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"They bought the planet and now want to charge the colonists rent?" Aashth said with almost a laugh.
"Even better. They are charging taxes on everything, including the air." Rontel said.
"A breathing tax." Wan said. "Lovely."
"What do they do if the colonists don't pay?" Kavel asked.
"So far they've put a couple of people in jail and closed one business." The Colonel said.
"Is their claim legitimate?" Marot asked.
The Colonel shrugged. "It could be. The Federation claims they do not have jurisdiction since that system hasn't been formally annexed, the Halian Throne doesn't recognize the Fordash treaty, and the Griffith Assembly has refused to rule saying private commerce comes under the treaty."
"Who sold the planet to the... who was it?" Kavel asked.
"The Combined Galactic Conglomerate." Rontel said for him.
"That's one of the things that's not quite clear." The Colonel said.
"The planet has been claimed by almost everybody in the region on and off for the last hundred years." Rontel added.
Aashth shook his head. "So the ownership claim may be legal, and as the legal owner they can charge all the rent they want."
"But even the Ferringi don't tax air." Kavel said.
"Sometimes they do." The Colonel said, "But in any case, the CGC is also charging protection and running every scam you can name on the colonists. And they are also refusing to grant off-planet permits. If anybody tries to leave they are threatened and bullied until they pay up and go along with it."
"And you've got a plan." Kavel said with a smirk.
"And I've got a plan."
"Welcome to Kavel's." Rontel said cheerfully as the door opened.
Two rather elderly colonists walked in slowly.
"Is this correct?" The man said showing a small tab to the smiling young woman.
"Yes sir. Free dinner to all colonists, no taxes, no gratuity. Just to show everybody how happy we are to be here."
The woman was dubious. "You cannot be giving away free food. The Collectors won't allow it."
Rontel nodded. "Mr. Kavel has worked it all out. I can show you to a table."
"Please." The man said taking his wife's hand.
She led them from the waiting area to a small table near a large window in the dining room. "Miss Mary will be right with you."
Marot, now Miss Mary, took their order to the kitchen in a few minutes.
Wan banged his fist against the counter. "Order up." He shouted.
The Colonel, in the national costume of Rigel, picked up the plates, "Looks great."
"I'm pilot. Weapons. Not cook."
"And a fine pilot you are too." Kavel said getting ready for his rounds as owner.
The cyborg grumbled and began programming in the next order.
"Greetings. I am Mister Kavel, the owner."
The old couple nodded and smiled. "The food is very good. How can you afford to give it away?" The man asked him.
"It's my way of building good will so you will come back."
"But the card says our next meal is half price. Still with no tax."
Kavel nodded. "I hope you will be back many times. Besides, how much could the taxes be?"
"It would be equal to the price of the half price meals." The woman said glancing at the menu screen.
"Aach." Kavel said expressively, "No problem."
After he left the woman looked at the man, "We should come back tomorrow, he will not be here long."
Late in the evening Rontel escorted the last of the diners out and secured the door.
"Three hundred fifty satisfied customers." The Colonel said checking the data.
"I'm surprised we haven't had any unsatisfied customers stop by." Kavel said sipping a drink.
Wan spoke up from his monitoring panel. "They're coming. Three land cruisers just stopped in front of the building. Several persons approaching. Two Humans, a Valdean, couple mixed race."
The Colonel smiled, "Show them in." He said to Rontel.
In a few minutes Kavel was explaining to the party as they walked into the dining area that he had just opened and was simply trying to get the place's name established as a good place to eat.
"Who issued your permit?" The Valdean said.
"Maltorian." Kavel said.
They looked at each other for a second. "Maltorian has no authority in this matter."
Kavel seemed surprised. "The information I had said he did."
"Then you had wrong information."
"I am more than willing to do whatever is required to obtain the correct permits. And I will have to speak to Maltorian about his fee."
The Valdean looked at Kavel. "Now we need to discuss your operation."
