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A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by David Mattingly
First printing, August 1997
First paperbackedition, October 1998
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 97-3192
Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
For Sharon, who loves me anyway.
"I think it's a mistake—a big one." Cordelia Ransom's blue eyes glittered, but the passionate voice which had raised and swayed so many chanting crowds was cold, almost flat. Which, Rob Pierre reflected, proved her emotions were truly engaged on this issue.
"I obviously don't, or I wouldn't have suggested it," he told her, meeting her eyes levelly while he sought to put enough iron into his deliberately calm reply to override her chill intensity. He succeeded in that, for the most part, but it wasn't as easy as it should have been, and he knew it. He just hoped she didn't.
Officially, Pierre was the most powerful man in the People's Republic of Haven. As the creator and head of the Committee of Public Safety, his word was law and his power over the PRH's citizens absolute. Yet even he faced limits—including the one which had finally decided him his proposal was necessary—and the fact that most of them were invisible to those beyond the ranks of the Committee's membership made them no less real.
His was a revolutionary government which had imposed itself upon the Republic by force. Everyone knew it had extended its grasp far beyond the caretaker role the People's Quorum had envisioned when it voted to ratify his creation of the Committee and named him its chairman. The Quorum had thought it was setting up little more than a caretaker panel to restore domestic stability as quickly as possible . . . what it had gotten was a revolution run by a multiheaded dictatorship which was quite prepared to use coercion, suppression, and outright terror tactics to maintain its grasp and promote its own agenda. That was the heart of his problem. By using force and ruthlessness to reach so far beyond what the Quorum had expected and authorized, he'd made his power real and undeniable, but he'd also deprived his authority (which, he conceded, was not—quite—the same thing) of that subtle and elusive quality called "legitimacy."
A rule imposed by violence or the threat of violence could be overturned the same way, and as a creature of force, his Committee had no recourse to the rule of law or custom to support it. It was odd how little thought people gave to governments which could claim those supports, he thought moodily. Or of how the destruction of a society's underlying social contract, even if the contract in question had been a bad one, smashed the stability of that society until a new contract, acknowledged by its members as legitimate, replaced it. Pierre himself had certainly underestimated the consequences when he set out upon the revolutionary's path. He'd known there had to be a period of unrest and uncertainty, but somehow he'd assumed that once he and his colleagues got past those initial rough spots, the simple passage of time would be sufficient to legitimize their authority in the eyes of those they ruled. That was how it ought to have worked, he told himself yet again. However they'd gotten to where they were, they had at least as strong a claim to their places as the Legislaturalists they'd destroyed to get here had ever had. And unlike the Legislaturalists, Pierre had become a revolutionary in the first place because he genuinely believed in reform. Yet by the very act of seizing power, he had created a situation in which the ability to take that power was all that truly mattered to those who might compete for authority, for his own actions had eliminated not only all previously existing avenues to it but also any "legitimate" constraints upon the use of force.
All of which meant that the seemingly all-powerful Committee of Public Safety was, in fact, a far more fragile edifice than it appeared. Its members were careful to display their confidence to the Dolists and Proles they'd mobilized, but Pierre and his colleagues knew that any number of unsuspected plotters could be working to overthrow them at any moment. Why not? Hadn't they overthrown the Republic's previous lords and masters? Hadn't the Legislaturalists' long monopolization of the power of the state produced crackpots and fanatics in profusion? And hadn't the Committee itself crushed enough "enemies of the People" to guarantee its members potential—and passionate—enemies galore?
Of course they had, and some of them had demonstrated a dangerous willingness to act on that enmity. Fortunately, most of the outright lunatics, like the Zeroists, who had supported Charles Froidan's demands that all money be abolished, had been too incompetent to plan a bottle party, much less stage a coup. Others, like the Parnassians, whose platform had included the execution of all bureaucrats on the grounds that their choice of employment was prima facie evidence of treason against the People, had been reasonably competent conspirators but guilty of bad timing. By moving too soon, they'd made too many enemies among their competing extremists, and Pierre and State Security had managed to play one faction off against the other to destroy them. (Actually, that had been one of Pierre's harder decisions, for he'd discovered that, having dealt with the enormous, glacially paced bureaucracy bequeathed to him by the Legislaturalists, he felt a certain personal sympathy for the Parnassians' views. In the end, however, he had decided—not without regret—that the Committee required the bureaucrats to keep the Republic running.)
