentions with a degree of precision which sometimes produced results that were a little too mechanical for White Haven's taste. He was more accustomed to the Manticoran tradition in which officers of a certain rank were supposed to handle the details themselves, without specific direction from higher authority. Yet he was willing to admit that a navy as "young" as the GSN probably required more detailed orders... and if Grayson fleet maneuvers were sometimes mechanical, he'd never seen the kind of raggedness which could creep in when a flag officer assumed-incorrectly-that his subordinates understood what he had in mind.
But if the earl sometimes wished Grayson admirals would grant their subordinates a little more initiative, he'd been both astounded and delighted by the GSN's relentless emphasis on actual shipboard drills, not just computer simulations, and their willingness to expend munitions in live-fire exercises. RMN tradition favored the same approach, but the Manticoran Admiralty had always been forced to fight Parliament tooth and nail for the funding it required. High Admiral Matthews, the GSN's military commander-in-chief, on the other hand, had the enthusiastic support of Protector Benjamin and a solid majority of the Planetary Chamber, Steadholder and Steader alike. Perhaps that support owed something to the fact that the current war with Haven had brought deep-space combat to Yeltsin's Star four times in less than eight T-years, whereas no one had dared attack the Manticore Binary System directly in almost three centuries, but White Haven suspected that it owed an equal debt to the woman he and his companions had gathered to welcome home.
His lips quirked and the blue eyes which could assume the chill of arctic ice twinkled at that thought. Lady Dame Honor Harrington, Countess Harrington, was only a captain of the list, as far as the RMN was concerned, and she'd earned a reputation (among her many domestic political enemies, at any rate) as a dangerous, hot-tempered, undisciplined loose warhead. But here in Yeltsin she carried the rank of a full admiral in the GSN, not to mention the title of Steadholder Harrington. She was the second-ranking officer of Grayson's Navy, one of the eighty great nobles who governed the planet, the wealthiest woman-or, for that matter-man, in Grayson history, the only living holder of the Star of Grayson (which also happened to make her Protector Benjamin's official Champion), and the woman who had saved the system from foreign conquest, not just once, but twice. White Haven himself was deeply respected by the Grayson Navy and people, for he was the officer who'd overseen the conquest of their fratricidal sister world of Masada and won the Third Battle of Grayson to open the war with Haven, but he remained a "foreigner." Honor Harrington didn't. She had become one of their own, and in the process, whether she knew it or not, she'd also become the patron saint of their fleet.
She probably didn't know it, White Haven reflected. It wasn't the sort of thing which would occur to her... which no doubt helped explain why it was true. But White Haven and every other Manticoran working with the GSN certainly knew. How could they not? The ultimate touchstone for every Grayson training concept or tactical innovation could be contained in the three words "Lady Harrington says" or their companion "Lady Harrington would." The near idolatry with which the GSN had adopted the precepts and example of a single individual, however competent, would have been terrifying if that individual's fundamental philosophy had not included the need to continuously question her own concepts. Somehow, and White Haven wasn't certain precisely how, Honor Harrington had also managed to transmit that portion of her personality to the navy so enthusiastically forming itself in her image, and he was profoundly grateful that she had.
Of course, the GSN had given her a much freer hand than the Manticoran Admiralty had ever given any RMN admiral, but that made her accomplishments no less impressive. High Admiral Matthews had admitted to White Haven that he'd all but dragooned her into GSN service expressly to pick her brain, and that was something the earl readily understood. Very few fleets could match the experience of the Royal Manticoran Navy, and for all her political problems back home, Harrington's professional reputation had been second to none in the navy of her birth kingdom. Even if it hadn't seen her in action itself, any navy in the GSN's position would have been prepared to do just about anything to get her into its uniform. And, White Haven thought, given how intensely the Graysons had listened to her, and how eager they'd been to utilize her as a training resource, it would actually have been surprising if she had realized how deeply she'd impressed her own personality and philosophy upon them. They'd adopted her concepts so readily that it must have seemed to her as if she were adapting to their philosophy. Oh, yes. He understood how it had all happened. Yet that made it no less ironic that, in so many ways, the Grayson Space Navy was actually closer to the ideal of the Manticoran Navy than the RMN itself.
