House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

July 1852 PD



“—SO I’M AFRAID I CAN’T quite agree with you there, My Lord,” Roger Winton said politely, looking across the palatial conference table at Jackson Denham, the Baron of Seawell and the Star Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“Indeed, Your Highness?” Seawell arched his eyebrows, then let his eyes flick very briefly—so briefly it was almost unnoticeable—towards the head of the table before he focused intently on Roger’s expression. “I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic. Perhaps you could explain it a bit more clearly?”

Roger made himself smile calmly, despite a frission of anger. He kept his own eyes on Seawell, without so much as a glance in his mother’s direction.

“I’m not questioning your current figures, My Lord,” he said. “My problem is with the basis for some of your projected future numbers. Specifically, the ones you’re showing for trade in the Haven Quadrant. I think the underlying assumptions are far too optimistic given what we’ve seen out of the People’s Republic’s current economy.”

“Those assumptions are based on quite a few decades worth of computer time, Your Highness, Seawell pointed out. “And the analysis they support is the product of some highly experienced analysts.”

You have heard of “Garbage In-Garbage out,” haven’t you? Roger didn’t quite ask out loud. And those “highly experienced analysts” of yours know exactly what you wanted to hear out of them. Don’t you think that might have helped them . . . shave their analyses just a bit? Besides, we wouldn’t want them to entertain a fresh thought and strain their brains, now would we?

“I understand that, My Lord, but I’d also like to point out that everything coming out of our human intelligence sources in the People’s Republic suggests Haven is in the process of adopting highly protectionist economic policies, and I don’t see any mention of that in this analysis.” He tapped the display in front of him, still smiling pleasantly. “Instead, it assumes current trend lines will continue, rather than dip sharply, and I think that’s highly unlikely. According to Dame Alice’s current figures, for example, our carrying trade to the People’s Republic has fallen by almost nine percent over just the last three quarters. Would you care to comment on that, Dame Alice?”

He looked at the pleasant faced, silver haired woman sitting two seats down from Seawell. Dame Alice Bryson was the Star Kingdom’s Minister of Trade, and she and Seawell didn’t exactly see eye to eye on quite a few topics these days. At sixty-nine, she was only five T-years younger than he was, but she often seemed half his age when it came to mental flexibility, in Roger’s opinion. Of course, that might be because she was a Centrist while Seawell was a card-carrying member of the Conservative Association.

“I think the figures speak for themselves, Your Highness,” she said now, never even glancing in the Queen’s direction. Instead, she turned her head to smile at Seawell. “His Highness is quite correct about the People’s Republic’s protectionist tendencies, I’m afraid, Jackson. Their government is steadily nationalizing the independent shipping houses of each of their new member systems. As they shut down the independents, they’re also freezing out everyone else’s carriers . . . including ours. It may not show up as much in your projections because our shipping lines are taking up the slack in Silesia and the League and at the moment the People’s Republic’s still buying plenty of Manticoran goods, so the trade balance is still a long way from tanking. They’re simply sending their own ships to collect them—and to deliver what little we’re buying from them. But everything we’re hearing at Trade suggests they probably won’t be doing that much longer.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Seawell said testily. “It’s going to cost them at least twenty percent more, possibly even more than that, to try to produce locally what they’ve been buying from us! And unless they want to cut their defense budgets, where are they going to get the investment capital to build the production facilities in the first place?”

“I’m afraid you’re missing my point, My Lord,” Roger said. Seawell looked back at him, and Roger shrugged. “At the moment, and increasingly, Havenite policies are being driven by ideology, not rational analysis. I don’t say the Legislaturalists really buy into the ideology they’re selling to everyone else in the PRH, but they have to at least act as if they do. And some of them probably do believe everything they’re saying. What matters from our perspective is less the why than the what of what they’re doing, however, and the problem is that they’re buying more and more deeply into the notion of a command economy. And what their economic analysts are seeing at this moment isn’t the opportunities of selling to an external market, but the opportunities of exploiting an internal market for Haven’s benefit even at the expense of the economies of the People’s Republic’s other member systems.

“They see the star systems they control as a closed internal market, one they can lock other producers out of with protectionist measures to create a situation in which market demand can be satisfied only out of their domestic industry. Protectionism is supposed to create a situation in which market pressures will support the development of the industry their top-down system hasn’t generated, and they don’t care if that drives their subjects’ standard of living down by driving prices up. And they intend to concentrate all of that new industry in the Haven System and their older daughter colonies. I believe they used to call that sort of thinking ‘mercantilism’ back on Old Earth.”

