Chapter Twenty-Eight
“– so that just about takes care of the domestic side,” Joachim Alquezar said, looking across the conference table at Dame Estelle Matsuko, Baroness Medusa. “I’m not entirely happy about the situation at Marian, but I think it’s mostly a tempest in a teapot. Someone in the local planetary government with too big an opinion of what he’s due feels like he got his toes stepped on, and he’s pissing and moaning about it. No one’s going to let him get away with it long enough for it to become a real problem, but I’m afraid this is hardly going to be the only place something like this is going to come up before all’s said and done. So it might not be a bad idea for Samiha to send someone from her ministry out to read them the riot act just to make sure his own people step on him hard enough.”

Alquezar, Medusa was pleased to note, showed no signs — as yet — of developing the sort of formality-craving sense of self-importance she’d seen out of altogether too many political leaders over the decades. Of course, there was plenty of time for that, she supposed, reminding herself not to let her hopes get too high.
After all, all of a pessimist’s surprises are pleasant ones, she thought drily. Although I have to say, I think he’s a lot less likely to go that way than some of the politicians I’ve seen back home! Than lots of the politicos I’ve seen back home, actually . . . or than that poisonous little twerp Van Scheldt would like him to be, for that matter.
She wondered — again — why Alquezar didn’t just go ahead and fire Van Scheldt. The man was certainly efficient, but if there was anyone in the entire Alquezar Government who she trusted less in the dark. . . .
“As you say, Mr. Prime Minister,” she said out loud after a moment, “this is a domestic matter for the Talbott Quadrant. It doesn’t really come under my umbrella as the Imperial Governor unless things get so out of hand I need to step in and squash someone. So far, this doesn’t strike me as even beginning to reach that level. Would you concur, Madam Secretary?”
“Oh, I’d say that was definitely the case, Madam Governor,” Samiha Lababibi replied with a smile. “Joachim is absolutely right about what’s going on, except that in this case, I’m fairly sure it’s not a ‘he’ who’s doing the pissing and moaning. I’ve got a pretty good idea exactly who it is, as a matter of fact, and if I’m right, it’s a ‘she.’ It’s not really that she got her toes stepped on, either; it’s that she was hoping for a little better opportunity to line her own pockets off of the investment credits program.” Lababibi shook her head. “I’m afraid a few people are still having a bit of difficulty realizing it isn’t going to go on being business as usual. As Joachim says, it’s not last time something like this is going to come up, either. I can think of some people right here in Spindle — and not visitors to my fair home world, either, I’m afraid — who feel exactly the same way and may actually be stupid enough to try and do something similar.”
And that’s something pretty remarkable, too, Medusa thought with a sense of profound satisfaction. Back during the Constitutional Convention, it would never have occurred to Lababibi to say something like that. Not because she’s ever been deliberately corrupt herself, but just because she’s always been part of the topmost layer of the political and economic structures here in Spindle, with all of the insulation from everyone else’s reality that comes with that. She might have sympathized intellectually with someone like Krietzmann, but she could never really have understood where Henri comes from. It was just too far outside her own experience. I wondered if putting her inside the Star Empire’s fiscal policies as the Quadrant’s treasurer would shake up her own comfortable little perceptions of the universe. I always knew she was smart enough for it to, at least, but smart doesn’t necessarily equate to wise, and I’m glad to see it seems to be working out in this case, at least.
“In this case, though,” Lababibi continued, blissfully unaware of the governor’s thoughts, “I believe I can . . . reason with the culprit. If I point out, speaking as the Quadrant’s Treasury Secretary, that the investment credits are being offered solely on a private citizen basis and that both the Alquezar Government and Her Majesty would look with . . . profound displeasure, shall we say, on any effort by local governments to interfere with that, I think she’ll get the message.”
“Good.” Medusa smiled, then sobered slightly. “As I say, this does strike me as an internal matter for the Quadrant, and you’re quite right, Samiha. This entire credit program is being offered to private citizens, which means that, aside from the tax credit portion of it, it’s not properly a matter for government control or intrusion at all. You might want to deliver your message in a fashion which makes it clear my office and I are being kept in the loop, however. Let me do a little ominous looming in the background, but don’t make me any sort of explicit big stick. Let them draw any inferences they want, but not only is it not my place to be interfering in a matter like this unless you or Joachim request it, I want everyone to understand both that it I know it isn’t and that the Quadrant government is all grown up and able to make its own decisions and do any hammering you people think is required.”
