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Chapter Forty

"Your Grace," Dr. Franz Illescue said stiffly, "on behalf of Briarwood Reproduction Center, I offer you my sincere and personal apologies for our inexcusable violation of your confidentiality. I've discussed the matter with our legal department, and I've instructed them not to contest any damages you may choose to seek because of our failure. Furthermore, in recognition of the media furor the unauthorized release of this information provoked, I have informed our billing department that all additional services will be billed at no charge to you."

Honor stood in the Briarwood foyer, facing Illescue, and tasted his genuine remorse. It was overlaid with more than a little resentment at finding himself in this position, especially in front of her. And there was no question that he also suspected—or feared, at least—that her parents would hold him personally responsible. Yet for all that, it was remorse and professional responsibility which truly drove his emotions. It was unlikely most people would have believed that, given his stiff-backed, tight-jawed body language and expression. Honor, however, had no choice but to accept it.

She rather regretted that. After running the gauntlet of newsies outside Briarwood—despite Solomon Hayes' fall from grace, the story was still grist for the mills of a certain particularly repulsive subspecies of newsy—she'd been positively looking forward to removing large, painful, bloody chunks of Franz Illescue's hide. Now she couldn't do that. Not when it was so obvious to her, at least, that he truly meant his apology.

"Dr. Illescue," she said after a moment, "I know you personally had nothing to do with the leakage of this information."

His eyes widened slightly, and she tasted his astonishment at her reasonable tone.

"In addition," she continued, "I've had quite a bit of experience with large, bureaucratic organizations. The Queen's Navy, for example. While I'm aware the captain is responsible for anything that happens aboard her ship, I'm also aware that things happen over which she has no actual control. I'm convinced this leak was an example of that sort of lapse.

"I won't pretend I'm not angry, or that I don't strongly resent what's happened. I feel confident, however, that you've done everything in your power to discover just how this information got into the hands of someone like Solomon Hayes. I see no point in punishing you or your facility for the criminal actions of some individual acting without your authority and against Briarwood's policies on patient confidentiality. I have no intention of seeking damages, punitive or otherwise, from you or Briarwood. I'll accept your offer to provide your future services without fee, and for my part, I'll consider the matter otherwise closed."

"Your Grace—" Illescue began, then stopped. He gazed at her for a moment, his clenched expression easing slightly, then drew a deep breath.

"That's extraordinarily generous and gracious of you, Your Grace," he said, with absolute sincerity. "I won't apologize further, because, frankly, no one could apologize adequately for this lapse. I would, however, be honored if you'd allow me to personally escort you to your son."

* * *

Honor stood in the small, pleasantly pastel room, Andrew LaFollet at her back, and gazed at the innocuous-looking cabinet at the room's center. She could have pressed a button which would have retracted the "cabinet's" housing and revealed the artificial womb in which her child was steadily maturing, but she chose not to. She'd viewed all the medical reports, and the medical imagery, and a part of her wanted to see the fetus with her own eyes. But she'd already decided she wouldn't do that until Hamish and Emily could accompany her. This was her child, but he was also theirs, and she would not take that moment from them.

She smiled at her own possible silliness, then walked across the room, seated herself beside the unit, and lowered Nimitz from her shoulder to her lap. The powered chair was luxuriously comfortable, and she leaned back, closing her eyes and listening. The volume wasn't turned very high on the speakers, but she could hear what her unborn son was hearing. The steady sound of her own recorded heart beat. Snatches of music—especially the works of Salvatore Hammerwell, her favorite composer—and the sound of her own voice reading. Reading, in fact, she realized with another, quite different smile, from David and the Phoenix.

She sat there for several minutes, listening, absorbing, sharing. This was the child of her body, the child she'd been unable to carry, and this quiet, comfortable room existed exactly for what she was doing. For bringing herself, at least temporarily, into the presence of the mystic process from which circumstance, fate, and duty had excluded her. And in Honor's case, there was even more to it than for other mothers.

She reached out from behind her eyes, listening with more than just her ears, and there, in the quiet of her mind, she found him. She felt him. He was a bright, drowsy, drifting presence. As yet unformed, yet moving steadily towards becoming. His mind-glow danced in the depths of her own mind and heart, glorious with the promise of what he would be and become, stirring to the sound of his parents' voices, yearning from his peaceful dreams towards the future which awaited him.

