Oct 142012

Read me the story:
abstract representation, in blues & grays on white, of binary dataThe look Jarvin gave her as she entered the Meeting Room would have peeled duracoat from titanium-alloy, and the impatient, skeptical looks on the faces of some of the other sixteen Seated Members promised signal vengeance for this disturbance visited upon them by (presumably) a female whim. She’d said very little in the three regular sessions they’d held so far, so it was hardly surprising they believed in her reputation as the eccentric, erratic, Kerant family ne’er-do-well. Only Undas Matlor, the cynical Member for Transport and a survivor of the old CivAdmin, knew her at all.

“Honorable Speaker, Esteemed Members,” she began, conventionally enough, but then dispensed with protocols that had evolved in a more leisured and less perilous era—all of twenty days ago. “The matter at hand is a notice from Ermetyne Finance Conglom that they have petitioned Galactibank Central for precautionary liens on our colony’s protectorates of Nerith Zeta, S’dernat, Lojau Hen, Surimaka Delta, and Aijala w’Oth. They have also placed the payment schedules of our primary and secondary notes under pending review.” She paused a beat.

“It is highly unlikely that the petition will be denied.”

She waited a moment for this to sink in, and sure enough, only half-a-dozen or so seemed to grasp the situation. One, for a wonder, was Jarvin, whose petulant expression had vanished into a half-frown. Another was Undas Matlor, who leaned back in his chair with a blank expression she knew meant he was connecting the dots… he’d be ahead of her in a minute or two, the old fox.

“I’ve routed to your screens,” she clicked the ‘send’ button, “a breakdown of those notes, the refinanced payment schedule that was contracted seventeen years ago, and a summary of the last semi-annual balance sheet. Please review.”

Frowning, the Seated Members turned attention to their screens. One by one, their looks of irritation, puzzlement, or indifference changed. Mostly to shock, but in some cases to wary confusion.

“Blessed Warrior…” muttered the Member for External Commerce, the other survivor (besides Jarvin and Matlor) of the old CivAdmin.

“But… I don’t understand! These figures… on the remaining notes outstanding… can’t be right! Certainly, we contracted additional obligations in the wake of the Mutiny, but those were a separate transaction. And short-term. Weren’t they?” Pentik Mabry was the newly-Seated Member for Planning Coordination. “And these figures are, uh, arranged differently than when they were presented at the last semi-annual review. Aren’t they?”

Zarel spared him an approving nod. Mabry might be young, but his family had been grooming him for a CivAdmin seat. He’d been following the issues of importance to his Seat, and since his hasty appointment, he’d been working hard to grasp the essentials of his division’s responsibilities. “Quite so, Member Mabry. A well-chosen word, ‘arranged.’ Without going into the sins of our predecessors,” she carefully avoided glancing at her brother, “past Finance reports seem to have aimed more at avoiding awkward questions than providing a clear financial picture.”

“The initial notes taken out from Rezprom Interhub after the Mutiny were secured separately with a revenue interest in the Lojau Hen protectorate. Once it became clear that the net revenues from Lojau Hen would remain, ah, inadequate, for an indefinite period, we offered to refinance. Rezprom refused. They sold the note to Ermetyne Finance Conglom, who offered us what seemed—then—favorable terms on a consolidation and refinance, to be secured by capital shares in the protectorates aforementioned.”

“I had no idea that the capital debt was still so large… Wasn’t the whole point of having protectorates to develop revenue sources to speed the payoff rate on our capital debts?” The Member for Air frowned.

Undas Matlor chuckled mirthlessly. “Theoretically. Unfortunately, the costs of the military operations required to take and hold the protectorates invariably exceeded—by a large measure—the expense estimates. And we’ve never been as successful as we’d like to think we are at generating revenue from protectorates.” He glanced sardonically at the Speaker.

Jarvin, to his credit, didn’t rise to the bait. Of course, he’d been Seated only three years ago, so it was still possible for him to blame any sins of his division on his predecessors.

The Member for Military Liaison, however, seemed to take a personal affront. “Perhaps if certain Democratic Companies in the military supply sector worried less about inflating profit margins, and more about meeting timelines and staying within budgets, there would be less discongruity between estimates and reality,” he sneered, glancing pointedly at the Member for External Commerce and at Zarel herself.

She snorted. “Member Nexep, having requested this Emergency Meeting to acquaint the CivAdmin with a very real and very immediate threat, I’ve done my job. If we don’t want to discuss this information further in any substantive way, I’m happy to adjourn the meeting, and you can convene a meeting to discuss the sins of our dead rivals at your leisure.”

