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Chapter Forty-Two

"Congratulations, Your Grace," Mercedes Brigham said with a huge smile, waiting just inside the hatch as Honor and Nimitz swam the transfer tube between the shuttle from Manticore and her pinnace. Andrew LaFollet and Spencer Hawke followed the two of them, and Brigham chuckled as Honor raised an eyebrow at her greeting.

"The news is all over the Fleet by now." The chief of staff gestured at the ring glittering on Honor's right hand. "I was actually a bit surprised by how many people were surprised, if you know what I mean."

"And the reaction?" Honor asked.

"Ranges from mere approval to ecstatic, I'd say," Brigham told her.

"No concerns over One-Nineteen?"

"Of course not." Brigham chuckled again. "You know as well as I do that One-Nineteen is probably the most winked at of the Articles. Even if it weren't, nobody's going to suggest it applies to you and Earl White Haven. Or," Brigham cocked her head, "is he Steadholder Consort Harrington now?"

"Please!" Honor gave a deliberate shudder. "I can hardly wait for the Conclave of Steadholders to start in on this one! I seem to spend most of my time trying to find ways to give the real conservatives apoplexy."

"One can only hope it carries some of them off," Brigham said tartly, with all the fervor of the years she'd spent in the Grayson Space Navy.

"A most improper thought—with which I agree completely, however unofficially."

Honor looked demurely over her shoulder at LaFollet, who returned her gaze with a deadpan expression. Then she held out her arms, and Nimitz swarmed down into them from her shoulder as she moved towards her seat. Brigham followed her, and seated herself across the aisle as the flight engineer sealed the hatch and the transfer tube detached. She and Honor and Honor's armsmen were the pinnace's only two-legged passengers, and LaFollet and Hawke chose seats two rows in front of Honor, between her and the flight deck.

It wasn't their usual position, and Honor's cheerfulness dimmed slightly as she tasted their emotions. Simon Mattingly's death, and Honor's narrow escape, had left their mark. Her armsmen's professional paranoia had risen to new heights, and she didn't much like the hairtrigger on which they were poised. She made another mental note to discuss the situation with LaFollet, then returned her attention to Brigham.

"What's the word on our repairs?"

"Imperator's going to be in yard hands for at least another month, Your Grace." Brigham's expression sobered. "Probably more, actually. None of the damage may've gotten through to the core hull, but her after graser mounts took a lot heavier beating than we thought before the yard survey. Agamemnon's going to be out of service even longer than that. Truscott Adams and Tisiphone should be returning sometime in the next three to six weeks."

"I was afraid of that when I saw the preliminary yard surveys," Honor sighed. "Oh, well. What can't be cured must be endured, as we say on Grayson. And it's not as if repairs are the only thing that's going to be slowing us up."

"Your Grace?"

"I spent three days at Admiralty House, Mercedes. The situation after Zanzibar is even worse than we'd thought. The Caliph is apparently considering withdrawing from the Alliance."

"What?" Brigham sat upright abruptly, and Honor shrugged.

"It's hard to blame him, really. Look at it. His star system's been hammered flat twice, and he joined the Alliance in the first place for protection. It's kind of hard to argue we've protected his people successfully."

"And it's his own admiral's damned fault!" Brigham said hotly. "If al-Bakr hadn't overruled Padgorny and given the Peeps a roadmap of the system defenses, it never would have happened!"

"I know that's the general view in the Fleet, but I'm not sure it's fair."

Brigham looked at her semi-incredulously, and Honor shrugged.

"I'm not saying al-Bakr made the right decision, or that the decision he did make didn't help the Havenites considerably. But if they'd sent in the same attack force against our original defensive deployment, it would have steamrollered anything in its path anyway. Sure, the missile pods would've hurt them more than they did, but not enough to stop an attack that powerful under Lester Tourville's command. The fact that they knew what we'd originally deployed may have inspired them to send a heavier force in the first place, but once they'd made that level of commitment, our original setup wouldn't have stopped them even if it had taken them completely by surprise."

"Maybe you're right." Brigham's concession was manifestly unwilling. "But even if you are, our losses would have been a lot lighter if we hadn't had to throw good money after bad by reinforcing."

