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Worlds of Honor
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Worlds of Honor

  Worlds of Honor

  David M. Weber

  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 (c) 1999 by David M. Weber

  "The Stray" copyright (c) 1999 by Linda Evans; "What Price Dreams?" copyright (c) 1999 by David M. Weber; "Queen's Gambit" copyright (c) 1999 by Jane Lindskold; "The Hard Way Home" copyright (c) 1999 by David M. Weber; "Deck Load Strike" copyright (c) 1999 by Roland J. Green

  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

  ISBN: 0-671-57855-3

  Cover art by David Mattingly

  First printing, February 1999

  First paperback printing, March 2000

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Library of Congress Catalog Number: 98-47810

  Typeset by Brilliant Press

  Printed in the United States of AmericaContents

  Thousands Could Tell Her That,

  And She Wouldn't Believe It. . . .

  "What is it, Stinker?" Honor asked. She knelt beside Nimitz in the gathering twilight, and the treecat sat up on his rearmost limbs, reaching up to pat her chest urgently. His eyes bored into hers like augers, and she knew he was trying to tell her something, but she couldn't quite bring herself to believe the most logical explanation.

  Treecats had been used over the years in search and rescue efforts on Sphinx, but not as often as one might have expected, for the range at which they could sense human beings they'd never met before appeared to be limited. There had been instances of `cats who were able to home in on total strangers at distances of up to a hundred or even two hundred meters, but such cases were extremely rare.

  They were over three hundred meters beyond the line the SAR teams had calculated as the furthest any of the lift cars might have been carried by the avalanche. The shouts and machinery sounds of the rescue effort were small and lost here, little stronger than the whine and moan of the gathering wind, and Honor looked around trying to see anything that might have brought Nimitz here.

  The 'cat made a sound, half-leading and half-commanding, and he made an unmistakable gesture with his right true-hand. A gesture that pointed straight down into the snow.


  —from "The Hard Way Home" by David Weber


  Honor Harrington Novels:

  On Basilisk Station

  The Honor of the Queen

  The Short Victorious War

  Field of Dishonor

  Flag in Exile

  Honor Among Enemies

  In Enemy Hands

  Echoes of Honor

  Ashes of Victory

  edited by David Weber:

  More Than Honor

  Worlds of Honor

  Mutineers' Moon

  The Armageddon Inheritance

  Heirs of Empire

  Path of the Fury

  The Apocalypse Troll

  Oath of Swords

  The War God's Own

  with Steve White:



  In Death Ground

  The Stray

  Linda Evans

  Dr. Scott MacDallan was, by dint of much sweating and swearing, trying to turn a wriggling, ungrateful little demon of a breech-birth infant for head-down delivery, when the stray arrived on the doorstep.

  Mrs. Zivonik had a history of easy births without complications or he'd have done a simple Caesarian. But turning an infant wasn't complicated and the monitors in place showed him neither baby nor mother were in distress, so rather than create an incision and put the woman out of work for several days, he simply took the time-honored step of reaching in for the baby, grabbing it in one hand, and rotating it right-end around instead of wrong-side down. Mrs. Zivonik was doing fine, too, was even cracking terrible jokes despite the sheen of sweat soaking her and the occasional sharp grunts, gasps, and deeper groans when the contractions hit. Scott had just touched the baby's toes and was wondering why he'd ever thought this would be easy—while trying to ignore Evelina Zivonik's sounds of acute discomfort—when a wave of emotional anguish strong enough to knock him cock-eyed rolled over Scott like a naval battle cruiser.

  His involuntary grunt and sharp movement drew a startled sound from his patient. "Doc?" Scott blinked, fighting the urge to panic, and managed, "Uh, sorry. No problems, you're fine and the baby's fine." For God's sake, Scott, pull it together! Before your patient thinks you're as loony as your misbegotten ancestors. Some of them had been burned at the stake . . .

  Scott blinked as Evelina Zivonik leaned up far enough to peer over the top of her distended belly. "That's good. But you don't look fine."

