Authors: Jerry Pournelle,S.M. Stirling
Tags: #Science Fiction
At least she would have said
Owensford thought ironically.
"You'll probably see more soldiering," he said kindly to the young man. "Don't mean to sound cold-blooded, but this little guerrilla-bandit problem will be perfect for providing on-the-job training for your new Field Force, and it's an old tradition for crown princes to hold commissions."
"Yep." Ace finished his drink; there were times when Arizona sounded clearly in his voice, under the accentless polish an officer acquired in the CoDominium service. "Nothin' like hearing a bullet and realizing there's someone out there trying to
you to put the polish on a soldier."
Lysander grimaced; his own baptism of fire had been quite recent, and his Phraetrie-brother Harv bad been badly wounded, nearly killed.
"I could do without it," he said.
"That's exactly the point, Prince. Exactly the point."
"Hey, Skilly, what-a you got for us? Where's Two-knife?"
"Gots good stuff this time, Marco," Skida said genially, walking down the landing ramp with her knapsack, taking a deep lungful of air that held slight traces of smoke and massed humanity, if you concentrated. She had been born a city girl and grown up on streets, however squalid. After a while in the outback the silence and clear air got to you. "Two-knife coming downriver with the bulk product."
The stamped steel treads rang under her boots, and the blimp creaked at its mooring tower above her. The landing field was down by the water, in the East Haven side of Sparta City, along with the fishing fleet and the river barges from up the Eurotas and coastal shipping; the shuttle landing docks and the deep-sea berths were on the other side of the finger of hilly built-up land. The pale sun was high, and crowds of seagulls swarmed noisily over the maze of concrete docks, nets, masts, warehouses and cranes along the waterfront. A good dozen airships were in, long cigar-shapes of inflated synthetic fabric with aluminum gondolas and diesel engine-pods; the one behind her had
painted on the envelope. Two more were leaving, turning south and east for the Delta with leisurely grace; out on the water a three-masted schooner was running on auxiliaries. Then the sails went up, lovely clean shapes of white canvas; the ship heeled, and her prow bit the water in a sunlit burst of spray.
"What exactly?" Marco said, as she stepped to the cracked, stained concrete. Five of her hidehunters followed, big shaggy men in sheepskin jackets, open now in the mild heat of the seafront city, their rifles slanted over their backs.
"Got twenty-five tons good clear tallow," she began, as they walked toward the street entrance.
Marco followed beside her, making unconscious hand-washing gestures; he was a stumpy little man, bald but with blue jowls. A fashion designer from Milan in his youth, swept up after the riots against the Sicilian-dominated government and handed over to BuReloc.
"One fifty tons first-grade spicebush-smoked beef jerky," she continued. "One-twenty venison. Twenty-two hundred raw cowhides, two-thousand-fifty horsehides, horns and hooves appropriate, 'bout the same deerhides, some elk. Five hundred twenty good buffalo hides, do for robes. Beaver and capybara, five hundred and seven hundred. One twenty red fox, seventy wolfhides, twenty cougar. One hundred-twenty-two saddle-broken mustangs from the Illyrian Dales,
saddle-broke and to pack saddles as well. Holding the horses in Olynthos, but Skilly can get them downriver if you know a better market."
They pushed through the exit gate of the landing field, and into the crowded streets of dockside; it was convenient, how Sparta had no internal checks, no waiting to have your papers cleared every time you got on or off something. There was a row of electric runabouts, little fuel-cell-powered things that ran on alcohol and air; she waved dismissal at the hidehunters and handed the attendant a gold coin. He knew her well, and there was no nonsense with bank machines that recorded where you were and what you did. Another convenient thing about Sparta.
Skida noted these matters; they were all things that would have to change, when
was in charge. She paid the hidehunters off in Consolidated Hume Financial Bank script; Thibodeau Animal Products Inc. used them as their bank of deposit. They also handled her modest but growing investment portfolio; under other names, they administered some of the accounts she had on Dayan and Xanadu, as well.
