Author : William Tracy
“The commander will see you now.”
King Kôrtof stepped through the doorway. His body was adorned with precious metals and gems, a show of power. Planet Tokonia had little to boast of but its mineral wealth—even as that wealth was rapidly becoming a political liability.
The king stopped in his tracks. The back the commander’s chamber was occupied by a massive aquarium with fishes from Old Earth, a display of wealth greater than the Tokonians could ever hope to match.
The commander stood up and shook hands with the dazed king. “Welcome, welcome.” The two sat down.
“You have a wonderful planet here, King Kôrtof. Your people are happy, your agriculture and mining are prosperous.”
At the left end of the tank, two striped cichlid fishes herded around a cloud of babies.
“However, you have been threatened by the Confederacy of Planets. I want you to know that the Sharkün Empire is here to help you.”
Just below the aquarium’s surface, two massive arowanas cruised silently.
“The Confederation wants to strip you of your powers and force on your people what they call democracy.” The commander let out a short laugh. “Democracy!” He looked the king in the eye. “The Sharkün Empire is like you. We will protect you and we will let you keep your sovereignty.”
At the right end of the tank, two red-throated cichlids squared off. Facing each other, they opened their mouths wide, flared their gill covers, and distended their throats in a ritual display.
“All we want is mining rights, and for our mining companies to operate on your world under our own laws.” He eyed the king. “Unfortunately, your advisors have informed us that many of the prime sites that we are interested in happen to lie underneath your most productive farming regions. Of course, we can easily import more than enough food to feed your people.”
The red-throated cichlids made a sudden motion. They circled in lockstep, each fish chasing the other’s tail.
“These same advisors have also expressed concern that displacing these farms will leave much of your population unemployed. They even suggested that these people would starve because they would be unable to pay for the food imports!” The commander gestured broadly. “If this truly is a problem, our corporations will gladly employ these people in our mines. It may be hard work, but it is honest work.”
The red-throated cichlids suddenly faced each other, and locked jaws. The two animals shook and wrestled, each testing the other’s strength.
The commander smiled kindly at the king. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yours is a tertiary system, a backwater world. You have always had hostile neighbors, few resources. You couldn’t possibly have defended yourself from the Confederation alone.”
The striped cichlids attacked a tiny yellow fish that had wandered into their territory. It dashed across the aquarium, interrupting the red-throated fishes. They broke off their battle, and one chased the yellow fish away, up toward the surface of the tank.
“We will protect you from the Confederation of Planets. All we want is the mineral rights. You and your people can keep their sovereignty.”
One of the arowanas lunged toward the little yellow fish, which barely darted away alive.
“All you have to do is sign this document.”
The other arowana swerved to intercept the yellow fish, and swallowed it whole.
“Do we have an agreement?”
The king wasn’t paying attention.
King Kôrtof was watching the fish.