In order to accomplish my goals in modern day society I require large quantities of cash and materiel. Some things I buy, because there’s no other, better way to get hold of them. A piece of land, for instance, is almost impossible to steal from someone. You’re better off just buying the deed.
However, things like land tend to be very expensive, and I find it wise to keep as large a reserve of liquid cash on hand as possible should I suddenly need to make such a purchase. Thus, even when I could afford to buy something I could also steal, I always choose the latter.
I had to explain all of this to Hangman, who was becoming more and more curious about my work the longer our association lasted, before he consented to finding a list of places where I could acquire the things I needed next. The same principle applies to time as money, incidentally, which is why I have information brokers to find information for me and I focus on things only those with my particular talents can do. I will admit that Hangman’s increased prying into my affairs did have me thinking of changing brokers.
Fortunately Hangman handled this request with his usual speed and efficiency, finding four places where I could find what I wanted scattered around the country. I choose to visit a certain university in Texas to get what I was after this time, both because it was far away from my home base and because it was a university.
Higher education in America represents one of the largest wastes of money in the entire nation. Colleges these days serve primarily to hammer the rough edges of individuality off of people, forcing them to conform to the idealogical lockstep of their professors in exchange for the piece of paper that they have been assured will keep them fed and satisfied.
Colleges get truly absurd amounts of money from the students and various levels of government for their brainwashing and they spend it liberally in making improvements and carrying out research, which in turn attracts even more money from the successful graduates who feel some misplaced sense of gratitude for success they would probably have earned on their own, and at a much reduced cost, if they had just found a seasoned pro to show them the ropes for a few months instead of locking themselves into an ivory tower for four years. On the bright side, the absurdity of the modern university is helpful to me in two ways.
One, people who come out of them are totally lacking in any kind of meaningful identity. The brainwashing their professors put them through makes them pliable and interchangeable. After all, once you sand the rough edges off blocks of wood they stack nicely and if one breaks you can throw it out for another. This is a crime against the people involved, but in order to fix it I’ll have to endure it for now.
Two, the disappearance of any kind of imaginative thought from college campuses makes them very easy places to rob.
Here’s how you move across a college campus late at night without getting into trouble: One, own a fairly inconspicuous white van. It should be about five or ten years old, beaten up, with painted over windows. Or no windows at all, if you can help it. Paint some totally innocuous sounding company name on it, like, “Hoffman Plumbing” on it. Two, don coveralls and glower at the students like you’d rather have their bright future as corporate drones instead of your current position as business owner.
You are now free to move about the campus.
I wanted a place in the civil engineering building so I parked my van half a block away and headed towards the chemistry building. Thanks to thousands of dollars of alumni and taxpayer money the entire campus was defended by state of the art electronic locks of a type I was very familiar with. The are secure from anyone without a keycard or the ability to manipulate electronic potential.
Actually, they’re secure from most fuseboxes like me, too. Convincing the lock that I had a legitimate keycard would require more specialized equipment than I wanted to carry with me and the circuits that controlled the actual lock were buried deep in the door, with no way for me to touch them. While a fusebox can reach a great distance through a circuit they’re close to, if they’re not within two or three inches a connection can’t be established.
Or so the prevailing theory goes. A few years back I found out that a properly calibrated magnetic field can be used to extend your reach. With a thought I flipped on the electromagnetic coils I was wearing strapped to my forearms, underneath my clothing, and suddenly I could feel the electronic circuits in the doorframe tingling. It took only a light push to trigger the solenoid that retracted the lock and as easily as that, I was through the door
Once I was through the door and into the building I made my way through the second floor breezeways that connected all the science and engineering buildings until I found the one I wanted. Then I ducked into a restroom and stripped off the coveralls. Underneath I wore my recently completed vest over a white button-up shirt and a pair of dress slacks. I smoothed the silk fabric that covered the delicate electronics beneath, enjoying the feel of it for just a moment.
In my business, style is just as important as power and intelligence. I like to think that I’m a master of all three.
I pulled a clip-on tie out of a pocket and slipped it into place. While style is important, I feel that wearing something that can strangle you or break your neck is taking things too far. Once again equipped to look like someone who might belong, either as an instructor or some sort of outside authority, I set out down the halls until I found the place I wanted.
Grad students are the middle management of the university system. Overworked by their employer/professors and usually loathed by the students whose education they wind up primarily responsible for, it’s really something of a miracle that any of them ever stick around to finishtheir degree. Worse, in addition to all the work and emotional punishment they have to stand up to, they also have to come up with a project of some sort to prove their ability in their field of study.
To do that they’re given, among other things, a lab in which to do their work. At least, if they’re working in the physical sciences.
I was about to visit one such lab. The one uncertain element in my plan, the one factor I couldn’t do anything to mitigate, was the tendency for grad students to work late at night. This was as much because they were busy with other things during they day than any real nocturnal leanings on their part.
So I wasn’t surprised to see a light on under the door of the lab. Disappointed, yes, since this made my life more difficult, but not surprised. Overriding the electronic lock was out of the question right now. That would attract attention and suspicion, which I didn’t want. So I moved on to Plan B.
