He has begun to worry. There is talk of a French automobile with extremely good fuel mileage and unusually high quality workmanship. Road and track rated the handling and acceleration as equal to the best BMW with the mileage of an economy car and the precision of assembly of a Mercedes. The price was only slightly higher than the Chevrolet his team had been perfecting for seven years. The entire auto industry was blindsided by this new model called the Electron. The Road and Track review stated the car was basically electric with a revolutionary internal combustion engine and an equally revolutionary battery.
“How can a French car company come with something like this out of the blue, Leslie?”
His wife had heard Charlie and his friends discuss this during football games at the house. She could tell they were at a loss to answer this question. Her professional field of endeavor was computer programming. She answered in the only positive way she knew of.
“Charlie, you and your team will take a look at the thing when it becomes available and you’ll see it is a sham or you will see how to do the same thing and then you will make one to compete.”
“Sure Baby, you’re right as always. It’s just another challenge in survival of the fittest in mass production. We’re the big boys we have always come out on top this is just another speedbump.”
That was what he said but this was something generations ahead of what they had on the drawing board. His engineering team had begun to joke about learning French. He kissed Leslie goodbye and loaded himself into his 2012 Corvette he had helped design. The feel of the acceleration as he entered the toll road was sensational but it reminded him that Road and Track had compared the Electron sedan to the vette and found the vette second best. He felt stomach acid in his throat.
To make matters worse someone had parked in his slot. He looked down the row and noticed the slots allocated to his team were not filled with the Corvettes. He pulled out further in the lot and saw the familiar window stickers on the vettes driven by his compatriots. This had only happened once before. The uppity Cadillac driving engineers from the main plant had come in early and taken everyones parking space, inside competition tough enough to make him spit. There was no way to anticipate what might be inside.
“Carl, hold up! What’s the Cads doing here?
The “Cads” were the heads of the Cadillac division. They all drove top of the line “Cads”.
“Don’t know just got here myself. I’d bet on that problem starter on the Deville. They will probably be crying like little girls and begging us to find a fix for the piece of crap.”
Charlie grinned but as they opened the double doors they saw the crowd gathered around a car in the huge foyer. He knew right away it was an Electron. The division head was sitting behind the wheel and both teams were surrounding the rest of the car. Ed “the head” hollered out for the crowd to back off so everyone could see him highlight the features that made this car something for both teams to fear. No one cared how this, one of the first, had gotten into the hands of the GMC elite. They had their ways and all Charlie cared about was if this thing was as good as predicted.
That night when he got home his wife could tell from the look on his face and the way he carried himself the day had not gone well. “What is wrong, honey?”
“Leslie they brought an Electron in from France today. It is so good I still cannot tell you how good. We took turns driving in teams. I got to drive. It was smooth and easily as powerful as my Vette. Gas consumption was lower than our best economy car. The assembly was flawless. It is literally impossible to tell how it is assembled. After driving we thought we would take the engine apart to begin the reverse engineering process but after careful examination of the engine we could not tell how to take it apart. There were no visible bolts or screws. We had to cut the engine out of the car and grind open the inspection covers. What we found inside was so incredible I still can’t believe it. Magnets inside were positioned in such a way that they had to be in close proximity to a magnet tool touching from the outside. Twenty of these magnets had to be activated at the same instant to open the plate. Other than the inspection plate that could be opened with magnets there was no way to disassemble the engine at all. It was welded together instead of bolted and the points of assembly were ground, polished and painted. After we cut it apart Jim made the observation that it looked like it would never wear out if the oil was changed. The design was so clever and so well balanced you could not hear it running. The only exhaust was hot air and water. None of us could figure out how the emission system worked. It must be a series of different catalysts. The emissions boys looked scared when they saw the guts and measured the exhaust. Leslie it will take months or years to even understand how this thing works and was built. It is as if a team of Einsteins designed a car and we are stone age Mexicans trying to understand it. We don’t yet know how fast or how many they can build but the price is about the same as a midlevel GM sedan.
