6 - Representative

The sound began a few hours after the observation drone arrived. First a dull rumble barely audible above the computer fans, it grew to a roar that made every surface in the house vibrate. By then, Carmen had identified the source: a shuttle headed for the island.

They packed, shoving clothes hand-over-fist into their bags. But, despite their eagerness, they waited for the last possible moment to go to the clearing, loitering in her office, nervously watching the feed for signs of movement in the trees. They waited until  the roaring static peaked and died.

Outside it was warm, at least 15 degrees. The cracks and burbling of the thaw engulfed the world. Creeks fractured the straits, running over the ice, spilling into crevasses, and pooling clear and turquoise.

By the time they got to the clearing, the shuttle—a sleek wedge of platinum—had landed, squashing itself between their craft and the trees. A slender, robotic arm swiveled in and out of its open door, building a stack of matte, metal boxes in the grass. The craft had landed on top of the Craven’s carcass.

A man stood beside the growing stack of cases holding a tablet in his left hand, and a red canister in his right. With his back turned to the path, the visitor sprayed the boxes, the shuttle, and the grass with clouds of fine, pink mist. He didn’t notice them until they were a few feet away.

“Hi,” Carmen called. The visitor turned to them, watching them approach with a look of mild concern. His hair was neat but scruffy stubble grizzled his square jaw, his skin was a pale, sickly shade in the gloom. Carmen was sure they’d met before.

“There’s no point unloading; we’re leaving,” Carmen said.  

“I’m sorry?” The man seemed to understand where they were headed. He moved to block their passage to the shuttle, frantically waving his arms, “Ms. Daley, I’m sorry but I cannot let you aboard this shuttle.”

“Ms. Daley?” Carmen took a step back, frowning, “My name’s not Ms. Daley. But that’s besides the point—our shuttle is damaged. We have to take yours.”

“I know, I know it’s a pain Ms. Daley but I didn’t write the bylaws.” The visitor interrupted, “I’m sure you understand—every ship must adhere to the schedule.”

The visitor collected himself, donning an apologetic, yet smug smile. Carmen recognized him as the man from the orientation video.

Motioning towards the growing pile of  cases, he slipped the cannister into his pocket, and began to walk towards the pile. It took a few paces for him to notice that they were not following. He scowled, jabbing at his tablet. His shuttle responded with a quiet beep, the robotic arm swung inside, and the door slid closed. I’m going to have to negotiate, realized Carmen.
When they caught up, the visitor proffered a hand for Chris to shake before turning to Carmen.

“So, Elodie Daley, I have your delivery as requested.”

“I’m not Elodie Daley,” responded Carmen through gritted teeth.

“Really?” the man looked at her incredulously, “Well I’m going to need you to sign for the delivery either way.” He smiled, and handed her his tablet along with a stylus. Carmen brushed it aside, “Look, this will all be easier for everyone if we get the admin out of the way as quickly as possible.”  

Carmen reluctantly took the tablet and stylus. The screen had three, unlabelled, boxes on it. She signed, entered her name in block capitals and then noted the date before handing the tablet back. The man gave her a friendly smile.

“Fantastic. Welcome to 8192,  Ms…” he squinted at the tablet, “Vill-ah, my name is Roderick.” he mispronounced her surname with overwhelming confidence.

“I’m sorry, didn’t you get our messages?” Ignoring the fact that he hadn’t offered her a handshake was easy; it took a lot more effort to ignore his mangling of her name, “we’ve been attacked, our shuttle was damaged. We want to leave.”

“Ah yes, well, I’m just the Senior Vice President in charge of Planet Development, I cannot let you leave without authorization from the President,” he paused, typing something into his tablet. “As to your messages,” he turned and suddenly his tone was brusque, clipped, “You are welcome to leave the post at any time—” Carmen moved towards the shuttle, but his arm shot out between her and the door, “but you will be liable for all costs incurred by FrontEx vis-a-vis your transportation here, food, housing, and your return trip. Further, you will receive no payment. There is also the matter of the penalty for breaking contract.”

“There’s no way I’m doing that.”

“The contract is clear about this, you signed it,” Roderick pulled something up on his tablet. “I’m sorry,” he didn’t look up, “But legal takes care of the contracts, and they’re known for being pretty aggressive.”

He scrolled through a document, “Just be advised that I’ll need you to sign this document stating that you understand that leaving constitutes a breach of contract. From then it will take an estimated ten days to arrange for a representative from outflow to pick you up.”

