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Chapter Ten

"Everyone is here now, Your Grace."

Honor looked up from the report she'd been reading. James MacGuiness stood in the open door of her Jason Bay mansion's office, and she shook her head wryly at his expression and the taste of his emotions.

"You needn't sound quite so disapproving, Mac," she said. "I'm not really overworking myself, you know."

"That depends on your definition of overwork, doesn't it, Your Grace?" he responded. "I've certainly seen you work harder and on less sleep. But I don't recall ever having seen you with a stomach bug that's lasted as long as this one. Neither," he added pointedly, "does Miranda."

"Mac," she said patiently to the man who had once been her steward and remained her keeper, "it's not that bad. It's just a little stomach upset. For that matter, maybe it's nerves." Her lips twitched. "It's not like my new assignment is stress free, you know!"

"No, Ma'am, it isn't." Honor's eyes narrowed as MacGuiness reverted to the old, military form of address. He was careful not to use it these days, for the most part. "But I've seen you under stress before," he continued. "After you were wounded on Grayson, for example. Or after the duel. And with all due respect, Ma'am," he said very seriously, "nerves have never put you off your feed the way you've been lately."

Honor regarded him thoughtfully for several seconds, then sighed.

"You win, Mac," she surrendered. "Call Doctor Frazier. Ask her if she can see me Monday, all right?"

"Perfectly, Your Grace," he said, rationing himself to only the slightest flicker of satisfaction.

"Good," she told him, "because I'm going to be up pretty late, and I don't want you hovering disapprovingly outside the door. We've got a perfectly capable staff who can feed us and bring us things to drink if we need them, and you can take yourself off to bed at your usual time. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly, Your Grace," he repeated with a slight smile, and she chuckled.

"In that case, Mr. MacGuiness, would you be so good as to ask my guests to join me?"

"Of course, Your Grace."

He bowed slightly and withdrew, and Honor climbed out of her chair, walked to the opened crystoplast wall, and stepped out onto the office balcony.

Jason Bay gleamed before her under the light of Thorson. The moon's disk drifted in and out of breaks in the thin, high overcast, a brisk breeze pushed waves across the bay, and the lights of Landing glittered in sprawling heaps across the water. She felt the wind pressing against her and smelled salt, and longed suddenly for her sailboat. She could almost feel the spokes of the wheel pressing against her palms, the spray on her cheeks, the simple pleasure of watching the sharp-edged sails stealing the wind's power. Moonlight, stars, and freedom from care and responsibility all beckoned to her, and she smiled wistfully. Then she turned her back on the night-struck bay's seduction and stepped back into her office as MacGuiness ushered in her visitors.

A brown-haired officer in the uniform of a rear admiral led the procession, followed by a tall, youngish-looking captain of the list, Mercedes Brigham, and the other key members of the staff Honor was profoundly grateful she'd managed to retain intact from Task Force Thirty-Four.

"Alistair," she said, stepping forward with a warm smile as she offered the flag officer her hand. "It's good to see you again. Mercedes told me you'd gotten in this morning."

"It's good to see you, too," Alistair McKeon said, squeezing her hand with an even bigger smile. "Nice to know you were satisfied enough to want me again, for that matter!"

"Always, Alistair. Always."

"That's what I like to hear," he said, looking around the office. "Where's your furry little shadow?"

"Nimitz is visiting Samantha at White Haven," she said.

"Oh. At White Haven, eh?" He looked at her, gray eyes glinting. "I hear it's nice up north this time of year."

"Yes, it is." She gripped his hand for a moment longer, then looked at the dark-haired, improbably handsome captain who had accompanied him.

"Rafe." She held out her hand to him in turn, and he shook it firmly.

"Your Grace," he said, inclining his head.

"I'm sorry about Werewolf," she said in a quieter tone.

"I won't pretend I'm not going to miss her, Your Grace," Captain Rafe Cardones replied. "But a brand new Invictus-class superdreadnought is nothing to sneeze at when you haven't been on the list any longer than I have. And another stint as your flag captain isn't going to hurt my résumé any."

