House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

May 1870 PD

“JONAS!” An obviously pregnant Queen Consort Angelique Winton threw her arms about her brother. “Roger didn’t tell me you were coming, the stinker!”

She turned her head to glare at her husband and the treecat bleeking with laughter on his shoulder, and Roger grinned.

“I shouldn’t have had to tell you, Angel. He is your brother, and you know how he dotes on Elizabeth! Besides, it’s barely a forty-hour hop on one of the regular shuttle flights. Did you really think he was going to miss her fourth birthday party?”

“He could’ve told me he was coming, though!” Angelique pointed out. “And you could’ve told Beth when she was worrying about whether Uncle Jonas was going to make it.”

“I told Jacob and I told Elisa, so they made all the arrangements with an eye towards his being here. But they were the only people I was going to tell, since he’d sworn me to secrecy.”

“Jacob and Elisa both knew and neither of them told me, either?” Angelique glared even more ferociously. “That has to come under the heading of high treason!”

“Nonsense, there’s an ancient Old Earth tradition—goes all the way back to something called the ‘Wars of the Roses,’ I think—that no one can be convicted of treason as long as he obeyed the orders of a legitimately crowned king. And that, my dear,” he elevated his nose, “is me.”

“You have to sleep sometime,” his wife replied darkly.

“Yes, but I know you wouldn’t really murder the father of your daughter and your unborn son.” He put his arm around her, hugging her firmly. “That romantic center of yours is far too mushy for you to do anything like that, love.”

“Don’t think you can turn me up sweet, spacer!” she growled, kissing his ear.

“If it gets any mushier in here, I’m heading for the nursery and my niece,” Jonas announced, and the King and Queen smiled at him.

“Actually, I think it would be a good idea if we all headed for the nursery and let Beth know her favorite uncle made it after all,” Roger suggested, reaching out with his free right hand to shake Jonas’. “It really is going to be her best surprise present of the day, Jonas,” he went on more seriously, “and Katie and Edward’ll be here in about another hour. Let’s go let Beth spend some time greeting you properly before you have to start sharing her.”

“She’s growing like a weed,” Jonas said several hours later, leaning back in the comfortable chair in Roger’s Mount Royal Palace office.

Elisa Paderweski had warned them both that they had no more than ninety minutes before they had to be on stage for Elizabeth’s official cake cutting. Given the fact that Crown Princess Elizabeth had inherited her father’s temper to go along with her mother’s beauty, that was not a time limit to be lightly ignored by any mere uncle, father, or king.

“You probably notice it more than I do, actually, given the intervals between your visits.” Roger settled behind his desk, tipped his chair back, and rested his heels inelegantly on the blotter. “I expect it’ll be more noticeable to me again in a month or so, once Michael arrives and I have that newborn meter stick to compare her to again.”

“How does she feel about not being an only child anymore?”

“It’s up for grabs.” Roger smiled. “One day she’s excited about having a baby brother; the next, she’s worried Mommy and Daddy may love him more because he’s newer. She told Jacob she hoped she wouldn’t have to run away to the circus because we loved him more . . . and then, in the same conversation, she told him she hoped ‘Mikey’ would be comfortable in her old crib.”

Jonas laughed. Elizabeth had Jacob Wundt wrapped as firmly around her finger as she did most of the rest of the Mount Royal staff.

“She’ll be fine,” he said. “I remember Angel worrying exactly the same way about Jeptha and Aidan.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

Roger glanced around surreptitiously, then opened a desk drawer, extracted a hand rubbed ironwood humidor, and took out a cigar. Monroe instantly hopped down from the back of his chair, climbed up onto the perch on the opposite side of the office, and made a scolding sound, and Jonas shook his head.

“Angel’s going to smell it on you,” he warned. “And when she does—!”

