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"Good morning, Milady."
Honor turned her head and looked up as if to identify the new arrival, but it wasn't really necessary. She'd felt White Haven's approach through Nimitz long before he stepped into the sun-drenched dining room, and she summoned a smile of greeting.
"Good morning, My Lord. Will you join us?" She gestured at the well-spread breakfast table, and he returned her smile.
"I certainly will," he replied, "and the pancakes smell delicious." He spoke in an absolutely normal tone, with no echoes of the feelings she'd caught from him last night, and she felt a flood of relief. . . which she promptly scolded herself for feeling.
"What you're smelling aren't pancakes," she told him, and he cocked a questioning eyebrow. "They're waffles, and I'm afraid they're disgustingly rich the way I like them."
"Waffles?" White Haven repeated the unfamiliar word as if sampling it.
"Think of them as, oh, crunchy, quilted pancakes," she said. "They're something of a tradition here on Graysonone I wish the Star Kingdom hadn't lost, even if it is a dietitian's despair. And Manticore had a lot better shot at retaining it, given the difference in our first wave's relative circumstances. On the other hand, you may have noticed that Graysons can be a little stubborn?" She turned her head to smile up over her shoulder at Andrew LaFollet, then quirked a roguish eyebrow at his sister, and the two of them chuckled as White Haven gave a wry nod. "Well, this is one of the things they simply made up their minds that they would not lose. I suspect the recipe's changed a little . . . but I wouldn't be willing to bet any money on it."
This time White Haven joined the LaFollet's laughter. The inhabitants of Grayson were nothing if not determined. Among other things, theirs was the only planet in the explored galaxy which had retained the ancient Gregorian calendar, despite the fact that it was totally unsuited to their planetary day or year. If anyone was likely to have preserved a traditional breakfast food in the midst of colonizing a disastrously hostile planet with a pathetically crippled tech base, they were certainly the people to do it.
He sniffed again as he slid into the chair facing Harrington's and ran his eyes over her oddly assorted breakfast party. Her treecat sat in a highchair to her right, wrinkling his whiskers at the earl in unmistakable greeting. White Haven gave him a courteous nod, then nodded in turn to Samantha, who sat in a matching chair to Nimitz's right. Miranda LaFollet sat to Harrington's left, and a third highchair sat to her left for Farragut. White Haven had rather more experience with `cats than most Manticorans, given his family's long-standing alliance with the House of Winton. Enough monarchs and crown princes and princesses had been adopted over the past eight or nine generations for breakfast at Mount Royal Palace to seem somehow wrong if there weren't any treecats present, but it was unusualto say the leastfor the `cats' numbers to equal those of the human diners.
Of course, he reminded himself, there were eleven more of them somewhere around Harrington House this morning. He wondered who was watching Samantha's kittens and wished whoever it was luck. From what he'd seen of her offspring yesterday, their nursemaids were going to need all the breaks they could get, and he was heartily glad that he wasn't one of them.
He smiled inside at the thought and returned his attention to the fascinating odors wafting in from the open door at the end of the dining room. They really did smell delicious . . . and the lush, buttery undertones warned him the "waffles" would be just as rich as Harrington had intimated. He cocked his head to look at her, noting the full cocoa mug beside her plate, and wondered how she could possibly stay so slender in the face of what was clearly a monumental sweet tooth. There had to be more to it than exercise alone, however many calories she burned up in her physical training program.
Honor felt his attention and sensed the speculation at its heart. She couldn't tell precisely what he was speculating upon, but it was very different from the sudden burst of almost visceral awareness she'd picked up from him last night. She wondered if she was glad for the difference, then gave herself a sharp mental shake. Of course she was glad! A goodly part of her had dreaded breakfast, for her night had not been restful. She'd gone back over those last few minutes in the library again and again, picking at them as she might have scratched at some maddening physical itch. And, as she'd told herself at the time, her spiraling afterthoughts had concluded that it was nothing to worry about. That it had been only a momentary thing, a flash of awareness which White Haven had no way of knowing she'd shared with him. Something he would put away in a back corner of his brain where it could not affect their professional relationship.
