“Of course.” One thing I picked up from Dad: Always keep your bargains. He worked within the law and I didn’t, but the principle was the same. People will trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.
“That power-for-oxygen deal is the only thing standing between me and the aluminum industry. If Sanchez stops supplying oxygen, they’ll be in breach of contract. Then I’ll step in and offer to take it over. Same deal: free oxygen for free power.”
“Where would you get the oxygen?” I asked. “You don’t have a smelter.”
“No rule says it has to be smelted. The city doesn’t give a shit where the oxygen comes from, so long as it comes.” He steepled his fingers. “For the last four months, I’ve been collecting oxygen and storing it away. I have enough to supply the entire city’s needs for over a year.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You can’t just take city air and keep it. That’s monumentally illegal.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Please. I’m not an idiot. I bought the oxygen fair and square. I have standing contracts with Sanchez for regular deliveries.”
“You’re buying oxygen from Sanchez so you can take over the oxygen contract from Sanchez?”
He smirked. “They make so much oxygen the entire city doesn’t breathe it fast enough. They sell it cheap to anyone who wants it. I bought it slowly, over time, through various shell businesses so no one would know I’m hoarding.”
I pinched my chin. “Oxygen is pretty much the definition of flammable. How’d you get the city to let you store so much?”
“I didn’t. I built huge holding tanks outside Armstrong Bubble. They’re in the triangle formed by the connector tunnels of Armstrong, Bean, and Shepard. Totally safe from idiot tourists, and if anything goes wrong, they’ll just leak into the vacuum. They’re connected to Life Support’s systems, but they’re separated by a physical valve outside. No harm can come to the city.”
“Huh.” I spun my glass on the table. “You want me to stop Sanchez’s oxygen production.”
“Yes, I do.” He stood from his chair and walked over to the liquor credenza. This time he selected a bottle of rum. “The city will want a fast resolution and I’ll get the contract. Once that happens, I won’t even have to build my own smelter. Sanchez will see the futility of trying to make aluminum without free power and they’ll let me buy them outright.”
He poured himself a fresh drink and returned to the table. There, he opened a panel to reveal a bunch of controls.
The room lights faded and a projection screen came to life on the far wall.
“Are you a supervillain or something?” I gestured to the screen. “I mean, come on.”
“Like it? I just had it installed.”
The screen showed a satellite picture of our local area in Mare Tranquillitatis. Artemis was a tiny blob of circles brilliantly illuminated by sunlight.
“We’re in the lowlands,” Trond said. “There’s plenty of olivine and ilmenite around. Those are great for making iron, but if you want aluminum you need anorthite. It’s rare around here, but the highlands are littered with it. So Sanchez’s harvesters operate in the Moltke Foothills three kilometers south of here.”
He turned on his Gizmo’s laser pointer and pointed to a region south of the city.
“The harvesters are almost completely autonomous. They only call home for instructions if they get stuck or can’t figure out what to do next. They’re an essential part of the company’s operations, they’re all in one place, and they’re completely unguarded.”
“Okay,” I said. “I see where this is going….”
“Yeah,” he said. “I want you to sabotage those harvesters. Take them all out at once. And make sure they can’t be repaired. It’ll take Sanchez at least a month to get replacements shipped here from Earth. During that time they’ll get no new anorthite. No anorthite means no oxygen production. No oxygen production means I win.”
I folded my arms. “I don’t know if this works for me, Trond. Sanchez has like a hundred employees, right? I don’t want to put people out of their jobs.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Trond said. “I want to buy the company, not ruin it. Everyone will keep their jobs.”
“Okay, but I don’t know anything about harvesters.”
His fingers flew over the controls and the display changed to a picture of a harvester. It looked like something from a catalogue. “The harvesters are Toyota Tsukurumas. I have four of them in my warehouse, ready for use.”
Whoa. Okay. Something the size of a harvester would have to be shipped in chunks and assembled here. Plus, it would have to be done in secret so no one asked awkward questions like “Say, Trond, why is your company assembling harvesters?” He’d had his people on this for a long time.
He must have seen the gears turning in my head. “Yeah. I’ve been working on this for a while. Anyway, you’re welcome to examine my harvesters for as long as you want. All in secrecy of course.”
I got out of my chair and walked up to the screen. Man, that harvester was a beast. “So it’s my problem to find a weakness in these things? I’m not an engineer.”
“They’re automated vehicles without any security features at all. You’re clever, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”