He handed her the tablet, “here are the charges.” He pointed to a number followed by a train of zeroes, “Sign below, if you’d still like to leave.”

Carmen stared blankly at the tablet and remembered her life before. Signing this contract would be submitting herself to a return to the panic attacks, the interest notices. But worse, their charges would close to double her debt. That was not life. At best she would just be rolling the dice and hoping the next job was better, at worst the daily grinding anxiety would never end. She looked over at Chris.

“Can I discuss this with my boyfriend?”

“Take all the time you need Ms Vill-ah,” he nodded at Chris, “Mr. Beckford”

Roderick walked a little way off, and resumed his spraying. When Carmen was sure he was out of earshot, she turned to Chris.   

“I want you to leave.” she said.

“What,” Chris stared at her incredulously, “Why?”

“I’m not signing. There’s no way. I can’t go back with nothing to show for all of this. But I can’t ask you to stay, not with everything that has happened.”

“I am not leaving you here,” he was adamant, “your debt isn’t worth dying for. You saw what happened to the shuttle.”

“Look, whatever is out there, it hasn’t been able to get into the house. It’s barely been able to leave a scratch. I’m fine spending the rest of my time here indoors, but I need you to be safe.”

“You don’t have to worry about me.”

“While you’re here, I don’t have a choice.”

They stood, silently. Chris stared over her head at the shuttle, arms crossed, his expression was unreadable. Eventually he looked at her again.

“You can be done in what, a few dozen days? And it’s going to take at least ten to get off this rock.” She nodded, “So how about this—I’ll leave if anything else happens—but you have to promise me that you will too.”

Carmen considered arguing this point. But she had seen the expression he was wearing before, and knew there was nothing she could do to change his mind.

A few minutes later, Roderick returned. He’d lost the cannister, but not his smugness.

“I took a look at the damage on your shuttle” he said, jovially. “From your messages I imaged it ripped in half,” he chuckled, “Anyhow, I think you’ll be pleased to know I’ve identified the culprit, and I have a solution.” Roderick paused, and as the pause unspooled, Carmen struggled to work out what he was waiting for.

“So what do you think happened?” She snapped, eventually.    

“A lifeform known as corvus stercoris, they look a little like flying penguins—you know what a penguin was right?”

Carmen opened her mouth to retort. But before she could get a word out, she felt Chris squeeze her hand.

“So what’s your solution?” Chris asked.

“I’m glad you asked!” Roderick smiled brightly, walked over to the pile of cases and began to rifle through them, “just...give me a second here,” he mumbled. After a few minutes’ search, he presented them with an open case. Inside, snug in a single foam niche, was a long, red canister.

“What is that?” Chris asked, skeptically.

“Repellant.” Roderick replied

“Like, corvis whateveritis repellent?”

“No…. Just ‘Repellant,’ with an ‘a,’ the brand… don’t you know, hrrrem” Roderick cleared his throat. “For whenever you need some deterrent, for bugs, rats, birds, use Repellant,” he warbled, raising a faint sense of deja vu in Carmen. “Oh come on, my Dad said they blew half the budget on viral marketing for that one—remember the spray away the strays campaign?” They both shook their heads, and his expression darkened.

“Well it’s our in-house brand. It’ll keep pretty much anything away for two weeks. Guaranteed to solve your problem, or your money back—”

“Hold up. Our money back?”  Carmen interjected.

“Terms—”

“You cannot seriously be demanding we pay you for this stuff.”

“Terms—TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY,” Roderick shouted over their protests, “I didn’t write the bylaws, but I am subject to them just like you,” He continued, irately. “If I give you this stuff for free, they’ll just charge me for it. How is it fair for me to pay when I’m not the person with the problem? If you’d just gotten the premium package, there’d have been Repellant included. Again I didn’t—”

“Write the bylaws, you mentioned,” Chris sounded defeated. “Okay, whatever, how much?”  

Roderick turned his tablet to Chris, who angled the screen away from Carmen. Chris knew that his buying stuff for her—even for them both—made her uncomfortable. So he had gotten into the habit of hiding the prices from her. In this case, while Carmen initially wanted to know, the flicker of surprise and dismay that crossed Chris’ face dissuaded her.

“How many do you think we need?” Chris asked Roderick.

“Just get two.” Carmen said before Roderick had a chance to swindle them further. “We can always get more if we need it.”

She smiled innocently at Roderick before continuing, “Do you have schematics for me, or did you deliver them to Elodie Daley?”