Unfortunately, a deep, inner part of her had refused to accept that comforting logic.
It had been ridiculous. She was over fifty T-years old, not a schoolgirl! She'd had no business lying awake speculating on what a man who'd never before shown the least awareness of her as a woman might be thinking about her. Especially not this man. Yet that was precisely what she'd done, and taking herself to task for it had done no good at all. She dropped her eyes to her own plate, looking at the butter and syrup-drenched wreckage of her second stack of waffles, and gave herself yet another mental kick.
What was wrong with her? She should be relieved that he wasn't thinking about her that way, and she was. But a part of her didn't share that relief. Oh, no. Part of her felt almost petulant, angry with him because he had put his awareness of her attractiveness away somewhere . . . exactly as she'd half-prayed that he would. And as if to make her absurd dithering worse, there was an undertone of guilt, as if the petulance of that irrational part of her were somehow a betrayal of Paul Tankersley.
Her expression showed no trace of it, but Nimitz cocked his ears inquisitively as he felt her frustration with her own ridiculous fixation on someone else's momentary preoccupation, and she gritted mental teeth as she sensed his rousing interest. There was an undeniable edge of wicked delight in his emotions, and the laughter in his grass-green eyes would have been a dead giveaway even if their emotions hadn't been linked. It wasn't often she did something he found ridiculous to the point of hilarity, but it appeared that his empathic abilities gave him a rather different perspective. Well, that was fine for him, she thought moodily. Maybe his species was so accustomed to feeling others' emotions that they could take it in stride, however inappropriate the circumstances, but that was no reason he should be so indecently amused by her difficulties!
She concentrated on radiating an aggrieved sense of rebuke at him, but he only bared his fangs in a lazy, unmistakable laugh. And, just to make things worse, he sent her another strong pulse of that approval for White Haven.
She heard a quiet sound behind her and turned with a sense of relief for the distraction as MacGuiness stepped out of the pantryhis pantry, as every member of the Harrington House staff had been made thoroughly aware. The entire staff deferred to MacGuiness, and he was perfectly willing to delegate most tasks, but he was in charge of serving his captains meals, and he gave White Haven a small half-bow.
"Good morning, My Lord. May I bring you coffee?"
"You may," White Haven said with a smile, "but I think I'd prefer to start with a glass of juice and save the coffee to follow the waffles. I suspect I'll need something to chase the syrup through my system."
"Of course, My Lord," MacGuiness replied, and looked at Honor. "Are you ready for another serving, My Lady?" he asked.
"Um, yes. Yes, I am, Mac," she replied, and he smiled and turned back to his pantry.
His intervention, brief as it was, had been enough to redirect Honor's wandering thoughts, and she looked up at White Haven with a smile as something quite different from last nights admiration colored his emotions. His surprise was something she'd felt before, and while she generally didn't comment on it, it felt so normal compared to the other things she'd been worrying about that she found herself explaining.
"You're wondering why I don't look like a pre-space blimp, aren't you, My Lord?" she teased gently.
"IThat is" White Haven blushed. Her direct, smiling question had caught him without a graceful response, and his blush deepened at her soft laugh.
"Don't worry, My Lord. Mike Henke teases me about it all the time, and the explanation's simple enough. I'm a genie."
The earl blinked briefly, his expression totally blank, then nodded in sudden understanding. It was considered extremely impolite to use the term "genie" to describe someone, but given Harrington's neurosurgeon father andespeciallygeneticist mother, she was probably more comfortable with the label than many. For that matter, the prejudice against genetically engineered humans was slowly dying out as the last memories of Old Earth's Final War faded from the racial forebrain. But there had been no such prejudice in the early days of the Diaspora, and quite a few colonies had been established by genies specifically designed for their new environments.
"I wasn't aware of that, Milady," he said after a moment.