In that moment, she knew, at least partly, what a treecat mother felt, and a part of her quailed at the thought of ever leaving this room again. Of separating herself from that new, bright life glowing so softly and yet so powerfully in her perceptions. Her closed eyes prickled, and she remembered the verse Katherine Mayhew had found for her when she'd had Willard Neufsteiler arrange the funding for her first Grayson orphanage. It was an ancient poem, older than the Diaspora itself, carefully preserved on Grayson because of how perfectly it spoke to their society and beliefs.


Not flesh of my flesh, or bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute;
You didn't grow under my heart, but in it.


She supposed it didn't really apply to her in this case. And yet . . . it did. Because whatever else was true of this child, he was growing daily, stronger, more vibrant, more real within her heart. And she'd already asked Katherine to send her a presentation copy of it for Emily.

She blinked, then turned her head and looked at LaFollet. The colonel wasn't looking at her at that instant. His eyes, too, were on the unit at the center of the room, and his unguarded expression mirrored his emotions. This was his child, too, she realized. Unlike most Grayson males, LaFollet had never married. She knew why that was, too, and she felt a sudden fresh flicker of guilt. But perhaps in part because of that, the emotions flooding out of him as he gazed at the bland cabinet hiding his Steadholder's unborn son were more than simply fiercely protective. They were, in fact, very, very similar to the ones she tasted from Nimitz.

Honor savored her armsman's mind-glow, and as she did, something crystallized within her. She looked at LaFollet again, seeing the gray flecking his still thick auburn hair, the crows feet at the corners of his steady gray eyes, the lines etched in his face. He was eight T-years younger than she was, but physically he could have been her father.

And he was also the only surviving member of her original personal security team. Every one of the others, and all too many of their replacements, had been killed in the line of duty. Including Jamie Candless, who'd stayed behind aboard a ship he'd known was going to be blown up, to cover his Steadholder's escape.

There was no adequate recompense for that sort of loyalty, and she knew it would have insulted Andrew LaFollet if she'd suggested there ought to be one. But as she tasted his fierce devotion, his love for her unborn son—and for her—an equally fierce determination filled her.

"Andrew," she said quietly.

"Yes, My Lady?"

He looked at her, eyes slightly narrowed, and she tasted his surprise at her tone.

"Sit down, Andrew."

She pointed at the chair beside hers, and he glanced at it, then looked back at her.

"I'm on duty, My Lady," he reminded her.

"And Spencer is standing right outside that door. I want you to sit down, Andrew. Please."

He gazed at her for a moment longer, then slowly crossed the room and obeyed her. She tasted his growing concern, almost wariness, but he regarded her attentively.

"Thank you," she said, and reached out to lay one hand lightly on the artificial womb.

"A lot of things are going to change when this child is born, Andrew. I can't even begin to imagine what some of them are going to be, but others are pretty obvious to me. For one thing, Harrington Steading's going to have a new heir, with all the security details that involves. For another thing, there's going to be a brand new human being in this universe, one whose safety is far more important to me than my own could ever be. And because of that, I have a new duty for you."

"My Lady," LaFollet began quickly, his tone almost frightened, "I've been thinking about that, and I have several armsmen in mind who'd be—"


The single word cut him off, and she smiled at him, then reached out and cupped the side of his face in her right hand. It was the first time she'd ever touched him quite like that, and he froze, like a frightened horse.

She smiled at him.

"I know who I want," she told him quietly.

"My Lady," he protested, "I'm your armsman. I'm flattered—honored—more than you could possibly imagine, but I belong with you. Please."

His voice wavered ever so slightly on the last word, and Honor caressed his cheek with her fingers. Then she shook her head.

"No, Andrew. You are my armsman—you always will be. My perfect armsman. The man who's saved my life not once, but over and over. The man who helped save my sanity more than once. The man whose shoulder I've wept on, and who's covered my back for fifteen years. I love you, Andrew LaFollet. And I know you love me. And you're the one man I trust to protect my son. The one man I want to protect my son."

"My Lady—" His voice was hoarse, shaky, and he shook his head slowly, almost pleadingly.

