THE 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 anotherand much more painfulwince. 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 nastyunless 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 Vulcanand Venizeloshad 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 replacementsomething like five million dollarswhich 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 cruiserand 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 captaina senior-grade captain, at thatought 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 thoughtdelicate 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 nilaside from a single extremely unpleasant Academy episode and one adolescent infatuation that had trickled off in dreary unhappinessbecause 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 anyonewhich 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 circulatingyou 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 yearsover twenty-seven T-yearsago. 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. He knew she still disliked parties, still thought of herself as the ugly duckling, but she never let it show. And one of these days, he thought fondly, she would wake up to the fact that the duckling had become a swan. One of the drawbacks of the prolong treatment, especially in its later, more effective versions, was that it stretched out the "awkward periods" in physical development, and Honor, he admitted, really had been on the homely side as a girlat first glance, at least. She'd always had the cat-quick reflexes of her 1.35-gravity homeworld, but the grace of her carriage had been something else, something that went beyond her high-gee birth environment. Even as a first-form middy, she'd had that elegance in motion which drew second glances from eyes which had dismissed her unprepossessing surface too quickly, and hers was a face that improved with age. Yet she truly didn't realize, even now, how the too-sharp edges had smoothed into character, how her mother's huge eyes lent her triangular face an intriguing, exotic air. He supposed it wasn't all that surprising, given how long the prolong-slowed smoothing process had taken, and it was true she would never be "pretty"only beautiful . . . once she realized it.
Which only added to his present concerns. He frowned down into his drink, then checked his chrono and sighed. Fearless's recommissioning party was an outstanding success. It looked like lasting for hours yet, and he didn't have hours. There were too many details that needed clearing up back on Manticore, which meant he was going to have to drag her away from her guestsnot that he expected that to bother her unduly!
He made his way casually through the crowd, and she turned towards him as her internal radar sensed his approach. Courvosier wasn't much taller than her mother, and he smiled up at her.
"Quite a bash, Captain," he said, and she smiled back a bit sourly.
"It is, isn't it, Sir? And noisy, too," she added with a grimace.
"Yes, it is." Courvosier glanced around, then back up at her. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to catch the shuttle back to Hephaestus in another hour, Honor, and we need to talk before I leave. Can you get away?"
Her eyes narrowed at his unexpectedly serious tone, and she, too, glanced around the crowded wardroom.
"I really shouldn't. . ." she said, but there was an almost wistful note in her voice. Courvosier smothered a grin as he watched temptation war with her sense of duty. It was an unfair contest, especially with curiosity weighing in on temptation's side, and her lips tightened in decision. She raised her hand, and Chief Steward's Mate James MacGuiness materialized out of the crowd as if by magic.
"Mac, would you please escort Admiral Courvosier to my day cabin?" She pitched her voice low enough to be lost in the crowd noise.
"Of course, Ma'am," her steward replied.
"Thank you." She looked back at Courvosier. "I'll join you there as soon as I find Andy and warn him he's on his own as host, Sir."
"Thank you, Captain. I appreciate it."
"Oh, so do I, Sir," she admitted with a grin. "So do I!"
Courvosier turned from the cabin view port as the hatch slid quietly open and Honor stepped through it.
"I know you're not fond of parties, Honor," he said, "but I really am sorry to call you away from one that seems to be going so well."
"At the rate it's going, I'll have plenty of time to get back to it, Sir." She shook her head. "I don't even know half of them, anyway! A lot more planet-side guests accepted their invitations than I'd expected."
"Of course they did," Courvosier said. "You're one of their own, and they're proud of you."
Honor waved her hand, and her cheekbones heated.
"You're going to have to get over that blush reaction, Honor," her old mentor told her severely. "Modesty is all very well, but after Basilisk Station, you're a marked woman."
"I was lucky," she protested.
"Of course you were," he agreed so promptly she gave him a very sharp look indeed. Then he grinned, and she grinned back at how easily she'd risen to his bait. "Seriously, if I haven't gotten around to mentioning it before, you did us all proud."
"Thank you," she said quietly. "That means a lot, coming from you."
"Really?" His smile was a bit crooked as he looked down at the gold rings on his own space-black sleeve. "You know, I'm really going to hate giving up the uniform," he sighed.
"It's only temporary, Sir. They're not going to leave you on the beach for long. In fact," Honor frowned, "I still don't understand why the Foreign Office wanted you in the first place."
"Oh?" He cocked his head and his eyes glinted at her. "Are you saying an old crock like me can't be trusted with a diplomatic mission?"
"Of course not! I'm just saying you're far more valuable at the Advanced Tactical Course than fooling around at diplomatic soirees." Her mouth curled in distaste. "If the Admiralty had a lick of sense, they'd have told the FO to take a flying leap through the Junction and given you a task force, Sir!"
