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The Ambassador, Chapter 24

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  • The Ambassador, Chapter 24

    There are days when I suspect that I’m prescient. This one proved to be one of them. I woke up feeling meaner than an irritated Cottonmouth. Coffee and entertaining the dog provided no relief.

    I did manage to get through my morning without getting my wife angry with me, for a wonder. She joined me for coffee, and accompanied me outside with the dog, cheerfully filling me in on the current state of Arts and Crafts on the Ship. I didn’t say anything nasty or sarcastic, which took just about all the willpower I could summon up a couple of times.

    Mike came to the rescue about twenty minutes later. He informed me that Allan was requesting that I attend a meeting with himself and some of his Purchasing people. He noted that he and his people were in his Offices, and that whenever I could show up would be good. I happily interpreted that to mean ASAP, made my excuses to the wife and the dog, and headed that direction.

    Allan’s message had included linkage to about a ton of data. Mike informed me that it was pretty much summaries of Quality reports on the framework for our Solar Array and the Solar Panels themselves.

    The Executive Summary gave me a fairly good clue as to why I was being requested to get involved. The quality of both the framework components and the Solar panels was not up to our standards. In the case of the framework parts, it was because corners were being cut with both some components of the alloy and the coating. Shockingly, it was always the more expensive components that seemed to be the problem, and it was always because of a lack of them, and never because of an overabundance. Every fourth or fifth shipment was testing out as substandard one way or another.

    The Solar panels were suffering from both substandard materials and intermittent assembly problems, to the point that somewhere between nine and ten percent failed when tested.

    That was really annoying some folks on our end, because we’d supplied automated test equipment for the panels. Feed the panels into it on a conveyor belt, and it plugs into each one, rolls it into the tester, runs through a series of light levels, measures the response times and power output levels, and either rolls it out the other end as acceptable, or pushes it out the side as defective. Our people were of the opinion that they were either not testing at all or were simply ignoring the results.

    That was about as far into it as I got before arriving at the Finance offices. They knew I was coming, and I was intercepted ten feet inside the door and escorted to a conference room. I scanned the dozen or so Karn present, and could read their expressions well enough to know that they were all fairly seriously annoyed. Allan looked downright homicidal.

    Given that I was still feeling quite out of sorts myself, I figured that as long it wasn’t me that he was contemplating killing, I’d just go with the flow. I couldn’t resist a little bit of snarking.

    So. How may External Affairs assist the Finance Department today? Did someone hijack the Armored Car with the payroll? Are the Bulgarian Secret Police infiltrating Accounting? What’s got everyone so annoyed?”
    Karn obscenity and scatology doesn’t always translate well. I can figure it out if I spend five minutes doing research into the concepts involved, but there are other times when it’s quite clear right up front. “Mindless herd beasts defecating poisons onto their own grazing grounds” made fairly good sense to me without needing any research.

    I inquired if he was annoyed with our Chinese suppliers, and got the other half of the story.

    As it developed, the quality problems were only the first brick in the wall. After dealing with the usual smokescreen regarding testing methods, calibration, and everything else that could be thrown at the wall to see if anything stuck, the ultimate response we got from both of the suppliers amounted to “What you see is what you are going to get.”

    Allan had set out to put our own on-site inspectors at their plants to screen out defective products before we shipped them up, but the Chinese Government had monkey wrenched that idea by being tremendously difficult about Visas for our inspection people. They were also being as difficult as possible over a lot of other things all of a sudden.

    After spending about five minutes being filled in on what was actually happening, things started to cluster together, and I thought I saw a lightbulb come on.

    OK. Are we having issues with anything else we’re getting from China?”

    As it developed, we were. Battery components, in fact. Nobody was getting all worked up over that one simply because they weren’t even for us. We were doing the final assembly and charging them on the Ship, and shipping them back to Earth. The light bulb got brighter.

    Try this on for size. They apparently think they have us over a barrel of one sort or another. I’m guessing I know what it is about. Are we sourcing all the materials for the Batteries, Solar panels, and Array framework there?”
    I pretty much knew we were, and got it confirmed. Our policy was to be plowing as much money back into Earth’s economy as we took out. Between power plants, batteries, medical ‘bots and a few other things, we were pulling a lot of cash in, and were doing our best to keep the balance of trade balanced.

    Well, they got too cute by half on this one. They think that we need their minerals and rare earth supplies. So they figure they can mess with us and jack up their prices, or profits, or both. I think we can fix their little red wagon fairly easily. We do have alternate sources checked out, don’t we?”

