I wish I’d thought to bring a gavel. Pat Johnson had rented a room to hold the first official meeting of the consortium. The room contained a long table encircled with cushioned chairs. One side of the room contained windows providing enough light that lamps weren’t needed. On the opposite wall was a sideboard with pitchers, mugs, and a tray of Greta Issler’s pastry. Only a handful of people were present, milling about and talking. Many of the investors could not attend. The ones present, however, represented the core of the new company. Marjorie had brought the tray of Greta Issler’s honey rolls and someone had filled the three pitchers with broth, tea, and one of coffee. Pat wondered for a moment where the coffee had come from. He hadn’t found a source.
Time to get started. He took his revolver from his pocket, ejected its cartridges, and pounded the tabletop with the empty pistol’s butt.
“Would you all please sit down? Let’s get this show on the road.”
Not counting Pat, there were six present for the meeting. Gary and Gaylynn Reardon, Osker Geyer, Archie and Marjorie Mitchell, and Ruben Blumroder, who had just returned from Bamberg, sat around the table. Ruben was representing the gunsmiths of Suhl and some of other local investors.
“Thank you,” he said as the last board member sat down at the table. “I asked you here to give you all updates of our progress and to formalize our . . . consortium, for want of a better word.” He took one of the papers off the stack before him and passed the rest of them to Ruben. “Would you take one and pass the rest down the table, Ruben?” He waited until everyone had a copy of the document. “I had these copies of the project plan printed when I was in Grantville. I’ve included space to add more tasks to the plan as we discover something we’ve overlooked. Archie has already reminded me that we’ll need our own brassworks. As first order of business, I would like to propose a name for us. I propose we call ourselves the Suhl Consortium for the present. When we actually have some assets, I would like to incorporate ourselves and change the name to Suhl, Inc.”
“Suhl Ink?” Ruben asked.
“Suhl Incorporated, Ruben. It’s a legal term, an entity which owns the assets, makes the product, and takes the business risks.”
“Is that legal here?” Archie asked.
“Uhhh, I don’t know. I thought so, but . . .” He stopped and wrote himself a note. “First task for me.”
“It’s legal,” Gaylynn interrupted. “The Higgins Sewing Machine Company is incorporated.”
“Let me run the question by Judge Fross—see what he says,” Archie said. “Offhand, I think we’re okay, but it would be better to get an opinion from him.”
“Would you do that, please?” Pat gave a sigh of relief. “You scared me there for a minute, Archie. That reminds me, we need a secretary to take minutes. Any volunteers?”
No one spoke. Taking minutes was a thankless task and later, when the minutes were published, everyone would argue that he had never said what was recorded in the minutes. Nevertheless, the consortium—corporation—was going to be a busy and potentially a very profitable business. Minutes were needed.
When no one else spoke, Marjorie said, “I’ll do it but if I’m going to be the secretary, at least temporarily, we’ll need officers.”
“That’s on my list, Marjorie,” Pat replied.
“I nominate Gary Reardon as President, Pat Johnson as Operations Veep,” Marjorie said, not waiting for Pat to continue.
“Second!” Archie said, following her motion.
“Move to adopt the motion by acclamation,” Osker Geyer added. “All in favor say, ‘Aye!’ ”
“So moved,” Marjorie finished.
Gary sat open-mouthed for a moment. Pat had a surprised look on his face. Gary nodded. “Very well. I see you all had that planned.”
Pat had been leading the meeting, but with Gary’s election as President, he was content to let Gary take over. Gary stood and addressed the group. “I had two goals for my trip. Find someone who knows how to make our primer compound and get more funding.”
He paused, gathering his thoughts. In a moment, he visualized the project, a mental timeline from beginning to end. Now, how to explain it? Do I need to do that now?
“For the first, I went to Essen and talked with Nicki Jo Prickett. I had thought to hire one of her chemists from Essen Chemical. We may yet, but I was able to talk Nicki Jo into consulting with us to oversee our chemical plant, design the primer manufactory and develop the entire primer process—make it as safe as she can. She has ideas, too, for the physical layout of the site. She will be here in a week and bringing at least one of her people with her to help. I hope to hire some more of them to take over after Nicki Jo is finished. She’s signed a contract as a consultant for one year, with options to extend her contract if we mutually agree.”
“I’d heard that Nicki Jo wasn’t well,” Gaylynn said. Marjorie Mitchell nodded in agreement.
“She wasn’t at her best when I saw her. That explosion at her plant last year hit her hard. She lost several friends. This, uh, consultancy will hopefully be therapeutic for her. She was just coasting when I met her. Her . . . uh . . . friend, Katherine Boyle, and Banfi Hunyades, her chief chemist, encouraged her to take our contract. She had lost her motivation, so they said in Essen. They hope our project will restore it.”
Gary took a sip from the mug in front of him. It was a stalling tactic. His next remark could be a bombshell—or maybe not. These people had changed a lot since the Ring of Fire. “Nicki Jo and Katherine Boyle will need quarters when they arrive . . . joint quarters.” He paused again waiting for someone to comment. “They’ll be living together.” There. He’d said it.
“For heaven’s sake, Gary,” Gaylynn said in exasperation. “We know all about Nicki Jo. Marjorie and I will take care of that. Men! Get on with it!” She glanced at Marjorie who nodded. Nicki Jo’s sexual orientation was no secret. If down-timers didn’t make an issue of it neither would any up-timers.
Gary, somewhat chagrined, continued. “On my way back from Essen, I stopped at Magdeburg and saw some of the Abrabanel family. My intention was to see them for some referrals to some financiers who’d be willing to invest in our project. I was successful. The Abrabanels have agreed to be the liaison between the money people and us. We have access to 25,000 silver guilders, more perhaps, later, if we need it.”
It hadn’t been easy. The Abrabanels could usually be counted on to support any new technology. In this case, it wasn’t new technology that interested them; it was the use of mechanization that drew their attention. It was the mechanization and the production processes that would be developed to put metallic cartridges into production.
“Will we really need that much?” Ruben Blumroder asked. “That’s an enormous amount!”
“I hope not, Ruben,” Gary answered. “We will have access to funds as we complete certain milestones on our plan. They tried to impose some time constraints on those milestones but I was able to talk them out of that. And was that a struggle! I finally convinced them that tying the money to arbitrary deadlines would lead to failure. We have to be flexible, not rigid adherents of a schedule. “The first milestone is the delivery of the steam engines for Osker. The next is his hammer mill, and another is the production of hard carbon steel, a bonus if he produces tungsten carbide steel, too.”
“What are some of the other milestones?” Ruben asked.
“There are several, Ruben. The brassworks will be one as soon as I add it to the plan. The chemical plant is another. By the way, I did get a concession for a small release of funds when Nicki Jo finishes her plant design. That will help, with what we already have on hand, to fund the construction and clearing of the production site,” Gary explained. “Another is the first pilot production of primers—the list has more milestones. They are all included in your copy of the project plan.” The project plan had been created using the Grantville library’s PCs. The PCs helped determine the project’s critical path—those things that had to be done, in the order they had to be done, and what was required for them to be completed on time. The project plans helped convince the financiers the Suhl Consortium would succeed.
“Think we can make that one-year target?” Archie asked.
