The Rat stood on the table, in front of me; crossed on his back was a rapier and a tiny one-shot pistol. His name was Tirripik, and I think he was drunk.
"Only Rats, Rats and Trogs," he said, emphatically.
I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. He looked around at the other customers in the off-worlders tavern in Jefferson City; there were trogs in here, as well as bear-people, Cyclopes and deer- people, as well as several races of baseline humans from the lo-tech societies sprinkled across this low-tech world.
Most of them were at least merry on good Ribblehead wine.
Through the thick smoky air of the tavern tiny flying Tech-leveler robot drones kept an eye or three out for illegal high tech use; they were aware that I had no functional implants or other devices, thanks to the thorough screening at the spaceport.
"They try to keep us out, but they can't- the Trogs are in the caves underneath, you see, and us Rats can hide in the drains (if they have them) and in the walls if they don't. Rats and Trogs are found in every land in this world, everywhere! We know everything there is to know in Ribblehead. Everything."
I knew that the hundreds of tiny sovereign nations on this large world were often at war with each other; the wars were usually minor skirmishes, fought with low-tech weapons; some hatreds ran deep, and there was only limited contact between several of the nations, except here in the cosmopolitan city of Jefferson.
And it was forbidden for off-worlders to leave this city, to see the bizarre and fabulous countries the tweaks and reanths and prims had built for themselves.
"So you would know how to sneak a tourist out of Jefferson, then, wouldn't you."
"Heheh - nothing to it, pal." The Rat hiccupped.
"Prove it." I leant forward, eager to show I meant business.
Tirripik took my money, and arranged for a rendezvous with some Minoan tourist smugglers. They dressed me as a Xhosha baseline to fool the Tech-leveller vecs, but the smugglers were wary of discovery and betrayal, so they blindfolded me and took me by cart to a creaking wooden jetty, then concealed me in a boat under a tarpaulin in the dead of night. I heard the smugglers rowing across the water, and then they jumped onto another boat, or jetty (I couldn't tell which).
After a half hour one returned, saying that he had a problem with the captain of the ship that would take me onwards, and asked for more gold.
I gave some of my reserves to the Minoan, while wondering if he meant to cut my throat in the dark. When he left me alive I grew hopeful again, while giving thanks that my backup was relatively up to date. A full citizen of the Galaxy like myself (with the opportunity for reincarnation in the event of death) will always have the advantage over mere prims. We citizens sometimes grow reckless and foolish for this very reason; it is well known that a prim who harms a citizen will be severely punished.
And foolish is what I felt when I peeked out from the tarpaulin a hour later, in the grey morning light; the boat I was in floated on a lake in the public park, and several curious Jeffersonians were gathered on the shore, roaring with laughter.
By Steve Bowers (2008)
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