Beware the fuzzy Customs Official
“This planet stinks of burned cabbage,” Rex said.
“Have had real cabbage?” I asked.
“Once. It tasted like death.”
I nodded my head. “Sounds about right.”
Around us beings from the three-hundred worlds rushed to and from ships. Some dragged floating carts overloaded with goods, while others had a simple bag slung over their shoulder. Plenty of dirty faces and ripped clothes greeted us, but not much of the finery that was more prevalent on the mid worlds.
“You had it before?”
“Yeah. It was one of the only crops that would grow on Bden.” I squinted against the sun—which hung too close to the planet for my liking, and finally spotted the leaning building that must be customs. “That way.”
Rex grunted and turned our floating cart and began to push again. The front corner tilted dangerously, but Rex had packed the weight to keep it aloft.
Now if customs didn’t get too nosy, we would have it dropped off in a couple of hours. I shrugged my shoulders against the unseen weight of our cargo and followed the cart.
Rex was right. The air did indeed smell like burned cabbage, and the green-ish dirt reminded me of the goulash my mother had made when we had nothing else to eat. My stomach churned, and I swallowed hard.
“Don’t look like a long wait,” Rex said as he pushed the cart in behind a pair of Phhos with a crate slung between their shoulders.
He was right. Usually on a planet like this we would have at least an hour wait. Probably more. And if there wasn’t a line, they’d make us wait out of spite, or just on principle. I stood on my toes and saw only two floating platforms in front of the Phhos waiting to enter the building. “Maybe there’s a longer line inside,” I said.
“It’s not that big of a building,” Rex pointed out.
Again, the little man was right.
The wide doors rumbled open and I caught a glimpse of a decent sized warehouse-like room with a couple of humans waiting. They waved the next cart in and closed the door. We moved up and waited.
“Something’s fishy,” Rex said.
“You had real fish before?”
Nothing smelled fishy, but something sure didn’t feel right. Customs usually consisted of dozens of bored guards looking for bribes. They harassed each group coming in and out, and if you didn’t give them what they wanted—which could change in the blink of an eye—then they’d throw you in a holding cell and search your ship.
I looked around. Everyone stood patiently. I glanced behind me and found a being with a neck as thin as my wrist and as long as my arm, staring down at me with a smile.
“First time on Cader?”
“Not to worry. Customs is simple.”
“Bribes?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing like that. You either get through, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.”
I frowned. “Not sure what you mean.”
The doors opened and the line moved forward again.
“Wait and find out,” the guy—or maybe girl—behind me said.
Less than a small cycle later, the doors opened and the cart, along with the bearers, came back out and headed toward their ship. There was no swearing. No anger. Just a shrug and they left.
“I don’t like it,” Rex said.
I didn’t either, but decided that if leaving was the only consequence, then we may as well try.
When our turn came, we moved through the open doors and into the building. The door closed, and I’d expected it to get dark, but hovering lights brightened to make up most of the difference.
The two humans—both female—approached us.
“Haven’t seen you before,” the taller of the two said.
“It’s our first time,” I said.
They both nodded. Then a small, furry creature with pointed ears and a long tail appeared. It wound it’s way through both female’s legs and then walked toward us.
Rex stiffened. “What is it?”
“Don’t know,” the shorter female said.
“But if he says you get through, then you get through,” the other added.
I watched as the fuzzy creature walked around Rex, then me, then went back to our cart. It sat on the ground and started licking on of its front paws. Then it cleaned its ear.
“What’s it doing?” Rex asked.
“Stalling,” the tall female said. “Give him a minute.”
Stalling? My eyes darted to our cart. The drugs we had, while not exactly illegal, were usually used to enhance good feelings to the point of, well, a lot of people having a lot of fun. Cader didn’t have laws against it, but I wondered if these females would take some of it. Or all of it.
The creature finally looked up. It bunched it’s legs and jumped, landing lightly on the cart.
I held my breath as it began to prowl, sniffing everything it could reach. It stopped when it got to the container the drugs were in and brushed it’s head against the container.
My eyes darted to the females.
They kept their eyes on the creature.
It circled the container once.
I found myself tapping my fingers on my leg.
Rex glanced at me, and I noticed sweat on his brow.
Then the creature let out a smell meowel, but it’s head against the container again, then jumped down. It then went to the corner, sat, lifted a leg and began to clean its—
“You’re good to go,” the taller female said.
“Just like that?” Rex asked.
She nodded. “Just like that.”
Curiosity got the better of me. “What is that thing?”
The two humans looked at one another, then shrugged. “We don’t know. It was here when the first settlers got here, and since then it’s taken up residence in the customs office. He’s never let anything through that it didn’t want here.”
The small one gave me a wink. “Whatever you’ve got in there must be fun, because he only circles like that right before a party.”
I stared at her.
The doors on the opposite wall opened.
The tall one waved us through. “See you guys around.”
Rex grunted and moved forward.
I took one last look at the creature, licked my lips and followed Rex.