In Search of Wealth
In light of the response from independent pilots of all stripes to emancipate millions of slaves at the behest of Her Royal Highness Aisling Duval, your humble correspondent took a journey to meet with the people who deal on a daily basis with what the Princess terms a “barbaric anachronism”. What I found is detailed herein. Slavery is a symptom of the pursuit of wealth. What follows are the results of several interviews. All subjects requested that no names be used. I have honored this request.
I depart Cubeo in my Asp Explorer and proceeded across the interminable distance from home to a place that few have ever heard of, but which finds itself at the heart of the slavery problem in our Empire. The station terms itself a “mine”. The planet nearest this system’s primary star twinkles a sparkling blue as you approach. The station itself seems to mine the hopes and freedoms of the people that frequent it. With a stigma against debt and the lack of a social net, it is a sad fact that many people are pushed to divest themselves of their personal freedom and enter into slavery. Others, on the search for large sums of money to be made quickly come here to transport those poor souls to places where slavery is often outlawed. A smugglers den if you will.
We sit at an observation point watching a strikingly marked Fer-de-Lance maneuver for docking. My companion is a stocky woman with eyes as cold as any I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what ship she flies, she refuses to tell me. She is dressed simply, but the palladium rings on her fingers hint to me that she lives comfortably enough.
“Why do it?” Her tone is mocking as she repeats my question back to me. “Somebody will. Why shouldn’t I make the money?” When asked if she feels anything for the people she transports as cargo she shrugs. “They took on the debt. They took on the slavery to be relieved of that debt. I just drive the bus.”
This is not the last time I would encounter this sentiment.
She fiddles with a handheld data terminal and I get the sense of repressed emotion. However, and perhaps inevitably, the data terminal signals an incoming job and just like that, my first, and very short, interview is over.
I expected the station’s bar I was to meet my second interview at would be filthy. Seedy, like some of those places you find in systems with rough economies. But this station’s economy is burning as hot as a star and the bar is clean and recently remodeled. The ceiling even sports a hologram making it appear as if you are looking up through the canopy of a damp, green rain forest.
My interview subject is an energetic man with long hair, his looks marred by a rugged scar where his right ear used to be. He is surprisingly incautious, freely showing me an image of his ship. It turns out to be that same FDL I watched dock earlier. A ship that jauntily wears a black paint job with an overlay of a red pirate skull.
“I need the money, obviously.” He says with a smirk.
When questioned why, he shrugs. “Me and the boys like to live dangerously, y’know. Go hit the trade systems and see how many cargo hatches we can crack.”
When I ask him if he’s admitting to piracy he winks at me. “I never said a thing about piracy, did I?” It ran against every fiber of my being, but I didn’t follow up. Out here I’m just a reporter. There’s no 13th to call on if I need help.
“So it’s just the money? You don’t care what or who you haul?” I ask.
“Oh I care. I’m in it for the thrill, and the payout so I chose the best paying, most exciting jobs I can find. Those bleeding hearts over in ‘the people’s princess’ territory” he sneers as he speaks, “believe that these are poor little put upon souls. Well you know what? Slavery is legal in the Empire. Everyone grows up knowing that if you take on debt you can’t deal with then someone else’s property is your probable future. If I can outfit my ship to better work for me just by transporting them to their own self-earned fate? Why should I care at all?”
I leave him to his life. His feet are propped up on the table and he’s whistling as I make my exit.
It’s three jumps for my Asp to get to my next rendezvous. The Commander of the cutter I meet insists on a thorough inspection of my ship before we talk. He wears a blue jumpsuit that clashes oddly with his red hair, and he possesses a face that has seen a lot of years and a lot of fights. He’s also a Fed. This is the man running the front lines of the Federation’s attempts to halt slave smuggling into their systems. His cutter is one of many vessels in the system defense forces of this sector. He is refreshingly blunt.
“You Imps provide the slaves with your taboos against debt.” I start to ask him how different that is from the defacto indentured servitude forced upon many a Federation corporate worker but he stops me with a raised hand. “I know what you’re going to ask and the answer is it’s not different. You provide the slaves, but we provide the demand, albeit entirely illegal.”
Does he believe there’s a solution?
“As long as there are safe, legal, spaces to run slaves out of in your territory, and rich folks willing to pay massive prices to get them into ours?” He rocks a hand back and forth, signaling futility. “You…” he stops himself. “We need to get the money out of it. If it doesn’t pay then we have a start.”
His cutter jumps to supercruise in a flash and I’m left to contemplate the long journey home to Cubeo. The jumps click off one by one, and I realize I’m anxious to be home. I’m proud of what the Princess accomplished with her emancipation initiative. But it’s only a scratch on the surface of a much larger problem.
As my FSD drops me down into Cubeo and I turn toward Adelman. I have no answers. Slavery, and the money that drives it are a problem that no one man can answer. But a familiar FDL appears on my sensors and I smile. I’m a reporter. But I’m also a pilot in the Empire’s 13th Legion. Commander SilentShadow happens to be leading a Combat Air Patrol right this very moment and I open comms with him.
13th Legion Embedded Reporter