The Peace Conference. Perfect case-in-point. For the next two days, the eighteen worlds in his quadrant would descend on the Senate chambers. One of the top three hot-button issues was the Strellan complaint that the Expanse was ignoring the slaver-harvests on Strella because it was beyond the Red Line, though close enough that trade with the Expanse was still a new way of life for the past two generations of Strellans.

So was the human piracy along their trade routes, which came with it like fleas on a dog. But the slavers had a more complicated source.

 Their females, and a smaller percentage of male children (“Those who ilk-mate, rather than breed-mate with females...”) were being stolen for prostitution, Kleek asserted on every political talk-show on Expanse channels, “And... miscegenated... (Sorry, my translator... What is word?) bred with humans. For more human-like...traits, the slavers we have in custody say before we... judge them. You must... judge them, too.”

 The Strellan Autarch's mouthpiece was late on Konstantinopolis by an hour by worm-hop, only because the nearest Worm-point to Strella was clogged with some issue or another relating to said piracy. The trip should only have taken moments, and thanks to the delay she'd be in a foul mood, Andall knew. But she'd be in a fouler mood if she had to go FTL from Strella and take a week to travel.

Andall walked into the room. Heads turned to see him. Cocktails were raised, a few people clapped. Andall bowed briefly before scanning the room for Kleek. It wasn't hard to find her. Strellans towered over the tallest humans and were every bit as beautiful as they appeared in photos. He smiled and made his way to her.



Strellans were new to him. It was only recently he learned; or, more properly, apprehended, that the blue skintight shells from the neck down were a permeable membrane full of water on the outside, so that they could breathe on land. Kleek had mentioned something about replenishing her skin in a public fountain that led to the question. And he was her first point of contact. (Sigh.) Go with what you have...

Andall stared up at her, to where the Strellan Ambassador's limpid eyes blazed violet above high, regal cheekbones that were almost human.

Her true skin, above the suit, shone a soft rose-madder. She was being professional. When Kleek got upset, her face usually went pale-green. They were never happy out of water, no more than humans in EVA suits. It was easy to forget, most humans, even the ones sexually exploiting them, thought that the Strellans were living in their birthday suits. Not even close.

 The silver fish-teeth shone in a ring along the outside of her labile mouth, tongue splitting into four parts as she moistened her gums. “Will I be able to meet your lovely wife?” Ambassador Kleek murmured. “I've seen all her pictures, since she was a child.”

 “She's on-set, Ambassador,” Andall sighed. “On Earth. Er, Mars. Er... Never mind. Listen, I... have to cut this short. I have to go pick up my girls at school.”

He was already an hour late. Suddenly, without word or gesture, Dunn allowed two messages through the Net-bead in his left ear to Andall's own net. Liv was fuming because their Mom hadn't called. Cassie was studying and blasé, but warned him that Liv wanted to hang with Nalla again on Fifth Night. Another fight they would be having.

It is a shame,” the Strellan bowed.  “But thank you for greeting me. Spooky and I have two younglings at home. I understand utterly. May we speak sub rosa when your younglings' schedule is slightly less hectic, Governor? I have so very many questions to address, and I want to do it in such a way that won't waste either of our time. I'd like both of us in and out of all such meetings as soon as possible, and I have my reasons for that.  Due respect. Sir. ”

We'll have a long conference to talk.” Andall kissed her hand. The skin felt smooth and soft against his lips. He felt a tingle there, like carbonation. Did every inch of her skin give off that feeling? He couldn't help but let his eyes linger on her shape. 

Like an hourglass, it was, mermaid curves human men had lusted after for centuries. It gave him a sick feeling to understand exactly why these beings were so highly prized by slavers. Kleek's blue face turned slightly green.

I'm so sorry, Governor Shelton. Our species lives mostly under water, we come to land for one purpose. Even with our travel-shells, we...”

Andall smiled and politely waved her off. He didn't want her to go through the embarrassment of explaining the pheromone spray. Those kinds of cultural differences were a part of Xeno relations.  Ganymedans farted as part of their greeting rituals, and some Khalites considered eye-contact an act of war.  He didn't want Kleek to feel embarrassed, even if he needed a cold shower.

Madame Ambassador, I am the one who is embarrassed. I should've known better.”

Kleek smiled widely.  As Andall looked up, he could see her split tongue again. He'd read rumors of how the Strellans could manipulate objects with those tongues. It must have been the contact affecting him.

I will see you in the morning,” Andall said, backing out of the room, making his manners with a pantomimetic dance of body-language only where necessary. Dunn breathed a sigh of relief when they were clear.

Gods, Andall, why didn't you just mount her right there?” Andall kept walking. He felt no relief as they walked to the elevator. “What are you going to do if Liv is with Nalla?”

 Andall had heard enough whispered warnings from Dunn about Sun, Nalla's mother, or why it wasn't okay for Liv to be hanging out with Nalla. It had to be okay, at least on the surface. The two girls were in the same classes at school. Kicking over the other half of that can of worms would cause problems at home he could never begin to solve.

But he knew Sun, of old, or at least knew of her. Familial politics were often the most delicate of all.

Ruminating, Andall waved off Dunn and made his way to rooftop parking, thinking of sex-slavers.... and ex-sex-workers...all the while.