Episode 243: The Tentacles Never Lie by J.W. Alden

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


The Tentacles Never Lie

By J.W. Alden

 

In Connie’s line of work, you had to massage the truth from time to time. A stretch here, a bend there–even human clients expected a fib or two at the negotiation table. But when trading with the Hygoelus, you always lied. It just made things easier.

“My friends,” she said to the hygos across the table, who were not her friends, “you won’t regret this deal. One day, when you’re bouncing great-grandspawn on your knee-like appendages, still in perfect health in your august years, you and your people will look back on this meeting and thank me.”

Their forehead tentacles shifted to the left and became a deep shade of purple, standing out against the pink translucence of their skin. Appreciation. “We shall not wait so long, Connie of GalactiCorp,” their leader said through the tinny voice of a translator. “We thank you now. We are always honored to do business with your mighty race. We hope your government will keep our continued partnership in mind as development continues on their Baryonic Synchrotron superweapon.”

“Now, now, Dthlrap.” Connie held her hands up, palms outward. “I’ll try to put in a good word, but I can’t speak for the government. You’ll have to take it up with them. I’m merely a humble salesperson.”

Their tentacles moved back to the right, shifting into a bright yellow. Anxiety. “We understand.”

Connie rose from the table, economy office chair squeaking. She tried not to look at the cheap novelty watch wrapped around Dthlrap’s feeler as she shook it. As the molluscan creatures slithered out of the GalactiCorp meeting room, Connie couldn’t help but lean over the glass table and smirk at her own reflection. Won’t be long for that promotion now.


Connie bumped into Jerry on the station lift. Jerry was a few years her junior, but rising almost as fast as she had. As usual, the grease from his hair had slid down to the lapel of his jacket and no one had told him.

He gave her a grin. “Those hygos here for you?”

“News travels fast,” Connie said, rolling her eyes. Most people at GalactiCorp liked to boast up and down the company grapevine when they closed a deal. You never knew when the next promotion or restructure might shake things up. Today’s breakroom buddy might be tomorrow’s bigwig. Still, Connie usually kept to herself. She spent enough time jockeying with buyers; she didn’t need to play the game with coworkers, too.

“Like it’s any secret you landed the Shiny Cola deal,” Jerry said. “Whole office has been whining about it. What did you hustle them out of this time?”

Connie shook her head and stared at the elevator doors.

“Come on, I’d love some insight. Mr. Weaver says he’s going to let me have some hygo contracts soon. It won’t leave this elevator. Promise.”

You mean you won’t leave this elevator until you hear all about it, Connie thought. She sighed. “Helium-3 deposits.”

A short giggle rose out of Jerry. He sounded more like an amused schoolboy than a junior salesperson. “Helium-3? For a lifetime supply of soda? You’re good.”

“Lifetime supply?” She gave him a half-smile. “What do I look like, a sucker? They’re getting seven years’ worth with a renew option. I told them it was a health beverage. Said drinking two cans a day would double their lifespan.”

“No kidding! Well done. They ask about the government’s ‘superweapon’? The, uh, bariatric something or other?”

“When do they not?” The technological gulf between their species made humans scary and intimidating to the hygos. That gulf didn’t exist, of course. Or if it did, it went the other way around. But the hygos would believe human technology ran on fairy dust if you told them. Then they’d ask what fairies are, and GalactiCorp would step in with a nice deal on ‘fairy enclosures’ that would bear more than a passing resemblance to cockroach farms.

“And I thought we had them by the tentacles,” Jerry said. “Almost makes you feel bad for them. Gov screws them from one end and we take the other. Wonder how long it’ll take them to realize they can’t even digest the crap.”

“They can bathe in it, for all I care.” Connie said. “The board had eyes on this deal. For once, Weaver can’t spin this as his baby. Promotion incoming.”

“Eyes ever on the prize, eh?” The lift whirred to a stop and the doors slid open. Jerry stepped out, then turned back. “By the way, how’d you get around the sweetener issue?”

“What?” The doors started to close. Connie stuck a hand out to keep them open. “What sweetener issue?”

