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Esther McQueen's carefully trained face hid the mild surprise she still felt as Rob Pierre and Oscar Saint-Just both came to their feet at her arrival. They'd each done the same thing on every other occasion upon which she'd met with either or both of them, and oddly enough, she was certain the courteous gesture was genuine, not something assumed for the purposes of manipulation. Not because she would ever make the mistake of forgetting that both these men were consummate manipulators, but because, in their personal relations, both of them routinely demonstrated an old-fashioned courtesy which was almost grotesque against the backdrop of the Republic's current agony.
And agony it was, she thought grimly as she crossed the thick carpet of the small conference room to shake hands with her hosts. Her own encounter with the Levelers was proof enough of that . . . as were the huge mass graves which had been required to deal with the wreckage in its wake.
No one had managed to produce an accurate estimate of which side had killed how many, and McQueen was just as glad. According to Public Information, of course, virtually all the casualties had been inflicted by the insurrectionists, and McQueen didn't know whether to be grateful or furious. On the one hand, she had no desire to be remembered as a mass murderer, however necessary it had been. On the other, any thinking individual who heard those reports would know they were liesyou didn't use modern weapons in a city the size of Nouveau Paris without killing a lot of people, however pure your motivesand to think she'd signed off on them.
The truth was, as she knew, that she was trapped in a no-win situation where the death toll was concerned . . . and not just with the public. She wasn't the one who'd popped off the pee-wee nukes the Levelers had smuggled into both of StateSec's major HQs here in the capital. Those bombs had done their job of taking out the only SS field forces which might have been deployed in sufficient strength to make a difference, and the Leveler leadership had obviously felt the slaughter of surrounding civilians was worth it. McQueen would have preferred to think she wasn't like that, but the same brutal self-honesty which made her such an effective field commander wouldn't let her.
The only real difference, she told herself, is that at least I didn't start it. But I made up for that once I got rolling, didn't I. My kinetic strikes were "cleaner" than theirs were, but does it really matter to a six-year-old whether or not the flash that incinerates her comes from a fusion reaction?
But that was the point, wasn't it? The Levelers had "started it," and the fact they'd opted for what were still quaintly called "weapons of mass destruction" from the outset only emphasized the nature of their thought processes. She'd known what they had in mind and seen how they were willing to go about accomplishing it, and she'd done what she had to do because the consequences of doing nothing would have been still worse. She'd had to make her decisions under pressure as dreadful as any she'd ever faced in the defense of Trevor's Star, but she'd had time to reconsider them in detail since, and she was convinced she'd made the right ones. The hellish part was that even knowing she'd done the right thing, even knowing she'd had no choice, she still had to live with the knowledge that she'd probably killed at least as many people as the Levelers.
Yeah? Well, maybe I did . . . but unlike them, at least I actually got some of the guilty ones along the way, by God!
So she had, she told herself, settling into the chair Saint-Just had pulled back from the table for her, and if her appointment to the Committee of Public Safety was her reward, well, the laborer was worthy of her hire. Besides, it required raw power to set anything as thoroughly screwed up as the People's Republic of Haven back to rights, and someday she'd have the power to get some more of the guilty ones . . . starting with the two in this conference room.
"I'm glad to see you're moving better, Citizen Admiral," Pierre said, opening the conversation, and McQueen smiled at him. The broken"smashed" was probably a better choice of wordsribs she'd suffered when her pinnace went down near the end of the fighting had done major internal damage. Surgical repairs and quick heal had put most of that to rights swiftly enough, but quick heal was less effective on bones. They persisted in knitting at the old-fashioned rate evolution had designed into them and she'd done an unusually thorough job of reducing most of her right rib cage to splinters. Her ribs had needed over two T-months to glue themselves back together, and an edge of stiffness persisted even now.
"Thank you," she replied. "I'm feeling better, as well, Citizen Chairman, and"
"Please, Citizen AdmiralEsther," Pierre broke in, raising one gently restraining hand. "We try not to be that formal in private, at least among ourselves."
"I see . . . Rob." The name tasted strange on her tongue, another one of those surreal touches like the courtesy with which he'd stood to greet her. She would never be naive enough to believe this man saw her as anything except a temporarily necessary expedient, and she certainly had no intention of leaving him alive when the time came, yet here they sat, playing their parts with proper etiquette while the Republic burned.
"Thank you," she went on. "As I was saying, however, I am feeling much better. That's why I asked to see you and Ci. . .Oscar this morning. I'm ready to be put to work, but our earlier discussions were a little vague. I hoped you could explain just what it is you have in mind for me to do."
