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Live Free or Die: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Monday, October 5, 2009 20:13 EDT



    “Fabet!” Wathaet commed as they cleared the gate. “Fabet! Is he in the Dragon’s Tears again?”

    “Don’t think so,” Drast replied. “I locked it up.”

    “Did you get the jug?”


    “Oh, hell,” Wathaet said as a customs cutter approached.

    “Ship Spinward Crossing. Heave to and prepared to be boarded.”

    “We’re getting hit by the nosies,” Wathaet commed. “Just stay cool, man.”

    “It’s all good,” Drath replied. “There’s no special import duty on this stuff.”

    “There will be if they see Fabet.”



    “You seem to be in compliance with all applicable regulations,” the customs bot said, dubiously. “You are, however, officially notified of note of seizure by the Onderil Banking Corporation for non-payment of mortgage on the Spinward Crossing. And you owe back payment for parking orbit charges of four hundred and eighty-four credits on Glalkod Station.”

    “I don’t have that on me,” Wathaet said. “I’ve got two and a half pounds of gold…”

    “Checking. That is acceptable to prevent immediate lock-down. Full payment is required before leaving parking orbit. Your ship is…required to go to holding area Z-A-Four pending further determination.”

    “I have thirty days to challenge the seizure order,” Wathaet said. He knew that one like the back of his hand.

    “Correct. Your ship cannot be seized for thirty days. However, it will be held in orbit until full payment is made of back charges on mortgage including any appropriate penalties and unpaid parking including levied fines.”

    “Fine, fine,” Wathaet said. “But I’ve got thirty days, right?”

    “That is correct,” the robot said, spitting out some forms and handing them over. “You are free to move to… Holding Area Z-A-Four. Have a nice day.”



    Wathaet didn’t even want to open up his hypernode link. He knew what it was going to look like. But he had to call a cab to get to the station since they wouldn’t even let them dock!

    “Captain Wathaet, this is Agent Girinthir representing the Onderil Banking Corporation…”

    As soon as his hypernode link was open everybody he owed money to knew it and their bots went to work.

    “I’ve got to make trade before you can get paid,” Wathaet commed back. “As soon as I can move my cargo you’ll get paid. I confirm that I have been contacted. Any contact in less than one week’s time will be defined as harassment.”

    “Very well, Captain Wathaet,” Agent Girinthir replied. “I see that you have officially accepted note of seizure. Your ship will not be…”

    “Got it,” Wathaet commed. “We’re done. Goodbye. Damnit.”

    That was a lot of bots.

    “Captain Wathaet, this is the Lrdrgl Company. You are three months behind on your…”

    “Damn!” Wathaet said, closing the call. “Vauroror Taxi…”

    “Captain Wathaet, this is the…”




    Fortunately, the taxi-bot was programmed to take metals in trade. That was one of the reasons he used Vauroror. They took any form of exchange and no questions asked.

    On the other hand, he couldn’t take the tubeway. He’d checked and all his bank accounts, even the ones he thought nobody knew about, were levied and emptied. Any money going in those was down a black hole never to return. So anything that required a hyperpay was out.

    That meant walking. Fortunately they didn’t charge for air for five days or the security bots would see if he could breathe vacuum.

    It took him about thirty minutes to reach Kolu’s. When the door dilated he took a deep whiff. What a fine perfume. And all the usual suspects were lined up at the bar.

    “Wathaet!” they chorused. “Where’s my money!” “You owe me a round, you welshing bastard!” “That corbot you sold me was defective!”

    “Glad to see you guys, as well!” Wathaet said. “Be with you in a minute!”

    “You have a hell of a lot of nerve showing your face in here!” Kolu bellowed from behind the bar. “Where’s my fifty credits?!”

    “I have something better,” Wathaet said cheerfully.

    “This had better be good,” Kolu said, suspiciously. “Let’s just say that the Gordont fire gems didn’t exactly take off. Especially since they all went out the day after you shipped out!”

    “This is good,” Wathaet said, sitting down and setting a bulb on the bar. “Put some in some water. Just a bit. I should let you try it straight.”

    “Be a fine day when something can get me drunk,” Kolu said, pouring a bit of the syrup into a cup and sniffing.

    “What is this stuff?” he commed a moment later. He couldn’t talk because his snout was stuck in the cup.

    “Dragon’s Tears,” Wathaet said. “It’s a rare and precious viand from a previously undiscovered planet.”

