"Are you out of your mind?" Rear Admiral Harold Styles rose from his chair, planted his fists on Honor's desk, and glared at her furiously. "The questionable basis on which you've chosen to insist on retaining command puts you on dangerous enough ground already, Admiral Harrington! If you insist on convening courts-martial in time of war on your own authority, then you'd better make damned sure all the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed! Because if they aren't, Admiral, I swear to you that I personally will see you prosecuted to the full extent of the Articles of War!"
Nimitz half-rose on his perch, baring snow-white fangs with a warning hiss as Styles' fury flooded his empathic sense, and Honor felt an answering flicker of rage deep within herself. But it was Andrew LaFollet who drew her attention from Styles' outrage-purpled face, and she raised her hand quickly, flicking her fingers in a wave-off just in time to keep her armsman from grabbing the Manticoran by the scruff of his neck and physically expelling him from the office—preferably with a spectacular set of bruises. A part of her longed to let Andrew do just that, but she couldn't, however much she wanted to.
Not yet, anyway, she thought coldly. But if he keeps this nonsense up for one more minute...
"You will sit back down, Admiral Styles," she said instead, and each icy word was a polished chip of clarity, without the slurring her crippled mouth normally imposed. Her single working eye was even colder than her voice, and the right corner of her mouth twitched with a warning tick which made LaFollet almost pity Styles, despite his outrage at the admiral's behavior. But Styles didn't know her as well as her armsman did. He saw that twitch as a sign of nervousness, and awareness that she was in a false position, and the righteous fury he'd felt ever since he arrived on Styx and she refused to yield command to him blazed up in him like fire.
"Like fucking hell I will!" he began savagely. "From the first moment I came ashore h—"
He chopped off in mid-word as Honor came to her feet in a movement too graceful to be called an explosion yet too abrupt to be called anything else. He jerked back in alarm, then flushed even darker, shamed by his reaction, and started to snarl something else when her palm came down on the desk surface with the flat, explosive crack of a cannon shot.
"You will shut your mouth now, Admiral Styles," she said very softly, leaning forward over the desk in the echoing silence which followed, "or I will have you placed under close arrest, to remain there until such time as we leave this planet and return to Manticoran jurisdiction. Where," she went on even more icily, "I will have you charged with and court-martialed for insubordination, willful disregard of a superior's orders, conduct detrimental to the chain of command, and incitement to mutiny in time of war."
Styles stared at her, and his mouth worked soundlessly, as if he simply could not believe his ears. Two of those charges carried the death penalty if they were sustained, and Honor felt the sudden chill of terror that ran beneath the surface of his fiery bluster as he recognized the uncompromising sincerity of her threat at last. She glared at him for a brief, shivering eternity, then drew a deep breath and straightened her spine.
"I said to sit down," she said, spacing the words out with flat, deadly authority, and the rear admiral sagged back into the chair from which he had hurled himself. She remained standing for a slow ten-count, then lowered herself once more into her own chair much more slowly. She tipped it back and sat there, the right side of her face as expressionless as the left while she regarded him coldly, and a corner of her brain blessed Alistair McKeon's forethought.
She hadn't really considered the possibility before Harkness' team of moles managed to nibble their way through the last Peep security fences, but she wasn't the senior RMN officer on Hell after all. Harry Styles was, and that could have created all sorts of problems. The Inferno inmates had given their trust and loyalty to her, not to some officer they didn't even know, but if Styles had the seniority, then, logically—or, at least, legally—the command was his.
McKeon hadn't said anything in so many words, but he'd made his opinion of that possibility abundantly clear by how he hadn't said it. Honor suspected that he must have served under Styles in the past without enjoying the experience, for it was unlike him to feel such barely suppressed dislike for anyone. He was as capable as the next person of making the occasional misjudgment about a superior officer or succumbing to what was still called "bad chemistry"; Honor knew that even better than most. But she also knew that when it happened, he almost invariably felt uncomfortable, off balance and confused. It was as if he knew something was wrong with his own judgment and simply couldn't figure out what it was.
But whatever his reasons, his obliquely stated warning about Styles had been dead on the money, and she was grateful that she'd taken his advice about how to deal with the rear admiral.
She had been in control of Styx for two local weeks now, and Henri Dessouix had been delighted to discover an entire warehouse full of SS uniforms and, even better, fabric extruders and sewing machines. A little judicious reprogramming of the sewing machines and a few adjustments to the extruders, and he'd been able to turn out proper uniforms for the escaped prisoners.
