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Chapter Thirty-Nine

Honor Harrington made herself sit motionless as the damage reports washed over her. A part of her was horrified at what she'd just done, but a Sultan-class battlecruiser was simply too dangerous to fool around with. She'd had to take it out with her first salvo, even knowing that so much overkill virtually guaranteed there would be no survivors from her target, and so she'd just blown over two thousand people to plasma without giving them any chance at all.

But the Peep hadn't gone without striking back. Her single broadside had sent twenty missiles slashing towards Wayfarer and Artemis, and the liner's proximity had forced Honor to make her own ship an even easier target. If any of those missiles had gone after Artemis and gotten through, they could easily have destroyed her, and with her the very civilians Honor was fighting to protect. And so she'd turned Wayfarer directly across the liner's stern, deliberately sucking Kerebin's dying vengeance in upon her. Her missile defense crews had done well, but she'd never had a proper warship's point defense, and eight laser heads had gotten through.

"We've got ninety-two confirmed dead so far, Skipper," Rafe Cardones said harshly. "Sickbay reports over sixty additional casualties, and they're still bringing them in."

"Material damage?"

"We've lost Grasers One, Three, and Five out of the port broadside," Tschu replied from Damage Control Central. "Missiles One and Seven are gone, as well, and Five and Nine are available only in local control. LAC One's launch bays are totaled, but at least they were empty. Gravitic Two is gone, I've lost three sidewall generators, also from the port sidewall, and Impeller Two's lost a beta node."

"Skipper, I'm reporting negative function from Cargo One," Jennifer Hughes added urgently, and Honor felt her belly knot.


"I'm checking now. We don't show a rail malfunction, but—" The engineer broke off and mouthed a silent curse. "Correction. We do show a malfunction—it's just not with the launch system." He studied his monitors, then shook his head. "The rails are still up, Skipper; it's the cargo doors. That hit in the after impeller ring must've sent a surge through their power train. The port door's cycled half-way shut, and the starboard door's almost as far in."

"Can we reopen them?"

"Not soon," Tschu said grimly. He tapped a command into his console, then tried a second and grimaced. "Looks like they only stopped where they did because their motors burned out. It could be just the control systems on the port door—I can't be certain from the remotes—but the starboard door's definitely burned. If it is the controls for the port one, we might be able to rig new runs and get it back open. That would give you two clear launch rails, but that hit ripped hell out of the hull, and I don't have any surviving visuals in the area to tell me how much wreckage is in the way. Repairs are going to take at least an hour—assuming they're possible at all." He met her eyes squarely from her small com screen. "Sorry, Skipper. That's the best I can do."

"Understood." Honor's mind raced. Her ship was pathetically slow compared to the Peep warship still charging towards her, the brutal damage to her port broadside reduced her close-range firepower by a quarter, and the jammed cargo doors amputated her ability to deploy pods. Even if Tschu had time to get the port door open again, she'd lost two thirds of her long range punch. Her chance to survive against a regular warship which got inside her missile envelope was virtually nihil, and as the first Peep battlecruiser had just demonstrated, even a ship she managed to kill with missiles could still take Wayfarer with it.

She still had her second LAC squadron—that was why she'd exposed her port side, rather than the starboard launch bays—and she could use them here in the Selker. With them to support her, she'd be willing to take on a heavy cruiser even without her missile pods, but they wouldn't be enough against a battlecruiser. Even if she managed to destroy something that size, it would smash Wayfarer up so badly any of the other Peep warships could take her with ease.

"I've got Captain Fuchien, Skipper," Fred Cousins reported, and Honor shook herself. She held up one hand at Cousins long enough to look Jennifer Hughes in the eye.

"How long before the Peeps come in on us?"

"We can probably stay away from them for another three hours," Hughes replied. "I don't know what happened to that heavy cruiser—she slowed down and dropped clear off the plot twenty-six minutes ago—but that second Sultan's coming up fast. It's a cinch she's got us on passive, and her sustained velocity advantage will run us down eventually."

