Fire With Fire – Snippet 09

Caine took his time walking the length of the salon, studying its various appointments. By the time he reached the desk, the man behind it seemed less composed. Maybe he wasn’t used to waiting for his guests to approach, or maybe he had hoped that this guest would be indefinitely detained by a prior engagement with a bullet.

“Welcome to Site One, Mr. Riordan.”

“Thank you, Mr. –?”

“Helger, Louis Helger. I am the Co-Administrative Manager of this joint facility.”

“A ‘joint facility’?” That was another — and worrisome — new terminological twist: in another half year, CoDevCo would probably push out the EU altogether.

Helger shrugged. “Very well: technically, Site One is a European Union colony with a full partnership extended to the Colonial Development Combine. However, we consolidated administrative operations when I arrived eight months ago. Too much duplication of effort, other inefficiencies. That is all behind us.”

“I see. But which of the partners do you work for, Mr. Helger?”

“I am an EU employee, Mr. Riordan, but I also have a history of employment with CoDevCo.”

“Oh? What kind of history?”

“Not that it is any business of yours, but I retired as the Regional Manager for Nordic operations, after having served as an Associate Product Manager for the prior eight years.”


Helger’s shrug seemed less genuine than his small, satisfied smile. “It was thought that as we moved toward joint operations here on Delta Pavonis Three, it would be best to appoint a person who also had extensive experience with CoDevCo project management.”

“Well, that was clearly achieved. And the other half of your credentials are, I’m sure, equally impressive.”

Helger’s face went protectively blank. “What other credentials are you referring to?”

“Your prior experience as an EU administrator, of course.”

Helger’s face did not change. “Mr. Riordan, I regret that I do not have time for a casual chat –”

You mean you don’t want to admit that the first day you worked for the EU was the day you stepped onto the tarmac at the Dee Pee Three Downport.

“– so I must ask that we constrain our discussion to official matters. Firstly, I have now received your dossier –”

Obviously. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have let me set foot in your little fiefdom.

“– and I must say I am somewhat puzzled: who, exactly, do you represent?”

“Officially? No one.”

Helger was clearly not prepared for such a frank admission. “Then how did you get this rather sweeping writ of cooperation from the European Union?”

“That was a courtesy, provided at the request of Senator Tarasenko, head of the United States Congressional Committee on Strategic Space Initiatives.”

“So you are an official representative of the US government? And not the Commonwealth in toto?”

“Neither. I am not a representative of any one government, which is why the other Commonwealth nations — as well as the EU — were willing to accept me as a general observer.”

“And your credentials are –?”

“I am a researcher and a writer, Mr. Helger.”

“So I see. But without any particular experience in xenobiology or –”

“Mr. Helger, unless a large delegation was to be sent, there was no way to address all the specializations required for this investigation: xenobiology, xenozoology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, archeology, corporate and international law –”

“Law? I’m not sure I understand.”

“Mr. Helger, since you arrived here, there have been a number of legal irregularities which have caused friction back home. You’ve imposed airspace restrictions in direct contravention of international interstellar colonization accords, have constructed a separate downport which only serves your own carriers — another international violation — and conducted an independent regional survey that contradicted and dismissed the original planetary assessment. You then began resource exploitation in a zone which had been interdicted by the first survey — this zone that you now call the Shangri-La Valley. Clearly, these are matters that would ideally be handled by official representatives of, and legal counsel for, the various parties.”

Helger sat; he did not invite Caine to do so. “I am afraid that is where your analysis is already flawed, Mr. Riordan. The survey was conducted by CoDevCo, not by the EU. Similarly, many of the restrictions and actions undertaken here at Site One have been according to orders sent from Earth by higher CoDevCo authorities. According to the co-administrative agreement with the EU, I must act upon those orders until the contradictions between our corporate prerogatives and national commitments are resolved through arbitration, back on Earth. Therefore, while I would be happy to lift the ban on access to our facilities, I cannot legally do so at this time.”

Caine sat. “Mr. Helger, the wording of your joint agreement — of which I have a copy — quite explicitly states that the EU’s existing agreements with other parties take precedence over the authority of the co-administration. In short, the European Union’s commitment to the international colonization covenant comes first — no exceptions, no special clauses.”

“I’m sorry we have such a difference of interpretation, Mr. Riordan, but I am not about to change my operations based on your reading of this contract.”

“It is not my reading, Mr. Helger: I am following an explication from lawyers at The Hague.”

“Regardless, I do not recognize your authority here.”

“Then I’m sorry to say that I must immediately suspend your downport’s interface operations with the highport.”

Helger laughed, leaned back. “Mr. Riordan, do you really expect me to pick up the phone and ground my spaceplanes? Just because you tell me to do so?”

“No, Mr. Helger. I know you won’t take any directives from me. But the system Port Authority will.”

Helger was no longer smiling or leaning back in his chair. “You cannot do this. Port facilities — no matter who owns them — must be kept freely available to all nations –”

“That’s true. It’s part of the international colonization covenant. But then again, you’ve decided to ignore that covenant. Now, as I understand contract law, Mr. Helger, when one side defaults on a contract, the other party is freed from its obligations under that same contract. Which means that the system Port Authority — which is wholly a Commonwealth entity — is now free to deny you docking access, may impound any cargoes currently held, refuse to accept or relay communications of any kind –”

“This is outrageous: it is blackmail.”

“It seems more like blackjack to me, Mr. Helger. You bet that you held the better cards and were willing to reject recognizing my authority. But now it seems that I hold the better cards. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I am eager to play them…”

C’mon, Helger: take the bait.

Helger did. “What exactly do you mean by that, Mr. Riordan?”

“I mean that it would be best if we could avoid a showdown, Mr. Helger. Yes, I’d win — but at what cost? I can do a better job here if I have your cooperation. And I’m willing to make sure that cooperating with me is worth your while.”

“I’m listening.”

“I’d be happy not to suspend your Port Authority rights. And — for now — you can keep your airspace and regional exclusivity. But I need to be able to go wherever I want, whenever I want, without obstruction. Agreed?”

Come on, take the step —

Helger’s lower teeth sought, and chewed lightly at, his neat moustache. “Agreed.”

Caine managed to effect boredom as he looked out the window. That had been close: if Helger had pushed, he’d have found out that I only have the authority to shut down his outbound traffic, not the inbound. Which means that he would have been able to maintain operations — and kill me with near-impunity.

“Of course, I will want to confirm this with your superiors.”

Trying to see if I flinch, if I’ve overplayed my hand. Without looking away from the window, Caine shrugged. “Suit yourself. But I think you’ll find that the Navy brass upstairs are not merely ready, but eager, to find an excuse to shut you down. If you make me show them what I’ve shown you — that I have the authority to shut you down — they might exert pressure on me to do so, and I need their cooperation even more than I need yours. So if I’m forced to choose between them and you, I’m sure you see where that might lead. On the other hand, I’d be delighted to have you confirm my authority: then we won’t have to do this dance every time I make a polite request.”

Helger did not say anything, but stared at his commplex for three full seconds. Then he rose: “It is a shame we got off to such a bad start. Here, allow me to show you around our facilities — but then again, you’ve already seen them. You had an aerial tour on the way in, if I’m not mistaken.”

Caine rose also, ignoring the bait. “I’d like to stow my gear first, Mr. Helger.”

“Certainly. Best that you should find your room before trying to find anything else.”

Caine did not return Helger’s knowing smile. The issue of what he’d find on Delta Pavonis Three had suddenly become secondary. The far more urgent question was whether CoDevCo would let Caine find it — or let him live to report, if he did.