Gary looked at the others sitting around the table. Archie had asked the most important question, and it had a simple answer. He sighed, looked down at his notes and the plan, and then looked back up at the faces waiting for his answer.
“Yes . . . full end-to-end commercial production with a minimum of five production lines, one year from today, October 19th, 1635.”
Archie knocked on the study door of Suhl District Judge Wilhelm Fross. Judge Fross didn’t like the term office. He preferred the term study because the law required continuous review and contemplation—studying, in other words. He looked up and waved to Archie to sit at the couch before the Judge’s desk. “What can I do for you, Herr Marshal?”
“I have a question for you, if you don’t mind, Your Honor. A legal question.”
“And what is that question?”
“Does SoTF law allow for incorporation, the creation of a legal entity for a business? Is it legal? I’ve been told that incorporation is legal in Grantville, that the Higgins Sewing Machine Company is incorporated. Does the law concerning incorporation that is in force in Grantville, apply here in Suhl County?”
Judge Fross gave Archie a long look. He was continually amazed at some of the questions that came before him. “What a curious question, Herr Marshal, would you give me some context please?”
Archie repeated the discussion from Pat Johnson’s meeting earlier that day and the purpose of the new corporation. “As we grow, we know there will be legal issues. It’s inevitable. As we understand it, incorporation will protect individual investors from direct legal action for acts of the corporation. Do those provisions apply here in Suhl?”
“Have you been reading your newsletters, Herr Marshal?” The newsletter Judge Fross was referring to was published weekly by the SoTF court system. Most of the articles were reviews of legal decisions in the rapidly-evolving SoTF legal system. The rest of the newsletter contained occasional promotions and awards, and any reported movements of groups of armed men—both bandits and what seemed to be the last phase of the Ram Rebellion.
“Most of them. I may have missed one or two when I got busy. Why do you ask?”
“There was an interesting case in Grantville last month, Murphy vs. Murphy. It was a divorce case but that wasn’t the interesting part, from a legal viewpoint, of the case. The interesting part concerned the concept of full faith and credit. The decision from Murphy vs. Murphy was that full faith and credit with up-time law was applicable in the former New United States—in this case, for events that had occurred up-time. The ruling upheld the concept of full faith and credit, and that it was valid now under current law. Since the NUS constitution was used to create the SoTF constitution, and grandfathered the previous statues of the NUS, full faith and credit was, therefore, also applicable in the SoTF.” Judge Fross stopped and waited. He expected Archie to understand what he had just said. When Archie didn’t respond, he continued. “To answer your question, since incorporation is legal in Grantville, it is also legal in Suhl, in the earlier NUS and now in the SoTF.”
That settles that, Archie thought. “Would you be willing to put that in writing, Your Honor? An official opinion?”
Fross thought for a moment. Why not? It was established law, now, according to the summary in the newsletter. He would have to get a copy of the official decision from Grantville but that wasn’t difficult. “Have your lawyers make an official request for an opinion and we’ll proceed from there.”
Umph! The coach hit another pothole in the road and bounced sharply. Nicki Jo Prickett and Katherine Boyle had started their journey to Suhl the previous day. They had stayed overnight in an inn in Dortmund. Today, they were taking the northern route to Magdeburg and from there to Suhl. The troubles along the Rhine south of Essen made travel by a more direct route unwise. Colette Modi had hired a squad of mounted mercenaries to travel with them to Suhl. The war between the USE and the League of Ostend was over. Still . . . a little protection was nice. Colette was insuring her investment in Nicki Jo. For Nicki Jo, her .38 revolver, tucked inside a leather pouch at her waist, provided more reassurance.
Nicki Jo had the windows open, the shutters rolled up, to watch the countryside roll by. She was thinking about a trip she had taken with her parents a decade before. They had taken a family vacation. The good times . . . before Mom started drinking. They had driven first to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall before going to Washington, DC. She remembered sitting in the rear seat watching the fields and valleys, small towns and homes flow past the car. She let the memories flow. It was a demonstration about the discovery of nylon at the Smithsonian that had sparked her interest in chemistry.
Katherine was seated across from Nicki Jo. For Katherine, traveling was not an adventure. Most of her travels had been flights from unwanted futures. One such was her flight from her now thankfully deceased husband. Another flight was from the political scheming of her father and his machinations. Her father had planned to wed her to someone who would increase her father’s political strength. Katherine had declined her father’s request—forcefully. She would be no one’s puppet.
She was tired of fleeing from one place to another. The last two years with Nicki Jo had been . . . redemption, perhaps. A repudiation of her life as the fifth daughter of the Earl of Cork, the primary adviser to England’s King Charles.
Nicki Jo let her vision wander back inside the coach. Katherine was reading. What was it? She could barely read the title of the book. Twelfth Night. Shakespeare hadn’t been well known in the here and now before the Ring of Fire. His name hadn’t spread far from England’s shores. Now, everyone seemed to be reading him. Katherine must have picked up a copy somewhere for the trip.
She heard the driver talking to his hired guard. They were approaching an inn where the coach would exchange its horses during the layover. Whoever owned this coach line may have been copying the waystations used by the postal services. If so, she was glad he had. The waystations and frequent changes of horses had reduced travel time. Fresh horses made better progress than tired horses. Moreover, she needed a nature break and some lunch.
While she looked out of the window, Nicki Jo had also been mentally working through a process for the new primer compound. She didn’t want to put anything in writing yet. It would just be speculation until she had a lab set up and could actually do some experimenting. Nicki Jo was a visual person. She could visualize processes, each step, each task for making DDNP. Documenting that process was the difficult part for her. Not so for Katherine. Katherine could listen to Nicki Jo’s verbal stream of consciousness, make sense of it, and write it down in a logical fashion. That ability of hers was another reason why together they were better, more effective, than they were separately.
The inn appeared around the curve of the road. It suddenly occurred to Nicki Jo that she hadn’t thought about Tobias or Solomon since Gary Reardon’s visit the previous week. In fact, her thoughts had been completely occupied with the coming project. She was feeling the urge, once again, to experiment. With precautions of course, she reminded herself. She had someone who was dependent—no, not dependent—someone she was dependent upon and whom she didn’t want to disappoint. In her trunk was a large binder with all her notes from last year’s toluene experiments. She wasn’t going to repeat Tobias and Solomon’s mistakes.
Gary Reardon was standing before a window looking out upon the street and the passers-by below while waiting for the others to arrive. Suhl had had its first snow the previous day. Most of that snow was gone, melted, except for remnants in shadowed corners.
The consortium’s lawyers had filed the new company’s incorporation petition after receiving Judge Fross’ written legal opinion. They were waiting for the final approval. The headquarters now had a few permanent employees to handle the growing administrative tasks. Gary, Pat, Osker and Nicki Jo had private offices—spartan offices until the permanent corporate headquarters was finished at the soon-to-be corporation’s site, now being called “the Reservation.”
Today’s meeting, a lunch meeting, was upstairs in the Boar’s Head. Osker Geyer walked through the door accompanied by Pat Johnson. Nicki Jo and Katherine Boyle followed moments later. They had arrived in Suhl a couple of weeks earlier. After spending three days inspecting the Reservation and examining topographic maps, Nicki Jo disappeared into her office. She emerged several days later with her plant design in her hands.