"Yes, Andrew," she told him, sitting back in her chair again, answering the unspoken question she tasted in his emotions. "Yes, I do have another motive, and you've guessed what it is. I want you as safe as I can make you. I've lost Simon, Jamie, Robert, and Eddy. I don't want to lose you, too. I want to know you're alive. And if, God forbid, something happens and I'm killed in action, I want to know you're still here, still protecting my son for me, because I know no one else in this universe will do it as well as you will."

He stared at her, his eyes brimming with tears, and then he laid his hand atop the artificial womb exactly as he'd once laid it atop a Bible the day he swore his personal fealty to her.

"Yes, My Lady," he said softly. "When your son is born. On that day, I'll become his armsman, too. And whatever happens, I swear I will protect him with my life."

"I know you will, Andrew," she told him. "I know you will."

* * *

"Well, that didn't work out too well, did it?" Albrecht Detweiler said conversationally.

Aldona Anisimovna and Isabel Bardasano glanced at one another, then turned back to the face displayed on the secure com. They sat in Anisimovna's office—one of her offices—on Mesa itself, and they had no doubt what Detweiler was referring to. Just over one T-month had passed since the attempt on Honor Harrington's life, and this was the first time since then that they'd been back in the Mesa System.

"I haven't had time to fully familiarize myself with the reports, Albert," Bardasano said after a moment. "As you know, we've only been back in-system for a few hours. On the basis of what I've seen so far, I'd have to agree it didn't work out as planned. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one remains to be seen."

"Indeed?" Detweiler cocked his head, one eyebrow rising, and Anisimovna tried to decide whether his expression was more one of amusement or irritation.

"Are you sure you aren't simply trying to put the best face possible on a failure, Isabel?" he asked after a moment.

"Of course I am, to some extent." Bardasano smiled slightly. "If I said I wasn't, I'd be lying. Worse, you'd know I was. That could be decidedly unhealthy for me. By the same token, however, you know what my usual success rate is. And I think you also recognize I'm valuable not simply for the operations I carry out successfully, but also for my brain."

"That's certainly been true up till now," he agreed.

"Well, then," she said, "let's look at what happened. The operation should have succeeded—would have succeeded, according to the reports I have had time to look over—if not for the fact that Harrington had a pulser, of all things, actually built into her artificial hand."

She shrugged.

"None of the intelligence available to us suggested any such possibility, so it was impossible to factor it into our plans. Apparently, our vehicle succeeded in taking out her bodyguard, exactly as we'd planned, and under circumstances which should have left him armed when she wasn't. And then, unfortunately, she shot him . . . with her finger."

Bardasano grimaced, and Detweiler actually chuckled, ever so slightly.

"So that's why the operation failed," she continued. "However, removing Harrington herself, while it would have been extremely satisfying personally to all of us on several levels, was never really the primary object of killing her. True, it would have been useful to deprive the Manties of one of their best naval commanders. And, equally true, the fact that she and Anton Zilwicki have become such good friends only adds to the reasons to want her dead. But what we were really after was killing her in a way which would convince the Manties generally, and Elizabeth Winton in particular, Haven had done it. And that, Albrecht, is exactly the conclusion which our Foreign Office agent informs us they all reached. After all, who else had a reason to want her killed?"

"I think Isabel has a point, Albrecht," Anisimovna put in. Technically, the Harrington assassination hadn't been Anisimovna's responsibility in any way. The fact that she and Bardasano were working together on several other projects—and that Bardasano's sudden demise would complicate those projects significantly—gave her a distinct vested interest in the younger woman's survival, however.

"You do?" Detweiler's eyes moved from Bardasano to Anisimovna.

"I do," she replied firmly. "It's well known that the Legislaturalists and Pierre and his lunatics all used assassination as a standard tool. Given that history, it was inevitable, I think, for the Manties to automatically assume that Pritchart—who's killed quite a few people herself, in her time—ordered Harrington's assassination. Especially given how successful Harrington's raids have been." She shrugged. "So as far as I can see, Isabel's right. The operation succeeded in its primary objective."

"And," Bardasano added almost diffidently, "the reports I've had a chance to view so far all agree that the Manties don't have any more clue as to how we managed it than the Andermani did."

