Monday, September 28, 2009

75. Rhenium


Beads and Trinkets

Rhenium is rare, expensive, and difficult to obtain. Which is why, when a field scout reported that a newly-discovered Class One industrial civilization had a surplus of the stuff, the venerable firm of Summergarden, Claimjumper & Ting was distinctly interested.

"The Whimsicals are a three-legged insectile race," the CFO explained to diplomat-metallurgist Adrienne Wong-Heppworth. As always, he was careful not to use the words Dragon Lady in her presence. "They refine copper from porphyry copper ores, and then extract the molybdenum fraction. From the flue dusts of the molybdenum smelters they extract rhenium powder. This is pressure stamped under vacuum to produce ingots, which are electroplated with iridium to prevent corrosion and then warehoused. They use only a minuscule fraction of what they produce."

"Why produce so much, then?"

The CFO shrugged. "They're anal-retentive. Go to Whimsicalia, find out what they want and give it to them. Quickly, before they get a chance to comparison shop."

"Beads and trinkets, eh?"

"It's a dog-eat-dog universe, Ms. Wong-Heppworth."

Two weeks later, Adrienne Wong-Heppworth finished making her presentation to a committee of Whimsicals.

"Life-expansion bioware, three years tech support, and two percent of net profits—is that your best offer?" their chief said, bobbing his head up and down in a way that a less formidable woman would have found decidedly whimsical.

"Of course not," the Dragon Lady snapped. "It's an insulting offer—and one that's not only immoral but also illegal under interstellar law. But that was the offer I was instructed by my superiors to make. Having fulfilled my duty, I hereby resign in disgust." She was careful to speak clearly, so the hidden microphones would pick up every word. "However, on my own behalf, I am prepared to offer you something closer to a fair deal."

She walked out of the meeting with a contract that left the Whimsicals immeasurably richer than the offer from Summergarden, Claimjumper & Ting would have. Her three-percent handling fee was exactly the jump-start she needed to launch Dragon Lady Enterprises.

Afterwards the Dragon Lady took the local Interstellar Bureau of Fraud agent to a native bar to show her there were no hard feelings. Somewhere between the second and third drinks, the agent flushed as she realized that the evening was going to end with sex, and that the Dragon Lady had known this all along.

"But how did you know?" the woman asked flusteredly. "How did you know I was listening?"

"Dear lady," Adrienne Wong-Heppworth purred, taking the agent's hands in hers. "Who do you think tipped you off in the first place?"

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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