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   Chapter 5 No.5

Bypass Gemini By Joseph R. Lallo Characters: 5107

Updated: 2018-01-19 12:02

"How long until we get to the starport?" he asked flatly.

"Assuming it breaks up when it usually does? About three hours."

"The elevator to my flight is at 3:05. . ."

Lex glanced at the clock in the dash. 2:48.

"Well, that's the way it goes, isn't it?" Lex quipped.

Patel growled and checked a watch that could probably finance a college education.

"When is the next flight that will get me to Operlo?" he rumbled.

After a few taps at the console in the dash, a list of ships heading to the tiny system on the fringe of the populated portion of the galaxy scrolled across the display.

"6:45, " Lex said.

"That's tolerable. As long as it gets me there by Monday, " Patel said.

"Sorry. That's a class two transport. It's half the speed of the 3:05. . . yep. It looks like the earliest you'll be getting there is Wednesday morning, if you take the 11:50."

"No. . . No, that's not acceptable. I need to be back by Monday. I have an exceedingly important business meeting that must be face to face. This deal falls through if I don't shake hands with these weasels. They'll give bandwidth rights to the miscreant on the other end!"

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir, whatever it means. I'm afraid you should have planned for traffic, chartered a direct flight, or at least sprung for a temporary express to the starport."

That was one of the nice parts about the skyways. Since they were only marked by pylons, for a fee the skyway service would toss a few dozen extra into the sky to map out a direct road from where someone was to where they wanted to be. Even now, he could see a swarm of them tracing off a web of personal roads for big shots looking to avoid the rush.

"Too late for any of that now, though. We won't even get to the next designated off-ramp by the time your flight leaves."

"This is a problem."

"My heart goes out to you, Mr. Patel, but there's nothing we can do now, so just relax and enjoy a complimentary beverage."

"You know. . . if you were to somehow get me to that flight on time. . . I would be inclined to show my gratitude."

Lex's eyes shot to the rearview mirror, his hand slowly working toward an innocuous piece of the dashboard.

"How much gratitude are we talking about?"

Diamond Nick snapped his fingers and one of his henchmen dug into a pocket, dumping a handful of colorful plastic discs into his open hand. They looked like poker chips, because that's what they were. These days, gambling, like any other business, was franchised. Betting parlors were as co

mmon as tanning parlors, and they all used the same chips. The rise in popularity of the miniature corporate and privately-owned casinos coincided almost perfectly with the rise of the credit system. Direct-linked bank accounts and universal "credits" had replaced cash entirely, making all transactions quick, easy, and traceable. The chips had a set credit value, were nearly impossible to counterfeit, and were untraceable. They filled the void left by paper money, and were legitimate enough that some people actually paid their employees in chips. It was a handy way to keep things off the books, and it was just a quick trip to the casino to turn them into spendable credits.

Patel held up six blue chips. Ten thousand credits each.

"I could lose my license if I don't do this right, Mr. Patel. I'm going to need a little more gratitude than that."

"I love a man who knows how to negotiate, " he said with a grin, swapping blue for red.

Red chips were fifty thousand credits each, for a nice, even three hundred thousand. The number sounded more impressive than it was. Inflation and such meant that a decent cup of coffee would run you four or five hundred credits. That said, three hundred thousand would be enough to cover his rent and maybe take the heat off from some of the more vigorous bill collectors.

"Get me to that space elevator in time to board the flight and it is all yours."

Lex's eyes shot from the mirror to the dashboard to the traffic, and back to the mirror. Finally, he dug out a piece of gum and popped it in his mouth.

"Strap in, " he said, adding, "you hereby absolve Lex Express and its parent company Milton Livery Limited of any liability for laws broken or trauma endured. Thank you."

Three taps to an out of the way part of the dash caused the console to flash and reveal a rather crude and pixelated set of controls. He slid his finger along a color slider, then checked two boxes.

"What was that?" Patel asked, craning his neck to see the panel.

"We just became a cream-colored limo with a nonsense license plate and the transponder code of an ambulance."

As he spoke, the black finish visible on the hood of the limo patchily gave way to off-white. Generally speaking, the hot-swap paint system was supposed to be only for display cars, but certain less-than-scrupulous mechanics would install it for anyone looking to change their vehicle's color on a whim. The transponder spoofer and license scrambler were hand-me-downs from a certain other enterprise Lex was involved in.

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