Anglic Union

Two weeks later, three Frumpkins and their Kachavaha attorney sat facing Victor Chelan and three of his top lieutenants.  Frumpkins were short, wide, and pale of skin.  They wore intricate polychrome multilayer garments that reminded Chelan of the Japanese junihitoe style, though the cuts were clearly far more practical for sophonts expecting to advance under their own power without several attendants picking up the trailing robes.  The Frumpkins were given an extended tour of the facility. They had been fascinated, while their attorney worked heroically to mask his boredom.

“And so,” Victor said, “I was happy to give you an informal visit, so you could see our operations.”

“You have been most kind.” Treemuhr Radspeth said.  Radspeth was the senior of the three Frumpkins. “In most cases, companies involved in your sort of activity attempt to mask what they’re doing, so that if we visit we see many flashing lights and pretty mirrors, but never actually see the facilities where any of our tools might be in use. You were just the opposite.  Realistically, though, as I remarked earlier today, our contact with you was more anticipatory than retrospective. We understand that you are considering building spaceships of your own. However, your country lacks orbfab systems, so you must be planning on building an orbfab first, meaning that you will have extensive need for tools that can be used effectively in vacuum in zero gee by any of the wide range of species you will be employing.”

Elaine Bell smiled. She hoped that Radspeth and colleagues understood her facial moves. “It’s hardly a secret that people have urged us to build spaceships,” she said. “On one hand, our current ships have been severely ill-used and at the minimum are going to need very extensive yard time.  That effort currently consumes all of our resources. On the other hand, the Anglic Union press is extremely good at searching out proof of conspiracies as to what interesting people are doing, interesting people like Victor here, whether or not the conspiracy existed in the first place.  It was then not difficult for them  come up with the belief that we must be planning to build spaceships.  It’s certainly an interesting idea, but not one that is currently on our plate.”

“Thank you for clarifying that your inquiries were anticipatory,” Tara Broadhurst said. Her legal antennae, deep in our subconscious, were all aquiver. The letters from Kachavaha certainly had not sounded anticipatory. When she’d requested adequate files so Bulger Holdings could check whether or not they were violating any IP rights, she’d received the files, not a responder that the legal interest of the Frumpkins was what Bulger might be doing in the future, but as a responder to what had done in the past.

“But why do you think were planning to build anything in a zero-gee vacuum?” Elaine asked. “I suppose you could pump out the air from the graving dock you saw, put all of the workers into vacuum suits, install grav generators sufficient to ensure that inside the graving dock there was no gravity, but that seems to be an extremely expensive way to inconvenience yourself.”

“Surely it is well known,” attorney Maarshak Kachavaha said, “that the only efficient way to build spaceships is in orbit around the earth or some asteroid. You are preparing to build ships, therefore it is inevitably and certainly the case that you are preparing to build an orbfab, an orbital fabrication facility. In order to do that, you need a wide variety of tools fit for vacuum, and of course you are going to need to be hiring a large number of different species from the Republic to do various aspects of your work for you.”

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Anglic Union

That sounds to be a good idea,” Victor said. “We might even stress we are not sure what prior management did.  Are Frumpkins air-breathing?  Are  we only dealing with their human attorneys?”

“Not only can they breathe our air,” Elaine said, “but they can eat much of our food. The stuff they shouldn’t eat simply passes through; we have about the same poisons that they do.”

“By all means, invite them out here,” Victor said. “Something informal to discuss; suggest they bring about three sophonts. Be sure to arrange that everything they see and say is carefully recorded for our later benefit. And have appropriate refreshments.”

“They may want four,” Elaine interjected.  “Frumpkins – had to deal with them a lot – are trigamous.”

Victor shrugged. “As long as it’s four and not forty,” he said. “And we will want a count and list of names to be sure we can arrange proper seating and hospitality.  Also, we need whatever background material there is on them.”