“Carl, you are the best. Without your evidence we couldn’t have convinced a jury. Now we have gone from near bankruptcy to controlling interest of their company. We are the big boys now. Your paycheck was huge two years ago when you brought the evidence and now that we have won the case your percentage makes you a very wealthy man. Tell me how you got the pictures.”
“I never give out trade secrets” Carl said, but I will tell you it took every bit of my savy and acumen”.
Carl had taken seven months to find a disgruntled employee to photograph a single step in the manufacture of his clients fiercest competitor. That photo had led to a warrant which in turn led to the shift in power of the printer manufacturing battle for supremacy. His underlying success in this particular case was his ability to drink more than most people twice his size and still retain his sales ability.
“When we are in the retirement home I’ll let you in on the secret but only if your electric cart beats mine in a ten lap race around the building. You lose and you have to tell me how someone like you managed to land that trophy wife of yours.”
Industrial forensics was the career he had chosen by accident. His reputation had ballooned into something of a corporate legend. Carl Land was the first name to come up in boardrooms when spying was needed or spying was suspected. His reputation alone had reduced the level of patent theft. Industrial espionage was the thieves label. They spied to steal a process or patent. When someone became desperate enough to consider hiring someone to steal a process they must at the same time consider the possibility the victim would hire Carl Land.
King Kohl was not a merry old soul. He never was and probably never would be. He had founded a customer service center in the heart of India that serviced much of Europe, South America, North America, and the mid East. His customers were the largest computer makers, software designers and game manufacturers in the world. He did not gain this legacy through good heartedness. He was a slave driver and demanded as close to perfection as humanly possible. His success hinged the cheap labor and intelligence of multilingual Indians.
Today he was in a foul mood. He had hired his normal spotters who had called his own employees to test their patience and adherence to policy. In this case though he had hired them to test his competitions employees to see how a startup company in France had begun to undercut his contracts. It was no secret in the business world that France is union friendly. So far no multinational had found a way to compete globally based in France. His spotters had done their job but he could not make sense of the investigation. The information must be skewed. There was not a single case of a Frogard employee losing his/her temper or patience. This was culled from thousands of calls many of which had been coached by King himself. Normally these special spotters could roil the temper of almost thirty percent of his own workers. His own workers also were under time constraints. After a set amount of explanation by customer service they were told to hang up or put the customer on permanent hold. This never happened to the callers to Frogard. His spotters kept Frogard telephone tech supporters on the phone for hours without any objections to going over the same ground time after time after time. King knew how to run a phone tech support business and this was insane and certainly no model for profit or undercutting any existing business’ bids.
The worst part of the survey was that there did not seem to be a language or dialect Frogard staff could not muster. Diction was perfect as far as his spotters could discern. King could see why his customers were leaving. The thing he could not understand was, how this could all be possible. The owners of the company he hired to do the spotting had no explanation but they did recommend an industrial espionage agent to look into the physical nature of the developing Frogard empire to discover the secret before it was too late.
Carl “the Swede” Jackson looked down from his chartered helicopter to see a two hundred foot blade of a wind turbine generator come out of a tall one hundred foot building. His brows came together when he was puzzled.
“Glen, we have been watching those propellers come out of that building non-stop for nearly a month. We have deduced they are being made underground and the construction materials are entering equally diminutive buildings miles away. Where are the workers entering the underground facility and why is this happening underground when it is so much more expensive to dig and build than to just build?”
“These propellers seem pretty much like the blades on wind generators around the world. Carl, why are these propellers related to your contract with King Kohl?”
“I’m not sure if they are related directly but I consider them incidentally or tangentially connected to some odd occurrences in the same time frame and the same vicinity.”
The chopper flew down the coast following the caravan of wind turbine parts. As they converged at a large conglomeration of wharves the chopper continued out to sea. From altitude they could already see thousands upon thousands of the turbines operating far out towards England and following the coastline for many miles.
There was no secret uncovered here. In the past five years France had become the leading producer of wind energy in the world.