Some of their enemies, however, like LaBoeuf's Levelers, might have been lunatics but had certainly been capable of excellent timing and good security. Their idea of a proper society made anarchy look positively regimented by comparison, but they'd been organized enough to get several million people killed in less than a day of heavy fighting. It was amazing what a few kinetic bombardment strikes and pee-wee nukes could do to a city of thirty-six million souls, he thought. Actually, they'd been lucky to get off as lightly as they had . . . and at least none of the Levelers' known leadership had survived the bloodbath. Of course, it was almost certain that at least some of their inner cadre actually held seats on the Committee itself. They had to for the Levelers to have come so close to success, and they remained unidentified so far . . . whoever they were.
Under the circumstances, Pierre supposed he shouldn't be surprised to find that his initial ardor for reform was being ground away by his constantly growing, persistently unshakable sense of insecurity. Bad enough when that feeling of vulnerability had been genuine paranoia, with no basis in fact. Now that he had proof he not only had enemies but that they could be deadly dangerous, he was desperate to reach out for anything which might lend the Committee even a tiny bit more stability, strengthen his hand in any way he could. That, coupled with the equally desperate need to win the war to which the previous regime had committed the Republic, was the reason for his present proposal, and he glanced at Oscar Saint-Just for support.
To an outside observer, Saint-Just must clearly have been the second most powerful member of the triumvirate which ruled the Committee and hence the PRH. In fact, some might consider him even more powerful—tactically, at least—than Pierre himself, for Saint-Just's was the iron fist which commanded the Office of State Security. But once again, appearances could be deceiving. As head of the SS, Saint-Just was the Committee's executioner, with a power base which was far more readily apparent than Ransom's. Yet the very reasons Pierre was willing to trust him with that authority underscored the fact that Saint-Just could never be the threat Ransom might someday become. Unlike Cordelia, Oscar knew his reputation as the Republic's chief warden would preclude his maintaining himself indefinitely in power even if he somehow managed to seize it. He was the focal point of all the fear, hatred, and resentment the Committee of Public Safety had engendered . . . on top of which, he genuinely had no desire to supplant his leader. Pierre had given him sufficient opportunities to prove otherwise, but Saint-Just had taken none of them, for he knew his own limitations.
Ransom didn't, and that was why Pierre would never have given her the position Saint-Just occupied. She was too unpredictable—which translated into "unreliable" in his mind. And where he was determined to at least attempt to build something constructive atop the bones of the old, murdered power structure, she often seemed more interested in the exercise of power than in the ends to which it was exercised. She was always at her best whipping up the Proles' mob mentality, and it was her ability to direct that mentality against targets other than Pierre and his regime which made her so valuable. Yet it also gave her Office of Public Information the first opportunity to put its spin on each issue as it came along, which gave her a degree of power—intangible, but frighteningly real—that made her very nearly Saint-Just's equal. And, Pierre reminded himself, Cordelia had more than her fair share of cronies within Oscar's own SS, as well. She'd been one of the Committee of Public Safety's roving headsmen immediately after the coup, before he moved her to Public Information, and she retained personal contacts with the men and women with whom she'd served. The fact that she and Oscar were both fierce empire-builders (although, Pierre suspected, for quite different reasons) only made the situation worse in many ways, but at least it let him play them off against one another, maintaining their "constituencies" in a delicate, sometimes precarious balance he could force to support his own position rather than undermining it.
"I understand Cordelia's concerns, Rob," Saint-Just said, answering Pierre's unspoken appeal after a long, pregnant moment. He tipped back his chair, leaning away from the crystal-topped conference table, and steepled his fingers across his chest in a posture that made him look even more like someone's harmless, nondescript uncle. "We've spent over five T-years convincing everyone the Navy was responsible for the Harris Assassination, and while we've, ah, removed virtually all the precoup senior officers, putting my commissioners aboard the Navy's ships hasn't won us many fans among their replacements. Whether we want to admit it or not, granting political agents—we might as well be honest and call them spies—veto authority over line officers helps explain the fiascoes the fleet keeps sailing into . . . and the officer corps knows that, too. When you add all that to the number of officers we've shot or locked up 'to encourage the others,' it could certainly be argued that taking our boot off their necks is a questionable decision, at best . . . even if it was the Navy that saved our asses from LaBoeuf's maniacs. I mean, let's not fool ourselves here; anyone would have looked good compared to the Levelers. Don't forget that part of their platform called for shooting anyone above the rank of lieutenant commander or major for the 'military-industrial complex's treasonous misconduct of the war.' There's no guarantee the Navy would back us against someone less, um, energetic than they were."
