Tales of the Anglic Union

“I am Lord and Master of this vessel!” Allston shouted.  “What is your authority for being here?”

“I am Elaine Bell.”  The woman holding the machine pistol did not budge a micron.  “I’m the personal representative of Victor Chelan and the debtors possessing Bulger. By his command and authority I relieve you of your command of their ship.”

“No one takes my ship,” Allston screamed, throwing himself at Bell.  She caught him with her left, gloved  hand.  His ribs snapped as she threw him across the room, hard.

“Power armor,” Elaine said, “Accept no substitutes.”  Allston bounced off the far wall and fell to the ground, screaming like a swine in torment.

“The rest of you!  Is there anything we really need to know?” Elaine asked.  “Ma’am?”  the woman at the comm panel mumbled, “Space Pirate Harrington says we release them or they will pull out violently.  Also, they’re complaining about boarders in power armor.”

“Tell them we have a minor technical issue and they should release in thirty seconds,” Elaine ordered.

“On it.”

Another signal interrupted.  “This is Anglic Union Corvette King Charles the Third to unknown ship tethered to Bulger Spaceship Holdings ship Mighty Transporter.  Remain in place. Do not attempt to maneuver.  Do not attempt to escape.  If you attempt to move, I will open fire.  As you are pirates I am under no obligation to take prisoners, and I will not.  Your only answer is obbedisco! Instant obedience!”

King Charles, this is Harrington.  We are a neutral vessel engaged in trade. We thought your lawful boarders were pirates. We will not attempt to escape.  Please do not fire on us. We believe there has been a slight misunderstanding, which we are prepared to let the diplomats resolve.”

Harrington, this is King Charles the Third. We believe you have on board a substantial amount of mineral ore belonging to Bulger Spaceship Holdings. You are ordered to return it immediately to the Mighty Transporter.”

King Charles, this is Harrington. I can’t.  Our equipment won’t do that.  I propose that we deliver it to wherever Mighty Transporter was going, unload the ore, and await a diplomatic resolution.”

Harrington, this is King Charles the Third. Agreed. You are going to western North America. You will receive additional boarding forces and other officers, then proceed as you promised.  The frigate Queen Victoria the Second will be flying close escort with you.”

King Charles, this is Harrington. Always happy to have a military escort to protect me against pirates.  We hear and will obey.”

$$$$$$

Pirates on Earth

Victor Chelan watched from his office as the Mighty Transporter and the Space Pirate Harrington settled onto landing docks well downhill from the Bulger Yard.  The first line of railroad cars were already being backed into position to receive cargoes. Very soon, he would again be facing an Elizavetsian delegation, flown down from the Columbia river for a hopefully reasonable discussion.  Indeed, here was their air car, its arrival doubtless being timed  to coincide with the arrival of of the two spaceships.

He tried to compose himself by looking at messages from the other partners.  They were all elated. Benjamin Goldsmith’s Great Lakes Bank was the most restrained, asking if it made sense to accelerate the repayment schedule, or if the money would better be spend on Spaceship Yard maintenance that  might increase income in the long term.  His own principals were were less patient. ‘Imperative that you accelerate the repayment schedule’ had been the message from Oregon.  Soon after the Elizavetsians departed, the Audit Committee would be arriving.  Most of the Anglic Union still travelled by rail or ground car, but senior bankers looking to make a huge debt disappear demanded supersonic cross-country travel.

There came a knock at the door.  “Enter,” Chelan called, standing as he spoke.  Three Elizavetsian delegates followed by three Seldon Legionaires entered the room.  “Gentlemen from the Northwest, welcome again to Humboldt Bay. Please be seated.”  Without waiting further, he sat.

“We understand you have a more generous offer than the one we rejected,” the tallest of the three delegates said, not yet sitting.

“Precisely. “ Chelan nodded firmly.  “Over the next two months, we expect our four transports to be arriving.  We will put down 20,000 tons from each of them.  The first three loads, you paid for already. The fourth…we would need to be paid at the historical rate, but paid while the product is being transhipped to your freighter, not in advance.”

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Tales of the Anglic Union

Clangbalance pointed at a technician.  Commands flashed at the speed of light to one of the Space Guard’s few space reconnaissance satellites.  Radar and lidar pulses flashed through space, blanketing the area where the  Mighty Transporter’s transponder said it was located.  “Sir,” the technician reported, “I have no signal returns, not even one percent of the expected return.”

“Commodore,” Chelan said, again reading from the script, “I have grave doubts as to the safety of my vessel, and request the urgent assistance of the Space Guard in attempting to locate it.”  Chelan decided not to emphasize that the Mighty Transporter filled much of the field of view of Space Guard patrol craft PC-12’s bow telescope,not to mention the images being forwarded by two Space Guard corvettes.