"Mercedes," Honor said just a bit sternly, "we have an alliance. That implies mutual responsibilities and obligations—and I might remind you that High Ridge's idiotic failure to remember that has already cost us Erewhon. If we find our obligations under the treaty too onerous, then we should be happy to see Zanzibar withdraw from it. If we don't, then the Star Kingdom—and the Queen—have a direct, personal responsibility to discharge them. And that means reinforcing a threatened ally to the very best of our ability."

Brigham looked at her rebelliously for just a moment, then sighed.

"Point taken, Your Grace. It's just—" She broke off, shaking her head.

"I understand," Honor said. "But the Fleet's angry enough as it is. You and I have a special responsibility to avoid pumping any more hydrogen into that particular fire."

"Understood, Ma'am."

"Good. Having said that, however," Honor continued, "there are some members of the Government—and a few people at Admiralty House, for that matter—who think we should actually be encouraging Zanzibar, and possibly Alizon, as well, to declare nonbelligerent status."

"They what?" Brigham blinked. "After all the trouble we went to to build the Alliance in the first place?"

"The situation was a bit different then," Honor pointed out. "We were on our own against the Peeps, and we were looking for strategic depth. Zanzibar and Alizon have both been net contributors to the Alliance—or would have been, if the need to rebuild both of them after McQueen's Operation Icarus hadn't cost so much—but what we really wanted them for was forward bases when everyone was still thinking in terms of system-by-system advances."

She shrugged.

"Strategic thinking's changed, as our own ops—and Tourville's attack on Zanzibar—demonstrate. Both sides are thinking in terms of deep strikes now, operating deep into 'enemy territory,' and simple strategic depth, unless you've got one heck of a lot of it, is looking less and less important. Not only that, but with Zanzibar effectively knocked out of the war for at least eight T-months to a T-year, the system's become a defensive obligation which offers no return. And Alizon, which also got hammered by Icarus, really only offers us the capacity to build a few dozen battlecruisers or lighter units at a time.

"So the new school of thought argues that freeing ourselves of the defensive commitments to protect relatively minor star systems would actually allow us to concentrate more strength in Home Fleet and here in Eighth Fleet. At the same time, assuming the Republic's willing to accept their neutrality and leave them alone, it gets them out of the line of fire. And the important allies at this moment are Grayson and the Andermani. We can protect Grayson more strongly if we can recall the forces currently tied down by commitments like Alizon, and the Andermani are effectively secure against direct attack simply because of how far away they are."

Brigham sat without speaking for almost two minutes, obviously considering what Honor had just said, then looked at her admiral.

"And do you agree with the 'new school of thought,' Your Grace?"

"I think it's a rational, fresh approach to the problem. And I think that if the Republic is willing to accept and respect the future neutrality of current members of the Alliance, it would be very much in our interest to pursue the possibility. My biggest reservation is whether or not the Republic will accept anything of the sort, though."

"They've been trying to split the Alliance for decades," Brigham pointed out.

"Yes, they have. But one thing Eloise Pritchart and Thomas Theisman obviously aren't is stupid, which means they're as well aware as we are of how the strategic and operational realities have changed. So, if I were they, I'd be very tempted to reject any easy out for our allies. I'd insist on their surrender, rather than simply allowing them to say they're tired of playing and want to go home."

"Or," Brigham said slowly, "you might agree to allow them to become neutral, when what you really intend to do is sweep them right up as soon as we withdraw our units and leave them on their own."

"That's certainly one possibility. And given the Pritchart Administration's apparent track record in interstellar diplomacy, quite a few people opposed to the idea are making the same point. Personally, I think that if Pritchart officially agreed to accept their neutrality, she'd almost have to stand by her word precisely because of the dispute over what happened to our diplomatic correspondence before the shooting started again. I've said as much, not without evoking quite a bit of incredulity. It's not a point on which the Government at large and I, or even my new brother-in-law and I, seem to be in close agreement." She grimaced. "Fortunately, perhaps, it's a decision I don't have to make."

"But it is going to affect our stance here, isn't it? That's why you brought it up."

"Yes, it is. As things stand now, we're being forced to make even heavier commitments to Alizon and the other secondary systems because of what happened at Zanzibar. Which means, of course, that finding replacements and reinforcements for Eighth Fleet just got even harder. And given what we blundered into in Solon, Admiralty House is insistent that we have to be reinforced before we resume offensive operations. We can't afford another hammering like the one Giscard gave us."

"So it's confirmed that it was Giscard?"

