Anglic Union

“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.”

“Fair enough,” she said.

“I’ll also speak up if I spot anything that might later be inconvenient.  Getting this whole place up and running is not inconvenient,” he observed.

New Washington, Colorado

The Senates and Lords

New Washington, Colorado was sited well south of the remains of Denver, almost on the location of the old city of Pueblo.  At one time, it had been planned to become the capital city of the Anglic Union, because it was equally remote from almost everywhere.  No member of the Union had first claim on the place.   Lavish plans with huge avenues were drawn up, but there was no money for construction.  Only the capitol building, Capital Halls, was complete.  The Capitol Halls sat on a hill, with modest government offices and commercial and residential areas surrounding.

Victor Chelan glared at a map of New Washington.   “So now the Senate and Parliament assembled want to know what we are doing?” Chelan asked. 

Tara Broadhurst nodded in agreement.  “The order directing whoever is in charge here to appear before the Whitecloth Committee, the Select Committee on Space Operations, will be here sometime today,” she answered. “The core issue is that for the last couple of years this operation has been delivering only about half as much nickel-iron as expected, steelworks have been working through their reserves, but those reserves are approaching exhaustion, so the price of iron-nickel asteroid ore has started to climb markedly. Someone figured out that the large issue is that Bulger has been delivering much less iron-nickel than expected, and the other spaceship firms were already driving their haulers to capacity. The system had almost no slack in it, and now matters have become difficult.”

“Do the Whitecloth people know who is in charge here?” Chelan asked. “The debtors in possession had to file on the finances, but we didn’t have to tell anyone how we were going to handle operations, so we didn’t.”

“I gather that’s one of the questions the committee wants to ask.” Tara smiled. “ Some of the opponents of the National Renaissance Party are claiming this operation is actually a slush fund for the NRP, a scheme for transferring money illegally into party coffers in untraceable ways.”

“They get a bit of a surprise when I show up,” Victor said.  “A lot of people think I’ve simply retired. Others think I’m writing political tracts on some bizarre bit of technodeist theology.”

“As a general rule, it is a bad idea to surprise a Senate and Lords Select  Committee,” Tara said. “No, what we usually would do is show up a day in advance, meet with the Committee Senior Staff to find out what they actually want to know, and then have a stage-managed surprise that the Senators and Lords knew about in advance, but the press did not. The press then ooohs and aaahs and gives the committee members extra press coverage. However, I called, and they said no.  They don’t want us to know what they will be asking.”

“So we just march into the committee room at the appointed hour?” Victor asked.  “I am, if I recall correctly, still entitled to my Seldon Legion escort.  That’s the full-dress escort.”

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Anglic Union

$$$$$

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.”

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Anglic Union

Practical Exercise will soon be out as a trade paperback.

Later that day, Chelan faced an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee.

“…in the end,” he said, “the local power company had cut us off some time ago because bills were not paid. Bills were being sent to an address we are trying to identify. Our own fusactors had been shut down. Our fusactors usually provided our power, but the yards were doing so little the prior owners decided to do without local generators.

“The system switched over to the backup, NorPowTec, to whom we usually sold power in large amounts. Now we were buying power from them. We wereallowed to do that, with a power draw limit. When we turned on all the lights, all the vents, and the graving yard pumps, we went way over the limit. For some reason they didn’t notice; they’d been having other problems recently. When we asked about the bill, they noticed, and waxed wroth. So Elaine here cut everything, got us back well under the limit, and thanks to Charles paid off our bills, so we have power from Crescent Nova again. We’re again pumping out the graving dock. However, we need to bring up our fusactors pronto, meaning we need to hire eight people with the right licenses. Testing and repairing can be done by the ex-Space Guard people we were going to hire to crew our ships, but they can’t ignite and power up civilian fusactors on the ground. Rigid legal limits, for good reasons. Lake Chicago is a beautiful circle, a work of art from the disruption,but one of them is enough.”

“And this will cost?” Rose Cohen asked.

“I have an estimated budget,” Bell answered. “The bright side is that this is an instant profit center, once the fusactors are restarted. Local utilities would be delighted to buy all of our spare power.”

“Why,” Lawrence Morningstar asked, “don’t they build their own? Not that I know anything about fusactors.”

“National steel shortage? National rare earth shortage? National skills shortage, but we’re better off than the folks to our north, no criticism of them intended,” Bell answered. The Elizavetsians, she recalled, in their drive to create a perfect society, had systematically massacred university faculties. It was unclear why they believed that engineering faculties were all hotbeds of revolutionary Xi Jinping-Chengdu thought, but they had still acted on their beliefs, beliefs that were more compatible with their reciprocating wood-burning steam engines than with a modern society.

