General Thomson, as head of the international project on Ascension Island, looked round at his team of experts, seeking full agreement with them. He had been keen to see his ideas implemented
He felt somewhat relieved, for he had not been sure what would be the outcome of his crop of suggestions. He did not want to be the one to suggest everything. It suited him better to have some ideas come from the civilians. This maintained his position as a friendly and consulting commander.
"Oh, General? May I mention an idea that came from one of the Personalia?" General Thomson looked up in surprise at Bob Kempe, the Brit from the UK intelligence community. The "Personalia" was the accepted term for the intelligent spaceship aliens they had met. These beings were a machine race, originated by a now-extinct biological race that they had revered. The creator race were the Malans, of the planet Mala. The planet had been devastated by the Invaders a machine race that attacked all lifeforms.
"The Personalia reckon that they can put together an anti-gravity wheelchair for Gus Derwent, the diplomat." The General nodded to show he remembered the need. "This wheelchair would also employ miniature jet engines with variable-direction thrust, for steering; and they are thinking of patenting the idea. I have suggested they set up a private company to exploit this commercially, along with a trust fund for them as a conduit for utilising the cash generated. What would you think of such a scheme?"
The officer thought for a moment, then responded, "Sounds sensible. They might as well have themselves a source of funds for whatever they fancy spending it on and a company exploiting new patents is ideal for them. Have you thought about who should head up this company?"
"Nope." Said Bob. "It was just a short discussion. It was cut off by other matters."
The General mused, "You really want to have someone with technical knowledge. The company will have to develop a range of products based on the patents, and that needs a scientific brain. How about young Sye? He has the technical and scientific background, and he is young enough to have the flexibility needed to find new ventures worth pushing. You'll also need a good accountant, but that expertise does not lie with your colleagues! The reason for mentioning an accountant is that one needs some initial capital to cover all the costs of setting up the company, paying the costs of patenting ideas, and developing contacts with manufacturers who will build the products. I could divert some of my discretionary funds into that; the justification being that it would improve Personalia/Human relations. Yes, I do believe that would work."
Sye Lownie, the expert on orbital debris, was sitting with his mouth open in surprise. He had not expected this, but could see the logic behind it. He decided he had better add a contribution to the discussion. "There is another point. Such a trust fund might be used to pay for PR work, to show the Personalia in a good light: as victims standing up to the Invader aggressor; valuable allies against the Invaders. I think a trust fund would be a great plan."
General Thomson nodded in approval. "Yes, I think you might do, for the post. You have the enthusiasm of youth, and an educated head on your shoulders; plus recent valuable experience. You will have to go to London, to what used to be the Patent Office. It is now called the Intellectual Property Office. The staff there can guide you through the form filling for patents. Have you got the design for the wheelchair and miniature jets?"
He stopped himself at once, with a snort; and resumed his speech. "Of course you don't. It is too soon for that to be in your hands. We'll ask the Personaliens to provide the text and drawings for the patents. We have to set up a company, and register it in London as an initial step. A name for it: we need something that is at once innocuous and at the same time evokes the Personalia. Any suggestions?"
The others stared at him, amazed at the drive of such an elderly man. They had to switch gear to keep up with him. Their minds churned, trying to find an apt company name. "Personaid? Pertech? Permala? Spacetech? Spaceaid? Helpers? Spacehelp? Spacemakers?" The names tumbled out from the group as they saw possibilities. Diane, the Colonel in the US military, added, "How about Machinations? I know it also refers to the other machine race, but if the Personalia have no objections?..."
Sye was looking pleased. "I like that one, myself. It has a ring to it, relates to the technology and a machine race, yet it doesn't tell you anything about the owners. In fact, it could even be misleading in its title."
The General was satisfied. "I like it too. It has that generalisation that one would seek, and conveys the technology angle well. It also suggests that the company is prepared to be a bit underhand in its dealings. That kind of mild salaciousness goes down well. If the rest of you have no objections, I think we suggest to the Personalia that we register their company as "Machinations Limited". He raised his voice: "What do you Personaliens think of it?"
