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Freehold: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Thursday, September 18, 2003 00:02 EDT



    "If a man neglects to enforce his rights, he cannot complain if, after a while, the law follows his example." -Oliver Wendell Holmes

    It was amazing how fast things were accomplished in a society run by commercial concerns and not much else. The Torchy that had brought her this far docked at a tether. They swam through into a shuttle cabin and strapped in. Torchy cut loose and they were already headed for the surface, but without thrust. She asked for an explanation.

    Kevin replied, "Let me think how to sum it up briefly... wow… okay, let me try this: It's called a 'skywheel.' It's two tethers extending outward from their mutual center of mass. The whole assemblage cartwheels from high orbit to almost ground level, I think about twenty kilometers. Cargo or shuttles are attached to the ends and release at the far end either near ground, near surface rotation speed of the planet, or in orbit at high velocity to ship out. Where it's released determines the vector outward. Does that make sense?" She nodded and he continued, "We pop things up to the receivers on magnetic launchers or by direct thrust, since we don't have enough launchers yet. It's cheap to operate, minimizes pollution and easy to schedule trips without waiting for launch windows. There are six huge ones throughout the system, rotating in free space. We use them to ship industrial products around the Halo. There aren't any in Sol system, because the UN safety bureaucrats are convinced they're dangerous. They're worried about one breaking and crashing, but we've never had a problem. The theoretical strength is about ten times the actual load usage." Kendra had heard of the concept, but hadn't realized any were in use. She nodded politely and stared in terrified fascination at the view. Safe, certainly, but what if one did crash from accident or malice? How large a footprint would it wipe out on the planet? Several hundred kilometers? At what velocity? 10,000 kilometers per hour? More? The starscape moved rapidly up, the planet rose at an appalling rate. After a while, the direction had noticeably changed and the rate appeared to have diminished. There was a clank as the shuttle detached and the rest of the ride was a straightforward touchdown. They rolled out on a long runway bleached white in the Sun, or rather, Iota Persei, she reminded herself, and she squinted against the glare. Shortly, they pulled up to a terminal.

    The hatch opened and more glaring daylight streamed in, along with local air. Kendra waited for the crowd to thin and stood, wobbling. She made her way forward, gripping couchbacks for support and squinted again as she entered the tube. Light from Iota Persei poured through the clear roof. It was 2.3 times as bright as the Sun, she recalled, although that was diminished somewhat by the greater distance Grainne was from Iota, 1.5AU. It didn't seem that much brighter, but had a glare at the blue end of the spectrum that hurt her eyes, despite polarization.

    At the exit to the terminal, she suddenly felt dizzy. Grabbing a rail for support, she remembered Kevin warning her about the atmospheric pressure-about seventy percent of Earth's, with only eighty percent of the oxygen. She was hyperventilating, or not getting enough, or something, and she held her breath for a moment to regain her equilibrium. He took her arm to guide her as they walked through the tunnel.

    She entered the terminal and looked around. She'd had no idea what to expect and had been prepared for rough hardpan dirt or facilities like a second-tier city would have on a commercial route. Instead, Jefferson Starport was small, but as modern as anything in an Earth national or regional capital. All construction was new, everything was so clean it gleamed, and she was impressed. Perhaps things would be better than she'd expected.

    The exit was to her left and down a level, according to glowing signs placed in easy view. She followed Kevin to a slideway and took it. Several other passengers merged from other orbital, ballistic and local flights along with them, and she studied them while Kevin pulled out a phone and punched a button. "Sergeant Sanchez," he announced into it. "We're here. Sure. Out."

    The travelers' modes of dress didn't appear to follow any real style. She very carefully kept her eyes averted from the man in a backless breechcloth and then had to look away again from a pubescent girl who was topless. Some wore full-length robes, several light-colored coveralls and two what she considered normal business dress. The spaceport apparently had tremendous security, as she could see uniforms in every direction. Three people near her were apparently plainclothes officers and were wearing guns.

    Then she realized that undercover officers wouldn't display guns. Also, all three people carried different guns, rather than a standard issue type, and the holsters were garishly decorated. She recalled the embassy, where guards and staff walked around armed. Apparently, the whole society was like that. As this thought worked through her brain, she realized that there were other people armed, also.

    My God! They let people swing guns around the fucking spaceport!? Sweat broke out all over her and she kept looking around nervously. She calmed a little when she realized that the soldiers present carried the same rifles she'd seen up close a few days before and in use on Mtali and had them loaded. Then she thought about what a firefight inside the terminal would look like and quickened her pace to get outside.

    Outside, under a large concrete awning, she found a place near a pillar at Kevin's suggestion, dropped her bag, which felt much more than 18% heavier in the local gee field, and waited. She wanted to sit and rest her feet, which were hurting already, but there wasn't a seat nearby. She watched the traffic; vehicles brighter and more garish than anything on Earth and presently, one of them pulled up next to her. Kevin said, "I think that's your ride."

