Chapters from Tales of the Anglic Union Astrographic Service

I post faster than I write, so there are going to be gaps and eventually a different novel, also unlikely to be completed. Meanwhile, Practical Exercise is up on Smashwords and on Amazon.

Humboldt Bay Traveller’s Residences

Humboldt Bay,  California

Victor Chelan, his back to the room, stared out the large windows of the Residence’s private dining hall.  The old town of Eureka had long since been swallowed up by the encroaching waters of the Pacific, now fifty feet higher than when he had been born.  As a seaport, the Bay was still excellent, though its channels and breakwaters had changed drastically through strange long years. Bulger Holdings had cleverly bought a more or less flat area, Table Bluff,  to the South, and much ground behind it.  The former owners, the Wiyot Tribe, justly thought they had made a superb deal in very difficult times in exchanging their old reservation for a new, far more pleasant and larger one, high enough not to disappear below the Pacific, as Duluwat Island had already done.

Behind him the clink of dishes meant that his staff would soon be finished helping themselves to an early breakfast, early enough that the rising sun had briefly tinged the breaking waves far below in scarlet.  He turned around, saw that everyone else had started eating, and helped himself to the buffet.   Scrambled eggs with salmon, mixed fresh fruit,  a bit of sausage, and a pair of croissants should keep him going until lunch.

He sat.  A half dozen faces turned to look at him.   “Finish eating,” he said, “but let’s see where we are.  Legal? Tara?”

“I finally received the last confirmations that we had seized Bulger’s accounts across the Union.”  Tara Broadhurst rolled her deep brown eyes skyward.  “I also have all of their transaction records since their takeover.  Those will take a while to untangle.  Dewey and Rothham had huge management fees, then tried to strip funds at the last minute, but we’d already served the right banks.  The major noteholding banks were very fast off the mark to serve liens on themselves.”

“Is litigation recovery possible?” Charles Smith, Chelan thought, would be the new financial manager. “Those fees were remarkable.”

“All technically legal,” Tara said.  “They owned the place.  The noteholders somehow  forgot to put appropriate financial controls in place.”

“Curiously,” Victor said, “this question has already been discussed with the South Oregon Procurator-General.  The difficulty is that the principals of Dewey and Rothham just moved…to certain islands in the Caribbean and Pacific outside our legal reach.  Then they returned money and profits to their legitimate investors and fired their entire staffs.”

“Outside?” Charles asked.

“The Republic,” Victor explained, “would be happy to extradite them, just as soon as the Union signs on the dotted line and becomes a Republic province.  That’s Junior Associate membership, member with no rights or voting privileges.”

“Security?” Victor asked.

“There’s an outside firm,” Pamela Davis answered.  “They keep the perimeter sealed, and monitor in and out traffic. They haven’t been paid in two months. They were about to walk when I told them there are new owners.  They do want to be paid, though, or they will take their fencing with them when they leave.”

“Were their fees reasonable?” Victor asked.

“Standard for the length of the perimeter.”   Davis spread her hands.  “A new fence, lighting, and electronic backing of that perimeter would cost way more than they want.”  She passed  the numbers to everyone’s display. “Also, separate issue, each of us now has Seldon Legion escorts.”

“That’s under the range where the Audit Committee wants to be asked, I think.  Richard?” Chelan turned to the Audit Committee’s representative, who nodded approvingly.  “OK, pay them and retain them, two month’s trial basis.”

“Personnel? Or is that Personnel and Legal?” Victor asked.

“Ayup.” Ebenezer Wyatt had retained his North New Hampshire style of speech. “California Law says exactly what we do, and Tara did it.  The last Bulger CEO – he’s on a Pacific Island – had an Executive Assistant.  Mrs. Mabel Brixton was entirely cooperative, got the mandated notices out to everyone – Tara and I stood there while she did it – she really wants to keep her job – and has collected the responses, exactly as the law requires.”

“I have to sign off on those things, first thing?” Chelan asked.

“Correct,” she answered. “Under a  hundred employees, you have to sign personally.  Twice. On paper,  like this was still the twenty-third century.”

“Am I required to catch the geese for the quills, for the quill pens?” Chelan mumbled.

“Sir, no, sir,” Davis responded.  “Geese bite.  You leave that to the security detail.”

“What about hiring?”  Chelan asked. 

“We advertised for technical staff, with vacuum experience and security clearances,” Wyatt answered.  “The Space Guard had a remarkably large staff, at least three years ago, given how few ships they have.  You’d think they had plans beyond routine maintenance.”

“They did,” Chelan answered.  “Enlarging their already bloated personal empires. Too bad for them the National Renaissance Party won the last election, no matter it is good for the country.  Too bad for the country that many good people are being let go, and many not so good people are being retained.”

“And better for us,” Wyatt said.  “I already have some superbly qualified applicants; I asked one to be there this morning.”

Chelan poured himself a second cup of coffee.  “Isn’t that premature?” Two envelopes of sweetener and a healthy slug of milk followed into his coffee mug.

“No, sir.  Even if the Bulger people all want on board – not likely – and we want them – we don’t, I’ll explain in a moment – their organizational chart has no Boss of the Yard, and we need one.  Someone to see what you say gets done.”  Wyatt nodded vigorously.  “The explanation?  Yesterday I was contacted by the employee representative – no, he’s not Union.  That’s different.  He offered me, or you, a deal.  You would get 50% off the top of everyone’s salaries.  You wouldn’t ask why no one ever shows up for work, because most of the staff was a purely a skimming operation.”

