As Chuck Marley entered the office of Binary Loans he noticed the strapline above the door:
‘We Have Your Interest in Mind’
He strolled in, not over confident, but confident enough to attract the attention of the Octomaid on reception. She batted her long eyelashes. Female Octomaids were generally very social and took on a variety of jobs in humanoid society. This one was attending to three phones while four other tentacles, each with four fingers and a thumb, typed on three keyboards.
“Can I help you?” Octomoids spoke Standard Galactic Standard with only the slightest hint of an aquatic accent.
“Marley, Chuck Marley.”
“How can we manage your affairs?” As the Octomaid’s eyes swivelled about it was impossible to tell which task she was truly focused on.
“I would like to apply for a loan.”
“And what does this loan concern?”
“It’s a business idea.”
“Our manager will be with you soon. Please take a seat.”
He picked up a seat. “Where would you like me to put it?” Marley was joking, of course.
But he had forgotten that Octomaids had a weird sense of humour. One that didn’t necessarily match his own. They were more renowned for their appreciation of abstract art than silly puns. The art of the male of the species was far beyond human comprehension, but the males were rarely seen in society. They spent all time at home raising the few precious offspring their species managed to produce.
A painting by the famous Fislebee, entitled Not a Lemon, hung on the wall above the receptionist’s desk. From the front it looked like a lemon in a bowl. But when viewed from different angles it became an orange, a pear, or a pineapple.
Three other species of various colours were waiting. They looked at him blankly. Two of them were humanoids. He was the only human. This was unusual as in the Cretan system humans outnumbered other species five to one.
One of the humanoids was a Nunchian. He patted his hair and preened his eyebrows in front of a handheld mirror. Most Nunchians didn’t leave Foon but all species throw out the occasional adventurer.
Next to the Nunchian stood a Borsk guarding a Jovian jellyfish: it was busy typing into a waterproof financial calculator.
Originating on Europa underneath the layer of ice, these jellyfish had discovered spaceflight three hundred years ago and had colonised several moons of Jupiter and recently Saturn. Although known collectively as Jovian Jellyfish, the originals from Europa prided themselves on their technological prowess, very much looking down on their Earthling and Enceladan cousins.
Marley placed his chair next to a rough-skinned creature. Although its face was humanoid, it was bluish-green, with two short curled antlers protruding from the sides of its forehead and what looked like a closed eye in the centre. Its scaly skin peeled, with the odd flake fluttering to the ground.
“Why do you stare? Haven’t you seen one of me before?”
“What are you?”
“I’m a Zorgon. People who stare, like you, are one of the reasons I wish to return to Zorge, my home planet.”
“What’s wrong with Crete?”
“I’m the only Zorgon here. I came to look for work, but there’s no work for Zorgons. You have hands. I have claws.” The Zorgon waved a claw at Marley’s face.
“Maybe you could do grinding.”
“There’s nothing to grind, no grain, no agricultural produce.”
“Maybe you could work as a chef.”
“Tried that. Everything is mechanised. There is no place for me, here. You have a head.” The Zorgon gently tapped his claw on Marley’s head. “I have antlers.”
“Maybe you could poke holes in things.”
Despite its appearance Marley liked this novel creature. It seemed friendly.
“There are no things to poke holes in,” the Zorgon lamented. “On Zorge we don’t have much technology, but life is steady.”
The Octomaid interrupted, “The manager is ready.” A tentacle showed Marley the room he was supposed to enter.
“Wait here,” Marley told the Zorgon, “I might have something for you.”
The manager’s office was dark and gloomy. A three-dimensional artwork that looked like a comet emerging from a red ocean dominated the back wall. More Octomaid art. It had been painted by Fislebee’s apprentice, Fisleboo.
The back of an ornate mahogany desk faced Marley. Clouds of smoke from an exotic cigar billowed above it. It was possible a storm would break out. The chair rocked back and forth as the manager attended to unfinished business. He cleared his throat, spun around, and placed a keyboard onto the table. He was human.
“What can I do for you?” He spoke in long, measured tones, punctuated by gasps and wheezes. He had an air of authority. The desk trembled in his presence and the cigar hovered between uncertainty and denial. He was a big man, stout, and with strong hands that could clench even the deadliest bacterium into submission. He face was creased, his eyes hid between the folds.
Marley’s confidence drained. He had to seize the moment before he became as meek and moist as the cigar in the manager’s fingertips. “I have a business plan.” Marley waited for an answer. The manager spun around so that again only the back of his chair was visible.