She gave him another smile, and he tipped back in his huge chair at the head of the table while he considered her request. All the chairs in the conference room were big and sinfully comfortable, but his was the most impressive of all, and as he propped his elbows on its arms to steeple his fingers under his chin like an enthroned monarch, McQueen was suddenly struck by the mental image of a spider at the center of its web. It was a hackneyed cliche, and she knew it, but it was also utterly appropriate.
Pierre sat for another long moment, contemplating the dark-haired, slightly-built woman at the far end of the table. Her green eyes were mildly, respectfully courteous, and despite the gold braid and the plethora of decorations on her meticulously correct uniform, she scarcely looked like a cold blooded and deadly military commander. On the other hand, Oscar Saint-just hardly looked the part of StateSec's mastermind, either. It was a point worth bearing in mind, he mused, for he himself had used Saint-Just's harmless-looking exterior to lethal effect in the planning and execution of his coup.
But for now, at least, McQueen seemed to be toeing the line. Officially, she'd been a member of the Committee for almost three months, but she'd accepted the equally official position that her injuries precluded her from assuming her duties immediately. She had to have known better, for however painful it was, the damage had hardly been incapacitating, but she'd been willing to pretend otherwise rather than push. She probably didn't know that one of the main reasons for the delay had been to get Cordelia Ransom and her bitter antimilitary prejudices off Haven, of course. Cordelia might have agreed to back McQueen's elevationopenly, at leastbut that hadn't lulled Pierre into thinking she truly accepted it, and he'd been unprepared to put up with the potential fireworks between her and the citizen admiral, at least until McQueen got her feet under her.
He'd had no intention of telling her so, however, and he'd taken the opportunity to watch how she responded as a gauge of her own willingness to accept limits. In the event, she'd waited patiently, accepting the official fiction that the delay was only to give her body time to heal, and Pierre knew from Saint-Just that she'd gone through the motions of getting clearance from her doctors before she asked for this meeting.
All of that was either a good sign or a very bad one. Her popularity with the Nouveau Paris Mob had skyrocketed once word of who'd stopped the Levelers spread. Public Information had done its best to play up the role of the other security forcesmany of which, Pierre admitted, had in fact fought with infinitely greater tenacity and courage than he'd expectedbut too many people had known the truth. And so McQueen's existing reputation as the admiral who'd held Trevor's Star for more than eighteen T-months had been enhanced by her decisiveness in preserving "the People's revolution." The fact that she'd probably killed at least as many of their friends and neighbors as the Levelers had meant little to the Mob's members. Ultimately, their approbation was nothing if not fickle, as few people had more reason to know than Rob S. Pierre, but for the moment, she was their darling, and she could have used that to demand an immediate and meaningful role on the Committee. As a matter of fact, he'd been afraid she might do just that, and he and Saint-Just had made quiet preparations for her to suffer sudden, unexpected medical complications if she had.
But she hadn't. Instead, she'd accepted the Committees thanks and the offer of a seat on it, if not with modesty, without arrogance, either. That, too, had struck Pierre's mental antennae as reflecting exactly the right attitude, for any modesty on her part would had to have been false. She knew as well as he did who'd saved the Committee . . . and that she wouldn't have been offered a place on it even now if Pierre hadn't believed he needed her. Yet she also seemed prepared to take things as they came, without pushing or probing for openings, just as she had alwaysoutwardly, at leastaccepted her orders from the Admiralty. Assuming her actions accurately reflected what was going on inside her head, that was a very good thing, and Pierre allowed himself to hope that it was.
But he wasn't about to leap to any conclusions. The contingency plans she'd somehow put together right under Citizen Commissioner Fontein's nose had played a majorpossibly even a decisivepart in saving the Committee, but she shouldn't have been able to make them. Of course, her ability to inspire the sort of personal loyalty that carried men and women into battle with her was one of the things which made her so valuable as a military officer. But it was also the kind of ability which might convince subordinates to go along with making unauthorized plansor, to use an uglier turn of phrase, conspiring with her to circumvent civilian authorityand that was specifically what Oscar Saint-Just had chosen Erasmus Fontein as her commissioner to prevent.