“Coded message,” Clangbalance said, “All ships and units.  The Bulger Spaceship holdings freighter  Mighty Transporter is not at its expected location.  All ships and units are to assist in locating this ship. Because there is no natural explanation for this situation, all ships and units should assume that the Mighty Transporter may have been boarded by pirates, and take appropriate measures to recover this ship when found.”  Clangbalance leaned back in his chair and turned off his broadcast link.  “We have now completed the minuet  establishing to Congress and Parliaments that you tried to contact the ship at its expected orbital location, it is nominally missing, and we were requested by you to find and recover it.”

Space Not-Battle

Aboard the Mighty Transporter

Aboard the Mighty Transporter, the attention of its very small crew was entirely focused on cargo transfer operations now under way. There were four watches, each with three men on duty; for this operation, all twelve of them were busy.

Environmental Operations Officer Abraham Roosevelt looked again at panel lights, then had computers replay its record of airlock operations for the last minute.  “Captain Allston, Sir, is there a reason someone just cycled airlocks one, three, and five?”

“Our friends do occasionally come on board…no, those are topside airlocks, aren’t they?” Allston answered.

“All three locks are cycling pressure up to shipboard nominal,” Roosevelt said.  “So someone is coming on board.”

“In which case, they’ll be here in a few minutes and can tell us what the issue is,” Allston responded.  “Alas, strict radio silence means that they can’t simply phone us up.  And the comms cable is busy with navigational data.” He turned back to his coffee mug.

The Command Deck doors slammed open.  “Space Guard!  Hands on your heads! Now!”

Allston stared at the door.  His jaw dropped.  He put his hands, ever so slowly on his head.

“Dang it!” Maneuvering Officer Witherspoon shouted, not looking over his shoulder.  “Turn off your retarded entertainment tape! I’m goshdarn busy!”

For a moment, there was stunned silence.  “Mister Witherspoon,” Captain Allston mumbled, “that is a not an entertainment tape.  That is a nice young lady pointing a machine pistol at your back.  Please set maneuvering to automatic and do as she says.”  Witherspoon looked over his shoulder and fainted.

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Tales of the Anglic Union

“The Audit Committee may complain,” Rose said, “but you can bring any deficiencies you find to us.  In my opinion, with respect to debts run up by Dewey and Rothham, debts that could lead to litigation, if they aren’t too large, just pay them and make nuisance suits stay away.  I did advise the Audit Committee what we were finding.”

“There are obscure references,” Margaret Evans said, “to things for the Space Guard, and reports in two financial news services that we had declined contracts with them.  Is there anything to that?”

“Please send me the reports,” Victor said.  “I am absolutely positive that our relations with the Space Guard are excellent.  They undoubtedly have things they want to buy, that we in a while will be able to make,  but we have to get there first, and they understand this.  They have already brought to our attention with strong recommendations Ms. Bell, who worked out where all the nickel-iron and heavy metals were going.  The contract for her is based on Commodore Clangbalance’ recommendation – that is confidential – at what I hope is a reasonable salary.”

“What about maintenance of Space Guard ships?” Margaret asked. “The China Yards are expensive and must be paid in foreign currency. We could profit there.”

“We should invite Ms. Bell to one of these meetings,” Victor answered, “so soon as she has some idea what is going on in the yards.  I note that she has been assigned a security escort by the Seldon Legion. In short, Space Guard ships are long and thin; our ships are turnips.   Our dock will not accomodate a Space Guard ship.  We would need a new graving dock.  I am reluctant to recommend such a  thing while we are still deeply in debt, but plans are likely much cheaper.”

“What about getting the shops up?” Benjamin Goldsmith asked.

“Fine-focus molecular spray is advancing at the full speed it can.  We appear to have a minimum time path to full operation.  At that point we can keep the Space Guard happy, and have life support units to sell to the Stellar Republic. Course focus awaits completionof the fine-focus…the course-focus heads were wrecked.  Machine shops need a complete overhaul, at the take things apart and remove the dirt stage.  That’s personnel limited, and we can’t keep hiring people indefinitely until the income stream is stabilized.  Electric arc furnaces await shops.  Graving yard is still being pumped.  I approved hiring an outside contractor – someone known to Seldon – to clean all the rest rooms, halls, and eating facilities, most of which are filthy.”

“Things that bring income streams on line soon, even if larger projects are slowed, are good.  Overspending is bad,” Margaret Evans remarked.

“Indeed, I have a financial path plan, attachment 3.  You see…”

Space Guard Operations Center

Chelan had joined Commodore Clangbalance in the decidedly not lavish Space Guard Operations Center.  The walls were bare concrete. The ceiling was cheap sound-absorbing tile, spaced by bands of tired-looking LED lights. A non-skid vibration damping carpet  that clearly had seen better days covered most of the floor.

“Doctor,” Commodore Clangbalance said, “our people are in position,  the  Mighty Transporter is behind the moon and docked with someone, so it is time for you to play your part.”