Honor drew a deep breath as her options clarified with brutal simplicity. It wouldn't be a heavy cruiser when the attack came in, she thought grimly, then waved at Cousins. "Put Captain Fuchien through," she said, and Margaret Fuchien's face replaced Tschu's on her com screen.

"Thank you, Captain—?" the civilian skipper said, and Honor smiled crookedly. There hadn't really been time for introductions before.

"Harrington, of Her Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Wayfarer."

The other woman's eyes widened, but then she shook her head, like someone shrugging aside an irritating fly.

"What's your situation, Lady Harrington?" she asked. Her own sensors had shown her the halo of atmosphere and water vapor which indicated massive hull breaching, and her optics showed her the gaping holes smashed in Wayfarer's flank and port quarter.

"We've got at least a hundred and fifty casualties," Honor told her flatly. "I've lost a third of my port broadside and most of my missile capability. We're trying to get the missiles back, but it doesn't look good. If you're thinking we can fight them off, I'm afraid you're wrong."

She felt the silence ripple out across her bridge as she said it. They'd all known already, but the finality of hearing their captain admit it aloud echoed in every mind. Fuchien's mouth tightened on the com screen, and she closed her eyes for a moment.

"Then I'm very much afraid we're in deep trouble, Milady," she said quietly. "My hyper generator's seriously damaged. I can't climb any higher, and my downward translation rate's been cut by something like eighty percent. Anything more than that, and the entire system is likely to pack in on us. Which means we can't run away from them, either."

"I see." Honor leaned back, ordering her face to remain calm while a skinsuited Nimitz crouched on the back of her chair. Her link to him carried her bridge crew's fear—and the discipline which held it at bay—to her, and she rubbed an eyebrow, making herself think. "In that case—" she began, when another voice cut suddenly into the circuit.

"This is Klaus Hauptman!" it snapped. "Your hyper generator's not damaged; why can't you take our passengers aboard your ship?"

Honor's lips thinned, and her eyes hardened. Hauptman's presence aboard Artemis came as a complete surprise, but the abrupt intrusion was so typical of him that she wanted to hit him.

"I'm speaking to Captain Fuchien," she said coldly. "Clear this channel immediately!"

"The hell you say!" Hauptman shot back, but then he paused. She could almost see him throttling back his own temper, and his voice was marginally calmer when he went on. "My presence on this channel doesn't prevent you from speaking to Captain Fuchien," he said, "and my question remains. Why can't you take us off?"

"Because," Honor said with icy precision, "our nominal life support capacity is three thousand individuals. We still have nineteen hundred crew aboard, and our enviro systems have also been damaged. I doubt I have sufficient long term capacity for my own people, far less the entire company of your vessel. Now either clear this channel or keep your mouth shut, Sir!"

Klaus Hauptman's face suffused with fury, but he clamped his jaw, then raised his eyes from his com's blank screen to look at his daughter. No one else would have recognized the fear behind Stacey's controlled expression, but he knew her too well. He could almost feel that fear, and everything within him shouted to scream at Harrington, to threaten her, bully her—bribe her, if that was what it took!—to get his daughter to safety. But something in Stacey's own eyes froze the threats and bribes on his lips, and a dull, burning sense of shame he didn't really understand mingled with his rage when he looked back down at the com.

"Now, Captain," Honor went on more calmly. "What does your life support look like?"

"Undamaged," Fuchien said, only her slight, humorless smile betraying her reaction to the way Honor had slapped her employer down. "We've lost three beta nodes, some of our lifeboats, and ten percent of our point defense, but aside from that—and the hyper generator—we're in decent shape. So far."

"What's your passenger list?"

"We're running light. I've got about twenty-seven hundred, plus the crew."

"Understood." Honor rubbed the tip of her nose, feeling Nimitz's whiskers brush gently against the back of her neck while his support poured into her, then nodded.

"All right, Captain, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to transfer all nonessential personnel to your ship, since you've got the life support to handle them. Then—"

"Wait a minute!" the interruption exploded out of Klaus Hauptman almost against his will. "What d'you mean, transfer people to this ship?! Why—"

"Mr. Hauptman, be silent!" Honor snapped. "I have neither the time nor the patience for your interruptions, Sir!"