Fontein was one of the best StateSec had, yet he looked like a complete incompetent. The theory, of which Pierre had approved, was that McQueen would feel relatively unthreatened (and hence less security conscious) if the individual assigned to watch her was an idiot, and Fontein had taken pains to convince her he was almost as inept as he looked. From all appearances, he'd succeeded, at least until the need to stop the Levelers had required him to take the mask off and act decisively in cooperation with her. Yet she'd still taken sufficient precautions to manage to conceal that contingency planning from him. Not just partially, but completely. His report had been scathingly self-honest, fully admitting that he'd been taken totally by surprise. Pierre was pleased by his candor; too many others would have been too busy trying to cover their own backsides to draw the proper conclusions and point them out, but Fontein was a professional. He'd made certain his superiors recognized the implications, and Pierre agreed with his warning. If she'd bothered to dissemble that well against someone she regarded as an idiot, she would be even more careful against people she knew weren't fools. And that was why her impeccable behavior worried Pierre almost more than immediate efforts to build a personal power base would have. His conversation with Cordelia notwithstanding, he knew Esther McQueen could easily prove a two-edged sword, and he had no intention of losing his fingers to her blade.
But he'd also discovered how easily someone in his position could double- and triple-think himself into doing nothing, even in the face of current disaster, because of potential dangers which might never materialize, and so he smiled and nodded to her.
"We really should have explained what we had in mind weeks ago, Esther, and I apologize for being so slow about bringing you up to speed. Obviously everything we've had on our hands in dealing with the fallout from the coup attempt has disorganized all our schedules, but to be perfectly honest, there were some political considerations, as well. As I'm sure you can appreciate, not all the Committee's members are exactly enthralled by the idea of giving the military direct representation on it."
"I can accept that their lack of enthusiasm exists without believing that it's justified," McQueen replied levelly.
"No reasonable person would expect you to believe it was." Pierre's voice was just as level, and their eyes met with the air of fencers testing one another's guards. It wasn't precisely a clash of wills, but it came far closer to one than anyonebesides Cordeliahad dared to offer Pierre in over a T-year, and he felt a small stir of pleasure as their foils met. "The prejudice exists, however," he continued, "and I wanted to let things settle down a bit before bringing you fully on board."
"May I take it that things have, in fact, settled down?"
"You may," Pierre agreed. He saw no reason to add that, given her popularity with the Mob, her appointment to the Committee, window dressing though it had so far been, had played a major part in helping to settle things. Only a fool, which she manifestly was not, could have failed to realize that, but it wouldn't hurt if he could convince her that he thought she was foolish enough to believe that he thought she didn't know it. "In fact, if you hadn't asked for this meeting, I would have asked you to join Oscar and me tomorrow or the next day."
She tipped back in her own chair and quirked a wordless eyebrow, and he smiled. But then his smile faded, and his voice was much more serious as he leaned forward.
"The Levelers' coup attempt has exposed one new problem and reemphasized several we already knew about," he said. "The new one is the fact that the Levelers managed to infiltrate the Committee itself. On the purely military side, they couldn't have gotten their bombs in place or sabotaged our command net without inside help, and from a political viewpoint, they had to have been counting on putting at least some members of the present Committee on HD to legitimize their coup after the fighting. I'm sure they could have counted on getting a few obedient talking heads by putting pulsers to our temples, but crazy as the Leveler rank and file were, LaBoeuf and his inner cadre were smart and dangerous. My beliefand Oscar shares itis that they would never have moved without the assurance of long-term, willing support from at least a portion of the Committee. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to identify those supporters, which means that we have a serious internal security problem that we didn't know about before.
"Oscar's people" Pierre nodded to Saint-Just "are working on that. We don't have much to go on yet, but they'll keep digging until they find the moles. In the meantime, we're considering a drastic downsizing of the Committee. At the moment, we're looking at a reduction of perhaps fifty percent in its present membership. We can't make a move that drastic immediately, of course, and we can't be positive that all the unreliable elements would be pruned away in the purge even when we do. What we can plan for, though, is to retain the people we trust the most."
He paused for a moment, watching McQueen's face. Telling her what he just had was tantamount to promising her that she would remain a member of the new leaner, meaner Committee, but she gave no sign of realizing that. Except for slightly pursed lips and a small nod of understanding, her calm, attentive expression never wavered.
"That, as I say, will have to wait, at least for a while," Pierre resumed, "but we can begin dealing with the problems we already knew about now. Between us, the Manties, and the Legislaturalists, our military has been monumentally screwed over, Esther. The Manties, at least, ought to be trying to beat us, but weand I include the Committee of Public Safety and State Security in `we'have managed to do a pretty good job of gelding the Navy for them. Well, it's time we stopped blaming the Navy for failing and admit that it's got problems we created. Problems we want you to fix."
