“I’m going to give them a piece of my mind!”
Tully sent a worried look toward his sister. “They have security. What are you going to do?”
“Something no one else has the stones to do. What are our elected officials good for? The police? I’m going to tell those thieving monsters what the people really think is what I’m going to do.” Bellit stuffed her arms into a ragged jacket to ward off the dock-side chill and checked the coins in her pockets.
“They have immunity, Bellit. They could just shoot you.”
“That’s exactly the problem,” Bellit snapped. Tully followed her out of their appartment and waved his hand over the lock to secure the door.
Bellit called out to friends and neighbors, “If you’re tired of being taken advantage of,” she shouted in a ringing tone, “come with me! The Jaholoway merchant ships just landed. They can intimidate our governor but they can’t intimidate us!”
The size of the crowd that Bellit gathered wasn’t apparent unless one knew the usual patterns of traffic on the dock-side streets. The size was also disguised by frequent forays down side roads and into shops. There were Jaholoway crew members in groups of three and four on the sidewalks. Inhuman faces and strange gaits marked them as surely as their identical-except-for-rank ship uniforms. Neither Bellit nor any of the others following in her wake would recognize the Jaholoway commander by sight, though she’d been prominently featured on the news programs, but they all knew that her uniform would have three starbursts on the collar and gold braid on the cuffs.
They found the commander on one of the higher end side streets, naturally, about to enter a pricy restaurant.
“The People,” Bellit shouted in her impressive voice, “have something to say to you!”
The Jaholoway commander turned slowly, one hand raised palm down in a gesture to her body guards. A local fat-cat started toward Bellit before cowing and retreating at a mere glance from the visiting merchant lord.
The oxygen seemed to leave the street. The pink of the sky burned into Bellit’s memories of the moment. The crowd that had dogged her steps coalesced around her, blocking traffic. Everything stopped.
“Indeed.” The commander repeated.
Bellit gulped and then firmed her shoulders.
“You come to steal from us,” she said, “to steal our labor, our goods. We give. You take. People here need the food that will be loaded onto your ships. Our people are starving and you’ll take what little we have. And you refuse to follow our laws, as if you’re better than us! You’re not better than us.”
“Is that what you think?”
“It’s what I know.” Bellit had reached her stride and pounded her chest on the word know. “They made the announcements so that we would all know the evil deal you forced on our governor and on the port. You could shoot me, kill all of us, and never pay.”
“And yet,” the alien commander purred in perfectly understandable dockside patois, “here you stand.”
“My sister is very brave,” Tully announced.
The commander’s strange yellow eyes turned to rest on him. He shivered.
“You admit it’s true? You don’t have to obey our laws?” Bellit took a step forward and thrust her chin toward the alien.
“That we don’t have to follow your laws? We have our own laws, child, and I’ll not allow my crew to walk the streets of a strange port defenseless to the whim and caprice of the locals. Would you? Do you know how many ports would arrest you for what you are doing this moment?”
“They are dictatorships and horrors,” Bellit said with a snap. “We are a free nation that respects the rights of all citizens to speak!”
“But it would seem, not to be educated.” The commander betrayed agitation, or so it seemed to the humans present.
“We have universal education! And that is why you can’t deceive us with pretty words about how it’s actually good for us to be stolen from.”
“I have contracts. Goods to deliver and goods to load.”
“To line the pockets of fat cats like him?” Bellit sneered and spat the ground in front of the cowering local. “Thieves doing business with thieves. You should all go home! And he,” Bellit snapped at the human in his fine clothes, “he should actually contribute to the community instead of taking from it. Do you see anyone here dressed as well? He lines his pockets with other people’s wealth.”
The alien merchant commander turned to one of her bodyguards and launched into a series of alien words. The bodyguard gave a very human nod and turned away, repeating much the same sounds into a radio. The commander turned back to Bellit and stepped within a few inches of her. One gray hand came up to cup the soft human cheek while yellow eyes searched human gray.
“You will receive your wish, though I suspect that even then you’ll blame me for the consequences.”
And then they were gone.
The commander and her entourage melted into the crowds.
“What just happened?” Tully put a hand on his sister’s arm. Bellit blinked a few times.
“I think we won.”
Not an hour later the Jaholoway ship cast off its moorings and thundered into the sky.
Aboard, the commander gave orders to navigation for a large port on a small continent on the other side of the world. She retired to her office for a cup of tea and to wait. The call came in before she had a chance to finish her tea. The human official that appeared on her display was flushed and disordered.
“You can’t mean to default on our agreements on the word of a loudmouthed activist child! We gave you everything you wanted.”
“Of course not,” the Jaholoway commander agreed. “But upon returning to the ship I reviewed records other than our own communications. You seem adept at giving people everything they want. I applaud you. However, it makes doing business here impossible.”
“We’ll arrest the girl.”
“I’ve no doubt about that.”
“Return to port, we can work this out.”
“No.” Gray fingers caressed the edge of the tea cup and yellow eyes searched the face of the human governor. “You’ll arrest the girl to cover your own failure. You’re the one who gave her an enemy, someone to blame for the poverty I saw on your streets. You deftly turned her discontent outward in exchange for her vote. For your political position, to put it bluntly. Can I do business with someone who sells the future in order to win office? You’re a skilled speech giver. The girl is as well. She’ll come out of prison to take your place, eventually.”
“We. Need. Your. Business.” The human leaned forward toward the video pick-up until his nose enlarged and his face distorted. “Those poor people need the goods you brought. They need what trade will bring us. We need the outside capital. You’re making their lives worse. If this port doesn’t become an active trade hub, the whole region will suffer.”
“You’d hurt all of those people out of spite?”
“Ah,” this time the alien actually smiled. “You should go with that one during the next elections. I anticipate your success. Good evening, Governor. I have some dirty nasty commerce that requires my attention.”
With the touch of a button the connection closed.