Edward M. Lerner

Edward M. Lerner by A New Order of Things

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controlled no funds in accounts known to Pashwah. Until the unexpected announcement from Victorious, all that was known to remain of Arblen Ems were the long and bitter memories of the Great Clans.
    Whatever the consequences to Pashwah-qith, until the starship demonstrated authorization to tap an account Pashwah oversaw, her answer would remain “no.”

    “Exclusive Interview with the Foremost!” screamed pop-ups every few seconds. Tabloid journalism had outlasted print newspapers. “By subscription only! Only on INN!”
    Pashwah Two’s avatar licked her lips: the equivalent of a human smile. “Why are you surprised?” she asked Art Walsh. “You know Snakes seek profit.” She was a newly awakened clone supporting the mission, not to be confused with the original Pashwah, who continued to handle routine business on Earth, nor with the clone aboard Victorious . Light speed made real-time conversation with Earth impossible, and human access to the shipboard clone was limited for reasons no one had conveyed to her.
    Pashwah Two wouldn’t admit it to a human, but she shared his dismay. The interview was far beneath the dignity of the Foremost of a starship. “Did you call about the upcoming interview?”
    “No. How can I help with the repair? Arm-twisting to move orders to the head of suppliers’ queues? Assistance scheduling cargo ships? Just ask.”
    More licking of lips. “Subscribe to Ms. Elman’s webcast.”
    “If you don’t mind me asking, what is Victorious buying?”
    Her reflex was to dissemble, but all her reflexes came from recovered memories. Did they fit current circumstances? “I’ll run a search for you.” They both knew that was a stall while she thought through how to respond.
    Free trade among equals was a core value of the InterstellarNet community. A corollary was that i-commerce between peer species often happened privately, the better to negotiate with competitors. Disclosure to the ICU was not the norm.
    (Equals? sneered a subagent. “Where human interstellar drive?”)
    But trade until now had always meant the exchange of ideas. Victorious wanted physical goods, and lots of them. That meant ship charters, UPAA flight plans, cargo inspections … it was best to manage expectations. That was not synonymous with full disclosure.
    “Basic supplies, most of which can be obtained locally. Lots of water ice. I expect that will be mined here on Callisto. Victorious does not need to buy fusion fuel; you’ve seen the aux ships scooping that themselves. Hydrocarbons. The most exotic order so far is for sulfur. Amalthea”—a small, inner moon of Jupiter—“is covered with it. Io’s volcanoes spew the stuff. In total, a fair amount of goods. Since you offer, I may ask your assistance prioritizing flight clearances. Space around Victorious has gotten crowded.”
    “Sounds straightforward.” Walsh’s flat response suggested skepticism. “That can’t include the help they asked for during final approach. What else is needed?”
    “That matter is being worked directly between the Foremost and Ambassador Chung.” Pashwah Two traced a small horizontal circle with her virtual head: shrug, with a touch of irony. Would Art have more luck than she getting answers? The Foremost had ignored her questions about the hydrocarbon orders. She recognized few of the compounds, a detail she chose not to volunteer.
    “Thanks. I’ll ask the ambassador.” Voice stress analysis suggested Walsh had tried already without success. “Talk to you soon.” His avatar winked out.
    “The Foremost Speaks out on INN. Don’t Miss It!” screamed yet another infosphere ad.
    A paid interview was beneath any Foremost’s dignity, yet one was happening. That meant it had a reason, and Pashwah Two thought she knew what it was—and, at the same time, why Mashkith’s imperious demands on her for funds had finally ceased. The plethora of supplies she had ordered were all guaranteed by an Interplanetary News

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