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Authors: Wheels Within Wheels (v5.0)

F Paul Wilson - LaNague 02

 

 

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS

 

 

F Paul Wilson

 

           
 

 

 

 

           
 

 

 

           
 

For John W. Campbell,
Jr.,

 

of course

 

           
 

           
 

 

           
 

           
In the light of what we know today, it is
difficult to imagine how the Restructurist movement engendered any popular
support at all. But it did. Whole sectors at one time declared themselves
“Restructurist” and agitated for what they called reform legislation.

           
 

           
But “reform” was a gross misnomer: the
Restructurist hierarchy was composed of first-order reactionaries, economic
royalists who were avowed enemies of the free market. Their political
philosophy had been thrown out by the LaNague revolution and the Federation
charter kept it out. But they hung on, cloaking their ambitions in feigned
social concern, mouthing humanitarian slogans as they maneuvered to exert
control over interstellar trade.

           
 

           
from
Stars for
Sale
:

 

           
An Economic History
of Occupied Space

 

           
by Emmerz Fent

PROLOGUE

 

           
 

           
THE ROOM
WAS A SPECIAL ONE, situated in the far corner of a building on the outskirts of
the Federation complex. The Continuing Fund for the Restructuring of the
Federation had leased it more than twenty standard years before and had footed
the bill for all the extensive and expensive renovations.

           
The windows
had been removed and the openings filled in and sealed. The wall spaces had
been filled with a heavy mixture of synthestone and lined with a micromesh grid
which, when activated, would distort not only the vibrations in the walls
themselves but any electronic transmissions down to but not including the
subspace level as well. The grid encapsulized the room and door, ensuring that
an external amplifier attempting to monitor voices within the room would pick
up only an indecipherable garble of sounds and no more. A psi-shield had been
added as a final touch. Nothing within, short of a subspace transmitter, could
beam a message out, and even the most compact s-s set in existence couldn’t
hide here.

           
Especially
here. The walls, floor, and ceiling were completely bare and the lamps were
self-powered floor models. All the furniture was made of the transparent
crystal polymer that had been so popular two decades before. No hiding place in
the room for any sort of monitoring device and any attempt to insert one into
the Wall would disrupt the micromesh and set off a malfunction signal. It was
the “safe room” reserved for special meetings of the upper echelon of the
Restructurist movement. Elson deBloise had called for such a meeting today.

           
Douglas
Habel entered first. He was the grand old man of the movement, now in
semi-retirement. He avoided the head seat with some effort – that belonged to
Elson now – and situated himself along the far side of the conference table.

           
Philo Barth
came in soon after. Paunchy, ribald, a seemingly supercilious individual, he
was firmly entrenched as a Federation representative from his sector.

           
 
“’Lo, Doug,” he said, and fell heavily into a
chair. He and Habel discussed in low, casual tones the upcoming hiatus during
which all the representatives would return to their respective homeworlds.

           
Doyl Catera
entered next, a scowl on his face. He was young, an up-and-coming bright star
in the Restructurist firmament, but his moods were mercurial… and he despised
the “safe room.” Nodding to the other two, he threw himself into a chair and
waited in moody silence.

           
Before
long, Elson deBloise made his entrance, carefully timed for last. He had a
heavy build, dark brown hair graying just the right amount at the temples, and
a presence that reeked of self-assurance.

           
DeBloise
slid the door shut behind him and pressed a button at its center which would
mesh it with the grid woven around the rest of the room. Without hesitation, he
then took the seat at the head of the table and extracted a small noteplate
from his pocket.

           
 
“Well,” he said affably, “we all know why
we’re here, I guess.”

           
“Not why
we’re here, no,” Catera said with biting precision.

           
DeBloise
maintained a friendly tone. “Doug, Philo, and I are well aware of your
objections to the security precautions in this room, Doyl, but we feel they’re
necessary evils.”

           
“Especially
at this point of the game, Doyl,” Habel said. “We’re on Fed Central and this
planet is run by the pro-charter forces. And while I must admit that during my
long career they have, as a group, respected our security, there are others
outside the political community who have no such scruples. I have reliable information
that someone has been keeping close watch on our movements lately, especially
yours, Els. I don’t know who’s behind the surveillance as yet, but at this
stage of our plan, I must emphasize that we cannot be too careful. Is that
clear, Doyl?”

           
“All right.”
Catera’s tone was resigned. “I’ll go along with the security charade for now.
Let’s get on with our business and get it over with.”

           
“I’m all
for that,” Barth muttered. “The subject is money, I believe.”

           
“Isn’t it
always?” deBloise replied.