His tenor was as mild and colorless as the rest of him, yet Ransom's eyes hardened behind their glitter as she heard the "But" he hadn't quite voiced. Pierre heard the qualification as well, and his own eyes narrowed.
"But compared to our other options?" he said softly, inviting Saint-Just to continue, and the SS chief shrugged.
"Compared to our other options, I don't see a lot of choice. The Manties keep handing our fleet commanders their heads, and we keep blaming them for it. After a point, that becomes bad propaganda as well as bad strategy. Let's face it, Cordelia," Saint-Just swiveled those nondescript eyes to his golden-haired colleague, "it gets awfully hard for Public Information to keep rallying public support behind our 'gallant defenders' when we seem to be killing as many of them as the Manties are!"
"Maybe it does," Ransom countered, "but that's less risky than letting the military get a foot into the door." She switched the full force of her personality to Pierre. "If we put someone from the military on the Committee, how do we keep him or her from finding out things we don't want the military to know? Like who really killed off the Harris government?"
"There's not much chance of that," Saint-Just pointed out reasonably. "There was never any hard evidence of our activities . . . and aside from a few people who had a hand of their own in the operation, there's no one left who could challenge our version of what happened." He gave a chill smile. "Anyone who knows anything—and is still alive—could only incriminate himself if he tried to talk about it. Besides, I've made damned sure all of StateSec's internal records reflect the official line. Anyone who wants to challenge all that 'impartial evidence' is obviously a counter-revolutionary enemy of the People."
" 'Not much chance' isn't the same thing as no chance at all," Ransom retorted.
Her tone was sharper than usual, for manipulator or not, she truly believed in the concept of enemies of the People, and her suspicion of the military was almost obsessive. Despite her need to produce pro-war propaganda which extolled the Navy's virtues as the Republic's protectors, her personal hatred for it was the next best thing to pathological. She loathed and despised it as a decadent, degenerate institution whose traditions still tied it to the old regime and probably inspired it to plot the Committee's overthrow in order to restore the Legislaturalists. Even worse, its persistent failures to throw the enemy back and save the Republic—which was probably at least partly due to its disloyalty—only reinforced her contempt with fear that it would fail to save her, and it was starting to get out of hand. In fact, her increasingly irrational antimilitary biases were a main reason for Pierre's decision that he needed someone from the military as a counterbalance.
He often thought it was odd that so much of her hatred should be fixed on the military, for unlike him, Ransom had come up through the action arm of the Citizens' Rights Union. She'd spent the better part of forty T-years fighting not the military, which had virtually never intervened in domestic security matters, but the minions of Internal Security, and Pierre would have expected her passionate hate to be focused there. But it wasn't. She worked well with Oscar Saint-Just, one-time second-in-command of InSec, and she never seemed to hold past connections to InSec against any of State Security's current personnel. Perhaps, he thought, that was because she and InSec had played the same game by the same rules. They'd been enemies, but enemies who understood one another, and Ransom the not-so-ex-terrorist had absolutely no understanding of or sympathy for the traditions and values of the military community.
But whatever the source of her attitudes, neither Pierre nor Saint-Just shared their virulent intensity. Enemies of the Committee, yes; they had positive proof those were out there. But unlike Ransom, they could draw a clear distinction between the Committee and the PRH itself, just as they could accept that military failures were not incontrovertible proof of treasonous intentions. She couldn't. Perhaps that was because they were more pragmatic than she, or perhaps it was because each of them, in his own way, was actually trying to build something while Cordelia was still committed to tearing things down. Personally, Pierre suspected it was because her egoism and paranoia were reinforcing one another. In her own mind the People, the Committee of Public Safety, and Cordelia Ransom had become one and the same thing. He who opposed—or failed—any part of her personal Trinity was the enemy of them all, so simple self-defense required her to be eternally vigilant to ferret out and crush the People's enemies before they got her.
