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Fortunately, her Merfest was scheduled for the same night which made it easier for him to resist the temptation.

Once they were seated at their table, Jayna asked, “So, what do you think of Kingdom of Tangaroa?”

Sid was grateful for the opportunity to focus their conversation on business. “I was impressed. They’ve really done a good job with the park, and I can definitely see how to apply a lot of things back at Realms of Neptune.”

“I know! I’m especially interested to see how that bubble ride works out. It looks like it will be a lot of fun. I only wish we had gotten here in time to see the benefit show.”

“Is that something we do at Realms? Shows to raise money?”

Jayna’s expression turned sour. “Not anymore. We used to before Carter took over and canceled all the park’s charitable activities.” Her eyes met his and his stomach did a little flip. “Emmaline says you are very service-minded. Do you think those activities are things you’d be willing to bring back?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

She shrugged. “They’re expensive, and it’s hard to quantify their return value.”

“Which is why short-sighted leaders are so quick to abandon them,” he said. She nodded in agreement, and Sid asked, “Are you interested in doing something for the Manutai Jubilee Service Day tomorrow?”

Her eyes grew wide, and a grin spread across her face. “I am definitely interested. What kind of service are we talking about?”

“Are you familiar with the Cerulean Order?” he asked.

Jayna shrugged. “I feel like I’ve heard of them, but that’s about it.”

“It’s a group of philanthropists intent on making a positive impact in the world. They’re one of the founders of the International Giving Tour, and they’re sponsoring two projects tomorrow: A beach cleanup and weeding a community farm. Which of those would you rather do?”

She deflated. “Don’t they have bots to do that kind of work?”

Her question struck a nerve, and he immediately felt defensive. “This isn’t so much about the actual work as it is about individuals providing service to the community. Here, I’ll show you.”

He reached into his pocket and took out the tiny projector-bot he used to give impromptu presentations and set it on the table. Jayna watched as little fans emerged from the small silver object and whirred to life. Her eyes widened as the tiny drone rose into the air and projected an image onto the table. The colors shifted as the projector adjusted to the pattern on the table’s surface and a decent image emerged.

Sid flipped through a series of pictures. “These are some of the Order’s projects at other Giving Tour events.”

She grinned at him, clearly impressed with his tech. But as she watched the images, her expression dimmed. After a moment she asked, “Where are the people?”

“What do you mean? These pictures are full of people.”

“I mean regular people. Not officials and dignitaries and rich toppers in designer work boots, but the people these projects are supposed to help. In all these pictures, I’ve seen maybe ten regular people, and they were probably brought in just for the photo op. Everything else is rich people building things that could be made by a machine, or working on things that could also be worked on by machines.”

Sid felt a sting at her judgment. He tried to muster up some indignation, but when it failed to materialize, he had to admit she was right. Her objection was something that had bothered him in the past, but he’d never defined it so clearly.

He snatched the projector-bot from the air and returned it to his pocket. “Okay, what would you do?”

“Me?” She thought for a moment. “I’d do a project where people are actually being served in a way that only other people can serve them. Something like…” Her voice trailed off and then her eyes widened. “I’ve got it.”

Her excitement piqued his interest. “What?”

She opened her mouth to speak but then shook her head. “Nah, you’d never do it.”

Curiosity surged through him. “What? Tell me?”

A devious look crept across her face. “Do you trust me?”

“No.” He regretted the bluntness of his denial, but it was the truth. Hoping to soften the blow, he said in Commander Laird’s voice, “I barely know you,”

“Smart man.” Then she grinned at him. “You trust Emmaline, though. Right?”

Sid nodded. “With my life.”