The Clan Chronicles # 5 - Trade Pact
Sira was the highest evolutionary achievement of her kind --
And she’d do anything to keep them from creating others like her.
First Published in 1999 by DAW Books Inc.
Cover art by Luis Royo
Featured Selection of the SFBC
(Spoiler alert: you shouldn’t read this before A Thousand Words for Stranger.)
Grackik and Rek were their names, the former pirate being the one who’d lost an arm and the latter prone to flexing the corresponding taloned hand each time they stood in proximity as if it enjoyed making the comparison. Their voices and mannerisms were otherwise identical. For no particular reason — certainly their anatomy gave no obvious clues — I concluded they were both female.
And, despite the threat of their presence, I also concluded I was not currently on their menu. The Drapsk, it seemed, were good customers. But of what?
“You see, Oh Mystic One, it is merely business. You should not be alarmed.” This assurance had been repeated rather frequently by my new companion, the comtech Makoori. The Drapsk was basking in the glory of having been part of my “magic” in front of his kin, having attached himself to me ever since.
I kept my shields up, my expression pleasantly neutral, and refused to budge from the Makmora’s bridge or even my stool, hard as it was becoming. Roraqk’s kind — called the Sakissishee to their snouts (the true name being so long and sibilant few others could manage it) and Scats when safely out of range — was a species even the unusually broad-minded Morgan refused to trade with, since Scats were firmly convinced all others existed as either food or disposable commodities. They would have constituted a serious threat to other species, had more than a handful ever left their cinder of a world. It also helped that they competed fiercely with each other at every opportunity, with cannibalism rumored to be quite acceptable on the winner’s part.
Which made them lousy mercenaries, unreliable partners-in-crime, and excellent pirates. It was a wonder to me the Trade Pact didn’t simply lock them on their world and wait for evolution to produce something more civilized. But that wasn’t the way the quasi-government worked, as I knew full well. Species who signed into the Pact agreed to cooperate in trade, maintaining embassies at major ports, and providing starship facilities on their worlds. Although there was an interesting variation in the quality of those embassies and spaceports, overall the system worked just ponderously enough to keep the peace.
The Trade Pact had its teeth, the Enforcers, but their mandate was simply to protect the treaty. Piracy that affected major shipping routes, interspecies’ slavery, price gouging on publicly-traded commodities were within their jurisdiction. Wars, bad manners, and internal species’ politics were not.
Not that I could call on their protection anyway. The Clan were not signatories of the Trade Pact or any other agreement. Call on my own kind? There were less than a thousand of us, the strongest living one to a planet, most of those within the well-established and rich inner systems first settled by Humans in this quadrant. Status and rank within the Clan was determined instantly and without question by comparison of power. Any issues affecting us as a whole were ruled by the Clan Council, a group made up of the most powerful individuals from the eight main family lines. I could have been a member, had I wanted to continue to be Clan: keeping myself isolated, secret, and pure of other species’ influence. Clan xenophobia would not serve them well in the future they faced, I thought with a familiar grimness. Not well at all.
But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was prowling through the decks of the Makmora, likely drooling over what wasn’t locked away, while busy doing whatever the Drapsk had arranged. Not surprisingly, they weren’t telling me much about that, either.
“Oh Mystic One?”
“I’m here,” I sighed, resting my elbow on my knee so I could support my chin in the palm of a hand. It was hard for me to think ill of the small beings but I was getting plenty of practice. “And I remain quite sensibly alarmed by the actions of this ship, Makoori. You are aware that these beings you’ve allowed on board are not — how can I put this delicately — trustworthy?”
A thoughtful moment of tentacle sucking ensued, then the Drapsk nodded his blind head, antennae drifting back and forth with the movement. “The Makmora has explosive piercing grapples locked around the Nokraud’s hull,” he said matter-of-factly, as if the knowledge of the Drapsk possessing and using banned tech weaponry would be reassuring.
It was. I grinned and felt at least one knot of worry letting go. “Forgive my lack of confidence in the Makii Tribe, Makoori.”
From the deepening pinks of his antennae, I thought the Drapsk was pleased. “We pride ourselves in knowing our customers’ preferences and habits, Oh Mystic One,” he said smugly.
Excerpt from Ties of Power © 1999 Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books Inc.
Used with permission.