    A man climbed out the driver's door, tall, olive skin tanned almost black, straight black hair with gray at the temples, slender but rippling with muscle like a panther. "Kendra Pacelli?" he asked.

    "Uh, yes," Kendra agreed. He motioned and she opened the passenger door and sank into a seat built for fast maneuvers. The driver continued, "Pleased to meet you, Kendra. I'm Citizen Hernandez and I'll be handling your case. How was the trip?"

    "Scary. I don't know when I'll feel safe again," she admitted.

    "We'll see what we can do. I should warn you that society is very different here. People will be happy to help you, but you must ask. Privacy is very important and you'll be left alone unless you do ask. I have arranged a meeting with Calan Employment, to find you work and I'm working on housing. I'll point out a few landmarks as we head there. My office is within walking distance of his and I'll see you afterwards." He turned to Kevin and nodded acknowledgment. "Thank you, Sergeant," he said and made a notation in Kevin's comm. Kevin nodded at him, waved at Kendra, turned and left as Hernandez shut her door and eased back into the driver's seat.



    They were airborne in seconds, diving into traffic flow, and Hernandez steered manually. They were passed often, as he flew slow enough to give her a tour. He gave her a few details as they flew. Jefferson was what she would call a small town, but with a downtown. Population was only about two million, and this was the third largest city on the planet, theoretically the capital. That simply meant that the Citizen's Council Building was here, he explained.

    "Not that we ever use it, other than on holidays," Hernandez told her. "We hold all conferences by vidlink." The building was pretty, though. It was styled a bit like an Egyptian temple. She couldn't say much for the view, in a sharp bank to her side of the car, with nothing between her and the ground except a few hundred meters of empty air.

    She'd had no idea what to expect and had provincially assumed that Earth had a monopoly on modernity. The flight gave lie to that theory. Buildings towered hundreds of meters above their flight level, ranging from straight older towers to modern sculpted designs. They gleamed in ivory, gold, copper and less familiar colors. It was much like an equivalent Earth city. She recalled a joke she'd heard with the punchline, "Grainne? What planet is that on?" It seemed silly in this context.

    The skyway was insane, most vehicles apparently on manual, most flown at high speed and with lots of dodging and weaving. They took it on a straight path downtown and braked hard before landing on a ramp. The streets below were nightmarish. While well laid, well paved and logically designed, it appeared that traffic laws were optional. Reckless driving was apparently the norm. Kendra just hoped it was also "wreckless." Hernandez darted in and out of traffic and finally pulled in next to an older and typical office block. Kendra relaxed her white-knuckle grip and was shown up to a second floor suite.

    "I'm Tom Calan," the only person present told her, shaking hands. "Have a seat and let's see what we can find." She took one of two client seats, looked around the spare but neat office and turned back to look at her hosts.

    Hernandez nodded a greeting to Calan and left, saying to Kendra, "Call me if there's any trouble. I'll see you later."

    Kendra sat at a console and answered the questionnaire displayed, asking Calan for elucidations where necessary. Name: Kendra Anne Pacelli. Address: To be Determined. Resident Number: TBD. Height: 185 centimeters. Mass: 73 Kilos. Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Blue. (Capture pic). Physical Limitations: 25 Kilos max lifting. Skills and Training: General Bachelors, North America Public Education System. Logistics Specialist, UN Peace Force. Previous occupations, in detail: She listed her work in the 43rd Logistics Support Function.

    "That's it," she said when finished.

    Calan pulled it to his screen and read. Then he frowned. "There isn't a lot here to work with," he said, doubtfully.

    "I realize there may not be anything in inventory or a related area," Kendra acknowledged. "But I can do loading, stocking or whatever, until something administrative shows up."

    "The problem is," Calan explained, "That all the light jobs get snatched up by juveniles looking for spending money, veterans get preference for technical positions and unskilled heavy jobs are rare, with the industrial base we have. If you can lift fifty kilos regularly in this climate, I can find a few, but they don't pay well."

    "Fifty?" She repeated, shocked. "No, not for very long."

    "That is the detail. I can recommend a couple of prospects that usually aren't hiring, but will probably make an exception for you. They both offer training. Cavalier Enterprises and Bellefontaine."

    "What would I be doing?"

    "Cavalier Enterprises is one of the most respected escort services in Jefferson. They offer dancers, modeling, escorts for business or social functions, massage and exotic sex fantasies. The Bellefontaine is a club that offers erotic dancing and they specialize in dancers with rare or off-world looks."

    Kendra was silent in amazement. A chill shot down her spine and all the way to her left heel. She opened her mouth twice and finally got out, "No."

    "They are both excellent companies," Calan stated simply. "I occasionally visit the Bellefontaine myself."

