“I was top of my class at flight school, and I woulda had my schooling, and my ship, paid off within five years.” Stella kicked up her boots and put them on the table. “Care to guess what happened?”

“The galactic teleporter?”

“THE GALACTIC TELEPORTER.” Stella kicked her drink back. “Now the only business I can get is short-range milk runs to places when their teleporters are on the fritz or under construction, and a few luddites who don’t want their molecules scrambled. You know how long it’ll take to pay off my loans at this rate?”

Whitaker never took out loans, as a rule, but then again he’d never had to. He shook his head.

“127 years. Thank you very much, Geste-fucking-Co.”

“So you’re saying…?”

“I’m saying that GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up the cash, in advance, at a markup,” said Stella. “And GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up with a lot of lip, too. Because I may be desperate but I also hate you.”

“Done,” said Whitaker. He put an e-ink form before Stella. “Fill in whatever amount you’d like. We’ll calculate additional expenses at the conclusion of the voyage as enumerated in Section III.”

The boots were off the table now, and Stella was reading the e-ink with rapt attention. “And the lip?”

“As an outside contractor, you are not subject to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s Professional Conduct Policy,” Whitaker said. “You’ll be responsible for the consequences of your utterances without access to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s legal team, of course.”

“You really are serious,” said Stella. She signed the form with a flourish and a fingerprint. “What could possibly be so important that you don’t want to just teleport there in this day and age?”

“Just a hunch,” Whitaker said. “But if I’m right, you might be seeing a lot more business very soon.”

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