Word Count: 1300. -_- I fail, I'm sorry.
Note: Set some unspecified time after episode 72.
The man paled. His hands tightened almost imperceptibly around the cap he held in front of him. "Your Excellency, I apologize, there's been a misunderstanding, I merely meant that any elections on Novi would naturally-"
"I like the sound of that," his Excellency cut in.
The man gave Reinhardt a startled look. In that instant he seemed torn between disbelief, hope, and terror, but in the end wariness won out and he returned his gaze to the paperweights decorating Reinhardt's massive wooden desk. He looked so unsure of himself that Hilde couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Reinhardt often had that effect on people. He'd even had that effect on her once, though she'd hidden it better.
Reinhardt gave a small, cool smile as if oblivious to the man's plight -- which, in all likelihood, he was. He tapped an elegant fingernail against burnished mahagony. "The Empire is stagnating," he explained. "The families in power have been there too long, are too complacent, their methods too heavy-handed. We need a system that will give those with ability the opportunity to rise to the top. This is why you were invited here."
The man nodded. Reinhardt continued to tap. Belatedly realizing that he was expected to make some reply, the man said, "Yes, Excellency."
Reinhardt waved a hand. "I've had all the 'yes, Excellency's I can stomach today. What I want is for you to tell me what you believe must be done in order for that to happen."
"Um," the man said. "I- I couldn't really say in a general sense, but in with regards to Novi, to our group, if we were given adequate time to prepare I'm sure something could be- that is, there are certain people who need to be informed, networks that need to be- that is, my fellow republicans and I-"
"If it is a question of time," Reinhardt said crisply, "You will have as much as you need. This is a preliminary meeting. Couldn't you tell me something else -- something more concrete?
"Yes, your - I mean, yes." The man cleared his throat. His gaze didn't rise from the paperweights. Hilde frowned. This wasn't going well at all. She'd meant for this to be a casual meeting, not an interrogation. The setting was all wrong -- the informality of Reinhardt's study, rather than put the man at ease, had only made him more nervous, as if he were determined not to be taken in by it. Making matters worse, the room was too small for the number of people who currently occupied it. Though Reinhardt had cut his staff to a half-dozen of his most valued officers, the atmosphere remained imposing, particularly as the officers were all dressed in uniform -- the only decent attire many owned.
The man, in contrast, wore patent leather shoes, heavily scuffed, and a neat but unfashionable suit that looked as if it had only recently been dragged from storage. The scent of mothballs hung faintly in the air, almost but not quite disguised by the man's lilac corsage and the expensive rose scent Reinhardt favored. He presented an image of honest respectability fallen on hard times.
Hilde found she could sympathize.
"Your Excellency," she said. "Your time is valuable. Perhaps Chief of Staff Oberstein and I could discuss matters with this man privately?"
Reinhardt tapped at his desk -- a sign she knew meant that he was thinking, not that he was impatient. "Oberstein?"
"It would seem wise," Obserstein said neutrally. Reinhardt waited but Oberstein failed to elaborate.
"Very well," he said after a moment. "You have my permission."
The man turned nervously to leave, but Hilde stopped him with a friendly hand on one shoulder. He flinched. "I thought we could use this room," she said.
Reinhardt raised a single perfect eyebrow. "Are you asking me to vacate my own study?" he asked. In the background, someone coughed hastily, covering up laughter.
Hilde only smiled politely.
"...I see," Reinhardt said. "Fine, the room is yours. I expect a full report." He rose from his desk with a great deal of dignity and was preceded out of the door by his officers.
"Much better," Hilde announced when only she, Oberstein, and the man were left. She turned to him and smiled in what she hoped was a friendly way.
"Now then, Mr. Grier. Would you like to sit down?"
Outside, Reinhardt paced the hallway while those members of his staff with nowhere else to be looked on. Finally, he erupted. "I was supposed to have my study back hours ago!" he exclaimed. "Really, what could be taking them so long."
"These things take time," Mittermeyer said, though he looked as if he were wondering the same thing himself. Reuenthal, characteristically, said nothing.
"I don't see why this meeting was necessary in the first place. Not now. It is obvious that democracy must come and equally obvious that it cannot come today, with matters so unsettled. When Yang Wen Li's faction is caught and the war definitely won, there will be time for such things. What can be decided at this stage?"
"Hilde says it's a matter of trust," Mittermeyer said uncertainly. "You need to show that you don’t intend to remain Emperor forever, that you've begun to make arrangements."
Reinhardt snorted. "I don't believe in doing things merely for show. Rather than waste time on empty gestures, it's more important to focus on the problem at hand. Elections are tomorrow's problem."
"Well, these things can't be arranged overnight."
Reinhardt stopped to run a hand through his hair. "Now you're patronizing me. Of course I understand that the process won't happen overnight. Our people aren't used to democracy. Proclamations will need to be made, parities organized, leaflets printed, school curricula altered, teachers sent out, administrators, technicians. We’ll need an accurate census, full registration, volunteers to tally the votes, judges to arbitrate, investigators to prevent fraud, and the use of municipal centers on voting day. It's all a question of logistics, but we'll deal with that when the time comes."
Unexpectedly it was Reuenthal who disagreed. "This isn’t a military operation," he argued. "It's a civilian matter. You're going against five hundred years of history, you cannot command that the status quo be altered."
Reinhardt looked at him in amazement. "Why not?" he said.
At that moment the door opened and their guest walked out. He seemed much more at ease than he had previously, though he still had an air of suspicion about him. He was startled to find them in the hallway. Reinhardt nodded, civilly. Grier appeared to hesitate.
Finally he returned the gesture. "We're counting on you," he said, fiercely. "Don't let us down." He stared a challenge at the emperor of all known space.
"Of course," Reinhardt returned coolly. He waved, and the man was escorted away.
"That poor man," Hilde observed. Seeing that their attention had shifted to her, she dredged up a smile. "He needs time to gather the old opposition groups together and convince them it's safe to poke their heads above ground. He used to have the contact information, but he's forgotten it."
"Isn't that irresponsible? Is there someone else on Novi we should contact?" Mittermeyer worried.
Hilde shook her head. "No, he's responsible enough. Novi's ruling family was a bit repressive, that's all. Difficulty with names is endemic to men in his position. He'd forgotten mine halfway through the interview."
Obserstein spoke flatly. "If he were to be caught, the police could do nothing to make him give away his companions." His face was as unreadable as ever. Some of the officers looked shocked (Reuenthal only smiled cynically), and silence fell over the hallway.
It was broken by Hilde. "Mr. Grier told me that any elections held in the next few months will most likely return the old nobility to power. They own controlling shares in industry and have connections to the police, the secret police, and organized crime."
Hilde's smile turned grim. Reinhardt smiled too -- cynical, but also determined.
"Yes. We’ve a long way to go."