- Sure, we can afford it! - Trax - senior sales representative of the Terktonium sounded promising.
The deal was likely to produce a 500 percent profit to the company. Fabulously exclusive watches, all sorts of electronic jewelry, and rhinestone fur underwear - all these things were popular in banana-countries of the Earth, but not elsewhere in outer space. Except Terktonium! Modern art and interior design guides have been selling like hot cakes here. The planet had entered its consumption boom and craved the articles of luxury.
Expensive limousines moved throughout the squalor of city streets. Seaside resorts and mountain hotels were completely full, as average Terktonians usually worked hard the whole year in order to spend two happy weeks in some fashionable place. In fact, it gave their colleagues a topic for discussion for the next twelve months.
Thirty minutes after the spaceship landed, local peddlers bought all the golden cigarette holders and dearest wines we had on board. Trax, very much out of breath, looked at the heavy trucks moving away in the dust, bit a thick cigar, winked at us, and ordered a permanent contract to supply things of high social status to Terktonium.
- Sounds good, Johnson, - I said to my companion. - Looks like we've hit the jackpot!
- Well John, - said he. - Fashion is too changeable, to my mind. I wouldn't bet on consumer hysterics.
Nevertheless, what we learned about the planet smoothed most of our concerns. Collectivism was the key feature of the locals. Terktonians worked hard for several centuries to industrialize their world and after they achieved a certain bonanza, they took it for granted and considered it to be lasting and inevitable. The new generation was hardly paying tribute to the tough labor of their grandfathers, who had explored uranium mines amid mosquitoes swamps and built giant factories and ugly hydroelectric power stations on riverbanks. Personal success was declared to be the major goal of youth, and it materialized in symbols of civilization, as they were understood here. Though it was a temporary state, sociologists assured that cheerful mercantilism could last for a couple of generations.
We added something from our own, the company's, cargo. Smuggling does no honor to space pilots, but the Terktonium customers dropped very obvious hints that some small reward like platinum cuff buttons or golden watch can make them blind to transportation waybills. Unfortunately, we needed more and more presents every time, because as the new lifestyle grew more popular, the army of officials was getting bigger.
- It's impossible to work with these people! - claimed Johnson. - How can it be that we have to wait for two weeks to unload? Who will pay the expenses, I wonder?
Not the company! It never covered bribing the officials, so we had to use our contraband profit to buy presents.
- It's my last visit to Terktoium! I don't want to work with this planet! - said Johnson, unloading pearl cologne water.
- These are temporary difficulties, - sighed Trax, who never shared his 30 percent profit to bribe the customs officials. - These youngsters dream of public service, which increased administration tremendously. Can we do anything about it? No, I'm afraid, as being a part of bureaucracy is also a thing of high social status. By the way, could you please bring more fashionable accessories for officials, I mean golden styluses, diamond cuff links and thing like that - expensive and respectable. Sure, we can afford it!
Our next visit to Terktonium happened only a year after. At first the company sent us to a short-term training course, then we spent our time for the intelligence mission at Quatar planet. To make good of our losses we barricaded the space ship with mass-consumption goods. The week's trip to Terkonium we spent stumbling over boxes with silicone implants and tubes filled with postmodernist canvases.
- OK, guys, - said Trax busily, - electronics go for one-third of its price purely for the microchips. As for the rest of the stuff, just take it back home.
Our indignation was inexpressible.
- Hey mister! It's not the way gentlemen do their business! -I argued. - The hold is filled with top-rated glass beads, handmade under the license of the most fashionable designers. Where should I take all these?
- You have to understand me, buddies! - The year you were out, the planet changed tremendously! Leather jackets and ivory canes are no longer in demand!
We stared at Trax, astonished. The smug paunchy huckster keen to spend his lifetime at fashionable restaurants had turned to an athletic man in a coarse coat with a cheap case in his hands.
- The years of vain luxuriance and prodigality brought our economy to decay. After engineers trained for inspectors and electricians started their career as lawyers, we suffered severe shakes. Technological disasters, drug abuse and more - these all are real threats to the Terktonium intelligent life! That's why we got rid of the rotten ideas of post-industrialism and turned to modernization.
- Hey, slow down, Mr. Trax! We've got the Permanent Contract, haven't we?
- Well, we sure have! And I confirm that it remains in force, gentlemen, but since the Terktonians are craving scientific and engineering careers, it is super-computers and mobile labs that are considered to be items of high social status nowadays. I'll eagerly buy your scientific equipment and technologies at an excellent price. Sure, we can afford it!