    We did. We had started off in China simply because they had all the raw materials, and we didn’t want to supply things we could buy.

    All right. My recommendations would be to contact the Suppliers and tell them that we are cancelling their contracts for non-performance. Do the same with the Battery component supplier, and pick out anyone else you can who even looks a bit less than outstanding, and put them all on notice that they are going over the side in a week or so. The bigger the contract, the better, since we want to make it look as if we’re going to take our marbles and go away. Make sure that everyone down there finds out that we’re changing sources on those things, and that they also find out that we’re furnishing any feedstocks that might be lacking. Then wait and see if someone doesn’t start crawfishing. I think they will.”

    Allan and his staff spent ten minutes going back and forth over the idea. Finally he turned to me and announced “You realize what this is going to do to our schedule if you are wrong about them backing off, don’t you?”

    If you give them this one, one can only wonder what they’ll try to take next time. They will eat our schedule up a bite at a time if we let them get started. Should we call a Board meeting and run it past the whole group?”

    They would just do the same thing I am, and assume that you know more about what motivates Humans than we do. “

    I just hope that the infinite wisdom of our Board of Directors once more proves to be correct. I’m betting that I’ve got it figured out, but I have been known to raise the pot when I was betting against four of a kind, too. It happens occasionally.”

    Not this time, I do not suspect.”

    Oh, one other suggestion, if I might. Stop all shipments of our goods to China, immediately. Tell them that we’re having issues with our Shuttles, or whatever, but quit sending them anything. If we’re trying to make them nervous, let them chew on that one for a while, along with losing all the business.”

    Allan laughed. “If I understand Poker correctly, you are suggesting that we raise the pot, then?”

    You got it in one.”
    Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.

  • #2
    Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

    Everything was fairly tense for the next 10 hours or so, but it broke up nicely when our Solar panel supplier inquired in response to our intent to cancel our contract with him with an inquiry. “Where do you think you are going to get the rare-earth metals you need to build these things? We’ve got the market pretty much cornered, you know.”

    They phrased it a bit more diplomatically than that, but only a bit. Allan responded by sending them a picture of eight particular cubes, with a comment appended. “We only have about a 16 year supply here, at current usage rates, but when our second Ship comes in, they are bringing some more.”

    That was on Tuesday, Earth time. On Thursday, China announced the arrest of the Director of the Solar panel plant on charges of “corruption”. They also arrested several people at the Foundry that was making the framework for our Solar Array on charges of theft and sale of Company property. And the crawfishing commenced.

    I was actually in a fairly good humor until the next Tuesday. It took that long before I got dragged into another one of Finance’s problems.

    After endless whining by the U.N., we’d gotten conned into building a light manufacturing plant in the West Bank. It was fabricating the tracking and framework for the maintenance robots on the Solar array. There were only a total of about 20 different parts involved, and they were all made from coated tubular steel a little under two inches in diameter. The thing was, as with most of the stuff we were having built, we would need several hundred miles of it. So, build a factory and start cranking it out, right? We employed close to a thousand people, and had about $200 Million in the place when we started running.

    Like everything else in that region, it immediately became a political football. It was nowhere near the Israeli border, and the only Human involved with it was about as Jewish as the Japanese Emperor is. Regardless of any of that, it became a symbol of Zionist oppression. So we had demonstrators.

    The usual suspects, including a fair contingent of Europeans, Americans, and various other nationalities, had set up a permanent indignation meeting site about 200 yards from the front gates of the plant.

    That wasn’t a problem from our standpoint. The only reason for the gate was so that the workers could get in and out. Feedstocks for the manufacturing came in by Shuttle, as did the Karn. Finished product went out the same way. The two dozen or so Management types we furnished were housed inside the compound, as were a couple of dozen Security guys, who stayed mostly out of sight and out of mind. Our first line or three of security were cameras monitored by AI’s.

    Not that the AI’s were restricted to monitoring. About ten days after we opened the plant, about 50 of the folks at the permanent indignation site got froggy, and decided to rush the gate. At about 40 yards, they got a taste of a nonlethal Gatling Cannon. Someone in Engineering had come up with a rotary barreled, air powered cannon that fired Tennis Ball sized shells of pepper spray. They were also proximity fused, and self detonated at about two yards from the intended target. Beyond that, they were wickedly accurate.

    The cannon cut loose, and all but about five of the invasion wave went down, screaming and puking and clawing at their eyes. The five that remained on their feet got a second dose each about ten seconds later, and that was the last time they tried that little trick.

