House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

October 1857 PD

KING ROGER WINTON sailed into the Admiralty House conference room like a thunderstorm, and Jonas Adcock felt a sinking sensation as he absorbed the gale warning signals flying in his brother-in-law’s eyes.

The last couple of months would have tried the patience of a saint, and whatever manifold virtues Roger III of Manticore might possess, sainthood was not among them. He was impeccably polite as he shed the three-man security detail from the King’s Own Regiment—which had been the Queen’s Own, until about six T-weeks ago—at the conference room door, strode to the head of the table, and seated himself. No one was fooled, however; one look at Monroe’s flattened ears and twitching tail was enough to warn even the densest that His Majesty was not amused.

Allen Summervale, the Duke of Cromarty and the Star Kingdom’s new Prime Minister, had followed him through the door. Now he nodded a greeting to the others seated around the table—First Lord Castle Rock, Second Lord Jerome Pearce, First Space Lord White Haven, Second Space Lord Big Sky, Fourth Space Lord Lomax, and sitting at the very foot of the table, monumentally junior to everyone else present, Captain (JG) Jonas Adcock—before he found his own seat and slipped into it.

Roger let Cromarty settle, then smiled (more or less) and planted his forearms firmly on his comfortable chair’s armrests.

“Allen and I have just come from a Cabinet meeting,” he said in a dismayingly pleasant tone. “At that Cabinet meeting, I was informed that while everyone deeply regrets my mother’s death, they’re simply delighted with the superlative degree of training, insight, and experience, gained at her side, which I bring to the Throne. My ministers inform me that Parliament has total faith in my judgment and that my people’s hearts are with me as I take up the weight of government. And I have personal messages from the leaders of every political party promising cooperation and support as I take up the burden of government.”

He showed his teeth in what was technically a smile.

“And I can go piss up a rope as far as increasing the Navy budget is concerned.”

He leaned back in his chair amid a total, ringing silence. No one broke it for several moments—several very long moments. Then, finally, Cromarty cleared his throat.

“That’s not precisely what they said, Your Majesty,” he observed with laudable courage. The King looked at him icily, and the Prime Minister shrugged. “I agree that you’ve just summarized the sense of the discussion with admirable clarity, Your Majesty. They were a little more polite than that, though.”

Most of the uniformed personnel present held their breath as Roger glowered at Cromarty. But then the King snorted in harsh amusement.

“Point taken, Allen,” he acknowledged. “I’m beginning to understand, however, why there were so many times Mom just needed to vent. She didn’t want anyone to offer solutions or advice; she just needed to rip off some heads—figuratively, at least—where it wouldn’t do any political damage. I’m still working on that. And I’ve discovered there are times I really regret the fact that I don’t have any royal headsmen in reserve!”

The naval officers relaxed visibly, and Baron Castle Rock actually chuckled quietly. The King’s eyes tracked to him, and the first lord shrugged.

“You may not have headsmen, Your Majesty, but you do have the King’s Own, and most of its personnel have actually seen Parliament in action.”

“Don’t tempt me, My Lord.”

Roger’s tone was distinctly frosty, but his lips twitched and Monroe’s tail stopped twitching quite so vigorously.

The King sat for a moment longer, then inhaled deeply.

“All right,” he said. “Allen is quite correct; no one told me outright that I can’t have what I want, whatever they may have had to say about ‘potentially insuperable difficulties’ and the desirability of considering ‘scaling back’ my perhaps ‘overly ambitious’ plans. The short version of it is that Parliament in general and the House of Lords in particular remains unconvinced that the People’s Republic of Haven poses a credible threat to the Star Kingdom. This despite eleven T-years of steady military conquest, the creation of an old-fashioned police state that routinely ‘disappears’ its own citizens and ‘pacifies’ new conquests with pulser darts and old fashioned torture, a covert action arm responsible for an estimated thousand assassinations and acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ a year to destabilize intended victims, and a steadily increasing rate of expansion. Indeed, it was pointed out to me by Mr. Lebrun—tactfully, I assure you—on behalf of the Liberal Party that the closest edge of Havenite-claimed space is still better than two hundred and fifty light-years from the Manticore Binary System. It may amaze all of you to discover that I was already in possession of that astonishing information. Oddly enough, however, neither Mr. Lebrun nor the rest of the Opposition leadership seemed to be aware that that meant the People’s Republic is now less than fifty-four light-years from Trevor’s Star.”

