It was thirty days later and many light years away. In one of the more profitable sectors of Imperial space, and Senator Geesh was hoping to get the day's business out of the way before lunch.
Sitting across the large and ornate desk from the senator was his head of security Anjalir Buyxlf Rif. The senator just called him Rif, because it was easy.
Anjalir sometimes thought about telling the senator that Rif was a title rather than a name but he didn't because by now he had been indentured to the senator long enough to know that not
only would the scrawny little ass-licker not care but that the pompous, odious worm of a man would instead take cruel pleasure in just emphasising the word every time he used it.
Once again, he wondered what it would feel like to stand up, reach across the golden desk and crush the senator's oily head between his powerful, clawed paws.
To soak his blue-grey fur in his blood and to bury his muzzle in the man's soft, wet entrails just as his wild feline ancestors had done when men first came to his planet.
But he didn't, and he never would, because he would die and his mate and his kits would be sold, if they were lucky. So he was 'Rif' until he was home.
Rif was a Haethian. One of only the three sentient races so far discovered in the galaxy.
The others were the Angaratryx, large and brightly coloured flying insectoids who were incredibly intelligent, but only when connected to the hive mind.
And then there were the Humans who, millennia ago, had spread like a disease from their little corner of space until now they infected two thirds of the galaxy.
The thought of that made Rif's fur bristle and he struggled to get his anger under control in case the senator noticed.
But the senator was busy talking to the three members of the council who were not physically present, just images in the air. Rif wished with all of his being that he was one of them.
Or at least just not here. Rif looked at the senator. He looked at the ghostly images of the two doctors and of Kort Chorfaleo who ran Qeibrim Station.
Rif looked, anywhere except over his left shoulder.
The current business hardly required Rif to be there at all. Everything was in his report.
In fact, everything Geesh needed to know was in the four reports the senator had already read and which were, even now, displayed on his desk screen.
But Geesh liked to hear things from those who wrote the reports. To dig away for things that weren't included in them. Things that might only show in a facial expression, or a pause...
He was a clever bastard was Geesh. Rif would grant him that much.
Currently, Geesh was grilling the two doctors.
"So, she's still comatose? So, what are you doing about it?"
The doctor the question was addressed to was young and nervous. She had never had to deal with the senator before, but she had heard about him, which absolutely explained her nervousness.
"Sir, physically she is now fine. The coma was not caused by anything physical, not trauma, no genetic defect, nothing.
In fact, you can see from the test results that genetically speaking she is extraordinary..."
"How so Doctor?"
"She's incredible. She is the closest thing I have ever seen to a perfect human specimen, genetically pure..."
"What does that mean? What is genetically pure?"
"Erm, well, no disease. No genes to even cause disease. No abnormalities at all in fact."
"Then why is she in a coma Doctor?"
"Erm... perhaps my colleague would like to... Doctor Drewper...?"
The image of the grey-haired man between the nervous doctor and Chorfaleo seemed to come to life.
Senator Geesh turned his unfriendly gaze away from the young doctor to focus on Doctor Emile Drewper the consultant neurologist on Qeibrim Station.
"Thank you. Yes, Doctor Feyl is quite correct. The patient's coma is, in my opinion, clearly psychosomatic. Something has happened to this young lady to push her away from reality.
The unusual thing, however, is the extraordinary degree to which she has hidden herself away 'inside herself' as it were."
Geesh was becoming irritable.
"Is it curable? Can you fetch her out of this self-induced coma?"
Doctor Drewper raised his arms in an exaggerated shrug.
"Who's to say. We think, with the right medication we might be able to reach her but it may take time, a lot of time..."
Senator Geesh sat back in his chair, dismissing both doctors with a wave of his hand.
"And that, of course, means money. Which brings us to her compatriot." Geesh turned to the station manager.
"Mister Chorfaleo, please enlighten me on what has been happening since he was released from hospital..." The senator consulted his desktop. "... twenty-eight days ago."
Kort Chorfaleo mopped his brow with a large purple handkerchief. He was a big man, in a tight suit, under hot lights facing a man who, quite frankly, scared the hrakha out of him.