"There are more things in life than running ATCor a task force," he disagreed. "In fact, politics and diplomacy are probably more important, when you come right down to it." Honor snorted, and he frowned. "You don't agree?"
"Admiral, I don't like politics," she said frankly. "Every time you get involved in them, things go all gray and murky on you. `Politics' were what created the mess in Basilisk in the first place, and they darn near got my entire crew killed!" She shook her head. "No, Sir. I don't like politics, I don't understand them, and I don't want to understand them!"
"Then you'd better change your mind, Captain." There was bite in Courvosier's suddenly chill voice. Honor blinked in surprise, and Nimitz raised his head on her shoulder, bending his own grass-green gaze on the cherubic little admiral. "Honor, what you do in your sex life is up to you, but no captain in Her Majesty's service can be a virgin where politics are concernedand especially not where diplomacy is concerned."
She blushed again, much more darkly, but she also felt her shoulders straighten just as they had at the Academy when then-Captain Courvosier had laid down the law. They were both a long way from Saganami Island, but some things never changed, she realized.
"I beg your pardon, Sir," she said a bit stiffly. "I only meant that politicians seem more concerned with payoffs and empire-building than with their jobs."
"Somehow I don't think the Duke of Cromarty would appreciate that characterization. Nor does it suit him." Courvosier waved a gentle hand as Honor opened her mouth again. "No, I know you weren't referring to the PM. And I understand your reaction after what happened to your last ship. But diplomacy is absolutely critical to the Kingdom's survival just now, Honor. That's why I agreed to the FO's request when they needed someone for Yeltsin's Star."
"I can understand that, Sir. And I suppose I was a bit petulant sounding, wasn't I?"
"Just a bit," Courvosier agreed with a small smile.
"Well, maybe more than a bit. Then again, I haven't really had much to do with diplomacy. My experience has been more with domestic politicosyou know, the slimy sort."
"A fair enough estimation, I suppose. But this is far more important, and that's why I wanted to talk to you." He rubbed one eyebrow and frowned. "Frankly, Honor, I'm a little surprised the Admiralty assigned you to it."
"You are?" She tried to hide her hurt. Did the Admiral think she'd do less than her bestespecially for himjust because she didn't like politics? Surely he knew her better than that!
"Oh, not because I don't think you're up to it." His quick response eased her hurt, and he shook his head. "It's just Well, how much do you know about the Yeltsin situation?"
"Not a lot," she admitted. "I haven't gotten my official orders or download yet, so all I know is what I read in the papers. I've checked The Royal Encyclopedia, but it hasn't been much help, and their navy's not even listed in Jane's. I gather Yeltsin doesn't have much to pique our interest, aside from its location."
"I assume from that last remark that you at least know why we want the system in our camp?" Courvosier made the statement a question, and she nodded. Yeltsin's Star lay less than thirty light-years to galactic northeast of the Manticore binary system. It also lay between the Kingdom of Manticore and the conquest-bloated People's Republic of Haven, and only an idiotor a member of the Liberal or Progressive Partycould believe war with Haven wasn't coming. The diplomatic confrontation between the two powers had grown increasingly vicious in the two and a half T-years since the PRH's brazen attempt to seize the Basilisk System, and both of them were jockeying for position before the inevitable open clash.
That was what made Yeltsin's Star so important. It and the nearby Endicott System had the only inhabited worlds in a volume twenty light-years across, squarely between the two adversaries. Allies, or (perhaps even more importantly) an advanced fleet base, in the area would be invaluable.
"What you may not realize," Courvosier went on, "is that more is involved here than just strategic real estate. The Cromarty government is trying to build a fire break against Haven, Honor. We're rich enough to stand up to the Peeps, probably, and we've got the technical edge, but we can't begin to match their manpower. We need allies, but, even more, we need to be seen as a creditable player, someone with the guts and will to face Haven down. There are still a lot of neutrals out there; there probably still will be when the shooting starts, and we need to influence as many as possible of them to be `neutral' in our favor."
"I can see that, Sir."
"Good. But the reason I'm surprised the Admiralty assigned you to this particular effort is that you're a woman." Honor blinked in complete surprise, and Courvosier laughed without humor at her expression.
"I'm afraid I don't follow that, Sir."
"You will when you get your download," Courvosier promised sourly. "In the meantime, let me just give you the high points. Have a seat, Captain."
Honor sank into a chair and lifted Nimitz from her shoulder to her lap as she regarded her superior. He seemed genuinely concerned, and for the life of her, she couldn't see what her gender had to do with her suitability for command.
