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Empire Builders

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Empire Builders

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Author: Ben Bova
Publisher: Tor, 1993
Series: The Grand Tour: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Dan Randolph never plays by the rules. A hell-raising maverick with no patience for fools, he is admired by his friends, feared by his enemies, and desired by the world's loveliest women. Acting as a twenty-first privateer, Randolph broke the political strangle-hold on space exploration, and became one of the world's richest men in the bargain.

Now an ecological crisis threatens Earth--and the same politicians that Randolph outwitted the first time want to impose a world dictatorship to deal with it.

Dan Randolph knows that the answer lies in more human freedom, not less--and in the boundless resources of space. But can he stay free long enough to give the world that chance?



I don't want your crappy little company!" said Dan Randolph.

"The hell you don't!" Willard Mitchell snapped.

Dan gave a disgusted snort and leaned back in the stiff unpadded chair. Mitchell glared across the table at him. The two lawyers, seated beside their clients, shifted uneasily in their chairs.

The room was windowless, deep underground, without even a video screen on the wall. Just bare lunar concrete lit by glareless fluorescents set behind the ceiling panels. Technically, the chamber was not a cell or even an interrogation chamber. It was a conference room where defendants could meet in private with their lawyers.

Dan Randolph fished a small oblong plastic box from his inside tunic pocket. About the size of his palm, it was a flat gray color with a single row of tiny winking lights set across its face. All the lights were green.

"No bugs in here," he muttered, adding silently to himself, At least none that this little snooper can sniff out.

He slipped the detector back into his pocket and turned his gaze again to Mitchell, still glaring at him from across the wobbly conference table. Randolph was on the small side, but solidly built, a welterweight with sandy hair that was turning gray at the temples. He had a pugilist's face: strong square stubborn jaw, a nose that had been slightly flattened by someone's fist a long time ago. But his light gray eyes glinted with a secret amusement, as if he were inwardly laughing at the foolishness of men, himself included.

Across the table from him Willard Mitchell was scowling grimly. Once he had been lean and athletic, a polo champion at Princeton, a well-known young yachtsman. But years of living in the Moon's easy gravity had softened him. Now he appeared older than Randolph, bald pate gleaming with perspiration, badly overweight and overwrought. Like Randolph, he was wearing business clothes: a collarless waist-length tunic and matching slacks. But where Dan's suit of sky blue looked trim and new, Mitchell's pearl gray outfit was baggy, wrinkled, rumpled; stains of sweat darkened his armpits.

"This all your doing, Randolph," he snarled in a heavy grating voice. "Don't think I don't know that you set me up."

Dan raised his eyes to the glowing ceiling panels. "Lord spare me from my friends," he said to the air. "I can protect myself from my enemies."

Mitchell's lawyer, a sallow-skinned old man with the build and demeanor of a cadaver, dressed in a blue so deep it looked almost black, leaned toward his client and whispered something that Dan could not hear.

Mitchell scowled at his lawyer, but turned back to Dan and grumbled, "All right, all right, as long as we're stuck here - what's your offer?"

Mitchell was on trial before the Global Economic Council's lunar tribunal for illegally exceeding his allotted quota of lunar ores. He was guilty. He knew it, his lawyers knew it, and the tribunal had the evidence to prove it. The fine that the tribunal was about to assess would bankrupt him.

Dan Randolph leaned both elbows on the rickety table and hunched forward in his chair. "First off," he said, his voice crisp with suppressed anger, "I did not set you up."

"The hell you say."

"Goddammit to hell and back! The day I turn anybody over to the GEC will be two weeks after the end of the world. If I wanted to grab your pissant little outfit I would've done it myself. I don't need the double-damned GEC to help me."

Mitchell fumed visibly, but held back from answering.

Randolph's lawyer, a strikingly red-haired young woman new to the Moon, was sitting attentively at her boss's left. She said mildly, "Mr. Mitchell has asked to hear your offer, Dan."

He grinned at her. "Yeah. Right."

"So?" Mitchell growled.

Randolph spread his hands. "I'll buy your stock at the current market price - "

"Which is forty percent below par because of this lawsuit."

" - and pay the fine that the GEC's going to sock you with. You continue to operate the company; you remain CEO and COO. You can buy back your shares at market value whenever you want to."

Mitchell sank back in his chair, the expression on his fleshy face somewhere between suspicion and hope. "Now, wait a minute," he said. "You buy my shares - "

"All your shares," said Randolph. "Sixty-three percent of the total outstanding, so I'm told."

The other man nodded. "You buy the shares. You pay the fine. I stay in charge of the company. And then I can buy the shares back?"

Randolph gave him a crooked grin. "The harder you work, the more the shares'll be worth."

"Suppose I let the company go to the dogs and leave you holding the bag?"

Randolph shrugged. "That's the risk I take. But I don't see you shitting on your own baby."

Mitchell glanced at his lawyer, who remained deadpan, then turned back to Randolph. "I don't get it. What's in it for you?"

Dan's smile turned dazzling. "A chance to shaft Malik and his double-damned GEC. What else?"

Copyright © 1993 by Ben Bova


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