"And even if your cover holds up perfectly," she went on forcefully, "how can you even consider trusting anyone from the officer corps? You said it yourself: we've killed too many of them and made too many others—and their families—disappear. They'll never forgive us for that!"
"I think you underestimate the power of self-interest," Pierre replied for StateSec's commander. "Whoever we offer a slice of the pie to will have his own reasons to keep us in the saddle. For one thing, everyone will know he had to make some major accommodations with us to get the slot, and any power he has will depend on our patronage. And if we ease up on the officers—"
"They'll think he's the one to thank for it and have even more reason to be loyal to him rather than to us!" Ransom half snapped.
"Maybe," Pierre conceded. "But maybe not, too. Especially if we see to it that we put his advice into practice and do it very openly." Ransom started to open her mouth again, but his raised hand stopped her—for the moment. "I'm not suggesting that whoever we pick won't get at least some of the credit. For that matter, he'll probably get almost all of it, initially. But if we're going to win this war, we have to enlist our military as something more than slave labor. We've tried 'collective responsibility' with some success—after all," he smiled thinly, "knowing your family will suffer for your failures gives you a powerful incentive. But it's also counterproductive, and it produces obedience, not allegiance. By threatening their families, we become as much the enemy as the Manties. Probably even more than the Manties, for a lot of them. The Manties may be trying to kill them, but the Alliance isn't threatening to kill their wives or husbands or children.
"Frankly, it would be irrational for the officer corps to trust us under the present circumstances, and I think our past failures demonstrate that we have to 'rehabilitate' ourselves in their eyes if we expect them to become an effective—motivated—fighting force. We were incredibly lucky that the Navy didn't just stand by and watch the Levelers roll over us. In fact, I remind you that only one ship of the wall—just one, and not even a unit of the Capital Fleet, at that—had the initiative and nerve to intervene. If Rousseau had stayed out of it, you and Oscar and I would all be dead now, and we can't count on that sort of support again without demonstrating that we at least know we owe the people who saved our hides a debt. And the only way I can see to do that is to give them a voice at the highest level, make sure the rank and file know we've done it, and actually pay that voice some attention . . . publicly, at least."
"Publicly. Oscar and I have already discussed the sort of insurance policy we'll need if our tame war dog gets out of hand. Oscar?"
"I've considered each of the officers Rob's nominated," the SS man told Ransom. "It wasn't too hard to edit their records and their people's commissioners' reports. Any one of them will look like a knight in shining armor when we introduce him to the public, and all of them are quite competent in their own field, but we've got enough time bombs hidden in their dossiers to blow them away any time we have to. Of course," he smiled thinly, "it would be convenient if the officer in question were already dead before we make those bombs public. It's ever so much harder for a dead man to defend himself."
"I see." It was Ransom's turn to lean back and rub her chin in thought, and she nodded slowly. "All right, that's a good first step," she admitted finally. Her tone was still grudging, but it was no longer adamant. "I'll want a good look at those 'time bombs,' though. If we want this talking head to be vulnerable to charges down the road, Public Information's going to have to be careful about just how we initially build him up for public consumption. We wouldn't want any avoidable inconsistencies in there."
"No problem," Saint-Just assured her, and she nodded some more. But her expression was still dissatisfied, and she let her chair snap back upright as she stopped rubbing her jaw and leaned over the table towards Pierre.
"This is all well and good as far as it goes, Rob," she said, "but it's still a hell of a risk. And we're going to be sending some very mixed signals, however we do it. I mean, we just shot Admiral Girardi for losing Trevor's Star, and whatever we may have told the Proles, we all know it wasn't entirely his fault." Pierre was a bit surprised she was willing to make even that much of a concession to a Navy officer, but perhaps it was because even she had to admit dead men could no longer plot treason. "The Navy's senior officers certainly don't think it was, anyway. They're convinced we only shot him to 'prove' to the Mob that it wasn't our fault, and even some enlisted personnel resented our turning him into a 'scapegoat'! I don't see your proposal making much of a dent in that any time soon."
"Ah, but that's because you don't know who I'm planning to appoint!" Pierre said, then sat without another word, grinning at her. She glared at him, trying to pretend his effort to play on her impatience wasn't working. Unfortunately, they both knew it was. The better part of a full minute dragged past, then she shrugged impatiently.
