Anglic Union

“Are you worried that maintaining warships would be a money loser?” Raymond asked.

“Our Audit Committee has very firm ideas about maintaining a positive cash flow,” Tara said.  “However, one of our major creditor-investors is the Seldon Legion, so I expect we would treat with the Space Guard on a break-even basis, counting usual overhead and maintenance costs.   Doctor Chelan may have objectives he hasn’t told me about, beyond paying off corporate debts.  I will say he views Stellar Republic intellectual property claims as a challenge, not as an immutable obstacle.”

“OK, I have a research problem from you, for us to solve.  Is that enough for one day?” Raymond nodded.


“In that case, for you and your bodyguards there’s a secret passage that lets you leave without being noticed. I’ll get you there,” Raymond said.

Raymond and Ariel Tablemaker

Two days later, Raymond made his daily pass through the Senate Research Office, saying hello to regular friends, collecting and leaving data sticks, and sharing gossip.  Once upon a time, before the Interregnum, some people would have called his approach inefficient, because email could do everything.  He had long since realized that, in a universe where nothing travels faster than gossip, collecting and passing gossip was a highly efficient way to support his boss’s research needs.  In addition, physical presence meant he could surreptitiously pass requests with no electronic record crossing any office wall.

About half way through his tour he stopped at an office door, tapped twice on the door panel, and waited for the young lady within to look up.  Some number of surreptitious watchers might suspect that the two of them had a romantic relationship.  That was regretfully not the case, he thought, but he saw no reason to disillusion them, especially when it provided a fine bit of cover.  She looked up.  He tapped one finger to his lips, got a nod and smile in response, and slipped inside, closing the door behind him.

“And what fine bit of trouble are you bringing for me, this time?” Ariel Tablemaker asked.

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Anglic Union

“Hard to miss that,” Tara said.

“Though I am supposed to ask you a question,” Raymond said.  “Privately.  Is Bulger preparing to build starships?”

“Chelan has certainly not committed on that,” she answered.  “What my boss has said elsewhere is true, so far as I can tell. I’m not an engineer.  We’re currently trying to get the operation up and running, as opposed to large parts of it being inactive due to lack of maintenance.  There was a lot of lack of maintenance.  Then we need major maintenance on the ships currently in our fleet.   There’s also a need to pay off all of our debtors. Short term, our plate is now full.  We have folks who want us to maintain Space Guard ships.  A couple of satellite photos will, I gather, show that to do that we’d need a new graving dock.  I’m taking people’s word on that question.  Docks are expensive; we don’t have the cash flow yet.”

“I am hearing rumors you are planning something illegal,” Raymond said.

“Interesting.  I heard similar rumors, from Republic Legate Bronkowski,” Tara answered.  “Of course, it’s obvious that more spaceships would be a major profit line. The Legate claimed we needed Republic registrations to build ships, which is obviously false. He also threatened not to sell us alpha cores or high-density fusactors – this is not new – and offered me an extremely lucrative long-term contract if I would convince our managing board to commit to registering our ships with him.”

“How charming,” Raymond said.

“The illegal would be making pirate copies of drives or reactors  in violation of their patents,” Tara noted. “We are very definitely not doing that.”

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Anglic Union

“Yes, for this conversation I am indeed Miss Smith,” she said.  “I have for you some totally legal information from a totally legal source.  It’s just that it would be inconvenient for my source to be known as our source.  Annoying the Stellar Republic can be inadvisable.” 

“I have been here many times,” Raymond said.  “So what am I going to hear?”

“It’s cleverly disguised,” Tara said. “But it would be hot-potato-politically legislation on trade. We’d appreciate knowing if our source is right.”

“Yes?” Raymond drew out his one-syllable answer.

“And it points back to your Senator’s question, some time back, about whether or not Bulger Spaceyards is considering building space ships,” Tara continued.

“You have my full attention,” Raymond said. 

