An auction on a planetary scale.
Karzen Dwyer’s stellar yacht approached the spaceport at the edge of the Corsaire system. There was a long queue of craft waiting for permission to dock; the wealthy entrepreneur could only imagine how frustrating it must be for those poor suckers waiting and hoping for clearance to land before the auction started. The smart ones were waiting in the queue hours ago. The smarter (and richer) ones didn’t have to wait at all.
Dwyer’s yacht bypassed the entire line and proceeded directly to the VIP mooring that had been reserved for him. Just as the yacht settled in and was powering down its engines, Dwyer’s communicator chirped. He checked the message and smiled; he could always count on Kish to come through for him.
“Stay with the ship,” Dwyer instructed his crew. “I won’t be long.”
Dwyer disembarked from the yacht and headed into the spaceport. Kish Galea waited for him near the entrance to the main deck. Without so much as an acknowledgment of her presence, Dwyer kept walking in the direction of the auction hall, forcing Kish to chase after him.
“Mr. Dwyer,” Kish said, “What a pleasure to see you again.”
“You can skip the pleasantries, Ms. Galea,” Dwyer snapped, still not looking at her. “I pay you to vet potential investments for me, not kiss my ass.”
Kish gritted her teeth. “Of course, sir. Then I’ll get right to it. Most people seem to think there’s not a lot of value to this asset. The Corsaire system itself is basically uninhabitable except for Corsaire-3 which, in most people’s estimation, is basically worthless. The current governors have tried for years to find some natural resource of value through mining operations, research on the planet’s limited flora and fauna, etc. Nothing of note so far.”
“I certainly hope there’s a plot twist to this story, or I’m going to be very upset at traveling all the way out here to bid on a useless planet.”
“That’s where it gets interesting,” Kish continued. “According to my sources, they have found something. In one of the mines they found a fairly large deposit of Rhodium-103.”
For the first time, Karzen Dwyer stopped in his tracks and turned to face her.
“Yes. And the best part is that almost nobody knows about it yet. The governors are out of money, deeply in debt, and have repeatedly tried to sell people on investments that haven’t panned out. No one believes they discovered the most valuable metal in the galaxy all of a sudden at the eleventh hour.”
Dwyer looked at her skeptically. “I’m not inclined to believe it either.”
“Neither was I, until I found this.”
She pulled out a small vial with several chunks of metal inside. “You can test it if you like, but I’ve already confirmed the presence of Rhodium-103. And before you ask, yes, I personally oversaw the extraction of this sample from one of the Corsaire-3 mines.”
Dwyer’s eyes glittered as they took in the metal Kish held out to him.
“Does anyone else know about this? More importantly, does anyone else believe it?”
“That’s where things might get a little dicey,” Kish said. “My research indicates that there are two other bidders who may be aware of this recent discovery and are in a position to make competitive bids. Jareth Teague is the head of a major mining outfit from several systems over, and he’s looking for his next acquisition. It’s not surprising that he stumbled upon this information, given his area of expertise and his business track record. This guy knows his mines.”
“And the other?” Dwyer asked.
“Nala Fenn, a wealthy friend of the local governors.”
“How did she get involved in this?”
“As best as I can tell, the local governors are trying to work out a patronage relationship. Get her to stake them so they can retain control of the planet through this bankruptcy auction, and then they’ll split the profits of the planet’s mining operations once they’re cash positive again.”
“Not surprising, I suppose,” Dwyer replied. “I’d probably do the same thing in their position. What do Teague’s and Fenn’s financial situations look like?”
“You’re not going to like this,” Kish told him. “But Teague’s investment history indicates he’s willing to spend a lot on new mining ventures, and Fenn may well throw everything she has at this opportunity if her friends in local governance have convinced her that she’ll make it back several times in short order.”
“Tell me,” Dwyer insisted.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them went up as high as eight or nine trillion.”
“Eight or nine trillion credits?”
“I said you weren’t going to like it.”
“That’s nearly everything I have,” Dwyer muttered to himself. “I’d have to sell off assets, call in favors and outstanding debts, maybe even take out a loan or two--”
He looked at Kish. “Do you have any indication of how much Rhodium-103 is down there?”
Kish handed him a datapad and he scrolled through several reports.
“According to all available data, estimates are anywhere between eight and eighty trillion, depending on how many other mining sites can be located.”
Dwyer mulled that over. High risk, but potentially very high reward. In the end, it would probably all come down to how far the other bidders were willing to go.
As the auction prepared to start, the bidders all took their seats. Karzen Dwyer selected a chair near the main aisle, Kish seated beside him. They continued to discuss the situation while the auctioneer went through the rules and other formalities of the auction, at length.
“The one thing I haven’t been able to verify,” Kish whispered to Dwyer, “is whether Teague or Fenn know about the high end of the potential yield estimates. If this one mine is the only mine that’s found, the yield is probably going to be around five trillion credits.”
