Niles looked around with interest at the Administration Building’s interior and people. He continued his nonstop chatter, following the Marshal as the bigger man headed toward an information kiosk. The droid attached to the chair smiled at the men.

“How may I help you?”

Metger said, “We need to book passage on the first ship out.”

He glanced at Sergio and said, “Make that the first ship headed for Petra Roe.”

“Very well, sir. The Parasol is in orbit at this moment, and is scheduled for departure in about three hours. Would you like to book passage?”

“Yes. Charge two tickets to the Marshal’s Service.”

“Very well, sir. Do you have anything to declare to Customs prior to departure?”

Metger snorted. “No.”

Niles smiled at the attractive droid and said, “I have nothing to declare, either. I’ve lost all my luggage. Pirates took it. I’ve just got the clothes on my back. But, boy, have I got a story to tell. I’m taking that back with me!”

“Our security scans are showing guns in your bag, Mr. Metger. As you know, weapons are not allowed onboard, nor in the Administration Building.”

“These belong to the Petra Roe Embassy,” Metger said. “I’m sure somebody will be along to pick them up shortly.”

“Very well. You may deposit them here.” The droid reached her hand out.

Metger handed over his duffel bag full of weapons somewhat reluctantly, noticing the perfect nails on the female droid’s hands. He wondered if droids had manicures, or if the nail polish was permanent somehow.

The droid opened a locked container under her desk and dropped the bag inside.

She said, “I am receiving a message that Customs would like a word with you. If you would step that way, please.”

She pointed toward a doorway. Metger frowned but moved in that direction, fully confident laws and treaties protected him. Sergio followed, his head continuing to swivel, taking in the sights.

Inside the door they met a human this time, a pleasant looking fellow of African descent with a genial smile. His hair was shaved short and he had a goatee.

He said, “Mr. Metger? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we have a few fines to assess before you can leave Lute.”

Metger’s eyebrow shot up. “Fines?”

“Yes. It appears you have violated a handful of rules. Let me get the list out.”

The Customs officer waved in the air and a holopaper appeared. The text scrolled up when he flicked it.

“Yes, let’s see. Unauthorized use of a skycab, that’s a 5,000 credit fine. Unsafe exit from a skycab while in motion, that’s another 5,000. Uh, terroristic threats, 10,000. Oh, here are the big ones. External damage to a building. Hm. Seems like damage on the ground floor by agents employed by you or your agency and some damage higher up. Internal gunfire led to additional damages . . . 100,000 for the upper floor damage, 50,000 for the street level. Now, administrative processing adds some to that, you understand. Plus, the company whose building you damaged has filed a grievance. We have checked with our local AI who agrees with the grievance based on her observations, thus obviating the need for a magistrate to weigh in. So, that’s an additional 100,000. Last but not least, bringing unauthorized weapons into the Administration Building without proper clearance. So, your total for everything is . . .”

The Customs officer flicked his finger over the holosheet again and the text scrolled to the bottom.

“. . . A grand total of 350,000 credits.”

While the officer spoke, Metger’s expression shifted from amused to annoyed to incredulous to anger. Finally, when he finished, Metger’s expression shifted to his normal one of arrogance.

He said, “I am a Marshal with the Marshal’s Service. All of this damage occurred while in the process of performing my job. I am not liable, nor is my agency, for anything. I may not be fined for anything done in the course of my job.”

The Customs officer scratched his nose. He smiled politely again and said, “Maybe on other planets, but I’m afraid that’s not the case here on Lute.”

He made another motion with his wrist and a different holosheet appeared, floating in the air. He twisted it with his hand so that Metger could read the words on it.

“According to Section 18, Article Five, paragraph four . . . ‘If in the process of attempting to execute a warrant or apprehend an individual, the foreign agent incurs damage to private property or other individuals, said agent will be held as indemnification for any and all damages, as well as additional sums in due recompense for pain and suffering when aggrieved parties file an injunction . . .’

“Well, there’s more and I’m no lawyer, but I’m sure you can ask our AI any questions you might have. The long and the short of it is, when we get 350,000 credits from you or your agency, you will be free to go. Until then, I’m afraid you must remain here. That’s the ‘holding for indemnification’ part. We have accommodations ready for you in another part of the Administration Building.”

At this point a couple of security bots walked into the room, accompanied by a live police officer.

Metger’s face grew red as he realized they were actually going to detain him.

He said, “This is outrageous! I’ve never made that much in my life! For 350,000 credits I could buy my own spaceship to fly home! There are laws! There are treaties governing the Marshal’s Service between both systems!”

The Customs officer nodded in agreement. “Indeed there are. However, Lute is part of neither major system. And though we are allied with the Republic in this current conflict, we remain self-governing and adhere to our own laws and regulations. You are welcome to contact your home agency, but as a law enforcement officer I think you will understand that I have to enforce our laws now. Laws which you have clearly violated. Repeatedly.

“If you will please follow this gentleman, the guard bots will accompany you to our holding area.”

Metger turned to glare at the bots and realized they both had weapons drawn and aimed at him. The blood in his face drained away.

He turned back to the Customs officer and said, “This . . . is . . . outrageous!”

“I should warn you that threatening a Customs official is also an offense, and doing so will increase your fine and possibly the time you remain with us.”

The man smiled pleasantly at Metger, who glared at him for another full minute. Finally, the Marshal turned and marched out, following the human officer while the guardbots covered his back.

Niles watched them leave. He turned to the Customs officer and said, “Hi. What about me? I’m Niles Sergio.”

“I am told you are a guest at Mule Tower. You may return now. LuteNet? Please port this gentleman to the Ultima Mule Company.”

“Wait! I—“

Niles popped away.

The Customs officer flicked the holopapers and they disappeared. Past the door, out in the hallway, he heard Metger bellowing his rage.

He smiled and said, “Days like this I really love my job.”


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