Space: Terran Minarchy
Star system: Cavora
Planet: Terraformed Asteroid FV-3134
Colony name: Cav
“When we were at the bar, remember how I and everyone else laughed? We weren't laughing one month ago, when one of our contacts asked us to run this operation. Know anything about Spacer grifts, besides what most Terrans suspect, eh John?” - Blaze smiled, sipped more kvas from his bottle and then playfully pointed at John's holo-cam, adding:
“If not, I will happily give you and your viewers more and juicy info.”
“Well, I know that once in a while, spacers organize special races, where armed escape pods dive into battle, escorted by interceptors piloted by their best aces. Those 'grifts' as you called them, Mr. Marson, we know that you swindle corrupt, dishonest traders, but that's all rumors... mostly.” - Cautiously stated John, while keeping an eye on his comment section.
Nevermind that he had only a hazy idea what exactly spacers meant when they said grift, more than a few of his subscribers shared their suspicions. Thousands were now locked in a furious comment battle, each of them vouching for their own interpretation, trying to legitimize their theory. Most were backed up only by rumor and hearsay since not very many people, even among the Terrans, were privy to Spacer secrets.
“The death pod races? Yes, I participated in one hundred and fifty five of those. Before I got married, my sisters and cousins were constantly pestering me to fly interceptor duty for them. I had to make them roll dices or throw credit coins... There is only one of me and dozens of them!” - Blaze again waved with his hand, his insouciant statement causing yet another tsunami of responses in John's comment section.
“I could tell you how many pirates and other scum we shot dead during each of these races, but this is not a spacer bar, and our chat is not a tale telling match.” - Blaze reached inside the stasis box and produced another bottle of Kvas. Popping it open he took one big gulp from it, before throwing a new bottle to John, who'd also finished his and was keen on drinking more. Quite refreshing, non-alcoholic and filling this Kvas was!
“Simply put, a Spacer grift is what we meticulously plan and then pull off, when someone asks for our help. Outside Terran space, there are plenty of dishonest businesspeople preying upon the common citizenry. Corrupt bureaucrats, lining up their pockets with other people's money and hungry for bribes, slimy politicians. In essence, what we do is relieve them of their ill gotten gains, then make sure that their victims are properly compensated. We are prepared to go the extra light year, hack, steal, bamboozle - everything to succeed. In some rare cases we are prepared to kill, but that is not the true purpose of a grift, causing severe financial harm to the target is. You do know that we no longer have these problematic types, causing trouble around here. Ask your viewers, John - when was the last time they heard about anything even remotely similar happening on our colonies? They will probably mention some rare cases, but that is only because you have so many subscribers!”
Sure enough, while John was popping the cap of his new bottle and extended the sipping straw, indeed, a number of comments appeared, each telling a short story of some dishonest alien businessman, chased away and banned from entering Terran space ever again. The last career politician was hanged publicly, way before John was born, shortly after the Great War had ended. No loss there; humanity was way better off without the parasitic presence of these otherwise inept in anything else, but good manipulators and skilled liars.
“It was my second big one, you see... Not that I actively avoid any and all grift opportunities, it is just that most of my strengths lie elsewhere.” - Blaze gently tapped the grip of his pistol, smiled, and again reached into the stasis box.
John would assume that after consuming copious amounts of pelmeni, the spacer would stop eating. He would assume wrong; from within the box, Blaze produced a steaming hot, wrapped in washable vacfoam, thick, deep-fried pancake. Its ends were folded, forming something akin to what the Italians would call a Calzone, yet John knew that this was a cheburek. Blaze bit from it slowly and carefully, because said pancake was piping hot, blew a couple of times, trying to prevent his tongue from getting burned. Catching his look, the spacer gently pushed the stasis box toward him and nodded. John only had follow the steam and soon he too was enthusiastically trying to cool the cheburek for him to take a bite. While he attempted to cool his lips with Kvas, Blaze had already eaten half of his own, despite the fact that this fried treat was still very hot. The spacer slowed down and only because he was most probably full; one could not refuse enjoying a tasty, meat & vegetable filled delicacy like this one. John explored the taste and after a short while, as he chewed another piping hot bite of perfectly fried and fluffy pastry, he decided that this cheburek was filled with minced pork. Most probably coming from some of the orbital farms or a small asteroid nearby, the meat patty was finely chopped, seasoned with aromatic mix of fresh herbs and dried spices. With each bite, the filling released new and previously hidden layers of flavor. It was so hard to stop eating! Even with the treat being so hot, John was barely able to hold himself from devouring the rest of it. Nasty tongue burns might plague him later, nevertheless the cheburek was so tasty that even its steamy aroma spoke to him, beckoned John to keep eating...
“I will respectfully ask, no, I insist you link me your babushka's recipe, Mr. Marson.” - Applying his great inner food discipline, John managed to resist the cheburek's ominous powers.