Kavel gestured to a seat. "Please."
The Valdean sat down, the rest stood where they were. He began immediately. "There are taxes to be paid on every full quad that has been paid today."
"I haven't charged anybody anything."
The Valdean froze for a second. "Then the price of the meals given away will be taxed."
"I haven't set my prices yet. I'm waiting on contracts from my suppliers."
"Then we will estimate the value of the meals."
"I didn't keep a record of what all was ordered."
"By number of customers served."
Kavel shook his head. "I'm not sure how many came in. Rontel lost track."
The official looked at his assistants for help.
"Perhaps simply the regular business tax on the establishment and the employees will suffice for now. Tomorrow, you must keep record of everything ordered and number of customers." One of the mixed race persons said slowly.
"Now, your employees are all off worlders no?" The Valdean looked at Kavel and Rontel. "You must pay for your use of our air. And there is a gravity surcharge for the structure."
"Whatever you need." Kavel said. "But she doesn't use air."
Rontel smiled at them.
"She is still in our atmosphere."
Kavel nodded at them in agreement. "I really want to do this right and be in business here for a long time."
"And we'll give you every assistance we can."
"Perhaps you will be interested in our policing services." One of the Humans said.
"You mean the colony's security force?"
The Valdean's eyes narrowed. "No, a private security organization. To prevent trouble with certain rogue elements on the planet."
"Oh. That sounds like a good idea." Kavel said. "How much will you need for all of this?"
"A thousand quads should get things moving nicely."
"I'll be right back, I think I have that much left in the startup fund." Kavel got up, "Miss, get these gentle beings a drink."
Kavel walked into the kitchen area. As soon as the door slid shut behind him he laughed and slapped the Colonel's back. "Did you hear all that?"
"Air, protection, even gravity. I think that's a new one."
"A thousand quads? I was expecting twice that."
Marot smiled darkly. "The Valdean debated about how much to hit you up for, it will be more tomorrow."
They looked at Wan, he was turning from the replicator that was linked to the ship with a medium sized case. "One thousand quads, well circulated."
"And?" Kavel looked inside at the coinage.
"And traceable to anywhere on this planet." The Andorian pointed to a display screen over the door. A large glowing dot appeared on the screen.
"Down to how far?" The Colonel asked.
"If somebody has more than three of them, we'll know."
Kavel picked up the package and went out.
"Very good." The Valdean said as he opened the case and looked at the coinage.
One of the mixed race beings stepped up to the table and scanned the package.
Kavel and those in the kitchen held their breaths. All except for Wan he grinned as broad as an Andorian could the whole time.
The scanning being nodded sharply to the Valdean and picked up the case.
"Yes." Kavel responded hoping the Colonel had his phaser ready.
"We are in business."
They sat in the kitchen and watched the package move toward its destination.
"That's CGC headquarters." The Colonel checked his references.
"Some of the money has already separated from the main mass." Kavel said from his station. "Evidently the Valdean paid off his help."
"Nine fifty still together." Wan added.
The biggest part of the money stayed together until the next morning. Then a good bit of it was counted out and traveled back into the city.
"We're going." Marot said to the Colonel.
Aashth fired up their land cruiser and they headed for where their money had gone.
"Fascinating." Marot whispered. She keyed her communicator. "Sir, you're going to love this."
"They're paying the Halian Consulate." The Colonel responded.
"You're no fun." Aashth said to him.
"It just kind of figures."
"We've got another contact. Some two hundred of the quads are moving. See where its going."
"My bet would be a contact from Griffith."
"Just check it out."
The building was unmarked, but Kavel tracked down the lease holder through the planets database.
"Who is the Paralax Energy Group?" Marot asked.
"A cover for somebody more than likely." Aashth said.
The Colonel nodded. "Most likely. Get back here, we'll be open for business in a couple of hours."
The customers were delighted with paying half price for one meal and getting another one free.
And some of the money ended up back at the restaurant that night.