When everyone had filled plates from the buffet provided by the inn’s kitchen and was seated, Gary opened the meeting. “Before we start, I have some . . . information for you. There is apparently a spy in Suhl, a stranger who is asking some very pointed questions.”
“Who is he?” Pat asked.
“I’m not sure. We know his name, Andres Zoche, and he’s staying at Der Bulle und Bär. He says he’s from Ingolstadt but no one believes him—his accent says Leipzig.”
“Who is he working for?” Geyer followed Pat’s question.
“Unknown at this time. Hart Brothers? Someone from Essen? Or Magdeburg? I just don’t know but I think we’re in a race now.” Gary was glad that Archie Mitchell was watching for strangers. Archie’s motive, so he said, was checking for known criminals on the run. Whatever his motivation, Archie discovered Zoche and asked the watch to keep an eye on him.
Gary’s opening was a warning to them all. Others were interested in what they were doing. A secret can only be held by one person. Too many knew, albeit bits and pieces, to keep their plans and objectives secret. Putting those bits and pieces together would reveal the consortium’s goals.
When no further questions arose, he returned to his agenda with a simple question. “Status?”
Geyer responded first. He always acted fast, whether eating or working. Speed, to him, was an imperative as if time was a precious commodity to be spent with extreme care. He had arrived directly from his foundry still dressed in his leather work clothes. He was a hands-on manager and took a personal interest in the foundry operation. He knew every one of his employees by face and name. “Please excuse my appearance. I had a problem at the foundry this morning.” He pushed aside his plate, placed some notes before him that he’d written earlier and continued. “The first four steam engines should arrive in a week or less. As we initially planned, two are for me at the foundry, one for the brassworks, and one for the final assembly plant. One of the smaller engines will drive my hammer forge. The rest are for the fabrication buildings and for Gary’s tool manufactory. The engines will arrive disassembled and should be up and running before the first of December. Schmidt Steam will assemble the engines on our site and will train our engineers to operate and maintain those engines.” Geyer glanced at his notes again. “Gary, your man will be a part of that training as well.”
Gary nodded and made a note for himself. While Geyer was talking, Gaylynn had been refilling cups of tea for the attendees.
“By the way,” Geyer said to everyone after taking a sip of tea, “I’ve altered my long-term goals but I don’t think the change will affect the plan. I can’t be a big steel producer like USE Steel or Essen Steel. I haven’t the infrastructure to ship my product . . . yet. Not until we get a railroad into Suhl or we dredge the Werra River and add canals around all the mills to allow flatboat and barge traffic. Instead, I’m focusing on quality not quantity, on specialty steel—hard carbon, carbide, and, if I can get sufficient ores, chrome for stainless steel. I may not be able to match up-time steel quality but I want to get as close as I can. I can’t match the output of USE Steel nor Essen Steel, but I’ll create a niche for us. USE Steel and Essen Steel can make iron and steel plate and rails; I’ll make tool and specialty steel.”
“What about the ore supply?” Pat Johnson asked. Iron and copper ore were available locally. The rest, like zinc, tungsten, and maybe molybdenum had to be imported from the Harz Mountain mines.
“We have contracts with the Harz mines for zinc and the other ores. We may have to extract the tungsten ourselves.”
The ore issue wasn’t surprising. Gary had been concerned about acquiring enough for their needs and had asked the Abrabanels for help. They had come through.
“There is one unexpected issue,” Geyer added. “We may have to improve the road, widen it, from the mines to Suhl, building or widening some bridges. The traffic over the road will be increasing four-fold. The mine owners suggest using their mine tailings as a gravel source. At a price,” he said with a smile. “They know how to squeeze every bit of money out of us they think they can get away with. At some point in the future we should consider making the road all-weather, macadamizing it.”
He continued, “We have local sources for iron and copper. They are not an issue.” He paused and took another sip from his tea cup. “I have also, on our behalf, bought controlling shares in a couple of silver mines . . . just in case we need more funding,” he said with a grin. “They’re low producers but once we start making tools, I think I can upgrade the local mines with drills, ore saws, mechanization, that sort of thing and make them much more productive.”
Gary was glad the consortium had another revenue source. It would help pay off their debt faster if Geyer was correct. Getting back to the agenda, he asked, “Got a date for your first tool steel production run?”
“Hard carbon by the first of January. Tungsten carbide will depend on how quickly we can extract the tungsten. I hope Fraulein Prickett will be able to advise me on that task.”
“Thank you, Osker.” Gary started to turn to the next member at the table, but Geyer had one more thing to say.
He reached into his pocket, withdrew a purse and threw it on the table. It landed with a thud. “This is the first revenue for our new corporation. One hundred silver guilders. I’ve a new profit line—making nails. The stamping machine has been working for a couple of weeks making nails for our construction teams. The stamping machine worked so well, I just let it run making nails of various sizes. I sold a hundred barrels of nails to a factor in Magdeburg, and the payment has just arrived. This is the corporation’s share after expenses.”
No one spoke, and then a grin spread across Gary’s face. That was followed by a yelp by Gaylynn. “Thank you, Osker. That is good news, indeed.” The one hundred guilders was not a large amount as it counted in the scheme of things, compared to their current debt. Their working expenses would make the contents of the purse disappear as if they were smoke. Nevertheless, it was a start. One more step to completion; one more product to be marketed.
Pat Johnson picked up the purse and hefted it in one hand. Coins faintly clinked. “Heavy,” he commented.
Time to return to business, the next agenda item. Gary chose the next member to give his update. “Pat?”
Pat put the purse back on the table and picked up his notes. He skimmed them quickly to refresh his memory and spoke, “We have completed the purchase of that plot of land I mentioned when we last met. We now own 2,000 acres, a little over three square miles, and we have an option to buy 1,200 more acres within five years if we need it. I had some topographic maps created when the surveyors were here. Nicki Jo has been using them to plot where to place the various units—storage bunkers, chem plant sites, primer manufactories, brassworks, assembly plants, and all the interconnecting service roads—not to mention plumbing and piping for waste storage and to the settling pools.”
Marjorie Mitchell wasn’t here to take the minutes but Gaylynn was substituting for her. Pat paused for a moment to let her catch up. When she nodded, he continued. “For security, we will be adding a berm completely around the production site, the admin building, and the bunkers. The berm won’t be anything close to being a fortress but it will give us a better defensive position if we ever need it. We’re ready to start on the initial chem plant and the brassworks. I’ve started making dies with the hard carbon steel that I already have on hand . . . enough for a pilot plant, I think. We’ll need more from Osker for the production plants.”
Pat had started clearing the Reservation in September. The wood had been sold to sawmills in Suhl in exchange for seasoned wood for the Reservation. Much of the work was hand labor. With the end of the harvest season, he had recruited additional workers from the neighboring farming communities. They appreciated the opportunity to make money when they ordinarily would be waiting for the arrival of spring. A tent city had grown on a flat parcel of the Reservation. Another piece of their initial funding had been spent buying tents and establishing a logistics chain to keep the new employees housed and fed. It was a cost of doing business and had been included in Gary’s project plan.
“Good. Nicki Jo?”
