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Authors: David Weber,Eric Flint

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Chapter 67

“Your Grace, Captain Lewandoski is here.”

Honor Alexander-Harrington rose behind her desk as Lieutenant Commander Waldemar Tümmel, her flag lieutenant, escorted her visitor into her day cabin aboard HMS
Imperator
.

Captain Spencer Hawke, her personal armsman, followed both men, his eyes narrow and his gunhand hovering near the pulser at his hip. Hawke’s uneasiness would have been obvious to anyone, far less someone with Honor’s ability to taste the emotions of those around her, and she didn’t blame him. But she wasn’t really focused on her armsman’s emotions at the moment, either, because her visitor’s had hit her over the head like a club the instant he came in range.

She heard a soft sound behind her as Nimitz vaulted from his bulkhead perch to land on the corner of her desk. The treecat’s ears stood straight up, his tail rising behind him, and the sharpness of his own concern flowed to her over their link as he, too, sampled that storm of emotion.

“Captain Zilwicki,” she said, holding out her hand, and saw—and tasted—Hawke’s astonishment at the greeting. She didn’t blame the young Grayson for that any more than she’d blamed him for his uneasiness. The last time either of them had seen Anton Zilwicki, he’d still looked like Anton Zilwicki. This man had the same basic physique, but that was the only real point of physical resemblance between him and the Zilwicki they’d both met.

Honor was less surprised than Hawke—or Tümmel, for that matter—but that was because she’d recognized the codeword “Lewandoski” had transmitted as soon as the yacht
Brixton’s Comet
emerged from the Manticoran Wormhole Junction by way of its Beowulf Terminus. Lieutenant Commander Harper Brantley, her staff communications officer, had patched the incoming transmission through to her somewhat against his own better judgment. He probably wouldn’t have put through a transmission from a completely unknown foreign civilian under normal circumstances, but he’d been with Honor for a long time now. Along the way, he’d discovered that she knew quite a lot of unlikely—many would have said disreputable—individuals, and Captain Lewandoski had been . . . insistent.

Honor hadn’t recognized him any more than Brantley had, yet she’d recognized the codeword “Pygmalion” which had been chosen (inevitably) by her Uncle Jacques. And since the man on her com display had been using that codeword and obviously wasn’t Thandi Palane, Yana Tretiakovna, or Victor Cachat, there was only one person he could have been. And so she’d authorized the yacht’s luxurious shuttle to dock aboard
Imperator
and cleared Lewandoski—Zilwicki—to be escorted to her day cabin.

The mere fact that Zilwicki had returned so unexpectedly and so much ahead of schedule had filled her with disquiet. She’d never been familiar with all of the details of his mission. There’d been no reason she should know, and she’d been rather preoccupied with her own duties—the ongoing process of fusing two navies which had been mortal enemies for the better part of seven T-decades into a smoothly integrated fleet undoubtedly qualified as one of the trickiest bits of cat-herding ever to come her way—when he actually departed. But she’d known its general parameters and that he shouldn’t have returned home this precipitously.

Now, as she coped with the hurricane of worry, tension, and fear behind the impassive façade of Zilwicki’s disguise, she was sinkingly certain her disquiet had been amply justified.

“Your Grace.” Zilwicki’s deep, rumbling voice was flattened around a burr of tension someone without her sensitivity might have missed as he took her proffered hand. “Thank you for seeing me under these . . . conditions.” His free hand gestured at his physical appearance, and despite that stormfront of emotions, his lips quirked in a wry smile. “I’m afraid I’m not quite myself at the moment.”

“So I see.”

She released his hand, waving him towards one of the chairs on the other side of her desk, then sank back into her own chair. Nimitz hopped from her desk into her lap, and she wrapped her arms around him, bending her neck just enough to rest her chin on top of his head while both of them regarded Zilwicki with matching intensity.

She considered buzzing James MacGuiness, but the last thing Zilwicki needed at this moment was something to drink. Instead, she looked up at Tümmel and Hawke.

“I think the captain and I need a few moments alone, Waldemar. Spencer, I’ll buzz if I need you.”