"The news came in just before my shuttle left. He's been officially voted the thanks of the Republic's Congress for his successful defense of Solon. And Tourville got the same thing for hammering Zanzibar."

"That's good to know," Brigham said thoughtfully. Honor looked at her, and the chief of staff shrugged. "It always makes me feel better, somehow, to be able to put a face on the enemy, Your Grace."

"Does it?" Honor shook her head. "It helps me when I consider their probable actions or reactions, but I really think I'd rather not know the people on the other side. It's easier to kill strangers."

"Don't fool yourself, Your Grace," Brigham said quietly. "I've known you a long time now. The fact that they're strangers doesn't make you feel any better about killing them."

Honor looked at her again, more sharply, and her chief of staff looked back levelly. And she was right, Honor thought.

"At any rate," she continued, her tone conceding the point, "we can't afford to let them do that to us again for several reasons. The losses themselves are painful enough, but we've got to regain the momentum, and we're not going to be able to do that if they keep bloodying our nose. So the decision's been taken that even though it's important to get back onto the offensive as quickly as we can, we're not going to do it until we've been able to reinforce Eighth Fleet significantly. Which means turning up additional modern wallers, among other things."

"Which is going to take how long?" Brigham asked anxiously.

"At least another six to eight weeks. That's why I said Imperator's repair time wasn't going to set us back badly."

"New wallers sound good, but I hate the thought of giving them that much free time, Your Grace." Brigham's expression was worried. "They've got to be tempted to follow up their success against Zanzibar, and if we take the pressure off of them for a couple of months . . ."

She let her voice trail off, and Honor nodded.

"I made the same point to Admiral Caparelli and the Strategy Board. And I also made a suggestion about how we might alleviate some of the worse consequences of having to effectively stand down Eighth Fleet's offensive for that long."

"What sort of suggestion, Your Grace?" Brigham regarded her narrowly.

"We're going to try to keep them looking over their shoulders. Beginning next week—about the time we'd be doing it anyway, if we were following the cycle we established in Cutworm Two and Three—our destroyers are going to start scouting half a dozen of their systems. They'll do exactly what they've been doing as the preliminary for each of our earlier attacks. Except, of course, that there won't be any attacks."

"That's . . . deliciously nasty, Your Grace," Brigham said admiringly. "They'll have to assume we do plan to attack and react accordingly."

"Initially, at least. I suspect they're smart enough to wonder if that isn't exactly what we're doing, since they know they've hurt us badly. But I think you're right; they're going to have to honor the threat, at least the first time we do it to them. After that, they could change their minds."

"So if we do it to them two or three times while we aren't ready to attack," Brigham said, "get them accustomed to the idea that our scouts are just part of a strategy of bluffs, then when we are ready to attack—"

"Then hopefully, scouting the systems will actually give us a bit of an edge of surprise, since they'll know we aren't really going to hit them," Honor agreed. "And if we do it right, we may be able to convince them to do an al-Bakr and tip their hands on their current defensive thinking and deployments."

"I like it," Brigham said. "Obviously, I'd prefer not to have to suspend operations, but if we have to, let's make it work for us as much as we can."

"That's more or less what I was thinking. So why don't you and I spend some time thinking about which systems we'd like to make them most nervous about?

* * *

"Your Grace?"

Honor and Spencer Hawke broke immediately, stepping back towards opposite sides of the mat. They fell into rest positions, then Honor bowed and Hawke returned the courtesy before she turned towards James MacGuiness.

"Yes, Mac?"

MacGuiness stood just inside the gymnasium hatch. Like Honor's original flagship, HMS Second Yeltsin was an Invictus-class superdreadnought. Honor had transferred her flag to her while Imperator was undergoing repairs, but although she and her staff been aboard Second Yeltsin for almost two weeks now, ever since her return from Manticore, the ship still didn't feel like "home."

Still, it wasn't exactly like camping out in a hut in the woods, either. Second Yeltsin, like Imperator, had been built as a flagship from the keel out, and several of her amenities reflected her flagship status, including the small, well-equipped private "flag gym" one deck down from the admiral's personal quarters. Honor had preferred to use the main gymnasium aboard Imperator, where she could take the pulse of the flagship's crew's morale and attitudes, but since Simon Mattingly's and Timothy Meares' deaths, Andrew LaFollet had put his foot down firmly. He simply could not guarantee her security with so many people so close together, and his feelings—and concern—had been so strong that this time Honor had offered barely token resistance. Even now, she could taste her personal armsman's focused attention as he stood behind MacGuiness, of all people, tautly wary of any sudden move on the other man's part.