"So tell me already!"
"Esther McQueen," Pierre said simply, and Ransom jerked upright in her chair.
"You're joking!" she snapped, and her face darkened when Pierre only shook his head. "Well, you damned well ought to be! Damn it, Oscar!" The glare she turned on Saint-Just should have been sufficient to incinerate the SS chief on the spot. "The woman's personal popularity is already at dangerous levels, and your own spy's reported that she's got ambitions—and plans—of her own. Are you seriously suggesting putting a loaded pulser into the hands of someone we know is looking for one already?"
"First of all, her ambition may be our best ally," Pierre said before Saint-Just could reply. "Yes, Brigadier Fontein's warned us that she has her own agenda. In fact, she's made one or two efforts to set up some sort of clandestine network among her fellow flag officers. But she hasn't met with much success, because they know what she has in mind as well as we do. Most of them are too cowed to stick their necks out, and the ones who aren't consider her as much a political animal as a military one. Given the, um, finality with which politics are played these days, they're not about to trust even one of their own if she's shown she wants to join the game. If, on the other hand, we give her a place at the table, that very ambition will give her every reason to make sure the Committee—and, with it, her power base—survives."
"Hmph!" Ransom relaxed just a bit and folded her arms across her chest as she considered. Then she shook her head again, but this time the gesture was slower and more thoughtful. "All right," she said at last, "let's assume you have a point there. But she's still dangerous. The Mob sees her as the Committee's savior against the Levelers—hell, half the damned Committee thinks she can walk on water right now! But we don't even know that she actually intended to save us at all, do we? If her pinnace hadn't crashed, she might just have kept right on rolling with the momentum and finished us off herself!"
"She might have, but I don't believe for a minute she planned to," Pierre said, just a bit more emphatically than his level of confidence deserved. "The Committee at least has the legitimacy of the original resolution which created it, not to mention almost six T-years as the Republic's functioning government. Even if she'd managed to wipe us out herself, what would she have had for a power base? Remember that only her own flagship supported her when she came to rescue us, and she was clearly doing her duty then. There's no way she could have counted on the rest of the Fleet to support any sort of putsch on her part, especially not given her reputation for political ambition."
"It sounds to me like you're trying to convince yourself of that," Ransom muttered darkly. "And even assuming you're right, doesn't your logic undercut your own argument for giving her a seat at the table? If the rest of the officer corps see her as a political animal, why should appointing her to the Committee convince them to support us?"
"Because political animal or not, she's also the best field commander we've got, and they know that, too," Saint-Just answered. "They don't distrust her competence, Cordelia—just her motives. In a sense, that gives us the best of both worlds: an officer whose ability is recognized by her peers, but whose reputation for political ambition sets her apart from the 'real' Navy."
"If she's that damned good, how did we lose Trevor's Star?" Ransom demanded, and Pierre hid a smile behind his hand. Cordelia's ministry had turned Trevor's Star into a sort of metaphorical redoubt for the entire People's Republic—the "line in the stars," the point from which no retreat could even be contemplated—despite his own suggestions that she might want to tone the rhetoric down just a bit. To be sure, the system had been of enormous strategic importance, and the military consequences of its loss were what had originally inspired him to look for a naval representative for the Committee. Yet viewed against the sheer size of the Republic, even Trevor's Star was ultimately expendable. What was not expendable was public morale or the People's Navy's will to fight, both of which had taken yet another nose dive when "the line in the stars" fell to the Royal Manticoran Navy's Sixth Fleet.
"We lost Trevor's Star," he told Ransom, "because the Manties have better ships and their technology is still better than ours. And because—thanks in no small part to our own policy of shooting losing admirals—their senior officers go right on accruing experience while ours keep suffering from a severe case of being dead."
His caustic tone widened her eyes, and he gave her a thin smile.
"McQueen may not have been able to hold the system, but at least she inflicted heavy losses on the Manties. In fact, given the relative sizes of our navies, the Alliance's proportional losses were probably worse than ours, at least before the final engagement. Her captains and junior squadron commanders gained a lot of experience during the fighting, too, and we managed to rotate about a third of them home to pass that along. But it was obvious at least a year ago that White Haven was going to take the system eventually. That's why I pulled McQueen out and sent Girardi in to take the heat." Ransom quirked an eyebrow, and Pierre shrugged. "I didn't want to lose her, and given our existing policies, we'd have had no choice but to shoot her if she'd still been in command when Trevor's Star went down." He smiled wryly. "After last month's excitement, I'm inclined to see that as one of my more brilliant moves of the war."
