Wow, two weeks in a row– I haven’t done this in a while.
Below is my response to this week’s flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig– 1000 words on the subject of real estate, of all things. And for some twisted reason, this one slotted right in behind the piece I wrote last week— same universe, same space opera sensibility. Only…I think this one is all too likely, if we ever do create an interstellar society. Which makes me kinda queasy when I think about it….
Copyright 2018 Douglas Daniel
The sun sparkled beautifully off the waters of the bay. Juarez took in the vista, with purple headlands shadowing the horizon across the water, and boats, pleasure craft and working vessels, dotting the blue of the water. The sun was warm, but the breeze off the bay was cool and refreshing after days in a ship getting here.
“And this is the result of, what?” he asked Harkess. “Two hundred years of terraforming?”
“To bring it to its current state of perfection, yes,” Harkess said. “But Pequod was comfortably inhabitable within thirty years of our first landings. And many of the prospects in our portfolio would require even less work than that– in fact, some are step off the ship, plant a seed, and you’re done.”
“Doubtless those go for a higher premium,” Juarez said.
Harkess conceded the point with a nod. “Of course, as with any other piece of real estate, the asking price of any of our worlds is predicated on ‘move-in readiness’, among many other factors.” He smiled. “To be honest, it is a balancing act most investors have to make. Savings in initial costs for a less human-friendly world will usually be invested in the subsequent terraforming as a matter-of-course.”
“Yes,” Juarez said, “The investors I represent have been studying the market for some time. They understand the basic points of planetary investment.” He shifted in his seat. “But as a middle-rank association, we must be careful where we finally decide to put our money. We’re not a conglomerate; still less are we Shareholders. One false step and we could all be penniless.”
“Of course,” Harkess said. “And Advanced System Opportunities has assisted many groups in your situation, Citizen Juarez. The New Way Chosen, for instance, came to us when they wanted to find a world for themselves. So did the Purified. We have a great deal of experience helping investors of modest means become Proprietors on their own planet.”
A servant came out on to the terrace, bearing a tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He placed the tray on the table between the two men, poured wine into the glasses, bowed and left. Juarez thought the man bore unmistakable signs of being a mod, but said nothing.
“Please, Citizen Juarez,” Harkess said, indicating the glass before the representative.
Juarez lifted the glass, inhaled the bouquet, and then took a respectful sip. “A local vintage?”
“Yes,” Harkess said. “We’re quite proud of it.”
“It is truly excellent.” Juarez took another sip. “I understand that ASO has a relationship with the Voronovs.”
Harkess nodded. “Quite a long and fruitful one, to be honest. Historically, and in the present, they have been a tremendous help. And, of course, we keep all our licensures and permits with the Consortium itself in order.” He paused. “May I ask what your investors’ intentions might be?”
Juarez looked at Harkess over the rim of his glass. “My investors are committed to making whatever world we chose into a place fit for extensive human habitation– but precisely because our resources are not unlimited, we need to see some early profits. To help us bear the cost of development.”
“Naturally,” Harkess said. “That would mean some easily exploited mineral assets, or some of the higher yield cash crops, such as coca or makatinte. Considering the resources of your group, I would assume that we are not talking about mining gas giants or any other such larger scale operations.”
“No, you’re quite correct,” Juarez said.
“Yes– I think you will find, citizen, that we have several opportunities in our portfolio right now that might meet your specifications.” Harkess smiled. “And if not, well, there’s hardly a week that passes without one of our survey ships jumping far beyond the Perimeter, discovering new worlds. I am sure we will be able to find something that will please your investors.”
“That’s all very well and good, Citizen Harkess,” Juarez said, hesitating, “but I’m afraid I must ask about… infestations.”
“Ah,” Harkess said. “You needn’t trouble yourself, Citizen Juarez. ASO has extensive experience handling infestations. In the five hundred standard years we have been in business, we have dealt with more than one hundred.” He smiled. “In my operations days, I handled five myself.”
“Really?” Juarez said. “Are they…difficult?”
“Generally, speaking, no,” Harkess said. “Every world has its particular vulnerabilities. Our techs and operations people are quite skilled at crafting solutions peculiar to each situation, one that is guaranteed to do no permanent harm to the planetary biosphere. Naturally, we don’t beat our own drum about it, but we’ve never had a failure, nor a complaint.”
“I see,” Juarez said. “Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I was asking. Do you ever…face opposition?”
“Ah– no, we never have. None of the species we’ve confronted have ever had a technology more sophisticated than bronze axes. Primitives like that are quite easy to deal with– one tailored bio-plague, a couple of neutron weapons, and it’s generally over before they know it’s begun.”
“What about the Hegeri?” Juarez asked.
Harkess’ studied, pleasant facade seemed to harden, just a little. “The Hegeri…the Hegeri are a unique case. They were taught their technology by a human renegade. It is not…native to their culture.” He smiled again. “Besides, they are on the other side of the Volume. The Consortium fleet has them well in hand. Nothing to concern us.”
“Well, that reassures me,” Juarez said.
“As it should, citizen,” Harkess said, beaming now. “Besides, if it should turn out the planet you choose does have an infestation, it’s always possible that they will leave some picturesque ruins. We’ve found that sort of thing is generally a boon to the tourist trade on any given world.”
Now Juarez smiled. “Citizen Harkess,” he said, lifting his glass, “I think your firm and my investors are going to have a very profitable relationship.”
Harkess lifted his glass, too. “I hope so, citizen,” he said, as they clinked glasses.