"Joe, how fast can we hire another dozen machinists, half a dozen each of metallurgists and robotics programmers, and three dozen factory hands? "Joe Williamson was enjoying his morning coffee.

Normally, for the last five, or maybe ten years, he had made a ritual of stretching out his morning coffee routine from 6 am until 9 am, reading the latest Engineering and Robotics magazines, reading and deleting his email, and wasting as much time as possible.

There wasn't much else to do when times were slow.

What his factory made, so did a hundred other corporations, and they were all bigger than his little fabrication firm.

Most of what they did now were special orders that no one else would handle.

Do you need seven pieces of pipe made from a special alloy, each one in a different size? How about parts for older machines that have to be hand-made on a lathe? Or maybe you ran out of number 16 gangly wrenches? Williamson was the place to go.

No one else would fill specialty orders without charging a huge fee for the small, piecemeal work.


Williamson Plumbing Supply was happy to pick up the crumbs and keep the lights on.

But waiting for special orders meant a lot of downtime.

The only time they got busy was when an order came in for their specialty: Clog Eaters.

Joe Williamson and his brother, Pete, had invented the robotic cleaners four decades ago, and held onto the patents rather than selling out to a larger corporation.

They'd slowly built up from a small, two-man operation to a mid-level factory that, at its peak, had employed over a hundred machinists.

The clunky, slow machines did a good job, but they needed to be deployed in a huge building to make it worthwhile to use them.


Joe had foreseen the need for such a tool with the building of the first habitat.

During that period of frantic building, they had shipped truckloads of Clog Eaters all over the world.

But the need for new Clog Eaters had died along with the support for the habitats.

They sent one out now and then, and their one salesman was busy every day trying to drum up business, but no one was interested in spending millions of dollars to keep their pipes clean.

Until two years ago.

That was when the first large order came in.

Large by current standards, to be clear.

Four Clog Eaters had been paid for in advance and shipped out.

Then, two months later, came a request for two of their largest size and a dozen medium and small.

Obviously for a habitat, based on the sizes they needed.

Joe had started drinking his coffee faster and re-hired two old friends who'd retired.

They were glad for the work.

The factory wasn't really bustling, but it was busy.

And then came the really strange request.

Someone had noticed that Williamson Plumbing not only made Clog Eaters, but they also had the tools and people to fabricate special orders.

The buyer wanted to redesign the Clog Eaters and have Williamson make them.

They promised to provide the designs and specifications, pay upfront, pay the cost of tooling up to make new products and pay a little extra to make sure it was a priority job.And the best part? They didn't care about the patents.

There was no argument about who owned the new designs.

The buyer told Joe to apply for the patents and waived all his rights to them.

There was only one caveat: Williamson Plumbing had to remain an independent corporation.

If the company were sold, 50% of all sales of the products would be owed to the creator, and he demanded the first right of refusal.

If Joe and Pete decided to sell the company, he wanted a chance to buy it first, before it went on the market.

He didn't mind giving away his creations to a small firm, but he didn't want his designs to become part of Teslatech, ACME, or another large megacorp.

All he cared about was getting his machines and being able to re-order.

Joe spent two days with his lawyers and his machinists and dragged his brother out of retirement.

No one saw a problem, and they got to work after hiring another half-dozen engineers and machinists.

The stipulation about not selling out also thrilled Joe and Pete.

They'd been independent for the entire life of the company.

Being rewarded for that and having someone notice was nearly as good as the money pouring into the cash-starved company.

Nearly, not having to worry about bills and paying down old debt also made them feel very good.Now, they were in a flurry, working two full shifts to turn the new designs into reality and ship them out.

The machines were a major upgrade on the old designs.

One of the problems with controlling the robots was having a signal reach them inside metal and concrete pipes.

The new system worked by upgrading their receivers and transmitters, fitting each robot with a GPS signal, and having them communicate and pass signals to other machines.

Smaller machines called Nodes filled the gap between machines, making it possible for signals to be passed down the chain.

Another new type of Clog Eater, called Scouts, didn't eat clogs at all but moved through the pipes using its cameras and other sensors to map the system and report on the integrity of the pipes, the buildup of sediment, and any blockages or leaks.