"Out of a thousand. We got back two." Kavel said to the Colonel.
"So it doesn't all just vanish." He said and started the recycling machine that took the dirty dishes and garbage in one end and put out fresh clean dishes from the other.
"A lot of it does." Aashth said picking up an order. "The ship has picked up quite a few that left aboard a Combined Galactic ship about an hour ago."
"That was quick." Kavel said.
The Colonel nodded, "Even if its only a tithe of the total, it leaves and never comes back. This colony will be bled dry eventually."
"We'll track it."
The Colonel shook his head. "I'm not hanging around here much longer. We've got the trail. As soon as we identify this Paralax outfit. I want to figure out how to pull the plug on them."
"Do you know how many real groups with Paralax in their name there is? Just in the local systems." Aashth said.
"About seventeen too many." Kavel sighed.
"I'm betting the only thing that our Paralax friends across town are is a name on the lease. It's a front for somebody. When that money moves, follow it."
Aashth took the order out to the customer.
Wan alternated his time between a small control console and replicating orders.
The console showed several views on small visual screens and had a large grid display overlaying a huge building. Wan worked the controls some more without touching them.
The Colonel turned in an order and glanced at the screens. "How's our mice doing?"
"Good enough. Got one into outer office of Overseer."
"Hear anything worthwhile?"
One of the screens flashed and a Valdean appeared, he was speaking in their language to a viewscreen. Then the translation started mid-sentence, "... completed 15000 quad transfer to Premier. One fourth of total collected for term. Thirty Collectors two hundred duty cycles total..."
The Colonel nodded and waved at the screen. Wan shut it off.
"Keep at it." He looked at the counter. "Where's my two orders of lanntos and fries?"
"Wan run spies. Wan cook lanntos. Not, Wan fly ship." The cyborg complained.
"And a fine pilot you are too." The Colonel said as the Andorian took the food out of the replicator.
Rontel walked in. "Collectors." She said. "They're being monitored.
"Silence them." The Colonel said to Wan then ran from the room.
Kavel was face to face with two of the Collectors in the reception area. Both mixed race types.
"Quads for protection." One of them muttered barely understandably.
The Colonel walked up behind them. Marot was nearby.
Aashth was sitting behind the counter, he caught the Colonel's eye and nodded.
"Quads." The other one said.
"For protection from what?" Kavel asked.
The second one snarled, "From us. And others."
"We don't need protection from you." The Colonel said.
The first one reached inside his heavy topcoat. But before he could finish the action he was gone in a haze of gray energy. The other one followed.
"Like I said. We don't need protection from them." The Colonel said.
A colonist walked through the door. "I thought I heard Collectors, we were going to leave."
Kavel smiled charmingly. "They left."
"You paid them?"
"No, but they left anyway."
The colonist's eyes got wide. "If you didn't pay them they will be back. With others."
Later on the black ship the Colonel, dressed in the body armor and helmet of the Rylan Imperial Guard walked into what appeared to be a stone dungeon of an old fortress castle. The two Collectors sat sullenly in a heavily barred cell.
"You can't hold us." The first one said in a gravely voice.
"We can. And we are." The Colonel replied.
"I demand CG be here." He said in a strong voice.
"Look around. We're not on CG property."
Behind the Colonel the small window showed a view of a large green ocean, a transport glided along.
For the first time the two Collectors seemed to realize their circumstance.
"Who do you work for? Designations and places."
"Valdeans." The second one said.
"No kidding." The Colonel said. "Give me some designations. Or their Human lackey's names."
"Second Magistrate. Porlorus City." The first one said.
"The Human's name is Joris."
The Colonel looked at them. "I'll have our people check that out. If you're lying to me..."
They looked at him.
"Do you need anything while you're waiting?" The Colonel asked. They didn't say anything. "Our food's not bad. I'll send a meal in to you."
They just sat there.
"I've got the file on the Second Magistrate." Kavel said. "He's as dirty as they come."
