Cycle of Slavery

"My family has had a business here in Tal Sinai for seven generations, Aniza Sakhr glumly said to the inspector. The inspector, a grim True Amarrian who clearly found his job regulating Ni-Kunni business beneath him, merely grunted and went back to examining Aniza's tools.

"My father was a mechanic, and my father's father, and my father's father's father, all the way back to when my five-times-great-grandfather was a slave," Aniza explained. "Issa Sakhr, my five-times-great-grandfather was the head mechanic for a Holder household. On the Holder's deathbed, God rest his generous soul, he freed a good portion of his Ni-Kunni slaves, including Issa." Aniza was smiling now, retelling the story of his family's freedom. The inspector barely reacted, but Aniza pressed on. "Penniless, Issa tried to put his exceptional skills as a mechanic to good work, but he could not find work with any of the Amarr companies in the big cities. They would not hire a former slave."

The inspector nodded reflexively. "The Business Regulation Board won't hire former slaves either," he muttered. "Not that it doesn't stop plenty from applying." He made a second pass over some equipment with his scanner, then marked the results on his pad.

"Yes, even though the freed slaves have been deemed enlightened by their masters, they rarely know how the real world works," Aniza agreed. "Issa came here, to Tal Sinai, when it was barely a hamlet, with only a thousand Ni-Kunni. The local mechanic, his family had been free for many generations, gave my five-times-great-grandfather work. Issa was very skilled, the best in Tal Sinai, and worked to the bone to prove his worth. And when the local mechanic died, he had no children of his own, he graced Issa with the business, God rest his kind soul!"

Finished with his examination of the tools, the inspector moved toward the repair bay. Aniza followed closely behind. The bay itself, made to hold twenty or more vehicles at once, was barely half full. Some vehicles were up on lifts, others were on the ground, all being attended to by the two or three of the men Aniza employed. The inspector frowned. "Why are so many mechanics working on a single vehicle?"

"Ah," Aniza sighed, rubbing his bald head tenderly. "Business has not been good lately. The Rwala family opened up a mechanic shop a few years ago. They have been free for twenty-three generations and now they get most of the business, even though they are new here. Now, we have more mechanics than we have work."

"You should lay off some of the mechanics," the inspector suggested, in a somewhat friendly tone. "This could be considered a safety hazard."

"These are good men," Aniza answered. "They stayed with me even when the Rwalas were hiring away. And we are very concerned with safety here, unlike the Rwalas. Their equipment is old and their foremen are not as well trained as mine. I believe they had to send three mechanics to the hospital in the past six months, while we have not had a single accident here."

The inspector nodded absently, marking something on his pad. Aniza strained to see if it was good or bad, but the inspector shifted his stance slightly so Aniza couldn't peek. The inspector looked back up, grunted in annoyance, and walked across the shop to a canister of fuel. The inspector looked closely at it and shook his head. "Is there a problem?" Aniza asked nervously.

"This canister hasn't been resealed properly," the inspector said, marking down several notes on his pad. "That is a safety violation."

Aniza bowed swiftly to the inspector. "Yes, I shall see to it that my mechanics are lectured about the mistake so that they do not do such sloppy work again." As he straightened up, Aniza glanced at the canister, noting that the seal was barely half a centimeter off. As the inspector walked off to inspect the other fuel canisters, Aniza's two sons walked into the bay.

The inspector frowned and passed the wallet back to Aniza. "I do believe that was an attempt at a bribe," the inspector said gravely.

"What?" Aniza spat, shocked that the inspector would turn down such a large bribe. Suddenly, realization came to Aniza. "The Rwalas already bribed you! That's why they were allowed stay open despite the accidents!"

The inspector looked momentarily stunned that Aniza had figured things out, but an angry sneer crossed his face. "Are you implying I have broken the law, Mr. Aniza? You are aware that slandering a True Amarrian is considered a felony unless you have indisputable proof, correct?"

