“You can’t find a buyer? Does that sort of thing really happen?”
Tarou dropped his spanner in surprise. “That’s dangerous,” Maar said as she picked it up.
“Well of course it can happen. Business is something that can only hold true when you have a buyer and a seller. In this station out in the sticks, there’s no way you’d find anyone wanting of a military-grade armored deck. When you think about it, it’s obvious… to be honest, that was an oversight on my part.”
Tarou took the spanner from Maar, returning to dismantling the scrap parts.
“I see… now that you mention it, you do ‘ave a point. Like ‘ow you won’t get any buyers sellin’ machine guns door-to-door in a peaceful village.”
“Your comparison’s a bit off, but something like that. You’ll have to go where there are more people, or where the need is higher to sell it. It’s probably the army that would want it most, but if it comes to that, they’ll definitely question its origin.”
On Maar’s voice, “I’d rather not answer that one,” said Tarou.He didn’t think he had anything to feel guilty about, but if possible, he wanted to avoid trouble.
“See, this is the cosmic powers telling you to stay here. In the end, if an iceman who doesn’t even know how to walk in zero gravity goes out on a journey, he’ll only face setback after setback from his lack of common sense.”
Maar’s face was all smiles. Tarou pouted as he averted his face, but he knew Maar’s words weren’t completely off the mark.
“Well, when you really boil it down, that’s where the problem is… I think Koume’ll do somethin’ about that, to an extent, but that girl has some strange points of her own.”
“That is quite an allegation, Mister Teirow. I am nothing more than an artificial intelligence, and not a human. As an AI, I consider myself exceedingly common sensical.”
“That’s a lie! Like ‘ell there are AI like you all over the place!!”
“That really is quite an allegation. Don’t you feel sorry for Koume?”
“No, no, just listen to this, Maar-tan. She’s terrible. Just the other day, she…”
The three seemed to have opened up to one another. At a glance, it looked to be nothing more than their hellishly peaceful everyday life, but Tarou felt some restlessness somewhere in his being. It was probably not his imagination, and he knew Maar surely felt it too.
“… And that’s what she said. Don’t you think she’s terrible?”
“Fufu, that was your fault. Now then, it’s about time.”
On Maar’s words, Tarou confirmed the time display on his BISHOP. It signified the time his work shift was over, and usually, it was even a time he would rejoice over.
“I see… then that’s the end. Three months went by in the blink of an eye, but it was fun. Was a real learnin’ experience, and I got paid for it properly.”
Giving a wink, Tarou removed his work gloves and held out his right hand. The new contract he had made with Maar specified daily support over a time period of three months, and today was the settled date.
“You really were a big help. I’m really thankful… um, if possible…”
Tarou made an unusually serious expression. To him, Maar raised her own hand a bit, but after a moment’ hesitation, she powerlessly lowered it.
“I can’t. I have no reason to help you.”
“Haha… well, that’s right…”
And awkward air and silence.
Eventually, Maar took her eyes off of Tarou, sending a sad glance towards the exit.
“I apologize for interrupting. Miss Maar, Mister Teirow. There is something I must apologize about.”
Could it be called timely salvation in that unbearable silence? With a slight smile, “What is it now?” said Maar.
“Yes, Miss Maar. It is about the three month support contract I had you draft up. I had completely forgotten to receive Mister Teirow’s approval for it. A so-called ‘Slip-up’ on my part.”
On Koume’s voice, the two made blank expressions. What are you saying so late in the game, spoke Maar’s face, but finally noticing something, she seemed taken aback.
“I-I see. So even an AI of your caliber makes mistakes… it’s fine, don’t mind it… um… thank you”
“No the thanks and apology should come from me, Miss Maar. So I do apology, but the compensation imposed on Miss Maar is not daily support over a period of three months, it would be, ‘assistance with pressing daily necessities’.”
Having come so far, Tarou finally realized the situation. After a surprised look at Koume, he changed his eyes to Maar.
“S-see, just as I told you. She’s a strange one in ‘er own way. So we’ll be too anxious on our own. Truth is, I’d like to free you at once, but the contract, you see…”
“Yes, that’s right. If that’s the contract between us, then there’s no helping it… fufu, isn’t that right, Koume?”
“Yes, that is right, Miss Maar. From the ship parts we were able to sell, the Rockboy’s repair fees have long-since been paid off. At the present point, ceasing your life support of Mister Teirow would be a breach of contract.”
“That so,” said Maar quite unnaturally.
“I’d be troubled if the imperial government took me in for breach of contract. I won’t be able to pay my rent to the station, so they’ll take my Rocky away… um… well… I-I’ll just say it, but this is all for Rocky!! It’s definitely not for your sake or anything!!”
