Fair Trade

Blake stared at his faithful crew in something poised between horror and laughter. "You did what?"

Jenna looked at Avon. Avon looked at Jenna.

Both of them looked at Cally, who settled for the expression she usually had when mentally 'under the influence'.

Finally, Avon shrugged. "You sent us to get essential supplies while searching for information. We have the essential supplies. I might add," with a nasty twist to his mouth, "that your latest rebel outpost come barbarian paradise is hardly the place to find Alpha luxury goods, but we managed."

"The local halluci-chocklit - one years' worth, given that Avon's allergic to it," Jenna said sweetly.

"Seventeen different sorts of kaffee, khaffeyne and Khoke, to satisfy Jenna's addiction," he replied, just as pleasantly. "Even if Terran couffi could not be got for love, money or treasure."

"Half a ton of genuine native redmeat substitute, because if we have to eat processed plankton once more we will not be responsible for the damage to the ship or the rebellion."

"Enough regional starwines to stock the cellar that we fully intend to put in, now we have something to put in it."

"Preserved tropical fruits and insects."

"Fourteen new, if rather primitive, board games for the times when danger excitement and sudden death -" with a flash of teeth at Vila, "- are just not enough to allay the boredom."

"Therium-skin rugs and blankets, just because they were there."

"New beds, handcarved from some rare native woods and ivory that will probably make a handsome profit if we ever decide to sell." The look on Avon's face said that starporcines would fly through the lower levels of Space Command before that happened.

"Oh, and skycrystal goblets and plates for the dining area," Jenna finished up, "much more civilised than Zen's plasteel ware."

They both looked complacently at their Fearless - and currently Speechless - Leader, as if waiting for some sort of acclaim. Cally's 'this space for rent' look deepened, but Blake didn't miss the way she clutched several native sacks, a large feathery... whatever (he wasn't sure he wanted to know) and several strangely-shaped bottles to herself.

No, he wassure he didn't want to know.

"And oh yes, the information you wanted," Avon said.

"You did get that?" Blake asked hopefully. At least this stop wouldn't be a total waste of time and credits...

"Well, no. It's exactly the backwater I suggested from the start, Blake, they don't even keep up with the Ministry for Information's propaganda, and the local authorities are tediously honest and insular. But we found out some fascinating local scandals and rather odd... alien rituals. Oh, and Vila has the recipe for a deadly regional moonshine that tastes divine but which I personally think -"

"- And I agree -" Jenna added.

"- Could be the next great weapon of destruction against Federation troopers, or our fortune made." His smile widened at Blake's sigh. "Now Blake, it is not that bad. We didn't use the funds you gave us, and actually made a profit for your glorious Cause."

"You - what?"

Jenna eyed her temporary 'partner' shiftily. Cally eyes the two of them glassily.

"Well, they did expect a fair exchange of goods, Blake, and you didn't exactly give us anything they were interested in to barter. Credits and diamonds and the rest, they didn't want. So, after careful consideration and financial calculation of our few assets..."

"I sold Avon," Jenna blurted out.

He nodded, not at all put out. "And then I sold Jenna - not to the same group, of course."

"But it was all right, Blake," Cally jumped in, "not that my people would approve, we have a saying..."

"Yes, you told us," Avon interrupted blandly. "In any case, Blake, Vila stole both of us back at once. Of course, we will not hear the end of that for quite a while."

"As I keep telling you," Vila said from the nice safe, reasonably-far-from-Blake seat on the couch, "I could have gotten all of that for you with a lot less fuss."

"But it was much more... gratifying this way, don't you think?" Jenna asked innocently. "We must do this essential supplies mission more often, Blake."

"Far more often," Avon nodded.

They both beamed at their leader, in rare agreement and quite frightening amity.

"I still say it was a lot of work," Vila mumbled, "and stealing's always quicker."

-the end-