Interlude 1 – The Competitor Starts

London, June 1862

John Smith walked across the campus.  It was the beginning of summer and most students were off on holiday. This suited Smith just fine as he was not interested in mingling with people. He had dropped his credentials off the previous week introducing himself as an agent of wealthy patrons. In the intervening days, he expected some of the credentials were verified proving he had connections to wealthy dealers on the continent. The people who were his references had been recommended by his sponsor to supply the right words for a price. As this was his first time at this location, and he did not have the time or patience to cultivate true references, the expediency of purchasing them was necessary. Recommendations and connections seemed to matter a great deal here and Smith was going to exploit this weakness to its fullest.

Smith did not understand the fascination with this backwater planet.  It had not yet mastered self-propelled flight, let alone interstellar travel or even space flight.  Sanitation at this supposedly advanced country enabled  a variety of diseases that would make most health authorities shudder.  Its growing reliance on finite resources was appalling and would likely end in an economic collapse without a proper intervention.  The only thing this small, remote planet seemed to have in its favor was the inventiveness of the dominant species.  The hominids here were remarkably adaptable, remarkably curious, and remarkably creative.  Without any assistance from the outside, these animals had mastered language, moved from Stone Age to Industrial Age, and were well on their way to understanding fundamental ideas of nature. And they accomplished this in a space of about 10,000 years of relative civilization. They were miraculous to some, curious to others and dangerous to a few.

His current patron fell solidly into the second category.  Smith was to retrieve some of the inventive technology developed around conflict. The ways which this species had devised to inflict harm on others simply boggled the mind. That inventiveness provided a great deal of entertainment for his patron and those like him. He was also to procure samples of the species for competition and managed experimentation.  It was this controlled experimentation that particularly interested his patron. A few patrons had the hominids perform or do small feats as exhibits or studies of cultural enhancement. But no patron had been willing to do controlled experiments on this trait of inventiveness until now.  He was to procure subjects for this experimenting.

And so he began his search for technology and people at this local institution of higher learning.  He arrived at the office of the Dean, head of the University.  He greeted the secretary of the Dean in the acceptable local fashion, “Mr. Smith for Professor Mill”

“Ah yes, Mr. Smith. The Dean is a bit delayed. He won’t be long.”

Smith quickly took offense. “I am on time. Doesss he not honor commitments?”

The secretary, startled at the outburst, said “It is a small thing Mr. Smith. I will inform him you are here.”

Smith settled down a bit realizing a mistake had been made by him, “Pleassse do.” After a pause, he added, “Thank you.” The secretary darted away and slipped into the room behind the double doors.  A short moment later she returned and said, “He knows you are here and is finishing with his last appointment.”

Smith sat down in a chair and crossed his legs and interlaced his fingers on his lap and tried to project calm. The anger had been careless. Whatever his true feelings about these beings, he needed to do business. As predicted, a short while later the door opened and a student came out followed by the Dean who said “John, your work has been excellent. I have no doubt that you will find employment shortly.” The Dean shook hands with the student who looked dubious about the statement. The student nodded to Smith and walked out the door.

The secretary then said, “Mr. Smith, please follow him into the office.”

The Dean waved Smith inside the door. In the office, the Dean pointed to a chair opposite a large and heavy desk.  The Dean began, “Mr. Smith, what can I do for you today? You references were quite complementary. ”

As well they should have been for what they had been paid, thought Smith. Smith said, “I am gathering a few items for a collector and I have been given your name as an excellent source. There is a commission for any items I find, of course.”

The Dean reviewed the list. “That is a service we have provided to others in the past. Hmmm…Milling machines, glassware, rifles, exploding shells. The list is quite varied.” He set it on the desk in front of him, “I can find merchants who will supply the non-military items such as milling machines and glass ware. For the other items, you’ll have to find someone else.  The University does some ancillary research in such things, but we do not have much contact with the armaments industry.”

