“There used to be a place in town, a deli,” Gunny said cleaning up their lunch, “and there were several parks and a beach nearby so they offered a pre-packed picnic basket for however many people you wanted. Sort of like this. My wife loved that place and we ate there fairly often. She liked everything so she just told the fellow to pack a picnic for two and surprise her. He was afraid to do it the first time, but when she was happy with it he learned not to worry. We’d do it three or four times over the summer. She liked doing something different just for the experience. I loved that about her.”
“I like hearing stories like that. I’m sorry you lost your wife, but I think it’s wonderful you ever found anyone who suited you so. I’m starting to think it’s not as common as the videos make it out to be.”
“Perhaps not. The videos show a lot of nonsense. You seem to have a lot of sense for your age. Good thing, since you got caught up in the middle of things and needed a lot of maturity to cope with it. A lot of kids years older than you couldn’t have handled it. All you kids up here seem three or four years older than what you are. My brother’s kids in Virginia are a year and two years older than you and he wouldn’t dare leave them alone at home or they’d trash the place, or start making illegal phone calls, or drinking mouth wash and end up in Emergency. It’s not legal to leave them alone anyway.”
April looked at him oddly. “I ran into a spy in the corridor and the contact seemed to make him break off his mission early. That was unexpected. But I could have stepped back and never got involved any deeper. I used it to ask Jon to ally with me, and later Jeff and Heather too. After that Jeff and Heather and I all pushed our way into adult affairs because we were made aware we might lose our home on the hab and be forced to live on the slum ball. We actively made weapons in secret, and got tech from others I still can’t talk about.”
“We didn’t get caught up in it; we conspired to promote revolution every chance we got. When Jon had to rescue Jeff’s dad from ISSII we got a huge break because ours was the only ship he could hire and we armed it with Singh technology knowing there might be trouble. But even Jon kept trying to drop me from the crew right up until launch. It was no accident.”
“I thought from reading the record of the Assembly that they authorized armed ships.”
“Yes, but that was after we got back, after we had engaged both the USNA and Chinese ships. They authorized it after the fact. We were pirates plain as could be. They could have decided to repudiate our actions. I took my personal weapon off my belt and let them bolt it on the ships camera arm with three others. Things might have settled down and the whole thing fizzled out if the Earth governments hadn’t kept acting stupid and irritating people.”
“I’m starting to suspect what they allowed on the news in North America presented a false picture more than I even realized. Perhaps more so because I was military. If we looked for foreign news and bypassed the censors and they found out it could hurt your career, get you dropped in rank, lose a fellow his security clearance even.”
April just looked at him, but held her tongue.
“God, that sounds so sheep-like,” he admitted.
“Looks different now from orbit and not under their thumb I would imagine,” April allowed. “Did you ever see the video of us engaging the Pretty as Jade and the James Kelly? It was licensed to the BBC.”
“Nope. They kept that quiet. Oh, probably a lot of civilians worked around the net blocks, and sent it around to each other. I saw quite a few of the kids dressing like you though. It drove the school and city authorities nuts. How did that come about anyway?”
April blushed deeply and made waving away motions. “There was a Japanese news report. I was dressed in a costume to try to get a rise out of my exercise group. It was taken out of context,” she insisted.
“You have a copy of that? I’d like to see the stuff that was censored to North America and compare the timeline against what I’m reading in the Assembly record.”
“I’ll give you the whole dump my brother sold the BBC,” she said, hoping that would keep him too busy to see the Genji Akira piece.
April sent the files to him. There was plenty there to keep him busy for days. Weeks if he cross checked them with the Assembly records. Did she have time to look into economics classes before Edward came? Probably not, she decided. Well if she wanted to know about economics why not ask Ed? He certainly had more money than anybody else she knew. Maybe he’d have some insight on what was worth her time.
Gunny sat the empty rinsed lunch pack by the door and then stood there reconsidering. “I’m going to run this back. I’ve been sitting too much.”
“I’ll be here,” April assured him with a wave.
The sound of voices jarred her out of her study after a bit. She wasn’t used to someone coming in unannounced. Then she relaxed hearing Gunny’s low murmur and Eddies sharper faster reply. Eddie always did kind of bark things out. He didn’t talk over you though.
They stayed in the kitchen area, and when they finally emerged Gunny had the big tea pot and Eddie carried a tray with cups and honey.
