Anglic Union

“In launching a construction project,” Victor said, “the things you order first are the ones that will have the longest delivery time. When I was a little boy, people building skyscrapers, back when people did that, for a number of years started by ordering the carpeting, because that would take longer than anything else to appear.  In this case, we are going to need a large, well-trained, engineering staff, and for some efforts we are going to need a research staff dealing with gravitronics.  Have you been following the Senate hearings and the House hearings on the technical colleges?”

“Disgusting!” Benjamin Goldsmith said. “The Union needed those colleges to be doing a good job. They aren’t. But what can we do about it?”

“As may be found in the public record, if you know exactly where to look,” Victor said, “the administration and staff of UTC sent a demand note to the Senate, threatening to resign if the Senate made significant changes in the college’s operations. That threat was legally binding. If I assume the role of Chancellor of the College and system, and eject the current occupant of the office, those people all cease to be employed and can be replaced by people who are at least marginally competent. That was the offer from the Senate. It’s the only path that I see for fixing the college situation and getting a university. We need something as good as the schools that the Union had before the Interregnum, and there just aren’t very many people who remember what they were like and what you had to do to get them.”

“What happens to your supervision of our finances?” Lawrence Morningstar asked. 

“I have a full day every week here,” Victor answered, “and am available for emergencies, though  realistically for any conceivable emergency someone else on the staff is better suited to handle it. I should take a walk while you consider this matter.”

“The bondholders will be concerned,” Benjemin Goldsmith said.  “They may want to litigate.”

“Tell them the truth,” Victor responded.  “There is a construction timeline, and the resulting income streams.  We know what they will be for years into the future.  Everything is happening on automatic, so I am almost a figurehead.”

“We need to start,” Lawrence said, “with an extended talk with Elaine Bell, so that we have a clear understanding of what the repair sequence is and how soon we will get a larger cash flow.  However, we need to discuss this, while accepting your offer to take a walk.”

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Anglic Union

Robert Smith waved a hand. “Tryon Interstate Trust and Securities has very large investments in manufacturing firms, most of which depend directly or indirectly on Proserpine ore for their manufacturing processes.  There will be concern that some of these firms may become unstable if ore shipments are disrupted.”

“I’ve taken the precaution,” Victor said, “of sequestering the respectable amount of rare earths that we had on hand before we were sued.  We can sell those.  We also have in the drive and fusactor systems of our four spaceships large numbers of parts that contain pre-lawsuit purified rare earths in various forms. We can actually keep manufacturers going for a long time without violating the terms of the suit.  However, we shouldn’t tell the cartel that. In addition, a reasonable financial and manufacturing forecast would appear to indicate that, well before the cartel gets into all this trouble, Bulger Spaceyards will be in full operation. That allows us to solve this problem in a way that I would prefer not to discuss further, other than to say that Elaine Bell and her supporting staff have done the needed calculations and to show that it works.  Note that with the changes I have mentioned, in particular constructing more fusactors, our ability to pay off notes with reasonable rapidity will be going up. Also, while our spaceships are in poor shape, we have not yet found anything wrong with them we cannot fix.  It’s just a matter of time.”

“Victor,” Rose said “you left us with this note on ‘special steps needed to maintain the engineering staff’, without saying what the steps were. Could you explain?”

“That was the expected last issue with this meeting. We could discuss buyouts of current bondholders, but those require that we get our transports back into condition where they can legally be flown. The Mighty Transporter appears likely to be ready in another week, assuming that it passes its flight tests.  I’m assured by Elaine Bell that it will probably apss its tests. ”

“And the other three ships?” Rose asked.

“We now have all three on the ground,” Victor said. “We’re doing an assessment of which can be flown the soonest. One is in very poor shape.  The other two should be available soon. The one in poor shape may be used as a parts car for a while. Our arrangements with the Space Guard for retraining will soon give us a significantly larger labor force, at a limited expense to us. Expense because the training will use time of the current staff.”

“And the last issue?” Rose asked.

“We’re now doing engineering,” Victor said “I propose that Elaine Bell be made Chief Executive, since she understands what is going on, and has a much better ability to prioritize what needs doing than I do, and that I be given an honorary title and an obligation to oversee what she’s doing, and that we agree I take my offer from the Senate.”

