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Uncompromising Honor - eARC

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Uncompromising Honor - eARC

  Table of Contents











  Look for the final version on October 2, 2018

  Advance Reader Copy



  Uncompromising Honor

  David Weber


  The Solarian League—for hundreds of years they have borne the banner of human civilization. But the bureaucratic Mandarins who rule today's League are corrupt and looking for scapegoats. They've decided the upstart Star Kingdom of Manticore must be annihilated.


  Honor Harrington has worn the Star Kingdom's uniform for half a century. Very few know war the way Honor Harrington does. So far, hers has been a voice of caution. But now the Mandarins have committed atrocities such as the galaxy has not known in a thousand years. They have finally killed too many of the people Honor Harrington loves.


  Now Honor Harrington is coming for the Solarian League. And Hell is riding in her wake.




  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

  War of Honor

  Crown of Slaves

  (with Eric Flint)

  The Shadow of Saganami

  At All Costs

  Storm from the Shadows

  Torch of Freedom

  (with Eric Flint)

  Mission of Honor

  A Rising Thunder

  Shadow of Freedom

  Cauldron of Ghosts

  (with Eric Flint)

  Shadow of Victory

  Uncompromising Honor


  More than Honor

  Worlds of Honor

  Changer of Worlds

  The Service of the Sword

  In Fire Forged



  A Call to Duty (with Timothy Zahn)

  A Call to Arms (with Timothy Zahn & Tom Pope)

  A Call to Vengeance (with Timothy Zahn & Tom Pope)


  A Beautiful Friendship

  Fire Season (with Jane Lindskold)

  Treecat Wars (with Jane Lindskold)

  House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion (with BuNine)

  To purchase all of these titles in e-book format,

  please go to www.baen.com.

  Uncompromising Honor

  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 © 2018 by Words of Weber, Inc.

  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: 978-1-4814-8350-6

  Cover art by David Mattingly

  First printing, October 2018

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Printed in the United States of America

  Electronic Version by Baen Books



  Unicorn Belt

  Manticore B

  Star Empire of Manticore

  The shuttle drifted through starlight and emptiness, a minnow threading through a pod of dead leviathans.

  If there was a sadder sight in the entire universe, Captain Philip Clayton couldn’t imagine what it might be. He sat in the pilot’s couch, his copilot silent beside him, gazing out through the cockpit’s armorplast at a Sargasso Sea of starships, and wondered yet again what he truly felt.

  It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out, really. He’d fought hard enough to create this mass of murdered ships, after all. Yet it had been an act of murder, not war. Not really. Not when the Solarian League Navy had been so utterly outclassed.

  And not when it had been offered the opportunity to survive…and rejected it.

  “I never get tired of seeing it, Sir,” Lieutenant Kalet said. Clayton looked at his copilot, and the tall, broad shouldered Manticoran shrugged. “It’s…it’s like nothing else in the galaxy,” he murmured, looking back out from his own side of the cockpit. “I mean, look at it.”

  “I know,” Clayton said quietly.

  Two hundred and eleven warships—or what had been warships a T-month ago—floated in their lonely parking orbit, keeping deathwatch station on Manticore-B’s Unicorn Belt. A hundred and thirty-one superdreadnoughts—sixty-nine Scientist-class ships and sixty-two of the newer, marginally more powerful Vegas—lay like vanquished titans at the heart of that huddle of beaten ships. Sixty of them were completely undamaged; the others ranged from near-total wrecks to ships which might actually have been repairable…if there’d been any reason to repair them. They were accompanied by twenty-nine battlecruisers, twenty-three light cruisers, and twenty-eight destroyers, which actually represented a higher percentage of Eleventh Fleet’s original roster of lighter units. Probably because there’d been no reason to waste missiles on such insignificant foes.

  The superdreadnoughts alone massed over 900 million tons. Compared to that, the battlecruisers and lighter units were a mere nothing, barely thirty-two million tons. And here they lay, abandoned—aside from caretaker crews on half a dozen of the undamaged SDs—waiting.

  Waiting, as it happened, for Phil Clayton, and he wondered again how he’d drawn the duty. Oh, he had the engineering background for it, but so did a lot of other officers, and he hated his new assignment. Maybe they had been enemy vessels, but they’d been ships, and he’d loved the inner magic of ships for as long as he could recall.

  His earliest memories were of standing with his nose pressed to the window on the south side of his parents’ modest house, watching the atmospheric counter-grav freighters drive across the heavens, splashed in sunlight and cloud shadow, gleaming like the Tester’s own promise of beauty. Pygmies compared to the doomed ships outside his shuttle at the moment, but enormous for pre-Alliance Grayson.