“No, she won’t smell it,” Roger said smugly. “Lieutenant Givens brought me a little present last month.” Lieutenant Patricia Givens was Roger’s personal liaison to Admiral Big Sky, in charge (among other things) of seeing to it that the King got regular summaries of new technologies being reported by the network of merchant spacers ONI had created at Roger’s suggestion. “One of our skippers brought back a new nanotech they developed in Footstep. It can be tuned to go after particular odors and clean them out of your clothes—or off your skin, for that matter—but leave everything else strictly alone and as stinky as you like, and it works just fine on tobacco smoke, thank you very much.”

“And you really think she won’t find out about it?” Jonas looked skeptical and Monroe’s bleek and half-flattened ears seconded the motion, but Roger shrugged.

“I figure I’ve got at least another three or four weeks before she does, and I plan to enjoy it while I can.” He clipped the cigar’s end, put it into his mouth, lit it, and blew a fragrant cloud of smoke in Jonas’ direction. “And I figure I deserve it. At least until she does find out.”

“Can’t argue with that, I suppose.”

Jonas studied his brother-in-law surreptitiously for a moment. After thirteen T-years on the throne, there was an additional . . . solidity to him. It was as if his shoulders had broadened to bear the weight, and he seemed tougher, somehow. He wore the RMN uniform to which he was entitled, with the commodore’s twin gold planets he’d earned. Eventually, he’d rise to admiral’s rank by simple seniority, even officially on half-pay, but Jonas knew that he would never don an admiral’s star until he had attained to that rank.

He wasn’t the first Manticoran monarch to have served in the Navy, by any means, but he was the first to habitually appear in uniform rather than civilian dress. It wasn’t simply to maintain his personal link to the service he’d loved, either. His drive to build up the Navy’s fighting strength had gained momentum steadily over the past decade, and he was the deliberate, public face of that buildup. Opposition cartoonists had fastened upon that uniform in their caricatures. It was suggested in some quarters—especially those of the Liberal Party—that the real reason for the buildup was simply King Roger’s desire to play with toy boats, and some had gone so far as to compare him to the original Gustav Anderman, who insisted that the members of his personal bodyguard all had to be at least two meters tall. Of course, the political cartoonists who supported his policies had also fastened on the uniform, although they seldom festooned it with all of the oversized rank badges and the chest full of medal ribbons the Opposition appended to it.

But he looked tired, too, Jonas thought. Not exhausted, nowhere near defeated, but . . . weary. Like a man who knew he still had a long way to go.

Well, at least he’s got prolong to get him to the end of the race, that’s something! he told himself. At seventy-three, even with modern medical care and a vigorous exercise regimen, Jonas was finding it just a bit harder to maintain the pace he’d set since first becoming a King’s officer.

“I’ve been following your reports,” Roger said after a moment, apparently oblivious to his brother-in-law’s examination. “It sounds like you’re making some progress.”

“In several directions, I think,” Jonas agreed. “It’s still early days, though, I’m afraid. Earlier days than I’d like.”

“Yes, but Rodriguez tells me Section Thirteen’s expecting a fully successful run of test shots on Python next month, and you and I both know how much your boys and girls contributed to that from behind the scenes. We’re going to be first on the scene with an all-up laser head, Jonas.” Roger showed his teeth. “The Peeps aren’t going to like that one bit when they find out about it!”

“No,” Jonas acknowledged. “But it’s not going to take them all that long to duplicate it—or buy it from the Sollies—as soon as the rest of the galaxy figures out we’ve got it and goes after it in earnest. Don’t forget ONI’s reports on Astral. It took them thirty damned T-years to get A and H’s basic model to work, but they’ve got it now!”

“And they can’t convince the Sollies to buy it because of all the scandal over the original A and H tests, either,” Roger pointed out, then waved his cigar. “Oh, they’ll find a buyer eventually—maybe even the Peeps, though I’d put my money on the Andermani coming up to scratch for it first—but Rodriguez says our throughput numbers are already better than anything Astral has, and we’re just at the very start of the development and upgrade process. It’s going to get a hell of a lot better by the time Section Thirteen’s done tweaking it, and that doesn’t even consider all the other little goodies you and Gram are going to produce for us while BuWeaps is doing the tweaking!”

