For the first fifteen years of the Empire's existence, the Star Kingdom would elect seventy-five percent of the Imperial Parliament's membership, and all other subunits of the Empire would elect the other twenty-five percent. For the next fifteen years, the Star Kingdom would elect sixty percent of Parliament's members. And for the next twenty-five years, the Star Kingdom would elect fifty percent. Thereafter, membership in the Imperial House of Commons would be directly proportional to each subunit's population. The theory was that that fifty-five T-years of dominance by the established political system of the Old Star Kingdom would give the citizens of the Quadrant time to master the instruction manual. It would also give them time for the stupendous potential industrial and economic power of the Quadrant to be developed. At the same time, the gradual phasing in of full parliamentary representation for the Quadrant (and, presumably, for the Silesian systems, as well, when it was their turn) would reassure the citizens of the Old Star Kingdom that Manticore wasn't going to find itself suddenly haring off in some totally bizarre direction. And the fact that the Imperial Constitution guaranteed local autonomy to each recognized subunit of the Empire ought to preserve the individual identities of the various worlds and societies which had agreed to unite under the imperial framework.

            Since one of the Star Kingdom's basic citizens rights was access to the prolong therapies, the fifty-five-T-year ramp up to full representation in the Imperial Parliament wasn't going to be quite the hardship for most of the Talbott Cluster's citizens that it might have been once upon a time. True, it would hit some member systems harder than others (which had required some serious horse trading at the Constitutional Convention), because their poverty-stricken economies hadn’t already made prolong available. That meant any of their citizens more than twenty-five T-years old would never receive it . . . and that a sizable portion of their present electorate would die of old age, even with modern medical care, before the Quadrant received its full representation. No arrangement could be perfect, however, and the Star Kingdom had pledged to put those systems first on the list to receive the prolong therapies, while the Constitutional Convention had pledged some very hefty financial institutions to bring their economies up to the standards of their neighbors as quickly as possible.

            With those arrangements to offset some of the representational sacrifice of those “graying” voters, most people were prepared to call the arrangement as fair as could be contrived. It offered a roadmap to a reasonably orderly transition, anyway. And just as the security umbrella of the Royal Manticoran Navy would discourage piracy, instability, and bloodshed in both Silesia and Talbott, the importance of annexing additional star systems — and the population and resources they represented — in order to bolster Manticore's economic, industrial, and military muscle had become evident to most Manticoran strategists. In light of which, it appeared to be fairly obvious to everyone involved that the tremendous advantages inherent in the new arrangement vastly outweighed any disadvantages.

            One can hope so, at any rate, Michelle thought dryly. Although, given the Sollies' present antics, I suppose someone could be pardoned for wondering just how sound that logic actually is.

            "Speaking purely from a naval perspective, Milady," Khumalo said, recalling Michelle's attention from the political ramifications of the creation of a brand-new Empire, "I am delighted to see you." He smiled more than a little crookedly. "I remember when Captain Terekhov first reported to Talbott — it doesn't seem possible that that was only eight T-months ago! — I was complaining to him about how few Queen's ships had been assigned to the Cluster. To be perfectly honest, I wish we could have found something just a little less traumatic than the Battle of Monica to convince the Admiralty to turn the tap on."

            "I won't mention any squeaky wheels, Sir," Michelle said with an answering smile. "On the other hand, I think you can take it as a given that the 'tap' is going to be opened even wider in the next few months. Especially if anything comes of this summit meeting."

            "According to my most recent dispatches from the Admiralty, at least," Khumalo agreed. "And frankly, even without the situation vis-à-vis the League and OFS, I'm sure I'll be able to make good use of every hull they can send me. I believe it's important to establish a naval presence in every one of the Quadrant's member star systems as quickly as possible. Her Majesty's new subjects have the right to call upon her navy's protection, and until they can get their local law enforcement organizations integrated into the new system, and until we can get on-call Marine or Army units into position to assist them in dealing locally with imperial problems, it's going to be up to the Navy to do that, too. Not to mention disaster relief, assistance to navigation, and all those other things we always find ourselves doing."

            "I certainly can't argue with any of that, Sir," Michelle said soberly. "Still, I'm inclined to suspect that my position as the CO of Tenth Fleet, once we get organized, is bound to leave me whining and complaining about all the diversions you and Baroness Medusa want me to make. I know we have an absolute responsibility to do exactly what you've just described, but I'm afraid my own focus, for the foreseeable future at least, is probably going to be pretty thoroughly locked in on OFS and the League."

            "Oh, that's a given, Milady," Khumalo told her with a genuine smile. "It always works that way. In fact, there'd probably be something seriously broken about the system if you weren't whining and complaining! Which doesn't mean the Baroness and I are going to let you talk us out of doing it anyway, of course."

            "Somehow, I find that depressingly easy to believe," Michelle observed, and Khumalo chuckled. It was, Michelle noticed, a very genuine chuckle.