“On the other hand, I read your book. As you explain, the Anglic Union is in a bubble, a bubble partly of its own making. We went through the Interregnum, we have charming neighbors in the Elizavetsians, and while that was being sorted out, the Stellar Republic and its client states asserted ownership of every heavenly body in the Solar System. We were lucky to hang on to Proserpine, that only because the First Republic had managed to put a probe into orbit around it. It’s still the most distant body of any size in the Solar System, and the only one we can mine without starting a war, a war we would lose.”
“So far, so good,” Chelan said agreeably.
“The Anglic Union is paralyzed by its lack of resources, and you propose to break it out of its paralysis. By building spaceships,” she said. “Exactly as that Senator proposed.”
“Go on,” Chelan said.
“Can’t be done,” Elaine said. “Space Guard was very interested in Bulger’s plans for a full spaceship yard. The China Yards had been charging us an arm and a leg, even before – in this morning’s news – we got tossed out. Bulger was planning on building complete spaceships, assumed he could just buy the fusactors and primary drive cores from the empire, was heartbroken when they said no, so he let the place run down until Dewey and Rotham bought it. Then the huge new debt, the bankruptcy—we thought the Stellar Republic would buy up the notes and become the debtors in possession.”
“The Republic tried,” Chelan said. “The Republic is very trying. The Congress and Parliaments Joint Security Committee blocked the purchase, which in any event would have been illegal. And now the point on which I ask for absolute secrecy. I know. Commodore Clangbalance knows. When I tell you, you will know. Various people have made guesses, mostly wrong, on what I might be doing. The Seldon Legion is backing me on faith, not facts.”
“I agree this is an absolute secret, which I will tell no one, so long as you are alive, and afterward try to honor your intent as circumstances may change,” she said. “As secret as Space Guard code secrets.”
“Good. Yes, I plan to build spaceships,” Chelan announced.
“How do you dodge Intellectual Property?” Elaine asked. “Their patents are perpetual. They won’t sell you a fusactor, a drive, or blueprints. They catch a ship with a reverse engineered fusactor or alpha drive, they hang the crew for piracy and blow up the ship. I seem to be missing something. So is Space Guard. Where’s the loophole?”
“Nonetheless, soon enough I plan to be building ships.” Chelan’s voice exuded confidence. “There are no patents on beta drives.”
Perpetual patents? That is quite a dystopia.