"Well, that's going to depend on just how well we all do, isn't it?" she responded, then looked at Brigham and the other staffers.

Captain Andrea Jaruwalski, her operations officer, was as composed-looking as ever, but Honor tasted the combination of anticipation, eagerness, and trepidation behind Jaruwalski's hawklike profile. George Reynolds, her staff intelligence officer, promoted to full commander from lieutenant commander after Sidemore, wasn't quite as good at concealing all of the questions bubbling through his active brain. Her staff astrogator, Lieutenant Commander Theophile Kgari, also recently promoted, followed Reynolds through the door. Kgari was only a second-generation Manticoran, and his complexion was as dark as Honor's friend Michelle Henke's. Timothy Meares, Honor's flag lieutenant, brought up the rear, and his fair hair and gray-green eyes might have been specifically designed to contrast with Kgari's dark coloring.

"All right, people," she invited, gesturing at the comfortable armchairs scattered around the large office, "find seats. We've got a lot to talk about."

Her subordinates obeyed, settling quickly into place. Honor took one last look through the opened crystoplast wall, then pressed the button that closed the sliding panels. Another c-ommand rendered the outer surface opaque, and a third activated the anti-snooping systems installed throughout the mansion and its grounds.

"First," she began, turning her own chair to face them all, "I want to say that I asked the Admiralty to let me keep all of you because of how satisfied I am with your performance at Sidemore. I couldn't have asked for better from you there . . . but it looks like I may have to in our new assignment."

She tasted the way nerves tightened after her last sentence, and she smiled without any humor at all.

"The bottom line is that Eighth Fleet is something of a paper hexapuma at the moment. The Admiralty doesn't have the ships to make it anything but a shadow of what it was under Admiral White Haven. Your battle squadron, Alistair—all six ships worth of it—will constitute our entire 'wall of battle' for at least the immediate future."

"Excuse me?" McKeon blinked. "Our entire wall?"

"That's what I said," Honor replied grimly. "Not only that, but any additional wallers we receive for the next few months will almost certainly be old-style, pre-pod ships from the Reserve."

"Your Grace," Mercedes Brigham said quietly, "that's not a 'fleet'; it's a task force. Or maybe only a task group."

"It's a little better than that, Mercedes," Honor said. "For example, we'll have two full squadrons of CLACs under Alice Truman. That's over a quarter of the total we have in commission, including—" she smiled at Cardones "—Werewolf. And they're giving us all of the Manticoran pod-battlecruisers. We'll have first call on additional Agamemnons as they commission, as well. And we should be seeing the majority of the Saganami-Cs, as well."

"Excuse me, Your Grace," Jaruwalski said slowly, "but that sounds like a peculiar force mix, if you'll pardon my saying so. My impression from the media reports, at least, was that Eighth Fleet was being reactivated as our primary offensive command, just as it was during Operation Buttercup. But you're talking about primarily light units, aren't you?"

"That's exactly what I'm talking about," Honor confirmed. She drew a deep breath and leaned back in her chair.

"The other day, the Queen referred to me as her 'lucky talisman,'" she said, with a slight grimace. "I might quibble with the accuracy of that label, on several levels, but thanks to the media coverage of Sidemore, there's some truth to it. At least in terms of public perception. At the moment, Admiralty House is rather hoping the Havenites will read those reports at face value.

"The truth is that the deployment cupboard is bare, people. We're scraping the bottom of the barrel just to maintain the fleets we've got to have to cover our critical core systems. We simply can't reduce them any further, even with all of the system-defense pods and other fortifications we can put into position. But bad as the situation is, it's going to get worse before it gets better. We'll get to the exact figures ONI is projecting shortly, but what matters for our purposes right this minute is that the Havenites' wall of battle is already bigger than ours is, and it's going to grow faster than ours is for at least the next two T-years.

"Which means that, if they're prepared to take the losses, they probably have—or shortly will have—the combat power they need to hammer Manticore or Grayson."

Her office was deathly still and silent.