Lababibi nodded, and Medusa nodded back with another flicker of satisfaction at how well the former president of the Split System was working out handling Treasury matters for the Quadrant. And not, this time, simply because of the shift in her attitude away from the “way things are” view of oligarchical privilege. Her awareness of the need to find the right balance between local decision and policy making — and enforcement — and imperial authority was another huge plus in Medusa’s opinion.
The entire situation was still something of a two-headed monster for everyone involved, of course. Under the new constitution, Alquezar, as the Quadrant’s Prime Minister, was the legal head of government for the Quadrant. That gave him and the rest of the Quadrant an enormous degree of local autonomy . . . and the accountability that went with it. However, the entire Quadrant was responsible for accommodating itself to the policies of the Star Empire of Manticore, represented and enunciated in this case by one Baroness Medusa. While she could not normally overrule specific policy decisions or acts of local legislation, she had complete authority — and the power of the veto — when it came to making certain those decisions and pieces of legislation fitted smoothly into imperial guidelines in those areas where the Empress’ authority was paramount. Despite the Quadrant Constitution’s neatly delimited articles and sections, actually implementing its provisions remained a work in progress, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. It was going to take some time for the lot of them to work out exactly how and where the pragmatic limits of specified authority and responsibility fell, but so far things seemed to be headed in the right direction. At least all of the members of the Alquezar Government seemed determined to see to it that they did.
The investment credits program and how Alquezar’s cabinet approached it were a case in point, in Medusa’s opinion.
Empress Elizabeth had decided, long before the Constitutional Convention had finally voted out the provisions of the Quadrant’s new constitution, that her newer subjects were not going to be taken to the financial cleaners by her older ones. At the same time, it was clearly imperative — for a lot of reasons — to push investment in the Talbott Cluster as hard and fast as possible. The Quadrant had a lot of people and a lot of star systems, but its seriously backward technology base urgently required updating and expansion, and investment capital was hard to come by locally. So Elizabeth and Prime Minister Grantville had decided that for the first ten T-years of operation, any new startup endeavor in the Quadrant would enjoy a reduction in taxation equal to the percentage of ownership held by citizens of the Quadrant. After ten T-years, the tax break would reduce by five percent per T-year for another ten T-years, then terminate completely in the twenty-first T-year. That gave tremendous incentive for investors from the Old Star Kingdom to seek out local partners, and all government really had to do was to keep track of that percentage of local ownership and administer the tax breaks. It most emphatically did not have any role in creating the partnerships in question.
Some of the local oligarchs appeared unable (or unwilling) to grasp that point. They’d expected to control ownership of the new enterprises much as they had dominated the pre-annexation financial structures of the Talbott Cluster. The smarter of them, on the other hand, had recognized early on that there were going to be enormous changes. They’d realized that they’d better adjust to the realization that elements of their populations who previously had been insignificant blips as far as local financial markets were concerned were about to find themselves highly attractive to Manticoran investment partners.
Which was exactly the way things were working out, much to the satisfaction of Elizabeth Winton. Many of the Star Kingdom’s investors were allowing their newfound Talbott partners to finance their share of ownership as a percentage of the tax credits, which had the effect of tremendously reducing the amount of startup capital the Talbotters required. That was allowing people from far outside the ranks of the traditional oligarchies to become significant players, which was about to both expand and strengthen the overall economy of the Quadrant while simultaneously severely curtailing the “old guard’s” control over that economy. Joachim Alquezar, his cabinet, and his Constitutional Union Party (which held an outright majority of over eighteen percent in the Quadrant’s new Parliament), all understood that, and they were working hard to push the process along.
Which brought Medusa back to the situation in Marian. Apparently one of the local oligarchs — and, like Lababibi, Medusa thought she could make a fairly accurate guess as to exactly who the oligarch in question might be — had decided she ought to receive a “commission” for brokering and expediting the formation of partnerships between Manticoran investors and their Talbott colleagues. Words like extortion, graft, and bribery came to mind whenever Medusa thought about it, and she almost hoped the culprit would prove less amenable to sweet reason than Alquezar and Lababibi expected. She couldn’t remember exactly who it was back on Old Terra who’d been in favor of shooting a few people “to encourage the others,” but in this case, Estelle Matsuko was prepared to pay for the ammunition herself.
Figuratively speaking, of course.