The RIM Confederacy: Trade Wars

Prologue 

Jinni wailed and as the Assistant Assistant Port Keeper looked over towards her cage he could see her back sail standing straight up. Leudies again, he said to himself as he tried not to give in to the frustration felt every time they landed.

Out on the Merilda Landing Port tarmac, he could see the faint glow growing on pad 23. They’d made good time coming down from orbit once they’d gotten the automatic okay and landing pad assignment but then Leudies always made good time, he thought, which is another reason they’re good traders. Now that gold glow was turning a deeper red, and you could hear the growing sound of their thrusters in the atmosphere – at least they hadn’t come down on antimatter pulses. They’d been known to lift off on same and had paid dear penalties the next time they landed though Wiggins admitted that had been almost 1 sol year ago. And they sure didn’t like paying any landing penalties he knew as he gathered up the forms that they’d have to fill in on their landing here on Merilda. We’re not the most advanced port, but we do our tasks honestly, he did feel was true.

Out on the tarmac, the scooter was taking out Customs, Duties and Health to check their cargo manifests and behind them an empty transport with off loaders chugged out to offload that cargo if it was allowed in.

Hmmmph, Wiggins thought, Leudies always got their cargo in and made good credits deal after deal.

After all, as a trading race, these aliens worked at making deals all across the RIM, from UrPoPo almost 80 lightyears distant to Eran. They traded for one thing on one planet, moved to where it was badly needed and drew a hard bargain with the needy and made credits on both ends. Sometimes, Wiggins thought as he smiled, they didn’t do so well, but even though they were not well liked, they usually made a profit no matter at whose expense.

That Crux Epidermis plague of two years ago had come from inward, and had threatened to eat away the skin of every RIM Confederacy citizen it found – and the Leudies had moved the latest serum from more than 300 lightyears inward at quite a cost to themselves for both energy and lost time and had been able to get the serum to all who’d need it on time at a fair profit. Course, then they’d made a much bigger fatter profit on what had happened next.

All the people no matter what species who had used the serum, broke down shortly afterward with a full depression, induced it was said due to blood – or what passed for blood – chemistry changes via that serum. So the Leudies had also bought the rights for the anti-serum you then had to take to get rid of the depression you got from the original cure. They made a fortune on that – far more than on the original serum and of course they’d never told anyone about the depression side-effects either.

Leudies were not liked much nor respected much, Wiggins knew as he heard the sound of their boots climbing the 3 stairs to the Port Keeper’s Office. Glancing at Jinni, he could see she had wrapped herself up in a ball after trying to dig under her nest in the corner of the cage. Something about Leudies made her react this way every time one came into the Port Keepers offices and he wondered maybe if he should look that up later in Gallipedia, as he put on a bland smile, squared around his simple uniform shirt and faced the door, paperwork in hand.

“Right, we’re here and we’re not paying these exorbitant fees,” the first Leudie through the door stated loudly, as his cloak brushed the door sill and he moved in towards the counter. Wiggins could tell by the forest green of that cloak that this was the Captain. He was tall for a Leudie, almost 2 meters and built as solid as they all were. On his head rode the Captains toque that was usual attire for a trader, the Captains double gold bars polished and bright. On his legs were what could only be called some kind of leggings, thin flesh-hugging green pants like they all wore and on his chest beneath the green cloak Wiggins could see the brass colored shirt. While Leudies were humanoids, they were a colorful bunch, he thought.

“Never,” said his First Mate, who followed his Captain in tandem and who also wore the Leudie green cloak but in a lighter shade than the Captain’s darker color. He grabbed the paperwork out of Wiggin’s hands and began to jot down the data needed, a sneer on his lips.

“What’s more,” the Captain now almost shouted, “we are always appalled at the backwards-ness of this planet and its outdated and antiquated Port landing systems. If Merilda wasn’t a hub for mining equipment trading, we would have gone right through to Duos,” he added.

“Right!” the First Mate chimed in, still scrabbling answers to the declaration papers.

“Imagine,” the Captain said, “we have to fill out a paper form here just to let a squad of your longshoremen unload our cargo – by hand!” The Captain was busy taking off his gloves to reveal soft and supple hands that had rings on almost every finger. Wiggins cleared his throat before the First Mate could chime in.

