“They work harder, they work longer, they eat less and best of all, they don’t TALK BACK because they don’t THINK!”
The auctioneer’s hype gripped the audience and grabbed the attention of several off-worlders sitting on the patio of a nearby café, including Jacobi, who leaned forward and sat higher on his stool to get a better view of the creature being sold. It looked human enough if you overlooked the elephant ears and orange skin. Several more of its kind waited patiently with serene smiles for their turn under the laser.
“What am I bid for this fine Mintari specimen, a male with a good strong back and an excellent disposition?”
A number of voices rang out in unison and the bidding quickly rose to three thousand credits. The auctioneer seemed pleased with himself. The bidding slowed. An over-dressed Cadan raised a mitten. The laser pointer focused on the Cadan and made a gavel-like smacking sound which signaled an end to the bidding. “Sold to the farmer in the front row for three thousand three hundred credits!”
Ill-concealed laughter erupted from some of the gathered buyers. The locals could tell the citizen wore a garb-band to disguise his caste, but the barker had seen straight through to his true identity. The Cadan was undoubtedly a wealthy country rube way out of his league in the big city who may have come to town to buy farm tools or purchase next year’s crop seeds. It looked as if he would leave with a chattel field hand.
The auctioneer wasted no time bringing the next one on the block. “What am I bid for this female entering her 19th year, the fecund season for her species. Am I bid a thousand? I see a thousand and two. You, sir, are you bidding or picking at a radiation scab?”
Slavery was illegal in all sectors, but that did not put an end to the practice. Furthermore, the definition of what was livestock and what wasn’t remained a fuzzy line in the DNA lounge act of life. Jacobi bit into his meatlike sandwich and swallowed.
“Three, a thousand and three. Come on, all you sentient people! Get your credit chits out! This female will outlast you in any endeavor whether you put her at the helm of a field plow or take her off planet as your astral navigator. They learn quick and they’re tougher than a Duro Blaster 433’s dual alloy hull! You might not know it, but this sub-species has only recently been classified. They were so quiet on their homeworld, they went undiscovered for decades. And best of all, they don’t think, they just do what they’re told! What starship captain could ask for more from a deck hand?”
The animals waiting on the auction block looked nowhere near as capable as claimed, Jacobi thought. They were slight of build, thin wisps compared to every other species in attendance, with rather large round eyes and big nostrils. That Cadan farmer should have known better; he may well have bought a pig in a poke.
None of the governments of the Confederation were allowed to legally trade in a species which might some day earn the right to a planet of their own. But old habits die hard and more than a few empires were founded on the backs of captured enemies. So, even if the price of joining the Confederation was to outlaw and denounce the practice, it was an open secret that slave markets existed on many planets. Jacobi had stumbled on more than one during the course of his interstellar voyages.
The cadence of the sale picked up.
“I see nineteen hundred. Am I bid more? Remember, Mintaris are not like you and me,” the auctioneer’s patter continued unabated. “They are more like robots made of flesh, mechanical in every respect except they have organs like you,” he pointed to a Flinglatt in the front row, “and like you,” this time a Trann, “and me,” what passed for an opposable thumb flattened firmly against a mushroom growing like an extra proboscis in the center of his chest. “Do I hear two thousand?”
Jacobi found the idea of selling anything that walked and talked more than distasteful, it was repugnant. But it was hard to buck a system when you were the only human at the party. He had no interest in acquiring a Mintari, since Jacobi traveled alone, but on rare occasions when he absolutely had to have a crew, he believed you paid your employees, you didn’t own them like a pet. Furthermore, he couldn’t tell if the Mint on the block was really a female or a male, seriously doubted if the pitchman could either. At this age, the species was flat chested and appeared sexually indistinguishable from one another. Perhaps that changed after puberty.
As it became clear the bidding had probably reached its zenith, the auctioneer became frenetic in his attempt to squeeze one more credit from his audience. “Do I hear two-three? Do I have another bid?”
Jacobi lost interest in the process and turned to his com set. He pushed a button, connected with the shop. “Tony? Jack. You gonna get me off this gravity hole today or not? What? That’s ridiculous! Oh, all right. Tomorrow, then. I’ll find a room and a bottle of When to put me to sleep. But you better have that part installed early. Am I getting through to you? Yes. A nice one to you too. Goodbye.”
* * *
The bottle of Ugarian When did not work as planned. Jacobi was an insomniac in the best of circumstances, but being planet bound made it worse. Unable to sleep, he finally gave up and stumbled downstairs to the lobby. Cranky and bleary eyed, he turned right and walked into the first All Night club he could find. It was dark and near empty. He ordered a Scotch, neat. The barman looked at him with a blank expression.
“Fine. A When then.” Drink in hand, he wandered over to the Pincer table where five gamblers were in a high stakes game: The credit lights at each player’s hand were in the red. This was Jacobis’ idea of a good time.