Friday Fiction: Inclusion and its Discontents

Some things are best un-inclusive. And some True-dragons should not be threatened . . .

“You are species-ist!”

Rada Ni Drako blinked and Zabet’s whiskers snapped forward, then back as her ears tipped to half-staff. <<Really?>>

“Yes. Your insistence on discriminating against those unreceptive to True-dragon telepathy is rank species-ism,” the humanoid female informed Zabet. “I am offended by your insensitivity to others’ needs.”

Rada gritted her teeth. The dealer could not have found a better way to piss off Rada’s Boss if she’d asked first. Don’t do it, Boss, Rada pled behind her shields. If you eviscerate her, it will spatter the display on the other side and we’ll have to pay for the clean up. That and explaining to the management why the cute little True-dragon had apparently murdered a fellow merchant during the market truce. <<We’re under peace bond, Boss.>>

The tip of Zabet’s tongue flicked over the end of her muzzle. “I ssseee,” she enunciated with great care. “Kood-day.” She turned and stalked away from the large booth, tail-tip upright and swirling with indignation. Rada blinked and trotted along behind. She’d never heard Zabet vocalize in Trader Talk before.

<<Right. That takes care of that.>>

“No argument here, Boss.” Rada rumpled her tail in a shrug. She’d love to see what the Rowfow or Traders charged the female for the kind of transport she needed: arm and leg would be at the very low end, considering the bond and insurance required. And she wanted a non-discriminatory crew. No Traders, then, Rada mused, dodging a robot selling purportedly edible filled pastries.

<<Flordarbu purchased one of her packages?>>

“Good question, Boss. Depends on how serious she is about only dealing with non-species-ist species.” Rada flipped to Azdhag, adding, “or Traders.”

<<Or how hungry she is.>> Zabet slowed her steps, looking to her left. <<Didn’t Karlami say something about looking for gemstones?>>

“Um hm. Good deep greens and blue-greens, a little darker than House Ni Drako’s court colors.” Rada pulled her data link out of its pouch as she followed Zabet, glancing from the device to her partner and back. She did not care to walk into the True-dragon or anyone else, or trip. “Yes, flawless stones and no augmented gems. Native color only,” she read from her saved notes.

Zabet slowed, then stopped, and held out a forefoot. Rada passed over the device and Zabet read the additional details. <<Thanks. That’s not going to be cheap, not for those colors in this region. He didn’t list a specific cut?>>

Rada took the data link back and made a negation with her free hand. “No. Or a minimum size either.” She wondered if Karlami intended to use them for a laser or something similar, although not specifying a type of stone seemed to rule that out. Topaz and citrine made very poor lasers, if she recalled correctly. Rada tucked the data link away and followed Zabet to the gem seller’s booth.

“Booth” was not exactly the best way to describe the sale spaces at the show. The spaces, all enclosed and most climate adjusted, ranged from five by five meters to twelve by twelve meters. They all had two lockable entries, power of various kinds available, and most sported what Rada thought of as show windows: transparent shielded openings that allowed buyers and sellers to look in at the wares. Most spaces included a holo-projector that informed passers-by of the base price, minimum quantity, and potential sales restrictions on the items on display. In this case, Rada blinked hard at two of the objects. The seller had a strange sense of sales, because radiation detectors sat beside the lumps of stuff, merrily ticking away. You know, I don’t think I want to meet the species that considers highly radioactive materials as gemstones. Really, really don’t. What’s that stupid human joke? Radiation fades your genes, that’s it.

Zabet studied the window, pointing to a row of stones in the back. <<Right color.>>

Rada peered past the hazmat at the stones. Something about the display struck her as odd, but she couldn’t say what just yet. “Looks like it, and he didn’t give us a size limit either way.”

Zabet glanced over her shoulder, whiskers twitching. <<He?>>

“I’m guessing. That species has seven sexes, two of which are changeable based on species need. And none of which are easy to determine by sight while the individual is wearing a modesty or shelter drape, as you will recall.”

<<Point.>> Zabet returned her attention to the stones, tipped her head to the side and considered them as Rada kept an eye out for potential business or trouble, or yes. <<Let’s see what is available and what prices are.>> With that she pushed open the door and walked inside.

Rada’s first impression of the proprietor was utter astonishment that an invertebrate could wear a shirt that loud. Then she realized that the individual had some sort of structure, based on tri-lateral symmetry. But the shirt’s colors and patterns still made her eye ache, quite a feat considering her poor color vision. She looked away, taking in the cases and display platforms in the booth. She was relieved to see that the glass and shielding around the window counter were radiation proof. Well, that made sense, give that this was not a weapons Mart. A tinny squeaking sound pulled her attention back to the proprietor.