“I have a large file,” Elaine said.  “They’re an Associated Republic, meaning technically independent.  They vigorously served the past Empire and the Stellar Republic, various Frumpkin firms gradually buying up patent rights on tool designs.  They are fond of exchanging commercial favors.  Not bribes, but they support their business partners.  There was some friction with the Empire.  They affect to have religious objections to foreigners owning Frumpkin territory or companies.  By report they have secret societies that take notes on Empire efforts to erode boundaries and organize gradual pushback.”

“Interesting,” Victor said.  “I’ve never heard of them. But they sound like good people.  Secret societies?  Yes, they definitely sound like good people.   Please send me the file and astrographic notes.”

“Will do, sir,” Elaine answered.  She made notes on her touchpad.

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Anglic Union

“I received their response, which is why am bringing this to your attention,” Tara explained. “They sent me a list of 4,000 different hand tools, all with vague descriptions.  I asked for the full description for each of them, which turns out to be a huge set of files. I handed them over to Roger.”

“As Tara said, the list goes on forever,” Roger remarked. “I’ve only sampled the list. I don’t think we have anything like them. I can’t imagine what we would do with them. However, our records may not be currently accurate, because tools disappear without a  trace, but I could compare with everything Bulger has recorded purchasing and receiving in the last fifteen years.”

“And we can tell somehow that something they described one-way matches a tool that we purchased but is described some slightly different way?” Victor asked.

“That’s something good about uniform product description coding,” Roger said. “It’s not perfect. For example, the Republic uses French Imperial units, while the Anglic Union uses Traditional English units, but it was good enough for a fast search.  Net result…we don’t own any of these things.  They’re all designed for zero-gee assembly by an alien with a more or less arbitrary hand and arm arrangement, probably wearing vacuum armor.”  Except for the spaceships while en route, we don’t do vacuum work, and we try to minimize vacuum work on our spaceships as much as we can. It’s too dangerous, too clumsy, and except when absolutely necessary way too slow.”

“Shall I send them a more definitive rejection?” Tara Broadhurst asked.  “Based on what Roger just said?”

“First, I have a riddle,” Elaine Bell said.  She took a sip of the tea. “Why do these people think we want tools seriously too clumsy to use, except in a zero-gee vacuum environment where the alternatives are worse?  Our ships do have shops and tool kits, but the tools are designed for human beings on Earth, and in design predate the Great Interregnum, meaning they are not covered by Republic patents.”

“This sounds stranger and stranger,” Victor said. “It’s hardly a secret that our yards are here in North California. Anyone doing enough research on this operation, to identify any of the three of you as the specific person to whom letters should be sent, would also see the pretty pictures on our web pages.”

“Perhaps,” Tara said, “before I don my combat litigation armor, we should invite a few of them out here, give them a tour of the facilities, and see what they have to say for themselves?  The former management was not very bright, and certainly might have stepped on IP rights, possibly without even knowing what an IP right is, and probably leaving traces that they’d done something improper.”

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Anglic Union

Enter the Frumpkins

“I had a second letter from the attorneys of the Frumpkin patent union,” Roger McNaughton announced, “addressed to me as chief of engineering.  Tara said I should politely ask them what their issue is, beyond ‘actions that interfere with the intellectual property rights of my clients, the Frumpkin Combine.”

“Second letter?” Victor Chelan asked.

“I receive large numbers of letters from people affecting to have some interest or claim on our operations,” Tara Broadhurst said. “Most of them receive a form letter in response, the letters being added to an extremely large file of miscellaneous inquiries, for example from salesman. The first letter was an extremely vague inquiry as to whether or not we adhered to the Intellectual Property Treaty with the Republic. I sent them the form letter assuring them that we did — as does anyone in their right mind — and listing the precautions we take, precautions that guarantee that we are not penalized if we make a mistake.”

“Thank you for sparing me this vast tonnage of correspondence,” Victor said.

“I actually read all of it, looking for correlations, people probing in improper ways. This wasn’t any of those.” Tara took a small bite out of a cookie.

“Advancing to the second letter?” Victor said.

