Blurb: Legatus Tetradec Sarutahiko is a diplomat valued by the Solarian command for his uncanny ability to see through any pretense and most manipulation. When discovering that the alien Asimi have peculiar methods of doing business, Sarutahiko and his cadet must either find a way to work around this or fail both himself and his people.
"What are you, weird aliens?” came the growl again.
"We are human,” I replied.
"Hu-man,” the driver said, testing the unfamiliar word. "Never heard of. You from new annexed province?”
"Of course, not,” replied Radek hotly. "We are from the Solarian Hegemony. We could crush-”
"What my young colleague here is trying to say,” I interrupted by gripping his arm and giving him a sharp look, “is that we are not part of the Confederation. We are independent. ”
"Good for you, lousy alien.”
Radek raised an eyebrow at me, as if asking if this guy was for real. We left the circumference traffic ring and got on one of the radial hoverways which led straight to the center of the station. The station’s looks didn’t get any better the deeper we travelled. The skyline consisted mostly of gray and brown blocks, with little space between them. The alien’s grunts broke the silence again. I rolled my eyes. Who would have thought cab drivers like to chat?
"We was independent once, you know.”
“Oh?” I replied, deciding to humor him. “When was this?”
“More than three hundred cycles in past. Our kind was spread to three planets in two stars. We was strong and rich.”
“How were you incorporated in the Confederation?” asked Radek. “Did they conquer you?”
“Asimi?” he replied and issued a whining sound that must have been a laugh. “Frail fools never makes wars with nobody. If they can’t buy what they wants, they leaves.”
He made a lengthy pause. The exchange had piqued my interest. I was just thinking of asking for details when he spoke again in a grim tone.
“It was them hairy bastards. Scorchers of planets with the emperor.”
It took me a moment to realize who he was talking about, but there was no mistaking it. He was referring to the Velkodlac Empire. For over a hundred years, our Hegemony had been in almost constant warfare with them, so we knew a lot about their methods. Led by a mutant who fancied himself a god in physical form, the countless Velkodlac hordes destroyed races and grabbed any planet they could get their claws on. Always looking for resources and more living space, they were
fanatical and cruel beyond reason. In fact, they were the very reason I had quit the Navy and joined the Diplomatic Corps. Memories of a place called Gemma still haunted me.
“Let me guess,” I croaked, “they rained atomic fire on your worlds. Then they came in and finished off the survivors close and personal.”
“Aye,” he growled grimly. “You know ‘em?”
“Let’s say I’ve run into their kind a couple of times.”
“We was crammed on what ships we hads left and made way to the Confed. Millions survived, billions left behind to die. Asimi took us in, but wasn’t easy.”
“It never is, for a refugee,” I muttered.
Nobody said anything else for the rest of the trip. After a while, we landed on a slightly better-looking landing pad protruding from a mammoth cylinder, all glass and metal, connecting the two faces of the disk. The Hub, as the alien named it. We got off, relieved to be out of the enclosed space and its stench.
“Hey, hu-man,” said the driver, sticking its head through the window.
“What now?” I asked, frowning.
“Watch yer step ‘round them Asimi. Things is never as they seem with them.” He gave us a knowing wink, which was really weird coming from an oversized lizard. I stared after him as the shuttle took off and couldn’t suppress a smile.
“Well I’ll be damned,” said Radek. “Sir, I believe we’ve found proof of one more constant in the Universe. Aside from Planck’s, there’s also the cab drivers’ delusion of being wise.”