Sarryl Tarth relaxed in his rooftop pool, enjoying the Arborian sunset. Red and purple clouds scattered rays of light across the sky. To the left, the silver spires of Crzsity sparkled. To the right, the surrounding forest glowed brilliant green, broken only by the occasional private treetop dwellings like his own.
As he soaked in the view, Tarth sipped his apriquat cocktail. Ah, sweet nectar. The apriquat was a rare entity, — an indigenous bit of flora that had survived the terraforming/colonization process. A sweet bit of flora, too, reminiscent of ancient fruits from Old Earth. Rare and tasty, and thus expensive. Tarth enjoyed the fact that he could afford it almost as much as he enjoyed the taste.
He placed the glass on the side of the pool, then reclined further and closed his eyes, visions of apriquats and other earthly delights dancing in his head. He was enjoying a particularly vivid daydream when three harsh buzzes startled him back into wakefulness. He sat up quickly, causing a mild tsunami that crashed over the far edge and cascaded onto the leaves below, causing great consternation among a flock of migratory birds.
The buzzes sounded again, emergency priority. Tarth fumbled for the projection control, knocking over the glass of apriquat and adding an orange-green hue to the tsunami. When he finally acticated it, the holographic logo of the Core Systems Confederation materialized, a red sphere pierced by a silver spire.
Not a good conversation, then. A face, or a personal logo, would have been preferable. Official logos meant bad things.
The logo faded, replaced by the image of Til Okarabutu, governor of the Arborian system. Okarabutu was a stunning figure, able to afford the best in rejuvenation treatments. Today, however, her visage was marred by clenched teeth, throbbing jaw muscles, and furrowed brows. She must be annoyed, or maybe angry, he deduced cleverly. At this moment, a flock of irate apriquat-soaked birds darted through her image, causing Tarth to chuckle.
“Tarth!”, Okarabutu barked. “You’d better have a good explanation for what happened on Bilyenka.”
“Bilyenka?”, he asked. “The planet?” Why was she asking about a Lost Colony?
“No, the seven-part virtual reality experience,” she replied. “Of course, the planet. You know, the Lost Colony that recently exploded?”
“Wha…wha…” was all that Tarth could manage on short notice.
Okarabutu sneered. “Come on, you must know by now. With all your contacts…” She stared at his blank expression, puzzled. “Massive nuclear exchange, large-scale destruction, firestorms, crustal deformation? Still not ringing a bell?”
The bells were silent as Tarth struggled to process her words. Bilyenka. The first thing that came to mind was a name. Velwyn Theus. The second was an emotion. Joyful greed. Stars, Bilyenka had been profitable. The third was another emotion. Anger. That bastard Theus betrayed me. These three thoughts sloshed together in his apriquat-soaked mind until Okarabutu finally gave up.
“Look Tarth, let me spell it out for you in small words. In the wake of the Bilyenka disaster, it has come to my attention that your business may have violated the Firebreak by smuggling Bilyenkan artifacts into the Confederation.”
Had this taken place two minutes earlier, Tarth would have spewed a mouthful of apriquat cocktail over the edge of his deck. How dare she? Of course I smuggle in artifacts. She’s known that for years. Hell, I’ve smuggled in a couple of dozen just for her, including a Bilyenkan dancing knife. He quickly realized two things. Someone above Okarabutu’s level is asking questions. And this conversation is not secure.
The governor continued. “Firebreak violations are an extremely serious offense. And if you or your organization were involved in the Bilyenka nuclear incident…well, the penalties will be far more severe. Since Arboria is the nearest core world to Bilyenka, you’re my problem. If you’re not in my office in thirty minutes, I’ll have Internal Security drag you in.”
Great. “No need for that,” Tarth recovered suavely. “I’ll be there.”
Okarabutu nodded curtly, then her image blinked out. Tarth angrily waved his hand and a new image appeared.
“Good evening, sir.”
“There’s nothing good about it. Get me the last known whereabouts of Velwyn Theus. Immediately.”
The image gulped, then nodded vigorously. “I’ll have it sent to you as soon as possible, sir.”
Tarth cut off the transmission and pushed himself out of the pool, sending another wave of watery fruit juice cascading off the cliff. “Theus!” he snarled angrily at the remnants of his apriquat cocktail.