“The second letter was from Kachavaha, LLC, an expensive Rajasthani law firm. Under the IP treaty, they can do certain things in the Union, this being one of them,”  Tara looked at the ceiling. “They’re sufficiently expensive, not to mention being well known as being vigorous in defending their clients, that I ask them to be specific about what the issue was. After all, as I explained to them, not that they don’t know, if I don’t know what their issue is, it comes becomes very hard to answer it.”

“They weren’t explicit to begin with?” Victor asked.

“It’s  a legal maneuver characteristic of their legal customs,” Tara explained. “You ask a very vague question, making it sound important and threatening, and hope whoever you are addressing, in their response, gives away things that you otherwise wouldn’t have known. There are reasons why Anglic Union law schools typically go on for six years, including two years of Combat Litigation, and recognizing tricks like this was an important part of my training.”

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Indian Summer

“Precisely,” Chelan answered.  “Though the test bed, if it works,  is built to turn into a freighter.  And in building the test bed, we try absolutely no technical advances, other than the ship itself.”

“Not ‘one of the proposed improved beta drives’, then.  Or ‘major leap in technology’?  You did not hear me disagreeing,” Bell said.

“Two bits of history here. The first was military, before the Interregnum.  World War 2 Germany tried conquering Europe.  With one exception, they had advanced – bleeding edge technology – weapons that they could only barely produce.  They were wildly unreliable, and could not compete with vast numbers of conservatively designed – the Sherman was arguably obsolete by 1944 — weapons.  The one exception, the one that mattered, were their submarines, the type they mostly produced being nearly worthless in the later part of the war.  The Americans then copied their example, producing the unreliable ultratech that led to the disasters that resulted in the Interregnum.” 

Chelan sipped at his coffee.  “The second goes to a company you have probably never heard of, Samsung electronics.  They started making imitations of known products, adequately good and cheaply.  One fine day their founder, a brilliant man, announced ‘We are doing something new. We are becoming First and Best’. He succeeded, too.  We will be following in his footsteps.”

“So you are proposing,” Bell said, “that Bulger should by and by build starships, visit these stars lacking in interest, and finally map and colonize these places in which the Republic has no interest or knowledge. ” 

“Precisely,” Chelan said.  “So step one is to get the Yard up and running, and the second step is to build a ‘new’ ship by progressively replacing all the components of one of our current ships, some number of components at a time, to see we know how to make or source them, and meanwhile there are such things as a new graving yard for the Space Guard, new ship design, and alpha design basics, all as cash flow permits.”

“A new design and clever alpha drives…that needs considerable training on the engineering side and beyond.  The last few election cycles,  the was talk of Federal Technical universities, but it never went anywhere.”  Bell looked at the floor.  “That takes a lot of money.”

Enter the Frumpkins

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Anglic Union

“Alpha design has been perfected, or so I was taught,” Bell said.  “Or don’t you believe it?”

“Alpha nodes were perfected in terms of reducing the mass,” Chelan observed.  “Two empires back there were prizes for lighter alpha drives.  We know this because there are trophy walls honoring winners, still intact after an alarming number of years.  Lighter was done by simplifying, making the same component perform multiple functions in creating a warp. Alpha nodes also became more efficient.  I suspect if you move the other way, you can design a node that violates no patent restrictions.”

“Coming back to building spaceships?” Bell asked.  “There are no astral architects in the Republic, are there? What do we do?”

“If you don’t know how to build something so that it works, you look at examples that do work.” Chelan said. “We can’t copy the design of one of our haulers, not without the Republic claiming we have an IP violation, but we are allowed to maintain them. That means we know exactly what goes into them. That means that a major step is to get the yard to the point where we can more or less duplicate, at least functionally, every component of one of our freight haulers.   Besides, the approach I’m envisioning is radically different from anything the Republic uses.  So we build a test bed: We build something small, except for the frames, and overbuild it.  Four fusactors, when one would be enough. Two complete sets of beta drives. Extensive machine and repair facilities on the ship. Six life-support units instead of three.  Framing like that used in the haulers, except thicker. Instead of titanium alloy we use a nickel-iron steel.  Yes, we will need to keep it painted against rust. To avoid all those thermal expansion problems, we use the same alloy for everything.  You get to tell me what I’ve missed.”