“We’ll certainly try,” Jonas promised.

His smile was less than completely happy, and he twitched a shrug when Roger gave him a sharp look.

“We’ve got several promising possibilities opening up, but that’s the problem. Stuff is coming in from Big Sky and our open source avenues even faster than anyone could’ve anticipated. Just sorting it is eating up more manhours than I ever expected, which means I don’t have enough capable people left over to follow up the leads we’re generating. And I’m afraid quite a bit of what we are getting done at this point is probably duplicating work someone else’s done somewhere else, if we only knew it.”

“Best to put our own knowledge platform in place,” Roger responded. “New advances, thy name is Synergy.” He grinned. “I’ve noticed several places where the basic research you’re doing—even if it is a case of catching up with someone else—is suggesting new possibilities, Jonas. That’s exactly what Gram is supposed to be doing.”

“I know, but we still don’t—”

“You still don’t have the manpower or the budget you need,” Roger interrupted. “I know. And Allen and I are about to fix that.”

“You are?”

“Yes.” Roger smiled unpleasantly. “Haskins caught Summercross and that loathsome piece of work Dmitri Young involved in a kickback scheme with the Treadwell Yard. A rather lucrative one.”

Jonas straightened in his chair as the cast of characters registered. Sir Sherwood Haskins was the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late, unlamented Baron Seawell’s Centrist successor; Dmitri Young, the Earl of North Hollow, was an ex-Navy officer—of sorts, anyway—turned politician, lobbyist, and general all round slime merchant, serving as one of the Conservative Association’s kingmakers, which gave him plenty of clout with Summercross; and the Treadwell Yard was one of the Navy’s major contractors.

“Without going into all the sordid details,” Roger continued, “Treadwell had been paying Summercross and the Conservative Association political action committee a tidy little piece of change in return for the Association’s votes on appropriations bills, and Summercross and North Hollow—although we can’t pin North Hollow to it as definitively as I’d like; say what you will, the man’s slicker than pond scum—had been laundering the PAC contributions through straw donors to keep anyone asking just exactly why Treadwell might have been feeling so generous. And pocketing a bit of it for their personal use on the way past, for that matter. So that’s embezzlement, bribery, illegal political contributions, money laundering, and conspiracy for the lot of them.”

The King blew another streamer of smoke, his eyes dreamy.

“I’d really rather send Summercross and North Hollow to prison, all things being equal, but Judge Fitzgibbons says North Hollow could probably actually beat the charges in court. We’ve got Summercross and Treadwell dead to rights, though, and the campaign laws violation would be especially devastating to the Conservatives.”

Jonas nodded in understanding. Havel Fitzgibbons was the Justice Minister of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, but he’d been a justice on the Queen’s Bench for ten years before Samantha’s death, and he far preferred the simpler title of “Judge.” More to the point, he’d been a prosecutor before he ever became a judge, he knew his law, and he hated political corruption cases above all others.

Especially cases like this one, assuming Roger had summarized the details with his customary accuracy.

Under the Star Kingdom’s campaign laws, there were no limits on anyone’s individual or corporate political contributions. There was, however, an ironclad obligation for the sources of all contributions to be matters of public record. The Star Kingdom’s constitution didn’t care where a candidate got his money, but it cared quite strongly whether or not voters knew where that money had come from, in what amounts, and how it was actually spent, and the disclosure requirement was incumbent upon the giver and the receiver alike.

