"How long has it been?" the younger man asked his companion. "Years," the older man mumbled without looking up. "Do you remember what we talked about last time?" The older man looked away, staring out the window of the orbiting café‚ at the swirling clouds of the gas giant below them. Browns, whites, oranges, and reds danced together in organized chaos blending into new colors never before seen by the human eye, or imagined by the human mind. "I'll take that as a yes," the younger man said with a smile, revealing his perfect white teeth. "Take it however you like," the older man said with a grunt as he stood, "I'd just rather you take it somewhere else." "Please, Endrick, there's no reason for hostility," the younger man said, motioning for Endrick to sit down. Endrick sat. "How'd you find me?" he asked, staring out the window again at the stars tracing a slow path across the inky darkness of space. "It wasn't hard. You left a virtual trace everywhere you went. It's impossible to hide when you insist on using computers." Endrick grunted and nodded. He still wouldn't look at the younger man. "Truth is, Endrick, you wanted me to find you." A bellowing laugh burst forth. "You flatter yourself too much." "Orders, please," a small waiter robot asked as it rolled up to their table. "Nothing for me," Endrick said." "Just an Eridanian tea for me." "Swill." "Me or the drink?" Endrick smiled. The younger man nodded. "I see you haven't lost your pathetic excuse for a sense of humor. Too bad." The robot rolled back with his drink, which the younger man downed in one shot. "Staring at those stars and the gas giant aren't helping us solve our problem." Endrick finally looked at the younger man. He was tall and of strong build with perfect hair and perfect complexion. The most striking feature, however, were his royal blue eyes. Obviously the young man had gone through extensive gene modification in the womb. "I wasn't aware that we had a problem, other than the fact that I was sitting here trying to enjoy the view until you came along and ruined it." The younger man let out a short laugh and shook his head. "We could all day if we wanted, but I have clients waiting for me. Do you have the item?" "And what item would that be?" "The artifact." Endrick nodded, stroking his unmodified profound chin slowly. "I have a number of artifacts. After all, I do sell them." The younger man's face grew as red as the methane clouds of the gas giant below. "Come on, old man, the artifact from Tau Ceti 2. The one we talked about the last time I saw you." Endrick looked confused. "I'm not sure I remember our previous conversation. I am getting old, after all. I'm nearly 120." "Damn it, old man, you remember the conversation. You're just being an ass." Several people in the café‚ turned to glare at the two men. Loud outbursts were rare. Most of the clientele wanted to keep things quiet and private. Endrick shrugged and pointed at the younger man, who just glared back at him. "This isn't the place for us to have this discussion." "Oh, I think it is," Endrick said with a suddenly serious expression. "I conduct all of my business in public, and that includes with you, you little sniveling shit. I wouldn't want to be alone anywhere with you. A knife in my back or throat really isn't how I want to end my evening." The younger man looked away to watch the glow of two ships docking a few hundred kilometers away. "Fine, we'll do this your way. Do you have the artifact or not?" "And what artifact was that?" "The one you excavated in the cave atop Clarke Mountain on Tau Ceti 2," the younger man whispered. "Why do you want it?" "I hardly thinks that's any of your business." "That's what you said three and a half years ago." He looked away at a giant storm forming on the gas giant. The multi-colored, turbulent clouds were beginning to coalesce into one giant rotating mass. "Are you going to tell the people on Earth?" The younger man shrugged. Endrick nodded. "Fine, but the price hasn't changed." "The money's not a problem." Endrick motioned for a waiter robot. The robot rolled along on its wheels with an annoying squeak, drawing a glare form one or two of the customers. Sitting on its serving tray was a flat stone two feet by two feet with what looked like writing on it. "You're sure it's a match?" "Absolutely. It's definitely cuneiform writing matching Sumerian script." "And its place of origin." "Was definitely Tau Ceti 2, dated to more than 3,500 years ago." The younger man smiled. "Very good. I'd assume you don't want a credit transfer." He tossed a small sack onto Endrick's lap. "I think that should more than cover it." Endrick picked up the sack and felt the gold coins jingle. "Should be more than adequate, but I have to warn you. If you tell everyone about that," he said, pointing at the stone, "It could destroy everything we think we know about ourselves." "I'm counting on it."
x x xJ Alan Erwine holds a degree in psychology from the University of Colorado and, at submission, worked as the Web Editor for ProMart Publishing. He's published more than a dozen stories in venues such as The Sixth Sense, The Ultimate Unknown, Aphelion, and many more.