Fire With Fire – Snippet 11

He swung his legs over the side of the Rover, shaded his eyes, looked to either side: dozens of light-framed derricks in both directions. A thin, steady stream of black-smeared workers — most silent, a few muttering in Farsi, others in what might have been Uzbek — straggled toward the access road. Caine noted a profusion of unmended tears in their clothing, and the dull-eyed stares of the perpetually exhausted. “I suppose you’re aware that I flew over this area yesterday?”

“Did you? I didn’t know.”

Liar. “Yep — but I didn’t spot these as oil rigs. They looked — well, too flimsy. I thought they were construction frames for towers of some kind.”

“It’s a new derrick design made possible by lighter, stronger materials.” Consuela had come to stand alongside him — very close. That was either her arm brushing his elbow, or —

“And so this is why Site One became off-limits? You wanted to establish exclusive production?”

She nodded. “That’s what I guess: the Board doesn’t consult with little fish such as me.”

Caine stared up along the black-gray girders: too easy. They’re showing me this without effort, so they’re hiding something else. But for now, play it out. If you jump topic too fast, she’ll sense that you know there’s more. Play the part of the triumphant — and successfully decoyed — investigator.

He had to wait before speaking; a high speed VTOL approached, transitioned into level flight just about directly overhead, and arrowed up and over the steep green slope of the nearest mountain. “Why show me?”

She shrugged. “Louis didn’t tell me much –”

So, Consuela: Helger is “Louis,” despite being four tiers above you on the chain of command? What is he: a friend you made back home, or a friend you made on your back?

“– but I gather he didn’t have much choice left, in your case. So here it is: our deep, dark secret.”

“It’ll be dark enough when the Commonwealth and the Union learn about it.”

She shrugged. “Possession is nine-tenths, Mr. Riordan. And what are they going to do: impound the site? It will be months before they can get new work crews out here. Besides, no one’s going to stop us, anyway.”


She smiled, not entirely suppressing the condescension–

Go ahead, Consuela, believe I’m not quick enough to see it all for myself. If you decide I’m a little dim now, you’ll let your guard down later —

“Mr. Riordan, surely you know the value of oil.”

“Of course. Even after it was phased out as a fuel, it remains essential.”

“That’s right: plastics, lubricants, fertilizers, chemicals. It is priceless.”

Caine shrugged. “But at six shifts from Earth, the transport cost of oil from Dee Pee Three will eat the profits to nothing. Oil futures are still no more than one hundred c-dollars a barrel, and since we stopped burning it, the remaining supply is deemed sufficient for any foreseeable future.”

She nodded patiently. “Yes, it is. That is the state of the petroleum market on Earth. But there’s something you’re overlooking.”

No, there isn’t — but I’m glad you think so. “And what’s that?”

“New worlds, Mr. Riordan. CoDevCo has moved beyond terracentric marketing assumptions. We are thinking in interstellar terms: our new oil industry on Delta Pavonis Three is a prime example of that.”


“Well, let’s do the math, Mr. Riordan. How much does it cost to move a one-liter volume of cargo from one solar system to another? Not freight charges: break-even cost, only.”

“Uh — about three c-dollars a liter, per shift.”

She seemed surprised that he knew. “Right. And how many shifts from Earth to Delta Pavonis?”


“Correct. So, in terms of interstellar transportation alone, it costs eighteen dollars to ship a liter of petroleum from Earth, the only known source of substantial fossil fuel deposits. Now, at one hundred dollars a barrel, that means that the market price for oil on Earth is about two dollars a gallon, or fifty cents a liter. Add in one c-dollar per liter for surcharges and transportation fees, and it costs the distributor about a dollar and fifty cents just to purchase every liter. You see now?”

“If Delta Pavonis wanted oil from Earth, the cost would be immense: a base price of a dollar-fifty per liter, plus eighteen dollars more for six interstellar shifts. Add another six dollars for initial lift to orbit at fully subsidized bulk costs. That’s twenty-five dollars and fifty cents of cost to the provider, which will be passed along to the user, plus markup. At that rate, no one out here could afford to buy oil. But, if you can pump your own oil on Dee Pee Three, you’ll be able to sell it here for about the same as Earth rates: that means a higher profit margin, and plenty ready consumers.”

“Yes, but that’s only part of it. Right now, all the products that require fossil fuels must be made on Earth. That means that all those products also entail immense shipping costs: the further out they must go, the worse it gets. So –”

“So you plan on building all those industries here on Dee Pee Three.”

“Exactly. Plastics manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, lubricant refineries –”

Over her shoulder, Caine saw a collage of the fuchsia and indigo blooms. She’s foretelling your extinction. “Beautiful, aren’t they?” commented the robber-baroness as she burned the flowers to ashes and soot…

“Now do you see?”

“Sure: Dee Pee Three becomes a new industrial hub. Perfectly placed, too: most of our colonies would be within three shifts of your products.”

“Precisely. Call it corporate greed if you like, Mr. Riordan, but the more quickly we can develop the oil reserves here, the faster and further humanity can expand into interstellar space.”

Oh, so this is your selfless contribution to the glorious future of homo sapiens? I mustn’t laugh…so change topic: “Look, I also need to ask about these reports of a possibly intelligent species. Navy thermal imaging detected nocturnal activity, which is highly suggestive of coherent group movement. Significantly, the movement also suggests bipedal physiology. There are also reports that dressed stone has been found.”

“And what does that have to do with anything?”

“There are those who feel that CoDevCo replaced the Navy survey with one of their own in an attempt to cover up possible environmental obstacles to just this kind of resource exploitation.”

“Oh, so even on other planets, the energy companies are still suspected of ruining habitats, exterminating indigenous species — even intelligent ones?”

“Well, why else would you ignore the Navy survey? That was pretty much a slap in the face to both the Commonwealth and the original EU policy-makers, who assessed the thoroughness of the survey, and voted to accept it. Personally, I’m guessing that the stakes here on Dee Pee Three must be pretty high if CoDevCo is willing to risk that kind of political friction and insult.”