"I don't understand, Captain Gruthner. You did what?"
Irwin Polk, Vice President for Interstellar Affairs at UniBank, Earth's third largest financial services conglomerate, was busy looking through the balance sheet of a recent acquisition, and was only peripherally aware of the conversation he'd been having with the man he'd sentenced to an extended contract in the farthest reaches of space for reasons he'd long since forgotten. He glanced briefly at the distorted image hovering over his desk, frowned, and dug in his pocket for the memopod he'd offloaded it to, along with lots of other unsavory memories. That's right, he thought as the gadget reflashed his brain, Gruthner was plagued by a case of ethics.
"I sold them a mutual outsourcing scheme, sir. They're each going to sub out the work they're not good at to the other. UniBank will serve as intermediary."
Having been snared once or twice in bad deals, Polk knew the importance of conducting background checks on any new clients. "Who are you babbling about, Lester?"
The truncated image of a balding nebbish composed itself and leaned towards the camera. "The Ghrilsjorm and the Plurfl, sir. The system you sent me to has two planets in the Goldilocks Zone. Both worlds developed commercially viable civilizations, but because their environments are so different, they never bothered to visit one another, preferring instead to be what you might call planetary pen pals. They talk a lot, but they'd rather stay home and knit than go exploring."
"And you've sold them something they both need."
"Well, not exactly need, Mr. Polk. But we've convinced them it would be to their advantage, and they agreed to our terms."
The VP laid his hands over the spreadsheet, his attention now wholly on his former protege. "Which are?"
"For one thing, all of their transactions will be conducted through accounts I've set up for them. Since they have different currencies, each one gets converted to ours first, so we can keep an accurate and unbiased tally of their balance of trade."
"What kind of work exactly are they trading" these" what are they called?"
"They call themselves Ghrilsjorm and Plurfl, respectively. The Ghrilsjorm, are better at science and math related enterprises; the Plurfl at artistic ones. It's a pretty ordinary match-up, really. We've done it before, even back home on Earth."
"And I suppose we're raking off some service charge?"
"No sir. Both races consider that to be unethical. As far as they're concerned, the role of an intermediary is nothing more than a glorified bit of wire, so they balked at the suggestion that they pay for our assistance in the transaction."
Polk snorted contemptuously. "If that's how they feel about it," he said, "why hadn't they set up an arrangement like this on their own already? All it takes is money, after all."
"And some communications gear. Yes, sir. That is true. But they'd never be able to afford the kind of hookup we're using. I would imagine that the cost of buying this gear and keeping it running would easily bankrupt them. They'd be limited to far more rudimentary means of contact. But that's not the essential difficulty."
"Then what is? I do hope you'll get to the point soon, Lester. I have better things to do with my time than listen to your incessant whining. What is their problem?"