by Travis Perry -
Ernsto fidgeted in the line. He remembered when moving goods up to Avenir used to be a lot easier. But then the Anti-smuggling Acts had been published...
The pressure tank next to him, roughly the size and shape of a coffin, but rounded and made of burnished steel, was mounted on a robotized wheel cart. The line he stood in was for commercial passengers with oversized luggage.
Some part of his brain picked at the word “CUSTOMS,” which had been newly embroidered in bright letters across the armbands of the enforcers standing in this designated section of Zirconia’s upper deck. Somebody must’ve pulled that out of an ancient dictionary somewhere. The word meant nothing to him.
“Next!” said the voice and he stepped forward, the robot cart following him with the tank as he’d programmed it to do. “Papers please,” said the man in his sharp new black-and-white uniform.
“Sure,” said Ernsto, handing over actual printed paper, not digital, not bugshell, supplied to him through a contact of his wizard benefactor in Avenir. The enforcer’s eyes widened at this rare form of official documentation.
“Well, sir,” he said, “All is very much in order…you may proceed.”
“Hold it, Smit!” barked the supervising peacekeeper, stepping toward them. He was not in any kind of uniform, but his badge hung prominently from his belt.
The peacekeeper snatched the papers out of his subordinate’s hand. “Gabril Jons, is it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Ernsto, attempting a smile.
The man evaluated him from his toes up to his face. “You look a lot like the image capture I’ve seen on that smuggler Ernsto Mons.” He glared straight into his eyes, looking for any sign of inappropriate response.
“I’ve heard people tell me that a time or two before,” he muttered. “Can’t say as I like it bein’ accused of criminal activity. I’m Gabril Jons, general merchant, just like the papers say.”
“I think you and your cargo need to be scanned,” said the peacekeeper.
Of course, that would never do. The scan would reveal the presence of the angel in the tank, illegal to transport. And it would also show the weapons hidden under the loose merchant’s shirt Ernsto wore.
“The papers don’t allow that.” He enunciated carefully, “This cargo may not be exposed any extreme form of magnetism or ionizing radiation. This is a special delivery to Wizard Hobson in Avenir and has been pre-inspected. Just as the papers say.” Even as he spoke he was calculating. The peacekeeper and enforcer near him he could kill before they’d realized he had hidden weapons. But the two behind would have time to react, to maybe pull an alarm of some kind, if not actually fire back. And there were more enforcers at the scanning station and the commercial shuttle itself, along with surveillance devices. Plus plenty more on the upper decks of Zirconia. His chances of escaping them all seemed slim, no matter how many he killed.
But he’d known “Forcers” his entire life—he’d known from experience that many of them joined up just to boss others around, to make themselves feel powerful. When given the chance, they could be cruel beyond belief. He was not about to fall into the hands of those dregs—he’d rather die first.
That wizard said it was all arranged! He was angry at the old man. And with himself for having trusted anyone.
The needle gun in his sleeve he’d set up to fire by orienting his arm and squeezing his armpit just so. He turned to the peacekeeper, arm in place, ready to kill. “But officer—”
And then a powerful emotion swept over him, interrupting his plan in motion. It was a deep calmness, slapping away his rage with a shocking coolness, like getting hit on the shore with a sudden surge of the ocean. He gasped.
It showed in the eyes of the lawmen that they felt it, too. Deep, sudden calmness. They probably didn’t know where it had come from, but he knew. He recognized the presence behind it. It was the angel in the pressure tank—she had sent this emotion.
The peacekeeper, calmed and perhaps beyond that, perhaps influenced somehow, took a second look at his high-class forged papers. “I’m…I’m sorry to trouble you, sir. Officer Smit was right. Everything is in order. Please proceed.”
As Ernsto moved forward toward the Avenir-bound shuttle, he wondered why in the name of all Holy-in-the-sea-below-and-the-stars-above would that angel do that for him. Why did she save my life?