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Chapter Two

"What the hell do they think they're doing?" Eloise Pritchart half snarled.

The President of the Republic of Haven picked up a chip folio and shook it violently in the direction of Admiral Thomas Theisman as he stepped into her private office. Her expression was so stormy that the Republic's Secretary of War raised an eyebrow in surprise. The platinum-haired, topaz-eyed President was perhaps the most beautiful woman he'd ever personally met. In fact, she was one of those rare human beings on whom even an expression of fury looked good. But others rarely saw her wearing one, because one of her greatest virtues was her ability to remain cool and collected even in the face of the most severe pressure. That virtue had been fundamental to her survival under Oscar Saint-Just's State Security and its reign of terror. It was not much in evidence at the moment, however.

"What's who up to?" he asked mildly, settling into one of the comfortable chairs angled to face her desk while simultaneously providing her visitors with a breathtaking panorama of downtown Nouveau Paris. The work crews were almost finished rebuilding the towers Saint-Just had destroyed when he detonated the nuclear bomb under the Octagon, and Theisman's eyes moved automatically to the gleaming edifice of the New Octagon which had replaced it.

"The damned Manties, that's who!" Pritchart shot back with an undisguised venom that snapped his full attention back to her, and tossed the folio onto the desk. When she put it down, Theisman saw the ID flashes which marked it as an official State Department briefing paper, and he grimaced.

"I take it they haven't responded appropriately to our latest proposals," he observed in that same mild tone.

"They haven't responded to them at all! It's as if we never even presented the position papers."

"It's not like they haven't been dragging their heels for years now, Eloise," Theisman pointed out. "And let's be honest—until recently, we were just as happy they were."

"I know. I know."

Pritchart leaned back in her own chair, drew a deep breath, and waved a hand in a small apologetic gesture. It wasn't an apology for her anger at the Manticorans, only for the way she'd allowed it to show. If anyone in the galaxy had earned the right not to have her snarling at him, it was Thomas Theisman. He and Denis LePic, the People's Commissioner the SS had assigned as his political watchdog, were the ones who'd managed to overthrow the ruthless dictatorship Saint-Just had established as the sole surviving member of the Committee of Public Safety. Saint-Just hadn't survived his removal from office, and Pritchart had no doubt that the rumors about how he'd come to be "killed in the fighting" were accurate. And if those rumors were true—if Theisman had shot him out of hand—then thank God for it. The last thing the People's Republic of Haven had needed was yet another agonizing show trial, followed by the inevitable, highly public purges of the deposed leader's supporters pour encourager les autres.

Of course, what the People's Republic of Haven had needed didn't really matter anymore, she reminded herself, because the People's Republic no longer existed. And that, too, had been the work of Admiral Thomas Theisman.

She tipped her chair a bit further back, considering the slightly stocky, brown-haired, utterly unremarkable-looking man on the other side of her desk's gleaming, hand-rubbed Sandoval mahogany. She wondered if the citizens of the Republic of Haven—no longer the People's Republic, but simply the Republic—even began to appreciate how much they truly owed him. Disposing of Saint-Just would have been more than enough to earn their eternal gratitude, but he hadn't stopped there. Nor, to the amazement of everyone who hadn't personally known him, had he made even the slightest effort to seize power for himself. The closest he'd come was to combine the resurrected office of Chief of Naval Operations and that of Secretary of War in his own person, insuring that he had firm control of both sides of the Republic's military machine. But once he'd combined them, he'd steadfastly refused to use them for any purely personal end . . . and descended like the wrath of God on any officer who even looked like abusing his own position. That was a restraint the Republic's experience under the previous two regimes had made it flatly impossible for its citizens to believe in.

Of course, Pritchart reminded herself wryly, very few of those citizens could even begin to imagine how desperate Theisman had been to avoid the job which she herself now held.

Much of that desperation had stemmed from his awareness that he lacked many of the qualities a successful politician required. He understood (intellectually) the need for compromise and the necessity of deal-making and horsetrading for advantage, but he would never be comfortable doing either of those things. That didn't keep him from analyzing the process, often with an acuity Pritchart found herself hard pressed to match. It was just that it was something he could understand without being very good at doing, and he was wise enough to recognize that.

