Read Empire Builders Online

Authors: Ben Bova

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy

Empire Builders

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To Robin and Mike Putira
ONE
“I DON’T WANT YOUR CRAPPY LITTLE COMPANY!” said Dan Randolph.
“The hell you don’t!” Willard Mitchell snapped.
Dan gave a disgusted snort and leaned back in the stiff unpadded chair. Mitchell glared across the table at him. The two lawyers, seated beside their clients, shifted uneasily in their chairs.
The room was windowless, deep underground, without even a video screen on the wall. Just bare lunar concrete lit by glareless fluorescents set behind the ceiling panels. Technically, the chamber was not a cell or even an interrogation chamber. It was a conference room where defendants could meet in private with their lawyers.
Dan Randolph fished a small oblong plastic box from his inside tunic pocket. About the size of his palm, it was a flat gray color with a single row of tiny winking lights set across its face. All the lights were green.
“No bugs in here,” he muttered, adding silently to himself, At least none that this little snooper can sniff out.
He slipped the detector back into his pocket and turned his gaze again to Mitchell, still glaring at him from across the wobbly conference table. Randolph was on the small side, but solidly built, a welterweight with sandy hair that was turning gray at the temples. He had a pugilist’s face: strong square stubborn jaw, a nose that had been slightly flattened by someone’s fist a long time ago. But his light gray eyes glinted with a secret amusement, as if he were inwardly laughing at the foolishness of men, himself included.
Across the table from him Willard Mitchell was scowling grimly. Once he had been lean and athletic, a polo champion at Princeton, a well-known young yachtsman. But years of living in the Moon’s easy gravity had softened him. Now he appeared older than Randolph, bald pate gleaming with perspiration, badly overweight and overwrought. Like Randolph, he was wearing business clothes: a collarless waist-length tunic and matching slacks. But where Dan’s suit of sky blue looked trim and new, Mitchell’s pearl gray outfit was baggy, wrinkled, rumpled; stains of sweat darkened his armpits.
“This is all your doing, Randolph,” he snarled in a heavy grating voice. “Don’t think I don’t know that you set me up.”
Dan raised his eyes. to the glowing ceiling panels. “Lord spare me from my friends,” he said to the air. “I can protect myself from my enemies.”
Mitchell’s lawyer, a sallow-skinned old man with the build and demeanor of a cadaver, dressed in a blue so deep it looked almost black, leaned toward his client and whispered something that Dan could not hear.
Mitchell scowled at his lawyer, but turned back to Dan and grumbled, “All right, all right, as long as we’re stuck here—what’s your offer?”
Mitchell was on trial before the Global Economic Council’s lunar tribunal for illegally exceeding his allotted quota of lunar ores. He was guilty. He knew it, his lawyers knew it, and the tribunal had the evidence to prove it. The fine that the tribunal was about to assess would bankrupt him.
Dan Randolph leaned both elbows on the rickety table and hunched forward in his chair. “First off,” he said, his voice crisp with suppressed anger, “I did not set you up.”
“The hell you say.”
“Goddammit to hell and back! The day I turn
anybody
over to the GEC will be two weeks after the end of the world. If I wanted to grab your pissant little outfit I would’ve done it myself. I don’t need the double-damned GEC to help me.”
Mitchell fumed visibly, but held back from answering.
Randolph’s lawyer, a strikingly red-haired young woman new to the Moon, was sitting attentively at her boss’s left. She said mildly, “Mr. Mitchell has asked to hear your offer, Dan.”
He grinned at her. “Yeah. Right.”
“So?” Mitchell growled.
Randolph spread his hands. “I’ll buy your stock at the current market price—”
“Which is forty percent below par because of this lawsuit.”
“—and pay the fine that the GEC’s going to sock you with. You continue to operate the company; you remain CEO and COO. You can buy back your shares at market value whenever you want to.”
Mitchell sank back in his chair, the expression on his fleshy face somewhere between suspicion and hope. “Now, wait a minute,” he said. “You buy my shares—”
“All your shares,” said Randolph. “Sixty-three percent of the total outstanding, so I’m told.”
The other man nodded. “You
buy
the shares. You pay the fine. I stay in charge of the company. And then I can buy the shares back?”
Randolph gave him a crooked grin. “The harder you work, the more the shares’ll be worth.”
“Suppose I let the company go to the dogs and leave you holding the bag?”
Randolph shrugged. “That’s the risk I take. But I don’t see you shitting on your own baby.”