Silence crackled for a brief eternity, and she returned her attention to Fuchien, whose face already showed the beginnings of understanding. In his stateroom, Klaus Hauptman swore with silent, bitter venom, furious at her tone. But then he looked up at Stacey again, and this time he saw something besides fear in her eyes. He saw . . . disappointment, and then she looked away from him without a word.

"As I say, I intend to transfer all nonessential personnel to your vessel," Honor went on. "I will also be detaching six LACs to support and cover you. As soon as the transfer is complete, you and the LACs will shut down all emissions. All of them, Captain Fuchien. I want you to turn your ship into a hole in space, do you understand me?"

"Yes." The word came out of Fuchien in a near-whisper, and Honor made herself smile.

"Before you shut down, I'll deploy an EW drone programmed to match your emissions. Wayfarer will break away from you, taking that drone with her. With any luck, the Peeps will think we're remaining in company and leave you alone. As soon as you're certain they have, I want you to begin a gradual downward translation. Drop into n-space and stay there for at least ten days. Ten days, Captain! Repair your generator and put as much space between you and this volume of h-space as you can before you go back into hyper."

"You coward!" Klaus Hauptman hissed. He was out of control, and he knew it, and it shamed him, but he couldn't help himself. It wasn't fear for himself; it was fear for his daughter which drove him. "You're not even going to try to defend this ship! You're just going to run away and hope no one spots us! You're abandoning us to save your own gutless—"

"Daddy, shut up!" Hauptman whirled from the com, for the icy voice wasn't Honor Harrington's. It was Stacey's, and her eyes flamed with a fury he'd never seen in them before.

"But she's—"

"She's about to die for you, Daddy," Stacey Hauptman said in a voice of iron. "Surely that should be enough even for you!"

Hauptman staggered, wounded as no one had ever wounded him, and his soul shriveled at the look in his daughter's eyes.

"But—" He swallowed. "But it's you I'm worried ab—" he began again, but Stacey only reached past him and slammed her hand down on the com disconnect. And then she turned her back, and walked out of his stateroom without another word.

"He's off the link, Milady," Fuchien said quietly. "I'm sorry. You don't need that kind—"

"Don't worry about it." Honor shook her head, then glanced at Rafe Cardones. "Start the transfers. I want all our wounded and every nonessential member of this crew aboard that ship in thirty minutes. Be sure Dr. Holmes and all our POWs go with them."

"Yes, Ma'am." Cardones nodded sharply, and she turned back to Fuchien.

"We'll do our best to draw them after us. How good are your sensors?"

"We've got the same electronic suite the Homer-class battlecruisers started the war with, and we've received most of the Phase One and Two upgrades, including the decoys and EW drones—everything but the stealth systems and FTL com. Those were too highly classified."

"That good?" Honor was impressed, and she rubbed the tip of her nose again. "That's better than I'd hoped for. You should have a significant advantage over the Peeps, then."

"I know," Fuchien said. "They must've been lying doggo under tight EmCon when we blundered right into them. If they weren't, Hawkwing should've seen them even if we—"

"What did you say?" Fuchien frowned in surprise, for Honor's face had suddenly gone paper-white. "Did you say Hawkwing?" she demanded harshly.

"Yes, Milady. Hawkwing, Commander Usher. Did . . . did you know the Commander?"

"No." Honor closed her eyes, and her nostrils flared. Then she shook her head. "No," she repeated in a low voice, "but I knew Hawkwing. She was my first hyper-capable command."

"I'm sorry, Milady," Fuchien said softly. "I don't know what to—" It was her turn to shake her head. "I know it's not much, Milady, but she and Commander Usher are the only reason we even had a chance to run. My tac officer . . . doesn't think there were any survivors."