    “Like you’d take the chance on going through an unchecked gate,” Kolu said, shaking his head. “Damn, it’s got a kick, don’t it?”

    He pulled out a bunch of shot glasses, put a drop of syrup in the bottom of each then filled with water.

    “Here,” Kolu said, sliding the shots down the bar. “Try this stuff and see what you think.”

    “What is it?” Ingr asked, suspiciously.

    “Dragon’s Tears,” Wathaet said. “Try it. It’ll put hair on your back. Sorry, Gurcaur.”

    “Screw you, Wathaet,” the mangy Glatun said, taking a sip. “Holy Hell!” he added, dropping the shot. “Another if you please, bartender. That is fine stuff.”

    “Money on the bar,” Kolu said. “Five credits a shot.”

    “Five credits?” Ingr said. “You haven’t even bought it from Wathaet. Hey, Wathaet. You owe me, like, fifteen credits. Seventeen with interest.”

    “Give Ingr four for free, please, my host. And we need to talk trade.”

    “Shmirg,” Kolu said to the Rangora. “You’ve got the bar. Set ‘em up. Drop of this… Dragon’s Tears in each shot.”

    “Got it,” the saurian said. “Don’t know what you guys are getting so excited about. Try some sulfur petals!”



    “I am not paying seven hundred credits for a barrel of this stuff,” Kolu said. “No way, no how.”

    Everyone knew that Kolu owned about a hundred businesses on the station and the planet below. But he ran them all out of the dodgy little room behind the bar. And if he slept anywhere else nobody had found out about it. It was rumored that he had a pile of osmium under his bunk big enough to drive a battle cruiser.

    “Hey, you saw how they took it,” Wathaet said, topping up his glass.

    “And I’m not going to get so hammered I say yes. Four hundred credits for the barrel.”

    “Isn’t going to happen. I need a hell of a lot more than that to get my ship out of hock. Look, I’ll give you this. Six hundred. Give me half now. I need to go get the barrel and I need enough money to get it from the ship to here. You can have the jug I brought for free. You’re going to make more than six hundred off that jug alone. I’ll give you one barrel at six hundred. And when I get more I’ll keep selling you that stuff at six hundred. You know it’s going to catch on. I’m going to sell the rest of it at bid. But for you, my old friend, I’ll lock in the price.”

    “Five hundred. I think I’ve got that much in the drawer.”

    “Done. But I need it on a cash chip.”

    “You’re asking a lot… What?” he asked as Shmirg stuck his head through the door. The room was soundproofed. It was now apparent there was a lot of shouting in the bar.

    “You either need to get out here or call in Tugornc,” the Rangora said. “I can’t keep up.”

    “What do you mean you can’t keep up?” Kolu asked. “It’s just Ingr, Gurcaur, Hathan, Fandent and Bob. How much can they be drinking?”

    “It was just Ingr, Gurcaur, Hathan, Fandent and Bob,” Shmirg said. “But Ingr commed Mongogw and Hathan called his pair-brood and Fandent called his ship and… I need some help out here!”

    “So that’s five hundred, half now, half when I deliver and both on a chip?” Wathaet asked.

    “I’ll go get the chip.”



    “Holy hell,” Wathaet said as the tractor-bot stopped. There was a line outside of Kulo’s. Shmirg was now working the door, the saurian towering over the horde of Glatun.

    “Go on through, dude,” Shmirg said as Wathaet pulled the grav bar off the tractor. “Watch yourself. The party is in full swing.”

    “WATHAET!” about half the bar chorused as he pulled the barrel through the door. It was packed from side to side and most of them were hitting shots as fast as Tugornc could pass them out. There were two more Rangora Wathaet didn’t recognize circulating with shots. Kolu liked Rangora because they didn’t drink anything he stocked and most species didn’t give them crap no matter how drunk or stoned they were. The problem being when Rangora showed up for work already hammered. Then it was just call for security bots and clean up the damage.

    “Get that stuff in the back room, fast,” Kolu commed. “We’re nearly out and when we run out I’m afraid there’s going to be a riot!”



    “What kind of connection is this?” Kulo asked as Wathaet rotated the barrel up into a holder.“It’s called a screw,” Wathaet said. “Primitive planet. Figure it out. I’ve got three more containers of Dragon’s Tears. I’m going to head over to Thmmo and Uatha’s. If they haven’t heard about this they will soon. But I’m not selling it for five hundred credits, that’s for sure.”