“Good points,” Morningstar answered. “Can the reactors be restarted? Where is this in the priority lists?”

“We’re working on that. I may have a reactor tech here in a few days,” Bell answered. “I’m still doing the facilities survey. I haven’t found anything missing. Yet. I’ve found several extra buildings not in the settlement of debt files.”

“Legal says we are good on that,” Chelan interjected. “The notes said ‘…all material property…’, and a building is quite material.”

Margaret Evans shook her head. “We seem to be in infinite regress. We start to fix one thing, and find we’ve uncovered another layer of things that need fixing first. When will it end? I represent debtors who want money, not repeated reports on extra needed funds.”

“If we don’t fix the fusactors,” Chelan said, “we can still buy electricity from Crescent Nova. That’s more expensive in the long run, not in the short run. But with power we get to release the chain of events that get our freighters back in working order, at which point Congress gets off our backs and money starts rolling in. On a similar time scale, the fine-focus molecular spray units will be back up. I have a list of outside buyers for things that they make. That’s enough of an income stream to cover our projected payroll.”

“And the cash flow?” Benjamin Goldsmith asked. “Does it stay positive?”

“It can’t,” Chelan answered. “We need to spend money before we can make money. However, the cash on hand should stay solidly positive, meaning we will not need to call on any of our current lines of credit, a process that I believe we all would deprecate.” His final line drew applause from the committee.

“Let’s advance,” Rose Cohen said. “Your projected net income stream is above what we expected.” The remainder of the Executive Committee nodded agreement.

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Anglic Union

“We aren’t paying for power,” Chelan said.  “I just checked.  Someplace, unpaid bills are piling up. In fact, until a year ago, we seem to have been selling electric power to Crescent Nova, the municipal electrical system.  OK, we don’t want the lights going out.  Legal – Tara – should contact the City, see if we owe them money and pay them, as soon as possible.  See what they have to say about power agreements. See whether our fusactors can be brought up or not.”

“Will do,” Bell answered. 

“I gather shop cleanup has a long ways to go?” Chelan asked.

“On it,” Branson answered.  “A long, long way.  Though we’re sort of stuck until we clear a water recycling tank.”

“Elaine, please work out what needs to be done,” Chelan said.  “I keep seeing articles about west coast electrical power shortages, so we may have a chicken and egg issue. We may need to pay the electric company to clear a tank, or get the level down, or something.”

“Will do,” she responded.

“We are obliged to pay the bill to keep operating,” Chelan asked.  “Charles can handle that.”

A half hour later, Chelan’s intercom chirped.  “Hello?” he said.

“Miss Bell on line 3,” Mrs. Brixton said.  “Says it is an emergency.”

“Taking it,” Chelan answered. He tapped a button on his phone. “Hello?” he said.

“Victor.  Elaine here.”  She was speaking, Chelan thought, a mile a minute.  “We have an emergency.  Act or we lose all electrical power.”

“Yes?”  What was this? he wondered.

“Cut the graving docks pumps.  Turn off all vents and lighting, except the fine focus molecular sprays.  Cut all outside lighting. Now!” She could, Chelan thought, be extremely emphatic.

You hired her, he thought, because she had the highest imaginable recommendations.  “On it,” he said.

“Mrs. Brixton,” he called.  “Is there an emergency enunciator system?  Someplace I can speak, and everyone hears me?”

“On my desk,” she answered.

Mnutes later, with power to most of the yards cut, Chelan waited in the parking lot.  Bell said she’d explain so soon as she returned.

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Anglic Union

“Legal thinks that the Space Piracy charges will probably be beaten, but the grand larceny charges will not,” Victor said. “They are being tried in Oregon, which has a firm judicial system. However, based on the condition of the ships, on Ms. Bell’s recommendation and Space Guard inspection they have all been fired and will not be given any back pay.  Not that they will need it in Club Oregon.”

“Fired?” Five said.  “What about union litigation, the Spacer’s Guild? That gets expensive.”

“Curiously,” Victor said, “after the Guild representatives had a tour of the Mighty Transporter, they completely agreed that the crew should be fired. Summarily.”

“There are these reports,” Two said, “that we rejected tenders from the Space Guard.  That’s bad publicity, bad business, and legal issues.”

“I’ve heard about these,” Victor said.  “There would be all sorts of legal hazards if the reports were true.  We can’t find any records of such tenders, and the Guard says they are still looking to see if there was anything.  In fact, we are in contact with the Space Guard, which does have certain interests in equipment purchases. I know what they would like to buy, and they know that we can’t build some of them until our yards are fixed.