Jerry gave her an odd look. “Don’t tell me you don’t know. After the snack cake thing last year? It was the talk of the station.”

“I was working earthside contracts most of last year.”

“And Mr. Weaver didn’t warn you?” He sounded worried, but the corners of his mouth betrayed a suppressed grin. He lowered his voice, as though Weaver might be clinging to the top of the elevator, listening in. “The artificial sweetener in Shiny Cola is the same one in the snack cakes we sold to the hygos last year. Turns out, it doesn’t play nice with their insides. The board convinced them it wasn’t our fault somehow, but it did quite a number. There were deaths. Named a disease after it and everything.”

“Huh. This is the first I’ve heard.”

“Guess they’ll be having a new outbreak. Surprised they didn’t ask for an ingredient list.”

“I wouldn’t give them one. I told them our research department had already evaluated the Shiny Cola for safety. I didn’t want them making their own knock off.” Connie let go of the door and clasped hands, tapping her thumbs together.

“Ah, yes, the ‘research department.’ Well, hey, they’ll figure it out soon enough. Maybe the casualties won’t be too bad. And I’m sure Weaver won’t realize until after you nab that promotion.” Jerry winked.

Connie’s stomach did flip flops. Weaver.

As the doors closed, Connie jammed the button for the executive suite. He’ll blame me if this causes an incident. Why didn’t he warn me? She pictured him leaning over his desk, yelling about recklessness, jowls quivering. Then the image shifted to a crowd of hygos clutching ice-cold bottles of Shiny Cola, raising their feelers in a toast. A strange sensation crawled up the base of her ears.

Was that . . . guilt?

 


 

Connie took a seat in Weaver’s office, battered by the dueling odors of shoe-polish and unsmoked cigars. The gas giant outside GalactiCorp Station peered through the office window, casting an orange halo around Weaver’s head. The Bruce Springsteen bobble-head on his desk glared at her. Connie didn’t know which boss to look at.

“What can I do you for?” Weaver said. “Great job on the Shiny Cola deal, by the way.”

“Thank you, sir. That’s what I’m here to talk about.”

“Say no more.” He put a hand up. “Bonus coming your way. Keep closing deals like that and you’re promotion bound in no time. Just don’t start eyeing my desk.” He gave her a wink and a phony grin.

“Much appreciated, sir. I actually wanted to talk about the Shiny Cola itself. Were you aware there’s an ingredient that’s harmful to the Hygoelus?”

“Sucrasulfasacchlitol.”

“Sucra–what?”

“Artificial sweetener we cooked up a few years back.” Mr. Weaver shifted in his chair and drummed his fingers on the desk. Bruce began to nod. “Product of the factory runoff repurposing initiative. Tears their little stomachs up something fierce.”

“So I heard,” Connie said. “Should we be worried?”

The drumming stopped. “About what? You didn’t tell them they could drink the stuff, did you?”

“Oh, no, no.” Connie swallowed hard. “Of course not.”

“Good. With the helium boom, there’s a lot riding on this deal. If we had to put the brakes on, the consequences would be severe, to say the least.”

“Yes, sir.” She felt a warm flush blooming in her cheeks. Quit while you’re ahead, Connie. Don’t say another word. But she hadn’t come here to learn what she already knew. She wanted to know why Weaver let her walk into that minefield in the first place. She quieted the voice in her head and pressed on. “That’s why I’m a little surprised you approved the deal if you knew about a harmful ingredient.”

Weaver’s brow furrowed. “There’s always a harmful ingredient. Or a defective doohickey. Or an incompatible whatsit. Not our concern. Closing is all that matters, Connie. This Shiny Cola deal is just the kind of transaction our agreement with the Hygoelus is for. That schlock could never compete with the old brands back home, no matter how much money GalactiCorp threw at it. But now all we have to do is spin a little yarn for our betentacled friends, and they open wide and say thank you. Pitfall into profit. Bing bang boom. In our hands, the hygos are–“

“‘Little pink cash registers,’ I know. We’ve all seen your motivational posters, sir. It just seems like we’re taking a risk with this sweetener thing. You could have warned me.” But who am I kidding? You wouldn’t lift a finger for an ambitious upstart like me unless you were going to use it to hit the airlock button.

