That little problem at Ventris

Lomonosov Dome
Lunar Principality
Sol System
Terran Dominion

The Lunar Principality brought back memories of pre-spaceflight earth. Of countries called “hermit kingdoms” where little information passed in or out save for what was allowed. Some were nightmarish gulags. Others were pleasant, if restrictive polities. But most were simply enigmas. Of these kinds of hermit kingdoms, the Lunar Principality was the last. Outside of leaked samizdats and vacuous government propaganda, little was truly known about the state that made the Terran Dominion a Dominion. Their leaders held claim to a throne they never filled; leadership over an empire they did not command. They reigned, but did not rule.

“I hate waiting”

Envoy (Plenopentiary) Tebe Gaperon and Envoy (Probationary) Lene Höfðingi found themselves in the main meeting room of Lomonosov Dome, in the crater of the same name. One of the few places on Luna that was open to visitors from outside the Principality, and the home of the Dominion’s diplomatic mission to the same.

“Relax, Lene. They do it to us for the same reason we do it to the colonies. ‘Our time is important. Yours is not.’ An old tactic, but there’s precious little new in statecraft.”
“I know sir, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“There’s little to like in this posting at all, Lene. But the Principality is capital ‘I’ Important. So here we are.” Tebe Gaperon strolled to a small end table beneath a window overlooking the barren lunar landscape. “Relax. At least avail yourself of sidebar… the Vlaskaas is excellent.”

Lene looked at the senior envoy, still a little unsure. “But, can we…”

“Can we trust it? Lene my dear, they won’t waste a good Vlaskaas just to get us over a barrel. It’s just another bit of posturing, showing one more tradition they’ve preserved from Earth. And trust me. You don’t want to miss this. About the only thing that makes this posting survivable is the food.”

Lene was at the sidebar and well onto her third set of crackers and vlasskas when she saw Tebe pause in mid-bite. “Showtime, Lene.”
She was still blinking when he finished off his cheese-covered cracker, wiping fingers quickly on a free napkin before hustling to the table at the center of the meeting room. He was just coming to a halt behind a chair when doors whispered open in front of him, and two Principality bureaucrats stepped into the room.

“Ah, Ministers Van de Berg and Schouten. A pleasure as always.” Gaperon stood, waiting for the two to take their own seats.

“As always, a pleasure. Though the topic of today’s meeting is not.” The two ministers slipped into their chairs with practiced ease. Gaperon followed a second later, the three of them all but ignoring Lene Höfðingi as the settled in.

“Ah, yes. The matter of that little problem at Ventris.”

“You say little problem” said Minister Schouten “We say ‘industrial disaster’. I think our scales are perhaps a little different.”

“A tragedy to be sure, but that is why Hot Labs exist, yes? Lives lost, resources burned away, but the nature of new and dangerous technologies is sometimes a hazardous one.”

“The lives are of no great consequence, but the financial-“

Minister Van de Berg’s words were interrupted as Lene dragged her chair back loudly, trying to take her seat as unobtrusively as she could. The poor envoy looked like she was coming in fifteen minutes late to a final exam, every eye in the meeting room tracking her as she took her appointed place.

“My apologies for Lene here. Her first posting, you see. One has to get diplomatic experience somehow. I’m sure you understand.” Gaperon’s hand swept to his side, almost hitting Lene in the gesture.

The two ministers leaned back, Schouten sighing and resting his head in a hand while Van de Berg laughed softly.

“Fair enough, fair enough.” chided Schouten. “We’ve all had to show someone the ropes at least once.” “Or been shown the ropes.” snarked Van de Berg.

“Shall we get down to the matter at hand, Ministers?”

“Of course. The facts are not in dispute, are they?”

Lene blinked, raising her hand as she slipped into the conversation “Facts, ministers? I apologise. I was only transferred here a few weeks ago, and Envoy Gaperon has been allowing me to play tourist to get a feel for the Principality. And… well, I did miss the briefing. So, if you could be so kind…”

Van de Berg sighed, head hanging low as he looked back at Gaperon “You have my condolences being saddled with her.” He pulled himself back to a more professional posture.

“So, for your information Envoy Höfðingi, three days ago our hot lab complex at Ventris crater suffered a catastrophic accident. We traced the work to a joint Principality/Dominion research project being bankrolled by Dominion Naval Services. While the full investigation will likely take several months, preliminary evidence suggests that there was a power spike that blew out the lab’s power systems. The local power grid, modified in order to support a substantially higher than allowable power draw, failed explosively. This caused further containment breaches which resulted in a chemical explosion in the laboratory’s service spaces, demolishing the entire complex.”

“As root cause of this incident was due to unauthorized modifications done by Dominion engineers-” continued Schouten “It is the Principality’s position that the Dominion owes us approximately two hundred and fifty million Principality Guilders, plus a twelve million Guilder currency adjustment fee.”

Schouten’s face was perfectly neutral. “Unfortunately, the Dominion Credit has been sliding below the fixed inter-State rate this quarter, so we have to insist on a protective adjustment fee to ensure purchasing parity.”

Gaperon leaned back in his own chair, hands clasped on the table in front of him. “Ministers, I am certain that you are aware of several problems with this… bill that you are saddling my government with. Firstly, as a joint project, any benefits and costs are split equally. And I know that your latest assessment of the whole Ventris complex was barely two hundred million Guilders. Secondly, any such costs, as per the Dominion Accession agreement, should be assessed directly to the bankrolling party. As I am not a Dominion Navy Officer, your invoice is null and void. And finally…”

Gaperon smiled “finally… your presentation exhausts your one opportunity to properly invoice, meaning you have to submit the costs to Brussels. I believe they’re still working out who is to pay for the loss of Danube Station at the beginning of the war.”