Tara launched into an explanation, punctuated by passing across the file codes.  “Are these trade regulations actually under consideration?  I’ve heard no mention of it, except from our sources, and it would affect the legality of some of our strictly-legal operations.”

“We’re perfectly able to do a search,” Raymond said, “in a reasonably innocuous way, that will not reveal what we are actually examining.  And I start a couple of days hence, so the connection with your visit is obscured.  It’s about the best we can do, given that we really aren’t a spy operation.  But I have friends in the Senate Research Office, folks who can press the needed keys and not wonder why they are doing things, especially when Senator de Witt is involved.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Tara said.

“You did the Senator and her friends a significant favor,” he continued, “even if you didn’t know it.  Whitecloth is sincere, but is not always the best person for his position.  Nor is his party likely to be the best for the Union, in the Senator’s  considered opinion, which she certainly is not quiet about.  And, finally, in a capital city with very few secrets, I’ve heard nothing about a trade embargo, even one this cleverly disguised.”

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Anglic Union

Meanwhile, she considered, she had to pick up her pace.  She had an appointment to keep, in a place where everything ran late, but being late for an appointment was a mortal sin.  Fortunately, while the Senate offices were a maze, meaning no one could easily tell whom she was meeting, she knew the maze’s twists and turns.

A few minutes brought her to an anonymous door labelled only by its room number: 4023D. There seemed to be no intercom or door buzzer, so she leaned on the door handle.  Some one had put real taste into the office.  Walls were a very pale rose, fading from bottom to top to a white ceiling.  The office furniture looked to have been rescued from a pre-Interregnum C-suite and carefully maintained, properly oiled walnut being held in place by unmarred stainless steel bits.  Front and center was an obviously busy secretary, with a pair of interns standing in attendance.  The three of them wore tartan-patterned clothing, matching the tartan she’d seen de Witt wear.

Tara held up her wristcomp.  It chirped politely, confirming the office’s desk had recognized her.  The Secretary looked up and smiled.  “You would be Tara Broadhurst?” she asked.  “And the two gentlement with you are Seldon Legion?”  Tara’s bodyguards made the traditional hand gesture to confirm.  “I’m Gertrude Kim.  You’ll be in Conference Room C.  Your bodyguards are welcome to wait in the alcove near the coffee machine.  Yes, please help yourself to my cookies.  You can protect my poor defenseless  waistline.  Tony, take her to C, please.” 

One of the interns saluted and took Tara in tow.  “Humble apologies,” he said, “Raymond Raymond is running a bit late. But he’s the Senator’s, actually the committee’s, expert on Imperial relations.  That was what Mistress Kim said you wanted.  And he hasn’t been told who you are, only that  you didn’t expect it would take long.”

“Precisely,” Tara said, “and it would be better if everyone else forgot who I am or that I was here.” And it is interesting, she thought, to note that you said ‘Imperial’.

“I will remember nothing,” he said, “not that I have anything to remember.”  He pressed hi s wristcomp against the door, which slid open.  “Room was swept and then sealed.  Walls may still have ears.”

Tara glanced around the room.  Chairs and a table were strictly functional angular planes of stainless steel.   The walls were flat white.  Each of three computer ports was closed with a screw top, as were the power and phone outlets. The ceiling appeared to be photoluminescent plates glued to the concrete above.   The room was meant to leave the impression of security, though it likely was not all that secure.  She took one of the chairs and sat down to wait.

Not much later, a young man came through the door.  His hair was disheveled. His tartan unitard was a good size too large.  “Ah,”  he announced.  “For the purposes of this conversation you are Miss Smith, though perhaps I should remember  who you actually are, if I weren’t so absent-minded.  I am Raymond Raymond. Yes, I am accustomed to interesting visitors, and serve as a cutout.  So what may I do for you?”