Some of the uniformed personnel’s relaxation seemed to depart, and Shadwell Turner, the Baron of Big Sky, who’d replaced Bethany Havinghurst as Second Space Lord grimaced. Roger looked a question at him, and Big Sky shrugged ever so slightly.

“Sometimes I think some of my people haven’t quite twigged to that yet, either, Your Majesty. We’re working on it, but there’s what I can only call an entrenched unwillingness to consider new truths. I’ve ordered a complete top-down review of all of our existing analyses where the Peeps are concerned, but it’s going to take a while, and there are a lot of professional rice bowls involved.” He shrugged again. “I’ve got a feeling some fairly drastic housecleaning’s going to be in order in the aftermath.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Roger half-grunted. “And we need a lot better coordination between your people and the San Martinos than we’ve been getting under the old management, too.” He shook his head, his expression frustrated. “Havinghurst dragged her heels over it for years, but we’ve got to establish some kind of information exchange with them, even if they’re not about to do anything to tick off the Peeps. We need a look inside their thinking, not just what their diplomats are saying openly!”

Heads nodded soberly around the table. The people of San Martin, the single habitable planet of Trevor’s Star, had traded with Manticore for over three hundred T-years. That relationship had not always been particularly close or amicable—in fact, they’d come perilously close to a shooting war a T-century ago—and things could have turned very ugly following the “San Martin War” of 1752.

When a radicalized San Martin government had sought to cure its fiscal ills by “nationalizing” the Trevor’s Star Terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction and seized it by force in blatant violation of the Junction Treaty of 1590, a powerful task force under the command of Vice Admiral Quentin Saint-James had been dispatched to get it back again. Saint-James’ masterful strategy had diverted the entire San Martin Navy to hold the terminus it had seized . . . only to leave San Martin itself, three light-hours from the terminus, fatally exposed. Saint-James had pounced, forcing the planet (and the system government) to surrender after a “war” in which fewer than eighty people had been killed or wounded, and his terms had been remarkably compassionate. In the name of Queen Caitrin, he had demanded the return to the terms and conditions of the Junction Treaty, return of all private property seized, and restitution for damages done to the owners. In return for that and a pledge from the planetary government to put its fiscal house in order, Saint-James had negotiated a major reduction in transit fees for San Martin-flagged merchantmen using any of the Junction termini for a period of twenty-five T-years.

The San Martinos, astounded by the generosity of their “conqueror,” had done just that, restoring their economy to solvency and, in the process, forging a very close and amicable relationship with the Star Kingdom. Over the last century those reforms and that relationship had made Trevor’s Star the most economically powerful star system in the entire Haven Quadrant, outside Manticore itself . . . which, unfortunately, had to make it especially tempting to any expanding, imperialistic neighbor. Now, threatened by the approaching wave of Havenite conquest and far closer to the Haven System than Manticore, the current San Martin government was deliberately distancing itself—or its official foreign policy, at any rate—from the Star Kingdom lest it arouse the People’s Republic’s ire prematurely. Roger was privately certain the San Martinos wanted no part of the PRH, but they didn’t think they could afford to say so openly, which made it imperative that the Royal Manticoran Navy establish some sort of quiet, under-the-radar conduit with the San Martin Navy.

