I pressed the doorbell and heard a simple buzz emanate from the room beyond.
“Come in,” came Ngugi’s voice.
I opened the door. Her office was even less fancy than I’d expected. Spartan, even. A few shelves with family photos jutted out of raw aluminum walls. Her sheet-metal desk looked like something from the 1950s. She did at least have a proper office chair—her one concession to personal comfort. When I’m seventy years old I’ll probably want a nice chair too.
She typed away on a laptop. The older generations still preferred them to Gizmos or speech-interface devices. She somehow carried grace and aplomb even while hunched over at her desk. She wore casual clothes and, as always, her traditional dhuku headscarf. She finished typing a sentence, then smiled at me.
“Jasmine! Wonderful to see you, dear. Please, have a seat.”
“Yea-thank-yes. I’ll…sit.” I settled into one of the two empty chairs facing her desk.
She clasped her hands and leaned forward. “I’ve been so worried about you, dear. What can I do to help?”
“I have a question about economics.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Economics? Well, I do have some knowledge in that area.”
Understatement of the century. This woman had transformed Kenya into the center of the global space industry. She deserved a Nobel Prize. Two, really. One for Economics and another for Peace.
“What do you know about Earth’s telecom industry?” I asked.
“That’s a broad topic, dear. Can you be more specific?”
“What’s it worth, you think? Like, what kind of revenues do they pull down?”
She laughed. “I could only hazard a guess. But the entire global industry? Somewhere in the five-to-six-trillion-dollar-per-year range.”
“Holy shit! Er…pardon my language, ma’am.”
“Not a problem, Jasmine. You’ve always been colorful.”
“How do they make so much?”
“They have a huge customer base. Every phone line, every internet connection, every TV cable subscription…they all create revenue for the industry—either directly from the customer or indirectly through advertising.”
I looked down at the floor. I had to take a moment.
“Sorry. Kind of tired—well, to be honest, I’m hungover.”
She smiled. “You’re young. You’ll recover soon, I’m sure.”
“Let’s say someone invented a better mousetrap,” I said. “A really awesome fiber-optic cable. One that reduced costs, increased bandwidth, and improved reliability.”
She leaned back in her chair. “If the price point were comparable to existing cables, it would be a huge boon. And the manufacturer of that product would be swimming in money, of course.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And let’s say the prototype of this new fiber optic was created in a specially made satellite in low-Earth orbit. One with a centrifuge aboard. What would that tell you?”
She looked puzzled. “This is a very odd discussion, Jasmine. What’s going on?”
I drummed my fingers on my leg. “See, to me that means it can’t be created in Earth’s gravity. It’s the only reason to make a custom satellite.”
She nodded. “That sounds reasonable. I take it something like this is in the works?”
I pressed on. “But the satellite has a centrifuge. So they do need some force. It’s just that Earth’s gravity is too high. But what if the moon’s gravity were low enough for whatever process they’re using?”
“This is an oddly specific hypothetical, dear.”
She put her hand on her chin. “Then obviously they could manufacture it here.”
“So, in your expert opinion, where’s a better place to manufacture this imaginary product: low-Earth orbit or Artemis?”
“Artemis,” she said. “No question. We have skilled workers, an industrial base, a transport infrastructure, and shipping to and from Earth.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “That’s kind of what I thought.”
“This sounds very promising, Jasmine. Have you been offered a chance to invest? Is that why you’re here? If this invention is real, it’s definitely worth putting money into.”
I wiped my brow. Conrad Up 19 was always a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius, but I was sweating nonetheless.
I looked her in the eyes. “You know what’s strange? You didn’t mention radio or satellites.”
She cocked her head. “I’m sorry, dear. What?”
“When you talked about the telecom industry. You mentioned internet, phone, and TV. But you didn’t bring up radio or satellites.”
“Those are certainly parts of it as well.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But you didn’t mention them. In fact, you only talked about the parts of the industry that rely on fiber optics.”
She shrugged. “Well, we’re talking about fiber optics, so that’s only natural.”
“Except I hadn’t brought up fiber optics yet.”
“You must have.”
I shook my head. “I’ve got a very good memory.”
She narrowed her eyes slightly.