  And even more so for the imagination of a little boy who’d realized even then that ships had souls. That anything that lovely, that graceful—anything that many men had given so much of themselves to—had to be alive itself. He’d watched them summer and winter, in sunlight, in driving rain, in snow. He’d watched them at night, roaring low overhead in a bellow of turbines, flanks gleaming with their own private constellations of running lights. By the time he was ten, he’d been able to identify every major class by sight. And when he’d climbed up into the attic (which he’d been able to do only when all of his moms assumed one of the others had him in sight), he could actually get an angle down onto Burdette Port’s docks, where those massive constructs landed.

  Oh, the cargoes he’d summoned from dreams of other steadings! The pallets and boxes, the containerized cargo, the nets of fruit and vegetables. He’d watched stevedores unload the cavernous holds—there’d been far more muscle power and far less automation at the time—and wished he was one of them. And he’d devoured everything he could find in print and on vid about not just the atmospheric ships, but about the freighters that called on Grayson, however rarely, from far beyond his own horizons. He’d ingested anything and everything, from the ballad of the Wreck of the Steadholder Fitzgerald to the mystery of the colony ship Agnes Celeste and her vanished crew, and he’d known what he wanted.

  Not that there’d ever be much chance he could have it.

  His parents had been relatively well-off, by Grayson standards, but certainly not wealthy, and like all too many Grayson families, he’d been the only boy. Besides, Grayson was the backside of nowhere. The atmospheric freighters that fascinated him so spent their time hauling purely Grayson products and produce, because there was none from anywhere else. What chance did a boy from Burdette Steading have of ever seeing another star, smelling the air of a planet that didn’t try to poison him every day of his life?

  That had been his father’s opinion, at any rate, and all of his mothers had loyally shared it, although Mom Joan had seemed just a little less convinced than the others. She always had appreciated that stubborn streak of his.

  He never had gotten aboard one of the atmo-freighters. For that matter, he’d never gotten aboard a space freighter. But he’d gotten into space, anyway, and now, as he gazed at that endless vista of captive warships, looked at the torn and shredded armor—at the ink-black holes punched deep into core hulls and the blown out scabs of armor where life pods had erupted into space—he remembered another ship, in other battles. He remembered GMS Covington and the Battle of Yeltsin, the Battle of Blackbird. He remembered the stench of smoke and burning flesh through the ventilators, the scream of damage alarms, the incoming missiles and the indescribable shockwave of hits lashing through her hull.

  He remembered a young lieutenant, who’d known he was about to die defending his planet.

  But that lieutenant had lived, instead, because a foreign-born woman, already wounded from the battle which had saved his Protector’s life, had flung her ship and her crew between someone else’s world and those who would have killed every human being on it without her. Which was how a considerably older captain of the Grayson Space Navy, serving in the Protector’s Own, found himself here, playing sorter of the slain to the Solarian League Navy.

  “What’s the latest from Seven, David?” he asked Lieutenant Kalet.

  “They’re about ready for the first tranche,” Kalet replied, keying up the report on his uni-link, and grimaced. “They’re due to finish the last of the Yawata Strike wreckage by Tuesday.”

  “I don’t know which is worse—that, or this.” Clayton waved at the silently waiting starships.

  “Believe me, Sir, it’s the Yawata wreckage.” Kalet’s expression was grim. “These people,” he twitched his head at the same starships, “got hammered because they frigging well deserved it. We didn’t go looking for them; they came looking for us. I’m sorry it got so many of them killed, but that’s what happens when you attack somebody without bothering to declare war first. And at least every damned one of those ships was at battle stations, with everybody aboard in skinsuits. Not so much for the Yawata Strike.”

  The lieutenant turned to stare out at the barely visible cluster of working lights that marked the enormous Unicorn Seven asteroid complex. The Hauptman Cartel’s Uicorn Salvage Yard and the Unicorn Seven refineries had been repurposed as one of the Manticore-B reclamation centers, processing the wreckage from the orbital infrastructure which had been torn to pieces in the Yawata Strike less than five T-months ago.

  “The reclamation crews are still finding bodies Search and Rescue missed,” he said. “Last week, one of the Seven crews found their own forewoman’s cousin.” His nostrils flared. “I’m sure we’ll find a few bodies when we start scrapping these, too, but at least they won’t be our damned relatives!”

  Clayton nodded. He was grateful he’d been spared from the cleanup after the Blackbird Strike, but he knew enough men—and women, now—in the GSN who hadn’t been.

  “There was a curse back on Old Earth,” he said. “I don’t know if you Manties have it, but we still have it back on Grayson. It goes ‘May you live in interesting times.’”

  “‘Interesting times,’ is it?” Kalet snorted. “Well, that’s one way to put it, Sir. More ‘interesting’ for some than for others, though.”

