House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

June 1852 PD

“JONAS, HAVE YOU SEEN this article on fusion bottle density?” Roger Winton was looking down at the reader’s display, scrolling for the specific reference he wanted to discuss as he followed a scampering Monroe into Jonas Adcock’s familiar office. “It says here that Grendel University’s getting some unexpected results, and I’m wondering if that ties into what Grierson’s been doing on Raiden. If it does, then—”

He looked up from the display as he navigated the doorway itself, and whatever he’d been about to say chopped off in midsentence as he saw Adcock’s guest. Monroe skidded to a halt, as well, his ears pointing straight up and his tail kinking in an exclamation point behind him, and Adcock turned from his visitor with an undeniably wicked smile.

“Oh, hi, Rog!” he said in a sunny tone. “I’d like to introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister, Angelique. Angelique, my friend Roger.”

Angelique Adcock had to be one of the most attractive women Roger Winton had ever seen, and the crown prince saw many attractive women. She wasn’t classically beautiful, no, but “classically beautiful” women (and men) were a dime a dozen in the Star Kingdom, where personal affluence made biosculpt and genetic beauty mods readily obtainable. And she didn’t need classic beauty, he thought. He’d actually seen imagery of her before, although Jonas might or might not be aware of that, yet that imagery hadn’t done her justice. In person, face-to-face, she had a unique, fresh, gray-eyed attractiveness which was wholly her own, and an oval face which had clearly been designed for the laughter and zest which lurked in those gray eyes. Her natural skin tone was far lighter than Roger’s, but she had the deeply tanned, bronzed complexion of someone who clearly spent a lot of time outdoors. Her kinship to her brother was obvious, but Jonas’ strong features had been softened in her, and she turned with a quick, friendly smile of her own, automatically holding out her hand, as her brother introduced her.

“Hi,” she said. “Pleased to meet—”

Her voice died in a peculiar sort of half-squeak, her mouth froze half-open, her eyes flew wide, and Jonas chuckled in obvious delight.

“Hello,” Roger said, reaching out to grasp the hand which had stopped halfway to him. The imp of the perverse touched him abruptly, and he bent over the hand, brushing its back with his lips before he straightened. “Your brother has a peculiar sense of humor, Ms. Adcock.”

She stared at him for several more heartbeats, and then seemed to come back to life again. She shook herself, smiled more than a little crookedly at Roger, and turned her head to glare at Jonas.

“No,” she said tartly. “He thinks he has a sense of humor . . . Your Highness.”

She looked back at Roger as she addressed him by his title, and he shook his head, still holding her hand.

“This isn’t a social occasion, Ms. Adcock,” he told her with a smile of his own. “I’m perfectly well aware Jonas deliberately threw me at you cold, but I really don’t use any of that long, dreary list of titles when I’m on duty. Or with friends. Which, somehow, despite your entirely accurate observation on the state of his sense of humor, Jonas has become. For now, at least.” He turned his gaze on Adcock. “You do realize, don’t you, that any Machiavellian monarch worth his salt has hordes of sinister retainers lurking in the shadows at his beck and call to visit retribution on those who irritate him? Retainers who could make you disappear just like that!”

He snapped the fingers of his free hand sharply, and a soft little chuckle spurted out of Angelique Adcock.

“True. Too true, I’m sure,” Jonas replied. He’d long since gotten over any uncertainty about addressing his future monarch on such familiar terms. “Fortunately, you’re not King, only crown prince, and your mother doesn’t like to have people disappeared.” His expression darkened suddenly, and his lips tightened. “Unlike some,” he finished in a far harsher voice, and Roger felt the slender fingers still clasped in his tighten, as well.

“Sorry, Jonas,” he said quietly. He gave those fingers a small squeeze, without really noticing what he was doing, before he released them. “Probably not the best time to be making jokes about people disappearing after all, I guess.”

“Actually,” Adcock inhaled deeply, “there’s no reason you shouldn’t.” He glanced at his sister, then back at Roger. “As Dad always said, shit happens. Sometimes it even happens for a reason. And whatever else, Angel and I aren’t Maslowans anymore. Haven’t been for thirty-five T-years now, and glad of it.”

Roger nodded, but he was watching Angelique from the corner of his eye as he did, and he saw how carefully she was watching her brother, in turn.

Roger had learned a lot about Jonas Adcock over the last two T-years. He’d learned that Adcock had to be one of the most brilliant men he’d ever met, although it was a peculiar form of brilliance. Adcock would have been hopelessly miscast in the role of a research scientist, but he had a phenomenal gift for synthesis. For looking at other people’s work, often in totally different fields, and seeing connections, possibilities, which would never have occurred to the people doing the actual research. He was a generalist, not a specialist, yet he was capable of talking to—and understanding—specialists in wildly diverse areas, and young Sebastian D’Orville had told Roger on more than one occasion, only half jokingly, that Adcock’s middle name should have been “Serendipity,” not Sebastian. It wasn’t simply that he could talk to those different specialists; it was that he could get them to listen to him and start listening to each other, as well.

That ability of his was even more remarkable given his family background. For all his friendliness and approachability, Adcock was also a very private person, and it had taken a while for him to feel comfortable enough with Roger to discuss that background. On the other hand, much as Roger frequently detested it, Palace Security and the Queen’s Own weren’t about to let someone get as close to the heir to the throne as Adcock had without doing a complete—very complete—background check on him, and Roger had been briefed on what they’d discovered.

He hated that sort of intrusion into other people’s privacy just because they’d come into proximity with him, and he generally refused to listen to anything more than very general information about them. He hadn’t had a choice about hearing rather more than that in this case, however, because what Palace Security had discovered had triggered enough internal alarm bells for them to approach Queen Samantha with an urgent recommendation that Roger be removed from Adcock’s vicinity.

