For All Nails #227: Freedom

by Johnny Pez

Palace of the Republic
Paris, France
2 December 1975

The intercom on Yvette Fanchon's desk chimed, and she punched the answer button. "Yes?"

Armand answered. "The German ambassador is here for his three o'clock appointment."

"Send him in, please."

Fanchon activated the foot switch beneath her desk, and the door to her office opened. General Eric von Gellmann entered, his gait only slightly altered by the cane in his right hand. It struck her, as it always did these days whenever she saw him, that you would never have guessed by looking at him that he had nearly lost his leg, and possibly even his life, less than a year and a half ago. She supposed it was an example of that discipline for which Germans were particularly noted.

"Good afternoon, Herr General," she greeted him.

"And to you as well, Madame Premier," he said with a nod of his head.

"Please have a seat."

"Thank you, Fraulein." Seating himself, he opened his briefcase and withdrew from it a grapped sheaf of papers. He leaned forward to place the papers on the edge of her desk. "These are the timetables," he explained, "for the withdrawal of the last units of the Imperial Security Service from Marseilles, Orleans and Paris." With a grin he added, "In German and French."

"Thank you, Herr General," she said.

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "That's all? Just 'Thank you, Herr General' and nothing more? This is the event that France has been waiting thirty-eight years for, the final triumph of five years of constant effort on your part, and all you can say is "Thank you, Herr General'? I was expecting a more demonstrative reaction, even from you, Fraulein Fanchon."

She was about to give him a bland non-answer, when it suddenly dawned on her that he was actually the closest thing to a friend that she had, in spite of the fact that she had always regarded him as her enemy, and still did. Perhaps it wasn't so strange, at that. If you had no friends to confide in, then an enemy was probably the next best thing.

"The truth is, Herr General," she said at last, "that I am presently oppressed by an epigram."

"An epigram? But wasn't it Voltaire himself who said that witty sayings mean nothing?"

Fanchon could neither confirm nor deny what Voltaire had said, since she had never read him. Instead she said, "It was something George Bolingbroke said after the overthrow of the Bouchard regime. 'The French will always fight for freedom, but they will never use it.' Soon France will be free again, or as free as she can be with the Empire as a neighbor. Will we use our freedom this time, or let it lie dormant once more until it fades away again?"

"Surely, that is up to you, Madame Premier."

"You think so? Then you little know France, despite your years here. Today France is united, because I work incessantly to keep her united. Were I to give over my efforts, within a week my government would fall, and the National Assembly would become deadlocked over the choice of a successor. The Republicans hate the Democrats, the Nationalists hate the Socialists, and everybody hates me. The government would be paralyzed, and then the man on the white horse would appear. The nation would proclaim him its savior, and happily surrender its freedom once more. It has always been that way, ever since the Revolution."

"Perhaps what you need," said Gellmann, "is a common enemy against which to unite. I'm certain I could persuade Herr Scheibl to station a threatening army on your eastern border."

It was a peculiar offer on Gellmann's part. Most likely, Fanchon decided, it was another attempt at humor. "Even if you were serious, Herr General, it would not help. We could not unite to oppose your invasion in 1939. The Royalists welcomed you with open arms, thinking that Bruning would restore the monarchy and make France a member of the Confederation."

"It sounds like the Royalists didn't know Bruning very well," Gellmann chuckled.

"Oh, they knew Bruning well enough," she assured him. "It's just that they preferred a foreign conqueror to the Socialist Bernier."

Gellmann shook his head. "Incredible."

"Is it so incredible, though?" she wondered. "Would Bruning have wanted his Empire to continue its existence under his political enemy von Richter? Or would he have preferred to see it utterly destroyed?"

"Probably the latter," Gellmann conceded. "But then, Bruning was quite thoroughly mad at that point. The Royalists were, I'm assuming, sane. At least, sane by the standards of political fanatics."

"They were sane enough, I suppose, though blinded by hatred and stupidly short-sighted." She sighed. "They were French, as I am, as my people are. We will fight for freedom, but we will not use it."

"Fraulein," said Gellmann uncertainly, "are you sure you want me to withdraw these policemen?"

She shook her head. "I am sure. The men should be withdrawn as scheduled."

"Very well, Fraulein Fanchon." Gellmann used his cane to help him rise from his chair, then picked up his briefcase. "I bid you good day."

"And to you as well," she replied.

"Perhaps," she added as he was just turning to leave, "it might be best if you do not permanently reassign your men to duties elsewhere in the Empire. You may need to return them to France before too long."

Forward to FAN #228: Now We All Did What We Could Do.

Forward to 8 December 1975: Games Without Frontiers.

Forward to Yvette Fanchon: And You Could Have It All.

Return to For All Nails.

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