Chelan adjusted his headphones and looked at the paper in front of him.  “Mighty Transporter, Mighty Transporter, this is Victor Chelan for the debtors in control of Bulger Spaceship Holdings.  Please report and confirm your position.  Mighty Transporter, Mighty Transporter, this is Victor Chelan for the debtors in control of Bulger Spaceship Holdings.  Please report and confirm your position.”  Ten seconds passed on the clock.  The airwaves were silent.   ““Mighty Transporter, Mighty Transporter, this is Victor Chelan for the debtors in control of Bulger Spaceship Holdings.  Please report and confirm your position.”  He waited another ten seconds.  “Commodore Clangbalance,” Chelan said, reading from the script, “I am unable to establish contact with the Mighty Transporter and fear for its safety. Could the Space Guard please confirm its situation?”

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Tales of the Anglic Union

One after the next, the remaining chairs around the table filled.  “Gentlemen, Ladies,” Chelan said, “I see we are exactly on time.  I hope you all received the expenditure reports in a timely way?” Heads nodded.  “I’ll assume there are complaints?  I was taken slightly by surprise when the Elizavetsians indicated that they would be appearing, but they had the codewords for the mysterious payments Dewey and Rothham had received.”

“Must we be dealing with them?”  Eli Bywater asked.  “They are truly evil people, and have been since  Elizavetsia was founded.”

“Eli,” Lawrence Morningstar said, “the Treaty of Separation ending that part of the Discord is completely specific that we are setting aside all disagreements based on things they and we did at different times. Anglic Union law makes very clear that considering that issue is illegal. Therefore, the issue does not arise.”

“Also,” Victor said, “the current issue with the Elizavetsians is that they have already paid us for a large amount of nickel iron, which they have not yet received.  They are politely asking for the nickel-iron, as opposed to suing to get their money back. We actually knew most of this — it’s is in the reorganization proposal we adopted — except for the detail we did not know who was buying all the nickel iron that they did not appear to have received. Now we know. As it happens, they happily agreed to pay us for future purposes at twice the normal rate for the material, so it is very much in the interest of our noteholders that we continue to sell them nickel-iron at the admirable rates they are proposing to pay.”

“I’m not proposing to discriminate against them based on what they did prior to the Treaty of Separation.  I object to their current behavior,” Eli said.

“On behalf of the small noteholders,” Rose said, “I must insist that we honor our contractual obligations with the Elizavetsians, and furthermore if they are willing to buy nickel-iron at the indicated price, we should very definitely continue to sell to them.”

“My principals are happy to insist that dealing with Elizavetsians is an undisclosed material fact which voids the agreement,” Eli said. “In that case, my principals insist on being paid immediately for our share of the debt.”

“You will need to take that to the Oregon Chancery Court,” Victor said. “The presence of an unknown purchaser in the financial records, who certainly could’ve been an Elizavetsian, was surely disclosed, because it was a significant obligation.”

“I see I will have to do that,” Eli said.

Victor looked at a message from his legal staff.  “In that case, Agnelli and Hong are withdrawing from our agreement, which still has 90% of the noteholders in it, so therefore you must remove yourself from the meeting.” Victor looked at Eli.

“I completely agree,” Eli said. “It has not been nice negotiating with you all, so I do not look forward to doing it again in the future.” His image disappeared from the video. A quiet warbling tone informed all listeners that he had departed.

“That was different,” Benjamin Goldsmith said. “I knew Agnelli and Hong weren’t completely happy with your proposal, Victor, but I thought they would at least stay the course for a few months.”

“I fear that we will have more of this in the future,” Victor said, “whether over Elizavetsia, annoying the Stellar Republic, or some other issue, and will have to live with it.”

“One might propose,” Rose said, “that some people will realize they want out from the deal, and will take any plausible reason as an excuse.  However, they  did buy in at the start.  Chancery Court will not overlook that.”

“Having said that,” Benjamin Goldsmith began,  “what shape are the Yards in?  What are all these expenses?  And why are the freighters flying half-empty?  Surely we have not mined Proserpine out of existence?”

“In short,” Victor began, “the Yards are mostly not in functional shape, but it appears that everything can be fixed. Let me restate that.  We haven’t yet found anything that can’t be fixed.  The expenses are paying off debts that would let people seize the Yards.  Legal is working on a full set of reports.  We’re working on the freighter question.  In more detail…”  Ten minutes later, Chelan finished his legal report.

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Tales of the Anglic Union…

“Yes?” Chelan asked mildly.  “What was the clue?”

“You mentioned offloads didn’t seem to match expected on-loads, though they matched the bills of lading.  Each time one of our ships lands,” Bell explained, “it downloads a flight record, including the accelerometer records.  That record is hashcoded four different ways, so it’s impossible to alter.  So on the screen is the expected flight path, the part within a half-million miles of Earth.  And now on the screen for the last trip of the Mighty Transporter is their actual path.  They deviate behind the moon, park there for part of a day, and when they continued on their way their drive power curve show that they were, give or take, 30,000 tons lighter.  They somehow present us with papers saying that they left Proserpine only half full, so everything appears to match.”

“That’s piracy!” Davis stared in amazement.

“Precisely,” Bell answered. 

“Wait?” Mrs. Brixton said.  “The Senior Partner here had me log, automatically every hour, and daily report, exactly where our ships were.  They never wandered off behind the Moon. SolarNavCom pinged their transponders for their current location, and sent us a report.”

