"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Minerva, Chapter 38
'How many times do I have to tell you,' Ribald said, 'Chairman Peckard is unavailable. I have assumed his duties, so you can tell me whatever it is you want to tell him.'
Black leaned back in his chair. Could one of the special ops boys have gotten a lucky break? Probably not. Maybe Peckard had just had a heart attack from the stress.
'Very well,' Black said. 'I have a proposition for you.'
'Yes,' Ribald said, 'I'm listening.'
'Allow our planes within 180 kilometers, and we'll cut back our sorties to their previous levels.'
'Why should I do that?' Ribald asked.
'Oh come on, let's drop the bullshit,' Black said. 'After that ridiculous Hopper incident, I have to give my public something tangible. If I can say that we've gained twenty kilometers, that will work fine. Hell, I'd just lie about it if it weren't for your own damn news agencies.'
'Remind me again why I want to boost your popularity?' Ribald asked.
'Damnit man, drop the act,' Black said. 'You know you're running out of fuel. Our heightened sorties have to be killing you. Pretend they're not if you want, but I'm just trying to give us both a way out of this mess.'
'I'll need to discuss it with my colleagues,' Ribald said.
'Oh bullshit,' Black shot back. 'Don't tell me you don't have the authority to change your pilots' rules of engagement. What if we launched a massive bombing run? Would you have to consult then, too? No: you either take this deal or not. You've got sixty seconds to think it over, then it's off the table.'
Ribald quickly pulled out a sheet from a hanging file folder. At the current rate of consumption, the Trust only had twenty-three days' worth of oil locked in with futures contracts. After that ran out, the Trust would need to purchase its fuel on the open market. President Black's offer could save it millions of ounces. And what was an extra twenty kilometers?
'I can only control Trust aircraft,' Ribald said. 'There's a few independent militias, not to mention a whole host of hothead civilians. I can't stop them from attacking your planes.'
'I understand,' Black said. 'Do we have a deal?'
'Yes,' Ribald said, 'I suppose we do.'