Imogen asks Lilly if she wants to approach Grom on her own, since she is the one who developed a rapport with him during their job on Brontes IV. Lilly does not say anything out loud about it, but she knows she does not always remember stuff, whether it is from resocialization or just distraction. Securing transport to Redstone III is important, so Lilly figures they should do this together. She brings Imogen with her to the Augustgrad headquarters of Grom, LLC.
Entering the impressive skyscraper, Lilly walks through the large doors and across the giant foyer, right up to the receptionist. Imogen follows her brazen companion, unaware that they do not already have an appointment. At the desk, Lilly says, “Hey, we’re here to see Grom. We’re friends. Tell him Lilly and Imogen are here.”
The tidy receptionist looks up, craning his neck all the way back to look at the tall woman before him. “Which Grom are you here to see? There are three. And… are you Lilly or Imogen?”
“I’m Lilly, and it’s probably the older one.”
“Okay, Jefferson Grom. Let me pull up his calendar…. Uh, he does not have a Lilly or Imogen on here today. He’s got a quarterly review, which is slated to take the entire day. So, are you sure it is that Grom?”
“Probably. But it’d be okay to talk to either of his kids.” The receptionist indicates that Susan Grom is at an offsite meeting. “You said you had an appointment?”
“No, no appointment, sir.”
The receptionist seems a little nervous. “Let me call this in. One second please.” Turning away, he picks up a phone and speaks into it with a hushed voice.
Lilly cannot make out what is being said. She waits a moment and then leans forward a bit and prompts the receptionist. “Sooooo?”
He puts down the phone and turns back around. “Ah, yes, he’s not available. We can try to schedule you in, but you’ll need to go through his chief of staff… What company did you say you were with again?”
From her new vantage point, Lilly can see over the counter down onto the receptionist’s desk. She spies a note that says, “Warning: Mr. Grom has been targeted recently. Make sure to keep him safe. Don’t let any strangers in.”
“Wait, is somebody after Mr. Grom?” Lilly blurts out, alarmed. Man, that guy can’t catch a break! He just got out of a mine.
The receptionist remains calm. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but our competitors have been getting very aggressive lately, so you understand that we have to take significant precautions. And frankly, you might be from those competitors; you look like rough customers. Don’t take it personally, but we just need to keep Mr. Grom safe until the legal proceedings conclude.” With a bit of a smirk, he concludes, “Nice try, Rose, Inc., but it’s not going to happen today.”
“We’re not from Rose, Inc.,” Lilly says.
Enough is enough. Imogen steps up to the counter. “We actually got your boss out of Rose Incorporated’s clutches,” she declares.
Oh, is that who was running that mine? Lilly thinks. Makes sense.
“Mr. Grom’s only been out of that Rose mine for two weeks, and you’ve got him stuffed in a boring day full of meetings? I’m sure he’d be delighted to have the people who got him out of that mine break up his schedule for a moment,” Imogen continues.
The receptionist looks at the two women more closely. “Wait… Lilly and Imogen….” He clicks around on his computer, pulling up an email.
“You know, Brontes IV,” Imogen prompts.
“I did not know he was being held on Brontes IV,” the receptionist admits. “That’s terrible.” He scans whatever is in front of him, and his voice takes on a more apologetic tone. “I’m very sorry, but we need to check these kinds of things. He mentioned that someone named Lilly rescued him, but he didn’t give a really good, detailed description, other than that she was tall. So I’m sure you understand that when some tough-looking person and some foreigner come in we have to be on guard. I think I can slot you in right now, while he is on his lunch break. And the quarterly meetings have been good for him. They are a nice, low-stress way for him to get back in the swing of things.” The elevator doors open, and a security team comes out. The receptionist waves them off but does request that the women leave their weapons at the front desk.
As Lilly and Imogen walk over to the elevator, Lilly chuckles. “How bad are these Rose Inc. guys at what they do? Sending a couple people like us would be so obvious.”
* * *
Jefferson Grom meets Lilly and Imogen in a big conference room. His large, dark hand extends in greeting as his trimmed beard holds a smile. “Ah! It’s… ah… what was your name again? Lilly? Lillian?”
“Yes, sir, Lilly. Short for Lillian.”
“Right! So good to see you.”
Imogen introduces herself, and after a few more pleasantries, Lilly gets right to the point. “We’re looking for a way onto Redstone III. We heard that you had some mining operations there, that you might have some people going there.”
Grom clarifies that his company has not mined there yet. The volcanic world requires a lot of specialized equipment, and no one likes to stay there very long. The doctors say the atmosphere is safe, but it does not really feel that way. He regrets that the company does not currently have any plans for upcoming surveys. “What do you want to do there? There’s no people living on Redstone III, no settlements.”
“Can’t say,” Lilly flatly states.
That catches Grom’s attention. “Intriguing. A very important secret mission. I hear you. I wasn’t planning on doing anything there. It’s a little out of the way…”
“Oh, you’re leaving it to Rose to do all the work there?” Imogen asks. “‘Cause they’ve certainly surveyed it.” That is what Li June told them on Mar Sara.
Grom’s eyebrows shoot up. “Rose is going there?”
“At least, that’s what we’ve heard,” Lilly clarifies.
Grom agrees to send a survey team. Imogen makes it clear that she and Lilly are simply looking for a ride there and back again. Grom asks that they keep an eye out for any abandoned equipment that could be useful for starting up new mining. They can just note the coordinates, or if it is mobile, they can bring it back to the landing site when they are done with their task.
“You’ve got it, Mr. Grom,” Lilly agrees.
Even though he will be sending a proper group of geologists, he also requests that Lilly and Imogen bring back samples of any valuable minerals they come across. After all, the two women will be heading further afield than his own workers, in pursuit of whatever it is they are going to the planet for. He provides a pamphlet with the basic characteristics of a variety of valuable minerals. The women agree to what sounds like a reasonable request to them.
“In addition, Redstone III is reputed to have jorium crystals,” he says, “particularly in the low grounds, where the lava constantly replenishes them. They have some interesting uses we are looking into. It would be great if you brought some back, and we would certainly compensate you for that.”
Now Imogen perks up. She has heard that jorium, much like terrazine, has been linked to some medical applications for boosting psionic potential but that the extent of its effects are unknown. She had not expected to have an opportunity to get her hands on some of this material on this trip.
They conclude their deal with everyone in a good mood. Grom smiles widely at the two FRAWD inspectors. “This is excellent. I think this will work out really well.” He requests a few days in order to put his small team together, and that fits just fine with Lilly’s and Imogen’s plans. “I appreciate this business opportunity… and a chance to stick it to Rose,” he says. “Say… is there any chance you can help speed up the legal proceedings against them?”
“When last we checked with our boss, he said it would take a year or so,” Imogen tells him apologetically.
“I thought you had some sort of government job. Is there anything I can do to help grease the wheels a little bit?”
“We can ask again,” Imogen says a bit reluctantly. “I don’t know that our department is one that would need any contracts put out to mining companies, though….”
“If you can get more evidence, we can take that in,” Lilly offers.
Grom says he will keep that in mind. Unfortunately, his estate did not have any surveillance in place the night he was kidnapped. It does now. Lilly inquires about more recent threats, and Grom replies that if they could grab him from his home, they might try again from his workplace, so he is being extra careful. He seems to have an idea for an avenue he can pursue to collect more evidence, and they let him know they will present it to their boss whenever he gets it to them.
“Here’s my number,” Lilly says, “although I think you already know my email.”
Grom chuckles. “Yes, my kids managed to track you down… Again, thank you so much. Not just for saving me but also for saving all those other people at the mine, too. It’s not a fate that any of them deserved. Well, I’ve got to get back to my quarterly review. You ladies have a nice day.”
“Thank you, sir.” They take their leave.
On the elevator ride down, Lilly comments, “I’m finding I’m not a big fan of this Rose, Inc.”
“Who knows what Grom, LLC, has done to them in the past,” Imogen says. “I’m not saying it justifies whatever they’re doing. I’m just saying that I don’t know if anybody’s aboveboard here. Were you wanting to do something to them? They’re headquartered here in Augustgrad, same as everyone else.”
“No,” Lilly replies. “But I’m going to keep grumbling about them.”