The others looked distinctly puzzled at this outburst. He explained, "Sorry, team. I linked my office sound system to an open transmission to the Personalia via the ship currently here. They have been able to listen in."
"Indeed we have, General Thomson, sir." Came a distinctive voice out of a loudspeaker. "We very much liked what we heard. You have our agreement to proceed with setting up the company, and the patents, just as you outlined. We shall transmit the specifications for the wheelchair and the miniature jet engine within a few hours. We have examined the online application for a patent, so there will be no delay. One of us is working on it now. Some of the parts have to be specific materials, particularly the miniature jet engine. There may be a requirement to register the miniature turbine separately. The high temperature ceramics may also be an individual application: so you may have to apply for several patents on this occasion."
The General asked, "And the company title?"
There was a small laugh. "We have no objections to the title of Machinations, Limited. We can see the humour in it, but to most humans it will be innocuous. Go ahead with it."
"Fine," declared General Thomson. "In that case, I think that Mr. Lownie here would be best sent to London to set things in motion. I shall get one of my legal friends to call on you before you set up the company, Sye. He has done that sort of thing previously, so should come in handy for your case. I shall warn him that the true company owner is "offshore", and contactable only through Mr. Lownie, who will be the nominal proprietor and the go-between. Sye, I shall get the name to you before you board the aircraft to England."
Sye was busy over the next few hours, preparing to leave for England, but be was forced to wait until a seat could be found for him on a homebound plane. An envelope from the General's office was handed to him in the air movements office. As he continued to wait, another report came in from the Personalia about their search mission. The latest planetary system had been entered and found to be barren, and had always been so. Preparations were now in hand for the next star in the chain, as the Personalia searched for signs of the Invader ships. This settled him somewhat. He would not fancy leaving just when an action was starting.
Some tiring hours later, his plane arrived at the RAF base not far from London. He had a reservation at a popular London hotel, and once he had registered and settled in, he emailed the General with his hotel name and room number. He now had to wait for the legal eagle to fly to his nest, so he took the opportunity to phone his parents and let them know where he was.
His mother was delighted. "Sye! Great to hear from you, spaceman. The neighbours keep asking what you are up to. Oh, and if you can make it, you have a wedding invitation. One of your school chums is getting married at the weekend."
"Thanks, Mum. I am in London to set up a company to market innovations in technology. I was asked to front the company for some friends who don't want to be involved with the business side of things. They are paying all the costs involved, so I won't be out of pocket: in fact, they intend paying me as an officer of the company! So, where's the wedding, and who is getting hitched?"
His mother consulted her notes. "It is John Gowans, you remember him? He joined Police Scotland and graduated from Tulliallan Police College last year. He was postit tae Steenhive and met this quine there – she was a civilian employee at the cop shop. Her name's Jean Forsyth, and the wedding is at the Piskie church – St James the Great – doon by the Carron Water."
"Och, aye. I mind seeing that when I was last in the town. An' far's the reception? One of the local hotels?"
"Of course. Upmarket for them: The New County, I think it is. Are ye goin' then?"
"I'd like to, Mum. Probably more of my school pals will be there. Mind you, it will depend on when I can get away from London. I may be able to catch the Aberdeen train and get off at Stonehaven, then get a room in the hotel. It saves time. I don't expect I'll get to see you on this trip – unless you got an invite as well?"
"No such luck. Young Gowans was seldom round here, and the lassie widna ken us from Adam. Never mind, just enjoy yersel, and gie our love to a'body that wid ken us."
"O.K. Bye, Mum."
Sye put his phone down, wondering what had elicited the invitation. Was it really the school link? Perhaps it was his new fame as a space traveller. He shrugged his shoulders. It did not matter to him. He remembered the envelope still in his pocket. He had forgotten it during the flight. He had been too busy catching up on his sleep. He opened it now. It contained a business card.
The card read: "James Prudhoe, of Carruthers and Prudhoe, company law solicitors." Then in smaller typeface: "Legal essentials for companies based in London". Sye placed the card on a small coffee table in the middle of his room. Time to wait, again. He switched on the room's TV, to catch up on the day's news.