Tümmel, despite his own raging curiosity, simply nodded and started for the hatch. Hawke hesitated, his expression rebellious as professional paranoia warred with deeply ingrained obedience . . . and his trust in his steadholder. Honor held his gaze firmly.

“I’ll buzz if I need you.” There was just a hint of steel in her tone as she repeated the words, and Hawke braced briefly to attention.

“Of course, My Lady.”

He withdrew . . . not without one last darkling glance at the transformed Zilwicki. The hatch closed behind him and Tümmel, and Honor returned her gaze to her visitor.

“Tell me,” she said quietly.

“I know you didn’t expect to see me this soon, if at all, Your Grace.” Zilwicki’s tone was clipped, calm but burnished with a patina of the fear bottled up inside him. It wasn’t for himself, that fear, Honor realized, yet the iron control he’d fastened on it only made it even more intense. “The real reason I came straight to you,” he continued, “is that you’re probably the only person who knows—or would believe—who I am and also has the clout I need. The problem is—”

The words spilled out of him—still clipped, still calm—as he laid out his report with all the clarity and organization Honor had come to associate with him. She listened intently, not just to his words but to the emotions behind them, and she felt Nimitz listening with her, felt the sub-audible vibration of his purr as Zilwicki’s emotions poured through him, as well.

“—so even after Victor explained who we were to Dusek, and even after Dusek agreed to fortify Neue Rostock, we knew we wouldn’t be able to hold out indefinitely. That was when—”

“When you all decided someone had to go for help,” Honor interrupted, straightening in her chair. “And that the best person to send for it was you. And that because I’ve met all of you
and
I’m Grand Fleet’s CO, I was the logical person for you to approach here in Manticore.”

“Exactly.” Zilwicki nodded hard, his relief at her comprehension obvious, then frowned as she shook her head with one of her slightly off-center smiles. That was the
last
reaction he’d anticipated out of her!

“I apologize, Captain,” she said as she tasted his consternation. “I really do understand the tension you’ve been under, and I’m not trying to make light of it. However, there’s something you should see.”

Consternation gave way to simple confusion as his mind tried to catch up with what she might mean, but she only gave him another smile, then reached out a long right arm, still cradling Nimitz with the left, and punched a complex password into her desktop terminal.

“This is a message Queen Elizabeth recently received,” she said. “So far, only seventeen other people in Manticore have seen it. You’ll be number eighteen.”

Zilwicki’s eyes narrowed, but before he could ask for any additional clarification, Honor tapped one final key and the com display on her desk came to life with the face of an ebon-skinned woman in the uniform of a Manticoran admiral. She had the unmistakable features of the House of Winton, and Zilwicki recognized her instantly.

“By the time you view this, Beth,” Admiral Gloria Michelle Samantha Evelyn Henke, Countess Gold Peak and commanding officer, Tenth Fleet, said from the display, “I’m sure at least some of my professional colleagues are going to have cast a certain degree of doubt upon my alleged mental processes. In this instance, they may even have a point. But I think this is important—well, obviously I think that, or I wouldn’t be doing it.” She shook her head with a slight smile. “Trust me, I’m aware of the risks involved. I’m also aware that when you’ve already got a shooting war with the League on your hands, having someone dash off on her own and open yet another front may not be incredibly high on the list of your priorities. On the other hand—”

He watched it all the way through, and when it ended, Anton Zilwicki’s eyes were wet. He wasn’t actually weeping, but he hovered on the edge, and Honor tasted those tears as clearly as he did. It wouldn’t have required her empathic sensitivity to know that this was a man who more or less defined the term
stoic
, but under that stoicism was a man. A very warm,
caring
man who felt far more deeply than anyone without her sensitivity might ever have believed
.

“Only Her Majesty and her closest advisers have seen this before you, Captain,” she said quietly.

She didn’t bother with any admonitions binding the captain to solemn vows of secrecy. With Zilwicki, there was no need to.

He pinched his eyes with his thumb and middle finger, stemming the tears. When he spoke, his voice was soft and husky. “I once had to watch, completely helpless, when my wife Helen went to her death.”

