Herschel Stuttgart glanced up and down the street nervously as he walked out of the Petra Roe Embassy in Port Ryan.

A small man at five foot four, or 163 centimeters, Herschel had close-cropped dark brown hair and a slightly bulbous nose. He kept the classic appearance of a bookkeeper, somebody who would appear very natural with green eyeshades and thick glasses, if people still used either.

He dressed in a nice business suit from Italia and carried nothing in his hands, nor did he have any memory chips installed in his head. The only thing of worth Herschel had was some knowledge, and he desperately hoped to exchange it for money.

He gulped, as he considered briefly what might happen were he to be found out. Petra Roe did not have a secret police force, but he had little doubt Ambassador Huntington would see to it that Herschel met with an untimely demise were he to discover the small man’s plans. The Ambassador was fond of hiring janissaries to do his dirty work.

He also knew the Ambassador was an admirer of the League’s State Security and Intelligence, and desperately hoped to develop a similar organization for PR. Fortunately he had not yet been able to do so, but Hershel had no doubts that the Ambassador would wreak mortal vengeance on him if his intentions were discovered.

He walked down the street, privately grateful he did not have to worry much about electronic monitoring on Lute. Regardless, he decided to avoid public or private transit and simply walk to his destination, thereby avoiding any electronic records of his travel.

However, the further he walked the greater his paranoia grew, so that after a few blocks he became convinced that everyone was watching him. He sweated excessively, and jumped at any sudden sounds or movements.

At long last he came to his destination, a grimy call center with a holographic sign proclaiming it to be “the safest, most secure communications center on the planet.”

Whether or not that was true, Herschel did not know. But, he did know this was the center favored by Ambassador Huntington for sensitive communications with outside sources. And, if that were the case, it would surely do the trick for what Herschel had in mind.

He entered the shop and found himself alone inside with the two proprietors, a husband and wife team. They looked at him and smiled politely.

“I’m Herman Gore. This is Heidi.”

“Herschel Stuttgart.”

He shook hands with both.

Heidi said, “What can we do for you today?”

“I would like to set up a secure communication session with LuteNet, if I may.”

The Gores exchanged a glance with one another.

Herman said, “I think we can arrange that.”

Five minutes and 100 credits later, which he paid by token for the sake of anonymity, Herschel found himself in a tiny cubical room with an electronic device. The Gores assured him that the communication would be strictly with the AI, and no one could overhear his side of the conversation.

They were fairly certain that no one would overhear LuteNet’s side, either, but they could not guarantee that someone might be on the other end, or might go over a transcript of the conversation at some point. This was a risk Herschel was willing to take, though. It was widely known that sensitive communications with AIs were supposed to be private. Breaches of confidential discussions were uncommon in either major system. He presumed the same would hold true on Lute.

Besides, what he had to share would be of benefit to the pirate companies here, so he remained unconcerned about privacy on the other end.

He stared at the tiny electronic device serving as both microphone and speakers in the cramped soundproofed room and said, “Uh . . . LuteNet?”

“How may I be of assistance, Petra Roe State Department Employee Herschel Stuttgart?”

Herschel swallowed nervously at the sound of the AI’s unmistakably rich, contralto voice.

“I have some information which I would like to sell to a pirate company here on Lute.”

“Very well. Do you have a particular company in mind?”

“I’d like to offer it to one who is capable of acting on it, and willing to pay for it.”

“How much would you like to sell the information for, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart?”

“I think this information is worth 100,000 credits. That is my asking price.”

“And what is the nature of the information you are selling?”

“I know the details on an upcoming shipment of gold bars and credit tokens traveling from Epsilon to Petra Roe. I can give time and date of arrival, and I have learned of five possible routes the ship may be coming from when it arrives. I have details of what ship is being used for the transfer, and the Naval destroyers protecting it. I can hand over all this information to any company willing to meet my price.”

“I will pass along your information to interested parties, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart.”

His face flushed suddenly as she repeated his name and title.

He said, “I . . . please keep my identity secret! If my employer finds out I’m sharing this information . . . I’m a dead man.”

“Certainly, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart. I will not reveal your identity to anyone. We can handle the transaction through this communications center. If there is enough time before the shipment, we can meet here again tomorrow to discuss further details.”

“Yes, the shipment is a month out. There is enough time to meet tomorrow.”

“Very well. I should have an answer for you tomorrow at this time.”

“Good. Okay.”

He stood awkwardly and looked back at the electronic device.

“Uh . . . goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Petra Roe State Department Employee Stuttgart.”


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