She stood and, with Katherine’s help, tacked a map of the Reservation on the wall. “As Pat said, I’ve started on the plant layout.” She used a pencil as a pointer. Whenever she described a building and its function, she pointed to its location on the map. “The manufactory sites on this side of the ridge are the easiest to place. I’m assuming one production line per building. I don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.” She moved to the other side of the map and pointed again. “I’m doing the same for the chemical and primer plants on the far side of the ridge. It’s hard to see the scale on the map, but they’re about a hundred yards apart with a berm in between.” She pointed to two buildings on the map, separated from one another. “They are here, and here.”
“What about the primer compound?” Gary asked.
She walked back to the table and sat. The presentation part of her report was over. The rest would be done verbally. “As for the primer compound,” she confirmed, “like you originally thought, I’m leaning towards DDNP. I’m still looking at lead styphnate because there are issues with either approach. However, DDNP is made from picric acid. We know how to make that. The issue is a matter of keeping contamin . . .” Her voice wavered briefly. She paused, took a breath and continued, “. . . contaminants out of our materials. We may have to do further refining and purify some of the ingredients ourselves to improve their quality and remove any remaining contaminants.”
That didn’t surprise Gary Reardon. Osker Geyer had discovered he needed to add ore extraction to his list of tasks. He had assumed there would be additional work for making the primer compound. Nothing was as easy as it was planned.
Nicki Jo paused to refer to her notes again. “There are clear-cut risks with either approach; however, I believe we can minimize workers’ risk by going with DDNP. The long-term plan is to have at least five primer production lines. Each line will be in separate facilities some distance from one another with berms around them. There will be three separate DDNP production lines placed along the same lines—separate buildings with berms around each production plant. I’m using the same concept for the final production facilities.”
“Do we really need that many DDNP fabrication plants?”
“I only had two, at first—for redundancy. But I had a discussion with Pat and Archie, and I think we can use any excess DDNP to make blasting caps and perhaps some industrial explosives.”
That surprised Gary and it brought him up short. Another product, maybe two. Useful ones, too, in more ways than one. “Good idea, Nicki Jo. Now, when do you think you can have a pilot plant for DDNP production?”
“Mid-January, assuming I’ve no issues with resources and raw materials, and we can finish the buildings in winter weather.”
“Thank you, Nicki Jo.”
The meeting had started an hour previously. Gary called for a short break before people’s butts overrode their capacity to remain attentive. He noticed Nicki Jo and Katherine, followed by Ruben, leave the dining room and turn towards the private lavatory downstairs where Archie and Dieter had once lived. One of the building staff entered with pitchers of hot broth and beer. The innkeeper’s wife arrived carrying a plate full of small pastries. Gary wondered for a moment who had planned that small courtesy; he hadn’t. It was probably Marjorie. She was known to arrange for small items such as this dessert even if she wasn’t attending in person. The tray included, especially for Nicki Jo, cookies freshly baked by Greta Issler.
When the innkeeper’s wife left the room, Gary and Geyer converged on the buffet table. Geyer filled a mug with beer and took two pastries. “I’m glad you thought of this, Gary. I always get hungry in the mid-afternoon.” Gary didn’t bother to inform Geyer the dessert wasn’t his idea. He usually worked through lunch. Food just wasn’t something he would think of on his own.
Ruben, with Nicki Jo and Katherine, returned, filled mugs and small plates of pastries from the buffet table. Gary noticed that Nicki Jo added a handful of cookies to her plate. Her reputation of having a fondness for cookies had followed her from Essen. When they were seated, Gary cleared his throat and restarted the meeting.
“Now for me. The Corporation. I expect to get confirmation of our incorporation by the end of the week. To join, members will have to contribute to the asset and financial pool. For some, that is buying stock. For others, like Osker, it will be transferring a portion of his physical assets to the Corporation. Others, like Pat’s U. S. Waffenfabrik, and myself will become subsidiaries of Suhl, Incorporated. We’ll own 49% of our companies. Suhl, Incorporated, will own the rest—our contribution.”
Gary took a sip from his cup. He had expected a number of questions but no one had asked any. Have I totally confused them?
“Ruben, how many others do you believe will be interested?”
Blumroder looked around the table and then back to Gary. “It will depend, Pat, on what they see as their benefit. I don’t see any of them becoming subsidiaries, I haven’t decided for myself, yet, but they do want to have access to your products. It’s an ongoing negotiation.”
“Do they understand the game plan?”
Blumroder laughed, “Not all. I don’t fully understand myself.”
Okay, how to simplify this? Gary thought. “Tell them Suhl, Incorporated, will be a holding company, a conglomeration of various Suhl industries—of all kinds, not just gunsmiths and weapon makers. Suhl, Incorporated, will not just be a factory. It will also be a marketing organization and will market the members’ products outside Suhl, across the SoTF and the USE. I had a conversation just a few days ago with a cobbler who was asking how we could mechanize his shop. He wants to bid on making boots for the army. He’s asked if we would be willing to work with him to help design and finance his upgrade. That request created another potential product for us—Process and Mechanization Engineering.”
He cleared his throat and took another sip from his cup. “We will be able to distribute expenses and risk equally across the members. Conversely, we will also distribute profits to the members of the conglomerate in proportion to their contributions. The same for stockholders. Conglomerate companies will be able to buy products from one another at cost and that should allow them to maintain and improve parity with their competitors outside the conglomeration. There are other benefits as well.”
Ruben appeared to understand Gary’s explanation. He looked to the other board members around the table, “Hockenjoss and Klott has said they will buy 10 blocks of shares. They want access to Osker’s steel and Gary’s tooling. They will be making a new model H&K pistol chambered for the .45 Long Colt.”
“That’s good news, Ruben. They’ll make a market for us, and we for them. Our first products will initially be cartridges in .45 Long Colt and the .45-70 calibers. We’ll wait for the market to tell us what other calibers to add later.”
“Well,” Blumroder said, returning to the conversation about a conglomeration, “many do not want to be a part of the . . . conglomerate? But they do want a business partnership.”
It was a valid question. Not everyone could nor needed to join. There would still be regular business agreements. “I think we can accommodate them, Ruben. The corporation will eventually become the elephant in the tent but we needn’t be arrogant nor a tyrant. These people are our friends and neighbors. Without them, we’ll fail.”
Gary scanned the faces around the table. “I’ve been expanding the construction company that Pat started for the next phase, to build the plant buildings. This is in addition to those he’s already hired to clear the land. I’ve started hiring carpenters and other construction workers. We’ll break ground as soon as Nicki finishes her design. Crews have already cleared the site for the plant admin building. We can use that building as the construction office for the rest of the buildout. Any questions? Comments?” Nicki Jo was nodding her head in agreement. Pat was smiling. Ruben . . . Ruben Blumroder retained his poker face. Gary knew he was excited by the light in his eyes, but Ruben wasn’t prepared to display that excitement in public. Hearing no comment, Gary closed the meeting.
Gaylynn followed Nicki Jo and Katherine out of the meeting. The previous week, the sisters, as Gaylynn thought of the three women—herself, Marjorie Mitchell, and Greta Issler, had greeted Nicki Jo and Katherine when their coach from Essen arrived.