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Anglic Union

“A campaign to enforce the manufacturing non-intercourse act, for all it is a monstrosity, might be desirable,” Charles suggested.  “That’s a Seldon Legion project, if someone knows how to reach them.”  His audience chuckled.

“it would be nice to say,” Bell observed, “that we need to move even faster, but we already appear to be moving about as fast as we can. And we appear to be running very tight on financial constraints.”

“Too tight,” Charles said.  “I’d really like to ease off to run up a larger cash reserve. Contingencies. Though ‘we don’t commit it until it is in the bank’ has been keeping us fairly safe.”

“The major noteholders grumble,” Chelan said.  “Though they are getting paid back faster than we anticipated.  However, I may have to appear in Chancery Court again. Agnelli and Hong want their money.  Perhaps Senator DeWitt and her committee can be persuaded to take official notice that she is getting her wish, and a  legislative inquiry pointed at the litigant and court would be helpful.  Or perhaps not.”

“Meanwhile, where are we on cargo?” Chelan asked.

“The Space Pirate Harrington departed, leaving space for The Mighty Hauler to land,” Elaine Bell said.  “Pumping on the graving dock will soon be complete.  That includes drilling out the drains and a high-pressure water spray to eliminate salt. We can then fly The Mighty Transporter there for serious maintenance.  We have, legal requirement, second-rate landing points for all of our ships, so we can land all of them at the same time.  Getting the ships into safe condition will take a while, even using all the maintenance robots, when  they become available, on the same ship. I did manage to hire some people with fusactor licenses, so we soon have our own power, and can sell to outside.”

Senator DeWitt’s Office

Tara Broadhurst looked across Union Plaza at the Great Stairs of the Union and Capital Hall at the top end.  The stairs were white marble.  The hall above was concrete and cinder block with a minimal facade, one that would have embarrassed Potemkin.  Fortunately legislative offices were all down here,  she thought, with a pair of aging funiculars serving to haul legislators and their staffs to their meeting rooms.  There had been plans to give the Hall wings for Senate and House offices, but those always foundered on cost.  There were a perfectly adequate set of offices down here, so down here the offices would stay. She smiled at that thought.  Thrift was always a good thing.

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Anglic Union

“Yes?” Chelan asked.

“The Republic Senate lacks the speed of cold molasses,” Tara said. “If they are about to act, the proposal has been in committee for a good year.  They’re very good about updating libraries everywhere with their committee minutes.  It’s a trust-building exercise that costs them almost nothing. And if they’re censoring their own records to hide this, which would be seriously illegal, the gaps will show and soon thereafter the fur will fly.  I fly to New Washington twice a week for in-person legal filings, mostly paying off our small debtors.  I could chase this down myself, but we have a friend in Elektra De Witt, so I propose putting a bee in her bonnet and letting the Senate and Lords legislative service pore through the Republic records.  That’s another layer of cutout.”

“Suppose this goes through,” Charles Smith asked, “what different does it make to us?  We haven’t started acting on our spaceship plans, plans that we actually don’t have yet. If we build ships, they are all flying  here to Proserpine, locations within our own territory. To the limited extent we have products to sell, thanks to Sarah and Elaine, the products are sold domestically.  Except for that inquiry from the Imperial Navy, of course.”

“I need to think about this,” Elaine said.  “It was very definitely not on my radar screen. I’m not writing any requisitions for anything we’d buy from the Republic.  That would mostly be illegal anyhow, Bulger not having a supply of Stellar Republic credits. But there’s a supply chain.  I’m thinking back to the Interregnum.  Countries launched trade embargos.  Wars disrupted supply chains. My suppliers might be in my country, but they needed some raw material or part from someplace else.”

“Can we back-trace,” Chelan asked? “Ask our suppliers where they buy from, and so forth?”

“Be a real nuisance to try,” Sarah Yates said.  “A lot of our suppliers view everything not nailed down as a trade secret.  I think I know my sources, but we mostly only buy pure elements.  The molecular spray does the rest.”