“I agree, Your Majesty,” Big Sky said, “but given the interstellar situation and the San Martinos’ . . . unpleasant neighbors, something like that’s going to have to be handled very carefully. Their civilian government probably won’t approve, although I’m pretty sure some of them will be willing to make it a case of deliberately not seeing something so they don’t have to take cognizance of it. Even some of their naval officers are going to have serious reservations, though, and I’m afraid Admiral Havinghurst didn’t exactly inspire confidence on the part of people who’d be taking serious risks to pass information on to us. For that matter, no one’s going to want the possibility that anyone’s feeding us information to make it into the ’faxes, and I’m not at all sure—yet—that I could be confident we wouldn’t have a few potential deliberate leakers still inside ONI, at least until I’ve had a chance to deal with that housekeeping. And then there’s the question of how much information we’re willing to give back to them in return for whatever they give us. I’m afraid I might have to wield a somewhat bigger broom than I’d actually been planning on if I’m going to feel comfortable about our ability to handle that as discreetly as it would need to be handled.”

Roger regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then glanced at the First Space Lord.

“Admiral White Haven?”

“It’s Shadwell’s shop, Your Majesty. I’d prefer he not be any more draconian than he has to be, but you’re right about the necessity of opening some back channels to San Martin. That’s going to fall squarely into his court, and he’s clearly entitled to make whatever changes he deems necessary after his review.” White Haven shook his head. “There won’t be any heel-dragging on the uniformed side when he does it, I assure you. And I don’t care whose cousins, nephews, or nieces get stepped on in the process, either. You’re right about the need to get our foot down on all that nepotism, Your Majesty. Especially if we’re going to be expanding our officer corps anytime soon.”

“Don’t expect any heel-dragging on the civilian side, either,” Castle Rock said firmly, and Roger nodded.

“Good,” he said. “But even if ONI starts producing chapter and verse, hard numbers to substantiate what we all already know is going on, we’re still going to be looking at—what was it you called it, My Lord? ‘An entrenched unwillingness to consider new truths,’ I believe?—by the Parliamentary leadership. Given the fact that Allen doesn’t have an outright majority in the Lords, the Opposition peers have too much clout for me to simply fire the cabinet ministers who’re going to be expressing that unwillingness. None of them are about to come out into the open and actively oppose my policies, you understand. They’ll just drag their heels when it comes to supporting those policies before Parliament. Allen, unfortunately, is going to have the exquisite pleasure of dealing with that, and I’m afraid there’s going to have to be a lot of horse trading to get what I want out of them. In fact, I’m probably not going to get what I want out of them—not all of it, at any rate—but I damned well intend to get everything I can.”

The King looked around the conference room, his expression unwontedly bleak.

The thought of the People’s Republic getting close enough to threaten Trevor’s Star should have been a wake-up call for anyone, he thought harshly. Manticorans understood—or damned well ought to understand—the realities of warp bridges. Trevor’s Star might be close to two hundred light-years from Manticore, but it was also only a single, virtually instantaneous jump away through the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, and the People’s Republic’s plan to plunder its way to prosperity had become painfully evident. That being the case, how could anyone with a single functioning brain cell fail to grasp the temptation the Junction had to present? It was the Junction which gave the citizens of the Star Kingdom of Manticore the highest per capita income of any star nation—including the Solarian League—in history. Of course, the Solarian League was so huge, had so many more citizens, that the Star Kingdom’s absolute income was minute in comparison, but even in purely economic terms, the Junction would be worth at least a dozen—more probably two or three dozen—star systems like the ones the Peeps had already gobbled up. And that didn’t even consider the opportunities for future expansion the strategic mobility and reach the Junction would provide for any imperialistically inclined regime! Even if no one in Nouveau Paris was thinking in those terms now, they would be by the time they got close enough. That was as inevitable as the next day’s sunrise, and whatever Parliament and the Opposition might be thinking, the House of Winton knew its duty.

I said I’d build my house of steel, Pablo, he thought, remembering a long-ago day aboard HMS Wolverine in Manticore orbit, and I damned well meant it.

“All right,” he said again. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Allen, you and I are going to find the cash to increase our shipbuilding budgets by a minimum of twenty-five percent over the next fiscal year. When we present the Estimates to Parliament next year, that will be part of them. And if our good friend Baron Seawell doesn’t believe he can support that, then I will regretfully accept his immediate resignation and find a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the Conservative Association doesn’t like that, all they have to do is get behind my budget proposal. And if they want to find out just how prepared I am to get down and dirty over this, you invite them to make a fight over it, instead. They won’t like what happens if they do.”