The crown prince shook his head, his expression grim.

“I think your analysts are missing that because from the perspective of the PRH and its citizens as a whole, it’s very, very bad policy. But from the perspective of the Haven System—which is all the Legislaturalists are actually concerned about at the moment, when all’s said—it makes good short-term sense. In essence, they’re looting the economies of the systems they’re conquering—excuse me, peacefully annexing—” his irony was withering “in order to prop up and grow their own domestic economy in Nouveau Paris. In the end, it’s going to wind up costing them far more for manufactured goods and they’re going to take a hammering on lost foreign markets for their own products, but it will force the growth of their own heavy industry in the systems which are most important to them. And because it’s an ultimately irrational policy from the perspective of the PRH as a whole, your rational analysts missed it.”

Seawell started to say something, then made himself stop and closed his mouth firmly. He sat that way for several seconds before he nodded grudgingly.

“You may—may, I say—have a valid point there, Your Highness. I’ll certainly sit down with my staff and examine all of our models in the light of what you and Dame Alice have just said. Having said that, however,” he continued, rallying gamely, “the fact remains that increasing the Navy budget yet again is going to place a very serious strain on the economy as a whole. Because of that—”



“You did well, Roger. Very well,” Samantha Winton said, sipping her tea. “I was particularly impressed when you didn’t reach across the table and pull his tonsils out through his nose.”

“I thought I concealed my unhappiness rather well, actually, Mom,” he replied, sitting back with a tankard of cold beer while Monroe purred across the back of his chair. “Besides, if I wanted his tonsils, I’d ask Monroe to extract them. His claws are a lot better equipped for that kind of surgery.”

Samantha chuckled, and Monroe reached out to smack Roger gently on top of the head with a true-hand. Roger smiled, but there was a carefully hidden darkness behind that smile as he looked at his mother. She’d aged noticeably over the last couple of years, and something inside him raged at her increasing frailty, the slight bend in her spine that defied everything the doctors could do. It wasn’t right—it wasn’t fair!—for her to be visibly fading in front of him when she was barely thirty T-years older than he was.

“Don’t go giving Monroe any ideas,” she said sternly after a moment. “’Cats are very direct souls. If you give him the idea that he can go around dissecting cabinet ministers, it’s going to get very messy.”

“Not if he and I make a few salutary examples right up front, surely!” Roger replied. “Just one or two. I’m sure the others would get the idea and begin deferring suitably to my tyrannical whims.”

“I wish,” Samantha said with rather less humor.

She set down her teacup and leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes for a moment, and Roger felt a fresh pang as Magnus looked down at her protectively. The older treecat no longer rode his person’s shoulder the way he had for as long as Roger could remember, and he was constantly at her side, watching over her. Roger could read his concern, his worry, in his body language, and another strand of concern of his own went through him.

Treecats almost never survived their companions’ deaths. That had made their practice of adopting the shorter-lived humans a virtual death sentence for centuries, and the idea of losing Magnus, who’d been a part of his own life from the day he learned to walk, at the same time he lost his mother was almost insupportable.

At least that’s not likely to be a problem for Monroe. The thought tasted much bleaker than usual at the moment. That’s one good thing about prolong. Not that it’s going to help Mom or Magnus.

“I think I’m getting too worn out for this, Roger,” Samantha said without opening her eyes. “I just don’t have the energy to beat up on them the way I used to. It helps—if that isn’t an obscene use of that particular verb—that the Havenites are getting increasingly blatant. People can still argue about how much of a threat they are to us, but nobody can simply deny that they pose a threat to anyone anymore.”

“I wouldn’t go quite that far, Mom,” he said dryly. “There’s always Lady Helen.”

“Oh, God.” Samantha opened her eyes and looked at him. “I could’ve gone all day without thinking about her. Thank you, Roger. Thank you ever so much.”

Roger snorted and took a long pull at his beer. Lady Helen Bradley was the current leader of the Liberal party in the House of Lords, and her insulation from the electoral process also seemed to insulate her from rationality, in Roger’s opinion. She got to live in her own little echo chamber, where the only people she ever spoke to were those—from all sides of the aisle, he had to acknowledge—who agreed with her, and the electorate couldn’t even punish her at the ballot box, because she never had to stand for office.

The good news (from Roger’s perspective, at least) was that the Conservative Association had never had much representation in the House of Commons to begin with and that the isolation from reality of peers like Bradley was steadily eroding the Liberals’ popular support, which was actively costing them seats in the lower house, as well. Allen Summervale, the Duke of Cromarty, who’d assumed the leadership of the Centrist Party with Earl Mortenson’s resignation last year, was gathering up quite a few of those disaffected Liberals. The bad news was that the Star Kingdom’s constitution gave the House of Lords disproportionate power, which meant a sufficient number of nobly born drooling idiots could still hamstring the government’s policy badly.

