Friday, January 27, 2017

Accept No Substitutes

Sandoval looked up from her sundae as Luch barreled into the galley.


“Sandoval you better … is that a chocolate sundae with butterscotch, pecans and pineapple?” he asked. His face appeared animated even under his fire pattern leather mask.


“Mine. Next time you go provision shopping with me.”


“That’s fine … the Captain showed up from his bargain hunting and he’s mad enough to kick holes in the hull.”


“Yeah …” Sandoval had applied the first spoonful to her tongue and at the moment was in a state of rapture. She that does the food shopping gets first pick of the goodies for herself. That was crew law.


“He asked me where the devil you were and … I told him you were up here stowing food. This isn’t quite what I meant though.”


“Meep. He’s mad? At me?” States of rapture were apparently vulnerable to bad news.


“The way your luck runs … “


Sandoval fled with neither grace nor dessert. Luch waited till the scurry of feet faded and then grabbed the sundae whistling happily.


The Captain was an old hand at cornering recalcitrant and evasive crew (the only types he ever encountered to hear him speak). She was in the gig studiously shampooing the upholstery. He dragged her out by the collar and then proceeded to explain her shortcomings as crew, shipmate, and higher mammal.  Luch had broken under such a barrage before and Luch could hurt people with his hands, feet, elbows and once or twice his head. A diminutive second tier navigator never had a chance. In a terribly sexist and cliched scene he had her sniffling, then bawling before she was allowed to flee. Fortunately a bug had flown into his mouth.


Luch was still in the galley, having finished the sundae, adjusting his luchador mask and his belt and wondering what the poor crew were doing that time of day when the navigator slumped in looking barely capable of finding her behind with both hands.


“Angry, hunh?”


“Uhuh,” she said inhaling sharply to contain a nasal emission. Luch patted his lap and she sat down and put her head on his shoulder.


“Tell Uncle Luch … what did old Captain say?”


The story took some doing to get with several breaks for nose blowing and an angry rant on the sanctity of sundaes (You Leather Masked Baboon!) It seemed that one of the starport merchants, Selvaggio, who had bought a number of fuel cells. Said cells were paid for in local currency. Said currency was handed over to the Captain quite dutifully. The Captain then went on several errands such as scaring up passengers, cargo to ship and enjoying a seven course meal in a local bistro off the port grounds.


The currency turned out to be more homemade than local. The restaurateur was not at all impressed at serving a merchant prince experiencing a cash flow problem and the Captain had spent two hours washing dishes and loading crates of vegetables.


“He said I was to get his money back whatever way I can.”


“Hummh. That’s a lot of latitude. The Captain would perform acts of necrophilia for a hundred credits you would pray desperately to unsee.”


“Heehee. Say again?”


“Did I stutter? Ahh the Captain would perform acts of necrophilia for a hundred credits you would pray desperately to unsee … he’s right behind me isn’t he?”


“Yes, Uncle Luch,” Sandoval said.


***


Selvaggia the merchant regarded ‘Uncle’ Luchador coldly. Luch was impassive. Wearing a demonic leather face mask did that for you.


“I know your … niece,” the merchant paused as Luch snorted derisively.


“She’s my shippie … and a very bad girl for dragging me into this,” Luch said angrily.


“Whatever. When you write your life story I’ll buy a copy.  Anyway. I’m sorry your shippie was stuck with 500 credits in funny money but I am not liable   for your loss. You have no way of establishing that money came from me. Any constable will agree.”


“That is your final word?” Sandoval asked through gritted teeth.


“No. Fuck off is my final word,” Selvaggia spat.


***


“Why didn’t you visit violence upon him? You guys live for that sort of thing!” Sandoval spat when they were back on the street.


“Did you not notice the large number of burly employees loading crates using pry bars and hooks?”


“I see. You’re scared.”


“Some of them looked tough … almost brutal and those were just the women. Not scared, but let us label violence as plan B,” Luch said with a shrug.


“What is plan A?” Sandoval asked looking at the wad of local credits in her hand.


“I came up with plan B. Do I have to do everything?”


***


“I would be obliged if you could tell me how to point this funny money out,” Sir Bert said angrily. Sandoval decided to speak to a Tech Knight. She was fortunate enough to find this one eating a sundae at a drugstore counter. They joined him.


“It is a little embarrassing. The counterfeit notes are good, very good. They pass high denominations in multiple places at once and the only way we have to spot them is by the serial numbers. They’re the same on all the bills. We assume some locals have gotten a copy machine from offworld.We’re working on new notes with fluorescent particles in the ink. Right now you need a microscope and a sharp eye to spot a note. The boys at the exchange office are going blind.”


“Makes sense, sir. If it were anyone with a computer and half a brain they could manipulate the image and change the numbers.”


“Here’s a real c-note, and my card. If you figure out a way to spot phony money give me a call.”


“Sure. You’re awful nice trusting me with a hundred credit note,” Sandoval slapped Luch’s hand halfway to her sundae.


“Actually I trust you with a hundred credit note because I’m not nice at all. Show my card to anyone before you plan on stiffing me.”


***
Luch was tending to his duties a little later and pondering liberating some confections from the Captain’s fridge when Sandoval came strutting in bearing a paddlet in her hand. Luch closed the fridge door quickly and she seemed to take little notice of it.


“I got it! I programmed a paddlet to scan a note you slap on it and determine if it’s counterfeit or genuine. I’m gonna call Sir Bert and then he’ll get me my … the Captain’s money back!”


“This is the Sir Bert who made us by his lunch?”


“... yes.” Sandoval suddenly felt like a little kid asking to stick a drawing on the fridge that her  mom judged unworthy.


“You raise a good point. Like as not he’d cop it and take the credit, hunh? And giving it to Selvaggia … it might get us the money back  but he’s as likely to gouge us.”


“You’re learning buttercup.”


Sandoval was diminutive and soft spoken and gave the impression she could get mugged by an animatronic plush animal. Now, though an evil grin lit her girlish face that made Luch’s blood drop a degree or two.


“I assume we have a plan A?”


“I think so. How many of the big warehouses are there on this dinky port? We don’t have to worry about importing tech here, right?”


“There are five counting that swindler’s house of swag and you are correct we do not need to worry about our own tech here. Cross the duty line and the locals will jail your ass for a  monochrome holo,” the steward said.


“I can see why with all the trouble a copy machine is giving them. Anyway I need another hour to fab more of these and … will you go with me?”


“”I dunno … I have to shampoo some masks … floss the artichokes …”


“LUCH!”


***
Some time later Sandoval and Luch were sunning themselves on the Profit Rockit’s ramp. They were making due with having free time and no money as best they could. Selvaggia came storming up. Sandoval flinched a bit at the negativity blasted at her.


“Oh. Mr. Selvaggia. Excuse me a moment. I’m not dressed to receive company,” the navigator grabbed a short robe off the back of her lawn chair and threw it over her shoulders. Selvaggia did a slow burn for a moment and then said, “Knock it off! I want one of those currency scanners!”


“You don’t always get what you want but if you’re lucky … you find what you need,” Luch said without moving.


“You both need my foot up your asses! You sold  those damn things to all the other warehouse owners in the port.”


“We did … for 150 credits a piece,” Sandoval said smiling a moment.


“Fine … I’ll take one!”


“The price is 500 credits,” Luch said. Sandoval had wanted to tell Selvaggia but Luch beat her at rock paper scissors.


“Five hundred! This counterfeiting fad may be over in a week!”


“Great wait a week … with every crook knowing you don’t have one of these and the competition does!” Luch snapped.


“It’s a special model,” Sandoval said grabbing the paddlet from under her chair.


“... special?”


“Yes. It’s the last model we have. Five hundred. Six hundred with the apps installed eep!” Sandoval ducked behind Luch as the merchant balled his fists and snorted.


“ … will you take a check?” he finally managed.


***


“I knew you could do it. My faith was in you my little cherubs of windfall!” Captain was saying later. He embraced Sandoval and Luch in a somewhat moist bearhug. The crew put up with it.
In one massive hand he clutched the gold coins they made Selvaggia cough up.


“Thank you fatso.”


“Thank you Captain!”


“Canteen is open for you guys till we lift. Go enjoy!” Sandoval aye ayed and prepared to beat it before things went 180 from due North.


“Oh … one moment my little beacons of commerce,” the Captain called.


“Sir?”


“I can’t seem to … find … any … paddlets,” the Captain said making a show of looking under his desk and chair.


“Oh … I used them f …” Luch’s knee interfaced with the navigator’s backside a moment too late.


“Oh. You used them … out of my stores?” Captain stopped looking and punched a computer display up with frightening competency. “And you fabbed some adapter modules in my shop. Kiddies it seems you made a lot of money selling lemonade … but you were squeezing my lemons.”


“I’d like to kick in your lemons,” Luch muttered.


“But ingenuity should be rewarded. Just not at my expense. I’ll give you the hundred extra you got from Selvaggia … and 25 credits for each of the other four units you made and sold. That’s a hundred each.”


Captain carefully counted out eight shiny coins and handed four to each of them. Luch for once remained silent though Sandoval felt his eyes burning into her scrawny back.


They left Captain’s cabin quickly, Luch heading down to the galley. Sandoval followed him on the theory if she did he would find it harder to sneak up and murder her.


“Luch, what are you doing?” Sandoval asked, a little worried. The money was not what they had expected but it was enough for some shore leave, shopping, a sundae or two.


“I’m going to open the canteen and eat till that fat sonuvabitch shows a loss for this transaction!”

***
The technophile says, "New tech is GOOD!" The technophobe says, "New tech is BAD!" The wise say, "This requires further testing," and keeps it for personal use as long as possible.

In the case of Zaonia, a photocopier would probably make pretty slick counterfeits that would be difficult to spot. The locals already had problems with counterfeit credentials (see many previous posts.) Restricting technology should keep things like this from happening except someone willing to counterfeit won't be deterred by import laws.

Capturing such counterfeiters might be more a matter of police work and squeezing informants and offworlders until some leads turn up. Make sure your offworlder characters aren't the ones squeezed.

If the counterfeiters have any brains they'll move around and pass their money in different cities and moving on when the police get to close. They might even be spacers plying their trade when they hit Zao Port, passing bad money and slipping away till their freighter calls again.

Merchants might demand gold or silver instead of paper money from spacers. This could lead to a shadow economy. Locals purchase wares and services for spacers in exchange for a percentage of the coin spent. All of this makes a nice messy web for players to step into.