This is the seventh chapter of the prequel, Sword & Sun, which is the story of how the Solar Empire came into existence. It’s not presently on submission for publication.
This material is Copyright © 2006, Walter H. Hunt.
The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to understand whatever he professes to understand, and not merely to persuade other people that he understands it; and though his talents may not always be very brilliant, they are always perfectly genuine.
- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part VI
“Of course I’m worried,” Arnaud Michalak said, setting the bone-china cup on a side table as he examined the display hovering in the air. “Anytime there is a large-scale trend that affects the Union – and this certainly does –“ he made a gesture at a part of the display, a 3-D graph that showed time and location plotted against investment – “then it worries me.”
The summer sun flooded the Prime Minister’s office with light, though the glass polarized the worst of the glare away. Still, it seemed to go with Arnaud Michalak’s sunny disposition. Karla Alstedt, Member of the EU Assembly, President of the European Interstellar Bank of Commerce and one time Minister of Finance, was fond of the current Prime Minister: enough so that she had left her Canary Wharf office and a half day of meetings to spend a few hours with him in person here in Bruxelles rather than by comp from London.
Still, at the moment he was frustrating the living hell out of her.
“And what are you planning to do about it?” She crossed her arms in front of her. “Really, Arnaud, I think you should take this a bit more seriously.”
The Prime Minister smiled. “I think I am taking it seriously. What would you have me do?”
“Ask the rashk? Ask them?”
“It’s a start,” she said. “You’ve spoken with them before, as I recall: you’ve even met the old one, S’s’i’i Kra’tok, haven’t you?”
“That’s certainly good enough. They wouldn’t refuse to see you: you could take the shuttle to Brazil and be back in time for a nightcap.”
“It’s absurd. Even if they answered – which I doubt – it’s unlikely we’d even understand what they said. Crazy lizards: they talk in riddles.”
“That’s what everyone says. But that’s a glib response, don’t you think? Look.” She leaned toward the display and pointed. “Look here, and here. Over the past eighteen months they’ve withdrawn investments from fifteen major corporations across the Union. There’s evidence that they’ve done the same thing in every nation.
“The rashk are getting ready for something, Arnaud. It’s as if they’re putting all of their money under the mattress because they don’t trust the banks anymore. After the recent troubles . . .”
“They’re reading the comnet and listening to people cry wolf? We’re stronger than we’ve ever been.”
“This isn’t 3-V. Spin doesn’t cut any ice with me. This is business. For forty years they’ve put their – hands – into every sort of venture, at every risk level. They’ve taken their losses and made their profits; sometimes they’ve stayed on the sidelines, but never for very long. And they’ve never let this much capital lie dormant.
“You can ask them quietly and privately, Arnaud. Or if you want, you can let the Assembly Finance Committee call hearings.”
“I would. Borges, Callahan, Nischwitz, McCannon and I agree – there’s some question that needs to be asked, and the rashk need to answer it. I’ll have them on 3V, by God I will, if you won’t talk to them directly.”
“That,” Michalak said, “sounds suspiciously like blackmail.”
“Call it political expediency.”
“I think I like my term better.”
“Use any term you want. I’m prepared to wait two days before I bring this before the committee.” She looked directly at the Prime Minister. “I have the votes.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“You’d better do more –“
“I’ll consider it,” Michalak repeated, frowning. He didn’t usually allow emotions to enter his voice except to emphasize a point; rivals in the Assembly considered him virtually unflappable. He was emphasizing a point now. “I don’t take kindly to threats, Karla, especially when they come from people I consider to be friends. I’ll let you know of my decision.”