Richards knew he had only so much time to establish a completely secure physical, moral, and economic stronghold before They would try to take it away from him. The “They” would include not just business tycoons and supercorporations, but planetary governments as well. So he moved fast. What little personal life and recreational time he’d had as Bargeta’s troubleshooter appeared like a lifetime of idle luxury now.
The “fuel tank” was no bigger than Richards’s torso and was made of Imperium X, as were the feed lines and chambers in the engine itself. There had been a seemingly insurmountable problem keeping the engine lubricant from ever contacting Anti-Matter Two, but eventually the problem had been solved.
Offworld, Kea checked the ship’s ultrasensitive receptors. The ship was not being monitored. And then the ship went to stardrive.
Sooner or later Kea knew he would have to build roboticized mining ships, everything in them either made of or plated with Imperium X, move them through the discontinuity into the other universe, and set them to work. He would also have to come up with some kind of long-distance on/off switch, a com whose signals would have to be at least as eccentrically targeted as Richards’s chosen orbits to the Alva Sector.
If Kea had to play that card, however, he was determined it would be the highest of trumps. But the on/off power switch could wait. Now it was time to start rattling some cages.
There was some quiet scoffing in the resorts, bars, and clubs catering to the gigawealthy. Nice thought, but there weren’t that many superrich fools. Not enough to support Kea’s scheme. Oh well. He would go bankrupt, and come looking to them for a position, which any of them would be happy to provide.
Surprisingly, about 15 percent were paid off and regretfully returned to their home worlds— psychologists discovered that even a spaceman might be afraid of the stars beyond the “known” worlds. Eventually the men and women were shown the new ships. Taught to navigate, pilot, and service them. And sent out. To the stars. Looking. For valuables. And for extraterrestrials.
It was time for the next stage.
Both conferences were on the same day, two E-hours apart. No one noticed the apparent error. Both conferences were moderately well attended—although not one-tenth as many journalists actually showed up as later claimed to have been present.
Kea figured the crockola of Superengine would satisfactorily murk up the cesspool for a while, anyway.
Everyone wanted to ship aboard his craft. There was a monstrous waiting list, a waiting list that almost made it practical to ship or travel conventionally. Almost, but not quite. And Richards had set his rates to be exactly what they should be—he allowed a 30 percent markup for profit and, for the moment, another 20 percent for risk.
The pols were honest—that is, they stayed bought—and Richards remained free and unextraditable. ‘Trapped,” at least for the moment, on Ganymede. But what of it—he had access to any ship he wanted and any destination that could be navigated. With galaxies opening in front of him, Kea imagined he could live without caviar or cabrito for a spell.
Each starship had been given a missile. Now each looked like a chubby shark with a remora. The ships themselves were also equipped with remote-controlled chainguns mounted inside each ship’s cargo port.
The uneasy peace continued. It was prolonged by the rumor—never verified—that all of the new starships were booby-trapped, so that any intrusion beyond Barrier Thirty-three would be a disaster.
Richards’s enemies seized on this—the new engines were unsafe, and should be banned, and Richards himself prosecuted. Kea was worried—and then an amateur shipfreak surfaced with an amazing audio track. He had been recording ship-tower chatter, and, quite clearly, any listener could hear the takeoff drone being interrupted by shouts, the clanging of a hatchway out of crewspace, gunfire, and then silence. The critics were not only answered, but somewhat discredited. But that was too close for Kea.
Somehow a commercial gravlighter went out of control and crashed into a mansion on a tiny, private Aegean island. Without any surviving heirs, SpaceWays went into receivership until the situation could be sorted out Just to make sure that the robber barons and their thugs got the message, Kea hired more security people. These had a new task—to baby-sit, unobtrusively, his space personnel.
Anyone interfering with one of his crew members, whether it was pumping for info in a barroom or trying a back-alley snatch for interrogation, was intercepted and “handled roughly.”
Governments may have been banned from building warships, but no one had mentioned private enterprise, for the simple reason that before AM2 drive, a spaceship/starship built for combat was absurdly wasteful. Kea was spending a fair amount of his time thinking about weaponry.
Wishing that he’d had more time, and Willy’d been able to perfect his AM2 weapon, he jacked a round into the carbine’s chamber, tugged on zip-closure boots, and headed down the hall.
Gunfire chattered from outside the main entrance and lasers flashed seen/never-seen red eye-memory. Shouts.
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION
And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?