“Good work!” Bell said. “That’s their location according to the feed from their navigation system. That can be faked. Back side of the moon?  Almost nothing there.  Some very old radio telescopes. Smugglers keeping radio silence.  The Space Guard has seen this before.  There’s a protocol, if you’re willing to send a few radio messages.”  Chelan nodded his agreement.

“And in a half hour I have a meeting with the major debtors,” Chelan said.

Meet with Debtors

Traveller’s Residences

Video Conference Room

Chelan took his seat at the head of the Video Conference room table.  He’d had to return to the Traveller’s Residences for that.  Bulger had video conferencing, but its security was still open to question.  The wall clock said he had a couple of minutes before the remainder of the Managing Committee appeared, enough time for him to review his notes.

The chair seemingly at the foot of the table became occupied.  “Ah, Rose Cohen,” Victor said, “welcome to the Managing Committee.  It was good that the Courts cleared someone so quickly to represent the minor noteholders.” 

“Indeed, Victor,” Cohen answered.  “It helped that the Oregon Chancery Court knew I had been a  major pain in the tush on behalf of the pensioners when the old California United Pension System went up on the rocks.”

“And now most of the remaining noteholders have been swept up in your net,” Victor said. “Fortunately,  I still anticipate full payout with interest, so perhaps you will earn your fees out of additional profits, meaning that you can smile benevolently as we advance.”

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Tales of the Anglic Union continued

Bulger Space Yards

Progress Begins

“It’s Day Two.  Pumping on the graving dock is proceeding nicely,” McNaughton said.  “A few days and we reach the drains, which seem to be thoroughly clogged.”

“Pumping started rather quickly,” Chelan said. 

“Drainer Pumps had a nearly local office, managed by someone with the Seldon Legion,” McNaughton answered. “They got a tech out here very early, and fixed the ‘problem’.  It’s called an On-Off switch.  Pumps go to city storm sewers … yes, they did check the water purity first. It’s rain. When we reach the drains, we likely need to drill.”

Chelan gestured at Elaine Bell.  “The machinist we hired is making respectable progress on cleaning out the machine shop,” she said. “So far he’s working on ‘Turn on water and power, open all the windows, power up the exhaust vents, and pour water down all drains.’  ‘Open windows’ involves a lot of lubricant and waiting for results.   He’s wearing a gas mask. May we retain short-term a cleaning service for the rest rooms and eating areas?”  Chelan nodded.  “It would be inadvisable to do powerups on individual machines until the place is clean, and machines have been opened and cleaned inside—the one we popped out was filthy in its gearworks.  Sarah Yates is advancing toward rebuilding the molecular spray units.  She has to finish the current life support system first, but that’s within a day.  That schedule is basically clockwork, so long as the working unit continues to function.”

“Knock on wood,” McNaughton said.

“And the graving dock?” Chelan asked.

“The graving dock support spines are titanium alloy all the way down,” Bell said.  “They are much overbuilt, so  they are in good shape.  Their galvanic protection is still working, though it needs replacement soon.  Once the drains are working, a vigorous water wash to eliminate chloride would be good.  Salt spray from the ocean.  We still need to test the foundations. At some point, a retractible cover would be desirable.  There should have been one someplace.  Alas, we can’t service Space Guard frigates, though that would be a good income stream. Frigates are long and narrow.  Freighters are circular.  We’d need to add a new graving dock, something much longer, though it could be considerably narrower.”

Chelan shook his head.  “Consider a circular dock large enough to accommodate the frigates, or freighters much heavier than the ones we currently operate. That’s long term until we get the finances figured out.” 

Bell looked surprised, then thoughtful.  “There’s a standard design from the China yards.  On which we are a co-owner. Finally,” Bell said, “I found how the 30,000 tons per shipment of nickel iron, and probably the rare earths, disappear in transit.”  Heads snapped up.

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Bulger Space Yards

“Absolutely!” Yates said. “Any spray unit can duplicate itself, so the unit you see working would have no trouble repairing all the units that aren’t working. However, past management ruled the time spent building replacement parts was time not spent building things we could sell, so they told us not to do it. There are things you can bootleg, but that isn’t one of them.”

Bell mumbled under her breath.  “With all respect, sir, that appears to be a case of penny wise and pound foolish. I’d have to know exactly what was wrong with the dead units to calculate an optimum repair schedule — unless you’ve already done that — but keeping these units in good repair matters a great deal to getting other things done. For example, if you need to build gravitronic spines, you need to use the course-focus unit, which appears not to be working, but fortunately one of these units, if you are patient, can make any needed replacement parts. Now, Sarah, you get to tell me all the ways I’m wrong.”

“No, you’re exactly right.” Sarah pinched her nose. “ I have a replacement plan and schedule. It comes with a bill that the former management was unwilling to pay, so we couldn’t do it.”

“I will want to see this plan and the bill as soon as possible” Chelan said, “if for no other reason than having only one working unit sounds more than a bit risky. Also, if you have a schedule of what you are manufacturing in the future, and who’s buying what or paying for it, I’d like to see that, too.  Is there anything else I need to know?”