“Do your job and risk doesn’t matter,” he said. “You think the hygos will wake up one day and know what lies are? Call that crap anything you want. Shampoo, plant food, cleaning solution, anything but a beverage, and you’re golden.”

“I know how to play the game, sir.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“No problem. I just–“

Weaver stood. His gut bumped the desk, sending Bruce into a frantic headbang. “We can’t waste time worrying about the wrong things, Connie. Have I ever told you how I got where I am today?”

“Yes, sir. Many–“

“Ever heard of skroopball?” He pulled a plastic-wrapped cigar out of his desk drawer. He turned to face the gas giant in the window and tapped the cigar against his palm in an odd rhythm.

“I think I remember–“

“Big playground sports craze years ago. Kids were playing it everywhere you went, from Earth to the outer colonies. They’d throw a thing, hit it with a thing, run around or something. I don’t know, looked fun. Then, one day–” He made a popping noise and jabbed the cigar at the window, as though piercing the surface of the planet beyond it. “–fad dropped out. Just like that. GalactiCorp got stuck sitting on warehouses and warehouses full of those damned skroopball helmets. Ugly, useless skroopball helmets. What do you think we did about it? What do you think I did about it?”

Connie stifled a yawn. “You sold them to the hygos.”

Weaver spun around and grinned. “I sold them to the hygos, even though they had no idea what skroopball was. We told them the Kroodian Empire uses them for bartering tokens, and they’d be worth a fortune once their ships started trading in our sector. Tell me Connie, have you ever heard of the Kroodian Empire?”

Only every time you’ve told this dumb story.

“Of course you haven’t. We made them up. We invented an entire alien race and the hygos bought every word. Every word and every last skroopball helmet. That’s what it takes, Connie. You don’t just sell the merchandise. When the need arises, you repurpose it. Redefine it. If you’ve done so with the Shiny Cola, we have nothing to worry about.”

Connie rubbed her eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “You’re right, sir. I don’t know why I bothered you. I guess the pressure of this deal got to me.”

“Tell you what.” Weaver tossed the cigar back into the drawer, still unwrapped, and sat down with a flop. “How long’s it been since you had a vacation? Why don’t you take a nice, long breather before we line up your next deal? Spend that bonus. Recharge your batteries. You miss Earth, I’m sure.”

“That . . . sounds great, sir. I’d be delighted.” She stood. Weaver looked as though he had more pontificating to do, but she wanted to accept her marching orders and get as far away as possible. “I’ll head to H.R. and put in for it now. Thank you.”

She flicked Bruce Springsteen in the face on her way out.

Weaver would be no help. When Connie first started working for GalactiCorp, she’d looked up to him. Hell, she’d wanted to be him. But the more she propped him up with sales, watching him swoop in and take the credit, the more she came to despise him. Each time he stepped on some eager new salesperson or delivered another office lecture on ‘what it takes,’ she grew sick to her stomach. She could never be like him. No matter how many deals she closed. No matter how high she climbed. Never.

She stepped back onto the lift and reached into a jacket pocket for her tablet. Its paper-thin surface became rigid as she unrolled it, powering on with a swipe. Another image flashed in her mind of those Shiny Cola shipments and the unsuspecting feelers they’d end up in. She’d told Dthlrap he could nurse his spawn on the stuff. His spawn. With an inhale, she pulled up the facecom app and dialed into her contacts. She tapped Dthlrap’s icon, but after a few seconds trying to sync, the screen became a light gray: USER UNREACHABLE. His ship must have entered the superluminal envelope, streaming toward the unpronounceable Hygoelus homeworld. Real-time communication would be impossible, and any message she sent via comm buoy would take at least a week to arrive. She had to get out in front of this.

Guess I’ll put that vacation time to use.