    Everything skated along for about another three months, right up until Tuesday morning. One or another of the organizations of fanatics decided to take a run at blowing the plant up, and dispatched two truck bombs. Our AI’s sensed that they were trouble at about a quarter mile, and shut down all electricity in and around them fairly soon thereafter. That shut one of them right off, but the other one had a “Dead-Man” switch in place, and was holding the button down. When the power went off, so did his signal that kept the truck from detonating.

    As it happened, he was square in the middle of the Permanent Indignation meeting when he went off. They had a really good turn out that day, including a large visiting group of foreign fellow-travelers, including Brits, Germans, French, Americans, Swedes, and what have you. The blast killed close to 300 people, including almost 100 non-native protesters.

    I would have thought that most people’s reaction to the situation would be fairly simple. When you are out protesting something, and someone who is supposedly on the side you are protesting in favor of comes along and blows a whole bunch of you up, I’d think being mad at them would be appropriate.

    That proved not to be the case. In spite of the fact that the Izzies collected the driver of the second truck, and he talked, it was somehow our fault. Nobody knew why the second truck had gone off initially, and we didn’t make a lot of noise about it once we figured it out, but it was our fault, right out the gate.

    Wednesday, there were about 5000 protesters outside the place. Wednesday night, someone tried to drop some mortar rounds into it. All they managed to do was create a fairly nice little laser and fireworks display, but Ian got nervous and stuck an oar in.

    Ian was Internal Security, but if he had Stockholders on the ground, he thought of them as his problem. He wasn’t happy with the situation, and recommended evacuating the place.

    His contention was that we were either going to have to defend the place with lethal force before very long, or give it up. He didn’t think that there was anything going on there that couldn’t be moved out and done somewhere that was much safer, and didn’t involve risking any Stockholder lives.

    I had to concede that he had a point. We announced that we would be closed Thursday, and spent the day evacuating our people and all the equipment we could move in that time, which proved to be all the essential tooling and about 2/3 of the machinery besides.

    We left the AI’s remotely connected to the non-lethal defenses and crossed our fingers.

    About 2300 on Thursday night, various folks started trying to sneak up on the perimeter fence. They all left disappointed and usually in varying degrees of pain, but they kept right on trying all night.
    Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.


    • #3
      Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

      They started trying in larger groups after daylight Friday morning. They were starting to probe, looking for dead spots in the perimeter defenses. There weren’t any, according to our AI’s, but the fact that they were looking told me that there was some kind of organized leadership at work.

      Things slacked off in the afternoon, and got downright dead for a while in the early evening, but after Friday Prayers, the mob came back ten thousand strong, and stormed the fences in mass. When our non-lethal defenses ran out of ammunition, they self-destructed, and the wave rolled in.

      Ian and I watched it on video live, and at one point I announced that I’d missed a great chance to do a tremendously important study. Ian inquired what that would be.

      I should have done a big study of the average IQ in the West Bank. Then, I use an IR Laser on this bunch, and re-do the study. I’m betting I could have raised the average IQ of the whole place by three or four points that way.”

      After a half hour or so, they apparently concluded that there was nobody home, and the looting set in. We really had tried to avoid leaving them anything of any notable value to steal, but if it wasn’t cemented down, someone took it. As dark approached, there was a steady string of people heading off the site carrying however many 20’ lengths of 2” steel tubing they could successfully manage. We’d been buying it in bulk for about $2 and change per length, and I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t have a specific use for it paying more than about $0.25 for it. It surely wasn’t worth any more than that as scrap metal. Be that as it may, they were stealing it.

      It took the best part of a week for me to start getting a sense of humor back.

      I spent the week primarily pursuing one of my longer-term duties. External Affairs covered more than just being in charge of our Diplomacy. Once the second Ship showed up, I was also going to be expected to have recruited and have available a Military force. The more I studied up on some of the places we planned on doing business, the clearer it became why we might, in fact, need such a thing.

      If one is expected to assemble a Military, or even something remotely equivalent to one, the first thing one should have is a General Staff, right? That’s what I thought, anyway, and so I was making some quite discreet inquiries about finding a General.

      I had to be quite discreet for several reasons. First off, I didn’t want us swamped by fifty million wannabee’s who thought that they were more capable than Rommel, Patton, Wellington, or Lee. Completely beyond that, I didn’t want to make Earth and/or the U.N. any more nervous than they already were about us.