“I-I know. I get it… but thank you for that by-the-books line. I’m a bit moved that I was able to hear it in my lifetime.”
“What are you mumbling about… now look, let’s go.”
Maar grabbed Tarou’s still-extended hand and ran off.
“We have to draft a plan. I’m sure you think things will work themselves out as long as you have a ship, and haven’t put any decent thought into it, right? As I thought, you won’t make it without me.”
Her words hitting the mark, Tarou gave a bitter smile as he was pulled by the hand.
“If we’re doing this, we’re definitely going to find it.”
Somewhat overpowered, Tarou gave a strong grip of her hand in place of an answer.
“First, we’ll have to start a company.”
In a narrow office of the junk yard, the two humans and one robot faced one another.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t see where this is going. What is this? Is the galactic empire so overbearin’ they won’t allow a single trip if it isn’t business-related?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“No matter how you look at it… wait, for real!!?”
Maar covered her ears at Tarou’s cry.
“It’s not as if the trip itself is forbidden, Mister Teirow. The problem is the time it would take, right Miss Maar?”
“Yes. If we’re going to move between star systems to search for earth, then we have no choice but to use the stargate. But if you enter the queue normally, you’ll be waiting a few months, or even years.”
“Years!? That’s more than a reservation on the finest luxury cruise. You tellin’ me to go into cold sleep or something?”
“Right, there are some people who do that.”
On Maar’s casually concluded, Tarou raised both his hands.
“Whoah… I want to quit being surprised already. But, well, from where this talk is going, is it that? Businesses get a fast pass?”
“Correct, Mister Teirow. Businesses are organizations that build the core of the galactic empire, so not only the stargate, you will get various forms of preferential treatment. At the same time, you’ll be given some obligations, but as long as you do not plan on going to the center systems, it would not be a problem.”
“Right. We’re going to the outer reaches, so it’ll probably be fine. With the gate, you could also send a bribe, but if possible, I’d like to keep that a last resort.”
“Well yeah, that’ll give them somethin’ to hold over us, after all… by the way, what’re these obligations? Do I have ta pay corporate tax?”
“Tax is pretty much the same for companies and individuals. More than that, if you make a large sum, you’ll have to pay more as an individual than a company. The obligation is government missions. Meaning you’ll have to do government issued jobs at regular intervals. Their contents vary, but honestly, you can also just resolve them by throwing money at the problems.”
On Maar’s words, Tarou imagined the choice-based quests you could often find in video games. But if the government was issuing them, then the fact you could resolve them with money came alongside a dreamless reality.
“Hmm… don’t really ‘ave a picture of government work. What sort of things are there? I can’t imagine it at all.”
To Tarou’s words, Maar thought a bit.
“Umm, generally, you have to help out the public offices. Even if you ask me what sort, there are various things… I guess the standard would be police duty?”
“Police? No, no, leave that one to the guys who do it for a living.”
“For a living? You mean the security companies?”
Maar really didn’t seem to get it. Tarou himself seemed confused as he continued on.
“Security company? Eh? Wait. You don’t have a police force? One the government funds with our taxpayer dollars. No police?”
“Nothing. And wait, if they did that, the empire would crumble from civil war. With a police force to look over 60 trillion people, it’ll obviously swell bigger than the army. What do you plan to do if they raised a rebellion?”
“60 trillion… I won’t be surprised. I won’t be surprised anymore.”
“By the way, Mister Teirow, the 60 trillion figure only includes the humankind with an official registry. It is thought the actual population is twice to several times that.”
“Wheh, which means, at least 120 trillion? It’s already that. The scale’s too off, I can’t grasp it at all. What’s with 120 trillion? The number of cells in my body?”
Rolling his eyes back, Tarou collapsed limply into his chair. Maar drew back as she watched over him.
“You are quite knowledgeable, Mister Teirow. But the number of cells in the human body is closer to 60 trillion.”
“Between me and Maar?”
“120 trillion. But that’s kinda gross, so stop it. Knowing there’s 60 trillion pieces of you is a bit…”
“A bit what, my dear? I’m real curious, but I’m also sure I don’t want to know… anyways, it’s just as Maar said. I’m way too oblivious.”
Experiencing his ignorance again, Tarou felt embarrassed over his own recklessness. “It’s a bit late for that,” said Maar, lightly poking him on the nose.
“A company, huh… what should we name it…”
On the words he quietly muttered, Maar began raising ideas.
The talk that followed carried on a while, and even after the station’s manmade night descended, there was no interruption to the office light.
They never ran out of topics and themes to talk about.