Eventually the news headlines came up. Political unrest, arrests for a financial scam, a murder in rural Sussex, a new government initiative to boost the economy; nothing new, until "There have been reports of increasing launches of the new spaceships from Ascension Island. These experimental spacecraft have been tested far out in space, but they seem to have increased in number of launches recently. Our space expert, Robert Wright, has today suggested that they are now experimenting with a rapid turnaround regime. Robert: "Previously it took weeks to prepare a spacecraft for a new mission. Now it looks almost like a refuel and re-use technique. This would be a major boost to cutting Earth-to-orbit costs, if correct. The only other choice is a vastly increased fleet coming into use. That is impossible without huge investment, so our conclusion is the great improvement in turnaround time. This is impressive. What else will our brilliant space scientists come up with?"
The news channel moved to a weather story, and Sye switched it off. That was quick, he thought. Just a dozen hours, and the General's suggestions to the media were appearing in the news bulletins. Good work, General, said Sye silently.
The internal phone system chimed, and Sye answered. It was the front desk. They had a message, from a Mr Prudhoe, to say he would be calling on Mr Lownie at 10 am next morning. Sye said thanks, and rang off. He could do with a quiet night before a busy day tomorrow.
At 10 a.m. exactly there was a knock on his door. He opened it, and there stood a middle-aged middle-sized man with an average-looking face in which bright eyes twinkled. He offered his card: "Mr Prudhoe", it read.
Sye ushered him in. "Welcome, Mr Prudhoe. I gather you are an expert in setting up a company."
"Kind of you to say so. General Thomson's opinion, I expect."
"Shall I send for some coffee, or tea?" said Sye.
"Tea would be nice. I think we shall be an hour or so, to go through all the procedures that the law insists upon these days."
It took just over an hour, and Sye was still unsure about some of the points, but deferred to Prudhoe's expertise. "What now?" he asked.
"Now, we call at Companies House. We have to fill in some forms: You will need to produce identification, such as a driving licence or passport."
"I have both in my pockets."
"In that case, we can proceed. The General has underwritten the set up costs, and given me access to the funds, some of which we have to pay over today. Once we get the company legally constituted, our next stop is the Patent Office – sorry, the "Intellectual Property Office". I hate when they change their names. One gets so used to the old one that it automatically pops out of one's mouth!"
The paperwork at Companies House went smoothly, and they, as a new Company, arrived at the IPO and asked for the in-house solicitor that he knew. Within minutes, they were in his private office, siting down around his desk. Prudhoe performed the introductions.
"Tom, this is Alexander Lownie, the nominee principal shareholder of Machinations, Limited. He is usually known by his local version of Alexander – Sye.
Sye – this is Thomas Hendry, patent solicitor at this office, and better known as Tom."
They both said "Hello", than Prudhoe gave a quick résumé of the formation of the new company, and Sye's position as Chairman and CEO, acting for the financial backers who wished to remain anonymous for now. Tom was used to this, and just nodded his understanding.
"Right. We have an application form to be filled in for each and every patent you wish to apply for. Do you have more than one?"
Sye was apologetic. "We have three to apply for now, and we hope to have more as time goes on. We have researchers developing new ideas, and we intend to patent as many as possible. The company then sets up a system to get manufacturing companies to produce the items patented, with our company taking a small percentage as a royalty on each product sold. As I explained to Jim here, we intend to set up a Trust Fund into which all of the company profits will go. My principals see this as having a charitable function of a generalised nature, so the Trust Fund will be worded accordingly in its constitution."
Tom responded, "Trust Fund or not, it does not impinge on the patent application, so I don't need to have such details, but I do need exact details of the ideas you want to patent."
Sye brought out his smartphone. "I have it all recorded in here, for each of the three. I can download everything to your computers, for you to view. You can decide what should go into the application. The patents being applied for are 1. An antigravity mechanism that actually works, 2. A ceramic material for high temperature tasks, and 3. A miniature jet engine that involves the same ceramic material. We hope to market a floating wheelchair which uses the miniature jets for steering, but I gather we need to patent each part on its own?"
