SOLACE OF MANTICORE
Part 20: Life in Quarter Time
Previously: Part 19, Chaper 4
-4th May, 1896 PD, early morning-
“You look terrible,” Honor commented as Solace took her place next to the older woman in the lecture hall. They were two t-months into the ten t-month program and between them held the one and two slots in their class with Constance Brennerman rounding out what the rest of their class called ‘The Terrible Trio’. Solace personally felt that it was all a bit unfair. Constance was the terrible one, with an acerbic personality and all the friendliness of a stone. Of course, that wasn’t why she was feeling low, though the idea of having to deal with Constance ‘The Admiralty’s Pet’ Brennerman didn’t exactly thrill her.
“I had another duel this morning,” Solace said, feeling drained by the entire process.
“Another one?” Honor raised an eyebrow, “About Midgard? How many is this? Eleven?”
“Thirteen, there were two before the term started. Brothers, fathers, sons, wives… they all want… demand, satisfaction.”
Honor’s brow furrowed. “Do they think that having you shoot at them will somehow bring those loved ones back?”
“It’s not about that. It’s about their family reputations… mostly. They’re trying to prove that their kin didn’t die because they were cowards… I guess. I don’t know. I’ve fought so many duels… It seems like a curse has been laid upon me. Today’s was worse than most though. It was just… Delores Meech’s mother. Hard woman. The only one of the bunch besides Captain Danica to ask for the Ellington Protocol. She was practically demanding that I shoot her.”
“You didn’t, right? She’s got to be in her eighties. And why are they picking the terms? They challenged you.”
Delores Meech had been a second generation prolong recipient and one of the oldest junior captains in Manticoran service, the kind who everyone knows will never make list. She was a plodder, a by the book cruiser captain with all the creativity of a ham and cheese sandwich and (before signing up with Midgard) had been on half-pay because she was getting too senior to do anything with. She’d driven her cruiser right onto to some of Solace’s mines at the Battle of Second Midgard. Her mother, Parian Meech, was actually in her nineties and hadn’t been young enough for any generation of prolong.
Solace rested her forehead against the smooth surface of the lecture hall table and groaned. “Danica said that she’d brand me a coward if I didn’t accept the harsher protocol… and she was trying to kill me. Useless woman. I hope she enjoys trying to grow back her hand. As for the Meech woman… she gave me that old lady glare when I suggested that the Dreyfus would be more suited. ‘Do you think me too frail to face your fire, you horrid woman?’ she said when I made the offer.”
“What happened? You didn’t shoot a little old lady, did you?” Honor asked, aghast and uncertain how she would have handled the situation.
“Honor. Parian Meech might be a little old lady, but she was a little old lady with ten rounds of very live ammo. Bullets don’t care how old you are. I shot the gun out of her hand, but I’m certain I broke her wrist and several fingers and the bullet bounced off the gun and lodged in her thigh. She went into shock even before the medics reached her. It’s anyone’s guess if she’ll make it.” She banged her head against the table several times as Naomi patted the back of her short hair.
Ruth and Nimitz, engaged in playing with some jacks that Solace’s little brother Duty-and-Honour had given them at the family open-house the previous weekend, glared at Solace for making the table bounce. Ruth was wearing a harness that had her tiny medal and her Andermani admiral’s stars on it, making her one of the few treecats who routinely wore clothing of any kind. More than one of their classmates had made the assumption that Nimitz and Ruth or Nimitz and Naomi were an item, but despite a certain amount of playful flirting between Ruth and Nimitz, nothing could be further from the truth. As for Naomi, as far as Solace could tell, the bigger of her ‘cats had absolutely no interest in romance at all.
Whatever Honor was about to say was cut off as Admiral Massey entered the room and they all rose to attention… well, everyone besides the treecats.
-5th May, 1896 PD, lunch time-
“Commander Smythe,” came a voice from behind her as she left Captain Demaine’s Logistics lecture the next day, “A moment?””
Solace turned and looked back, motioning for Honor and Nimitz to head to lunch without her. The speaker was Admiral Clarence Massey’s aide, a small mousey woman who reminded Solace painfully of a puppy. “Can I help you, Lieutenant?”