"There's a special courier boat, Your Grace." If MacGuiness was aware of LaFollet's scrutiny, and he almost certainly was, he gave no sign of it. Nor did Honor taste any resentment of her armsmen's heightened wariness in MacGuiness' mind-glow. "It's from Admiralty House," he continued. "It just came through the Junction, and Harper's already received a transmission from it. It has personal dispatches aboard for you."

Honor felt her eyebrows try to rise. The regular morning shuttle from Manticore had arrived barely three hours ago; the evening shuttle was due in another five. So what was so urgent that the Admiralty had sent it aboard a special dispatch boat?

She felt a sudden pang of anxiety, then forced herself to put it aside. If this had been some sort of personal bad news, it would have arrived aboard a private courier, not an official Admiralty dispatch boat.

"Thank you, Mac," she said calmly. "I'll grab a shower and take the dispatches in my quarters."

"Of course, Your Grace."

MacGuiness bobbed his head and departed, and Honor turned back to Hawke.

"I'm sorry to break this up, Spencer. I think you're starting to get the hang of it." Hawke grinned; he'd only been studying coup de vitesse for ten T-years. "Schedule permitting, maybe we can finish the session before supper," she said.

"As always, My Lady, I'm at your disposal," he told her with a bow, and she chuckled and looked at LaFollet.

"By golly, we're getting close to getting him civilized, aren't we?"

"'Close' only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and tactical nuclear weapons, My Lady," LaFollet replied gravely.

* * *

Honor slid the data chip into her desktop terminal. The display came up, and she frowned slightly as a header floated before her. The dispatch bore the electronic seal and personal cipher key of the First Lord, not the First Space Lord. Was it a personal message from Hamish, after all?

She input her own key and slid her right hand across the DNA sniffer. An instant later, the display blinked in acceptance, and the header disappeared, replaced by Hamish's face. He looked oddly excited, but not worried. In fact, if anything, the reverse.

"Honor," he said, "I suppose I could've let this come to you through normal channels, but I decided you'd hurt me if I did. So I pulled rank and got Tom Caparelli to agree to let me send you a special dispatch. Hold onto your socks, love."

He drew a deep breath, and Honor felt her shoulders tightening in anticipation of she knew not what.

"We just got an official message from the Peeps, delivered through Erewhon. It's an updated list of the names of POWs and of our personnel who they've confirmed as KIAs. According to it, Mike Henke is alive."

Honor sat back in her chair as abruptly as if someone had punched her in the chest. Which, she realized an instant later, as Nimitz reared up on his perch in reaction to her emotional spike, was exactly what it felt like. She stared at the display, and Hamish looked back out of it at her without speaking for several seconds, as if he'd anticipated her reaction and was giving her time to fight through it before he continued.

"We don't have many details," he went on after several seconds, "but it sounds as if Ajax must've gotten at least one of her boat bays cleared. From the list, it looks like about a third of her people got off, including Mike. She's hurt, we don't know how badly, but according to the Peeps' message, her injuries are definitely not life-threatening, and she's getting the best medical care they can provide. In fact, all of your wounded are.

"There's at least a suggestion, towards the end of their message, that they might be open to the idea of prisoner exchanges. You've been telling us all along that there's a big difference between the current régime and Pierre and his cutthroats. This certainly seems to bear that out. Of course, there are those—including the Queen—who argue that this is some sort of a trick, something designed to put us off guard, somehow, by a leopard who doesn't know how to change its spots. But whether they're right or not, I knew you'd want to know about Mike as soon as possible.

"According to their dispatch, the Peeps intend to allow personal messages from and to their POWs, strictly according to the Deneb Accords. Which is another refreshing change from StateSec or the Legislaturalists. I figured you'd probably want to start thinking about a message to her."

He paused again, giving her a few more seconds to think, then smiled.

"Whatever her suspicions, Elizabeth's overjoyed to know Mike is still alive. So is everyone who knows her. And Emily and I are almost happier for you than we are for ourselves. Be well, love. Clear."

The display blanked, and Honor sat staring at it. Nimitz swarmed down from his perch, climbed into her arms, and patted her on the cheek. She looked down, and his flying fingers began to sign.

