Roving Stars_______________________________________________August 17, 2098
"You want to go WHERE?!?" This was my editor's first response. Usually it's "how much will it cost?", but I guess his reaction was understandable.
"Tortuna. I want to do a piece about the seediest place in the galaxy, who lives there, what makes it tick. You know, all the dirt the military doesn't tell you."
"You can't go to Tortuna. They eat humans there."
"Gross exaggeration. They just kidnap them, and sell them to the Crown Empire."
"Whatever. It's off-limits to League members, especially humans! It's just too dangerous."
"Eve Wheiner and her band went there, and they came back okay."
"And they got arrested when they came back. The only reason they got off is because Eve's daddy is a big-shot Senator." I could tell Tom Flanders wasn't keen on my idea. Though I doubt it was due to any concern about my safety. I'm a pain in the butt. Ask anyone. He would have been glad to send me, if it was legal. It's not. There's about 50 separate regulations in Earth law alone that prohibits it. I get the impression that close to 49 of them are recent additions, in the wake of Eve Wheiner's little video foray there. Forget any studies you've read about "human intelligence". To the rest of the civilized galaxy, the phrase is an oxymoron, and they may yet be proven right. After Eve's "Tortuna Rock" video aired, there was a rash of "tourism attempts", most of them by the brain-dead segment of Rock Fandom. (Some people would claim that covers all of fandom. In spite of personally being a fan, it's hard to argue with this opinion sometimes.)
Anyway, at last count, nearly 300 people have tried to visit Tortuna, "to experience the culture firsthand". So far, nobody's gotten through, due to some very overworked Galaxy Rangers and Space Navy personnel. So far, this hasn't stopped many people from trying. The Bureau of Extra-Terrestrial Affairs (BETA) has asked for funding to put people on this problem full-time. After personally visiting the place, I'm of the opinion they should just let the tourists get through. An army of brain-dead tourists in ugly Hawaiian shirts, short shorts, and flip-flops would seriously annoy the Crown army stationed there. At worst, the tourists would be turned into Slaverlords, ridding us of some serious genetic defects in the human gene pool, not to mention creating a Crown administration at least as stupid as our own.
But, back to my own butt-headed attempt to visit the place. After convincing Flanders that a first-hand account about Tortuna now was guaranteed to double the magazine's circulation (triple it, if I got arrested), he agreed to an expense account. Needless to say, the "official" destination was someplace legal (Flanders suggested Kirwin; I preferred The Party Asteroid. Flanders won.), and if I did get caught, he knew nothing till after the conviction. After some more haggling, nailing down full legal coverage for me, the paperwork was signed, and I was off!
Sort of. You can't just hop a shuttle to a forbidden planet, after all. And finding someone to take me there was a tremendous bother. Any spacer with a valid license was too sensible to take a tourist into Crown space (at least, not at a price Flanders would approve). And anyone stupid enough to agree to fly me there tended to be incapable of walking without slamming into things, much less operate a spaceship with any degree of safety. After 7 hours of this, I gave up, and went to a bar. This turned out to be where I should have gone in the first place. I mentioned my problem in passing to the bartender, and within minutes, I had offers from various unsavory (but reliable) characters. You might ask how I knew they were reliable. I'm sure the authorities would like to know as well. Let's just say I've...ah..."arranged business transactions" with these people before. I bought space in the cargo hold of one fellow renowned for his incredible luck at avoiding people who'd like to arrest and/or kill him. I'll call him "George". George flies to and from Tortuna every month or so, making deliveries (both legal and otherwise). And before you ask the obvious, no, he's not human, or of any other League race that gets arrested the moment they hit Crown space. That's why he can make this run on a semi-regular basis.
George was heading out right away, so I didn't get to pack a bag. I was a little miffed about this, but George pointed out I couldn't really walk around Tortuna City in my Nehru jacket, so I got over it. At least, until I saw what I would have to wear. I've heard that Galaxy Rangers who go to Tortuna generally disguise themselves as Zanquils, who are close to us in appearance, and are considered by the locals as people you do not pick fights with.
This was not what I went to Tortuna as. I'm not tall enough to pass myself off as one. I ended up wearing seven layers of Pedulont clothing, a huge floppy hat, and a muffler so thick I had trouble breathing. George sold me papers identifying me as Dowwu the Drug Dealer. (This is a legal business on Tortuna. That may explain why so many rockers are risking life, limb, and serious jail time trying to get out there.)
I could barely walk, much less run. Not comforting in a place where running is a major survival skill. Fortunately, so is bullshitting. I can only speak about ten words of Tortunian Pidgeon, and not a single word of Crown Standard (unless you count swear words), but this didn't prove to be a real problem. The language of street bargaining seems to be a universal sign language, and nobody expected me to talk much. Just hand out the stuff, and curse if anybody stiffed me. Which was fairly often. Tortuna doesn't have what you would call a police force. The Crown runs the government, and doesn't bother with what the citizens do unless it involves Rangers. There's a saying in Tortuna City that translates as "Never stiff a Zanquil, but rip off everyone else."
Including the Crown Troopers. George had to bribe them to get his shipments in intact. The money was blatantly counterfeit. They didn't notice. Or maybe they didn't really care. They're in charge; it's not like a merchant is going to tell them to take the fake money and blow. Not if he wants to stay in business.
Now, drug dealing on Tortuna is a little different from drug dealing on Earth. On Earth, the dealers tend to stay in one area, and let the marks come to them. They'd go broke out here. The way you deal drugs on Tortuna is, you walk down the street, waving the merchandise. That's if you're a small-string operator, like I was supposed to be.
"We need to stay away from that area," George said.
