(Author's Note: The following tale is half-farce and half-speculative fiction. Only, which half is the farce, and which half the science? Don't ponder it too hard...
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"I do so love the big score, Bobby," Commander Owen York commented to his companion as they walked from the massive concrete fortress which housed the Yuilian Parliament, the primary governing force of Tetriana. The tropical planet was the latest in a long line of diplomatic stops for Owen.
"How well did it go?" Bobby asked him, wiping sweat off his pale, Asian brow.
"You see that mountain over there?" Owen pointed to the faint image of a volcanic-like outcropping thirty miles distant.
"They signed over the mining rights?" Bobby asked.
"Yes, they certainly did. You know, there's enough titanium in that one mountain to redouble the Republic's fleet. We'll have to open a shipyard here just to put it all to use."
"And what did the Yuilians want in return?" Bobby asked, not noticing his white boots smacking into an ankle-deep mud puddle.
"They want us to pump oil for them. Can you believe that?"
"Well, Owen, they are industrially inferior, almost a thousand years our inferiors. Most of their heavy equipment is based on burning hydrocarbons."
"They'll learn eventually, I suppose," Owen mentioned. "But in the meantime, we get to sell them their own oil, and build ourselves an off-world shipyard at the same time."
"Quite a blessing," Bobby said, finally noticing the liquid mud oozing off his flight boots. While trying to wipe them off against some tall grass, he said, "Honestly, with climatic shifting the way it is on Earth, we'll likely lose most of our production capabilities there."
"I know," Owen added. "Why do you think I took this job? Earth's as good as gone. The ice age will destroy everything, all because of the planet's natural purging process."
The two men chatted lightly the rest of the way back to their shuttle pod, which then returned them to the ship. Both knew the looming disasters on Earth, and that in another hundred years their home world would be mostly frozen for the next hundred millennia.
Back aboard the U.R.S. Philadelphia, Owen opened a recently received radio-file from a team of scientists who'd found yet another exploitable planet. The message was short, accompanied by hundreds of pages of detailed observations, explaining everything they'd learned about an alien world over the course of a year. The message was already twelve years old, having taken that long to cross the expanse of space at the speed of light.
Everything was set on Tetriana, and Owen ordered his ship to break orbit. A development crew would arrive at this planet in another year, ready to take advantage of the trade agreements. Now, Owen had a schedule to keep, one that involved a planet twelve years away.
Twelve years goes by in the blink of an eye when it comes to diplomatic relations. At least, it does when you're an inter-stellar diplomat, traveling to distant star systems, your perceptions frozen in time by the effects of relativity. Owen had been flying between star systems for over a century in real time, having far outlived his natural years thanks to time dilation caused by near-light speeds. Though, he'd known what he was signing up for when he first enlisted in the Extra-Terrestrial Diplomatic Corps all those years ago. His job now, as it had been for a decade of his life, was to establish trade relations with intelligent, indigenous races on alien world, whenever and wherever mankind went.
A little over three months passed for Owen during the flight to the planet Vorga, giving him plenty of time to study the data sent by the scientists. The Earth-like orb, revolving around a blue dwarf star at roughly a hundred and ninety million miles, supported a race of bronze-age reptiles, who had little in the way of technology. Yet, their world was one of vast natural resources; minerals and agricultural peculiarities that would go far in aiding mankind's survival among the stars.
Owen was to procure a trade agreement with the primitive lizards of Vorga, one economically favorable to the folks back home. Whether it benefited the Vorgans or not, it was his job to convince them that it would.
Departing from Tetriana three months ago, his assignment on Vorga seemed routine enough. However, arriving after twelve years flying, everything was changed. Humanity was no longer the sole extra-stellar race vying for diplomatic relations with this world. Another space-faring race had already landed here while Owen had been in-transit.
The new negotiators were the first intelligent race known to man to possess spaceflight capabilities equal to his own. As monumental a discovery as that may have been, it was an unpleasant variable for Owen to deal with. These other aliens had already established trade accords with the primitives, the deals that were supposed to have been his.
Exiting a shuttle pod alone, Owen stepped foot on Vorga, the world that had sought his arrival for twelve years. The location of his landing was on the edge of what had once been a reptilian nation's capital, however, the new aliens had claimed it as their base of operations years ago and it was now far more modern than the lizards could have built. The great steel towers and massive transmitter antennae were familiar.
"Welcome, Commander York," a large, hairy creature greeted him. It was the representative of the aliens who'd landed and set up shop almost ten years ago. The eight-foot tall beast resembled the fabled Sasquatch of American folk tales, with the exception of its thin, ten-inch fingers, which were naked and pale.
Shaking the tips of the alien's fingers in greeting, Owen asked about his fluency in humanity's official tongue. It wasn't often he was greeted by an alien speaking English.
"We have had a great deal of time to learn your language and customs," the alien said. "Your scientists were here for several years after our arrival, and taught us much. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nuglak Pedark, senior administrator for the Rendian Colony-State of Krusincia, on this orb of Vorga."
With his introduction completed, Nuglak escorted Owen to his waiting vehicle, a large, gasoline-powered car that resembled an old-Earth limousine. Owen remembered seeing such vehicles as a child in museums, but none were ever operated. They were considered unsanitary and damaging to the ecosystem. The oceans had already risen several hundred feet since the dawn of spaceflight, and rapid climate change was hard enough to fight without amplifying it.