"You have to understand that Yeltsin's Star has been settled far longer than Manticore," Courvosier began in his best Saganami lecturer's voice. "The first colonists landed on Grayson, Yeltsin's single habitable planet, in 988 P.D., almost five hundred years before we arrived on the scene." Honor's eyes narrowed in surprise, and he nodded. "That's right. In fact, Yeltsin hadn't even been surveyed when they left Sol. For that matter, the entire cryo-process had been available for less than ten years when they shipped out."
"But why in God's name come way out here?" Honor demanded. "They must've had better astro data on systems closer to Sol!"
"They did, indeed, but you've already hit their motivation." She frowned, and he smiled thinly. " `In God's name,' Honor. They were religious zealots looking for a home so far away no one would ever bother them. I guess they figured five hundred-plus light-years was about far enough in an era before hyper travel had even been hypothesized. At any rate, the `Church of Humanity Unchained' set out on a leap of faith, with absolutely no idea what they were going to find at the other end."
"Lord." Honor sounded shaken, and she was. She was a professional naval officer, and the mere thought of all the hideous ways those colonists could have died was enough to turn her stomach.
"Precisely. But the really interesting thing is why they did it." Honor quirked an eyebrow, and Courvosier shrugged. "They wanted to get away from `the corrupting, soul-destroying effect of technology,' " he said, and she stared at him in disbelief.
"They used a starship to get away from technology? That'sthat's insane, Sir!"
"No, not really." Courvosier leaned back against a table and folded his arms. "Mind you, that was my own first thought when the FO handed me the background on the system, but it actually made sense, in a crazy sort of way. Remember, this was way back in the early fourth century of the Diaspora, when Old Earth was finally getting a real handle on pollution, resource depletion, and overcrowding. Actually, things had been getting better for at least two hundred years, despite the eco-nuts' and `Earth First' groups' efforts to kill the various space initiatives. The Earth-Firsters probably had a better case, given the resource demands STL colony ships made on Sol's economy, but at least they recognized the spinoff advantages. Deep-space industry, asteroid mining operations, orbital power collectorsall of them were on line at last, and the quality of life was climbing system-wide. Most people were delighted, and the Earth-Firsters' only real complaint was that it could have climbed even faster if people would only stop building interstellar colony ships.
"On the other hand, there were still crackpot groupsparticularly the extreme `Greens' and the Neo-Ludditeswho didn't distinguish between the colonizing efforts and any other space activity. They insisted, each for their own reasons, that the only real solution was to throw technology out on its ear and `live the way man was intended to live.' " Honor snorted in derision, and he chuckled.
"I know. They'd have looked pretty sick if they'd tried it, especially with a system population of over twelve billion to feed and house, but most of the idiots were from more developed nations. Extremists tend to grow more extreme, not less, as problems get closer to solutions, you know, and these extremists didn't have any real concept of what a planet without technology would be like, because they'd never experienced it. Besides, after three centuries of preaching the evils of technologyand their own societies' `greedy, exploitative guilt'the `Greens' were techno-illiterates with no real relevance to the world about them, and most of the Neo-Luddites' job skills had been made redundant by new technologies. Neither background really qualified them to understand what was happening, and sweeping, simplistic solutions to complicated problems are much more appealing than tackling the real thought that might actually solve them.
"At any rate, the Church of Humanity Unchained was the product of a fellow named Austin Graysonthe Reverend Austin Grayson from someplace called the State of Idaho. According to the Foreign Office, there were hordes of lunatic fringe groups running around at the time, and Grayson was a `back to the Bible' type who got caught up in the ban-the-machine movement. The only things that made him different from other crackpots and bomb-throwers were his charisma, his determination, and his talent for attracting converts with real ability. He actually managed to assemble a colony expedition and fund it to the tune of several billion dollars, all to take his followers away to the New Zion and its wonderful, technology-free Garden of Eden. It was really a rather elegant concept, you know, using technology to get away from technology."
"Elegant," Honor snorted, and the Admiral chuckled again.
"Unfortunately, they got a nasty surprise at journey's end. Grayson's a pretty nice place in many ways, but it's a high-density world with unusual concentrations of heavy metals, and there isn't a single native plant or animal that won't kill any human who eats it for very long. Which meant, of course"
"That they couldn't abandon technology and survive," Honor finished for him, and he nodded.
"Exactly. Not that they were willing to admit it. In fact, Grayson never did admit it. He lived another ten T-years after their arrival, and every year the end of technology was just around the corner, but there was a fellow named Mayhew who saw the writing on the wall a lot sooner. According to what I can dig out of the records, he more or less allied with another man, a Captain Yanakov, who'd commanded the colony ship, and the two of them pulled off a sort of doctrinal revolution after Grayson's death. Technology itself wasn't evil, just the way it had been used on Old Earth. What mattered wasn't the machine but the ungodly lifestyle machine-age humanity had embraced."
