Kaylee watched the procession avidly. The Red Chamber gallery was crowded with spouses and party faithful.
First to enter was the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod carrying the staff of office and dressed in eighteenth century robe and tricorn, the Usher carrying the Mace of Parliament followed by the Speaker of the House in legal robes.
Then the audience stirred as the President of the Chinese Republics entered, wearing a scarlet gown and an odd little biretta hat.
He was followed by an assortment of premiers, presidents and prime ministers from the various nations that made up the Alliance, some in formal modern dress and some in versions of the traditional dress of Earth That Was. Beege pointed out the Ogimaa of David Chen’s home world, Turtle Island, resplendent in beaded and fringed leather and with a magnificent eagle feather head dress. They passed, in chronological order by date of settlement.
Last of all came the Members, first the Upper House, composed of hereditary Senators. Most came from families that had arrived on the first wave of Arks- not the later cryo-ships, but vessels mostly given over to terraforming equipment whose crews lived and died and trained their children to run the ships and one day far in the future, change the black rocks around the multiple star system of the Verse into liveable worlds.
Then the elected Members, one for every 50 million adult inhabitants of those terraformed worlds. Most were from the older more settled and prosperous Core and Border planets and moons, while some Rim worlds, thinly populated, shared a single Member between them. Even with the best intentions, population differences meant there were fewer Independent Members sitting in Parliament than there were from the Alliance worlds. There were nearly 50 billion people in the Verse, more than 75% of those fully adult voters, and that meant there were 750 members of the Lower House. But the entire Blue Sun system had only 18 million inhabitants, while White Sun had nearly 40 billion spread over its thickly populated worlds. NUMBERS
Finally, the star of the occasion, the Crown Princess of Londinium, substituting for her father who was too sick to attend.
There was a sursurration of clicks as comms snatched captures of the glamourous celebrity. A tiny woman, she wore her hair cropped very short, almost shaven, so the dark strands only indicated curls against her caramel scalp. She wore a slim cut dress, modestly cut over the bosom but sleeveless to display her athletic shoulders. Over the dress she wore an astonishing copper gauze coat, highcollared and longsleeved with a wide band of bronze paisley embroidery at every hem and seam.
The Crown Princess joined the President on the Speaker’s dais and took the Speaker’s Throne. The President sat by her side in the Deputy Speaker’s chair.
After this election, the Government, which had been held by various Core parties for generations was weaker than ever before. As the Rim worlds prospered and grew they had challenged trade laws and economic directives that had kept them as poor cousins. Some had populations as big as those of the Core worlds, especially those who had developed as resort and retirement world for the wealthy . Even the long healthy lives of the Core residents were beginning to work against them as the young vibrant population of the Rim, ambitious and entrepreneurial found new technologies, new ideas, that the elderly Core found confusing and impertinent.
Mumbai had surpassed Sihnohn as a centre for production of entertainments, not just vids, but music , dance, even the fine arts. Holographic sculpture was a Rim invention and entire amusement centres had been built using that completely ephemeral technology.
The honour of reading the Speech of Welcome traditionlly passed back and forth between the Chinese and American allies, although the actual Speech was the work of the elected Government. There was some tension about what the Speech would have to say about the direction of the Government for the next five years. Although they had only a slim majority the Vanguard Party did still rule as they had for twenty years. But their allies had been decimated by he victories of the Herd o’Cats. Every Bill, every vote, every Committee could bring a defeat. And should the Herd attract the votes of the former allies of the Vanguard in the Budget that would be presented in a month, the Government could fall.
The Independent Party could conceivably become the Government of the allied worlds.
In was Londinium’s turn to read the Speech from the Throne. The President was given the Speech with great ceremony by the Premier, Vanguard leader. He read it, or pretended to, before nodding agreement, and passing it to the Princess.
The little woman sat up straight and began to read aloud.
