Author: Alastair Millar

I studied the holo and sighed. At least he hadn’t turned up in person, like they sometimes did.
“I’m sorry, Phil,” I said, “my hands are tied. The Taxation Service reviewed your case very carefully, and there’s no doubt about it.”
“But they can’t do this! It’ll ruin me!” My old friend ran his hands through his hair as if he wanted to pull it out.
“They can and they have. Perhaps it will only be once.”
“It’s a miscalculation. Stars above, my ships from Ephesos V arrived late, solar flares kept them there too long. You’re the Station Comptroller, can’t you explain?”
Not for the first time, I wondered why people who should know better still didn’t realise that I was basically an auditor with a fancy title.
“I’m afraid that in the words of the ancient poet, ‘the Service admits not a ‘but’ or an ‘if’’. You know that. There’s really nothing I can do. The results are based on your wealth on Assessment Day, and that’s all that matters.” Not that they never made mistakes, but I didn’t want to go down that wormhole, thank you very much.
“Don’t you understand? When the news gets out, my reputation will be shattered! I’ll lose business. People won’t want to associate with me.”
Of course, it wasn’t about the money. It never was, for those who had that much of it.
“Look, you’ll still be a far better position than 93% of the population! You’ll send out your fleet again, and with your contacts, you’ll make up the difference within what? One or two runs? You’ll ride this patch out, and be back up to speed in a few cycles!”
“Not when the civil war on New Syracuse has tied up three of my freighters and there are pirates off the shoulder of Orion! And anyway, that’s not the point! What happens in the meantime? And before the next Assessment Day? I’ll be ostracised!”
As if that was possible in this day and age, when interconnectedness started at birth.
“Endless void, man,” I said, “missing a couple of cocktail parties and a handful of civic events isn’t the end of the world! Weren’t you telling me just last month how boring they are?”
“I was supposed to be naming a new armed merchantman next month! Now that ass Leventis will get his name on it instead.”
Ah, there it was. Envy, pure and simple. That explained a lot.
“So what? There’ll be plenty more chances to get your name out there – just not during this orbit!”
He sighed.
“I suppose you’re right. But it’s hard, Nik. Like all my effort over the last few T-years has been for nothing.”
“Oh come on, you know that’s not true. Your contributions have made the whole habitat a better place to live: my wife was just telling me yesterday how much her friends love the water features you paid for.” I waggled a finger. “And everyone knows they weren’t cheap, too!”
“I just worry that this will hit my bottom line, and I’ll have the same problem next time around. And then what will I do? It’s a downward spiral.”
“You’ll be fine! Next time you’ll be back in the top 5%, and you can forget all about this.”
“You really think so?”
“I’m sure,” I said firmly. “This time next year, you’ll be eligible to pay tax again. Don’t worry about it.”
Honestly, some people get upset about the strangest things.