He rocked on his heels in silent thought for a moment, then shrugged.
"At any rate, they abandoned the anti-machine portion of Grayson's theology and concentrated on creating a society in strict accordance with God's Holy Word. Which" he darted a quick glance at Honor from under lowered brows "included the theory that `Man is the head of Woman.' "
It was Honor's turn to frown, and he sighed.
"Damn it, Honor, you're too Manticoran! And," he added with a sudden genuine laugh, "God help us all if your mother ever ended up on Grayson!"
"I'm afraid I still don't quite understand, Sir."
"Of course you don't," Courvosier sighed. "But, you see, women on Grayson have no legal rights, Honornone at all."
"What?!" Honor jerked upright in her chair. Nimitz chittered in alarm as her lap shifted under him, and she winced as one centimeter-long claw dug a bit deeper than he'd intended, but her conscious mind hardly noticed.
"Precisely. They can't vote, can't own property, can't sit on juries, andespecially!can't serve in the military."
"But that's . . . that's barbaric!"
"Oh, I don't know," Courvosier said with a lurking grin. "Might be a bit restful, now and then."
Honor glared at him, and his grin faded.
"That wasn't quite as funny as I thought it would be. But the situation's even less funny. You see, Masada, the habitable planet of the Endicott System, was settled from Grayson, and not exactly voluntarily. What started as a schism over the retention of technology turned down other paths once it became clear they couldn't survive without it. The original pro-Tech faction became `Moderates,' and the anti-Techies became `the Faithful.' Once the Faithful were forced to accept that they couldn't get rid of the machines, they turned to creating the perfect godly society, and if you think the present government of Grayson is a bit backward, you should see what they came up with! Dietary laws, ritual cleansing for every imaginable sinlaw codes that made any deviation from the True Way punishable by stoning, for God's sake!
"In the end, it came to open fighting, and it took the Moderates more than five years to beat the Faithful. Unfortunately, the Faithful had built themselves a doomsday weapon; if they couldn't have a godly society, then they'd blow up the whole planetin, of course, exact accordance with the obvious Will of God."
The Admiral snorted in pure disgust and shook his head, then sighed.
"Anyway, the Grayson governmentthe Moderatescut a deal with them and exiled them lock, stock, and whipping post to Masada, where they set about creating the society God Had Intended. It saved Grayson, but the Faithful have grown more intolerant, not less. There are a lot of points about their so-called religion that I can't get definitive information on, but I do know they've chopped the entire New Testament out of their Bibles because if Christ had really been the Messiah, technology never would have arisen on Old Earth, they wouldn't have been kicked off Grayson, and Woman would have been put in her proper place throughout the human community."
Honor looked at him, too bemused to disbelieve any longer, and he shook his head once more.
"Unfortunately, they also seem to believe God expects them to fix all the things that are wrong with the universe, and they're still set on making Grayson toe their doctrinal line. Neither system has, you should pardon the expression, a pot to piss in, economically speaking, but they're too close together, and they've fought several wars over the centuries, complete with the occasional nuclear strike. Which, of course creates the opening both we and Haven are trying to exploit. It's also why the Foreign Minister convinced me that we need a fairly well known military typelike your humble servantto head our delegation. The Graysons are only too well aware of the threat Masada presents to them, and they're going to want to know the person they're negotiating with is aware of it, too."
He shook his head and pursed his lips.
"It's a hell of a mess, Honor, and I'm afraid our own motives aren't as pure as the driven snow. We need a forward base in that area. Even more importantly, we need to keep Haven from securing one that close to us. Those factors are going to be as obvious to the locals as they are to us, so we're bound to get involved in the local conflict, in a peacekeeping role at the very least. If I were the Grayson government, that would certainly be the point I'd insist on, because the basic credo of Masadan theology is that someday they will return to Grayson in triumph and cast down the heirs of the ungodly who exiled their forefathers from their rightful home. Which means Grayson can really use a powerful outside allyand that as soon as we started courting them, the Peeps started sucking up to Masada. Mind you, they'd probably prefer Grayson to Masada, too, but the Graysons seem a bit more aware of just how fatal it can be to become a `friend' of the People's Republic.
"And that, Honor, is why you need to know exactly what's going on, diplomatically speaking, on this little jaunt. You're going to be very, very visible, and the fact that the Kingdom is sending a woman to command the military side of the mission, well"
He broke off with a shrug, and Honor nodded slowly, still trying to grapple with the idea of a modern-day Dark Age culture.
"I see, Sir," she said softly. "I see, indeed."
|Title:||The Honor of the Queen|
|Copyright:||© 1993 by David Weber|