Despite her self-control, McQueen blinked in surprise. She hadn't expected this degree of frankness on the political front, much less such a candid admission of responsibility for the mess in which the Fleet found itself. The very brevity with which Pierre had made that admission only lent it greater weight, and she made herself think for several seconds before she replied.
"I can't disagree with what you've just said, Citizen Chairman," she said finally, speaking with deliberate formality. "I probably wouldn't have said it myselfnot in so many wordsat any rate, because it would be inappropriate for an officer on active duty to make such a . . . frank statement, but I'm extremely glad to hear you say it. If you and Committeeman Saint-Just really believe that, and if you're willing to support me, I think I can begin repairing the worst of the damage. I'll be honest, however. Without a reasonable degree of freedom of action, anything I can accomplish will be limited."
She paused, feeling a very faint prickle of sweat along her hairline as she committed herself openly. She'd just gone quite a bit further than Pierre had, and she knew it, but her expression showed no sign that she did.
"I see," Pierre murmured, and glanced at Saint-Just. Then he looked back at McQueen. "Before we get into spheres of authority and action, it might be a good idea to be certain we're agreed on just what needs fixing. Suppose you tell us what you think our worst military weaknesses are."
The ice was getting thin underfoot, but McQueen felt something very like the adrenaline rush of combat. It wasn't eagerness, exactly, but it was something very similar. And for all her ambition, she was an admiral. She'd spent decades learning her trade, and the Fleet was her life. Whatever else happened, she'd been given a chance to state the Navy's case to the one set of ears that really mattered, and she looked straight at the most powerful man in the People's Republic as she embraced the opportunity.
"Our biggest single problem," she said precisely, "is the fact that our officers have about as much initiative as a three-day corpse. I realize the military must be answerable to civilian authority. That was an article of faith even under the Legislaturalists, and it's even more true now than it was then. But there's a distinct difference between obedience to orders and being too terrified to take any action without orders, and quite frankly, StateSec has gone too far." Her green eyes swiveled to meet Saint-Just's levelly, without flinching.
"The pressures being brought to bear on all our personnel, but especially our officers, are too great. You can drive men and women into submission, but what a navy requires is leadership and intelligent initiative, not blind obedience. I'm not speaking about disobeying directives from higher authority; I'm talking about senior officers exercising their own discretion when situations arise which their orders don't cover. The recent coup attempt offers the clearest possible proof of the weakness lack of initiative creates. Let me remind you that even when the Levelers started detonating nuclear devices in the heart of Nouveau Paris, not a single senior officer of the Capital Fleet moved to assist me. They were afraid toafraid someone might think they were supporting the insurgents so that even if they survived the fighting, State Security would be waiting to shoot them when the smoke cleared."
She paused for breath, and Pierre felt a stir of anger. But then he made himself stop and think about why he felt it, and he grimaced wryly. It was her tone as much as what she'd said, he realized. She wasn't lashing out, for her voice was calm and level. She wasn't even lecturing. But neither was she being apologetic, and there was genuine passion in her eyes.
Well, you asked her to tell you what was wrong, didn't you? If you don't like what you're hearing, whose fault is that? Hers? Or the people who created the mess?
He didn't really care for the answers which suggested themselves to him, but he'd wanted her for this post because she might actually be able to do some good, and she could hardly do that without the insight to identify the problems in the first place. It was just that he wasn't used to having the military's case put to him quite that bluntly, and he hadn't made sufficient allowance for how hearing it would sting.
"Lack of initiative was certainly one of the problems I already recognized," he told her in a deliberately dispassionate voice. "From your tone, however, I assume you have others in mind, as well?"
"Citizen Chairman, I could go on for hours about all the problems we have," she said frankly. "Most of them, however, can be fixed by officers who believe they'll be backed up by their superiors and that honest mistakesnot treason, but honest mistakeswon't get them shot or their families imprisoned. Lack of initiative is only one symptom of the true problem, Sir. Our officers are too busy looking over their shoulders to concentrate on the enemy. They're not only afraid to act on their own, they're afraid not to follow orders which they know are no longer relevant by the time they receive them. And quite aside from any other concern, shooting officers who've done their best and failed also means they never get a chance to learn from their mistakes. The successful conduct of a war requires a professional military with confidence in itself and its support structure. At the moment, we're still trying to rebuild to the level of professional skill we had before the coup, and we don't have confidence in ourselves, the quality of our weapons, orI'm sorry, but I have to say itthe support of our civilian leadership."