She was older than anyone at the table except Matlor, and most of them were young enough to be her children. The tone of voice she used was one that had always been particularly effective with her own tiresome offspring during their pre-adolescent adjustment adventures. There was a momentary, rather shocked, silence.

Jarvin stared at her, eyes narrowed. All of Harlis’ warnings about their sister’s intractability, unfeminine willfulness, and filial disrespect came back to him in a rush, and it took a severe struggle of will to set aside the impulse to deal with a wayward sister, and address the crisis at hand. A crisis she’d brought to their attention, of course. He found himself on the verge of grinding his teeth, and pursed his lips, instead. She hadn’t actually created the crisis, after all.

“Order, please, Members. As Member Kerant has reminded us, this is her Emergency Meeting until she chooses to adjourn or until a majority votes for adjournment. Do I hear a motion for adjournment?”

He let the silence stretch a good fifteen seconds before he nodded at his sister. “Member Kerant.”

She nodded back. “Honored Speaker.” Then she looked around the big table. “Members, the facts are at hand. The liens will be granted, I can assure you. Nothing in Galactibank Central’s historical pattern gives us any hope otherwise. You have all seen our current balance sheet, and our current revenues and immediate projections. Even with full control of the protectorate revenues, we would soon have fallen behind on capital debt payments. I’d hoped we could squeeze five years out, to give ourselves time for contingency planning.”

She shook her head. “We would have faced the decision soon enough, in any case. But the Three must now chart our course of action in the light of this new information. It will be incumbent on us to ensure that our Speaker,” she nodded in Jarvin’s direction again, “has the information and support needed for these deliberations. Honored Speaker,” she addressed Jarvin directly, “What do you wish from our divisions, and from this body?”

He blinked a moment, then picked up his cue. He looked down at the figures on the screen, then back up at the others. All eyes were on him. He blinked again, and drew a deep breath. “Right now, we need to be sure we understand all the implications of this information, and develop some preliminary recommendations for action. I will have to present this information to the Supreme Commander and the Cardinal Prelate, and it might be useful to have some options to consider.”

“In addition, I would ask each of you to accelerate the timing on the resource inventories your divisions have been conducting. If the Member for CivAdmin Operations would be so kind, could you coordinate the receipt and summarizing of the inventories, Felep?”

Felep Kostak’s mouth dropped open, but he nodded. “Yes, Honored Speaker, certainly.”

“Very well. Member Kerant, if you accede, may we adjourn this Emergency Meeting, and I will convene a regular session in one hour from now?”

“The meeting is adjourned, Honorable Speaker,” Zarel bowed respectfully. Slowly, the eighteen civil leaders of Klaros dispersed.

Oct 072012

Read me the story:
line drawing of a young boy, lying on his side in a resting position, eyes openVetkar Allis looked down at the faces of his sleeping children and fought a welling despair that threatened to close his throat. Angrily, he blinked back tears, futile and redundant. When you existed in a chasm of endless, overwhelming grief, tears were—

Well, Father Rillem talked about Man’s duty to accept the Creator’s Providence without understanding it, but Vetkar still had trouble understanding any Providence that would let a whole world of believers be destroyed. Half a billion children, men and women, including his own bride, Gislet. Gone. All that Man had created in reverent obedience to the Creator’s will, warrens and factories and domes and agroneries and, yes, Churches, including his own agronery. Gone.

He’d feel worse, he knew, if it weren’t for the anti-shock meds that were added to the food, and the subliminal broadcasts designed to soothe and encourage the survivors. At least they were honest about that. Subliminals had been outlawed for all of Klaros II’s history, their use permitted only under medical supervision and with the approval of an Ecclesiastical Court. But now, who could argue? Anything that would help them get through another day.

His hand went out, finger extended, toward the sweet curve of Kace’s cheek, but he restrained himself from touching the boy. Let them sleep. At least the nightmares were lessening, now, and the long bouts of tears and pleas to “bring back Marm, Da, please, can’t we bring back Marm?” were over. Again, he blinked back tears, and turned away from the narrow bunk Kace and Pralet shared. He needed sleep, too. Everyone’s workdays were long, now, and his came even earlier than most.

He hadn’t far to go; his own narrow, fold-down bunk was on the other long wall of the tiny compartment, a bare step away. Tired as he was, he dreaded lying there in the dark, desperately wanting sleep but tormented by the fear that he’d dream again of all they’d lost. They’d given out transdermal patches, at first, to help people sleep, but that was only for the first few days. Then they’d put sleep-induction vids on the com menu, but now com hours had been cut and the only ’casts permitted after hour twenty were emergency messages from the Church or the Civs.

Power, like everything else, was strictly rationed.

