Saturday, September 11, 2010

For All Nails #302: Legal Challenge

As promised, this is the latest entry in the For All Nails project, a continuation of the alternate history of Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Briefly, Sobel's history deals with a failed American Revolution that resulted in a reformed British colonial administration called the Confederation of North America, and with the United States of Mexico, a nation co-founded by exiled Patriots. In the 19th century, a Mexican corporation called Kramer Associates was founded, which has grown to become the largest in the world, and which has since relocated from Mexico to Taiwan. In 1962, scientists employed by Kramer Associates built the world's first atomic bomb . . .

We shall never use this device in the cause of aggrandizement. But we will not hesitate to destroy any nation that has the foolishness to re-open the Global War.
-- Carl Salazar, President of Kramer Associates, 20 July 1962

No. 10 Downing Street
London, England, UK
15 February 1965

If you had asked him three months ago, Harold Fuller would have told you that the two most vile words in the English language were "snap election." Since then, events had changed his mind. The two most vile words in the English language, he had decided, were "coalition government."

Putting up with the Tories had been bad enough when they had been in Opposition. As coalition partners, they were well nigh intolerable. Bruce Edgerton, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, spent more time posturing in front of the vitavision cameras than he did in HM Treasury. Simon Carter, the Home Secretary, was a pint-sized Machiavelli who probably schemed in his sleep. Stephen Horne, the Minister of Education, was a spiritualist who spent more time attending séances than he did Cabinet meetings.

Just now, though, they were all ears, even Horne. Fuller started the Cabinet meeting by nodding towards Martin Ashton, the Minister of War, and saying, "Well, Martin, how did it go?"

Ashton was radiating confidence, which in itself told Fuller everything he needed to know. "Everything went smoothly. Detonation occurred at 03:33 Greenwich time at Kulgera Testing Ground. Energy of detonation is estimated at 170 kilosmiths, about half again as much as the original Kramer device. We've another device at Darwin, and the boffins at Ampleforth say we'll have enough processed uranium for a third by the end of June. After that, they say they can build up production to the point of producing a new device every two months. Work is also proceeding apace on a plutonium device. They say they should have the bugs worked out by the end of the year. If all goes well." Fuller had noticed that Ashton always referred to the atomic bombs as devices. He supposed it made it easier to deal with making the infernal things. Fuller didn't envy the atomic scientists their jobs.

"Thank you, Martin," Fuller replied, "and well done to everyone on the project."

"I'll be sure to pass that along, Harold."

"Right, then," said Edgerton. "How soon before we can start using them on the Germans?"

"In fact, Mr. Edgerton," Fuller answered blandly, "we've not yet decided whether we are going to use them on the Germans."

"Of course we are," Edgerton insisted. "Why else have we built the wretched things if not to pay the Weiners back for Buckingham Palace?" [1]

"We built them," Fuller explained with as much patience as he could muster, "because we knew the Germans were building them. And the Mexicans, and the CNA, and possibly the Japanese as well. We built them because we couldn't afford not to build them. Using them is a completely different matter. Remember what Salazar said about destroying anyone who restarted the war. And mind you, he used the word destroy specifically."

"Could he?" asked Carter. "Destroy us, I mean."

Fuller looked at Ashton, who said, "As you can imagine, the War Ministry has been giving that question a good deal of attention. Kramer has a good two years' head start on us, and no doubt Salazar has been stockpiling his own bombs." When it came to someone else's atomic bombs, Fuller thought, Ashton wasn't so delicate in his language. "We estimate he may have anywhere from ten to twenty available for his use. The more pertinent question is whether he can actually use them on us, Taiwan being quite a long way off. While it is theoretically possible to fit them as warheads on missiles, we don't believe missile technology has advanced to the point of making that a practical reality. That will change within ten years, possibly as soon as five years. At the moment, though, the only way to deliver one of the devices is via ship or airmobile."

"So what you're saying," said Carter, "is that any ship or airmobile bringing goods from Kramer Associates may be carrying atomic bombs as well as vitavision sets and washing machines."