“After consultation with Fitzgibbons, however, Allen and I hit on a more fitting punishment for the crime. Just between you and me, I can’t really complain too loudly about the vote-buying. Oh, I’m pissed off as hell that Treadwell was paying Summercross specifically to throw juicy contracts its way, but at least they were helping inspire him to vote in favor of our armament program. It needs to be whacked, if only to discourage such shenanigans in the future, but I don’t see any reason to turn it into a full blown auto-da-fé at this point, so Treadwell’s going to get a quiet plea bargain that means it’ll be subsisting on a somewhat leaner profit margin for the next several years. Just long enough to pay back its illegal contributions at a modest little, oh, four hundred percent interest or so.” The King smiled thinly. “As for the Conservatives, let’s just say our good friend Summercross and his friends are going to lend Allen their full-blooded and energetic support in the next Estimates debate when he pushes for a ten percent increase in the Navy’s R and D budget. A lot of that’ll go into the open projects, but Admiral Rodriguez is going to funnel a goodly chunk of it to Gram. And Admiral Styler and Dame Lynette will be increasing the personnel—military and civilian—assigned to your shop, as well.”

Jonas nodded slowly. Sir Franklyn Dodson, Baron Styler, had replaced First Space Lord White Haven upon his retirement. Admiral Dame Lynette Tillman had succeeded William Spruance at the Bureau of Personnel as Fifth Space Lord, following Spruance’s long-delayed retirement. And Admiral George Rodriguez had replaced Dame Carrie Lomax as Fourth Space Lord. Adcock missed both White Haven and Spruance, but not as much as he missed Lomax, whose unexpected death had taken all of them by surprise. None of the current space lords were political virgins, though, and he had to suppress a smile as he pictured Styler’s glee, especially. He and Summercross were cousins who thoroughly detested one another, and no one in the King’s uniform could feel anything but satisfaction if someone stepped on North Hollow! Still . . .

“I’d imagine this isn’t going to make Summercross any more cheerful,” he said.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing’s likely to make him ‘any more cheerful,’” Roger replied. “And, frankly, I don’t really give a damn. In fact, my one real regret is that I didn’t have this in my pocket when we were negotiating over Basilisk. I could’ve avoided half the crap he and the Liberals demanded to cover their asses with their bases.” He shrugged. “I can live with Summercross’ resentment. Mom always said you can tell more about someone from his enemies than his friends, after all.”

“You’re the King around here, not me. Thank God!” Jonas said fervently, and Roger chuckled. Then he frowned.

“Of course,” he said, “that leaves us with another minor problem. I think it’s time to move you to the List, Jonas.”

“No,” Jonas said firmly. Roger looked at him, and he shrugged. “I want to stay hands-on at Weyland, Roger. If you make me a senior-grade captain, seniority’s going to push me up into flag rank, especially at the rate we’re expanding, and then they’ll pull me away from Gram. Besides, I’m your brother-in-law. If I suddenly make List after ‘languishing’ all these years as a captain JG, people are going to figure it’s because of who my sister married. The last thing we need is for the Opposition to ‘out’ Gram because they started digging for dirt about me because of my promotion!”

Roger regarded him thoughtfully. He didn’t really buy into any of Jonas’ arguments entirely, although the one about “outing” Gram was probably the most pointed. If Jonas was promoted, his name would appear on the official “Navy Promotion Selection Register (Captains, Senior Grade),” and it would be just like one of the Opposition’s staffers to keep an eye on the Register and start digging if Jonas appeared there. At which point he really might start finding out about things Roger had gone to great lengths to keep very, very “black.” And Jonas was right about how hard they’d worked to keep him under cover and in the background despite their close family relationship. “Captain Adcock” was widely regarded as the queen consort’s well-intentioned but uninspired brother—“They don’t like to talk about it, but the truth is he’s probably just a bit dim, you know, given how junior his rank is at his age, darling”—which angered Angelique but actually amused Jonas. He’d even managed to avoid the courtesy titles Parliament had bestowed upon Angelique’s younger brothers, which only added to the perception (outside certain carefully chosen circles, at least) that he was simply spinning out the last few years of an uninspired, pre-prolong naval career, probably on his sister’s coattails.

But the real reason he doesn’t want on the List is that he’s afraid flag rank might make him a suitable candidate for Fourth Space Lord, Roger thought. He doesn’t want to give up Gram and get stuck with the Bureau of Weapons, instead. Sooner or later, he’s going to have to move over there, though. We’re going to reach the point where someone needs to turn the research into real weapons, and I want him in charge of that. But we’re probably still at least ten T-years from that, so there’s still some time . . . even without prolong.