He was also remarkably free of personal ambition for someone who'd risen to his rank in the People's Navy, even under the conditions of accelerated promotion which had obtained after the purges of the old officer corps. The gaping holes Rob Pierre's overthrow of the Legislaturalists had left in the ranks of the Navy's senior officers, coupled with the desperate needs of a losing war against the Manticoran Alliance, had required promotions that opened all sorts of opportunities for junior officers who'd been capable . . . or ambitious.

Surviving after being promoted had been a more difficult task. Between State Security's ruthless determination to shoot officers who failed the State as object lessons to their peers and Oscar Saint-Just's near pathological suspicion of any officer who appeared too competent, every flag officer in the People's Navy had known her own life, and all too often the lives of her entire family, had hung by a badly frayed thread. Eloise Pritchart understood how that had worked better than most, for she'd been one of Saint-Just's official spies. Like Denis LePic, she'd been assigned to report directly to Saint-Just's office on the political reliability of one of the People's Republic's senior flag officers. Unfortunately for Saint-Just, her reports had borne no particular relationship to reality.

She'd never really expected that she and Citizen Admiral Javier Giscard, the man she'd been assigned to spy upon and whom she'd found the audacity to fall in love with, instead, would survive. Nor would they have, if Theisman hadn't overthrown Saint-Just before the Secretary for State Security could have Giscard purged.

But they'd done far more than merely survive since then. Pritchart's pre-revolution stature as "Brigade Commander Delta," one of the leading Aprilists, was what had made her so valuable to Saint-Just as one of his people's commissioners. The Aprilists had been widely regarded as the most "respectable" of the various armed revolutionary groups which had opposed the Legislaturalists. They'd also been far and away the most effective, and her Aprilist credentials had lent her an aura of legitimacy which Saint-Just had been eager to co-opt for his new Office of State Security. And, she admitted, like her friend Kevin Usher, she'd permitted herself to be co-opted. Outwardly, at least. She'd had to, if she'd wanted to survive, because she'd known even then that sooner or later any of her old Aprilist comrades who persisted in clinging openly to their ideals would quietly disappear.

They had . . . and she hadn't. There were times she still felt guilty over that, but even on the worst nights, she knew any feeling of guilt was illogical. She'd done what she had not simply to survive, but to place herself in a position which might let her help others, like Giscard, survive as well. Standing up defiantly for her principles would have been noble and gallant . . . and unforgivably stupid. It had been her responsibility to stay alive to fight for those principles, however clandestinely, and that was precisely what she and Giscard had done.

In the end, they would have been found out and executed, anyway, if Theisman hadn't gotten to Saint-Just first. And just as Saint-Just had found her reputation as an Aprilist useful for State Security, Theisman had found it equally useful for his own purposes. He'd needed someone—anyone—to whom he could hand the position of head of state. Pritchart doubted that more than half a dozen people in the entire People's Republic had been prepared to believe he truly didn't want that position for himself. In fact, she hadn't believed it herself, at first. But, then, she hadn't really known him before he'd recalled her and Giscard to the Haven System, along with the rest of Twelfth Fleet, to reinforce his own Capital Fleet.

Only the fact that Theisman had always had a reputation within the Navy as a man with no political ambitions had permitted Giscard and Citizen Admiral Lester Tourville—both of whom, unlike her, had known him for years—to convince her to return to Haven. All three of them had been intensely wary anyway, despite the naval officers' acquaintance with him, but Pritchart had been stunned literally speechless when he informed her that he wanted her to organize the interim civilian government.

It hadn't been all pure disinterest on his part, of course. She'd recognized immediately how useful she could be to him as a figurehead. After all, she'd had more than sufficient experience in a similar capacity with Saint-Just. And she'd been sufficiently realistic to admit that he had an overwhelming responsibility to reach for anything he might be able to use to prevent the complete fragmentation of the People's Republic. If she was a potentially unifying force, then she had no more choice about accepting the job, figurehead or not, than he had about offering it to her. Or to someone like her, at least.

Ultimately, she felt certain, it had been her relationship with Giscard, with its resonances to his own relationship with LePic, which had made her acceptable to him. He'd known and trusted Giscard; by extension, he'd felt able to trust her because he knew Giscard did. But the thing which had truly astounded her was that when he offered her both the political and the military powers of the head of state, he'd meant it.