    I'll bet you do, Kendra thought. She wished as hard as she could, but the man refused to fall over dead. Outwardly, she simply shook her head.

    "They do provide training," he repeated. "And the pay is excellent, with good benefits, plus tips."

    "NO!" Kendra said firmly, feeling dizzy. Her breath was ragged and her pulse raced.

    Calan shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't have anything else. You have listed no marketable skill."

    Kendra took a deep breath. "I want to see citizen Hernandez," she said.

    Shrugging again, Calan said, "We can see him. I don't know what you expect him to do." He stood up and gestured for the door.

    Outside, he led her quickly into the bright afternoon Iolight. They strode through an architectural dream that Kendra would have stopped to admire had she noticed. She thought about making a break for it, but she had no assets and she still had a tracer implanted. The few blocks to Hernandez's office seemed an eternity and her pulse had slowed only slightly by the time the Citizen's secretary had ushered them into his office. She was panting from both exertion and fear.

    Hernandez bowed briefly and inquired, "I understand there is a problem?"

    "Hell, yes!" Kendra exploded, tears streaming. "This...individual is trying to tell me that I have a choice of stripper or whore. If that's what's here, then you can send me home and I'll take my chances with prison."

    "Going back without a bond is out of the question," Hernandez replied, while looking inquiringly at Calan.

    Calan was not paying attention. "The job is safe, well paid and provides free training. No one in a non-service field is going to pay for unskilled grunt labor-"

    "Quiet," Hernandez said softly. Calan obeyed.

    Beginning again, Calan said, "I offered her the best that is available. If that doesn't work, I can only suggest a delay-on-credit and wait for something more to her taste."

    "Oh, so I can run up a debt and be a company girl-"

    "If you-"

    They both raised their voices and resumed the argument. Hernandez interrupted at about half their volume, "Calan, sit down!" he turned slightly and continued, "Pacelli, sit down!"

    They did as he ordered, Kendra panting with terror.

    Hernandez looked from one to the other, stood up and headed for a bar. "Ms Pacelli, before we begin, would you like something to drink?"

    "No, thank you," she replied icily, trying to calm herself.

    Hernandez shrugged and tapped orders for himself and Calan. He passed a filled tumbler to Calan and took the stack of hard sheets he held.

    Hernandez raised his glass and sipped while glancing through the sheet. Finally, he said, "I don't see any problems here," and Kendra nearly fainted before he added, "that we can't resolve. I'm looking for...ah, here." He turned the sheet around, indicated a line and said, "We have a misunderstanding of terms. Ms Pacelli, all you have listed as far as skills is your military training for logistics."

    "That's the only training I have, Sir," she said.

    "As far as formal training. While credentials are a plus, they are neither common nor required here. You should list everything you feel competent to do, even if you do not have formal instruction."

    "Oh!" she exclaimed, considering. "I've done some drafting. A bit of bookkeeping. I took mathematics as far as calculus and differential equations. And I have run a few machine tools, but not recently."

    Hernandez nodded. "Any gardening?"

    "Yes, we used to grow vegetables and flowers, before the city annexed our burb."

    "The city has a groundskeeper's slot," he said. "It hasn't even been put up for contract yet, although," he turned to Calan, "if she takes it, we'll credit your fee."

    After a moment, Calan nodded. "Fine with me."

    "'Groundskeeper,'" Hernandez quoted, "'Mowing, pruning, weeding, trimming, cleaning of park property, repair of pavements and buildings, designing, planning and planting of seasonal decorative displays, plumbing of sanitary facilities and fountains, maintenance of vehicles and equipment, arrangement of seating and tentage for events.' I think you could do most of that and the rest you could pick up on the job. Pay is nineteen thousand eight eighty-seven, which means your buy-out is between two and five years, depending on rate. I would suggest doing three point five for now and you can adjust it in a few weeks if you wish. Interested?"

    Kendra thought for a few moments, finally asking, "What's the fine print say?"

    "The city is buying your contract, obviously. If it decides to sell or close your position, you have the option of transferring or rehiring or buying out. You may buy out at any time on ten days notice for balance due. You may rehire at any time on ten days notice if an employer will buy out the balance. There is an escape clause for emergencies, which says that you may be dismissed without notice at no further obligation to you, if the city cannot fund your position-act of war, act of nature type of thing. Standard wording, don't expect that to happen."

    She considered briefly. Five years in debt. Actually, that didn't sound too bad. She said, "Okay, I'll take it."

    "Excellent," Hernandez smiled, handing her the contract to read and sign. It said, in remarkably simple language, exactly what he had told her. She signed it. Looking up, she said, "Thank you." Turning to Calan, she said, "I'm sorry for losing my temper." She didn't feel very sorry, but she did think it would help to be mannerly. No need to create enemies.

