On this planet guilt was erased by cell death, so bounties were especially hard to collect, I explained to the tour group.
The legal system had been built on the idea that people’s cells regenerated after 10 years, making them entirely new people not responsible for the crimes of their older selves.
As we descended, the galaxy’s most dangerous planet looked peaceful, the lines of cars flying in an orderly fashion. I told them to activate their personal shields whenever they left the ship, knowing that a few cowboys would ignore me — maybe fatally, it had happened before, but this was the thrillseeking Outlaw Galaxy tour and we had the insurance for it.
“What’s that thing?” a grandma asked, pointing at the enormous white dome covered in spikes before taking a few pics.
“It’s this region’s temple,” I said. “The cell death principle — which by the way has been disproven by science, but still is law — impacted the major religion here too. All moral transgressions are forgiven after a decade, because you are born anew.”
A little fellow with glasses, the math professor, looked up from checking his kid’s personal shield. “Doesn’t that encourage murder?”
I nodded. Our ship touched down with a distant clang, and we made our way out. I re-emphasized the safety protocols. “If you’re tempted to turn off your shield,” I said, looking at the two teenaged boys in cowboy hats. “Remember what happened to Roger.”
They nodded soberly at this. Some of the adults had realized that Roger was a redshirt, but the group members who were naive enough to believe our plant had died of those laserblasts were the ones who needed to be scared.
We were on the edge of the market, where we always set down, and as the walkway rose into the belly of our ship I gathered everyone around me. “We’ll have three hours, which should give you enough time to check out the market and the temple. Any questions?”
There were the usual questions about conversion rates and greetings in the local language, which most of them butchered. Enough time to gather our usual collection of salivating merchants and contemptuous locals, and for the two teenagers to become bored enough to flick their shields on and off.
“Tipping is not acceptable, not is any other form of charity,” I remembered to add.
“Even for the cripples?” a grandma asked, pointing at one of the locals who was standing off to the side, watching us and chatting with a friend. He was missing one leg, something I entirely missed as it was an unassuming metal replacement instead of the usual ornamental one.
He had stopped talking to his friend. My mouth went dry.
“Everybody got their shields up?” I said with practised casualness. The teenager rolled his eyes and snapped his on. “Listen closely, because this might save your life.”
“You will see on occasion someone missing a part of their body. That is because they have evaded capture — in a place where almost everyone on the planet is a bounty hunter — for almost ten years.” I snuck a peek at my legless friend, who seemed to be listening closely — wouldn’t it be funny if he was one of the rare English speakers? — and I started to sweat. “If they are close to cellular innocence, at 8 or 9 years say, they can cut off a limb or two instead of go to jail and the hunter redeems that instead.”
“Oh,” said the math teacher. “Like a rat in a trap gnaws off — ”
“No, nothing like that,” I said, my voice almost breaking. “More like the baddest motherfucker on a planet of bad motherfuckers. Like the elite.”
I coughed, and glanced up at my friend. His arms were crossed and there was a smile on his face.
“OK. I’ll see you guys back here at 4 on the dot.” I tried on a smile. “Try not to get killed. It’s the mimosa brunch tomorrow and you’d hate to miss that.”