Junior had felt someone watching him as he haggled over the batch of pistols in the Foreign Quarter. His suspicions were confirmed as he arrived on the rusty wharf of Spithead’s Northside to find a suit lounging in his skiff.
â€œPaid my taxes at point of sale,â€ said Junior. â€œWhat’s the problem?â€
â€œNo problem,â€ replied the suit. â€œJust thought I’d sit and watch the sunset. I find it calming â€” as a man of the water, don’t you agree?â€
Even without the latent threat of the suit’s tone, his shit-eating grin would have told Junior that this wasn’t going to go his way. Still, no reason to cave in too easily.
â€œNot your boat to sit in.â€
â€œBut it’s not yours either, is it? You New Southsea folk don’t believe in property, do you?â€
â€œMisconception,â€ sighed Junior. â€œAnyways, I signed for it with your man up there, so it’s legally mine while I’m on the Nation.â€
The suit looked up the creaking wharf towards the customs booth. â€œIt would appear the customs officer is on a break, though. So the burden of proof falls on you, doesn’t it?â€
Junior wondered how much more the suit had bribed the customs kid to vanish than Junior had paid him to stick around. The Nation’s version of the Cloud, usually thick with agents like a dog with fleas, was unusually quiet down here by the water. The suit had clout. Or monkeys, if there was any difference.
â€œWhat d’you want, then?â€, he asked.
â€œYou’re a ferryman, aren’t you? When you’re not importing foreign weapons into our Nation, that is.â€
â€œWord gets around,â€ replied Junior. â€œWhere you going, and why should I take you?â€
â€œI thought I might visit New Southsea. You should take me because it’s an easier option than me stealing this boat and leaving you to swim back.â€
Not much easier, thought Junior. The swim back was doable in daytime, but suicidal at night; the Nation was no place for a freeman on his own with nothing left to sell, and he’d already transferred his profits from the guns over to the credit network in New Southsea. The suit knew this already; the suit seemed to know everything. But Junior knew a thing or two himself.
â€œCustoms will know I didn’t take the boat I signed for when they find me sitting here by an empty mooring space,â€ he said.
â€œBut if they don’t find you there, they’ll assume you did take it,â€ said the suit as he drew a chunky handgun from under his shoulder and levelled it at Junior. â€œCustoms not finding you could be rather easily arranged, don’t you think?â€
That was an understatement. Fail to keep an eye on yourself in the Nation, and you could be on your way to the Continent as a selection of flash-frozen live organs within hours. Back at New Southsea, Junior would at least be out from under an arcane legal system he didn’t fully understand; the suit might shoot him on the way, but he could just have stolen the boat outright without the theatrics and avoided the risk of a murder charge under his own legal system.
Two outlanders in a day; Junior wished he’d fobbed off the jaeger that morning and done a few fishing runs for the market blocs instead. At least the jeager had paid enough for more than two trips; suit-boy was going to ride for free, one way or the other.
â€œAll right. Let me get aboard and raise the sheets,â€ said Junior. â€œAs passenger, you got to pay the border tax, though. Nation law.â€
The suit laughed. â€œOh, of course. I always admire you New Southsea people â€” you make such an effort to memorise the laws wherever you travel.â€
â€œNot like we have much choice,â€ replied Junior. â€œWe ain’t got no lawyers like yourself to do it for us.â€
[ Poor Junior – doesn’t have much luck with passengers, does he? I think that will change eventually. ]