“Offer from the Senate?” Lawrence Morningstar asked.

Robert Smith waved his arms in the air. “Pray tell,” he asked, “what is this offer from the Senate? And how does not interfere with what we need to do to make Bulger a highly profitable and much larger space line?”

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Anglic Union

“However, there are a couple of positive features that aren’t income for us yet. We have offered the use of our facilities to the Space Guard, at a reasonable rate, in order to retrain people from the China Yards to American standards. For doing this, we get a set of hard-working, technically skilled maintenance people.  Their employer pays their salary. We have to be scrupulous that the work these people are doing actually qualifies as training, but that turns out to be quite simple, or so Elaine Bell tells me.  In addition, we have a large area holding many of our manufacturing facilities that are not currently in use, which is also covered by an old-growth eucalyptus grove. Several local firms are now engaged in clearing that grove, paying us at a respectable rate for the wood they’re getting.  The Space Guard wants to buy a considerable number of different larger parts that we will be able to make once the coarse focus units and other manufacturing facilities are up and running. Finally, once we are ready to make our own rare-earth components, we can straightforwardly set up an assembly line to make additional civilian-grade low-field fusactors for Bulger Power Systems.  These will be exact copies of our current operating units, which are not covered by Stellar Republic patents.”

“Dear me,” Margaret Evans said, “as we would say at Georgia Benevolent Trust, bless their sweet little hearts, the cartel has given us enormous economic opportunities, without intending to.”

“Victor?” Rose Cohen asked. She was wearing traditional New New York women’s business dress, complete with enormously puffed sleeves, high collar, the whole in multiple shades of bright pink. “I’m sure this can be sold readily to the minor noteholders, but there is a question. If the cartel stops being able to haul metallics from Proserpine, that will disrupt Union industry. All sorts of litigation, including antique antitrust laws, may then be invoked.”

“An excellent issue,” Victor answered. “Those are antique laws. The cartel could refuse to sell us those ships of theirs. However, in that case we’d advertise what we were offering for them, how much each stockholder would get, and if they refuse to sell I would expect there would be stockholder litigation. We are not in pre-interregnum times. Stockholder litigation is an extremely blunt, but effective, instrument. They would also be subject to the taxes on inactive spaceships. One of the amusing schemes the Social Democrats had for raising money, over a century ago, was a special tax to motivate people to make use of whatever technical resources they had. The tax on an unused spaceship is enormous.  Those tax bills get very large very quickly. I would anticipate that management in each of these cases, realizing that they had painted themselves into a corner, would take as much money as possible and run.”

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Anglic Union

“Victor,” Benjamin Goldsmith asked, “why didn’t we try to contest the claims of the cartel that they owned the monopoly on importing rare earths? Letting them bar our sales that way seems to put a significant limitation on what we can do with the material.”  He shook his silver-white hair.

“On one hand,” Victor said, “ as Tara Broadbent explained to the Audit Committee, our chances of winning the case were extremely poor. The cartel agreement was a very solid standard contract, one whose style has been contested repeatedly before without success.  We could spend large amounts of money on expert attorneys, but private inquiries to several law firms confirmed that there was almost no point to contesting the case. On the other hand, our competitors are now in a bit of a pickle. They have been expelled from the China Yards, so they have to do their own maintenance. If they are taking good care of their ships, and we suspect that they aren’t, a reasonably-qualified ship’s crew can do the needed maintenance over the short term.  Eventually they run into a problem they cannot fix, for example replacing drive spines. Previously, their foreign part-owners dealt with this.

“Except for one minor detail. Thanks to the Stellar Republic trade embargo, our competitors can’t buy high-tech parts such as drive spines from the Republic. They have to buy them from inside the Anglic Union. We’re approximately the only people in the Union who can build them. Drive spines need fine and coarse molecular spray units in good working order, but other than for spaceship parts there’s approximately no demand for molecular spray units.  It’s not apparent there are any in working order anywhere in the Union except in our shops.  Thanks to that court order, we can’t sell them spines. As a result, very gradually, the cartel is going to lose its stock of operating spaceships.  Their fractional outside owners from the Republic can’t help, under the new Republic import-export restrictions.  By the time this is a major issue, we should be in a financial position to offer to buy their derelict freight haulers, for which they will have no use, at a generous price. They get a substantial chunk of change to distribute among their stockholders, not to mention their overpaid and underworked corporate officers, and we end up with more spaceships.

