Josh had heard the term “egghead” but he hadn't imagined one, much less seen one, until he had started working with a particular clerk at the stables. The overall appearance of the man's head was that of a slightly elongated, and top-rounded, egg. This was enhanced by the fact the man had no hair on his scalp, and a scant thinning line around the edges. Moreover, it was an ugly egg. His eyes were deep set, surrounded by dark circles. Half-moon spectacles sat halfway down his hawk nose. His somewhat large ears sprang away from his head slightly, and his thick lips formed a gash of a mouth which seemed to be in a constant, practiced frown. He wore a dark business suit and tie that fit and provided something pleasant to see on the figure that might otherwise be described as a goblin. However, Josh didn't mind this clerk.
Josh waited patiently in the small, sparse room. It was designed to hold 10 people quite comfortably, but rarely even held two. Wooden benches were built into the white painted sheet rock walls. It wasn't designed for comfort, as the clerks typically moved quickly and efficiently. This was facilitated by the fact that not many people appeared at the stables to make purchases, since the stock was expensive.
“Next,” the clerk's low, gravely voice harshly erupted through the plain waiting lobby.
“Thank you,” Josh spoke as he stood from one of the benches, taking with him a solid steel attache case.
The clerk grunted as he held the door to the office as Josh passed through and seated himself. The office itself held a large desk, on which was piled stacks of paper, books, and a computer monitor and input equipment. A space was made in the middle for the clerk and customer to work.
Josh watched, in turn, as the clerk walked to his side of the desk. Facing each other showed up the contrasts between the two. Josh's face was more rounded and dignified, and he wore his naturally red hair combed to the side in a businesslike manner. Once the clerk was seated, he attended to the matter at hand. “Lot 352,” he said simply.
“Hm.” The clerk seemed to frown, but it was hard to tell. A hint of stale coffee hung in the air on his breath. He consulted the screen in front of him. “Coin or transfer?” His hands moved expertly over the keys and mouse.
“Coin, as usual.” Josh always preferred dealing in coin. Although lugging around the kilos of gold and silver was not entirely convenient, it suited his purposes.
The clerk moved his arm and clicked on the computer's mouse. “Mr. Collins, the lot you're requesting is five kilos gold.” He watched as Josh placed the payment on the desk, then added, “Mr. Collins, this is the second time in as many months that you've made a purchase here.” He saw the neat stacks of gold coin. Each coin was a standard 100 grams. He made no move to accept them.
“Is there a problem?” Josh inquired curiously. “I wasn't aware of there being a limit on purchases,” he continued politely and pleasantly. He was in fact well aware of the regulations regarding this particular transaction.
“There are no specific limits on the number of lots that one may purchase, per se, Mr. Collins. However, regulations at the Terran, provincial, and local levels all demand that any lot purchased must also receive care and provisioning. If an individual acquires too many lots, the governments may look on the owner's capabilities with a bit of suspicion.”
Josh took a silver coin – also a standard 100 grams – and pushed it close to the clerk. With his finger still on it, he said, “Please, be direct,” then removed his finger.
The clerk watched as Josh released the silver. “Right. Direct. Sir, Terra does allow slavery, but it must be benign and the slaves well treated.”
“I'm aware,” Josh responded coolly.
“You can comply, then?”
“I wouldn't be here if I couldn't.” Josh maintained his patience. “Lot 352” was a top performing fighter.
“Mr. Collins, your generosity with your slaves is not a secret.” The clerk's objections were scripted, and somewhat feeble. “If you purchase too many -”
Josh interjected. “How many is 'too many'?”
The clerk flustered slightly. “Well -”
“Is there a fixed number?”
“No, sir.” The clerk managed to sound somewhat indignant, even though he stood on weak ground.
Josh continued with a professional directness, “Is there a legal definition of 'too many'?”
“Not exactly,” the clerk admitted.
After a brief silence, Josh added politely, “Very well. Shall we finish the transaction?”
“The government may have concerns,” the clerk offered a last token resistance.
Josh knew the resistance had nothing to do with his treatment of who he considered his employees. “Lot 352” was currently possessed by the rings association, and would eventually meet his death if he didn't surrender himself to a sale. After reading some information about him, Josh decided to purchase him out of hand, which made the cost much higher than it would have been. The association still didn't like losing prized fighters, which is why he was facing some objection.
Josh held his hand cupped, palm facing down, and moved it across the desk, stopping where he left the silver coin. As he did, he stated, “I think you'll find that there will be no concerns for me, or you.” Coins clinked under Josh's hand. He moved it away and two standard gold coins were on top of the silver. “Understand?”
The clerk looked closely at the stack beside the payment. “Very well. I see, Mr. Collins.” He began processing. “Lot 352. Male, 20, physically healthy and strong built …”