Parador | Chapter 09
Tila gave Malachi a worried look. Why did this feel like bad news?
‘He was the biggest investor in the mission, so we thought he would want to see us about the- about the information we have.’
‘What information? Never mind… Look, Conway’s a crook, man. Well, maybe not a crook, but definitely shady. He’s always dealing under the table.’
‘Dealing, you know, business deals. Where no one can see.’ He dropped his datapad on the table and wiggled his fingers in the air like a magician performing a trick. ‘Secret dealings.’
Tila shot Malachi another look while still speaking to Jayce. ‘So, you’re saying we can’t trust him?’
‘No way. You can’t trust any of them, but he’s the worst of all.’
‘Them? Who’s them?’
‘All those CEOs and corporates. They’re all up to it.’
Tila clenched her jaw. A straight answer would be nice. ‘Up to what, Jayce?’
Malachi spoke up. ‘Okay, let’s make sure we know what’s going on,’ he said, and heard a whispered ‘thank you!’ from Tila.
‘You’re saying Conway can’t be trusted because he makes secret deals, but that he is just the worst of them? Which means everyone in his position is doing the same thing? Is that right?
‘Uh huh,’ said Jayce.
‘If everyone is doing it, why does he have the bad reputation?’
‘Conway led the other businesses in the coalition. He backed the captain.’
‘Why is that bad?’ said Tila. Some support for my mother at last?
‘It’s not, but that’s not everything. Before the trial started, Conway traded short all the engineering firms. When it looked like the accident was their fault the prices fell, so Conway sold them and made a fortune. Then later during the trial, it came out that he bought all the shares back after the price crashed, but before the captain’s decision was challenged in court. Once the captain was blamed, the engineering firms were off the hook, so their share price recovered in a big way. Conway made two fortunes on one case. He played both sides.’
Tila felt lost. ‘I don’t think I’m keeping up.’
‘Wait, it gets better! By the time the dust had settled and the insurance had paid out, you know who got rich again?’
‘Conway’ guessed Malachi. ‘But how?’
‘You got it. The insurance deals were so complicated that Conway ended up benefiting from the claims more than anyone. Even more than Cho Suleman and her corporate cabal. You can guess how that made them feel.’
Malachi leaned forward in disbelief. ‘He made a profit?’
‘Three profits. And then, when it was all over, he claimed salvage rights over what was left of the New Dawn and Rising Star.’ He dived into the remains of his sandwich and spoke with his mouth full. Anyway, that’s when the rumours started. I guess you can’t blame them. You’d think once that mission went up in smoke no one would come out on top, but Conway managed it four times. I mean, who spends all that money on a disaster only to come out richer than he went in?’
‘Follow the money?’ Tila said to Malachi, her fork hovered halfway to her mouth.
Malachi looked across the table at Tila. He knew what she was thinking, and he agreed. This didn’t sound good.
Tila dropped her fork into the bowl.
‘We need to see him. He made the biggest investment, so I need to talk to him as much as any of the others. Maybe more.’
Jayce held up his hands in surrender.
‘Then you’re on your own. I can’t get you in to see him. I’m sorry.’
‘Fine. I’ll do it myself.
Malachi touched Tila’s arm before her irritation turned into belligerence. ‘Jayce, do you know someone else who can help us? What about one of your friends?’ He thumbed over his shoulder to where Jayce’s companions were laughing and eating.
Jayce shook his head. Is he sad that he can’t help, or sad he can’t impress Ellie, thought Tila.
‘None of my friends can.’ He pointed at the noisy crowd that had followed them into the market. ‘But that guy over there, the big guy, with white hair, he works as an intern in Conway’s building, but-‘
Tila jumped to her feet. ‘Then I’ll go and ask him,’ she said.
‘-he’s an ass-,’ Jayce added.
Malachi leapt up to follow Tila and make sure she wasn’t about to make their third enemy of the day, leaving Ellie and Jayce alone.
‘-hole,’ Jayce finished at last.
‘You think he won’t help us?’ said Ellie.
‘Yeah, right. Blake is the kind of guy who would refuse to help on principle. And once he knows I’m involved – well, I just don’t think he is going to cooperate with anyone. Especially me.’
‘My family’s business competes with his for one thing, and for another he won’t help because all he’s interested in is spending his daddy’s money on the fastest skimmers on the market and then humiliating everyone he races.’
Ellie’s ears pricked up. She tried to catch Tila’s eye but Tila was already arguing with Blake.
‘He loves to race. Loves it! We all do. That’s why we’re meeting here now. We have one this afternoon.
Ellie turned back to Jayce.
‘Do you race? Are you racing him?’