Mitchell glanced at his lawyer, who remained deadpan, then turned back to Randolph. “I don’t get it. What’s in it for you?”
Dan’s smile turned dazzling. “A chance to shaft Malik and his double-damned GEC. What else?”
TWO
DANIEL HAMILTON RANDOLPH WAS the richest human being living off-Earth. While there was no dearth of suspicious souls who were convinced that no one could get that filthy rich while staying entirely within the law, for the most part Dan Randolph had earned his wealth legally.
Once, briefly, he had been accused of piracy. By Vasily Malik, who had then been director of the Russian Federation’s space program. Dan had evaded the charges against him, married the Venezuelan woman Malik was engaged to, and personally broken the Russian’s jaw, together with a knuckle of his own right hand.
Now, ten years later, Dan’s marriage had long since ended in divorce. The woman he had loved, the woman who had thought she loved him, was now Malik’s wife. And Malik himself had survived the turmoil and treachery in the Kremlin to become the new Russian Federation’s representative on the Global Economic Council.
In the middle of the twenty-first century, space was becoming vitally important to the Earth’s global economy. Even the United States, which had abandoned its space program decades earlier, was now building factories in orbit and allowing its citizens to operate mining facilities on the Moon. Under GEC supervision, of course. The GEC had legal control of all extraterrestrial operations, from the teams of explorers combing the rusted sands of Mars to the hordes of insect-sized probes examining Jupiter and the outer planets; from the factories and laboratories in orbit around the Earth to the mining operations on the Moon that fed them.
Dan Randolph had amassed his fortune from space. When America had floundered and waffled, too preoccupied with earthly problems to move boldly in space, Dan had battled his way to a job with the Japanese building the first solar power satellite. “When the going gets tough,” he announced to anyone who would listen, “the tough get going—to where the going’s easier.”
Not that the going was altogether easy among the Japanese. It was on the Moon, in a brawl with four sneering Japanese mining engineers, that his nose had been broken. But he had won that fight, and won the grudging respect of all his fellow workers. Some of those fellow workers were women, and somehow Dan managed to be highly attractive to them. His rather ordinary features seemed to intrigue them. “Is it my smile?” he once asked a buxom Swedish electronics technician who shared his bed for a while. She considered carefully before she answered, “Your smile, yes. And your eyes. There is the devil in your eyes.”
By the time he had returned to Earth he was a moderately wealthy man. He started his own company, Astro Manufacturing, and headquartered it in sprawling Houston, where a handful of entrepreneurs were desperately trying to start a new industrial revolution despite their own government’s persistent indifference and occasional outright hostility. Houston, because by then Dan had met Morgan Scanwell, an earnest, incorruptible young politician who had the energy and drive to match Dan’s own. Scanwell helped Dan to make the contacts that funded the fledgling Astro Manufacturing. Dan raised money for Scanwell’s political campaigns. They joked between themselves that one day Scanwell would be in the White House and Dan would be on Mars.
They made an unlikely duo. Morgan Scanwell was austere, abstemious, a man whose ultimate guide was his deeply held religious faith. Dan Randolph was a hell-raising scoundrel who was out to make as many millions as he could while cutting a swath through the female population of every community in which he lived.
The glue that held the two men together was Morgan’s wife, Jane Scanwell: a tall, regal woman with long, flowing copper red hair, alabaster skin, and eyes the color of a green icy fjord. Utterly loyal to her husband, Jane had no other goal in life than to see Morgan Scanwell elected President of the United States.
She was unobtainable. Naturally, Dan fell in love with her. It was impossible; it was sinfully treacherous. But as Morgan Scanwell inevitably abandoned his moral rectitude and succumbed at last to the women who sought to touch his power, Jane came at last to Dan Randolph’s bed. To their mutual surprise, she discovered that she had fallen in love with this scoundrel, her husband’s best friend.
By the time Scanwell was campaigning for the presidency, Jane had painfully terminated her affair with Dan. She had the strength to end it; the White House was more important to her than romance. “The country needs Morgan, Dan,” she said, convincing herself by trying to convince him. “And he needs me. We can’t jeopardize his chances by sneaking around behind his back. If anyone found out he’d be finished.”

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