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Anglic Union

“Nonetheless,” Victor said, “I’d like to know what I’m getting into. Please send that over. However, it sounds to me that I have no real choice other than to agree with your proposal.  I am a little busy dealing with new litigation from the other spaceship companies, litigation that I anticipate will not end up giving them what they thought they wanted, but I do need to clear that before I publicly agree. You may, however, advise the leaders of the other parties that I will take on this task if I also get to lead the Technical University and have something like adequate authority to deal with unpleasant issues.”

The Investors Meet

The Bankers Committee, Bulger Spaceways

Lawrence Morningstar looked around the table.  To the best of his recollection, each member of the committee was dressed in precisely the same clothing as the other times they had met. Long-standing traditions of good luck rabbits feet and the like came to mind.

“In any event,” he said, “we have been advised by the Audit Committee that there have been significant changes in the financial picture which require that we review the agreement.  I believe I should ask Victor to explain the situation.”

“First, thank you all for assembling,” Victor said. “I realize that bringing us all together required some time, but as the Audit Committee hopefully explained there was a need for review, but the situation was not an emergency.  As you are all here physically, after we meet a tour of the facilities has been arranged.   On one hand, our three competitors have sued to oblige us not to sell any of the rare earths we recover, except of course to the Space Guard, whose finances are limited, and the Elizavetsians, who have no use for them except as trade goods. Legal staff advises they have a very strong case. Tactics indicated that they were in the process of cutting their own throats, though they hadn’t figured out yet.

“On the bright side, we were able to bring up all three fusactors. They are running cleanly at standard maximum power, selling large amounts of electricity to the Pacific West. That’s actually a significant income stream, as outlined in my report. On the dim side, all four of our freight haulers have now landed.   None of them is safe to fly. We have undertaken the needed repairs, starting with the Mighty Transporter, which seems to be in the best condition, but it will take some time to bring all four of them back into operation. The former crews have all been arrested and are being tried for various crimes. Since the stolen materials were always deposited by them directly on the surface of the moon, they were able to beat the space piracy charge, because their crime was not committed in space. Still, they will almost certainly be guests in Club Portland for some considerable time to come. Income from the fusactors is adequate to keep us in operation and do the necessary repairs to our spaceships.”

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Anglic Union continued

“A fine question,” Elektra answered. “I wondered about that myself. The answer is that some years ago the Senate agreed that we would appropriate a certain total sum for salaries, the college would take in a certain number of students each year, and the college would pay its faculty and staff in accord to what the Board of Governors directed.  It didn’t occur to anyone to worry that the Board of Governors would cut a deal with the nonteaching administration in exchange for relatives of the Board members being hired into sinecures. However, that’s what appears to have happened. The result is that the Chancellor, the many Vice Chancellors, and so on down the administrative ladder are very well paid, the people hired to teach are of limited quality or in some cases appear to have been given welfare positions in which they do no work, not that it appears that they are up anything as challenging as reading aloud from the textbook, and until matters sufficiently deteriorated we were unaware that there was an issue. In addition, for the past decade the former governing majority has been taking generous campaign donations from all these people, so they had good reason not to notice. These issues are all on top of the usual tendency of administrators not bound by profit-loss statements to engage in empire building.”  

“I seem to recall that at one time there was a legal requirement that each person be listed by name with their salary and post also listed. Did something happen to that?” Victor asked.  

“Buried someplace in legislation much of a decade ago,” Elektra said, “ was a note exempting the colleges from that requirement. Supposedly it was because it would damage the bargaining power of instructors when they left. It was very well hidden. Fortunately the leading minority party has some very sharp people who notice this issue, connected the dots, and were preparing to discuss the matter vigorously at the next election cycle. Now that some of the scandal has become public, they are hastening to wheel out all of these interesting results to show how diligent and vigorous they are in investigating, so that they can reveal very much invery little time. On due consideration, since I would like a constructive opposition rather than one that goes for my jugular at every opportunity, I am going to accept they are indeed very diligent at finding things. An adequate number of the adminstration’s memoranda are dated, so that the general press is picking up on what is happening. That’s not my problem.”  

