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transmission of freight and keep the records thereof. "There will thus be no favoritism or distortion of
records," I pointed out. "Phobos will receive a set share of all transmissions, and all transactions will be
immediately publicized, so none of the iron exporters will have opportunity for error." This had been an
extremely uncomfortable issue with Rabia, because while it had honored the iron-production guidelines,
at great cost to itself, others had not. It was actually an advantage to have those records administered by
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a common enemy. The private sales to consumer planets would also be put on record, because Phobos
would now have to clear those shipments from Mars; any attempt to exceed the fifty-fifty quota would
quickly become apparent. I did not reiterate the likely effect on the price of iron sold commercially in
the System; that was understood.
"I appreciate the clarity of your summation, Tyrant," the King said. "However, I regret to say that we are
not prepared to have Phobos interfere in any fashion with our affairs. We see no reason why the tube
should be set up at Deimos; indeed, deep space might be a better "
He broke off, for something strange was happening. A veiled figure was entering the chamber. It was
actually in mine, but the holography made it appear with complete realism in his chamber too. The
figure was in a wheelchair.
"But the Triton Project cannot spare vital technicians for routine projection duty," I said, paying no
attention to the figure behind me. "Phobos has the necessary personnel, so it behooves us to take
advantage of them."
The King's gaze was nominally on me, but actually fixed on the figure behind me. I knew that the gaze
of all the unseen viewers was similarly focused.
Slowly, as I talked, the figure lifted the veil clear, and Shelia's face was revealed. The mask employed in
this case was exceptionally fine, and she had practiced diligently with it; it would be almost impossible
to distinguish it from the real thing by visual means alone, which was all that was available to the
viewers. I knew that the holo records of all the Mars nations would be frantically searched for matching
images of Shelia, and her motions and actions would be studied. I knew what they would discover: This
was that woman. My innate ability to read people is superior to that of any machine I know; if the
nuances of personality could deceive me, they could deceive anyone. They would verify that this woman
was my former secretary Shelia.
But of course Shelia was dead, killed by Big Iron. And Big Iron was dead on Jupiter, killed by the
Tyrant. What, then, could this manifestation portend? The iron magnates of Mars would be shaken. I
could not see them, apart from the King, but I knew.
When the King did not answer me, I launched into a friendly reminiscence. I described my prior
compatibility with the essential industry of iron on Jupiter, and the manner we had brought prices down
to what we deemed to be reasonable levels. As I spoke, Shelia stared meaningfully at the King, who
froze. Suddenly it seemed that he wanted to terminate this interview, but he could not; our business had
not been completed, and others were watching. He might have little respect for women as a species, but
he knew who Shelia was, and his own cue cards were now advising him of the confirmation of identity.
He knew he was seeing a ghost. Like General D of Gaul, whose dead daughter had manifested in my
presence, he was having difficulty maintaining equilibrium.
"Of course there was an unfortunate incident," I continued. "I regret I had to discipline those companies
somewhat; perhaps I overreacted. But I am a Latin; my emotions can dominate my better judgment. I'm
sure you understand."
The King looked doubtful; evidently he was now getting conflicting cues from the other representatives
of Mars. There was no consensus, which left him in the lurch. I signaled Shelia, unobtrusively.
She wheeled forward. "Hope!" she exclaimed. "I fear they mean you ill!"
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I paused in my monologue. "Is someone here?" I asked, looking about. My gaze passed right by Shelia
without focus; it was as though she weren't there.
I shrugged. "I beg pardon," I said to the King. "I suffered a momentary distraction."
"Hope, they are evil people!" Shelia cried. "They mean to kill you!"
I suffered myself to be shaken, as by some unheard voice. Then a bit of the Tyrant's madness began to
manifest. My eyes widened slightly and my lips thinned. "I feel a chill," I muttered.
"I am sure that some accommodation can be made," the King said quickly. Now his attention was on
me.
"Don't trust them!" Shelia urged me, speaking like a paranoid conscience.
"I'm not sure," I said. Saliva appeared in the corners of my mouth, and my gaze flicked erratically about
the room as if searching for something.
"You are tired, Tyrant," the King said. "Let us conclude this business expeditiously, so you may rest." If
there was one thing for which the Tyrant was remembered, it was his siege of madness, which had
manifested in some amusing and some devastating ways. No one could be certain in what manner or
with what force this loosening cannon would strike. But they knew one thing that would set it off
instantly.
"No!" Shelia cried. "They are iron!"
I hesitated as if distracted. The King strode across the chamber and his hand reached for mine, seeking
the handshake that would seal the agreement. In the age of holo and recordings, such a signal had legal
force. "It is agreed!" he said. "Peace and trade, to mutual advantage!"
I blinked, becoming aware of my situation. Automatically my hand came to join his holo-hand. "Peace
and trade," I agreed.
Shelia, disgusted, wheeled her chair about and rolled out. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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