SMC, Part 2

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VI

 

Mid-October, 1634

Suhl

 

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!' "

"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.

 

 

VII

 

November, 1634

Suhl

 

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.


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