"Needless to say, all of that is highly classified information," she continued after a moment. "We don't know if the Republic is as well aware of those numbers as we are, but we have to assume they are. After all, our prewar strength was pretty much a matter of public record; theirs wasn't, so they started with an intelligence advantage. However, we're hoping they won't want to take such massive losses if they can possibly avoid it. And the job of Eighth Fleet, at this moment, is to persuade them to disperse as much of their fleet strength as possible, so that it won't be available for offensive operations."

"So they're giving us units optimized for raiding operations," McKeon said.

"Exactly." Honor nodded. "The idea is for us to wreak a fair amount of havoc in the Republic's rear areas. They can't have built up and maintained a fleet the size of their present navy without having weakened themselves somewhere. For example, ONI's best estimate, from all the intelligence sources we still have in the Republic, is that one thing they did was to scrap all the old battleships the Old Regime was using for rear-area defense. Even if they hadn't needed the manpower anywhere else, those ships would have been sitting ducks for MDMs and LACs, so it would make a lot of sense to retire them. But it's unlikely they've been able to replace them out of new construction, either. It's more probable they're relying on light units and, possibly, LACs of their own for normal security. Undoubtedly, they also hope the damage they did to us in their opening operation knocked back our offensive capability badly enough we won't be in any position to take advantage of the weakness of their secondary systems' defenses. Our job is to convince them they're wrong."

"And they gave you Eighth Fleet, and played up its role as our 'primary offensive force,' to help convince them of that," McKeon said. Honor looked at him, and he shrugged. "It's not that hard to figure out, Honor. If the Admiralty gave you the assignment after Sidemore, then clearly it regards Eighth Fleet as a critical command which it will reinforce as rapidly as possible. Which means the Peeps are going to have to assume that whatever we do to them with raids will only grow steadily in intensity and weight. Right?"

"Something along those lines," she said. "And, as much as possible, they'll be right. It's just that the degree to which anyone can reinforce us is going to be limited."

She let her chair come fully upright once again, laying her folded forearms on her desk and leaning forward over them.

"So, that's the bottom line, people. We'll have essentially a free hand in selecting our objectives and timing our operations. We'll base out of Trevor's Star, so we can also serve as a ready reinforcement to Admiral Kuzak's Third Fleet. And we'll do everything we can to convince the media—and the Republic—we have a lot more tonnage and firepower than we actually do."

"Sounds . . . interesting," McKeon said.

"Oh, it'll be 'interesting,' all right," she said grimly. "And now, the floor is open for suggestions about ways to make it even more interesting for the Republic than it is for us."

* * *

"Have you got a minute, Tony?"

Sir Anthony Langtry, Foreign Secretary of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, looked up in faint surprise as the Earl of White Haven poked his head into Langtry's private office.

"I suppose I do," the Foreign Secretary said mildly. He watched quizzically as White Haven stepped fully into the office, treecat on his shoulder, then pointed at a chair and cocked his head. "May I ask just how you got through the dragon's den without tripping any alarms?"

White Haven chuckled as he took the indicated chair and lifted Samantha down into his lap. Early morning sunlight poured in through the office windows to his left, splashing over his chair, and Samantha buzzed in pleasure as its warmth soaked into her.

"It's not really all that hard," the earl said, stroking the 'cat's silken pelt. "I just walked into the outer office, told Istvan you were expecting me this morning, and that there was no need to announce me."

"Interesting." Langtry tilted his chair back. "Particularly since Istvan's been with me for over ten T-years, and he happens to be the person who keeps my schedule. Ah, I wasn't expecting you, was I?"

"No," White Haven said, much more seriously. "A point, judging from Istvan's expression, of which he was quite well aware."

"I thought I wasn't." Langtry regarded his unexpected visitor thoughtfully. "As it happens, there's nothing else on my calendar just at the moment—except, of course," he added a bit pointedly, "for this position paper I'm supposed to be studying before I meet with the Andermani ambassador for lunch. So I suppose Istvan may have decided to humor you. And now that he has, why are you here?"

