A high brow customer discovers the merchandise isn't going to be cheap.
“Pleasant days, Viceroy. I trust your journey was a pleasant one.”
He was a stout sovereign with a broad face and a finely preened mane, too proud to return the pleasantry, a pair of security bots hovering noiselessly behind him. With a large upturned nose, Viceroy Sephus stared away disinterested and huffed, “They say you’ve got the best supply in the galaxy, Kelex.”
“Of course,” he acknowledged, without the slightest hint of offense. Keeper Kelex was a businessman after all and, behind him, a gracile attendant in a fitted dress of liquidized platinum produced a tray with a single goblet. “I understand you enjoy Falurian Brandy.”
The viceroy eagerly snatched the glass away and gulped it down. Another instantly took its place.
“This way, if you please.”
They proceeded from the gilded airlock down a lofty corridor cut deeply into the solid asteroid. The walls were smooth as glass and adorned with fine art from every corner of the universe. Holographic trees dropped digitized leaves, while the sounds of birds drifted on a soothing fragrant manufactured breeze. They arrived at a pair of looming doors. “Welcome to the Menagerie,” the Keeper welcomed and the entryway swung wide.
Sephus was immediately dumbfounded, a broad grin creasing his normally vacant stare. “It seems I underestimated your reputation!” Mesmerized, he stepped out onto a broad terrace.
An impossibly enormous cavern stretched away, so far that the other side was lost in the humidity of an artificial atmosphere. Above them, an artificial sun bathed all types of environments, teaming with life. There were scorching, sandy deserts and frozen mountaintops, deep oceans and flowing rivers, hot springs and even glaciers. Their terrace became a hovering platform which carried them away.
“I present to you the finest assortment of birds and bugs and beasts in the civilized systems, specifically engineered to occupy a host of environments from the most barren tundra to wettest rainforest. Whatever you fancy, as long as it has an adequate oxygen to carbon dioxide balance, we have a creature for it.” The Keeper chuckled, “We even have the fauna to terraform a whole world for you, if need be.”
Sephus leaned over the railing taking in every site. “Is that a…a leone?”
“Lion, Viceroy. They can actually be quite fierce when they must.” A single male lounged atop a rocky outcropping in the artificial sun.
“Ha!” he suddenly pointed ahead. “Elephants! The Quarazar of Nebulon has those!”
“Yes, he does. Kalum is one of our better customers,” Kelex explained. “Our clientele ranges from the most demanding patriarch to most humble environmentalist. Our unique Menagerie supplies the livestock for a broad range of applications, even planet-building. We have insects of every sort, herd animals, and predators…game for the hunt and exotic birds to adorn your palace.”
The Viceroy chugged another glass then took the next. “The market for these creatures must be fierce! How do you match the demand? This asteroid is impressive, spectacular to say the least, but the galaxy is a big place. I’m sure this can’t be your entire stock.”
“This? Oh no, this is just our showroom. Our factory spans an entire planet. Earth, our protected ecosystem, is the actual machine behind the Menagerie. And our genetics subsidiary, Atlantis, is headquartered in a state of the art facility, a marvel of technology.”
Sephus snickered. “I’ve heard your Earth is infected.”
“Just a nuisance sentient race. We’ve kept them in check, so far. It’s actually fairly easy to…” Kelex’s assistant tapped him on the shoulder then whispered into his ear. “What?” The Keeper grimaced, trying to maintain his calm despite wringing his hands.
“Something wrong, Kelex?”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” he lied through a broad smile. “Please, enjoy the view and we’ll be down to business when we arrive at the Atrium.” He stepped away and tapped his earpiece. “What’s going on?” His eyes went wide. “What?!” he shouted, realizing too late his declaration caught the Viceroy’s attention.
Sephus pretended to look away while keeping an ear to the Keeper’s one-sided conversation.
“Underwater?” Kelex tried to muffle his voice. “How is that even possible? And don’t tell me the humans did it!” He was furious, though hid it well. “They broke into the atmospheric facility? Destabilized the core? I don’t care about rising ocean levels! What’s the projected loss…?”
“Keeper, are you sure everything’s okay?”
Kelex tapped his earpiece again and his smile nervously returned. “I’m very sorry to say, Viceroy, the price on our existing inventory just skyrocketed.”