“You just need a couple small machines for customizing things and repairs,” Ernie was saying. “There are plenty of prototyping and short run shops working here and on a couple other habitats to make parts for you. It’s not like you’d need a hundred thousand pieces. The Swiss and the French already have a small hab that specializes in metallic glass alloys. With the materials coming off the Rock you shouldn’t have to lift anything from Earth.”
“What ya making” April asked Eddie.
“The Sergeant was running the idea past me of opening a gun shop. He wasn’t impressed with the selection at that new Chandlery, and he would manufacture and do custom work and repairs, which they don’t.”
“I only got him contracted for a month and you’re already trying to steal him away?”
“Not me,” Eddie said, holding his hands up in dramatic innocence. “He’s talking about starting his own business. He hasn’t said anything about partnering or loans. But it sounds like something we need. If he can’t carry the start up costs himself somebody will buy in. The investors from the smaller countries are practically running up and down the corridors yelling and waving cash money right now.”
Gunny poured them tea, and leaned back relaxed.
“You know what?” April directed at Gunny, and suddenly grinned.
“You are acting different already. I feel different too, but had to see it in you to think about it. I didn’t expect that medication to work this fast, but no way you’d have leaned back all relaxed like that yesterday morning.”
“You’re right. I never thought to ask Doctor Lee how long it took to kick in.”
“PTS meds,” he said to Eddie’s worried look. “After awhile people shooting at you starts to get to you.”
“Eddie has been in combat,” April informed him. “He put a missile in the James Kelly and blew her in two. He has as much right to be stressed as us.”
“Yes, but sitting at a weapons board and seeing a dot get wiped off your radar screen isn’t like seeing your assailant pointing a weapon at you and hearing bullets crack past.”
“You seriously need to see the video,” April insisted. “I’ll bring it up on the screen.”
“Wow, they were right there,” Gunny admitted dismayed. “And you opened the lock up to shoot it right off your shoulder. I was treating you like some poser. I apologize Ed.”
Eddie just waved it away as unimportant with a flip of his hand.
“Yep, they were just a couple hundred yards away,” April agreed. “We have external racks now, but back then everything was make-shift and jury rigged, we only had two missiles in little disposable launching tubes anyway.”
“I was under stress from the combat such a brief period,” Eddie explained, “and my attention was really focused on doing my job and recovering Mr. Singh. I was worried because my family became involved more than any brief personal risk. I’ve experienced no bad dreams or anything. I can see how chronic stress happens however, especially when it keeps being reinforced over and over.”
“You have family up here that were at risk?”
“No, I might as well tell you. My family are Earthies, but they are all Mafia. I’ve had a horrible time keeping my professional life separated from them. When I disappeared myself to work undercover they had the misapprehension I’d been kidnapped or worse. Once they were quite sure the fellow playing my double hadn’t harmed me they saw me safely back on our ship and quietly left.”
“Does the mob have a boss running its business on Home?” Gunny asked.
“Do you know I never wondered about that? Before the war I always assumed we were too small to support a criminal underworld. But now consider, how can you have organized crime when there is almost no law? If you want to sell drugs, or engage in prostitution or take bets you can. There are no cops to bribe and any conflict between competitors wouldn’t have to be hidden.”
“But you do have the community standards that are backed by the ability to call a duel. I heard it related there was very nearly one already. Until those boundaries are pretty well established and defined I’d tread very lightly on any activities that might get me called out.”
“Indeed you are very much correct on that. There are already several services being offered that would be illegal below, but the practitioners are keeping a very low public profile to not call attention to themselves. It would be hard to call someone out if it wasn’t a public matter. I expect it to stay that way for a long time,” Eddie told them with an amused smile. “It isn’t that much different from when I was growing up in a small rural town in Illinois. Everything looked prim and proper walking down main street, but you could buy any vice you wanted.”
“What sort of stuff?” April wondered.
“Nothing you need to know, and telling you would embarrass me. Do you really want to make me uncomfortable?” Eddie asked.
“No, I’ll just ask my grandpa. I know he had a bookie before the war, so he probably knows everything going on, and he’s impossible to embarrass.”
“That’s one of the perks of being older. I suspect Life Extension is going to make it hard to be a grumpy old geezer. It’ll be hard to carry off if you don’t look old.”
“I’ve got to get started on that,” Gunny admitted. “Before I look the part.”
“I’ve recently begun some treatments. We have a fellow on station now who can do all the basic treatments. Another friend of April’s by some coincidence,” he said smiling at her.
“Everybody seems to be April’s friend,” Gunny scoffed.
“Except for the Chinese guy in Medical’s freezer,” April pointed out.