"Hmph!" Ransom repeated, sliding lower in her chair once more and frowning down at the conference table. "You're sure McQueen is the one you want for this? I have to tell you that the more you tell me about how competent she is, the more nervous you make me."
"Competent in her own area is one thing; competent in our area is another," Pierre said confidently. "Her reach considerably exceeds her grasp on the political side, and it'll take her a while to figure out how the rules work on our side of the street. Oscar and I will keep a close eye on her, and if it starts to look like she's figured it out, well, accidents happen."
"And whatever negative considerations might attach to choosing her," Saint-Just said, "she's a better choice than the next candidate in line."
"Which candidate would that be?" Ransom asked.
"Before our raid on the Manties' commerce in Silesia blew up in our faces, Javier Giscard would have been an even better choice than McQueen. As it is, he's completely ineligible, at least for now. His political views are more acceptable than McQueen's—in fact, Commissioner Pritchard continues to speak very highly of him—and in fairness to him, what happened to his plan wasn't his fault. In fact, our decision to recall him was probably a mistake. But we did recall him, and he's still on probation for his 'failure.' " Ransom cocked her head, and Saint-Just shrugged. "It's only a formality—he's too good for us to shoot unless we absolutely have to—but we can't rehabilitate him overnight."
"All right, I can see that," Ransom nodded, "but that just tells me who the next candidate isn't."
"Sorry," Saint-Just apologized. "I got distracted. In answer to your question, McQueen's only real competition is Thomas Theisman. He's considerably junior to her, but he was the only flag officer to emerge from Operation Dagger with a reputation as a fighter, and he distinguished himself in the Trevor's Star fighting before we pulled him out. His stand at Seabring is one of the very few victories we've had to crow over, but while the Navy respects him as a tactician and a strategist, he's been very careful to remain totally apolitical."
"And that's a disadvantage?" Ransom sounded surprised, and Pierre shook his head at her.
"You're slipping, Cordelia," he said mildly. "There's only one reason for him to be apolitical, and it's not because he admires us. He might choose to avoid the political game because of its inherent risks, but no one with his combat record could be an idiot, and only an idiot wouldn't see that there are all sorts of small ways he could send us signals that he's an obedient little boy. They wouldn't have to be sincere, but they wouldn't cost him anything to send."
"His people's commissioner agrees with that assessment," Saint-Just put in. "Citizen Commissioner LePic's reports make it clear that he rather admires Theisman as an officer and a man, and he's convinced Theisman is loyal to the Republic. But he's also cautioned us that Theisman is less than pleased with several of our policies. The admiral's been careful not to say so, but his attitude gives him away."
"I see," Ransom said, and her voice was far grimmer than it had been.
"At any rate," Pierre said, trying to reclaim the conversation before Ransom's suspicions had time to come fully to life, "Theisman was acceptable from the professional viewpoint, but he's a Brutus, and we need a Cassius. McQueen's aspirations may make her dangerous, but ambition is more predictable than principle."
"I can't argue with that," Ransom muttered. She frowned down at the table again, then nodded. "All right, Rob. I know you and Oscar are going to put her in whatever I say, and I have to admit that your arguments make sense in at least some ways. Just be very sure you keep an eye on her. The last thing we need is for a politically ambitious admiral to put together a real military coup against us."
"That would be rather a case of hoisting us with our own petard," Pierre agreed.
"But whatever we do with McQueen, I'm concerned by what you've said about Theisman," Ransom went on. "I gather that with McQueen diverted to political duties, Theisman will take her place as our best commander in the officer corps' estimation?" Saint-Just nodded, and her frown deepened. "In that case, I think it might be a good idea to take a close personal look at Citizen Admiral Theisman."
" 'Personal' as in you're thinking of taking it yourself?" Pierre asked in a carefully casual tone.
"Maybe." Ransom plucked at her lower lip for a moment. "He's stationed at Barnett now?"
"System commander," Saint-Just confirmed. "We needed to put someone good in charge of DuQuesne."
