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Mission of Honor

David Weber

Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by David Weber

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN10: 1-4391-3361-1

ISBN13: 978-1-4391-3361-3

Cover art by David Mattingly

First printing, July 2010

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data t/k

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)

Printed in the United States of America

December, 1921, Post Diaspora

'To understand Solly foreign policy, we'd have to be Sollies

. . . and nothing would be worth that! '

—Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore

Chapter One

Any dictionary editor stymied for an illustration of the word 'paralyzed' would have pounced on him in an instant.

In fact, a disinterested observer might have wondered if Innokentiy Arsenovich Kolokoltsov, the Solarian League's Permanent Senior Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, was even breathing as he stared at the images on his display. Shock was part of that paralysis, but only part. And so was disbelief, except that disbelief was far too pale a word for what he was feeling at that moment.

He sat that way for over twenty seconds by Astrid Wang's personal chrono. Then he inhaled explosively, shook himself, and looked up at her.

'This is confirmed? '

'It's the original message from the Manticorans, Sir,' Wang replied. 'The Foreign Minister had the chip couriered straight over, along with the formal note, as soon as he'd viewed it.'

'No, I mean is there any independent confirmation of what they're saying? '

Despite two decades' experience in the ways of the Solarian league's bureaucracy, which included as the Eleventh Commandment 'Thou shalt never embarrass thy boss by word, deed, or expression,' Wang actually blinked in surprise.

'Sir,' she began a bit cautiously, 'according to the Manties, this all happened at New Tuscany, and we still don't have independent confirmation of the first incident they say took place there. So —'

Kolokoltsov grimaced and cut her off with a wave of his hand. Of course it hadn't. In fact, independent confirmation of the first New Tuscany Incident—he could already hear the newsies capitalizing this one—would take almost another entire T-month, if Josef Byng had followed procedure. The damned Manties sat squarely inside the League's communications loop with the Talbott Sector. They could get word of events there to the Sol System in little more than three T-weeks, thanks to their never-to- be-sufficiently-damned wormhole junction, whereas any direct report from New Tuscany to Old Terra would take almost two months to make the journey by dispatch boat. And if it went through the Meyers System headquarters of the Office of Frontier Security, as regulations required, it would take over eleven T-weeks.

And assuming the Manties aren't lying and manufacturing all this evidence for some godforsaken reason, any report from Byng has to've been routed by way of Meyers , he thought. If he'd shortcut the regulations and sent it directly by way of Mesa and Visigoth—like any admiral with a functional brain would have!—it would've been here eight days ago .

He felt an uncharacteristic urge to rip the display unit from his desk and hurl it across the room. To watch it shatter and bounce back in broken bits and pieces. To curse at the top of his lungs in pure, unprocessed rage. But despite the fact that someone from pre-Diaspora Old Terra would have estimated his age at no more than forty, he was actually eighty-five T-years old. He'd spent almost seventy of those years working his way up to his present position, and now those decades of discipline, of learning how the game was played, came to his rescue. He remembered the Twelfth Commandment—'Thou shalt never admit the loss of thy composure before thine underlings'—and actually managed to smile at his chief of staff.

'That was a silly question, wasn't it, Astrid? I guess I'm not as immune to the effects of surprise as I'd always thought I was.'

'No, Sir.' Wang smiled back, but her own surprise—at the strength of his reaction, as much as at the news itself—still showed in her blue eyes. 'I don't think anyone would be, under these circumstances.'

'Maybe not, but there's going to be hell to pay over this one,' he told her, completely unnecessarily. He wondered if he'd said it because he still hadn't recovered his mental balance.

'Get hold of Wodoslawski, Abruzzi, MacArtney, Quartermain, and Rajampet,' he went on. 'I want them here in Conference One in one hour.'

'Sir, Admiral Rajampet is meeting with that delegation from the AG's office and—'

'I don't care who he's meeting with,' Kolokoltsov said flatly. 'Just tell him to be here.'

'Yes, sir. Ah, may I tell him why the meeting is so urgent?'

'No.' Kolokoltsov smiled thinly. 'If the Manties are telling the truth, I don't want him turning up with any prepared comments. This one's too important for that kind of nonsense.'

* * *

'So what's this all about, anyway?' Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kaushal Rajani demanded as he strode into the conference room. He was the last to arrive—a circumstance Kolokoltsov had taken some care to arrange.

Rajampet was a small, wiry man, with a dyspeptic personality, well suited to his almost painfully white hair and deeply wrinkled face. Although he remained physically spry and mentally alert, he was a hundred and twenty-

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