“That was the images we captured, these past two weeks,” Davis said. “And the satellite photos over the last year.  Big parking lot, always empty.  Almost no one is there, except the hi-res manufacturing crew, who are way separate from the rest of this operation.”

“How did they pull this off?” Chelan asked.

“Some deal with Dewey and Rothham,” Broadhurst answered.  “Key employees know how much the previous owners were taking, and agreed to keep it quiet, if they were allowed to run their own skimming operation, and give Dewey and Rothham a cut.  I’ve seen this racket before, several times.”

“What happened to the offer?”  Chelan shook his head and took another swig from his mug.   It was truly excellent coffee.

“I explained, politely, that the world had changed.  No hard feelings, but people were going to show up for work every day, and work hard,” Wyatt said.  “Curiously, all these people had come on board when Dewey and Rothham bought Bulger, three years ago…most of the old staff was paid to leave, or so I am told by Brixton.  A year’s pay, and contacts elsewhere.”

“Tara,” Chelan said, “Please comb carefully through pay records.  That year’s bonus had to be recovered somehow, and skimming employee salaries would be a path.”

“Will do, boss.”

“Go on, Ebenezer.”  Chelan reached for the cookie tray.  “How was your answer taken?  By the way, did you have backup?  Sometimes these labor discussions get a bit testy.”

“For sure,” Davis said.  “Four of my people at two nearby tables. More outside.”

“The representative was completely agreeable,” Wyatt observed. “He said he was expected to ask, but he knew the answer would be ‘no’.  He’s already seen parking lot photos, so he knows we know they were all making  false hours claims.  That’s a felony here in California.  I explained that if people went on their way, we wouldn’t say anything.  We shook hands; he went on his way.”

“Engineering?”  Chelan looked at Roger McNaughton.

“Only God knows,” McNaughton answered.  “Can’t tell until we do an inspection.” The emphasis was on ‘we’. “Can’t get in until start of work this AM.  Bulger environmental units – that’s the fine-resolution molecular spray people – are still rated AAA grade; the Imperial Navy has a standing offer for the last three years for any extra they make, at a premium price.  They understand we and the Space Guard come first.  The graving yard…you’ll see for yourself.”

Imperial, Chelan thought.  They call themselves a Republic, but their Star Navy has a different opinion on the matter.  Of course, some of that is diplomatic.  Some aliens think Empires are more powerful Republics. “Did Bulger ramp up production to meet that demand?  I don’t remember hearing this before,” he asked.

“We need to work though their accounts, but they didn’t, not that I can tell.” McNaughton shrugged. “I only found the offer in their Navy public files.”

Chelan slipped a half-dozen large cookies into a sack in his carryall.  “And with that, I believe we should wash up and meet in the lobby, say in fifteen minutes.  Is that enough time for security?”

“Ten minutes would do,” Davis responded.

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Chapters from Anglic Union Astrographic Service

Tales of the Anglic Union Astrographic Service

by George Phillies

The Bankers Talk

Lawrence Morningstar stared into his computer display.  He’d momentarily set it so it showed what its camera showed of him: Brown eyes, blond hair starting to fade to silver, a conservative left half-mustache,  formal suit with broad necktie and an ornate paisley vest, the fabrics in the colors of his St. Louis Investment Trust.  The last green light appeared on his display. “I believe we are all here, physically or virtually,” he said.  “Ahead of schedule, even.”  He stared around the table. “As the largest single noteholder – some of you represent groups of holders  — my bank is stuck, err, obliged to be the convenor of this meeting. My counsel says we collectively represent more than eighty percent of the debt of Bulger Spaceship Holdings.  Bulger is sixty days delinquent on paying interest on all of our notes, so any of us could have put a general lien on their operations…and almost all of us have.   I see four proposals for taking control of Bulger as debtors in possession, each from a group with different claims.  Those claims and proposals have all been circulated.  Does anyone have anything new to add before I draw lots to open discussion?”

On the bright side, Morningstar thought, the Senior Partners back in Missouri all agreed that the loans were very nearly a total loss, so there was no point on forcing division of the pennies in Bulger’s bank account and their rust-pile of a shipyard.  Nor would the loans give us ownership of one of Bulger’s four spaceships.  There were too many other debtors.  No one said anything.  He drew a lot.  “Great Lakes,” he said.

“Bulger has been losing a lot of money for quite some time, as witness their very substantial debts.” Benjamin Goldsmith spoke for the Great Lakes Merchant Bank.  Goldsmith appeared to be a truly old man, his hair faded to silver, wearing the traditional heavy pullover sweater of that counted as formal dress  just south of Lake Superior.   “Our noteholdings are not quite as large as yours, Lawrence, or I would be stuck running this meeting, but they are the sizeable number in your report.  The competitors of Bulger barely break even.  How can we possibly recover? Ideas, gentleman”

Morningstar drew another lot.  ‘Georgia’, it read.  He nodded at their representative.   “I am trying to imagine this group coming to an agreement.” Margaret Evans smiled innocently   “As a practical matter, we have three proposals  in which the differences would reduced us to haggling about miniscule sums, at one point, literally pennies.  And then we have a proposal with no source, or details, no clear indication of which debt holdings are behind it, that proposes that ‘full repayment is likely’.  I know I’m from the wrong state, representing the Georgia Benevolent Trust,  but this has to be a ‘show me’ offer.  Lawrence, I agree you’re allowed to, but why did you forward this gem to us?”