Smith said, “Really? I am disappointed, but I will take what you can supply.  I am also looking for some engineers for a short term project. I would prefer top rate. If one or two were on your fencing team that would be even better.  I need at least one who knows electronics. “

“I will see what I can do. Most of the top rate will have job offers by now.”

“I certainly understand,” Smith said. He took a pause trying to calm himself. “This is a short term exercise. The summer only. Perhaps some will appreciate a break between school and work. Let me know what you can do.”

The Dean, being a practical man, asked, “Most of our recruiters are alumni of the University. And we appreciate their continued support of the University as well as the chances they offer our graduates. Why should I provide you these names?”

Smith smiled at the gambit. “Ah this is a language we both understand.  While I have no connection at this point to your great University, if I have some useful graduates I could be most grateful. I can offer something other than simple remuneration. Let me show you a portion of a formula and process to turn crude oil into a more volatile liquid.  This liquid burns more efficiently than coal.” Smith took a piece of paper out of his pocket and passed it onto the Dean.

The Dean looked at the paper. Some of it he understood, but his specialty was physics and mechanical engineering. “What kind of energy release per pound are we looking at?”

Smith answered, “46 mega joules [1]per pound for this substance versus 31 per pound for your best grade of coal. That is almost 50% better.”

The Dean answered, “That is impressive. Does this substance even exist?”

Smith calmly answered, “Here let me show you.” Smith produced a small vial of liquid with less than half a teaspoon in it. He poured that into a teacup and pulled a flint from his pocket. He struck a spark and the cup was immediately filled with flames. They took a moment to disperse. The cup was too hot to touch at the moment.

The Dean stared at the smoking cup and blew a bit on his fingers. He commented, “This could replace coal. How easy is this to produce?”

Smith replied, “The process is a bit like distilling spirits of alcohol but works with crude oil. It isn’t complicated, but does require some special heating equipment. I could work with your chemists and engineers to get them started. It will replace coal and your University would have the patent for it. I just need a few names for my project.”

The Dean felt the warm cup and then said, “I will have Miranda begin some research. Where can we reach you?”

“I will be back the day after tomorrow. Will that be long enough to find suitable candidates?”

“That should be no problem. And the formula and support?”

“When I sign some of those candidates, I will forward the remainder of it to you.”

The Dean protested, “That is a lot of trust.”

Smith held his temper, but he clenched his fists and said, “Here issss a check for 75% of the goodssss you will find for me. You will have that to hold onto if I don’t give you the processsss.”

The Dean looked at a significant check for £12,000. “That is a sizable deposit for what you have asked for. Very well. Miranda will have a list of some names of potential people tomorrow morning.”

Smith smiled unctuously, “I do hope this is the beginning of a fruitful relationship.”

The Dean replied, putting the check in his vest pocket, “I hope so as well Mr. Smith. I hope so.” They shook hands as was custom in this country on this world and Smith left the room. He nodded and smiled at the woman who would be getting him the list of candidates.  He was amazed at the lack of authority people seemed to have in this land. The Dean would probably “ask nicely” in order to get the list completed by tomorrow. He had seen few proper orders in this location. But his patron was most insistent on this location. The patron said they were “inventive and entertaining.” Well, Smith would fulfil this contract, but he had ideas of his own. This world was ripe with people who followed like sheep, vintage technology and engineers to maintain it, and leaders, such as they were, were so easily swayed with formalities of little consequence. He knew someone else had claimed priority here. Well, this world was big enough for two. Besides, things were changing at the Guild in that regard anyway.  He left the University in search of a gunsmith or armory who wasn’t so squeamish.


[1] A joule is the energy necessary to move a 1 Kg 1 meter applying 1 Newton. In terms of heat – 1 joule would heat 1 gram of water about half a degree.


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3 thoughts on “Interlude 1 – The Competitor Starts

  1. Pingback: Interlude 1 – The Competitor Starts | The Finder's Saga

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