Duke Cromarty didn’t look very surprised, but neither did he look particularly happy, and Roger smiled thinly before he turned his attention to Castle Rock, Pierce, and White Haven.

“I want our construction schedules revised, starting right now, in accordance with that increase in budget. I want medium and light platform construction cut back hard. We’ve had the better part of two decades of fat years where our commerce protection programs are concerned; now it’s time we build ourselves some wallers. I don’t know if we’ll be able to squeeze out the budget for superdreadnoughts, so I want you to plan a fallback budget—for at least the first couple of fiscal years—to build dreadnoughts, instead, but I don’t want to hear about battleships. They’re too small to be survivable, and I’m not sending our people out to die in fleet engagements because we couldn’t be bothered to build effective warships for them.”

He let his eyes sweep over them for several heartbeats, waiting for their nods, then continued.

“In addition to the new construction, we’re about to start investing heavily in our infrastructure. You’re not going to be able to use the full budget increase Allen and I are going to hammer out of Parliament just on superdreadnoughts and dreadnoughts, because we don’t have enough building slips. So we’re going to fix that, too. I can probably count on the Conservatives and the Progressives to support at least that much, if only because of all of the porkbarrel contracts they’ll think they’re going to steer to their cronies.” He smiled again, even more thinly than before. “They’re perfectly welcome to think that way, as long as the money gets appropriated. Of course, they may be just a little surprised by the degree of personal oversight I intend to exercise on where that money goes afterward. And the King’s Bench will be exercising it right along with me. So will the Judge Advocate General and the Inspector General from your side. And understand me about this: if the Opposition—or anyone else, including anyone in uniform—wants to drag his feet or try to feather his own nest out of this, he will be hammered. Nor am I above using the threat of indictments to . . . leverage the support we need in Parliament. I’ll cheerfully send any bastard who tries to embezzle or misappropriate to prison for a long, long time, but I’m less concerned about prison sentences than I am about stopping malfeasance and graft and driving this building program through. I want that clearly understood by every investigator and prosecutor assigned to look for criminal activity.”

He tapped the conference table top with his forefinger in slow, measured emphasis, and Monroe’s ears were flattened once more. Silence hovered for a moment, but no one in that conference room thought for a moment that he was done yet.

“The other thing that’s going to happen is that we’re going to take advantage of all the spadework Dame Carrie’s had Captain Adcock doing over at BuWeaps and the CDO. I know a lot of people are skeptical about the feasibility of our financing an independent R and D program on the scale Captain Adcock and I have been talking about.”

He looked directly at White Haven. The First Space Lord had been supportive of Lomax’s under-the-radar efforts, and he’d backed Project Python firmly enough, but he clearly continued to cherish some doubts. Not about the idea of improving existing systems—like his son, he had an acute appreciation of the need to do that—but about the idea that the Star Kingdom, however wealthy it might be on a per capita basis, could possibly somehow develop breakthrough war-fighting technologies which had evaded the Solarian League’s R&D efforts.

“I know that skepticism exists,” Roger continued, “but I think it’s misplaced for several reasons. First, our general tech base here in the Star Kingdom is every bit as good as the Solarian League’s. Our relationship with Beowulf gives us a close enough look at current-generation Solly tech for anyone to realize that’s the case, despite our physical separation from the rest of the League.

“Second, everyone seems to keep forgetting that the League has a strong vested interest in preventing significant changes in military technology. It has the biggest navy in existence, and a real technological game changer might make that navy obsolete overnight. When you add that to the corruption and inefficiency generated by all of their nepotism and crony capitalism, I strongly question the universal assumption that somehow the SLN’s technology has to be the end-all and be-all of military hardware. We damned well know our merchantships are better than theirs; I intend for our warships to be better, as well.

