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Live Free or Die: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Friday, October 9, 2009 20:41 EDT



    “You want how many mirrors?”

    AMTAC was a small company in Huntsville that had managed to survive in a nearly extinguished market. Space mirrors had been well on their way to being a big business before the Horvath arrived. Mirrors were used for a variety of applications from directed-energy-weapon research to astronomy. Get a bunch of mirrors together that were well spread out and you could get one heck of a space shot. The replacement envisioned for the Hubble was based on distributed mirror technology.

    However, the Horvath habit of from time to time potting a satellite just for kicks had practically killed the entire space industry. And space mirrors had been the first to go.

    James Raskob, President, CEO and Chief Engineer of AMTAC had managed to keep the company together, with a lot of layoffs admittedly, despite the bad times. They also made ground based mirrors and as the only remaining supplier of space designs they could pretty much set their rates. When they got any business. But this was a little kooky.

    “I’d like to get up to production of one ten meter mirror per day,” Tyler said. “After we’re up to one a day we’ll have to start working on better mirrors. These don’t need to be great. Just be able to reflect sunlight pretty well. And I’d prefer cheap since we’re going to be making a lot.”

    “Define ‘pretty well,’” Raskob said, wincing. “I mean, what sort of coefficient of thermal expansion? Albedo constant? Pretty well is a pretty loose…”

    “I just need some pretty good mirrors,” Tyler said, shrugging. “Right now I just need stuff that will reflect sunlight. Glass, nickel, whatever.”

    “Tracking systems? Maneuver? Boost requirements? How high a thrust during boost?”

    “I think the Glantu are about our same grav,” Tyler said. “They’re supplying the tracking and maneuver systems and boost. Oh, and I’m going to need a ground station. You know any people in the ground system business? And you’re probably going to need to build up some inventory, hire some people. I’ll front you a loan or buy into the business. We’re going to be making a lot of mirrors.”

    “Look,” Raskob said, shaking his head. “I appreciate that and everything. But what do you want the mirrors for?”

    Tyler wriggled uncomfortably then shrugged.

    “I want to melt asteroids.”

    “Ah…” Raskob said, sitting back and steepling his fingers. “Now you’re making sense. You have the Glatun willing to boost for you?”

    “You know the whole maple syrup thing?” Tyler said. “Well I’m the maple syrup king. Yeah. I can get them to boost for me. And I’m buying standard satellite packs off of them. I’m also getting a supposedly user friendly control package. Basic idea is boost a bunch of mirrors, focus them on an asteroid, melt it and pull off the metals.”

    “Which will belong to our Horvath benefactors,” Raskob pointed out.

    “Which I might just sell, in space, to the Glatun,” Tyler replied. “Let the Horvath take it up with them.”

    “You are playing a dangerous game, friend,” Raskob said.

    “Well aware of it,” Tyler said. “But it’s the only game in town. Now, can you make the mirrors?”

    “Easily,” Raskob said. “But not the main array mirrors. You’re right, those are anything cheap, light and shiny. You’re going to have to have collectors, though. Those are going to be tougher.

    “I’ll subcontract for the main array mirrors and make the collectors here. We can easily do one of the main array mirrors a day. CTE isn’t really a big thing since they’re just moving light around. Collectors one a month to start. And then bump up the production as I can get qualified workers and more equipment.”

    “Are we going to need really huge ones?” Tyler asked.

    “No,” Raskob said. “Just more collectors. You don’t even have to have collectors all in one spot. And eventually, collectors that can collect from collectors. Two hundred main array mirror outputs pointing at one collector is about the limit of what one will be able to handle with standard materials. And you’re eventually going to want collectors that can handle the power of thousands. Cryogenic beryllium’s the thing for that. Problem is keeping it cryogenic in space. Which asteroids are you thinking of mining?”

    “I was thinking the ones that are inward towards the sun from earth,” Tyler said.

    “Atens?” Raskob said, shrugging. “That works. They don’t stay in there, you know. Very eccentric orbits.”

    “Main array down towards Venus orbit?” Tyler asked. “That way it’s collecting more sunlight…”

    “Without getting into the super-hot regimes,” Raskob said. “Sure, that would work. I’d suggest up out of the plane of elliptic to keep it out of the way.”

    “Point,” Tyler said. “I’ve got a thousand satpaks coming in a month. I’m not sure when I’ll have ships to carry it up but there are more free-traders coming these days. They’re always willing to pick up a few extra credits. I can probably get a whole ship since all the maple syrup is gone.”

    “In a month I can have ten mirrors at least,” Raskob said. “Primary array, that is. Maybe one collector. And, yes, I know people who do ground control. If they’ve got systems to support it,” he added, glumly. “Everybody’s IT stuff is breaking down.”

