London – July 1862
The finder had been doing this job for decades as the locals measured time -almost a century. Many viewed her job as a form of slave trading. Other (collectors mostly) viewed her as a curator or dealer for a zoo. She viewed her efforts as a service – an agent who connected a consumer with a producer; an employer with an employee. If she did her job right, all parties should be satisfied for the duration and beyond. Not all finders were so scrupulous and many were little better than slave traders: obtaining young from poor, overburdened parents and then training the innocents into machines. Others misled clients or contractors. Her contractors always had a fixed time in the exhibitions. Many potential clients passed over her for this requirement, but it allowed her to continue her profession with less guilt. Some contractors extended their time in exhibitions and some returned with generous pay outs.
She spent many days with her clients making sure she understood the requirements and then more time filling those requirements. It wasn’t easy, but the galaxy is a big place and she had a reliable network of suppliers who understood her business. Her latest client was just starting his collection. She had reviewed his plans and together they had built out his vision and goals. Materials were to be obtained. She would also need contractors (as she referred to her sentient acquisitions). The contractors would have to work with the client to build his vision. The contractors would have to be a builder at a minimum and, preferably, a designer. As the collection was new, the contractor would have to work with the client and help him understand what was feasible in the constraints of the vision. The client’s vision had been a tricky one: it straddled Industrial and pre Technologic eras. The contractors she acquired would have to be flexible and trainable individuals from the Industrial era or nostalgic builders from the Technologic era. Fortunately her client understood the investment in training which made her acquisition a bit easier.
The planet she decided to obtain materials from and recruit on was a small, O2 and water based complex. It seemed well out of the way and her customers had always been pleased with the materials and individuals who joined exhibits. The sentient hominids provided a variety of stages from Agrarian to Industrial Era technology. Some also seemed to have additional skills which did not fit into any box. With the new exhibition planned, this was the fun part for her – acquisition. Where did one find Industrial Era engines and materials? As this was a new exhibition, what machines would be necessary to meet the rules of authenticity that governed competitive exhibitions? And then there was finding the right individual or individuals to get that exhibition going. In this case, she needed technology and builders with design skills. She planned on starting at the local University to start filling her list.
Part of finding a suitable candidate was finding one who would not be missed. She needed an underachiever. Yet this individual had to have the requisite skills and drive to work. Such a contradiction normally reduced her pool of candidates to zero, save that the culture of her favored spot was quaintly aristocratic. The country had achieved great things with its landed and moneyed classes and had attributed that success to “breeding”. Those who had power, clung myopically to the idea that those of better classes should hold the better positions. Those who had enough money could circumvent the culture to some extent but such bribery rarely outlasted the money. So the country had become a breeding ground for people who could have succeeded save that they were born to the wrong family. She carefully picked from these ambitious, adventurous souls offering the experience of a lifetime.
She set her craft down in an abandoned warehouse. The craft was 30 meters long and 20 meters wide and 20 meters tall and the shape of a rain drop. The metal looked appeared to be dark purple brass on the outside but was a titanium, zirconium, manganese alloy. No windows were on the outside for there was little to see in Relative Time and Space travel. Those who were privileged to enter, were usually surprised that the space inside seemed larger than the volume of the ship. The ship’s unusual properties meant that travel was quick, comfortable, and plenty of room for souvenirs (or cargo as was the case on this journey). Having landed, she found the culturally appropriate garb of a wealthy patron. She cloaked the craft and “parked” it. Using a bit of stealth, she moved a block or two away before she hailed a hackney and proceeded into town.
A short ride later, she arrived at the University and paid the coachman to wait. She proceeded to the main building. The architecture was reminiscent of medieval castles being adorned with turrets, having arrow slits as windows and parapets at the roof. Gargoyles disgorged rainwater in the all too frequent rain of this city. However the gargoyles on this building were frequently caricatures of past politicians rather than demons. Students parted before her as she kept a quick pace somehow recognizing that she held authority that was not to be blocked.
At the Engineering Dean’s office, she entered quickly and decisively and greeted the secretary.
“Miranda, it has been far too long,” said Millicent.
The matronly secretary looked up severely at first and then immediately warmed.
“Millicent! It is always a surprise. The Professor will be quite peeved that you did not warn of us of your arrival, ” replied Miranda.
“And you’ll savor every moment of it. Let’s not warn him now. How are your children?”
The two made small talk for a few minutes. Millicent found out about the marriage of the last of Miranda’s children, the arrival of grandchildren, the unsuitability of the current government and (in hushed tones) news of the suffragette movement. Shortly, a man and woman came out of the inner office angrily with a voice calling out after them.