The fact that Leonard Shumate, the Earl of Thompson, was Prime Minister instead of Cromarty was a demonstration of that unhappy truth. Roger had nothing against Thompson. In fact, he liked the earl a great deal, and Thompson was a Crown Loyalist. As such, his support for the House of Winton could be taken as a given. But everyone knew that, and putting together a majority in the House of Lords—essential for any prime minister—had required some unhappy horsetrading. That was how Jackson Denham had ended up as Chancellor of the Exchequer, traditionally the second most powerful seat in the Cabinet, and how Alfredo Maxwell, a Liberal, had ended up as Home Secretary while a Centrist like Dame Alice had been forced to settle for Trade.

But at least we got White Haven as First Space Lord. That’s something, he told himself.

In fact, it was quite a lot. Murdoch Alexander, the twelfth Earl of White Haven, wasn’t exactly a Centrist; he was too stubbornly independent to embrace any party label, and peers didn’t require party support to defend their seats. He wasn’t what Roger would have called a flexible man, either, but he was about as easy to deflect as Juggernaut, and he had a brain that worked. He hadn’t been in the First Space Lord’s chair long enough to have thoroughly cleaned house, but he was working on it, and his appreciation of the Star Kingdom’s strategic realities was far better than Admiral Truman’s had been.

Or it’s closer to mine, at least. Of course, that’s the dictionary definition of “better,” isn’t it?

That thought brought him a much-needed chuckle, and he grinned at his mother.

“We’re getting them trimmed down and shaped up, Mom. All we need is a bigger, sharper machete.”

“And two or three years to work on them,” his mother agreed. “I just hope the Havenites give us the time for it, Roger.”

“It’s going to be a while yet,” Roger told her, and she looked at him. She let him see the worry in her eyes, and he smiled gently. She’d been worrying about it too long, he thought. And she was afraid she was going to run out of time—that she was going to run out of time—before she accomplished everything her responsibilities to her kingdom and her people required of her.

“We’ve got at least another twenty or thirty T-years, I think,” he continued. “That’s part of the problem, actually. The people who want to pretend the sky isn’t falling can do exactly what Janacek and Truman have been doing for the last ten or twelve T-years and point out that there’s no immediate threat. The problem is they keep acting as if we’ve got some kind of unlimited savings account of time. That if the threat isn’t ‘immediate’ right this moment we’ll always have time to prepare before it becomes ‘immediate.’” He shook his head, then shrugged. “The good news is that we’re starting to get the people we need in place to do something about it. Like Admiral White Haven and Admiral Lomax.”

“That’s what Abner said last week,” Samantha admitted. “And he also complimented me on my choice of White Haven for First Space Lord. He thinks the earl is going to work out very well. Of course, I smiled and accepted his praise with becoming humility without ever pointing out that you were the one who’d recommended him.”

“Thank God!” Roger grimaced. “Even hinting to anyone that a lowly commander is ‘recommending’ flag officers for appointment as space lords would be the kiss of death for any Navy career I might still hope to cling to! I’m sure quite a lot of people have figured out you’re going to ask me for advice on questions like that, but the longer we can keep even a whisper of it from becoming official knowledge, the better I’ll like it!”

“I suppose I can understand that,” she said with a crooked smile, opening her arms to invite Magnus into her lap. The treecat hopped down and curled into a silken oval, purring loudly as she stroked him while she gazed at her son.

“I’m afraid your career—your Navy career, at least—is on borrowed time, though, Roger,” she said softly, and he froze in his chair, looking at her. Her smile reappeared, but this time it was gentle, almost compassionate. “I don’t seem to be wearing quite as well as I could wish. I’m afraid you may find yourself sitting in my chair sooner than you’d like, love. I wish it weren’t so, but—”

She shrugged, and Roger drew a deep, deep breath.

“You’re not going anywhere for a while,” he told her. “I don’t care what anyone else says; I say you’re not going anywhere for a while. I’ll step up the time earmarked for Cabinet meetings and even—God help us—sessions of Parliament to take more of the weight off your shoulders, but you’ve still got too much to teach me to go traipsing off and leave me stuck with the job!”

“I’ll try to bear that in mind. And while I’m bearing it in mind, Earl Thompson made a rather pointed suggestion to me last week. The same sort Earl Mortenson used to make.”