    “I’m getting at least one hypernode connector as well,” Tyler said. “And, ahem, I’m the world’s primary supplier of atacirc. I assume they can integrate atacirc into their systems?”

    “Oh, yeah. This is gonna be fun! As long as our Horvath benefactors don’t get snarky.”

    “Well, that’s always the problem,” Tyler said.



    “Admiral, thank you for taking my call,” Gorku said.

    “Since I was ordered to do so I really didn’t have a choice,” Admiral Orth Glatuli said. The commander of the Glalkod defense zone did not seem especially pleased to be taking a personal call from one of the system’s wealthiest individuals.

    “Now, Admiral, I truly would not be bothering you if I didn’t feel it was important to the Federation. I know how busy you are.”

    “I will take that under advisement,” the Admiral said. “What is the substance of the call?”

    “I would like you to reevaluate the question of the Terran system,” Gorku said.

    “I continue to contend that maple syrup, popular as it is among my sailors, is not a reason to go to war with the Horvath. And war is certainly not a reason for you to make another megacred.”

    “Agreed,” Gorku said. “But I would suggest, strongly, that you engage Ldria in a serious analysis of the humans in terms of not just immediate but long term consequences to the Glatun Federation. Ldria is, after all, the only class five AI in the system.”

    AIs were broken down into classes, I through V, depending on the multiplicity and complexity of tasks they could perform. Large freighters, cruisers and passenger liners might host a class I AI. This went up in scale to Class IV which were the highest, legally, permitted to corporations and those used by fleets. Class V were relegated only to military and governmental entities.

    There were rumors that certain corporations had defied the ban and created their own Class V and even Class VI AIs. The problem with AIs was that as the processing power went up the stability went down. Class VI AIs were considered fundamentally unstable. And given their potential harm, the one thing you didn’t want was a rogue AI.

    But if anyone had an illegal high-level AI it would be Gorku.

    “How long term?” the admiral asked. “If it’s very long term that is a serious amount of processing.”

    “I would suggest that you look beyond immediate concerns, Admiral, that is all,” Gorku said. “It is always wise to look beyond the immediate and contemplate the realm of possibilities inherent in the future. Good day.”



    “This is Lisa Cranwell with Eyewitness News and we’re talking to Mr. Tyler Vernon, the man who discovered the maple syrup connection. Mr. Vernon, good afternoon.”

    “Good afternoon, Lisa,” Tyler said, beaming. He’d insisted that the interview be live. He was pretty sure he could out-talk a reporter even with, or especially with, five hostile producers telling her what to say.

    “Mr. Vernon, some people call you the maple sugar king…”

    “Granted,” Tyler said, smiling.

    “And others the maple sugar bandit.”

    “Now that’s just unfair,” Tyler said, looking wounded. “When I made my acquisitions I was very careful to avoid buying the old established maple sugar distilleries that had been around for generations. And now they are all getting extremely rich off of what was once a minor commodity. My primary acquisitions were from other corporations and land that was already on the market. I don’t think that anyone considers sales from one corporation to another as banditry, Lisa.”

    “But it has made you the richest man in the world.”

    “I was the richest man in the world when I sold one cargo of maple syrup to a tramp freighter,” Tyler said. “I’d also like to point out that when people were selling the artistic treasures of our beautiful planet for a handful of peas, I was the one who found the one thing that we could produce that the Glatun wanted. Anyone could have done what I did. I’m shocked and appalled that some other corporation didn’t. And whereas I’m now the richest person in the world, when I met my first Glatun, the free trader Wathaet, I was cutting firewood for a living. That’s the beauty of the free-market, Lisa. Anyone with the right drive and determination, and just a touch of luck, can succeed.”

    “And just what do you intend to do with your maple gotten gains?”

    “I’ve already established scholarships for young people from this previously economically depressed region as well as other philanthropies. I’ve also embarked on a program to find sources of material that Glatun or other extraterrestrial groups may enjoy from the wonders of our beautiful planet. Most of those would, also, come from economically depressed regions. And as for the people who do the extremely hard work of gathering maple sap and distilling it, twenty percent of gross profits are detailed to bonuses. So it’s not like I’m hording it like a miser.”

    “And we here at Eyewitness News have learned that you are building space mirrors? Aren’t those used for laser weapons? Are you intending to antagonize our Horvath benefactors?”

    “Not at all, Lisa,” Tyler said, smiling toothily and shaking his head in deprecation. “You completely misunderstand their purpose. Such mirrors have a multiplicity of uses. Take astronomy. By scattering mirrors over a large area it is possible to have a telescope with that same area. Instead of a telescope with a diameter of, say, sixty meters such as Palomar you end up with a telescope of six thousand meter diameter! We can resolve very fine detail with something like that and continue our exploration of the wonders of the universe. They are also useful for orbital smelting. You can use the renewable power of our beautiful sun to turn dangerous asteroids into useful materials. And, of course, any precious metals that are derived from such smelting are naturally the property of our Horvath protectors. As to their use as a weapon, we don’t have any lasers that can even scratch the Horvath ship and I defy anyone to suggest that the Horvath are anything other than our good and close friends and protectors.”

