“It just doesn’t feel like it’s the right time to buy a planet anymore. Sorry!” the customer said and zapped out of the holocall.
Rhys pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Another one lost. It felt like his last sale had happened ages ago and his comrades’ pressure was rising – slowly, but surely. He had argued often enough that the planet-selling business just didn’t lend itself to meeting sales targets, that instead it was a slow dance, involving flirtation with the prospects, building relationships, building trust. It might all have come across as excuses for flunking out of closing deals. Business rarely turned out to be a fertile ground for philosophy and the comrades were having none of it. He knew that their goodwill had been stretched too thin for too long. His time in the combinate might well be in jeopardy.
He had one last client for the day – an elderly oligarch and her three husbands, all of which had shown a strong interest in Hallein 6, a moon made for extreme sports based on water. The oligarch still put her body in actual, physical danger, surfing twenty-meter waves on a gravboard. She had sent him the pictures and he had admired them in a hopefully adequate manner. As long as she would agree on buying the moon, he’d look at pictures of the bicentenarian in a bathing suit all day long.
Rhys made himself a permacoffee and stared at the countdown clock announcing her virtual arrival. He finished the last gulp of the steaming, pink liquid just as the numbers reached zero and a woman manifested in his office, followed by three markedly younger men. She had long red hair that flowed to the floor, held in place by a tiara and several clips made of some ethereal material. Her body was covered entirely with colorful tattoos and veiled by some thin gauze that thickened only in strategic places. The men wore nothing but shorts, muscular arms crossed over similarly muscular, oiled chests. They might have been clones, or triplets, or something in between, Rhys had never bothered to ask. He smiled genially: “My very dear Kleomansa! How very lovely to see you - I hope the weather is fine over on Kaeppchen Gamma!”
“Rhys, you old dog, you know that the weather doesn’t dare to change unless I tell it to,” the woman replied, raising her hand in salute. They exchanged shallow niceties for a while, until Rhys felt it was time to change the subject.
“Kleo, have you had time to check out Hallein? Isn’t it a lovely moon? And the waves I hear are especially spectacular this solar cycle. How did you find it?”
The woman hesitated and, in this pause,, Rhys felt his heart sink. The last talks had gone so smoothly, he had been so sure that Kleomansa loved the moon. Would she back out of the deal now?
“Oh you know, I sent Primorius over,” she said and pointed at one of the men, “he really didn’t care for the short days… only 36 units of light and then 174 units of darkness? Come on, Rhys, who has the time?”
“But wouldn’t it be perfect to visit in the dark as well? Increase the adventure?” He heard a trace of desperation in his voice. Kleo looked at him with something like pity in her eyes. “In the darkness? And be easy fodder for the giant razor-tentacle swarms? I might be crazy, but not suicidal.” She paused. “Not yet at least. If it comes to that, I’ll get back to you. Anyway, Hallein is out of the picture.”
The planet seller stifled a curse. Damn Primorius and damn those giant razor-tentacles. He was so sure that he had his deal.
“Kleo, I fully understand you. Now that you mentioned the light and the razor-tentacles, it was stupid of me to suggest it!” Adding some more groveling, he said: “Let’s look at some alternatives. I have many more marvels for you.”
He pulled up the image of a sphere in his office – another moon, lusciously painted in hues of green and red.
“Mermaleidon 16, in orbit around Paraclestor – beautifully covered in orange seas, tiny islands, guaranteed to be uninhabited. If you wish, we can seed some birds of paradise there, I can show you the list of species later. Mermaleidon is…”
She interrupted him. “Don’t bother. One of my ex-husbands has a moon around Paraclestor, I really don’t want to run into him in the orbital queue. Next.” Rhys nodded comprehensively and told his systems to make a note about Kleomansas husband. If he had bought one moon, he might just want to buy the next one over for some more privacy and quiet.
A new sphere appeared.
“Zhukaria 88, orbiting Juffu. Especially interesting because of the thermal drifts that will boil the water on side of the moon and freeze it on the other!” Kleomansa waved her hand impatiently. “Rhys, I want to surf and not to spa. If I wanted to boil or freeze myself to death, I would call my parents. Now, my dear, please show me some real options or I might have to excuse myself.”
He swallowed. Not pissing off Kleomansa was paramount, and he was botching it. He looked at the remaining options and threw out most of the ones suggested by the system. He really should have prepared a little better than to filter by habitability and the existence of large bodies of water. His eyes fell on one option – not a moon, a proper planet. Could he offer it? He paused and put the planet to the back of the queue. But now he had barely any suitable candidates left.
“Now I have something for a real adventurer!” he said, despite the dire options, and noticed that his client turned her head. He had to try it. He put on the moon, overriding the default display settings to make it bigger and a tad more vivid. “May I present: Calieri K. It has so far only been cartographed by drone. It might be perfect – very generous light and dark intervals, water coverage up to 86%, average temperature always above freezing and well below boiling point!”
“Interesting,” Kleomansa said. For a woman of her wealth, Rhys thought, she had a terrible pokerface. He had her on a hook. Now, he had to be more carefully. “We have a very pretty discount on moons without previous owners and ones that haven’t been … lived on or used before.”
“Calieri K, as you can see has the ability to support a very rich ecosystem – all the land masses are far away from the poles, which will be very supportive of any new species you choose to seed. And we can adjust the oceanic fauna as well, of course.”
“And the waves?” she asked.
He smiled and played his strongest card. “The waves have been observed to be as high as thirty-five meters!” At least, that was what his systems had interfered from the rather thin drone data.
“Is it close enough to an orbital station?”
