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Granny Wilcox stepped out of the elevator at a level marked “Hold” and found most of the Mule’s crew standing with their backs to her while staring in the other direction.

“Look alive, fellas!”

They jumped to attention, ripping their eyes away from all the other people in the hold.

Granny shouldered her way to the front to see what all the fuss was about.

Before them, in a large open area similar to the first class lagoon only not nearly as nicely apportioned, stood hundreds of women looking back at them.

Each wore a shiny silver unitard that fit snug against their bodies with no zippers or buttons. Sleeves extended to the hands, and leggings to the feet. For shoes, each wore matching light silver slippers, with no laces or buckles.

They also wore gunmetal gray collars around their necks. Seamless, the collars could not be removed until their term expired. These, Granny knew, were biocollars, the mark of indentured servitude. Before her stood the Aquamarine’s human cargo: hundreds of women wearing biocollars around their necks.

She removed the unlit cigar from her mouth and said, “Whatsa matter, boys? Y’all never seen indents before?”

“Not so many, all in one place,” Roddy said, his eyes roaming the hundreds of women standing mutely before them. “There has got to be a fortune here in terms of what these are worth.”

“What are you doing down here?” Granny said. “Ain’t you our pilot?”

He grinned. She knew darn well who he was. Then he shrugged. “I wanted to see what we got.”

Granny harrumphed as she stared back at the docile crowd facing them. The biocollars controlled indents, making them willing to perform almost any task within their service parameters. They stared back at the pirates silently.

The elevator door opened behind her and a few more from Ultima Mule stepped out.

Quietly Granny said, “What we got is trouble. Especially if we can’t sell them off soon enough.”

“What we got,” Maxwell said, approaching from the elevator, “is a small fortune for every crewmember. What’s our running tally, Lootie?”

LuteNet’s voice spoke from the air above them. She said, “In round numbers, estimates based on current market value along with time of service remaining average an estimated 20,000 credits per contract. Therefore, this hold represents approximately 16 million credits, assuming prompt sale of the bonds back home.”

Her pronouncement was greeted with stunned silence.

Finally, Granny broke it. She said, “Boys . . . we’s rich.”

The universal age of majority and consent was 13 years. All legal and voting privileges were extended at that age, whereupon citizens could enter into contracts. So, 13 marked the youngest age at which anyone could agree to a term of indentured servitude. It was also the most common age for that occurring, particularly in poor sectors. A few people entered servitude at ages later than 13 on their own volition, but this remained rare. Mostly, older indentured servants took a collar involuntarily due to outstanding debts they could no longer pay.

The system worked efficiently, especially on planets and other areas where human labor was still required. Bondholders purchasing the servant’s tenure paid 30,000 credits to the market up front. The servant received 10,000 credits in their personal accounts when committing. This initial payment could be ceded to family members or anyone else, if the subject so desired. Then the biocollar was attached and their term of service began.

Biocollars remained in place for 10 standard years. Following that term, the collars were removed and subjects received an additional 20,000 credits.

Ten years was the maximum term anybody could serve, the exception being those forced into indentured servitude due to failure to pay debts. For them, 30,000 credits were applied to whatever debt they could not pay. If they owed more than that, their term extended accordingly, paying back debtors at the rate of 3,000 credits per year.  

Considering the sum of 12,000 credits was the typical annual salary throughout both the League and the Republic, demand for indents as a cheap source of labor remained strong. Even paying the entire amount up front was cost efficient for many industries, especially those in which robots were either too expensive or non-practical.

Of course, the wealthy also preferred human labor over mechanized. It had become a sign of prestige. It was not uncommon for a large household to be staffed almost entirely by indents rather than androids.

An entire industry had grown up around trading indentured bonds as well. While the 30,000 upfront credits were a sunk cost, companies and individuals could sell the bonds for time remaining on the contracts. Sometimes they could even flip them for a profit. Sales houses charged a commission for each bond sale, held funds in escrow for the duration of terms, and pocketed fees on all transactions. Attractive servants carried a premium. In the great indent marketplaces on Epsilon Prime and Delta Diego, it was not uncommon for bidding wars to erupt over particularly attractive servants.

When a company of pirates came into possession of indents, the bonds were pre-paid. All captured items could be sold for pure profit, and the company could sell off the remaining time on each servant to any willing buyer. Thus one other big indent marketplace existed in the Milky Way beside those on the capital planets of the League and the Republic: the one in Port Ryan on Lute.

Maxwell said, “Lootie, presuming we receive the full amount for the indents and presuming sale of the ship and ransom for detainees, what are our shares worth at the moment?”

“There are too many unknown quantities for an accurate estimate, First Officer Maxwell.”

“Give us a basic threshold, based on what you know. A plus or minus figure.”

“I would currently estimate total share values somewhere around 20 million credits, plus or minus a million depending on current unknown variables. This estimate is subject to change depending on circumstances and when additional data becomes available. Sale price of the Aquamarine in her current condition may change depending on needs of the Republic in current months, for instance.”

Maxwell grinned at everybody.

He said, “There you have it, ladies and gents, 200,000 a share more or less. The Quartermaster is correct. We are indeed rich!”

Granny looked down on the ground, and realized she had dropped another cigar out of her mouth.

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