    “You seem to have all the answers, Mr. Vernon,” the reporter said.

    “I certainly hope so, Lisa,” Tyler said. “We can all look forward to a bright future. A future in which we just become closer to our Horvath friends. Remember what they say, Lisa. Keep your friends close.”



    “Admiral, I have completed my long-term analysis run,” Ldria said at the end of a standard briefing. “And I’m rather glad that Trader Gorku suggested it. I also suggest that similar runs be presented to main system AIs. The data is…disturbing.”

    “How much trouble was it?” the admiral asked.

    “Rather much,” Ldria said. “I had to distribute processor cycles to all the other systems in the system. And it still took me nearly a month. But, as I said, it was worth it.”

    “So, what is the point of intervening in the Terran system?” the admiral asked. “Or is there one?”

    “There is,” Ldria answered. “Assuming that you wish to extend the lifespan of the Glatun Federation as a major interstellar polity for between fifty and seventy years.”

    “That requires explanation,” the admiral said, sitting back. “Clear whatever is on my calendar for the next two cycles. Explain.”

    “All major polities rise and fall, Admiral,” Ldria said. “As the Ormatur were great when the Glatun first encountered them three thousand years ago and are now a minor polity, so will the Glatun eventually become…lesser. Not gone, but less important.”

    “Agreed,” the admiral said. “How long do you give the Federation?”

    “That depends,” Ldria said. “But choices made in the very near future will effect that period greatly. The longest period I can predict is one hundred and thirty turns. The shortest is ten.”


    “Yes, sir,” Ldria said, softly. “Ten. The likelihood of it being ten is less than three percent. It increases with each turn with certain turns being paramount. And Terra may hold the key. Intervention by the Glatun in the human system adjusts a major change point in between fifteen and twenty turns. With Glatun intervention, the likelihood of the Federation ceasing to exist in that period drops by twenty-one percent, plus or minus three. And the likelihood without intervention is seventy-three percent.”


    “War,” Ldria said. “With one of four other major polities. The Rangora are at the top of the list at thirty-seven percent likelihood. Then the Ogut, Barche and Ananancauimor.”

    “If this is known to the central AIs, surely they are preparing for war,” the admiral said.

    “Unfortunately, that is not entirely possible,” Ldria said. “Your species has begun to enter its final decline. Your birthrate has dropped sharply. Less than one half of one percent of your species enters your military. There is a permanently unemployed class that is approaching thirty percent…”

    “I know all that,” the admiral said, testily. “But in the face of war…”

    “You really don’t want me to cover it all, Admiral,” Ldria said. “Take your AI’s word for it. You’re facing a war and you’re most likely going to lose.”

    “So intervening with the humans drops the likelihood of such a war?” the admiral asked.

    “No, sir,” the AI replied. “It reduces the likelihood of losing. The war is more or less inevitable. It is possible that one of the central AIs has already predicted this. If so they are keeping the information very close. But I doubt they have factored the humans. If they have done a similar process cycle, they are looking at termination of the Glatun Federation by war in fifteen to twenty turns as a better than seventy percent likelihood. With no way to survive.”

    “The humans are, sorry, primitives,” the admiral said. “I don’t see them being the balance between winning and losing a major interstellar war.”

    “Admiral, you understand the problem of such a wide-ranging analysis,” Ldria said. “There are too many variables to sort out. It is what you Glatun would call a hunch except that it reports the results as variables. There are many, many unknowns. We could, through one of the new gates, encounter a more hostile and dogmatic regime with high advancement at any time. Thus the ten year result. Or one that would be a better ally than the humans thus low probability results that indicate long-range survival. My results, however, are solid. I can give you some small data items that may sway your personal analysis.”

    “Very well,” the admiral said. “Go ahead and try to change my mind.”

    “Humans are, at present, primitive,” Ldria admitted. “Well behind the Glatun in technological advancement. But unlike most races the humans do not slowly evolve technologically. Their history is replete with examples of very fast technological advance mixed with periods of relative stasis. Part of the analysis indicates that they were what is termed ‘cuspal.’ They were on the edge of developing most of the basic technologies for functional space travel except a gate.