“Most of my problems go away,” Sarah said warmly, “if I’m allowed to fix the other molecular spray units. There are probably other problems, but it’s hard to see what those are until step one, fixing units, gets done.  And here is a copy of my plans.”  She handed Chelan a thin sheaf of papers and a datastick.

“In that case,” Chelan said, “I’d better leave you to your work, but we’ll need to schedule a longer talk, probably tomorrow. I’m still fending off potential litigants.  If anything arises, I’ll be over in Central Administration.  Chief Bell, if we could return to my office?”

Hiring Bell

Bulger Space Yards

CEO Office

“Ah, mint tea, very thoughtful of  you, Mrs. Brixton.”  Chelan inhaled deeply, the biting aroma passing through his nose.  “Much better than the stench in the God help us machine shop.” Elaine Bell nodded in agreement.  

“All right, Ms. Bell, you’ve convinced me you are a good choice.  Your analysis of Yates’ plan as we did our extended walk back here appeared sound, as much as I could tell.  This is not my expertise.  I will propose we match your current full-time salary, plus 20%, and elevate to your pre-National Renaissance plus 20% salary after three months, unless things work out poorly.   I don’t think they will.  Unless you see an objection, you being appointed Boss of the Yard, I will renew the contracts for Yates and crew and for the two maintenance people, with the notation that we may revise pay upward once we get control of finances. Oh, right.  Mrs Brixton?  Is your form here someplace?  Please add it.  Three months, discuss at that time, one month guaranteed, at your current salary.  We see if we can stand each other.   Those three-month increases will be retroactive to now if finances permit. Having said that, we need a new staff to operate the Yard.  Pumping the graving dock soon, before there is more damage?  Start cleaning the machine works?  Yates will need more people soon.  Give me a list of proposed hires, timing, and salaries. Also names, if you happen to know people.  Will tomorrow AM work?”

“Sir, late this afternoon should be possible,” Bell asnwered.  “I can already name several people,  highly competent, quit when the nerps told them how little their service was worth.”

“Get me their files ASAP, please.  Roger, given this building’s quaint layout, you can get all our senior people their corner offices.  Please put the Boss of the Yard on this floor if there is space.”  McNaughton nodded.  “Corner offices that they should routinely not be occupying.  Elaine, salaries commensurate with Space Guard salaries plus 20% are appropriate, unless you recommend elsewise.”

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Bulger Space Yards Walking Tour

The graving yard was a circular array of curved titanium spines, concave upward, arranged to match the load-bearing landing strakes on a spaceship’s hull.  The base was well below ground level, the spines sticking up so that the midpoint of a pancake -shaped freighter might be roughly at ground level. To Chelan’s dismay, the graving yard was flooded, an accumulation of rainwater having filled the yard much of the way to its top.  “There should be pumps,” McNaughton said. ‘At a guess, one of the buildings over there around the perimeter.”

“Where’s the roof?” Bell asked.  “I see some pivot points, but there should be a retractable roof to cover a ship while it’s being taken apart or assembled.” Chelan made careful notes. 

“Perhaps disassembled and in the machine shops,” McNaughton said. “Those large buildings should be the shops, equipped to handle even the ribs and strakes of freighters considerably larger than the ones we own.”

The trio walked over to the buildings. An outside stairs to the second floor brought them to a sliding pair of doors. Inside, they looked down at the shops, which were in an unbelievable state of chaos. Metal shavings in spirals covered the floors. Tools were scattered about on workbenches, not racked or placed in tool chests. A thick layer of dust and oily grime covered exposed surfaces.   Manufacturing robots stood by their machines, but there were no signs of active power lights.

“If it weren’t for all the windows,” Chelan said, “we be completely unable to see what was in here. And while these appear to be light switches, the status lights are both out. I was brought up on the doctrine that good machinists are scrupulously clean and orderly in their work areas; apparently whoever was running this place had a different set of ideas.” 

McNaughton inhaled deeply, then blew out the air from his lungs. “That’s a distinct stench, not just machine oil. Other than in the headquarters building, the sanitary facilities here are ghastly.”

“What a total mess,” Bell said. “However, I’m doing a survey by eye of the different sorts of machinery and how they’re arranged.  You have a lot of excellent equipment here, which looks to be well laid out so things don’t get in each other’s way.  If you brought in a crew that knew what they were doing to clean up the mess, at a guess clean and lube the machinery, this facility would be in good shape.  That’s way better than the graving yard, where I would want to do careful inspection of the foundations before I tried landing a ship in it.”  Chelan made more notes.

“The large-component molecular spray systems are in the next building,” McNaughton said. “That’s another building I couldn’t get into, though I think it’s simply that I tried the wrong doors.”

“We might be able to look in windows,” Chelan observed. “And perhaps there is a door you missed.”

Further buildings proved to be as disappointing in their lack of maintenance. “Interesting that the outside paint is always good, the gutters looked to have been cleared recently, and I have yet to spot a roof leak.” Bell nodded approvingly.

