I hate being terran-side. The floor doesn’t hum. How can you tell if something’s gone wrong if the floor never hums?
The air is unfiltered and unscrubbed, giving it an unforgivable taste. The people are too many, too loud, too pungent, too crammed into walkways and buildings and vehicles. Everything is too much. My heart is racing and my head is pounding. I haven’t slept in about 30 solours, and I am at least 40% certain that the xeno behind me recognizes me, but as usual I don’t recognize them. It makes me uneasy, but that’s my general state of being. Am I anxious because something bad is about to happen? Or because I’m coming down off stims? Or is it just because being on land always makes me fucking jumpy?
“Captain Neiboski, of the SFC Brooklyn Dodger, please step to the side regarding an item on your manifest. You will be redirected to an interview room for further questioning.”
I knew this would happen, even though I actually filled out the paperwork for my “item” by-the-book for once. But sentient remains on a freight class rig are bound to raise even the laziest of eyebrows.
I’m a spacer. An independent spacer, as a matter of fact. One of the most endangered species in the whole damn Confederate Galaxy. I fly my own rig, the Brooklyn Dodger, which was my Grandma and Papa’s rig, and would have been my momma’s had she not died giving birth to me. I haul whatever the fuck I decide to haul along the Sol-Remidian Circuit. Which means when the predictable boring work dries up, I might have to hustle a little harder for contracts. And might have to look to the side once in a while. And might have to talk my way through some checkpoints now and again. But at least I don’t have to do what some Con asshole tells me to do. I was born in space, I live in space, and I plan on dying in space because at least space makes sense.
I’m in one of the interview rooms now. A sterile cold white room with nothing but a Screenbot, table, and chair. It’s so quiet I can almost hear my own blood rushing through my veins. Silence is usually a sign I’m about to die, but Terraners just seem to take it for granted.
The screenbot has a digitally rendered cartoonish face projected across the table from me. It stares blankly ahead for a moment, likely accessing whatever files and regulations it’s about to lecture me on. It suddenly whirs into “life” as it begins to address me in the forms of Sapien communication it was programmed with. Its voice is overly personal and chipper for my taste.
“Captain Neibowski, according to your flight records it has been 2.4 solycles since your previous visit to your home planet. How was your trip?”
It projects what I am sure is intended to be a friendly and caring expression.
“I’ve had better, robot. My papa died on our last haul to Remidian IV and, although I have no personal attachments to this particular planet, he did. So I’m here to burn his body, scatter the ashes, drop my cargo, and collect my money before heading back.”
The screenbot now forces itself to look concerned before continuing the friendly interrogation.
“My condolences. Our inspectors became concerned because, according to your cargo manifest, there are sentient remains in a non-environmentally controlled portion of your shipment containers. As you may not be aware, this is against Confederate regulation for the transportation of deceased sentient individuals.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t see much sense in storing him for over a solycle in a container that would only speed up the decaying process. I wanted to keep him fresh for his service. And a container with no moisture or atmosphere and sub-zero temperatures seemed like the way to go about that.”
“I understand your reasoning, Captain, but these regulations are in place for a reason. As this is your first violation for this particular matter, and because it concerns the death of an immediate family member, you will only be fined half of the standard 50,000 Credits for improper storage and transportation of restricted cargo.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate it. Next time a family member dies I’ll be sure to toss them out the airlock instead.” Screenbots, and most Xenos for that matter, never seem to pick up on snark. Maybe it’s the shitty translators.
The robot hums to itself as it processes my facial expressions and attempts to detect signs of deception.
“According to our records you have no remaining family members. But if you should discover others who later become deceased, know that remains disposal is only sanctioned in Neutral Space.”
“Thanks for the tip. Is that all, robot? Can you just deduct the credits from my ship account? I’ve got a haul to drop and money to collect before I get back to Remidian IV.”
“Your heart rate appears to be highly elevated, as well as your cortisol and adrenal levels. Is there a reason you are currently in distress?”
“I just fucking hate being on land. And I also hate discussing personal matters with a robot who isn’t programmed to actually give a shit about me.”
The robot hums again for a moment, “Yes, according to my records your bio levels, while unusual for most sapiens, are within the range of every previously monitored interview you have participated in. Would you like to consult with a Confederately-funded physician at the conclusion of this interview?”
“I’m good. The only thing I need is to get back on my rig.”
Since I’m not currently being arrested and tortured, I’m assuming neither my deception nor the other illegal cargo have been discovered. Grandma always said Cons are greedy but lazy. An obvious but minor violation like this means they’ll happily collect their fines and move along. I think being a red herring would actually make Papa proud.
“That will be fine, Captain Neibowski. As soon as your payment has cleared you will be allowed to continue through customs. However I would like to inform you that, thanks to the Sol Salvation Act, the Confederate government is prepared to extend psychological assistance to you as you grieve your loved one. As well as accommodations in an available Sol housing settlement for up to one solycle.”
“Yeah, that 25,000 Credits ought to cover at least that. Eh, bot? Thanks but no thanks. Space is where I belong.”
There is a long silence as the robot does whatever the hell it needs to do. Finally its face becomes expressive again.
“Your payment has been processed, and you and your cargo are now cleared through Sol III customs. Your sentient remains will be released to you within 24 solours upon further inspection. Welcome to Earth.”