“You know, I really don’t think of myself primarily in terms of breeding stock,” Roger said.

“Well, to some extent, you should. It comes with the Crown, unfortunately. And the truth is, Roger, that you’ve been able to wait a lot longer than any of the rest of us have because of prolong. But it really is time you were settling down. And”—her eyes sharpened suddenly, impaling him the same way they’d once impaled an adolescent Roger Winton when his “explanations” had started shedding their wheels—“it’s not as if you didn’t have a perfectly lovely young lady in mind, now is it?”

“No,” he admitted after a moment. “No, but . . . it’s not that simple, either, Mom. I mean, I’m delighted that the Constitution requires me to marry a commoner. There were times, when I was younger, it really pissed me off, but not now. Unfortunately, this particular commoner doesn’t want to be queen.”

“She doesn’t want to marry you?” Samantha’s surprise showed in her tone, and she shook her head. “Roger, nobody’s been spying on you—or, at least, not spying on you for me—but I have seen the two of you together. I can’t believe she doesn’t love you!”

“That’s not what I said. I didn’t even say she didn’t want to marry me. The problem is that she doesn’t want to marry the King.”

“Oh.”

Samantha’s hands stilled on Magnus’ coat. The constitutional requirement that the heir to the throne wed outside the aristocracy had produced its share of unhappiness over the centuries. She was convinced it was one of the monarchy’s greatest strengths, yet more than one potential consort had backed away from the thought of becoming prince consort or queen consort and plunging themselves—and their children—into the fishbowl of the Star Kingdom’s politics.

“I think she’ll come around,” Roger said. “I wish I were certain I didn’t think that mainly because of how badly I want it, but you’re right. She does love me, and I love her, and Monroe adores her. Jonas is on my side, too, and that counts. But I’m not going to pressure her on it.” He met his mother’s gaze steadily. “From a cold-blooded political perspective, a marriage that turned out . . . unhappily could blow up in the entire Star Kingdom’s face. But even more importantly, for me at least, is that I don’t want her to be unhappy. I want her to marry me because that’s what she wants to do. And I think it is. It’s not even the political side of it that concerns her, I think. It’s that she’s afraid she doesn’t have the background for it. That she’ll embarrass me somehow. And that unmitigated asshole Bannister sure as hell isn’t helping.”

His expression turned ugly for a moment, and Samantha’s mouth tightened. Godfrey Bannister, the senior social columnist for the Landing Times, had a well-deserved reputation for steeping his columns in acid from time to time. She didn’t really think that was what he’d done this time, but the consequences were just as bad as if he had.

“The Little Beggar Girl.”

That was what he’d dubbed Angelique Adcock.

Samantha was almost certain he’d actually meant it as a compliment. She’d read the column when he’d used it for the first time, and its tone had been admiring, almost celebratory, a reminder that in the Star Kingdom of Manticore the Crown married the Commons in every generation. And that even someone who’d arrived in Manticore as a penniless refugee could find himself or herself elevated to the very highest level of Manticoran society.

But it hadn’t been taken that way. Perhaps it was because he’d used so much carefully distilled vitriol over the decades. Perhaps the sorts of people who read his column had simply become so accustomed to it that they’d read the appellation as a sneering comment on the Angelique’s origins when that wasn’t what he’d intended at all.

“I really think she hadn’t even considered the possibility of my proposing until Bannister opened his mouth and ‘outed’ her,” Roger continued harshly. “That’s probably partly my fault. I was trying to be gradual about it, trying to avoid scaring her off, and I think I waited too long. She’s thinking about it now, though, and what she really wants to do is run away back to Gryphon and hide in those woods of hers! But I’m not going to give up on her, Mom.” His expression firmed. “She’s the one I want, the one I love, and she damned well loves me, too. I’m not letting that get away from me. I know how much you and Dad loved each other, and I want that, as well. And we’ve both had the prolong therapies.” He looked straight into his mother’s eyes. “I’ve found the one I want, and I’m willing to be patient. You and Dad had forty-three T-years, and I know how good they were. But I want more than that, and I can have it, and nobody and nothing is going to take that away from Angelique and me. Nobody.”

His mother looked back at him for several long, silent moments, and then she nodded slowly.

“And I want you to have it, too,” she told him softly. “So you go ahead, take your time, make sure what you have is strong enough to handle the Bannisters and the society backbiters. And when it is, you marry that girl, Roger. You marry her, and you love her, and you have children with her, and you remember me—and your dad—when you do. You do that.”

“I will, Mom,” he told her equally softly. “I will.”