“Time to welcome our last representative,” Morningstar said, “one who represented enough debt that he was allowed to stay anonymous until he said something.”  Morningstar pointed at the far end of the table, where waited  a silver display screen.

The masked virtual representative uncloaked.  The silver circle representing a masked speaker was replaced by a smiling face Evans knew all too well from High School history classes.  “Doctor Chelan.  We are honored by your presence.  What may we do for you?”  Why, she wondered, was she facing a famous historical figure?

“As it happens,”  Chelan said, “I represent the New England Benevolent Trust, the South California Benevolent Trust, the Central California Benevolent Trust, the North California Trust, and most important the Oregon Trust, not to mention noteholders of the Harold Seldon Legion, and various other debtors.  Bulger’s ground holdings are on Humboldt Bay, but they are an Oregon Corporation, so we will settle in Oregon Chancery Courts.”  Chelan paused, letting his listeners remember that Oregon Courts always put the Oregon Trust first.  “Counting debts transferring, I believe I will represent most of the remaining noteholdings. My offer is very simple: We can spend ten years litigating, doing a Bleak House imitation that will leave us all poorer, or we can come together under a uniform return scheme. Bulger should be highly profitable. No one seems to understand why they are not—,” namely he thought, many hands in the till and two investment funds looting the assets, “—but I am confident that with sound management Bulger will by and by become very profitable indeed.  Also, being realistic, their assets cover only pennies on the dollars we are owed.”  Not currently profitable, he thought again, except for the two investment funds.  “We would be seizing the assets, not negotiating with Dewey or Rothham.  You may each need to discuss this with your principals.”

“I propose that you will agree to a CEO and appoint an Audit Committee,” Chelan continued, “and that as you are repaid you will relinquish your claims, and in the end the Seldon Legion will take ownership.  In round numbers, there are costs needed to keep money coming in.  There will then be income in excess of costs.  Half goes to paying off debt.  Half goes to expanding the income stream. I will be the CEO.  There are considerable technical details in my full proposal.  However,  the math is clear. Bulger has few financial assets.  Anyone who wants dissolution and distribution, rather than in possession, will be getting very little indeed. My offer means risk little, and likely gain much.”

“I very much want to see the details,” Eli Bywater announced.  “Agnelli and Hong had discussed this option, but concluded we didn’t have the expertise needed to make it work.  Do you?”

“I anticipate hiring considerable new staff,” Chelan said.  “There is already a corporate division that more than pays for itself, and an income stream from freight haulage.  You need to read the details.”  And, he thought, not ask too many questions about how we did the partial survey of the shipyard.  Seldon Legion Dark Commandos are indeed stealthy.

“Income stream?” Evans asked. 

“A sensible question,” Chelan said. “We are substantially limited to running mining products back from remote Proserpine, the Kuiper asteroid the Anglic Union almost lost, to Earth.  The miners on Proserpine would be happy to mine more, but shipping is the limit.  We have four quite aged Pelnir class freighters, each of which should be able to haul 70,000 tons of nickel-iron every six weeks, or two million tons a year.  They actually haul much less.   Our three competitors divide the other ten million tons of Anglic Union steel consumption between them.    There is demand for much more steel, but, of course, the Stellar Republic won’t sell the Union more bulk haulers, and on-earth mining has long since become uneconomical.  To add insult to injury, the Stellar Republic charges our competitors an arm and a leg for routine maintenance. The Union has no shipyards.  We should be doing our own maintenance, meaning we should be profitable.”

“And our competitors don’t see this?” Goldsmith asked.  “I inherited this account last month, when the former managing partner may he rest in peace couldn’t explain how we’d ended up this far in the hole.”

“May I?” Evans asked.  There were nods of assent.  “Our competitors all have substantial holdings from Stellar Republic citizens.   They’re corporate founders with privileges. The Stellars can’t expand those holdings, thanks to current securities laws, but they refuse to sell, even at a huge premium over market prices.  And the corporate charters let them force our competitors to use Republic maintenance firms and graving docks.”

“How did they pull that off?” Goldsmith asked. “Surely that’s not in the interest of the other shareholders?”

“Their founders inserted in the charters that they had first claim on outside corporate spending, within some unreasonably generous limits,” Evans said.  “There are reasons why our competitors’ shares are not quite penny stocks.  And, curiously, since the last altercation, the Stellar Republic has embargoed sales to the Union of space freighters.  They were quite annoyed that the Space Guard managed to buy from the Zengor a stack of patrol craft and the three corvettes.”

“Waste of money,” Robert Patterson grumbled.   He shifted in his chair, spreading the teal opera cloak that identified his corporate loyalties.  “A weak space fleet contributes nothing to security; the Republic has squashed piracy in-system.”

“A waste of money now facing substantial reductions in force,” Goldsmith mumbled.

“If I might speak,” Chelan said.  “A century ago, our ancestors could barely maintain steam engines.  At the time, the charters were really quite generous.”

“Republic bastards,” Morningstar mumbled.

“Bulger represents the only nominally functional spaceship repair yard in the Union,” Chellan noted.  “The Space Guard shares repair space in China  with two dozen other earthly nations, but the treaty establishing that yard limits it to military ships.  Of course, most of the founding nations have since joined the Stellar Republic, in Associate Status, but they can still vote on treaty modifications – not to mention those yards are in Manchuria, which has since joined the Republic – and they all vote against modifying the treaty to allow maintenance of civilian ships.”