Shutting the car door behind himself, Nuglak ordered his driver to head for the capital building in his native language, which was almost Germanic-sounding.
"Trade is our principal profession, sir," Nuglak said to his human counterpart, advancing their conversation. "It is the foundation of our civilization, and the driving force behind our exploration of space, as it is yours as well. True?"
"Why, in many cases, yes," Owen agreed, feeling a little uneasy in this alien's presence.
"You were sent by your government to negotiate the flow of imports and exports with alien peoples, correct?"
"Well, let us get down to business, then. What resources do you offer us in trade?" Nuglak asked.
Owen hadn't been prepared for the sudden advance. These Rendians were apparently ready for him. It wouldn't be as easy for him to get the better end of the deal with these beings, as he commonly did with less-advanced races he dealt with in the past. He had to come up with some new tactics to weaken this negotiator's position.
"Well, Nuglak, my nation has much to offer yours, including minerals and technologies. However, I fear you may be too under-advanced to properly utilize them, or provide us with anything of equal value in return."
Nuglak chuckled lightly. "Really? What causes you to believe we are less advanced than you?"
"I see you still use fossil fuels," Owen said.
Nuglak gave him a puzzled glance, raising his hairy eyelids to expose yellow eyes. "What fuels? I'm sorry, but I am not familiar with this term you use. Fossils?"
Owen proceeded to explain to the seemingly less-advanced alien the process of plant and animal life decomposing into oil, after which Nuglak gave out a mighty laugh.
"Is that how you believe it's made?" Nuglak said, patting his own knee gleefully.
"It has been a scientific proof since the dawn of our industrial age a millennia ago," Owen said calmly.
"Well, sorry to puncture your bubble, Earth man, but the formation of hydrocarbons is hardly the product of decomposition. It's actually a natural fusion process which occurs at the base of a planet's crust. A world with suitable amounts of hydrogen and carbon imbedded in the mantle fuses the two substances with its own electromagnetic energy. The process is quite volatile, and forces the substances far up into the planet's crust, where it is more easily extracted by those technologically evolved.
"This natural process of fusing hydrogen and carbon also helps power the same electromagnetic field which created it. Kind of like a car battery starting an engine. While the engine runs, it recharges the battery. A planet's core is quite like that. The electromagnetic field is started by its initial formation, then begins to be recharged by geophysical reactions from within. How could your people not know of such elemental physics?"
"Well, that is certainly an interesting theory," Owen said, easily dismissing the idea. A thousand years of human science couldn't be so easily dismissed. "Tell me, how did your people come to these conclusions?"
"Through scientific experimentation and research involving our planet's subterraneous workings. Surely, your people must have performed similar studies on your own world," Nuglak said.
"There have been human researchers studying the physical world for thousands of years." Owen refrained from telling Nuglak that human scientists had failed to find a way to truly examine the Earth's innermost activities. "Their findings have produced quite different results, however. Tell me, Nuglak, how does your theory account for the absence of oil on planets devoid of life, such as gas giants? You say hydrocarbon production powers a world's electromagnetic field. By your theory, worlds without oil would have lost their magnetic field aeons ago."
"There are various factors determining a planet's energy output. Hydrocarbon production is but one of many internal planetary power functions. And it is much more than a theory, for on my world we've learned to synthesize this process, and create our own fuels. That is how we have such an abundance of them to offer you, for a reasonable price."
Owen had always thought it odd that beings who'd built advanced starships were so backwards as to be reliant on hydrocarbons for powering their vehicles on the ground. Little did he realize, they were actually several steps ahead of mankind.
"Tell me, this synthesizing process of yours, can it extract carbon from the atmosphere?" Owen asked.
"But of course. How do you believe we keep our world's greenhouse effect in check. Without our absorption of the excess carbon dioxide produced by our planet's volcanic activity, we'd be at the mercy of climatic shifts. We'd run the risk of lapsing into an ice age, as part of our planet's natural purging process. Have you not discovered a means of removing CO2 and the like from your atmosphere?"
"No, we haven't," Owen said, feeling defenseless in the face of this top negotiator.
"Well, then, I believe we truly have something to barter for, don't we?" Nuglak said.
"I would say so," Owen replied.
"Good. Now, tell me, how many worlds do you currently have valid trade negotiations pending?" Nuglak asked.
"I've personally overseen six. Why?" Owen asked.
"Well, you know, it will be quite costly and time consuming for my people to filter your planet's atmosphere. That time and energy could best be spent elsewhere, negotiating new trade agreements with foreign worlds. I can't say we're willing to sacrifice those resources, unless you're able to compensate us for such prospective losses."
"Oh, come now," Owen said, knowing a bum deal when he heard it. "How expensive could it really be?"
"Quite, for you. Neither of us are in the habit of giving charity, Mr. York. I guess it all depends on how badly you want your atmosphere cleansed. You can always wait for an ice age." Nuglak smirked with his gargantuan teeth.
For once, Owen was on the opposite end of a negotiation. These Rendians held in their possession technology that could stave off looming doom for Earth, yet at what price? Looking out the window at the passing countryside, filled with high-tech mining operations and Rendian habitations where once Vorgan tribes hunted and farmed, he knew the kind of bargain he was being offered. He'd sold out half a dozen other races similarly, turning their worlds into outposts for humanity's stellar expansion.
How many of those alien worlds would he now have to surrender for the chance to someday save his own?
Karmic retribution was ready to make even his trades.