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Live Free or Die: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Thursday, October 8, 2009 21:45 EDT



    “Mr. Vernon,” Mr. Haselbauer said, folding himself into the seat across from Tyler.

    “Mr. Haselbauer,” Tyler said, trying not to seem nervous.

    “Weather’s coming on fine, don’t you think?” the farmer said as the waitress scurried up. “Adele, I could do with a cup of your fine coffee if you please. And just a touch of maple syrup.”

    “It’s getting hard to find, Mr. Haselbauer,” the waitress said, dimpling. “But I got some in the back just for you.”

    “The weather is indeed coming on fine,” Tyler said, scratching his head at the notes on the pad.

    One of the things he liked about Anna’s was that there weren’t any cameras in the restaurant. So the Horvath, even if they’d noticed changes in one Tyler Vernon, couldn’t look over his shoulder at the notes he was making.

    The problem was, trucks were tracked. Just about every tractor trailer in the US had a tracker on it. And while the Horvath might not notice two trucks going to an open field in the middle of the night, might didn’t really cut it. He somehow had to get two trucks loaded, quietly, discreetly, then to the pick-up point without any possibility of the Horvath noticing.

    Then there was the product. He’d found it surprisingly hard to find two tractor trailer loads of barrels of maple syrup. Much of the production was small farms and distilleries. The few large distilleries sent most of their product out to distributors who then held it, in individual sized packages, and doled it out through the year. That Mr. Haselbauer had had six barrels was luck as much as anything.

    It was driving him nuts.

    “Strange doings in the area, though,” Mr. Haselbauer said as Adele brought him his coffee. “Lots of land trading hands especially given that things are a bit hard off at the moment. Didn’t think that fine old lady Mrs. Cranshaw would ever sell her land. And she didn’t get near much for it, neither.”

    Tyler tried not to chuckle. Turned out that most forensic departments, even going quite a few decades back, tended to store ‘questionable’ samples from remains. And it was amazing what modern forensic systems could tease out of samples from the fifties. Natural causes my butt.

    “And you aren’t working near as much as you used to just a bit agone,” Mr. Haselbauer said.

    “I’ve found some additional sources of income, Mr. Haselbauer,” Tyler said.

    “Found a few in my time as well, young man,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “Known a few friends as did as well. Some of them thought they could just stop workin’, found such good additional sources as they say. Thing about Revenuers, they look for such things. Know a few friends didn’t think on that. Don’t get to talk much and I do sore miss the company. But Concord’s a long drive.”

    Tyler looked up into blue eyes as innocent as a child.

    “There are Revenuers and Revenuers, Mr. Haselbauer,” Tyler said, cautiously. “Some as have people running about the hills looking for additional sources of income. Some as think they can look for them from above. Waaay above.”

    “Them Revenuers?” Haselbauer said, tilting back his John Deere cap.

    “Could be, Mr. Haselbauer,” Tyler said, shrugging. “Because we are friends and have been for some time, I shall give you my own piece of advice if you will take it from a young man such as me. There may come some men from the city asking you what you would take for your maple trees and distillery.”

    “Have been,” Haselbauer said.

    “Don’t. Sell. And tell such as you may find appropriate the same, Mr. Haselbauer. I’d have all such as you holding maple come spring. You will not believe what maple is about to be worth. Of course, this may involve some problems from… Revenuers.”

    “Them as you mentioned?” Haselbauer said.

    “Them as I mentioned, Mr. Haselbauer,” Tyler replied. “May be some great trouble from them.”

    “They don’t take part,” the farmer said, musingly. “They’ll be wanting all.”

    “Touch hard, that,” Tyler said. “Touch hard getting all if the right people are holding.”

    “Hard in two ways young man,” the old man said. “Very hard.”

    “Yes, sir,” Tyler said. “Very hard. Hard as granite. This may seem a touch uppity, Mr. Haselbauer, coming from a newcomer such as I. But have you read your license plate lately?”

    “Hmmm…” Haselbauer said. “This might be the most interesting winter since ’56.”

    “Fifty-six?” Tyler said.

    “Don’t make the history books,” Haselbauer said, smiling in fond remembrance. “But there’s some places up to the hollers do you dig down a bit you might find whole cars. Still occupied. Don’t care for Revenuers not a bit. Shall be making some calls.”