“Come back with real cuts and less palaver about how important you are. Or I will make my own. Find a damn patron if you really need more money,” shouted the baritone voice.
The two slammed the door decisively and stormed off. Millicent observed the situation, “I can’t imagine that helped their cause.”
“He is dealing with department budgets right now. More cuts from the pack of fools up in parliament. We have some amazing people doing incredible things but it seems we need to ‘cut taxes to stimulate growth’. He gets to tell our people they have to do with less” Miranda said.
“You have no idea. The Prime Minister wants to cut taxes but we’re the ones who bleed. No thought for the future. I seem to remember the last time you were here the department got a large grant.“
In fact, Millicent knew quite well the financial constraints the University faced this year. She knew that the dean was facing a 10 million pound shortfall and would have to cut staff, raise tuition all while facing costs that never seemed to go down. When she first came here 50 years ago, the department was just starting and poorly funded. She acquired period technology in exchange for funding the department over the years. Deans had changed multiple times. But she always managed to “stop by” and assist the current dean every couple of years. The relationship had continued quietly, as she preferred, and each dean was more than willing to accept money to keep things going from this remarkable anonymous donor.
“Well then I shall disturb him presently,” Millicent said mischievously. Millicent went through the right side of the double doors. A balding head was hunched over a large desk. On one side, was a hand crank adding device. A gas lamp illuminated stacks of paper. A cold cup of tea sat at one corner of the desk. The Professor concentrated on his account without acknowledging her presence and she took a moment to survey the room. A set of diagrams on the drafting table showed a steam powered motor that lifted a room up to the second story of a building. A table on the other side of the room showed tests of tensile strength of various materials such as hemp, steel cable, chains and so on.
“Ingenious…but what happens if the rope breaks?” Millicent commented.
“Hmph… I am working on an alternating ratchet stop system…Who let you into the room?… Millicent?! Must you always surprise me? Is it too much to ask for an appointment?”
“Alternating ratchet systems are unreliable. It is a good start to prove it works, but you need something else. What if you engaged brakes once they exceeded a set speed? Oh it is always a pleasure to see you as well. Attach a device to the axel of your main pulley based on something like this “
She quickly drew a sketch on the chalk board opposite the drafting table. It showed a pole with two cables attached to a ring on the pole. There were two balls or weights, one on each cable.
“As the pulley moves the weighted spheres will go outward pulling the stay up. The faster the pulley moves, the harder the pull. You now have a dynamic brake. Put the ratchet on that”
The Dean glanced at the diagram and stroked his greying beard.
“What happens when it slows down?”
“Your ratchet keeps the brake in place until the room stops or goes slow to the ground. You’ll probably want a backup for that ratchet.”
The two reviewed the diagram; discussed materials; and considered prototypes. Soon a couple of hours had passed and the professor had completed a basic draft at the end of the conversation. The device had replaced the cables with fixed length shaft and the weights were attached to the ends of the shafts. A second shaft attached to the collar causing the lift as the pole spun faster and the weights flew out due to centrifugal force.
The Professor considered the device. “I am not convinced you never went to University”
“Oh I’ve gone to what you might call a university. How are you doing old friend?”
“You know you could be a professor here. Ah well, you certainly aren’t strained for money”
“Hardly. Your family is well?”
“Small talk doesn’t suit you Millicent. Every time you visit it is for something. The only matter, it seems to me is what you are looking for. Some arcane machine? A set of encyclopedias?”
“Charles, you do me a disservice. I can make small talk quite well. You just don’t suffer it from those who should know better. We really should visit a pub some afternoon for a pint and darts. “
The Professor snorted at the thought.
Millicent continued, “Here is a list of my latest requirements. Most of these you’ve seen before – some boilers, machining equipment, milling machines (that is new), laboratory glassware. I also have some job openings. I need engineers who are willing to travel extensively. “
The Dean examined the equipment list. He commented, “Given your compensation, none of these items will be difficult to come by. You are a bit late for engineers. The best have already signed contracts. Those not on holiday have started. “
“Have all your graduating students found commensurate work?”, she asked archly.
“Of course not – the economy is not that good”.
“So your view of excellence and mine may differ. You English seem far too caught up with linage. Find me someone with good practical scores, was on scholarship and loose family ties and needs a job. A mechanical engineer with knowledge in electricity or chemistry is preferred. This fee will be different. I’ll front some money for your efforts, but if I find people who sign, that 10 million deficit of yours will be halved.“
The Dean considered her for a bit. She stared back with a slight smile.
