The Earth to which the Cyan explorers have returned is much changed. What was overpopulated at their departure is much worse at their return. Governments have fallen and been reconstituted. NASA has been replaced by a military space organization.
The one stable thing in this new world is Saloman Curran, the world’s richest and most powerful man. His overriding consistencies are ruthlessness and obsessive dedication to the colonization of other planets. The explorers find themselves on his team and under his power as they plan for Cyan’s colonization.
Even Curran is not omnipotent. He finds himself blackmailed into adding a contingent of colonists from India. When Keir and Gus inspect these new colonists, they are given a new perspective on Curran by the Indian leader.
Bannerjee explained, “There was no Saloman Curran to finance our colonization effort. Each colonist had to pay twenty billion rupees for the privilege of going. Each applicant had to pay one billion rupees, non refundable, for the privilege of applying.”
“You mean only your rich could even apply?”
“That is correct.”
Gus shook his head. Bannerjee smiled and said, “I see you don’t know the history of your own country. How do you think Europeans got to America? Do you think ships’ captains just said, ‘Get on board, I’ll be glad to take you?'”
“I never thought about it.”
“To get to America in the early years, one either had to be rich or had to indenture oneself, that is, agree to be what amounted to a slave for a set number of years. Exploration and colonization have never been free.”
Keir said, “We chose our colonists on the basis of what skills they could bring to Cyan.”
“Indeed. So did we. There are plenty of people who are both rich and skillful.”
They walked on through the camp. It was noisy, brawling, dusty, hot, and exciting. Keir felt a smile growing on his face with every step. What an addition to Cyan these people would be!
“Kumar,” Gus said, “who is supplying your transportation to Uranus?”
“Gee Craft, Ganymede.”
Keir exchanged a look with Gus. GCG was a subsidiary of Curran International. “How much per head?”
Bannerjee quoted a price that was three times the going rate.
“You’re getting screwed. Why not shop around?”
“‘Shopping around’, as you put it, is not permitted. The price of transportation was negotiated as part of the main agreement. So was the price Curran is charging for the ship his people are building for us.”
“That means you are actually helping to finance the USNA expedition.”
“Yes. We are financing a major part of the expedition.”
They were thoughtful as they walked back to the VTOL. Finally, Bannerjee mused, “I wonder what Curran is buying with our money?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your people are not paying for their passage. I assume that means that they are not co-owners of the expedition, as ours are.”
“That is correct. The factory modules are being supplied by CI, so CI will own them. The people going are guaranteed land and subsistence food and clothing for five years.”
“Well, the farms and factories won’t run themselves.”
“Will it take fifty thousand to run them?” Bannerjee asked.
“So there will be an excess of labor, and one man will own all the means of production. Does that seem healthy to you?”
Keir did not respond.
“It is said,” Bannerjee added as they were standing at the ramp of the VTOL, “that the man who owns the factory, owns the soul of the people. I would think about that, if I were you.”