Unfair Trade by Lori R. Lopez

Unfair Trade
Lori R. Lopez

We were a crew of idealists —
sailing a rustbucket mortgaged spacecraft
transporting products between planets,
a jumbo deliveryboat manned by seven —
adventurers reaching for the Stars.
The latest voyage of our merchant vessel
would lead us to a little-known planet.
The Trade Deal
was recently announced. A bit far off
beaten lanes, charted routes,
but we had nothing scheduled.
We wanted to see new worlds and faces.
Competition increased hourly. Bills overdue,
I accepted the assignment.
Halfway there, during a Wake-Up Call
for status and safety checks, my First Officer
noticed peculiar data. Our missions
were clean; we expected to be informed, aware
what was being hauled — refusing
to traffic bootleg materials, dangerous drugs
and chemicals, guns, explosive devices,
anything illicit or contributing to conflict.
This time the cargo, labeled Food,
was loaded in advance, before we boarded.
A curious item had been overlooked in
the status report. Our weight did not increase.
Solanon woke me. The two of us broke into
a locked Hold. Instead of contraband we found
air — a completely empty chamber.
Examining the manifest, a second detail
sparked concern. There were no further instructions
from the company that hired us to convey the shipment
to the party requesting it, other than coordinates,
a destination roughly translated to “Urkphistung”.
I blinked at the record in disbelief.
Not even an authorization to refuel!
Suspicious dreams plagued me the rest of the trip.
Ominous vibes prevailed when we landed.
The ramp lowered and guards entered,
rounding us up. Herding us in spacesuits.
We were escorted across a paved area
to a large dim hall by dark figures. Androids
I assumed, packing heat.
We tended to travel light, preferring dialogue
over drama. I struggled to process the deception —
our vessel breached as if they knew the codes.
Did they hack our system? Was the craft sold out
from under us? I wouldn’t put it past
the greedy creditor . . . How could we get home?
It stunned me, hindered my reaction.
The situation felt like we’d been taken prisoner!
We operate by the strictest standards of Fair Trade.
Without a shred of freight to steal,
a ship not worth the effort,
the only possible explanation: We are the cargo.
My brainchip is transmitting
images, observations.

Send to: The C.T.C. (Cosmic Trade Commission)
From: Captain Maureen Elena Cho

The structure resembles an enclosed arena.
At the opposite side a group waits for us, a council
or court to welcome “guests”. Nearing them,
distinguishing features, I strive to
establish intent. The first clue noted
is the size of their teeth.


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