“The Admiral was hoping you’d join him for dinner tonight?” the aide asked, just as nervous this time as she had been the last seven times she’d invited Solace. The Admiral routinely invited the more promising junior officers to dine with him on friday nights, and the topics of discussion were always lively and varied, ranging through military history and theory to galactic politics to the latest in technology and the arts. The only problem with those dinners was that Massey’s invitations were not so subtly biased, as he only invited those promising junior officers with powerful patrons or from the more connected families. Solace didn’t know if she’d have noticed except for her friendship with Honor, who had never been invited.
Still, it wasn’t a Commander’s place to tell off an Admiral for not inviting someone. That didn’t mean she had to support the system… but would boycotting do anything beside limit her own voice… she had to wonder how Machiavelli would have handled it. “I’ll be there,” she said, still pondering the question as she hurried to catch up with Honor.
“Watch where you’re stampeding, you useless elephant,” snapped a voice Solace had come to despise over the last two months.
She looked down at the smaller woman (not that almost every woman she’d ever met hadn’t been shorter than Solace’s own 202 centimeter height) and snarked, “Connie. How nice to see you today. I didn’t notice you down there, licking the floor.”
Constance Brennerman harrumphed, puffing up a chest that could politely be described as ‘prodigious’ and glowered. Solace found herself reminded unpleasantly of the time her cat Raoul had tried to intimidate the Babcock’s Rottweiler. Constance or Connie to those who liked annoying her, was barely a hundred and sixty centimeters and looked like a doll someone had dressed in an RMN uniform. It would have been all too easy to underestimate her, but she was actually an insightful and calculating opponent and had earned every promotion she’d been given. She was the RMN’s poster-girl for by the book hard work, dedication, and conservative, but not dogmatic, thinking. She was also two years younger than Solace herself, making her the youngest member of their class. Unfortunately, she seemed to have something against ‘Provincials’ (i.e. people from Sphinx or Gryphon) who brought vermin (i.e. Treecats) into the hallowed halls of Saganami Island and thought the rules didn’t apply to them (i.e. had ever gotten demerits for anything). Her record was so spotlessly clean one could have used it to wipe the queen’s bum.
“Are you going to stand there and be annoyed at me for existing all lunch or do you have a reason for this newest bout of unwarranted Capital Worlder Hostility?”
Constance gritted her teeth, clenched her hands into fists, then stepped aside, muttering to herself about livestock needing to watch where they were going.
Solace waved as the other left, calling, “Maybe you should carry a big sign that says ‘Warning, Cranky Mouse Crossing, Maintain a Safe Distance.”
Honor was waiting just outside the dining hall when Solace and her quasi-feline retinue arrived. “Were you teasing CB again?”
Solace shrugged. “She started it.”
“God, what are you, eight?” Honor sighed, shaking her head. She punched Solace on the shoulder, “Come on, it’s meatloaf day.”
Solace grinned. “You and your fascination with reconstituted steak always amuses.”
Once they were seated, Honor asked, “Any movement on what we talked about yesterday?”
“Nothing yet. I’ve been invited to the Admiral’s again.”
“Thinking someone might cause a scene?”
“I always think someone might cause a scene… but I doubt anyone would be that stupid.”
-5th May, 1896 PD, late evening-
“Ha!” Donovan Massey, the Admiral’s eldest, sneered, looming over Solace. “I can’t believe you were that stupid!” he mocked. “Bogey said you were supposed to be sooo clever, but I told him it was all luck and Andermani agitprop and look!” he waved his hands around the Admiral’s private den. “I was right!”
Solace groaned, head swimming from the chemicals flowing through her system. “Haahg?” she managed to get out, voice barely strong enough to be heard. The evening had been going so well and her poison snooper (artfully disguised as part of her wrist watch) hadn’t detected anything harmful in the food or drink she’d been served at dinner, and she’d poured her own tea upon entering the den to relax while Naomi and Ruth played with the Admiral’s two youngest children, Abigail and Houston, who were six and four respectively and absolutely fawned over the fluffy ‘cats. Treecats loved children, with their bright inquisitive minds and simple clear emotions.
“How? How?” Donovan mocked, pocketing the remote with which he’d locked both of the doors to the room. “I coated the teacups.”
“Hmmm?” he asked, not understanding her slurred speech.
“Whaaa…” she had to struggle to make herself understood. “Duuuggg?”