“And third, speaking of merchies, our merchant fleet is everywhere, My Lords, and it’s expanding every year. It’s Crown policy to push that expansion as hard as we can, for a lot of reasons, but one of them is its sheer reach. Our skippers and our crews and our shipping agents see everything eventually, and it’s time we started taking advantage of that. At least a third and more probably half of all our civilian ship masters are ex-Navy or hold current Reserve commissions. We’ve always had the advantage of feedback, of reports on things that catch the interest of some of those veterans and reservists; now we’re going to systematize that. We’re going to send out orders for them to keep their eyes open, we’re going to give them direction about things we’re particularly interested in, and we’re going to encourage them to look for anything they think we ought to be interested in. I know it’s going to generate a huge increase in paperwork for your people at ONI, My Lord,” he told Big Sky, “but I want the finest-meshed net we can produce. If anybody anywhere is doing anything where weaponized or potentially weaponizable technology is concerned, I want us to hear about it as soon as humanly possible. The Junction gives us more reach in that respect than anyone else in the galaxy. I want that reach used.”

Big Sky nodded soberly, and Roger shifted his attention back to Truman and Jerome Pearce. As Second Lord of Admiralty, Pierce was the Navy’s chief financial officer, and he looked mildly apprehensive, to say the least, as the King’s gaze swiveled in his direction.

“In addition to that, we’re going to take all of the work Captain Adcock and his people have done and put it to work,” Roger said, seeing no need to mention that he’d been one of Adcock’s people, since everyone sitting around that table already knew it. “We’re going to stand up a new, completely black command. We’re going to hide it on Weyland, we’re going to call it ‘Gram,’ and Captain Adcock will command it.”

White Haven’s eyes narrowed, and Roger nodded. HMSS Weyland was the smallest, least capable, and least conveniently located of the Star Kingdom’s three major infrastructure platforms. It also orbited the planet Gryphon, the rather less-than-hospitable habitable planet of Manticore-B, the G2 secondary component of the Manticore Binary System, however. That put it very conveniently out of sight of the enormous volume of traffic passing through the Junction, which was associated with Manticore-A, better than twelve light-hours away.

And just as Weyland was the best place to put it, Adcock was the best man to head it. He certainly had the technical credentials for it, and despite his sister’s marriage to Roger, he’d managed to stay well hidden in the background. He wasn’t exactly totally unknown, but his relatively junior rank and the fact that he hadn’t held a space-going command in close to thirty T-years meant he was almost completely off everyone else’s radar. He wouldn’t even have to drop out of sight, because he’d been “out of sight” ever since Lomax set up her own covert think tank.

And if there was one man in the entire galaxy in whom Roger Winton could repose complete and total confidence, that man was Jonas Adcock.

“It’s going to be off the books, My Lords,” he said, looking around the table, his expression grim. “Nobody is going to know about it, and we’ll do whatever we have to do to keep it that way. Hopefully, the name’s obscure enough to conceal what we’re doing if it should leak, but we are going to be forging a sword, and if Sigurd could kill Fafnir with the original, I intend for us to do the same thing to our dragon with its namesake.

“I suspect that eventually a lot of money’s going to flow into it, and I want you to begin socking away cash for it now, Lord Pierce. Every loose dollar you can find gets earmarked for Gram, and I intend to press Parliament for a substantial increase in discretionary covert spending to come up with even more funding. This is going to be completely separate from BuWeaps’ open R and D programs, but any funding we can skim off the open R and D and funnel into Gram, gets skimmed. Understand me on this—if I have to dispose of Crown Lands and fund this out of the Privy Purse, that’s what I’ll do. We’re looking at the short end of a disastrous war of attrition unless we come up with a qualitative equalizer. I don’t know what we’ll find, and for that matter I can’t guarantee we will find our own Gram, but I can guarantee that if we don’t find it, we lose. And, My Lords, the House of Winton does not lose when the security and the freedom of the Star Kingdom of Manticore and its citizens are at stake.”

The final sentence came out with slow, dreadful emphasis, and Monroe sat up on his true-feet, ears flat, baring his white, needle sharp fangs as King Roger III of Manticore looked around the Admiralty House conference room’s silence.

“Are there any questions?” he asked softly.

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