"That possibility had already occurred to us," said Fuller. "Rest assured, not a crate comes in from Kramer Associates that we don't inspect. And if war comes, not a single Kramer vessel of sea or air will be allowed within thirty miles of these islands."

"That's assuming we know they're coming from Kramer," Carter responded. "The Octopus has so many damned tentacles it's impossible to know for sure." Octopus, Fuller knew, was a translation of El Pulpo, the Mexicans' own nickname for the much-loathed commercial behemoth their nation had spawned.

"All the more reason," said Fuller, "to think twice before making any decision to use the bomb."

"That's not going to sit well with the people," Edgerton stated. "They're going to wonder why we aren't using them now we've got them. Leigh-Oswald's lot in particular are going to be clamoring for war."

"Don't remind me," said Fuller with distaste. Mosely Leigh-Oswald's National Renewal Party had surprised everybody by winning over 150 seats in Halliwell's [2] dunderheaded snap election, necessitating the current Whig-Tory coalition government. "It's all very well for the Nats to start braying for war. They don't have to worry about Kramer."

"Erm, speaking of Kramer," said Attorney General Anthony Barker, "I've just received word this morning that they're, erm, suing us."

"Suing us?" said Fuller, perplexed. "Us, meaning the government?"

"Yes," confirmed Barker. "They say that their atomic bomb is proprietary information, and that by building our own we're guilty of copyright infringement."

"How can they be suing us?" demanded Labor Minister John Eckersley. "They're not even British."

"As signatories to the Taipei Convention," Barker explained, "we're obligated to enforce Taiwanese copyright law. If Kramer Associates want to assert copyright protection over the atomic bomb, they have the legal right to do so. And the actual lawsuit has been filed by Vandelay Industries, a Kramer subsidiary incorporated in the United Kingdom in 1930. [3] They've also requested that all work on the atomic bomb be halted pending the outcome of the suit."

"Can they do this?" said an appalled Edgerton. "Can they stop us making our own bombs?"

"Hardly," Barker sniffed. "We can have the lawsuit dismissed under the National Secrets Act, and we will. If ever there was cause to dismiss a lawsuit in the interest of national security, this is it."

"Then what can they hope to gain from this?" said Fuller, mystified.

Barker shrugged. "Carl Salazar is a businessman, and for all of his posturing as a national leader, he still thinks like a businessman. When things don't go his way, his first instinct is to sue."

"Do you think we could counter-sue?" Carter spoke up. "After all, it's my understanding that it was Penhurst's Law of Relative Motion that served as the theoretical basis for the Kramer Bomb. We can claim that they're the ones who are infringing on our copyrights."

"I don't think you can copyright laws of nature," Barker answered. "Though I suppose we could claim that Penhurst's original paper is under copyright. We might well sue on that basis. It's certainly worth a try, and I'll admit I would enjoy giving the bastards a taste of their own medicine."


[1] Buckingham Palace was destroyed during the second German invasion of Great Britain in 1942, when a damaged German bomber plowed into it with a full bomb load and its fuel tanks half full. Although most of the Royal Family was elsewhere at the time, the Queen and her three youngest children were killed in the explosion. The palace was rebuilt after the war.

[2] Philip Halliwell, Fuller's predecessor as Prime Minister.

[3] Kramer Associates' Vandelay subsidiary was first mentioned in For All Nails #46. You can't pin this one on me.


Phoebe Barton said...

Since there was no footnote, I've gotta ask what the story is behind nuclear yields being measured in "kilosmiths."

Also - sweet.

Johnny Pez said...

A kilosmith is the amount of energy released by Robert Smith during a thousand Cure concerts (or the amount released during one concert by a thousand Robert Smiths).

Alternatively: I deliberately left the kilosmith undefined and unexplained, because part of the fun of For All Nails was dropping the occasional unexplained reference and seeing what the other Cabal members could make of it. So I leave it to you to figure out what a kilosmith is. If you dare!

Phoebe Barton said...

Also - I'm going to have to dig FWoAN out of whatever box it's in. I can't let this challenge go unanswered! Some kind of honor may possibly be at stake!

Nich Hills said...

G'day Johnny,

Echoing Andrew's comments: sweet.