Author: Alastair Millar

It was Fifthday, and time for the weekly appeals audiences. As the Station’s ultimate decider for matters financial, I mostly see cases too controversial or complicated for the civil service – usually because they involve the rich or influential. Lucky me. This one was different, though; looking through the notes, I could see why it had landed on my desk. It was a bit sensitive.
“Retailer Barnes?”
The red-haired man on the holo nodded. “That’s me, Mister Comptroller sir.”
“You’re objecting to your business being moved into a different category, lifting you two tax bands, correct?”
“Yes, exactly. It’s not fair. I run an honest business, and…”
I raised a hand. “Let me stop you there. Nobody is suggesting that you haven’t been paying your taxes. Or that you’ve misstated your earnings. But after some mature consideration, the Taxation Service think they assigned your business to the wrong bracket. They’re even admitting that it’s their fault, and not asking for any back taxes. I have to tell you, that’s as rare as a black hole reversing its spin.”
“But they’re just wrong! I run a pet store – providing much needed companionship to deep space traders on their voyages, I might add.”
I lifted an eyebrow “You do have a rather limited range of stock though.”
“I don’t handle what doesn’t sell. Shipping is expensive!”
“Aha. Let me see… 25% of your income is from Terran coral snakes and centipedes?”
“Very popular with the Argaxians,” he replied promptly. But he was beginning to look shifty, and I knew why. I might be a bureaucrat, but I’m not immune to the latest viral trends.
“Our spongiform friends,” I said, “seem to appreciate things that are long and flexible. I’m told they like to feel them wriggling through their internal voids.”
“Well, what they do in the privacy of their own ships is up to them, right?”
“Possibly. And who are we to judge? But another 15% of your income is from Ixian Gripperplants…”
“Lots of humans like having something organic on board!”
“…which can squeeze on demand, I understand.”
“Well, yes, but…”
“The list goes on. Syracusian sentient stranglevines. Hypatian clipper bugs. NeoTheban rumblecones. Elian spheroidals. Poltymbrian blanket beasts… In fact, the only things on your stock list that aren’t, how shall I put this delicately, ‘dual use’, are zero gee cat species. And given how lonely spacefarers get, I’m not even sure about those, frankly.”
“I don’t choose what people like. I supply a need!”
“Oh absolutely. You’re a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit that made this colony great. On a personal level, I congratulate you for spotting a gap in the market and, you must excuse the phrase, filling it. Still, just because your merchandise is alive doesn’t mean you’re not in the adult entertainment business, belonging in band D as the Taxation Service claims. And I so rule. Appeal denied. Next case!”
Some things never changed, I reflected. And really, he shouldn’t have called his business ‘Heavy Petting’!