The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 5, Meeting a younger Tom
Cue Dramatic Organ Music.
When last we left our heroes, we were on a nondescript little planetoid orbiting a red sun 30 light years outside the Terraform Reach who's chief virtue (to us) is that no one was likely to go there in the 3000 years between our "standard" time and the 56th century, when Aelwe managed to get himself sold into slavery.
Without further ado, we set out from the planetoid for Moncair, which Tom told us would be a good place to get acclimated to the local customs, find out what's changed in the last 30 centuries and sell our trade goods for contemporary currency. Enroute, we amuse ourselves with additional games of "Ooze and Go Seek" and other training.
On the morning of the 17th, the Nones drops out of hyperstate and informs us that we've arrived at Moncair. We contact the Moncair Space Port Authority and are directed to pad 94 without any trouble. As we're heading toward the spaceport, Dafnord connects into the planetary net and finds the Moncair-Wide-Web. After a few moments, the Nones locates and loads a compatible browser. The local net is conveniently organized for the visitor with entries for relevant government agencies, hotels and other listings a traveler is likely to be interested in. Noting that we've been cooped up in a small space ship for four weeks, Dafnord asks if we'd like to get rooms at a hotel. Accommodations are available in a wide range of luxury and price. Morniesul and Markel pipe up with the idea of camping out. This has potential. It would be cheaper than staying at a hotel. We might even let the dragon out for a jaunt in it's normal size The spaceport is at the edge of the city, since peo! ple tend not to like the noise and hazard of large pieces of equipment in th e air above them, so we'd be near the ship. Strangely, there are no campgrounds listed in the Moncair-Wide-Web....
According to the web page on the spaceport, there's an Assessor's office. It's conveniently listed right next to the Customs office. The Moncair Ministry of Identities doesn't have an office at the spaceport, but there's easy access on public transportation. While the Web page doesn't come right out and say it, it's clear that they'll be glad to let us be anyone we care to be. We could get to like this place.
We land and send a note to Customs to come visit us. Having been cooped up for four weeks in a small space ship, we go outside to wait for the Customs inspector come. After a brief wait, the customs agent rolls up in a spiffy little runabout, wearing a royal blue over canary yellow uniform with a curious emblem on the breast and carrying a clipboard. Since Salimar is trained as a liaison, she greets the official.
The customs officer seems briskly business-like. She introduces herself as Officer Loressa and asks if any names are available, Salimar says no. Giving Salimar a look, Kate introduces herself as Katherine Carter. Robbie introduces himself as Mr. Roberts. Morniesul gives a complete genealogy going back three generations. Markel introduces himself as "Markel the Dragonrider" which certainly gives the customs officer pause. Salimar starts explaining about names. After a few minutes, Officer Loressa explains that neither she nor the government of Moncair care what we call ourselves. She gives us a number and explains that we should use the number for customs matters. Case closed.
Since she's done with the preliminary paperwork, Officer Loressa asks permission to board. Salimar waves her in through the open airlock. Inside, Dafnord is busy stowing things that were out of place; housecleaning - clearly NOT trying to hide anything. The customs agent quickly scans the hold with a portable holo-recorder. Some of the ephemera puzzle her, but obviously she's used to people showing up with strange cargoes. Once she's completed the scan, she asks us if we want to take advantage of the Spaceport Assessor's Office. If we'd like, the Assessor can come out to our ship as soon as the Customs paperwork is filed. We agree and she gives us a set of directions to the visitor's center, the assessors office and the Planetary Ministry of Identities.
Since we seem to be good friends at this point, we ask Officer Loressa which of our trade goods are likely to fetch a good price. The cheese is a definite hit. The snow globes aren't.
As we head back to the airlock, we tell Officer Loressa that we were hoping to economize by camping out instead of staying in a hotel, but we can't seem to find any campground listings in the net. Perhaps the land beyond the spaceport is a public park? She's a bit puzzled at the concept of camping out. We explain, and she remarks that we're welcome to "camp out", but we should be sure to take warm clothing and our oxygen pills. The atmosphere thins rapidly as you climb out of the valley that contains the city. Oh, and don't worry too much about the crabs. They're scavengers, but there hasn't been a recorded incident of a crab attacking a human in over 200 years. Of course, the locals generally don't camp out...