“I see the detailed proposal text,” Patterson said.  “We’d like to study it for a day or two.  Is that acceptable?”

“Should be,” Goldsmith said.  “Also, Bulger bonds are now below one cent on the dollar, so at some point the people who want to buy into this can buy out anyone who doesn’t.”

“That bothers me a bit,” Morningstar said.  “There is an income stream, there are assets on the ground, the debts other than to us appear to be quite small unless there is something hidden, but we have a better chance of knowing about that than the hoi polloi do, there are four spaceships…how does an auction not beat one cent on the dollar?”

“Assets are not saleable,” Goldsmith said, “a detail very well hidden unless you know exactly where to look.  Dewey and Rothham  somehow procured a large subsidy from the Space Guard, making their ships and Yard a Defense National Asset.  If they cease operations and go under, the Space Guard gets to claim the material assets of the company.”

“How did due diligence not pick up this liability?” Morningstar asked.  “And where did the money go?”

“Strictly speaking, it’s not a liability,” Chelan said. “It’s not money the company owes.  It does reduce what the assets are worth as loan collateral, but they sold to the Space Guard recently.  At a guess, Dewey and Rothham claimed to have found the Guard as a buyer, and collected a commission, based on the nominal value of the facility, the commission being larger than what the Space Guard paid.”

“Coming back to the one cent on a dollar,” Evans said, “the value of the bonds, and hence the ability of we or any of our space merchant competitors to borrow money, has been under systematic attack by the press’s isolationist wing, notably the Fiscal Post and the Motte and Bailey Avenue Bulletin.  They’ve done a large series of exposes of the worthless economic nature of space flight.”

“Two days?” Morningstar asked.

“Unless we all agree sooner?” Patterson suggested.  Heads nodded.  The meeting ended.

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Of Breaking Waves

This bit is out of sequence with the rest

Michael Poniatowski marched up the stairs for the playing field to Biochemistry Hall parking lot.  He told himself he’d been really lucky to find a cheap apartment this close to campus, but it was still a bit of a hike.  A woman he didn’t recognize – he told himself that was still most women at his new school – had parked a van at the low loading dock and was dragging a four-wheeler dolly out of the rear.  There couldn’t he thought, be that many women on campus with platinum blond hair and a spectacular figure, especially not women more-or-less his height, but he didn’t recognize her.  He should, he thought, introduce himself.

“Ma’am,” he called, “those are heavy.  I’ll help you.”  He ran toward her truck.  Before he reached her, she lifted it one handed, flipped it top over bottom from wheels up to wheels down, and set it on the ground.

Then she turned, a bright smile on her face.

For a moment, Michael felt stark terror. Her hair and eye color were unmistakeable. Assuredly, he had just come face-to-face with the Silver General, albeit not in garb.

“Forgive me, great lady,” he babbled.  “I apologize.  I didn’t mean to question…”

“Don’t be silly,” she interrupted, her smile widening.  “You were being a gentleman. Your offer was not different than offering to hold a door for a girl, or opening an umbrella for a girl if it rains.” Her hand stabbed out, tweaking Michael very gently on the nose.  “Being a gentleman is always the right answer.  And if it isn’t, you can be sure…she’s the wrong girl for you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he stammered.

“You’re Michael Poniatowski, right?  Morgan’s research group?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.  The Lafayette group.”

“Good photo of you on the department bulletin board.  However, these boxes are a present for her.” She pointed at a dozen large flat-black cubes inside the van.  “You’re welcome to help load them.  Be gentle…they’re rose bushes.  Easier to move them all at once with the cart. And teleporting them sets off too many alarms, me not being a faculty member here.”

“Happy to, ma’am.”

“The name is Astrid, not ma’am. I’m not in garb.” She smiled again.  “The roses are TrueBlacks, potted, still in good health.”

“I’ll be very careful with them, ummh, Astrid,” he answered.  TrueBlacks? he thought.  I’m looking at a city’s ransom here.

“You recognized me…I’m getting absent-minded.” She tapped her hair, which turned raven black, blinked once, her eyes turning to watery blue, and slumped slightly.

She hadn’t done much, Michael thought, but now I hardly recognize her.

“I wasn’t sure there’d be anyone here, this early in the morning,” the Silver General said.  “But I am on a very tight schedule, and still need breakfast.  Is there someplace decent, near here?”

“That would be Bartleby’s, ma’am, err, Astrid,” Michael managed.  “Three blocks south of campus, lots of parking in back.  I was going there after I check in with Penelope”

“Penelope?” Her eyebrows rose.

“New senior post-doc, Astrid.  Very English.  Very conservative.  Totally brilliant.” He paused to shift another box.  “She was told that the boss had occasional interesting guests, but I’m not sure she believed it.  Even after Comet showed up with a box of cookies.”

“The Comet?  Flies across galaxies?  Had the guts to divorce her parents?” Astrid asked.

“And, her brother talked, didn’t realize what he gave away, blackmailed Speaker Ming and the Wizard of Mars to get them to approve it.”

Astrid laughed.  “I saw that.  Nothing like having all the high cards.  She’s a really nice person, more than a bit lonely at this point, should be encouraged to drop by here regularly to talk.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll try.  A bit tricky, she being way too young to date even an undergrad.”

“There are ways,” Astrid said.  “I could explain.  If the new Dragon Lady does not object – I believe Morgan still uses that title for her senior post-doc – would you care to join me for breakfast?  I’ll pay, you being a starving graduate student.”

“Sure!”

