It is a general truth in the Cat Among Dragons universe that those who don’t work don’t eat. And so Rada, and Zabet, and company all work in their various vocations, participating in a mostly stable economy that encompasses a large part of the spiral arm that happens to include Earth. Individual planets, certain star systems, and various corporate bodies have trade agreements, or membership in larger governmental organizations. A few opt out, preferring complete autarky for religious or other cultural reasons. Rada’s delivery work straddles those gaps. And the wonder of it is that the system manages to more-or-less function.
To start at the basic level, we’ll look at Drakon IV. The Azdhag homeworld is self-supporting. It could (and has) function without imports or exports, in part because it is still underpopulated. Drakon IV exports luxury textiles, herbal products for other reptilian species, and some food products, all for markets outside the Empire, and food stuffs, chemicals, luxury products, and various items for use within the Empire. Drakon IV imports some foodstuffs, and certain super-high technology, primarily FTL drive parts. The Empire does make its own drives and weapons’ systems, and Rada has encouraged further research and improvements within the Azdhag military so they don’t have to import any military tech.
In fact, military transport technology is probably the least common trade item, once cultures reach a certain level, in part because of the physical differences between species, and in part because no one really trusts the other guys that much. At lower levels, the military industrial complexes are thriving, as many readers will recall. Cheap, disposable, hard-to-trace munitions and weapons’ platforms will always have a market. The Azdhagi and others decry this sort of thing, of course. And Rada rolls her eye and downloads every sales file she can get her claws on.
Bulk commodities also get traded fairly often, interestingly enough. FTL transport has improved enough, and is cheap enough, to make bulk trade practical in some cases. Rada does not participate in that aspect of the economy. She doesn’t have the patience, doesn’t like studying markets and following ag and mining developments, and her ship barely has enough room inside for Zabet to change her mind, let alone carry thousands of tons of this or that. Instead, Rada concentrates on “low-bulk high-value time-sensitive” cargos: luxury goods and information.
Rada operates primarily within the area controlled by the Azdhagi, the Sapient Republic, the Karoo Cartel (which isn’t a political entity officially), and a few other multi-system groups, all of whom recognize the rights of more-or-less free trade and private enterprise. As readers know, she has delivered commission into other worlds and systems, but doesn’t do her own deal-making in those cases. There are limits to how many legal systems and corporate law regimes the Dark Hart’s databases have access to, and neither Rada nor Zabet care to end up as involuntary guests of someone’s legal system.
Within the spiral arm, the economy works on a system of credit, just as many smaller economies do. Everyone knows that the Traders, Rowfow, and one other species do time-travel. What most people don’t know is that the trans-temporal species also work with the huge banking houses (and Houses) as well. Rada uses this to her advantage, quietly, because she is operating in the known past. To Zabet’s disgust Rada won’t “speculate” in futures and planetary bonds. Instead she keeps Zabet out of trouble by identifying risky investments and dropping hints like, “No, we need to pull out of that sector. It’s getting overheated.” This is one area where Zabet always takes Rada’s advice, no questions asked. The banks range from private, single-planet establishments to enormous (and old) banks such as the Tromari da Trobak LLC. Tromari da Trobak is the House bank of House Trobak and does business with Houses and allies. One of Rada’s accounts is with Tromari da Trobak, something that comes into major play after Joschka . . .
Ahem, sorry about that. As I was saying, one of the quirks of the spiral arm economy is that because of Trader and Rowfow participation, credit is almost universally recognized. Exchange rates shift, currencies come and go, but Rada’s accounts are good pretty much wherever she does business. The Traders also established the Meets and Marts system. Meets and Marts are trade fairs, fixed locations that specialize in certain kinds of (generally luxury) goods. Some are for textiles, others have all kinds of information ranging from antique books to data-chips and what looks very much like a quipu to your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine, there are art marts, lapidary markets, and the like. The host planet sets the rules for the markets and enforces Trade Peace, or is supposed to. If they did enforce Trade Peace, Rada wouldn’t have to pretend to be Feltari when she goes to a Mart.
The Traders and others also enforce the few universally accepted trade rules. Each system has its prohibited items, and Rada herself will not transport psychoactive drugs like DreamTapper, nuclear weapons, weaponized organisms, involuntary slaves, and a few other items. Financial fraud, if proven, leads to exclusion from all commercial activity and credit. Those who have read the third Cat book know that the Karoo Cartel and other corporate bodies will enforce their own rules (if someone prods them into action once violations are known.) Armed force is rarely necessary at the time that Rada is active, although on at least one occasion House Trobak and House Korloff sent battle cruisers to Grigori’s World after the Oligarchs tried to undercut Korloff’s economy by sending spies to put bad code into Tromari da Trobak Bank’s computers. As Zabet said when she read about it, “There is such a thing as terminal stupidity.”
Amazingly enough, the system works, and has worked pretty well, for as long as Rada and Zabet have been active – several hundred years. Rada considers it proof of the existence of a Higher Power. Zabet rolls her eyes, swishes her whiskers forward and back, and points out that it is a benefit of rational species’ working to advance their individual interests through mutual exchange. And then badgers Rada for refusing to play the commodities markets.