      Everyone who had seen “Independence Day” or read “Footfall” was at least slightly paranoid when the Karn arrived. One of the things that we had emphasized very heavily from the outset was that if anyone was worried about us attempting to take over, they needed to look at the population of the Ship, the jobs involved, and just think about it for a minute. We didn’t have a military. The closest thing to it we have is about 750 Cops.
      I’d explained that myself at least ten times in speeches and interviews. Yes, we could reduce something to rubble, and then bounce the rubble around to our hearts content. But as far as taking anywhere over? Forget that idea. We have no boots to put on the ground to accomplish that. I’d emphasized that we wanted Humans to be our friends and trading partners, but as far as taking Earth, or any part of it over? Even if we thought it would be worth the trouble involved, we were not equipped to do it.

      Don, Ian, and I occasionally sat around and did a lot of blue-sky speculation about exactly what we needed and how it should be organized. We’d at least taken in an overview of every Mercenary force from the Condottori of the Middle Ages all the way up to some of the modern South African Mercs in Africa and the Legion Etranger.

      The general consensus was that the F.F.L. seemed like a good general template, but that it needed a lot more thought. Such being the case, I was looking for someone with the appropriate skills to provide that extra thought. But looking discreetly was preferred.

      I’d had what I thought was a bright idea at one point, and bounced it off Mike. I wondered why we just couldn’t have the AI’s do a search. Hey, they found me that way, didn’t they?

      Mike went all Donald Rumsfeld on me. He explained that the AI’s could take data on the factors that they knew were required, and fudge around a certain level of things that they knew they did not know, but could not assign any values or make probability predictions in the face of too many things that they did not know that they did not know.
      Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.


      • #4
        Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

        They were not terribly uncomfortable attempting to predict the ability of a Human to interact and be compatible with the Karn, They wanted another 25 or so years of observation before they started trying to predict the compatibility of Humans with one another. Beyond that, the skills involved in operating a Human Military force were, in many cases, still unknown unknowns for them, and talk to him in about 50 years regarding that part.
        I couldn’t resist getting one dig in. “So, what you are saying is that, having managed to yank me out of one or another of your completely metaphorical bodily orifices and come out smelling like a Petunia, you are now going to rest on your Laurels rather than play the odds again, right?”

        There are several levels at which that is a reasonably fair assessment.”

        Depending on the mood I’m in, that was either a reassuring answer or a really scary one.. I was starting to feel that I was wasting my tiime. Every name that looked promising at first raised a dozen red flags on minimal further review. It finally dawned on me that I had us aiming too high. Generals, in the current era, are Political creatures. I was not looking for a successful Politician. We started looking at Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. A lot of them didn’t get to be Generals because they got too far outside the box, or didn’t color inside the lines. If we could find out which boxes they got outside of, or which lines they didn’t color inside of, we had a fair chance of finding someone we could use. At least we started getting some names that didn’t get bounced out after the second glance.

        We had three interviews set up over the next week. I’d basically drafted Don, and conned Ian into sitting in also. I generally tend to trust my own judgement, but there are things that I don’t think of asking until the day after the interview. Answers that should lead to more questions are more likely to get the right follow up questions asked if more than one person is looking at the first answer.

        Try as I might to avoid it, I was getting dragged back into messing with the U.N. again. I’d spent an hour or two a day talking to her for the last two weeks, and it didn’t seem to be helping her out a whole lot.

        Not that I could give her much advice that would help. The U.N. was being the U.N., and the Bureaucrats were being Bureaucrats. The U.N. as a whole was being annoyed with us because we were not contributing enough cash to their pet causes. When we joined, we’d agreed to throw $500 Million a year into their General Fund, but had not agreed to contribute to any of their special funds.

        Now, though, there was a continual stream of folks coming through wanting us to contribute our “Fair Share” to UNICEF, or whatever other boondoggle they could come up with, not to mention all of their Peacekeeping Missions, Climate Studies, and on and on and on. We just weren’t being “Charitable” enough.

        We countered these complaints by pointing out that we had 28 medical teams scattered everywhere from Darkest Africa to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, South America, and wherever else doing free treatment, not to mention another 28 teams that were bouncing around the same backwater areas putting in free power plants. We were also in the process of hooking up free Wi-Fi for the entire world. The cost of those ventures was substantially more than the entire U.N. General Fund.

        It was obvious what the problem actually was, but the poor young Karn lady had been trained as a Diplomat, and just couldn’t bring herself to come out and say it. The fact that our contributions were in Kind rather than in Cash meant that the Fat Cats and Bureaucrats didn’t have any way to steal a cut of it before it was delivered, and they were feeling left out.

