(Standard Year 2248)

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There wasn’t much chance she’d have fallen asleep, even without the raucous snoring from the other side of the bed. The precaution of a hit of stim saw to that, though she was certain the stim wouldn’t have been necessary. The CEO was counting on her, and that would have been enough for any sane person, even if he wasn’t her uncle.

Tap Larot, on the other hand, wasn’t going to wake up for several hours. One of the many skills Loki Monolem possessed was that of utterly exhausting a lover, and it was a skill in which she had full confidence and not a whiff of false modesty. The two of them had retired to Trader Larot’s quarters immediately after concluding negotiations with sub-general Baarqin, and Tap had been anxious to celebrate. He’d thrown his recorder casually on the desk, and then thrown himself on the bed. Loki was less casual, letting him watch her gracefully undoing her leather halter and the wide belt she wore which passed for a skirt, then crawling sinuously up from the foot of the bed. She dropped her knee-high boots off the side of the mattress a bit later.

After the first four hours, Tap would have been in no shape even to find his clothes again. After two hours more, he muttered something about the best fuck he’d never paid for, and the snores began almost immediately. Loki doubted whether Devri himself could have pried the man’s eyes open. Of course, even if he had stayed awake, she wouldn’t have reminded him that he had, in fact, paid already, nor informed him that further payment was likely.

She waited maybe twenty minutes, then eased herself out of the bed. The air was cool on her bare skin, but the sweat had dried, and the stim was keeping her warm. Though Tap wouldn’t have remembered where his own clothes were, Loki had kept careful track of hers, and even in the total darkness she had no trouble placing her hands on her leather boots where she’d dropped them. Hidden in the heel of one was a data crystal. She padded silently to Tap’s desk and slipped it into the recorder Tap had tossed there.

Within a few seconds, she had what she needed – she’d gotten the codes from him a few days ago. With her boots draped over her shoulder, the crystal safely tucked back in the heel, she picked up her tiny skirt and halter, and slipped out of the room.

The short hall outside was, of course, deserted. There was a skeleton crew still on duty, but most of the complement of the Unclaimed would be celebrating, either in the port bars or in their cabins. Loki started down the hall, hastily buckling on the skirt and retying the halter. The nice thing about wearing not much was that it didn’t take long to get it back on.

She paused just outside the bridge to slip her boots on, then hissed the door open. She stuck her head in. “Kael? You still awake?”

The Haven helmsman was lounging nonchalantly in the Captain’s Chair. He glanced over his shoulder. The rest of the Bridge was deserted. “Reluctantly. Got a thing?”

“Naw. Just going planetside for a while, and I need you to power up the transporter. Tap fell asleep, and I didn’t want to wake him. I could use more entertainment.”

“I’m available, princess.”

“Are not. You’re on duty.”

“Yeah, Scab, that’s right. So much not to do right now, I keep forgetting.”

Loki paused, then tried to look as if a realization had just come to her. “Hey, you won’t tell Tap he wasn’t enough for me, will you? I don’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings.”

“What, is the CEO that sweet on him?”

“Stop that right now. They’re just good friends. Your ship is profitable, so don’t complain.”

Kael sighed, checked his chronometer, and turned back to the nearly inactive monitors. “You owe me, princess.”

“Worth your while next time you see me. Power up the transporter, will you?”

The helmsman grunted, and thumbed a switch on the con. “Done deal, Monolem. Have some fun on me.”

She scampered the few feet from the door, planted a kiss on Kael’s cheek, then ran back down the hall before he could react.


The Unclaimed was in orbit around Port Laris, the entryway to all the Andorian homeworlds. Built on a plutonian lump of ice on the outer fringes of Andor’s solar system, it was the stopping point for all ships that had dealings with Andor. A militant race, they allowed very few aliens to penetrate any closer to Andor Prime. All interstellar commerce happened here, all alien embassies were here, and even the Federation Consulate was here. Special permission had to be obtained from the Hive council to go past Port Laris, and such permission was rarely granted.

Andor’s freetrade and alien entertainment sector was also here. Loki beamed herself down to a quiet bistro and net café she had found, and rented time on a terminal to examine the data crystal in her boot heel. It was as bad as she’d been told it might be. She whistled. Time to jump ship.

