BOOK ONE - DIE!
CHAPTER TWO - REGENCY
The spaceport's outside Tao City proper, so scubs rushing to rip cargo out of the belly of Aegelweiss are helmeted; natives can survive awhile in the low-oxygen, high alkaline "'mo" of this planet... some longer than others... but can't work very well, for the distraction of breathing enough rancid, unprocessed air in and out to go on living (the planet’s ammonia and gaseous hydrochloric and hydrofluoric content hovers at the higher end of the habitability spectrum). Bales and boxes of cargo being busily transferred into the bowels of enormous hydrotrucks, some of them half as long as a pukkaball field. Doilies and delicacies, dried morsels in vacuum that spring back to life when hydrated... batteries, gems and spices and mail for the backwards-looking denizens of Tao. Parcels and infocubes from family and friends across a half a galaxy. Even... Turpin discovered in the hold during the voyage... an actual letter, inscribed in and sealed in pulp, and... scented! An epistle of devotion, no doubt, and resisting the impulse to rip it open and devour its purloined contents proved surprisingly easy. Turpin is young, filled with wonder of and appreciation for occasional manifestations the sacred common to many young snakers, sentiments that inevitably wither under years of danger, boredom and cynicism.
Umbarger and Captain Munson are locked in fevered argument with the masked and heatsuited groundlings on the unheated and bare tarmac when Broonzy and Turpin take deep, final breaths of sim-air and shove out of the transport. Die's atmosphere assails their skin like fumes of a thousand thousand old antedispersal outhouses; so cold that piss freezes before it shatters on the ground. They have only the Company's shoddy flight jackets over their scrubs - second-hand, and begrimed with advertising. Gulping great gulps of thin, rancid atmosphere, they hover at the periphery of the quarrel, see a sort of weasel-man who appears to be the over-Commander of the bureaucrats shove his clipboard against Munson's chest.
"Go ahead, call your Company... see if I give a tikken's arse. That vehicle's unsafe, and it's grounded until the Regency says otherwise. I got forty-one critical violations, hundreds of minor ones..."
"And the rest of my cargo?" Munson asks. To a man... liberally spliced with weasel, rat, jackal and other noxious, nose-twisting traits... the Commander and his bureaucrats smirk. "Your Regency's a pack of thieves!"
"They make the laws, we enforce 'em. Maybe we should take a closer look at your papers and those of that rawth you call a crew. I'm sure there's something irregular, there..."
"Wait until we contact the company," Umbarger pipes up, pointing a long, anthropoid finger at the bureaucrats. "They have connections all the way back to Terra... plenty of 'em in Novo Brasilia..."
"The other company's got a legation on Parrach. Faq? They've got the swag in this Ennead... your people want to make some sort of galactic hash out of it, they know what to do. You care to wait out the outcome in a cell," the Commander leers upwards... for Munson tops him by a head... "it can be arranged. Otherwise, get your stink out of here..."
"Demon!" Munson scowls...
"Been called plenty of names. Thing is..." and he nods to his uniformed security, who've removed their gibbs from their holsters, "...you intend on doing anything about it?"
"I will accept your suggestion, howsoever under protest, awaiting further orders" replies Captain Munson, turning towards Umbarger and raising a bushy eyebrow to Broonzy and Turpin, skulking beyond. "This is what he is. This is how business is done in the Seventh Ennead."
"You're trespassing, Captain," the bureaucrat presses his advantage. "This spaceport's for official business, and you're not on business anymore. That's the way out, after you've handed over the registration tickets for this pile of rawth..."
"And its cargo," Broonzy says, but under his breath to Turpin, standing, fascinated, on the tarmac, eyes tearing with the bad air. "They'll impound it, sell it off to the friends, claiming a health risk. Case makes its way to Galactic Court in twenty, thirty soys, the Company might recover the price of the sale. Or not, depending on who's stacked the Court by then..."
have something to say?" the Commander turns towards them... weasel-ready,
in case one of the snakers has a gibb
under his scrubs. "No? You can pick up your tickets at the
removes a sheaf of papers, advancing on the Commander suddenly, as if to strike
him, but lets the documents fall to the tarmac.