"It's the drug district."
I had trouble with the logic. "But I'm a dealer, wouldn't that area be my best bet for business?"
"No no, that is the drug shop district. If they see you stealing their customers, they will relocate you."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
Turned out George's League Standard could use some work. The word he wanted was closer to "dislocate". As in my head from my shoulders. Needless to say, I started walking faster.
By this time, nobody was paying any real attention to me, so we just toured the area. My feet may never recover. The Great Dome of Tortuna City is a good 20-30 kilometers in diameter (not to mention 5 kilometers high), and the streets are laid out like a plate of hyperactive eels. They twist and turn, with alleys and bypasses crossing everywhere. In some areas, people were driving on the sidewalks, and not because they were especially bad drivers. They just ended up there, while trying to find the turnoff to Albuquerque or something.
Since we were dodging traffic anyway, I asked George if he knew where Eve had filmed her video. Turned out he was highly intelligent; he'd never watched an Eve video. After some bumbling around, he asked a few people. One fellow Pedulont by the name of Geezi claimed he'd been in part of it, and took us to the spot (for a rather large fee).
The public square where the crowd shots were filmed look exotic and exciting on vid. It looks dirty, depressing, and diseased in real life. Nobody looked inclined to dance.
"How did Eve manage to film as much as she did before someone figured out she and the band were human?" I asked.
"We didn't realize they were hummings," he replied.
"Didn't you know what humans looked like?" I'd been told this particular Pedulont was a sharp customer, and a fairly dangerous individual in his own right. (I was skeptical; he was shorter and squatter than me, and looked like his most strenuous daily activity was haggling.)
"Of course I know what hummings look like!" He sounded miffed. "But nobody thought hummings were that stupid."
Obviously, Geezi has never been to Iowa in an election year. Or a Lollapalooza held in drug legal California. And that seems to be how the few humans who come to Tortuna avoid getting captured. Nobody believes we'd dare. Unless we're Galaxy Rangers, that is. I got an earful about "crazy ranger hummings", and their habit of ruining business.
By this point, George had had enough touristing, and so had I. Geezi had this complex about being "exposed", so we hit a local bar, (there's one every 30 feet, btw) and ordered drinks that could literally melt the pavement. George and I proceeded to get shellacked. I don't think Geezi actually drank much of his. I should have probably followed his example. At the very least, I shouldn't have spiked the drink with the Glitter I was pretending to sell. I have hazy memories of trying to arm-wrestle a Gorbian (for the Earthbound, Gorbians are large, lizardish, and their idea of a good time is smashing furniture over people's heads) and of dancing on the bar counter, insisting that the neuroses in my head join the party.
I believe that this is when George decided he was safer smuggling starstones on the Border, and took off. I can't say I blame him. Geezi stayed with me, and apparently paid the owner to close for the day, and the patrons to find another place to drink. (I imagine that's where the rest of the Glitter went, which was just as well.) I ended up passed out under a table.
I was woken up by a rather large Zanquil, who dunked me headfirst in the sink. (At least he took the dishes out first.) Not my preferred method of waking up. My first coherent thought was that Geezi had sold me out. And he had, but not to the Crown. He'd ratted me out to the Galaxy Rangers. You just can't trust some people.
"I can't believe this dude's still alive, considering the stuff he's been drinking." The speaker was standing upside down (or maybe that was me hanging from my ankles). This was my first tip-off that it wasn't Zanquils Geezi had sold me to. By reputation, Zanquils can speak any language in the Galaxy, if it will get them a sale, but I doubt any of them speak Earth English with an old time Jive accent.
"Are all hummings this insane, Ranger Foxx?" trumpeted Geezi. "He could have ended up a Slaverlord if I hadn't found him."
"Not all humans are crazy, Geezi. Just the ones that would come out here." The big fellow shook me for emphasis. Lucky for him, I hadn't eaten anything recently.
"Thanks for keeping him safe, Geezi," Foxx said, ignoring the "crazy" remark. "This should cover the trouble." I don't really want to know how much (or how little) it cost to rescue me. I doubt my ego could handle it.
Geezi made a rude sound, one that a human can't match for sheer expression. "I've lost business babysitting this silly humming! And I'll have to close for at least a week while the Slaverlords question the neighborhood..."
"I'm sure you can handle it. After all, it seems you've made a tidy profit selling illicit narcotics tonight." A rather gorgeous woman handed Geezi my (now empty) drug satchel.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Geezi looked embarrassed, and dropped the haggling. I settled for falling in love (or at least serious lust). If they ever need to advertise for more Rangers, I'd recommend BETA use her in the recruitment ads. They'd get every male on Earth to join up.
The huge guy holding me dropped me. "Think you can walk now?"
"Uh, sure," I replied. I wasn't feeling all that great, but it's really not wise to argue with blond giants with enough muscles to bench-press a car.
"Good. You're under arrest for violations of the Safe Travel Codes," Foxx said. Typical cop. If I hadn't been so besotted at that moment, I would have really been bummed.
They hustled me out of there. Geezi wished us crazies a fond farewell, and informed us that he didn't exist. I guess he didn't sell all the drugs he filched from me.
I'd give you an in-depth accounting of the trip out, but the prison only lets you have the computer for a few hours a week...you'll just have to wait for the next issue.
Davy Rourke is a reporter for Roving Stars, the bestselling author of the "Young and Wasted" series of books, and is currently serving out a 3 year sentence for breaking 147 League laws (pled down from 279). His Editors claim they know nothing of his activities, especially the ones they paid him to engage in. His columns appear in Roving Stars whenever we can make him do his job, which isn't all that often.