The prevailing thought in his mind just now was 'stick to the report, don't get drawn'.
"Well, Senator. Our newest citizen seems to be settling in quite nicely. You know, considering."
"Well, culture shock. I mean it's not often we get an ethn... an..." The handkerchief appeared again, briefly, as he struggled to remember the politically correct phrase currently in vogue.
"A citizen of a non-spacefaring world."
Geesh relaxed, interlacing his fingers over his belly and twiddling his thumbs as he swivelled side to side on his executive chair. This could be amusing.
"Oh absolutely, it must be very difficult for him. But then you say he is settling in quite nicely so you see my confusion."
"Yes, Sir. Forgive me. But as you can see from the report, he has already found himself a place to stay, at no cost to the administration I might add.
And he seems to be quite popular amongst his neighbours. He's even become something of a celebrity at his local bar."
Geesh glanced at the open file on his desk screen.
"And a job too I see."
"A job? Well yes... Well, no, not really a job. He's opened a little business. Doing quite well too it appears."
"Doing quite well? Already? That seems rather odd. Surely, he's still learning the language.
I doubt anybody there speaks his native tongue, so how is he communicating well enough to start a business?"
More purple hanky. Kort was already off script and not liking it.
"He's ehhhhh... Well doing quite well, actually. He speaks his own jibber-jabber of course, but he talks very slowly and loudly you see."
"And that, works?" Geesh was genuinely surprised.
"Apparently so. He's producing a lot of items and everyone seems to be wearing them..."
"Oh, he's created quite a range. Very popular, especially with the younger inhabitants, teenagers mainly..."
Geesh spoke slowly and raised his voice.
"Wearing what?" Oh, so that's how it works, he mused.
"Ah right. Let's see." Kort made a fist and raised his thumb. "Something called 'Jeans'. A kind of legging, rather coarse blue material with visible stitching along the seams.
My daughters love them..." Kort caught sight of Geesh's image on his receiver. He would have produced his purple handkerchief again but the hand was otherwise occupied supporting his thumb.
Instead, he swallowed. The index finger appeared next to the thumb. Confidence draining away, he carried on. "Then there's a rather clunky high-heeled work boot called a 'cowboy boot'.
They look a bit uncomfortable to me but they seem popular with younger pilots.
Kort sensed he was losing his audience. He was now floundering way off script. Nothing of this was in the report. Kort started to panic.
Should it have been in the report? Senator Geesh obviously wasn't interested in fashion but Kort needed a way to fetch this back. Inspiration struck, egged on by blind panic.
"Coats! Yes! The coats. He noticed his raised fist was missing something that should be there, so belatedly raised his middle finger. Trying to think and lift a finger was too much for him.
His mind went blank "Where was I?"
"Yes, coats. These have to be his best seller by far, everyone has them. You see, he arrived wearing this dirty brown coat. Lightweight, lots of pockets.
Local shopkeepers were the first ones to be interested, then the service personnel in the hangers. You see, the coat protected their clothes and their overalls and such.
And the pockets were very useful."
Geesh watched the station supervisor becoming more and more excited as he went on and on extolling the virtues of this marvellous coat. The senator hadn't been so entertained for days.
Kort ploughed on.
"Then the bounty hunters noticed them. Well, that was it. They became fashionable overnight of course and when he started making them with ballistic weave even the police got excited.
In fact, I've just come from a meeting where it was voted to make them part of the uniform..."
Geesh at last held up a hand.
"So, what you seem to be telling me is that since his arrival on your station, this man has gone from being a penniless immigrant to some sort of fashion guru?"
Kort wondered what would be the right answer.
"Errr, pretty much, Senator."
"In twenty-eight days?"
Senator Geesh leaned forward, folding his arms on his desk.
"So what's the name of this blossoming business?"
Kort leaned out of camera shot and re-appeared with a shiny, high quality flyer. He held it up to the camera.
SPIVEYWEAR! - A subsidiary of Spivey's Interstellar Traders.