 


 

Connie had never been to a Hygoelus world before. She’d never seen so many of them in one place. The locals slinked about the stardock, emotive tentacles a rainbow of surprise, concern, and wonder as she passed. Some rolled by on segways and repurposed office chairs, feelers flailing. Others clutched at earth-made tchotchkes and trinkets–virtual pet keychains, decorative spoons, novelty watches–evidence of previous hustles, some of which Connie recognized as her own handiwork. No doubt they’d been told the useless items would improve their mental alacrity, fend off harmful wireless signals, or some other sale-inducing nonsense.

The blue crystalline building they led her to looked grown rather than built, jutting from the ground at odd angles. The inside smelled of dust and cardboard, and she soon saw why. Stacks of boxes and crates bearing the GalactiCorp logo towered in the corners. Passé posters and decorations from Earth clung to the walls. At each shimmery turn, she had to dodge broken toys, ceramic cats, and classic rock bobble-heads. Connie’s throat tightened with each earthly junk-piece she encountered. She had expected to find GalactiCorp merchandise here, but the sheer volume took her aback. They’d been dumping this crap on the hygos for years.

She came into a large, room-like opening, where a group of hygos waited for her. Most of them stood around the perimeter of the room with their backs to the wall, as if they feared drawing her gaze. Dthlrap stood in the center, one his feelers extended. “We are humbled and surprised at your visit, Connie of GalactiCorp,” he said as she shook it. “To what do we owe this honor? We hope there is not a problem with our agreement.”

“I’m afraid there is. We discovered a slight issue not long after you left the station. It couldn’t wait for a comm message to arrive.”

A wave of anxious yellow surged through his tentacles. “No mistake on our part, I hope?”

“No, the fault is all mine. But I have good news and bad news.” Connie took a deep breath.

“We are familiar with this human custom of coupling news-types. Do continue.”

“I’m afraid I misspoke about the health benefits Shiny Cola confers when ingested. GalactiCorp makes two different formulas, and I was mistaken about which kind we sold you.” It wasn’t the best lie, but you didn’t need an immaculate fabrication with the hygos. “I’m sorry about the mix up.”

Dthlrap’s forehead tentacles became a dull shade of brown. Disappointment. “Does this mean we must nullify our contract, Connie of GalactiCorp?”

“No! No, that’s where the good news comes in. While the Shiny Cola you purchased will do no good as a beverage, our research department assures me it will do wonders as a bath additive. Simply pour a can or two into your GalactiCorp brand bathing solution. This confers all the health benefits we spoke of, plus it will leave your appendages glistening with youthful vigor. Best of all, GalactiCorp is prepared to honor the deal as it stands. No need to renegotiate.” Connie mustered her deal-closing smile. “Just, uh, don’t drink it. Any of it.”

His disappointed browns faded a bit, but didn’t quite disappear. “It is not within my authority to make a judgment on this matter. The contract has been finalized according to our regulations. But do not worry, Connie of GalactiCorp. I will take this to our Trade Council. In hearing your description of this wonderful, if slightly different product, I am confident they will agree to honor the original terms.”

“Good to hear,” Connie said. “How long will it take them to reach a decision? My time here is limited, you understand.”

“I should say no more than two weeks, by your reckoning.”

“Oh, good.” Ugh. Two weeks? Vacation time or no, this would cut it close. If Connie stayed offstation too long, Weaver would suspect she wasn’t sunning on some Earth beach right now. Still, what choice did she have? “I suppose I’d better get comfortable then.”

As Dthlrap’s people led her to temporary accommodations, Connie contemplated the gravity of the situation. Her promotion hung in the balance–maybe her entire livelihood–and her fate lay in the sticky feelers of those she’d made a career of deceiving. For the first time in her life, she felt at a disadvantage against the hygos. And every time her eyes landed on one of the GalactiCorp logos that marred this otherwise beautiful construct, she couldn’t help but wonder if she deserved it.

 


 

Connie’s impromptu vacation neared its ninth day when she woke to the sound of her tablet chiming. She rolled out of the GalactiCorp brand waterbed the hygos had given her. A voice message from Weaver waited in her inbox, dated the day she left the station. Stupid slow comm buoys, Connie thought. Hope it’s nothing. She pressed play.

