At Neue Helvetica Rędwulf bought a superb set of jet packs to attach to our EVA gear, thanks to a motivated seller Rocky found. We wouldn’t be clinging to a sled the next time we had to make a trip to the Really Great Outdoors. Rędwulf had also struck up an acquaintance with one of the few first-class passengers, Park Berger, an alarmingly overweight art critic who had been pestering the kitchen with special requests. Berger was on his way to visit a private collector, and spoke eloquently on art of all kinds. He waxed particularly enthusiastic about the polymorphic haptic sculpture of Helen Van Hoek, who had barely escaped with her life from Xyzzy during one of the methane-breathers’ purges. Or maybe she was a methane-breather herself; she was something of an enigma.
Meanwhile, Kanoka received a visit from his friend Old Gord, a Black Auditor, who passed on some friendly financial advice. “There’s a bubble forming in the art market. And food prices look unstable—futures are all over the map.” Rocky hit on a plan that the rest of the crew enthusiastically took up: Lock in some agricultural land in Woodstock system, the one place in the cluster where conventional agriculture even worked. We had gotten bad word-of-mouth from some passengers (probably the ones who ralphed during the salvage of the Clan Pavelich cargo hauler), but we were still able to line up a mixed bag of backpackers and cheap tech bound for the tree-hugger system.
We docked above the main planet of Woodstock after an uneventful trip. Passion went to work looking through the system’s hundreds of sects to find one that would commit land to offworlders. He soon made contact with the Fifteen Silent Brothers, whose Millions of Oppressed Peasants were ready to labor for investors with the right offer. Meanwhile, the crew of the Margaritaville worked at the orbital station to line up the next gig.
After all the talk about art prices it wasn’t too surprising when Rędwulf got sucked into what he said was a great deal and bought a piece of polymorphic haptic sculpture, an abstract textured form with a gentle heartbeat that snuggled into one’s arms. Its history had been lost in an unfortunate solar flare, but the piece could easily be a Van Hoek. When Berger (who was remaining on the station rather than suffer gravity) pronounced it a quality piece, Rędwulf engaged the critic to try to uncover its true provenance.
It was in a crowded corridor of the station that Rędwulf crossed a red line — which proved to be a sniper laser. Seared even though his ancient armor, he dove behind a credit terminal for cover, shaking, and whipped out his military medkit as the ruby-wielding assassin closed in. Fortunately, Rocky and Kanoka heard the shouts of bystanders and ran to join him. Rocky opened up with his own cooker, firing wildly and as he dodged beams from the lightning-fast assassin. Then Kanoka slammed into him with a coriolis-twisted leap that sent both men flying and the assassin’s weapon bouncing into a corner. The homespun-clad attacker quickly jumped to his feet and sprinted away with Kanoka in pursuit. By the time the liner captain returned empty-handed and out of breath, Rędwulf wounds were no worse than “rare” and Rocky had discreetly pocketed the enemy’s weapon. They returned to the ship, where Nelson offered Rędwulf a Pangalactic Gargle Blaster to calm his nerves. Rędwulf was sufficiently cool to file a complaint with the station, and was told his attacker was probably a member of the Woodstock Purifier sect, although the miscreant didn’t show up on station cameras and had left no fingerprints, the work of a professional.
Not long after, Rocky led a delegation down to the possessions of the Brothers on the Woodstock homeworld to seal the deal. The planet was the best of several habitable ones in the system. It was a strange place, with breathable air like the main world of Eden, but with large patches of exposed solid surface buried in tons per square inch of creepy plant things and criss-crossed by mobile subsentient lifeforms of every description. The Brothers held court at a major agricultural processing center; they were indeed silent, but adept with gestures, text messages and e-mail; and of course, money talks.
In fact, the Brothers had been talking to another potential offworld buyer, putting us into a bidding war. Rocky convinced the Brothers that Rędwulf’s substantial assets behind us, but our deep-pocketed competitors put up comparable collateral. We soon found our bids entangled in local bureaucracy. Rocky convinced the Brothers that our bid could be more profitable, and perhaps distracted them a bit with offworld intoxicants, although his schmoozing was marred by an outburst when one of the Brothers looked at him funny. Rędwulf patched things up with a charm offensive, taking some of the Brothers up to the Margaritaville for a close look at some otherworldly pleasures, while Kanoka dredged up evidence that our opponents had filed invalid permits. The other bidders weren’t giving up. They offered the Brothers an even longer-term contract than we had, distracted Rocky with subtle threats to his companions, and stirred up local officials to bury us with inquiries and hearings. They also started a whisper campaign about Passion, who had brought us together with the Brothers, pointing out among other things that he was a nonbeliever. Eventually, however, Kanoka was able to trace the other bidders to their lodgings on the planet and their homeworld of Neue Helvetica, enabling us to apply some subtle threats of our own. Rędwulf convinced the Brothers that he was more sympathetic to their ethos than the competitors, and convinced local officials that our (recycled) paperwork was in order. So we bought the farm, presumably as a silent partner.
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