Honor nodded. She knew the story. Every officer in the Manticoran navy knew the story of Helen Zilwicki’s defense of Convoy MGX-1403. Ambushed at minimum range inside a hyper-space gravity wave by five
Scimitar
-class heavy cruisers, her two
light
cruisers and three destroyers had fought to their own destruction in the finest traditions of Edward Saganami’s navy. None of them—and none of the men and women aboard them—had survived, but the damage they’d inflicted before they died saved the entire convoy . . . including the transport
Carnarvon
, in which her husband and four-year-old daughter had been embarked.

Helen Zilwicki had been awarded the Parliamentary Medal of Valor for her actions. Posthumously, as was so often true with that decoration. And Anton Zilwicki had watched on the transport’s main display, with his sobbing daughter sitting on his lap, as she earned that medal with her life.

“I thought—the whole way here from Mesa—that I was on another death watch,” he said now, and Honor drew a deep breath.

Whatever had happened in Mendel was already over, of course, and nothing she or Zilwicki could do would change that. But if Thandi Palane had put up the kind of fight Honor was certain she had, and if Mike Henke had met her own schedule . . .

“You may have been anyway, Captain,” she said now, her voice gentle, and he looked at her mutely. “You
may
have been,” she repeated, and her tone had hardened. “But from what I know of General Palane, I don’t think you were. And either way, Captain Zilwicki—Anton—” she met his eyes very levelly, “from what I know of Admiral Gold Peak, by this time, I guarantee you those people on Mesa have a much better understanding of the phrase
the wrath of God is upon you.

Cast of Characters

Alexander-Harrington, Admiral Hamish: RMN (ret); Earl White Haven, First Lord of Admiralty.

Alexander-Harrington, Lady Dame Honor Stephanie: Duchess Harrington; Steadholder Harrington; Admiral, RMN; Fleet Admiral, Grayson Space Navy.

Alexander, William: Baron Grantville, Alexander-Harrington’s brother, Prime Minister of the Star Kingdom of Manticore.

Anderson, Janet: Colonel, Beowulf’s Biological Survey Corps (BSC).

Arai, Hugh: Consort of Queen Berry of Torch.

Arpino, S.: Agent of the Mesan Alignment’s Genetic Advancement and Uplift League (GAUL).

Ariel: Treecat companion of Queen Elizabeth III.

Artlett, Andrew: Great-nephew of Ganny Butry; tech specialist; lover of Steph Turner.

Barrett, Kayla: Section Sergeant, Mesan Internal Security Directorate (MISD).

Benton-Ramirez y Chou, Jacques: Third Director at Large of the Planetary Board of Directors of Beowulf.

Bogunov, Caroline: Captain of the slave ship
Prince Sundjata.

Brandt, Roldão: Captain of the slave ship
Luigi Pirandello.

Butry, Elfriede Margarete: Also known as “Ganny” or “Ganny El”; captain of the
Hali Sowle.

Cachat, Victor: Special Officer of the Republic of Haven’s Federal Intelligence Service.

Caldwell, Harriet: Mesan security analyst.

Caparelli, Admiral Sir Thomas: First Space Lord, RMN.

Charteris, Lisa: Mesan Alignment scientist; Zachariah McBryde’s boss.

Chicherin, Jackson: Vice President of Research and Development for the Mesan Genetic Consultancy.

Chuanli, Triêu: Jurgen Dusek’s chief lieutenant.

Conde, Xavier: Solarian League newscaster.

Condor, Cary: Mesan seccy revolutionary.

Damewood, Loren: Commander, Beowulf’s Biological Survey Corps (BSC).

Daramy, Vittoria: Solarian League news producer.

Detweiler, Albrecht: Head of the Detweiler family and Chief Executive Officer of the Mesan Alignment.

Drescher, Gillian: Lieutenant General, Mesan Planetary Peaceforce.

Du Havel, W.E.B. (“Web”): Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Torch.

Dusek, Jurgen: Criminal boss of Neue Rostock seccy district.

Emmett, Bachue “the Nose”: Criminal boss of Hancock seccy district.

Ferenc, Csilla: Traffic controller, Balcescu Station.