“Electronic controls?” Chelan asked.

“Some decades back,” Bell said, “Space Guard decided they needed total knowledge of their supply chains.  They also paid a ton of cash to make sure that the optoelectronics supply chain stayed one hundred percent inside the Union.  To cover the cost, the Union put huge tariffs on imported electronics and fabricating equipment, not that there was much of either being imported, with the desired result.   And if it’s mechanical, our shops can make it, including new equipment.”

“So we’ll be mostly good,” Chelan said, “and  when whatever we missed bites us in the backside, perhaps it will not bite too hard.”

“Meanwhile,” Tara said, “the Elizavetsians will be laughing their heads off.”

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Anglic Union

“I’d forgotten that,” Chelan said.  “And now we get another period of disruption. No one is legally allowed to run a supply chain dependent on paths outside the Union, it being illegal, but with the new Republic laws we get to find out who has been skirting the rules.  The hard way.  The Elizavetsians, when they learn of this, will laugh themselves silly.”

“I’ll draft a polite thank-you note,” Broadhurst said, “With appropriate circumlocutions so anyone who hasn’t read his letter will not understand.”

“Also,” Victor said, “I am going to need a meeting with the Seldon Legion Senior Advisors, and separately with the Senate and Lords Defence Committee, no, start with some of their permanent staff. We are hardly the only place outside the Republic that might be introduced to Apprenticeship status, so there are common interests on which we might share ideas.”

“Will do,” Tara said. “Surely our diplomats on Mogado noticed what the Republic was doing?  Didn’t your friends in New Pueblo or Manchester mention this?”

“Not a word,” Chelan said.  He leaned back in his chair. “Of course, I am a private citizen, but the usual flock of newsbuzzards don’t seem to have picked up on this either.  I should make a few vidphone calls…no, I take it back.  There needs to be an indirect approach here, something that does not reveal that I had advance notice.”

Chelan tapped his intercom.  “Mrs Brixton, I need Elaine Bell, Sarah Yates, and Charles Smith in the Secure Meeting Room, as soon as possible. Tara and I will meet them there.”  Chelan told himself he was now going to have to eat crow.  He had proposed that a new completely secure meeting room was an unneeded expense, but the Audit Committee had insisted.

The new facility was in the Administration Building’s unused basement.  The basement’s walls and floor were heavy reinforced concrete supporting the equally massive reinforced concrete ceiling.  The conference room itself was a steel cube hanging from the ceiling by steel wires. It was undoubtedly, Chelan thought, resistant to most sorts of electronic spying technology.  Of course, he thought, someone would need to want to spy on him, and it was by no means obvious that anyone was that interested in Bulger Space Yards other than as an investor seeking inside information.

The security doors closed.  Chelan faced his senior staff.  “It appears we may be about to face an emergency.  While we will need to confirm my source,  it seems that the Stellar Republic is about to impose a de facto trade embargo on us.  Presumably they think they will drive us into their arms, though the possibility that we are facing a do-good operation that didn’t anticipate second-hand consequences cannot be overlooked.”  He had the full attention of his five companions.  “Without disclosing my source, which would appear to have no reason to fabricate the information, the Republic apparently plans…” He needed a few minutes to outline the challenge.  “…the question is, what are key needed steps so we stay in business and – to the limited extent we can make a difference  – the Union stays free?”

“I was going to say ‘is there a way to confirm this?’ – but I saw the answer,” Tara said.

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Anglic Union

“Esteemed Victor Chelan,

“We remain grateful to you for your most generous hospitality of last month.  You were most generous with your tour of your interesting facilities.   Your order for our senior master tool kit has been received, and is being shipped as I write this brief missive.  We are most grateful for your shipment of mate samples, from which we expect to be ordering commercial quantities soon.