Some of them—like Harriet Benson or, for that matter, Dessouix himself—had been on Hell so long their memories of what their uniforms should look like had become faded and uncertain. Nor were there any reference works they could consult, since the nations which had once issued those uniforms had disappeared into the ash heap of history... and the maw of the all-conquering People's Republic. But Honor felt confident that no one would complain about any minor details which were gotten wrong, and all of them (with the possible exception of Horace Harkness) had felt enormous relief at getting back into uniform once more. It wasn't simply a matter of stepping back into a world they understood, although there was an undeniable edge of that involved. It was more like a punctuation of the change in status they had won under Honor's command, a formal proof of what they had already achieved and a visible expression of what drew them together and forged them into a cohesive whole.
But at McKeon's very strong urging, Honor had not redonned Manticoran uniform. Instead, she wore the blue-on-blue of Grayson, with the five six-pointed stars of her current Grayson rank. Jesus Ramirez's eyes had widened when he first saw it, but he'd been less surprised than he might have been, for there had been more than enough time for Honor's people to fill him and the rest of the Infernoites in on her Grayson career. And then, as quickly as his eyes had widened, they'd sharpened in approval, for McKeon had been right. There could be more than one Allied flag officer on Hell, but there was no way there would be more than one fleet admiral.
Honor had felt ridiculous flaunting her GSN rank that way, however legal it might be and however thoroughly she'd earned it, but only until she met Styles for herself. After no more than five minutes, she'd decided that the People's Navy had done the Alliance an immense favor by capturing Harry Styles and putting him safely on Hell where he couldn't do the war effort any more damage. She had no idea what he was doing here instead of a regular navy-run POW camp somewhere, unless, perhaps, his rank had led StateSec to see him as some sort of prize catch to be kept in its personal trophy case. He was, after all, not merely the highest-ranking Manticoran officer yet captured by the People's Republic but also the only flag officer they'd captured in the entire first six and a half years of the war. They'd had him for over eight T-years, since the day they'd destroyed his entire picket squadron in the Yalta System in one of the probing attacks with which they had opened the present war. They'd actually caught him with cold impellers— which said a great deal about his competence right there—and his subsequent attempt to defend himself had been nothing to write home about.
Not that he saw it that way, of course. As far as he was concerned, he'd simply been the unfortunate victim of Peep treachery, attacked in time of peace and without a formal declaration of war. Apparently he had failed, in those long ago days of peace, to note the minor fact that the Legislaturalists who had run the People's Republic had never once bothered to alert a potential victim by declaring war before they hit it. He didn't seem to have learned much since, either. Added to which, he was arrogant, opinionated, full of his own importance, conceited, and stupid. And those were his good points, she thought acidly.
"I have put up with all the insubordination I intend to tolerate, Admiral Styles," she said into the fragile silence. Her voice was still cold, the words precisely enunciated, and she felt his tooth-grinding hatred flowing over her. "I am in command in this star system, and you, Admiral, are not. You will remember that at all times, and you will address not simply myself but any personnel on this planet who have voluntarily placed themselves under my command with proper courtesy at all times, or by God I will have you thrown back into the jungle to rot! Is that clear, Admiral Styles?"
He glared at her, then nodded curtly.
"I didn't hear you, Admiral," she said icily.
"Yes," he grated, and flushed still darker as her glacial eye jerked a "Ma'am!" from him, as well.
"Good," she said in a slightly less frozen voice. She knew he hadn't really given up. The fact that he'd been captured so early meant he'd been on Hell since before even the Battle of Hancock or her duel with Pavel Young. More recently captured personnel could have brought him up to date—in fact, for all Honor knew some of them had tried to do just that—but it hadn't taken. In his mind, the Grayson Space Navy was still some sort of comic opera, local-defense fleet and Honor was a mere commodore with delusions of grandeur. He didn't appear to believe that the Fourth Battle of Yeltsin—or, for that matter, the Battle of Hancock—had ever even happened, and he regarded her claim to admiral's rank as an outright lie. As far as he was concerned, it was nothing more than a ploy to allow her to retain the command which should rightfully have been his, and her senior subordinates were all in cahoots with her to make it stand up.
She wondered, sometimes, if perhaps she was wronging him a little. It was possible he'd become unhinged during his long stay on Hell, after all. But she didn't think so. His personality was too narrow, his belief in his own rectitude too unhesitating and unquestioning, for something as minor as eight years as a POW to chip away at.
"Now, then," she went on more calmly. "Whether you care to believe it or not, Admiral, I have given careful thought to your objections. Some of them are well reasoned, even though I may not agree with you, and you are certainly entitled to record them formally and in writing for review by higher authority. For now, however, I am the senior officer present, and it becomes my duty under the Articles of War—Manticoran as well as Grayson—to punish those guilty of criminal conduct in my command area. I do not accept that responsibility lightly, and I do not intend to exercise my authority capriciously. I do, however, intend to empanel courts-martial to consider the charges of criminal conduct leveled against the State Security personnel on this planet."