He felt a familiar pang of regret as he looked at Adcock’s snow white hair and lined face and remembered that his friend was barely twelve T-years older than he was.

“All right,” he said after a moment. “I’ll let you off this time. But Gram’s going to get a lot bigger over the next couple of T-years, Jonas. If things work out the way I expect, you’re going to have at least a handful of captains—some of them probably senior-grade, themselves—turning up over there, and you need the seniority to handle that. So instead of getting you onto the Captains’ List the way I ought to, I’m going to have Styler and Tillman list Gram as carrying acting commodore’s rank for whoever’s in command. That’ll give you the seniority you need and keep you off the Captains List, and as black as Gram is, no one’s going to be seeing anything about your acting rank in the open press. And”—he raised an index finger when Jonas opened his mouth—“if you argue with me about it, I will have you put on the List.”

Jonas closed his mouth again, and Roger smiled.

“Better,” he said. “And while we’re on the subject of personnel, what’s this I hear about Sonja?”

“She’s just being Sonja,” Adcock sighed. “Tactless, brilliant, opinionated, tactless, irritating, energetic, tactless, bouncy, confident, tactless, over enthusiastic, overly focused—did I mention tactless?”

Roger laughed and shook his head.

“Tactless I can stand, but your latest memo said something about polarizing?”

His tone had become more serious and his eyebrows rose, and Adcock sighed again, more deeply.

“I’m afraid that’s true,” he said. “It’s not that I think she’s wrong, you understand. In fact, I’m positive she’s right most of the time, at least theoretically. The problem is that where she sees glittering possibilities, a lot of my other people see harebrained notions produced by someone without any real tactical experience of her own. No one’s done it explicitly yet, but sometime soon someone’s going to bust her chops on exactly that issue, at which point things are going to get . . . lively. And even if we weren’t having that problem in-house, eventually we’ll have to come out into the open with at least some of our notional hardware. We’ll have to sell whatever we come up with to a lot of thick-skinned dinosaurs, most of whom have backgrounds as ‘shooters’ themselves, and they’re going to feel exactly the same way about it. For that matter, I feel that way sometimes. The woman really is brilliant, Roger, but she needs a bigger dose of . . . reality? Experience? I don’t know the exact word, but something to . . . temper that enthusiasm of hers.”

“I agree, and I’ve been thinking about it.” Roger took another pull on his cigar, then waved it once more. “She’s going to hate it, and you can blame it on me or Rodriguez to take the heat off you, but we’re going to put her back into shipboard command. I know she’ll feel like a square peg in a round hole, at least at first, but you’re right—she needs that experience for her own perspective, and she needs her ticket punched if she’s going to have credibility with those dinosaurs of yours.”

“You’re right, she won’t like it,” Jonas said. “But you’re also right that she needs it.” He grinned. “And it’ll do her good to have to put on her big girl panties and get out there in the trenches with the rest of us mere mortals!”

“I don’t think I’d be too quick to use that last sentence when you explain the situation to her,” Roger said dryly.

“Oh, I’m far too wise to do that!” Jonas reassured him. “But it really will do her maturity quotient some good.”

“I think it will, too,” Roger agreed. Then he glanced at his chrono, set his cigar regretfully aside, and stood. “In the meantime, and speaking of maturity quotients, I believe you and I have a date with your favorite niece. I’ve noticed that she’s not exceptionally patient at moments like this. Can’t imagine where she gets it from.”

“Neither can I,” Jonas agreed straightfaced, climbing out of his own chair as Monroe thumped down from his perch. “But, considering her mother’s ‘maturity quotient,’ and speaking as one of your loyal and admiring subjects, Your Majesty, I’d earnestly recommend using a lot of that new nanotech air freshener of yours. And while you’re at it, you better squirt me and Monroe, too, or she’s going to wonder what trash incinerator we got downwind of!”