Sunday, March 28, 2010

"New Management", part 2

This is the second installment of "New Management", a fanfic prequel to Isaac Asimov's early blood-and-thunder space opera "Black Friar of the Flame". The first installment can be found here.

Lieutenant Anton Kovarik sat in the canteen and watched as the scientists of Lhasinu Base drifted in. His job as head of security at the base allowed him to monitor all communications, and he had taken particular care to keep up with all of the traffic between Major van Orden and the Resolute, so he knew (and the members of his team knew) what Dr. Hartz was about to tell her staff.

Kovarik found the meeting to be typical of Hartz' management style. Rather than sending out the news in a text message, she brought her staff together to inform her them in person, and she had chosen to act sooner rather than later. Kovarik approved of both aspects of the decision; it was what made Hartz a good administrator.

The head of security noted the arrival of Giuseppi Romano, the base's deputy administrator. He sat himself at an otherwise empty table and spent his time staring out of the canteen's broad window at the alien cityscape of Lhasinu. Originally a senior member of the botany section, Romano had found himself unexpectedly thrust into his new role after van Orden's arrival. He was not a man who sought authority, and a year in the position had not made him like the job any better. He went out in the field as often as possible; he was scheduled to go out again tomorrow. Kovarik didn't think he would be doing so.

Teresa Karpinska and Adrienne Devereaux were sitting and talking quietly together, as they usually did in the canteen. The former had much in common with Hartz, including her training as a geologist and her sensible approach to life. The latter was the base's senior biologist, and exercised a good deal of unofficial authority by virtue of her age and scientific reputation. Either, in Kovarik's opinion, would have been a better choice for deputy director than Romano.

More and more members of the base's staff came in as Dr. Hartz' thirty-minute deadline approached. They seated themselves and chatted together or remained silent, as their natures dictated. The main topic of conversation was the reason for the sudden, unscheduled meeting, and several of the scientists had already correctly guessed it.

Finally, at the twenty-nine minute mark, Dr. Hartz entered. She motioned for the others to remain silent, and they did while she took up a position in front of the food dispensary.

"I've come here to bring you all some important news," she began, her hands clasped behind her back as she addressed the room. "According to Major van Orden, a fleet of Sirian ships has come out of hyperspace here in the Vegan system."

"Why would the Sirians send a fleet of ships here?" asked Devereaux.

"I don't know, Professor," Hartz answered. "I presume they'll explain their reasoning when they get here, which they will be doing by noon tomorrow. Major van Orden says that he and his men will be going up to the Resolute, and leaving the Vegan system to report back to Alpha Centauri."

"The famous military maneuver known as the strategic withdrawal," remarked William McInnis, a junior member of the linguistics section. There was laughter at his remark, and the tension in the room went down.

"That is all the information I have at the present time," Hartz continued. "I'll keep you all updated as the situation develops."

"Will they be sending us to the Sirian system for internment?" asked Karpinska.

"Why not?" Romano answered. "That's what we did to them."

The room was immediately plunged back into gloom. Upon his arrival the year before, Major van Orden had had two thirds of the base's personnel -- everyone from the Sirian Bloc and Earth -- removed and sent back to Centaurus as "security risks". The base's biology and sociology sections had been particularly hard-hit, since those specialties tended to be dominated by Terrestrials. Only Professor Devereaux's status as a naturalized Centaurian citizen -- and her formidable scientific reputation -- had kept her from joining her fellow Earth-born colleagues in internment. From a research point of view, the base had only been limping along since then. It hadn't made van Orden and his men very popular with the remaining base personnel, either.

"It is possible that some or all of us may be interned on Sirius V," Hartz answered. "It is even possible that the Sirians may shut down Lhasinu Base completely. However, as I said, we don't know why the Sirians are coming here, so we don't know what their plans are."

"Perhaps they're here to start a recruiting drive among the Vegans," suggested McInnis, and again there was laughter. Kovarik had to agree that the thought of the sword-swinging natives taking part in humanity's first interstellar war was a comical one.

(continue to part 3)

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