There hadn't been any strings, no reservations, no secretly retained authority. The one thing Thomas Theisman would never be was a puppet master. There'd been one, and only one, condition, and that had been that Eloise Pritchart prove to him that she was as committed as he was to the restoration of the old Constitution. Not the Constitution of the People's Republic of Haven, which had created the office of Hereditary President and legally enshrined the dynastic power of the Legislaturalists, but the Constitution of the old Republic. The Republic whose citizens had been expected to be more than mere drones and to vote. The one whose presidents and legislators had served at the will of an electorate which held them responsible for their actions.

Pritchart had felt almost awed when she realized she was in the presence of a true romantic. A man who actually believed in the rule of law, the sanctity of solemn oaths, and the inviolability of personal responsibility.

She wondered if he'd always been so divorced from reality, or if he'd become that way as his own defense mechanism as he watched the star nation of his birth go insane about him. It didn't really matter. What mattered was that he was truly and absolutely committed to the very principles for which the Aprilist Movement had come into existence . . . and that she was almost as hopelessly romantic, in that respect, at least, as he was.

And so, just over eighteen T-months from Oscar Saint-Just's death, Eloise Pritchart, after organizing the transition government and bringing the old Constitution back from the ash heap of history, had become the first elected president of the Republic of Haven in almost two centuries, with Thomas Theisman as her Secretary of War.

There were times when she was highly tempted to shoot him for that.

"You know, Tom," she said, only half-whimsically, "you're a coward."

"Absolutely," he agreed instantly. "It's a survival trait."

"Is that what you call it?" She cocked her head at him. "I'd assumed it was more a combination of laziness and a desire to put someone else in the line of fire."

"A burning desire to put someone else there, actually," he corrected affably. Then his smile faded just a bit, and he shrugged.

"There's not quite as much humor in that as I wish there were," he said in a quieter voice. "I think I know my strengths, Eloise. And I hope to hell I know my limitations. There's no way I could've done the job you've done. I know you couldn't have done it, either, if I hadn't been here to do my job, but that doesn't change a thing about what you've accomplished."

She waved her hand in midair again, uncomfortable with the sincerity of his tone.

"At any rate," she went on again, after a moment, both her expression and her voice determinedly light, "you managed to arrange things very neatly so that you don't have to deal with the damned Manties. Or, for that matter, the rest of the Cabinet when they hear about the Manties' latest antics."

"And just what do those antics consist of this time?" Theisman asked, accepting her change of mood. "Besides, of course, their failure to accept our most recent proposal?"

"Nothing," she admitted. "But they don't have to do anything else to create enormous problems for us, Tom, and you know it."

"Yes, I suppose I do." He shrugged. "But like I said earlier, the fact that they can't find their ass with both hands has been useful as hell from my perspective. At least I didn't have to worry about them while Javier, Lester, and I ran around pissing on forest fires!"

"There is that," Pritchart agreed with a sober nod.

Not everyone had been prepared to accept Theisman's overthrow of the Committee of Public Safety gracefully. In fact, initially, he'd controlled only the capital system and its fleet. Capital Fleet was the Navy's largest, of course, and two-thirds of the other core systems of the People's Republic had declared for him—or, rather, for Pritchart's interim government—within the first three T-months. The majority of the rest of the People's Navy had also supported him, as well. But a large minority of the Navy had been under the control of other citizen admirals or, even worse, StateSec system commanders, who'd refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the new government.

It was, as Theisman had just suggested, extremely fortunate that the Manticorans had chosen to continue the negotiations Saint-Just had finessed them into beginning. If they'd decided to resume active military operations, instead, especially with the enormous technological superiority of their new hardware, the entire Republic would have disintegrated—within weeks, probably, but certainly within mere months. As it was, Theisman, with Giscard and Tourville as his primary field commanders, had found himself fighting a vicious, multi-cornered war against a shifting kaleidoscope of enemies. Pritchart had had more than one reason for being unhappy about that. As President, she'd hated the way it had distracted her from concentrating fully on the stalled negotiations with the Star Kingdom. On a more personal level, Giscard's responsibilities as Theisman's senior fleet commander had kept him away from Nouveau Paris—and one Eloise Pritchart's bed—for all but a few weeks out of the last three-plus years. Which, she admitted, she resented even more than the official headaches it created.