  Just beyond the bedroom door of the Zivonik home, Fisher—who had the run of Scott's home and office, but not of his patients' homes—began bleeking in acute distress. He'd never heard the treecat make a sound quite like it, in fact, and the emotional wallop he was getting from his companion was enough to shake him into blurting out the truth.

  "I'm not fine. Or rather, my treecat isn't."

  "Your treecat?" she echoed. A thread of fear colored those two words. Treecats were viewed with awe and no small measure of worry by their human neighbors, who were almost universally uncertain how to respond to their presence.

  "Yes. He's upset, very upset, I'm not sure why." Careful, Scott . . . you're treading thin ice here. "I've never heard him make a noise like that," he added, glancing worriedly toward the closed bedroom door.

  "Well, I'm not actually in serious labor yet," Evelina said uncertainly, the worry stronger this time. "If there's a problem with the treecat, you need to go find out what it is. If he's hurt or sick . . . well, I'm not exactly going anywhere, so you should find out what it is."

  His professional ethics would permit no such conduct, of course. Abandoning a patient in the middle of a procedure just to comfort his friend was out of the question. But Fisher's deep distress was not to be denied. Fisher knew how to open doors, of course, and the bedroom door was closed, but wasn't locked. Scott hesitated, torn between the need to reassure himself that a treasured friend wasn't in peril and the need to bring this baby into the world.

  "Why don't you call him in here?" Evelina suggested. "Irina has told us all about Fisher and showed us pictures, but I've never actually seen a live treecat." The hint of wistfulness in her voice decided Scott in an instant.

  He flashed her a grateful response. "Thanks. Fisher! Come on inside, Fisher, it's not locked!"

  The door swung open and a cream-and-grey furred streak shot across the floor on collision course with Scott's shoulder. He grunted softly at the impact, one hand still trapped in Evelina Zivonik's womb, the baby kicking and moving under his fingers.

  "Bleek!" The treecat touched his cheek with both front hands, then pointed urgently at the window.

  "What? Is there some danger outside?"

  That wasn't the feeling he was getting from his companion of nearly twelve Terran months, now. He was getting better at reading Fisher's emotional "messages" all the time, thanks to an empathic ability of some sort that he carried in his extremely Celtic Scots Highland genes. That "ability" still scared him silly on a rational, scientific level. The first time it'd happened with Fisher, he'd literally thought he was hallucinating. Only later did the truth sink in—and that was almost worse than a hallucination. On Sphinx, the kind of legacy he'd inherited from a long line of
charlatans, parlor tricksters, and other assorted loons was met with mere skepticism and ridicule. But there were human worlds where professing to ownership of anything remotely similar to what his more . . . flamboyant . . . relatives had (all on his mother's side of the family, thank God, so the name MacDallan hadn't been connected with them) was punishable by incarceration for fraud—or outright insanity.

  What he was getting from Fisher now was not so much a sense that there was some kind of danger outside as more a sense that something outside was in danger. Or distress, maybe. It was also abundantly clear that Fisher wanted him to go outside, urgently. "Fisher, I can't go outside right now. I'm trying to deliver a baby."

  Grass-green eyes shone brilliant with distress. The treecat made a pitiful sound. Just then, a chorus of childish voices erupted out in the main part of the house.

  "Daddy! Come quick!"

  "It's a treecat, Daddy!"

  "Aunt Irina! Hurry! There's a treecat outside!"

  "He's hurt or sick or something! Hurry, Daddy! Hurry, Aunt Irina!"

  Scott and Evelina Zivonik exchanged startled glances.

  "Go," Evelina said firmly. "I've had six babies. This one's going to get himself born just fine, whether you sit here and sweat to death with worrying or take five minutes to go out there and maybe save a life. You're the only doctor for a hundred kilometers. If there's an injured treecat out there, then it needs you more than I do right now. Besides," and she gave him a wry, sweaty grin, "I could use a breather from all that mauling."