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Of Breaking Waves

“For Astrid, the Silver General, the answer to that question, and the price for the answer, were the same.” Morgana shook her head.  “The answer? The Silver General was to bear a child.  A daughter.  The child was to have all the gifts, and all the ability to call on her gifts, that can be imagined.  Then the Wizard of Mars arranged for the daughter to have an Avatar, a creature who did not live in linear time, so that it could anticipate what was needful and ensure that it happened.  Time and again, the Avatar arranged for the daughter to face great challenges, challenges she almost but not quite failed to overcome, to prepare the daughter for her final, fatal challenge.  The Avatar put into the daughter’s hands a copy of my little book.  Yes, the Presentia, On the Nature of the Presence, a book the daughter understood adequately if not perfectly.  In the end, the daughter was far more powerful than her mother, if less experienced. ”

“Some of my advisors, informed that the Silver General had an even-more-powerful daughter, would have fatal coronaries,” Ming said.  “Others would begin researching painless and reliable methods for ending their lives.  The thought is terrifying.  But how does it correspond to the Star Demons?”

“The daughter was Eclipse. In the end, it appears that she went to her death to kill the demons, summoning a wave of destruction so total that the very bounds of space and time were ruptured.  She killed the demons, but her attack would appear to have killed her.  I say ‘appear’, because there was no body.  It was reduced to its component subatomic particles.”

“Wasn’t there a sacrifice needed?” Speaker Ming asked. “To propitiate the Wizard?”

“Eclipse was the sacrifice,” Morgana answered.  “the Silver General bore her daughter, knowing in advance that the child would go to certain death in combat, well before she reached her fourteenth birthday, and the best the Silver General could do was to prepare Eclipse so she had the best possible chance of taking the Star Demons with her.  Abandoning her ws part of that preparation.”

“Oh, dear.”  Speaker Ming took a deep breath.  “What a horrible price.  No, I see that I have no interest in pursuing Eclipse’s parents – Wait!  She must have had a father!”

“Eclipse was mindlocked,” Morgana explained, “well before she was born, not to be aware of the possibility.  Certainly, her memories of growing up – I saw only a few of them – implied that she lived only with her mother.  It’s quite plausible that the fellow has no idea that he had a daughter.  Astrid was never heavily into long-term, long-term even by mortal standards, relationships.”

“You have solved my problem,” Speaker Ming said, “for which I can only be grateful.  What a solution, though.  Or are there remaining parts of the Eclipse story?”

“One more.”  Morgana sipped at my tea.  “There is on our world another great evil, an evil far more horrible than the Star Demons, who were summoned from another plane, and whose actual interests are far more eldritch than anything mortal humanity can contemplate without going mad, for all that we can kill them.  They pass through, somewhat by accident wreck a civilization, and leave, unless the Eternal Ones kill one first.  The greater evil would lock us in chains forever.  The Avatar sacrificed its existence to destroy that evil. The greater evil will apparently – the Wizard tells me, though he neglected to mention how  — soon meet the same fate, and then for the first time in longer than mankind can now imagine mankind will be truly free.”

“We are not free now?” Ming asked.

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Of Breaking Waves

“Hello. Today I’m Professor Morgana Lafayette,” she announced.  “The Speaker asked me to drop by to talk.  He didn’t say it had to be today, but the hint was clear.  Is he free? Is there a best  time?”

“Yes, ma’am.  Just a moment.” He pressed a button.  He was replaced by a beautiful picture of the Grand Canyon and sweet music.  In a few moments, his image returned in a split screen, the other half being the Speaker’s lead secretary, Ophelia Parrotwood.

“Morgana,” Ophelia gushed, “what a delight that you got back to us so quickly.  The Speaker is in the process of escorting someone out of the office.  If you can get here quickly, no, wait, the Capital teleport screen is up, so…’

“That’s a non-issue,” Morgana answered.  “I seem to recall your office has a west floor to ceiling window with nothing in front of it.”

“Yes, but…”

“I’ll be there in a  few moments,” she announced.

The occupants of Ophelia Parrotwood’s office affected not to be surprised when a woman stepped out of thin air in front of them.  Teleportation, after all, was a commonplace. The more astute observers realized that they were inside the Federal District teleportation screens, so the appearance should have been impossible. 

Ophelia’s enthusiastic greeting made clear the young lady was an invited guest.  “Morgana, it’s always such a delight to see you.  I hope you’re well?”

“I am indeed.  And you?”  Morgana asked.

“Also well, though not as young as I used to be,” Ophelia answered.  “As a girl, I would dance all night.  Now I prefer to sit for conversation as midnight strikes.”

“That’s practical experience, not age,” Morgana answered.  “But, hark, the Speaker approaches.”

No sooner had she made those remarks than Speaker Ming, in his informal robes of state, entered the room.  “Ah,” he said.  “Morgana!  So good you could be here.  Let’s step into my inner office.”

Morgana found herself squired into an overpadded armchair, its complicated print being chrysanthemums in full bloom.  Her blooms were gold and yellow.  His were pale pinks that accented his scarlet robes.   After  offering a few pleasantries, the Speaker got to the point.

“I have a legal issue, but do not know what to do about it,” he announced.  “It relates to Eclipse, may she rest in peace.   I gather that she grew up with her mother, and, one fine day when she was probably eleven years old, she was thrown out of the house.  I can’t propose endangerment, somewhat the reverse, but abandonment is illegal.  Is there a way to find and arrest her mother?  Do I actually have evidence for charges?  Eclipse was apparently entirely closemouthed about her parents’ names.  What should I do here?”

