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For All Nails #38: Scion

Paris, France
22 July 1970

It just went to show you, you should never underestimate the creativity of
the human mind.  General Eric von Gellmann, the German Empire's Ambassador to
France (and hence that country's unofficial ruler), was pouring over lists of
known troublemakers who had been arrested in the course of the recent police
lassoes.  In the back of his mind, though, was the problem he had been
mulling over since his return from Berlin the evening before.

Gellmann had recently acquired incontrovertible evidence that France's
nominal ruler, Premier Maurice Lebrun, was directly responsible for an armed
assault on the German Embassy compound by a street mob.  In his two years on
the job Gellmann had learned to tolerate a certain amount of anti-German
posturing by members of the French government, but this went far, far over
the line.  Lebrun had to go.

The trouble was, who could he get to replace Lebrun?  Delacroix of the
Nationalists and Prudhomme of the Socialists were too openly hostile to the
Empire's de facto hegemony.  Putting them in charge would be no better than
leaving Lebrun in place.  Gilbert of the Republicans and Chaplette of the
Democrats were too openly subservient.  They would never be able to command
sufficient support in the National Assembly.  Who, then?

Gellmann happened to glance at an oddly familiar name on one of the prisoner
lists, and something in his mind went click.  He picked up his telephone and
said, "Müller?  This is Gellmann.  I'd like to have one of the detainees
brought to my office."

Within half an hour, the always-efficient Müller escorted in the selected
detainee.

Yvette Fanchon was in her mid thirties, with dark hair and brown eyes.  One
look at her was enough to tell you that she came by her famous name honestly;
she had her great-grandfather's wide-set eyes, firm chin and high forehead.
It was this resemblance, as much as her drive and determination, that had
brought her in just a few years to the head of the Fanchonists, and had made
them the fastest-growing party in France.

Thirty-six hours in a holding cell had done nothing to subdue her temper.
Her dark eyes smoldered as she spat, "What is it you want of me, Herr
General?"  Her softly accented German did nothing to take the bite out of the
words.

Gellmann smiled.  It was, he knew from experience, quite a charming smile,
and all the more effective for being so rarely employed.  "I have brought you
here, Fraulein Fanchon, in order to apologize to you for the unseemly way in
which you were detained, and to assure you that those responsible will be
punished."  This last was actually true.  Müller had discovered that
Madamoiselle Fanchon was on the list due to a financial transaction between a
minor German embassy official and one of Monseiur Gilbert's lieutenants.

Fanchon simply glared at Gellmann.  "Then I am free to go?"

"You are, Fraulein, but I would esteem it a favor if you would remain for a
short time.  I wish to speak with you concerning your country's political
situation."  Gellmann saw out of the corner of his eye that Müller was
raising one eyebrow.  It wasn't often that Gellmann was able to surprise his
First Secretary, and he found himself enjoying the sensation.

Had he given any other reason, he knew that Fanchon would very likely have
refused and stormed out of his office.  However, she was already politician
enough to find the phrase "political situation" irresistible.  Warily she
said, "What is it you wish to say?"

Gellmann motioned towards the upholstered chair to the right of his desk.
"Would you care to have a seat, Fraulein?"

"I prefer to stand."

Outwardly, Gellmann maintained his smile, but inside he was chuckling to
himself.  It was decades since he had last practiced the gentlemanly art of
seducing a woman, but the reflexes were still there.  "Very well, Fraulein.
The reason you were detained, as you are doubtless aware, is the recent
attack upon our embassy by a rioting mob."

"Which you repulsed with typical German brutality," Fanchon snapped.

Gellmann diplomatically (ach, that word again!) let Fanchon's remark pass.
"What you may not know, Fraulein, is that the attack was directed by Premier
Lebrun.  We have proof."

"Excellent!  I wouldn't have thought Shorty to have so much spine beneath
those ruffled shirts of his."

Now Gellmann allowed his smile to evaporate.  "I would not have expected to
hear the great-granddaughter of Marshal Fanchon speak with such approval of a
lawless mob.  The Marshal always stood for law and order."

"My great-grandfather always stood for France!  For glory and duty!"

"And is it the way of glory and duty for a man to plunge the nation into
anarchy?  To send an armed rabble roaming the streets, destroying all in its
path?  The Marshal knew too well the fruits of disorder, and devoted his
career to bringing peace and order to his country."

Fanchon remained impassive.  "What is the point of all this?"

"The point, Fraulein Fanchon, is that Lebrun is no longer acceptable to us as
Premier.  He must step down, and I wish you to take his place."

That threw her for a loop.  She made vague gestures with her hands for a few
seconds before finally saying, "You expect me to become a collaborator?  A
boulanger?"

"I expect you to do your duty, Fraulein Fanchon, as your great-grandfather
did before you," Gellmann said sternly.

"And is it my duty to be a German puppet?  No!  My duty is to make France
free!"

Gellmann sat up straight, hands flat on his desk, in a posture that
unmistakably said, Now I lay my cards on the table.  "I will be blunt with
you, Fraulein Fanchon.  The German Empire is stretched thin.  Herr Bruning's
reach exceeded his grasp, and we are still suffering the consequences.  We no
more wish to be mired in France than you wish us to be here.  If we could
depart, we would.  But how can we?  Ever since the Revolution, France has
been a place of constant disorder and chaos.  The only exception has been the
time of your great-grandfather's rule.  You know as well as I do, Fraulein,
that the one thing my people fears above all is disorder.  As long as France
is in chaos, we dare not leave."

Now he leaned forward, earnest, unguarded, vulnerable (and it was no mean
trick to appear vulnerable while wearing an Imperial German General's
uniform).  "But if France had a ruler who could guarantee order and
stability, then we could depart with a free conscience, and leave the French
to govern themselves."

Fanchon was skeptical.  "What, leave us free to do as we wish?  Truly
independent?"

Sitting up, cards on the table time again.  "Fraulein, I will not lie to you.
A France that was allied to Great Britain would be a dagger pointed at the
heart of Germany.  But a France that was neutral, truly neutral as
Scandinavia is, that we could live with."

Hands joined together on desktop, summing up.  "That is what I offer you,
Fraulein Fanchon.  A France that is stable, united, neutral, and free.  The
freedom we can grant you, but the stability, the union and the neutrality are
up to you.  That is the challenge that lies before us.  Will you accept?"

Madamoiselle Fanchon stood before Gellmann's desk, her eyes unfocused as she
searched her mind.  At last she looked down upon him and said, "I will
consider your offer, Herr General.  You may expect my decision by Friday."

Gellmann nodded.  "Very well, Fraulein.  Herr Müller, please have Fraulein
Fanchon escorted to the front gate.  If you like, Fraulein, a motorcar can be
placed at your disposal."

"Thank you, Herr General, but no," said Fanchon.  "I will be able to make my
own way."

After one of the embassy staff had led Fanchon away, Müller peered at
Gellmann.  "You're not /really/ going to let the French escape our grasp, are
you sir?"

"Ah, you'll note that my offer of independence was conditional upon Fraulein
Fanchon's success is bringing order to her country.  Let her do so, Herr
Müller, and then she may come to me and ask us to depart."

"And if she does, sir?  Then what?"

"Then we shall see, Herr Müller," said Gellmann with a strange smile.  "Then
we shall see."