Blood and Water, Chapter 1
Daoff closed his eyes and inhaled, slowly counting with the exhalation, steeling his resolve for the ordeal ahead. It had taken months of persistence to pressure the Mordena Embassy into granting this meeting, and he would not be turned away. Not again. He felt his breath catch as he re-rehearsed his talking points. Tomorrow was the three year anniversary of his family's disappearance, the anniversary of the ransom demand to surrender himself to the Sparnell Confederation in exchange for their safe release. Three years spent pleading with anyone and everyone with the ability to save them, all to no avail. Everyone, that is, except the Mordena. The fearsome mercenary organization was known for toppling empires and disrupting trade federations, one step up from the space pirates they claimed to abhor, growing rich off the political squabbles of the Universe. They'll never take this job. The doubt returned, insistent, despite his best attempts. There's no way I can afford them. He exhaled sharply. But they're at war with the Confederation, and they're my only hope. He opened his eyes, squared his shoulders, and stepped smartly toward the entrance. The door slid open, smooth and silent, on his approach. "Daoff Asul?" He tried to look confident as the Ambassador sized him up from behind her desk, not even bothering to stifle her yawn. Her tawny fur was kept short, aside from a longer mane beginning at the top of her head and extending down the back of her neck. Her brown eyes flashed intelligence even behind the boredom. He shifted his weight, swallowing, and her ears swiveled to follow the sound. She pulled her lips back in a feral grin to reveal a pair of sharp canines, her carefully manicured claws drumming an impatient rhythm on her desk. "Well?" Daoff nearly dropped his file of treasured photographs, the carefully memorized petition suddenly a distant memory. Pull yourself together! Breathe! He snapped into autopilot, clutching the images before reverently placing them one by one on her desk. "Jessica." The dog-eared photograph displayed his beloved wife, caught in a moment of laughter at one of his jokes. His sense of humor was atrocious but she always laughed anyway, her blue eyes illuminating her entire face. Jessica's blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, wilder than the waterfalls that starlit night she proposed. How he longed to run his fingers through that gorgeous hair of hers once more... "Mallix." The next photograph showed his oldest son, short brown hair still managing to find a way to cover the teen's eyes as he worked on his latest engineering marvel. Daoff couldn't remember what this device was meant to be, the gears and springs scattered across the scuffed wooden workbench in the foreground, but he remembered the pride in Mallix's eyes the first time he managed to turn it on. Daoff hoped to soon be adding many more such memories. "Yarra." His eldest daughter sat cross legged on the grass, her faithful notebook perched in her lap as she held her favorite pen with the endcap to her temple. She had her mother's blonde hair, tied into a rough bun, her brown eyes intently analyzing her calculations. "Jace." The boy grinned at the camera while holding up a model space cruiser, the beginnings of a feminine figure faintly noticeable beneath his paint- and grease-stained coveralls. Daoff remembered this model, the first of several which Jace had modified from the original design to add working hydraulic parts. "Barron." Daoff watched the Ambassador shift as he placed the photograph, his youngest son holding his thick brown hair into the shape of Katanoj ears while sticking out his tongue. He wondered if his son would even remember him. Three years is a long time for a six year old. "Fanak." His baby, barely a newborn at her disappearance, clung tightly to his wife's finger, her chubby face bright with laughter. I wonder if she still laughs? His fingers lingered on the photograph before turning to meet the Ambassador's expectant gaze. "All went missing three years ago, kidnapped by the Sparnell Confederation. They left a ransom demand." He fished into his pocket, retrieving the crystal where he had saved a copy of the missive, tenderly placing it on the Ambassador's desk with the photographs. "I want to hire you to bring them back." The Ambassador turned to her console, tapping in a few quick commands before turning back to Daoff. "And how do you intend to pay for this?" she queried, voice flat with the excitement of routine data entry. "Credits? Or a trade agreement?" "Trade." Daoff sighed in relief. If the Mordena didn't require currency as payment then maybe he stood a chance. "And what business or political entity are you representing?" His heart sank again. Well, here we go, the fight I was hoping to avoid. He straightened, and prayed he looked confident. "Myself." "And what corporation would that be?" The Ambassador paused, eyes still on the display. "Me. Daoff Asul." The Ambassador paused before slowly turning to meet his gaze. "You. So... You meant Credits, then?" "No, trade." Daoff fixed her with his firmest stare, the one he used to use on the kids when they misbehaved. He faltered at the memory, but recovered quickly. "I wish to reach a trade agreement in exchange for the rescue of my family."