Illustration: “Mind Cow” © 2005 by Andy McCann
The Centrac minerals representative was undoubtedly the strangest-looking being that Janson had ever seen. He, or was it she — there was no way of telling — was only a metre tall with a skin colour of pink, not pink in any way resembling a human skin but vivid, iridescent pink. She (Janson finally settled on it being female because of her squeaky feminine voice) walked on all fours most of the time, but during negotiations she elected to sit with her front paws above the see-through table. He knew she was one of the Bovines from the Cancer cluster. He’d heard that besides being unsavoury they did have some specialised herd instinct that made them even more unusual. For the life of him, Janson could not remember what that was. Not that it mattered now.
Janson sat opposite her in the conference facilities of the Five Citizens’ Suite. He noticed a sweet, cloying smell that apparently emanated from the alien. He pretended not to notice and tried to act as if it were not a problem.
The creature introduced herself.
“I am Hexor.” She spoke excellent Standard English albeit with a strange lisp. “I am the Company’s Senior Procurement Executive for this sector. You may find my appearance strange, perhaps even a little off-putting….”
“Of course not,” he said with a smile, at the same time thinking: You are repulsive.
The creature twitched her bulbous nostrils.
The bitch thinks I smell. What nerve! He maintained his flawless white-toothed smile.
Hexor continued: “I hear that your people are well satisfied with our post-extraction proposals. As you are no doubt aware, our reputation on environmental issues is an excellent one.”
“Yes, the after-use proposals are more than adequate.”
Providing of course you stick to them, he thought.
“Our methods,” she lisped, “are highly efficient. The use of Mark 4 laser cutters together with self-sealing rigidity membranes to ensure tunnel structural stability is not an intrusive technology. The collateral effects on local ecosystems will be minimal….”
“I am aware of all this,” he smiled, but thinking: I have read the submission, you stupid donkey faced freak.
“Then,” she summarised, “all we need to do to close this transaction is to agree on a suitable remuneration.”
Janson smiled at the creature. She didn’t respond one iota — maybe she didn’t do facial expressions? He realised her visage had remained the same throughout the discussions.
Janson spoke. “Your latest proposals indicated duration of two Bahunan years. Is this still what you plan?” We don’t want your lousy company here any longer than absolutely necessary, he thought.
“Yes, two years should be sufficient for our needs, assuming of course that our geological assessment is not wildly awry. We will need to take out an option for one more year to be on the safe side.”
“How much are you prepared to pay for the leasehold of the site?” He totaled it up in his thoughts: We need ten million p.a. minimum. I won’t go below that.
She stared back at Janson, her baleful orange eyes showing no emotion. She then kept Janson in suspense by digressing.
“Our geological reports were promising but not conclusive. We could be mistaken about the reserves of X14, and we have options on three other planets in this system all showing equal promise. In the circumstances I am prepared to pay ten million per year plus of course the standard option fee.”
“But that’s a desultory offer,” he huffed, “why on Cygnus 4 you paid double that….”
“Yes, but the reserves there were enormous, and Y11 contamination virtually nonexistent. This offer is fair and I will not waver from it.”
Janson smiled and nodded his agreement, inwardly cursing in frustration. Bitch! Someone’s tipped you off. You knew exactly what to bid. That Cygnian Consultant’s head will roll.
“What about the tonnage fee?” He requested anxiously, figures flying through his head: I should get at least fifty per tonne. It will bring the Governing Council a fortune, yet they pay me so little.
Hexor lisped on. “Because of the levels of contaminants I am only prepared to pay forty five Credits per tonne.”
This time the smile fell completely from Janson’s face.
“That is not acceptable. I am not authorised to….”
“No, Mr. Janson, but perhaps you could talk forthwith to the Council. The Corporation would be very thankful to you personally. A Credit per Tonne paid anonymously of course would be appropriate.”
The smile reappeared. Interesting, thought Janson. Very interesting.
“Unfortunately, Janson, my Company insists on closing today or not at all. My paws are tied.”
“I will need to contact the Council. Please excuse me. Can I can get you some refreshments?”
“Some water,” she said, “in a deep bowl.”
Janson requested the water and left Hexor at the table. He pushed into a communication booth, touched his index finger to his lips and touched the spittle on the DNA security reader. He enacted the code to gain simultaneous access to all five members of the Council.
Janson explained the situation. He said he could get no better offer and that the Centrac Representative would walk away shortly, with or without a deal. He told them the offer was adequate. They accepted, their decision unanimous. To a backwoods, developing Planet like Bahuna, a windfall such as this was not to be sneezed at.
Janson returned to the conference room. Hexor was slumped over the table, making a loud slurping noise. Janson now knew why she’d requested a deep bowl. Because of her prominent snout and undershot mouth, she opted to snort the water through her nostrils.
Filthy alien, he thought, smiling sweetly. “I am pleased to confirm that the Council have agreed to your conditions.”
Hexor passed the two contracts, Janson briefly checked the salient details then ratified them both with a thumbprint on the electronic pad. Hexor did the same; apparently, paw prints were acceptable to the electronic recognition software.
“I wish to obtain a copy of this,” he said, referring to the memorandum with his illicit contract. He downloaded the information onto his wrist computer’s hard drive and deleted the information from the Contract Pad.
Business concluded, the little alien trotted on all fours to the foyer, where her personal shuttle marked with Centrac’s logo waited.
Good riddance to you, he thought, nodding to the creature to signify completion. He could not bring himself to touch her.
She turned to acknowledge Janson, and at last she smiled. Her snout crinkled and her undershot mouth broke into a parody of a grin.
Then she spoke, or at least that’s how it seemed to Janson, even though her lips never moved. The meaning just reverberated inside his head from seemingly nowhere.
“You’ve been screwed,” it said.
Meanwhile, Hexor boarded her transport and took off.
It was a few seconds before Janson realised that he’d not engaged the neural shielding circuitry, which was designed to protect him from any ulterior psychic influence. The device, implanted in a tooth, caused an intolerable pain in the presence of telepathy. Indeed, he now remembered, his tooth had begun throbbing when he first sat down with the alien, but somehow his decision to activate the shielding had been overridden and the pain erased. It was only then that he recalled a fact from the research he’d undertaken on the Cancer Bovines. Their famous “herding instinct” was due to a strong psychic power the species possessed. Hexor, he concluded far too late, was a telepath. *
About the Author: S.K. Twyford is a fifty-three-year old bloke, married with 5 sons (all sons, unfortunately!). He lives in the English market town of Ripley in Derbyshire and is a member of a local writers group. He’s had stuff published in Planet Magazine, Dark Krypt, Planet Prozak, Dark Angel Rising, Dragonlaugh, Samsdotpublishing, Demensions, Fading Shadows, The Haunted, and more.
(c) 2005 S.K. Twyford SSEANKT@aol.com
About the Artist: Andy McCann is able to read his own mind.
(c) 2005 Andy McCann http://www.planetmag.com