I'll cross that bridge when someone looks like wanting to pick this ball up and run with it.
As long as you’re a whole galactic sector from home, you might as well try having not so much as a tenth-credit to see if life can possibly suck any harder.
We got ourselves berthed and figured we might as well top off the fuel tanks with a little Quirium just to give us maximum injection capability, and then the situation started to dawn on us. Naturally I mentioned Macrae straight away, but the unfortunate fact was that neither The Black Bear
nor Highland Cathedral
was tied into any account that had access to any money at all. It was about then that I started to have a severe attack of the grumps concerning the pirates that were no longer threatening Inzaquma on our account, and wishing we’d had some way to bank the credits we should have earned at the time. But up to now the Claymores had stayed off the official record as much as possible, and the few thousand credits in bounty that the organisation could have pulled in were negligible compared to the running costs of the operation.
“Galcop law’s quite clear,” said the big green bug in charge of the docking bays. “As long as you’re broke, I’m not allowed to charge you any docking fees. The ones who are solvent get to eat the odd centicredit to make for this, because we don’t get many brokers through here and no-one else notices if we share that load around. Stay as long as you like. But I can’t let you have any supplies if you can’t pay for them.”
Tom purred in clear frustration. “But we did your system a favour on our way in!”
“Well, and Galcop’s set up to reward you for it. You’re not registered for bounty?” The Grasshopper leaned back on his hind legs and let out a baritone chirp from his forewings, which may have been an expression of sympathy but would have passed for a laugh on my first guess. “You’d better get that changed as soon as possible. Office is on the third tier.”
We attracted our fair share of attention on our way up, I in my checkered skirt (which Macrae adamantly insists is not the same as a kilt) and Tom, who like most felines is happy in just his fur, with a sash of the same stuff over his right shoulder. Of course you see all sorts in any Coriolis station, but some are more unusual than others – and round here, it was the human and the cat in funny clothes that got the attention, whereas the black horned birds were just the neighbours from the next system over and nothing to fuss about.
For what it was worth, the Galcop functionary in the registration office was a human, and not as unsympathetic as she might have been to a pair of space tramps with no money and no honest occupation that turned up to darken her door. She sat us down and heard us out patiently, then gave me a tiny shrug.
“The trouble with being in a clandestine operation such as you’re describing,” she said patiently, “is that there’s nothing to connect you with this boss you’re claiming to work for, much less his bank account, and I can’t do a great deal about that. At least you have a telltale, so I know there’s not a bounty on your head. The ships you totalled on the way in? Well, the telltale would have something to say if they’d been Clean and anyone saw you do it, but it won’t access the Galcop bounty system on its own.”
“Which means we’re screwed as far as money is concerned,” I said.
“I can unscrew you as far as the future’s concerned – quite easily and in a matter of minutes. There’s no charge to you for that. Even so, I’ve no way to make it retroactive… but perhaps you’ll find some more miscreants with a bounty on their heads.”
Tom yowled quietly, deep in his throat. I knew what the matter was, and I pretty much agreed. Neither of us minded picking up some bounties in exchange for services rendered – but neither of us felt like being full-time bounty hunters either. But it wasn’t clear what choice we had. Still, the registrar seemed to follow our thoughts easily enough.
“Alternatively… have you ever considered being hired escorts? There’s a bar on the station where you could ask around.”
Glumly I said, “Been there, done that. I started out that way, Tom too. I guess it pays, at least.”
“Think it over,” said the registrar. “And meanwhile, have a bite to eat on me.” She gave me an odd look. “There’s a rumour I’m hearing lately of some funny-dressed spacers in funny ships causing no end of problems for the pirates in this sector. I think that’s worth a little something from petty cash.”
Thankfully taking the credit note she held out, I ushered Tom out of her office. “Well, there you have it,” I said. “Looks like there may be nothing for it than going back to escort duties again.”
“May have to,” growled Tom. “Can’t haul freight, can’t get into metals with no seed money, can’t run passengers…”
“Could try parcels though,” I said, grasping at straws. Parcel delivery’s a tough business to break into. Until you’ve shown you really can sweat the petty stuff, you don’t get a sniff of the big contract; and when you do, that’s round about the time the Assassins start to take an interest.
“Prrr. Parcels, when you need to hitch a lift every single jump of the way.” Tom didn’t sneer, exactly, but he wasn’t brimming over with enthusiasm at the idea. And he’d hit on the big snag, for a fact. It wasn’t impossible to deliver on a parcel contract when you were relying on someone else for the Witchdrive aspects of the job, but it was damned hard to guarantee delivery in the agreed time.