The two Ministers looked back at Gaperon, Schouten finally choosing to speak first. “Correct as always, Tebe.” He looked over at Höfðingi “These are the boots you have to fill. You have a ways to go, clearly. Pray that Gaperon here is not transferred out before you have at least learned a little diplomatic tact.” Attention shifted away from the probationary envoy back to Gaperon. “I take that is the Dominion’s official stance?”

Tebe Gaperon nodded.

“And what I have said is the Principality’s. Now that we have dispensed with the formalities, what is your actual position?”

Gaperon relaxed, standing up and walking back to the sideboard. He made a little sandwich for himself; crackers, a bit of cheese and a cube of meat as he spoke. “We of course deplore the accident. Time and resources lost, and more to be spent in order to get things back in order. We’re not insensitive to such things, and it was our research project.” The little sandwich disappeared into Gaperon with a practiced snap of his jaws.

“I think we can safely redirect an amount of reconstruction credits to the Principality… say eighty million Dominion Credits? Along with some below-market supply contracts for replacement equipment. Altogether it should be about… hmm…” Gaperon began making another cracker sandwich as he mentally crunched numbers “one hundred million Dominion Credits altogether, roughly speaking. Through the usual intermediaries. You know how it goes.”

The two ministers had relaxed almost as soon as Gaperon had stepped up, and they nodded politely at the arrangement.

“Of course. The researchers are no great loss. Technicians mostly. It’s the facility that is the frustrating loss. But that should make good the lion’s share of the losses. I presume we can leave the details to our lessers?” inquired Van de Berg.

“Of course. Lene here has a few days of actual hard work ahead of her I’m afraid. You didn’t think this is all swanning through the commons quarters and enjoying exotic cheeses, did you?”

“No, Envoy Gaperon.”

“There’s a good girl.” Gaperon turned back to look at the Ministers. “Shall we adjourn?”

The two stood up, nodding in agreement “Certainly. Next week?”

“Of course. Give my regards to Annemieke, will you?”

Minister Van de Berg nodded, gesturing to the door that the envoys had originally entered.

“Certainly. Take care Tebe. And don’t you forget what you’ve learned today, Lene.”

The probationary envoy nodded quickly, following in Tebe’s wake as they left the room. The two principality ministers looked at each other silently, standing politely still until they heard the ‘click’ of the exit door locking. Van de Berg walked to the side table, arm waving at the window, the ‘outside’ melting away to reveal nothing but bare bulkhead. Shouten followed, making a similar motion at the wall through which the Dominion Envoys had left. The smooth panels shimmered before revealing a massive display screen. It displayed a quick test pattern before it switched to show the two Envoys as they left the office complex. Lomonosov Dome’s intricate surveillance systems hid nothing, playing the conversation the two envoys were having as if they had never left the room.

Van de Berg spoke first. “So Tebe is going to be leaving.”

“Two months, apparently. Maybe three.”
“He doesn’t know, does he?”

Schouten chuckled softly “he doesn’t have a clue. He’ll just keep falling upwards like a good little intelligentsia until he smacks onto someone’s window and gets wiped.”

The two watched as they left the dome on a personal transport. Through it all the surveillance flowed seamlessly like it was an unseen attendant observing every word. Tebe began to berate Lene, clearly feeling some ‘safety’ in the personal transport that took them back to the diplomatic quarters elsewhere in Lomonosov.

“The man is a pig.”
“He really is here only for the food. A pity we can’t arrange for him to smack onto a window a bit sooner” sighed Van de Berg. “Still, we’ll get what we need from him. I wasn’t expecting him to bite for the full one hundred million. I thought you were a bit aggressive…”
“He loves thinking he made a deal, so I highballed the original number even beyond what Hague Dome felt appropriate.” Schouten’s pride leaked into his words as he continued “and when he saw the opportunity to ‘get one over us’ and stuff his face into the trough, he took it.”

Lene had finally had enough, and she was yelling back at Tebe. Screaming, even. It was an impressive show watching as the probationary member not just grew a spine but was verbally lashing her nominal superior with it.

“We made a good choice having Lene posted here, I think.”
“I should hope so” snorted Van de Berg. “Distinction from the Sorbonne, plus additional studies in Geneva. Family’s old industrial money from Iceland, so she’s had a bit more bare-knuckle experience than Tebe.”
“If you can call office experience at Málmar Íslands ‘bare-knuckle’.”
“Compared to Tebe? His family’s been playing politics since the Fourth Republic.”
“Feh. Good point.”

The personal transport stopped at the Dominion’s ambassadorial spaces. Lene was the first off, her head held high with a thin but triumphal, almost satisfied smile on her face. Tebe followed, looking like had just lost an argument with his wife while his mistress was in the next room waiting her own turn to yell.

“Anyhow. Have the scientists recovered from the accident?”
“Ours have, yes. The Dominion’s… well, nobody could have survived an explosion that big.”
“Don’t worry. They’re being moved back to Ijessel Dome.”
“Just as well. We can replace Ventris easily enough, but the scientists and engineers…”

Van de Berg nodded. “Manuscripts don’t burn, do they?”
“Not here they don’t.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s