They hadn’t known exactly when the coach would arrive. Marjorie had asked Archie to let them know when the coach entered Suhl. The gate guards were the eyes and ears of the city watch, and, by extension, of Archie Mitchell and Captain Eric Gruber of the Mounted Constabulary. When the coach passed through the gate with its accompanying squad of mercenaries, the guard sent a messenger to Marjorie. The sisters arrived just as the coach halted before the temporary headquarters of the consortium.
Marjorie had found a small house, with a cook and a maid, to rent for Nicki Jo and Katherine. Gary Reardon, reluctantly, agreed to have the corporation pay the rent. Nicki Jo should be worth the expense.
With evening coming on, the meeting had lasted most of the afternoon, Nicki Jo and Katherine were heading home with Gaylynn tagging along. “How are you doing, Nicki Jo? Is the house suitable for you?” Gaylynn yammered on. She was a talker, not one to allow silence to occur when a good conversation would do instead. “Marjorie found it but we really didn’t know what you needed so we guessed.”
“It’s wonderful, Gaylynn,” Nicki Jo replied. “I’m not much of a housekeeper. Katy is even less of one. It’s a bit big for just the two of us but I don’t think we’ll spend all that much time there but it’s really nice.”
“Well, I, for one,” Katherine said, “am looking forward to a nice hot bath.”
Nicki Jo laughed, “You can depend on Katy, Gaylynn, to have her priorities firmly in mind.”
“But, how are you doing, Nicki Jo. We’d heard . . .”
Nicki Jo didn’t immediately answer. Her mind had been elsewhere. She had changed, she realized. She had regained, well, at least she was regaining, her itch to do . . . something. She chose one of the three bedrooms in their house to be converted into an office. She had the maid clear it out, and Nicki Jo installed a table, to be used as a desk, a chair, some storage cabinets, and a chalkboard, a large smooth piece of slate. The room had a western-facing window, just right to catch the afternoon sun.
The three continued down the street and turned the corner. Nicki Jo and Katherine’s house was a block ahead.
“I’m doing well, Gaylynn. Truthfully, I’m doing better than I had thought I would. I really appreciate you, Marjorie, and Greta, helping us get set up—especially the house. I love it. It’s so much nicer than the one we rented in Essen.”
“I’m thankful to hear that, Nicki Jo.”
“You needed worry, Gaylynn,” she said, smiling. She realized that she had been smiling more. “I have Katy. She’ll watch over me. Do you know she once forbade me to eat cookies? She said I was too . . .”
“Not anymore,” Katherine interrupted. “You’ve lost enough weight this last year.”
“Hefty.” Nicki Jo finished. “You see, Katy and I have this cheese and chocolate company in Brussels, and one of its products is—”
“Ring of Fire cookies.” Katherine said.
“I love ’em,” Nicki Jo confessed. “I could eat my weight of them if Katy let me.”
Gaylynn laughed. “All of us, me, Marjorie, Greta, even string-bean Ursula, Pat’s wife, have to be careful when we’re around Greta’s pastries. They tend to . . . disappear.”
All three laughed. Nicki Jo leaned over to Gaylynn and whispered into her ear, “Do you think Greta could make Ring of Fire cookies?”
Gary Reardon and Pat Johnson walked through the devastation of RJ City, the name the residents had given the temporary tent city that had sprung up to house many of the construction workers. It had started as a small tent city in September.
The plan had called for some of the workers, when the site was cleared, to begin building wooden dormitories to replace the tents. The dormitories would house the workers over the winter. It was an ongoing task. Unfortunately, half of the workers still, or had, lived in tents . . . until the storm.
The storm arrived after a weeklong period of warm, sunny weather. Construction on the chemical fabrication building was the priority with the pilot plant milestone looming on the horizon. The process of moving those workers still living in tents to the sturdier and warmer dormitories, had slowed. Then, without warning, the skies turned dark and the near-freezing rain, followed by high winds, came and pounded the tent city.
Neither said a word as they walked. Clothing, ripped tents, broken tent poles, and scattered food littered the site. As they walked, Pat saw the remnants of a cook stove in what had been a mess tent. The remains of wooded trestle tables and benches lay like matchsticks. Their boots squelched as they walked through the mud and water-soaked turf, their trousers wet to their knees.
A large number of people from Suhl were present to provide aid where it was needed. Fortunately, no one died, although many had injuries. When the storm arrived, those living in the tents fled to the existing dormitories, some only partially finished, for shelter. Anything was better than staying in the tents.
“We should have foreseen this,” Pat said, angrily. It was their responsibility to see to the well-being of their employees and they’d failed.
“Yeah. My fault,” Gary agreed. “I was focused on meeting the pilot plant milestone. I just didn’t think—”
“About a storm.”
They turned and headed back towards the administration building passing a hastily setup aid station. “We were lucky,” Gary said. He saw Dieter Issler and the junior deputy marshals on the far side of the tent city. They, along with a handful of Mounted Constabulary troopers, were watching for looters and insuring nothing was stolen by thieves taking advantage of the disaster. RJ City was outside the jurisdiction of the Suhl Watch. Captain Gruber had assigned a half-dozen troopers to assure the people of RJ City that they would be protected while they recovered from the storm. Gary had planned to create a security force for the Reservation; it was too far from Suhl for the Watch to patrol it. He just hadn’t anticipated needing a security force this soon.
“Let’s ask Anse Hatfield if he can run a temporary bus service here from Suhl. It’d save some time all around, and Anse can bring in building material when he’s not hauling people,” Pat suggested.
Gary agreed. We need some security people out here from now on. The Constabulary can’t watch over us forever. “Think Anse and Dieter Issler could organize our security force, too? I had planned for one, just not this soon.”
Pat turned slowly in a circle, trying to encompass the destruction. “I’ll talk to them. I think they would. Dieter has a full-time job, but I don’t think Archie would object as long as Dieter only worked part-time and met his duties to the Court.”
The wind rose. Tent remnants flapped in the wind. “We must complete the dormitories, Gary. We can’t leave our people living like this.”
“Yes,” Gary agreed. “When we get back, I’ll call a halt on the plant construction and divert everyone to finishing the dormitories, mess halls, and the sutlers. If we don’t, we’ll lose these people. They’ll quit and go home. Then we’ll really be in a mess.”
Pat stopped, contemplating the situation and how it would be when the dormitories were finished. “We’re making a company town.”
Gary shook his head, looking down at his feet. Making RJ City an official village according to law wasn’t in his plans nor did he want to make it one. Nevertheless, if that was what had to be done, he’d do it. He took care where he stepped amongst the mess and mud. “Can’t be helped. I really didn’t want one. It has so many connotations . . .”
The subject of company towns was still a sore subject for coal miners and their families. That history—a bad history—had not been forgotten. The company towns were wholly owned by the mining companies and had been a tool to enforce control by mine owners over the miners by forcing them to live in company housing. Paying miners in company scrip restricted them to buying from company stores. Company towns, company scrip, company stores, all had been a method to keep miners in debt to the company—economic slavery. “No company scrip, Pat, no company stores. I won’t have it.”
“Agreed.” When people were paid in scrip, they could only use that scrip at selected locations, all owned or controlled by the company. No, no company scrip. Period. We may have to start some stores to tide us over but we’ll invite the merchants of Suhl to take over as soon as they can.