But she had to find someone she could get passage from, with only the clothes which didn’t nearly cover her back.

She checked on what other Haven vessels were currently at Port Laris. There was one she recognized, the High Stakes, a small independent trader she’d seen a couple of times at the Clave back in the Sol-Jupiter system. Her owner, Bek Mokkalian, was a reliable enough supplier, not terribly wealthy, not always respectable, but always fair trade. She sent an urgent message, coded it with a Haven Trading Empire imperial passcode – being the niece of the CEO gave her some privileges – and went off to a meeting she was certain Trader Mokkalian would find a way to make.


The music was loud with a throbbing bass. He was sitting alone at a table in the center of the noisy bar, dressed in back silk, his boots on the table, with a half-empty bottle of Andorian whiskey and a fat Rigellian cigar smoldering in the ashtray. He didn’t acknowledge it when Loki sat across from him, and in the dim light, she couldn’t tell if his eyes were open. “Mok?” she ventured.

His eyebrows lowered. “Willow?” He grunted. “Happy as I am to see you, I’m meeting someone. Tell me where you’re staying, I’ll look you up later if I can.”

“I need to talk to you now.”

He took a deep breath. “My stock’s back on the Stakes. A little far from the Clave, aren’t you?”

She grabbed the bottle a took a swig. It burned pleasantly. Not the best liquor in the galaxy, but there were worse things.

“I’m here on business,” she explained.

The eyebrows went back up. “You’ve got business? I had you pegged for a dilettante, or maybe a Fleet cadet. Which, I suppose, is the same thing.”

That’s right, she thought. The only things he knows about me are that I’m Haven, and I’m a racer. “Say I’m a dilettante. What does that tell you?”

He gave a half-smile. “I’m not totally dim. I figured you were some relation to the Emperor or the CEO, or you couldn’t afford to spend so much unprofitable time at Terra.”

Loki took another hit off the bottle, then got up and sat in the chair next to Mok. She leaned close, and said, “So it won’t shock you that I have some imperial passcodes. I’m the one you’re meeting here, Mok.”

“So I’ve gathered.” He shook his head. “Okay, so a spoiled dilettante lets an honest trader think the CEO has a problem with his profits in order to insure an unscheduled meeting. What is it you want?”

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

“No, you’re not. I just had a slick deal fall through, so your hoax of a communiqué was at a bad time. Whatever you want, it’ll cost you, Willow.”

The Scab. Coincidence is not a happy thing. Mok clearly had a deal lined up that didn’t pan out. An urgent message with an Imperial seal arrives immediately afterwards. Enough to make any man paranoid. Explains the half-gone bottle, and the Rigellian. Perhaps he thought the CEO was behind his failure, or else was going to take him to task for not providing a cut of this particular profit.

Loki glanced around the room. Most of the patrons were Andorian, but there were a fair number of other races, primarily Terrans from the Consulate. No one was paying them any attention. She leaned close. “I need passage back to Haven. Or Terra. As soon as I can convince you to take me.”

He turned to face her. He eyes were coals. “What will you pay?”

She put the bottle back on the table and spread her arms. “What you see is what I got, Mok. Consider it a favor to the CEO.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m in a bad mood. Do better, or I leave you here to rot.”

She blinked in surprise. There was not a hint of Andorian liquor on his breath. She glanced a the ashtray. The cigar had been lit, but not more than a couple of puffs had been drawn. He’d played her as well as she’d played him. Yeah, he was unhappy, and probably scared. But he had wanted to make it look like he might not be at his full capacity. He was sharp as a razor, and she’d better be straight with him.

“Okay, Mok, cards on the table. Deal?” He nodded. She went on. “For a while, the CEO has had some suspicions about Tap Larot. Not certain all the recent quarterlies were complete.’

“Tap’s been skimming?”

“Well, it was suggested. So anyway, Uncle Omm asked Tap if I could apprentice with him for a few months. You know, to get me to learn something useful beyond racing.”

Mok picked up the bottle and handed it back to Loki. She noted that he didn’t react to her casual mention of the CEO as Uncle Omm. “Go on.”

She drank. “’Course the point was for me to get at Tap’s financials. Turns out, it’s a kickback scheme. Tap sells arms to the Andorians for a premium, and gives them back a percentage. In return, he gets exclusive rights.”