“Oh! What drug? Don’t worry. It’s tetrametha something or other. It’s not a fatal poison, just a muscle relaxant… couldn’t have my fun disrupted before I arranged an accident for you. That’s what they’re paying me for. Make the great Anvil suffer a mischief.” He giggled, sounding as if he were a bit drugged himself… probably something to steady his nerves.
Solace rolled her head limply around on her shoulders, looking around the room as she tried to get her eyes to focus. “Nnng… paamorrr?”
“Pay me more? I’m sure you could!” he laughed, leaning over to begin to unbutton her jacket and blouse. “But as soon as you recovered, you’d turn me in. Can’t have that… my my… such lovely ladies,” he said, reaching out to run his finger down the exposed valley of her chest. “Don’t worry, we won’t be interrupted.”
He was just pulling a hyponeedle injector out of his vest pocket when the window behind him slide silently open and a large figure dressed all in very dark blue pulled itself up and in with a gymnast’s silent grace. Standing upright, the figure reached out one hand and poked a flower vase in the Ming style. It fell with a crash and Donovan whirled. “Wh… what the… who?” His hand flashed to his jacket where there was a faint hint of a bulge from a needler, but the newcomer threw a heavy paperweight at him, nailing him in the gut and causing him to double over. A quick sharp blow to the back of the neck and Donovan Massey was out for the count.
“Tuugg… yerr… taaaim…” Solace groaned as the figure knelt next to her on the couch and pulled her own hyponeedle out of a bag containing a couple dozen single dose vials.
“Do you know what he gave you?” Honor asked.
“Tee… emmmm… buuuuh,” Solace managed to get out, the vertigo making her want to throw up.
“TMB? Tetramethelbaclofen?” Honor asked, seeking confirmation.
As best she could, Solace nodded, and grunted, “Yuih.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Honor said, injecting the drug. “You don’t want me to stick around?”
“Nuggg… gooo… b… bettaa safe,” Solace flop-waved a hand at her friend.
“What if he recovers before you do?”
“Rissk… gooo…. Beee faaiinnn,” she struggled to sit up, not feeling fine at all, but needing Honor to go before she endangered herself or her family by getting caught up in whatever this was. As she did, the events of the previous afternoon came back to her and she privately cursed and blessed Pavel Young in the same thought.
-4th May, 1896 PD, late afternoon-
“I hate math,” Honor groaned at their study group later that day. “This doesn’t make any sense!” She tossed the tablet across the table and leaned back, groaning. “I’m never going to get this!”
“It’s not that hard to understand,” Solace commented.
“Says the woman who’s never had to think about complex equations,” groaned the older woman.
It was true, to an extent. Solace’s intuition was strong enough that she all but instantly knew the solution to any plot, calculation, or equation she so much as looked at. Only the most complex of theoretical mathematics could force her to actually run the calculations… and when she ran into them she invariably had to turn to a machine to do the math, seeing as how she no real knowledge of how such things actually worked, and even less interest in polydimensional physics, proton clustering, or transfinite number theory.
Solace shrugged. “Maybe that’s true, but I kill to be as good of a pilot as you are. And you’re better with conventional tactics than I am.”
“Hah!” Honor snorted. “Blatant lies.”
“I’m serious! I use clever tricks and guesswork. You look at a situation and just… I don’t know… You’re relentless.”
“You’ve beaten me in every head to head we’ve had,” Honor pointed out.
“And you’ve done more damage to my ship than the next three contenders combined. And only you and Brennerman have avoided my traps or seen through my gambits.”
“At which point we discover that you’ve got another trap waiting for us.”
“I’ve got more experience with actual combat, that’s all. And I’ve only commanded a ship of my own in combat once. You’re much better at ship handling than I am.”
Honor chuckled. “That’s true. You’re really bad at that.”
“Hey!” Solace humphed. It was something of a sore spot that her actual ship handling skills were so poor. Of course, calling them poor outloud would have infuriated most of the class, since Solace was ranked eighth in their class of sixty. Honor, of course, was ranked number one. Where Solace was the best at squadron and fleet level maneuvers, in the heat of battle, she didn’t have the same instinctive speed of command that Honor had.