“There was a distinct advantage to energy independence. The method to their madness was to begin building the wind turbines and then use the energy they produced exclusively in the manufacture of more wind turbines. As they were paid for they began to tie them into the general manufacturing power grid and in a few years France was energy independent and not only that they had a big advantage in production of goods and the general public began to receive electricity for the cost of distribution, wires and such. Now oddly, the MBA’s say the production of the turbines should have broken them financially but it didn’t.”
“So the French are manufacturing with no energy costs in competition with the rest of the world that has to pay for fossil fuels? Why aren’t the French products much cheaper than the rest of the planet’s?”
“That my friend is an excellent question but the answer is simple. They realized that if they lowered their price too low the rest of the worlds economies would fail and if that happened the unemployed around the world could not have incomes to buy French products. So, instead of lowering the prices of the manufactured goods they gave reduced work hours to the laborers and increased benefits. The French now have the highest standard of living with the shortest work week.”
“Ok, we have been hired by King Kohl to find out how the French are outcompeting against his much cheaper labor force which doesn’t seem to have a bearing on energy cost but we are watching the manufacturing sector which does. Why?”
“Mainly because I can’t find where the customer service group is headquartered. They may be underground like the propeller plant or maybe they work from home but as it stands I am grasping at straws to understand what is going on here.”
The helicopter banked, turned and began to descend to the small airport outside Paris. Carl and Glen took off their helmets as it landed and deplaned. As the chopper shut down its turbine they could resume their conversation while waiting for the limo to reach the landing site.
“What next, Carl?”
“One of my investigators has found where a large quantity of urethane resin is entering what appears to be an underground entrance to the wind generator manufacturing facility. I am going to try to get in to see if there is something there that will explain how the French can make them so cheaply and hopefully that will lead to some clues on the customer relations problem.”
It seemed a diversion during transportation would be the most expedient method to infiltrate the plant. A simple traffic accident could delay a tanker truck of the chemicals while a forklift behind it could attach a magnetic metal pod large enough for a person onto the side of the tank. A remarkable feat of machine work allowed the pod to transform into transportation when it detached from the tank.
Glenn had the forks from a forklift mounted on the front of a van and the small pod with Carl inside set on the forklift with the magnets pointed up. The ploy worked perfectly their car in front of the tank truck appeared to stall and fail to start. When the driver got out to help push the car out of the way Glenn eased the truck up to the back of the tanker and lifted Carl and the pod up to the bottom of the tank and the electromagnets snapped it into place. The driver returned to drive the tanker to the entrance of the underground plant. Glenn had installed a nice touch on the pod. A tiny remote control camera allowed Carl to see what was going on outside the pod.
After a bumpy ride the tractor rig stopped and disconnected the tank. Carl could hear it drive away and the tank was silent for only a minute. The tank began to descend as the platform it had been left on was a large elevator with no sides or top. Inside, watching his tiny screen and toggling the remote camera he could see a huge two fingered gripper attach a large flexible conduit to the exit port on the tank. He could hear the liquid urethane being unloaded. The coast looked clear with no one within view so he released the magnets and lowered the pod and himself to the floor of the elevator. The pod wheels descended and he steered it off the platform. There had been no time to waste because the unloading process was complete and the elevator took the tank back up to the surface. Carl steered the pod up against the wall in a corner and raised his head out of the top of the pod. The first thing he noticed was that the motorized pod might not be needed. He was looking at a tunnel maybe seventy five feet in diameter and there was a conveyor belt that looked like it was for human transportation. The tunnel was well lit and he could see a long way and there was no one in sight he got out of the pod and took a closer look. He wasn’t surprised to see a gigantic automated assembly line. There was already another tank coming down the elevator. The thing that surprised him was there was not a single human being in sight and he could see a long way in both directions and it was obvious there were many intersecting tunnels
He called Glenn on his cell phone while riding the conveyor belt.
“Hey Glenn, I’m inside and it looks like the blades are manufactured on an entirely automated assembly line. I have been down this tunnel for miles and haven’t seen a single soul.”
Suddenly the belt stopped and directly to Carl’s left was an opaque glass door. What a coincidence he thought. I go for miles and don’t see any doors then the belt stops right in front of one.