Fortunately, she'd never really been concerned (unlike some people) that Theisman might not succeed in his pacification efforts in the end . . . as long as the Manties stayed out of it. The fact that most of his adversaries distrusted one another even more than they distrusted him had given him a powerful advantage, but not even their merry-go-round of mutual betrayal would have been enough to permit the interim government to survive in the face of an active Manticoran resumption of the offensive.

"I know how important it was for you and Javier and Lester to keep the Manties talking while you tended to the shooting," Pritchart went on after a moment. "But the shooting is just about over now, isn't it?"

"Yes, thank God. I expect Javier's next report within another couple of days, and I'll be very surprised if it doesn't tell us that Mikasinovich is ready to call it quits."

"Really?" Pritchart brightened visibly. Citizen General Silas Mikasinovich was the last major StateSec holdout. He'd managed to hammer himself together a six-star vest-pocket empire which had proved a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Really," Theisman confirmed, then raised one hand in a brief throwing-away gesture. "I'm afraid you're going to have to amnesty him like the others, and I wish you weren't. But unless I'm badly mistaken, he's enough of a realist to recognize that his only real chance now is to cut the best deal with you that he can."

"I'll give him a lot better deal than he deserves," Pritchart said grimly. "But the bottom line is going to be that he surrenders every one of his capital ships, then gets the hell out of the Republic and stays out."

"I can live with that," Theisman agreed. Especially, he thought, the surrender of his ships. So far, as nearly as Theisman and his staff could tell, not a single Havenite ship above the size of a battlecruiser had managed to simply disappear. He knew damned well that at least some lighter units had elected to set up independent operations as pirates or small-scale warlords safely beyond his own reach, but at least he'd managed to prevent any ships of the wall from doing the same thing, and he intended to keep it that way.

"And now that Lester's moved in and kicked down Carson's little kingdom," he went on aloud, "all we have left are four or five isolated holdouts like Agnelli and Listerman. Give me another four months—six at the outside—and I'll have all of them out of your hair, as well, Madam President."

"And I will be delighted to see it happen," Pritchart said with a smile, then sobered. "But in some ways, getting Mikasinovich and the others out of the equation is going to make things even worse," she continued. "At least as long as they're still there and their units are still shooting back at yours, I can use him to keep the fire-eaters at bay."

"Giancola and his crowd?" Theisman asked, then snorted harshly at the President's confirming nod. "The man's an idiot!"

"Idiot or not—and much as I dislike him, I don't think he is one, actually—Arnold Giancola is also the Secretary of State," Pritchart pointed out. "I'll admit that the only reason I nominated him for the position was political expediency, despite a less than overwhelming admiration for his stellar intellect, but he does have the job. And the reasons I gave it to him are still in force."

"Which I hope you won't mind my admitting doesn't make me a lot happier," Theisman replied.

"I should think not. It damned well better not, anyway!" Pritchart glowered at the framed copy of the Constitution hanging on the wall opposite her desk.

Arnold Giancola's signature was on it, one of the block of convention delegates who'd solemnly pledged to recreate the ancient glories of the Republic of Haven. Eloise Pritchart's signature was on it, as well, although Thomas Theisman's wasn't . . . which she considered one of the worst miscarriages of historical justice on record.

But the fact that they'd both been at the Constitutional Convention was one of the very few things she and Giancola had in common. Which, unfortunately, hadn't been quite enough, in light of the Republic's current political realities, to keep him out of her cabinet.

Arnold Giancola had been a low mid-level Treasury bureaucrat under Hereditary President Harris. Like hundreds of thousands of other bureaucrats, he'd continued in his precoup position—in his case, administering disbursement of the Basic Living Stipend right here in Nouveau Paris—under the Committee. None of them had been given much choice about that, aside from the very senior Legislaturalist administrators, who'd all been purged by the new management, because someone had to continue to run the day-to-day machinery of the state, and Rob Pierre and Oscar Saint-Just had innumerable ways to make sure they did. But to be completely fair (which Pritchart found difficult in her Secretary of State's case), Giancola had done his job better than most, and with what certainly appeared to have been a genuine concern for the Dolists under his jurisdiction.