“Yes, there are a lot of folks down on the mudball that don’t like you. And if they are smart they’ll stay down there, Gunny said gruffly. It was the first time April heard him say mudball.
“Thank you again,” that prompted Eddie to say, shame faced. “We very badly misjudged the hazard we were exposing you to in North America.”
“That’s the main thing I wanted to talk to you about,” April said, seizing the moment. “I don’t feel I accomplished much, I certainly planned to stay much longer. I know my grandpa said if I didn’t use any funds to keep the balance, but I felt it went so badly I should offer you a refund if you were not satisfied with my performance.”
Eddie looked at her, mouth open a bit which wasn’t like him. “My thought was you might be going to chew me out for sticking you in the middle of such a mess. If you asked for a hazard pay fine for my having such bad judgment I wouldn’t have argued. Just like we pay a premium to the lock guard on our ships at dock. No, keep the funds, and more than welcome to them. I didn’t expect you to have to shoot your way free to come home.”
“We’re square then?”
“Maybe for money, but if you ever need me to man up and travel into hazard I owe that.”
“Let’s try to avoid that for both of us,” April said.
“Maybe Heather’s real estate project will be an easy one for a change,” Eddie hoped. “It’s so far away from the other lunar bases, way off in the God forsaken middle of nowhere really. I can’t see how anybody can object.”
“You two certainly don’t sound like typical hardcore businessmen, determined to see every nickel extracted that your contract says you are owed,” Gunny observed. “I’m used to seeing companies suing each other in the news so often that it seems more important who wins in court than what they actually do or make.”
“That sort of behavior made a sort of sense once,” April said. “At least down on the slumball, because they have so many other businesses and people jammed elbow to elbow you could write any one off and survive. Even on Earth the rise of internet reporting of crooks and scams on social networks and business rating boards was making that sort of behavior hard to hide.”
Eddie nodded agreement. “The community above the atmosphere is really limited. We don’t even need net boards to spread the word if somebody is a shyster. As April says I can’t afford to have anyone unhappy with me. If one of my customers or suppliers has a failure that isn’t even my fault I might take a loss to help him stay in business if I can, rather than take advantage of his misfortune. You can have a situation where there may only be three proto shops that can fabricate certain sorts of items. Losing one of them is a tragedy to the business community. You lose irreplaceable expertise, and the others do not just absorb his workers and machines and keep offering the same services at the same price. I may need his services for a different one of my businesses. I can’t imagine how long it will take to fill the solar system with so many businesses that reliable vendors become disposable.”
“I can see that,” Gunny agreed, looking thoughtful.
“But it means that good, honest businesses can hold customers longer too, April said. “Used to be if a business lasted a hundred years it had to have three generations of good proprietors. Soon it will be one. A single owner consistently managing a business two or three hundred years may be something we’ll see in our lifetimes. It’s going to concentrate customer loyalty, and concentrate wealth, and make it much harder to break into any sort of venture that has other established vendors. The volume of business is going to grow faster than the number of suppliers. I want to take good care of my business associates so we have stable long term relationships,” April said.
“The shop Eddie and I use to build ships will call up their supposed competitors and share out work if they get a sudden load they can’t handle. I can’t see that happening among Earthies.”
“Gary Chalmers,” Eddie said to April. “Prime example of shooting self in foot.”
“Oh yeah! Gunny, this fellow Chalmers was secretly working as an agent for North America back when we had the war. He thought he was going to be running the whole habitat for the USNA soon, so he stopped making any pretense of being polite. For example, when one of his customer’s sons sat at the cafeteria table and tried to talk to his daughter he very rudely separated them since the kid wasn’t a proper Christian to dare speak to his daughter. You can imagine how that went over with the boy’s father,” she said rolling her eyes.
“He alienated all the dozen or so people he could do business with by stupid stuff like that in a matter of months and had to shut down his business. His guys all went off to other companies. What was even worse, he had moral objections to life extension, and wasn’t shy to say so. All these other owners looked at him and saw any business they had with him as temporary, because all the other guys were buying extension treatments. See how it works?”
“Indeed, I see I better get treated if I want customers. Is there no medical privacy up here? How does word get out whether somebody has LET or not?”
April looked surprised. “Gunny, you’ve been living down on Earth. I bet you haven’t seen a dozen people with LET face to face. Up here over half the population has it and we’ve seen the changes when they went through it. You see it in their face and hands, the little wrinkles disappear and the voice changes, even how they walk changes sometimes.”
“It’s different, but you’ll figure it all out and fit in soon,” Eddie promised.