“How much are you asking for?” The manager growled, half to Marley, half to himself.
Most labour was mechanised. Four automated construction arms could move sturdier parts like hull sections, while fifteen spiderbots could install more intricate systems, and an equal amount of nanobots could finetune electronics.
Marley scratched his head, “200,000 elon.” That should be enough to get started. Besides, he had yet to decide whether primary assemblage was going to occur at a terrestrial or orbital level.
The manager puffed thoughtfully on his cigar. Elon was the most trade currency on Crete. “Let me do a background check.” The manager stubbed at a panel located on the arm of his chair. It brought up an opaque display screen only he could see. “Interesting. You’re one of a kind aren’t you?”
Marley gasped from the plumes of smoke that were beginning to smother him. “If you say so, sir.”
“Kin of Olan Marley. He flipped the screen so Marley could get a glimpse.
The woman he saw was ten years younger than he remembered her. Olan was dressed in a protective engineering suit. That was how she met Robert Marley, lieutenant in the Cretan frontier fleet. She soon gave up her job and followed him on his postings, until his accident at Proxima Centauri.
Underneath her portrait was a list of assets. Marley squinted and leaned forward.
The manager flipped the screen back to himself. He drew healthily on the cigar and leaned back in his chair. “Let’s see your business case.”
Marley blurted “It’s in my head.”
The manager laughed, smoke wheezing from his lungs.
“I haven’t thought this through,” said Marley “I was hoping to capitalise on the current export boom by commandeering my own craft.”
The manager stopped wheezing and stubbed out his cigar for later. “What do you plan on exporting?”
“Superconductors, rocket propellant.”
“Transport of these commodities is not for startups. You need to think about container tanks for transporting fuel. Different fuels require different tanks. Superconductors require special containers with an interior temperature close to zero degrees kelvin. If you’d said fresh American tomatoes I might have taken you more seriously.”
Marley couldn’t believe it.
The manager saw the look of disbelief on Marley’s face.“I’ll tell you what. Work on your business case. Crete’s genetically modified food is in demand in several sectors. There may be several other products you can export, either within the Luhman system or beyond.” The manager coughed.
“I appreciate the advice,” said Marley coughing too. He hoped the advice would be worth more than the damage his lungs were taking.
“The advice will be deducted from an initial loan I’m willing to give you of 200,000 elon.”
The desk Marley was resting his hands on lit up and an electronic form appeared under his palm. He just had to sign and the money would be his.
“I’m in a nice mood today. I’ll deduct the 1,000 elon advice fee if you sign below. If you do your research, you might find a refurbished C-class Corvette for that amount and trade within the Luhman system. Relay-station development continues around Luhman B. They need to eat like you and me. If you’re uncomfortable flying, you could also consider storage, packaging, and interspecies liaison. These are all in demand.”
To Marley, they all sounded decidedly less interesting than a C-class corvette, even if that grade of ship was now well over fifty years old.
The manager retrieved an electronic stylus and placed it next to Marley’s palm. “All you have to do is sign. Don’t think too much. There’s a fourteen day cooling off period.” A blue border on the desk indicated the square where Marley could begin to change his life’s direction. It seemed too easy.
Marley held the pen between finger and thumb. “What about interest?”
“10% for the first quarter. Then adjusted at a rate of four times inflation, plus 5% commission and 2.5% basic insurance.”
“These are just figures! Inflation is steady, and the returns should more than cover this! I wouldn’t force on you conditions you couldn’t meet. As it says on the door, we have your interest in mind, as well as our own.”
The electric pen shook in Marley’s fingers and the infrared pointer sent a red dot flickering around the room. He did not look the manager in the eye. He focused on his big lips, on the cigar, flourished like a conductor’s baton. His head swam. He looked dizzily down at the dotted line moving across the screen. His hand possessed him. His palms were clammy. Then suddenly, as if seized by an obsession, he hastily scribbled his name. The deed was done.
The manager relit his cigar and extended his hand. Marley took the clammy, cigar stained hand into his own. “Welcome to Binary Loans. I’m Manager Baines.” He released his grip and swung around, leaving a trail of smoke.
Marley quickly exited.
The Zorgon was still waiting in reception.
Marley beckoned it. It followed willingly, leaving some skin behind.
“I’m Chuck Marley, come with me. I have some work for you.”