Bulger Space Yards
Two air vans settled into the Bulger Yards parking lot.
“Security is deployed,” Davis announced.
“A remarkable number of cars here,” Broadhurst said. “I expected the lot to be completely empty.”
“All waiting for the boss,” Davis explained. “But, no, not many employees.”
“Forward!” Victor Chelan let people precede him out of the van. “Roger, you and escort might now visit the molecular spray facility.”
“Charles, front door and up the stairs,” Davis said. “The elevator to the executive tower, the third floor, is a bit wonky.”
The stairways were less than clean, Victor thought, but the top floor sparkled. This section of the building was new, added because the Dewey egomaniac running the place had given himself a two-corner office with impressive views. He looked through the double door into the outer office. Golden teak wall panels, he noted, must have cost someone a small fortune. The large office was manifestly standing room only. Who were all these people? The trio in jet-black frock coats had to be Elizavetsians, people you almost never saw inside the Union. He let staff members precede him.
People waiting inside the room surged toward him, all shouting at once. Not quite all. The Elizavetsians, the Space Guard person in a dark blue uniform, and the tall woman standing at parade rest against the opposite wall simply nodded in his direction.
“Enough!” Chelan did not quite shout. The room quieted. The matronly, silver-haired woman behind the desk smiled in his direction. He waved her to sit. “Mrs. Brixton, I believe? Have you managed to identify all these doubtless nice people, and what they each want?”
“Sir, on your office desk monitor. Along with the employment paperwork your staff requested,” she answered.
“Okay, people, I can’t talk to all of you at once. “ Chelan hoped they were listening. “In fact, I can’t talk to any of you – North California State Employment law — until I deal with something first. Are there are Union representatives here?” Three women raised their hands. “Anyone with financial claims, please form a line and speak first with Charles Smith here. He’s our new Finance Manager. Order does not matter; I’m going to be a while. Mrs. Brixton, Tara, nice people from the Unions, please give me a moment to look at my office.”
Chelan stepped through one more door and looked around. The views were as magnificent as he had expected. The desk looked to be solid teak. It wasn’t large enough to be a swimming pool, but he had seen many smaller dining room tables. The room had a remarkable amount of shelving and cabinetry. From the looks of things, the prior occupant had been extremely thorough about clearing everything out. There was also a respectably large conference table with two stacks of paper, each under a beautiful glass paperweight. The wall between this office and the reception area had been remarkably thick. What was it hiding? A search showed a full bath, more than ample closet space for clothing, concealed stairs leading down, and, yes, it was, and with the heater on, an antique water bed behind a door,occupying the width between the two walls.
He gestured for Tara and crew to come into the office.
“The large stack,” Brixton explained, “is people who are accepting your departure offer. The small stack is people who want to stay. That’s actually two stacks criss-crossed.”
“OK,” Chelan said. “Let’s start with the ‘I choose to leave’ people. Tara, you check each form first, then our nice Union people see them, and finally I sign. Mrs. Brixton, as we reach names, if you have anything to tell me, say so.”
The noise level in the outer office had increased noticeably. “Doctor Chelan,” Brixton said, “not until we reach the small stack, which will be a while.”
“We have claims,” the shortest representative began, “claims that…”
Chelan interrupted. “Claims that I can’t act on until…”
“…until we have finished with these,” the tallest representative finished for him. Chelan gave her a thumbs up. “We all knew that.”
“Then let’s be about it,” Chelan announced.
“You aren’t letting us see the claims first?” The shortest representative challenged.
“You will see them, before I sign,” Chelan answered, “but my legal representative will look first, so that if there are irregularities we may flag them before you see them and become upset.” Well, he thought, more upset. And the quaint union custom that their representatives have numbers 1, 2, 3 and not names means that I cannot be more polite to her.
“A fine idea,” the tallest Union representative answered. “Hopefully there are no irregularities, and we will not find any that you missed.”
And hour later, they were finished. “The remaining papers,” Charles Smith said, “are from people who wish to stay with us. We haven’t decided yet.”
“If you don’t decide today,…” the shortest representative began.
“…they must pay them until they decide,” the tallest representative announced.
“But of course,” Chelan said. “Only a crook would say otherwise.”
