Spy? Me?

“If he’s a diplomat,” Sykes said, “ he is forbidden to possess eavesdropping devices, remote digital communications probes…that’s in our treaty with the Stellites.”

“Good point,” Tara said.  “Assuming he is a diplomat.  Of course if he’s not, Bulger is a defense installation, so he’s a spy, meaning he gets to be tried for espionage.  Do we have a location for the firing squad wall yet?”

“I am a diplomat!” Descamps answered.  “And I was not carrying any spy equipment.  These people put it on the ground, to make me look guilty of something!”

Tara noted that he had just switched claims a hundred eighty degrees without blinking an eye.  

“You’re with the New Washington embassy?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.  Please tell them to release me,”  Descamps asked.

Tara looked skyward. The sky was covered with  puffs of white cloud, the space in between being a brilliant blue.  She listened for a moment to the call of seagulls.  

“I’ll have to confirm that,” she announced. “I’ll call Legate Bronkowski, and see what he has to say about the situation.  Naturally, as the equipment is not yours, you say, Mr. Descamps, we will keep it. Guys, hold him here, politely.”  She returned to her office.


Ir was remarkable, she thought, how many times Bronkowski had called her, without her ever calling back.  No matter.  That record was about to come to an end.  Her card file did have the required telephone number for the Stellar Republic embassy.

After some delay, a face appeared on the vision screen, someone she did not know.

“Hello, I’m Tara Broadbent, Senior Counsel to Bulger Spaceways.  I need to speak to Senior Legate Bronkowski.”

“I’m sorry,” the nameless face said, “but the Senior Legate is extremely busy. Surely this matter is something someone else on our staff can deal with.”

Tara smiled. “Our security has detained a young man claiming to be one Pierre Descamps.  He claims to be a member of your embassy staff, but is carrying no identification. Also, he appears to have been carrying a substantial amount of spy equipment, contrary to our current treaty, for unclear purposes.  I would hope that the Senior Legate can clear the matter up. Otherwise, since he was carrying spy equipment, and admitted being a foreign national, he is likely to be tried and put up in front of a firing squad as a spy. He seems to be a nice young man, with a rather thick little black book of girlfriends, so I would prefer to think he does not need to be shot. However, modern Union judicial proceedings are extremely efficient, so if the matter cannot be resolved reasonably promptly, in a few weeks he will probably be quite dead.  Now, misbehavior of diplomatic personnel is solely under the Senior Legate’s remit, so it is to him I must speak.”

“I see,” the embassy staffer said. “It may take me a few minutes to reach the Senior Legate. Please have him call you back as soon as possible? There is a person of this name on the staff. I happen to know him. The spy issue I have to pass up to the Senior Legate.”

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Anglic Union

The Spy Who Was Caught Cold

The communicator on Tara Broadhurt’s desk gave the quadruple chime indicating an incoming call of the highest urgency.  Bulger Space Yard’s Senior Legal Officer glowered at the telephone, noticed that it was stubbornly refusing to slag down, and picked up the receiver. 

“Bulger Space Yard, Broadbent here,” she said, trying to be cheery to whoever was calling.

“Miss Broadbent,  this is Platoon Leader William Sykes.  We have a situation.”  Sykes paused.  “We detained someone who hopped the fence.  He claims he is a Stellar Republic diplomat, is immune to arrest, but has no identification papers. Also, he was carrying all sorts of electronic spy gear.”

“I see, William,” Tara answered.  “I’ll be out there in a bit.”

“Thank you,” William said.  “We’re next to the Guard House.  Please wait for your security detail.  The Seldon Legion never sleeps, but we’re perpetually undermanned.”

A short time later, Tara marched across the parking lot, her escort spaced out to each side.  It was a brisk day, the bright sun low on the horizon doing little to warm the air, but her long wool coat kept her warm.  A gaggle of Legionaires,  some facing out to watch the perimeter fence, stood in a circle surrounding a young man.

“What’s all this?” she asked as she approached. 

“Ma’am, he jumped the fence,” Sykes explained.  “When we tried to detain him, he tried to run, so we used a stunner on him, searched him carefully, returned personal property – wallet, keys, change purse, little black book of girlfriends, pocket chronometer, and segregated all his spy equipment.”

“I am Pierre Descamps.  I am being illegally detained,” the young man in the center announced.  “As a member of the Stellar Republic’s diplomatic staff, I’m not subject to arrest. ”

“What does his passport say?” Tara asked.

“He’s carrying no ID, ma’am,” Sykes answered.  “He says he forgot to bring it. He is not carrying a personal communicator. He arrived by walking down from Observation Point Park. There’s no vehicle there, nor any sign of how he got there. And he was carrying all sorts of electronic spy equipment.”

Tara turned to Descamps.  “You’re a diplomat?”

“Absolutely.  And I demand that my personal possessions be returned!”  Descamps did not quite raise his voice.

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Anglic Union

“Indeed,” Elaine said, “we delayed the flight of the Mighty Hauler 2 in case you had any final questions about its patent issues.”

“Caution is always wise.”  Tzoltzin nodded.  “However, my final inspection, last visit, is legally binding, so your ship is free to fly.   If the weather improves before then, I would be pleased to watch it ascend.  It is so rare that I see anything new and different in starship design, not that your ship is, with only beta drives, a true starship.”

“Beta drives are faster-than-light,” Elaine said, “an action my recent ancestors thought was impossible, so on paper the Mighty Hauler 2 could travel to another nearby star. Eventually.  I would strongly discourage trying it; it’s not designed to spend a year in space without ground maintenance.  However, its sole mission it to fly from here to Proserpine, a distance of 100 light hours, load with iron-nickel, and fly back.”

“My intruments claim that your drive, “ Tzoltzin pointed, “is a match of the root design.  Now we test it under power – levitation to a few foot-lengths off the ground is adequate.”

“Elaine pointed at the technicians and gave a thumb’s-up.  “Bring the drive to test height,” she called.  There followed  a quarter-hour of one component after the next being powered up, until the entire assembly was filled with pale white light, following which the drive obediently climbed and hovered.

“The root drive is very definitely not what you would want on a warship that might scramble in an emergency,” Elaine said.

“Scramble – mix?  No scramble, run fast.”  Tzoltzin nodded. “No, you would not want that, not unless you are not bothered that the occasional takeoff includes an unscheduled disassembleation event. I would find this undesireable, also, though some species would disagree with us.  Now we get to wait again.”

“I hope that you may advise Legate Bronkowski that we’re doing nothing improper,” Elaine observed.

“The Legate…Oh, you must not have heard,” Tzoltzin said.  “The Legate has been recalled to Mogado.  According to one of your newspapers, he had certain secret objectives for the betterment of the Republic, did not attain them, so he is being sent someplace more suited to his doubtless redoubtable talents.”

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Anglic Union

“I hope we have have brought you happy memories,” Elaine said.

“Indeed, you have.  Time for my instruments to run my tests,” Tzoltzin nodded appreciatively.  “You are attesting that this is the root drive on the alpha drive patent tree?”

“We so attest.  We hope it is the true first drive,” Elaine answered, “and requested an inspection to confirm that it matches the unpatentable root design. We recognize the possibility that we have misinterpreted some aspect of the specifications, however clear they seem to be.”

“Our treaty allows rebuilds to come into compliance with the specifications. My instruments will take a while to do check.  Perhaps for the nonce we should sit, let them do their work, and drink more of your excellent tea.”  Tzoltzin waddled back to the tea table.

“I’ve made a fresh pot,” Mabel Brixton said.

“Excellent.  This will take a while,” Tzoltzin said.  “The root drive is extremely large and complex, though in a sense it is simplicity itself.  Each part has only one function.  I do have a  note to myself, to remind you that there is a shape patent on changing the drive field shape.”

“You are referring  the surviving First Empire patent on these?” Elaine asked innocently.

“Precisely,” Tzoltzin agreed.  “The First Empire let the inventors gain a patent that covers ‘any design change that leads to the same effect’, in particular any design change that changes the volume englobed by the drive field from the useless pancake to the sensible cigar. And, indeed, there is such a shape patent, in the hands of – it’s in the files.”

“That’s all right,” Elaine said.  “Our interest is in validating that we actually built the root design.”

“A highly interesting choice,” Tzoltzin said.  “Perhaps someday I will learn why you find this choice interesting.”

“Indeed,” Elaine said. 