Obstacles to Repair

“Victor?”  Mrs. Brixton’s voice came clearly though the intercom, “Ms. Bell and Mr. Bronson to see you.” 

Chelan looked at his schedule.  He hadn’t expected anyone until after lunch.  “Very well.  Send them in.”

A few moments settled his current visitors into chairs at one corner of the room.  “I take it there is some issue?”

“I’m assigned to clean up the shops, enough that we can get equipment up and running,” Bronson answered.  “Chief Ransom asked if we had a deep cleaning system up and running, so he could get the robots from the Mighty Transporter up and running.  We have a bunch of them, but every one had a safety override triggered.  The water recycling tanks are full, so we can’t put the waste water from the deep cleaning units anywhere.”

“Don’t we have water purifying units?” Chelan asked.

“Yes, sir, getting to that, sir.” Bronson answered.  “So I found where the units are, and we checked.  They’re turned off because their power is off.  They draw from one of the yards’ fusactors, and someone shut all three of them down, properly, about a year  ago.  We’d need some reactor techs to bring them back up.”

“I missed these on my walkabouts!” Elaine Bell said.

“I don’t remember them from the property lists,” Chelan said.  He spoke a few words to his computer. “A minor question.  If the reactors were shut down, where is the electricity coming from? “  He spoke a few more words into his computer. “We don’t seem to be receiving power bills.”

“We could switch the purifiers over to municipal power, couldn’t we?” Bronson asked.

“That gets expensive,” Bell remarked.  “Water purifiers are power hogs.”

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Anglic Union

“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.

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Anglic Union

“We have detailed financial records,” Broadhurst answered. “They are backed by secure bank records. If someone in the Stellar Republic thinks they own the ore, they seem to have forgotten to pay us.  We know how absent-minded some people are.  Indeed, we have detailed records indicating that large amounts of ore over many voyages of our ships have been taken in this manner, and very clearly we have not been paid for any of them.”

“I see,” Bronkowski said.

“Then you will doubtless be enthusiastically willing to help us recover the ore, or payment for it.  Indeed, the Republic embassy in Anglic Center will soon be receiving a legal request from us, asking that the Republic identify the persons who have been receiving this ore, which you can surely do by tracing spaceship flight paths, in order that we may litigate to recover our losses under our treaty rights.” Tara Broadhurst smiled. Now her smile did not reach her eyes. “Of course, if you are unable to identify the spaceships that recovered all of this ore that was taken from our vessels, then we will insist on filing space piracy charges against these unknown parties, and rely on the Stellar Republic Fleet to catch and hang them, as provided by our Treaty with you.”

Bronkowski shifted in his seat. “We are the Stellar Republic. Our Fleet is not at the beck and call of every third-rate minor country that only controls small part of its own planet and cannot build its own spaceships.”

“Nonetheless, there is a treaty.” Tara nodded firmly. “All across the galaxy, the participating species and allies of the Stellar Republic rely on treaty agreements with you, agreements that provide that participants and allies make certain sacrifices, and in exchange the Stellar Republic provides certain protections.”  Well, she thought, all across a tenth of the galaxy, but let’s feed your clueless ego.  “In the case of the Anglic Union, our treaty with you agrees that if acts of piracy take place in the  Solar System, you will be responsible for performing the criminal investigations and in exchange we will agree that Anglic Union citizens in space are only subject to the laws we jointly agreed are malum per se and hence may be enforced by you.  I’m confident that the Stellar Republic does not wish to endanger its relations with billions of other star systems, as they would wax wroth when they found out you were not honoring your treaty obligations, by failing to carry out an agreement which is obviously in both of our interests.”

“I can assure you, counsel, that the Republic has every intent of honoring its treaty obligations, so soon as we have a chance to examine the details of what you claim they are.”  Bronkowski pulled back in his chair.  “But how do you know this scheme has been used to steal hundreds of thousands of tons of ore, as opposed to the 30,000 tons you claim to be recovering?”

“There are a variety of standard methods for determining what path each spaceship is taken through the heavens, based purely on its own internal records. The Space Pirate Harrington has repeatedly rendezvoused with one of our ships, a ship that was falsifying its location, and received twenty to thirty thousand tons of nickel-iron, not to mention thousands of tons of rare earth – heavy metal concentrate. Ship Commander McTavish logged all these transfers, because of course he was being paid for them, in what he reasonably viewed to be an honest set of transactions.”

“I see,” Bronkowski said.  