“Understood, Captain. Your comments – such as they are – will be relayed to the RIM Confederacy Council when they meet next. Till then, I’m afraid that you must yes, fill in these forms by hand. May I see the Customs, Duties and Health receipts please?” Wiggins held out his hand, awaiting the paperwork from Customs and Health that would certify the cargo and indicate any and all duties or taxes or even quarantines that would have to be paid or followed.

The Leudie Captain glared at Wiggins, his hand stroking at his neck.

“And who exactly might you be? Some junior junior clerk whose only real job here is to feed your ugly balled-up Carnelian Lizard” he said as he snorted and petted the coiled rope of muscle that surrounded his neck. Wiggins thought that the coil twitched for a moment, but knew that a Leudie neck Snake would never uncoil unless it was hungry or wanted affection. Each Leudie had one of these “pets” Wiggins thought given to them at puberty and the two of them formed a pair bond that was unbreakable it was said, wrapped around its owner’s neck is how the creature spent its life.

“I am the Assistant Assistant Port Keeper, Captain,” Wiggins replied.

“Ah, yes! You’re the little clerk who seemed to think that we were exporting food items and wanted us to pay taxes on those passengers!” The Captain actually smiled down at Wiggins, and pointed a multi-ringed finger directly into his face.

“But when we appealed, your boss and even RIM Customs agreed with us, didn’t they little assistant assistant Port Keeper! They knew what we were doing was well within the legal limits – too bad that was beyond you. Could have saved you much embarrassment, eh?” the Captain gloated, his voice now soft and cloying as he shook his finger in Wiggins face.

Wiggins shuffled the papers before him, riding tight rein on his embarrassment. I mean after all he thought, if you buy seafood, even live seafood from a fish distributor here on Juno, and then try to weasel out of paying your fair share of taxes by using the excuse that you were just transporting passengers to DenKoss, a water world only 16 light-years away, anybody should have seen through that. The fact that the buyers on DenKoss swore that they were just trying to liberate some of their like species, didn’t hold water at all – yet the Leudies had been able to force through their exemption and the fees that Wiggins had originally charged, were negated. Score one for the Leudies.

“That’s right – you were the Assistant Assistant who tried to penalize us for that little stopover to pick up passengers here. That was most unfair, and as you most likely heard, we had nothing at all to do with the fact that once situated in their new home, all of the passengers became food stuffs for the local population of DenKoss royalty. We didn’t know that, of course, so we’re not to blame, right little clerk?” The Captain leaned down on the counter; his face was now a light gray in color which for a blue-skinned Leudie meant that he found something funny. He stomped his foot, the boot heel smacking the wooden floor with a loud bang!

“Well, little clerk, what do you have to say about that mistake in judgment?” he said, as he roared.

“Actually, Captain, you know yourself that while you can touchdown on any of the planets out here on the RIM, if you off-load or on-load anything, you may be taxed on those items. And I was only following our laws here when I taxed you on the on-loaded seafood that you took to DenKoss. And as it sounds, I was right wasn’t I?” Wiggins looked up directly at the Leudie, whose finger still speared at his face, his laughter subsiding.

“Not in the slightest, little clerk. We move things around; we don’t care what they are as long as there is a profit attached. It’s bureaucrats like you who do the worrying. And on this trip we’re again looking to add to our cargo, so no more mistakes, clerk!” He smiled down at Wiggins again, and gathered up his gloves as his First Mate slid the paperwork over and in front of Wiggins and then tugged at the hem of his Captains cloak.

“Let’s go, Captain. This one’s too unimportant to even gloat over…” and he had finished up the forms and then opened the door to leave the office.

“Far too unimportant – most likely as I figured, he’s just the lizard’s caregiver….and as ugly as his charge as well,” the Captain said as he stroked his neck Snake and twirled the cloak around him as he tromped down the stairs and back out onto the tarmac while Wiggins fumed.

He fussed with their paperwork and thought while he was over there at Customs, he’d take a moment to look up Carnelian Lizards and why they reacted so badly to Leudies as he closed the folder…wait till they find out about the new charges for mining equipment and the Faraway subsidies….