“On the other hand,” Tzoltzin said, “I am reminded of visiting here once and again, watching you build your new heavily over-built test bed, observed your delight that it flew using beta drives – a completely unsurprising event, since the quality of your precision construction is perfectly sound – and being entirely baffled that you then incorporated it into a freighter hauler of unconventional oblate discoidal form, a hauler soon to fly.”

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Anglic Union

“Apologies,” Elaine said.  “And if in the future one of your inspections would coincide with severe weather, we will see if we can adjust to your schedule.”

“That is most kind,” Tzoltzin said, “but I shall not quail before the inclemencies of nature.  Nagging my compatriots to design more effective winter clothing seems more to the point.  I do, however, smell tea steeping.”  He accepted a large mug, inhaled deeply the steam rising from its top, nodded, and drank. 

“You have the perfect temperature,” he announced.  “Though if I recall correctly, human palates will prefer it a bit cooler. “  More of his tea disappeared down his throat.  “I would happily sit here and drink, but I fear that my duty must come first.  Lieutenant, please see that at least some of the tea is left for me?  And now let us advance to see your device.”

Bulger Alpha Drive 0 was parked on its pedestal.  Three technicians sat in front of control consoles, ready to power the device up if requested.  Tzoltzin waddled in a large circle around the drive, admiring it from all sides, stopping once and again to admire the design..

“This alpha drive unit,” the Inspector said politely,  “It’s enormous.  This is the true first drive, I gather?  Truthfully, not only have I never seen one, but I gather that one has not been built since sometime in the First Empire.  Does it achieve lift?”

“We’ve done extensive tethered tests,” Elaine answered, “as specified in the design description.  There was some need to tune a few components, but we now see the power curve in the specifications.

“If I appear slow to advance to the tests, it is because I am reminded of being a little boy.  My parents would bring me to our provincial capitol, where there was The Museum of Patents, with exhibits of devices protected by law.  There on a pedestal was a replica – non-functional – of the very first alpha drive, in the form of a quarter-scale replica.  I was a little boy; I thought it was very big.  I saw it during the reign of the Jinjur Emperor Miktos the 57th.”

“I hope we have have brought you happy memories,” Elaine said.

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Anglic Union

“We ran up the temperature inside the building,” Elaine said, “and have the stack of heated drying cloths that I gather are the Creztailian custom.  There is also hot tea.”

“Heated cloths are indeed the custom,” Junichiro said, “and he is fond of your Australian Keemun tea if it can be had.”

“Ready and waiting.”  Fortunately, Elaine thought, Mabel Brixton keeps careful notes on these things.

“And here is the Senior Inspector,” Lieutenant Tashiro announced. 

Inspector Tzoltzin waddled down the ramp, his batrachian snout pulled back under a long rain hood.  “Ah, Great Commander of Building Things Bell.  I am of course delighted to see you, despite your sad weather. Though I have read there are places north of here where the rain falls as beautiful white crystals, hopefully only to be seen from the far side of a thick pane of glass.”

“And I greet you also, Senior Inspector,” Elaine answered, her arms outstretched with palms up.  The Inspector repeated the gesture.  “However, be so kind as to step into the transporter, and we will be in someplace more comfortable in a few moments.  Of course, if you ever wish to see a snow storm, you could visit our Polar Coastline.”

“I eagerly endorse this proposal of transport,” Tzoltzin said.  “And, while it may surprise you, one of the things I do wish to experience, before I return home, is a polar blizzard.  While safe, of course, behind heavy window panes.  After all, your planet is something of an extreme, for a place where intelligence developed, in terms of its polar axial tilt.”

The Test Facility foyer was pleasantly warm.  Tzoltzin slipped from his raincoat and gratefully accepted the first of a stack of warm towels. 

“On my home world,” he said, “at least the parts fit for habitation, rain falls in the warm months, almost always at night. I fear that my weather gear was not intended for such a challenging storm.”

“Apologies,” Elaine said.  “And if in the future one of your inspections would coincide with severe weather, we will see if we can adjust to your schedule.”

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Anglic Union

“Agreed,” Broadbent said.  “I’m always happy to talk with you on issues of mutual interest.  That’s one of the reasons I am here, after all.”