"I see." Honor had commanded five starships. Now the second had been scrapped, the first had been destroyed, and the last was about to die with her. She allowed herself one more moment to grieve for the ship which had once meant all the universe to her, then opened her eyes once more, and her soprano voice was calm and even. "All right, Captain. I'll be transferring at least one of my surgeons, as many SBAs as I can spare, and all our wounded to you. Do you have the facilities to handle them?"

"We'll damned well make the facilities, Milady."

"Thank you. Now, about the LACs. They're a new model, and the six of them can probably stand up to a heavy cruiser for you if they have to. They don't have hyper generators or Warshawski sails, however. They can't enter a grav wave, and you'll have to take their crews off and destroy them when you begin translating."

"Then you should take them with you," Fuchien said. "If we're going to run for n-space anyway and they're powerful enough to be that much use—"

"They aren't powerful enough to make the difference against a battlecruiser," Honor said, the words a tacit admission of the truth both women knew. "They'd be destroyed either way, and at least this way you'll have some cover if another Peeps stumbles over you." And I can at least get their people out alive.

"I—" Fuchien began, then stopped herself. "You're right, of course," she said quietly.

"I'm glad you agree." Honor allowed herself a brief smile. "I think that's about everything, then, and I have things to attend to here. I'll make only one final request of you, if I may."

"Anything, Milady."

"Please stand by to receive a data transfer for the Admiralty. I'd like the First Lord to know what we accomplished before—" She shrugged.

"Of course, Milady. I'll deliver it in person. You have my word."

"Thank you." Honor's plot showed the LACs launching from her undamaged starboard side and the first pinnaces and cutters moving towards Artemis. The liner's shuttles were launching as well, to aid in the transfer, and she nodded.

"In that case, Captain Fuchien, let's be about it," she said quietly, and cut the link.


The frantic flow of personnel from Wayfarer to Artemis went with breakneck speed, for time was critically short. Despite the pressure, Rafael Cardones and Scotty Tremaine managed to impose a draconian order on the transfers, and the list of evacuees Cardones had drawn up at Honor's order was inflexible.

All three of John Kanehama's assistants went, for Artemis' stealthy escape maneuvers would require as much astrogation assistance as she could get. Fred Cousins and his entire department went, for there would be no one for Wayfarer to communicate with once she separated from Artemis. Harold Sukowski and Chris Hurlman went, as did every one of Vaubon's surrendered officers. Hydroponics specialists, extra sick berth attendants, and Marines who would not be needed for boarding parties went. Logistics officers and storekeepers, signal yeomen and quartermasters, personnel officers and cooks—every human being not essential to fight the ship or repair her damages went, and if they were relieved to be spared, every one of them was also consumed with guilt for leaving their shipmates behind.

But not all of those on the list went.

Master at Arms Thomas was dead, as was his senior assistant, and none of Wayfarer's surviving police force thought to check the brig. Randy Steilman, Jackson Coulter, Elizabeth Showforth, Ed Illyushin, and Al Stennis had been given skinsuits when the ship went to battle stations. But they were still confined in their cells—which were located at the core of the ship and safer than almost any other place aboard her, anyway—but brig skinnies didn't have coms, and no one heard their screams for release.

Scotty Tremaine was supposed to go, along with Horace Harkness. There would be no need for a Flight Ops department with all but two of their pinnaces and all their LACs away. But neither Tremaine nor Harkness had any intention of leaving their ship, and Tremaine sent two of his regular pinnace pilots and their flight engineer in their place.

Ginger Lewis was supposed to go, too. She was still on the restricted-duty list, but she knew Harold Tschu would need every available hand to try to clear the jammed cargo doors. And so she ignored the order to board a pinnace, passing her place to a twenty-two year old computer tech on his first deployment, and made her way with white-faced calm to Damage Control Central.

Yoshiro Tatsumi was another who turned down the chance of escape. He'd been detailed to accompany Dr. Holmes, but he quietly swapped places with another SBA. Dr. Ryder had stood by him when he needed her; now she would need him.

Other men and women made the same decisions, turning their backs on the way home. In some cases it was courage, in others defiance, but for all of them, it was also loyalty. Loyalty to their ship, to their fellow crewmen, to individual officers and duty, and—above all—to their captain. Honor Harrington needed them, and they refused to leave her.


