“My Lord Patriarch, I will of course compensate you fully for the loss of the ship in any way that I can, I assure you that this was completely unforeseen.”
The Patriarch snarled, raising his hackles and exposing his sharp, carnivore teeth at the merchant, his pearlescent, ornate fur cape flowing behind him. The far shorter and plumper human straightened his tie uncomfortably, avoiding the penetrating gaze of the nine foot Borealan monarch.
Benedict sold used starships by trade, it was not an easy business to break into, even a second hand hull rendered unfit for naval service by battle damage cost a fortune to purchase. Fortunately his family was wealthy, and he had begun by recycling the hulks for scrap money. Recently he had discovered a far more lucrative business opportunity.
Borealis was a newly contacted planet, uncivilized and bordering enemy territory. The Patriarch who ruled Elysia, the most powerful and prosperous of the Borealan nations, was eager to modernize his military and not averse to paying for it. Benedict had been selling him used UNN starships, fixing what damage he could and bringing retired designs up to spec, in exchange for raw materials and precious metals that were abundant on the alien world.
The Patriarch had been delighted to have his own fleet, though Benedict doubted he knew to what extent the vessels were outdated or unfit for service, and had no intention of informing him. The world had no naval obligation to the multi-species Coalition that included humanity, and the ships were mostly decorative, used to intimidate and show off to the other territories of the planet.
The latest deal however, had gone badly. Benedict had purchased the UNN Alexandria at auction, a light cruiser that had suffered severe structural damage from a Betelgeusian smartbomb. The superstructure had been completely crippled, the damned ship barely holding together, and it had been sold for barely the value of its salvage after having been written off. He had gotten greedy, hiring a team of engineers to patch it up and reinforce the hull to the point that it was spaceworthy again, then had sold it to the Patriarch for three times the value of its scrap metal.
Borealis however had no space elevators and no orbital docks, which meant that the Patriarch had a bad habit of making landfall and applying unnecessary strain on his vessels. The Alexandria had broken up on reentry, killing her Borealan crew, and the monarch was furious.
“My people live by a code of honor,” the feline alien growled, glaring at the merchant with his reflective, amber eyes. They were sat at a long table in the Patriarch’s ivory spire, and the enormous creature tapped its curved claws on the marble surface, tipped with ornate thimbles made of gold. The room was decorated with innumerable banners and tapestries, depicting great battles or royal standards. Guards of comparable size and ferocity stood to attention nearby, their gilded, red armor standing out against the white pillars that held up the ceiling. Their long tails flicked back and forth, their round, furry ears protruded from their helmets, swiveling to track the conversation.
“Borealans do not lie, we do not cheat. We have traded much in the past, Benedict, and I am grateful for your contributions to the might and prosperity of Elysia. But if I find that you have misled me, cheated me, I will take that as a personal insult.”
Benedict was sweating, both because of the intense heat and gravity of the alien world, and because of the way the creature’s nostrils flared in anger as it stared him down. He had never seen the alien so angry before, going by the usual temperament of the Borealans it was a miracle that he had not been savaged yet.
“My dear Patriarch, you are my most valued customer! In all of Coalition space there is no alliance, and no business relationship that I would go further to maintain than the one that we share. I can promise you most assuredly that I will track down the original owner of the Alexandria and ensure that justice is served for your crew who so regretfully perished in the crash.” The alien was still angry, but he was listening. Benedict could still salvage this mess. “With your permission, I will return to human space and retrieve compensation for you, a vessel of twice the value of the Alexandria.”
The Patriarch scratched his chin, considering.
“That will be satisfactory, I agree to your terms,” Benedict breathed a sign of relief, but the Patriarch was not finished. “But on one condition.”
“Whatever you wish, Lord Patriarch.”