"We've got to connect him as far and as high as we can." The Colonel said.
"Pick him up, make him sing." Aashth said with a grin.
The Colonel's eyes narrowed. "I'm getting tired of the restaurant business. Let's try that."
The Second Magistrate was obviously very impressed with his designation and the fact that his 'sire' was the Vice-Premier of some planet or other.
"He ain't here." The Colonel said in his armor.
"I am a functionary of the Combined Galactic Conglomerate."
"Who's your boss?" The Colonel said.
The Valdean was silent.
As the Colonel walked out the Valdean's memory got better. "The Regional Delegate."
The Colonel didn't stop walking.
"The Regional Delegate. Tertiary."
He stopped and turned around. "Frontier Office?"
The Magistrate hung his head. "Yes."
"We'll check it out. If you speak the truth, we'll put you back where we found you."
Wan worked one of his small spies into the office. And he only had to burn through three walls to do it.
Over the next few hours they found out that not only the third shift Delegate was involved, but all three of them. And their boss was the Corporate Fellow for this system.
In a day they had the web worked all the way into the Halian Royal Family and even a bureaucrat in the Federation who was being well paid to keep his eyes shut.
"What next?" Kavel said as he came into the kitchen with yet another coupon for a free meal.
"We need to get all those losers off our ship and into a holding cell somewhere." The Colonel said. "But who can we turn all the evidence over to? Half the officials in the sector are in on it one way or the other."
"Maybe we should keep it all here. There are still civilian authorities on the colony." Marot said.
"But they are in title only, they have no real power."
Kavel grinned. "Maybe we could give them some."
"Let's make some calls." The Colonel nodded slowly.
By dropping the collected information and evidence on everybody at once and letting them all know that the rest knew. They managed to get a real nice tight denial from the Conglomerate and the Halian Throne. At the behest of a ranking Federation official, still stinging from the hurried resignation of a couple of miner functionaries, the civilian authorities were granted limited autonomy and the power to prosecute the case against those that had abused their power to such a degree.
However, the Conglomerate had no idea where the money had gone.
Kavel turned the restaurant over to a Colonist who had lost his business to the Collectors.
"It's our pleasure. Please. Take the Quads and thank you for your business." Kavel said yet again.
"We'll miss you all." The colonist said.
"I'm sure Mister Harrid will operate a quality establishment."
The colonist smiled broadly. "But he'll charge for his meals."
Kavel shook the man's hand and nodded.
The colonist gripped the bag with the three hundred quads in it tightly and stepped outside. "At least they won't charge for air now." He laughed.
An elderly couple walked up to the 'former owner'.
"Sir. There is five hundred quads in here." The man tried to hand it to Kavel. "We can't take this for eating your food."
"It's a going away gift. Please." He refused the bag.
"You're culture is to give gifts when you leave?"
Kavel nodded briskly. "Yes, you honor us by accepting."
"If so. Then we bless you sir. All of you."
"Consider it a tax refund." Kavel laughed.
The Colonel looked at the dozen or so 'guests' that were getting ready to be transported over to a Halian ship.
"I do not wish to be subject to any authority outside the Conglomerate." The Regional Delegate, Primary said.
"Tough." The Colonel answered. He tapped at his helmet's mask. "There are worse ones than the Halian's."
"You don't understand. They believe we still owe them many quads from the taxes."
The Valdean looked away. "Yes."
"Then you better figure out a way to pay. The Conglomerate says everything according to the records of what was collected is correct."
The Regional Delegate, Secondary looked dejected. The Second Magistrate made a noise that must have been a sigh.
"You guys sort it out. And if I was you, I'd get a story straight and stick to it."
The Colonel backed away from the heavy bars. "Energize." He said loudly.
The gray energy filled the room and they were gone.
"End dungeon simulation." He said. The transporter/replicator room was back. He took off his helmet with a smile. "I love this job."
Continued in: The Patrol Part 7
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