“Do we have an actual list of employees, duties, and salaries?” Victor asked.  

“That’s being assembled,” Elektra said. “To some extent it’s irrelevant, because most of those people signed their silly note threatening to resign if we made changes. That’s the note that’s legally binding.”

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Anglic Union

“Indeed you do,” Elektra answered.  “In  fact, I asked the Suupreme Judicial Court for an enforcement injunction, which they have already granted.”  

“Binding?” Victor’s answer did not make it sound like a question.  “Bless their hearts.  What a shame. I’m heartbroken.  Of course, at some point you lose so many people that operations are disrupted, so some caution is needed.  Are you able to identify the opposition, the people who gave you the minority report?”  

“As it turns out,” Elektra answered, “that question appears to have been answered by the current administration, which tried to fire or reduce the pay of the people who they thought were minority report supporters.  NTC contracts, while fixed-term, are rock-solid, so the ‘tried to fire’ led to court action.  The injunction reveals who-all the administration didn’t like.”  

“I see I am called upon to play a new role in life.”  Victor stared out his window.  “The waves are expecially beautiful today.  I am agreeable, but I have two key requests, and perhaps others.”  

“Yes?” she asked.  

“One day a week, me taking care of Bulger.” he said.  “Note that the bondholders will go through the roof if I can’t deal with emergencies here, no matter when they occur.  Each of the supporting Senate Parties to appoint someone trusted to act as an anadvocate on my thinking, a weekly meeting via video conferencing at the minimum, to tell me my mistakes. Martina Gooddale and Grace Jones come immediately to mind.”  

“Martina can be picky,” Elektra said.  

“That’s why I want her.  So long as the anadvocates understand that they are advisors, and that their criticisms will be heard, that should not be an issue,” Victor answered.  “Oh, I hypothesize that there is a reasonable salary, which I will limit to covering my expenses.”  

“The current salary is…” She put a number up on the screen.  

“That’s insane.  How did the Senate agree to something so idiotically huge.?” he asked.

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Anglic Union

“On the last of these, I can be of some help,” Victor said, “namely I have a number of friends who passed through mostly American universities before the Interregnum, were lucky enough to be able to afford the immortality treatment while it was still available on Earth, are still here and would be happy to support with their time such a university.  There also people who are actually still doing engineering and scientific research, not very many of them, but a few of them are quite good and quite determined. Admittedly, most of them do theory and numerical work, since experimental equipment is rare, expensive, and difficult to acquire.”  

“I’m sure you will find that list of your friends very helpful,” Elektra said, “assuming you are agreeable.”  

Chelan looked out at the ocean. This actually was a beautiful office, it had a wonderful view, the amount of work he had to do had relaxed from the frenetic down to dutifully performing that which was needed, but he suddenly suspected that something more was afoot.  

“What have I agreed to, assuming that I agree?” he asked.  

“There seems to be agreement that you would be the ideal choice to serve as a new Chancellor. Even Victor Terhorst, who strongly disagrees with almost all of your political opinions, thinks that you are the one alternative who can pass through the Senate. Indeed, it is fortunate that the National Front will support your appointment, because it is an excellent guess that the Social Democrats will bring most of the Popular Democrats with them in saying that the recent changes in the College been in the right direction, and therefore we should leave the current Chancellor in place.”  

Oh, joy, he thought. I suppose I should ask a few key questions first.  

“To what extent will I have hiring authority?” Chelan said.  “More important, to what extent can I fire people?  There is a relevant story, pre-Interregnum, here.  Once upon a time, there was a large engineering school.  They decided that the basis of engineering education needed to be changed, to include a much stronger basis in the fundamentals.  The current faculty were not useful for this direction. For better or worse, they made needed changes.  First, they fired all the physicists.  I am not saying that is the answer here, but … I would prefer that you did the firing before I take the job.”  

“You may not have seen it yet,” Elektra said, “because it is a quasi-final draft only, but a copy was leaked to the College.  The Senate has a resolution condemning the academic administration and lead faculty for failing to maintain the quality of the institution and lying about it to the Senate.  As a result, most administrators and many faculty signed an open letter to the Senators and Lords saying that they completely supported what had been done and would resign if we made any major changes, such as replacing the Chancellor.”  