“I know we’ll have a company town,” Gary repeated, “but what can we do? There isn’t room in Suhl. Some of these people traveled a hundred miles or more to come here. They brought their families, too.” Suhl had grown over the last few years. Already, it was one of the larger cities in the region. The mines and local industries were attracting people seeking jobs. When Suhl, Incorporated, began production, sometime in the next few months, the revenue that would be created by the conglomerate would attract more people. Jobs create money and money, used wisely, creates more jobs. Suhl would grow, and it would be up to the city and Suhl, Incorporated, to ensure that growth is managed carefully lest it collapse like a house of cards.
“At least we gave families priority in housing.”
“That doesn’t help the singles. And many want permanent jobs and will bring their families if they have any.”
“The supply chain hasn’t been affected. We can feed them at least,” Pat observed. He watched some people stacking barrels of flour and other foodstuffs taken from the ruin of a mess hall. Should we have moved the mess halls into the new buildings first instead of people? Six of one, half-dozen of the other, he decided.
“We did lose much of the food on site. Everyone will be on tight rations for a few days but it shouldn’t last more than that.”
They had finished their inspection. The cleanup was progressing. Those who had been injured were being treated. More canvas had been ordered and should be arriving in a day or two. There wasn’t much more they could do here. Pat turned to Gary and said, “Let’s talk to Anse about his trucks and get more folks out from Suhl to help these folks. Then, I want to check with Nicki Jo and the others and see how this affects the plan.”
The Reservation’s administration building had been one of the first buildings completed . . . mostly completed. Some interior walls were still unfinished with the supporting studs still exposed. Gary and Pat arrived to discover Nicki Jo and Katherine already there examining the workflow and manpower diagrams.
“If we shift this work group to just the chem plant, we can divert the other two to work on RJ City. How will this affect the critical path?”
The hand-written project plan was fixed on three walls along with task-on-arrow diagrams. The critical path, the critical tasks, was underlined in red on the pages of the project plan. Gary, Pat and Nicki Jo were the only ones who really understood the full plan. A few of the construction foremen understood their portions, but only to the extent of how their work teams were directly affected.
“I can’t tell how the critical path will change right now,” Gary said as he reviewed it on the walls. God, what I’d give for a PC and Microsoft Project. “I’m going to have to redo it by hand and see where and how it’s changed. I know it’s changed . . . I just don’t know how much,”
“I’ll review the plant buildings,” Nicki Jo added. “I don’t want the DDNP mixture building in or next to the fab buildings, but I think we can delay putting up the dividing berms for now. Besides, the ground will soon be too hard for more digging until spring.”
“That would free up four work teams that we could use elsewhere,” Gary agreed
“Yes, but they aren’t skilled carpenters,” Pat pointed out.
“Maybe not but some can work under direction and do grunt work,” Gary replied. “That will help.”
They turned to review the project plan on the wall. Gary, without taking his eyes from the plan, said to Pat, “Zoche was hired to help build the dormitories. I figured if he worked for us, we could keep a better eye on him.”
“Good idea,” Pat replied. “Keep your friends close and . . .”
“Your enemies closer. Yeah.”
The four worked long into the night before they agreed where the workflow could be altered with the minimum impact to future milestones.
Nicki Jo and Katherine were testing another version of the primer compound. The original plan had called for a test lab, an enclosed building where the conditions of the test could be tightly controlled. After the storm in November, that part of the plan had been deferred leaving Nicki Jo to perform her tests outdoors, exposed to the elements. The current test lab consisted of a square of sandbags covered by a simple roof to shelter the testbed from rain and snow.
“What batch is that?” Nicki Jo asked Katherine.
“Number 20-12. It has passed all our tests successfully, heat, cold, shock, humidity, and pressure. I think we have it,” Katherine replied giving her clipboard to Nicki Jo.
The testbed was mounted on a sturdy wooden table in the middle of the space created by sandbags piled seven feet high. The entrance to it was through a dogleg designed to divert any effects of an accidental explosion.
Nicki Jo ran her finger down the columns of test results. “How many spent primers do we have left?”
A chill wind appeared, whipping around the sandbags and causing Katherine’s hair to swirl around her face. She pushed it back, out of her eyes and replied, “Approximately a hundred. Archie Mitchell may have a few more but not very many. Do you think we can try the new cups from the brassworks?”
Nicki Jo scratched her nose, heedful of the pointed pencil in her hand. “Yes, I think so. It’s time. We need to determine if the copper/zinc ratio is good, not too hard nor not too soft. Think we could borrow one of Archie’s revolvers to test the primers?”
Katherine grinned. “No need, Marjorie said we could use her Smith & Wesson. She’ll carry one of Archie’s single-action Colts in the meantime.”
Nicki Jo laughed. She knew how protective Archie was when it came to his, and Marjorie’s, firearms. “Okay. How many cartridge cases has the brassworks made?” Pat Johnson was having trouble with his presses. The process worked when manually powered. But, when steam power was added, it didn’t.
“A couple of hundred in all. The last test run of their pilot plant ran twenty-eight cases until one crumpled and jammed the press. Pat said he thought it was a lube problem and expects to have it fixed in a few days.”
Nicki Jo shivered. January in Germany was not a Caribbean vacation. Like Katherine, she wore a long woolen skirt over several petticoats. The skirt was usually warm enough unless there was a wind——like today. She had been tempted to dig out her flannel-lined jeans from her trunk. She had last worn them when she and her father had gone deer hunting up-time before the Ring of Fire. However, she didn’t want to scandalize her down-time friends. Suhl was not Grantville. “When does he think they’ll move beyond the pilot stage?”
“That’s up to Gary, how soon he can mechanize the presses. He said he’d like to use hydraulics to run the presses but he can’t find a good way to make hoses that will last. He redesigned the presses to be mechanically linked and belt- powered by the steam engine.”
“Let’s get back inside,” Nicki Jo said. She and Katherine gathered up the remaining DDNP samples and dropped them in a water bucket. DDNP wasn’t water soluble, very much anyway, but water would make DDNP useless if left in it long enough. They knew better than to carry a possibly unstable explosive in their hands, even the small samples they used in their tests. The walk back to the lab exposed them to colder temperatures and higher winds. “Will we make our milestone, Katy?” Nicki Jo asked, her teeth chattering.
“I think so if we can finalize the copper/zinc ratio for the primer cups.”
“Are we still on the critical path?”
Katherine thought the question over in her mind. She couldn’t completely visualize the plan as could Gary and Pat, but what she could see gave her an answer. “Not any more if you think 20-12 is ready for production.”
That answer relieved Nicki Jo. Everyone had been working hard after the destruction of RJ City. The chemical plant was only partially finished, just those areas directly involved in primer production. A third of the chem plant was still open to the elements. The primer fabrication building was enclosed but the interior was open, the workstations isolated by piled sandbags. It was a design change from what Nicki Jo had originally planned. However, the change worked well, much better, in fact, than she’d anticipated and she had let the change remain as it was. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Good, then we start hiring and training, she decided. “Who is Banfi Hunyades sending us, Katy, for the chem plant manager?” The wind picked up again causing Nicki Jo’s skirt to lift, exposing her legs.