Indeed, the two of them had nearly diametric fighting styles in every area. Solace was all finesse in ship handling and brutally fast in hand to hand, while Honor was the opposite. At the helm, Solace set up weaknesses in her enemies, manipulating them like a spider with prepositioning and planned reactions, looking for the perfect one hit kill. Honor, on the other hand sought out every trick, every opportunity to land a damaging blow, killing her enemies with a dozen little blows that combined to produce the same result. The longer one stayed in contact with Honor, the more damage one took. It was as if her soul was fire. Solace found she was actually looking forward to seeing what kind of force Honor would put together once she’d managed to pass through the obligatory Captaincy period before the Admiralty inevitably realized she was wasted with only a single ship to her name. That Honor wasn’t already a Captain, maybe not of the list, but a Captain nonetheless, was a shame.
“Want to come dancing with Minerva and me tomorrow night? Lukas will be there,” Solace asked, changing the subject.
“God… no. I look like an ox stumbling about on the dance floor.”
“Honor. I’m fifteen centimeters taller than you and have bigger shoulders. If you look like an ox, I look like an elephant.”
“Please! You’re gorgeous. I look like a horse.”
“I like horses.”
“I’m not flirting with you. I know you’re straight… but you should come. Lukas likes horses too.”
“I’d look like a giantess dancing with him! He’s cute, but he’s tiny!”
“He’s only 18 cm shorter than you! He’s not tiny!”
Honor was about to retort, but a uniformed steward walked over to their table in the COC’s common area.
“Commander Smythe,” the woman said, “This is marked for your eyes only.” She held out a silver tray upon which was a folded and wax sealed piece of very expensive stationary. The steward had a faint smirk on her face, clearly thinking that it was a love letter, and even Honor had the corner of her mouth kinked as she watched Solace take the missive.
“Thank you,” Solace said, waiting until the woman left to do anything more than tap the edge of the envelope against her lips.
“That doesn’t look like it’s from Minerva,” Honor half-teased.
“It’s not. It’s from lord Young,” Solace half-growled. She’d managed, finally, and after many beers, to get Honor to explain why she detested Pavel Young, and had related her own experiences with the odious spawn of the North Hollow line.
“How do you know?” Honor asked, “the wax isn’t embossed with the North Hollow crest.”
“That arse thinks it’s funny to use a stylish F as his seal… it’s for Farussi.”
“Farussi? I don’t understand,” the Sphinxian Yeoman said.
“Baron Farussi was an alias of Giacomo Casanova… the Casanova,” Solace explained, referring to the Italian adventurer of the fourth century Ante-Diaspora whose name was, even two millennia and more later, synonymous with ‘womanizer’. “This is also his favorite stationary… It’s imported from Venice on Old Earth and costs eighteen Manticoran dollars a sheet… a ridiculous expense for a ridiculously spoiled brat.”
“Why is he sending you… he’s not stupid enough to flirt with you, is he?”
“No. He’s not. At least I don’t think he is. And that’s why I’m trying to figure out what this might be.”
“You could open it?” Honor pointed out, sounding reasonable.
“I don’t like surprises.”
“Are you actually trying to use that intuition of yours to figure out what’s inside a sealed envelope?” Honor chuckled.
Solace sighed. “No, I’m not. I just…” she shrugged. “I guess I’m just procrastinating because I can’t think of any reason he might have sent this that wouldn’t be unpleasant.”
“You’re going to stress yourself out more by worrying about it than you would by just getting it over with. It’s like a bandage.”
“I don’t follow.”
“When you have a bandage on and you know pulling it off slowly is going to hurt, you just rip it off all at once. Sure, it’ll hurt a bunch, but it’ll be over sooner and the total pain will be less than the cumulative pain and anticipation,” Honor explained.
Solace stared at her friend for several long seconds, then said, “You do realize they make a spray for dissolving the adhesive on bandages, right?”
“Oh just open the damned envelope, your Imperial Grace.”
