Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1)

By: Paul J. Fleming

1 Meeting at Diner Dave’s

‘You want the stuff on this list, you pay the price I just gave you. Your lot sent you here to buy it and I’m not here for haggling mister, I’m just dropping off and collecting my money. Understand?’

Maddox lowered his gaze to the inventory list displayed on the pad in his right hand, hoping like hell his frustration did not appear too obvious to the over-zealous trader he was forced to deal with. She had obviously hiked up the prices in the certain knowledge that he had been sent to do the deal, and would be forced to give in and pay as the supply of thermo-couplings was scarce when you did not trade openly on the regular markets, and their own supply had mysteriously vanished from their supposedly secure storage depot. Why some fool had decided to put the all in the one place he could not even imagine, but now they were faced with paying an extortionate amount of credits to this entrepreneurial team who just so happened to have a good supply of the things. They could investigate the more salubrious supplies from sources within the black market, but quite simply, he could not afford the extra time to save quite a substantial amount of credits.

With a disarming smile he raised his gaze to the face of the eager young trader and chuckled slightly, placing the pad onto the table in front of him as he shrugged his shoulders rather dismissively.

‘Yes, I understand what you are saying. Thing is I’m finding it hard to believe how lucky we were to find a merchant such as yourself with a generous supply of these things, especially after someone cleaned out our storage compound.’

‘So now you’re accusing me of stealing?’ The Venusian girl put on her most defiant face and pose, obviously confident that in the end he would have to do the deal but the price may just go up in the interim. ‘Well, that’s fine, you go and get your couplings elsewhere pal. I’m not dealing with someone who tries to tarnish my rep just to get lower prices. You can go to hell.’

She tapped her ear-piece communicator with her right forefinger. ‘Tam, close it up and warm the core. We’re leaving.’

‘Oh, very good,’ Maddox said with an amused smile. ‘Now you play the injured party and I cave in to persuade you to stay and do business, but now I must pay a bit more for the insult. It’s a nice ploy, but it won’t work here.’

‘You think so?’ She replied. ‘Well, you just keep thinking that as you watch me leave. See? This is me, leaving!’

Maddox raised an eyebrow and regarded her closely, deciding just how far he could push this and how daft he would look if he had misjudged the whole affair. No, he was pretty sure he had read her right from the moment she had strutted up to the table for their pre-arranged meeting.

‘Go on then. I’m quite interested to see how far you will be willing to go, risking your little scam falling through and all that effort you went to firstly to steal this stuff and then to get me out here onto this desolate little rock all coming to nought. You get to walk away with no credits and a hold full of Venusian manufactured thermo-couplings, which I think you will find it hard to shift through legitimate means as the company may have been Venusian, but it is owned by the Aries Corporation of Mars and they don’t take too kindly to people trading stolen goods openly.’

Sitting back slightly into a more relaxed pose, Maddox looked up at the trader who was now standing at the end of the table, seemingly undecided as to her next move.

He leaned forward slightly and picked up the sample she had brought which lay on the table to the right of the inventory pad, turning it over in his fingers and scrutinising it as if looking for something on its surface.

‘Ah! There we go. You see here?’ He said quite off-handed as he held it slightly towards the girl. ‘Here’s the mark they put on each one which identifies it, property of Aries Corp. so that’s how I know you’ll have problems.’

Even though she was retaining her haughty air, her brow furrowed slightly as she looked at the sample, scrutinising the nearest edge as quickly as she could for the mark which he spoke of.

At that moment, Maddox knew he had her.

Ever since they had met she had put forward an impression of pushy arrogance, but now that the deal appeared to be going sour and she had fallen for the slight exaggeration about the markings, which were actually just machining marks left by the manufacturing process, Maddox could quite plainly see there was a naivety to her behind the act. She was playing a role and now that the whole scenario was deviating from the script she had imagined and prepared herself for, her uncertainty and inexperience was quite plain to see.

‘Look,’ he said in his most soothing tone as he put the sample back down on the table and gestured over at the seat opposite to him, inviting her to sit once more. ‘Nothing bad has happened and no one has been hurt. Just a few people left with their noses out of joint and a little bit of inconvenience, that’s all. So where did you get the idea for this little heist? Your first?’

She looked at him with indignation at first, then her gaze lowered to the surface of the table and her shoulders slumped slightly as she gave in to the fact that the person she was dealing with was obviously more experienced than she had bargained for. With a shrug, she re-took her seat, the thought running through her mind that maybe she could still get something out of it if she appealed to his better nature.