“Yes, of course,” he responded icily. He pulled a small briefcase off the top of the pile. “This should have everything you need for your upgrades. There are instructions inside.”    

Roderick offered her the briefcase and as she stepped towards him she was seized by the urge to punch him in the face. Instead, she nodded stiffly and took the briefcase. Roderick was the only other person she’d seen in days but there was nothing she wanted more than his departure.

She watched Chris impatiently. He was fiddling with the zipper of his coat, staring intently at the tablet. Occasionally he would type something into it, the sound of his finger on the keyboard drowned out by the continuous gurgle and crack of the thawing ice.

Finally, Chris raised the camera to his eyes and handed the tablet back. They each grabbed a case and walked up the path. Halfway up, Chris caught her arm.

“Listen, that dude, Roderick?”

“Don’t even get me started.”

“I know, I know,” Chris glanced back down the path before continuing, “I know his type, I went to school with a ton of them; lots of money, think they’re the smartest person in the room, especially if that room contains women, and just competent and rich enough to succeed at whatever they’re doing. Thing is, they always underestimate people and that’s—”

“Chris,” Carmen said. “Stop stating the obvious, and get to the point.”

“Alright, alright,” Chris looked a little disappointed, “If I get him to stick around talking, do you think you could hack into his shuttle, and see if he has any more information than we do.”

“It might be password protected; I doubt I can break FrontEx’s encryption.”

“Cross that bridge when you come to it,” Chris paused, “If I’m right about this guy, there’s a good bet he’ll pretty much tell me his password in the first hour of us talking, it’ll be something inane like his first pet’s name, or the name of his high school sports team plus his graduating year.”

“You think you can keep him talking long enough?”

“I know I can.”

“Okay, let’s do this.”

****

As Carmen disappeared up the path, Chris paused trying to gather his thoughts but he couldn’t focus on anything but money. That one order of Repellant had wiped out half his yearly dividends. He didn’t know what he’d do if they needed more. Shit, he thought, shit shit shit shit. If we need two orders every twenty or so days... he tried to do the math but the numbers got too large, too unwieldy. He lost track at over half—or maybe five times—his fund. Suddenly, it was as though the wind had sucked the air from his lungs.

Chris’s fund was older than him; the money in it was older than his father. His great grandmother had put aside an equal amount for all of his generation in a blind trust. She, herself had inherited the money from her mother who’d made the family fortune in solar power, building a small utility on a few hectares of southern Ontario into a global firm, before selling to a competitor for a cool 100 billion.

They’d actually studied his great great grandmother in middle school as an example of entrepreneurship, and the vision of the Greatest Generation. His history teacher, Ms. Szydlo, had been particularly emphatic about the Greatest part. That generation had saved us all, she said, often, before pausing to glare around the mostly sleeping class. Chris always felt as though she expected them to try and compete. Who can compete with saving everyone?

Discovering his heritage, his teacher had insisted he deliver a presentation on his great great grandmother to the school. He’d complied, which had done very little to make him popular. At his school nearly everyone had a similar story—most had more than one notable ancestor. What’s more, both of the people he knew who’d actually met his great great grandmother—his great grandmother and grandmother—had hated her and refused to discuss her. In the end, he’d fabricated everything he couldn’t find on the net. He hadn’t really understood how she was relevant until he’d met Carmen; she was the first person he’d met who didn’t have a trust fund.

Something grabbed his arm, and Chris started back to the present. He flailed wildly. His feet slipped on a patch of ice. He tumbled forwards. A slope of rock and needles rushed towards him. Then he felt a steadying tug and was upright on the path, looking down at Roderick.

“Careful,” Roderick smiled, sympathetically, “you didn’t buy insurance, and a medivac from out here will cost you, though I do sell insurance…” he trailed off studying Chris’ face intently and continued. “Anyway, I was wondering whether you could give me a hand—there’s a lot to carry up to the house.”

Chris looked up the path after Carmen, before turning back to Roderick, “Sure, I guess I have nothing else to do.”

“Fantastic,” Roderick beamed.

It took two trips to carry the cases up to the clearing in front of the house. Before carrying them inside, they took a breather—more for Chris’s benefit than Roderick’s. The other man leant against one of two large stacks, smiling. Chris hunched, hands on his knees, breathing hard.

“Do you hear that?” Roderick asked.

“What?”

“The ice, what else? ...Do you know what it means?”

“That it’s thawing?”