She sat back, suddenly aware that she'd gone further and spoken far more candidly than she'd intended when she walked into this room. And, she thought wonderingly, she'd done it without giving a single thought to how it might affect her own position. The events of the last six years must have eaten into her even more deeply than she'd thought, for her words had come from the heart, and ambition or no, she'd meant every one of them.
But the silence from the other two people at the table brought her back to earth quickly, and her right hand fisted in her lap under the concealing tabletop as she cursed herself for losing control of her tongue. Had she come this far only to blow her chance at the last minute?
Pierre looked speculatively at Saint-Just, and the commander of State Security frowned. Then he gave a shrug so tiny that only someone who knew him well would have recognized it. He nodded slightly, and Pierre turned back to McQueen.
"Believe it or not, I agree with you," he said quietly, and smiled a faint smile as, despite all she could do, her shoulders sagged in relief. "At the same time, however, I have to warn you that not everyone on the Committeenot even on the downsized version we're planningwill share that agreement. And to be completely honest, I have some serious reservations about how far we can afford to go, in the short term, at least, towards dealing with the problems you've identified. Obviously, what you would prefer is a return to a more classically organized military chain of command, but there are still unreliable elements in the militaryif for no other reason, because our present policies have created them. I'm afraid we've painted ourselves into a corner that we can't get out of overnight."
He made the admission without even wincing, and McQueen felt her lips twitch in a brief, bitter smile at his choice of words. A "classically organized military chain of command" indeed. Well, that was one way of saying she wanted to throw the people's commissioners out the nearest airlock. Or perhaps she could cram them into her missile tubes and launch them at the enemy, where they might actually make some contribution to the war effort! She allowed herself to contemplate an entire broadside of Erasmus Fontein's for one shining moment, then gave herself a mental shake. She could daydream later; for now she had to concentrate on the matter in hand.
"I realize we can't change everything instantly," she said, "but neither can we afford to wait too long before we start making changes. The technology transfers we're getting from the Solarian League should help restore at least some confidence in our weapons, but technical superiority isn't the only reason the Manties are pushing us back. Their officers think for themselves. They adapt and modify their plans within the framework of the directives they've been given instead of following the letter of orders which may no longer make sense in the face of changing circumstances. And when one of their admirals gives an order, she gives it herself. She doesn't have to clear it with someone else, she knows it will be obeyed by the people she gives it to, and she knows that she won't be shot by her superiors just because she made a mistake."
She looked at the two men, wondering if she really wanted to finish her argument, and then gave a mental shrug. If candor was going to ruin everything, then it had already done so, in which case she might as well be hung for a sheep.
"That's what really gives the enemy their edge against us, gentlemen," she said flatly. "Manty officers face only one enemy."
Pierre rocked his chair back and forth for a few seconds, then cocked his head.
"I think we're in general agreement about the, um, nature of the problem," he said in a tone which suggested it might be just as well not to emphasize past errors much more strongly. "What I'd like to hear is how you would propose to change the current system to correct it."
"I'd like an opportunity to consider that at a little length, preferably with a small staff group with both a military and a political component, before I got into detailed proposals," McQueen said cautiously.
"Understood. But tell us how you'd begin."
"All right." She drew a deep breath, then plunged in. "The first thing I'd do would be to formally discontinue the policy of `collective responsibility.' Shooting people for their mistakes is one thing; in my opinion, shooting people just because they're related to someone who screwed up not only strangles initiative but is actively counterproductive in terms of loyalty to the state.
"Second, I would take a very close look at every officer above the rank of commodore or brigadier. I would evaluate them on the basis of four qualities: competence, aggressiveness, loyalty to the Committee, and leadership ability. Precisely how those qualities should be balanced is one of the things I'd like to go into with that staff I mentioned earlier, and the interrelationships between them would mean the evaluations would have to be done on something of an individual basis, but it would give us a handle for eliminating dead wood. And there is dead wood out there, gentlemen. Strapped as we are for officers, operating shorthanded is better than handicapping ourselves with incompetents.