He had to sleep, though. Tomorrow they were taking down the big carb-processors for maintenance and he’d have to be alert. Having an important job was the only guarantee that he and Kace and Pralet would be able to stay together and earn a decent Colony Share when the survivors finally moved to Klaros III. Maybe even another agronery. New colonies always needed skilled producers of raw foodstuffs, and at least he had the experience. A new agronery… maybe if he could get allocated enough cubage he could even try breeding his own strain of maticale, something that could be licensed— that would ensure that Kace and Pralet would have status and generous family stakes.

When sleep came, he dreamed not of his own, familiar agronery, but of terraces and shelves of growvats, waving with pale-green spears bearing fat heads of ripening grain under an unfamiliar sun.

Oct 022012

Read me the story:
A long oval table with pads, chairs, water & cups arranged for a meeting, against white walls and an artificial tree and "window" viewscreen.“There’s a three-flagged message, Member.” Zarel detected a faint resentment in her First Assistant’s voice—Porlot had expected her to give him the comcodes to screen all incoming traffic, but she’d limited him to low- and medium-priority matters. He’d be complaining to her brother Jarvin any time now, but let him. Until she had a better handle on Klaros’ financial position, she wasn’t letting any of Jarvin’s greedy little timeservers paddle their fingers in the tank.

Although it would have been a great relief to have someone she could trust to discuss things with—what she’d already learned was unnerving, to say the least. Even frightening. Why hadn’t the rest of the CivAdmin asked any questions of her predecessor, when the semi-annual financial presentations were reviewed? The colony’s capital debt was being reduced at a glacial pace, and the refinancing after the Lojau Hen mess had locked them into some very risky terms. There was going to be trouble, and this triple-flag message might be it.

She entered the security sequence on her comconsole, and looked up to see Porlot hovering in the doorway. “Yes, Mainyr?” she asked, with pointed civility. He vanished.

The message queue came up, and she selected the one with three flags and entered her decrypt key.

Half an hour later Porlot was startled by the abruptness of the ping on his comconsole, and the tension in the Member’s voice. It was even more ominous that she abandoned the meticulous politeness she usually used to him, addressing him without preliminary courtesies. “I need the backup cubes from the last semi-annual Statement, including detail on all balance sheet accounts, right now.”

Resentment at being so peremptorily ordered around by a female warred with a sudden, uncomfortable reminder of Zarel’s father’s manner when he was hot after some devious commercial maneuver. Or dealing with some incompetent subordinate.

The backups were among the cubes the Speaker—the former Speaker, Porlot reminded himself—had sent up in that last shuttle. They were readily available; all the Finance-coded cubes had been promptly routed to his office. He selected the correct cube, and took it to the Member, who barely looked up, and acknowledged him only with a nod, as he handed it to her. “Member…?”

“Not now.” Curtly.

Frowning, he left the office. Should he heads-up the Speaker? Surely Jarvin would be concerned to know the extent to which his crazy sister was exercising authority in the Finance office; he had assigned Porlot as her First Assistant to do the real work. But if Porlot complained, he’d likely be moved out of the office for failing to do his job, and the post given to some other of Jarvin’s hangers-on. That didn’t suit Otas Porlot, who had big ambitions.

Zarel was annoyed to see her hand tremble as she dropped the cube into the scanner. She was getting old, she supposed. And if the cube confirmed what she suspected…

It did. Warrior’s guts, but they were in trouble. And given their reluctance to deal with “bean counter” matters and their disdain for a female colleague, she’d have to have every single fact lined up and explained in one-syllable words for the rest of CivAdmin to see it. Not to mention her dear brother Jarvin.

It was any Seated Member’s prerogative to invoke an Emergency Meeting, though it was hardly ever done. But she could not waste the time it would take to explain everything to Jarvin, get him to understand the exact implications, and convene a regular session, even if it blew her meek pro-forma Seated Member act right through the dome.

She’d need, let’s see… she frowned over the backup documentation sent with the incoming message, and the certified digiseals. A couple of hours to download, transfer, summarize and lay out the information there. Another… three hours, maybe, to dissect those financials and extract the relevant, chilling facts. They’d have to meet at…half-sixteen. Uncomfortably late, but it couldn’t be helped. And in the mean time, she’d have to work in a private place, out of Jarvin’s orbit.

Entering her encryption code, she routed the Emergency Meeting Summons to all of the Seated Members’ desks, then gathered up the relevant datacubes and plastic flimsies, and stopped in her First Assistant’s cubicle on the way out.

“Mainyr Porlot, I’ve summoned an Emergency Meeting for half-sixteen. I’ll be back in time to convene it.” And she swept past him before he could ask any questions.


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