  Scott flushed; he'd continued working to turn the baby even while trying to determine what was wrong with Fisher, and "mauling" was probably what it felt like to poor Evelina Zivonik.

  Fisher touched his cheek again. "Bleek?" The sound tugged at his heart.

  "Thanks. I've never seen Fisher this upset. I'll be right back." He eased his hand out of Mrs. Zivonik's womb, reaching for a towel. That bit about Fisher being more upset than Scott had ever seen him wasn't exactly true; but Scott didn't like talking about the injuries he'd suffered the day he and Fisher had first made one another's memorable acquaintance. The treecat had saved Scott MacDallan's life. The very least he could do was repay the favor to a treecat in trouble.

  So he hurriedly scrubbed off and jogged outside, where the Zivonik brood danced around their father and Aleksandr Zivonik's younger sister, Irina Kisaevna. Aleksandr and Irina stood a good twenty yards to the side of the house, peering up into a picket wood tree's lower branches. Scott had no more than cleared the doorjamb than the most anguished sound he had ever heard uttered by a living creature smote him straight through the skull bones. The sound keened up and down like a banshee driven insane, voice torn by more pain than can be endured. Fisher, who huddled on his shoulder, wrapped his tail around Scott's throat and shuddered non-stop. "Bleek!"

  Scott broke into a run, even while reaching up to soothe his companion with one hand. "Where is it?"

  Aleksandr pointed. Scott peered up into the tall picket wood closest to the Zivonik house, toward one of the long, perfectly horizontal branches that made the picket wood so unusual among trees. "Up there."

  Scott had to look closely, but he spotted the treecat near the trunk, sitting up on its haunches like an old Terran ferret, longer and leaner than one of those ancient weasels, yet with a head and certain other characteristics far more feline. Except, of course, for the six limbs, a trait it shared with the massive and deadly Sphinxian hexapuma it so closely resembled in all but size. The treecat keening in the Zivoniks' backyard was larger than Fisher, about seventy centimeters long, not counting the prehensile tail, which effectively doubled its length, yet the little arboreal was far too thin for its length. It did look sick—or injured. Its coat was mottled cream-and-grey, like Fisher's, but even from this distance, Scott could see dirt and darker stains that looked sickeningly like blood.

  "Fisher?" he murmured, trying to soothe his small friend's violent tremors. "Is it hurt? If I could get to it, treat it . . ."

  The hair-raising cries halted. The strange treecat made a pitiful sound, tiny with distance, then moved haltingly down the trunk toward the ground. Scott's pulse raced. He wanted to break into a run, wanted to rush toward it, and was afraid of frightening it away.

  "Aleksandr," he said in a low voice, "I think maybe you and Irina should take the children back to the house. If anything spooks it, we may never get a chance to help, and I think that treecat needs help very badly."

  Aleksandr nodded. The set of his mouth was grim. "Come on, kids. And no arguments!"

  Irina Kisaevna glanced involuntarily toward Scott, concern darkening her vivid blue eyes. Of all the humans Scott had met before being adopted by Fisher, Irina alone seemed to grasp the depth of the bond between himself and the remarkable creature who'd come into his life. Widowed when her husband had died in the plague that had devastated the human population of Sphinx, Irina had become a close friend during the past couple of years. Scott enjoyed her company, her quick, incisive mind, and her ability to make him feel rested and at ease, even after a difficult day; but when Evelina's latest pregnancy had turned difficult, she had moved in with her brother on the Zivoniks' farmstead—thus depriving Scott of her delightful company and occasionally intuitive insights into his relationship with his treecat.

  "Irina," he said quickly, "I'd appreciate your help."

  Warmth flashed into her beautiful eyes. "Of course, Scott. It would be my privilege." She, too, peered toward the slowly descending treecat in the big picket wood tree above them.

  Scott waited while Aleksandr herded his youngsters back toward the house. The whimpering treecat had reached the lowest branch of the picket wood, where it stopped, bleeking piteously. Fisher replied, then pointed. Scott made a hopeful guess at Fisher's meaning. "It's okay if I go to him?"


