"Thank you for joining us, Madam President," Andrija Gazi said, smiling as Aleksandra Tonkovic walked regally into the hearing room and settled herself behind the long, polished witness' table.
"The Planetary President is the servant of Parliament, Mr. Chairman," Tonkovic replied, with a smile as gracious as Gazi's own. "It's my pleasure to appear before the committee and to provide any information it may require."
"We appreciate that, Madam President. It makes a refreshing change from some chief executives with whom Parliament's been forced to deal."
Gazi's smile was thinner this time, and Tonkovic was careful not to return it at all. Gazi was a member of her own Democratic Centralist Party, as well as Chairman of the Special Committee on Annexation. She'd taken pains to be certain Andrija wound up in that position, and she was glad now that she had. But she couldn't appear publicly to support his barbed comments about the acting chief executive Parliament had been forced to deal with while she was in Spindle.
Twelve days had passed since she'd received the summons to return home. It felt both much longer and far shorter as she sat in the sunlight spilling through the conference room's tall windows. From where she sat, she could see the Nemanja Building, surrounded by the scaffolding of repair work. She'd been surprised by how much that firsthand sight of the damage Nordbrandt had wreaked had shaken her, but she had no time to think about that right now. She'd spent three days of frenetic activity on Flax, doing her best to ensure the Constitutional Liberal Party's effectiveness in her absence. Then she'd made the eight-and-a-half-day voyage home, studying her notes, thinking about her committee appearances, and-much though she hated to admit it-worrying. She'd arrived late the previous afternoon, and there simply hadn't been time for her to touch bases with many of her allies. The DCP's general secretary had given her the best briefing he could in the time available, and she'd had dinner with a dozen party leaders, but she was only too well aware of how long she'd been off-world. It was a good thing she was starting with Gazi's committee. Under his management, she'd have a little more time to get her feet back under her before the more adversarial proceedings to come.
"For the most part," Gazi continued, "this will be an informal examination. Unless the situation seems to require it, we'll relax the full rigor of standard parliamentary procedure. We'll invite you, Madam President, to make a brief report on the progress of the Constitutional Convention and its deliberations. Thereafter, each member of the Special Committee will be allocated fifteen minutes in which to inquire more fully into points of particular interest.
"I understand you'll also be appearing before Deputy Krizanic's committee this afternoon." Gazi allowed the merest flicker of distaste to dance across his well-trained features, but his urbane voice went smoothly on. "We thought our own day's business should be concluded by the noon hour, and that we would then break for lunch. In light of your appointment with Deputy Krizanic and her committee, we're planning to adjourn for the day at that time in order to give you some time to refresh yourself and rest between committee appearances. We would, therefore, also request that you make time available to appear before us on Thursday, as well. At that time, the Special Committee's members will each be allotted an additional thirty minutes in order to pursue more fully the points which particularly interest them. Would that be acceptable to you, Madam President?"
"Chairman Gazi, my time is Parliament's. My only concern would be to prevent conflicts between the committees' schedules. I feel confident I can rely on you and Chairwoman Krizanic to avoid that."
"As always, Madam President, you are as gracious as you are diligent in our planet's service," Gazi said, beaming upon her in his best statesman's fashion. She inclined her head with proper modesty, and he cleared his throat and rapped his gavel once, sharply, on the wooden block beside his microphone.
"In that case, the Committee will come to order." The eight men and women behind the raised, horseshoe-shaped table at the head of the hearing room sat a bit straighter, and Gazi nodded to Tonkovic.
"If you'd care to begin, Madam President."
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."
She took a sip of water and made a minor production out of arranging her old-fashioned notecards before her on the table. Then she looked up with a smile that was both confident and sober.
"Mr. Chairman, Ms. Vice Chairman, Honorable Members of the Committee. As you all know, following the plebiscite vote, it was decided by Parliament that the delegation to the Constitutional Convention on Flax should be headed by our own head of state. Accordingly, as Parliament had directed, I made arrangements to transfer authority to my Vice President and departed for the Spindle System. Once there-"
Gazi and the other members of the committee listened attentively, nodding occasionally, as she launched into her account of her stewardship of Kornati's interests at the convention.