    "No apology," he replied, speaking as stiffly as she had. "You were scared and I neglected to consider your background. I don't often deal with immigrants. None of us do, what with the cost involved." He stood, bowed and left.

    "And you're a mercenary bastard," Hernandez said to the closed door. "He gets paid on commission," he explained as he turned to Kendra. "Those are excellent paying jobs, because they require good training, looks to go with it and the right personality. It's hard to find people who are qualified. And I'm surprised they'd take an indent, as they are scrupulous on their ethics. But if you took the job voluntarily, he stood to make about three times what he is getting from this one. To be fair, the lower paying jobs wouldn't be worth the time you'd put in and his commission would have been even lower, of course. Sorry for putting you through that, but he was next on the rotation. All that said, if I'd thought he'd stoop that low, I would have warned you and I do apologize."

    Kendra breathed deeply, nodded and asked, "Could I accept that drink, now? And thank you, Sir." She grinned weakly. It would take a while to get through this. She had a sudden mental picture of her being left on the streets to "consider" her position; homeless, without assets, in a strange society where everyone was armed. Or would Calan and his cronies simply have dragged her off, had they known she'd object? She wanted to believe Hernandez, but she vowed to stay alert. This was not a refuge for the meek.

    "My pleasure. You will need to arrange for sufficient life insurance to cover your contract. Technically, you should do that before you leave, but I think a day or two to shop around is a decent gesture. Call me with an account number when you've arranged it."

    In a few minutes, calls had been made, data exchanged and Hernandez advised Kendra, "I've located some possible apartments for you. The cheapest is two hundred a month, the top is five hundred." He indicated images on three screens. "The cheap one is in a run down area and is a long walk from the park. The expensive one would be a bit of a squeeze for you but is a very nice place. I recommend this one at three ninety. It's quite close, a decent neighborhood and only six years old. It's a bach, but roomy as bachelors go."

    "I'll trust your judgment, if I can have the weekend to change my mind if there is a problem," she said, sipping the wine. It was quite good. She kept herself from tossing it down to steady her nerves.

    "Under the circumstances, I think the landlord will agree. A Citizen's request carries weight." He turned again to the phone and secured the landlord's consent.

    Finishing the call, he turned back, "All that's left is the Oath of Responsibility. It's a legal requirement," he explained, "And also a rather important occasion to many people. If you wish, you can take it at evening court, publicly and formally or I'll have my exec witness now."

    "Can we just do it now? I don't like formal events."

    "Certainly," he agreed, pressing a button. "If you change your mind later, you can have a court ceremony anyway."

    Hernandez handed Kendra a slip of paper as the receptionist came in. He spoke to her, saying, "Hi, Patty, we need you to witness the Oath of Responsibility." She nodded and agreed and he turned to Kendra, continuing, "You need to stand at attention, and recite the Oath from the card. At the end you may affirm on your honor or make a religious oath of your choice."

    "This makes me a citizen? Resident, I mean."

    "It makes you an independent resident, legally an adult. Read it over, it means exactly what it says."

    She glanced over the words, nodded, then took a deep breath and stood at attention. She recited from the card, "I, Kendra Anne Pacelli, before witness, declare myself an adult, responsible for my actions, and able to enter contract. I accept my debts and duties as a Resident of the Freehold of Grainne." Shifting slightly, she finished, "So help me God," and crossed herself.

    "Done without pomp and speeches. Very well said," Hernandez acknowledged, "and congratulations. Now. Please be aware that if you desert your contract, a bounty can be placed on you. Once brought in, you would be required to pay the bounty and interest and finish your contract with a prisoner's transceiver that won't let you through any 'port security. I don't think you're the type to need that warning, but you should be aware of it." Kendra shuddered at the thought of wearing such a thing while working as an "Exotic Hostess," or whatever they called the job at the smut club. She still wasn't over that.

    Kendra nodded, turned as Patty took her hand and congratulated her before leaving.

    "Well, that's it, then," Hernandez told her. "Here's your Residency ID plate, a credchit from First Planetary and a cash advance. If you wish to change accounts, feel free." He handed her items and adminwork. "This is your contract and the code to your apartment. Address is here," he indicated a scrawl on a map, "And this is the park garage. You need to be there Rowanday at three. It's the weekend, so you have three days to look around. This is my home code, if you have an emergency. Your place and the garage are both walking distance, so that'll save you on transport." He handed her another print, saying, "Here's a calendar for the next month, with your schedule marked. Any questions at the moment?"

    She hesitated, still amazed at the speed with which things were happening. "No," she replied cautiously, "I think I understand." She was grateful he was such a professional. What a place of contrasts.

    "Good," Hernandez smiled. "Do call if there's a problem. Good luck," he finished, bowing briefly.

    She returned the gesture as Patty showed her out. She retrieved her bag from the receptionist's office and left.

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