The entire system was brilliant, and took advantage of the advances in communication and robotics of the last four decades since the first Clog Eater had been made.

This narrative has been purloined without the author's approval.

Report any appearances on Amazon.Besides the new people in the factory, there was money to hire a small design and sales team to help out their one beleaguered salesman.

Pictures were taken of the new machines, and catalogs were made.

Beautiful full-color catalogs were produced, a luxury in this day and age.

Sadly, the first batch was obsolete before they even went out, as their mysterious benefactor sent even more designs.

These designs were for small aerial drones that could fly quickly through air ducts, documenting problems by filming as they went and mapping airflow systems the same way the Clog Eaters mapped out water and sewer pipes.

They could also be used to map and report on problems in corridors or any other place that didn't have a security system operating and someone needed to visually inspect an area.

A new contract, based on their existing contract for the Clog Eater design, came with the new schematics, along with a large order, prepayment, and a bonus to cover start-up costs.And now Pete was rushing in and asking about hiring more people.

"What's up? We ran the numbers and things look good to finish the order."Pete grinned at him, "Oh, sure, we're good to finish the first order, but what about second orders?""I don't think I know anything about second orders?"Pete tossed a printout onto Joe's desk.

There were a lot of numbers on it—larger numbers.

"That's a sales order from Rhebus, the big biotech people.

They are taking over part of a habitat, saw the new catalog with all those lovely pictures, and sent over a huge order.

It was scary huge, and if the money weren't in our bank account as of this morning, I wouldn't believe it.""Holy shit, this is insane, even for a big company.

Did they even contact us and ask questions?""Nope.

I'm sure they have people who looked at their needs, searched out the best solution, and decided on us.

They logged into our sales system, went through the catalog, and in three minutes, they dropped 635 million dollars into our bank account.

So, about those people we need.

Where are we getting them?"Joe started thinking.

They'd had to lay off a lot of good people in the last few years, and jobs were scarce.

"Call up any of the people we've had to let go.

If they need jobs, we should hire them before we look elsewhere.

After that, we should talk to old man Sanderson.

When they shut down next door, a lot of his guys had to go on the doll at a quarter of their pay.

He had some good people."Sanderson Metallurgy was located in the building adjacent to them, separated by a few yards.

Two huge brick factories that had been built a century earlier when the economy was booming.

Pete liked the idea.

The people in the two factories knew each other and would often drink together at the local bar and grill.

"Hey, Joe? Doesn't Sanderson still own his building? It's solid, even if the interior needs some work.

It would be nice to have more room, which would probably increase efficiency by quite a bit.

We could keep the Clog Eater assembly line here and build the drones in the Sanderson building.""What the hell? I'll give him a call."An hour later, at a bar named Josie's that had seen better days, old friends were having a beer and thick sandwiches with thinly sliced ham and thick slabs of cheddar cheese.

Ed Sanderson had been happy to meet up.

Josie had always made great sandwiches, and now that her daughter and son-in-law had taken over, they carried on the tradition.

"Sure, it gets me out of the house.

I still have too much energy and my puttering drives the wife crazy.

But what's this about? I've heard you guys are crazy busy, so I don't think you dragged me out here for no reason."The two brothers looked at each other and nodded, happy to tell the story.

"Crazy busy is right.

So busy, we might need to hire a dozen of your guys, and rent your building.

We might even need an experienced line foreman if your wife can spare you."Sanderson took a bite of his sandwich and a long sip of his beer.

"You're serious? I'd work as a stock boy, I'm so bored.

But hell, if you need a building, just buy the place.

I'll make you a good deal on it."One beer led to another.

People started pouring into the bar.

They'd come looking for Pete and Joe about the job offers and were delighted to see their old boss there.

By the time the bar closed for the night, they all had jobs and would be back the next day to start the rehab work on the Sanderson building.

Ed's wife was waiting for him when he got back.

"So, were the rumors true? Did they want the old factory? Or just needed a drinking buddy?""Both.

But the deal gets better.

Not only are they buying the building, but I'm starting immediately and running the show in my old factory with my old crew."Sally got two beers from the fridge to celebrate.

"Thank god.

I thought it would be nice to have you home, but you've tinkered with everything in the house, and my vacuum cleaner has never worked the same since you fixed it."