<See? Told you things would get better. Now maybe your mind-glow will finish healing.>

"I'm sorry, Stinker." She stroked the back of his head. "I know I haven't been the best company since Solon."

<You lost a fight,> he signed back. <The first one you ever really lost. I don't think you knew how to do that. And you thought your friend was gone. Of course your mind-glow was darker. Strong Heart and Sees Clearly are good for you, they make you whole, but you have always been hardest on yourself. Deep inside, you could not forgive yourself for Mike's death. Now you don't have to.>

"Maybe you're right." She hugged him gently. It was unusual for him to use Hamish and Emily's treecat names in normal conversation. The fact that he had reflected how concerned he'd been about her, she realized, and she hugged him again.

"Maybe you're right," she repeated, and her face blossomed in an enormous smile as she felt the realization that her best friend was still alive sinking home on an emotional as well as an intellectual basis. "In fact, Stinker, I think you are right. And I also think we'd better go find Mac and tell him about this before he finds out from someone else!"

* * *

"Admiral Henke."

Michelle Henke opened her eyes, then struggled hastily upright in the hospital bed as she saw the person who'd spoken her name. It wasn't easy, with her left leg still in traction while the quick heal rebuilt the shattered bone. But although they'd never met, she'd seen more than enough publicity imagery to recognize the platinum-haired, topaz-eyed woman standing at the foot of her bed.

"Don't bother, Admiral," Eloise Pritchart said. "You've been hurt, and this isn't really an official visit."

"You're a head of state, Madam President," Henke said dryly, getting herself upright and then settling back in relief as the elevating upper end of the bed caught up with her shoulders. "That means it is an official visit."

"Well, perhaps you're right," Pritchart acknowledged with a charming smile. Then she gestured at the chair beside the bed. "May I?"

"Of course. After all, it's your chair. In fact," Henke waved at the pleasant, if not precisely luxurious, room, "this is your entire hospital."

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose."

Pritchart seated herself gracefully, then sat there for several seconds, her head cocked slightly to the side, her expression thoughtful.

"To what do I owe the honor, Madam President?" Henke asked finally.

"Several things. First, you're our senior POW, in several senses. You're the highest ranking, militarily speaking, and you're also—what? Fifth in the line of succession?"

"Since my older brother was murdered, yes," Henke said levelly, and had the satisfaction of seeing Pritchart flinch ever so slightly.

"I'm most sincerely sorry about the death of your father and your brother, Admiral Henke," she said, her voice equally level, meeting Henke's eyes squarely as she spoke. "We've determined from our own records that StateSec was, in fact, directly responsible for that assassination. The fanatics who actually carried it out may have been Masadans, but StateSec effectively recruited them and provided the weapons. As far as we're able to determine, all the individuals directly involved in the decision to carry out that operation are either dead or in prison. Not," she continued as Henke's eyebrows began to arch in disbelief, "because of that particular operation, but because of an entire catalog of crimes they'd committed against the people of their own star nation. In fact, while I'm sure it won't do anything to alleviate your own grief and anger, I'd simply point out that the same people were responsible for the deaths of untold thousands—no, millions—of their own citizens. The Republic of Haven has had more than enough of men and women like that."

"I'm sure you have," Henke said, watching the other woman carefully. "But you don't seem to have completely renounced their methods."

"In what way?" Pritchart asked a bit sharply, her eyes narrowing.

"I could bring up the little matter of your immediately prewar diplomacy, except that I'm reasonably certain we wouldn't agree on that point," Henke said. "So instead, I'll restrict myself to pointing out your attempt to assassinate Duchess Harrington. Who, I might remind you, happens to be a personal friend of mine."

"I'm aware of your close relationship with the Duchess," Pritchart said. "In fact, that's one of the several reasons I mentioned for this conversation. Some of my senior officers, including Secretary of War Theisman and Admiral Tourville and Admiral Foraker have met your 'Salamander.' They think very highly of her. And if they believed for a moment that my administration had ordered her assassination, they'd be very, very displeased with me."

"Forgive me, Madam President, but that's not exactly the same thing as saying you didn't authorize it."

"No, it isn't, is it?" Pritchart smiled. "I'd forgotten for a moment that you're used to moving at the highest level of politics in the Star Kingdom. You have a politician's ear, even if you are 'only a naval officer.' However, I'll be clearer. Neither I, nor anyone else in my administration, ordered or authorized an attempt to assassinate Duchess Harrington."