“Stop calling me that,” Solace groaned. The Imperial Andermani Court had finally gotten organized enough to send word that her position as ninth in line to the throne (after Prince Huang and his children and the Herzog von Rabenstrange and his children) had been confirmed, which was deeply worrying. More worrying was the fact that her home was now playing host to a dozen Totenkopf Hussars assigned as her diplomatic guard. Thankfully, they couldn’t follow her into the various military precincts she frequented, and it was nice knowing that they were there to protect Gilly, Barnabie, and Minerva, but it was a bit annoying to be followed by black uniformed, jackbooted thugs (highly attractive though they might be) at all times. That their leader was the redoubtable Oberstleutnant Mustafa was perhaps the most worrying of all, though it was nice having Ulrike assigned as her personal driver. She and Gilly seemed to really be hitting it off, though not in a romantic way.
“Fine…” Solace grumbled, then broke the seal, “But if this is some kind of deadly contact poison or an eldritch magical rune that makes my eyes melt, I’m blaming you.”
“You read too many weird books,” Honor said.
“Well, excuse me for liking fiction,” Solace replied, pulling out the card.
In Pavel’s admittedly impressive calligraphy, the note said, “For years the specter of your threat has hung over my head like the Sword of Damocles. No more. I have information for you which should square us, so take your damned Jew hex off of me. Parties of my father’s acquaintance have arranged for someone to assassinate you. I don’t know who the assassin is, but father seems convinced that they will be able to reach you even at the Island. The attempt will happen sometime within the next four days, presumably before the Commons votes on the resolution to withdraw from Basilisk.”
Solace read through the letter twice. It was unsigned, of course, and no doubt if she took it to the authorities, Pavel would claim it was a forgery, since his preferences in writing material weren’t exactly unknown among his set. She handed over to Honor as she considered.
After five minutes of silence, punctuated only by the feeling of Honor’s emotions boiling away, the other woman spoke. “Even when he’s trying to be helpful, he really can’t help but make an arse of himself, can he? Fucking nobles.”
Feeling a little defensive, Solace said, “There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a noble, any more than there is in being a politician or a soldier. The problems arise when one acts as if holding such a position entitles one to more respect, to take liberties, or have a sense of superiority over those who aren’t your peers. As long as one remembers that one’s duty is to serve others, one should be okay.”
“Oh? One will remember that in case one ever becomes a noble,” Honor said, trying to mimic Michael Janvier’s ridiculously posh accent.
“What are you going to do about this?” Honor asked, waving the stiff card… then gasped as it began to crumble.
“Oh. interesting. I’d heard about that,” Solace commented, watching as the note corroded outward from the ink.
“Wh… what just happened?” Honor asked, looking at the hollowed out card.
“Nanotechnological ink. You write a note on a cellulose rich medium with the special ink, then spray it with a primer and seal it in a visible light proof envelope, like this one.” She held up the foil-lined envelope. “Then, when optical light hits it, it activates the ink and the ink… consumes the medium.”
“That’s… creepy. Is it some kind of spy tech?”
Solace laughed. “Believe it or not, no. It’s so rich brats can send each other self-destructing notes. It’s used as a bullying tool in Gilly’s school and also to write love letters. Gilly’s gotten quite a number of them. Of course, she takes snapshots of each as soon as she opens them.”
“How’s she doing?” Honor asked. “I know she looked happy enough at the open-house… but you know better than most how good escaped slaves can be at hiding trauma.”
Solace shrugged a little, “She’s as normal as a thirteen year old gets, I guess. Not as driven as I was at that age, and much more interested in matters romantic than I was. She’s more interested in sports too, and less interested in the military. She’s got a big grappling tournament coming up at the end of the month. And I have no idea what I’m going to do about the threat. How does one prepare for an assassination attempt when one doesn’t know the time, place, or killer’s identity?”
Honor thought about that for a very long moment, then sighed. “You’re right. It doesn’t seem like an easy problem. How does one prepare for an attack that can come anywhere, anytime, from anyone?”
“That just has us looking at shadows.”
“Intelligence work?” Solace suggested.
“What?” Honor asked, “Planning on running a comprehensive and highly illegal background check on everyone who has access to the Island?”
“We’re thinking of it the wrong way,” Solace said, thinking out loud. “We’re looking at this as if it matters who the assassin is.”
“That’s a fairly important piece of information, isn’t it?” Honor asked, voice tinged with sarcasm, but Solace could feel the worry coming off the older woman.
She patted Honor’s hand and smiled wanly, then shook her head. “No. What matters are vectors of attack. How someone might plan to kill me is much more important than who, though who will often inform how.”
