Alex Marlow had just been tasked to guard the richest woman in the universe. He wondered why he wasn’t twitchy.
Of course, his team hadn’t been told that yet. Nor had he started the mission. Both of those would raise the stress level.
He and four of them were awaiting the sixth member, who was uncharacteristically late.
“Where the hell is Elke?” Aramis snapped in frustration.
“She’s probably mining her apartment for practice, or defusing her comm, or having an intimate experience with her shotgun,” Jason Vaughn offered. “Regardless, you’re not going to make her appear faster.” He smiled wryly.
Aramis was a bit more than half Jason’s age, and it showed. He twitched, all youth and energy. Jason sat in a couch, comfortable and calm.
For calm, however, Jason had nothing on Bart Weil, the big German, who leaned against the wall and barely gave evidence of being alive. His eyes took in everything, though.
That left Horace “Shaman” Mbuto, the team’s surgeon, as the odd one out. He was older even than Alex, ancient by the standards of executive protection, and making use of the time to inventory a surgical kit.
They seemed a bit motley, but in the executive protection business, they were the best, and had been a team for a year now. He couldn’t imagine breaking them up. The mixed skill sets meshed perfectly, and the personality clashes were minor and only added flavor. They were Ripple Creek Security’s star bodyguards, and paid accordingly.
Luckily, money was not a problem for their new principal.
His musing was interrupted when he saw familiar movement out in the turnaround.
“Here she comes,” he said.
Jason felt better when he saw Elke. He worried about her when she was late. They’d been friends a long time, and saved each others’ butts more times than he could count. Probably everyone knew her persona was largely an act, but he knew the real Elke. She really was a performance artist who worked with explosives, but under that, she was very human. She just didn’t let it peek out often.
She slipped in the door and closed it behind her. The window darkened with polarizing as Alex pushed the control, and she drew a heavy drape across. Jason activated the dampening gear on the table next to him, and a few other security measures happened. It wasn’t as secure as some military areas, but it should be plenty for what they needed, he hoped. Alex seemed a bit twitchy, though he probably thought he looked dead calm.
Alex stayed sitting, but said, “I assume you all realize we have a mission.”
Bart said, “I was hoping we would be told of a pay raise and free beer.”
“You know better,” Alex replied. “We have a medium duration project, on and off Earth, in civilian environments. That means limited weapons and explosives.”
Elke said, “I will send you the usual protests on this theory.”
Alex smiled back, “And I will file them in the usual way.”
Banter aside, Jason understood the concern. High profile civilian missions could be worse than those in war zones. Everyone knew you were unarmed, and your response was basically to say, “Stop, or I’ll call the police!” That, or throw yourself in front of incoming fire. It came down to tactics, evasion, diversion in lieu of any confrontation of any kind. That was always the goal, of course, but for putative peacetime missions it was a legal and real imperative.
Aramis said, “I notice we haven’t been told who we’re guarding.”
Elke said, “I assume we haven’t been told for a reason.” She gave a hint of smile.
Alex smiled back. “You assume correctly. The OPSEC is necessary. However, you can be told now.” He touched a command, which put the full screen up.
“This is our principal,” he said, and gave them time to wrap their brains around it. The silence lasted about a minute.
Aramis said, “She’s…”
Jason offered, “Stunning.”
“Actress? Model?” Bart asked. “She’s not one I recognize.”
“Caron Elain Prescot,” Alex said.
“The Prescot ExtraSolar Ores Group?” Elke asked.
“Yes. Daughter of the owner.”
“He’s worth how much?” Shaman asked.
Jason, now caught up, said, “There’s no way to count. He’s primary shareholder of the company, and they own an entire freaking star system full of readily exploitable minerals. More money than most governments can get to play with, and no need to worry about appeasing a populace. He treats his employees well, I understand.”
“Yes,” Alex said. “The employees are not likely to be a problem, other than the occasional awestruck miner who doesn’t know who she is and wants a date.”
“Do I recall,” Shaman said, leaning back in his seat with a furrowed brow, “that several other major shareholders are unhappy with the state of affairs?”
“Former shareholders,” Alex said. “It’s been thirty years since Prescot Mining bought an option on mineral extraction rights for the system. The initial plan was terraforming. That proved infeasible, so the original title holders sold it off. However, Prescot was able to argue successfully that they retained rights based on capital outlay, not bundled with the rest. Several other nations and groups all bought in and out on rights to the system, in a decades-long financial poker game. Several times exploratory parties and habitats were started, and abandoned. Eventually, they all defaulted or cancelled and abandoned.”
“Which puts the system up for grabs again,” Jason said. “Except that Prescot’s claim was never abandoned.”
“Right. They basically inherited the jump point and had mineral rights to the system. They landed a habitat and laid the balance of claim, and started shipping minerals back, at a loss. Even some of the stockholders pulled out, and their consortium investors and backers dropped them.”
“I remember watching that on the stock scroll,” Jason said with a grin. He’d always respected accomplishment. “The volume increased as they plowed capital into development of new tech. Once they reached break even, they had this asymptotic growth curve for about a month, then it got taken off the charts completely because it buried everything else.”
“From millions to billions?” Elke asked.
“From millions in a billion Mark operation to trillions, quadrillions, no one knows how much,” Alex said. “The Prescot family holdings went from a significant minority to majority shareholders, they basically bought their family company back, and then acquired an entire system of assets.”
“And it’s our job to protect his daughter against jealous rivals,” Bart said. “He can afford us, and they are hiring us because they think it’s worth it.”
Aramis said, “So a private citizen is spending enough money to buy a small house every week to have us watch his daughter? Why does that sound like we’ll be earning it?”
“Yes,” Alex agreed with a nod. “It’s not just us. We get the daughter. Jace Cady’s team gets facilities again—she’s got the estate, basically. Our pilots are going to take over any ship with a family member on it, and unannounced. The boss will assign them from a pool at the last moment, so no one can make a concrete plan. This family earns in seconds what we earn in weeks.”