Chapter 130: We. Just. Sell. Fruit.
We left our heroes in the midst of setting up a chocolate-fruit business with which to buy hospitals for injured nephilim. We're raising them on our own secret planet, gating them through to Hellene by pantope, then exporting them into Terran Space through offices on Adonis. Last time, we set up the offices on Adonis. We thought.
It takes a couple of days for the Munch to fly from Adonis back to Hellene. There, we wait in orbit for our first freighter to make the Hellene-Adonis run. (We wait quickly, using the fast-forward abilities of the pantope.) Then we get a call from Jumping Jacks (who own the freighter -- this is not as odd as it seems; Jumping Jack's most obvious form of business is specialty shipping). Mary, in Dispatching, tells Dafnord that there was no one to receive the goods when the ship got to Adonis. In the end, they had to hire local stevedores to unload; our agent never answered calls. We get a forward of the captain's log.
We immediately get into our cheap office in the Sybil warehouse district, on Adonis. Kate, Robbie, and Gannar stride through and check the answering machine. Lots of mail, from local authorities, Three-Ways, our captain, etc. Robbie calls Three-Ways and contacts Mr. Edgeway for an explanation. It turns out we left the planet too soon; the contracts weren't all signed yet. In particular, the marketing contract with Three-Ways wasn't signed. (Ah. We were wondering how Three-Ways was going to make anything off the lousy 2% we were giving them to ship the fruit around. Turns out this marketing contract will cost us 25%, plus warehousing and similar services. Much more believable.)
Turns out they did eventually hear the frantic cries of our captain and receive the fruit, but they don't know what to do with it. Except charge us warehouse rent for it.
Gannar speed-reads the marketing contract and transmits the text back to Tom's helm computer on the pantope. While Gannar and Robbie ask My Edgeways for a conference room to consult in, Tom puts the Adonis pantope connection on hold, connects to our warehouse in Pericles, on Hellene, and calls up Jumping Jacks, where he asks for the legal department, for an evaluation of this contract.
The guy in Legal remonstrates gently with Tom about plunging into business without consulting them first, but is entertained by the prospect of looking over a contract from Adonis. Could Tom give him a couple of days? Sure. (It'll even reduce the week-long timeslip through the pantope between Hellene and Adonis.) Tom fast-forwards two days and calls back.
It's a pretty good contract, actually, but Three-Ways has been careful to insulate themselves from any responsibility should we get caught doing anything ... funny, the sort of thing the Jumping Jacks folk term "secondary missions." Tom assures him that we don't intend anything but to make money selling fruit. The Legal guy seems to have some trouble believing this, but is heartened to hear that we intend to do something weird with the money. To really check things out properly, we should consult with Jumping Jacks' agent on Adonis, a Mr. Joncquire.
Tom, whose sense of temporal caution has been worn down by the recent uses of the pantope in combat, contacts Mr. Joncquire on Adonis, "yesterday" (from our "now" in which Gannar, Kate, and Robbie are sitting in the Three-Ways conference room).
Joncquire is interested in our situation and to be dealing with Tom, one of the founders of Jumping Jacks (to whom much eccentricity must be allowed). Tom tells him the situation. He looks the contract over and offers to come up with some recommendations for a counter-offer in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, did Tom know that our cheap offices in the warehouse district were two doors down from a Jumping Jacks front? (No.) Would we mind finding new offices? (Not at all.) After all, it could get awkward, if our missions crossed paths.
Joncquire also points out that we're routing all our most vital communication through Robbie's phone card, which he bought out of a vending machine. We should get something (anything) better soon. (Okay.) (Joncquire also seems to have a hard time believing we're just here to sell fruit.)
Finally, he asks that Tom make future Jumping Jack contacts on Adonis through his agent, "Sinclair." (Fine.) Tom rings off, fast-forwards two hours, and calls "Sinclair," who turns out to be Joncquire under a different identity. Cute. Sinclair/Joncquire has noticed Tom's little temporal discrepancies and offers to make arrangements for us to actually arrive on Adonis instead of simply appearing there. Tom meekly acquiesces.
As for the contract, it's good, but we could probably do better. Three-Ways was playing us for yokels, a bit. Offer them 20% for marketing, plus 5% for the additional services, and announce your move to the better offices in the Sybil business district. Joncquire will set that up, too, through an agent Jumping Jacks has on a Capeknik ship that's due to make port at Adonis tomorrow/today. And here's the text of the counter-offer contract. (Many thanks.)