Aniza gritted his teeth and backed up. One of the most common punishments for Ni-Kunni felons was a return to slavery. If Aniza was convicted, and with the much more respected Rwalas as the ones behind the bribery it seemed likely he would be, his entire free lineage would be stripped from him and his children, and they would be forced to rebuild under the same hostile conditions that Issa Sakhr had endured.

Feeling light headed, Aniza bowed low to the inspector. "I am sorry," he said, "I was just upset at my own lax enforcement of the safety regulations and had an outburst. Please, accept my deepest apologies."

The inspector smiled and nodded, then handed Aniza a disc containing documentation of all the violations the inspector had found. "Make sure business has ceased by the end of today, or you will incur additional fines. Good day, Mr. Aniza," the inspector said before leaving.

Aniza went back to his office and slumped into his chair. Beni and Bani ran up and jumped into his lap. "So, daddy, are we going to learn how to fix the injectors today like you promised?" Beni asked.

Aniza sighed and shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Beni."

Aniza waved them over. "Ah, inspector, I would like you to meet my sons! This is Bani and this is Beni," Aniza said. The two boys, thirteen and twelve, respectively, bowed to the inspector, who barely acknowledged them. "Now, go back into the office and wait for me," Aniza told them with a wave. "They are my pride and joy! Do you have any children, inspector?"

"No," the inspector muttered as the children scurried off. "Why are children running around the repair bay?"

"Ah, I am training them to take over the business when they get old enough," Aniza answered swiftly. "I had hoped to send them to the Imperial Academy, but with business being as bad as it has been, I have had to use the money I was saving to pay my expenses." The inspector nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer, but he still marked something on his pad. "I hope you would understand that the best way to learn is by hands on experience, inspector."

"Supervised experience," the inspector corrected.

Aniza smiled and nodded his head in agreement. "You are correct, of course. Usually, I supervise them, but since you are here, I left them in my office. They must have gotten bored and come out. Not that I am blaming the mistake on you, of course! I should have anticipated a surprise inspection and ensured they would be taken care of."

With a gruff grunt, the inspector turned to face Aniza fully for the first time. "I am wondering, Mr. Sakhr, if you have considered getting out of the mechanic business?"

The question caught Aniza off guard and he sputtered before answering. "No, never. It has been in my family for seven generations!"

"Indeed," the inspector answered. "But you yourself said business was bad. Perhaps you should sell out to the Rwalas while your business still has worth and find another business venture."

"I..." Aniza wondered why the inspector was telling him these things. "I thank you for your wisdom, but I don't believe I could ever give up my business."

The inspector nodded slowly, then held out his pad, showing the results to Aniza. "Then I am afraid I must declare your business unsafe. The violations I have found today confirm suspicions we have had for months that you are running a shoddy and second-rate business, which is the true reason for the Rwalas have usurped much of your business."

Aniza took a step back, his head swimming. "But, if you take away my license..." Aniza weakly protested.

"First, you must pay a fine to the government in reparation for the violations I found today. Then you will be required to clean up your violations, during which time you are not allowed to do any business. You will need to return the vehicles you are currently working on to your clients without charging them for any in-progress repairs. After six months, you may petition us for a review of your business. If we find the violations corrected, you may apply for a new license."

The loss of his license would ruin Aniza. He would likely have to go to work for the Rwalas, who would treat their former competitor unkindly. Aniza's mind raced as he considered how he could avoid such a fate. "Ah, inspector!" Aniza suddenly blurted out. "Can't we come to some sort of... agreement that will allow me to keep my license?"

Aniza reached toward his wallet. "Are you trying to bribe me, Mr. Sakhr?" the inspector asked, his tone neutral.

"A bribe?" Aniza laughed nervously. "No, of course not! Bribery is a criminal offense! I simply want to offer you a gift and perhaps have you check back over several of the violations. I am sure you will see them in a different light?"

Aniza handed the wallet to the inspector with an amount already typed into it. The inspector glanced at the amount and there was a flash in his eyes. Aniza grinned, knowing that what he had offered the inspector was more money than the inspector would see in a year working for the Business Regulation Board.

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