Author: Rick Tobin

“Careful with lighting, Captain. Don’t kill them.” Jerry Carter readjusted reflectors a few inches from a grouping of small barrel cacti in the spaceship’s arboretum.

“Why keep these damnable things? Don’t get enough of them taking over Earth?” Captain Tersal shook his head.

“Reminds me of my ancestors slicing them for emergency water in Arizona centuries before desertification overwhelmed North America.” Carter adjusted his purple envoy outfit tight to his neck, letting his red beard drape.

“Wouldn’t catch me with the Ryluu. Here are the three beans. I can’t believe Earth One let you take these. You know how rare…” Carter waved off Tersal’s diatribe; after all, he was Martian with little sense of Earth’s history.

“Just get me to their greeting hall. I’m meeting their king, Krezal. I hope our exploration party had solid intelligence. I’ve seen LiDAR analysis of their jungles. This could be it.”

Carter’s journey to the planet’s humid surface was uneventful before he exited a small shuttle near the dark, threatening towers of the Ryluu palace. He winced from the cloying jungle air after opening the hatch. He was joined by towering guard escorts. Carter struggled to keep his image of authority while struggling to breathe under the giant planet’s gravity.

It was surprising to find Krezal alone at a small, round table surrounded by elegantly formed stone stools. Krezal had no reason to fear a mere human, some four feet shorter and fragile compared to the bristling muscles and scaly skin of the king.

“High is our knowing of your greatness, Gezal of the Ryluu.” Carter spoke quietly, looking down at the moist, stone floors. He carried a round satchel carefully at his side, setting it below the hard seat Krezal pointed to as his place during the negotiations.

“Welcome, man of Earth,” bellowed the giant. “You know some of our customs. We have visited several times with your representatives. Let me share yanakut with you.”

Krezal motioned for his servant to bring a large, shiny platter. A pile of red berries on the dish glowed in the amber light of the great hall. Krezal removed a large knife from his waistband, carefully crushing the fruit, and then deftly lifting their juices with his knife blade so drippings filled a small rounded metal cup. Sizzling rose as the fluid’s acid started dissolving the cup’s lining. Carter was briefed about yanakut, and the death of an Earth crewman who drank it.

“Great and mighty Krezal, please forgive my weakness. We are not a powerful race, like yours. Our tastes are weak. We would make a less potent but beloved drink from these.” With that, Carter carefully placed three large coffee beans on the table. Krezal leaned his head forward as he placed his huge fingers onto the samples, crushing them, and then raising their dust to his lips.

“You take of these weeds?”

“Yes, mighty one. Would you consider trade with our people? We understand your world has many such…weeds.”

“Ha! Glad to be rid of them; they’re impossible to control. Trade? What could you possibly offer in exchange?”

Carter reached from his bag, presenting a barrel cactus. Krezal reached for it before Carter could give a warning. Krezal was suddenly lost in ecstasy as the needles and juice penetrated him.

“It pleases?” Carter asked.

“Oh, yes. And you have many?” Krezal replied.

A pact was made for the Coffee-Cactus Trade Route. Earthlings recovered the joys of coffee, nearly extinct on Earth, and searched for on other worlds for centuries, while the Ryluu elite lavished in their new cacti aphrodisiac.