It also, he admitted, had offered him a new and valuable perspective on Harrington herself. He was familiar with the sycophantic personalities which all too often attached themselves to a successful officer, just as he recognized the more extreme forms of unquestioning hero worship when he saw them, and he'd found some of both of those here on Grayson where Harrington was concerned. But when a single, foreign-born woman could walk into a theocratic, male-dominated society and win the personal devotion of a group so disparate that it contained not simply that society's navy but old-line Grayson male supremacists like Howard Clinkscales, Harrington Steading's regent; reformers like Benjamin IX, the planets reigning monarch; religious leaders like the Reverend Jeremiah Sullivan, spiritual head of the Church of Humanity Unchained; urbane and polished statesmen like Lord Henry Prestwick, Grayson's Chancellor; and even ex-Havenite officers like Alfredo Yu, now a GSN admiral, she had to be something quite out of the ordinary. White Haven had seen that in her the very first time he'd met her, despite the physical wounds and the grief and sense of guilt she'd carried away from the Second Battle of Yeltsin, but then he'd been in the position of her senior officer, looking down a steep gradient of rank, military and social alike. These days, she matched his naval rank (in Grayson service, at least) and, as a Steadholder, however new her title, took social precedence over even one of the oldest of Manticore's earldoms.
Hamish Alexander wasn't the sort to feel diminished by anyone. One of the small number of people who could address his Queen in private by her given name, he was also the single most respected strategist of the Manticoran Alliance. His reputation was firmly based on achievement, and he knew it, just as he knew he truly was the equal or superior of any serving officer in any other navy in space. He wasn't arrogant-or he tried not to be-yet he knew who and what he was, and it would have been foolish to pretend he didn't. But he also knew Harrington had begun her career without the advantage of an aristocratic name or the family alliances and patronage which went with it. However much White Haven might have earned by merit, and however much he'd given back in part payment for the opportunities he'd enjoyed by an accident of birth, he could never forget or deny that his family's position had given him a starting advantage Harrington had never had. Yet here on Grayson she'd been given a chance to show all that she could do and be, and what she had accomplished was almost humbling to the man who was Earl of White Haven.
She was barely half his age, and this entire section of the galaxy had entered the dark valley of a war whose like had not been seen in centuries. Not a war of negotiated peaces or even conquest, but one in which the losing side would be destroyed, not merely defeated. It had already raged for going on six T-years, and despite the Allies' recent successes, there was no end in sight. In a society in which the prolong treatment stretched life spans to as much as three hundred-plus years, advancement to the senior ranks of any navy could be glacially slow, although the RMN's prewar expansion had kept things from being quite that bad, professionally speaking, for its officers. Compared to navies like those of the Solarian League, promotion had actually been quite rapid, and now the war had kicked the door to senior rank wide. Even victorious admirals sometimes died, and the Navy's expansion rate had trebled since the start of open hostilities. Where would someone like an Honor Harrington end this war... assuming that she survived? What sort of mark would she make upon it? It was obvious-to everyone but her, perhaps-that she would figure in whatever histories were finally written, but would she attain the exalted rank in her birth navy which her abilities deserved? And if she did, what would she do with it?
Those questions had come to fascinate White Haven. Perhaps it was because, in a sense, she'd been his hostess since his arrival in Yeltsin. She'd been generous enough to offer him the opportunity to stay at Harrington House, the official residence from which she governed Harrington Steading when she was on Grayson, while he was here. It made sense, given that Alvarez Field, the GSN's major new planetary base and site of its new Bernard Yanakov Tactical Simulation Center, was only thirty minutes away by air car. At least until Eighth Fleets units were physically assembled, most training exercises had to be done in sims, whatever the Graysons-or White Haven-might have preferred. That meant he had to be located someplace handy to Alvarez's simulators, and by inviting him to stay at Harrington House while she herself was temporarily stuck back in the Star Kingdom, Harrington had given the imprimatur of her approval to his relationship with the GSN. He probably hadn't needed it, and he was quite certain she hadn't reasoned it out in those terms, but he was also experienced enough not to turn down any advantage that came his way.
Yet living in her house, his needs seen to by her servants, speaking with her fellow Grayson officers, her regent, her security staff ... In a very real way, it had felt sometimes as if he were uncovering facets of her personality which could be discovered only in her absence. It was silly, perhaps. He was ninety-three T-years old, yet he was fascinated-almost mesmerized-by the accomplishments of a woman to whom he'd spoken perhaps a dozen times. In one sense, he scarcely knew her at all, but in another, he'd come to know her as he'd known very few people in his life, and a part of him looked forward to somehow reconciling the difference between those two views of her.
Honor Harrington leaned back in the pinnace seat and tried not to smile as Major Andrew LaFollet, second-in-command of the Harrington Steadholder's Guard and her personal armsman, crawled as far under the seat in front of her as he could get.
"Come on, now, Jason," he wheedled. His soft Grayson accent was well suited to coaxing, and he was using that advantage to the full. "We're due to hit atmosphere any minute now. You have to come on out... please?"
Only a cheery chirp answered, and Honor heard him sigh. He tried to crawl still further under the seat, then backed out and sat up grumpily on the decksole. His auburn hair was tousled and his gray eyes dared any of his subordinates to say one word-just one-about his current, less than dignified preoccupation, but no one accepted the challenge.
Excerpted from In Enemy Hands by David Weber Copyright © 1997 by David Weber. Excerpted by permission.
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