"We don't talk about it much, but I'd guess the majority of Sphinxians are genies by now," she replied. He raised a polite eyebrow, and she shrugged. "Think about it," she suggested. "Heavy-grav planets are one of the most common `hostile' environments. You know that even today most heavy-worlders have shorter than average life expectancies?" She looked at White Haven again, and he nodded. "That's because even with modern medicine you can't put a body designed for a single gravity onto a one-point-three or one-point-five-gravity planet and expect it to function properly. I, on the other hand"
She made a graceful gesture with one hand, and he nodded slowly. "I knew about the modifications for Quelhollow, but those are much more readily apparent than what you seem to be talking about," he observed.
"Well, Quelhollow had some other environmental concerns, whereas my ancestors were more of a . . . generic design, I suppose. Basically, my muscle tissue is about twenty-five percent more efficient than a `pure human's,' and there are a few changes to my respiratory and circulatory systems, plus some skeletal reinforcement. The idea was to fit us for heavy-grav planets generally, not one in particular, and the geneticists made the changes dominant, so that every parent would pass them on to every child."
"And your diet?"
"I don't get more efficient muscles and a stronger heart for free, My Lord," Honor said wryly. "My metabolism runs about twenty percent fastera little more than that actually, but not muchto fuel the differences. Which is why I can afford to eat like this," she finished, grinning as MacGuiness put a third plate of waffles in front of her.
"Actually," she added, cutting into the stack, "I tend to stuff myself at breakfast, then have a relatively lightwell, light for me, anywaylunch. The overnight `down time' leaves me needing more reactor mass in the morning."
"That's fascinating," White Haven murmured. "You say more than half of Sphinx has the same modification?"
"That's only an estimate, and it's not one modification. The Harrington's are descended from the Meyerdahl First Wave, which was one of the first, in fact, I think it was the firstheavy-grav modification, and folks like us probably make up about twenty or twenty-five percent of the population. But there are several variations on the same theme, and worlds tend to attract colonists who can live there comfortably. When you add the free passages the government offered to recruit fresh colonists after the Plague of Twenty-Two AL, Sphinx wound up attracting an even bigger chunk of us than most, including a lot from the core worlds who wouldn't even have considered emigration otherwise. In many respects, the Meyerdahl genies are the most successful, in my modest opinion, though. Our musculature enhancement is certainly the most efficient, at any rate. But we do have one problem most of the others don't."
"Most of us don't regenerate," she told him, touching the left side of her face. "Over eighty percent of us have a built-in genetic conflict with the regen therapies, and not even Beowulf has been able to figure out how to get around it yet. I'm pretty sure they will eventually, but for now"
She shrugged, mildly surprised at herself for offering the explanation in the first place, and even more for giving so many details. It wasn't something she thought much about herself, and some people still had funny reactions to the entire notion of "genies." But the conversation had reminded her of something else, and she turned to Miranda.
"Is everything ready for the ground-breaking?" she asked, and Miranda nodded.
"Yes, My Lady. I went over the details with Colonel Hill one last time last night. Everything's in place, the Guards satisfied with its crowd control measures, and Lord Prestwick will be here to express the Protector's personal thanks for your endowment."
Honor waved a hand to banish the importance of that last point, but Miranda, like her brother, had figured out that Honor's link to Nimitz let her sense the emotions of others. She appeared to have become even more aware of that in the three days since her own adoption, and Honor blinked as she realized her maid was deliberately using Nimitz to communicate her disagreement with Honor's attempt to minimize the significance of her gift to her adopted world.
Miranda held her gaze for a moment, and Honor blinked again. She'd become almost accustomed to having other treecats consciously use her link with Nimitz that way, but Miranda was the first human to do it, and Honor suddenly wondered if that stemmed from the fact that Miranda wasn't a Sphinxian. Was it possible that her lack of preconceptions about the `cats' abilities actually left her better able to recognizeand utilizethose same abilities?
Perhaps. But at the moment, Miranda was concentrating on a gentle rebuke, and Honor sighed as she admitted the younger woman was probably right. Honor hadn't set up the endowment to curry favor with Protector Benjamin or anyone else. She'd done it because she felt it was important and necessary and because, unlike most Graysons, she had more money than she could possibly spend anyway, so she might as well do something useful with it. But that didn't change the fact that she had done it, and if the Chancellor of Grayson was going to come clear out here to thank her, the least she could do was respond graciously.