At first the Speech was platitudes and cliches about working together,the Grand Alliance of Peoples. A paragraph in English was followed by one in Chinese. Bored, Kaylee leaned over to her daughter, “At least they ain’t translatin. Poke me if I nod off.’
But the tenor of the Speech would not allow the growth of the Rim economy to change the power held by the older worlds. There would be changes in the appointment of Governors, who were appointed by the central government. This had long been the case, but changes to reporting and funding would mean that the Governor would report to the central Government with little advice from or loyalty to the worlds they governed.
The armed forces, particularly the Navy, would enlarge and new funding for smaller spaceships would mean they would be more mobile and flexible. Even Kaylee understood that the Navy was changing from a peacekeeping force to a war footing.
To pay for this, taxes would be raised on certain new technologies and on resources. The few mentioned were all sources of Rim prosperity.
Murmurs became shouts as the Speech went on. The little Princess shrank on the massive Throne but her voice remained clear and firm as she continued to read.
The final words of the Speech were the cruellest attack. Pensions for veterans of the Unification Wars were to be fixed, with no future provision for indexation against inflation. And medical care for the elderly veterans, few now under seventy, were to be limited to fixed locations. Funding for the Flying Doctors’ care for veterans would end. The medical centres would be on Core and Border worlds, few on the Rim where the veterans were poorest and least able to travel.
From where they sat, Kaylee and Beege could only see the Princess as a doll in bronze and copper. Most of the audience, parliamentarians, family, insiders, and journalists watched the Princess on the huge screen that also sent the Speech over the Cortex unfiltered. On the screen they saw her hands tremble and how she shot nervous looks at the President, who was stonefaced, and the Premier, whose smug expression showed that he knew exactly what the dismayed Rim could expect.
Kaylee searched the Chamber for her husband, She could only see where the Herd o’Cats had gathered because of a strong preference by the Members for brown coats. Around them swirled a number of red and blue jackets preferred by Members from the Chinese Republic.
The black jackets, fashionable at the Core, aligning with most of the blue jackets, sat still as the cries and shouts continued.
The Princess rose an ceremonially handed the Speech back to the Premier. Normally, she would have used two hands and spoken a few quiet words with him. Instead, head high, she passed with one hand and imperiously beckoning the President, marched rapidly down from the dais and out the tall double doors of the Red Chamber. Startled by the break in protocol, the crowd quieted. As she passed, some of the Cats, faster to understand what her actions meant, bowed.
Mal found himself whisked after the Crown Princess as the Independents left the chamber en masse, not waiting for the rest of the ceremony. They gathered in in the ballroom where they had expected to caucus arriving so early that staff was still setting up tables and chairs. A supervisor attempted to stop the flow of angry MPs, protesting that they were too early and the staff was not ready. Felicia Hassan brushed him aside and headed for the dias. Curtly she ordered him to set up mics and speaker and not to worry about the cost.
She paused. ” And tea. I think we will need a lot o ftea.But no inebriants.”
“We will have hors d’ouevres in a half hour, m’am,’ the supervisor suggested.
“Play that by ear. If there is fighting or weapons, don’t endanger your staff.”
The supervisor looked appalled.
The room was quickly set up as a war room rather than a friendly get together. Member found their neighbours and there was a cacophony of discussion as tempers flared. Senior members tied to calm down the newer representatives.
Slowly as tables and chairs were set up, the angry Independents settled down. On the dials, Felicia Hassan spoke into her mic. Her face was picked up by screens around the huge room, so everyone could see her expression and gestures.
‘Friends, we have been blindsided by this Speech. But we are not alone. We need to consider our strategies carefully. Keep firmly in mind that this is a minority Government. . While we don’t have as many firm votes as the Vanguard do, we do have sympathizers among non-Inderpendent members. And perhaps even more among the voters those Members represent.
‘Even among the Core, we have friends. I draw your attention to the way the Crown Princess reacted to the Speech she was required to read. If she remains our friend, she will be a huge asset with the population.”
