President Zahina frowned, staring down at the terms.
The alien–no, person, Zahina had to remind herself that it (no, she) was a sentient being as well.
This person who sat across from Zahina held her scaly blue hands together. Her hair covered her eyes and two antenna stuck out from the feathery mess. It was how her people viewed the world amongst not-close friends. The antennae were pointed at Zahina, indicating extraordinary interest.
“Is there a problem?” The alien–Fad’iay–asked.
“Well,” Zahina frowned. She hadn’t slept in the last fifty two hours, currently fueled by black market coffee. Keeping a poker face was painful at this point.
“Yes?” Fad’iay leaned forward, her antennae quivered. Her small, more of an angular protrusion of a nose, twitched. “What is it, esav-Zahina?”
“You’re not stating what this tribute is.” Zahina sighed. “All this says is ‘In exchange for us having purged your world of the self-inflected radiation poisoning, we ask for tribute.’ The problem is is that I can’t agree to this until I know what the tribute is.”
“Really?” Fad’iay straightened up. “How fascinating! I guess there was a mistranslation–I was told by my advisers to simplify things for your people. Did we not do it well enough?”
“No no no, you…did it too well.” Zahina sighed, running a hand through her oily hair. Coffee was still much easier to acquire than shampoo. “We appreciate what you’ve done–really. But we need to know what exactly this ‘tribute’ is. Mainly to be sure we can follow up,” Zahina hastily added.
“Oh! Fascinating.” Fad’iay’s thin, wide mouth formed what Zahina learned was a smile for these aliens.
“And,” Zahina began hesitantly. She wished she had a shot of liquor on hand, but that was eight times the price of coffee currently. “Look. We know there’s no such thing as free help.” She cringed, hoping that wasn’t a deathly offensive remark. There had been barely any time for cultural understanding between their people. Only a months ago had the whole planet been covered with radioactive fallout. Then out of nowhere help came from the sky–literally. Hundreds of alien ships appeared, landing, saying that Ganymede II had sent them.
A quick but complicated transmission to the colony confirmed the fact.
Which also explained why Fad’iay’s people were a bit more nuanced in human oddities. This wasn’t a first contact situation in the slightest.
But aliens hadn’t been frequent visitors to the planet before. So Zahina wasn’t the most adept one to deal with them. In fact, she wasn’t even president material as far as she was concerned. Yet here she was, discussing the future of her whole planet with an alien who still didn’t have a full grasp on humanity.
Fad’iay hunched her shoulders. It was a sign of thinking, Zahina had been told.
“Hm. Hm. Yes, yes okay.” Fad’iay nodded. Just watching her made Zahina’s neck twinge. “So.” The alien straightened up. “It is fair to want to know what we want in exchange. We will tell you what we want, then you will decide if your people can manage it or not.”
“What if we can’t?” Zahina asked, resting her elbows on the table.
“Then we cut the power to the filters that are making your soil usable again, cleaning the air and purifying the water.”
Zahina’s eyes widened, her stomach dropped.
Well, duh, she thought to herself. She did just say it herself–help was never free.
But with the cheer and ease the woman said it made her queasy.
“Well…then what would you like?”
Fad’iay reached over and took the paper, turning it over and began to write. Zahina shifted in her seat, uncertain what it could mean.
“Considering how you people blew up or poisoned your population down to about twenty percent of what it was before, what we’re asking for really shouldn’t be seen as theft from you.”
I’ll be the judge of that, Zahina thought.
Fad’iay pushed the paper back, smiling.
Zahina looked down, her jaw dropping. “You want what at what numbers!” She couldn’t help but yell. “We barely have the man power to construct the necessities! We don’t have time for luxury items!”
Fad’iay’s shoulders hunched again. “Hm, hm, yes, yes it is true the humans would rather not waste time on luxuries–perhaps wheat but no, no they need that to eat–”
“Wait a sec hang on,” Zahina held her hands up. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
“Oh, no, not at all!” Fad’iay’s grin widened. It made Zahina shudder. “This is enjoyable. I get to learn more about how you humans react to things. My time on Ganymede II was too short, really.”
Zahina gave a strained nod. “I can only imagine.”
“I thought luxury items were better because you wouldn’t need them.”
“That is a fair observation, yes.” Zahina read the list again. “I just worry about the man power. Silk, honey, perfumes, artisan candles…” She avoided asking just what these people would want with all the listed items. The candles especially.
Fad’iay leaned over, the smile changing into something Zahina remembered being warned about. There was zero room to negotiate.
“Think of it this way, esav-Zahina: We saved your various peoples and cultures from local extinction. There is no cost too small and what we’re asking for are things you don’t even need to survive. You’ll find a way.”
She leaned back, mouth melting back into a smile again.
Zahina looked down at the numbers again.
There was too little information but too much to lose.
“Well,” Zahina nodded. “Yes.” She said. “Yes, I guess we most certainly will find a way. Let me talk to my people and give you a time table. You can decide if it’s acceptable or not.”
“Excellent!” She held out a clawed, three fingered hand. “A pleasure doing business with you. I look forward to seeing you again in the future.”
Zahina faked a smile. Yes, assuming the deal she signed her people up for didn’t result in a coup or her death.