Dwyer nodded. “So we’ll see how far and how fast the bidding goes before we jump into the fray.”
When the auctioneer started taking bids, half a dozen paddles went up at the opening bid of a hundred billion credits. The price quickly doubled, and then doubled again ... and then double again. Finally, the man that Kish pointed out as Jareth Teague absently waived his paddle and announced, “One trillion credits.”
Murmurs rippled through the gallery at his pronouncement.
“Two trillion credits,” Nala Fenn replied, waving her paddle in a challenge.
Dwyer leaned over to Kish. “And now we see how serious everyone really is.”
“Two and a half trillion,” Teague countered.
“Three,” Fenn replied.
“Three and a half.”
Jareth glared at Nala Fenn, who simply blew a kiss back at him.
“Going once,” the auctioneer announced.
Dwyer raised his paddle. “Four and a quarter.”
Both of the other bidders stared at him.
“Four and a half,” Jareth countered.
“Four and three quarters,” Nala chimed in.
“Enough,” Dwyer announced. And then, with a sense of finality, “Six trillion credits.”
Gasps from the crowd. At this point, the stakes were too high for everyone except Jareth, Nala, and Dwyer; everyone else had accepted their fate as spectators to the gladiatorial sport playing out before them.
“Six trillion credits, to Mr. Dwyer,” the auctioneer said, just a little breathlessly. “Going once ... going twice ...”
“Seven,” Jareth replied, sounding almost unsure of himself.
“Eight,” Nala said, fidgeting nervously.
Dwyer cursed under his breath. This was becoming expensive and risky, fast. He could tell the other two bidders were nearing their limit, but based on all the available data, he was also nearing the baseline yield estimates for the first mine. If he didn’t end this fast, the opportunity was going to evaporate in front of him. He needed to be decisive, even if meant taking a risk. He didn’t get to where he was by not taking risks.
Karzen Dwyer stood up and held his paddle high. “TEN TRILLION CREDITS.”
The auctioneer was beside himself. “Ten trillion credits to Mr. Dwyer. Going once...”
Dwyer looked from Jareth Teague to Nala Fenn. Both were practically squirming as they wrestled with the amount of money this planet was up for.
Dwyer already knew he had won. Teague and Fenn didn’t have the stomach to top ten trillion.
“Sold! To Mr. Dwyer for ten trillion credits.”
Applause from the crowd as other spectator bidders clapped Dwyer on the shoulder and congratulated him on his purchase. He eyed Jareth Teague and Nala Fenn, the former of whom looked legitimately pissed off and the latter of whom seemed genuinely despondent over the loss.
Looks like the local governors won’t be keeping their riches in the family, Dwyer thought as he let himself start imagining how much money he stood to make. If there was even a quarter as much Rhodium-103 down there as Kish estimated, he’d easily double his investment and position himself as a titan of industry.
“Congratulations, Mr. Dwyer,” Kish said as she walked him back to his space yacht. “You must be very pleased with your purchase.”
“I am,” he said.
There was a long moment of silence as Kish stood there awkwardly, waiting for him to offer the commission that was customarily paid to insiders who helped Dwyer win auctions. One percent of ten trillion credits would set Kish up for life.
“Sorry, can’t afford to pay you on this one,” Dwyer said. “All my liquid assets just went out the window paying for the planet, and my other resources are going to be tied up in getting the mining operation up and running. Come talk to me in a year and maybe I’ll be able to get you a fraction of it.”
Kish stood there speechless as Dwyer boarded his yacht and took off without so much as a farewell or a thank you for all her hard work.
“A fraction of one percent in a year. Maybe.” It was a familiar male voice behind her.
“Doesn’t sound like a very fair deal,” replied an equally familiar female voice.
Kish turned to face Jareth Teague and Nala Fenn, smiling at both of them.
“Oh, I think I made the right decision,” Kish said, checking her account where she found five hundred billion credits waiting for her.
“Five percent in exchange for convincing Dwyer that we were legitimate bidders,” Jareth said. “Based on the selling price, that’s a pretty sweet deal for you.”
“And you,” Kish said. “Now you and Nala and the other local governors have enough money to pay off your debts on the planet and leave free and clear to start over somewhere else. And in style, I might add.”
“What do you think will happen when Dwyer realizes there is no Rhodium-103 down in those mines?” Nala asked.
Kish smirked. “Assuming you did what you promised and laced enough of it throughout the initial mine site, it’ll be at least a few years before he realizes there’s nothing to be found down there. And by then he’ll be broke.”
“You don’t seem too broken up about that.”
“After being stiffed on my commission three auctions straight, I’m not going to lose much sleep over it,” Kish said. “Good luck with your next venture. And please remember to give me a call if you ever have another planet you need to move.”
She said her goodbyes and left Jareth and Nala, heading straight for her craft. Wherever she went next, at least she’d be rich and would never have to worry about working for a creep like Dwyer ever again.
Originally written for "A Fistful of Merit Badges" and "I Write in 2018" .