The Panhandler

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Begging,” and the cop practically spat the word, “is not allowed in Silver City.”

Nelson grinned and shook his plastic cup. It jingled, filled with a motley collection of transit tokens, poker chips, and low-end credit vouchers.

The cop growled at him.

“If you’re saying it’s illegal, I’m saying you’re wrong,” Nelson replied.

They were standing in the broad triangular promenade between the monorail station, the newly obsolete spaceport and the quarantine houses that guarded the entrance to Silver City proper. A sparsely forested park lay at the center of the public space, a place to lay down and rest for those who had time to kill while waiting for the next train to the Golden Crater, the city of Copernicus, or points more exotic.

The Silver City cop had caught Nelson making a circuit amongst those weary travelers.

“Where’s your sense of civic pride?” she asked him.

“Why should I have civic pride for a city that won’t let me in?” Nelson countered.

The frown on the cop’s face invited more words.

“Sure, I can get scrubbed and shaved, exfoliated and flushed out. But I happen to like my lice and the little beasties in my large intestine. Maybe they’re my damn pets, or maybe I don’t like being told what to do. This is Luna, God bless it, and no man can tell me what to do here!”

By this time Nelson was gesturing wildly, his eyes glancing around for an absent applause.

The cop sighed.

“Do you need food? Shelter?” she asked. “There’s plenty both at the port, if you’re willing to work.”

“Any man who surrenders his liberty for temporary security deserves neither!” Nelson shouted.

“I’ve heard that one before,” the cop said.

“You should have! It’s only the creed that all good Lunies live by!” said Nelson.

“I can think of a hundred thousand good Lunies who don’t want you begging on their doorstep,” the cop replied.

“And so you’ll do what?” asked Nelson. “Muscle me out of the city? Or out of an airlock? Your so-called civic pride won’t allow that. Or will it?”

The cop shrugged. She stepped away, muttering to herself and speaking through a throat mike.

Nelson smiled and resumed his rounds.

“How’s it going, how’s it going?” he would ask. “Spare credit? Spare credit?”

Some ignored him, a few yelled at him, many gave just out of the sheer brash novelty of a panhandler here, on Luna.

But the next day there were a half dozen panhandlers in the promenade, all of them suspiciously clean cut and antiseptic.

Nelson told jokes, got louder, and hung out directly at the doors of the monorail station.

The day beyond that the other beggars told better jokes, played musical instruments, and several were already camped out at the station doors before he woke.

On the third day Nelson cashed his tokens and took the train to Copernicus.

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