“My primary reason for writing is a matter that is not a secret, but that seems to have drawn no attention within your Union, at least the North American part of it.  As you may be aware, the Stellar Republic has become increasingly sensitive about exploitations of places that are not parts of the Republic, not even as Lower Junior Associate States. 

“One of the more common forms of exploitation is level-unbalanced trade, in which the place trades its agricultural products for technical goods made in the Republic.  In your history, some centuries back, for a time your country purchased oil and sold Cadillacs, a process that kept down the industrial development of foreign oil producers, especially when prices were tilted to impoverish them.

“The Republic’s solution is to mandate trade balance by technical level, for example by saying that you may trade your mate for our near-chocolate, but may not trade your mate for our hand tools.  I will send you, so soon as it is complete,  a list of the levels and their definitions, and the remaining details of these new laws.  Needless to say, engineering and scientific documents are on the most restricted list.  As an aside, thank you for your samples, and  your mate was very well received here. 

“My partners would be delighted to trade with you, as an extra profit line for both of us, except that the Republic has another set of restrictions forthcoming, namely that each party’s goods may only travel in their own interstellar-faring bottoms.  Since your Union produces no starships, we would be happy to trade, but see that it will soon become impossible. Therefore, if you with to trade, you probably need to advance reasonably quickly.

“It is never said aloud, but a sophont of suspicious mind would doubtless unfairly suspect that this is part of a larger scheme to drive your Union and many similar places into joining the Republic with the soon-to-be-announced Apprentice Status, in which you would receive as assistants to your government  distinguished citizens of the Republic whose title would not be spelled ‘Colonial Governor’.

“I have attached file codes for these interesting and doubtless well-meant regulations.

“With high regard for your continued health and wealth,

“Treemuhr Radspeth

“PS. For what it is worth, the Frumpkin combine did lobby the Republic Senate that the first of these proposals is too inflexible, while the second of these proposals will engender unneeded hostility.”

“How utterly charming,” Victor said when he finished reading aloud the letter.  “But why Iceland?”

“Rejkjavik Imperial Starport,” Broadhurst answered.  “Not in Rejkjavik.  Imperial refers to the former empire.  When the Imperials first arrived, as the Interregnum was getting under way, Iceland made with them a deal. They got a starport in the middle of Iceland, a place where no one lives, guaranteed Iceland’s independence and neutrality, guaranteed unhindered passage from and to the warp points for people wanting to trade with Iceland, guaranteed no Imperial citizens would remain in Iceland for more than four days a year, except inside the Starport…all agreements they kept.”

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Anglic Union

“Should you ever change your mind, we will of course be most interested  in supplying you with useful tools and IP licenses, including tools optimized for your species.  Having said that, I much enjoyed tasting your three varieties of mate, which may someday be of interest to us as an imported product to balance any purchases you may be making in the future in the Republic. Naturally, I will not speculate on any political decisions that your country may or may not make, though, truthfully, my colleagues and I do not expect a great deal of change in the near future. With that, however, we have a long trip ahead of us, and should perhaps depart.”

The Frumpkins and their attorneys having gone on their way, Victor turned to his financial officer. “Charles,” he said, “so soon as we receive the Frumpkin catalog, sort out the kits by price.  We do not have a stock of Republic Stellars, but I do.  I have no idea how many tools they would be offering or what they would cost.  Also, contact Lords of Cuisine, see how many varieties of mate are available in large quantities, and what they would cost for samples. I know a request for a business deal when I hear one.”

Frumpkins Later

“Victor?”  Tara Broadhurst’s voice came clearly over the intercom system. “There’s a letter here from Treemuhr Radspeth.  He thought it important enough to use a bonded courier for delivery; you need to sign for it.”

“Come on up,” Chelan answered.  “I even have some clear desk surface.  And you get to use our newly repaired elevator.”

A few minutes later, Broadhurst and courier arrived.  The courier’s name badge read ‘Arne Thorsson,  Icelandic SecureNet’.  If he was followed at a polite distance by two Seldon Legionaires, the fact that he’d been allowed to retain his sidearm told Victor that Thorsson had passed his security checks.

