“In all fairness,” Broadhurst continued, “whoever was doing this was presumably hiding behind an extended series of cutouts, which as we both know under modern conditions can be extremely challenging to penetrate. We expect that your Fleet will investigate diligently, provide us in accord with the treaty with the details of what was done, but we will not be outraged if the investigation cannot be made to succeed.”
“As I believe I understood you,” Bronkowski said, “Ship Commander McTavish agreed that you had a credible claim on the material, that further ownership issues should be resolved through the legal systems, which leads me to conclude that we should wait the arrival of your legal documents. In that case, this seems to have been an interesting and educational conversation, including factual claims on your part for which you will doubtless forward documentation and evidence to me, and therefore we should wait for the lawyers. In any event, I have not heard from anyone in the Stellar Republic claiming to own the ore, and am happy to wait until I do. This is been a pleasant conversation, but I imagine we are both busy, so with that I must bid you adieu.” He hung up.
Tara Broadhurst leaned back in her chair and stared out the window. Bronkowski, she thought, was a noted bully, especially when targetting Earth’s surviving independent countries, such few of them as there were. There were lines he would not cross, if for no other reason than his lords and masters would slap him down if he tried. They were perfectly aware that the Stellar Republic was still an extremely fragile creature, based on polite accords, only a few of which could be backed by force at any one time. However, if the target of his bullying did not flinch, he was entirely prepared to be reasonable about matters.
The Audit Committee
Now, Victor thought, it was the turn of the Audit Committee. Fortunately, they were not the sorts of folks who would spend their time arguing about the cost of ink for my fountain pens. This being the Audit Committee, he faced on the screens six silver disks and machine-rendered voices, so he could have no official idea who was auditing him. The identities of three of the six were fairly obvious, but the others were not.
“So we are giving the Elizavetsians,” Number Three asked, “sixty thousand tons of nickel iron? For free?”
“We are paying them to keep shopping with us,” Victor answered. “So that they keep buying from us.
They pay double the usual rate. In gold and silver at market prices. The sooner we get them paying again, the better. But their first sixty thousand tons is free, because they have already paid. In fact, since we did get cash, we may still have some of their money in one of our banks. We will know when we finish untangling the accounts. The second sixty thousand tons, at double rate, covers that. Only then do we get ahead. So I’m proposing three flights to make them whole, three more flights to cover our loss on that, and then we do well.
“Can we wait three months?” Four asked. “Our Board of Directors was dismayed to learn how much capital we had at risk here. Do we stay in positive cash flow?”
“Let me point out,” Chelan said, “that thanks to Elaine Bell, we have more than doubled our expected income, landing sixty rather than thirty thousand tons of 10% nickel, not to mention finding the other metals and rare earths that we had not known about previously. We also still have, thanks to various debtor banks for dropping liens in the right places, significant cash on hand. On the other hand, I gather there are some questions about the spaceworthiness of our bulk haulers, whose maintenance has been neglected, not to mention I need to hire new crews, as the old ones have issues with law enforcement.”
“Difficulties?” One asked.