“While she is not piloting her strategic armor into yet another battle, my grandma occupies her time with recreational cooking.” - Blaze pulled some handwritten note from inside the stasis box, read it, smirked and then tapped the lid:
“This one she says, it was cooked away from the battlefield, some planet called Vicvec.” - He shrugged, made a note on his PDA and then sent it via G-net to his babushka.
“I am sure that you or a person you choose can wrest said recipe from her... in a competition of your choice, of course. Now, where were we? Ah, I was about to tell you how my crew got basically dragged into this big grift.” - Blaze quickly finished his cheburek, sipped more Kvas and then, after shifting around in his colorful spacesuit, continued:
“One star-month ago, some scrawny-looking alien entered our shuttle modification hangar. How did this random man find us, you'll ask? Well, we soon discovered that a cousin of mine had given him the exact coordinates. Not only that, she also provided him with enough creds so that he could pay his way, travel on the speediest passenger vessel, get to Cav as soon as possible. Obviously she, just as our tradition dictates, stayed behind to facilitate the grift's initial phase. The moment this alien spoke we were all drawn in, captivated by his story and I discovered that this planet he was a native of, I went there. Business trips outside Terran space are common for spacers, even people like me, who are obviously not in the cargo hauling trade. Which is why my cousin sent that person to our hangar, and not some other spacer crew in the first place.”
“What is that planet's name, Mr. Marson?”
“It is a small planet, tiny even, called Bronublo Prime. Far beyond the borders of the Terran Minarchy; deep into Fringe Space, it is fifty five light years away from our nearest colony.” - John checked his chat, but none of the comments indicated that any subscriber knew where the place was.
“My two and mind you, quite short trips to that system, did not involve any of my crew landing on said planet. Our starship idled high above its moon, unloading and then loading cargo containers full of rare spices. That is what this planet is apparently famous for; its equatorial forests teem with quite hard to find plants, roots, and edible flowers. So what seems to be the problem, you'd ask? Like many other places like it, Bronublo is ruled, exploited and otherwise fully under the control of... unsavory characters. One such person was the businessman that this alien told us about and our cousin decided to engage into the sacred act of grifting, Mr. Gow.”
“What did that alien tell you?” - John finished the cheburek and imitating his host, moved slowly, in an effort to find a sweet, more comfortable spot in his spacesuit.
“That person was actually an indebted servant, a worker whose transport fees and all other expenses were covered by said Mr. Gow. You see, far from being the safest place for people to immigrate to or seek employment, Bronublo Prime also had a human trafficking problem.” - Blaze's eyes twitched and John witnessed the flames of brutish anger, unbridled rage, basically throwing sparkles from within.
“Had we knew the true extent of their situation, my crew would've pulled most of the favors which the CN and other organizations owed them... That was not what happened, however, and for good or for worse, we decided to pull a standard, non-violent grift on Mr. Gow - a big one. The man told us his story and it was as simple as one could expect; he was lied to by worker recruiters, offered a well-paying job, way too good for him to refuse. He and his wife successfully traveled and arrived to Bronublo, were given their worker registration and permit papers. The moment they got to their workplace however, the foreman gleefully informed them that they 'owed' an absolutely humongous sum of money for travel expenses, fixing their papers and one year, prepaid worker 'taxes'. Even the daftest of individuals would've realized right then, that they were swindled and in effect sold off into indebted servitude. There was no way he and his wife could ever make nearly enough money to repay that debt – they'd have to work for decades. Luckily, after meeting with our cousin, the alien was able to escape from the spice plantation. Leaving behind his wife, who swore to aid our cousin in her information gathering mission, the man traveled to Cav. Didn't take us long to form the basic plan and then implement it; we signed the trade contract links, ordered the mock-up cargo and before hypering there, paid all of the Bronublo government trading fees...” - Now it was John's turn to react emotionally; if something could move a good, law-abiding H-logger like him, that was useless big government bureaucrats stealing people's hard earned creds in the form of taxes and fees. Not to mention robbing working sentients from their fair pay.
“We went into absolute overdrive and perhaps even scared this alien... a bit. Then again, spacers absolutely abhor this kind of under the table drudgery. Our initial plan was to sell the fake cargo to that Mr. Gow, then use the money to pay off this alien's 'debt'. We modified it en route to our destination, finally deciding to actually steal the slimy businessman's entire inventory. Calculating how much would those dried plants, spices and mushrooms cost on the open market, plus what he had to pay us for the 'cargo', we figured that there was a way for us to help all the workers on that plantation.” - Blaze made a pause, drinking what Kvas was still left in his bottle and then sighed, obviously remembering something painful. John read a few of the comments in his chat and asked, trying to help the spacer focus his mind:
“Did everything go according to your plan? Was that cousin of yours able to secure enough information or did everything end in laser fire?”
