Victor Chelan sat at the corner table of his office facing Elaine Bell. The windows had autopolarized to screen him from the direct light of the lowering sun. Along the horizon, towering spires of cloud glowed orange and yellow. “In light of your contributions to our profitability, we are increasing your salary now rather than in two more months. Also, without changing the terms of your contract, we hope that you will be staying here for some time to come. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes.” Elaine smiled. “However, I do have a modest question. What is your long-term objective here? You’ve been using your cut of returned income to buy out other noteholders, so that by and by this will all be yours. I am supposed to be Boss of the Yard, you have been entirely supportive, but if I don’t know where you are going I may set things up poorly for you. ”
“Well, mine and the Seldon Legion’s,” he answered. “There are long term objectives. At the moment, getting the yard and current ships up and running, so as to repay noteholders, is a big enough bite to chew. If that fails, we can go no farther. But I will show you the starting point. Scribe, give us the Encyclopedia Astrographica.” The windows opaqued. Lights came on. One wall became a display panel. “The Blue is the part of the galaxy in the Stellar Republic and its satrapies. The Green is the Beyond The Pale, the part of the galaxy that is close enough to matter but that neither the Republic nor the predecessor Empire bothered to map in detail, because it was too far away. Beyond that ‘here be stars’. Scribe, Sol and neighbors, 25 light years out. Show warp lines.” A spangle of stars linked by golden threads appeared on the screen. More threads vanished off screen edges. “Compare with Hipparchos, updated. Hipparchos was a pre-disruption European star survey. I managed to acquire its complete files. Note the pulsing red points. Those are stars in the Hipparchos survey, done using an unmanned orbital robot, that are not in the Encyclopedia Astrographica. Why? The Encyclopedia only shows stars you can reach via warp transit. It’s missing something like a quarter of all stars, of every class of star.”
“Space Guard is not very interested in warp travel, on account no Union spaceship can do it,” Elaine observed. “OK, there may be a few private yachts. Our warships had to be hauled here inside a large freighter. Stellar Republic only cares about stars with warp points. If there are no warp points, travel to and from is too tedious.”
“And the final anomaly. Theta Zirconis is a triple star system. The Encyclopedia skips one star. The Psorans, who are from the system, depart by warp from Theta Zirconis A and B. They try to mask this issue, but attached to Theta Zirconis C are a series of warp lines that go to places that you also cannot find in the Encyclopedia. That’s my clue. How could the Union exploit that? I’ll let you consider the question.”
“It might be more convenient if you were simply to tell me,” Bell answered.
“My train of thought is highly inferential,” Chelan said, “like one of these chess positions with ‘where were the pieces nine moves ago?’ I am afraid I missed something important, and want someone else to look at the same problem, without me telling them what to think. But I’d like your thoughts in a week, and I’ll then tell you what is going on.”