Ferguson, Connor: Lieutenant, Mesan Internal Security Directorate (MISD).

Fraenzl, Kyle: Mesan government public relations officer.

Goosens, Hasrul: Mesan seccy street kid.

Henke, Michelle: Rear Admiral, RMN; Countess Gold Peak.

Howell, Bentley: Commissioner, Mesan Internal Security Directorate (MISD).

Imbesi, Walter: Head of the Imbesi family; unofficially, one of the four people in the quadrumvirate that effectively rules Erewhon.

Irvine, Lajos: Undercover agent for Mesan Alignment.

Jeremy X: Secretary of War of the Kingdom

of Torch; formerly head of the

Audubon Ballroom, the ex-slave

guerrilla force considered by some people to be a terrorist organization.

Juarez, Stefka: Mesan Alignment task force director.

Justice, Sharon: Havenite FIS agent assigned to Erewhon and Torch; Yuri Radamacher’s lover.

Kabweza, Ayibongwinkosi: Lt. Colonel, Royal Torch Army.

Lackland, Bryce: Mesa’s Director of Culture and Information.

Ludvigsen, Kimmo: Trooper, Mesan Internal Security Directorate (MISD).

MacKane, Teodosio: Colonel, MISD; CO, 4
th
Regiment.

Marinescu, Janice: Member of Mesan Alignment; senior “wet work” specialist.

Mayhew, Benjamin Bernard Jason: Benjamin IX, Protector of Grayson.

McBryde, Zachariah: Brother of Jack McBryde; scientist for the Mesan Alignment.

McGillicuddy, François: Mesa’s Director of Security.

McGuire, Shasta: Mesan seccy gang member.

Montaigne, Catherine: Leading figure in the Liberal Party of Manticore; common-law wife of Anton Zilwicki; longtime and close friend of Web Du Havel and Jeremy X.

Moriarty, Stephanie: Mesan seccy revolutionary.

Nimitz: Honor Harrington’s treecat companion; mate of Samantha.

O’Hanrahan, Audrey: Agent for the Mesan Alignment; Solarian League news reporter and analyst.

Palane, Thandi: Commanding officer of the armed forces of the Kingdom of Torch.

Pearson, Brianna: Vice President of Operations (Mesa) for Technodyne Industries; also a member of Mesa’s General Board.

Petersen, Anton: Captain, RMN; adviser to Thandi Palane.

Pritchart, Eloise: President of the Republic of Haven.

Radamacher, Yuri: Haven envoy to Erewhon; lover of Sharon Justice.

Rozsak, Luiz: Rear Admiral, Solarian League Navy; Governor Barregos’ top military officer.

Saburo X: Former member of Audubon Ballroom; later head of Queen Berry’s security force.

Samantha: Hamish Alexander-Harrington’s treecat companion; mate of Nimitz.

Schultz, Gavin: Captain, Mesan Internal Security Directorate (MISD).

Selig, Fran: Commissioner, Mesa’s Office of Public Safety (OPS).

Simões, Herlander: Mesan Alignment scientist in exile at Manticore.

Somogyi, Zoltan: Balcescu Station’s CO.

Snyder, Regan: Mesa’s Director of Commerce and Manpower Incorporated’s representative on the General Board.

Summers, Grace: Assistant to Mesa’s Director of Security McGillicuddy.

Supakrit X: Sergeant, Royal Torch Army.

Sydorenko, Anichka: Former Scrag, now a major in Torch’s navy.

Takahashi, Ayako: Freed genetic slave.

Theisman, Admiral Thomas: RHN; Havenite CNO and Secretary of War.

Toussaint, Donald: Formerly Donald X, Audubon Ballroom; now a colonel in Torch’s military.

Trajan, Wilhelm: Director, Foreign Intelligence Service, Republic of Haven.

Tretiakovna, Yana: Former Scrag, now one of Palane’s “Amazons”; detached to work with Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki in the mission to Mesa.

Turner, Steph: Mesan seccy working with Victor

Cachat and Anton Zilwicki; lover of Andrew Artlett.

Usher, Kevin: Director, Federal Investigation Agency, Republic of Haven.