Professional lawlessness requires a fair amount of reckless behavior along with everything else.
There was no answer after five seconds, so I knocked again, striking an impatient pose and tapping one foot on the floor. A moment later the door swung open and a young man of Indian descent opened the door. “Can I help you?” He asked.
I gave a deliberately brittle smile and said, “I hope so,” slipping a business card between the fingers of my right hand and holding it out to him. “I’m Daniel Hoffman, the investor that Doctor Porter mentioned. I know I’m here much later than I said I’d be, but there as a mix-up at the airport and my flight got here late. You know how it goes.”
“Not really,” the young man replied. “I’m sorry, but Doctor Porter didn’t mention any investor to me. Maybe tomorrow you can-”
“Well, he’s busy man, he probably forgot” I said, waving a hand dismissively. “But you are Mr. Trenton Nayar, aren’t you? Working on the portable hydroelectric project?”
After a moment’s hesitation he said, “Yes, that’s me.”
“Well, Mr. Nayar, I have a business proposition for you and, if everything goes well, it might even have all your student loans paid for by the time you’re finished with your doctoral thesis.” I pushed the business card a little farther forward and favored him with a slightly more honest smile. That’s the real trick to seeming honest, don’t start off seeming like you’re trying to win them over. I knew I still looked like a tired corporate shark, but that was just it. The less he thought of me as a thief the better off I was.
Hesitantly, Nayar took the card and looked it over. The dossier that Hangman had sent hadn’t included much about him or Dr. Porter other than their names and the fact that they were working on a high efficiency miniaturized hydroelectric power generator. I wasn’t sure if Trenton or his professor had even been looking for an investor in his project. It seemed unlikely, but the strange thing is, the more unlikely a lie is, the more believable it becomes.
“What exactly is your business proposition?” Trenton asked, stepping aside and finally letting me into the lab. There was the usual mess of computer equipment and parts scattered over a number of tables, and schematics pinned to the whiteboard on the lefthand wall.
I strolled over to the blueprints and studied them as I spoke. “It’s really a very simple thing. You’re working on a portable improvised dam and generator that can create power with less headwater and more output than anything on the market.”
There was a blueprint there showing a simple cofferdam made of high strength rubber and metal anchoring points with a hydro turbine at the center. It was really quite elegant. “This creates what, two kilowatt/hours at peak performance?”
“Four and a half,” Trenton said. The answer had a touch of pride in it, and well it should. In addition to being privately owned by people who weren’t likely to have the resources to track me down themselves, this was one of the most efficient generators around. Another reason to want it for myself.
“So you have a portable generator that produces two to four times what similar items on the market are currently capable of, and with your portable cofferdam, in more places.” I shoved my right hand in my pocket and turned to face him. “Why are you surprised that someone would want in on that kind of technology? Decentralized power generation is the way of the future, with all the regulation making building large commercial plants so much more difficult, systems like this are the first step to building that infrastructure.”
“You sound like you know a lot about power plants,” Trenton said.
“That, and governmental interference,” I replied with a smile. I waved my free hand at his prototype on the table, getting a better grip on the device in my pocket while he was following it. “Is there any chance its ready for a field demonstration?”
“We’ve run a few sandbox tests,” Trenton said, his pride now clear. “It’s held up fine under them, so I don’t see why not.”
I pulled my right hand out of my pocket, carefully palming the metal disk there as I held it out to Trenton. “Thank you, that would be excellent.”
The poor sap took my hand with a grin that vanished a moment later as his body went rigid. A carefully calibrated blast of electricity coursed out of the capacitors in my vest and fried his nerves with all the strength of a police grade taser. It’s a little bit harder hitting than a joy buzzer, but some tricks never get old no matter how you switch them up. I cut the current and let go of his hand as he slumped to the floor, saying, “But it won’t be necessary.”
The entire generator rig only weighed about eighty pounds, but it was awkwardly shaped. Worse, my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking from the current I’d exposed it to. I had expected my talent to provide me with a little more protection from the electricity than I’d gotten. The taser delivery mechanism looked like it was going to need a little more work.
I decided that the best thing to do with it would be to throw the whole thing in the lab’s trash can, which had been thoughtfully provided with wheels. Ten minutes later I was out on the building’s loading dock, where my van was waiting for me.
The back door popped open and a middle aged African-American man who I call Heavy Water leaned out to help me load the turbine and cofferdam into the back. Then we scrambled up to the front seats and buckled in. My hands still weren’t steady so I took the passenger seat reluctantly.
“Where to?” Heavy asked as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Home?”
I leaned my head back in my seat, thinking about it for a moment. Then I sighed and shook my head. “Not just yet. There’s something I need to do first. It’s going to be tricky, though, so I’ll understand your wanting to sit it out.”
“Never happen.” He shook his head. “I let you be the boss because I think you got enough sense to get us what we need without causing us trouble, don’t I?”
“Well, this is a uniquely difficult chore, even for me.”
“Yeah?” Heavy glanced away from the road long enough to give me a curious glance. “What are you planning to do?”