We thank Officer Loressa for her advice as she climbs into her runabout. She glances at her "clipboard" and tells us that the Assessor will be by in two hours. She tells us that we should have plenty of time to stroll around the terminal, if we'd like to, and then drives to her next assignment. We lock up the Nones and head off to the Visitor's Center, leaving the dragon to guard the ship. We show the attendant our slip of paper from Officer Loressa and are ushered through a dull white tunnel, which we pass through without incident. No doubt we've just been scanned for contraband, not that much seems to be here. We emerge into a concourse full of people moving purposefully to and fro in various uniforms. We follow the map and come to a large circular desk. Robbie asks for a list of warehouses. They're more expensive the closer you get to the spaceport. Salimar asks for information on the Ministry of Identities and is handed a preprinted, glossy brochure listing the ser! vice s available. She then asks for a list of markets, and is given another brochure titled "Welcome to Moncair - A Shoppers Paradise."
Having run out of questions that the Visitor's Desk attendant can answer, We stroll around the concourse. It's pretty much like spaceport terminals we've seen before. Though we do find numerous kiosks selling gourmet milks. Dog milk?!? Yuck!!! Fortunately, we're out of time. We return to the ship to meet the Assessor.
Shortly after we arrive at the Nones, the Assessor shows up. He asks to be shown aboard. Scanning through the list provided by Officer Loressa (worrisomely efficient government they have here), he's very interested in the cheeses, and gives us a price range for them. The cloth should do moderately well. The ephemera isn't too popular. He doesn't foresee any market for the snow globes. But the complete set of KaiSenese plush toys are a definite hit! The art will require a specialist to appraise, though he notes that they're in excellent condition for their age. We explain that it's salvage. Well, that happens. He gives us a total and recommends toy or curiosity shops which are likely to be interested in our goods. The estimate is 3000 to 5000 marks for our haul. Wishing us a profitable stay on Moncair, the Assessor takes his leave.
Once we're alone, we discuss what to do about the dragon. It's clearly not happy cooped up in the ship. Unfortunately, getting a warehouse for it to fly about in will be prohibitively expensive, and there's no place to camp out. Or is there? Looking in the medicine chest, Markel finds a bottle of oxygen pills. Salimar makes the dragon invisible to the various radar-like devices that the local folks use, but not to Markel. He leads the dragon outside, and Salimar expands it to it's normal size. Markel cajoles the dragon to swallow a handful of the pills, and then climbs aboard. Salimar does her invisibility voodoo on him, and we hear them fly off towards the edge of the spaceport. No doubt there'll be stories in the news tomorrow about unexplainable crab mutilations.
Now that the boy and his dragon are dealt with, we head into town for dinner, stopping at an ATM to pull some cash out of Tom's account. The local cuisine seems to be derived from French, though anything will taste good after four weeks of ship's rations. We don't do too well reading the menus; is "Filet of Grax" meat or fish?, Fortunately, we find an all-you-can-eat buffet. It even has identifiable garlic! Dinner is 20 Marks for the lot of us. Midway through dinner, the Nones contacts Robbie and tells him there's a call for Kate or Dafnord.
Kate goes to a public communications terminal and calls the Nones. It connects her to a third party who looks a lot like Tom. A close relative, but definitely different. "Tom" says that the Nones informed him that there was an unexplained debit from his account. And then he discovered that the Nones is parked at two locations. "The Nones told me that I'm not on board. I take it I was left behind. I take it that this was important?"
Oh God. It is Tom. It's an earlier version of Tom. Kate says "One moment please" and runs to the buffet table and grabs a handful of crackers. Stuffing her mouth full, she spews crumbs at the screen and mumbles "'Ree slabe. Make 'Aewen 'appy."
Tom hasn't invented the "The Cracker of Discretion" yet at this point in his life and isn't quite sure what to make of Kate's behavior. He responds "Daewen? I haven't seen Daewen in years. Is she out here?"
Kate mumbles "No."
Tom asks "Is someone that Daewen likes a slave?"
Kate thinks a bit, and pops another cracker in her mouth. "Not 'et!"
Tom asks anxiously "Are you all right?"
Kate allows that we're fine.
Tom persists "What do you need?"
Kate responds "Money. We brought cheese, nick-knacks, gems, elvish musical instruments. Do you know a good person to sell stuff through?"
Tom replies "Yes. You need a local guide and it isn't going to be me. You need to see Emethi. Here's the number. She's a Commercial Verifier Tell her that Toma sent you." With a concerned look he asks "Kate have you been eating all right?"
Popping another cracker, Kate responds "We've been eating ship food for a month."
Tom's still not sure why Kate is eating crackers while she's talking to him, but decides to ignore that. "Oh. Emethi is a Commercial Verifier. She'll make sure that you don't get gypped. Where are you going to be, so we can avoid meeting each other again? I was just about to leave on a trade run, two stops into the Empire... (crumbs spit) Are you going into the Empire?"