Vickers, George: Member of the Mesan Alignment; Assistant Director, Central Security Agency; Lajos Irvine’s immediate supervisor.

Ward, Brandon: CEO, General Board of Mesa.

Watanapongse, Jiri: Lieutenant Commander, Solarian League Navy; Rozsak’s staff intelligence officer.

Weiss, Gail: Analyst for the Mesan Alignment.

Williams, Karen Steve: Mesan seccy revolutionary.

Winton, Elizabeth Adrienne Samantha Annette: Queen Elizabeth III and Empress Elizabeth I, Queen

of the Star Kingdom of Manticore and Empress of the Star Empire of Manticore. Adopted by treecat Ariel.

Winton, Ruth: Manticoran princess; close friend of Berry Zilwicki; assistant director of Torch intelligence service.

Zhilov, A.: Agent of the Mesan Alignment’s Genetic Advancement and Uplift League (GAUL).

Zilwicki, Anton: Head of Torch intelligence, although he is still a citizen of the Star Kingdom of Manticore; formerly an officer in the Manticoran armed forces; common-law husband of Catherine Montaigne; father of Helen Zilwicki and adoptive

father of Berry and Lars Zilwicki.

Zilwicki, Berry: Queen of Torch; adopted daughter of Anton Zilwicki.

Zilwicki, Lars: Brother of Berry.

Snorrason, Hjálmar: Lieutenant Commander, Solarian League Navy; CO, DD SLNS
Napoleon
. Also CO DD Division 3029.1.

Spangen, Vegar: Barregos’ personal bodyguard; commander of the governor’s security detail.

Stahlin, Jim: Lieutenant Commander, Solarian League Navy; CO, DD SLNS
Gustavus Adolphus
. Also CO DD Division 3029.2.

Stensrud, Melanie: Commander, Solarian League Navy; CO, arsenal ship SLNS
Charade
.

Stravinsky, Pierre: Citizen Commander, People’s Navy in Exile; operations officer, PNES
Leon Trotsky.

Szklenski, Ted: Lieutenant Commander, Solarian League Navy; XO, SLNS
Marksman
.

Takano, Haruka: Intelligence officer, BSCS
Ouroboros;
also a member of Arai’s commando team and later a member of the Biological Survey Corps team detached to serve as security detail for Queen Berry.

Taub, Andrew (Andy): Cousin of Brice Miller.

Trajan, Osiris: Admiral, Mannerheim System-Defense Force (Mannerheim System-Defense Force); commanding officer, Task Force Four.

Trimm, E.D.: Officer, Mesan System Guard; senior inspector, customs operations.

Underwood, Charles-Henri: Citizen Commander, People’s Navy in Exile; XO, PNES
Chao Kung Ming.

Vergnier, Olivier: Citizen Captain, People’s Navy in Exile; CO, PNES
Leon Trotsky.

Watanapongse, Jiri: Lieutenant Commander, Solarian League Navy; Rozsak’s staff intelligence officer.

Winton, Ruth: Manticoran princess; close friend of Berry Zilwicki; assistant director of Torch intelligence service.

Wise, Richard: Barregos’ senior civilian spy.

Wix, Richard: Manticoran hyper-physicist assigned to Congo Wormhole survey expedition.

Womack, Robert: Lieutenant, Solarian League Navy; TO, SLNS
Marksman
.

Wu, Richard: Lieutenant, Solarian League Navy—astrogator, SLNS
Marksman
.

Yana: Former Scrag, now one of Palane’s “Amazons;” detached to work with Victor Cachat in the mission to Mesa.

Zachary, Josepha: Captain, Royal Manticoran Navy; CO of the survey vessel HMS
Harvest Joy.

Zilwicki, Anton: Head of Torch intelligence, although he is still a citizen of the Star Kingdom of Manticore; formerly an officer in the Manticoran armed forces; common-law husband of Catherine Montaigne; father of Helen Zilwicki and adoptive father of Berry and Lars Zilwicki.

Zilwicki, Berry: Queen of Torch; adopted daughter of Anton Zilwicki.

Zilwicki, Lars: Brother of Berry.

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