“Welcome to North California,” Victor said as he stood.

“Thank you,” Thorsson said.  “I have for you a letter in a secured pouch.”  Moving slowly, he withdrew a sealed envelope from his shoulder bag and set it on the desk.  “I was instructed that your handprint would open it, and that I should not expect to carry a response.”

Victor held his hand above the envelope, which opened to reveal a letter and receipt.  Thorsson took the receipt and went on his way, leaving Victor with an envelope.   The letter in the envelope read:

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Anglic Union

“Honorable Treemuhr, was this indeed your expectation?” Victor asked.

Maarshak held up one hand, gesturing to his clients not to speak directly. “Of course it was,” Maarshak said. “Though why you are going to this trouble when, so soon as the Anglic Union joins the Republic, you will have access to all the alpha cores and freight hauling spaceships that you need, is somewhat beyond my clients. After all, it is in an inevitable part of human history and evolution for small places to submit to large, as would happen in the case of the Anglic Union when you soon – yes, as is well known, soon —  join the Stellar Republic in some Junior Associated State status.”

“Perhaps, Honorable Treemuhr, it would be desirable if I were to clarify what we are doing,” Victor said, ignoring Marshak’s interruption.  “There are also some historical results here. On one hand, under Anglic Union law, we cannot make use of foreign labor. ‘Foreign Labor’ would include any of the species of the Stellar Republic, including humans. That’s an outcome of issues that led to the Great Interregnum. On the other hand, there was a considerable time in which space travel fanatics pushed the claim that orbital manufacturing was practical and desirable. That’s orbiting artificial space stations, not orbiting asteroids that have been hollowed out inside and spun up. The practical experience was that working in zero gee, while possible, is remarkably inefficient.”

“Your labor constraint,” Maarshak said, “will assuredly be disappearing so soon as you are part of the Stellar Republic, a condition which all progressive citizens of the Anglic Union expect to happen in the near future. Having represented at different times a half-dozen of the Stellar Republic’s spaceship manufacturing facilities, I can assure you that well-trained workers find a zero-G to be an advantage, not a disadvantage.”

Victor wondered if the attorney actually knew which end of a soldering iron to pick up.  The smart money was against.  Under modern conditions, social prejudices in his part of the world meant that a senior, well-educated attorney expected his servants to handle any tools. Maarshak’s nineteenth-century ancestors would doubtless have been cheered by his attitude.  His twenty-first century ancestors would have been horrified.

Victor turned to face the three Frumpkins.  “So, with respect to your beautiful tools, many of which are extremely clever, they are all designed to be effective under conditions under which we do not plan to be doing any manufacturing.  You may someplace in this very long list of tools have some devices that are intended to be used in atmosphere in the presence of a gravitational field.  If I were to receive a catalog of those, describing their purposes and such not, I would personally be most interested. I should emphasize that Bulger Spaceship Holdings does not have a stock of Stellar Republic currency, and at current exchange rates is unlikely to obtain any. However, I personally have a modest amount of your money, which under current trade regulations I have to spend within your Republic. In particular, I have enough money and enough interest in buying interesting tools and some other products that your trip may turn out to be financially rewarding even though it turned out that we are not trespassing on your intellectual property rights.”

Treemuhr’s central eye lit up. “We always look forward to making first sales to distinguished persons.  There is such a catalog, which I will see that you receive promptly. Your attorney knows how to reach me. Having said that, I very much did enjoy the tour you gave me, which showed at several points novel and interesting approaches to maintaining, repairing, and manufacturing spaceships. I’m certainly not surprised to see that, since you can only employ a single species in your Yard, you wisely choose to use tools optimized for that species. That’s common sense. Possibly that statement should not be interpreted as endorsing your beliefs on ground versus orbital assembly, but that is your decision which I truly respect.

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