Enter the Elizavetsians
With the Commodore on his way, Chelan took a deep breath. So far nothing completely terrible had happened, but with Elizavetsians in the next room you could never be completely certain. Most Americans detested Elizavetsia and everything their country stood for, a feeling reciprocated in kind, but the final agreements that ended the violent part of the Interregnum meant that they were entitled to send representatives into the Union. They were usually polite enough not to notice their Seldon Legion escorts. He touched the intercom. “Mrs. Brixton, please send in our three friends from the north and my staff members corresponding to their interests.”
Three Elizavetsians in identical black frock coats marched into the room and came to a stop in front of his desk. “Gentlemen,” Chelan said, “welcome to Humboldt Bay. I assume there is some important business you have with us. If so, what is it?” He told himself that he wasn’t being nearly as negative as most Americans would be to a trio of Elizavetsians present in the flesh. However, it appeared that the three men he was facing were here on truly important business, not here in an effort to antagonize their fellow North Americans, for all that they refused to disclose their names.
The oldest of the three Elizavetsians spoke. “We wish to know if you will continue to honor the contract that Bulger Spaceship Holdings has with the Elizavetsian Confederacy.”
“Please have seats,” Chelan answered. “First, my apologies for the delay, but first I had to deal with mandatory legal matters, then I had to deal with people who wanted to seize the yard, and finally – well, it is better for me to keep my government happy. May I offer you coffee or tea?”
“Wisely said. Your legal officer explained to us your constraints. Your Chief of Staff has already issued us excellent North American mint tea,” the youngest Elizavetsian answered. Chelan hoped he had not put his foot too far in his mouth. Elizavetsians spurned agricultural products that they could not grow themselves, and Alaskan coffee beans were insanely expensive. Fortunately Mrs. Brixton had known what to serve them.
“Sir?” Charles Smith intruded. “These gentlemen represent the mystery purchaser we’d noted. The one taking 10,000 tons of nickel iron from every shipment, and paying in gold.” The Elizavetsians nodded in agreement.
“Ah,” Chelan said. “And the purchases stopped for some reason, three months ago.”
“They did not stop,” the oldest Elizavetsian answered. “We continued to pay, as per our contract, receiving increasingly absurd excuses for the lack of shipments, and finally determined that the Dewey and Rotham thieves were selling the same ore. Twice. We will now settle with them, in our customary ways.” Meaning, Chelan thought, that Dewey and Rotham would by and by be visited by Elizavetsian assassination squads. Such a shame.
“As it happens, we do wish to continue the arrangement, assuming irregularities of the past months can be settled,” Chelan answered. After all, he thought, you’re paying well more than our other customers, likely because most Americans refuse to deal with you.
“We are agreeable, also, except Bulger is sixty thousand tons behind in the ore for which we have already paid,” the final representative noted mournfully.
“We don’t, to my knowledge, have any ore on hand. I expect we can get you that ore, respectably quickly, mindful that we also have other customers,” Chelan answered. “I have to work out from the shipping schedules from Proserpine what we can get you, and when. I’m not in the habit of making promises I cannnot keep, and – having been here for only a few hours – don’t know what I can promise. At a rough number, I think we can supply you with 20,000 tons, every week or two, but we would want half of that to be the ore due on that date, for which we would be paid at the usual rate.”
The Elizavetsians stiffened. “We have already paid much. We would need consult with the Council of Leaders,” the oldest answered. “We would want a detailed schedule first.”
“Fair enough,” Chelan answered. “And I must consult with my Audit Committee. We are open to counterproposals, which we will look on warmly. Is there anything else I can help you with, gentlemen?”
“We know who you are.” The eldest Elizavetsian smiled. “We know your word is good. We hear and understand that you do not yet know what your actual technical situation is. We shall await entirely patiently your hopefully positive answer. We do wish to continue doing business with you, if the recent anomalies can be corrected.”
“And I also look forward to doing business with you, if matters can be arranged in a satisfactory manner,” Chelan answered. Three young and very fit Seldon Legionaires escorted the three Elizavetsians to the stairs and their waiting air car. Soon enough, Chelan hoped, they would be gone.
“Charles,” he said, “we need a schedule that gets the people the nickel-iron we may or may not legally owe them, so that they go back to paying us, which they do handsomely. What did they mean ‘selling the same ore twice?’ Tell the Audit Committee, which hopefully will not complain, that I said we are keeping the deal. ”
“Done. And you have a final person out there,” Charles said.
Enter Elaine Bell
“Elaine Bell.” Chelan leaned back in his chair and tried to gather his thoughts. “Please ask her to come in, and ask Mrs Brixton for a coffee carafe and a tray of cookies.” Finally, he stood, stretched and turned to look out his windows. It was an idiotic extravagance, but the view was truly beautiful. He paused to rearrange chairs around the low table.
A knock at the door announced Roger McNaughton and Elaine Bell, followed by Mrs. Brixton and morning coffee service. Bell’s handshake, Chelan noted, was firm but not domineering. He let McNaughton pour the coffee.
“Doctor Chelan, thank you for seeing me so quickly,” Bell said.
“You’re most welcome.” Victor tried a welcoming smile. “Ebenezer Wyatt said we desperately needed someone with your skills and background. And now Moses — Commodore Clangbalance, very long time friend – spoke very highly of you. On our way over here I had a chance to look at your file, which appeared very positive. I was slightly obscure as to why you didn’t retire earlier, when the rank reduction rolled through.”
Bell leaned her chin on her fingertips. “I hope you to be an opportunity to get the Union what it needs, namely a space yard of its own. The easy way to do that was to persuade the Congress and Parliaments to pay for one. For reasons I can’t discuss, this seems more likely than it had been in the past. However, the National Renaissance Party is strongly inclined to budgetary efficiency, meaning not spending money on anything that can be avoided. I did draw up a reasonably detailed plan for a shipyard to maintain the Space Guard’s vessels, but that was more money than people wanted to spend. I wasn’t sure what to do next. At that point, Bulger ran into financial issues. The Bulger space yard is well known, even if it mostly serves Bulger ships. When I saw that they were going broke and the new owners might want to renovate the yard, I saw there was a real chance here to move toward what I want for our Anglic Union.”
“Did Moses ask you to report back on what we were doing or how we were advancing?” Victor asked. Nothing like a surprise question, he thought, to see if I can catch someone off balance.
“He has too much respect for me to do that,” Bell answered smoothly. “He did tell me that I should try to figure out why a facility with six molecular spray facilities, fine resolution ones, turns out so very few life-support units, gravitronic field spines, and the like. He’d be delighted to buy them if you put them up for sale.”
Victor asked himself how much of her answer was more than literally true. Her record was almost too good to be believable, he thought, or it showed extreme dedication toward a known goal, except that Space Guard technical training certifications were generally backed by a solid commitment to honest reporting.
“That one I can answer,” McNaughton said. “Though, as the boss said, we should do a walking tour of the Yard before you commit to anything, or tell us what you want to come on board. Seeing might be better than talking.”
“I’d be delighted to do a walkabout,” Bell said. “I’d like to see what I’m getting into before I’m too thoroughly committed, assuming you can show me your facilities.“
“I’ll be happy to show you what we have,” Victor said. “Except Roger here will have to do more of the talking. Since I got in this morning, all I’ve done is to sign off on legal things. Shall we be on our way?”
“You’re the one interviewing me,” Bell answered. “I’m very interested in seeing what is out there.”