Makov hated coming to town, especially Beggar’s Creek. The town reminded him too much of Hunter’s Hollow back on Zyan, except wetter in the rainy season. Technically, the rainy season started two weeks ago, but the ground remained dry and the sun hot. Great for him, shitty for the other farmers on the planet.
With the sunshine, the locals poured into town for one last shopping day before the rain and subsequent floods closed off the town from much of the surrounding region. The locals, mostly keentas, a sturdy race with a resilience much like the planet, had built the town in a flood plain. Idiots.
Several keentas, a few banth, and one really ugly og’dal crowded the outdoor market. Mak eyed the saloon to his right. He detested saloons, but he detested crowds more. Fortunately, he didn’t have to be back to turn the solcaps until early afternoon. He had to ensure his crop soaked in every last ray of sun before the clouds and storms rolled in. Two extra weeks of sun. . . He really lucked out this year.
“What are you having?” the barkeep, a keenta with bright red, not dark red skin, asked.
“Are you newly mated, Tich?” Makov asked.
“Is it that obvious?” the barkeep asked.
“Just a hunch.” The extra rods and cones in Mak’s eyes picked out the nuances of colors most creatures couldn’t see. All of the creatures in the system, no matter their color, changed shades based on emotion or activity. The keentas appeared brighter after sex. The more sex, the brighter their skin turned, at least as far as a zyanthan could see. It was an uncomfortable truth to know which neighbor had recently fucked, especially when looking at a mated pair and only one of the two glowed, but Mak had learned to deal with it. Not coming to town was the best method of dealing with it.
“Give me water,” Mak said to Tich, who nodded and reached behind the bar for a glass.
A male, an og’dal to be precise, slapped a datapad down on Makov’s table with a resounding thud. Makov released a growl at the male even though the male’s quills rested against his spine. Mak didn’t like og’dals, especially ones that approached uninvited.
“Take your datapad and leave,” Mak warned. He’d give one warning and that was more out of courtesy to the barkeep. The newly mated male wouldn’t glow bright red if he returned home unemployed because Mak lost his temper and tore up the saloon on his shift.
“This isn’t just any datapad,” the og’dal said. “It’s a Mail Order Bride Catalog. Earth women. Enough to fill the quadrant. Take your pick. Young, old, large chest, curvy, petite, any size, color, and shape you want.”
“Except blue,” Makov remarked, hoping that would dissuade the male. He’d seen humans before. While they had similar features to zyanthans, their coloring appeared washed out in comparison, as if the beings had no life to them.
To be fair, he’d never met a human before, but then again he wasn’t looking for a mate.
“Color should not be a factor when it comes to choosing a bride, my dear sir,” the og’dal said.
“The name’s Makov. Leave.”
“Bu’Tay at your service,” the og’dal said with a short but respectful bow. The male made Mak’s skin itch like he’d crawled through a patch of benovian spurs.
“Makov, if you would be so kind as to give me just a few minutes, I’ll pay for your drink.”
“Which can’t be cheap in a drought.”
Before Makov could send Bu’Tay away, the male pressed a button on the datapad. A three-dimensional holovid ten inches high hovered over the table. The vid of the woman held remarkable clarity and color definition, better than any Mak had seen before. And below her, a litany of specs filled the air, details about the woman.
“I see you’re intrigued by the buxom female.”
“Female?” Oh, the human with golden hair and a sour expression.
Bu’Tay hurried to swipe through to the next holovid. “But you did express an interest in a blue female.” A few more swipes and a woman covered in tribal markings over most of her body, all done in a deep shade of green, flashed over the table. The color definition in the man’s catalog really was quite remarkable, even if the women displayed were less than appealing.
“We can have one tattooed in blue all over, similar to this fetching young female. You can customize the female to meet your exact needs, in fact.”
“I don’t want a female.”
“You know what you can do with a female, right?” The og’dal made a lewd gesture with his hands, both sets.
“It’s another mouth to feed. Another body to protect.” Another soul to worry about.
Bu’Tay flipped through the pages going from the thick, curvy ones to the slight ones that had bones practically jutting through their skin. “Here we go. We have an assortment of really thin females that you won’t need to feed much.”
The male was stupid. There was no other explanation.
“Who supplies these?” Mak asked.
“Shagwell Mail Order Bride Agency,” Bu’Tay proudly answered. “A division of the Fated Mates Alien Dating Agency. And you can call me Seymour, if you prefer.”
He didn’t prefer. Mak turned the name over in his head. Seymour Bu’Tay. What an ass.
“I meant the maker of the holopad,” Mak clarified. The color of the woman’s dress, a deep crimson, and stunning green eyes came through beautifully. He could see not only the green of her eyes but the gold flecks as well. Perhaps Mak should invest in the manufacturer of the datapad and holovid software. Both probably accounted for the exceptional color and clarity of the images. Better yet, maybe he could supply their power source. He placed his finger below the device and slid the power compartment open. Soft with three ridges. An inferior brand to his own solcaps.
