Author : D. R. Porterfield

“I believe I’ve found just the property you’re looking for, Mr. DelRay,” the agent smiled optimistically.

Across the broad, polished desk, his client nodded and said, “Show me.”

“Of course. Let’s start with the general area.” A holographic map appeared on the desk between them, the property itself outlined in luminous red. “As you can see,” noted the agent, “it’s well off the beaten path.”

“Practically the middle of nowhere,” his client replied flatly. “Zoning?”

“Zoning’s open. You can basically do whatever you want with it. Regs are a lot looser way out there, you know.”

A trace of a smile flickered over DelRay’s thin lips, vanishing just as quickly. “Do go on, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright. Here’s the local neighborhood,” the agent continued, zooming the map to a closer view. His client nodded perfunctorily and motioned him on, so Gilliam clicked the map to full zoom. “And the property.”

DelRay’s eyes widened slightly. The agent did not fail to notice this.

Smiling broadly, Gilliam said, “It is beautiful, isn’t it? Originally some kind of farm, I think. What’s really impressive is the unusual…”

“I’m an investor, Mr. Gilliam,” DelRay interrupted. “My associates and I are interested in water rights, not aesthetics. You have the specifications and inspection reports, I assume?”

“Certainly,” replied Gilliam, maintaining his smile with effort. “Here on this tablet, along with the map we’ve been looking at.” He handed the device across the desk to DelRay, who began scrolling through it intently. Gilliam noticed a flicker of a smile again as his client checked over the specs. Obviously DelRay was interested in the property, despite his efforts to seem detached. Maybe he wouldn’t notice, or at least not care, about the…

“What’s this?” DelRay turned the tablet’s screen toward Gilliam and tapped on it.

“Oh, ah, yes,” said Gilliam. “That.” He’d been afraid this might come up. “Well of course you realize, Mr. DelRay, that this property went into foreclosure a good while ago, and it’s been abandoned for quite some time now. That’s why it’s priced so attractively low. You can’t expect it to be entirely pristine.”

Gilliam’s client regarded him with sustained silence, his cold gray eyes unblinking and unreadable.

After an awkward moment, Gilliam went on, “And as you may know, Mr. DelRay, often this sort of problem eventually, well, takes care of itself. Those pesky vermin are just a little too clever for their own good, and they tend to…”

“I know what they tend to do, Mr. Gilliam,” his client said with audible disgust. “They tend to do a great deal of damage, and their toxins persist long after they manage to eradicate themselves, assuming they eventually do so.”

Gilliam felt the sale slipping away. He’d thought it would be a clench, but…

“However,” his client continued after a long pause, “perhaps we could negotiate.”

As the door to the agent’s office hissed closed behind him, DelRay allowed himself to smile freely. This transaction would be highly profitable; his associates would be pleased.

Though of course there was that little… problem. It would be fairly expensive to take care of, especially the clean-up. No matter. The property’s surface was over seventy percent extractable water, and its lone moon, though dry, could be leased out for strip mining. Once the operations got underway, his organization could recoup the cost in just two or three cycles.

Frowning at the tablet, DelRay examined the biological inspection report for Sol III, tapping an impatient claw against the offending item. “Humanoid infestation.”

He’d have to call the exterminators right away.

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