    “Discreet calls,” Tyler said, desperately.

    “Young man,” Haselbauer said, sternly. “You are quite a smart young feller and for being a damned Rebel born you are a decent young man. Hard worker for a Reb. But when it comes to dealing with Revenuers you shall accept that I am neither stupid nor senile.”

    “Yes, Mr. Haselbauer. I apologize.” Tyler paused and thought for a moment then sighed. The old man was about to grab his cojones and squeeze, he just knew it. But experience was where you found it. “About them Revenuers, Mr. Haselbauer…”



    “Wathaet,” Tyler said as the captain came down the cargo ramp. At least he was pretty sure it was Wathaet. He was dressed differently and his Mohawk like hair was cut differently.

    “My good friend Tyler,” Wathaet said, waving. “I hope that these friends of yours are very closed mouth. We have the Horvath thinking we’re still in Boston at the moment but they are listening.”

    “Don’t talk much,” Mr. Haselbauer said, coming up out of the darkness.

    “Captain Wathaet,” Tyler said. “This is Mr. Haselbauer. Few of his friends are driving the trucks. We need to get started unloading.”

    “Fabet! Grab the lift,” Wathaet said, stepping off the pad then looking up at Haselbauer. “You’re nearly the size of a Rangora.”

    “Bigger,” Mr. Haselbauer said. Fabet squeaked from the darkness then Tom Haselbauer, who was simply a younger version of his grandfather, came by dragging the grav-lift loaded with three pallets of maple syrup.

    “He couldn’t hardly pull it,” Tom said. “Where you want it? And how do you get this thing to lift higher?”

    “Is all well?” Wathaet asked, nervously.

    “Very well,” Tyler said. “Mr. Haselbauer has me feeling very screwed but other than that it’s great.”

    “Twenty percent is cheap,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “I should have charged you more.”

    “Did you talk to your big boys?” Tyler asked.

    “I didn’t have to ask,” Wathaet said. “I was more or less told they were taking over. But we get our cut. They want to meet.”

    “I guess that same warehouse you were at in Boston would do,” Tyler said. “We’ll make all this stuff official then.”

    “What about the Horvath?” Wathaet asked.

    “When the corporate reps arrive I’ll explain why trying to steal this from us will work… poorly if at all,” Tyler said.

    “Don’t give naught to Revenuers can I avoid it,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “So they got cannon and machine guns and, I guess, rocks from up there? Don’t give naught. Don’t care for them a bit. And they’ll be hard done getting this…Dragon’s Tears is it?”

    “I’ve managed to get pretty close to a monopoly on all held stocks,” Tyler said. “That’s what I’ll be trading for. There’s about as much as can fill four ships your size. There won’t be any more until next spring. So the Horvath won’t have anything to take. And taking it will be…hard even then. Getting it is hard and the people that collect it…don’t respond well to threats. That’s what I’ll tell your corporate people. What they then do about that is up to them. But if the Horvath think we’re just going to cough it up… They’re wrong.”

    “They’ll bomb your cities if you don’t,” Wathaet pointed out.

    “Don’t care for cities, neither,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “Where do you think Revenuers come from?”



    “We are encountering some resistance to sale of lands, Mr. Vernon,” Lyle said. He still had a very satisfied look. The charges for arranging the transactions had been… astronomical.

    “Good,” Tyler said. “Then stop the purchases. I think we went in fast enough that most of the land and distilleries didn’t get run up in cost that much. And anyone who is holding out for what we’ve been offering it’s because they like what they’re doing. I’d like you to arrange a discreet surveillance of Mrs. Cranshaw, by the way. When she realizes what happened to her I’m going to have one very nasty and devious old lady with, apparently, access to exotic poisons, after my butt.”

    “Yes, sir,” Lyle said, making a note.

    “If worse comes to worse we can slide the information your consultants found to an ME and let things take their course,” Tyler said. “So what percentage of the total crop do I have?”