“Thank you for taking my call,” Bronkowski answered.  “It is always very pleasant to talk to you.  Bronkowski out.”

“Broadbent out,” Broadbent echoed while she closed down the call. She inhaled her tea’s aroma.  It was a fine tea for such a dreary day.  She opened a channel on her deskcomp and began to dictate a report on the conversation.  Bronkowski appeared to know something that she didn’t, a position she did not like to be in.


See the Alpha Core

Primary Atomic Spray Facility One

Bulger Shipyards, North California

Elaine Bell stood at one corner of the landing field, waiting for her expected guests.  Today was gray and rainy, a December chill having replaced the warmer weather.  Gusts of wind drove puddles across the landing field.

“Senor Inspector Tzoltzin’s aircar is on final approach,” the voice in her earbug announced,  “coming in at 270 true.  Takeoff of the Mighty Transporter II is being held until he lands.  Bulger Flight Control, out.”

She looked out over the waters of the Pacific.  The roar of the waves, driven by a storm still well off-shore, was unusually loud. Waterproof rain gear or not, she was facing into the wind, and could feel raindrops breaking across her face.  There, dipping below the cloud line was the bright Republic Orange of the Inspector’s air transport.   She felt the distinct hum of a vehicle landing with the support of an alpha drive core.  As it settled to earth, her freight transporter rolled forward, positioning itself as close as possible to the aircar’s now extending landing ramp.

Lieutenant Tashiro Junichiro appeared at the passenger hatch, made a cursory check of the surroundings, and marched down the ramp.  “Elaine,” he said as he reached bottom, “it is as always good to see you.  The Senior Inspector will follow in a moment; he is donning weather gear.”

“Apologies for the climate, but you can’t put a weather screen over a landing field,” Elaine said.

“Curiously, the Inspector said the same thing.  He grumbled about the expected near-polar weather.”

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Anglic Union

“Said again,” Bronkowski said, “without registration with us, you can’t design a spaceship, you can’t equip it, and it can’t go anywhere.”

“That is an interesting set of rationales,”  Broadbent said.  “From your analysis, it follows that we probably are not building any spaceships.  I’ll tell the managing committee about what you said.. Any further decision is theirs, not mine alone.” She pinched her nose.  “Are there more issues?  Did you have other business?” she asked. 

“As a practical matter, if you recommend to your Board that you should register your spaceship, that would be a very positive outcome.  It would show that you understand the importance of an appropriate relationship between the progressive thinking of the Stellar Republic and the respectful obedience reasonably expected of citizens of insignificant powers.” 

Broadbent wondered if Bronkowski was able to open his mouth without offending people.  The smart money looked to be against. 

“However, “ Bronkowski continued, “after you have done that, especially if you were successful, your usefulness to Bulger Spaceyards might deteriorate.  In that case, there are any number of Republic Starship firms that would be delighted to employ a highly competent attorney such as yourself, especially one who understands Union law so well. I think I could guarantee that your salary would be at least twice what it is now, with guarantee through a bonding service of at least twenty years’ pay at that level.”

“I see,” she said.  “That’s very generous.” Why, she wondered, is he pushing this line, which a cynic would call attempted tortious interference in my contract?  That’s a lot of money, at least in Anglic Union pounds, that he is proposing to put up.  “However, I am entirely happy with my present employer, to whom I always give honest service, so I don’t think I would be able to accept.  I will still call the attention of the Managing Committee, on which I sit, to the issues you raised, which actually are of interest, so someday we might choose to register a ship of ours with you, assuming hypothetically that we want to design and build a spaceship as you suggested.”

He shook his head.  “In that case, I believe that this conversation has advanced to its natural stopping point.”

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Anglic Union

“I welcome you to the club of people who think we have started designing our own starships,” Broadbent said.  “It is already an extremely large and unselective club, of which I am a non-member.”

“You are denying it?  Would you care to hear my reasons?” Brankowski asked.

“Ah,” Broadbent answered, “now we reach serious negotiations. Not, mind you, that I am saying we are planning on building a spaceship, though it is res ipsa that we could. However, you have raised the issue, so I will politely treat it as a hypothesis for the purpose of discussion.”  Her tea brewer beeped.  It had brewed the tea for a large mug of beverage, bringing the water not quite to a boil, steeping for the correct number of minutes, and emptied the tea into a mug.  Peltier-effect cooling blocks had then dropped the tea to a drinkable temperature.  She raised the mug and toasted Brankowski.

