by Jeff C. Carter
Customs Officer Brantry tapped the switch on the conveyor belt to roll the next package into the screener. Dros, the grizzled smuggler following the crate, gave him a conspiratorial nod.
“Organic goods. Soft scan only, please,” Dros said.
Brantry slapped a yellow button on the side of the screener and pinged the crate with a brief burst of radiation.
A grainy hologram of large clustered spheres appeared in front of Brantry but he waved it out of existence before anyone else saw. Live insect eggs were contraband on Avenir, but the aristocracy had an endless appetite for such delicacies. It took Brantry three approachings of tedious work to earn as much as he did letting a package slip through. He might not ever be able to afford a high class life aboard the Avenir, but he was determined to retire to Zirconia in style.
“Your shipment has been sterilized and entered into the quarantine queue. We’ll notify you when it’s ready,” Brantry said, loud enough for anyone who might be listening.
He flipped up the lid of the crate to lay the falsified quarantine seal upon the cargo. The light struck the aerogel packing around the insect eggs and a disturbing shadow caught his eye. These weren’t typical Honey Beetle eggs. They were larger, with too many legs radiating from their dim silhouettes.
Brantry slammed down the lid of the crate and hissed at the smuggler. “Are you insane? I can’t let this through!”
Dros glared at the customs officer but dared not call attention to himself.
Brantry punched the red button to initiate deep sterilization. The machine did not respond.
A low voice from behind Brantry sent a chill racing up his back. “Is there a problem, officer?”
Brantry turned to see a well dressed man standing in the restricted area of customs. This was undoubtedly the aristocrat seeking the egg sacs. “I’m sorry. There has been a mistake -- these are… spiders,” Brantry whispered.
There was no hint of surprise in the aristocrat’s expression, and now Brantry recognized his face. Lancet Palmar VIII, scion of the Palmar dynasty. Was this the latest status symbol, consuming the rarest, most dangerous and most expensive eggs?
“My fee has tripled,” Brantry said, a small tremor in his voice.
The aristocrat casually nodded and walked away.
Brantry let the conveyor belt whisk the crate through customs. He licked his lips, wondering how sweet the spider eggs must taste.