"For a private conversation."

"It wouldn't be a bit more of an end run than just a get together of two old friends, now would it?" Langtry asked.

"As a matter of fact, it is," White Haven admitted, now without a trace of humor, and the treecat in his lap sat up to regard Langtry with grass-green eyes.

"Hamish, it's not going to do any good," the Foreign Secretary said.

"Tony, she's got to at least get them talking again."

"Then I suggest you convince her of that. Or at least your brother." Langtry regarded White Haven very levelly. "He is the Prime Minister, you know."

"I certainly do. But on this particular point, he's almost as . . . focused, let's say, as Elizabeth herself. He knows how I feel. He disagrees with me. And, as you say, he is the Prime Minister."

"As it happens," Langtry said slowly, "I find myself substantially in agreement with him and the Queen on this one, Hamish."


"Hamish, there's not really anything substantively new in any of Pritchart's so-called proposals. She's still flatly denying her government falsified our diplomatic exchanges. She's still asserting that she attacked us because of High Ridge's refusal to negotiate in good faith, and that our publication of our 'forged' diplomatic traffic indicates that the leopard—that's us, Hamish, in case you hadn't noticed—hasn't changed its spots just because of his fall from power. And she's insisting the plebiscites to be held on the previously occupied Havenite planets be conducted under her exclusive supervision. Where's anything new in any of that?"

"What's 'new' is that she's proposed a cessation of hostilities while we negotiate on the basis of her most recent round of proposals," White Haven said sharply. "Trust me. We need that cessation a lot worse than they do right now!"

"Why?" Langtry demanded bluntly. "Unless you've forgotten, we had a cease-fire in place—as far as we knew, anyway—the last time the Peeps launched a sneak attack on us. You are familiar with the old proverb that goes 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,' aren't you?"

"Of course I am. But do you really think she's going to make that sort of proposal just so she can violate the cease-fire a second time? The whole point of the squabbling over who forged whose diplomatic correspondence is that she's trying to convince her own public, the rest of the galaxy, and possibly even a significant portion of our public opinion, that we were the ones who violated the accepted standards of diplomacy. That she attacked us only because we'd demonstrated we couldn't be trusted. If she offers to sit down and talk with us, then attacks us a second time while the talks are still in progress, she gives us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that she's the one whose interstellar word can't be trusted."

"You could be right," Langtry acknowledged. "At the same time, she can always officially announce she's breaking off talks before she hits us again. And if she's careful to observe all the diplomatic niceties this time around, wouldn't that tend to strengthen her claim that she tried to observe them the last time?"

"That's so Machiavellian it makes my head hurt just thinking about it," White Haven complained. "Given the military situation, why should she try anything that complex?"

"How the hell should I know?" Langtry demanded testily. "All I can tell you is that she's already acted in ways that are at least that 'Machiavellian.' And as far as the military situation is concerned, I can actually see some logic from her side in calling a temporary halt to the war."

"I know," White Haven said wearily. He shook his head, sitting back and cradling Samantha against his chest. "I've had exactly the same conversation with Willie."

"Well, he has a point. At the moment, according to your own analysts, we've still got something close to effective military parity. But that balance is going to shift steadily in their favor over the next year or so. Wouldn't it make sense for them to use diplomacy to neutralize our military forces without firing another shot until they've built their own up to a point which gives them a decisive superiority?"

"Of course it would. And I'm not trying to suggest the Peeps are the most trustworthy people in the explored galaxy. Or, for that matter, even that Pritchart is remotely interested in negotiating in ultimate good faith. It may be significant that she's at least offering the possibility of third-party monitoring of the plebiscites on the disputed planets, but I'll freely acknowledge that even that could be nothing more than window dressing. But the point is that if they hit us again as hard as they did the last time, if they go for a single vulnerable point and they're willing to take the losses, they can punch right through us tomorrow. Give me eight months—six; hell, give me four months!—and I'll make the price they'd pay for an attack like that so high even Oscar Saint-Just would've hesitated to pay it! That's what negotiating with them can buy us. The time to get our feet back under us."

