Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 32
The hatch opened, the ramp lowered, and Tabor and Shenoy began walking down to the ground.
“That must be a Paskapan,” suggested Shenoy, nodding toward the uniformed creature that stood a few feet from the ship. It was tripodal but possessed only two arms, it had two eyes and only one nostril in its flat noseless face, it had coarse hair on its cheeks but none on its head, and when it smiled at them it flashed a set of bright orange teeth.
“Welcome to Cornfield!” it greeted them with a snappy salute.
“Cornwallis IV,” replied Shenoy.
“Whatever,” said the Paskapan with a shrug. It held out a six-fingered hand. “May I have your disembarkation fee, please?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Shenoy, frowning.
“Five credits each,” said the Paskapan.
“But we just paid thirty crugmos to land,” complained Shenoy.
“True,” agreed the Paskapan. “And if you wish to remain in your ship for the duration of your stay, then indeed you owe us nothing further.”
“Forget it,” said Tabor, pulling a ten-credit note out of his pocket and handing it over. “My treat.”
“Thank you,” said the Paskapan.
“You guys move from crugmos to credits pretty damned fast,” continued Tabor.
“If you wish to pay in crugmos that will be perfectly acceptable,” was the reply. “But I can’t do the math.”
“Forget it. Let’s just get this show on the road.”
“Ah! You want a road?” replied the Paskapan. “Then you will need a vehicle. They are available for –”
“Figure of speech,” said Tabor. He looked around at the mostly-empty spaceport. “What now?”
“Now you pass through Customs, of course, and then Pippibwali will be your guide and intermediary.”
“We don’t want a guide,” said Shenoy.
“Certainly you do,” said the Paskapan.
“I have expensive maps of the planet, plus reports from previous expeditions,” said Shenoy. “We really do not need a guide.”
The Paskapan shrugged. “Well, if you think you can afford it . . . ”
“Afford what?” demanded Shenoy.
“Not having a guide.”
“I don’t believe I’m following you,” said Shenoy, frowning.
“You don’t follow me, good sir. You will follow Pippibwali.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” said Shenoy. “It will cost us more to go out alone than with a guide?”
“That is the dumbest thing I ever heard!” growled Shenoy.
“Quite the contrary,” responded the Paskapan. “If I were a visitor, I might well feel the way you do. But as an inhabitant of Cornstalk, I believe in making every effort to achieve full employment.”
Shenoy turned to Tabor. “What do you think, Russ?”
“I think it makes sense that they have three legs,” answered Tabor with a sardonic smile.
“I beg your pardon?”
“It would make sense to any Finn.”
“Ah,” said Shenoy, nodding in agreement. “It would at that.”
“Follow me, please,” said the Paskapan. “We’re wasting time.”
“And time is money, right?” said Tabor.
The Paskapan shot him the equivalent of a smile. “I like that!” he said. “Brilliant, witty, incisive. I think I shall begin using it.”
“Ten credits per usage,” said Tabor.
The smile was replaced by a frown. “You’re assimilating too damned fast,” he growled, leading them to a small building perhaps one hundred yards away.
They entered, and walked up to a counter, where a uniformed Paskapan was awaiting them.
“Welcome to . . . whatever you call this place in your primitive tongue,” he said. “May I see your passports, please?”
Shenoy and Tabor each placed his right hand on the counter.
“I am waiting,” said the Customs officer.
“We’re presenting them, damn it!” snapped Shenoy.
“All I see are your hands.”
“Well, what the hell did you expect to see?” demanded Shenoy. “Our passport chips have been inserted in the back of our hands. This is commonplace all across the galaxy. Surely you have a machine that can read them.”
“Ah!” said the Customs officer. “You want me to activate the machine!”
“If that’s what it takes for us to pass through here and be on our way, then of course I want you to do whatever is necessary!”
“Here it comes,” whispered Tabor to Shenoy.
“It is a very complex machine,” explained the Customs officer, “and uses an inordinate amount of power.”
“How much?” asked Shenoy wearily.
“How much power?” repeated the Customs officer. “Would that be measured in ergs, quapostes, morsimmots, or perhaps in–?”
“How much will it cost?”
“Your race uses credits, does it not?”
Tabor resisted an urge to name an ancient currency such as dollars or rubles. “Yeah, credits.”
“Five thousand credits,” said the Customs officer.
“Fuck it!” snapped Tabor. “We’re going home!”
Shenoy turned to him in shock, but Tabor winked at him.
“Just a minute!” said the Customs officer hastily. “I misread the decimal point. The fee is fifty credits.”
Tabor turned his back and took two steps toward the door. “And for your inconvenience, this one time the fee is five credits.”
Tabor smiled, waited until he could present a straight face again, then turned around, walked back to the counter, and laid a five-credit note on it.
“You look so honest we’ll forego passport inspection and all other formalities,” announced the Customs officer. “Just pass right through that doorway, and you’ll find your guide waiting on the other side of it.”
“Thank you,” said Shenoy, heading forward the doorway. “And as for the five-credit fee, don’t worry. Our lips are sealed.”
Shenoy nodded. “Absolutely.”
“I could sell you sold antiseptic balm that is almost guaranteed to unseal them for just twenty credits.”
“Some other time,” said Tabor, taking Shenoy by the arm and leading him through the doorway.
A Paskapan was awaiting them, and immediately gave them a salute.
Well, at least his hand’s not out reaching for money, thought Tabor.
“Greetings, honored sirs,” said the Paskapan. “I am Pippibwali.”
“I’m Tabor, and this gentleman is Sir Rupert.”
“It will be my pleasure to show you around Corncob,” said Pippibwali.
“Last time you mentioned it, it was Cornfield,” said Tabor.
“And we explained that it was Cornwallis IV. But why don’t we call it what your people call it?”
“That’s very considerate of you,” answered Pippibwali, “but of course you couldn’t pronounce it.”
“Very well,” said the Paskapan. “It is Bort.”
“Bort?” repeated Tabor with a frown.
“Oh, very good, sir!”
“You must not think very much of us if you thought we couldn’t pronounce a word like Bort.”
“It’s Bord, sir.”
“I could have sworn you said Bort,” replied Tabor.
“I did,” replied Pippibwali.
“It changes a lot,” answered Pippibwali. “Linguistic evolution in action, you might say.”
“You might say it,” said Tabor.
“I just did.”
“All right. We’re here to see certain parts of Bord.”
“It’s Born now, sir,” replied Pippibwali.
Tabor resisted the urge to take a swing at the Paskapan. “Just for convenience we’re going to continue referring to it as Bort.”
“If you insist, sir, but –”
“And if you tell me there’s a charge for calling it Bort, I will cut your heart out and happily pay that penalty instead.”
“Bort it is, sir!” said Pippibwali hastily. “Bort it is.”
“Thanks, Pippi,” said Tabor. “I’m glad to see we understand each other.”
“If you think my name is Pippi, we do not understand each other as well as you think, sir.”