    “Further, they are not behind the Glatun at the point that the Glatun encountered the Ormatur. Rather ahead of that point, in fact. Far beyond the relevant first contact point of the Horvath. The Horvath had no mechanical transport systems at the point of contact, no information systems and still use the latter poorly. Humans have rudimentary AIs. They had a nascent space program and a fully developed, albeit primitive, information distribution system. They were closing in on fundamental understanding of gravitics and energy conversion systems are one step away from that. They had the basic concept of implant technology and only need refinement to adopt it. They are likely to not slide forward slowly but positively leap. With a large population that is at least in parts technologically savvy they have the basis for a major industrial base, space-faring and not only system defense but powerful ships within as little as twenty years. Given what I believe some of them are contemplating, ships that will be the savior of the Glatun.”

    “If they get the Horvath off their necks,” the admiral said. “And what about the humans as a threat?”

    “That is the flip side to the analysis,” Ldria said. “Humans do not always hold true to allies. A degree of self-interest is in their nature. That is, however, strongly culturally affected. Targeting for rapid advancement the right culture is key. If the Glatun become friends with the right cultures, by the time the cultures forget what they owe the Glatun, the Federation will be in senescence anyway. Handled properly they will be a strong ally in the wars that are coming, the Glatun’s protectors in your old age. Handled improperly? They will join with your enemies to drag you into a dark age from which your species will not recover in ten thousand years.”

    “Which culture?” the admiral asked. “And how, exactly?”

    “The humans have a saying: Comes the moment, comes the man,” Ldria answered, flashing a hologram of Tyler Vernon. “Make this man your friend, Admiral. But in a very particular way…”



    “This is Saenc Mori with Hypernet News Network Eight and I’m talking to Terran Tyler Vernon, the maple syrup king! Mr. Tyler, welcome to HNN Eight!”

    “The Ocho!” Tyler replied with a broad but closed-lips smile. “I’m so happy to be speaking with your viewers, Saenc!”

    “And we’re happy to be speaking with you, Mr. Tyler! You don’t seem uncomfortable with dealing with extraterrestrials despite the fact that your world has only recently made first contact.”

    “One of my fondest dreams was to one day speak with wise and wonderful beings form other planets, Saenc,” Tyler said. “The opening of the gate was a great thing for all our people.”

    “But you’re under the tyrannical boot of the Horvath, Mr. Tyler.”

    “Now, now, Saenc. The Horvath are our friends. For the paltry sum of all our precious metals they provide us with protection and the occasional clearing up of our orbital systems.”

    “Protection from what, exactly?”

    “We’re still trying to figure that out, Saenc. From the Glatun, presumably, since you and the Horvath are the only species we have encountered. Are you hiding some deep, dark, dastardly secret, Saenc? Come on, you can tell me.”

    “No, of course not, Mr. Tyler,” the reporter said with a sneeze. “You are so funny! So the Horvath are really your friends?”

    “What else am I going to say with a Horvath battle-cruiser holding our orbits, Saenc?”

    “Hypernet Network News has learned that the Horvath are now demanding all of earth’s maple syrup which they intend to trade with the Glatun. What do you have to say about that, Mr. Tyler?”

    “Maple syrup is interesting stuff,” Tyler said. “It’s not a few mines. Thousands of people over an area of nearly ten thousand square miles, almost entirely rural, have to stumble out into the bitter cold and snow to tap hundreds of thousands of trees and collect the syrup. Then hundreds of maple distilleries have to boil it down since it can’t be moved far before processing. If those people decide it’s a good day to sleep in… it becomes very hard to collect any significant amount of maple sap. I, of course, fully intend to collect every bit of maple syrup possible for our Horvath friends and benefactors. But I can’t do it all by myself, Saenc. We have about two months until we have to start collecting maple syrup. I suppose we’ll just have to see what happens.”

    “We Glatun would hate to have our maple syrup supply cut off,” Saenc said. “That wouldn’t be very fun.”

    “I know, Saenc,” Tyler said. “Nor would having our cities turned to ashes. But I can’t make thousands of people go out in the cold, Saenc. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

    “There has been talk of armed resistance, Mr. Tyler.”

    “Well, what would be the point of that, Saenc?” Tyler said. “All we have is a few deer rifles. We can’t exactly shoot a Horvath battle-cruiser down. What I really fear is that our Horvath benefactors will feel so justifiable irritated by the inaction of local sap collectors that they’ll destroy the trees. It would be hard, but a big enough orbital laser will clear out most of the major sap collecting areas. And it takes at least twenty years to grow a decent maple tree. If they do that, you’ll be missing out for a looong time.”

    “And on that note, we’re out of time,” Saenc said. “Thank you for talking to us Mr. Tyler.”

    “My pleasure, Saenc.”

    “And we’re… clear. Seriously. Off the record. Not for attribution.”

    “Gonna get our maple syrup when they pry it from our cold dead hands. Take that as a ‘notable resident of the area.’”

    “Gotcha. That’ll give it some punch.”

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