“I’m making more tea,” Gunny announced, getting up. He looked like he had absorbed as much different as he could for now.
“Would you bring us a bunch of those cookies too, please?” April requested.
“Are we operational now on the new ships? I have to become involved in that again. My grandpa must be sick of dealing with it.”
“Your grandpa is good at delegating. He hired Jed Allison who worked for Dave at Advanced Spacecraft Services. He’s tired of doing the nut turning and ready to try his hand at administrative work. He’s been doing most scheduling, and even some sales. Your grandpa has just been reviewing what Jed does. We have a couple new guys coming in for flight crew too.”
“Well, if that is working, fine. I’ll leave it alone. I have enough other things to keep me busy. I have to see what condition all of Bob’s old companies are in and decide if I want to keep them or sell them. I have some ventures with both Jeff and Heather and of course Heather’s moon thing,” April explained.
“We have the Happy of course, Home Again, and Eddie’s Scooter. Eddie’s Rascal and Eddie’s Folly are functional, but still missing some systems,” Eddie counted off on his fingers. “Hopefully the Earthies can’t tell they are not in full fighting trim. We have Eddie’s Fortune on the rack, but we are building it slow because of material shortages and because we don’t want to build any more of that series. We are stretching the market for fast couriers. I’m making them pay for themselves in order to have them for our defense, but I think we could actually make more money running two fewer ships and charging higher rates.”
“You take lower priority loads to keep them busy?” April asked.
“Exactly, and I don’t want to drive any of the older outfits out of business. Having more eyes at other docks and more Home ships in flight at any time is good for us. You’d be amazed what an informal intelligence outfit Jon has made of all of them. He has them bringing him video and recording of local radio chatter everyplace they stop.”
“I’ve invested more in Heather’s venture than I planned, pushed the money at her actually. I simply made more on my investments than I expected and had to put it somewhere.” He looked slightly embarrassed at his good fortune.
“It isn’t something I expect to continue. The economy is heating up. Some things look to be building to a bubble. We kind of put a damper on it with the war temporarily, but a lot of my so called wealth will disappear overnight if there is a recession. I’m trying to convert paper wealth to tangibles, but it is a very difficult thing to do. Even buying land is uncertain because one of the first things countries in trouble do is nationalize the holdings of foreigners.”
“At least you shouldn’t have that trouble on the moon.” April stopped and looked worried. “Does that mean they might take my house in Hawaii?”
“If we end up shooting at each other again, yeah, that might easily happen. The fact that we didn’t do that with Mitsubishi-3, with the actual physical habitat, was a bright spot of modern politics. But whatever dollar value we refrained from stealing it was certainly worth the support it gained us from Japan and Tonga. And I think it only could have boosted the investment we see now, because people see us as a stable and safe place to invest instead of waiting to see how our government acts and if they will go crazy nationalizing things.”
“It was all your money that bought my house. You might not think I’d value it, but I went out and picked furniture and colors and really got attached to that place even though I didn’t get to live there,” April admitted. “I just don’t get politics at all. I agreed to study economics now for Jeff, because we’re starting a bank. But what good does it do to understand how an economy works if some politicians can just change all the rules and steal your stuff ? How can you plan anything? I intended to ask you about that today. You have so much money now I figure you have to have learned something about economics. Or maybe you’ve hired an economist by now?”
Eddie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had his hands wrapped around his tea mug like he was warming them. His lips were unhappy, and April was starting to think he was going to refuse to answer her when his eyes popped open again. He got in his case and pulled out a wallet, and laid a USNA hundred dollar bill on the table.
“How did this come into existence?” he asked her.
“Well I don’t know much about printing, but I think you are asking more than that.”
“Yes, you’re a bright young woman. I should say what is the basis upon which it was created?”
“Well I understand it isn’t backed by tangibles. I’ve read several times it is backed by the full faith and credit of the USNA. Do I have that right?” April asked, afraid of sounding silly.
“Yes. Now consider what that means. The government still has considerable land, and it has all sorts of stuff on the land. Courthouses, agency buildings, bridges, and sometimes even airports, the roads themselves and all the things in museums and gold reserves and things like vehicles and even patents rights. It can parcel out the rights to oil and gas and metals under that land. Those things are all capital assets. If they wish they can put up a toll booth and charge you to use the road. They can charge you to go in and use the national parks or land on their runways, right?”
“Okay I’m following you,” she agreed.