Samantha, aware of how much Roger had discovered he liked Adcock, had refused to take their advice without discussing the situation with Roger, first, and that was how Roger had come to know that Jonas Adcock’s family was from the Maslow System, deep in the Haven Quadrant. In fact, Maslow had been a staunch ally of the Republic of Haven for over three hundred T-years, and in light of Haven’s current expansionism, the mere notion of the heir associating with a Maslowan expatriate had produced instant paranoia within the bowels of Palace Security.

A paranoia, Roger had pointed out acidly after sitting through an excruciatingly total dissection of a friend’s life, which was as stupid as it was irrational.

Jonas’ father Sebastian had been a prominent Maslowan engineer, a highly successful specialist in deep space infrastructure design and development. Normally, that would have been considered a good thing, but Maslow had followed its treaty partner, friend, and mentor into exactly the same sort of economic system Haven had developed. Unfortunately, Maslow’s economy had never been as large and robust as Haven’s, and despite its later start, it had started drifting towards the reefs of insolvency quickly. Nor had it helped that professionals like Sebastian Adcock had been given the chance to see the writing on the Havenite wall. In particular, they’d seen the Republic’s Technical Conservation Act of 1778, which had classified an entire series of professions and skill sets as “national assets” and made any attempt to emigrate by someone who possessed them an act of treason. The TCA had been Haven’s answer to its economy’s steady hemorrhaging of people with marketable skills as that economy crunched into decline, and more than one Maslowan professional had feared their own government would follow suit, probably sooner, rather than later.

Sebastian’s first wife, Angelique, had died shortly after giving birth to her daughter, but his second wife, Annette, had told him flatly that it was time for him to go. Time for him to find a star nation which still valued and rewarded individualism, hard work, and ability. Unfortunately, they’d waited just too long, and Maslow had, indeed, passed its own Technical Conservation Act in 1815. Sebastian Adcock had become a “national resource” who had no right to use his skills and abilities except as directed by his government.

Not even Palace Security or the SIS had been able to determine exactly how the Adcocks managed it, but two years later, in 1817, Sebastian, Annette, and their four children—Jonas, Angelique, Jeptha, and Aidan—had reached Manticore. How they’d gotten out of Maslow was a mystery, and one they’d refused to discuss with anyone, which led Roger to suspect there were people still on Maslow who’d helped them. But what was clear was that they’d left everything they owned behind, arriving in the Star Kingdom literally with nothing more than the clothing on their backs.

Jonas had been nineteen, the son of penniless immigrants with no family or friends to help them get their feet under them. Despite which, after a two-year intensive personal study program, he’d won admission to Saganami Island in 1819 and graduated four years later, eighth in his class. His father had found work, at first, as little more than a common laborer on Hephaestus, the planet Manticore’s primary orbital industrial platform. By the time of his death, thirty years later, Senior Station Operations Manager Adcock had run the space station, and no nativeborn Manticoran could possibly have matched the Adcock family’s passionate devotion to the Star Kingdom.

Roger had made that point to the security briefers. He’d made it at some length, in a tone which he’d later realized sounded remarkably like his mother’s upon certain particularly frustrating occasions. He’d pointed out the Adcock family’s contributions to the Star Kingdom. He’d pointed out that Jonas had passed every security check the Navy had ever thrown at him with flying colors. He’d suggested that when the analysts concerned over Jonas Adcock’s patriotism and loyalty had demonstrated their own patriotism and loyalty one half as clearly he might be more inclined to listen to them. And he’d finished by pointing out that treecats’ ability to identify anyone who harbored ill will towards their human partners was proverbial . . . and that Monroe liked Jonas immensely.

And that, as his mother had observed rather dryly into the ringing silence which followed his explanation, had been that.

Still, Jonas had been nineteen when his family left Maslow behind forever. However passionately loyal he might be to his new homeland, that was where he’d been born, where the childhood friends he’d left behind still lived. And that was why his usual sense of humor had become more than a little strained when the Peoples Navy occupied the Maslow System and it, too, was “voluntarily associated” into the People’s Republic of Haven.

Not, unfortunately, without a certain degree of bloodshed among Maslowans who didn’t want to become Havenites. That much had leaked out before the news blackout slammed down completely. No open reports were getting out at this point, but Manticoran intelligence still had some assets on the planet, and Roger suspected that he knew more about just how ugly the situation on Jonas’ original homeworld actually was at the moment than Jonas himself did.

“Now,” Jonas went on a bit more briskly, putting the moment firmly behind him, “I’ve been following some of that research at Grendel U for a month or so now, Rog, and if you’re here to talk about what I think you’re here to talk about, I’m definitely interested. I think we may need to get Chief Thompson in to discuss it with us, as well, since it’s going to fall into her bailiwick, unless I’m mistaken. But before we do that, Angel happened to be in town and decided to drop by to drag her ancient and decrepit brother off to lunch. Under the circumstances, I’d like to invite you to accompany us . . . if you’ll leave that reader right here on my desk and promise not to say a single word about it until we get back. Deal?”

Roger started to refuse politely. He knew Angelique lived on Gryphon, the single habitable planet of Manticore-B, where she was one of the planet’s leading silviculturalists. She didn’t get to Manticore all that often, and he had no business intruding into a family lunch. But then he glanced at Angelique and noticed her quick, fleeting smile at Jonas’ stern tone.

It was a very attractive smile, he thought, bending over to scoop up Monroe and lift him to his shoulder perch.

“Deal . . . Sir,” he said with a smile of his own, and dropped the reader on Jonas’ desk.