Author : Rick Tobin

“C’mon, judge, you can’t be serious. That’s an old Earth name for an ancient product. There can’t possibly be trademark claims. There isn’t anything living in North America…it’s under a mile of ice.” Praxton Billings sat up straight before the judge. He rubbed his mustache a few times. Nerves.

“We, the court, understand your defense, but the retention of ancient code is a tradition upholding our humanity, far beyond our origins. This is the last Earth colony. We maintain our culture or we become another lost, migrating species passing through space.” Three judges sat before the lanky space cleaner, under a fiber tree, as was the custom.

“Look, I just clean ships. I barely make out after costs for fuel and repairs. You have to admit it’s one reason they come to our little outpost; that, and the water. If they don’t get the crap off their bulkheads they risk miscalculating exits from star drive. No one wants to eat an asteroid through the hull. Penalizing me for using Mr. Clean as a business name could close me down.” He raised his pale hands, stretching his white jump suit in supplication to the tribunal.

“You had an approved name from the licensing council. Was that not sufficient?”

“Not really. They picked it. Barnacle Bill…really? Nobody out here knows what the hell a barnacle is, and my name is Praxton. Their business name dishonored my parents.”

“And your reasons for desiring to continue this line of work?”

“Not too hard there. With my puny physique I was unfit for farming or water works. Sex slave would have been ridiculous. But the first time I learned about dark matter, and all those life forms that were building up on the skins of spaceships, I knew I could make a difference just removing debris, making junkers and cargo hulks look shiny again. I could bring pride back to the lonely pilots and crews that were ashamed of the hulks they pushed through vacuum. I love what I do and my clients relate to me as Mr. Clean.”

“So why didn’t you reapply to the council? That is the normal process.”

“And be down for six months, waiting on their decision? Think of the lives lost if those ships aren’t sparkling. I couldn’t sleep if I knew that I caused their deaths. And consider the critical cargoes that show up late when stellar customs finds creatures on the outside that are forbidden in our sector. Pilots have no way of knowing what snatched a ride as they move out of hyper drive. So, not only do I protect other worlds, I protect ours, before they land. In fact, I was scheduled to work on a contaminated cruiser before it sets down over there this afternoon.” Praxton pointed at the city’s single space port.

The senior judge scowled before calling his adjutants to his side to whisper. They soon turned and faced Praxton.

“We have judged that you have a special case worthy of dismissal. Based on need and value, we have selected to overturn the council’s claim and we reinstate you as Mr. Clean. Now, for the sake of us all please go decontaminate that ship.”

Praxton rose, bowed lightly to the tribunal, and walked off the field to his waiting cleaning scow. His brain was spinning, trying to remember if there was any scheduled incoming freighter he could offer free services to cover his story.

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