He leaned back from the desk and put his hand across his belly. He had gained a bit of weight as of late – too many meals in the office and not enough walking. He looked outside at the courtyard. The leaves were turning. The undergraduates were scurrying between classes.
“Who are you? No care for family or status. Knowledge that you shouldn’t have about budgets and engineering. A woman of considerable means and no history or address, “ he asked.
“I am someone who can ease your considerable deficit if that list is completed and I get the right people.”
“What do you need these people for?”
“A long project overseas. The remoteness makes filling the position…difficult.”
The Dean resumed his gaze on the courtyard.
“It seems you are not the only one seeking such items and people.”
Millicent’s attention suddenly leapt. “Oh? What do you mean?”
“A gentleman arrived here a month ago with excellent credentials. He went by the name ‘John Smith’. He was asking for, among other things, engineers with specialties in electronics. It seems the market for parlor fancies has increased significantly. Funny thing, he also said ‘loose family ties’ was helpful. Not necessary – he wanted top notch.”
“And what did he offer in return? Idle curiosity, mind you.”
“Of course, idle curiosity. He showed me some fascinating initial work on transforming crude oil into a more flammable substance. Just enough, mind you, but not enough for me to do anything on my own. He hinted that mechanical devices might use this substance for fuel.”
Her fears heightened. This could only be another finder. A competitor on HER grounds? It was appalling and highly irregular. Things like this happened, but over harvesting had devastated more than one culture. The biggest loser in such competition was inevitably the home world. The participants typically lost a great deal in such competition or at least one did, but not as much as the planet they were fighting over. For that reason, her guild had required agents to register sources and other agents were only allowed to work with permission. But not everyone played by the rules.
“Did he say how to contact him?”
“Do you?” he asked. “No, of course not. You on the other hand, close out business. He did not. I provided him with a set of names and received an initial fee, but he never followed up with the complete formula he had dangled in front of me. “
“This is a matter of some concern to me and I ask a favor now. I still need my own list completed and I would like that list of engineers who match my qualifications. But I would greatly appreciate seeing the list of people you gave him.”
“Doesn’t that violate confidentiality and all that?” the Professor inquired. “Were I to try and do business with him again, I will have violated his trust.”
“It is hard to explain, but this is a fairly serious business conflict on his part. It brings into question his ethics. Because of the nature of …my business, I wish to check on the people on his list. I have my worries about his practices.” Millicent tried to project a confidence she did not feel.
“I see. Why do I feel like a shuttlecock in a badminton match? If he comes back and finds out I gave him your list, what is my penalty? I know little about you; I know nothing about him. Am I to expect plaid coated ruffians waiting at the door? A note from a solicitor to appear before the bar? Is this violation of his enough to protect me from mischief? ” For the first time the Professor showed concern.
“Charles, please trust me on this matter. If it makes you feel any better, you are under my protection as a supplier. Should he return, mention that you already do business with me and that should cause him to pause at any possible retribution. I assure you the penalties for interfering with suppliers are quite severe in my guild. However, I am less sanguine about the candidates you provided to him. They have no such protection and, at this moment, no knowledge to protect themselves.”
The Professor considered for a moment. He then opened one of the many drawers in his desk and pulled out a slip of paper. He then copied the 5 names on a new sheet. “Here is the list I gave him. Miranda should be able supply addresses for them as well for the list I shall supply you. They will be slightly different as you specified ‘scholarship’ students.”
“Charles, I am most grateful. With a bit of luck, you may never hear from this gentleman again. In any case, I will leave a means of contacting me quickly with Miranda. Should he arrive again, I can be here within an hour. For you information I will be staying at the Savoy next to Hyde Park. “
“This really is a concern isn’t it? This isn’t just some dodgy dandy asking for recommendations.” he asked quietly and acknowledging that she had provided contact information for the first time.
“I hope it turns out to be a tempest in a teapot and I do appreciate your letting me know. In the meantime, I look forward to your usual excellent results with my little acquisition catalog”
The Professor sighed dramatically. “How is it that you convince me to do the things I do? The list will be easy. I will review last year’s graduates and see who seems to fit. The items may take a month to round up but I should have prices for you by the end of next week”
“Excellent, I will transfer the necessary money into your account for bargaining purpose. Always a pleasure doing business with you. Let me know if you would like more tips on that item you’re working on”. Millicent grabbed her satchel and headed out the door. She stopped at Miranda’s desk to get the contact information and provide her hotel location as well as the location of a runner who could pass information to her quickly.