    “About sixty percent of land currently in maple sugar production,” Lyle said. “In addition there is land currently in white pine and other timber farms which comprises an additional twenty percent of the total land area where sugar maple is harvestable. This comprises… well, a goodly bit of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the rural areas of Ontario. It is, I checked, the largest land purchases in recent history. I am still, obviously, curious as to your obsession with maple sugar. Not to mention where the money came from. Frankly, it’s too much to be absolutely illegal and given the companies who wrote the checks…”

    “I think all will be clear soon,” Tyler said. He’d blown through pretty much all of the money from the deal with Wathaet but he now had a shipload of atacirc. Well, eighty percent of a shipload, damnit. “But that’s about right. I don’t want to own all the maple sugar in the world. Monopolies just don’t work well. But if things become…difficult and people want to sell because of the difficulties, be ready to start buying again. Now, to the next step. No, I’ve got a better way to do that…”



    Tyler stopped on the sidewalk outside the attorney’s office and extended one arm up and the other down. The one extended up he circled about his head while pointing to the ground with the other.

    “Come on, figure it out,” he said, looking around.

    Before long a man in a slightly ill-fitting suit got out of a late-model sedan and walked over.

    “Looking for us?” the man asked.

    “Took you long enough,” Tyler said. “In a few days, exactly when isn’t quite clear, some Gratun will be visiting. They’ll be planning on occupying the same warehouse in Reading as the Spinward Crossing. I’d appreciate you guys setting up a secure room somewhere nearby. Then we can finally get to real negotiations.”

    “And the Horvath?” the man asked.

    “These guys the Horvath are definitely not going to want to touch,” Tyler said. “Except for the initial exploratory ship everyone we’ve been dealing with is bottom rung. Even their governmental people. These guys aren’t going to be Donald Trump but they report to corporations and they’re here for our maple syrup. All large stocks of which I’ve managed to lock up. They’ll then have all winter to figure out if they want to confront the Horvath over maple syrup. Because, believe you me, the people that collect the stuff are not about to let the Horvath take more than a tithe of it.”

    “And if they nuke Boston and Washington?” the agent asked, sarcastically.

    “I’ll do my best to avoid that,” Tyler said.


    “I’m from the South. We have our little ways.”

    “What about Atlanta?”

    “Okay. So sometimes they don’t work.”



    “Gate emergence.”

    “What do we have now?” The colonel on duty leaned over and contemplated the screen.

    “Looks to be one large ship,” the sergeant said. “Tentative ID is a freighter. No visible weapons. Four more ships, small freighters maybe? Not a class we’ve seen.”

    “Those are the visitors we were told to expect,” the colonel said. “I hope.”

    “Sir?” the tech said. “What visitors?”

    “Close held.”



    “Gentle beings,” Tyler said, breezing into the conference room. “I hope you have been well treated. We don’t have much in the way of Glatun food products but there’s Dragon’s Tears.”

    “Thank you,” one of the Glatun said. “We have managed to refrain.”

    “Oh, dear,” Tyler said, waving to the people with him. “Gentle Glatun, Robert Lyle, my attorney of fact for this negotiation, Ms. Cody Castilla with our Treasury Department and Mr. Jason Haselbauer who is representing a significant fraction of the remaining holdings of Dragon’s Tears which I have not managed to procure. And you are?”

    “Karorird Ongl, Onderil Banking.”

    “Canarorird Hetuncha, Gorku Corp.”

    “Lathmal Indendu, Hurin Corporation.”

    “Rolaut Orth, Limaror Corporation.”

    “We need nametags or something. First as to Dragon’s Tears. The material is in fact maple sugar syrup. Please feel free to access relevant information on our network.”

    “Geographically and seasonally highly limited,” Hetuncha said. “Excellent.”

    “Yes,” Tyler said. “Because limited means valuable.”

    “And as of this morning, local time,” the Hurin Corporation representative said, “60% of the operating distilleries and about 30% of the available growing land just transferred to the LFD Corporation, Tyler Vernon, Chairman of the Board. Masterful stroke, Mr. Vernon. I see that Mr. Haselbauer, yes, represents many if not all of the independents.”

    “And you and the independents represented by Mr. Haselbauer hold all of the stored stocks,” the Limaror Corporation representative said, sourly.