Honor nodded slowly, getting it and running through the permutations. “So, we’re talking all the classics; poison, direct attack with a weapon, sniper, bomb, sabotage,” she said, ticking them off on her fingers.
“I can get a poison snooper from Minerva and use it on my food. Contact poison and traps potentially endanger others. Same with bombs. It’s unlikely that unless the assassin has a personal stake in killing me or is a complete psychopath that they’d resort to them. The Island’s security is fairly tight, and there aren’t many places a sniper can get a good line on someone…” she paused, mentally modeling the campus and thinking about potential sniper roosts that didn’t already have campus security… and that made her pause. “Could it be someone on the security detail?”
“Their weapons are monitored and they’d be the first suspect if a shot came from one of their nests. Assassins don’t usually want to be caught,” Honor pointed out.
“True,” Solace agreed.
“And any direct attack would have to face Ruth and Naomi,” Honor added, “So that’s not much risk.”
“Unless we’re dealing with someone who knows about treecats… either on the hiring side or the action side.”
Honor snorted, “If it’s on the hiring side only, you won’t have much problem. People underestimate ‘cats all the time, don’t they Nimitz?” Nimitz, who was laying on his back and batting lazily at a beam of dusty light coming through the window, bleeked at her and yawned.
“True… hmmm…” Solace considered, then brought up the public personnel information for everyone currently assigned to the Island. She had VIctoria, the Andros-Brandyne AI, sort the list by those who had close family members who worked for the Sphinx Forestry Service or were adopted by treecats. “Eighteen… not a good total, but not bad. The question is, who from Sphinx would know enough about the ‘cats, hate me, and be in a position to hire someone with clearance to kill me?”
“I think that’s coming back around to who,” Honor pointed out. “Best you can do is be prepared and modify your behaviour. And it might not be someone who currently has clearance, but someone who will gain access in the next few days.”
“Good point,” Solace agreed, “So… you coming dancing with us tonight?”
“You… what about the assassin?”
“I highly doubt they’ll try anything while I’m being watched by my bodyguards,” Solace said, shrugging, “Having them around has to be good for something, right?”
“I don’t know, your Grace… I’ve never heard of a foreign head of state serving in the RMN.”
“I’m not currently head of state, and the Midgardians are officially pissed as hell about the title Jing… I mean Gustav, saddled me with.”
“You could have turned it down,” Honor pointed out. “They can’t force you to be a Grand Duchess without your permission.”
“Sure. Turn down an Emperor. May you find out how hard that is,” Solace retorted.
“Oh no!” Honor mock gasped, “I have been afflicted by a Jew Hex!” They both laughed at that and Honor sighed, “Could Pavel be more of a jackass?”
“Could he be? Yes. He could be that disgusting slime he’s descended from.”
“Give him time,” Honor said.
“Naw. Dimtri’s got a brain… and a spine. Pavel has neither.”
Honor smirked, but nodded, “Good point.”
Donovan Massey had not lived to see trial. He’d taken his own life in police custody even before he could be officially charged. Solace had been allowed to graduate, though the incident and the controversy surrounding it had followed her. It had resulted in the retirement of Admiral Massey because even though he’d been unaware of his son’s predilections and gambling habit, there were many who felt he should have been aware.
Less scrupulous media outlets published stories claiming that Solace might have framed the youth, or led him on and then rejected him, causing him to snap, but in the absence of any evidence that they’d met more than socially, that went nowhere.
Still, in January of 1897, when her fellow graduates were given their new assignments, with Honor getting the destroyer Hawkwing and Connie getting Huntress, Solace Smythe found herself once more sitting on the beach as various forces in the Lords and Admiralty debated her suitability to command, with one faction demanding she be dismissed entirely as a security risk and an opposing faction demanding she be immediately sent to the Advanced Tactical Course and given command of something bigger than a Destroyer.
In April of 1897, with her military future very much uncertain, a strange opportunity arose. Gerard Makepeace, the MP for the district of Jason Bay suddenly retired, citing health reasons (he was a hundred and nine years old).
“I don’t understand,” Solace said, sitting in the sunroom of Minerva’s Jason Bay house. “What, exactly, does this all have to do with me, your Grace?”
