“And now we come to the item I am sure you have all been waiting for,” the auctioneer’s voice rose to match the growing excitement in the hall. “It is my great pleasure to offer the world of Durante.”
Walls faded to be replaced by rolling fields. The arched ceiling became a clear blue sky. Those who had sensory implants smelt the fresh air and felt the breeze against their skin. Attendees who were linked into the auction houses’ private network received the same sensations regardless of whether they were in virtual form or had a physical presence.
“The only naturally habitable planet in the Guelf system, Durante offers a rare untouched beauty. Whoever wins this lot will have the pleasure of boasting ownership of one of the few worlds in the existence that has never been altered by the hands of man. No tech has ever touched the eco’ system. The oceans are in their original condition. This, I am sure you will all agree, is a remarkable place, a sight for those whose eyes are sore of the harsh metals and gene tweaking that marks out modern life. Some have even compared this to Earth before humans began to impact on its surface.
“But then you would expect nothing less from the Backward Foundation. After all, they do specialise in bring history to life in the modern world.”
Mearns shifted in his seat. From the where he sat, in the middle of the auction room, he was well placed to see those at the front who were eager to start the bidding.
“Do you anticipate any problems,” the voice whispered in his ear.
No, Mearns thought back. It will all be as I predicted.
“You sound overly confident. I would hate for you to slip up because you have not thought of all the potential outcomes.” The words fluttered inside his skull like dark moths.
Mearns resisted the urge to scratch at his ear. I have been employed to ensure you are successful, he replied. There should be no doubt about my knowledge of the proceedings.
“Shall we begin at three million UTCs?” the auctioneer suggested from behind his glass podium.
On the front row a tall man flicked up his hand.
“And we have our first bidder.”
Another hand was raised.
“You have not made a bid.” The dusky words felt as if they came from all around Mearns.
There is no need to. Not yet.
“What if the bidding is closed before you join in?”
Mearns held back a sigh. Then you will have the planet for a lower price than I estimated. That should make you happy.
“Money does not matter to us.”
Then stop worrying and let me concentrate.
“Ten million,” the auctioneer now declared.
Mearns noticed two more people had joined in. Profiling software gave him their names. Two ICE modules working at full tilt offer up the details of their financial net worth. He factored them into the probability matrix he was already running.
The price will be fifteen million higher than I originally estimated, he told his employer, but then money does not matter so I’m sure you will not care. There was no hint of sarcasm in what he said, regardless how much he wanted to let it seep through.
“As long as we win,” came the response. “Nothing else matters.”
The bidding had reached twenty five million. The tall man sat on the front row had dropped out of the race. Mearns knew he had only been there to push up the price; a shill placed by the owners.
At fifty million another bidder stopped waving his hand.
“Will it not look suspicious if you only make a move at the end?”
Mearns quelled an urge to cancel the link he was letting his employer use. It makes no difference, he explained. People know I work for many different clients and they know I cover my tracks well. Those with contacts will not be surprised when I win. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to pay attention. We are nearing the end.
It was a lie. He was perfectly capable of keeping track of proceedings whilst holding a conversation. Software had already picked up the small movements of one of the bidders; all the evidence pointed to the fact that the man was now reaching his upper limit.
“Sixty eight million.”
Mearns looked directly at the auctioneer and then waved his hand.
“Seventy million, with the new entrant.”
A nod from his competitor.
“Seventy three million.”
A raised hand and a slight drop of Mearns’ head. The auctioneer understood the signal.
No one moved. Then one of the bidders gave a shake. Eyes turned to the second man.
“I believe we have won,” the dark voice whispered.
Not just yet, Mearns replied. One more bid.
As he spoke there was a slow wave from the far side of the room.
“Eighty two million.”
Focus turned back to Mearns. There was no hesitation; another precise indication.
The remaining man baulked.
“The planet Durante is sold to the bidder in the centre of the room for Ninety million UTCs.”
“Thank you for your help,” the voice intoned. “Now we can begin with our experiment. Your assistance will be remembered.”
Then the link went dead. Mearns felt warmer for it.
25 June 2010
In New Zealand the small town of Otira has been put up for sale. Situated on the route of the TranzAlpine, a world renowned railway that cross the country’s Southern Alps, Otira contains eighteen houses.
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