“Surprisingly... no. I expected we would bump into some obnoxious bureaucrat, but the fees we prepaid included all of the necessary bribes, local officials needed to grease their slimy palms. Landed and then unloaded our fake cargo, hacked their scanners, fed the starport mainframe with what our cousin had linked us in the form of stolen ID codes. This combination allowed our crew to obtain access to all areas, even the restricted ones, which meant that even the local, corrupt as hell cops couldn't do anything but let us roam around. My wife and I, we spent one hour with this disgusting freak, Mr. Gow; signed the trading contract, promised him even more shipments. Neither he nor his telepath managed to detect any foul play from us, so the slimeball paid us to the last credit chit. Of course, while we were conducting the deal, my crew lifted every single crate from his personal storage and loaded it up on our vessel. They did so and in record time, without being noticed too. My people used holo-decoys, programmable paint, and with a clever use of hacking, plus the ID's we had, snuck past or otherwise bamboozled every single cop on the stardocks. Quickly, we deposited the huge sum into the local bank and received remote access codes, which we instantly linked to my cousin.” - John could visibly notice how the spacer's face slowly twisted, turned into a mask of pure anger.
“Just as we were about to reach our vessel, she reported that her part of the grift was also a success. My cousin infiltrated the plantation posing as a forewoman and for the past month, had gained her colleagues' trust. That feat allowed her to easily convince the foremen to temporary lend her the workers, to do some unregulated spice picking on the side. Of course, the corrupt, greedy fools demanded a cut from the pickings and bribes, which she immediately deposited in their accounts after receiving our link. Packed full of people, her shuttle flew so close above the trees, that she scraped most of the paint job. We docked in space, hidden behind the planet's moon, shrouded from Bronublo's sensor net and it was when we opened Mr. Gow's containers.” - Blaze's hands twitched, eyes squinted and breath hastened, but the man was disciplined. It took the spacer a minute, maybe two, to calm himself down and continue:
“Those were portable stasis units, all of them, John. Each container had in it ten sleeping aliens; men and women from this part of Fringe Space, all abducted, stolen from their very homes! We almost turned the ship around, but it was not to be because somehow, I still have no idea how, Bronublo security raised the alarm. Hundreds of starfighters and a dozen or more patrol vessels quickly began sweeping the planet's orbit. Maybe it was the fact that Mr. Gow's containers were missing that tipped them off, or some system operator was able to trace our hacks? We all knew that engaging in battle with our cargo hold full of hundreds of people was madness. Therefore, before they could surround us, we ran...” - He had wrested control of his anger and followed up with a somewhat detailed explanation of how his starship evaded capture:
“You see, John, many people speak of our great skill, but hearsay and rumors are one thing, real spacers piloting their starships, entirely another. These aliens, they knew full well that we are Terrans, maybe some of them suspected that my crew were spacers. They did try to stop us from hypering out of the system with Mr. Gow's 'property' by sensor interference, hacks and tractor beams. We were too fast for them to box us in, even their fast patrol fighters and escort vessels fell behind. Our system operators repelled their feeble attempts at hacking the ship's mainframe, while my wife and I plotted an exit hyperspace jump. The rest is painted on my spacesuit as you could very well see and film with your holo-cam! That and the scene in the Roundabout.” - John canted his head, his eyes once again explored the intricate mural, freshly painted on Blaze's chestplate. His starship, main engines leaving a blazing trail of drive plasma and the hyperspace window opening, split star-seconds before the Bronublo patrol vessels could surround her...
“Might I ask one, last thing?” - John glimpsed the look in Blaze's eyes and understood that the interview was over. The spacer slowly stood up, blinked a couple of times and then after smiling, nodded.
“What was that fake cargo you sold Mr. Gow?” - Blaze swiped over his PDA and chuckling pointed at the glowing holo-list projected between them.
“Two hundred metric tons of fine quality, fake Applecratean cider. Pumped full of the best, strongest and hardest to detect with scanner, laxative mixture, which our chemists could concoct. Imagine the corrupt elites of Bronublo, all of these bureaucrats, politicians and businesspeople, shitting their guts. What would they do to poor Mr. Gow now, I wonder? After all, most high end clubs and restaurants on the planet are owned by him...”
John joined Blaze and as they laughed with gusto, directed their steps towards the exit. One small, wearing a worn-out, but otherwise perfectly maintained spacesuit shadowy figure, emerged from inside a long forgotten, seemingly defunct service tunnel. Eyes following the two humans, this person chuckled too, before his hand reached for some item mag locked on his belt...
Who was this person and what is he going to do? Did Mr. Gow send more of his goons to finish the job? This time he picked much smaller, nimbler and stealthier goons, after the big beefy thugs spectacularly failed to intimidate Mr. Marson. More in the next episode of JATB!
JATB was inspired by a real world netsonality and his many adventures - John Daub hails from our humble dimension. You can find his new Youtube channel and his second one, here! If you like these short stories, have the means and wish to support the author, check my Patreon page - I have more, exclusive sci-fi stories posted there.
You can find all of my books on Amazon.
John and the space boat Part 1
John and the space boat Part 2: