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Low-end goods

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“I have only 148 kilos but I need the Substance now,” the woman panted on one breath and threw her ID in a pass-through tray.

The clerk sitting on the other side of a bulletproof glass looked at her face comparing it with a picture displayed on the terminal. Doris Manuela Satler, aged 49, married, heterosexual, three children. Goods to Substance exchange status: permitted. Political status: excluded from active and passive rights. Criminal status: clear. The clerk’s gaze was drawn to a reading from a walk-through gate at the entrance to the shop. Doris was highly irradiated and it happened quite recently. Without treatment she may have had a few days to live. That explained the rush. On the other hand, Mrs. Satler’s political status implied that she had stepped on someone’s high-profile toes…

- Mrs. Satler, we don’t sell retail. We only accept shipments from 5 tons up. Our branches in Deep Forest and Quarrel do retail.

- What do you mean? I didn’t know this was wholesale only… I really need the Substance. I won’t make it to Deep Forest - fear crept in her eyes.

- I really can’t help you. You should go to Deep Forest or Quarrel.

Doris reached into the pocket of her sweat-soaked jacket and took out her wallet. She scattered a few tokens of imperial credits, including a golden one with 1,000 IC printed on it. She threw all of them in the tray and gave the clerk a pleading look. It was a total of 1,650 IC of clean hard cash. Untraceable.

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The dark-skinned clerk, Pavlo Mokroe, did the math quickly in his head. For 148 kilos he could sell her three hits of the Substance if he rounded up the weight. Additional charge would be 600 imperial credits. That was the official state rate fixed by king Ardun himself. The Substance cost credits as well as goods. She’d brought the goods, and with the 1,650 IC the bribe would equal 1,050 IC. Three hits won’t heal Mrs. Satler entirely but she’d buy herself a few more months to organize the fourth hit that should eliminate radiation from her body.

Pavlo made a decision. The charge was covered. He was going to chuck the goods in with a larger shipment so the total volume would add up. Money doesn’t grow on trees. A thousand IC was just enough to change water filters. He was planning to do that for weeks. This time he was going to take the decent ones with a five-year warranty. The risk of getting caught was not very high. After all, it was just a shop with the Substance, not a factory. Pavlo slid the tray to his side and collected the tokens.

“Damn Substance,” thought Pavlo. The only drug in the system that efficiently removed radiation. It was produced by one of the species of local flora - gigantic plants of kumberi miasma genus. The plants only produced it when fed with one and only special fertilizer, which the clerks simply called goods. Until now, the scientists have not cracked why it was the only fertilizer that worked. It was interesting, who and how found out about this miracle of nature. Pavlo suspected that it wasn’t a story told to the students of the first year of botanics. Surely, it wasn’t the real one.

- Drive to the back of the shop. Park by the truck unloading dock. Someone will be with you in a moment to collect the goods.

- Thank… Thank you - her voice broke slightly. She ran out of the shop, got in her car and drove through a technical tunnel to the back of the building.

After excruciatingly long twenty minutes, the door next to the reloading station opened. A tall broad-shouldered man wearing full protective gear walked out. Still standing on the dock he showed Doris three self-injectors filled with the Substance and then hid them in his chest pocket.

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When the man came closer, Doris got out of the car and walked to the back of the car. She opened the trunk with a pilot. Three people were lying in the trunk - a man and two children. The girl was three years old tops, the boy was about seven. Their hands and legs were tied up. They weren’t moving.

- Why aren’t the goods stripped? - the man asked.

- I’ll get on that now, just a second - said Doris.

The man in the trunk moved. He started coughing and then threw up.

- What the fuck, lady! Are you trying to fob me off? They were supposed to be corpses! - the tall man jumped away from the car.

- I had nowhere to get it… it’s… it’s my husband and kids… and I… I’ve got to live!

- Fucking damaged goods! They were supposed to be corpses!

So Doris Manuela Satler grabbed a heavy multi-purpose wrench from the trunk. First, she smashed the vomiting man’s head and then she moved on to the sleeping children.

Goods.

Fertilizer.

Corpses.

They were supposed to be corpses.