Tom raised his eyebrows at the "anti-gravity", but only said, "Fine. You can download it at my desk. I have a terminal, built into the desk, that is part of our network.
I must admit that your antigravity sounds a bit "off", but we shall see what the download tells us. Likewise, there are other high temperature ceramics around. Yours would have to have significant differences to have a patent granted. The miniature jet engine sounds intriguing. Mere size differences do not mean a new patent, but if it involves some different technology that is essential to its operation, then you should be all right with it. We need some time to run your applications through all our checks against previous applications, whether granted or not, and other countries jurisdictions as well. If someone else has made a similar application in the past, it may invalidate yours. It only takes a few days, so call in again after the weekend, and we should have the position clear by then. If there is no problem, the application has to run through all our procedures before being granted. I gather you have the funds to cover all the sums involved in the procedure?"
Jim nodded, "The new company is fully financed for such eventualities. I have established that point myself. Once we have a Company Treasurer appointed, he or she will deal with all finances, but I the meantime I have the power to disburse these funds as legally required."
"A question about the wheelchair? You don't have to patent the end product. It is the new ideas that are patentable. Once you have those, you can exploit the potential products in your own way. You may find a need for a product development officer, to help with coming up with products which utilise your patents."
Sye smiled to himself. "Oh, we have access to clever minds that can perform that function admirably. As long as we have a general concept, these Persons will come up with the product design for us." He was delighted to be able to state a truth, and have it completely disguised at the same time.
Once the meeting had concluded, Sye thanked his solicitor and the intellectual Property Office solicitor for their tremendous assistance. He then headed back to his hotel, determined to get a phone call made before his evening meal.
The call was to the New County hotel in Stonehaven. He got the phone number from the Internet, and rang it. He sought confirmation that this was the location of John Gowans' wedding reception. Once he had that, he asked for a single room for the nights before and after the reception. There was a pause while the receptionist checked her records, then, "I am sorry, sir, we have no single rooms left. We only have 15 rooms in total. All we have free is a double room. The room price is higher of course, but because of the reception, it is much lower than our normal charges. Do you wish to make a booking?"
Sye suddenly realised that as Chairman of a company, the company could pay his hotel, provided he made a point of advertising the company's services to people locally.
"By all means. A double room will suit my needs. I may have to meet local business people during my visit. Is that O.K.?"
"Certainly sir. If you prefer, we can make a meeting room available for a private discussion, should your own room not be adequate. The meeting room is near the lounge bar, should you wish refreshments provided for your guests."
"Thank you. I shall establish my needs before confirming that meeting room. Thanks for all your help. Goodbye."
A few minutes thought, then Sye looked up the local NHS purchasing officer. That person could be phoned tomorrow. It would be useful to establish what financial parameters such an organisation worked under. Offering a completely new type of wheelchair that would not be restricted by steps and gradients would be a good selling point, but he suspected that the initial market would be in the USA, plus private purchasers with the cash to spend on such fripperies. A floating wheelchair certainly was a showy item. One could market it as the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce limousine. There were certainly plenty of elderly and infirm millionaires around.
That task sorted, he booked a seat on the express train to Aberdeen, to arrive at Stonehaven – its official name - that the locals called "Steenhive" - the day before the reception. It would give him time to leave his suitcase in the hotel then have a look round the town. He would check out the Scottish Episcopal Church where the wedding was to be held, to familiarise himself in advance.
He emailed General Thomson a report that setting up the company and applying for the patents was going well, and that early next week he hoped to report further progress. In reply, he received word that the "supplies" were proceeding apace, but that no word had been received of encountering "our opponents".
Satisfied that he had done everything that was possible, he departed from London on schedule, and arrived at Stonehaven station half an hour late, the result of a suicide in front of an earlier train. The hotel was near enough that he could walk there with his suitcase, and check in. He then ordered a taxi (on company expenses) to get a short survey of the town since he was last there. He decided that instead of phoning, he would just ask at the local hospital about their purchasing procedure.