“We are going to build an ersatz starship,” she said, “learn from the process, and do better the next time?”

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Anglic Union

“You can’t fly through a warp point on beta drive,” Elaine noted.  “And where is the power source?”

“Old-style fusactors work just fine in zero-gee,” Chelan asnwered.  “They’re ten-fold bigger than Republic fusactors, but a fusactor is a small part of a ship.  In-system, beta drives are simply less efficient than alpha drives.  They spew gravitons rather than accelerating a ship.  But if you don’t mind the inefficiency, they work just fine.”

“Why do I think this should not be a new idea?” she challenged.

“It isn’t.  It’s an old idea,” Chelan answered.  “It was worked out a century ago.  But back then, maintaining steam engines was an engineering challenge,  rural electrification was a hot topic, and Union supplies of old computers from before the disorders were dwindling.  The fellow who published the proposal soon died under mysterious circumstances, Republic investors bought up the tec h journal in which he published it, actually made it much better, but his article vanished from electronic files.”

“Except you’d found it,” she said.

“And noticed the disappearance.”   He picked up his pace. “Curiously, soon thereafter, the Seldon Legion lobbied vigorously and successfully to bar foreign investment in the Union, but that didn’t fix the journal. It did block Bulger being purchased by Republic investors.  I emphatically did not tell anyone I’d noticed the missing  analysis, and since I do not want this place going up in nuclear plasma, I’d rather you not tell anyone, either.  The Space Guard has lots of Republican infiltrators and sympathizers who would leak the result.”

“To make this work, you need people who know how to design spaceships,” Bell observed.  “That may be a skill inside the Republic, or was when they got into their war with the Empire and to general surprise won,  but I’m not aware of anyone inside the Union who has done a ship design. During the war, their designers were out in the asteroid belt or even further out.”

“There will be a learning process,” Chelan said. “It’s an engineering challenge, not a scientific challenge.  We start with something heavily overbuilt that nonetheless flies.  Then we make improvements.  For example, the first ship is heavily instrumented, looking to see which sections have larger strains than others.  The best beta drive I know of barely gets up to 3c, but there’s no known natural law limit on beta drive speed.  It’s just they’ve been engineered for efficiency and size rather than superlight speed.”

“That’s very impressive.  It doesn’t get you through a warp point, though,” she observed.

“Alpha drive designs have been static for a very long time,” Chelan remarked, “since no more recently than the prior empire, the one that the defeated empire replaced.  That outcome arises because the two previous empires vigorously discouraged scientific research – it has thepotential to upset the way things are.  For a while, the current Republic supported science research, but almost all of that transferred over to engineering development:  ‘we have no time for pure natural law; we need clever devices that let us smite mightily all our foes.’  Until recently, we were too struggling and broke to have much in the way of real science. There is a little research, old fogies like me from before the Interregnum, but for most people it is work done in their spare time, not highly productive work.  Of course, our Elizavetsian neighbors trod firmly on efforts to revive scholarly communities within their borders.”

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Anglic Union

“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.”

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Anglic Union

“I have the sense that our new hires are all hard at work? No problems yet?” Chelan helped himself to another butter cookie.

“So far, so good,”  Bell  said. She inhaled, taking in the scent of her mint tea. “There was a suggestion made that we should not be using Space Guard rank titles, because someone who was a Captain in the Space Guard may  be uncomfortable serving on a ship under someone with a much lower previous rank.”

“There’s  a long-ago historical solution,” Chelan said, ‘from a country that no longer exists.  Create functional titles and use them, for example ‘Ship Commander’ rather than ‘Captain’.  Ask hires for their suggestions.”  Bell nodded in agreement.

“There was another issue, though,” Bell said.  “You gave me a week to think about our situation. I am supposed to give me my impressions, and you get to tell me what you are actually doing.”