"Hamish, it's not going to happen," Langtry said, shaking his head. "It's not going to happen for a lot of reasons. Because we can't trust them after they've already lied so comprehensively. Because even the reports from Admiral Givens admit that at this moment we can't be certain a cease-fire would help us militarily more than it would help them. Because the fact that they're offering it in the first place suggests it would help them militarily, at least in their opinion, more than it would help us. Because we're not going to allow them to rehabilitate themselves diplomatically and take back any of the moral high ground in interstellar public opinion. And, frankly, because the Queen hates their guts with a pure, burning passion. If you want her to sit down and talk with these people, after everything that's happened, then you've got to be able to demonstrate that it will provide us with a significant advantage without improving the Peeps' position simultaneously. And the truth is, Hamish, that you can't demonstrate that."

"No," White Haven admitted after a moment, his voice and expression both weary. "No, I can't. To be perfectly honest, there's a part of me which genuinely believes they mean it. That the demands they're still making are really pretty damned minimal, given the fact that they currently occupy all the planets in question. But I can't prove they are. And I can't prove that my awareness of our own weaknesses isn't causing me to overestimate how valuable a few months of relative operational inactivity would be for us."

"I know." Langtry regarded him with something almost like compassion. "And I also know," he added in an oddly gentle tone, "that Duchess Harrington continues to believe the Peeps' current leadership—or at least some elements of it—can be trusted to keep its word."

Samantha's ears twitched, and White Haven looked up quickly, eyes narrowed, at the reference to Honor, but Langtry only looked back levelly.

"As it happens," the Foreign Secretary continued, "I, also, have a very lively respect for Duchess Harrington's judgment. And I realize the two of you—and Emily, of course—have become close allies, politically, as well as militarily. But in this particular instance, I think I have to agree with the Queen and Willie that she's wrong. The Peeps' actions aren't those of the honorable people she thinks they are. There could be a lot of extenuating circumstances which account for that, but it's true. And we have to make our decisions based on their demonstrated behavior, not on what we think their internal character is really like."

White Haven started to reply, then clamped his jaw tightly. Whether he liked it or not, everything Langtry had just said made sense. It all hung together, and the Foreign Secretary was certainly right about the Havenites' demonstrated behavior.

And Langtry's tactful suggestion that he might be allowing Honor's view of Thomas Theisman—who, after all, was only one man—to influence his own analysis of the situation could well have merit. He didn't think he was, but it wasn't impossible.

He drew a deep breath, ran his hand gently down Samantha's spine, and forced his jaw muscles to relax. It really was possible he was being influenced by the fact that the woman he loved—one of the women he loved—found her view so profoundly at odds with that of virtually everyone else in the current government. She didn't make a point of her disagreement, but she didn't back away from it, either. The Queen, and his own brother, for that matter, knew exactly what she thought. Which was one of the reasons they didn't discuss that particular aspect of the war with her at the moment.

And, he admitted to himself, it's the reason you haven't told her about Pritchart's "new" proposals, either, Hamish. 

"All right, Tony," he said finally. "Maybe you're all right and I'm wrong. And maybe I am reacting this way because I'm too well aware of where we're in trouble and not aware of where they might be, or think they are. At any rate, I've given it my best shot with Willie and Elizabeth, and now even with you."

"You have that," Langtry agreed wryly. "Emphatically, one might almost say."

"All right, all right!" White Haven repeated, this time with a hint of a smile. "I'll go away and leave you in peace."

He stood, lifting Samantha back to his shoulder, and started for the door. But he stopped, just short of it, and looked back.

"It all makes sense the way you interpret it. And Elizabeth, and Willie," he said. "And you may all be right. But I can't help thinking, Tony—what if you're not? What if I'm not? What if this isn't just a chance to buy time to organize our defenses, but a genuine opportunity to end the war without anyone else getting killed?"

