(Alternate words: googolplex, goods, grill.)
The two free traders at the back table in Katry’s Bubble considered each other over untouched drinks. A 70/30 shot slowly warmed to room temperature; a glass of finelle kept its chill, as its fumes ran across the tabletop in a thin haze.
The taller of the two, an eldrae, loosened the fastening of her spacer’s leathers, flicked shaggy, mint-green hair back out of her eyes, and finally spoke.
“Why’d you come to me with this?”
“Because you can do it. You’re the only one on station with a blockade runner. Or with the skill to run the Palnu border. And -” the blue sefir flushed purple “- I hoped I might have earned some credit back by now.”
“Your little gift earned you enough that I didn’t shoot you. Not much more than that.”
“And the offer of a Republic Navy transponder isn’t enough for you?”
“Too much. I know how much that’s worth on the open market. Either it’s not genuine – and my little friend here tells me that you believe it is – or this is another one of your schemes I can smell from five jumps away, slash-trader. No deal. I know you too well.”
“At least consider -”
“I know that one, as well.”
The sefir pushed itself upright, schooled its face to blankness.
“You wouldn’t have come here if there wasn’t a deal you might accept. What is it that you want?”
The eldrae pulled a round flask out of an inner pocket, stared at it a moment, and set it on the table between them. The sefir stared at it, blue readiness-light glimmering above the seal of the Obligators, as if it were a vial of poison. “No,” it said. “You can’t ask for that. Please.”
“I can and I do. I know you, Sev Firn, with your grifts and plots and trail of broken contracts. You can have my help for old times’ sake and that transponder, but your stock with me’s low enough to plow the dirt. So you can drink the geas of our contract, for my surety, or else I walk away.”