“Can I help you?” The pitch bordered on ultrasonic, setting Rada’s teeth on edge. Ow. Why is the translator set so high?

Zabet started to speak, stopped, and pulled her teleconverter out of a pouch on her carry harness. She settled the device over her head, adjusted the speaker output, and squeaked back, “Yes. I would like to see the stones in the back row of the window case, or something in the same color if you have it.”

“Any specific chemical content or structure that you need?”

Zabet’s ears wiggled back and forth a little and she took two steps over to the case in question, peering down at the stones. “No. Crystalline is all, no specific cleavage or lattice.”

Rada wanted to jam her fists into her ear holes. As it was she tipped her ears as flat as she could, muffling the squeaking and giving herself the beginnings of a magnificent strain headache and sore neck. She backed out of the way as the proprietor sort of glided over to the case, opened the touch-lock and pulled out the strip of stones, then relocked the case with a third appendage. Rada had to admit that having a literal third hand looked fantastic, given the times she’d tried to juggle too many things at once. Her tail, well, it was not prehensile.

“Larri,” as Rada decided to call the jeweler, set the strip of stones on top of the counter in front of Zabet. The green backing soothed Rada’s eye, at least when bits of Larri’s shirt didn’t stray into view. Zabet picked up one of the larger stones and studied it, turning it with her talons. “As you can see, it is flawless,” Larri said. “Highest quality and excellent, high-color stock material.”

Zabet glanced at Rada. Hoping Larri could not see her hand, Rada flashed the Azdhag combat sign for “no. Wrong.”

Zabet considered the stone some more and set it back down. “What do you have that is certified un-adjusted?” She asked, picking up a blue-green gem not much smaller than Rada’s House signet.

“All of these are unadjusted.” Larri’s voice rose in pitch, making Rada’s eye water with pain. “I would not stoop to selling adjusted merchandise without a proper label. That’s immoral.”

Zabet made a placating sound and compared the two stones. She turned to Rada. “Which is closer to the proper color?”

“May I?” Rada approached the counter as Zabet set the gems down and backed up a pace, making room and showing that she had no intention to double-team the dealer.

“Certainly.”

The stones felt the right density for their size in Rada’s hand, so they were not plasti-fakes or holograms. She turned the smaller of the two, watching the light on the facets. Something struck her as odd, and she pulled her loupe out of her pocket, tipped her head up so she could see the overhead light and studied the stone. A bird-like inclusion marred the center. “Excellent color,” she said aloud, returning the stone to the green velvet base. She tried two more, and both had inclusions. One also bore the tell-tale streaks of having been treated to deepen the color. “Lovely work in the cutting.”

Zabet wavered, considering what Rada said, and didn’t say. Her Pet backed away again, giving the True-dragon plenty of room. As she did, she noticed that the female from their earlier encounter was hovering outside the door. Rada moved farther back from the counter as Zabet said, “Thank you. These are very close to what I need. I have an appointment, but will return.”

“Very good,” Larri squeaked, pitch back to its original level. They all looked at the door as the humanoid woman walked in. “Can I help you?”

Zabet turned off her teleconverter and got out of the way, only to find herself trapped as the green-hued female barged past her, blocking the exit by stepping forward and backwards. “Yes. I’m looking for natural color, flawless gemstones for a project. Do you have any,” she glanced down at the stones out on the counter. “These. Exactly these. Perfect.” She looked up again. “How much?”

Larri looked at Zabet, who sent to Rada, <<Let her have them.>>

“Your pardon, but Lady Zabet says that since she cannot stay and discuss the sale any longer, she relinquishes first right of purchase.”

Rada’s words had barely hit the air when the humanoid waved a finger at her. “You are so rude, using telepathy around non-recipients. I’m going to report you to the market authorities for such a gross violation of species non-discrimination laws.” She also moved far enough forward that Zabet could ease past without touching either the humanoid or the contents of the gem case beside her. Before Larri could respond to either comment, Boss and Pet had left the booth.

<<Boss, I need to warn her—>>

Zabet reared up on her hind legs and poked a very sharp talon against Rada’s nose, going nose-to-muzzle with her. <<Oh hell no you are not. Yes, the dealer is a lying pile of protoplasm, but that self-righteous idiot deserves the skinning she’s about to get.>>

Rada blinked. <<You’re serious?>>

<<You say one word and I’ll gut you. Come on.>> With that Zabet dropped onto all four feet once more and stalked off, her tail rigid with anger. She’d never used that tone with Rada before, and the mammal had no doubts but that her Boss would, indeed, do her best to eviscerate her if she tried to protect the other humanoid. Rada’s conscience tried to get involved and she told it to take a hike, then set off in Zabet’s wake.

© 2015 Alma T. C. Boykin  All Rights Reserved.

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