"In that case, a lot of people are going to be killed who wouldn't have to be," Langtry said levelly. "But all any of us can do is the best we can do and hope at the end of the day we can live with our choices."

"I know," Hamish Alexander said softly. "I know."

* * *

"We're ready for you now, Your Grace."

Honor switched off her pad, rose from the comfortable chair in the private waiting room, scooped Nimitz up from the chair beside her, and followed the nurse. Andrew LaFollet trailed along behind her, and she hid a smile as she remembered his expression the first time he'd accompanied her on a visit to her physician and she'd innocently invited him to accompany her into the examination room. She hadn't done that to him again, but she tasted his own memory of the event as he followed her down the hallway. And, to be honest, she was tempted to do it again this time, since it was only too obvious LaFollet strongly supported MacGuiness' insistence on this nonsense.

"Through here, Your Grace," the nurse said. He opened the exam room's door, and Honor glanced mischievously at LaFollet, who returned her gaze stoically, then looked at the nurse.

"Thank you. Ah, would it be all right if my armsman stands in the hall here?" she asked him.

"Quite all right, Your Grace," the nurse assured her. "We're aware of the Grayson security requirements."

"Good," she said, and smiled at LaFollet. "This shouldn't take too long, Andrew," she told him. "Of course, if you'd like to—"

She gestured at the examination room, one eyebrow arched, and treasured his long-suffering expression.

"That's all right, My Lady. I'll be fine right here," he assured her.

* * *

Honor checked the time again, and Nimitz bleeked a question as she frowned.

"Sorry, Stinker," she said, reaching out to scratch his chest as he reclined comfortably beside her on the examining table. "Just wondering what's become of Doctor Frazier."

Nimitz flipped his shoulders in an unmistakable shrug, and she chuckled. But she didn't stop wondering.

Both her parents were physicians, and she'd spent enough time undergoing repairs to be more familiar with the medical profession than most. There was a rhythm and a timing to examinations, and a routine physical shouldn't be taking this long. Doctor Frazier's nurse had run all the diagnostics and departed with the results almost ninety minutes ago. Frazier should have evaluated them and put in her own appearance within fifteen or twenty minutes at the outside.

"Wait here, Stinker."

Honor climbed down off the examining table, opened the door, and stuck her head out into the hall. LaFollet started to turn towards the door as it opened, then stopped, facing rigidly away from it.

"Oh, don't be silly, Andrew!" she scolded fondly. "I'm perfectly decent."

He turned his head, and his mouth twitched, hovering on the edge of a smile, as he took in her uniform trousers and blouse.

"Yes, My Lady?"

"I'm just wondering where Doctor Frazier is."

"Do you want me to go check, My Lady?"

"No, no." She shook her head. "I just wanted to poke my head out and look around. I'm sure she'll get here as soon as possible. I wonder what's holding her up, though."

"If you'd like—" LaFollet began, then broke off as Doctor Frazier came briskly down the hall with a memo board tucked firmly under her left arm.

Janet Frazier was trim, slender, auburn haired, and a good twenty-five centimeters shorter than Honor. She moved with a brisk confidence and habitually exuded the sense of authority which was one of the hallmarks of a good physician. She looked just as composed as usual, but both of Honor's eyebrows rose as she tasted the doctor's actual emotions. Consternation predominated, mingled with something very much like apprehension-flavored amusement.

"Your Grace," Frazier said. "I apologize for the delay. I had to, ah, recheck some test results and do a little research."

"I beg your pardon?" Honor said.

"Why don't we step back into the exam room, Your Grace?"

Honor obeyed the polite command. She stepped back up onto the stool, and parked herself on the edge of the padded table. Nimitz took one look at Frazier, then sat up beside Honor, ears cocked. The raised diagnostic sensors just cleared the top of Honor's head as she sat down, and Frazier tossed her memo board onto the polished top of a low cabinet and folded her arms across her chest.

"Your Grace," she said after a moment, "I'm pretty sure I have a surprise for you. The nausea you've been experiencing?"

She paused, and Honor nodded.

"It's morning sickness, Your Grace."