“I almost didn’t bother sending this, Connie. You’ll be ankle-deep in the Atlantic by the time it reaches you, and I hate to interrupt a well-deserved vacation. Even if I come to find out it’s not so well-deserved after all.”

Damn it. He knows. Connie flopped down on the waterbed, preparing for the worst.

Weaver’s message continued. “It’s come to my attention you were less than truthful when we spoke about the Shiny Cola deal. Not only did you pitch it as a beverage, you pitched it as a health drink. I don’t need to tell you why that’s a problem.”

Jerry. It had to be Jerry. The bootlicker must have gone to Weaver after our little chat in the lift. He thinks he can knock me down and take my spot. Connie’s fingers tightened around the edge of the tablet. How could I be so stupid?

“I don’t know what’s worse, Connie. That you didn’t pitch smart like I taught you, or that you lied to me. You treated me like some damned fool hygo. Needless to say, I’m not happy. We’ll have a long talk about your future when you return.

“In the meantime, finish your vacation. Don’t come zooming back here for damage control. It’s best I don’t see you for a while. I’ll get word to the hygos and put this fire out myself. Maybe I can even salvage the deal. I’ll expect a ‘thank you’ along with your apology, since it’s liable to save your job. But if we have another snack cake situation on our hands, you can say goodbye to your flourishing–“

Connie rolled the tablet shut, resisting the urge to throw it across the room. She tried to go back to sleep, but all she could do was grit her teeth and glare at the GalactiCorp poster hanging over her bed. There goes my promotion. I came all the way out to this hygo backwater for nothing. The one consolation was knowing the Trade Council likely received their own message from Weaver, or soon would. She could leave this mess in his hands instead of waiting around another week.

After the sleepless night ended, Dthlrap appeared, confirming her suspicion. “Good morning, Connie of GalactiCorp. An unexpected development occurred in this morning’s Trade Council meeting.”

“You received a message from Mr. Weaver,” Connie said. It wasn’t a question. “I heard from him, too. I’m sorry for the confusion, Dthlrap. I’ll take the first transport home.”

“It is no trouble. We are relieved to find there was no problem with the product after all. Our first shipments of Shiny Cola should arrive soon. Mr. Weaver even offered to send along a crate of complimentary GalactiCorp mugs to make up for the misunderstanding.”

“Mugs? Wait, Weaver told you it was okay to drink the Shiny Cola?”

Dthlrap’s forehead tentacles became rigid and gray. Confusion. “He ensured us the Shiny Cola is a healthy beverage, as specified in the original deal. He told us we might receive a message from you stating otherwise, but we should ignore it, for you were misinformed by a subordinate.”

“I see.” What in the hell is he–oh, no. Weaver, you snake. It hit Connie like a ton of bobble-heads. “Dthlrap, listen to me. You have to disregard that message. Do not let anyone drink the Shiny Cola. Let me speak to the Trade Council.”

“I do not understand. The one called Weaver of GalactiCorp is your superior, is he not? He assured us the shipment would be fine. The council is quite satisfied.”

Connie inhaled, contemplating her next move. Weaver meant to take her down, to destroy her career. She always knew he resented her swift rise through the department, but she’d never have predicted he’d go this far. He wanted the hygos to drink that poison swill. He wanted another sweetener scandal, so he could point the finger at Connie and get rid of her, lest she replace him one day. Thousands of innocent hygos would fall ill–or worse–to secure Weaver’s place behind his desk. She’d never carried any guilt for swindling them in the past, but this went far beyond some petty hustle.

She couldn’t let this happen.

“Dthlrap, you might want to brace yourself for what I’m about to tell you.” You want to fight dirty, Weaver? You want to bury my career? Let’s see what happens to yours when I bring the whole damned thing down. “The Shiny Cola is a lie.”

Dthlrap gawked at her, then stared down at his translator, tapping a feeler against it. “I’m afraid your last word did not translate. Perhaps my software is malfunctioning.”