"All right, Miranda," she sighed. "I'll behave." "I never doubted it, My Lady," Miranda replied with admirable gravity, then smiled. "But I'm afraid you are going to have to give your own speech in response to his."
Her gray eyes twinkled, and Honor swallowed a chuckle as Farragut bleeked a soft laugh from his person's far side. Honor's "maid" wasn't the sort of radical likely to storm the bastions of male supremacy, but she was a sturdy, self-confident individual, and that aspect of her personality had come strongly to the fore. Without even realizing it, she'd begun sinking a few mines under the bastions she was unprepared to assault frontally, and Honor was glad of it. For all intents and purposes, Miranda had become her social and public relations chief of staff, and her number-two political advisor, with at least as much insight as and a rather different perspective from Howard Clinkscales. That would have occasioned no comment back in the Star Kingdom, but it could have been a source of major consternation here on Grayson, where it had never been "proper" for women to dabble in politics, however indirectly. Worse, Miranda had moved smoothly into the role of coordinator, giving directions to a primarily male staff with an assurance which mirrored her Steadholders.
It was possible that some of that assurance stemmed from an awareness that she shared in Honor's prestige and authority, but Honor thought that was only a very small part of it. Most of Miranda's competent assurance sprang from the fact that her native ability had finally been given a chance to reveal itself and that she was simply incapable of not rising to that sort of challenge.
And I wonder, Honor mused, how much of a role that played in Farragut's decision to adopt her?
"Did the Colonel say anything about the upper review stand?" Major LaFollet asked his sister, and Miranda shrugged.
"I think he thinks you're being paranoid, but he agreed to have the engineers check it out. And to put two or three armsmen up there to keep an eye on things. And we've adjusted the schedule to give you the time you wanted for you and Lord Clinkscales to meet privately with the Chancellor, My Lady."
LaFollet's on-duty expression relaxed enough to permit a small smile at the word "paranoid," but Honor sensed his satisfaction. The upper review stand actually overhung the area in which she would use the silver shovel for the official ground-breaking ceremony, and Andrew had disliked it from the outset. Which, she reflected, I can live with. Andrew may be a little on the "paranoid" side, but given what Burdette and his maniacs tried
She brushed that thought aside and nodded. "Good," she told her henchpeople, then frowned and rubbed the tip of her nose. "Speaking of Lord Clinkscales and meetings, Miranda, please run down Stuart Matthews for me. I want a thumbnail technical-side briefing on Sky Domes' to bring me up to speed before we meet with Lord Prestwick."
"Yes, My Lady. But don't forget the audience with Deacon Sanderson, either. I've scheduled that for fifteen-hundred tomorrow."
Miranda's tone was respectful, but Honor suppressed a sudden desire to smack herself on her forehead, for she had forgotten the meeting with Sanderson. And it promised to be an important one, considering that Sanderson was the personal aide and direct representative of Reverend Sullivan. Honor hoped the audience's purpose was to express Sullivan's support for her newest project. She had no reason to expect anything else, but she still didn't know Sullivan well, and the new Reverend was a far cry from the gentle man he had succeeded. No one could have doubted the strength of Julius Hanks' personal faith, and those who'd known him well had always recognized that, for all his soft-spokenness, he had a whim of steel and a central core of titanium, but he'd never been a confrontational personality. Instead, he'd achieved his ends by a sort of spiritual akido, turning his most vociferous opponents into allies with the magic of his humor and inescapable . . . well, goodness. Honor had no doubt that the Church would nominate him for canonization at the earliest possible moment, and anyone who'd ever met him would support his elevation to sainthood with enthusiasm.