‘Ha! Good one. No. It’s not worth the risk. I’ll fly some laps with my friends, but he’s too dangerous.’
‘Because he can do what he likes in a race: ram people off course, damage their skimmers, anything. His family has enough money to make any problem go away. The only reason he hasn’t killed anyone yet is because no one stands up to him any more on the track.’
Ellie watched Blake thoughtfully while Jayce swallowed the last of his food. ‘What if someone did?’
‘Good luck finding someone like that. Do you think Tila’s going to finish this biryani? He picked up Tila’s fork and helped himself to the leftovers.
‘But what if someone did?’
‘Never gonna happen. Hey, where are you going?’
Ellie sprang from her chair and walked quickly to where Malachi, Tila and Blake were already in a heated discussion.
Tila had already taken on her traditional role of arguing with someone while Malachi tried to play peacemaker.
This time, Ellie’s friends were outnumbered by a half-dozen hangers-on who surrounded Blake. Ellie tapped Malachi on the shoulder to get his attention and wriggled her way into the group when he turned around.
‘Just a meeting. One meeting,’ Tila was saying.’ Why can’t you do that?’
‘Why the hell should I? Who are you people, anyway? I’m not going to spend my valuable time helping a couple of scrags from the Juggernaut? How did you even get here, anyway? I thought you people weren’t allowed to have any tech.’
‘Of course we are,’ said Malachi, bristling.
‘They just don’t know how to use it,’ added a hanger-on, to scornful laughs.
‘Of course you are,’ mocked Blake, riding the wave. ‘But how can you understand anything more complicated than a wheel? If you could, you wouldn’t be living there, right?’ He laughed at his own joke, and on cue, his retinue laughed too, adding their own comments and catcalls.
‘Don’t do it for us, do it for Jayce,’ said Ellie, piping up. Everyone looked at her, then at Jayce who was about to take the last bite of his sandwich when he suddenly realised what Ellie had said.
‘For him? I like him even less than I like you, and I don’t even know you well enough to have a reason.’
‘I dunno Blake, I like her,’ said one of the gang, who immediately earned a flash of anger from Tila.
‘You! Stay quiet.’
‘Besides,’ continued Blake, ‘it’s not like he could even win a race.’
‘What if he could,’ pressed Ellie.
‘He can’t win. And he has nothing I want anyway, so why bother. I need a challenge and something to make it worthwhile, and you are not worthwhile, little princess.’
‘Why does everyone keep calling me that?!’
‘Ellie…’ Tila warned.
‘Fine. I’ll race you,’ said Ellie.
‘Uh, Ellie, what are you doing?’ said Malachi.
Blake was unimpressed. ‘You want to race?’ Ellie stuck out her chin and nodded. ‘Do you even know how?
‘I don’t lose.’
More laughter. ‘Where? On the Juggernaut? Does that even count as racing? Anyway, how are you going to make it interesting?’
‘Ellie, stop talking,’ said Tila.
Ellie ignored her. ‘If I win you get us a meeting with Conway. If you win I’ll give you Jayce’s new cruiser.’
Now Jayce leapt out of his chair. ‘Uh, Ellie! Can we talk about this?’ he said.
But Blake was shaking his head. ‘I don’t want that third-rate piece of junk. I said interesting.’
‘Ellie, stop it,’ Tila demanded.
‘Careful, your mother’s getting upset,’ said Blake.
‘No, Tila,’ said Ellie. ‘You think I’m just getting in the way, well you’re wrong. I can help. You need this meeting and when I win I’ll get it for you.’
‘Ellie!’ Tila shouted.
‘If you win we’ll give you Tila’s staff. It’s paleotech.’
‘No, it’s not,’ Tila protested.
‘It is!’ Insisted Ellie, still facing Tila, but looking at Blake. ‘You have money, right? Well we have something money can’t buy. Deal?’
Blake slowly leaned back and folded his arms. He had no intention of getting scammed by Juggernaut scrags, but he had heard stories about paleotech discoveries. Was it worth the risk? He knew he wouldn’t lose, but he didn’t want to risk the humiliation of a bad deal when he won.
On the other hand, if the staff turned out to be a lie, so what? They were nothing more than scrags from the Juggernaut. Dispossessed. It’s not like anyone expected the truth from them anyway, and he could easily tell people he hadn’t been suckered in if it did turn out to be worthless.
And if they were telling the truth he would have a genuine piece of earth history in his hands. That sort of currency would go a long way toward impressing someone like Conway, and impressing Conway would be a good step on the career ladder from intern to apprentice.
Blake couldn’t see a downside, so he stuck out his hand.