"That's true enough." Detweiler pursed his lips thoughtfully for a moment, then shrugged. "All right, on balance I agree with you. I would, however, add that I was one of the individuals who expected to take considerable personal satisfaction in knowing she was dead. Should the opportunity to rectify that aspect of this operation present itself, I trust it will be taken."

"Oh, you can count on that," Bardasano promised with a thin smile.

"Good. Well, turning from that, how are things proceeding in Talbott?"

"Well, as of our last reports," Anisimovna said. "Obviously, we're several weeks behind here, thanks to the communications lag, but both Nordbrandt and Westman seem to be working out well, each in his or her own way. Personally, I think Nordbrandt is more useful to us where Solly public opinion is concerned, but Westman's probably the more effective, in the long term.

"Politically, the reports coming out of their constitutional convention indicate Tonkovic is still digging in to resist annexation terms which would be acceptable to Manticore. She doesn't have any intention of actually killing the annexation, but she's so genuinely stupid she doesn't realize she's playing her fiddle while the house burns down above her. And reports from our people in Manticore all confirm that the combination of Nordbrandt's attacks and Tonkovic's obstructionism are contributing to a small but growing domestic resistance to annexing the Cluster after all."

"And Monica?"

"Levakonic is effectively in charge of that part of the operation," Bardasano said. "Aldona and I did the original spadework, but Izrok is coordinating the delivery and refitting of the battle-cruisers. According to his last dispatch, they're running behind schedule. Apparently the Monicans' shipyards are less capable than they assured Izrok they were. He's brought in some additional technicians to expedite matters, and even with the slippage to date, we're well within the originally projected timetable. I'm not totally comfortable with the fact that the schedule is slipping at all, but at the moment things appear to be under control."

"Verbs like 'appear' always make me uncomfortable," Detweiler observed in a whimsical tone.

"I realize that," Bardasano said calmly. "Unfortunately, in black ops like this, they crop up quite a lot."

"I know." Detweiler nodded. "And what about the propaganda offensive in the League?"

"There," Anisimovna admitted, "we're hitting some air pockets."


"Mostly because the Manties have replaced the complete incompetents High Ridge and Descroix had assigned to their embassy on Old Earth." Anisimovna grimaced. "I never would have picked Webster as an ambassador, but I have to admit that he's doing them proud. I suppose it has something to do with all the political experience he gained as First Space Lord. At any rate, he comes across as a very reassuring, solid, reliable, truthful fellow. Not only as a talking head on HD, either. Several of our sources tell us he comes across that way in one-on-one conversations with League officials, as well. At the same time, he—or someone on his staff, although all the indications are that he's the one behind it—has orchestrated a remarkably effective PR campaign.

"We're making progress, Albrecht. All the imagery of blood, explosions, and body parts coming out of Split are at least creating a widespread sense that someone in the Cluster objects to the annexation. And our own PR people tell us they're making some ground in convincing the Solly in the street to project Nordbrandt's activities onto all the Cluster's systems. But I'd be misleading you if I suggested Webster isn't doing some very successful damage control. In particular, he's succeeded in pointing out that actions like Nordbrandt's are those of a lunatic fringe, and that lunatics aren't exactly the best barometer for how the sane members of any society are reacting."

"And how serious is that?"

"For our purposes, not very, at this point," Anisimovna said confidently. "We're providing a justification for Frontier Security to do what we want. We don't have to convince the Solly public; we only have to provide a pretext OFS can use, and they've had lots of practice using far less graphic pretexts then Nordbrandt and Westman. Assuming President Tyler and his Navy hold up their end, Verrochio will have all the fig leaf he needs."

"I see." Detweiler pondered for several seconds, then shrugged.

"I see," he repeated. "Still, from what you're saying, this Webster is at least a minor irritant, yes?"

"I think that's fair enough," Anisimovna agreed.

"And he's popular on Manticore?"

"Quite popular. In fact, there was considerable pressure to reassign him to command their Home Fleet, rather than 'waste' him as a diplomat."

"Then having him assassinated by the Peeps would be more than mildly irritating?"

"It certainly would."

"Very well. Isabel."

"Yes, Albrecht?"

"I know you've got a lot on your plate, but I'd like you to see to this little matter, as well. And this time, when you choose your vehicle, pick someone from the Havenite diplomatic staff on Old Earth. Sometimes you have to be really obvious to convince neobarbs to draw the desired conclusion."


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