    “Oh, hell,” Wathaet said as he stepped through the airlock. Fabet was passed out in the passageway. “Drast?”

    “Wazzip?” the purser commed.

    “Where the hell are you?”

    “Sec…Bzzzpt…unable to process transmission.”

    “Secure room,” Wathaet muttered.

    He went down the passage and was unsurprised to see the door wide open. The purser was lying on the ground in a puddle of syrup. Fortunately, he’d gotten the cock closed at some point. As Wathaet walked in the room the purser rolled over on his side and started licking the deck.

    “Oh, get up,” Wathaet said, pulling him to his feet. “I need you to… Take a shower for one thing. Curgo. That’s probably a couple of thousand credits of syrup you guys just drank! And spilled! And it’s coming out of your share!”


    “Never mind.”



    He got the purser and the engineer into their bunks, rekeyed the door to his own codes and got down to work. He’d dropped off bulbs of Dragon’s Tears at four more places. And he had enough money to placate most of his minor creditors. Not pay them off. Just placate them. The major ones were all on hold.

    He’d taken one barrel to Kulo’s. Drast and Fabet had broken into the one he’d been using for samples. But they couldn’t really drink all that much of the stuff. More had probably spilled on the deck. So call it two thirds left.

    Four and two thirds barrels. He dropped that for bid onto the hypernet. See what happens.



    “This is a rather unusual request Mr. Tyler.”

    Robert Lyle was a senior associate with Bertram, Bertram, Hudson and Slavens, a Boston law firm that had fought its first tort case in British court. He wasn’t quite sure about his newest client but when the CEO of Verizon calls and suggests that you arrange a meeting it was considered wise to do so. The conditions and subject, however, were bothersome.

    “While we do sometimes have clients who might have accidentally bent one of the numerous laws and regulations of the United States or international courts, we prefer…”

    “I’m not trying to break or bend the law,” Tyler said. “And I’m not sure I’m talking to the right person if you can’t even get my name straight. Tyler Vernon. All I want you to do is arrange some perfectly legal purchases. I simply don’t want those purchases to be reported as associated with me until they have all or mostly been completed. And they need to be distributed so as not to be obvious.”

    “This is quite a bit of land, Mr. Vernon, pardon me,” Lyle said. “And a large number of operating businesses. And you simply wish that… the owners be unaware?”

    “I need for everyone to be unaware,” Tyler said. “Totally confidential. I’m talking to you. You don’t even tell your people who is doing the buying. We’ll figure out some way to slush the money quietly. It’ll probably have to be through shell companies. As long as it is eventually reported to the IRS it’s no problem, right?”

    “Bit more than the IRS for this level of transaction,” Lyle said. “And we’re talking about a good bit of money.”

    “Yeah,” Tyler said. “Money’s not an issue. And your firm can’t make the purchases directly. I chose you because you work some very big deals and you can probably cloak the purchases. Three or four other firms, brokers, etc. All behind proprietary layers.”

    “If the government isn’t the issue…” Lyle said, looking puzzled. “Why are you cloaking these purchases?”

    “Oh, the problem’s the Horvath,” Tyler said. “It’s the Horvath we need to not associate these purchases with me. At least for a while. As long as possible.”

    “Now you are getting completely out of my field,” Lyle said. “Anything involving the Horvath has national, international, security issues.”

    “The government is generally aware of what I’m doing,” Tyler said. “And not against it to the point that they can find a policy with both hands. All I’m doing is engaging in honest trade. Now are you going to take the job or not? Obviously the commissions are going to be…”

    “Quite remunerative, yes,” Lyle said, musingly. “I’m sure we can manage this. As long as we are not in jeopardy of violating bar regulations. But I have to ask. Why do you want to own… how did you put it? ‘Every single square inch of land that can produce maple trees?’”

    “Sugar maple,” Tyler said with a smile. “That is, as they say, proprietary. And there are some qualifiers on it. Anything that is currently on the market, buy first. Then concentrate on things which have been traded in the last ten or fifteen years and corporate holdings. Get as many of the new crew out of the area as possible. At that point the price is probably going to be running up pretty solid and we’ll be hitting diminishing returns so the old families might start to sell. But try to keep other corporate entities out of the area.

    “Most important of all, I want you to buy one particular piece of property for the absolute best price you can get it. Which means it should be one of the first properties bought. Put the best person you can find on it. Research the target. Find vulnerabilities. Blackmail. Anything. Absolutely screw her.”


