Today was my first time smuggling. Apparently when you bear the title of "pirate", smuggling is a standard part of the job. Now granted I don't come from a perfect life — what with having to steal in order not to starve most days — but I can't say I ever went above and beyond what seemed sensible. So to present the moral challenge of smuggling... this was sure to be an interesting day.
Welcome to my new life aboard the Scarlet Skye. My name's Carmine. (That's pronounced car-MIN, not car-MINE.)
It seems that even within the business of bounty hunting and piracy, not all jobs are posted for just anyone to pick up. Think of it this way, if someone was gunning for your head, they wouldn't go posting it on every local sign board. They would get a lot further if you didn't get the heads up that they were after you and start running. So by that line of reasoning, people who want jobs done that are *ahem* a little below the law will take certain routes to avoid massive exposure.
This job was picked up from one of Crim (the captain's) regular contacts. Crim knows people who know people, the rest of the crew tells me. I didn't bother to ask beyond that; I wasn't sure I wanted to know. The job itself entailed purchasing a boatload of alcohol from a certain city, where it's made, and taking it somewhere else to be dropped off with a third party vendor (read: some other "below the law" person, who would then market the stuff).
Now I know what you're thinking: how in the world is that smuggling? That's simple transport. You're taking a freight carrier job.
No, no! No. We're not. See, the problem is... the city where this stuff is made charges an arm and a leg in taxes and "security fees" when the alcohol leaves city bounds. So in order to ship an order of it to anywhere outside of the city of origin, the manufacturer either has to accept that the city is gonna run the price up to damn near five times what a bottle SHOULD cost, therefore diminishing the amount of potential buyers... Or the manufacturers need to look for some less than legal method of selling it.
We went in, bought a shipment's worth of the stuff directly off of the manufacturer, ran some local errands (resupply and such), beat Kyle and Angelis soundly for trying to drink the stuff before we were even in the air, and paid off a couple of check point officials to look the other way.
It went entirely too easy, if you ask me. A city that's THIS concerned with taxing this alcohol ought to have kept closer tabs on it.
But then we got out of the city and realized HOW they keep tabs on it.
APPARENTLY, there's a race of "holy" bunny folk living in the forest that surrounds the city. If you pass through their area toting the alcohol, it turns into water. We found that out from one of the check-point guards AFTER we'd already paid them off and gotten out of the city, but before we'd gone over the forest. (Nice of them to tell us AFTER they were paid, huh?) So then we were stuck there, in between the city limits and the start of the forest.
Crim, Twest and Mara went into the forest on foot to try and reach some sort of diplomatic agreement with the village elders. Jace, Tiara and I were charged with making sure Kyle and Angelis didn't drink any of the alcohol before we got it to where it was going or we wouldn't get paid for the job.
Time passed, night fell, but still there was no sign of Crim's team. Kyle and I had the late night watch. It was boring. Kyle went through his own (private) supply of alcohol pretty quick and fell asleep on the steps, snoring. (Personally, I hate alcohol.) I brought up a book from my cabin. It wasn't anything magic-y or weapons-y related, like I usually read. I was nervous for Crim and the others, so I brought up a fantasy story I've had for years to try and ease my tension.
I had JUST gotten to a good part, when there was the sound of a small cough. A little bunny child in weird tribal garb was standing below us, looking up at the ship, and me sitting on the railings.
"Hello," I said cautiously.
"Greetings," it said back. The voice could have been a young boy, or a girl, so it was hard for me to determine a gender.
"Did you need something?" I asked.
"What are you reading?"
I quirked a brow. "A book."
"Obviously. Though I doubt it's one of our holy texts. So what are you reading?"
Suppressing a chuckle, I said "It's a fiction piece about a girl and her neighbor who travel through time and space to save her baby brother from a giant brain that's trying to make the universe entirely uniform."
The bunny child made a face. "What kind of nonsense is that?!"
I laughed. "The kind that is so absurd that you can ignore it because of the rest of the story. OBVIOUSLY giant brains aren't going to take over the world, so you can devote your thoughts to the other issues, like how much the parents love the kids, and whether or not each sibling will care about the other if one turns bad."
The bunny child frowned. "If one turns bad, it must be shunned."
I laughed again. "Love doesn't work like that, kid. You wouldn't just shut off your love for your own mother if she made a mistake, would you? Likewise, kids don't get killed the first time they tell a lie to their parents. There's a gray area while a learning process goes on. You can't learn to be good if you don't know what bad is."
The kid tilted its head at me. "I... suppose that's true..."
"It's a good book," I said, "It's got a happy ending. Everyone learns something."
The bunny kid was quiet for a little while more. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to keep talking or not, but going back to my book seemed rude with the kid still standing there.
"May I... read it?" the kid eventually asked.
I blinked. "Oh. Sure, I guess." So I tossed it down.
"Would it be alright if I take it home?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Unless you're some kind of speed reader, I doubt you could get through it here, tonight."
The kid said, "I will bring it back tomorrow. I should be done before your other people leave."
"You know where Crim and the others are?" I asked, surprised.
The kid nodded. "They are waiting while the elders meditate. I slipped out while no one was paying attention."
"So they're safe?"
"Oh, they are quite safe. We are a peaceful people."
I sighed in relief. "Good, I was getting worried."
"I will see you tomorrow, then." The kid turned around and started to walk away, then stopped. "If this book teaches 'gray area' sympathy, as you claim, may I keep it?"
An involuntary laugh came out of me. "Yeah, sure. I've read it so many times I've got it memorized anyway."
The bunny kid smiled its thanks at me and disappeared into the forest.
The next day, bright and early, Crim and the others came back.
"Set the cloud charms, crew. We're off," Crim said. (Our sails have charms that make our ship look like a cloud bank when it flies. Camouflage, I'm told.)
"They're letting us through?" Angelis asked, perplexed.
"Yeah. Seems they were waiting on the final word from the head elder, who went mysteriously missing last night. When they found him this morning, he thanked us for something and sent us on our way with his blessings."
"Thanked you for what?" Kyle asked.
"He said a 'good book'."
"That kid was an ELDER?!" I blurted.
That drew odd looks.
"You give him a book, mageling?" Crim asked. ("Mageling" is Crim's nickname for me, since I'm the crew's token magic user.)
"Well, yeah, but I thought he was just some kid!"
Crim sort of shrugged and nodded, "Yeah, all of their elders looked like that. It was weird. It seemed like their entire tribe was pint-sized."
"No kidding..." I said, stunned.
So off we went. Mission successful. We dropped the stuff off with the third party vendor and got paid. (And Angelis and Kyle did NOT drink any of the alcohol before we got there — so there was a success too!) My first experience with smuggling, and I have to say, it was the strangest thing
I think I've ever encountered in my life. I wonder if the Scarlet Skye's adventures are always like this.