“I take the Second Contact mission seriously,” Ranar explained to Ann. “It ought to be self-evident that the black market is an ill-advised way to reopen relations with another human culture. Especially a potentially dangerous one.”
“Gelacks aren’t dangerous.” Thomas lit a cigarette. “They’re pathetic.”
If he is going to smoke, Ann thought, he could at least offer me one. But Thomas did not.
Ranar ignored the rudeness of Thomas lighting up, although his nostrils seemed inclined to pinch closed. “Have you considered,” he proposed, “that the Gelacks you’ve met may be living on the fringe of their society, no more representative of their kind than you are?”
Thomas blew smoke at him. “I understand Gelacks better than you. I’ve traded with them. They’re spacers, like me. Without arbiters to make up rules they’ve got to live by.”
“Arbiters only implement our rules,” Ranar corrected.
“Whatever,” Thomas answered him languidly. Then he perked up and grinned at Ranar as if he had caught him out. “Hoping to find Sevolites, aren’t you? Real, live super-pilots who don’t wear out flying.” He let smoke drift past his stained teeth. “You’re dreaming.” He gave Ann a meaningful look. “Like some kid hooked on a synthdrama.”
Thomas paused to cough. “Sevolite is just some dumb title. I’ve met one and he looked worse than I do.”
“You met a Sevolite?” Ranar cross-examined him. “Why haven’t you mentioned it?”
“I did. He’s the Trinket Ring station master. My contact. I just didn’t tell you how he goes on about being ten percent Sevolite like I should be blown-away awed.”
“Ah, yes,” said Ranar. “This would be man who agreed to arrange for me to meet with Liege Monitum.”
“Yeah,” said Thomas. “After he stopped looking at me like I’d asked him for directions to Earth. I tell you, this Monitum character’s mythical.” He blew smoke. “Gelacks are always going on about their gods. There’s a whole pantheon of ‘em from some never-never land called Fountain Court. ‘Cept Gelacks don’t pray to them. They pray for them to leave ‘em alone.”
“Including Liege Monitum?”
“Yeah, well, they’ll tell you there’s been a Liege Monitum, lives on Fountain Court, since the world began.” Thomas extinguished his cigarette against a callused pad on his left palm. “Gelacks call themselves Sevolites to make out they’re related to these so-called highborns way, way back. You know, like Hercules being the son of Allah.”
“Zeus,” Ranar corrected.
“Whatever.” Thomas dropped his cigarette on the spotless floor and turned to Ann. “I hear this station’s got a recreational pool, and Reetion women have taken to swimming nude since I was last hanging around lawful citizens.”
“Only if they’re nudists,” Ann told him, still put out because he hadn’t offered her a smoke.
“I’ll go see if I can convince some of ‘em to take it up,” said Thomas and strolled out.