Seymour laughed. “I don’t know about the solcaps, but I will certainly find out for you when I place your order. Let’s focus on what pleases you, Mak.”
“My friends call me Mak.”
“You will call me Makov.”
Bu’Tay’s smile faded for an instant before he resumed flipping through the selection of humans in his catalog. “We have an extensive selection, my dear Makov. Ones with short hair, curly hair, thin lips, full lips. Ah, there, you see. . . Blue after all. The arms at least, nearly the same shade as your skin.”
Og’dals really had no sense of color. That female’s blue was four shades lighter than Mak’s and uneven. . . clearly not natural.
“The company is really quite good about customizing to our customers’ exact needs.”
“I’m not buying a coat.”
“Understood, kind Makov.”
What a merrilian ass!
“Searching through thousands of women is too tedious. Let’s define the parameters so you can buy what you need.”
What he needed was a muzzle for the male sitting down at his table, interrupting the precious few minutes he had to relax.
“Are any of those females quiet?” Mak asked.
Bu’Tay swiped through the holovids. “Yes! We have a mute listed here. In the defectives section.”
“Defectives?” Mak repeated, unclear if they were still talking about females or had switched to talking farm machinery.
“Defectives. . . the females no one else wants. Ah, but there’s a No Return policy on these females. You’re a rich farmer. It’s better you pay a higher price and order from the front of the catalog, so you can return the female if she doesn’t suit your needs. The Shagwell Mail Order Bride Agency is very generous with its return policy. If the female doesn’t satisfy your needs, you can return her at any time up to a year. No questions asked. We do request that she be returned in roughly the same condition and not pregnant. Damaged and pregnant brides fall under a separate company owned by Mr. Shagwell’s brother. At present, the two owners aren’t exactly talking.”
No Returns Policy. Refunds. . . Maybe they were talking farming machinery. Makov tapped the translator he’d inserted in his ear before leaving his house this morning. The damn translator was probably acting up again. If the og’dal and the shopkeepers here would speak Common, then Mak wouldn’t need the damn device. He could rely on his Affininan, but that left too much room for mistakes when conducting business. Might be time to buy a newer model.
“Got any translators in that catalog?”
The male tapped the holovid screen with his claw, brought up a menu, then entered a search term. Makov had the sudden desire to rip that claw off and fling it across the room.
“We have three human females who translate from the main Earth language to Common, Tunzen, Swid, and hey, your language, zyanthan. And look, this one’s on sale! Ah, never mind. Too much flesh on her. You want one that doesn’t eat. I’ll keep looking.”
He continued swiping through women as if he were searching through a seed catalog. Forget throwing the male’s claw across the room. Mak threw the male across the room. Now he had some peace and quiet.
Bu’Tay picked himself off the floor, plastered a smile on his face, and brushed off his clothes. “I’ll just leave the catalog with you. I’m due outside to distribute our latest shipment. Come find me in the market if you have any questions.”
Makov’s eyes kept returning to the catalog in front of him where the image of a red-haired woman with green eyes stood nude. The others had worn clothing, but this one had none. There was nothing in her bio explaining this aberration. Perhaps it was cultural among her people. He’d heard that humans were rather unique creatures, with a penchant for trouble and often quite duplicitous.
As he swiped through the catalog, Makov was shocked by just how many human females were waiting to be matched to males in other systems. So many women were fleeing Earth, not that he could blame them. From what he had heard, the planet had become a shithole since the Grud invaded and left it in ruins. Now that the Coalition had defeated the Grud, Earth’s reconstruction had begun.
Mak continued flipping through the holovids. All the females had that same forced smile. Then one caught his eye. He flipped back. Long dark hair with varying shades of red mixed in and three tones of dark brown. Her eyes, a vivid green, reminded him of the waist-high grass on Zyan before the war. Her coloring, though pale in comparison to his rich blue, had a calming effect that intrigued him. The female had her share of curves as if she were made to please a zyanthan, with full hips a male could grip, and lovely rounded breasts perfect for nursing younglings. He glanced at the name listed above the female. Emily Flynn, age 31. A beautiful name for a beautiful female. Bu’Tay, despite how annoying the male was, held some definite gems in his catalog.
Makov flipped through the holovid in earnest now, curious if the majority of the females were as tempting as that one. After only a few flips, Mak returned to the page with Emily Flynn. There was something in her eyes that had caught him. Loneliness. Drekk, that was him just feeling sorry for himself. And yet his lower cock stirred at the thought of having a female again. This female.
He adjusted his pants and scrolled to the bottom of her bio. Drekk. There in bold red letters were the words No Longer Available…