He walked to the door and tried to see in but it was not going to happen. \
“Glen, I am going into a door down here. I will get back to you.
As Glenn passed into the room he was surprised to see an old grey haired man sitting in a leather recliner watching a large video screen displaying Glenn watching an old man sitting in a chair.
The old man turned and smiled. “Hello Carl, how are you? Did you find what you are looking for?”
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir. Have we met?”
“No, but the computer recognized you and told me lots of things about you. It tracked your visits to King Kohl’s business and with some data about your line of work deduced you are looking for the answer to the reduction in Kohl’s income. Please call me Pierre.” The old man smiled. “Me or my associates have known for awhile someone like you would come along sooner or later. We are not prepared to kill or confine you, so, welcome. You can be the first person from outside France to know this wonderful tale. Please have a seat.”
There had been no chair but when Carl looked behind him another leather recliner had appeared and was almost touching the back of his legs.
“Pierre, Carl sat, I am excited to hear it, please go ahead.”
“Carl, a good place to begin is at the beginning. We had some luck. There was an odd man who had been calling all the universities for years and telling the computer whizzes that he could make a conscious computer. They laughed and laughed but finally a grad student listened to him on a whim and thought the guy was not crazy and was making some sense. He had the urchin over after hours and they began to run some simple programs based on complex algorithms with interesting results. Within a few months they had a program and a machine working at a high level. Funny thing about it was that the machine was constructed with over the counter bits and the software was not complicated just an odd way of looking at the works of consciousness.”
“I didn’t read about this in any science journals or see it on the internet and I am above average in nosing around.”
“One of the first things we did was to ask it what we should do next. It didn’t take long for us to become comfortable in asking it things we would normally decide for ourselves. It told us to let it do what it does and things would unfold naturally. Actually you are part of the unfolding of the new reality. We have built the example and you will be the first to bring the worlds attention.”
“Pierre, all I have really seen is big tunnels and an automated wind turbine factory. Well, wait I guess I have seen a shitload of wind turbines and I haven’t seen a person but you involved with the manufacture of the turbines. Where is this intelligent machine?”
“For this for my use and this entire factory it is on that shelf.” Pierre said, pointing at a box the size of a personal pc.”
“Since you are being frank please tell me the entire story.”
“Alright Carl, first I will tell you why Kohl’s business cannot compete and is losing all its contracts. It is a good microcosm to the whole thing. In a building the size of a small apt downtown there are a couple of dozen boxes like this one here. Each of the boxes can approximate thousands of human minds capable of the level of technical service advisor and language expert. Callers would not be able to distinguish the boxes from real people. The boxes never lose patience and know every word and every detail of the product they are representing. That is the key to the decline of King Kohl’s business. We have no labor costs. Simple as that. He will never be able to compete.
The helicopter you used today is one of the few that do not fly themselves. We are exporting the cars now we have been using here for five years. There has not been a single repair or breakdown in the entire country in that period of time. The exporting of the wind generators will begin next month. Those have not been touched by human hands. All the chemicals they are comprised of began as common elements and with the energy provided by those machines the atoms are assembled into complex molecules provided by crude oil byproducts in the past. In other words we had machines build wind generators, used the energy from them to assemble atoms into complex useful chemicals and take those useful chemicals to build more wind generators and robotic factories that make robotic factories that make other things. So in effect we have no energy costs, no material costs and no labor costs. Our atoms are making the things we want with no effort and no cost.
“How do you hide the fact that the factories are unmanned. I have observed workers entering your factories at other locations.”
Pierre got up and walked across the room to the shelf where the computer was and reached up and grabbed his ears with his hands and pulled upward. Carl began to feel nauseated as the head come away from the neck. Pierre tucked the head under his right armpit. The head then began to tell Carl that human like robots had been the ones he had seen.
Carl’s eyes rolled up and he began to fall forward. He woke up on a park bench near the Eiffel tower. King Kohl went broke. General motors and Ford and Chrysler sold out to the French companies. The French mechanized flying drones and foot soldiers did what Napoleon never could and French became the world language.