    “For which we will be negotiating today,” Tyler said. “Mr. Haselbauer and Mr. Lyle will be handling those negotiations. Ms. Castilla, who is an expert in banking, will be working on setting up appropriate banking systems, secure from the Horvath, so that we can engage in regular trade. But first a word about maple sugar…”

    “Mostly collected by small farmers,” Hetuncha said. The Gorku rep wrinkled his nose. “Geographically scattered, hard to gather. And it has to be gathered during a very limited period of time. Even if the weather cooperates, any resistance to gathering means a severely reduced crop.”

    “Which can be good and can be bad,” Tyler said. “Less means higher price in general. But if it’s simply unavailable, one can see the market dying. New product and all. You’ll want to maintain your source of supply. I direct your attention to the initials of my corporation, gentle beings.”

    “Various meanings,” the Onderil rep said. “But in context our AI says it refers to your tribal motto.”

    “Closer than you realize,” Tyler said. “With everyone who was in it purely for money, or because they thought the Berkshires are pretty, out of the game the Horvath will find it rather hard to take. Even the Canadians that gather it are pretty stubborn folk.”

    “Aren’t taking mine, that’s for sure and certain,” Mr. Haselbauer said. “Burn the trees first. And maple’s practically religion to my family.”

    “I suggest you have your AIs study local tribal reactions to force,” Tyler said. “And their relationship with the rest of the world. Especially, as they would put it, ‘city folk.’ Because what you are buying is all the maple syrup that’s going to be available until next spring. You have a few months to process the cultural implications. Negotiation will be for Glatun credits, gentlemen, not atacirc. After that we can trade with regular traders for atacirc and so on and so forth. And, of course, the usual taxes go to the…”“Revenuers,” Mr. Haselbauer said, disgustedly.




    “The problem is we really don’t know if we’re getting a significant amount of credit for this or not.” Cody Castilla was in her fifties and severe. Severe face, severe clothes and severe body language. “Their economy is still opaque to us. Our analysts are still trying to process the economic implication of most manufacturing being robotic.”

    “Not entirely,” Tyler said. “Economics comes down to food in the end. What one standard meal costs is another way to say it. I asked Wathaet, innocently, if I visited his station and if I could eat Glatun food, which I can’t, how much a cheap meal would cost. He said an ormo, whatever that is, was about a quarter credit. He also told me that his full cargo load of trash atacirc was around a hundred and twenty credits. And, forgetting the earlier question, made like that was a huge amount of money.”

    “We’re up to fifty credits a gallon,” Lyle said. “We can buy five shiploads of atacirc for a gallon?”

    “We got screwed by them boys,” Mr. Haselbauer said.

    “Which is why I insisted on more than one corporation being represented,” Tyler said. “Dollars are not going to translate to credits but work will. How much will it cost to send some of our grad students to Glatun to learn their technologies? How much will it cost to get Glatun to come here to teach? How much will it cost for us to get starter plants and fabbers to make more? We should be able to buy more advanced technologies with this. Not much but it’s a start.”

    “We need to be able to buy advanced weapons, sorry as I am to say that,” Ms. Castilla said. “So we can get the Horvath out of our sky.”

    “A Revenuer wanting to defend the country?” Mr. Haselbauer said, grinning. “Will wonders never cease?”

    “Listen, you…”

    “Enough,” Tyler said. “We don’t need tribal differences right now. We can’t buy enough weapons, even with the full load, to matter. Probably. It’s possible they have weapons we can set up there that mean no Horvath can survive getting through the gate. But I doubt it. For right now, we need to be important to the Glatun powers-that-be so that they will bring weapons. And Glatun that know how to use them. Which is why we’re going to geek to fifty credits a gallon. Because they’re going to make a very nice profit and they will like us. We’ve pushed the negotiations far enough that they won’t take us as pushovers. Hopefully they’ll be smart enough to see what we’re doing. But if I’m getting their society, there is one more thing we need and I can not think of a way to get that!”

    “What?” Castilla asked.

    “You don’t want to know.”



    “Mr. Vernon,” the Gorku representative said. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

    “And you, Mr…” Tyler said, grimacing. “Sorry, terrible with names.”

    “Hetuncha,” the Glatun said. “It is easier if one has implants. You really don’t have to remember as you think of it.”

    “Nice ability,” Tyler said. “How much does that cost, exactly?”