“Yes,” Morgana said, “I have the answer to this riddle.   I know it, but only because the Wizard of Mars invited me for tea.  You need to know it, to quiet your worries, though it is a terrible tale.  The actual answer is that the Wizard of Mars is an extremely cruel man.  Alternatively, he is bound by rules beyond our comprehension, rules that demand that for every answer there must be a proportionate price.  For every good he does, an evil must match.   For his answer to ‘How may I avert this doom, so far away yet so swift approaching?’, that doom being the Sword People and then the Invincible Star Demons, the price was indeed high. I didn’t ask this question. The Silver General did.”

“Are we to be like the High Technarchs,” Ming wondered, “crushed like grains of wheat between two millstones, when Solara and the Silver General clash?  That seems to be what happens whenever the Silver General manifests herself.”

“For better or worse, no,” Morgana answered. “The final Doom was Invincible Star Demons, actually the last three of them.  Except that this Doom has been averted, Eclipse sacrificing her life to do so, they would be here, sometime this year, and the world of the League of Nations would be one with Gaia Atlanticea.”

“Oh, dear.”  Speaker Ming had turned pale.

“For Astrid, the Silver General, the answer to that question, and the price for the answer, were the same.”

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Of Breaking Waves

Morgana Explains Eclipse to the Speaker

Professor Morgana Lafayette marched briskly down the corridor toward her new laboratories.  Her office was down the corridor bend; it could wait.

“Professor Lafayette!” The voice was directly behind her.

“Yes, Penelope?” Morgana answered, turning around as she spoke.  Penelope Fairweather was her new senior post-doc, and already doing a fine job.

“Your office!  There’s a messenger!” she said.  “In uniform.”

“Uniform?” a surprised Morgana asked.

“Service of the Republic.  With all the gold braid.  He said he’s from Speaker Ming, himself.” Penelope spoke so rapidly she had to stop to breathe.

“I’d better see him first, then,” Morgana said.  Now what? she thought.  She’d been hoping to get real work done today.  Days before teh term started were precious things, easily wasted, falling away forever in a shower of scarlet sparks like rubies from the hand of the Nizam.  “He’s at my office door?” 

Penelope nodded.

“I will try to be available soon,” Morgana said. “However, the return is my research funding.”  Not so long ago, people only thought of her as Morgana Lafayette, brilliant and very junior research scientist.  Now, a few people, more than she would have preferred, realized that she was also Morgan Le Fay, the Living Crone, Bringer of the Apocalypse.   It was not  much of a secret that the Speaker’s personal slush fund gave her very substantial resources. She hoped those were in recognition of her research, not terror of her persona identity.  Ming was very happily married to his new, much younger wife; Morgana ignored rumors that she had seduced him.  Of course, she considered, most of the people circulating those rumors had no ideas as to her public persona identity. She had planted many paintings that happened to show someone else as the notorious Morgan Le Fay.

She turned the bend in the corridor.  Standing in front of her office door , posture a stiff parade rest, was a young man in bright teal uniform.

“Hello?” she said.

He looked to his  side, pivoted, and executed a formal boot-slamming salute.  Morgana tapped her chest in response. 

“I gather there is a message for me,” Morgana said.

“Ma’am! Yes, ma’am!”

“Follow me into my office,” she ordered.  Her new office was considerably larger than her cubbyhole at Rogers had been; it was large enough for her entire research group to assemble in one place.  He deposited an envelope on her desk.  She looked, signed the outer jacket, handed him back a now-open outer envelope, and looked at the inner envelope.  “Was a reply expected?” she asked.

“No, Eternal Lady!” The messenger answered. 

“In that case, you can be on your way, and I need to see what Speaker Ming has to say for himself.” 

“Yes, Eternal Lady!” He exited. 

The message was quite short.  “Morgana, a technical moral issue has arisen on which I would appreciate your personal guidance.  I believe the matter would better be handled if we were in the same room.  My schedule today is free, if you ignore the line of Congressional supplicants.”

Different, she thought.  She tapped a long number into her old but very secure telephone.  In a few moments, one of Ming’s flak catchers appeared on the screen.

“Good aft,…” he swallowed. “Good afternoon, Eternal Lady, ” he stammered. “Speaker Ming’s office.”

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Of Breaking Waves

Note that I am also writing a physics review monograph, which is a bit slow. However:

“Yes, Snapdragon!  You, too!”  I took the other pony in my arms, the first Appaloosa pressing close beside the second.  For a few moments the three of us snuggled together.  It was wonderful to be back home, back with the wonderful creatures that so completely loved me. 

A horse head leaned over, poked me firmly in the stomach, then snuffled sideways, questing again for coat pockets and their unspoken treasures.

“Oh,  all right.  Both of you.”   I pushed the ponies apart, enough to jam a hand into each pocket, withdrawing a pair of Golden Delicious apples.  The slightest trace of concentration quartered each fruit.  Palms and fingers flat, I presented the apples, which were neatly taken up, crunched upon, and swallowed.  A further search of coat pockets produced another pair of apples, which rapidly followed the first, and two large lumps of maple sugar, all of which disappeared amid snorts of appreciation.  Additional snorts greeted my attention, one horse at a time, with brush and curry comb. 

Daffodil tickled the back of my neck, took my coat collar gently between equine teeth, and tugged gently towards the open field. 