His Grace, Alan Summervale, aka the Duke of Cromarty, was the current Prime Minister of the Star Kingdom and perhaps the most respected man in the entire nation. Next to him was Admiral Hamish Alexander on one side, and Patrick Roark, head of the Crown Loyalist faction in the Commons. “It’s very simple, Miss Smythe,” Roark said, his rich Gryphon accent making Solace think of home, “We want you to run for Gerard’s seat.”
“Gerard’s a Conservative. I’m not.”
“We know. We aren’t asking you to switch party allegiance. Merely to stand in the election for the MCLP.”
“What about the Navy?”
Hamish spoke. “Right now, they aren’t using your talents. That does not seem likely to change any time soon.”
Solace leaned back, considering. “You wouldn’t be coming to me unless you’d already run numbers. How likely is it that I’ll win?”
The Prime Minister leaned forward, “Not good. But we hear you enjoy a challenge.”
Three months later, Solace realized she’d been suckered. Of course, by that point, it was too late. She was already an MP and there was no escape.
-2nd September, 1901, early morning-
“Honor says she got a visit from Klaus Hauptman the other day,” Solace said, reading her most recent missive from her friend. The Sphinxian’s career had been steadily ticking along for the last five years, watched from afar by Solace and company, and, after her tour on Hawkwing, Solace had been pleased that, at last, the Admiralty had felt it time to send Miss Harrington to the Advanced Tactics Course, where, under Admiral Courvosier’s excellent tutelage, she’d passed with flying colors. Solace had had to stifle an ungenerous surge of envy at that, and another when Honor had been given command of the Light Cruiser Fearless.
She’d had to stifle another emotion when Honor had been shifted to Basilisk after the failure to perform of the Grav-Lance Fearless had been refitted with. Solace had confronted her old friend Sonja Hemphill about why she’d arranged for Honor to be banished to the Basilisk system, and Sonja had explained that the banishment hadn’t been her idea, but that since Fearless had been turned into a testbed, it wasn’t particularly useful as a screening unit. Sonja’d argued with the other Admirals that Fearless would do fine on commerce protection, but her clout hadn’t been enough to sway the others. It had been decided to put Fearless someplace where her weakened armaments couldn’t get her into trouble, and Basilisk had been deemed the safest place for her. It might not be an exciting exile, but after a year or so, she’d be recalled and Honor would be transferred to something larger, with Fearless maybe sold off to Alison or Zanzibar or Erewhon… or maybe even Grayson if that deal ever got worked out.
Honor’s job had been a difficult one, as the RMN mandate in the Basilisk system had been created with the idea that a dozen light units would be assigned to the system. In reality, the current picket strength was two; Fearless (a light cruiser) and Warlock (a heavy cruiser). Those two ships were supposed to protect the planet, the wormhole terminus, and police the entire system… as well as assisting the Wormhole Command and Native Protection Agency with customs inspections both at the Wormhole and in Medusa orbit. For the crews of two ships, it would have been nearly impossible… but Honor didn’t have two ships.
Honor wasn’t even supposed to be station commander of Basilisk Station. No, that task should have gone to the Captain (Senior Grade) of Warlock. Unfortunately for Honor, that festering waste of skin was none other than Pavel Young and he’d immediately pulled Warlock back to Manticore for refitting and long overdue maintenance.
Against all odds, Honor had done the impossible with only one ship and was, barely, managing to do her duty. She’d even caught dozens of smugglers since she’d been smart enough to recognize that Horace Harkness (now a chief again and assigned to Fearless) was the perfect sniffer-dog. He’d even managed to get himself a young and impressionable Ensign to corrupt in the form of one Prescott ‘Scotty’ Tremaine.
Pavel had, of course, caught wind of how well Honor was doing and had made every effort to rush back to Basilisk to either ruin all the progress or take credit for it… but thanks to the efforts of Paul Tankersley (Pavel’s XO), Lukas Janacek (now a Lt. Commander and in charge of the refit on Warlock), and Admiral Craig Warner (in charge of the refit yards of HMSS Hephaestus), the three month repair job had spiraled to six months and counting.
Solace had been hoping to arrange a Parliamentary Inspection of Basilisk Station, so the other MPs of the Military Oversight Committee and the Committee for Basilisk to see first hand what Fearless’s Crew and the Native Protection Agency had been dealing with, and the date for that had been tentatively set for the 20th, but working out the details had been a supreme hassle.
