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Chapter Two

It was very late, and Leonard Boardman really should have been on his way home for a well-earned drink before supper. Instead, he leaned back in his comfortable chair and felt a fresh glow of pride as he watched the HD in his office replay Honor Harrington's execution yet again. It was, he admitted with becoming modesty, a true work of artand well it should be, after over two weeks of fine-tuning by Public Information's best programmers. Boardman wouldn't have had a clue where to start on the technical aspects of building something like that, yet it had been his script and direction which the special effects experts had followed, and he was well-satisfied with his handiwork.

He watched it all the way through again, then switched off the HD with a small smile. Those few minutes of imagery not only filled him with a craftsman's satisfaction; they also represented a major victory over First Deputy Director of Public Information Eleanor Younger. Younger had wanted to seize the opportunity to attack Manty morale by having their computer-generated Harrington blubber, beg for mercy, and fight her executioners madly as she was dragged to the scaffold, but Boardman had held out against her arguments. They had plenty of file imagery of other executions to use as a basis, and they'd had stacks of HD chips of Harrington from the imagery Cordelia Ransom had shipped home to Haven before her unfortunate departurein every sense of the wordfor the Cerberus System. The techs had been confident that they could generate a virtual Harrington which would do anything Younger wanted and defy detection as a fakeafter all, they'd produced enough "corrected" imagery over the last T-centuryyet Boardman had been less certain. The Solarian news services had proven themselves too credulous to run checks on those corrections, but the Manties' were much more skeptical. And their computer capability was better across the board than the People's Republic's, so if they saw any reason to subject the imagery to intensive analysis, they were all too likely to realize it was a fraud. But by letting her die with dignitywith just enough physical evidence of terror to undermine her reputation as some sort of fearless superheroBoardman had executed a much subtler attack on Manty morale... and given it that ring of reality which should preclude any analysis. After all, if someone was going to go to all the trouble of producing false imagery, then surely they would have taken the opportunity to make their victim look smaller and more contemptible, wouldn't they? But they hadn't. This imagery felt right, without heaping gratuitous belittlement on Harrington's memory, which meant it offered nothing to make anyone on the other side question or doubt it for a moment.

That was important to Boardman as a matter of pride in workmanship, but even more significantly, his victory over Younger had to have strengthened his chances of outmaneuvering her to succeed Cordelia Ransom as Secretary of Public Information. He didn't fool himself into believing Ransom's successor would also inherit the power she had wielded within the Committee of Public Safety, but just the ministry itself would enormously enhance Boardman's personal power... and, with it, his chance of surviving and even prospering in the snake pit atmosphere of the city of Nouveau Paris.

Of course, the additional responsibilities which that power and authority would entail would pose fresh perils of their own, but every member of the bureaucracy's upper echelons faced that sort of hazard every day. The Committee of Public Safety and, especially, the Office of State Security, had a nasty habit of removing those who disappointed them... permanently. It wasn't as bad as it was in the military (or had been, before Esther McQueen took over as Secretary of War), but everyone knew someone who had vanished into StateSec's clutches for lack of performance in the People's cause.

But blame flowed downhill, Boardman reminded himself. And it would be much easier for Citizen Secretary Boardman to divert blame to an underlingto, say First Deputy Assistant Youngerthan it had been for Second Deputy Assistant Boardman to avoid the blame someone else wanted to divert to him.

He chuckled at the thought and decided he had time to watch the execution just one more time before he left for the night.

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