The Auctioneer’s Prize
by Nicola Somerscales
|part 2 of 3|
The other harvested goods each had their moment in the arena, paraded before the audience one at a time. There were other examples of working animals, some intended for food because of their high water content, and others that were good guard animals because they made a huge amount of noise at the approach of anyone or anything, a much cheaper and easier to manage alternative to the trakkat.
There were also lots of food supplies for all the herbivorous animals purchased that day, since the climate and differing soil types on the planet made it difficult for the inhabitants to grow such foodstuffs themselves.
Though slow at times, the bidding remained immensely profitable. The auctioneer successfully brought in high prices for everything on offer. Since he was on a five percent commission, the auctioneer always worked hard to get the best prices for his employers; they’d ensured it was in his best interest to do so. Anyone who had ever worked for the Venerable Alustrons knew it could sometimes be frustrating — they displayed many of the mental instabilities hereditary in such a closely-bred family — but it was most definitely financially rewarding.
Lot 19 sailed though at yet another auction sales record. A buzz of conversation filled the air again, as the bidders waited for its removal, and for Lot 20 to be unloaded from the vehicle. The mood in the room lightened; the competition had almost ended for the day, and everyone began mentally to relax ready for the journey home.
Once the box was in position, the auctioneer made a rare descent from his lofty podium down into the arena to stand beside it. Without the help of his amplification system, he had to shout to make himself heard above the clamour.
“My good people, if you would be so kind as to grant me your full attention one final time, as we move onto the pre-order item listed in Lot 20.”
Noting his unusual change of position, silence fell upon his audience almost instantly. They all suspected his arrival on the arena floor itself signified something important.
“What’s he up to now?” Jacantha hissed to her friend. He shrugged his bony shoulders, and signalled for her to hold her peace while the auctioneer spoke.
“Thank you,” he said, placing himself directly in front of the crate. He was a true performer, relishing the limelight his job afforded him. The punters might not entirely approve of his dramatic embellishments, but he clearly enjoyed the chance to build the now-tangible tension.
“What I am about to show you is completely different from anything else you have seen today, or at any of our previous auctions. One of our harvesting vessels took a detour from its usual course to avoid conflict with a fleet of Hergovian pirates. They opened a hyperspace portal to escape notice and happened upon a planet previously undiscovered by us, rich in various life forms.
“Unfortunately, the crew had little time for harvesting as they were keen to make up time and return for today’s market, but I’m sure you will agree that what they found was well worth the extra distance travelled.”
He deactivated the crate walls. Left behind in the middle of that huge arena was a human woman.
Clearly in early adulthood, this comparatively tiny, fragile creature cowered under the intensity of their collective gaze. Her slender frame was clad only in a satin slip nightdress, revealing the skin of her arms, shoulders, and legs from mid-thigh down. It was pale in hue, unlike their sun-baked complexions, and the material draped over her quivering form looked much finer than any of their native weaves.
The girl finally dared to lift her eyes to look at the seething body of pods before her. Her irises were green and crystal-clear, the lids brimming with tears. The audience gasped. No one on their planet had ever shed such a precious liquid from their eyes. It was a rare and magical talent only spoken of in tales for young ones; no living soul had ever witnessed such a marvel.
The auctioneer approached the girl; she flinched away when his rough hand brushed the soft skin of her cheek as he caught some long strands of her dishevelled blonde hair and ran his fingers through them. “This,” he said in his most commanding voice, “is a Human; an example of a female of the species from the planet Earth.”
The young woman looked absolutely terrified, unable to understand a word of the language this strange and wizened creature spoke.
The auctioneer grabbed hold of her upper arm and pulled her easily to her feet. She was a beautifully proportioned bipedal life form, not entirely different from themselves, but so much more delicate and soft than life on Trilasquon had left them. The cameras moved in and scanned her, her statistics appearing on the screen behind her for their perusal.
The sight of her rendered the punters both speechless and motionless. Oddly, they all hung back, watching from a distance. There was none of the usual barging for prime position. It was almost as if the sheer beauty of what stood before them had frozen them rigid. They had never supposed a species so similar to their own existed out there among the stars.
“What have they done?” Jacantha breathed, watching the terrified creature shaking on the screen before her. “They can’t do this! She’s not an animal.”
Apparently worried that this lot was not capturing the punters’ imaginations as he had expected it to, the auctioneer stepped up his sales patter.
“As you can see, Humans are of a somewhat smaller build than us, but much of their physiology is similar to our own. However, unlike us, they do require a lot of water in their diet. ‘Expensive to keep’, I hear you cry, and that is true, but they are truly exquisite, wouldn’t you agree?”
Finally, one pod ventured forward. Its occupant, a rough-faced, elderly mine owner, circled the trembling girl, and then came to a halt. His dry old eyes looked into hers, which were still moist with tears, and he felt a certain stirring.
“What is it good for?” he grunted, looking over her tiny frame.
The auctioneer sighed, shaking his head with a bemused smile. Humouring the mine owner, he gave this reply. “Well, despite her weak appearance, she is physically fit and could undertake a certain level of manual labour. Or, if you already have enough labourers in your workforce, you could put her into service within your home. There is, of course, one room in your home where her services could prove particularly pleasing.”
The mine owner looked up into the auctioneer’s smiling eyes, seeing a glint there that made his insinuation clear.
“A concubine?” he asked.
The auctioneer nodded.
The mine owner guided his pod down to ground level and landed it, disembarking to examine the girl more closely.
She tried to back away, but the auctioneer caught hold of her and held her fast against him.