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Tales of the Anglic Union

“Let’s see.”  Elaine took a deep breath. “Illness.  Death in the family.  Wife about to give birth.  Vacation time.  Then you want to rotate, six week trip, three weeks on the ground for training and recovery.  Locking folks in a ship is not like working in an office with a few weeks vacation every year.  That’s maybe a reason these ships were in such bad shape.  Overwork.  Also, the ships need time out for maintenance, and they weren’t getting it.”

“And the salaries?”  Chelan asked.

“I checked with financial,” Bell said.  “The former employees were extremely well paid, upper end of Guild recommendations.  It looks that their seniority levels were enthusiastically stated – extra years’ credit for work. If you pay fleet plus 20%, because you’ll be getting the better people, and hire the number I recommended, you’ll be saving money.”

“I should advise the Audit Committee, but please start looking for people,” Chelan said.  “Then begin by bringing our ships up to par before sailing on them.”

“Aye, aye, sir!  Will do, sir!”  Bell answered.  For once, Chelan thought, Bell actually sounded happy.

$$$$$

Legal vs Republican Legate Bronkowski

Tara Broadhurst opened her videocom.  On one of her computer screens there appeared the image of Republican Legate Wilhelm Bronkowski, his title and name appearing in the chyron on the bottom of the screen. “Bulger Spaceship Holdings, Legal, Tara Broadhurst speaking. And what may I do for you, Legate Bronkowski?”

Bronkowski gnashed his teeth. “I am calling to inquire as to the safety of the Republican spaceship Space Pirate Harrington, which appears to be on the ground in one of your docking facilities. The Republic is also curious as to why it chose to land there.”

“The vessel is safe,” Broadhurst answered.  She forced her voice to be happily bland. “The Ship Commander and crew, who maintain they were participating in an entirely legal, planned freight transfer, are being treated as honored guests while certain issues are being clarified between my government and yours. However, the Space Pirate Harrington has on board somewhat over 20,000 tons of nickel iron belonging to Bulger Spaceship Holdings, which the Space Pirate Harrington was polite enough to transport to Humboldt Bay. An issue of interest is why our nickel-iron managed to get into their hold.  Their Ship Commander maintains he must’ve been the innocent victim of a devious commercial operation in which he is a victim.”

“Why are you holding an innocent victim?” Bronkowski challenged. “This is an offense against the sovereignty of the Stellar Republic, for which we will insist on reparations.”

Careful, Broadhurst thought. I’m not here to antagonize the fellow further, assuming this is even possible. “We requested that Ship Commander McTavish return to the nickel-iron to our ship, the Mighty Transporter. He explained that this was impossible, for detailed technical reasons that he can explain to you.  It was at his suggestion that his ship came here to unload, which is now doing. I gather that moving 20,000 tons of nickel-iron takes a bit more work than emptying a bag of flour, but that the process will be complete in another day or so. Meanwhile, he is a guest of the Republic, and my company is covering his crew’s expenses at a pleasant beach resort.  I’ll be happy to put you or the Republic consul in South California in touch with him to confirm this.”

“Why was he so agreeable about giving you this nickel-iron ore?” Bronkowski asked. “Why isn’t he defending his cargo from people trying to take it? What sort of nonsense is this?”

“When he heard us claim that it was our cargo, being improperly transferred to his ship, he took the position that this was a matter for lawyers to resolve. Also, while he had a totally clear set of documents authorizing him to receive the nickel-iron from our ship, take it to a location on the dark side of the moon where there is no human habitation, unload it, send a coded signal to a specific lunar satellite, and leave, he observed that he was not born yesterday and this extremely well-paying job did seem to be a bit peculiar.  He even agreed to send a coded message to the appropriate satellite advising whoever he was speaking to — he doesn’t know who it is — that we had recovered the ore and that whoever it was needed to speak to us if they wanted it. We await communication with the unknown persons.”

“And meanwhile you are stealing the ore?” Bronkowski grumbled. “That ore must belong to someone in the Stellar Republic.”

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Tales of the Anglic Union, continued

A Need for Maintenance

The freighter Space Pirate Harrington perched in an unloading bay, receiving Victor Chelan’s baleful glare.  He’d researched the name; it referred to a late-twenty-first century video whose heroine had slept and fought her way into becoming Empress of the Galaxy.  There were surely more believable plots, this one being sustained by the extremely large amount of highly attractive skin her combat costume revealed.  Parked next to it was the Mighty Transporter, whose peeling paint revealed even more skin, well, bare metal, to the open sky.  Those are all titanium plates, he thought; there is actually no danger of rust.