The bureaucrat... braver than he looks, Turpin realizes... makes no move
to pick them up, and a desultory wind blows the top ticket away. The Captain of the soon-to-be former Aegelweiss
motions towards his crew, and they march, single-file, through a dishonor-guard
of thugs and Regency officials into
"Doesn't trust the coms in this place... I wouldn't, either," Broonzy remarks.
The lead driver's a canine-simian hyde in the headwrappings of an Old Believer. "The Yasrick," Munson commands. "Hotel entrance, not the casino."
"Yasrick passengers pay in advance," the driver scowls. "Thirty-two soys, Regency, for the lot of you..."
"Take thirty-five," Munson snarls, "and not a lum over, or I'll rip your throat open. And turn up the jammin' air..."
driver mutters something to himself... a prayer to Rassoul
or, perhaps, a curse against cheap outlanders, but swipes the Captain's
personal card all the same, and... when it
validates... even adjusts the oxygen box.
As the vehicle lifts, slowly, swooping away towards the distant domes
and spires of
Munson has squeezed his bulk into the front seat of the taxi, crowding and intimidating the driver into ignoring his passengers, or at least pretending to. "Got a tiny problem with the Company's finances," he turns to apologize, "they won't authorize any advances without the kosh from Customs, here, ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Ain't jammin' you, though, you're all my guests... on my personal account... until the Company straightens things out.
“Know when a planet is rawthed-up,” Broonzy muses, staring out the window. “When the words for years and words for money are the same rathin’ words.”
“Time is money,” the Captain grunts.
"They'll go to Regency justice to sort things out?" Turpin suggests, hopefully...
"More likely give up one of them other company birds locked down in friendly territory," Umbarger scoffs, "probably in the First or Fourth Ennead. Happens all the time! Never did... fifteen, twenty soys back, but the Regency's been rotten from the inside, ever since..."
"That's enough!" Captain Munson warns him and the driver speeds blissfully along over the thin, metal rail bisecting a wasteland of reddish-orange rocks and dust, pretending to hear and understand nothing. Now and again, one of Die's domed, agricultural compounds looms up, then vanishes, but Tao City appears suddenly... as if, perhaps, Turpin has fallen asleep, dreaming of better places elsewhere where the 'mo doesn't reek of mushrooms and hydrocarbons. The planetary capital is guarded by several concentric, clear domes with airlocks, through which the hovertaxi passes after paying a toll at each. From this approach, the architecture of the city bears distinct likeness to an electrical or petroleum processing facility although, at its street level, the unvarying shabby utility of urban outskirts all over the galaxy predominates.
The taxi makes a left turn at the second intersection of the metal rails, then a right. The structures grow taller, older, less functional - coated with filth that, for its greater age, sprouts presumptions among the fungi and scaly barnacle-like growths that attach themselves to thick, red stone comprising most of the buildings. The Yasrick yawns on a street of shops, nightclubs and provincial casinos - the motley creatures scurrying to and fro seem well-dressed, but there is a distinct, shabby ambience to the fashions of persons, as well as its architecture... a dated quality of a galactic backwater, a flea-market street where qualities come to settle years late, mostly at second-hand.
Al here, now. Just Al... don't mind my interrupting. Rawth like that happens at the Spaceport all the time; rest of the Spaceports all over the galaxy too, I guess. Bunch of gangsters, the Regency and the corprocacies too, always testing each other, changing the rules. Full o'rawth! Always been that way, always will. Most of the taxis and trucking companies are owned by the local Regents, or friends, or relatives, too, that's why the Spaceport's so far out of Tao City that the mag don't go there. World o'rawth, galaxy of broken promises. Don't need me to tell you. What happens next - well, that's just an old, sad song. Older than time, sadder than a kitten on the magway. It's no accident that they call the rawthin’ planet Die.