Skilly's just-in-case money,
she thought, dumping her knapsack beside the bundles the hunters had left in the backseat and ushering Marco to the passenger side.
"See you at the Dead Cow in three days," she said to the men. They nodded silently; she had picked them well. "Any of you gets into trouble before then, Skilly bails him out of jail then cuts off his balls,
"Sure, Skilly," the oldest of them said. "I'll watch them."
"I can get you two-fifty crowns for the beef," Marco said, as the car pulled silently out onto the street. He was always a little nervous while the hidehunters were around. She headed uphill, to the Sacred Way, which ran down the ridge-spine of the city from the CoDo enclave to Government House Square. The road went up in switchbacks, through a neighborhood of stucco family homes over embankments planted in rhododendrons. "Standard rate for the tallow, but the hides are up two-tenths. And I can get you six crowns apiece for the horses here in town."
She raised her brows. Those were excellent prices; agricultural produce was usually a glut, and only the low costs of harvesting feral stock made the hidehunting business profitable at all.
"The Crown he's-a buying," Marco explained, then blanched slightly as she cut blindside around a horse-drawn dray loaded with melons, in a curve that lifted two wheels off the pavement. "These soldiers they bring in, and the new army, you hear?"
"Skilly knows," she said. "OK, sounds good, regular commission." She grinned broadly; there was a certain irony to it, after all. Like charging someone for the ammunition you shot them with; the Belizian government had done that when she was a youngster.
The commission would be fair, five percent. Marco was broker for half a dozen hidehunter outfits, although Thibodeau Inc. was his biggest customer. They had had no problems, after the first time she caught him shorting her; obviously he had not expected a deportee to know accounting systems. Unfortunately for him, Skida Thibodeau had been in jail for most of her first eighteen months on Sparta—a little matter of someone hurt in a game of chance she was running for start-up capital—and she had divided her time inside between working out to get used to the heavy gravity and taking correspondence courses from the University. A simple fracture of the forearm had reformed the broker's morals, that and the cheerful warning that next time she would send Two-knife around to start with his kneecaps and work upward.
"What's this good stuff you got for me?" the Italian continued.
Skida pulled the car to the curb on the Sacred Way; Sparta City had plenty of parking, cars still being a rare luxury. This was the medium-rent district, not too close to Government House Square. A few four-story apartment houses, with restaurants and shops on the ground level; there were showrooms, headquarters of shipping or fishing firms, doctors' and lawyers' offices. The broad sidewalk next to their parking spot was set with tables, shaded by the big jacarandas and oaks that fringed the main street: the Blue Mountain Café. Run by a family of Jamaican deportees, and set up with a loan Skilly had guaranteed. It was useful, and she had wanted at least one place in town where you could get a decently spiced meat patty. There were all types on Sparta, but the basic mix was Anglo-Hispanic-Oriental, like the United States.
"Here," she said, pulling a fur from one of the bundles in the rear seat and tossing it across his lap.
"Oh, holy Jesus!" he blurted. It was a meter long and a double handspan broad, a shining lustrous white color, supple and beautiful. The ex-fashion designer ran his hand over it reverently. "What
"Some of Skilly's people were working the country northeast of Lake Ochrid, you know, the Hyborian Tundra?" Remote and desolate, almost never visited. "Turns out those ermine the CoDo turned loose to eat the rabbits been getting
Marco made a soundless happy whistle. There were excellent markets for furs, even Earth now that the Greens had less influence . . . especially Earth; after they had lost their commercial value nobody had bothered to preserve many of the fur species.
"Seventy-five, maybe eighty each," he said, his voice soft with the pleasure of handling the pelt.
"And this," she continued. What she dumped in his lap next was a kilo-weight silver ingot, stamped with the mark of the Stora Kopparberg mine.
he said, in a falsetto shriek. The metal disappeared under the seat. "Oh, no, not again!"
