Excerpt from Setting The Board

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Yalskarr was nothing impressive to look at - yet.

Docks, blocky wooden warehouses, and the occasional stone or brick edifice rising three or four stories off the ground. It was Calmena's answer to Houston at the dawn of the petrochemical age.

This time, the hard work of setting up the station had been done for us. Yalskarr had been one of Hashiboor's first seaports, and for nearly thirty years, a rail hub as well. Asina's daughter Tellea and her husband Fittorn had built it up from nothing, one small bit at a time, over the past fifty local years, as they worked to nurture the nascent petrochemical industry of Calmena, currently centered north of Yalskarr. In one of the many ironies of the Calmena uplift, we were playing the part of Tellea's daughter and son-in-law to enable them to 'retire' and return to the Empire - both were approaching a public age that would make continuing the masquerade difficult, and they'd been on Calmena for eighty Earth years or so. It was time for them to take a break. The result was that we were 'inheriting' an ongoing business. As a result, the Imperial gear was already well hidden, nearly an ifourth below ground level, and the hidden quarters Asina and I would occupy had all the improvements that could be hidden from the natives.

Things were a little more complicated now than they had been. At the end of our first assignment, we'd simply told everyone else that our replacements were our inheritors, and walked out of town with no trouble to our replacements, then or after. But things were done formally now; the transfer would take longer and the local government would extort a certain amount in exchange for official recognition of the transfer. It wasn't to protect anyone; the purpose was the avarice of those in control of the local government.

Tellea's eyes were hazel now, her dark brown hair was sprinkled with grey, and her somewhat Polynesian appearance was weathered and wrinkled, a concession to what the Calmenans expected from someone who had spent the last forty Earth years - 100 local Calmenan - working with chemicals and shipping and everything else. Her husband Fittorn looked like he could have come from nineteenth century Holland or Belguim - light brown hair, blue eyes, and tall for Calmena, similarly weathered. But the appearance was only skin deep; Tellea was actually in her first days of pregnancy with what would be Asina's first grandchild. They'd be looking like any other young adults in the Empire within a day or so of arriving at Bolthole Base for transport out. Mother! Uncle Joe! she greeted us, good to see you even if it is only for a couple weeks! Asina and Tellea hugged; Asina hadn't actually seen her daughter in a year.

Asina wanted to inspect the new baby, and Tellea let her do so with perception. Looking good so far. Any idea if he's operant?

Not yet. We've built in as much augmentation as we could, but so far no sign. Augmentation would decay unless maintained by the baby after he was born, and more than a certain amount could be a threat to him if he wasn't operant. I'll shift to artificial gestation if there's no sign of operancy at ten weeks.

We've got a building for the casting works almost completed, Fittorn advised me, and we've got the land for the airfield, too. You can start clearing it when you're ready.

That will probably be a couple years. Marine diesels can be cast with steel. We need Asina to lay a little more groundwork with aluminum before we're ready to use it in airplane engines, and she needs to work on refining better grades of fuel for them, too. I was thinking about something a couple grades above the Wright Flyer; similar but with true ailerons and rudder controls as well as a lighter engine. Enough for a proof of concept, enough to encourage the interest of potential competitors. Our mission wasn't to make money; it was to advance Calmena so they could defend themselves and inconvenience the fractal demons. The best way to do that was show potential competitors how to get to a point where they could build something others would be willing to pay for. That would also help them be ready to assimilate into the Empire when the time came.

Marine diesels - diesel engines in general but marine diesels particularly - were more important than aircraft. Look up how Germany's manufacturing in World War II kept increasing despite allied air raids until allied troops started capturing the means of production in 1945. I'd once taken a drive with my dad up old Interstate 84 alongside the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington line. I'd seen a long line of semis completely dwarfed by a single train - all of which was in turn dwarfed by a smallish barge headed up the river. Multnomah Falls is beautiful, by the way. But the point is which moves the most freight the most economically. The sooner we gave marine diesels their starting push, the sooner and more powerfully they'd work their economic blessings. There was nothing that could compete with them until impellers got strong enough.

You're the folks who've been studying it, Uncle Joe, Fittorn conceded, but the longer you take, the more pressure you're going to feel from people wanting to use the land for other things. It was difficult buying everybody out and fencing it off. People will try moving back in whenever they think they can.

We can afford to pay people to keep the land clear, Asina replied, we can even afford to maintain a grass runway until we're ready to use it.

She was right that we could afford it - our converters could create all the precious metals we might need. But that will cause people to wonder what we intend to use that runway for, my love. Which will tell every observer that we knew what we designed would need it long before we built it. We know the demons have agents and they are watching. They probably even have likahns in the area. We can't telegraph our intentions like that. The demons are lazy, not stupid.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 22, 2024 7:00 AM.

Excerpt from Building The People was the previous entry in this blog.

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