“No, that I’m getting a bonus,” Roderick beamed. “It’s literally never been this hot on this planet! We’re way ahead of schedule.”

“You’re the climate engineer for this planet?”

“No, but I manage them.”

Moving briskly—barely a sheen of sweat on his forehead—Roderick dragged his stack through the exterior door. Chris lagged behind, moving in spurts.

The exterior hallway was empty. Roderick knows the code? He thought, then of course Roderick knows the code. The company knew the code. It was probably in the premium package. Irritation, it seemed, was a highly effective marketing tool. Chris punched in the code and shuffled through.

Inside, a faint clicking emerged from the open door of his studio. Roderick’s stack of cases sat in front of the canvas. The man stood a few feet away, staring intently at a wall. He took several photographs with his tablet, tapped at the device, and then walked to another spot on the wall and took another photograph.

“This is unacceptable,” Roderick said to himself, “ simply unacceptable.”

Chris slid his stack in next to Roderick’s and caught his breath, “what’s the matter?”

“It appears that someone has committed fraud!” Roderick motioned around at the room, “this room is definitely not up to the specifications.”

“Yeah, I was going to ask you about that,” Chris walked over to his studio door, and closed it. Then, lowering his voice, he continued, “I paid quite a lot to have this studio added and it’s, well, kind of a piece of shit. Definitely not what I was sold so—”

“Say no more,” Roderick smiled, reassuringly, “ I know exactly how you feel—same boat.”

“Same boat?”

“Yes, well the subcontractor screwed us both over—screwed everyone at FrontEx really.”

“How do you mean?” Chris was getting a headache. He sat on one of the stacks.

“The subcontractor responsible for this room clearly didn’t meet specifications. They broke contract,” Roderick followed Chris. Levering himself up onto his own stack, he continued, “So really we’re just as wronged as you. If they did this more than once, we’re more wronged.” Roderick shook his head in disbelief, vaguely patting Chris’ arm,  “Some people just have no respect for contract.”

“So,” said Chris. “Can I have my money back?”

As the question hung in the air between them, Chris realized he couldn’t remember asking that before. He’d definitely seen it done—just not done it himself. That was not to say that he was never dissatisfied with a purchase, just that it wasn’t a thing anyone in his family did. His mother,  grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins were all the kinds of people who would buy another rather than return what they had.

“But of course,” Roderick said emphatically. “As soon as the subcontractor pays us back, we’ll pay you.”

 

No, pay me now, Chris tried to say, but instead he said “Can’t you pay me back now?” Roderick shot Chris the now all-too familiar apologetic smile. Before he could invoke the bylaws, Chris gave up, “Let me know when the subcontractor pays FrontEx back.”

“You’ll be one of the first to know.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. While Roderick tapped aimlessly into his tablet, Chris eyed him, wondering how to start a conversation. He had been so confident pitching his plan to Carmen, but now had no idea where to begin. Then Roderick placed his thumb on his tablet.

“Final-fucking-ly.” He smiled, broadly at Chris, “I’m clocked out, can finally relax for...” he checked his tablet, “a little while.”

Dropping the device, he rifled through his coat and pulled out a tin box speckled by the remnants of a painted label. Opening it, Roderick pulled out a long, thin joint.

“Any interest,” he waved the joint towards Chris. “It’s artisanal.”

Roderick pulled a lighter from his box, and lit the joint taking several long drags. Then he held it out to Chris, who hesitated—eyeing it warily. It seemed so out of the blue, so unprofessional, that he half suspected it was some kind of trap.  

“It’s just pot… organic pot.” Roderick continued.

“What does it cost?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Roderick looked offended, “This is free. I’m no drug dealer.”

“Right, what was I thinking,” Chris responded dryly. “Sure why not.”

As he took the joint, Roderick launched into an anecdote about trying to find good weed on Europa. He didn’t name anyone involved, referring to each as ‘my friend,’ or ‘my other friend’, or ‘the dude,’ and Chris quickly lost any sense of who was doing what. From there the conversation meandered, tumbling from one half finished anecdote to another.

It turned out that their fathers worked at different offices of the FrontEx legal team, though Roderick's father was more senior. Chris began to tell the story of his father’s first case—one that ended years later with the realization that FrontEx was suing itself—but was interrupted. Roderick knew the story, his mother—then senior vice president for FrontEx subsidiary, ExoGenetics—was one of the litigants.  

Chris smiled, even with the haze that had descended on his mind, he could tell a good opportunity when it smacked him in the face.