Skida grinned with ruthless amusement. So few people seemed to realize that once you made a single illegal deal you were in for good. Especially a family man like Marco, so concerned for the three children he hoped to see make Citizen someday. Every parent on Sparta got educational vouchers, but there was no law saying a prestige school had to accept the children of non-Citizens. With enough money, everything was possible, of course.
"Yes. But doan worry, this de last time."
"Oh, Mother of God, you mean that? They hang us all, they hang us all!"
"Not unless they catch us, mon," Skilly soothed. "Of course I mean it. All legitimate from now on." Skida Thibodeau believed firmly in never welshing on a business deal; it was too much like peeing in the bathwater. Besides, they were moving into big-time money now, and the fencing would have to be handled through the political side. "Coming downriver nice and safe in the tallow; besides, they never know what happen to that blimp from the mine. Bad weather, maybe."
A stowaway named Skida Tbibodeau with a small leather sack full of lead shot had happened to it, but there was no point in burdening Marco with unnecessary information. Much of the vessel had been useful to the Helots—high-speed diesels were not easy to come by—and the rest had joined the crew in a very deep sinkhole.
"OK," Marco said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. "You want me to fix you up a place at-a my house?" he said, with insincere hospitality. Skilly had more than enough to rent or buy a place in town for her visits, but that would have offended her sense of thrift. As often as not she dossed down on a cot in Thibodeau Inc.'s single-room office.
"No, Skilly going to catch a curry patty and a beer here and then meet her boyfriend," she said. Take another car out to his place, rather, but there was a mild pleasure in teasing the factor.
Marco shuddered again. "Skilly, he's a Citizen and First Families, and he's in politics and the government don't like him," he said half-pleadingly. "Why?"
"Love be blind, my mon," Skilly said. One reason she avoided it, but an affair was surprisingly good cover. The founders of Sparta had had a privacy fetish that they built into the local culture. She reached over and pinched the Italian's cheek. "You leave a message for Skilly as soon as you find a way to wash the silver money, hey?"
The great outburst of interstellar colonization in the early 21st century paradoxically led to the reappearance of economic and social problems which Earth had thought vanished. Fusion-powered spaceships, mass-driver launchers and the virtually energy-free Alderson drive brought transport costs between systems down to levels comparable to those of 20th-century air freight, but they were still not cheap. New colonies were chronically short of the hard currency they so desperately needed to pay for imports of capital equipment. Human labor was plentiful—the Bureau of Relocation would furnish it whether the recipient wanted it or not—but everything else, from transport to machine tools, was chronically scarce.
Earth's markets were jealously guarded by the cartels which dominated the planetary economy; and there was a well-founded suspicion that those cartels and the shipping lines they controlled conspired to maintain the colony worlds as dependent markets. Some metals and drugs could bear the costs of interstellar transport, along with extrasolar rarities and luxury goods, but bulk agricultural produce was shipped only to mining systems without habitable planets.
The stable elite of colony worlds—Dayan, Xanadu, Meiji, Friedland, Churchill—were those where wealthy parent governments or corporations provided cash and credit enough to finance self-sustaining industrialization. With plentiful resources and fewer social problems, by the late 21st century these planetary states had populations in the 10-50 million range, higher per capita incomes than most Earthly nations, and were taking advantage of the CoDominium's retreat to establish sub-imperialisms and trade spheres of their own. Some planets (see
remained mere dumping grounds, sustained by Colonial Bureau largess;
was an interesting example of such a world escaping mass die-off after CoDominium withdrawal.
Many of the less well-financed colonies, launched by "Third World" nations or private organizations—some religious, some secular—with only enough funds to pay for transport, lapsed into a virtually pre-industrial existence of peasant farming and handicrafts; see
Arrarat, Zanj, Santiago.
A common pattern on intermediate planets was the emergence of a severely hierarchical society, with a dominant elite using access to interstellar technology to rule an impoverished mass; see
Frystaat, Thurstone, Diego, Novi Kossovo.
Constant political and social unrest resulted from this situation. See
for an interesting case-study of an attempt to deal with these problems through careful planning; while partially successful, it . . .