“But we also have our claim,” the third representative said. “For all these employees. for the past three months, no payments were made into the Jointly-Managed Retirement funds. We have an immediate legal claim…”
“Which I am happy to recognize,” Chelan said. “Subject to legal and accounting review at my end. Do you have a total for those charges?” She passed numbers over to him. “That’s not superficially objectionable. Charles, please put that number into an escrow account until we finish checking things, hopefully soon? And we’re agreed on pay, of course.”
“Will do,” Charles answered. “The retirement checks should be done today.”
“Anything else?” Chelan asked. Hearing no answer, he pointed at the doorway, then tapped the intercom. “Mrs. Brixton? Have any new people arrived?”
“No, sir, and Miss Broadhurst has put in order the people who want to speak to you, starting with the people with court orders.”
Thank God for small favors, Chelan thought.
Tara shepherded a dozen somewhat bedraggled-looking men and an even more bedraggled-looking woman through the door. “These people,” Tara explained, “all bear liens against Bulger, but the liens are attached to the property, not to the company, meaning that they can grab the yards before we can get them. The claims look valid. They’re not enormously large. I suggest that we pay.”
Chelan gestured at the chairs at the conference table. “My apologies for not speaking to each of you separately, but we are just getting started today. I hope your clients will be happier to get their money more quickly. In fact, until I got done with the last group, I legally couldn’t have done anything for you. Tara, are those all of their claims? In that case, if you pass them over. I hope no one minds if I read all of them aloud?” Hearing no objections, Chelan read through the claims.
“Charles,” Chelan said, “these are all legal claims against the property, they have documentation, none of them are really huge, so I see no problem with paying all of them. Perhaps take these people to the second floor conference room and handle all the paperwork? In any event, it has been a pleasure to meet all of you, and I hope we only have to do more favorable business with you in the future.” Chelan pointed at the door.
Bulger CEO Office
Tara Broadhurst stayed behind. “We have an irate group of Elizavetsians and a Space Guard Commodore who has been here since six this morning because he didn’t realize this shipyard keeps civilian hours. Commodore Clangbalance was much happier after Mabel gave him a couple of cups of strong coffee and some pastries. You also have waiting for you Elaine Bell, that’s actually Space Guard Senior Master Chief of the Fleet Retired Elaine Bell, who insists she should see you last since your interview will presumably be extended. I think I’m not supposed to notice that she has exchanged occasional glares with the Elizavetsians and a friendly smile with the Commodore.”
“I’d better see the Commodore first,” Chelan said, “as there are various unfortunate things even a weak government like the Union’s can do to make our lives unpleasant. Once he is inside, please remind the Elizavetsians of this. In fact, I’d better go out and meet him and bring him in myself. Yes, that also means I get to grab a cup of coffee.”
A few minutes later, Commodore Moses Clangbalance and Victor Chelan sat in two of the comfortable deeply-padded chairs on opposite sides of the low conference table. They both had pleasant views, looking down toward the distant waves of the Pacific.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Moses Clangbalance opened. “It is good to see you again after all these years. The Space Guard is delighted to learn that Bulger is now open under new management, or whatever the exact legal status is.”
“I’m also delighted to be seeing you,” Chelan answered. “I hope we can look forward to long and mutually supportive arrangements, even if I am making off with some of your best people. I can have my staff brief yours on the exact legal issues, if need be in the next few days. Though I should apologize that you have been sitting here waiting so long. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t dealt with those other people first, they would’ve at least attempted to seize the yards, in which case we would have been unable to do any business with you until the litigation was settled, possibly years in the future. However, I did what had to be done first, legal requirement, and then paid off the folks who just wanted some money. Having said that, what may I do for you?”
“This is a somewhat sensitive matter.” The Commodore looked over his shoulder, confirming that the doors were closed. “Nothing I say other than the offering price needs to go beyond this room.”
“I’m actually fairly good at keeping secrets,” Chelan said. “As you know. And I will happily keep these.”
Commodore Clangbalance nodded gravely. “The Space Guard has traditionally depended on buying equipment made with molecular spray units from the Joint Fleet Yards in China, supplemented by equipment made here at Bulger. Alas, a voting majority of the Yards owners have decided to stop selling molecular spray creations to places not members of the Stellar Republic, effective at a near-future date. The formal vote and notification to the Union have not yet happened. That puts us in an extremely difficult position, since it is absolutely impossible to believe that the Congress and Parliaments will agree to become Republican slaves.”