The mine owner huffed, shaking his head. “Not exactly agreeable, is it?” he muttered, catching hold of her chin and turning her face to the light. Her features really were exquisite, as the auctioneer had said, and, in truth, the thought of forcing her to yield appealed to a darker side of his nature he normally kept hidden. It wouldn’t matter if he hurt a creature from another planet; they had no rights here on Trilasquon. But, he wasn’t about to let the auctioneer see that the thought tempted him. If he pretended he thought her defiance to be a problem, he might be able to keep the price lower.
“Nothing a control collar couldn’t keep in check,” the auctioneer assured him. “We could soon adjust the size to fit her slender neck. Go ahead and feel her skin — see how soft it is.”
The mine owner slid his hand up her arm and over her shoulder, his thick, calloused skin scoring white surface scratches along the length of her delicate limb. Then, he took hold of her hips and gauged them, finishing off by squeezing her stomach and buttocks. “It’s a bit on the skinny side — hardly any meat on it.”
“Well, she’s not for eating. Mind you, if you ever tire of her, there is always that option.”
Rubbing her silky hair between his fingers, he curled his lip. “I suppose it has a certain charm,” he grumbled, allowing his eyes to wander across the enticing curves of her sparsely clad body. “But it is small. Are you sure it could accommodate my needs?”
“Boasting now, are we?” the auctioneer jibed, raising laughter from his audience once again. The mine owner scowled, irritated to find himself the butt of such a joke. “As I said,” the auctioneer replied, “our physiologies are compatible... in every way.”
The girl didn’t understand their alien tongue, but she clearly understood what the expression on the male faces around her meant. She struggled against the auctioneer’s grasp, something he thoroughly enjoyed as he felt her nightdress sliding against her pale, soft skin.
Jacantha could stand by no more. “You cannot seriously be considering taking her,” she called out, forcing her way forward past the pods and into the arena. “This is an intelligent being, not an animal.”
“It cannot speak, so I see little difference between it and a barmutte,” the auctioneer replied, with a dismissive wave of his thick hand. “Apart from aesthetic qualities, of course.”
“It doesn’t speak our language, but I’m sure it has one of its own.”
“Well, every beast makes a noise. If it cannot make itself understood, what use is it?” he quipped.
“All right, then. I have a question for you. How much water does it require?”
“Jacantha, please. Enough of your interruptions.”
“No, go on, tell me. How much water does this creature need to stay alive on a planet such as ours?” she pressed.
“Three litres, perhaps,” he said sheepishly.
“A day!” she snorted, turning to look at the potential buyers. “That’s as much as most of us use in a lunar cycle. Can any of you really justify the expense?”
They began to mutter among themselves, considering what Jacantha had said.
“But look at her,” the auctioneer bellowed, calling their attention back to the beautiful item on offer. “To sample this whenever you wanted would surely be worth any price.”
“Even if that price is the destruction of the delicate ecological balance our planet maintains. The extra water needed to keep humans healthy would put a terrible strain on our resources.”
“Now you’re being melodramatic.”
“Melodramatic? Am I to be the only voice of reason here?” she asked, looking around at all of them. Many of the audience turned away, unable to look her in the eye. “If you do not agree with my judgment of this creature as an intelligent being, surely you can appreciate the problems maintaining them would cause?”
“Honestly! There are only one hundred potential purchasers here. How many of them do you think will be interested, half at most? Fifty humans are not about to bring our planet to its knees.”
“No? It will drive up the price of water, though, and those of us not fortunate to have coffers filled with tainted credits will suffer the consequences.”
“I think we have heard enough of your dissent. People here are astute enough to make up their own minds. Anybody else care to take a closer look?” he called out to the hovering pods.
Almost instantly, the majority of them moved forward to view the goods on offer, their pods bouncing off one another as they jostled for the best position. “Please, take your time. Get out and examine her more closely, if you so wish.”
Thus proceeded a protracted session of prodding, poking and stroking, much of it far too intimate for the petrified young woman to cope with. As they crowded around her, she struggled for air, completely overwhelmed by their proximity and her sense of violation. She fainted into the auctioneer’s arms.
After allowing the punters to take one last look at her now the fight had completely left her, he carried her away from them and up to his podium.
“Now, my good people,” he announced in his usual manner, calling them to order once more. “Having viewed this particular sample themselves, the Venerable Alustrons consider the quality of this particular species to be too good to be offered in an auction. Thus, you can order them for the fixed price of one hundred thousand credits.”
Again, a gasp echoed around the chamber.
“Come now, you have had ample opportunity to examine the goods; you’ve seen how fine her skin and hair are. The journey to Earth is difficult and long, not to mention expensive. Also, now the inhabitants have seen us once, we may come up against resistance in our return. Surely, you agree this is a fair price for the merchandise considering the dangers our harvesting crews face?”
The males glanced at each other; they had been impressed and craved the opportunity to own something so stunning, but one hundred thousand credits seemed expensive by anyone’s standards.
“Eighty thousand,” one member of the audience called out. “And not a credit more.”
Trying not to let his delight show, the auctioneer pretended to consider the offer carefully. “Eighty thousand? That’s considerably lower than the reserve set,” he lied. In truth, the Venerable Alustrons had told him to ask for sixty thousand, so were sure to reward him for his enterprise. Still, it was always beneficial to allow the crowd to believe they were getting a bargain.
“Make it eighty-five, and you have a deal,” he nodded.
A sea of raised arms appeared in the arena, all offering the asking price. But, they were only the male bidders; the females saw nothing of interest for them in this lot.
“Gentlemen, please. There’s no need to fight. The beauty of this species is they’re almost like vermin on Earth. There are apparently billions of them — more than enough to go around.”
Copyright © 2009 by Nicola Somerscales