But Jeremiah Sullivan was cut from very different cloth. Thanks to Nimitz, Honor knew that Sullivan's faith was as deep as Hanks' had been, but where Hanks had often seemed almost too gentle for the real world, Sullivan went through life like a whirlwind. He'd spent years as Hanks' right-hand assistant and (when needed) hatchet man, and he'd embraced virtually all of Hanks' policies when he replaced the previous Reverend at the head of the Sacristy. But his bracing, aggressive, sometimes oppressively energetic temperament made him a very different person, and the Church was still coming to grips with the change in its leadership.
In the long run, Honor expected Sullivan to be good for Grayson. He would accomplish whatever he did in ways which would never have occurred to Hanks, but his devotion to his God, his flock, his church, and his Protectorin that orderwere beyond question.
Unfortunately, however, he was also rather more of a social conservative than Hanks had been. Or, rather, than Hanks had become following Grayson's alliance with Manticore. The new Reverend had been zealous in proclaiming the Church's continued backing for the Protectors reforms, and his attitude towards Steadholder Harrington could hardly have been more supportive, yet Honor knew the concept of a female steadholder didn't come naturally to him. In a very real sense, Sullivan was forcing himself to do what his intellect and his understanding of his faith required of him despite a lingering, deep-seated emotional distaste for the changes in his worldand his own world viewthat required.
Honor respected him for that, but it also meant that she nursed a tiny, perpetual fear that sooner or later his emotions were going to get the better of reason and bring the two of them, or, worse, Protector Benjamin and himinto painful collision. And given who she'd picked to head the clinic
"Excuse me, Milady." White Haven's voice broke into her reverie, and she gave her head an impatient shake and turned to face him. "I couldn't help overhearing," the earl went on. "May I ask just what you're breaking ground for?" He smiled wryly. "If you'll forgive my saying so, you do seem to have an unending flow of projects."
"This is a new steading, My Lord," Honor replied. "And, truth to tell, I sometimes think Harrington is Grayson's proving ground. My people are used to having their minds stretched, so we keep trying out new things here before we turn them loose on the conservatives. Don't we, Miranda?"
"I'm not sure I'd say `we' do it, My Lady," her maid murmured, "but someone certainly does." She looked innocently at her Steadholder, and all three treecats bleeked in laughter.
"I'm keeping track," Honor told her, "and the day will come, Miranda LaFollet."
"What day would that be, My Lady?" Miranda asked demurely, eyes laughing.
"Don't worry," Honor said ominously. "You'll recognize it when it arrives." Miranda chuckled, and Honor glanced back at White Haven.
"As I was saying before the distraction, My Lord," she resumed, ignoring her maid and armsman as they joined the `cats' laughter, "we tend to try things out here, and what we're trying out this time is Grayson's first modern genetic clinic."
"Ah?" White Haven raised his eyebrows attentively, and Honor felt his fresh flicker of interest. Most of it was simply thatinterest in the project she was describingbut there was more to it, as well. A dancing fire around the edges of his emotions. It was . . . admiration, she realized, and felt her cheeks heat. Darn it! Whatever White Havenor Miranda, or Lord Prestwick, or even Benjamin Mayhewmight think, there was nothing extraordinary about her decision to bankroll the clinic. The entire initial endowment came to barely forty million, and Graysons suffered from an appalling number of genetic defectsmany, if not most, of them correctable by modern medicineafter a millennium's exposure to their planet's heavy metal concentrations. It would have been criminal for her not to get someone from the Star Kingdom out here to do something about that, so where did White Haven get off admiring her for it? What gave him the right to sit there and
She snatched her own thoughts to a halt with a confused sense of shock. Dear God, something was wrong with her. This irrational angerand anger, she knew, was precisely what it waswas alien to her. Worse, it was irrational. Neither Miranda nor White Haven had said or done a single thing which should have upset any rational human being. And Miranda's admiration hadn't upset her. But White Haven's had, and a dagger of sheer disbelief went through her as she realized why.