Mok smiled grimly. “Okay, that explains that. I had a line on some armor I was gonna sell to sub-general Baarqin. Not a huge deal for him, but a reasonably large one for me. I suppose Baarqin was considering whether he could use that to get even better terms from dear Tap. I’ve been waiting in Customs for most of a week. But Larot finally squared things with the sub-general, didn’t he?”

Loki nodded. “We were celebrating tonight.”

“Add that to what you owe me, Monolem.”

She shook her head. “Tap owes you. See, his profits don’t quite add up, because he keeps an extra cut. I’ve got proof on me, and I’ve got to get it to the accountants.”

“Why not transmit?”

She shook her head. “I’m sure you know, Tap and Uncle Omm are friends. If I wasn’t there to tell him personally, he’d be certain it was a hoax by someone trying to cut into Tap’s business.”

Mok thought about it. “Won’t you be missed on the Unclaimed?”

“Taken care of. Spoiled brat I am, I’ve already composed a message to Tap telling him I got bored with his line of work and hitched a ride back to the Clave.”

“Pretty Scabbing sure you could seduce me, weren’t you? Or scare me?”

“Cards on the table? Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Mok gave a bitter little laugh. “No, that’s not what you thought, Miss Monolem. You didn’t carry out the charade of the scare for long enough, and you didn’t provide much of a seduction. No, you counted on my fair trade.” He paused, staring straight ahead. “I don’t know what you are in the Monolem family, and I don’t need to know. But you’re not in the business end, or you wouldn’t have offered to put your cards on the table and then not done it.” He paused again. “Maybe you’ve spent too much time with the Terrans at the Clave.”

She looked down at the table, then looked around the room, avoiding his eyes. “My turn. What do you want?”

“I need a buyer for the armor. At profit.”

She sighed. The High Stakes was not a big boat. It couldn’t have that much in its hold, and she had both assets and connections. “Agreed.”

“And your family will pay for transport and lost opportunity costs for the time back to Haven.”


“And you personally will do everything in your power to make good on that seduction bit on the way back.”

Loki gave Mok a quick once-over, and smiled. “I’d’ve given a discount on that, Trader.”

“Then make it good.”

“Fine. Deal?”

“Done. Let’s go. Take the bottle. The other half’s in a pitcher at the bar.”

Loki laughed and stood up. She started walking away as Mok threw some credit chits on the table. On the way to the bar to get the bottle refilled, she passed by a group of Andorians in animated conversation. Something didn’t quite sound right, though. One of the voices was too high-pitched, and her voice wasn’t quite right. It carried an Anglo accent. She glanced at the group. In their midst was a Terran woman, small, dark hair, high cheek bones, but dressed in traditional Andorian armor. The woman had Asian features. Loki stopped, amazed, and more than a little fascinated. The Terran was a beauty, with long dark hair tied into a ponytail, seeming a little uncomfortable in the armor, but clearly doing her best to fit into the martial attitude and group mind of the insectoid interactions of the Andorian squad. Why would a Terran do that? Loki wondered. She was suddenly very aware of the unsatisfied state Tap had left her in, and she couldn’t help but have a brief flash of what the leathers she was wearing would feel like as she slipped the armor off that Terran skin.

When she met Mok by the exit, she grabbed his arm and pointed back. “Who is that Terran over there?” she asked.

Mok squinted through the smoke and the crowd. “Some Fed doctor,” he answered. “She bought a kilo of Rigellian from me a couple days ago. On contract to Starfleet, I think. Negotiating for access to Andor Prime for some project or other.” He shrugged. “Not my business, really.”


On the trip back to Haven, Loki found Mok to be more than an adequate lover, though he insisted on making her really work for it. He made a respectable profit on the deal. Loki made sure of that. But she didn’t see him again for many years.

To say CEO Omm Monolem was unhappy about the news concerning Tap would have been an understatement. But business is business. Loki never inquired about what happened to him. It didn’t really matter to her.

She wondered a little whether Mok really thought she was as clumsy about business as she’d pretended to be. Maybe he’d just played along with her technique. But since they’d both made a substantial profit on the deal that hardly mattered.

The End

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