“Yet they chose to base the money on their credit. Not that I can blame them. If I want to have money loaned to me given a choice between putting up the Home Boy as collateral, or being given the same money just on my word I’ll repay, I’ll take the unsecured loan any day,” he said. “So why should you trust the government to repay more than me?” he asked directly.
“Well, I know you’re rich, but the government is so much bigger. I can see you going broke if you make enough stupid mistakes, but they are hardly going to go out of business!”
“And what is their business?” Eddie asked.
April looked uncertain. “Making those roads and stuff?” she guessed.
“No, any of those things could be done privately. There are private airports and bridges and even toll roads. No, the business of government is to tax. They have an unlimited right to tax the future earnings of their entire population to meet their obligations. And that right to tax is backed up by force. They can send armed men to put you in prison if you refuse to pay your taxes.” He waited and let April think about that.
“We don’t do that,” she finally said.
“Indeed, we are currently the only nation in which payment of taxes is voluntary. Some make the claim but when you examine it closely it is a lie. The only effective way to pay no taxes down below is to not make any money,” he assured her. “Being able to tax means they can also borrow money against those future taxes, and that is the source of more problems than I even want to get into with you today. If Home wanted to borrow money right now people would be insane to lend it. We have no assured mechanism for paying them back. No port fees, no entry fees, no tariffs, no income tax. When you get right down to it all the Earth governments are just as much a protection racket as any my relatives run.”
“Ouch, that seems a bit harsh.”
“Yes, it is, but think on it a few days and see if isn’t true. Can you opt out?”
“Well, Gunny is opting out. He’s moving up here and is going to take up Home citizenship.”
“Did he get all his money out?”
“He got some help to get his cash money out, but he has real estate he wants to sell, and he is going to pay the exit taxes so he is free to visit again if he wants.”
“And if he didn’t pay those fees to buy himself free?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah, I see what you mean,” April agreed. “He could never go back.”
“He already paid tax on all the money he saved back when he earned it, so why does he owe them anymore? I bet it’s a good chuck too isn’t it?”
“About three-hundred thousand. A pretty good sized chunk, yeah, of what he owns.”
“See, that tax is not on what he earned, it’s a fee because he is removing that future income from their taxation. Hey, they have already borrowed against it. It’s spent.”
“Wow indeed. And you will never see an economics textbook explain it that nakedly.”
“It does sound pretty ruthless and ugly, the way you explain it.”
“That’s why I don’t have much use for professional economists. If you were going to hire an economist how would you chose one?” Eddie asked her.
“Just like a pilot or a fabricator. I’d want to see their certification and schooling and trade experience.”
“You might find somebody with a degree in economics, but there is no certification, no professional organization to issue them like engineers or architects. In reality a lot of people working as economists have degrees or experience in mathematics or computer science or even as working farmers. You could call yourself an economist and go into the predictive side of the business if you wanted and nobody could stop you.”
“How did you come to know this stuff?” April demanded.
“My mafia uncles explained economics to me when I was your age. But they couched it all in their own business terms. It translates quite well believe me. A lot of the conflict between my family and government is simple competition for resources, not morals. The government used to oppose gambling of any sort for example. Now almost every state has casinos and lotteries. What is amusing is the Mob would give you better odds of winning than the state.”
“So what are you saying about economics? Not to bother studying it?”
“Not at all. It’s good to know the language of economics and the history especially, but be skeptical. Don’t fall into the trap of embracing a particular school of economics like it is a religion. Jeff is very smart. Ask him which school of economics he thinks you should study. I bet his answer will be educational all by itself,” he stopped and thought a minute.
“I’d like you to look up how money is created. All money now is debt. If you go for a loan to buy a spaceship say from a USNA bank, the money is created right then. It isn’t paid out to you from other people’s deposits. There used to be requirements that the banks had to have funds to back what they loaned out. That has been nibbled away until it is just token amounts. And one last idea I want you to understand. Credit spends the same as capital. Make a note of that on your pad even. In time you’ll see why it is important. It spends the same but you have to pay back the interest too. There is all the systemic difference in the world, and lots of really smart people don’t see the difference.”
“Thank you, Eddie. I’ll do that,” she said taking notes.”Maybe I’ll look it all over and come up with my own theory of economics and gather disciples,” she teased.
“Disciples? Make any sense of it and I’ll hire you.”
“Tell me what you think about Heather’s moon project. Are you going to go there yourself?”
“Do I look crazy? They will be roughing it for months. I like hot showers and pleasant breakfasts in the cafeteria, not sani-wipes and boxed rations. But let me tell you about the rovers we found the Russians want to sell…”