Ransom nodded. The Manticoran Alliance's capture of Trevor's Star gave it a near-impregnable position between the heart of the People's Republic and the Barnett System, but the massive infrastructure of DuQuesne Base and all the other military installations of the system remained. Barnett had been intended as the jump-off point for the inevitable war against Manticore, and the Legislaturalist regime had spent twenty T-years building it up for its task. However much the Manties might want to let it wither on the vine, they couldn't afford to leave it intact in their rear, for unlike wet-navy ships, starships could easily avoid interception if they planned their routes through hyper-space with even moderate care. Reinforcements—or fresh attack forces—might take time to reach Barnett on such roundabout courses, but they could get there.
The Manties, however, could get there more quickly. While their Sixth Fleet had been busy taking Trevor's Star, other Allied task forces had taken advantage of the People's Navy's distraction and snapped up the forward bases of Treadway, Solway, and Mathias. They'd captured the naval facilities in Treadway virtually intact, which was bad enough, but they'd also broken through the arc of bases which had guarded Barnett's southeastern flank . . . and that didn't even consider what the loss of Trevor's Star implied. With the capture of that system, the Royal Manticoran Navy had attained control of every terminus of the Manticore Wormhole Junction, and that meant convoys—and task forces—could move directly from the Manticore Binary System to Trevor's Star and come down on Barnett from the north.
For all practical purposes, then, Barnett was doomed, yet the Manties had taken their own pounding to capture Trevor's Star. They'd need at least a little time to reorganize and catch their breath, and once they were ready to move again, Barnett was almost certain to attract their immediate attention away from the Republic's core and back out towards the frontier. That made holding the system as long as possible, even if only as a diversionary measure, critically important, which, in turn, required the services of a competent system CO.
"From the way you've been talking, I assume you don't intend for him to ride the base down in flames, though," Ransom observed after a moment, and Pierre nodded. "In that case, I think I should take a little trip down to Barnett to form a personal impression of him," she said. "After all, Public Information's going to have to deal with whatever finally happens there, and if he looks too politically unreliable, we might want to leave him there . . . and write a truly epic piece about his gallant but doomed battle to fend off the attacking Manticoran hordes. Sort of a Theisman's Last Stand."
"Unless you see something LePic's entirely missed, he's still going to be too valuable to throw away," Saint-Just cautioned.
"Oscar, for a cold-blooded spook, you can be entirely too squeamish," Ransom said severely. "The only good threat is a dead one, however unlikely a danger it may seem. And when your navy's getting its ass kicked as thoroughly as ours is, the occasional dead hero can be worth a hell of a lot more than the same officer was ever worth alive. Besides, it amuses me to turn potential threats into propaganda assets."
She smiled that thin, cold, hungry smile which frightened even Oscar Saint-Just, and Pierre shrugged. Oscar was right about Theisman's value, and Pierre had no intention of simply throwing the man away, whatever Cordelia wanted. On the other hand, Cordelia was the Mob's darling, the spokeswoman and focus of its urge to violence. If she decided that she simply had to add Theisman's head to the ones already mounted on her wall, Pierre was prepared to give it to her—especially if handing him over bought Cordelia's (and Public Information's) support for adding McQueen to the Committee. Not that he intended to tell her so.
"That's a three-week trip one way," he pointed out instead. "Can you afford to be off Haven that long?"
"I don't see why not," she replied. "You're not going to convene any more meetings of the full Committee for the next two or three months, are you?" He shook his head, and she shrugged. "In that case, you and Oscar won't need my vote to keep the machinery running, and I've got Tepes set up to function as a mobile command post for Public Information. Nothing says all of our propaganda has to originate here on Haven and move outwards, you know. My deputy can handle routine decisions here in my absence, and we'll produce any new material aboard Tepes. As long as I'm in a position to vet it before release, we can dump it into the provincial nets and let it work inward from the frontier just as well as outward from the center."
"All right," he said after a moment, his tone mild. "If you want to look the situation over and you feel comfortable about managing Public Information from there, I think we can spare you long enough for the trip. Be sure you take along enough security, though."
"I will," Ransom promised. "And I'll take a complete tech section from the ministry, too. We'll get lots of stock footage, do some interviews with personnel there for release after the system falls—that sort of thing. After all, if we can't hold it in the first place, we might as well get as much advantage out of losing it as we can!"