  He couldn't pick up anything like sense from Fisher, but the emotional response was unmistakable. He hurried toward the picket wood trunk and peered anxiously upward. The strange treecat was shaking where it huddled on the low branch. The dark stains were blood, long since dried, matting the once-beautiful pelt in a leprous patchwork. The treecat was far too thin, looked half starved, in fact. Was it an outcast, that no treecat community would help it? Did treecats have outcasts? Whether they did or they didn't, Fisher was certainly urging Scott to help the stranger, so there was no clue to be gleaned from his own treecat's behavior.

  "Hello," Scott said quietly, speaking directly to the treecat above him. "Can I help?" He projected all the warmth and welcome he could summon.

  The reaction stunned him. The distressed treecat let out a warbling, broken sound, then jumped to the ground and ran straight to Scott, clasping his leg with all four upper limbs and holding on as though life itself depended on the strength of that grip. Fisher swarmed down, touching faces with the stranger and making the soft, crooning sounds Scott recognized from his own occasional bouts of emotional distress. Scott crouched down, offered a hand. The bloodied treecat bumped it with his head, begging for the touch, leading Scott to wonder if this treecat had been around humans before. He stroked the treecat gently, trying to determine from that cautious touch how badly injured it might be.

  He found no wounds to account for the blood, not even a sign of swelling or inflammation. But the treecat clung to him and shivered and made broken little sounds that horrified Scott nearly as much as they did Fisher, judging by the emotional aura his own treecat was projecting. Something truly dire had happened to this little treecat—and Scott received a strong premonition that whatever it was, it meant serious trouble for him and his companion. When Scott tried to pick the treecat up, it let out a frightened sound that prompted Fisher to rest both of his upper hands on the other's shoulder. A moment later, the filthy, blood-matted treecat swarmed into Scott's arms, huddling close. Fisher jumped up to his customary perch on Scott's shoulder, still crooning gently.

  Irina hesitated some distance away, biting her lower lip uncertainly. Scott n
odded her closer with a slight movement of his head and she approached slowly, while Scott stroked the painfully thin treecat reassuringly. When Irina stood beside him, the stray let out a strange, mewling little sound, gazing up at her through grass-green eyes as deep and wounded as a hurt toddler's.

  "Poor thing," she whispered gently, offering a cautious hand.

  The trembling treecat permitted her touch, arching slightly in Scott's arms as she stroked gently down its spine. But it was Scott the stray clung to, all four upper limbs clenching in Scott's shirt.

  "Will you let me take you inside, I wonder?" Scott asked aloud, moving cautiously toward the Zivonik house. "You're hardly more than fur and bones. You need food and water and God knows what else." The washboard ribcage under his hands spoke of a prolonged deprivation and he could see cracked, dried skin around the treecat's mouth, eyes, and delicate hands, indicating dehydration, as well. Scott stroked the distraught treecat gently, whispering softly to it, as he and Irina slowly approached the meter-thick stone walls of the Zivonik house. The most cursory examination told him the treecat was male and—thankfully—uninjured despite the dried blood in its fur.

  Irina called out, "Alek, the poor thing's half-starved. Get some meat scraps for him, a dish of cool water, whatever we've got left from dinner last night!"

  "Karl, drag out that leftover turkey," Aleksandr said, shooing the children inside. "No, Larisa, you can look later, after the treecat is out of danger. Nadia, go check on your mother. Stasya, get some water for the treecat. Gregor, run some hot, soapy water and bring out a handful of clean towels."

  "Yes, Papa."

  Children scattered.

  "Kitchen's this way." Alek escorted him into the house.

  Scott moved cautiously inside with his unexpected patient, Irina trailing anxiously at his shoulder, and entered a brightly lit kitchen just in time to see Karl, the oldest son, setting out a platter with an enormous, half-stripped turkey carcass. The boy set it down on a broad wooden dining table built to accommodate a growing family.

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