His competence had drawn favorable attention from his new superiors, and after four or five T-years, he'd been transferred to the Department of State, which was always in search of capable administrators. He'd done equally well there, rising steadily in seniority, only to be shifted back to Treasury when Rob Pierre nominated Avram Turner to drive through his enormous economic reform package. Giancola's new position had brought him back to his old Nouveau Paris neighborhood, where he'd prospered despite the pain and economic dislocation involved in the Turner Reforms. He was, after all, an effective administrator who possessed an undeniable talent for attracting the loyalty of his subordinates, and he'd done his level best to minimize the reforms' traumas for the citizens for whom he was responsible. As a result, he'd emerged from the Committee's downfall with a base of genuine popular support—quite a large one, actually—on the Republic's capital (and most populous) planet.

He'd capitalized on that support shrewdly. His brother Jason was a senator; his cousin Gerard Younger was a representative; and Arnold himself had played a prominent role in reorganizing the capital following Theisman's overthrow of Saint-Just. He'd obviously had ambitions of his own at the time, but he'd been smart enough, whatever his other failings, to realize Theisman would have squashed him like a bug if he'd acted on them. So instead, he'd settled for building a powerful political machine in Nouveau Paris—still the most important single city in the Republic, although the Mob's heady days of power were a thing of the past. That had not only assured him his slot at the Convention but also allowed him to directly influence the election of a surprising number of representatives and no less than eight senators (including himself), which was not an inconsequential Congressional power base.

It had also made him Pritchart's most significant opposition when she ran for the presidency in the first election under the restored Constitution. Had it come down to a straight contest between the two of them, his candidacy would have been not only significant but a serious challenge, and she knew it. Fortunately, she'd enjoyed two enormous advantages he simply could not overcome: her status as the provisional head of government who'd actually kept her promise and held general elections when she'd said she would, and the endorsement of Thomas Theisman. There had been seven candidates on the ballot, and Pritchart had taken seventy-three percent of the popular vote. Arnold Giancola had taken nineteen percent, and the other five candidates between them had split the remaining eight percent.

The election hadn't even been close, but Giancola had clearly emerged as the second most consequential figure of the restored Republic's youthful political establishment. That was precisely why Pritchart had chosen him for what was technically the number one position in her cabinet. In actual fact, Theisman's combination of the offices of Secretary of War and Chief of Naval Operations made him the de facto second-ranking member of the administration, but Giancola was definitely the third. And under the Constitution, it was he who would lead the three-month caretaker administration and supervise the special election to replace Pritchart if something happened to her.

To say she wasn't entirely happy to have him in that position would have been a gross understatement, yet she'd seen no viable alternative. His allies in Congress would have demanded some significant appointment for him even without his showing in the presidential elections, and she'd hoped to bind him to the new administration by giving him a voice in it. Ambitious though he was, he also saw himself as a statesman, and Pritchart was well aware that he truly believed in his own vision for the Republic's future. That genuine patriotism had made no small contribution to his ability to build his political alliances . . . and helped to encourage his personal ambition with a sense of mission. That was precisely what had made him so dangerous, and she'd hoped she could convince his patriotic side to rein in his ambitious side by supporting her in the interests of solidarity during the critical, early years of the restored Republic.

The Constitution had also just coincidentally required him to resign from the Senate to accept a cabinet-level post, and she'd calculated that he would be less dangerous in the cabinet where she could keep an eye on him and demand his loyalty than he would directly controlling a senate seat. But he'd foiled that part of her plans by securing his brother's election in his place in the special election his resignation had set up. Nor had her plans to co-opt him to support her policies proved an unadulterated success. As far as she could tell, he'd simply recognized that he had to work through a different set of rules and priorities in pursuit of his original ambition and policies, and he was building a steadily growing faction in Congress. The fact that he was also busy building support within the Cabinet for at least some of his policies had the potential to turn into a major nightmare, yet she couldn't demand his resignation. It was probably clear to everyone that he was maneuvering to put himself into position to challenge any reelection bid of her own when her term ended in another four T-years, but his alliances in Congress would provoke a bigger fight than ridding herself of him would be worth.

Or more than she thought it would be worth, anyway, she amended.

"That 'idiot' has plans of his own, Tom, and you know it," she said aloud. "I still cherish hopes he'll overstep and give me an excuse to bring the hammer down on him, but he's getting himself well enough entrenched to make it hard. And events are going to play right into his hands if the Manties persist in blowing off the negotiations."