    “Depends on the implants,” Hetuncha said with a slight sneeze. “A basic implant set-up, were there any designed for humans, would be about fifty credits. Full standard civilian, with all the trimmings as you would put it, runs about four hundred depending on your accessories. Can run more but such people are considered…strange.”

    “And an AI?” Tyler asked.

    “AIs are somewhat limited,” Hetuncha said. “Only a few thousand are produced a year and they have strict limitations on action. A very basic AI is several thousand credits and in your current, unfortunate, security situation the Glatun government would never permit an AI to reside in the system. There is one on the freighter which accompanied us, a Gorku freighter I might add.”

    “Ah,” Tyler said. “And a super-cannon to shoot the Horvath out of the sky?”

    “There are ground based defense systems of course,” Hetuncha said. “But they are of limited use due to orbital mechanics. Point-defense only. You wrote TradeHard. You know that.”

    “Just hoping,” Tyler said.

    “We also have laws against trade in weapons in most cases,” Hetuncha said, working his snout.

    “Heh,” Tyler said. “See how long that lasts when White and Green mountain folk start having off-planet credit to burn. Like they won’t find some free-trader to supply ray guns? There are things, however, that I’d like to buy that I doubt would bother your government. Nothing weapon-like at all. But I’m not sure if it’s off-the-shelf or something that needs to be customized. Also, I am in the near future going to be interested in doing some movement of…stuff to orbit. Again, nothing weapon-like in nature.”

    “What, exactly, do you need?” Hetuncha asked.

    “A device that can attach to a satellite that will give a very low delta-v but can maintain a charge or power system for a very long time. Basically, something that can move a satellite around the system but it doesn’t have to be fast. Slow, cheap and durable is the key. Also, obviously, with a long-range transmitter.”

    “I should, as you say, screw you,” Hetuncha said. “But you’re talking about a standard satpak. They’re half a credit. That’s if you’re buying more than a thousand at a time. And don’t try to negotiate, they are very fixed cost. They weight about a half a pound and have a duration of seventy-three years. We have very good capacitor technology. But even if you put a lot of them together you can’t get out of your gravity well.”

    “Not interested in that,” Tyler said. “Lifting out of the grav well? By one of your ships?”

    “Depends on when a ship is here,” Hetuncha said. “And how big your satellite is and mass. If the ship can just kick it out the door on the way to the gate? Five credits is standard up to three tons and the size of one of your cars. If they have space available. A few thousand of them and the ship isn’t doing anything else and the same. There’s a fuel cost to getting out of the gravity well, but if they’re going that way anyway the extra mass isn’t that much of an issue. The ship we brought has shuttles to pick up cargo. Normally there would be shuttles on the world but we, unfortunately, had to bring our own. Do you have satellites to boost now? I don’t see you anywhere as involved in the satellite business.”

    “Not yet,” Tyler said. “I’m thinking long-term. Very long term. I need a thousand satpaks the next time a ship comes through. That’s a registered contract.”

    “Well, you certainly have the credit.”

    “Last question,” Tyler said.

    “At this point I ought to be charging you,” Hetuncha replied, sneezing.

    “Feel free,” Tyler said. “Because the answer is going to be long. And time is money.”

    “What’s the question?” Hetuncha asked, curiously.

    “Tell me everything you can about the Horvath,” Tyler said. “Carnivore, omnivore or herbivore? Reproductive methods? Culture. Monolithic or tribal. How long have they been in contact? What was their tech level before contact? United before contact? Everything…”



    “That’s two hundred and fifty six thousand gallons off-planet,” Lyle said, smugly. “Which translates to twelve point eight million credits.”

    “Given exchange rate as posted to their hypernet that translates as the planetary economy of earth,” Castilla said, shaking her head.

    “Because all we have is maple syrup,” Tyler said, distantly. “Mr. Haselbauer, I’ve sent a quiet message through the hypernet to Wathaet that maple sugar independent distributors now have Glatun credit to burn.”

    “Why thank you, Mr. Vernon,” Mr. Haselbauer said.

    “Also that some might want to buy atacirc for resale but that you have other interests,” Tyler said. “I need to go. I have some people down south to see.”

    “Going back to your rebel roots?” Mr. Haselbauer asked.“MIT for design,” Tyler said. “Huntsville for production.”

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