She narrowed her eyes. “You must be going somewhere with this, but I don’t see where.”
“Have you ever seen guns in Artemis? Other than the one you have in your desk, I mean?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“How about hard drugs? Heroin? Opium? That sort of thing?”
“Not at any scale,” she said. “Sometimes Rudy catches a tourist with a personal stash but it’s rare.”
“Ever wonder why that shit doesn’t get into town?” I pointed to my chest. “Because I don’t let it. No drugs, no guns. And I have a bunch of other rules too. I keep flammables to a minimum. And no live plants. Last thing we need is some weird mold infestation.”
“Yes, you’re very ethical, but—”
“What happens when I’m gone?” I asked. “Do you think smuggling will just stop? No. There’ll be a short power vacuum then someone else will take over. No idea who. But will they be as civic-minded as me? Probably not.”
She raised an eyebrow.
I pressed on. “This city’s about to have a ZAFO boom. There’s going to be jobs galore, construction, and an influx of workers. There’ll be new customers for every business in town. New companies will open to keep up with the demand. The population will spike. You’ve already got estimates, right?”
She peered at me for a moment. “I think we’ll have ten thousand people within the year.”
“There ya go,” I said. “More people means more demand for contraband. Thousands of people who might want drugs. Shitloads of money flying around, which means more crime. Those criminals will want guns. They’ll try to sneak them in through whatever smuggling system and black market is in place. What kind of city do you want Artemis to be?”
She pinched her chin. “That’s…a very good point.”
“All right. So, you have my confession. That’ll keep me from getting out of line. Checks and balances and all that.”
She thought about this for an uncomfortably long time. Without breaking eye contact, she pulled the deportation order off her desk and put it in a drawer. I sighed in relief.
“We still have the problem of punishment, though…” She leaned forward to her antiquated keyboard computer and began typing. She ran her finger along the screen. “According to this, your account balance is 585,966 slugs.”
“I thought Lene paid you a million.”
“How did you kno—never mind. I paid off a debt recently. Why is this relevant?”
“I think some restitution is in order. A fine, if you will.”
“What?!” I sat bolt-upright. “Artemis doesn’t have fines!”
“Call it a ‘voluntary contribution to the city’s funds.’?”
“There’s nothing ‘voluntary’ about it!”
“Sure there is.” She settled back into her chair. “You can keep all your money and get deported instead.”
Ugh. Well, this was a win for me. I could always make more money, but I couldn’t get un-deported. And she had a point. If she didn’t punish me, any asshole could do what I did and expect to get away with it. I’d have to take a slap on the wrist. “Okay. How much?”
“Five hundred fifty thousand slugs should cover it.”
I gasped. “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
She smirked. “It’s like you said. I need you to control smuggling. If you have a bunch of money, you might retire. And then where would I be? It’s best to keep you hungry.”
Logically I came out way ahead. I’d cleared my conscience. But still, the prospect of my account balance going from six digits to five physically hurt.
“Oh!” She smiled with a realization. “And thanks for volunteering yourself as Artemis’s unpaid, unofficial, import regulatory body. Of course, I’ll hold you responsible for any dangerous contraband in town, regardless of how it got here. So, if some other smuggler crops up and lets guns or drugs in, you can expect a chat with me.”
I stared blankly. She stared back.
“I’ll expect that slug transfer by the end of the day,” she said.
My bluster was completely gone. I stood from the chair and walked over to the door. When I reached for the door handle, I paused.
“What’s the endgame here?” I asked. “Once the ZAFO companies start up, what happens then?”
“The next big step is taxes.”
“Taxes?” I snorted. “People come here because they don’t want to pay taxes.”
“They already pay taxes—as rent to KSC. We need to change over to a property-ownership and tax model so the city’s wealth is directly tied to the economy. But that’s not for a while.”
She took off her glasses. “It’s all part of the life-cycle of an economy. First it’s lawless capitalism until that starts to impede growth. Next comes regulation, law enforcement, and taxes. After that: public benefits and entitlements. Then, finally, overexpenditure and collapse.”
“Yes, collapse. An economy is a living thing. It’s born full of vitality and dies once it’s rigid and worn out. Then, through necessity, people break into smaller economic groups and the cycle begins anew, but with more economies. Baby economies, like Artemis is right now.”