“That’s the two folks who wanted to stay on the job here,” McNaughton said. “They did the outside maintenance, and janitorial support in the management building. Mrs. Brixton spoke very highly of them, and it looks like I agree with her.”

“Those interviews are tomorrow,” McNaughton said. “I expected we would be busy all day starting things up.”

“And I expected to be dealing with litigation all day,” Chelan said.  “So far, so good.”

“The walks are in good shape,” Bell observed.

“Welcome to California,” McNaughton responded. “My great-grandfather mentioned seeing Roosevelt WPA-installed sidewalks that were still in near mint condition a century after the concrete had been poured. There are no frost-freeze cycles, so the concrete just stays there.”

Finally they reached the fine-resolution facility.  Inside, everything was neat and clean.  Staff members were visibly hard at work. The one visible molecular spray unit was generating a heat exchange lattice, under the sharp eyes of a senior staff member.

Division Director Sarah Yates smiled politely, greeted them, and led them to her office. “We’re under directive to finish this unit for the BSH Mighty Transporter.    That’s a health and safety requirement, so the legal staff of the former owners said we should carry through regardless, because we might be held liable if we didn’t.

“Noted,” Chelan said.  “You will be paid.”

“Why is the unit running so slowly?” Bell asked. “That looks to be a completely standard grate it’s building, so I would expect it to be moving much more quickly.”

“You’ve worked with these before?” Yates asked.

“I was seconded for some years to the China Yards.” Bell nodded politely.

“The gravitronic heads are old, so if we tried running them at full speed they’ld lose focus and we’d get a piece of junk instead of a heat transfer grid,” Yates answered.  “This is our last working unit, so we treat it with tender loving care.”

“Do I misremember?” Chelan asked. “Shouldn’t there be six of them in working order?”

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Enter the Elizavetsians

CEO Office

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.

CEO Office

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.”

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Chapters from Tales of the Anglic Union Astrographic Service

Bulger Space Yards

CEO’s  Office

Two air vans  settled into the Bulger Yards parking lot. 

“Security is deployed,” Davis announced. 

“A remarkable number of cars here,” Broadhurst said.  “I expected the lot to be completely empty.”

“All waiting for the boss,” Davis explained.  “But, no, not many employees.”

“Forward!” Victor Chelan let people precede him out of the van.  “Roger, you and escort might now visit the molecular spray facility.”

“Charles, front door and up the stairs,” Davis said.  “The elevator to the executive tower, the third floor, is a bit wonky.”

The stairways were less than clean, Victor thought, but the top floor sparkled.  This section of the building was new, added because the Dewey egomaniac running the place had given himself a two-corner office with impressive views.  He looked through the double door into the outer office.  Golden teak wall panels, he noted, must have cost someone a small fortune.  The large office was manifestly standing room only.  Who were all these people?  The trio in jet-black frock coats had to be Elizavetsians, people you almost never saw inside the Union.  He let staff members precede him.

People waiting inside the room surged toward him, all shouting at once.  Not quite all. The Elizavetsians, the Space Guard person in a dark blue uniform, and the tall woman standing at parade rest against the opposite wall simply nodded in his direction.

“Enough!”  Chelan did not quite shout.  The room quieted.  The matronly, silver-haired woman behind the desk smiled in his direction.  He waved her to sit.  “Mrs. Brixton, I believe?  Have you managed to identify all these doubtless nice people, and what they each want?”

“Sir, on your office desk monitor.  Along with the employment paperwork your staff requested,” she  answered.

“Okay, people, I can’t talk to all of you at once. “  Chelan hoped they were listening.  “In fact, I can’t talk to any of you – North California State Employment law — until I deal with something first.  Are there are Union representatives here?”  Three women raised their hands.  “Anyone with financial claims, please form a line and speak first with Charles Smith here.  He’s our new Finance Manager.  Order does not matter; I’m going to be a while. Mrs. Brixton, Tara, nice people from the Unions, please give me a moment to look at my office.” 

Chelan stepped through one more door and looked around.  The views were as magnificent as he had expected.  The desk looked to be solid teak.  It wasn’t large enough to be a  swimming pool, but he had seen many smaller dining room tables.   The room had a remarkable amount of shelving and cabinetry.  From the looks of things, the prior occupant had been extremely thorough about clearing everything out.   There was also a respectably large conference table with two stacks of paper, each under a beautiful glass paperweight.   The wall between this office and the reception area had been remarkably thick.  What was it hiding?  A search showed a full bath, more than ample closet space for clothing,   concealed stairs leading down, and, yes, it was, and with the heater on, an antique water bed behind a door,occupying the width between the two walls. 

He gestured for Tara and crew to come into the office.

“The large stack,” Brixton explained, “is people who are accepting your departure offer.  The small stack is people who want to stay.  That’s actually two stacks criss-crossed.”

“OK,” Chelan said.  “Let’s start with the ‘I choose to leave’ people.  Tara, you check each form first, then our nice Union people see them, and finally I sign.  Mrs. Brixton, as we reach names, if you have anything to tell me, say so.”