“There is a very old phrase,” Victor said, “the circular firing squad. I would have to review the list of signers, to see if there is anyone we would want to keep.  Do I recall that that letter, sent to the Senate, is legally binding?”

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Anglic Union

“Not really, no,” he answered.  “The Space Guard components, in which I assume you are interested since you haven’t said yet, are now in the process of being prepared, at least some of them. If someone wants titanium hull plates, it’s going to take a while, because first we have to clear up the large-scale metal purification systems, then the metalworking facilities, then the computer system that runs things, and eventually we can turn out hull plates.  Until we finish paying off the outside debtors, which is going to take quite a while, we can’t afford to hire the staff we need to do that.”  

“Victor, while I appreciate what you are doing, and the Union will be most grateful for your efforts, I am calling for a completely different reason.” She paused for dramatic effect. “This relates to the Union Technical College. We’ve identified what appear to be the problem. The situation is a complete mess. The college needs a new head man, and much of a new staff.”  

“I have been following the hearings,” Victor said, “and I have somewhat wondered if you need a new head man or a new headsman, someone with, figuratively speaking, a nice sharp axe.”  

“It was one of my ancestors who collected halberds,” she said. “But I understand your sentiment.”  

“If you want, I can give some thought to the matter,” Victor said. “There are number of people I know who might be suitable choices. I’m not sure which of them are available.”  

“Victor, I had a slightly different thought in mind,” Elektra said quietly. “The appointment of a new head man, the actual title is Chancellor, has been discussed internally by the Senate. The difficulty is the Popular Democrats won’t accept someone to my party’s right, the Union Democrats won’t accept a Social Democratic or Radical candidate, and my own party doesn’t actually have anyone prominent who would be suitable.  There was some agreement that after a period of time, assuming the person does a good job, we would want the person to advance from being Chancellor of the Technical College being Chancellor of the National Technical University that we are actually committed to funding, assuming enough faculty can be found.”  

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Anglic Union

“There are also several student government reports,” Martina said, “very detailed, and by rumor a faculty minority report giving other details.”  

“Of course,” Adams said, “we cannot tell you what to do about this, because the Constitution is extremely clear on this point, but we can investigate whether our money is being spent honestly and effectively, leading to recommendations as to whether the next budget should or should not be approved. There is considerable discussion that the answer should be in the negative, though first we would have hearings. However, this would lead to great disturbances politically, so we would prefer to know if you have plans to deal with the matter.”  

“As it happens,” Elektra said, “I’m quite aware of this issue, which has been discussed quietly in the Senate.  You asked about the faculty minority report. That stack of paper on the side table is copies of it.  You said student government reports, but unfortunately I was only aware of one of them. I propose we trade reports because there may be a considerable number out there. As it happens though, the Senate has found out about the issue, and is preparing to take definitive action. I’d rather skip technical details of any plans for our hearings, so that the mice may be caught without a bolthole in sight, however I can say…”

Victor Chelan, Elektra DeWitt Calling

  “Victor,” Mabel Brixton called over the intercom, “you have a call from Elektra Dewitt, on your special line.”  

“Very well,” Victor said, “pass her through.” Now what the might the issue be, he wondered? There didn’t seem to be anything unusual or unpleasant happening in New Washington.  The  hearings on the technical college were receiving a great deal of spectacular coverage, but everything seemed to be going well for her.  

“Victor?” Elektra’s voice had its familiar Scottish burr.  

“Indeed, I am, Elektra. I hope you and yours are well?”  

“Everyone here on the side of good is well,” Elektra said. “To judge from the noise, the blood pressure of the Social Democratic Party Leader is setting medical records.  I have a specific problem for which you are the obvious solution. That’s only if you are agreeable, since this is not something that someone who is not agreeable could be asked to do. Not if you wanted a good outcome, anyhow.”  

“You have my full attention,” Victor said slowly. “After all, we are advancing with the works, we did discover a very large area full of equipment for making starship parts, because Bulger had assembled the resources to build spaceships and simply assumed that he could then obtain the needed patent rights. Indeed, I am more here to hold hands than anything else, because the issues at hand are more engineering than aspects of my professional competence.”  

“Is it really a full-time job for you then?” She asked.  

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