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because this is the closest settlement to the LZ, and LZ is where the shuttles
land, and pay off the Hunter's Association."
"How poetic."
"Quite. And, as for how you came to grace my humble abode, that was at the
work of your furry friend."
"Marla? She was here?"
"Of course," Doc Fesker said agreeably. "She came to my door, and informed me
of your situation. Shortly thereafter I dispatched a couple of men to go get
you. Apparently you'd crawled a few hundred yards in the wrong direction, so
they had a little trouble finding you, but they managed, and subsequently
brought you here." Fesker coughed, gave the tube of vegetation a critical
glance, and continued. "You were damned lucky. Lucky you weren't killed and
lucky you had a friend. A somewhat unusual friend, but a friend nonetheless.
Friends are hard to come by on
Swamp."
Renn flushed as he remembered what he'd thought about her, what he'd called
her. He owed
Marla an apology and a lot more. "Where is she? Where'd she go?"
Fesker shrugged, and disappeared behind a cloud of smoke. "I heard she went to
work for a hunter named Skunk, but I really couldn't say for sure. Here on
Swamp it's considered bad form to stick your nose into other people's
business."
Renn felt disappointed, and abandoned somehow, but knew he shouldn't. He
continued to ask questions, but either the doctor couldn't provide answers, or
didn't choose to, which amounted to the same thing. So eventually Renn gave
up, and took another tack. "So when can I be up and around?"
The doctor rubbed his unshaven chin and smiled. "How soon can you get dressed?
You'll be shaky for a few days . . . but basically you're cured. Swamp is home
to a plethora of nasty bugs, and when that slug creased you, half of them
jumped in the open wound. Thanks to the efforts of the original survey team,
however, we've got a pretty good array of drugs to work with, and you're
responding nicely."
"Thank you doctor ... I really appreciate all you've done." Renn glanced out a
nearby window to see only darkness. "If it's all the same to you . . . I'll
leave in the morning. I don't suppose there's any chance of recovering my
gear?"
Fesker smiled. "None at all. Cyclops and his cronies regard the LZ as a
fertile field which is theirs to harvest, and barring a hidden talent for
physical violence, your chances of taking your gear back are just about zero."
"There's no law then?"
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"None but that which we make for ourselves."
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Renn nodded. "I figured it was something like that, which raises a problem.
How will I pay you?"
The doctor waved his smoking wand in a negligent manner. "Consider it my gift.
Perhaps some day you will find some way to perform a small favor in return.
Care for a cigar?" So saying, he proffered a box containing more green tubes
like the one in his hand.
Renn wrinkled his nose in distaste. "No offense doctor, but those things
hardly qualify as cigars. What is that horrible smelling weed anyway?"
Fesker held the smoldering roll of leaves between thumb and forefinger, and
frowned. "You are somewhat tactless, sir. However I'm afraid you're right,
this does leave something to be desired." He shook his head in disappointment
as he placed the offending vegetation in the lid of an empty drug canister,
and stubbed it out. "It is part of my ongoing search for a tobacco substitute.
Unfortunately, the noble weed refuses to grow on Swamp, so I have dedicated
myself to finding an acceptable substitute. Such a discovery would bring me
personal succor, plus if it was good enough, commercial remuneration as well.
My fellow citizens would pay well for a good smoke."
"But doctor," Renn objected, "what about the effects on their health? Surely
you don't condone a habit which causes cancer?"
Fesker looked shocked. "Surely you jest! Of course I do! After all, cancer can
be cured, and what good is a cure without a disease? Imagine, they buy a
tobacco substitute from me, enjoy it, become cancerous, and I cure them!
There's profit at both ends and happiness all around!"
Renn did his best to look agreeable, took another sip of his soup, and
wondered if the doctor was serious or just putting him on. The two men
continued to talk for some time, an activity which Fesker obviously enjoyed,
and one which provided Renn with a lot of information about his new home. For
example, he learned there were about a hundred thousand prisoners on
Swamp, give or take a few thousand, because while some died every day, others
were constantly arriving. There were three other major towns besides Payout,
named Ditch, Black Head, and Clover.
The latter was named for a person and not a plant. The planet's economy was
centered on one thing, monster hunting. Monsters came in various shapes and
sizes, some having more commercial value than others, and some being more
difficult to kill. Basically, monsters fell into one of two commercial
categories, which were referred to as "stinks" and "skins." "Stinks" it
seemed, were hunted primarily for a small hormonal gland located near the
third of their seven sub-brains, which when properly treated, yielded the main
ingredient for some very exotic and expensive perfumes.
Repeated attempts at synthesis had so far failed, making Swamp the only source
of this valuable stuff.
Here Renn really perked up his ears, since this was not only valuable
information, but it also had a bearing on his previous life. Having imported
perfumes himself, he knew how protective the large companies were of both
ingredients and sources, and wondered which famous brand was based on
swamp-monster hormones.
Fesker went on to explain that while stink skins were OK, other monsters, the
ones called
"skins," were hunted for their valuable hides. Though not as valuable as
stinks, skins were still quite profitable, and a lot easier to find. Properly
tanned, their hides made a very distinctive leather which was not only
waterproof, but damned near bulletproof as well. Yet in spite of its toughness
monster hide remained supple and more importantly retained the capacity to
match the color and texture of its surroundings. Skins, it seemed, had a
chameleon-like ability to disappear into the background. And, for reasons no
one had yet figured out, their hides retained that ability even after the
death of the monster itself. As a result, monster skins were sought after for
use in high-fashion clothing which constantly shifted color to match the
wearer's surroundings, and light body armor, which was quite popular with both
military officers and professional assassins.
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In fact, the doctor said, the scientists who worked in Swamp's orbiting space
station were trying to crack the biological mystery represented by an
epidermis which continued to function after the death of its owner. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]