    “Yes,” Tyler said. “I especially want her land. Make sure you get it for a price that she’ll go for but still feels vaguely screwed. She’ll find out how screwed later. I’m not normally the sort of person to screw widows out of money but there are widows and widows. The name is Mrs. Angelina Cranshaw.”



    “We’re rich!”

    “We never have to work again!”

    “If I can keep you guys from drinking it all,” Wathaet said, sourly. “And we’ve got to do one more run to Earth. Then we’ll be rich.”

    Dragon’s Tears was good. There was no question of that. But mostly it was new and different. Despite trading with hundreds of different species and despite Glatun corporate departments and AIs that constantly strove to find ‘the hot new thing’, something truly new and different was rare.

    Six thousand credits a gallon, though, was just stupid. And it wasn’t even going to make it past Glalkod.

    “Think of it this way,” Wathaet said. “We can’t even afford to get drunk on it. And we’re sitting on enough portable cash that every crook in Glalkod station has got to be trying to think of a way to break into our hold.”

    “Egh,” Fabet said. “When do we make the transfers?” No one bar on Glalkod station had been able to buy their full cargo.

    “Tomorrow,” Wathaet said then shuddered. “Security bots on the way.”

    “Spinward Crossing, this is Athelkau. The value of your cargo has past non-secure storage threshhold. To prevent misadventure in the system you are being moved to secure docking bay One-One-Six-Dash-Alpha. Your cargo of Dragon’s Tears will be moved to high security storage pending transfer to purchasing parties. A charge of one hundred and ninety six credits will be added to your transfer fees. System overrides in five, four, three…” And the ship started moving out of its current parking orbit.

    Athelkau, the AI for Glalkod station, handled, well, everything. Parking, maneuvering, most transfers and commercial transaction assurance, air and water recycling and, notably, security. Athelkau saw all. You did not argue with Athelkau when it decided something needed to be done.

    “We’re surrounded,” Fabet squeaked.

    “Just stay cool,” Wathaet said. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

    “This time!” Drast pointed out. “And if the nosies get involved they’re bound to find something.”

    “Then let’s not give them a reason to get any more involved than necessary,” Wathaet said. “Athelkau, roger that override. Thanks. We were just discussing the security problem.”

    “My job is to stay one step ahead of problems,” Athelkau replied.

    Wathaet got the tickle for a priority hypernet call and sighed.

    “As my bots should have pointed out,” he commed, “all bids on Dragons Tears are closed…”

    “Captain Wathaet, this is Niazgol Gorku. I wonder if we could get together for a chat.”

    “What?” Fabet asked as Wathaet’s hair stood on end.

    “Uh, Trader Gorku. It’s, uh, a pleasure to com with you. Uh… I… yes… I…”

    “Your ship is being moved to a security area at the moment. Why don’t we have dinner on my yacht. I am, conveniently, parked right next to you. Isn’t that a surprise? We’ll be…neighbors.”

    No surprise at all. Gorku was certainly the richest person in the Glalkod system and consistently rated in the top five in the Federation. That he could get Athelkau to park the Spinward Crossing next to him was no surprise. That was how the system worked.

    The Glatun government was an enlightened plutodemocracy. There were various levels and branches of elected government which set general policy. Most of it was then administered by artificial intelligences like Althelkau. There were, of course, hosts of bureaucrats but most of them carried out tasks set by the AIs.

    But it was recognized when the basic documents were being developed that ‘them that have, gets.’ So part of the assumption was that people who were more economically advanced would do two things: wield more power and work to consolidate such power.

    The first was, in general, not a bad thing. Persons who have been raised to wield power are generally good at it. And the smart rich tend to train their children to be smart about being rich, getting more rich and generally tending the Federation as a garden.

    But not always and not always for the general betterment of the Federation. So there were various processes in the basic set-up that allowed for change, such as the election of officials that, at the end of the day, could override the wishes of the functional oligarchy of wealthy elites if enough non-elite Glatun felt it necessary. And the AIs were, specifically, programmed to create niches and openings that ‘have-nots’ could exploit if they were smart and ruthless enough. Thus they could be haves, some of the elites would slowly fall out of elite status and there was turnover.

    However, if someone was an elite, and Gorku was certainly one such, ‘suggesting’ to the AI that the Spinward Crossing would best be parked next to one’s yacht was no big deal. The surprise was that Gorku would take any direct interest at all.