           
He had
remained carefully aloof from the preceding exchange, maintaining a pose of
lofty equanimity. He despised Catera for his reckless maverick tendencies and,
although he rarely admitted it even to himself, for his potential threat to
deBloise’s position as standard bearer of the movement. But nearly three
decades in active political life had taught him to hide his personal feelings
well.

           
“The sector
treasurers are raising a bit of a fuss about the amount,” Barth said. “They
can’t imagine what kind of project could possibly require such a sum.”

           
“You all
stuck to the agreed-upon pitch, I hope,” deBloise said with an eye toward
Catera.

           
Catera held
his gaze. “Of course. We told them it was for a penetrating investigation into
the way the LaNague Charter is failing many of the Federation planets. It was
stretching the truth to the limits of endurance, but I suppose we can
ultimately defend our sales pitch if the plan goes awry.”

           
“Have no
fear of that,” deBloise assured him. “But the money – are the treasuries going
to come through with what we need?”

           
Barth
nodded. “They’ll come through, but reluctantly. If it hadn’t been for Doug’s
little speech, they’d still be holding out.”

           
Habel
beamed. He had recorded a short, stirring message for the representatives to
carry with them to the sector committees. In it he had exhorted all committed
Restructurists to rise to the challenge of the day; to free the monies that
would allow the Restructurist leadership to gather the necessary information to
open the eyes of the Federation Assembly and turn it around.

           
“It was a
good speech, even if I say so myself.”

           
“It was,”
deBloise agreed, “and it seems to have worked, which is of primary importance.
Now we can finally set the plan into motion.”

           
“I still
have my reservations, Elson,” Catera said, and the other occupants in the room
held their breath. Catera’s sector was one of the richest and they were
counting on it for a large share of the money. If he held back...

           
“How could
you possibly object to the plan, Doyl?” Habel said with all the fatherliness he
could muster.

           
“It’s a
moral question, actually. Do we have the right to play political games with a
technological innovation of this magnitude? It has the capacity to
revolutionize interstellar travel and could eventually make all planets
neighbors.”

           
“We’re not
playing games, Doyl,” deBloise replied with passion. “What we intend to do will
move us closer to the goals of the movement. An opportunity like this presents
itself once in a lifetime – once in a millennium! If properly handled, it can
bring all our efforts to fruition. And if we don’t seize it now and use it to
our advantage, then we don’t deserve to call ourselves Restructurists!”

           
“But I’ve
been to Dil. I’ve–”

           
DeBloise
held up a hand. “We’ve agreed to mention no names at any time. We all know who
you’re talking about and we all know where he lives.”

           
“Then you
all know that he’s an unstable personality! His device could be lost to us
forever!”

           
“Don’t
worry about that,” Barth said. “When we’re in power he’ll have to give it up.
No individual quirks will stand in our way – we’ll see to that.”

           
Catera
frowned and shook his head. “I still don’t like it.”

           
“You’d
better like it!” deBloise hissed. He was on his feet and speaking through
clenched teeth. Whether there was genuine concern on Catera’s part or just the
start of a power play, deBloise could not be sure. But he intended to get a
commitment here and now. “The movement is a little over a hundred years old now
and we’ve made considerable gains in that time. It started as a handful of
discontented representatives and now entire sectors think of themselves as
Restructurist. But we’ve become stagnant and we all know it. Oh, we make grand
gestures and sweeping generalizations in public, but our point of view seems to
have peaked. Some of our analysts even see the start of a downswing on the
marginally committed planets.”

           
He paused
to let this sink in.

           
“Our
speeches no longer cause even a ripple in the Assembly and we introduce amendments
to the charter that are knocked down time after time. Our constituents are
going to start wondering if we really know what we’re doing and it may not be
too long before we find others sitting in our seats in the Assembly unless we
do something now!”

           
A prolonged
silence followed as Catera gazed at his shoes through the transparent tabletop.
Finally: “I’ll see to it that the funds I control are deposited in the account
tomorrow.”

           
“Thank you,
Doyl,” deBloise replied in a conciliatory tone as he seated himself again. “How
much can we count on?”

           
Catera
shrugged. “Don’t know exactly. It’s in mixed currencies, of course. I think the
total will come to about half a million Federation credits after conversion.”

           
 
“Excellent! Philo?”

           
And they
went on totaling the contributions, unaware that the entire meeting was being
recorded.

           

           
The course of public events is often shaped
by seemingly unlikely individuals occupying seemingly marginal positions. As
for the present state of Occupied Space, a good part of the credit or blame –
depending on your philosophical viewpoint – probably belongs to the members of
a single family, the name of which is no doubt unfamiliar to you unless you’re
involved in interstellar trade. The family name? Finch.

           
 

           
from
Stars for
Sale
:

 

           
An Economic History
of Occupied Space

 

           
by Emmerz Fent

 

           
 

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