“You want to be ridden, don’t you?’’  I asked.  I cuddled Snapdragon, who viewed being ridden as something to be taken or left, and patted Daffodil’s nose again.  “Okay, okay!”

The ponies held still as nylon halters went over their heads; lead lines followed.  Setting one hand firmly on Daffodil’s shoulders, I vaulted onto the gelding’s back.  Without prompting, Daffodil turned for the out-of-doors, the mare pacing a few steps behind.  I felt my hair, confirming that my hat was solidly in place, its tie firmly under my chin.  The math said someone flying nearby could pick out my hair color, at least under perfect conditions; blue-white blonde was rare enough that a hundred tons of Manjukuoan gold might prompt that someone to investigate.  Tomorrow it was back to the hair dye. 

I made the lightest of mindscans.  No one else was on the property, nor in line of sight outside.  Bareback riding at full gallop distracted some of my neighbors, even when the ponies had perfectly proper halters and reins.  I could, I thought, dispense with reins, using telepathy to show the ponies exactly what I wanted, but guiding a horse by telepathy  was like arguing with a small, good-tempered child who has recently discovered the `no’ concept and always likes to experiment with it. I nudged Daffodil, who responded eagerly with a canter, then, clearing the paddock, with a full-winded gallop. 

Much later, two contented appaloosas and their exhausted mistress returned to the barn.  The ponies scented food and forgot their rider, who gratefully dismounted, separated them from their harnesses, and headed for home.  

I hung my clothes on the bathroom door.  The water was now hot enough for a good bubble bath and subsequent shower.  Hair dried, wrapped in nightgown and down-filled bathrobe, I raided the refrigerator.  Milk, soda bread, and roast chicken made a delightful meal.  Surely Daffodil and Snapdragon wouldn’t begrudge my one apple?  I needed a nap.  Bathed, fed, at long last secure in my own bed, I snugged the quilt around my shoulders, tucked my head into the pillows, and fell into dreamless sleep. 

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Of Breaking Waves

Armor plate?  Well, there was a new roof.  Reroofing had been gruelling hard work.  Water marks in the attic said it was mandatory.  The wood underneath was still mostly sound, but the roofing was too old.  Fine-control telekinesis did mean I could literally strip the shingles from an entire roof, every nail pulled out by its roots, in a single burst of concentration.  Foresight had been the recognition that if I tore off the roof all at once, I had to replace every bit of it before the next rain, a real gamble late last fall.  Repairing the roof a section at a time, replacing rotted wood with new boards, laying down and sealing the felting, cutting flashing and asphalt tiles and dragging them into place, and nailing the whole thing down, securely enough that the first good wind wouldn’t destroy my work — that had been hard-earned experience and exhausting muscle work.   Only after several days of hammering had I figured out how fine telekinesis could drive masses of nails effectively.  A realization that exhausting muscle work was now only hard muscle work, that rolls of roofing felt could be moved with a dedicated heave of shoulders and back and legs, rather than the burst of telekinetic energy I barely dared risk using, showed muscle work had consequences.  Those consequences paid off in the Maze, when traps set to the Maze’s anticipation of a child’s strength and endurance failed to close around me.   

In the months since, working in moments stolen from studying, stolen from my ponies, stolen from my duty to my gifts, I’d managed to refurbish and decorate two rooms and part of a third.  I loved the rooms, but they were a far cry from Star’s Fortress of Evanescent Darkness.  And that much progress had been possible only because the last owner had replaced all the utilities, so wiring, plumbing, solar heat assists, and hot-water heat were all in good order. 

Bathing — the hot water tank would need a while to refill and reheat — seemed most in order.  Then I could go to bed.  My carryall went in a bedroom corner; the reserve crash kit went by my bed.  I changed clothes, replacing moon-gray garb with sneakers, corduroy pants, largish brightly-checked shirt, oversize felted jacket, and floppy straw hat.  Neighbors saw the disguise inconceivable to Star and Cloud: I was obviously the 13-year-old son of the house.  Raiding the kitchen filled jacket pockets. 

I stood in the loft of my three-walled barn.  Below the loft, the fourth wall remained over its center half open to the elements.  Dry cat food in the automatic feeder was somewhat depleted,  neat lines of tails showing where Bluebell and Columbine had been busy among the rodent population. Their nest, woven of sticks and cloth and paper and plastic scraps, was empty — they must be out hunting.  Two tins of tuna fish went down besides the tails. 

I dropped hand-over-hand down a pipe.  The horses were outside.  That was for the best, I told myself.  They expected to have the barn mucked out regularly, but found the slight glimmer and crackle of telekinetic energy disheartening.  Of course, I could muck the stalls with a shovel and barrow, so I wouldn’t frighten them, at a dozenfold the time investment — not to mention what I’d smell like afterwards.  No, some sacrifices were not worth their price.  Not today. 

A whorl of light struck at the barn floor, primly collecting hay, road apples, and miscellaneous material into a neat pile that floated itself to the side door. The spreader robot, bought by the former owner, hummed into action, rolling out the door towards the next section of garden plot.  I still took the time needed to refill by hand the feed bins with hay, and to put back and shoulders into spreading the now-clean floor with straw and wood chips. 

I was so intent on my barnyard chores that I missed the clop of hooves behind me.  A friendly nudge across my back sent me staggering.  I whirled, caught the pony around the neck, and hugged it tight. “Daffodil!  Oh, Daffodil!  I’ve so missed you!”  The Appaloosa nickered gently, delighted at my return.  A second clatter of feet was followed by the press of damp, oversize lips, first across the back of my neck, then probing towards coat pockets.  I took half a moment to ponder the difference between horses here and there.  Why were horses there not as smart and loyal as dogs and cats? 