The noise level in the outer office had increased noticeably.  “Doctor Chelan,” Brixton said, “not until we reach the small stack, which will be a while.”

“We have claims,” the shortest representative began, “claims that…”

Chelan interrupted.  “Claims that I can’t act on until…”

“…until we have finished with these,” the tallest representative finished for him.  Chelan gave her a thumbs up.  “We all knew that.”

“Then let’s be about it,” Chelan announced.

“You aren’t letting us see the claims first?” The shortest representative challenged.

“You will see them, before I sign,” Chelan answered, “but my legal representative will look first, so that if there are irregularities we may flag them before you see them and become upset.”  Well, he thought, more upset.  And the quaint union custom that their representatives have numbers 1, 2, 3 and not names means that I cannot be more polite to her.

“A fine idea,” the tallest Union representative answered.  “Hopefully there are no irregularities, and we will not find any that you missed.”

And hour later, they were finished.  “The remaining papers,” Charles Smith said, “are from people who wish to stay with us.  We haven’t decided yet.”

“If you don’t decide today,…” the shortest representative began.

“…they must pay them until they decide,” the tallest representative announced.

“But of course,” Chelan said.  “Only  a crook would say otherwise.”

“But we also have our claim,” the third representative said.  “For all these employees. for the past three months, no payments were made into the Jointly-Managed Retirement funds.  We have an immediate legal claim…”

“Which I am happy to recognize,” Chelan said.  “Subject to legal and accounting review at my end.  Do you have a total for those charges?”  She passed numbers over to him.  “That’s not superficially objectionable. Charles, please put that number into an escrow account until we finish checking things, hopefully soon?  And we’re agreed on pay, of course.”

“Will do,” Charles answered.  “The retirement checks should be done today.”

“Anything else?” Chelan asked.  Hearing no answer, he pointed at the doorway, then tapped the intercom.  “Mrs. Brixton?  Have any new people arrived?”

“No, sir, and Miss Broadhurst has put in order  the people who want to speak to you, starting with the people with court orders.”

Thank God for small favors, Chelan thought. 

Tara shepherded a dozen somewhat bedraggled-looking men and an even more bedraggled-looking woman through the door.  “These people,” Tara explained, “all bear liens against Bulger, but the liens are attached to the property, not to the company, meaning that they can grab the yards before we can get them. The claims look valid. They’re not enormously large. I suggest that we pay.”

Chelan gestured at the chairs at the conference table. “My apologies for not speaking to each of you separately, but we are just getting started today. I hope your clients will be happier to get their money more quickly.  In fact, until I got done with the last group, I legally couldn’t have done anything for you.  Tara, are those all of their claims? In that case, if you pass them over. I hope no one minds if I read all of them aloud?” Hearing no objections, Chelan read through the claims.

“Charles,” Chelan said, “these are all legal claims against the property, they have documentation, none of them are really huge, so I see no problem with paying all of them. Perhaps take these people to the second floor conference room and handle all the paperwork? In any event, it has been a pleasure to meet all of you, and I hope we only have to do more favorable business with you in the future.” Chelan pointed at the door.

Bulger CEO Office

Commodore Clangbalance

Tara Broadhurst stayed behind.  “We have an irate group of Elizavetsians and a Space Guard Commodore who has been here since six this morning because he didn’t realize this shipyard keeps civilian hours.  Commodore Clangbalance was much happier after Mabel gave him a couple of cups of strong coffee and some pastries. You also have waiting for you Elaine Bell, that’s actually Space Guard Senior Master Chief of the Fleet Retired Elaine Bell, who insists she should see you last since your interview will presumably be extended. I think I’m not supposed to notice that she has exchanged occasional glares with the Elizavetsians  and a friendly smile with the Commodore.”

“I’d better see the Commodore first,” Chelan said, “as there are various unfortunate things even a weak government like the Union’s can do to make our lives unpleasant. Once he is inside, please remind the Elizavetsians of this. In fact, I’d better go out and meet him and bring him in myself. Yes, that also means I get to grab a cup of coffee.”

A few minutes later, Commodore Moses Clangbalance and Victor Chelan sat in two of the comfortable deeply-padded chairs on opposite sides of the low conference table. They both had pleasant views, looking down toward the distant waves of the Pacific.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Moses Clangbalance opened. “It is good to see you again after all these years. The Space Guard is delighted to learn that Bulger is now open under new management, or whatever the exact legal status is.”

“I’m also delighted to be seeing you,” Chelan answered.  “I hope we can look forward to long and mutually supportive arrangements, even if I am making off with some of your best  people.   I can have my staff brief yours on the exact legal issues, if need be in the next few days.  Though I should apologize that you have been sitting here waiting so long. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t dealt with those other people first, they would’ve at least attempted to seize the yards, in which case we would have been unable to do any business with you until the litigation was settled, possibly years in the future. However, I did what had to be done first, legal requirement, and then paid off the folks who just wanted some money. Having said that, what may I do for you?”