As the conversation continued, Chris made sure that the points of commonality stacked up, though in truth Chris barely had to lie. They had, in fact, both attended different branches of the same private school chain; he lied about competing on the lacrosse team. They had both spent the summers at cottages near Attawapiskat; Roderick’s family rented so Chris failed to mention that his owned. He went on to lie about attending university in Calgary, agreeing enthusiastically, that it was weird they hadn’t bumped into each other. It was as though, for Roderick’s whole life, Chris had been just out of sight, like an animal skirting the edge of a campfire’s light.

By the time they finished their second joint, it seemed that Roderick was a completely different person. He relaxed, lounging on his stack. Chris stopped smoking the joints, but quickly realized that, if he held onto one long enough, Roderick would just light another. Chris began to collect them.

“I gotta go to the washroom,” claimed Chris, as Roderick finished a particular circuitous story about his father renting a helicopter.

Roderick, lighting his third joint, waved him off, “sure thing Beck, I’ll be here.”

In the hallway, Chris knocked quietly on Carmen’s door. Before she answered, he slipped in, closing the door quietly behind him. She was sitting at her desk, face bathed in the monitor-light. The burgundy tower was on her screens again, this time working on a long vessel that looked a little like a leech.

“I have some leads on passwords,” he whispered, but she shook her head.

“He didn’t password protect anything. I’ve copied everything he has,” she hissed. “It looks like his information is pretty similar to ours, can’t tell yet if there are differences, but I’m running a program that will highlight them if they exist.’

“Great,” he turned back to the door. “I’m going to see if he can tell me anything else.”

Slipping back into the hallway, Chris paused outside his office. A slight haze of smoke was leaking out from around the door...  Chris took a deep breath.

“So Exogenetics, they did the entire ecosystem, huh? Are they like the in-house genetic engineers?”

“Not just the entire ecosystem, every ecosystem that FrontEx has ever seeded,” Roderick withdrew another joint from his box. “Crazy what they can do these days, everything down to the grass here was dreamed up in an Exogenetics lab.”

“So like the Cravens?”

“The what?”  

“The birds here—I thought they were ravens, or crows to begin with so… well that was the name I... uh, landed on.”

Giggling, Roderick lit the joint and after taking a deep drag, handed it to Chris.

“I call them shit birds,” said Roderick. “Because they only exist to shit—well— for their shit, but that’s not much difference.”

“I know that’s their role in the whole system,” Chris added the joint to his pile, “but that seems a little harsh.”

“Nah it’s just objectively true. The original ecosystem design kept on running into problems with nitrogen and phosphate depletion. So they added the birds for their shit. Meant they had to add the beetles as well. It was a real headache. You should have seen the reject pile. They mixed… they mixed... ” Roderick descended into giggles. After taking a minute to collect himself, he continued, “they mixed goats and spiders, and I’m not talking those goats with the tough hair. I’m talking eight eyes, eight legs, makes webs but with the face, fur, horns and sounds a goat makes. ”

Chris laughed along, “Why’d they do that?”

“Not sure, but whatever they were trying to do, it didn’t work. That one didn’t make it off the orbital lab,” Roderick took another hit, and after a few minutes added, “by the time they got to field testing, they’d settled on some kind of bird. They tested the later stages on-planet, you know. It’s the best way of testing an ecosystem, but it made clean-up a real mess.”

“How’s that?”

“Well the intern on my sister’s team—”

“Your sister?”

“Lab administrator, at Exogenetics. Her team was working on a prototype version of the shit bird. So, one night their intern leaves the door to the cages open. The birds escape, total chaos. These prototypes were large, at least ten times the size of the end-model.” Roderick took a hit, and coughed, “Modelled on an extinct species of eagle native in New Zealand… Anyways, the birds escape, and eventually go into the ice. They send a couple of drones after them into the caves, but somehow they lost the drones. By this time everyone was freaking out. This is ecosystem contamination, a massive fuckup. Enter my sister. She hits on the idea of making napalm out on the oil fields, pouring it into the ice, and just lighting it all up. The explosion was epic. It left a two mile deep crater.”

“That’s brutal,” Chris observed. With each breath of the smoke-bound air, his thoughts slowed and time dilated, “so how can you be sure they killed the prototypes?”

“They recovered the bodies. Couldn’t leave that kind of stuff just lying around,” Roderick shook his head, and handed over the joint. “Not that it matters, the Cravens will be dead in a decade anyway.”