Tom then opens a door into the conference room at Three-Ways, picking up Kate, Gannar, and Robbie. After some hunting around, he finds the Capeknik ship, docked at the space station in synchronous orbit over Sybil. He opens a pantope door in a quiet place and contacts the agent, a Mr. Arsenio, who appears to be human. (Most Capekniks are AIs.)
Arsenio has already been contacted by the resourceful Joncquire and is expecting us. He directs Tom to a small, quiet lounge in the human-habitable part of the ship, though he is puzzled how we'll get there. We tell him not to worry.
We find the lounge and wait, watching through a window, until Arsenio walks in and looks around blankly. When his back is momentarily turned, Tom turns the window into an invisible door, and marches through with Kate, Robbie, and Gannar, all screened in invisibility glamour. Then we become visible. When he turns around again, Arsenio is suitably impressed with our craft. He directs us through the ship, down the gang-tube, and into the station, where we are met by our old friends, Adonis Customs. Thanks to papers slipped us by Arsenio, we breeze through. (Okay, so one Customs agent was puzzled that Robbie, the Magical Robot Djinni, didn't register properly on his scanners. Tough.)
While we are breezing through, a messenger runs up and gives Tom a locked briefcase. We take it to the hotel booked for us at the other end of the shuttle ride. There, we find that Joncquire has thought of everything, including clothes suitable for Adonis. In the briefcase, which opens to Tom's thumbprint, we find a bunch of comm pads. We activate and authorize them, and one immediately beeps. It's Joncquire, in his Sinclair identity. He assures himself that we're all okay and we thank him for his diligence.
Especially when you consider we're just here to sell fruit.
Tom impresses everyone, including himself, by summoning the pantope door from the Capeknik ship. This way, we can close the door we've left open at the cheap office in the warehouse district.
We spend the night at the hotel. Next morning, it's "today" and Robbie, Kate, and Gannar will soon be visiting Three-Ways to straighten out the contractual snarls. (These now seem as nothing compared to the temporal snarls behind the scenes.) We can afford to skip over this bit of time, so we just gate them right back into the conference room, "five minutes later."
They emerge with their counter-proposal. Mr. Edgeway is impressed and is clearly revising his impression of our yokel status. (Having fallen off the turnip truck, we have now dusted ourselves off, thank you.) He accepts the contract.
Robbie seeks out Joncquire in his Sinclair personna and presents him with a box of the chocolate-fruit as a thank-you. Joncquire presents Robbie with a private calling-card.
Next morning, the four of us seek out these new offices we've bought in the nicer part of Sybil. The receptionist in the lobby gives us the keys and gives Tom a package. Robbie is puzzled by the keys at first; they don't make the door beep and open. Oh! they don't beep but they do open. Very high-tone, this.
Inside is a nice office staffed by a shiny new silvery robot. It's much less humanoid than Robbie; think C3PO but with a hint of facial expression. Tom takes a quick telepathic look and determines the thing is a thing, not a person, with barely a flicker of minimal sentience. Our new acquisition answers to "79345." Robbie consults a phone-pad and uses the letter-number matches to come up with a more euphonious name: "Sydil." Okay, he now answers to "Sydil."
Gannar tries to check out Sydil telemetrically and utterly fails. Curious. Sydil offers his remote, a small box you can store in his chest. One button on it looks out of place. Gannar does the obvious thing and pushes it. The screen lights up with an error message, but one decorated with little jack, and a new icon. He clicks on the icon.
Oh! Oh, my! Sydil turns out to have a secret identity, though it isn't sentient either. But the mild-mannered robo-secretary is also full of much interesting, heavily encrypted software, suggesting another life as a secret agent's sidekick.
They really don't believe we're just here to sell fruit.
Tom tries to summon the pantope door up from the lobby and fails. Oh well. He goes back down through the lift, vanishes into the door, then brings it up to our offices, where he parks it in a windowless conference room, one of two we now own. We instruct Sydil that we may sometimes appear out of, or vanish into, this conference room for no apparent reason, and that this is all right. And if we announce, on such occasions, that we are "just passing through," then he is to tell outside inquirers that we are not here.
And that package for Tom? It contains a little comm pad that turns out to be a secondary remote for Sydil, and also controls much else in the office.
What else? Well, besides Sydil, the office comes equipped with a pair of large "freshers" (psi-tech equivalents to refrigerators, commonly mis-called "stasis boxes"), that get delivered while we're inspecting. But it also contains lots of hidden equipment, spy-stuff, that we don't immediately figure out.
Then Sydil gets our first call. It's from that other Jumping Jacks operation. The one we accidentally moved in next to, in the warehouse district. They're happy to hear we're all moved in and will be moving out soon.
And they, too, probably don't believe we're just here to sell fruit.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.