    “Yes, sir,” Wathaet said, aloud. “I’d be glad to have dinner with you. What time?”

    “Twenty-three forty work for you?”

    “Twenty-three forty it is, sir,” Wathaet said, pulling at his trans-collar, nervously.

    “It’s a deal,” Gorku commed, cutting the call.

    “Your hair still isn’t going down,” Fabet said.

    “What’s up?” Drast commed.

    “I have to meet with… Niazgol Gorku,” Wathaet said.

    “Oh,” Drast commed. “You poor doomed bastard. We are so screwed.”



    “Are you enjoying the ndolul, Captain?”

    Gorku was a short-nosed Glod like Wathaet. Wathaet wasn’t prejudiced by any stretch of the imagination but about the only snotty stuck-up long-nosed Koorko he got along with was Drast so it was somewhat comforting.

    The two very large waiters were less so. They looked as if they were suckled on asteroids.

    “Great,” Wathaet said, taking another small bite. “Truly wonderful.”

    “Well, when one is rich one can afford good chefs,” Gorku said. “And proper ingredients. The blag has to be very fresh. I had a ship bring it in just this morning. The reason for the query is that you don’t seem to be enjoying it. Haven’t eaten much. I assure you I do not regularly descend to cannibalism and both the servers are quite gentle for Rangora.”

    “No problem at all, sir,” Wathaet said, trying to take a larger bite. No chance. All four stomachs were rejecting input.

    “I am, of course, interested in the Dragon’s Tears,” Gorku said, taking a sip of same. “Lovely stuff. I assume you bought it on Earth.”

    “Yes, sir,” Wathaet said, summoning just enough courage to defend never having to summon courage again. “And the Terran we bought it from has a binding contract with us!”

    “Five percent of all Dragon’s Tears subsequently sold by him to any Glatun or Glatun corporation,” Gorku said. “Would you like to hear the seven ways that I came up with to get around such a contract? That was before my AIs became involved.”

    “No, sir,” Wathaet said, his shoulders slumping.

    “Dear, dear Captain Wathaet,” Gorku said, bobbing his head. “I am not trying to steal your discovery. The same, however, cannot be said of my competitors. I am, rather, interested in Terra. Of course, I am interested in many things, you understand. But Terra is one of those. It has such potential and, of course, is quite close to Glalkod. Now that there is, in fact, something of worth to trade the potentialities increase. I simply wish to ensure that my companies are part of that potential. You understand?”

    Most of that potential, Wathaet thought to himself.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “What are your near term arrangements?” Gorku asked. “In regards to further shipments of Dragon’s Tears. Not what you plan on doing tomorrow with your money. I was a spaceman myself once.”

    “I’m to meet with my contact on earth at a remote location on two-thirty-eight at ten-forty,” Wathaet said, trying not to sigh. “He’s to have most of a hold’s worth of Dragon’s Tears.”

    “Do you know how much of his world’s supply that represents?” Gorku said. “We have identified it as a plant product, probably a sap. A sap of what is the great question. There are over nine dozen saps that are used for foods or industrial products on the planet.”

    “I do not, sir,” Wathaet said. “I will say that he asked me to involve people… such as you in trade, sir. He wants our ‘big boys’ as he said involved so they might get the government to intervene with the Horvath.”

    “Over Dragon’s Tears as a product, unlikely,” Gorku said, musingly. “But he’s apparently fairly smart. More likely if corporations are involved than, pardon, a small free trader. Although you will get wealthy quickly you don’t have the established contacts, the methods… Hmmm.” Gorku wrinkled his snout in thought.

    “If he’s that smart, he’s also not going to want to trade with a single corporation,” the financier said. “And he’ll want more than trash atacirc.”

    “I think he wants to trade for credits and buy atacirc here on Glalkod,” Wathaet said.

    “Not impossible to arrange,” Gorku said. “If we have regular trade with earth, going around the Horvath of course, then establishing a commercial hypernode is a necessity. Very well. Meet with your… contact. Make him aware that you have contacted corporations. When you return we will have arrangements completed to establish regular trade. And as contracted, you get five percent.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Wathaet said.

    “Less fees, of course,” Gorku said with another wrinkle of his nose. “And the government will quickly designate it as a luxury good which means higher taxes. But I think we will all make more than a bit of profit and that is to the good is it not?”


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