        The subject of the U.N. came up at the next Board meeting. Everyone knew what was going on, and nobody was particularly interested in appeasing them by throwing money at them, but when you are a Corporation, you pay a little more attention to PR and positive Name association and whatnot than most Governments do. The general mood leaned more toward wondering if there was not some way to prosecute those crooks than anything else, but most everyone wanted something to start happening to counter all the negative PR we were receiving.

        Every time someone would express annoyance at having to deal with such criminals and speculate about exactly what measures we should take, everyone kept looking at me. I finally broke down and requested recognition from the Chair to speak.

        We’ve got several options. Most of them have a negative side in terms of PR, particularly in the short term. The rest of them would require that we do things which are counter to our own principles. I’ll run it down from the top.

        The simplest solution, and the one that would avoid a lot of short term hate and discontent, would be to simply pay them to shut up. That clearly violates a lot of our own standards, but it would end the PR problem. Let’s get that out of the way first. I’m making a motion that we grit our teeth and bribe them.”

        The Chairman raised his hand and announced “Discussion?”

        Everyone had an opinion on that, and although nobody wanted to go that route, they were honest enough to approach it based on the merits, even though it went against a lot of their standards and practices.

        The first thing that came up was the cost. I offered my estimate of a half Billion Dollars, which would appease all but the most greedy of them. There would still be folks coming around attempting to get us to donate to their Brother-in-Law’s relief fund for the radioactive Wild Boars of Fukushima, but they wouldn’t get a sympathetic reception in the media any longer.

        Someone did some fast number crunching and announced that we would be giving away enough to buy five million solar panels. Then they observed that they expected that the contributions would be expected to continue at regular intervals. Their statement then devolved into various Karn obscenities directed at U.N. personnel in general. Most of those apparently lost something in translation, but the contempt was clear.

        Allan stuck an oar in at that point. “I’m not endorsing the idea of buying anyone off, but our actual costs would not be anywhere near that high. We’ve got five cubes of industrial metals that they use for monetary purposes down there. Well, actually fourteen, if you want to count the Copper. If we could sell that off without trashing the market, we could pretty much buy the Planet out from under them.”

        The Chief Engineer made a 90 second statement that could be summed up in eight words. “Millions for commerce. Not one cent for tribute.”

        Nobody cared how cheap it would be. We were Karn, and were not going there. After about fifteen more minutes, I got the floor again.

        Chairman, I respectfully request that my motion to bribe the idiots be withdrawn from consideration.”

        The motion was stricken from consideration. I went on.
        Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.


        • #5
          Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

          2/3 of the chapter. MS Word sucks dog snot, and I'll get the rest of it up once I mess with the format some more.....Or whatever. Apologies for the font size. I got to quit trying to write at work.

          Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.


          • #6
            Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

            I do not make it a habit to mess with another author's threads, but I freely admit to changing the font for you. Too many of us on this forum have aging eyes.

            Now, to go get my fix. Can't wait to see what the 'Ambassador does to mess with the 'system.'

            Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest. - Benjamin Franklin

            I have but one person on my ignore list. Can you guess who it is?


            • #7
              Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

              I discovered this site by accident when I was searching for new stories to read. I then came across this story "The Ambassador". It took me a couple of days to read all 24 chapters.

              I have been reading science fiction since the mid 1960s. It use to be "one of my things". I would rate you as good as or better than any of the old breed SF authors, including Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark. While I never knew the old guys, I have read everything THEY wrote. I believe THEY would approve of you.



              • #8
                Re: The Ambassador, Chapter 24

                Originally posted by Bohica View Post
                I discovered this site by accident when I was searching for new stories to read. I then came across this story "The Ambassador". It took me a couple of days to read all 24 chapters.

                I have been reading science fiction since the mid 1960s. It use to be "one of my things". I would rate you as good as or better than any of the old breed SF authors, including Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark. While I never knew the old guys, I have read everything THEY wrote. I believe THEY would approve of you.

                1. Thank you.

                2. Sheesh. Comparing my relatively unedited and totally off the top of my head slush to RAH is like comparing Roscoe P. Cotraine to Marshall Dillon.

                3. I'm having fun with it, so it's all good. I'm glad some folks like it, but please don't get carried away here.

                I've been compared to a lot of things over the years, and most of them were not to be considered a compliment. If I can on occasion sound like RAH, it's because I've read him extensively myself. I don't think it's even in the same ballpark, but I'm glad someone actually can find it readable, at a minimum.

                Thanks again, and I'm glad I'm managing to entertain some folks. It's why I kept doing it.

                Alle Kunst ist umsunst Wenn ein Engel auf das Zundloch brunzet (All skill is in vain if an angel pisses down the touch-hole of your musket.) Old German Folk Wisdom.