"Why?" Theisman's eyes narrowed. "Giancola's been getting more and more pissed with the Manties for months. What makes that so much more important now?"

"The fact," Pritchart sighed, "that, as I should hardly have to remind you, of all people, Senator Jason Giancola became a member of the Naval Affairs Committee last week."

"Oh, crap."

"Precisely," the President of the Republic of Haven agreed. "It's obvious that the good senator could hardly wait to spill the beans about Bolthole to his brother."

"After swearing to maintain complete confidentiality!" Theisman snapped.

"Of course he did," Pritchart agreed with a sour chuckle. "Come on, Tom! Half our new legislators are still afraid to sneeze for fear we'll turn out to be another Committee of Public Safety after all, and the other half is trying to pursue 'business as usual' Legislaturalist-style. It's just our bad luck that the Giancolas belong to the second group instead of the first. Kevin warned you there was no way Jason was going to keep his mouth shut if he learned anything Arnold could use, and you know it."

"Yes, I do," Theisman admitted unhappily, and ran his hands through his hair, glaring at nothing in particular for several seconds. Then he sighed and looked back at the President.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

"Not good, I'm afraid. Arnold's been a little more circumspect about dropping hints on me than I would have expected from him, but he's made it pretty clear he knows about the 'black' aspects of the budget, about the existence of the shipyards, and that you sent Shannon Foraker out to take charge of them. Whether or not he knows what's actually going on out there is a bit more problematical, but judging from his attitude, I wouldn't bet against it."

"Crap," Theisman repeated, even more sincerely, and it was his turn to lean back in his chair with a sigh.

There were very few things Rob Pierre and Oscar Saint-Just had done with which Thomas Theisman found himself in complete agreement. Operation Bolthole was one of them, although Theisman was scarcely happy about the circumstances which had made Bolthole necessary.

The thing that most amazed him about Bolthole was that Pierre and Saint-Just had managed to pull it off in near total secrecy. Theisman himself hadn't heard so much as a whisper about it until he'd taken over as commander of Capital Fleet, and virtually no officer outside the project itself below the rank of vice admiral—and damned few senior to that—knew about it even now. Which was a state of affairs Theisman intended to preserve as long as possible.

"Tom," Pritchart said, as if she'd been reading his mind—a possibility he wasn't prepared to discount, after watching her in action for over three years—"we're going to have to take the wraps off of Bolthole sooner or later, anyway, you know."

"Not yet," he replied with spinal-reflex promptness.

"Tom—"

"Not yet," he repeated even more firmly, then made himself pause for a moment.

"You're right," he acknowledged then. "Sooner or later, we'll have to admit Bolthole exists. In fact, I doubt we'll be able to hide the funding for it for more than another year or two, max. But I'm not 'taking the wraps off' until we've produced enough of the new ships and hardware to deter the Manties from a preemptive strike."

"Preemptive strike?" Pritchart arched both eyebrows at him. "Tom, we can't even get them to respond to an offer of a formal peace treaty after better than three full T-years of trying! What in the world makes you think they care enough about what's going on inside the Republic to worry about preemptive strikes?"

"We've been over this before, Eloise." Theisman said, then reminded himself that despite her long Navy association as Giscard's people's commissioner and even her own career as a guerilla commander, the President was essentially a civilian by inclination and orientation alike.

"Right this minute," he went on after a second or so, "the Manties are completely confident that no one poses a significant threat to their naval superiority. Their new missile pods, their new superdreadnoughts, and—especially—their new LACs give them a degree of tactical superiority which would make it suicide for any conventional navy to engage them. Janacek may be an idiot, and he may have brought in other idiots to help him run the Manty Admiralty, but it's obvious that they recognize their technical advantages. That's the only possible explanation for their build-down in conventional hulls. They're actually reducing their fleet to very nearly its prewar size, Eloise. They'd never do that if they weren't so confident of their tech edge that they figured they could hack extremely heavy numerical odds if they had to.

"But look at what that means. Their entire current strategic stance is built on that edge in technology, and their First Lord of Admiralty is stupid. He's going to be upset enough if he suddenly discovers Pierre and Saint-Just managed to build a shipyard complex even bigger than the one here in the Haven System without anyone in the Star Kingdom so much as suspecting it. But if he figures out what we've had Foraker and her people doing out there for the last couple of T-years, he's not going to be upset—he's going to panic."