"Third, I would remove the peoples commissioners from the chain of command." She saw Saint-Just stiffen but went on speaking before he could protest. "I'm not suggesting that we remove them from the ships" after all, you did say we have to start slowly, didn't you, Citizen Chairman? "nor am I suggesting that they should stop being the Committee's direct representatives. But however sound they may be ideologically, not all of them are competent to judge the military merits of battle plans and orders. And if we're going to be honest, some of them have personal axes to grind which have nothing to do with operational realities. All I'm suggesting is that they be restricted to passing on the Committee's directions and overseeing the general policy of the units to which they're attached without being required to sign off on actual ops plans and orders. If there's a difference of opinion between a commissioner and a flag officer, by all means let them report the matter to higher authority, but until a decision comes down from above, let the trained professional make the operational call. After all" she smiled thinly "if an admiral knows her commissioner is complaining to the Admiralty, State Security, and the Committee, she's going to think long and hard before she does anything too risky."
"I don't know . . ." Pierre rubbed his chin and looked back at Saint-Just. "Oscar?"
"I can't say I care for the idea," Saint-Just said frankly, "but we invited the Citizen AdmiralEstherto join the Committee because we felt we need a professional officer's advice. Under the circumstances, I'm not prepared to reject it out of hand without giving it some pretty careful thought."
"That sounds fair enough," Pierre agreed. "And her other recommendations?"
"Those make sense," Saint-Just said. "Mind you, I'm in two minds about how to proceed on the question of collective responsibility. I have to admit that we've reached a point of diminishing returns with it, but I'm also convinced it's still useful in some cases, and I'm worried about what Manty propaganda could do if we formally admit that we ever adopted the policy in the first place. Could we discontinue it without making a specific announcement to that effect? That would avoid the possible propaganda damage, and surely the fact that we've simply stopped doing it would percolate through the military fairly quickly."
"That's obviously a political decision," McQueen said, seeing an opportunity to give ground and sound reasonable. "From a purely military perspective, I think an announcement would be beneficial by providing a sense of closure, and a formal statement would end any lingering confusion as to our intentions much more quickly. On the other hand, there is indeed the potential for enemy propagandists to make capital out of it. Perhaps Committeewoman Ransom should be consulted."
"That won't be possible for at least a month or two," Pierre told her. "Cordelia is en route to Barnett."
"She is?" McQueen's mental antennae quivered at that. She'd met Thomas Theisman, and she respected his record, though she didn't know him well. He'd always struck her as a bit too politically puritanical, however. In her opinion, no officer could wield real power to affect the decisive decision points in a war unless she had the political clout to go with her rank. Under the Legislaturalists, that had meant family connections or debts that could be called in; under the new system, there were more . . . direct routes to it, but Theisman had never been interested in reaching for it under either set of rules. All the same, she hoped Ransom's visit to Barnett didn't mean Theisman was about to be "disappeared." The Navy needed any officer who could motivate his people the way he did, and they needed him where he was if they were going to hold Barnett long enough to make a difference.
"She is," Pierre confirmed, then smiled tightly. "And we might as well admit that having her away for a few weeks may not be an entirely bad thing. I'm sure you've observed that the Navy isn't exactly her favorite institution?"
"I'm afraid I have," McQueen admitted in a carefully neutral tone.
"Well, I expect her to pitch a fit when she hears what you have in mind," Pierre said almost philosophically, "and we're going to need Public Information's support, not just its acquiescence, if we're going to make this work. That means we'll have to bring her around somehow."
"May I assume from that that you intend to support the changes I've suggested?" McQueen asked even more carefully, and Pierre smiled once more.
"I'm not certain I agree with all of them," he said frankly. "I think that staff group you suggested is an excellent idea, and I'd like you and Oscar to each nominate half its membership. But even if it signs off on all of your suggestions, I'm not the one who's going to be supporting them. You are . . . Citizen Secretary of War."
"Sec?" McQueen managed to chop herself off before she repeated the title like an idiot, and Pierre nodded.
"Citizen Secretary Kline is one of the committee members whose loyalty Oscar and I have some doubts about," he admitted. "Under the circumstances, I think we can dispense with his services, and if you're going to take Cordelia on, you'll need the rank to do it." McQueen nodded, green eyes glowing despite her iron self-control, and he frowned slightly. "At the same time, Citizen Secretary, bear in mind that your appointment is provisional," he said in a much cooler tone, and she nodded once more.
Of course it was provisional. It had to be. They wouldn't dream of really trusting her until they decided that she was sufficiently tame, but that was all right. Even a provisional appointment would put her in a position from which she might actually be able to fix some of the things wrong with the Fleet, and if Rob Pierre wanted to play lion-tamer with her, that was fine with Esther McQueen.
Let him and Saint-Just decide I'm nice and tame, she thought, smiling brightly but soberly at the Chairman of the Committee of Public Safety. After all, how many lion-tamers come close enough to a wild lion for it to eat them?
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