“I don’t understand,” Jillian said.
She looked over Raleigh’s shoulder at a long column of numbers in a holosheet floating above his desk.
“What don’t you understand?”
He tore his eyes off the figures and focused on his young wife.
“Why you gave that guy so much money. I mean, I don’t know a whole lot about money, but he got a lot. And for so little.”
“Was it little? He got us in a League banking drone after we intercepted an interplanetary gold transfer. That’s a major accomplishment.”
“Yeah, but you could have gotten in there without him. I mean he didn’t do much. He shot it continuously until its power died. Then he just bored through a lock. You could have done that without him.”
Raleigh flicked his wrist and the holosheet disappeared. He patted his leg and she took a seat in his lap, smiling and throwing her arms around his neck.
He said, “When I was a kid, my dad owned a bot dealership on Cyclades. In the Republic back in those days, and even today to a certain extent, service bots were sold and maintained through a vast network of dealerships. Sort of like cars used to be sold back on Old Earth.
“So, Dad, he owned the rights to sell Verberger Bots. Are you familiar with them?”
Jillian shook her head.
“Verberger Corp. was one of the first big manufacturers of humanoid robots in the Republic. They perfected the design. We’ve always had robots, mostly simple things, even back in the 20th century. But these were very humanoid. They could handle things just like a human, they looked very human, and so forth. The only noticeable parts decidedly not human were their eyes. Those looked . . . spooky. You could tell you were dealing with a robot when you saw the eyes.
“When I was a kid, they hadn’t gotten around to calling them ‘androids’ yet. Nowadays, we differentiate. A bot looks mechanical. An android looks far more human. But when I was a kid all we had were bots. And Verberger was the biggest company making them, at least for the Planetary Republic.
“So, Dad had this dealership and we did fairly well. He sold bots to everyone on Cyclades. And he was really into the business community. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. I learned a lot from him. I went to work for him, right out of school. He took me to meetings, to social outings. I soaked up everything I could about being a businessman, and how to run a successful business. I owe a lot of my success from the lessons he taught me, both directly and indirectly.”
“That’s nice,” Jillian said. “I’m glad one of us had a good relationship with their father.”
“Yeah. So, anyway, one thing he taught me was you always support those in your local network. In your community. For instance, there was a restaurant near the dealership. The owner of the restaurant was a member of the Chamber, and she was in the Lions Club. Whenever Dad went out to eat, or brought clients and customers out to eat, he would try to steer everybody to this restaurant.
“One time I complained. I said, ‘Dad, not this place again.’ But he said, ‘Notice all their servers are Verbergers. The cooks are too. The owner buys all her bots from me, and in return this is where I eat out.’
“And that was just one example. Everybody in his personal network did business with him, and he tried to do business with them, too. They all supported one another. You see?”
Jillian nodded. She said, “I’m beginning to. It was a case of, ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’”
“Yeah, sort of. It was bigger than that, but yeah. So, here we are on Lute and it’s a similar situation. Now, granted, this is not a bot dealership. It’s a pirate company. But, we rely on the services of others in Port Ryan especially. They, in turn, rely on us. They rely on us to spread the wealth around, if nothing more.
“So, could we have gotten into the bank drone without bringing in outside help? Probably. I bet Pak and Kim could have dreamed something up, or figured out a similar approach as Mr. Fairfield. But, he’s part of our network, our community. And in the future we may need him again. So, yes it was a bit expensive, but in the long run it will even out. And even if it doesn’t, it was still the right thing to do.”
“Because it’s good for business?”
He nodded and smiled. “Right. You catch on quick, Beautiful.”
She giggled and bent down to kiss him.
Herschel Stuttgart gulped nervously as he looked over his shoulder. Everyone seemed out to get him. He stopped in front of a window and surveyed the scene behind him. A man down the street looked his way. Stuttgart nervously turned and walked across the street, then quickly headed in the opposite direction.
How would an assassin strike? Would he take out Stuttgart in the open like this? Would it be a she?
Stuttgart eyed an attractive woman walking toward him on the sidewalk. She caught him looking, then frowned at the expression on his face. The little man appeared to be ogling her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and cut across the street to get away from him.
At last Stuttgart reached the Gore’s communications center. He took a last look around behind him before going through the door. Inside, he found the place blessedly empty, with only Heidi behind the counter.
“I need to arrange another private meeting with LuteNet,” he told her.
A few minutes later he found himself once again in the private cubical with a connection to StarCen.
“I need your help!”
“What can I do for you, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart?”
“They’re . . . they’re suspicious. My boss, the ambassador. He is questioning everyone who knew about the bank transfer. There’s only six or seven of us in the office who knew anything about it.”
LuteNet took a second to parse the data and consider it. For an AI system, this was a considerable length of time.
She said, “There is a high probability other people outside of Lute knew about the shipment. It would be logical for the ambassador to conclude the information came off planet.”
“Yeah, but Huntington . . . he’s not exactly known for being logical, you know?”
“What would you have me do, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart?”
“I don’t know! Set up . . . set up an alternative narrative for him to buy into or something. Find a way to take the heat off me and others in the embassy. If you can do this, I will try to funnel additional information your way, and to the company you sold my information to.”
LuteNet took another second.
“Very well, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart. I will arrange a plausible story for you, an ‘alternative narrative’ as you put it. This will provide you with cover. The company’s assets will need to be expended in order for this to work, and they will expect future compensation by way of additional information when it becomes available to you.
“Are we agreed?”
“Yes. Yes! Just get the ambassador off my back. I’ll send more info in the future, as a I get it.”
“Very well, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart. I will make arrangements with the Ultima Mule Company immediately.”