“I don’t have his name. The last letter I received is that Banfi had a candidate but he didn’t provide his name. He’s sending Georg Rohn as a candidate for Chief Chemist.”
“Good, I think Georg will do. He doesn’t have the usual male egotism. He’ll listen to me.” They walked up to the chem lab and around the corner to the main entrance, “Let’s get inside,” Nicki Jo said. “I’m freezing out here.”
Katherine laughed. “Didn’t wear your woolies, did you? That’ll teach you about not being prepared.”
Archie Mitchell and Eric Gruber entered Der Bulle und Bär. Archie hadn’t been inside the inn since he and Dieter Issler had arrested Friedrich Achen the previous May. The excuse for him and Gruber visiting the inn was their habit of walking rounds in Suhl to help the local watch. That habit wasn’t required anymore. The watch had a new wachtmeister, and he had instituted a new training program and had training well-organized. No, the reason Archie and Gruber were here was to watch a spy, one Andres Zoche.
“There’s our boy,” Gruber whispered to Archie as Zoche walked in the door. Andres Zoche had been living in the inn since the previous autumn. He was working as a laborer at the Reservation but his wages were not enough to cover the cost of his room in the inn. He could have stayed in a dormitory at RJ City, but, he didn’t. Instead, he lived here, in Der Bulle und Bär, and made the daily two-hour commute on foot.
“Is he still asking questions?” Gruber asked.
“Yes, to people in the admin building and in the chem plant. He’s sent some large envelopes out via the post system . . . a private courier who takes them to Magdeburg.”
“And who does he report to, there?”
“I don’t know. Nasi’s replacement isn’t interested. I sent word to the Abrabanels, and they’re looking into it.”
“Has he sent any radio messages?”
“Yes, to Zwickau.”
That surprised Gruber. He could understand others in the USE being interested in the Reservation. It had become common knowledge that the consortium, Suhl, Incorporated as it was now known, would be making ammunition, a new kind of ammunition all sealed into a ready-to-fire brass cartridge. Few, however, knew how the new ammunition actually worked. Gruber didn’t. He was happy to just use them and not have to worry about rain and other weather-related factors that prevented the use of firearms.
Zwickau was in southwestern Saxony. Why would he send a message there…?
“And it was coded,” Archie added. “I’ve sent copies to some interested people who will try to break it.”
“Zwickau is in southwestern Saxony. From there it could go to . . . ”
“Anywhere. Poland, Russia, England, anywhere.” Archie said completing Gruber’s sentence.
“What are you going to do?”
“Nothing . . . yet. Just keep an eye on him. He seems to be unaware he’s being watched.”
“You really think that?”
“No,” Archie said with a sigh. Zoche glanced at the two lawmen, spoke with the barmaid, received a stein of beer and walked up the stairs to his room.
“I know some people who can toss his room, and no one would ever know.”
Archie thought for a minute and said, “Do it.”
A week passed before Archie and Gruber met again over steins of beer. Gruber had one of his men, a former burglar, search Zoche’s room. He didn’t find anything suspicious except a small book of commentaries by Francis Bacon, the former Lord Chancellor of England. Gruber didn’t know why Zoche would have a copy until Archie Mitchell suggested it could be used for code keys. Gruber sent a radio message asking if a duplicate copy of the commentary could be found. It was unlikely, since few of the commentaries had been printed.
“I have discovered another spy, I think, Archie,” Gruber added to his report on Zoche. “He doesn’t appear to be allied with Zoche, more of an independent.”
That statement didn’t surprise Archie. He doubted that Zoche would be here alone. No, there would other groups spying as well. “Name?”
“Otto Mohr. He applied for a job with Gary Reardon’s Nuts and Bolts. He didn’t get hired so he applied next for a job at the brassworks.”
Archie Mitchell was the unofficial security officer for Suhl, Incorporated. Zoche seemed to be interested in the DDNP compound. Mohr seemed to be more interested in the mechanization of the process of making cartridge brass. “Was he hired?”
“Still pending, I think.”
“Okay. I think we need to talk to Gary and Pat. I’m more concerned with Zoche. He is more interested in DDNP and could cause us more trouble. Let’s finish this beer and go find Gary.”
The conversation with Gary Reardon was short. It was decided to hire Mohr but keep a close eye on him. They’d keep him away from seeing the presses unassembled. Assembled, much of the critical design was hidden. They’d let Mohr think he would be able to ferret out the secret of the presses while insuring he never had access to the details.
Nicki Jo was in her lab in the chem plant when Katherine walked in. “Nicki, there’s been an accident.”
“Where? Anyone hurt?” Nicki Jo asked.
“DDNP fab number two. Nothing serious, just some cuts.”
Nicki turned off her alcohol burners, halted the process she was working on, and followed Katherine quickly out of the lab.
They found Georg Rohn talking to one of the stewards at the accident site. “He’s lucky,” the shop safety steward was saying. “Idiot. He should have called for help. It’s in the protocol.” Georg Rohn hadn’t been on the job very long, and he was shadowing the production process with the safety steward. He needed to know exactly how DDNP was made and understand the process and protocol Nicki Jo had created for its manufacture.
“I didn’t expect this would happen when I wrote them,” Nicki Jo said as she was told how the accident occurred. “I’ll have to add another paragraph. At least he wasn’t hurt, and the damage was controlled,” Nicki Jo said
“Yes, the sand bags and steel plate saved him,” Georg Rohn replied.
“Run me through it again.”
“He was working through step twenty-three. He had just dipped some picric acid when he felt the sneeze coming on. Instead of following protocol and laying the ladle down, he froze. The first feeling subsided and then came again. This time he followed protocol, too late perhaps, and was lowering the ladle when he sneezed and shook the ladle. That set off the picric acid in his ladle. Fortunately, there were no sympathetic detonations and the sandbags around the picric acid crucible absorbed the shock.”
“Hmmm. Suggestions?” Nicki Jo asked.
“I think we should separate the individual workstations further and add more sandbags between stations,” the safety steward said. Further separation would add more isolation and help prevent one explosion from setting off a chain reaction down the other workstations.
“Isolate the stations more and add some blow-out panels,” Nicki Jo added.
The safety steward looked at the damaged workstation. Some of the sandbags were ripped open and others slid to one side as the sand ran out of the ripped bags. The steel armor plate had some scratches but the damage was minimal. The bags and steel plate were placed in a fashion to redirect the force of an explosion away from the worker, the workstation and, as much as possible, from the other chemical reagents. The design worked. The station could be back in production as soon as cleanup was finished. “I agree. We can fix the other fab buildings now, move to one and retrofit this one.”
Nicki Jo nodded. “Write it up for me and I’ll sign it. What about the worker? How is he?”
“Shaken, scared, embarrassed . . .” the safety steward answered.
“He should be.”
“And, he has a couple of cuts but none need stitches. I’ll have the plant medic paint the cuts with an antiseptic and bandage them where needed. I’ve put him on suspension with pay for five days per the safety rules. We’ll have the accident review in a couple of days. I don’t see any willful negligence. A lack of training?” he asked Nicki Jo.