"With all due respect, Admiral," Styles broke in, "but that's a dangerous and extremely ill-advised decision." His tone didn't sound at all respectful, but she decided to let that pass as long as he watched his word choices. "I have no love for State Security—God knows I was their prisoner longer and suffered more from them than y—"
He chopped himself off again, flushing in embarrassment as she cocked an eyebrow coolly at him. His eyes slipped away from her half-dead face, then bounced off the empty left sleeve of her tunic, and he cleared his throat noisily.
"Well, that's beside the point," he said brusquely. "And the point is, Admiral Harrington, that if you go around convening kangaroo courts in the name of the Manticoran Alliance for the sole purpose of shooting Peep personnel as some sort of vengeance play, it won't matter whether you call it a 'court-martial' or simple murder. The propaganda consequences of such an action alone scarcely bear thinking about, and that leaves aside the whole question of its legality! I believe you're exceeding your authority, regardless of your rank, and I seriously question whether or not you can legally apply our Articles of War to the conduct, however reprehensible, of foreign nationals!"
"I don't doubt that you do," Honor said. Nor, though she forbore mentioning it, did she doubt that the true reason he'd objected in the first place was because he saw the supposed illegality of her intentions as a way to undercut the legitimacy of her authority in her subordinates' eyes. Just as he had now convinced himself that the only reason she had promised the courts-martial to the Infernoites and Styx's slaves was as a way to buy their support for her continued usurpation of his authority.
"If, however," she continued, "you had bothered to read my memo, or to listen to what I've already said, or, for that matter, even to ask, you would know that I have no intention of applying the Articles of War to them." His face flushed with fresh, wine-dark rage as her cold words bit home, and the living side of her mouth smiled frostily.
"I intend to try them under their own laws, Admiral," she told him.
"You—?" He gaped at her, and she nodded curtly.
"Their own regulations and the People's Uniform Code of Conduct are on file in the Styx data base, Admiral Styles. I will concede that the people who filed those documents there never regarded them as anything other than a propaganda ploy—window dressing to prove how 'enlightened' the current regime is. But they exist, they've never been changed, and they are just as legally binding on StateSec personnel as upon anyone else. Those are the laws under which they will be tried, Admiral, and the sentences any convicted parties receive will be strictly in accord with them."
"But—" Styles began, only to be cut off by an impatient wave of her hand.
"I called you here to inform you of my decision, Admiral; not to debate it," she told him flatly. "As the senior Manticoran officer on Hell, you were the proper representative for Her Majesty's Navy on the court-martial board, and I intended to name you to that position accordingly. Since you have so cogently and forcefully stated your objections to the entire proceeding, however, I no longer feel that I can properly ask you to participate in a process to which you are so deeply, morally opposed. Because of that, you are excused from court duty. Commodore McKeon will take your place."
"But if you're going to use their own laws—" Styles began again, almost desperately, and Honor curled a contemptuous mental lip as she felt the chaotic shifting of his emotions. They were too confused and changed too quickly for her to sort them out with any clarity, but she didn't really need to. He'd been prepared to bluster and bully her—and to make his high-minded opposition crystal clear in case higher authority later decided to come down on her over this. But violently as he'd protested, he couldn't stand being shunted aside, either. She'd affronted his dignity yet again, and she felt the hatred welling up inside him afresh.
"No, Admiral," she said firmly. "I will not ask you to compromise your principles in this matter." He opened his mouth yet again, and she shook her head.
"You're dismissed, Admiral Styles," she said softly.
"Whew! You came down on him pretty heavy there, Skipper," Alistair McKeon said.
Styles had left the office like a man walking in a bad dream, so shaken—temporarily at least—that he didn't even look up or glare when McKeon passed him almost in the office doorway. There was very little love lost between him and McKeon, and Honor sometimes wondered how much of that went back to whatever had formed Alistair's initial judgment of him. Not that much previous history was really needed to explain their present hostility. Honor had named Styles to command the equivalent of her own Bureau of Personnel, which gave him the responsibility for coordinating the shuttle flights busy contacting all of the various prison camps, informing them of what had happened on Styx, and generally counting noses all around. It was an important task... but Styles also knew she had deliberately shuffled him off into that job to justify cutting him out of the tactical chain of command. Jesus Ramirez was the present commander of Camp Charon, with Harriet Benson as his exec, but it was Alistair McKeon who was Honor's true executive officer. She'd set things up so that Styles reported directly to her, not through McKeon, but he was the only officer on Hell who did that, and his hatred for his junior was a thing of elemental implacability.
McKeon knew it as well as Honor did, and now she looked up at him sharply, surprised by his comment. He recognized her reaction and smiled crookedly.
"The walls are kind of thin around here, Honor," he pointed out, "and I was next door waiting to see you. Besides, the way he was bawling and bellowing before you performed that double orchiectomy on him, they must've been able to hear him clear over at the landing strip!"
"Oh, dear." Honor sighed. She leaned back in her chair and massaged her forehead with her fingers. "I didn't want that to happen."