Gilly, now a strapping eighteen year old in her third term at Queen’s College where she was reading particle physics and galactic history when she wasn’t playing lacrosse or practicing her grappling, looked up from where she was trying to keep Barnabie from stealing her bacon, “Oh? Why was he there? The Hauptmans don’t have anything in system, do they?”
“A few ships and a transhipment point,” said Minerva. “Plus they built some of the communication and power stations in Medusa orbit.”
“But nothing like Port Royal, right?” Gilly asked, furrowing her brow and trying to figure out why the trillionaire industrialist would bother going to Basilisk. “Are we certain he wasn’t spying on us?”
Minerva laughed. “Darling, CEOs do not spy on each other… we pay people to do that. Ask your sister what Honor says.”
Solace knew her cue and shrugged, “He was upset about his shipping being searched and one of his freighters being seized.” At Minerva’s quirked eyebrow, she explained, “Mondragon. It was smuggling Kodiak Max pelts. Quite a lot of them. Hauptman probably didn’t know anything about it, but he should have. We’re keeping tabs on all our merchant captains, right?”
Minerva nodded, but made a note for a comprehensive audit. It wasn’t that Andros-Brandyne did a lot of shipping, and most of what they did these days was to Midgard and the Andies, but they were doing more and more with every year even as they expanded their ship building capacity. In addition to Port Royal in Basilisk, they also had yards in Gregor (Port Solomon), Corona (the second half of the Jewel binary, Port Caine), and Manticore (Port Victor), with eleven Tortuga-Class mobile yards spread out across their holdings. It didn’t take an economic genius to know war was coming and ABC was not going to miss out on their share of military contracts when the RMN discovered its in house yards weren’t enough to satisfy demand.
“Maybe I should visit Honor myself, see if there’s anything we can do to help her out?” Minerva suggested.
“To Basilisk?” Gilly asked, excited. “Can I come? I’ve always wanted to meet a Stilty!”
“Always?” Solace asked. “I don’t remember you mentioning it before?” The Medusans (nicknamed Stilties) were the eleventh race of sophonts that Humanity had encountered, though they were barely a bronze age civilization.
Gilly blushed. “Ooookay. Not always! But you know what I mean!” She humphed, hugging Barnabie who had stolen a sausage and was gnawing at it. Gilly pretended to speak as the obese treecat, “Pweeez! We pwomise to behave and not try to see if the Medusans are nummy.”
“I’m having lunch with Admiral d’Orville tomorrow. If you two want to tag along, we can take the Palace out to the Junction,” Solace invited, putting down her tablet and tucking into her breakfast.
-3rd September, 1901, lunch time-
“I hope you’ll consider the offer,” Admiral d’Orville, CO Homefleet, said. “I know that the politics have been against giving you your own ship, and you’ve got to be annoyed by constantly being beached, but… well…” he shrugged apologetically.
“I’ve been an MP for five years now, Sebastian. I know all too well the compromises of realpolitik. I don’t like them, but I do understand. That said, yes, of course I’ll return if the Navy needs me.”
“You’d be Admiral Whitehaven’s chief of staff,” he said.
“You already have a position lined up? I’m still a standing member, you know?”
He waved the concern away as if it didn’t matter, “Unimportant. Homefleet is assigned to the Home System.”
“So I’m supposed to be able to fulfil my duties to my constituents and run the Admiral’s staff at the same time?”
“Well, yes. Hamish has been relying on Captain Kuzak since taking over BuPlan as Second Space Lord, but we’re promoting her to Rear Admiral and giving her CruRon sixteen. You’ll be in Landing the entire time, barring inspection. And you’ll have a staff for most details.”
Solace chuckled. “The problem with being a miracle worker is that people keep expecting you to repeat it. Aren’t I a bit too junior for this post?”
“We’ll promote you to Captain JG. It’s supposed to be an SG’s post, but no one will protest that you’re unqual…” he cut off at the sound of a hurried conversation from the hall outside his private dining chamber. “What in the-” he began, but at that moment, his flag lieutenant burst in.
“Admiral, sir… Basilisk Station just sent Case Zulu!”
Next: Crown of Swords – Part 1
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