It was Henke's eyes' turn to narrow. As Pritchart said, she was accustomed to dealing with Manticoran politicians, if not politics per se. In her time, she'd met some extraordinarily adroit and polished liars. But if Eloise Pritchart was another of them, it didn't show.

"That's an interesting statement, Madam President. Unfortunately, with all due respect, I have no way to know it's accurate. And even if you think it is, that doesn't necessarily mean some rogue element in your administration didn't order it."

"I'm not surprised you feel that way, and we here in the Republic have certainly had more than enough experience with operations mounted by 'rogue elements.' I can only say I believe very strongly that the statement I just made is accurate. And I'll also say I've replaced both my external and internal security chiefs with men I've known for years, and in whom I have the greatest personal confidence. If any rogue operation was mounted against Duchess Harrington, it was mounted without their knowledge or approval. Of that much, I'm absolutely positive."

"And who else would you suggest might have a motive for wanting her dead? Or the resources to try to kill her in that particular fashion?"

"We don't have many specific details about how the attempt was made," Pritchart countered. "From what we have seen, however, speculation seems to be centering on the possibility that her young officer—a Lieutenant Meares, I believe—was somehow adjusted to make the attempt on her life. If that's the case, we don't have the resources to have done it. Certainly not in the time window which appears to have been available to whoever carried out the adjustment. Assuming that's what it was, of course."

"I hope you'll forgive me, Madam President, if I reserve judgment in this case," Henke said after a moment. "You're very convincing. On the other hand, like me, you operate at the highest level of politics, and politicians at that level have to be convincing. I will, however, take what you've said under advisement. Should I assume you're telling me this in hopes I'll pass your message along to Queen Elizabeth?"

"From what I've heard of your cousin, Admiral Henke," Pritchart said wryly, "I doubt very much that she'd believe any statement of mine, including a declaration that water is wet."

"I see you've got a fairly accurate profile of Her Majesty," Henke observed. "Although that's probably actually something of an understatement," she added.

"I know. Nonetheless, if you get the opportunity, I wish you'd tell her that for me. You may not believe this, Admiral, but I didn't really want this war, either. Oh," Pritchart went on quickly as Henke began to open her mouth, "I'll freely admit I fired the first shot. And I'll also admit that given what I knew then, I'd do the same thing again. That's not the same thing as wanting to do it, and I deeply regret all the men and women who have been killed or, like yourself, wounded. I can't undo that. But I would like to think it's possible for us to find an end to the fighting short of one of us killing everyone on the other side."

"So would I," Henke said levelly. "Unfortunately, whatever happened to our diplomatic correspondence, you did fire the first shot. Elizabeth isn't the only Manticoran or Grayson—or Andermani—who's going to find that difficult to forget or overlook."

"And are you one of them, Admiral?"

"Yes, Madam President, I am," Henke said quietly.

"I see. And I appreciate your honesty. Still, it does rather underscore the nature of our quandary, doesn't it?"

"I suppose it does."

Silence fell in the sunlit hospital room. Oddly enough, it was an almost companionable silence, Henke discovered. After perhaps three minutes, Pritchart straightened up, inhaled crisply, and stood.

"I'll let you get back to the business of healing, Admiral. The doctors assure me you're doing well. They anticipate a full recovery, and they tell me you can be discharged from the hospital in another week or so."

"At which point it's off to the stalag?" Henke said with a smile. She waved one hand at the unbarred windows of the hospital room. "I can't say I'm looking forward to the change of view."

"I think we can probably do better than a miserable hut behind a tangle of razor wire, Admiral." There was actually a twinkle in Pritchart's topaz eyes. "Tom Theisman has strong views on the proper treatment of prisoners of war—as Duchess Harrington may remember from the day they met in Yeltsin. I assure you that all our POWs are being properly provided for. Not only that, I'm hoping it may be possible to set up regular prisoner of war exchanges, perhaps on some sort of parole basis."

"Really?" Henke was surprised, and she knew it showed in her voice.

"Really." Pritchart smiled again, this time a bit sadly. "Whatever else, Admiral, and however hardly your Queen may be thinking about us just now, we really aren't Rob Pierre or Oscar Saint-Just. We have our faults, don't get me wrong. But I'd like to think one of them isn't an ability to forget that even enemies are human beings. Good day, Admiral Henke."


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