Author : Haydn Kane

The Sergeant sat down across the table from me.

“Commencing interview with Daniel Ambrose,” he said to the room in general and then to me, “you are a resident of Mars?”

“Yes, Olympus City.”

“Ah yes, capital of the North, North Eastern Accord” he said, demonstrating more impressive Wikipedia skills than geographic knowledge. “Do you have any family here?”

“In England? No. But I have a distant cousin in Szechwan.”

“Your passport tells me you are here on holiday.”

“That’s right. I’ve always wanted to visit charming old London.”

“Very well. The arresting officer informs me you committed multiple word thefts this evening in the Shepard and Flock, at 9:33, 9:35 and again at 9:57.”

“I still have no idea what the problem is. All I was talking about was cotton shirts.”

“Yes, you then proceeded to say ‘it’s so hard to get hold of cotton in Olympus’, followed a few minutes later by ‘I was discussing cotton shirts officer’ to the arresting officer”.

“I am none the wiser,” I said, shaking my head.

“Mr Ambrose, I will summon the avatar for ExcellentWear.”

A young woman dressed in an ensemble emblazoned with the company’s logo appeared on a wall display.

“Hello Mr Ambrose, I am the Legal Resolutions App for ExcellentWear,” she said. “You used one of our copyrighted words three times without permission. Would you like to pay the fine now? There’s a ten percent discount for immediate payment.”

“I think I misunderstand – you want me to pay for saying ‘shirt’?

“No, not shirt; cotton Mr Ambrose. Cotton is an important ExcellentWear trademark. You have no usage arrangement with us, or with any Speech Broker.”

I said nothing but stared at the avatar for several seconds. It must have deduced I was bewildered.

“You may wish to re-read your Visa terms and conditions provided to you at Customs. Nevertheless, I recommend paying the fine if you want to avoid jail. Then I suggest subscribing to a Speech Broker – just in case you slip up again.”

I laughed, struggling to grasp the problem.

“Is that likely?” I said.

“There are sixteen thousand words and phrases that belong to various organizations,” the Avatar said, “At the very least stick to using public domain language from now on.”

“My God!”

“Mister Ambrose,” the Sergeant interrupted, “be glad you’re in the privacy of a custody room. The Church charges very highly for one of its more valued words.”

I turned back to the Legal App.

“How much is this fine?”

“6000 Martian dollars. We accept all methods of payment” the avatar said, a rainbow of payment symbols hovering over her head.

It was more than the cost of a shuttle flight to Earth and back. I had the money, but it was a terrific amount to throw away. I was planning on continuing my tour of ancient cities, but perhaps it would be best to catch the next shuttle to Phobos.

“Very well. In which case I’d like to pay later please.” I said, standing up.

“Mister Ambrose, you must pay before you leave police custody.” The avatar said.

I sat back down again.

“Alright, and ten percent off?” I asked, opening my bank account.

“I’m sorry, the immediate payment discount expired thirty seconds ago.”

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