Stepping into the Kincardine Community Hospital, he explained he was setting up in business to supply powered wheelchairs. How did one go about making contacts? He was immediately told that all contracts were awarded by Public Contracts Scotland, and that therefore there was no local person who could help. He was offered a leaflet with details of how the arrangements worked. It also identified a website where his company would have to be registered. He thanked the staff, and left. He had done enough research to justify his expenses.
Next, he had a look at the church. It was an imposing late Victorian structure, towering above the surrounding residential buildings like a small cathedral. There was a modern church hall built on the same ground. The church was stated to be open daily, so he took the opportunity to wander in and have a look around. There were columned arches on both sides, leading up several steps to a raised chancel. The back of this had several stained glass windows. There was a magnificent pipe organ and a stone pulpit. It was a setting for a fine wedding, though he hoped the service tomorrow would not be over-long.
Back at his accommodation, he ordered a meal in the hotel, and afterwards relaxed in his room with a large whisky, reading the brochures he found in a folder on the table. He took the time to appreciate the slower pace of life here: the chance to do exactly what he felt like doing. This was a long way from Ascension and the impending interstellar war he had temporarily escaped from.
The wedding went off without any problems, and everyone took their cars up the hill to the hotel on the outskirts. Sye thought he would have to get a taxi, but one of the ushers noticed he was without transport. The usher gestured. "Reception? No wheels?" Sye acknowledged this, and the usher said "hang on", and rushed over to a pair of slim well-attired girls, apparently around 20, both brunettes, and quite stunning to Sye's eyes. The usher pointed at Sye, who raised a hand in acknowledgement. They nodded, said something, and the usher summoned Sye over.
"This is Gail and Brenda. They are going up to the reception as well, and will give you a lift. - Thanks, girls" he said, and rushed off to help someone else. Sye shyly introduced himself. The first girl said, "Gail Ritchie. This is Brenda McBay. She looked at him again, and said "Don't I know you from somewhere? The face seems familiar."
Sye accepted the inevitable. "Probably from the TV news ... the new spacecraft."
Their eyes widened. "Of course! You were one of that space crew! Are you from around here?"
"I went to school with John Gowans, the bridegroom."
"Good heavens! What was a Kincardineshire lad doing on that expedition? We thought they were a team of experts?"
"Not quite, girls. We were a group, mainly civilians, put together to show how ordinary folk could go to space. I have been working on the Spaceguard project, up in darkest Aberdeenshire. We watch for incoming rocks of all sizes arriving at Earth, in case one is dangerous. I was recruited because of that."
Brenda nudged her friend. "Here, Gail: it's time we were up the road. We canna stand here bletherin a' day!" They all got into the girls' car and Brenda drove them to the hotel. On the way, he asked where they lived. They said Aberdeen, where they shared a flat, being best friends from childhood.
The tables for the function had personalised place cards. Near the door was a wallboard with a diagram showing who was sitting where. Sye found himself at the same table as the two stunners, which delighted him. Unfortunately, he was not next to either of them, and found himself chatting to an elderly lady who was a great-aunt of the bride. On his other side was a man with whom he had been at school. This guy had never been very sociable, except with John Gowans, and still had that trait. So for Sye it was the old lady's reminiscences or gaze across the table at the other guests when there was a lull between courses.
There were the inevitable speeches at the end of the meal, with some degree of humour; cheers greeting the inevitable phrase "on behalf of my wife and I", and old jokes recycled from a wedding speech book. Sye decided that John had got himself a nice wife. She was a good looker, demure, but could blether with the best of them. She was obviously organising her new husband, right from the start.
The tables were cleared and the band appeared, for the dancing that took up most of the rest of the evening. Those like him who were useless at dancing hogged the tables round the edge, and chatted. At least they chatted when they could be heard above the noise level of the band and its loudspeakers. This avoided too many discussions about where he had been and what he was doing now. He was surprised how few of his school pals he recognised, after just a few years. He concentrated on the occasional sip of his malt whisky, and a turn on the floor when he could not avoid it. Eventually he spotted an empty chair next to Gail and Brenda, and appropriated it. He made small talk with the pair, asking them about themselves.