“You don’t have a word for it in your language. A lie is an intentional falsehood. Humans don’t have tentacles that broadcast what we’re thinking and feeling. Our faces make expressions, but we learn to control them. Deception is in our nature. It’s part of our culture. And we’ve been taking advantage of your people ever since we met.”

“I’m afraid I still don’t comprehend.”

I hope you know what you’re doing, Connie. No turning back from here. “The point of a lie is to manipulate someone into doing what you want–we’ve been lying to you so you’ll buy our product. The truth is Shiny Cola has no healing properties. In fact, it’s harmful. It will make your people sick. I lied about its health benefits because GalactiCorp wanted your Helium-3 deposits.”

Dthlrap still stared at her, his tentacles gray and unmoving.

“Here, I’ll demonstrate.” She gestured at the sparkling blue crystal around them. “These walls . . . are red.”

“I–I understand now.” Dthlrap began to pulse and quiver, a strange hissing noise erupting from his breathing holes. Connie had never seen anything like it before. For a moment, she thought this existential bombshell might kill the poor hygo, driving him to the alien equivalent of a heart attack. Then he spoke again. “Very funny, my friend. Excellent joke.”

“What? It’s not a joke,” Connie said, gesticulating. “I’m serious. The walls are red. Super red. Understand?”

Dthlrap stopped laughing. He slid over to Connie and placed an appendage on her shoulder. His forehead tentacles became a deep maroon. Compassion. “I am so sorry, Connie of GalactiCorp. I have heard of this human condition before. I did not realize your visual perception was impaired. I am sad to inform you that the walls are, in fact, blue. Do not worry. This will not affect our business relationship.”

Connie facepalmed. This would be harder than she thought.

 


 

When she first heard Weaver’s message, Connie thought she’d never traverse the stench of his office again. Yet now, she found herself wading back into it. He watched her with narrow eyes as she took a seat. He leaned back in his polyester chair and tapped a thumb on the desk, saying nothing.

Connie displayed her best puppy dog eyes–the best in the business–then spoke in the most subservient tone she could muster. “Sir, before anything else, please let me apologize for my dishonesty. I got too caught up in the fervor of this deal. I knew the board was paying attention, and I didn’t want to blow it. That led to some regrettable decisions on my part. From the moment I left the station after our talk, guilt has been gnawing at me, and I knew–“

“Oh, save it,” Weaver said. “You honestly expect me to swallow all that?”

She didn’t. But she wanted him to believe she’d learned her place, that she’d crawled back here to prostrate herself and beg for her job. She knew Weaver. Even if he still meant to sabotage her career, he couldn’t resist the chance to lord over her. She broke eye contact, as though ashamed.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, Connie. You had so much potential. To risk such a bright future on a flubbed lie.” Weaver shook his head and pointed at her. “You know, you might have had my job one day if you’d played your cards right.”

Damn right. But you couldn’t let it happen, could you?

“I suppose I blame myself, in a way,” he said. “I shouldn’t have put so much faith in you to handle these hygo deals on your own. Your track record was always solid, but you’re too ambitious for your own good. I should have been there with you every step of the journey. I should have taken you under my wing, molded you.”

Connie fought the urge to vomit. “I would have liked that, sir.”

“Well, it’s too late, I’m afraid. I’ve taken care of the Shiny Cola deal, but the board will have to be made privy to the circumstances. Much as I like you, Connie, I can’t guarantee your job security.”

“I understand, sir.” She let her gaze fall to the floor, then closed her eyes and let out a long, dramatic sigh. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I buckled under the pressure. I took the easy route. I should have remembered your pep talks from the morning meetings. I should have followed your example.”

“What we do is an art form, I’ve said it time and time again. Just because these dumb aliens believe anything you tell them doesn’t mean you can tell them absolutely anything. And if you do manage to flub a deal, you don’t cover up and hope it goes away. If you’d have worked with me on this, I could have helped you. I didn’t get where I am today by lying to my superiors.” He rose out of his chair and grabbed a cigar out of the desk drawer.