The undersides of both ships, and the rail cars into which they were unloading, were under a shroud, something sound-absorbent enough to reduce a deafening din to a deep rumble.  Elaine Bell, he thought should be here someplace.  She said she would be finishing her inspection of the Mighty Transporter soon.  It would certainly be impolite to phone, ignoring that radiotelephones worked poorly through spaceship hulls, when she might be in the midst of inspecting something delicate.  All well and good.  He could take a few minutes to watch the waves break far below.

He had barely had time to watch a pair of swells roll in from the Pacific and break thunderously against the shore when his communicator chimed.

“Chelan here,” he said.

“Bell here.  I’m just coming down the exit ramp.  Sorry I’m slightly late, but I found yet another maintenance issue.”

“I walked over,” Victor answered.  “It’s a few minutes, and I needed the exercise.”

“Walk is good.  I’m not fit to share a vehicle with anyone.  That ship was filthy.  Almost as bad as the shop spaces were.  When I get home tonight I get to decide if I wash these clothes, or burn them. Disgusting!”

“I somehow thought, Elaine, that spaceships were always spotlessly clean, and robots and life support systems kept them that way.”  Victor wondered what they were getting into now.

“The key engineering spaces, power and drives, actually were sort-of clean,” Elaine said. “The life support system would not pass my inspection, but it was working.  I think. The rest of the ship was dreadful. I didn’t check the robots.”

“What do you recommend?” Chelan asked.

“We need to see what shape the other three ships are in, but it’s a safe bet they’re all the same.”  She paused. “Allston insisted he had the best maintained ship in Bulger’s fleet.  In that case, even ignoring the ore theft issue, you can fire the lot of them for failure to adhere to sanitary standards.  It’s a safety issue. “

“Leaving me with ships and no crews,” Chelan said morosely.  “These characters are going to prison anyhow, so I shall not complain.”

“New crews?  Same place you found me,” Elaine answered.  “Space Guard retirees.  The Space Guard had a fair number of hulks flying on gamma cores, ships that could maintain a gee on a good day.  Their crews were excellent.  Well-trained.  Serious.  Not their fault their equipment was so mediocre.  I can pick out the good people, of whom you need 70 or 80.”  “Not 48?” Chelan asked.  “Twelve per ship? I am out of my expertise.”

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Tales of the Anglic Union

[My current published novel is Practical Exercise, available as an ebook on Smashwords.com and Amazon.com.]

The delegates looked at each other.  Chelan was sure that remarks were passing back and forth, but how?  “You will not give us all 60,000 tons immediately?”

“I have several customers in boats similar to yours,” Chelan said,  “and similar legal claims.  I need some income, or the operation crashes to a halt.  In any event, your one freighter, once it reaches our harbor, can only carry 20,000 tons, or a bit more.  It  needs days to load and more to unload, so if I gave you more ore it would just sit in my cargo area gathering demurrage charges.  Heavy demurrage charges.  However, in the interests of comity, I will drop in fifty tons of mixed heavy metals with each 20,000 tons of ore.”

“The ten thousand tons a shipment will then continue?” the shortest of their three delegates asked.

“Ten thousand tons every ten days,” Chelan said, “arriving as per shipping schedule.  However, the ships are getting new crews, who have to be hired.  Also, there is some question as to whether or not the ships are currently spaceworthy.  The prior administration was the foolish man who did not oil his axe,  grease the bearings on his wagon, or have his chimney cleaned.  Until matters are put in order, I can’t promise which of our ships can actually fly.”

“Ten thousand tons, each time one of your ships actually arrives?  With renegotiation if you find more ships?” 

“That’s entirely agreeable.  My legal people and yours need to negotiate fine print,” Chelan said.  “I gather that negotiation with you was much more pleasant than negotiating with some other people.  Also, there is a litigation hazard.  Someone else may show up with a legal claim on an unload, just as you did.  The prior owners seem to have left many hidden debts behind.  I believe we have paid off all debtors other than the bondholders.  I want to agree, but must warn there is a force majeur hazard. Nonetheless, agreed,” Chelan said.

“We recognize,” the tallest delegate, “the you are newly arrived here, had almost nothing to do with these challenges, and every time you solve a problem for a while you will uncover two new problems.  The Council of Syndics wishes to be kept apprised of these.”

“Happily agreed,” Chelan said.

“In that case, we agree,” the tallest delegate said.  “Subject to our legal people and your legal people negotiating fine print.  Though I gather we are much more pleasant to negotiate with.”

“Indeed.” Chelan smiled.

A Need for Maintenance



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