"Not your fault it did," McKeon pointed out.
"Maybe not, but I didn't exactly do anything to prevent it, either. And it's not going to help anything for our people to know I'm at dagger-drawing with the second-ranking Allied officer on the planet!"
"First, it wasn't your job to prevent it from happening," McKeon told her sternly. "It's your job to exercise command and keep us alive. If some asshole idiot makes a fool and a laughingstock out of himself, then it's your job to keep his stupidity from hamstringing your efforts to get us off Hell, not to protect him from the consequences he brings down on his own head. Second, it's probably a good thing that this is happening, not a bad one."
"Excuse me?" Honor cocked her head at him in surprise.
"You think maybe our non-Allied personnel aren't going to hear about this?" McKeon shook his head at her. "You know better than that. Walls have ears when something like this happens, and if I could hear it go down, you can be damned sure someone else heard it, too. Which means that it will be all over Styx by the end of the day. And that, in turn, means that our Infernoites, and the ex-slaves, and everyone else will know that you overrode the senior Royal Navy prisoner in order to do what you promised you'd do back at Inferno. Most of these people are—or were—professional military personnel, Honor. They know how the game is played... and the way you happen to play it is going to do more to hammer them together than you realize."
"That's not why I'm moving ahead with this, Alistair!" she said sharply.
"Of course it isn't," he said almost sadly. "But they know that, too. And that's exactly why it will have that effect."
She frowned at him, uncomfortable with his argument and also with the emotions behind it, but he only looked back calmly.
"Well, in that case—" she began, only to stop short as someone rapped sharply on the frame of the still open door. She looked up, and both eyebrows rose as she saw Solomon Marchant in the doorway. His face was alight with excitement, and she blinked as she felt his mingled surprise, wariness, and confusion all mixed together with the eagerness of someone with startling news.
"Yes, Solomon?" she said.
"I'm sorry to burst in on you like this, My Lady," he said, "but Senior Chief Harkness and I just cracked another security code, and I thought you'd want to know what we found."
"No doubt you're right," Honor said dryly as he paused for effect, and he blushed, then laughed.
"Sorry, My Lady. It's just that I was so surprised myself, that—" He shrugged. "What we found was a top secret list of Legislaturalist politicals, all of whom were considered to possess such important and sensitive information or to have sufficiently great potential for future usefulness that executing them was out of the question. So instead of being shot, they were declared officially dead and shipped out here under falsified names and prisoner manifests."
"Ah?" Honor tipped back her chair and cocked her head at him.
"Ah, indeed, My Lady. Most of them were high-ranking InSec officials or permanent departmental undersecretaries under the Harris Government—people like that. But a couple of them were military... including Admiral Amos Parnell."
"Parnell?" McKeon came out of his chair in astonishment, turning to face the Grayson officer, and Marchant nodded sharply.
"But they shot him years ago—right after Third Yeltsin!" Honor protested.
"They said they shot him," Marchant corrected her. "But he's here according to the records, and I've sent a pinnace out to collect him. Ah," he suddenly looked just a little nervous. "I, um, assumed that was what you'd want me to do, My Lady," he added quickly.
"You assumed correctly," Honor said slowly, and then sat for several seconds, considering Marchant's astonishing news. Amos Parnell would never have become Chief of Naval Operations under the old regime if he hadn't been a Legislaturalist, but he'd been extremely good at the job, however he'd gotten it. When she first accepted her Grayson commission, Honor had had a chance to read the classified reports of the Third Battle of Yeltsin, and she'd been deeply impressed by Parnell's performance there. Lured into what was for all intents and purposes a deep-space ambush, then jumped by more than twice the firepower he'd expected to confront, all under the command of no less a tactician than Hamish Alexander, he'd still gotten half his fleet out intact. And like everyone else, she'd assumed he was dead for eight T-years now.
And if he isn't, who knows where this could lead? she thought. He knows where all the bodies were buried under the Legislaturalists, and he's got absolutely no reason to like the present regime! We learned a lot when Alfredo Yu came over to our side, but Parnell could tell us an awful lot more than that if he chose to. Most of it might be dated, but even if it's only deep background...
She shook herself, surfacing from her thoughts as if from deep water, and glanced up at Marchant again.
"Good work, Solomon. And tell Harkness I said the same goes for him, if you would."
"Of course, My Lady."
"And you did the right thing to send the pinnace," she confirmed again, then chuckled.
"What's funny?" McKeon asked her.
"I was just thinking," Honor replied, swinging her chair until she faced him once more.
"That things may be about to change for Warner," she said with a slow, crooked grin. McKeon looked back at her, and then it was his turn to chuckle, and he shook his head.
"You've may just have a point there," he agreed. "Depending on what—if anything—Parnell has to say to us, you may have a point indeed, Lady Harrington!"