Klaus Hauptman sat in his stateroom, hunched in a deeply cushioned chair while he held his face in his hands, and shame filled him. Not the anger which so often drove him: shame. Raw, biting shame. The kind that crawled up inside a man and destroyed him. A part of him knew it was his terrible fear for his daughter which had driven him to defy Honor Harrington, to rail and curse at her, yet that offered no comfort, no shield against the hurt shock, the disbelief that he could do such a thing, he'd seen in Stacey's eyes. The one person in the universe whose good opinion truly mattered to him had looked into his soul and turned away from what she saw there, and he felt his eyes burn with the tears he somehow refused to shed.

Yet behind the look in Stacey's eyes was the cold contempt he'd heard in Harrington's voice. It wasn't the first time he'd heard it, but this time he'd deserved it. He knew that, with no ability to tell himself differently. And in facing that poison-bitter truth, he was forced to face his memories of their earlier encounter, as well. Forced to admit, possibly for the first time in his adult life, that he'd lied to himself. He, who'd always thought he could face himself unflinchingly, knew better now. Harrington had been right the first time, too, he thought wretchedly. Right to reject the pressure he'd tried to bring to bear, right to feel contempt for him—even right to threaten a man who could stoop so low as to use her parents against her out of nothing more than choler and pique and offended pride. A man who could do that without even realizing how contemptible it was, because such considerations meant nothing beside his anger of the moment.

He sat there, alone with the acid reality of what he was, and all his wealth and power and position and accomplishments were no armor at all against himself.


Harold Sukowski trotted down the passenger ship's grav-generator-equipped boarding tube with one arm protectively around Chris Hurlman. The commander had fully recovered from her physical injuries in her time aboard Wayfarer, and she'd come far further back from her psychological wounds than he would have believed possible. But she was still fragile, without the tough, devil-may-care humor he'd known for so many years, and he kept her close, shielding her from any casual contact in the chaos about them.

Margaret Fuchien had detailed stewards and any other crewman she could find to act as guides for the influx of refugees. It was essential to clear the boat bay galleries as quickly as possible, and Artemis' personnel did their best to keep the evacuees moving without pause. But there was a knot in the flow as Sukowski and Hurlman emerged from the tube on Shannon Foraker's heels. All of Wayfarer's POWs had been sent over together, with a single Marine to ride herd on them, and Sukowski's head came up quickly as he saw the instant anger on the faces of their waiting guides. Anger turned almost as quickly to hate—hate for the people who wore the uniform of the Navy which had just destroyed Hawkwing and killed thirty of their own—and the senior steward in charge of their group opened his mouth, face curdled with rage. But Sukowski stepped quickly forward, moving between Warner Caslet and Denis Jourdain, at the head of the prisoners, and Artemis' crewmen, and his eyes were hard.

"Shut your face," he told the steward in cold, biting tones. The man twitched in confusion as the scar-faced, mutilated man in a plain shipsuit spoke in an icy command voice, and Sukowski drove ahead before he could continue. "I'm Captain Harold Sukowski," he said in that same cold voice, and recognition of his own shipping line's fourth ranking captain sparked in the steward's eyes. "These people saved my life—and my exec's—from the butchers who took Bonaventure in Telmach. They also executed every one of the pigs who had us in custody, then lost their own ship trying to save another Manticoran vessel." He didn't mention exactly which vessel that had been. It didn't matter—and Caslet and Jourdain hadn't known when they went to Wayfarer's rescue, anyway. "You will treat them with respect, Senior Steward. Is that clear?"

"Uh, yessir!" the steward blurted. "As you say, Sir!"

"Good. Now get us out of here to clear this gallery."

"Yes, Sir. If the Captain and . . . and his friends would follow me, please?"

The man led them off, and Sukowski felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Caslet gazing at him, and their eyes met with a shared, bleak smile of understanding. . . and sorrow.