She'd been wrong. His sudden awareness of her last night hadn't been one-sided after all, and she swallowed hard, reaching for her napkin and wiping her lips in an effort to buy herself a few more seconds' respite. Perhaps the earl's moment of recognition had begun one-sidedly, but it hadn't stayed that way, and that was the reason she'd found herself picking at it so long last night. For in the moment in which he'd truly seen her, some part of her had truly seen him. And now something infinitely worse had happened, for in the moment of her awareness, something stabbed at her through Nimitz. She heard the `cat inhale sharply, felt his twitch of shock, but she couldn't sort out his reactions. She was too busy fighting to understand her own, for in that instant, her link to the `cat had let her not simply see White Haven but recognize him.
There was a . . . resonance between them, one she'd never sensed before, even with Paul. She'd loved Paul Tankersley with all her heart. She still loved him, and the two of them had shared something she knew had been rare and perfect and wonderful. She no longer allowed herself to dwell upon it, but not a day passed in which she didn't miss his gentle strength, his tenderness and passion, and the knowledge that he'd loved her just as deeply as she had loved him. Yet for all that, she had never felt this . . . this sense of symmetry.
That wasn't the right word either, and she knew it. But there was no "right" word, and she wondered almost wildly how much of this moment was her, how much White Haven, and how much simply some bizarre malfunction of her link with Nimitz. No one else had ever been so closely tied to a `cat. Surely that was the explanation! It was just a quirk in the flow, some sort of weird emotional spike which had fooled her into thinking it was something more.
Yet even as she thought that, she knew it was nonsense. It was as if a door she hadn't known was there had opened in her head and she'd looked through it to see deep inside White Haven. And what she saw there was herself.
There were differences, of course. There had to be. They didn't agree on everything. They didn't share all the same opinions. In fact, there was enormous scope for disagreement, argument, even quarrels. But where it matteredwhere the wellsprings of their personalities rose and gave meaning to their livesthey were the same. The same qualities drove them, molded and pushed them, and Honor Harrington felt a sudden, aching need to reach out to him. It shocked and confused her, but she could no more have denied that desire than she could have stopped breathing, for she sensed the enormous potential singing unseen but inescapable between them. It wasn't sexual. Or, rather, it was sexual, but only as a part of the whole, for it went far, far beyond any sensual attraction. It was a hunger that went so deep and subsumed so much of her that sexuality had to be a part of it. No one had ever before evoked such an intense sense of shared capability within her, and she sensed the way they complemented one another, the unbeatable team they could become.
Yet that was impossible. It could never happen, could never be allowed to happenfor what she sensed and recognized in that moment went far beyond any professional team. It was a total package, almost a fusion, with implications she dared not truly consider.
Honor had never believed in "love at first sight" . . . which, a tiny part of herself told her quietly, was foolish in someone who'd actually experienced just that in the moment of her adoption by Nimitz. But that had been different, another part of her wailed. Nimitz wasn't human. He was her other half, her beloved companion, her champion and protectoras she was hisbut at this moment . . .
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Enough. This was more than simply ridiculous. Hamish Alexander was both her superior officer and a married man who loved his wife. Whatever momentary awareness he might have felt last night, he had nevereversaid a single word she could possibly construe as "romantic." Whatever was happening to her, he was in control of himself, and if he'd had even the faintest inkling of the sudden, ludicrous confusion whiplashing through her, he would have been disgusted. She knew it, and somehow she forced the fire out of her cheeks and looked up from her waffles with chocolate-dark eyes that showed no sign of her inner turmoil.
"Yes, My Lord," she heard herself say tranquilly. "The strides Grayson has made in industrial capacity and the ability to feed its people are remarkable, but I think, in the long run, that modern medicine is what's really going to have the greatest impact here. No doubt the fact that both of my own parents are physicians tends to prejudice my thinking in that regard, in fact, I've asked my mother to take a leave from her practice on Sphinx to set up our clinic here, but I don't really believe anyone who truly thinks things through could argue the point. After all, simply introducing prolong will bring about enormous changes, and when you add things like genetic repair and research, or"
She listened to her own voice, letting it wash over her almost as if it were someone else's, and below its calm normality, she wondered despairingly what had come over her . . . and how to cope with it.
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