There was a susurration of agreement. The princess was adored by the public. She was seen as a friend to all, with strong charitable works and not least a dress sense that endeared her to the more shallow of the Verse billions. She also held a seat in the Upper Chamber, and led not only the Londinium caucus, but also a number of progressively minded aristos.
Mal was seated with Member for the Blue Sun system, neighbours of Summerrain/Shadow. The men, like Mal, were bristling and redfaced. The women Members had varying attitudes. One had just managed to stop weeping in frustration, other were nodding along with Hassan.
Mal was stoic and grim. He wished he was somewhere else, somewhere he could find physical release. Instead he concentrated on those who had found their way to the mics.
Few had anything useful to say, although the Member from Ezra did give an impassioned and obscene description of the Premier, his ancestry, and his personal habits that had many taking notes. He sat down to a round of applause.
Tea was served, and more, and more. As the day wore on, the staff managed to serve the dainty canapes and cakes that had been planned for the Leader’s Reception. Then, in a flush of inspiration, deliveries form several sources, pizza, bao, falalfel, skewers of chicken and dog , various sandwiches, rotis, burritos, and wraps arrived.
After six hours Felicia Hassan called the meeting to a halt. ‘We’ve mostly had our say and I think we agree on the insult to the Rim and Border worlds.
Now we have to plan how best to accomplish what our constituents sent us here for. We can’t do that in this large group. I suggest that we caucus as planetary systems, then as solar caucuses, to present suggestions. As you come up with plans, please send them to my Office. My staff will be able to coallate and synthesize the various plans and present us all with our most popular and most useful plans of attack.
“We’ll meet back here in two … make it three days time.”
Kaylee and Beege had planned to attend the Leader’s Reception after the Speech, but instead return to the furnished flat Mal was to share with two other Members while Parliament sat.
With over 1000 Members in the Parliament each representing about fifty million people, plus their staffs and families, housing on Londinium was tight and expensive.
Mal was sharing a flat with two other Independent members. Three bedrooms, each no larger than Serenity‘s crew bunks and a small multipurpose room with a kitchen, dining table, seating area and walls covered in screens. The landlord specialized in housing Parliamentarians and knew that access to the Cortex was more important to his tenants than food.
They opened the newscreens and watched as commentary on the Speech played out.
On the Government-friendly ‘casts the word was all positive, explaining how enhanced funding for the Forces and for infrastructure , meaning the new spaceships, would increase employment and with it prosperity.
There was some passing comment on how new technologies would ‘finally’ be carrying their weight.
There were fewer ‘casts that were sympathetic to the Rim. Many of those were the entertainment ‘casts, whose usual ‘bright’n’breezy’ commentators were a strange mixture of obviously out of their depth and delighted at the chance to cover some ‘real’ news.
A brittle blonde whose almond eyes were a pop icon, was among the latter. Perfectly made up, charmingly dressed in coral, she gave a terse cautious report on the Speech soon after the ceremonies broke up. It stressed the Crown Princess’ copper/bronze outfit.
When the presenter returned for a followup report, she wore a brown leather blazer. Her followup report tore apart the Speech, focussing on how it would damage the cultural life of the ‘Verse, particularly the entertainment choices of the younger population.
One of her colleagues, from the Rim world Tutsi, and resplendent in a violet topcoat, towered nearly half a metre over her, but his beat was fashion and he spent some item wondering if the Princess’ choice of bronze and copper garments indicated Browncoat sympathies and if that further indicated a split in the Alliance’ Core worlds with wealthy conservative Londinium siding with the Rim.
Beege was reading a copy of the notorious Speech.
‘Could be worthy, mummy, ‘she said.’ There’s no talk of re-drawing riding boundaries. The Rim gets more Members per million population than the Core.’
‘Still out-voted by Core and Border members though. Your daddy’s gonna be some mad when he gets back.’
Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod