Lieutenant Skinner muttered obscenities, casting dark looks at the idle workers who were grinning at her difficulties. Her scab crew remained silent. If the crowd's humor turned to violence they were too far from their home ward to expect any assistance. There would be no reprisals. The SDT Union was too strong and its pockets too deep, even in this time of awful unemployment.
Skinner could not figure out what had gone wrong. Her ward captain had said this was a plum job. A little favor for Tyrenne Yelad that'd go into Skinner's merit book.
All she had to do was retrieve the Santana's cargo. A few personal and private things for the Tyrenne. It was a job to be handled with Skinner's usual discretion.
Skinner's use of scabs was hardly unusual, or even provoking. In such cases one approached the appropriate union steward who would estimate the number of beings required for the job. The mordida would be set at double their prospective wages—then scabs would be allowed to unload the cargo, while the steward spread the money around to those who normally would have toted those bales. Keeping a nice taste for himself, of course. That was only right. Skinner had picked up more than a few earners of that type herself as a Dusable officer of the law.
Okay, so what had gone clottin' wrong? They had trundled up to the freighter, but no one had come out. Impatient, Skinner had gotten on the horn to see what was the hang up. No response. She tried again. Still no answer. What kind of game was this? She had sufficient mordida in her pocket to pay off anyone, from the captain of the Santana down, if necessary.
The steward exited his office. From his look the drakh was neck deep and rising. "Get your butt outta here," he snarled.
"What the clot for? We got a deal. Remember ?”
"The deal's off. Only reason I'm tellin' you, 'stead of sendin' a couple of guys to thump you first, is we done business afore. So I owe you a warnin'. Now, get!"
Skinner blew herself out to her most coplike proportions—which were considerable. But before she could deliver her full wrath at this scrote, she heard cheering. She whirled to confront the new threat—and gaped.
It was Solon Kenna! Advancing with a phalanx of aides, a big crowd of SDT workers, and a livie news crew. Ohmigod. Skinner knew it was time to make herself scarce. She should have known. This was an election year. In fact, the election was only two weeks away, which made things even stickier. Especially since Tyrenne Yelad's challenger was Kenna himself. Clot the ward captain! She was gettin' out.
Solon Kenna took position in front of the ship. He was an immense, elderly man who bore his girth like the seasoned pol he was. His nose was bulbous from many hours and many bottles, but his eyes and instincts were sharp. And he had a smile that would swallow a swamp beast. He turned the full force of that smile on his pet newscaster.
"I will speak no further on the perfidy of my opponent," Solon Kenna said. "Instead, I will let the facts speak for themselves. They will soon reveal themselves when I assure the poor mistreated and honest laborers inside that they are among friends—and they exit with the awful evidence of Tyrenne Kenna's greed."
"Hang on a sec, boss," the newscaster said. "You sure you wanna say perfidy? I mean, callin' the butt-wipe a lyin' sack might be going too far. But—I don't know. The word's kinda thick. Might make folks think you're stuck up."
"No problem," Kenna answered. "Fix it any way you like. I trust your professional judgment."
"Second question, what do we call these guys?" the newscaster asked. "We don't wanna say they're mutineers, right? I mean, that's not the drift of this bit, is it?"
"Absolutely not," Solon Kenna said. "What we have here is an injustice of enormous proportions."
Before he could continue, there was a cheer from the dockworkers as the main cargo port of the freighter creaked open and the ragged crew members stepped out.
Raschid kept to the sidelines, watching with oddly professional interest as the events unfolded. Pitcairn proved to be a great interview subject. The other mutineers took their hints from her and Raschid thought they all did a credible job. But the illicit cargo would have won the day, regardless. Kenna handled it like a seasoned pro. His expression shifted from sadness, to anger, to outrage at the greed of Tyrenne Yelad, expending dwindling AM2 credits for luxury items while his own people starved.
Not bad, Raschid thought. Although the guy had an unfortunate habit of tossing off fancy words when they weren't called for. It didn't matter that he misused them. The people he was aiming them at wouldn't know. They would possibly take offense only because he might be coming across too pompous. Still, he was mostly getting in all his shots.
Once again he puzzled at why he knew so much about this sort of thing. But he pressed the question away, along with that odd feeling he had of being watched by something or someone just out of view.
He saw Pitcairn pointing in his direction. Kenna looked over and smiled a big wolfish grin. Raschid did not know what that meant, but he would soon find out. Solon Kenna was motioning the livie crew to keep back and was coming his way. Raschid decided to stay put and play the cards as they were dealt.
Kenna planted himself in front of Raschid, lighting half the dock with his grin.
"How you doing, friend?" he said. "I'm Solon Kenna. The humble representative of these poor working beings."
Then as Raschid took his hand to shake, Kenna leaned closer and whispered. "I got word you were coming," he said. "We need to talk—later."
Raschid hesitated, then nodded. "You're right," he said. "We need to talk."
The Cairene System was a dozen or so lightly populated agro-worlds and the big, dense port planet of Dusable. This is where the late Tanz Sullamora had made his second fortune—in shipbuilding. The factories, which had groaned under triple shifts during the Tahn war, were now desolate. The AM2 crisis had struck nearly every part of Dusable.
That would be bad for any planet. But on Dusable, it was disaster. Because the Cairene System was a political throwback. On Dusable there was really only one industry: politics. There was barely a being on the planet who did not owe his or her existence to patronage, from pot scourer, to sewer worker, to cop, to business owner, to joygirl, to ward boss, to the Tyrenne Yelad himself.
It was an unwieldy system, and corrupt to the core, but it had worked for centuries, and worked very well, For thirty years Tyrenne Yelad had ruled. His patronage was so vast there was little hope he would ever be defeated. Still, just because he won with ease every four years did not mean that his opponents were in any way helpless.
There were checks and balances in this system. No matter that they were equally as corrupt. Under the Tyrenne was the Council of Solons. Each member ran a group of wards, whose voters he rewarded with jobs, advice, and influence. A perfect Solon made sure no one went without. If one had trouble with the grocery money, one went to the ward captain. Same for a spouse with a brutal or drunken other. Paid hospital stays were assured. Fines were leavened, or even dismissed.
Bribe money flowed in and out of all this. Joygirls paid their pimps, who paid the cops. The cops themselves paid for prized beats such as vice, or traffic in the rich resort areas. They also paid for rank, which placed them higher on the mordida ladder. Mob bosses paid both ways: cops on one end, pols on the other. And all those people paid the ward captains—who, in turn, poured all the credits into the coffers of the Solon controlling their district.
The Solons, in turn, shared the mordida with the key leaders who actually ran the whole thing. Tyrenne Yelad was a good example of one such leader. He had come to power as a reformer, as had the Tyrenne before him. This election, the new hopeful reformer was Solon Kenna, president of the Council of Solons and Yelad's worst enemy. Kenna's power came from the unions, particularly the SDT, which was why, after three tries and three defeats, Kenna was convinced that this year was his best chance.
The hordes of unemployed beings had put big brass knuckles on his fists. He had been slugging it out with Yelad for more than six months. But now, two weeks before the election, he had not been able to deliver a knockout. If he couldn't, Kenna's long run was over—unless there was a miracle. He was hoping that Raschid was that miracle. The more they talked, the surer he became.
At one point Raschid had quizzed him about the credit situation. How full were Kenna's campaign coffers? Kenna said he had sufficient. Raschid shook his head and advised him to get more, much more. Kenna asked why.
"Unruh's First Law," Raschid said. "Money is the mother's milk of politics."
The answer spoke volumes. This man was no dry political-science scholar. Kenna had seen too many elections lost with that type. Raschid was obviously an expert street politician who knew how to play the game from the top right down to the gutter.
Kenna found it easy to be candid with Raschid, because... he knew, dammit. The guy knew! The next question, however, threw him into temporary orbit.
"Why are you telling me all this?" Raschid asked. "What do you expect me to do about it? I'm just a ship's cook. A mutinous one in some lights."
"Come on," Kanna sputtered. "You can drop that. You're among friends, here. Besides, I've already been filled in. I knew you were on your way."
"Who told you?" Raschid asked.
Kenna figured it was a try on—so he bit. "It wasn't anyone I could name right out," he said. "You know that as well as I do. I got it from... back channels. We were advised the Santana was inbound. With a cargo I'd be a fool not to inspect. More importantly, I was told there would be a man on board posing as the ship's cook. And that he was the absolute best there was in political strategy.
"I can't tell you how we all reacted here. To know that some very important outsiders were with us. And that rescue was on its way."
Raschid considered. For some reason, it all made sense to him. Although he wondered why those outsiders had not informed him as well. He buried that. It was another test, maybe the final one.
"Okay," Raschid said. "You got your boy. I'm on board." Kenna breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Who else is in the race?" Raschid asked.
"Only one other," Kenna said. "Solon Walsh. And he doesn't have a chance. Although the guy's as handsome a pol as has come along for three forevers. But he's young. And he's stupid."
"What's his bit?"
"Reform," Kenna said dryly. "He's trying to steal the march from me, I guess. Because that's my main platform. Walsh can't seem to get any ideas of his own."
"He's probably got Yelad behind him," Raschid said. "But real quiet. Walsh is intended to bleed off support from you."
Kenna was startled, then comforted again. It was just the way he had seen it. "All right... here's how we go," Raschid said. "We need three things.
"First, we need a Dummy. Second, an Issue."
He took a long swallow from the brandy glass Kenna had been constantly filling since the meeting began.
"What's the third?" Kenna asked.
"Easy," Raschid said. "Then we steal the election."
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur!
Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace.
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION
And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?