“Why’s that?” For some reason Chris was a little offended at the nonchalant way this news was delivered. Despite the scare the birds had given him that night, his initial, sympathetic impression seemed to hold sway. The idea that some day, in his lifetime, there would be no Cravens filled him with sadness.  

“The whole warming process. Shit birds don’t do well in temperatures above 25 degrees.”

“Seems unfair to create a species doomed to go extinct.”

“All species are doomed to go extinct,” Roderick parried.

“So I’m guessing ExoGenetics didn’t have the same problems with the beetles,  the trees, the grass, the algae?” said Chris, changing the subject.

“Nah all of the other organisms went through development without a hitch,” Roderick paused, and took a long drag. Then he sidled closer to Chris, “But... can you keep a secret?”

“Yes,” Chris gave what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “Of course.”

“Well, the algae is somewhat of a personal coup,” Roderick whispered excitedly. “We don’t know where it came from—could have been here before us—but most likely it’s just ecosystem contamination. I managed to secure a patent on it.” He sat back, and gave Chris a broad smile, his eyes glazed pink. “You can’t tell anyone though.”

The tablet made a faint, buzzing sound, drawing Roderick’s attention. He scrambled to his feet, then began to inspect the stack he was sitting on. “Shit, I need to head out but first…”

“Need help looking for something?”

“Yeah, a small case, the smallest one we brought up here—Aha!” Roderick lifted a small silver case about the shape and size of a textbook from the stack. “I have to leave in fifteen minutes to stay on schedule,” Roderick continued, opening the case and extracting a long, slim silver cylinder. “But I need to be sober to fly.”

“Those shuttles fly themselves.”

“Not the shuttle, the ship—my ship. I didn’t fly all the way here in a shuttle,” he unscrewed the cylinder. “After a few minor incidents, my father insisted I have a breathalyzer attached to the flight controls. A total fascist move if you ask me.”

Chris gave him a sympathetic nod. Throwing his head back, Roderick downed the contents of the tube. The silver disappeared in a few glugs, leaving the tube clear. Chris recognized it as a sobriety aid, one of the more expensive ones. He’d never really understood how they worked, but knew that the silver liquid made you sober. Remembering his experience with the pils, it occurred to him he might need a few vials.

“Could I have a vial, or two of that? I can pay if you...”

“Oh no, don’t worry” Roderick interjected, “That stuff’s yours already.”

“But you...”

“Traded some of it for my weed. it was pretty good shit, huh?”

“I...”

“It was really great talking to you Chris,” He proffered his hand, “I look forward to future conversations. Tell Carmen that I wish her all the best!”

Roderick left. Chris listened as the shuttle’s engines roared to life, then faded into the distance. Then, pulling the nearest case towards him, he opened it, intending to unpack. The first three cases contained hazmat and heat protective gear, spanners and two inflatable dinghies. He gave up; the delivery clearly wasn’t for them.

****

Carmen took the briefcase straight to her office. Resolving to stay in her office until she heard Roderick’s shuttle take off, she closed the door. Outside, sheaths of light rose from the ice, dulled by the tint of the window. Every part of her was tense, she leant against the door for a second focusing on her breathing.

Collecting herself, she sat down and tried to switch on the computers. The boxes sputtered to life on her third attempt. As they booted, Carmen turned to the cases. They were identical: same size, same aluminum sheen, matching ridges, matching clasps. However, one was lighter than the other. She choose the lighter one and slid it onto the desk.

Inside, ensconced in black memory foam packing, was a slim data drive. She plugged it in, and flipped through the schematics contained therein, each for different models of drones. It seemed that FrontEx had delivered what she needed to make her fleet run on gasoline. She relayed the schematics to the factory and turned to Chris’ plan.

Carmen pulled up the drone control panel, and switched to the feed of the island. Breaking the observation drone’s patrol route, she directed it towards the clearing, let it hang above Roderick’s shuttle, and scanned for connections. Almost immediately, with a faint beep, she found one. The name of the network was the Entrepreneurial Spirit. She rolled her eyes.

The network wasn’t password protected and his files weren’t encrypted. Am I lucky, she thought, copying Roderick’s files, or did I just overestimate him?

With the transfer underway, all she could do was wait and hope Chris was able to keep Roderick talking. She wasn’t worried; Chris could have a conversation with anyone about anything and would often have prolonged conversations with strangers—a habit that left him with innumerable acquaintances but few friends.