“If they did,” Chelan said acerbically, “those who voted for it would be assassinated.”
“On the other hand,” Clangbalance continued, “without that agreement by-and-by we will no longer be able to keep our patrol ships in operation. We need to buy from you various sorts of equipment, notably life-support units and gravitronic drive spines, that we had previously purchased from the Joint Yards. There are standard prices for these things, but because of our great need I have been authorized by the Senate War Committee to pay 50% over standard list prices. However, we have an intense need in the relatively near future for various devices. I have here a list of what we need and when.” He produced a folded sheet of paper from an inner coat pocket.
“I’ll see what can be done,” Chelan said, sliding the paper into his jacket, “We haven’t yet done an inspection of the works, or what condition they’re in, other than to be aware that the Bulger Yard has not recently been very productive. We’re trying to change that as quickly as possible, but I have no idea whether or not we can get you these things, let alone on what schedule. As I said, especially given your very generous offer, we’ ll do the best we can.” Clangbalance nodded understandingly. “In that case, perhaps we should each finish our coffee, you can tell me of other interesting political gossip from Washington, then I need to speak to, good heavens, a delegation of Elizavetsians.”
“Indeed. We are entering a period of budgetary efficiency, Victor,” Clangbalance said, “and you have in your outer office an example of that efficiency. Elaine Bell was a Fleet Senior Master Chief, probably knows more about spaceship maintenance and design than anyone else in the Space Guard, and had earned every bit of her rarified rank and elevated pay. Congress and Parliaments in pursuit of efficiency substantially reduced the number of different petty officer ranks, and advised people in the cancelled ranks that they were reduced in rank to one of the ranks that survived. At a correspondingly reduced salary, of course. The financial savings were significant.”
“Why do I expect that this change was not well-received?” Chelan asked. “It must be my naturally suspicious nature. But wasn’t this soon after the elections? About the time Dewey and Rotham changed from being well-paid investors to seeing how much blood they could extract from the turnip, until bankruptcy arrived? ”
“Interesting you should mention that,” Clangbalance answered. “Bell was the only demoted Chief not to take immediate retirement. Ancient regulations giving demoted-without-cause retirees a three year departure bonus that, under these conditions, must have been a motivation for the others. The officer corps was similarly pared. Of course, we did have more Grand Supreme Admirals of the Combined Fleets than we had ships. The officer corps was thrown into disarray, especially when President Dewar made clear that he was setting fleet policy, for such of a fleet as there is, and the officer corps was there to do his bidding. In any event, we were getting intimations that the remaining Indian states would soon be adhering to the Republic, at which point our access to the Joint Fleet Yards would become extremely tenuous, exactly as has now happened. Chief Bell drew up plans, per President Dewar’s new policies, for a Union Fleet Yard. It was, to put it mildly, an expensive proposal, though cannily thrifty in design. Expensive and thrifty? A completely new yard is inherently expensive. She was emphatic that the proposal was only meant to anchor thinking on what it would cost, not that she was advocating for it. Needless to say, the National Renaissance politicos rejected her ideas, thought they did give her a substantial salary bonus for doing a job well, far beyond the call of duty. Dewar wants to encourage that sort of thinking; paying to make proposals into concrete objects is a different issue.”
“Why did she stay? If that’s not a secret?” Chelan asked.
“On one hand she’s only on second life extension, so she has a lot of years ahead of her.” Clangbalance shifted in his seat. “Her grandchildren are all established with families or careers, so she has said several times that she does not need the money. On the other hand, she’s been waiting for the right opportunity, so she’s technically on extended leave at tenth-pay. Bulger Yards may well be the right opportunity.”
“And your evaluation of her?” Chelan asked.
“It depends. What are you planning on doing?” Clangbalance asked.
“Officially, restoring profitability so that our principals can avoid taking large losses,” Chelan answered. “Absolutely only between the two of us? You see…” Chelan continued for some time.
“Nothing like a long-term plan. In that case, I can’t imagine that you can find a better candidate,” Clangbalance said emphatically. “But we have gossiped enough for one day.”
“Indeed. Always good to see you, Moses,” Chelan and Moses stood. “Please feed back that we will do what we can with your requests.”
“Happy to do that, Victor,” Clangbalance answered.