Armored up... Sold out, part 2
I was at the station bar enjoying a few drinks before I headed out for a few days run to study some white dwarf systems and bring back some contracted metals when someone walked up behind me and said: “So, Cramer you got a minute for”, I cut him off “Whatever it is buddy, I'm not interested”. “What the hell Frank? It’s not like this was a just a quick hop you know”! Almost before he spoke the light had turned on and I recognized the voice.
“Jesus Jack-Rabbit, how the hell have you been?”, I said. I was completely shocked to see my old friend standing behind me in an asteroid station's bar of all places.
“Pretty good man, pretty good”. Jack said. “After hearing all about this new frontier, I had to come out and see it for myself. I wanted to see the place that you ran off and left all the good civilization behind for too, right? I took a Beluga out here and it was really quite a trip. Even got to see a black hole on the way in. It was called, uhhh, Thor-something. A little underwhelming I thought, but the rest of the boat seemed fascinated”.
“Yeah, Thor’s Eye”, I said, “They aren’t often much to see, but I still get a shiver thinking about what happens if you push in a little too close to the red line. It’s all about the crazy lightshow they make around them. But then I never knew you to have more interest in astronomy than I had in long term depreciation tables and inter-system tax law so a space tour would be the last place I’d ever expect to see you”!
We chatted a while about the old days when we hauled local deliveries and became friends and of course his latest female interactions which is where he got his nickname, Jack-Rabbit. He was settled down for the moment with a new woman and had two more kids. He showed off the latest photos and engaged in the normal chit chat but he had that look, like he’s trying to get up the nerve to ask me out or something. He’s talking fast and drinking more than he usually had and those were always tells he had bad news, or at least a big favor to ask. He was the guy responsible for getting me setup as a pilot and financing my early operation and he had the option coming up to cash out for 5% or take a long-term share so I figured he was wanting his money early or something. I braced for the incoming request, but he never could seem to get to it. Then the conversation turned to mining of all things. He started trying to sell me on bringing back Void Opals. Really seemed invested in it, more than just a casual ‘why not” when I said I hadn’t really ever spent time mining them.
“You know Jack, I’ve never really had much use for that type of mining. I know it’s fast money when the booms hit and back in the bubble it’s a lock that somewhere a station is paying top-dollar but out here I can get stuck with cargo that was harder to gather, took longer to get and isn’t worth more than many other loads. If my timing is wrong I could have done better with other minerals and there are no contracts paying above market for it. Besides, the hunt bores the piss out of me, listening to that damn ping for hours on end. I’ve made a lot of allies getting these metals contracts filled while the other cowboys all chase the gold-rush”, I said.
He shifted forward in his chair trying to look more stern. “Frank, I’ve never heard anyone I know of in the mining game turn down the money on these things. I mean I know you’ve been pretty successful otherwise but at the price they go for right now you could have easily made more, and a lot more, thus far doing it. You are leaving money on the table, money that other outfits are pulling in. I think myself and the other investors would like to see that maximum return too you know”, Jack replied.
I can feel my face flushing red now. “Look, the other investors are welcome to contact me but the deal does not give any of you operational control of this outfit. You remember that right? You don’t even collectively hold majority interest. You have the option for shares, or to cash out on assets short-term and that’s it. You don’t get to run my business operations. Every one of those guys is getting just what I promised. They have more return on that initial investment than they could get anywhere else in a gravity well”, I said starting to feel real anger. I mean what was I doing here arguing with a rich-kid, aged-out, playboy about how to do my trade.
Jack's look had changed now. Not nervous, not stoney like he was doing a business deal, but almost panic-stricken. Like a scared cat trying to figure out how to run from the room. This was all bullcrap. The investors were not concerned, he wasn’t here speaking for them. They all stood to be millionaires or better as it was today, more-so down the road. This was something else. He tried a few more approaches promising to have buyers that would pay that top dollar, I just needed to bring the haul in. When I pressed for who these buyers would be and why they would be in need of this cargo, he deflected.
“I don’t get it, you schlep out a thousand light years to spend days mining and haul back a bunch of crap metal for shit-kickers rather than take the better money in front of your nose. Stubborn, god damn….”, he trailed off low.
I was about to respond to that asking him when exactly he started caring so passionately about the details of my mining operations and then it hit me, like a hammer to the gut. “How the f-ing hell does he know where I go and how long I stay out” I thought. He didn’t say ‘thousands’, he said the very specific ‘thousand’. A thousand light years, give or take, is just about exactly how far I’ve been going the last couple of months. Most others don’t but I enjoy the astronomy as well. He would not know that though and Colonia is attractive to miners because the resources are all right next door. I don’t report anything but the financials to the investors, not the details of the trips for sure. Just the cargo and the transactions values for the quarters. That was a big part of the deal Jack and I had worked out with the rest: That I knew mining and they knew money and we’d all stay in our lanes. He knew though. He knew where I went and exactly how far and how long I spent out there. There was no way he came out here to see the sights. The Jack I knew couldn’t have given a third of a turd for space or stars. Money and women were his chief loves and money didn't need a 20KLy trip for him.
I looked up from the table to meet his eyes, cold anger in my chest. “Jack”, I said, “Why are you here”? He looked stunned and lost for words, but not confused. He made some hemming and hawing noises and I cut him off. “Jack, we need to have a word in private I think”. I motioned over to the enclosed tables at the back of the bar. “Actually, I think I better head on”, he started to protest. “No... pal of mine, what you better do is get up and have a seat with me back here and give me some straight god-damned answers. If you have done what I think you have done, that's the only way you are leaving this place vertical".
I motioned to the 7 foot tall bouncer that stood near the door. "Hey Paul", I said when he got close. "If me and this fellow here were to have a disagreement and he fell down a lot would that be a problem", I asked as I handed my terminal over to him. As he took the terminal two even bigger men took a step forward and flanked the huge man. "Nah", Paul said as he tapped the screen a couple of times and handed it back, "We'd just need to escort you all to the, ugghh, 'disagreement' area so we don't make a scene or anything Rex". "Good to know", I said, "but... I don't think we're there yet, right Jack"? Jack just shook his head and looked a bit white. "Well, you just let us know if it does 'get there' Mr. Cramer" Paul said as he very conspicuously looked Jack up and down and then returned to his spot near the door.
"Let's go sit. Pal.", I said and got no more protest. Now I could see surprise in his face and that look of panic had returned.