"Last boat, Skipper," Cardones announced. The exec was hoarse from passing orders, and Honor looked up with a nod from her conference with Jennifer Hughes. She spared time for one anguished glance at the back of her command chair, wishing desperately that she'd sent Nimitz across, as well. But he would no more leave her than Samantha would leave Harold Tschu—or than Honor would leave him. She might have had him forcibly removed, but she couldn't do it. She simply couldn't, and at least he was better off than Samantha. He had his skinsuit; Tschu hadn't been able to afford one, and he'd had to settle for a standard life support module. But that much Honor had been able to improve upon. She still had the deluxe module she'd bought Nimitz before Paul designed his suit—the one with the built in anti-radiation armor and the extended life support—and she'd insisted that Tschu take Samantha to her quarters and put her inside its greater protection.

Not, she thought grimly, that it would make that much difference in the end.

"How soon can we break away?" she asked.

"Any time, Skip." Cardones' smile was as grim as she felt. "That boat's not scheduled to come back. We're down to two pinnaces . . . and, of course, our life pods."

"Of course," Honor agreed with a ghost of true humor, then punched back into Damage Control Central.

"DCC, Senior Chief Lewis."

"Lewis? What are you doing down there?" Honor demanded in surprise.

"Commander Tschu has every warm body he can spare down in Cargo One, Ma'am, including Lieutenant Silvetti. I'm minding the store for them," Ginger said, deliberately misunderstanding her question, and Honor's lips quirked in a small, sad smile.

"All right, Senior Chief. Tell me how they're coming."

"The starboard motors are definitely frozen, Ma'am," Lewis said crisply. "They're completely shot; they'll need total replacement. Two of the port motors are still operable, and the third may be, but the entire control run's blown away between Frame Seven-Niner-Two and the stern plate. They're rigging new cable now, but they've got to clear wreckage to get it in, and two pods have come adrift from Number Four Rail. They'll have to get them tied down before they can even get at that portion of the problem."

"Time estimate?"

"Chief Engineer estimates a minimum of ninety minutes, Ma'am."

"Understood. Tell him to keep on it."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am."

Honor cut the circuit and looked at Jennifer Hughes.

"Time to enemy intercept?"

"Missile range in two hours, five minutes."

"But she still has us only on gravitics?"

"At this range and under these conditions, that's all she can possibly have us on, Ma'am," Hughes said confidently.

"Very well." Honor turned to Cardones, who'd taken over Communications after Cousins' departure. "Rafe, get me Captain Fuchien on the main screen."

"Yes, Ma'am."

The two-meter com screen on the command deck's forward bulkhead lit. Fuchien's face was grim, her eyes haunted, but she nodded courteously.

"It's time, Captain," Honor told her in a voice whose calm surprised even her. Perhaps it surprised especially her. "Move your ship ahead of us. I want you in our impeller shadow when your drive goes down."

"Yes, Milady," Fuchien said quietly, and Honor looked over her shoulder. "Deploy the EW drone, Jenny."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am."

Artemis slid in front of Wayfarer once more, riding directly ahead of her, and Honor turned to Senior Chief Coxswain O'Halley.

"This is going to have to be smartly done, Chief," she told him quietly, and her helmsman nodded his understanding. Artemis was so close the safety perimeter of her impeller wedge cleared Wayfarer's by barely sixty kilometers. She had to be, if she was going to hide her own impellers from the Peep battlecruiser behind the Q-ship's, but Wayfarer was still accelerating at over a hundred gravities. The tiniest helm error on her part when Artemis' wedge went down and Honor executed her breakaway maneuver could bring her own wedge into direct contact with the liner's hull, which would tear the other ship apart instantly.

"Understood, Ma'am," O'Halley said far more calmly than he could possibly feel, and Honor raised her eyes to the main plot, watching as Artemis settled exactly into the agreed upon position, then drew a deep breath and looked at Fuchien.

"Good luck, Captain," she said.

"God bless, Milady," Fuchien said softly, and the two captains, each with eyes filled by the pain of what duty required of them, nodded to one another.

"Very well," Honor Harrington said crisply, turning back to her own bridge. "Execute!"


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