That’s it. Climb up onto your soap box one last time. “I know, sir. The truth is I’ve never been able to match you at the negotiating table. I wish I’d paid more attention when you shared insight on those legendary deals that got you here. Like the one with the . . . what was it? Scrapball?”

Skroopball. Hell of a fad.” He turned to face the gas giant in the window and tapped the cigar against his palm.

Connie smiled inside as he droned on for the hundredth time about the big sale that got him the big desk. While his eyes were still glued to the window, she opened her jacket and peered at the inside pocket. The RECORD icon on her tablet was still flashing.

 


 

In Connie’s line of work, you had to massage the truth from time to time. Of course, her line of work had been in a state of flux after the board reviewed her conduct and terminated her employment. But then her old friend Dthlrap had come through. She hadn’t been sure what to expect from the Hygoelus, considering the things she’d done. They had every cause to be angry with her, even after hearing the recording she made. The last thing she expected was a job offer.

“My friends,” Connie said to the GalactiCorp sales team across the table, who were not her friends, “I know this is unusual. I’m sure the last person you expected to negotiate with was a fellow human, much less a former colleague. But I assure you my clients will honor any deals I agree to on their behalf. As their official trade representative, I am prepared to–“

“Yes, yes,” Weaver said, glaring at her with naked disdain. “That’s all well and good, we’ve read the communiques. But what the hell is that on their heads?” He gestured toward the group of hygos standing behind Connie, Dthlrap among them.

“You mean the skroopball helmets? They’ve become a recent trend in Hygoelus business attire. I understand they came from an old fad on Earth a few years back. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”

A dark flush crept up Weaver’s neck and onto his cheeks. A vein on the side of his forehead throbbed. “But we can’t see their tentacles,” he said. “How are we supposed to know what they’re feeling?”

Connie shrugged. “My clients didn’t think it would be an issue. You’ll be negotiating with me, after all. I don’t even have tentacles.”

Weaver’s jowls began to quiver. He closed his eyes and breathed loudly through his nose. His grip on the side of the table loosened. Connie cracked open the can of Shiny Cola in front of her, took a sip, and waited.

“I don’t know what you’re up to,” Weaver said. “But you’d better cut to the chase. Why did the hygos call us here? Our next meeting wasn’t scheduled for a month.”

“Very well.” Connie rose from the squeaky office chair and placed her palms on the glass table in front of her. “My clients wish to inform you that the Hygoelus Trade Council has made a new ruling on their exclusive trade agreement with GalactiCorp. They voted to nullify it, I’m afraid. My clients wish to expand their options.”

Weaver sprung out of his chair. “You can’t–“

“We can. You ought to read your contracts, Mr. Weaver. There’s a nice long clause about ‘knowingly trading product of a harmful or defective nature.’ Did they mean to put that in there?” She made a tsk tsk sound with her tongue.

“You–you can’t prove anything.” The fire had gone from his voice now. His eyes darted between Connie and the hygos behind her. “The board won’t stand for this. We’ll see you in court.”

“I imagine you will. I plan on testifying in the lawsuit my clients are preparing.” She took a swig from her Shiny Cola can. “Now, if you would, we’d like to call this meeting to a close. I hate to be brief, but we have some people from the government arriving soon. We need to have a little chat about a certain nonexistent superweapon.”

As Weaver and his GalactiCorp cronies slithered out of the meeting room, still fuming, Connie couldn’t help but look into the glass table and smile at her own reflection. I love this job.

About the Author

J.W. Alden

J.W. Alden lives near West Palm Beach, Florida with his wife Allison, who doesn’t mind the odd assortment of musical instruments and medieval weaponry that decorate his office (as long as he brandishes the former more often than the latter). Alden is a graduate of Odyssey Writing Workshop, a 1st Place Writers of the Future winner, and an active member of SFWA. Read more from him at his website, or follow him on Twitter.

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About the Narrator

Megan Leigh

Megan Leigh is editor of pop culture blog Pop Verse and co-host of feminist speculative fiction podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper. Her writing has appeared on SFWA, SFF World, Pornokitsch, and Writers’ Workshop. You can follow Megan on Twitter.

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