“Oh yes, Foscus is merely a few jump-minutes away and another new orbital will be ready by the end of the solar cycle. From your home on Kaeppchen, the total trip time will then take less than 3 jump-hours.” He ignored the system’s warning on the delay in building the new orbital he had just mentioned. It might still be on time, or it might not. No need to bother his client with the details just now. He almost had her, as he launched into his last phase.
“I know that you have a million questions concerning the details, my lovely Kleo, and I’m happy to answer each and every last one of them…”
“No, I don’t have any. I’ll read the documents later.” She spun the globe. “But it has this energy, it speaks to me. Don’t you feel it, too? And the K in the name surely stands for Kleomansa, don’t you think?” She stopped the rotation. “I’ll take it.”
Blood rushed to Rhys’ face. Had he just made a deal and sold the moon? He couldn’t believe that she had just made the decision and it took him a few moments to adjust. “Oh, well, ok then! Great! I’ll let the combinate know that they should prepare…” One of the men now actually came over and stood next to the women. He bowed gracefully and greeted Rhys in the appropriate way, indicating his will to speak.
“You said that it has the ability to support an ecosystem. When can we start using it?” he said and Kleomansa nodded vigorously. “Yes, Rhys, when?”
“Ah, let me just check that for you…” He queried the system and couldn’t believe the answer he got. An answer that shattered his dreams, an answer absolutely unsuited for his customer, for any customer really. But time was running out and he couldn’t let Kleomansa dangle for much longer. “So… your new moon, this Calieri K, it could be ready for you by the end of the 293rd solar cycle,” he said without much conviction. The man who had asked the question scoffed and turned away laughingly. Kleo held her clearly visible anger better in check, but managed to turn it to cold scorn in an instant. “Rhys, Rhys, Rhys. I thought I was very clear on my requirements: it’s for me, not the distant progenies of my kids. The end of the 293rd cycle is absolutely out of the question; I will not wait for it.”
“Of course, we could speed up the necessary work by providing more funding,” he said and realized his error right away.
“You mean to tell me that first you present me with an unacceptable timeline and then I should pay more to hurry this along? What kind of fool do you take me for, Rhys?”
Her voice couldn’t make it any clearer that this was going very poorly for him and the idea of selling anything today.
Pulling up the menu again, he immediately saw that he was out of options. Except – the one planet that he had skipped over earlier. It was deemed unsellable, entirely too big, too confusing, too remote. And yet… Rhys felt some confirmation growing in his stomach and hoped he wasn’t mistaking it for the prospect of having to look for new employment soon.
“Kleo, I’m extremely sorry to have wasted your time. I haven’t appreciated that you are a woman with singular needs and wants, one that is not easily satisfied.” Her face softened slightly. “I have shown you the best selection, but I have overlooked the basics of a good relationship: it’s not about what is the best, but what is right. Please let me present one last option – and if it doesn’t suit you, I will personally set up an appointment with whatever other planet agency you choose.”
Luckily, Kleomansa was as quick to be charmed as to be angered.
“Fine, Rhys, one last option. It better be a superstar.”
“In fact, it is.” Rhys said, “It’s a planet – now, I know that we have scoped out your financial situation, but I assure you that we can make this planet quite affordable for you. It’s a little remote, I grant you that right away, the next orbital is about 270 jump-minutes away. But remote also means quiet and private. It’s huge and stunningly diverse – several large continents and almost every climate zone you can imagine. The waves aren’t as high as elsewhere, but much more predictable.”
The client spun the image of the blue and green sphere around. “What is the light cycle?”
“Well, it’s a planet – it’s very stable in orbit and spinning at 24 units. If you follow the pattern, you can catch a wave in light almost everywhere! And no razor-tentacles in the dark either, just some harmless small predators.”
“What else?” she asked.
Rhys consulted his system and skimmed over a quick notice that linked some interest from Kleo’s husbands to the planet.
“Quite a lot!” he went on. “Beside waves, it has a very abundant ecosystem at the ready, one also defined by the continents. It even has a slowly evolving primate species! I see that might be of some interest for Primorius, yes? Then, there is something very special – plate tectonics! You don’t see a lot of those around inhabited planets!”
“What’s so special about that?” she said. He had her back to asking questions, which was always a good sign.
“Plate tectonics mean huge amounts of volcanoes – Kleo, tell me: have you ever surfed on hot lava, freshly spilled from a planet’s core?” Was this even feasible? Rhys had no idea. “And on some planets we’ve observed those tectonics to cause giant waves, up to 60 meters! Then there are caves and deserts, forests and steppes and two entire frozen poles. Everything ready to explore. Just imagine the possibilities!” The woman did some thoughtful imagining as she observed the globe in front of her.
“And it’s ready? Available right away? What’s the catch then?” she said.
“No catch, I promise. We have had trouble selling it because it was just too diverse for many of our clients! Come on, who want’s rain forests, deserts, volcanoes and ice? Unexplored and frankly huge, somewhat remote…it doesn’t exactly fly of the shelves.”
Her face told him that she was convinced. Finally, and truly, convinced. She had given her word on the moon too early. Now, she made him go through the whole ordeal of feigning worry, counterarguments, uncertainties, all of it in good spirit, which went on for the better part of the evening. But Rhys didn’t care, he would have bartered the whole night if Kleo had wanted that.
When he finally got her approval of the purchase and the holocall had ended, he fell in his chair and put his hands on his face, laughing this time. He had managed a sales deal – and it had been one of the most difficult in company history, the planet having been in the archives for an embarrassingly long time. The projection of the blue planet still hovered in his office, spinning lazily. “Terra, third planet in orbit around Sol,” Rhys read from the display. “Let’s hope Kleomansa treats you well.”