She pondered the question. She hadn’t thought what could happen from such a simple thing as a sneeze. Picric acid was touchy, but it was necessary for the process to make DDNP. Could the formula be changed to make the picric acid less . . . …hazardous? No, not and keep the DDNP usable and meet the requirements for a primer. No, she decided, a change of the formula at this time wasn’t needed. Leave changes to formula version two, she decided, if there is one.
“Maybe. I’ll have Katy review the appropriate training plans.” She turned to the Safety Steward, “Recommendation on the worker?”
“Well, he makes a good training example. I’ll think on it but my first impression is that we should move him to a less . . . dangerous job.”
“He won’t like that,” Katherine observed.
“I know, Katy,” Nicki Jo said, “but we need to set precedent. We pay high scale plus a hazard premium for this job and will pay his family a large compensation if he is killed or disabled. But his monetary loss in future income will teach the others to keep focused on the job.”
“What was his rotation?” Nicki Jo asked the steward.
“He was in his second day. Week-on, week-off.” Job stress was a risk that had been discussed before starting up the DDNP fabrication line. The work schedule was six days on, Monday through Saturday, followed by a week off the production line. They would work in a safer job for a week before returning to the line. Workers needed time off, time to be with their families, time to de-stress from a potentially lethal job if the worker didn’t pay attention. Nicki Jo designed the fabrication process to be as safe and as reliable as possible. However, no job, no process, was idiot-proof. Fortunately, this worker wasn’t an idiot. He just sneezed . . . at a most unanticipated time, an unanticipated occurrence.
“Should we change that? Shorten the time-on to five or four days? Longer time off to de-stress?”
“No, I don’t think so,” the safety steward replied. “I’ll watch for stress buildups but I don’t think it’s a problem with this crew. Others . . . maybe, but we should wean out the weak ones during training.”
“Okay. I’m depending on you and the other shop and safety stewards to tell us,” she reminded him, “the management, whenever you think there’s a problem. If our employees kill themselves, or even get hurt severely, no one will want the jobs. We need good workers and we’re willing to take the steps needed to keep them.”
“I understand, and I’ll report this to the steward’s council at our next meeting.”
“Good.” Nicki Jo made one last inspection of the workstation and walked out. She had work to do.
It was time for their weekly meeting. Gary wondered how necessary they were. Everyone talked with each other almost on a daily basis. He had asked several that question, and their answers were unexpected. They wanted the meetings! Apparently, Gary’s staff meetings were the only time they were all together in one spot at the same time and able to receive information about the entire project. Without the staff meetings, they tended to isolate themselves in private fiefdoms. “Status reports. Pat, how are we on construction?” Gary asked. This meeting was in the new administration building. It was so new the smell of sawdust still hung in the air. The walls of the conference room were covered with diagrams of the plant site, drawings of the buildings, the down-time version of blue-prints, project diagrams, and task-on-arrow process flow diagrams. Gary had temporarily conscripted the conference room as a working room for the meeting because it was the only one with interior walls instead of exposed studs.
Most of the members of the board were present——Pat, Gary, Osker Geyer, Ruben Blumroder, and Archie and Marjorie Mitchell. Marjorie had her pencil and paper ready to take the meeting minutes. When everyone was seated, Gary began, “We finished RJ City in mid-December and were able to get back on the chemical and fabrication buildings. All the tents are gone, and everyone has a roof over their heads. Nicki Jo changed her process design and cut out a lot of work from the original plan. Still, we’re about a month behind from where I’d hoped we’d be.”
“The current issue is the jamming of the cartridge presses,” Pat continued.
Gary sneezed. The free-floating sawdust tickled his nose. Have to get this place cleaned. Wet rags should pick up all the remaining sawdust. Ahh, don’t get sidetracked.
“There were two causes for the jams in the presses. The first was the thinness of the cartridge walls. The second was the carbon-steel dies we were using. We replaced the dies with the new ones made from tungsten carbide. We had just enough on hand to make dies for the prototype presses. The new dies will leave a thicker cartridge wall. We have also improved the lube and cleansing system. Our last run made 1,200 cartridge cases without a stoppage. We halted the run because we ran out of copper cups.”
“What about the composition of the primer cups?” Archie asked.
“Well, Nicki borrowed Marjorie’s Smith & Wesson to test them.”
Archie glowered at Nicki Jo and muttered, “Without asking me first.”
“Marjorie’s Smith & Wesson Model 25 is stronger than Archie’s Colt single-action revolvers, so it was a good choice. We popped a hundred caps and only had one failure. That was a cap that had no anvil,” Nicki Jo responded. “There will be a QC check in the production system to watch for that.”
“QC?” Ruben Blumroder asked, clearly puzzled about the term.
“Quality Control, Ruben, finding manufacturing defects during production before they get passed to the customer,” Nicki Jo answered.
Ruben thought for a moment and nodded. Manufacturing defects, he knew. Looking, planning for them ahead of time was something he hadn’t considered. He silently berated himself for the oversight.
“Osker, how is the copper smelting going? Can you meet our production quotas?”
Geyer had had his hands full but he was still on schedule. His part of the plan was clear-cut: make steel and make brass. Once he had determined what needed to be done, it was easy to implement changes in his steel processes. Brass was easier than steel. “Short answer, yes. I’m still building stockpiles of ores and product but I have sufficient material on hand to meet your needs.”
“Does anyone have or see any issue that would prevent a full run of the pilot plant?”
“What is the target number again?” Ruben asked.
“One thousand primed cartridge brass per line per day. We have one line ready.”
“Let’s go for it,” Pat said.
“All agreed?” Gary asked. He waited. No one spoke. Geyer, Nicki Jo and Katherine were nodding agreement. “Okay. Let’s clean up the site first. Remove anything that might affect the test. How about . . .” He glanced down at his calendar. “. . . next Tuesday for the run. Objections? Issues? Alternatives?” He waited again. “So be it.”
They started to stand when Archie cleared his throat. “I have something to add——not about the test.”
“Go ahead,” Gary said.
“Our resident spy has applied for a job in the chem plant. I had his application put on hold. I think that approving him would not be a good idea. Gruber agrees.”
“Is he a danger?” Nicki Jo asked. She certainly didn’t need a saboteur in a place where he had explosives readily available.
“I don’t know, but it’s a possibility. We believe he is working for a foreign country, Poland or Russia.”
“I don’t want him around if he’s a danger. So far, we’ve been using him as a carpenter. The buildings aren’t a secret. It’s what is inside those building that is the secret. Let’s cut him loose.” Pat said.
“I agree,” Gary chimed in.
“There’s another factor. He’s been joined with four others. Four strangers arrived last week. One claims to have been a chemical student at the Imperial College in Magdeburg. According to the college, there was a chemical student at the College last fall. But, his description doesn’t match the man here.”
“What do you suggest we do, Archie?”
“First, make no formal decisions yet. If any ask about being hired, stall them. Second, Gary, get your security guards in the loop and start patrolling the grounds at night.”
“That’s doable,” Gary answered.
“And start mounted patrols of the perimeter. I assume that squad of mounted mercenaries that guarded Nicki Jo and Katherine are still around?”
“Yes, Anse Hatfield hired them to help train his security force.”
“Use them and have them train more mounted guards. In the meantime, we’ll keep watch on these five.”