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Of Breaking Waves

An inpouring of cerulean light, a chorus of lonely bells.  I stood in my own kitchen, every surface sparkling, white-painted woodwork gathering the sunlight that poured through gingham-curtained windows.  The room brought to my nostrils the faintest overlay of cinnamon and cocoa.  A lightning tour of the house showed all was in order.  Propane and oil tanks were nearly full; a few minutes restarted the water heater and reset the house heat from unoccupied to occupied level.  My bedroom, wood-panelled, queen-size bed with neat black-and-white quilts, black and grey checkerboard carpets, solid oak dresser and chair, and mahogany vanity table, were all as meticulously neat and clean as when I’d left them.  The sheaf of wheat, spreading out from a cream-white ceramic vase, had collected a spider web.  A furry stuffed cat, a fragment I’d saved from the home in which she’d grown up, hung from the bedboards.

I remembered the days before I left for Mars, spending hours and hours cleaning house, telling myself that work before I left meant tranquility on return.  I’d been right.  I drank in the order in the house, let it suffuse my flesh and restore my strength.  Doors and windows were closed. A lavender sachet had saturated my bedroom with its delicate scent. Floor to ceiling glass with frilly country drapes faced west and north, revealing acres and acres of well-fenced pastureland with the coastal hills beyond. 

My study and library, boards for built-in bookshelves cut to length and freshly stained, desk with Tempest-class computer and stacks of schoolbooks and CD-ROMs and self-study discs, reminded me of what I had not been doing these past weeks.  I told myself I’d have plenty of time now.  I was totally worn down.  For the next month, serious use of my gifts was strictly for saving my own life.  I might teleport to the barn, but someone else would have to save the world.  The thought of studying reminded me of home — my real home, the one I’d had to leave, the one in which Mom had always been there when she’d been needed, whether it was words of praise, a little firm encouragement to do what I knew I was supposed to do, or just the right question so I’d figure out everything for myself.  No matter.  That was over, and I knew in my head that it must be the best for me.  Even if I didn’t know why.  Sometimes my heart even agreed. 

Other rooms were carpeted and draped, but virtually bare of furniture.  A faked parental bedroom would convince prying eyes that my parents lived here, too; I had to remember to keep that room clean even though I never used it.  A few lamps and chairs, positioned before windows, were arranged to fool prying strangers.  One rocking chair sat by the front picture window.  The rolled hammock in the back closet waited for warmer spring.  I remembered the Fearsome Four’s estimate of my base: the Fortress of Evanescent Darkness, complete with hardened steel armor, atomic force-screen generators, subterranean caverns filled with scientific equipment, and the — no, Star had not been pulling my leg — the batteries of tesdri-controlled nuclear-shelled nineteen-inch-guns.  I burst into laughter.  I had to laugh; the alternative was to cry. 

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Of Breaking Waves

Eclipse gets home eventually

The High Cascades

The first light of dawn awakened me. I was bundled in a polar-grade sleeping bag, with a wool scarf covering my face.  This high in the Cascades nights could be bitter cold, but I was someplace where absolutely no one could find me.  In a few hours, I could safely teleport home, turn off the intrusion alarms, and enjoy living in my own house.

I’d been in my house three days ago.  I was real lucky.  I’d looked at a computer calendar to see how long I’d been away, local time.  I didn’t quite gasp in horror, but I was terrified.  Thanks to foamspace and travelling through the Tunnels, I had returned three days early, three days before I’d left. If I now met me, when I hadn’t done that before I left, the energy needed for paradox cancellation would come out of my hide, with surely fatal results.  Worse, I heard footsteps crossing the living room to the stairs. That had to be me, Eclipse, busy preparing for my trip across the universe.  I looked around, carefully, to be sure I hadn’t disturbed anything, and teleported out, my heart pounding.

I’d previously set up several caches of emergency supplies, not near the house, caches I checked like clockwork once a month.  I was sure I hadn’t checked them, before I left, to see that they were intact, so I could safely empty one of them and go hide for half a week.  The caches were perfectly adequate, including lots of things to read while I was hiding, and modern field rations. American, as it happens, those being the best available.  Three days of rest, even if the air was a bit cold, had repaired wear and tear from flying across the universe.

I considered the hour of the day.  Down in the coastal hills, other-me, me before I flew off to someplace and came back three days before I left, was about to travel to Medford. So soon as other-me was in Medford, I could safely go home. I waited until the sun was high in the sky.  By now Comet had formally divorced her parents, the Wizard of Mars had entrusted the four of us with a starcompass, and I and my friends were on our way across the universe. I gathered up my belongings, made sure I’d left no trash behind, and summoned teleport.  To the warble of nesting songbirds, I faded into the pale blue of an early morning sky.

* * * * *

I hovered among pine trees, my toes not quite touching the ground, every sense operating at full stretch.  The day was brilliantly clear, sky an impossibly deep blue, snow on distant mountains burning white.  There was my home, rutted driveway leading from garage toward an ill-maintained gravel county road, a well-worn path stretching from house to barn.  None of the burglar alarms had been triggered.  More passive mechanical traps, hidden snares to warn me if there’d been intruders, were equally undisturbed.  “The Fortress of Evanescent Darkness” as Star had named it, was neither dark nor evanescent nor fortified. 

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