Honor blinked. For a long moment, perhaps five seconds, she had absolutely no idea what Frazier was talking about. Then it registered, and she sat bolt upright. In fact, she sat up so quickly she bashed the top of her head on one of the sensors.

Not that she even noticed the impact.

"That's ridiculous!" she snapped. "Impossible!"

"Your Grace, I checked the results three times," Frazier said. "Trust me. You are pregnant."

"But—But . . . I can't be!" Honor shook her head, thoughts skittering like a treecat kitten on ice. "I can't be," she repeated. "On more levels than you can possibly imagine, Doctor, I can't be."

"Your Grace," Frazier said, "I'm not in any position to comment on exactly how much opportunity you've had to become pregnant. But I can tell you, without any doubt whatsoever, that you are."

Honor's head spun. Frazier couldn't be right—she just couldn't.

"But . . . but my implant," she protested.

"I thought about that as soon as I saw the initial result," Frazier admitted. "That's one reason I checked it three times."

Honor stared at her. All active-duty female naval personnel eligible for shipboard duty were required to maintain current contraceptive implants as insurance against accidental pregnancy. The Navy provided a perfectly adequate implant good for one T-year, renewable with each annual physical, as part of its basic medical care, but anyone who wanted to pay for her own implant could do so, as long as it met the minimum one-year requirement of the Service and was kept current. Without that implant, she was restricted to dirt-side duty, safely away from the risk of accidental radiation exposures. Given her own career plans, Honor had opted for a ten-year implant. It could have been deactivated at any time, in the unlikely event her plans had changed, and it was simply one less detail to bother about.

"I'm not positive yet, Your Grace," Frazier continued, "but I think I may have figured out what happened. To the implant, I mean."

Honor shook her head and settled back down on the edge of the examining table. Nimitz flowed into her lap, leaning back against her, and she wrapped her arms tightly about his soft, comforting warmth and rested her chin on the top of his head.

"If you have any idea how it happened, it's more than I have," she said.

"I think it's a data entry error, Your Grace."

"A data entry error?"

"Yes." Frazier sighed. "This probably wouldn't have happened if Doctor McKinsey hadn't been called back to Beowulf, Your Grace. Unfortunately, he was, and I've been your personal physician only since your return from Cerberus. And your file was delivered to me from Bassingford when I first saw you."

Honor nodded.

"Apparently what happened was that when the Peeps announced your 'execution,' the Navy removed your files from the medical center's active database. After all, you were dead. So, when you turned up alive again, they had to reactivate your records. And I'm guessing there was some glitch, because according to your file, your implant was renewed after your return from Cerberus."

"After my return?" Honor shook her head vigorously. "Certainly not!"

"Oh, I'm well aware of that, Your Grace," Frazier said. "In fact, this is at least partly my fault. I didn't do a complete enough review of your records, or I might have realized the date indicated for your implant renewal was flatly impossible."

"But how could someone have screwed it up?" Honor demanded. Her brain, she realized, was not functioning especially well at the moment.

"My best guess?" Frazier said. "It looks to me as if when your records were reactivated all entries specific to Navy-monitored requirements—like the requirement that your contraceptive implant be current—were somehow reset to the date they were reactivated. Which means that so far as I knew from my records, which were based on Bassingford's, your implant should have been good for another three and a half T-years. Which, obviously, it wasn't."

Honor closed her eyes.

"I realize the timing on this is . . . awkward, Your Grace," Frazier said. "There are, of course, several options available to us. Which one you choose is up to you, but at least it's very early in the pregnancy. There's time to decide what you want to do."

"Doctor," Honor said, without opening her eyes, "I'm due to deploy to Trevor's Star in less than two weeks."


Honor opened her eyes at last, and smiled crookedly at Frazier's expression.

"That does put rather a tighter time constraint on it, doesn't it?" the doctor continued.

"You might put it that way . . . assuming you're given to understatement."

"Well, in that case, Your Grace," Frazier said, "and speaking as your physician, I think you'd better inform the father as quickly as you can."


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