“Let me try,” Rosanna hissed and pushed her husband away to take his place in front of the retina scanner.
“Access granted. Welcome, Consul Demarkov.” The lavish doors slid open, music and an aroma of food oozing from the ballroom. She grabbed Benedict’s hand and pulled him along. Their servant followed, pushing the oblong box on which all their hopes rested.
“Do you see him?” Rosanna asked.
“Probably at the buffet,” Benedict replied. “Are you sure he…”
“We’ve been over that. This is the plan, we’re sticking to it. Unless you want to explain our lack of funds to the Syndicate tomorrow morning? I hear that is particularly difficult without a tongue.”
He retreated into sullen silence, as he always did. But now was not the time to salve his bruised ego. They needed to find the governor before someone else could capitalise on his notoriously short attention span and instant obsession with new luxury.
She finally spotted Governor Cyros in front of the window wall overlooking Musrifoon City. His haggard frame was surrounded by the inevitable crowd of bootlickers, while his three external stomachs hovered above him like perverse golden balloons.
“Oh, look, that one’s got jewels on. That’s new,” Benedict muttered.
The Demarkovs and their servant slalomed their way through the crowd, arriving in the middle of the governor’s lecture on current events.
“…not a problem. The blueskins have been nothing but reasonable trading partners. Quite bright for xenos, in my opinion.”
“But the pict-report last…”
“Pure fabrication, Fabius,” Cyros said. “Cassandra has been trying to make me look bad on this cooperation issues forever now, this is her newest ploy. Go fetch something from the buffet, I’m growing tired of your contributions to this exchange. Ah, Consuls Demarkov, lovely to see you. So glad you could make it. What with interplanetary travel being so expensive nowadays.”
As always when she had to speak to him, Rosanna felt exposed in the Governor’s gaze. He knows, she thought, which means he’ll drive the price down just for the fun of it.
“Visiting one of your balls is always worth any expense,” Benedict said. “Doubly so when it promises to be so profita…”
“What my husband means is that we are delighted to offer you something unlike anything you have ever had before,” Rosanna interrupted, smiling daggers at Benedict’s. “A man of your taste will surely appreciate it. And who knows? Maybe one day, you will have need of other… exotica.”
The governor left his crowd of cronies to step closer to the matte red sarcophagus behind them. “Well then, let us see what you have found for me.”
Rosanna bowed her head, then touched the sensor on the curved surface. With a hiss it parted to reveal several smaller compartments inside. She opened the first one which held several cuts of blue meat, cooked to various degrees. Cyros lowered his hooked nose towards the slices and inhaled.
He gave Rosanna a sharp look. “Is this…”
She nodded, happy to let the sentence trail off there, when Benedict blurted out from behind her, “Yes, governor, it’s T’au. There’s salt on the side for you.”
Sometimes it was all she could do not to strangle her husband.
Cyros hesitated a moment, then a slender fork slid out from his fingertip and he impaled one of the slices. “How did you come by this… delicacy?” Cyros asked.
Our last savings, deals with shady characters, and more dumb luck than I’d like to admit, she thought. “We’d like you to think of us as people who can procure things for you without bothering you with any tiresome details.”
There was an agonizing second, before the governor took a bite of the medium rare T’au. His face flickered between curious, perplexed, and critical before he swallowed. The jewel-encrusted stomach above him undulated and gave a sickening squelch.
“My dear Consul Demarkov,” he finally said, “I have not been this pleasantly surprised for quite some time.” Gesturing towards the other compartments, he continued, “I assume these contain different parts?”
“Yes, Governor,” Rosanna said, “and there is a menu with…”
“Open this one,” Benedict said with ill-concealed glee, pointing to the largest compartment. “Your life will never be the same.” Strangling was too good for him, Rosanna decided.
“Governor, I think this should be enjoyed in a more private…”
“It is quite exquisite,” Benedict said. After a moment, Cyros nodded at Rosanna. She opened the compartment.
“We had to experiment with this one,” Benedict prattled, “so it’s still whole. I would recommend you go for the forehead. There’s a few good bits there.”
Cyros plunged his fork into the T’au head and tore off a large slice he devoured in one gulp. “Hmmm… surprisingly citrusy,” was his verdict before he tore out one of the dull eyes and sucked it dry.
All the screens in the ballroom went black at once before filling with red. A voice said: “People of the Libum System. This is Commander Swiftstar. It is my duty to protect the T’au who have come to your planets with the intention of peaceful trade. But we are shocked by the hideous things that have come to our…”
Rosanna tore her gaze away for a moment to look out the window. All the public screens of Musrifoon City flickered in unison, displaying the same message, bathing the city in ominous red.
“…the hideous things perpetrated by your rulers behind closed doors.” The red was replaced by the Governor Cyros, gleefully devouring the cooked T’au skull. It almost looked like he had been recorded by Rosanna or someone standing…
She turned to face Benedict. His right eye glowed with a pale blue light. “I’m sorry, Rosanna,” he whispered. “I had to do what’s best for us. When they run things… They can help us. They will protect us. And we can still be Consuls, only working for the greater good.”
Somewhere in the distance, glass splintered. The sound of energy weapons followed fast.