How Many Zeros?

“Let me know at what point I’m supposed to be impressed,” said Zoe.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to remind me: are you rich, or rude?” said Asher, folding his arms and looking sideways at the wealthiest venture capitalist interested in investing in terraforming.

Her aide, Jonathan—a young professional who’d let stress prematurely age him a couple decades—stepped up and raised a disapproving hand. “Excuse me, sir, but you have no right to speak that way to Ms. Eastly, and furthermore—”

“It’s fine, Jonathan,” said Zoe. “Asher’s made me enough coin to occasionally be truthful.” Turning to Asher now, she added, “The two are not mutually exclusive. I’m rich and rude, and at the moment underwhelmed. What am I supposed to—”

And then she saw it.

They were standing just outside the shuttle on some backwater moonlet called Parapka—the name would have to be changed eventually to something like Summit, or Revelry, something marketable—and it may as well have been a desert on Earth with fine dark sand in every direction. Or nearly every direction. Up was a different story entirely. The standard nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere clung to the rocky moon like a body of water with a defined surface undulating just twenty meters off the ground. The air didn’t smoothly thin out across hundreds of kilometers; it wrapped the world like a shallow lake. It was like standing at the bottom of a fish tank.

“How is this possible? Air doesn’t do that.”

Asher smiled now, his perfect white teeth dazzling against his handsome dark face. “You’re familiar with gravity waves I presume.”

Zoe nodded.

“Beneath our feet is buried a machine, a prototype. It generates a standing wave. Limited range, variable strength.” Zoe understood the implications. The majority of rocky bodies were too small to hold an atmosphere. But with this, everywhere could be terraformed, made habitable. Made profitable.

Zoe stared up at the sky, almost close enough to reach through and touch the open space beyond, and dollar signs danced merrily through her head. “Oh Asher,” she said, cool as stone, “I am impressed. How many zeros is this check going to require?”

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