The Clan Chronicles # 6 - Trade Pact
Before she can take up her power,
Sira first must face her past.
First Published by DAW Books Inc.
Cover art by Luis Royo
Finalist for the 2003 Prix Aurora Award
Featured selection of the SFBC
PrologueA kitchen can be a dangerous place for an argument. This one, in the rear of The Claws & Jaws: Interspecies Cuisine, looked like a scene from a low-budget horror vid. Knives protruded hilt-first from cupboard doors. What appeared to be body parts from several different species had been tossed in every direction, their flight paths marked by bloody trails of red, ochre, and corrosive green. And what had been done to the salads...
Suffice to say the regular staff had long ago run, and in one case, slithered, out the service entrance to where they could listen at the door in relative safety. Now, they exchanged worried looks as the argument grew suddenly -- and ominously -- quiet.
They weren’t the only ones.
A cautious eye, gleaming black, peered over the edge of the mammoth, steaming hot stove. It was followed by another.
Until dozens formed an anxious, bead-like row.
“But, Chef Neltare,” a voice more accustomed to booming than pleading emerged faintly from somewhere behind the eyes. “Whatever name we use for your new paté ... I can’t add it to the menu. Not on Plexis. I mean – think of the clientele.” There was a clanging sound, as though pots had fallen loose inside a cupboard. It had an overtone of distress. “We can serve Humans liver paté – we certainly can’t serve them Human liver paté. You do see the problem.”
The Neblokan standing in the middle of the aisle between the stove and the sous-station glared back, his shoulders forward and flared to their maximum width. While it wasn’t a particularly impressive display -- evolution and culture conspiring to produce a species prone to the “find a crevice large enough to hide your head and hopefully more” philosophy of conflict resolution -- this Neblokan had the bottomless courage that came of knowing oneself to be indispensable. There were, after all, only three Trade Pact Certified Multi-Species Master Chefs on Plexis.
And the other two had already quit.
“You try to confuse my genius with mere semantics?” the Neblokan shouted, reaching for another bowl of doomed salad. “I’ll leave today! Now! Before supper! You will have not only no Master Chef, but no clientele at all, Hom Huido!”
“No! No. Please. Believe me, Chef Neltare, I mean no insult. There simply isn’t a restaurant on the station that will allow sapient-based dishes to be served. The Food Inspectors alone --” A huge shape rose from behind the stove, head plates pulsing with agitation. “Perhaps – a special menu? To highlight your vast and undeniable talents in some, ah, less controversial way?”
“Semantics, I tell you! I spit at semantics.” An glob of bile-yellow sizzled across the stovetop.
“I assure you, Master Chef, semantics are very much the issue here,” the Carasian took a careful sidestep to move clear of the stove and into what had seemed a generous aisle way, until he narrowed it with his bulk to barely passable. Seen in the light, his gleaming black carapace and jointed arms were streaked with a granular pink substance of highly suspicious origin and several wilted sprigs of garnish.
Huido Maarmatoo’kk, owner of the famed Claws & Jaws, as well as what he hoped would prove a growing number of franchises throughout this quadrant of space, lowered his great claws to the floor in a conciliatory posture he trusted the Neblokan could read and thus forestall any further launches from the menu. The incensed chef had already accounted for most of tonight’s entrées. “I understand your species’ culinary traditions are more --” the Carasian struggled to find a word in Comspeak to encompass proudly cooking one’s parents for the ceremonial first feast of the next generation and settled for: “-- liberal than those of other Trade Pact species. Still, you did pass the Trade Pact certification. You did pass, didn’t you?” This with a suspicious rumble.
Chef Neltare looked shocked. “The certification cannot be counterfeited!”
“Then how did you miss learning that most non-Neblokans abhor cannibalism!” Huido restrained the urge to snap his lower pair of massive handling claws with considerable difficulty, and continued in what he hoped was a more reasoning tone. “Chef Neltare. It’s not as though we’re talking about beings eating one another for survival. Try to imagine how those beings would feel to discover they’d violated their principles for an overpriced appetizer.”
The salad bowl lifted threateningly. “Are you implying my appetizers aren’t worth the price?”
Huido switched tactics. “I have enough trouble getting truffles – how can you possibly obtain the --” even the usually callous Carasian hesitated “— raw ingredients?”
“Hardly a problem in so vibrant a community as Plexis,” Neltare boasted. “In fact, today alone I was paid quite handsomely to take the ingredients for my new paté – as well as a rib dish I modestly believe will be a marvel.” The being’s amber pupils glowed beneath their sequined eye ridges. “I hardly thought you of all beings would balk at this, Hom Huido. You’ve done it before, after all. Everyone says so.”
Wondering if he’d ever live down having served that Clansman’s corpse to a delegation of vastly impressed Thremms -- a secret spread so far around the station as to have become legend, thus resulting in shiploads of vastly disappointed Thremms and a welcome decrease in uninvited Clan -- Huido’s sigh shuddered through his body. The resulting vibration slithered free the topmost plates in the clean stack, most crashing to the floor. Huido calculated the cost of the non-recyclable porcelains and winced. “All I know, Master Chef,” he said, almost to himself, “is my life is being ruined by success. I’ve hardly time for the pool any more. And your novel approach to broadening the menu at the Claws & Jaws will be the ultimate straw, as the Humans express it.”
“Humans. Brain-dead pests with no taste buds,” the Neblokan muttered, the gleaming blue wattle beneath its chin swelling with displeasure. Then, perhaps realizing criticism of a species that included the giant Carasian’s dearest friend was likely unwise, given the ringing snap of a great claw, the being added in haste: “Except Captain Morgan. An epicure, of his kind. Remarkably cultured --”
Forgetting he was trying to reconcile with the being, Huido lunged forward, claws snapping in unison, sending the chef dodging behind his side of the stove. “Don’t talk to me about that unreliable excuse for brexks’ fodder! Too busy for the Pocular run, is he? Too busy to help his brother keep up with business or to see what a disaster he’s left behind!? Too busy in his own pool to care about mine!!! Does he even call?”
As this last was delivered in a deafening bellow quite probably heard all the way into the dining hall, if not out into the Plexis concourse itself, the now-cowering chef didn’t bother to answer.
Excerpt from To Trade the Stars © 2002 Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books Inc. Used with permission.