“Proceed,” Chelan said.

“The standard map of the hyperspace grid, the map that slowly fluctuates as stars move with respect to  each other, is incomplete,”  she began.  “There are other gates, not on the map, linking places that appear to be inaccessible, and, since they are inaccessible, have mostly been forgotten.  If you look hard, you can find references to stars, some with planets, that have no known warp points.  You can’t get there except through normal space, albeit at some small multiple of c, so the places are commercially and practically impossible to exploit.  People do not go there.

“Once upon a time, astronomers studied the planets of distant stars.  Under modern conditions, if you want to study a star’s planets, you go there and look.  If you can’t go there, well, who cares?  You do, sir, but the Republic is bloody-minded practical, and the two prior empires were interested in their own domains and perhaps the Pale.  The earlier empire was regularly attacked by barbarians from beyond the Pale, each attack leading to an imperial expansion. However, connections change with time, very slowly, so a First Empire Astrographic survey might have interesting information in it, if you can find one.

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Anglic Union

“We are not in receipt of the alleged contract tender,” Chelan said, not quite raising his voice.  “We have a number of former Space Guard members as employees; if any of them had heard about the contracts, they never mentioned.  Also, we do have vigorous and positive contacts with the Space Guard.  That’s how we found out where our missing ore was going.  Those contacts never asked me what our response would be to their tenders, under conditions where I am sure the tenders would have been mentioned if they ever existed.”

“So you aren’t selling to the Guard?” Another, younger, reporter, Chelan thought.

“I’m aware of a series of items the Guard needs or wants,” Chelan answered. “We’re trying to get the yard operating again, at which time we and they will undoubtedly have commercial intercourse of a positive sort.  However, we can’t sell them what we are unable to make, and at the moment there is very little that we can make.  Senator Whitecloth did threaten a defense mobilization order, which would mean that we would have no nickel-iron to sell for a year or year and a half; I believe he agreed that would not be a positive outcome.  Which reminds me, I need to get back to North California, to move toward making those sales, so if you will excuse me, I must be on my way.”  Chelan’s bodyguards began clearing a path toward his aircar.

Enter Elaine Bell

“Dr. Chelan?” Mrs. Brixton’s voice came loud and clear through the intercom. “Elaine Bell to see you, as per your schedule.”

“Very good, Mrs. Brixton,” Chelan asnwered.  “Please send her in.  And the usual refreshments.”

Soon thereafter, Victor and Elaine faced each other across his office’s work table.  “I read your work notes, Elaine,” he said.  “I see progress is being made on hiring new crews for our ships, maintenance and cleaning are under way on the Mighty Transporter, and our fusactors are being checked before bringing them up, though that can’t happen until we hire enough people with the right licenses, confirm that the fusactors are ready to go, and get Federal inspector sign-off.  Until then, we’re buying power for all and sundry, in particular the power needed for maintenance operations. “

“The road has potholes,”  Elaine said, “which we are diligently filling. So far, Sarah Yates is on schedule with the fine resolution molecular sprays.  The graving dock was successfully pumped, exposed surfaces were pressure washed, and the drains are being cleared. The two shop people are engaged in bringing the shops back to operation, including finding out what we actually have on the property.  There’s also a large warehouse, not on the simple map, filled with all sorts of things not in any catalog.”

“Have there been any new major obstacles?” Chelan asked.

“Not yet, “ Bell answered.  “But it’s still early in the day, so life may not stay dull. It hasn’t yet.  I did confirm that Space Guard has assigned an escort vessel to each of our other freighters, an escort the freighters do not know about, somewhat in the hope that the guilty parties will give themselves away.   The ships may divert to be separated from their cargoes, but if that happens the Guard will intervene.”

“Large warehouse?” Chelan asked.

“The very large building across  the road?  It turns out to be ours,” Bell said. “I  was looking at the in possession survey and realized it didn’t stop at the road.  The other buildings you can’t see easily from the road are ours, too.”

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