“Coffee?” he asked.

“Tea,” she answered.  “Keemun, from an Australian estate.  If you were here, you could share it.  Alas, you are not.  Please discuss.”

“Keemun.  Wonderful.  Alas, I am too busy to travel,” he answered.  “However, there are practical consequences.”  She raised her eyebrows.  “Please point them out to your superiors, who will doubtless understand what I am saying, even though you do not.  First, spaceships not registered, meaning registered even before construction started, cannot carry goods to or between Republic starports.  You can build a ship, but it would have next to no use.  Second, owners of unregistered ships cannot buy or license devices protected by Republic patents.  That means no alpha drives.  That means no high-field fusactors.  You may build a hull, but it will have no power or ability to fly.”

“I see,” she said, her tone as bland as warm milk.

“Third,” Bronkowski continued, “your Union has no licensed naval architects, no one authorized or qualified by the Stellar Republic to produce your starship design.  It is illegal for a licensed naval architect to work on the design of an unregistered starship. It is impossible for someone who is not a licensed naval architect even to begin designing a spaceship, for which you need a large team of designers, each licensed to design in their specialty.  For a typical freighter there are, in round numbers, two hundred specialties, so you need two hundred designers.  You cannot even design this ship, let alone build it, unless you register it with us.”

“What do you mean licensed?” she asked.  “The Anglic Union at the time of its foundation banned occupational licensing.  Or do you mean licensed by the Stellar Republic?”

“Precisely,” Bronkowski said.  “While licensing is only mandatory within the Republic, all neighboring states have willingly and voluntarily agreed to impose the same requirement on their naval architects, so don’t think you can hire from some lesser species beyond the pale.”

Willingly and voluntarily, my backside, Broadbent thought.  Those agreements were obtained by bribery or force.  “An interesting point,” she offered. “Of course, it would be illegal for us to hire a naval architect of another species, one who was not an Anglic Union citizen.”  Not my fault, her mind continued, that Republic engineers are all very narrowly trained.

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Anglic Union

“I seem to recall that there are certain fees involved,” Broadbent said, “large fees, payable in Stellar Republic currency, a commodity in very short supply within the Anglic Union given your new trade regulations.” Let us see where he goes with that, she considered.

“The fees are very reasonable,” Bronkowski said, “and easily paid under our highly equitable trade regulations, namely the space yards in question agree to take a Stellar Republic spaceship construction firm as its senior investor, in which case the senior investor pays the fees.”

“I’ve heard of several of these,” Broadbent said.  She shook her head.  “It always seemed that after a while the senior investor ended up owning and then closing the yard in question.”

“Oh, on rare occasions business does poorly,” Bronkowski said, “and then the senior investor has to protect its investment in what was, after all, a small, fourth-rate shipyard.”

“I see,” Broadbent said.  “Of course, taking a foreign investor as a partner is illegal in the Anglic Union, so such arrangements are not worth discussing further here.  Foreign investment in the Union is illegal.”  She paused.  Bronkowski  drew back.  Hadn’t he known, she wondered, how Union investment laws worked?  “So why would we want to register, ignoring financial issues?  You must have some good reasons.  Please tell me about them.”

“Madame Broadbent,” Brankowski said, “all across the galaxy, this is how things are done.  Before you build your spaceship, you must register it.  With us.”

“Curiously,” Broadbent said, “we are not someplace across the Galaxy.  We are here on Earth, the home world of mankind, in the successor state to the nation that gave mankind manned interplanetary flight.  We do not need to ask the permission of foreigners to build spaceships.  After all, we’ve been doing it since before your Republic did.”

“If you do not register it,” Brankowski said, “there are also practical consequences.”

“Actually, for that matter,” Broadbent asked, “why do you think we are planning on building spaceships?  You are not the first person to contact us on this topic, though most letters we get are nice people trying to sell us things.”

“The Stellar Republic Intelligence Services are all-seeing,” Brankowski answered.  “Also, given your circumstances, well, if I were running your operation I would be vigorously planning to build spaceships.  We seem to  have different perspectives on the matter.”

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