  “Look at it this way,” Clayton turned back to the flight controls, “one day we’ll all be in the history books and some idiot child—just like the idiot children you and I were, once upon a time—will dream about how exciting and glorious it all must have been. Maybe they’ll be luckier than we are and not find out how wrong they are.”

  HMS Imperator

  Manticore A

  Star Empire of Manticore

  Fleet Admiral Lady Dame Honor Alexander-Harrington, Duchess and Steadholder Harrington, commanding officer, Grand Fleet, finished tucking in her white, turtleneck uniform blouse and reached up to pull the pins which had confined her hair on top of her head while she showered. The long braid fell almost to her waist, and she allowed herself to luxuriate in the sensual silkiness of it as she un-braided it, then brushed it into a shimmering tide. She usually kept it braided when in uniform, but there was no sense pretending she hadn’t grown to love the way it felt loose. Besides, she was scheduled for a state dinner groundside later that evening, and she’d be attending in her persona as a Grayson steadholder, not an officer of the Queen.

  She finished brushing, slid the brush into its storage slot, and gathered the hair at the back of her head with a hairband of Harrington green. She cocked her head to assess the effect, then frowned slightly and leaned closer to the mirror while the fingers of her right hand explored the tenderness of the skin under one almond-shaped eye.

  “Darn,” she muttered as she realized it was going to bruise after all.

  The long, sinuous, cream-and-gray treecat stretched along the bulkhead perch behind her bleeked a laugh, and she turned to glower at him.

  “Not funny, Stinker!” Her tone was admirably stern despite the slight twitch of her lips. “You know how much grief Hamish is going to give me across the canapés if I turn up sporting a shiner!”

  Nimitz only laughed harder, and the fingers of his true hands flickered.

  “It was not my own fault!” she told him. “Spencer’s still getting better, and I can’t block all his hits.”

  More finger-flicker, and she snorted.

  “The way my schedule’s packed, I have to schedule sparring bouts whenever I can, and you know it. It’s not my fault Elizabeth decided to throw this shindig tonight!”

  Nimitz considered that for a second or two, then nodded grudgingly, and she laughed and scooped him off the perch. She cradled him in her arms, pressing her face into his silky, clean-smelling coat for a long moment, then carried him out of her palatial quarters’ head into her day cabin. She crossed to the desk, let him flow out of her arms onto the perch above it, and settled into the body-conforming chair.

  She touched the darkening bruise under her right eye again and shrugged. She’d just have to take a little extra care with her cosmetics, she decided. With luck, Hamish wouldn’t even notice…which would spare her the unmerciful ribbing he’d administer if he did. She’d have been less worried if Emily had been going to be present to help divert his fire, but their wife was staying home at White Haven with the kids. That probably said something positive about her sanity.

  She thought about that for a moment, then sighed and brought her terminal online for the first item on today’s installment of her unending paper chase.

  I really hate to think of the number of photons we slaughter every day on personnel reports,
she thought glumly. Talk about genocide!

  Her lips twitched in amusement, but then she shook her head and began skimming rapidly through the report before her.

  * * *

  “Excuse me, My Lady, but that report you asked for is here.”

  “Don’t you mean that other report I asked for?” Honor asked wryly, looking up from the readiness report on her desk display.

  “Well, yes,” Commander Angela Clayton acknowledged. She wore the blue-on-blue of the Grayson Space Navy with the salamander flash of the Protector’s Own, but her accent was Manticoran. In fact, it was pure Gryphon Highlands. “You did ask for it, though,” she pointed out with something close to a twinkle.

  Commander Clayton was a new addition to Honor’s staff, serving both as a liaison with High Admiral Judah Yanakov and as Grand Fleet’s logistics officer. A sturdy, no-nonsense sort, Commander Clayton. Although she’d been born in Rearson, the same barony as Anton Zilwiki, she’d become a citizen of Harrington Steading following five years of “loaner” service with the GSN, which explained why she habitually addressed Honor with the “My Lady” of a steadholder rather than the “Your Grace” of a Manticoran duchess.

  It could get…confusing, sometimes.

  “And what does Phil have to report?” Honor asked now.

  “His survey crews are finished with the first half-dozen superdreadnoughts, My Lady,” the commander replied. The almost-twinkle in her eye had faded and she sighed. “He purely hates the assignment. Says it makes him feel like a swamp grubber.”

  Honor grimaced at the simile. She knew Captain Clayton, just as she’d made it her business to know all of the Protector’s Own captains, so she understood what Angela was saying, but he was being grossly unfair to himself. The Grayson swamp grubber was one of the more loathsome carrion eaters in the explored galaxy, and it was none too picky about how its meal turned into carrion.

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