The guild meant trade and the guild traded in corruption. It was such a corporeal term: corruption. Bots experienced corrosion. Breathers experienced corruption. Entropy always had its way.
SevenTen was in a thick crowd of breathers. That was Cheapside: buyers, sellers, gawkers, thieves. The guild held it together and squeezed everyone for their due. Even SevenTen.
Bots were supposed to be exempt. A utility. Conveyance infrastructure. It was like that on most of the planet, but a place like Cheapside, a guild stronghold, was always a different story.
A story that SevenTen was trying to explain to the breather it was escorting. “Cheapside is different. There are fees for everything. Even me.”
“But that’s not how it is supposed to be,” the young breather complained. “We must report it. I will not be extorted.”
“It is the Cheapside way. It is the guild’s way.”
“It is not my way. The civilized way.”
“We can go elsewhere to complete your shopping,” SevenTen offered.
“Cheapside has the finest jewelry in the Outlet Quadrant. I want to shop here. And I’m not going to be cheated.”
There was little SevenTen could do but let the breathers play this out. Costs would be argued, yet the ultimate price was always the same in Cheapside.
To the cavernous forum SevenTen guided the young breather who then stomped inside and unleashed a tirade on the guild envoy standing at the service kiosk. SevenTen waited in the guild’s expansive foyer knowing the longer the breather argued, the higher the ultimate price would be.
Unmoving, the envoy listened and SevenTen wondered. Why did breathers seem to enjoy shopping? Haggling? Arguing? Why did they value price so much and why did they put such a price on value?
The young breather was growing more animated as the guild envoy grew more still. Not a good sign, SevenTen recognized. It did have a duty to the young breather, though, in Cheapside, guild protocols blocked most of its options.
SevenTen approached the kiosk and announced, “Thank you for your time, envoy, I will escort my charge out of Cheapside now.”
The young breather fumed. “You will do no such thing. I have rights. I am not leaving until they are satisfied. I will not be treated so…so…cheaply!”
The envoy’s movement was swift, leveling the sleek weapon between the young breather’s eyes. “You’ll be leaving your credits with me to sweeten the aftertaste of your bitter complaints. And then you can walk out. Live to breathe another day. Quite the bargain. Best one-time deal you’ll ever get for questioning the guild’s policies.”
The weapon unmoving, SevenTen helped the stunned breather transfer the credits. Then quickly escorted the barely-breathing breather out of the forum and rapidly out of Cheapside.
The day, the tale, all too familiar to SevenTen, a bot with no rights but many insights. Maybe, someday, the young breather would gain wisdom through the lesson of Cheapside: Privilege offers no protection when corruption cheapens all life.
Poignant! Builds nicely to the conclusion.