"Panic?" Pritchart shook her head. "Tom, this is your area of expertise, not mine. But isn't 'panic' just a little strong? Let's be honest. You and I both know the Manties kicked our butt up one side and down the other. If Saint-Just hadn't managed to snooker them into 'truce talks,' White Haven would have smashed straight through Twelfth Fleet, punched out Capital Fleet, and dictated terms right here on Haven. I was there with Javier and Lester. I know there was nothing we could have done to stop him."

"Of course there wasn't . . . then," Theisman agreed. "But that's my very point. We know that, and they know that. Worse, they're depending on it. Which means they have to be certain they maintain that technological edge, especially in light of the reduction in their total tonnage. So if they realize Foraker is busy building us an entire new navy specifically designed to offset their advantages, they're also going to realize they've created a situation which effectively allows us to begin even with them in the new types. Since their entire defensive stance requires them to retain their advantage in those types, one solution would be for them to hit us before we have enough of the new designs available to defend ourselves."

"But that would violate the terms of our truce," Pritchart pointed out.

"Which is just that—a truce," Theisman emphasized. "The war isn't over. Not officially, anyway, which is exactly what Giancola keeps pointing out. Hell, the Manties keep pointing it out! I'm sure you saw the same analysis I did on their Prime Minister's most recent speech. They're still 'viewing with alarm' where we're concerned, if only to justify the tax structure they're retaining. So there's no formal treaty to dissuade them from resuming the war any time they choose. And if we openly acknowledge that we're building an entire new fleet capable of standing up to them in combat, the temptation to nip the threat in the bud would have to be intense. Worst of all, Edward Janacek is stupid and arrogant enough to recommend to High Ridge that they do just that."

"I can't help feeling that you're being alarmist," Pritchart told him frankly. "But you're Secretary of War, and I'm not prepared to overrule you on a judgment call like this one. It certainly won't do any harm to exercise a little caution which may turn out to be excessive, and the Manties aren't likely to panic over something they don't know anything about.

"In the meantime, however, your desire to keep the Star Kingdom in the dark may create some domestic problems. To be honest, I'm not entirely comfortable maintaining such a high level of security where Bolthole is concerned, either. Leaving aside the fact that I'm not at all sure burying 'black' funding in the budget is constitutional, whatever the Attorney General may think, it's a little too much like the levels of secrecy Pierre and Saint-Just routinely maintained."

"In some ways, I suppose," Theisman acknowledged. "But I've kept the Naval Affairs Committee informed. That keeps Congress officially in the loop the way the Constitution requires."

"Be honest, Tom," Pritchart chided. "You haven't told them everything about your new toys, now have you?"

"Maybe not everything," he admitted. "But I've kept them fully informed on the purpose of Bolthole, and they know at least a part of what Foraker is doing. If they didn't, the Senator couldn't have 'spilled the beans' to his brother."

"Agreed. And that's precisely the domestic problem that most concerns me. Most of our senators and the members of the Cabinet are still a bit more diffident than I'd really like them to be in a lot of ways. For one thing, if more of them would grow spines and build up other power bases I could use to balance Giancola, it would help a lot when it comes to reining him in. They won't do it any time soon, though, and in the meantime there's still entirely too much of the reflex acceptance of restrictions on information simply because the government says it's 'necessary.' That's the only way we got the budget to keep Bolthole running through without debate in the first place. But if Giancola keeps on pushing more and more strongly for us to take a harder line in the negotiations with the Manties, then sooner or later he's going to start bolstering his arguments by dropping some of the details his brother has obviously fed him. Which is going to bring the Department of State into direct conflict with the Department of War."

"We'll just have to deal with that as it arises," Theisman said. "I realize it can create an awkward situation, and I'll try not to let my paranoia pressure me into maintaining secrecy longer than is actually warranted. But I truly don't think I can overemphasize the importance of building up to a level capable of deterring any Manty temptation towards preemptive action before we go public about the new ships."

"As I said, I'm not prepared—or even tempted—to overrule you in this particular area. I just wish the Manties would stop providing Arnold with fresh grist for his mill. And truth to tell, I think they're up to something, myself. There has to be a reason they keep refusing even to seriously discuss the return of the occupied star systems, and if they're not planning to hang onto them permanently, then what the hell are they doing?"


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Framed