“I fear that if you return to human space, I may never hear from you again. You humans do not always reveal your intentions, and often talk at crossed purposes.” Benedict began to speak, but the alien cut him off with a gesture of his massive hand. “I will allow you to return and retrieve my compensation, however I will require that you leave your daughter in my custody. When the new ship is in my possession, I shall release her to you.”
“A ... hostage?” Benedict was hesitant to use the term, but the Patriarch seemed deadly serious.
“Think of it as collateral. You have caused me a great deal of trouble, Merchant Benedict, but as this is your first transgression, I will give you an opportunity to redeem yourself. Do not disappoint me.”
Benedict wanted to protest, to negotiate some more favorable deal that did not involve leaving his treasured daughter in the hands of aliens, but the stern expression on the Patriarch’s face told him that this meeting was over. He rose to his feet unsteadily, the crippling 1.3G gravity weighing down the already out of shape man, and he bowed deeply.
“As you wish, Patriarch.”
“Daddy you can’t! You simply can’t!”
Rebecca batted at her father with a silken pillow, her frilly nightgown flaring as she stomped her feet. The portly merchant tried to keep her under control, pulling the pillow from her hands and pleading with her to calm down. The desert planet hovered outside the window, her lavishly furnished quarters on their private yacht was her home during these extended voyages. She was in the prime of her life, and had reached the age when her rapidly developing figure had become a magnet for suitors. Benedict was overprotective, but he didn’t trust her to behave if he left her on Earth alone. She had a driver’s license after all, and was now too old for him to confine her to their villa.
“The decision has been made, Becky, please! I’ll only be gone for a few days, I own a shipyard two jumps from Borealis. All you have to do is stay on the planet. The Patriarch is a king, he has all of the amenities you’re used to, and I’ll be able to send down anything you want before I leave.”
“It’s awful and hot, and the gravity hurts my ankles,” the young woman pouted, giving in and collapsing onto her bed to sit with her arms crossed. “Why do I have to stay Daddy? Why didn’t you just tell him no?”
“Daddy has worked very hard for this alliance, princess. Our family now has exclusive access to the Borealan market, we alone can exploit their materials and provide them with ships. These aliens are a backward race, it all depends on my personal relationship with their damned Patriach. If I upset him and don’t make amends, he’ll cut us off.”
Rebecca sulked, turning her head away from her father conspicuously. She was a spoiled, petulant girl, but how could the daughter of a rich merchant be anything else? She twirled her golden locks in her manicured finger, doing her best impression of a scared, innocent girl.
“I’m afraid, Daddy. You know those beasts are violent, what if they decide to eat me?”
Benedict sighed, he was all too familiar with this routine, she knew just how to push his buttons, and after her mother had passed away, she knew that she was all he had left. Carol had always known how to reign her daughter in, but Benedict was too soft on her, he didn’t have the heart. She was the most precious thing in the world to him, but he knew the word of the Patriarch was good. It wouldn’t work this time, too much was at stake.
“Darling, I have already agreed, now pack your things, I have to leave soon.”
A tear of anger rather than sorrow slipped down her cheek, and she pursed her lips, throwing a stuffed animal at her father.
“Daddy you’re the worst!”
Rebecca removed her heels, walking on her long cotton socks as her father urged her along, the high gravity of the planet already making her joints hurt, and causing her usually bouncy, curled hair to sag. He dragged her massive suitcase behind him, filled with far more clothes than she could possibly expect to need.
“I look like an urchin, Daddy,” she muttered.
“I did tell you to wear something practical.”
“It’s so dusty and dirty, my socks will be ruined.”
“I’ll buy you new socks,” Benedict grunted, heaving the suitcase and passing it to a waiting servant. The eight foot alien, clad in a floaty, revealing gown took it easily, and carried it away into the spire. The building was the seat of Elysian power, towering over the surrounding city, which was made up of short, squat buildings. The gravity discouraged the aliens from building too high, and by human standards the six storey tower was laughable, but in this environment it was imposing. It was made from white stone that reflected the harsh light of the primary star.
.... There is more of this story ...