“That is definitely something,” said Faith to Caleb, squeezing his hand. He looked down at their intertwined fingers but judged it was best not to pull away.
They were standing in one of the observation halls. It was a grand room with tables and chairs that morphed to accommodate any body plan. Food and drink dispensers were close at hand. The dome of the ceiling was an image of open space most of the time and usually the hall was a relaxing place to take a meal. Not today.
The dome was dominated by the swirling face of Jupiter. Less prominent but still easily seen was Europa with its blue-white face crossed with dark cracks. There were flashes on Europa’s surface and tiny torches moving from it to a dark spot between Jupiter and its moon. The dark spot was the ship on which Caleb stood watching the display. The torches were chunks of ice on the order of the size of the Sears Tower being pushed from Europa to the ship.
“This is what we sold,” said Caleb matter of factly.
Faith looked at him. “Sold?”
“Yes. This is why they came here. They bought Europa’s ice with all the technology they are giving us at home. It’s funny. It isn’t even ours.”
Faith considered him. “No,” she said finally. “That doesn’t make any sense. There’s more ice out where the comets are than there is in a thousand Europas. They did not need to even come this far, let alone all the way to Earth and then buy our permission to mine it.”
“Besides,” said a voice behind them, “they already paid the Europans.” It was Obligolkulat, holding a few drinks in some tentacles and a few small bowls and plates in others.
Faith did an admirable job of masking her deep unease.
“Europans?” asked Caleb without flinching.
Between bites and sips, the cephalopod said, “Yeah. Big jellyfish things. Millions of year old civilization under the ice, powered by tidal energy. Smart but slow if you know what I mean.”
“And they joined the Hegemony?” asked Faith
“Nah. They declined. Millions of years and no sky. They weren’t about to go spacing, you know? But they gave the Hegemony permission to mine some ice.”
Caleb looked perturbed. “So why did they negotiate with us, too?”
“Who knows?” said Obligolkulat as he finished his last morsel. “The Hegemony has weird rules about sentients. My people are one of seventeen in my solar system and the Hegemony had to make a separate agreement with each one. It’s their thing.” He turned his attention briefly to the display above then said, “Gotta get back to shift. You coming?”
Caleb nodded. He started to leave but Faith pulled him back to give him a quick kiss. “Are you coming by later?” she asked.
He kissed her back and nodded, then followed Obligolkulat out of the hall.