A Cargo of Roses

The glass vase struck the wall and shattered.  Nicaea Black was glad he’d ducked.  He reminded himself to diet so he would make a harder target.

Jana Martin continued screaming obscenities at him.  Something about his mother.

Nicaea sighed.  He’d delivered the goods as contracted.  He got into more trouble because he was honest.

Jana’s husband, Powell Martin, was a xenoanthropologist on Jade, one of the rimworlds.  Nicaea had been hired to drop off supplies and had the dubious honor of walking in on Powell in the throes of passion with three of the natives.  Nicaea was the honest idiot who told the wife.

He dodged a metal frame.  That one would have stung.  He was glad he was still so spry, though white hair belied his young age.  “Listen, I’m sorry, but I thought you should know.  Just trying to do right by you.”  He was glad he’d been paid up front.  He didn’t think he would’ve gotten his salary if he’d waited.  

This time she hurled a file folder from her desk, a report her husband had written on the natives of Jade.

“All right, I’ll go then.”  He tipped his fedora, turning to the door.

She called Nicaea on his transmit the next day.  “I have another job for you.”  She had calmed herself from last night.  Her hair was styled, but her eyes were moist.

“I’m sorry.  I ain’t gonna do anything to your husband.  I don’t do that type of job.”  He reached to shut off the signal.

Her perfect voice was desperate.  “I just want you to take a goodbye gift for me.  That’s all.”

“This goodbye gift.  It ain’t gonna cause me any sleepless nights?  Because you wouldn’t like me as an insomniac.”

“No.  I won’t hurt him.”  She sniffled through a smile.  “I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Nicaea was suspicious, but he had to take every cargo he could carry, especially in this economy.

The return voyage to Jade took about two months in his single-manned transport.  Nicaea worked on his prose the entire time.  If he ever wrote that bestseller he imagined, he wouldn’t have to run cargo.  And that would be nice.

Mrs. Martin had signed the usual papers that would cover any liabilities.  It was standard.  Had to be, with the types of cargo he usually got mixed up with.  Not that this was the usual cargo.  The hold was full of long-stemmed roses in cryo.  Not bushes, just the blooms themselves.  About a hundred dozen of them.  All as red as Mrs. Martin’s lips.

The ship landed on Jade, and Nicaea entered the humid jungle air.  Several of the natives were watching.

They called themselves the Seed of the Earth.  They had green skin and their thick hair was entwined with red flowers.  They loved seeing ships come from the sky.  Something about being emissaries sent by the gods.  Nothing out of the ordinary for a cargo-runner to the rim.

Powell stood there smiling.  He wore his white suit and half-grown mustache.  Nicaea suspected puberty never fully reached his upper lip.  “Mr. Black!  I didn’t expect another shipment of supplies so soon.”  Three females who wore only strategic leaves caressed Powell.

“Well, this ain’t supplies, per say.  Your wife sends her regards, divorce papers, and what’s in the hold.  Sign here, please.”  Nicaea proffered the stylus and electronic screen.

“I can’t say I’m surprised.”  He autographed the divorce papers and the acceptance of the cargo without looking.  “She sent my things, I take it?”

“No.”  Nicaea opened the hold and rolled out a cryo unit with a grunt.  The interior remained unseen.  The units had no windows.

Nicaea had sweated through his khaki shirt by the time he rolled out all ten units.  Powell didn’t raise a finger to help, nor did he ask any of the natives to.  The males watched with curious eyes, each crate the subject of much pointing and bickering.

Once Nicaea was done, he wiped his brow.  “Well, I should get going back.”

“Can’t you stay?  I’m sure some of the women would enjoy entertaining you.”

“Sorry.  Gotta find my next job.”  He tipped his hat and climbed back to the cockpit.

“Well, before you go, at least let me open up the crates and see what’s here.”  He punched a few buttons and released the pressure on one unit, and the others received a hypersonic signal and also opened.

Something must have gone bad with the machines.  All the roses inside had wilted.

Powell stared at the contents in horror for a moment.  His eyes snapped to Nicaea.  “How much for transport back to a central planet?”  He spoke in hushed and swift words.

The green people began investigating the contents of the crates.

“It’d be a tight fit to get you in here with me.  Why?”

He kept his voice low.  “The Seeds are born as blooms on a plant.  They appear just like roses.  Those crates look like they’re full of dead babies to the natives.  Jana must be trying to get them angry enough to kill me.”

Nicaea smiled.  He didn’t like cheaters.  Maybe he should lift off now before Powell could make it into the ship.

A male plunged his hands into one of the crates and flung a fistful of dried blooms skyward.  He shouted in triumph.  The other males followed.  A female took a fistful, and after a moment threw a necklace of petals onto Powell’s shoulders.  She spoke to him with a smile.

Powell barked a relieved laugh and translated.  “The natives are incredibly territorial.  They know these blooms aren’t theirs.  They think you’ve made an offering to me of the children of their enemies.”  He was incredulous and thrilled.  “Thank my wife!  I’m more popular than ever!”

Nicaea did not deliver Powell’s gratitude.  There was no profit, and he did not want to dodge more housewares.

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