Kate mumbles "Yes, Loald." as Morniesul steps behind Kate and waves at the screen.
Tom doesn't recognize the person in the background, but he clearly looks like family. He mutters "That looked like... this would make Daewen very happy... slavery... Just to make sure that we aren't going to run into each other, how would you like the cargo that I was going to take into the empire? I'll go elsewhere."
Morniesul says brightly "We can meet him. Uncle's very good at forgetting!"
Tom looks at the screen. Hard. "Since I've got so much to forget, I'll just leave the stuff at the Nones, uh, Dubious. Let's see, that gives you money, and you're doing something for Daewen against slavery... I've given you a contact...."
Morniesul grins and says "And don't tell Grandmother about it, it's sort of a surprise!"
Tom glares. "I'll do better than not tell Grandmother, I'll not tell me. You must be a cousin of Alag's."
Morniesul grins broadly and says "Yes!"
Tom shakes his head and asks "Anything else?"
Kate says "No Tom. We love you very much, and we'll see you ... later."
Before Kate or Tom can cut the connection, Morniesul asks "Would it be useful for us to arrange a rendezvous with Uncle, just in case things don't go well with us?"
Tom mutters irritably "It's nice to know that I'm going to get good at forgetting. Oh what the hell! What restaurant are you at?"
Kate gives him the address and asks if he really wants to do this.
Tom grumbles "It's not going to make any difference." Then Tom signs off.
We return to our meal. After a course, Tom walks up to the table and sits down. Kate introduces everyone. Tom looks at Brunalf and recommends a dye job, since neocats have very distinctive markings. Salimar hands Tom a card. Tom hands it back. Tom asks if we've gotten new identities yet, and recommends that we ask for local sounding names. New Terraformer names. It's the easiest way of passing here. Looking closely at us, he allows that our garb should be OK. Robbie grins and says that's good, since you (Tom) told us what to wear. This gets him a hard look. Salimar asks for any contacts in the Empire. Tom says that we should listen to Emethi on trade matters.
Tom asks if we know about the Empire's attitude about Psi, and emphasizes that they do have psychics to deal with problems that crop up.
Kate asks how one becomes a slave in the Empire, and what a slave would cost. Tom replies that one becomes a slave by going into debt, or as a punishment, or being captured by a privateer. A common laboring slave might go for 400 marks. A skilled slave might command 1000 marks.
Morniesul asks about "liberating" slaves, and if there's any kind of "Underground Railroad." Tom points out that "liberating" a slave is theft, and gets the authorities involved, when we probably want to do this with as little fuss as possible. Tom recommends that we try to buy him (whoever he is). It will be much simpler.
In response to a joke about our selling Aelwe into slavery ourselves, Tom asks why we need money. We explain that we owe money (with interest) to the family account that Cantrel maintains. Tom suggests that before we leave, we buy some fractal metals. Cyanium would be good, since it's self advertising; it's bright blue. Then we should stop in the late 26th century in the authority zone. They'll have just discovered it then, and we'll have a very pure sample. Then we can buy something that's only a hundred years ahead and take it back. We should get a pretty penny for it.
Tom writes some numbers on a napkin. "These are my numbers where I have apartments in the Reach. I'll program them to alert me if you call."
Morniesul grins and says "You always told us it was much better to make positive check-ins. That way if we're in trouble, you'll know to come looking for us"
Tom grumbles and says "OK. If I don't hear from you at weekly intervals, I'll come after you." Robbie gives Tom a frequency to contact us with, if he's trying to find us.
We ask for who we should stay away from. He lists a few people and places on Moncair. We then ask who we should avoid in the Empire. The authorities.
Tom tells us that he'll give us his shipment of six ULATA; Ultra Light All Terrain Ambulators. They're bicycles with legs, a popular recreational vehicle just now. They are due on Meth, a planet in the empire. Tom gives us the contact name.
He goes on to say that we can also sell "net tokens" almost anywhere in the empire. Net tokens are the tangible part of a psionic network hookup. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brands. Two he recommends dealing in are VOA (Voice of Aondoar) and LFR (Link Free Reach). These tokens hook directly to anti-imperial net services, so they are understandably illegal in the Empire. An Imperial citizen can get to those services using legal tokens, but it would be both more expensive and vulnerable to tracking by Imperial authorities. We'd have to sell the tokens clandestinely, but they should fetch a good price anywhere in the Empire and they're easily available on Moncair.
With that, we're out of questions. Tom rises from the table. We thank him for meeting us, and he leaves the restaurant, to meet us later... or earlier... or sometime in his/our past, present or future ...
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved