Jonnie finally cuts to the chase and asks why the Selachee are here. Dries explains that the sixteenth universe, which is to say our universe, was the last to be discovered around twenty millennia ago, and hasn't been fully mapped yet.
Take a moment to laugh at the idea of completely mapping one universe, let alone over a dozen.
Anyway, after the Psychlo government's surveyors found one of NASA's probes and followed it back to Earth, the aliens claimed its title based on their right of discovery, sold the rights to Intergalactic Mining, who took out a loan from the Galactic Bank to pay for it, as well as a second mortgage to cover military expenses for the invasion.
Jonnie is visibly upset upon learning that the Gray Men financed the gas drones, and Lord Voraz assures him that "It is just business. The bank tends to banking and the customers tend to their own affairs. It does not mean the bank was ever hostile to you. Actually we are not hostile now. This is all just routine. Ordinary banking business."
I guess this fits with the Brigantes' backstory of a military coup being financed by international businesses. Bankers, psychologists, doctors, politicians, journalists... is there any profession Hubbard approves of? He seems to like soldiers, at least. Probably because he was one for a bit, at least until that whole "unauthorized live fire exercise in Mexican waters" thing.
Anyway, the Selachee insist that the mortgage on Earth still stands despite the war and the change in planetary ownership, so the only question is who will be paying it. That's why they called the conference and the ceasefire - it looks like the humans are holding on for the moment, so the Grays are going to serve a Notice Of Delinquency to the world government. If they can't pay, then Earth gets auctioned off and its population either exterminated or sold as slaves.
Jonnie suggests that any aliens trying to take Earth will find it difficult, but Dries the regional manager assures him that the forces the humans have held off are "just a buzzing of insects" compared to a proper invasion, and that there are too few humans using too poor quality of weapons to survive. He has completely forgotten about Earth's ability to teleport planet-destroying superbombs to anywhere in the universe, it would seem.
So the world government has a week to come up with 40,960,217,605,216 credits to cover Earth's debt, though the Grays are willing to accept a down payment of five trillion and come up with a payment plan. Earth's current funds stand at just over two billion. And that's our final obstacle before the story's over - making a bank payment.
Strangely enough, the plot summary on the book jacket only mentions the struggle against "the invincible might of the alien Psychlo empire," not humanity's struggle to pay the bills. Wonder why.
Shortly after posting my summary of the last chapter, I realized that a statement I made about Psychlos not using birth control wasn't quite correct. But that'll be explained later.
Back to Chapter Four