Makers

Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 63 (of 81)

 

Illustration by Idiots’Books

The last thing Sammy wanted was a fight. Dinah’s promo was making major bank for the company—and he was taking more and more meetings in Texas with Dinah, which was a hell of a perk. They’d shipped two million of the DiaBs, and were projecting ten million in the first quarter. Park admission was soaring and the revenue from the advertising was going to cover the entire cost of the next rev of the DiaBs, which would be better, faster, smaller and cheaper.

That business with Death Waits and the new Fantasyland and the ride—what did it matter now? He’d been so focused on the details that he’d lost track of the big picture. Walt Disney had made his empire by figuring out how to do the next thing, not wasting his energy on how to protect the last thing. It had all been a mistake, a dumb mistake, and now he was back on track. From all appearances, the lawsuits were on the verge of blowing away, anyway. Fantasyland—he’d turned that over to Wiener, of all people, and he was actually doing some good stuff there. Really running with the idea of restoring it as a nostalgia site aimed squarely at fatkins, with lots of food and romantic kiddie rides that no kid would want to ride in the age of the break-neck coaster.

The last thing he wanted was a fight. What he wanted was to make assloads of money for the company, remake himself as a power in the organization.

But he was about to have a fight.

Hackelberg came into his office unannounced. Sammy had some of the Imagineers in, showing him prototypes of the next model, which was being designed for more reliable shipping and easier packing. Hackelberg was carrying his cane today, wearing his ice-cream suit, and was flushed a deep, angry red that seemed to boil up from his collar.

One look from his blazing eyes was enough to send the Imagineers scurrying. They didn’t even take their prototype with them. Hackelberg closed the door behind them.

“Hello, Samuel,” he said.

“Nice to see you. Can I offer you a glass of water? Iced tea?”

Hackelberg waved the offers away. “They’re using your boxes to print their own designs,” he said.

“What?”

“Those freaks with their home-made ride. They’ve just published a system for printing their own objects on your boxes.”

Sammy rewound the conversations he’d had with the infosec people in Imagineering about what countermeasures they’d come up with, what they were proof against. He was pissed that he was finding out about this from Hackelberg. If Lester and Perry were hacking the DiaBs, they would be talking about it nonstop, running their mouths on the Internet. Back when he was his own competitive intelligence specialist, he would have known about this project the second it began. Now he was trying to find a competitive intelligence person who knew his ass from his elbow, so far without success.

“Well, that’s regrettable, obviously, but so long as we’re still selling the consumables…” The goop was a huge profit-maker for the company. They bought it in bulk, added a proprietary, precisely mixed chemical that the printer could check for in its hoppers, and sold it to the DiaB users for a two thousand percent markup. If you tried to substitute a competitor’s goop, the machine would reject it. They shipped out new DiaBs with only half a load of goop, so that the first purchase would come fast. It was making more money, week-on-week, than popcorn.

“The crack they’re distributing also disables the checking for the watermark. You can use any generic goop in them.”

Sammy shook his head and restrained himself from thumping his hand down on the desk. He wanted to scream.

“We’re not suing them, are we?”

“Do you think that’s wise, Samuel?”

“I’m no legal expert. You tell me. Maybe we can take stronger countermeasures with the next generation—” He gestured at the prototype on his desk.

“And abandon the two million units we’ve shipped to date?”

Sammy thought about it. Those families might hang on to their original two million forever, or until they wore out. Maybe he should be building them to fall apart after six months of use, to force updates.

“It’s just so unfair. They’re ripping us off. We spent the money on those units so that we could send our message out. What the hell is wrong with those people? Are they compulsive? Do they have to destroy every money-making business?”

Hackelberg sat back. “Samuel, I think it’s time we dealt with them.”

Sammy’s mind was still off on the strategies for keeping Lester and Perry at bay, though. Sure, a six-month obsolescence curve would do it. Or they could just charge money for the DiaBs now that people were starting to understand what they were for. Hell, they could just make the most compelling stuff for a DiaB to print and maybe that would be enough.

Hackelberg tapped the tip of his cane once, sharply. Sammy came back to the conversation. “So that’s settled. Filing suit today. We’re going to do a discovery on them that’ll split them open from asshole to throat. No more of this chickenshit police stuff—we’re going to figure out every source of income these bastards have, we’re going to take away their computers, we’re going down to their ISPs and getting their emails and instant messages.

“And as we’ve seen, they’re going to retaliate. That’s fine. We’re not treating these people as a couple of punk pirates who go down at the first sign of trouble. Not anymore. We know that these people are the competition. We’re going to make an example of them. They’re the first ones to attack on this front, but they won’t be the last. We’re vulnerable, Samuel, but we can contain that vulnerability with enough deterrent.”

Hackelberg seemed to be expecting something of Sammy, but Sammy was damned if he knew what it was. “OK,” he said lamely.

Hackelberg’s smile was like a jack o’lantern’s. “That means that we’ve got to be prepared for their discovery on us. I need to know every single detail of this DiaB project, including the things I’d find if I went through your phone records and your email. Because they will be going through them. They’ll be putting you and your operation under the microscope.”

Sammy restrained his groan. “I’ll have it for you,” he said. “Give me a day or two.”

He saw Hackelberg out of his office as quickly as he could, then shut the door. Hackelberg wanted everything, and that meant everything, including his playmates from the advertising industry—everything. He was becoming the kind of executive who emitted strategic intelligence, rather than the kind who gathered it. That wouldn’t do. That wasn’t the natural order of things.

He sat down at his computer. Someone had to do the competitive intelligence work around here and it looked like it would have to be him.

<<< Back to Part 62

Continue to Part 64>>>

As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.


Doctorow’s Makers is now available in print from Tor Books. You can read all previous installments of Makers on Tor.com on our index page.

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