“This is a somewhat sensitive matter.” The Commodore looked over his shoulder, confirming that the doors were closed. “Nothing I say other than the offering price needs to go beyond this room.”

“I’m actually fairly good at keeping secrets,” Chelan said. “As you know.  And I will happily keep these.”

Commodore Clangbalance nodded gravely.  “The Space Guard has traditionally depended on buying equipment made with molecular spray units from the Joint Fleet Yards in China, supplemented by equipment made here at Bulger. Alas, a voting majority of the Yards owners have decided to stop selling molecular spray creations to places not members of the Stellar Republic, effective at a near-future date.   The formal vote and notification to the Union have not yet happened. That puts us in an extremely difficult position, since it is absolutely impossible to believe that the Congress and Parliaments will agree to become Republican slaves.”

“If they did,” Chelan said acerbically, “those who voted for it would be assassinated.”

“On the other hand,” Clangbalance continued, “without that agreement by-and-by we will no longer be able to keep our patrol ships in operation. We need to buy from you various sorts of equipment, notably life-support units and gravitronic drive spines, that we had previously purchased from the Joint Yards. There are standard prices for these things, but because of our great need I have been authorized by the Senate War Committee to pay 50% over standard list prices. However, we have an intense need in the relatively near future for various devices.  I have here a list of what we need and when.”  He produced a folded sheet of paper from an inner coat pocket.

“I’ll see what can be done,” Chelan said, sliding the paper into his jacket,  “We haven’t yet done an inspection of the works, or what condition they’re in, other than to be aware that the Bulger Yard has not recently been very productive. We’re trying to change that as quickly as possible, but I have no idea whether or not we can get you these things, let alone on what schedule. As I said, especially given your very generous offer, we’ ll do the best we can.” Clangbalance nodded understandingly. “In that case, perhaps we should each finish our coffee, you can tell me of other interesting political gossip from Washington, then I need to speak to, good heavens, a delegation of Elizavetsians.”

“Indeed.  We are entering a period of budgetary efficiency, Victor,” Clangbalance said, “and you have in your outer office an example of that efficiency.  Elaine Bell was a Fleet Senior Master Chief, probably knows more about spaceship maintenance and design than anyone else in the Space Guard, and had earned every bit of her rarified rank and elevated pay.  Congress and Parliaments in pursuit of efficiency substantially reduced the number of different petty officer ranks, and advised people in the cancelled ranks that they were reduced in rank to one of the ranks that survived.  At a correspondingly reduced salary, of course.  The financial savings were significant.”

“Why do I expect that this change was not well-received?” Chelan asked.  “It must be my naturally suspicious nature.  But wasn’t this soon after the elections?  About the time Dewey and Rotham changed from being well-paid investors to seeing how much blood they could extract from the turnip, until bankruptcy arrived? ”

“Interesting you should mention that,” Clangbalance answered.  “Bell was the only demoted Chief not to take immediate retirement.  Ancient regulations giving demoted-without-cause retirees a three year departure bonus that, under these conditions, must have been a motivation for the others.  The officer corps was similarly pared.  Of course, we did have more Grand Supreme Admirals of the Combined Fleets than we had ships.  The officer corps was thrown into disarray, especially when President Dewar made clear that he was setting fleet policy, for such of a fleet as there is, and the officer corps was there to do his bidding.  In any event, we were getting intimations that the remaining Indian states would soon be adhering to the Republic, at which point our access to the Joint Fleet Yards would become extremely tenuous, exactly as has now happened.  Chief Bell drew up plans, per President Dewar’s new policies, for a Union Fleet Yard.  It was, to put it mildly, an expensive proposal, though cannily thrifty in design.  Expensive and thrifty?  A completely new yard is inherently expensive. She was emphatic that the proposal was only meant to anchor thinking on what it would cost, not that she was advocating for it.  Needless to say, the National Renaissance politicos rejected her ideas, thought they did give her a substantial salary bonus for doing a job well, far beyond the call of duty.  Dewar wants to encourage that sort of thinking; paying to make proposals into concrete objects is a different issue.”

“Why did she stay?  If that’s not a secret?” Chelan asked.

“On one hand she’s only on second life extension, so she has a lot of years ahead of her.”  Clangbalance shifted in his seat. “Her grandchildren are all established with families or careers, so she has said several times that she does not need the money.  On the other hand, she’s been waiting for the right opportunity, so she’s technically on extended leave at tenth-pay.  Bulger Yards may well be the right opportunity.”

“And your evaluation of her?” Chelan asked.

“It depends.  What are you planning on doing?” Clangbalance asked.

“Officially, restoring profitability so that our principals can avoid taking large losses,” Chelan answered.  “Absolutely only between the two of us?  You see…” Chelan continued for some time.

“Nothing like a long-term plan.  In that case, I can’t imagine that you can find a better candidate,” Clangbalance said emphatically.  “But we have gossiped enough for one day.”

“Indeed.  Always good to see you, Moses,” Chelan and Moses stood. “Please feed back that we will do what we can with your requests.”

“Happy to do that, Victor,” Clangbalance answered. 

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