The small pinkish human pushes his round glasses back up his button nose and inclines his round-cheeked head, standing between two packed cylinders of silk thread taller than himself. He turns around and disappears through the shimmering portal.

Zutroq attaches the silk-filled black cylinders to her carrying rod, which she subsequently hoists up onto her lean upper shoulders. With her lower left arm, she reaches behind her oval head and pulls up her kasa, shielding her eyes and face from the bright suns.

The silk continues its journey.

Produced on Earth – one of the newest members of the 27 star federation – by genetically engineered caterpillars, the silk is remarkably light and strong. And rare. Which is why it’s in vogue among the richest individuals of the richest civilizations. The procedure for keeping the caterpillars alive, the Earthlings claim, is so difficult and sensitive that they can only produce a small quantity of silk every growth cycle.

Smart move, Zutroq thinks as her triple jointed hind limbs carry her past the wood-and-straw houses lining the edge of the city. The Earthlings realize they don’t possess a lot of leverage in the federation yet, so they keep the few valuable commodities they can offer rare, intentional or not.

Now, one of the rarest products in the federation rests on Zutroq’s top shoulders. To reach the Trader’s planet, the silk has to be passed on along a route through several portals, those ancient, mysterious transportation devices that connect distant worlds. No one has yet figured out how to build new ones, so the present connections are the only ones.

Zutroq doesn’t know how many planets the silk crosses, but she does know her task. Get it over the mountains to the next portal. It could be transported with a caravan that travels around the mountain range that erupts from the world’s inners, but that would be more expensive and time-consuming. She knows the trails better than anyone else. The caravan’s weeklong trip couldn’t compete with her three-day journey. And she was cheaper, which was why she got the job. The crossing wasn’t easy, but the money was good. It enabled her to keep her children in one of the better dens.

She leaves the city behind and navigates the winding paths through the circular rice-paddies on the terraced promontory.

The suns descend, painting the massive peaks before her in hues that remind her of an oil painting hanging on the slightly decrepit wall of the orphans’ den she grew up in. The next three days would consist of lots of physical exertion and little food and water. Nothing she couldn’t handle.

After dropping the package, she’d return with a trade caravan, as she always does. Traveling around the mountains, she’d regain strength, arriving back in time to pick up the next load.

Standing at the beginning of a small, steep trail, she breathes in. Her harsh childhood years and vagabond private teacher have taught her how to induce a trance that helps her ignore physical discomfort. She closes her eyes and forces her thoughts, her entire phenomenological experience, into a small flickering flame, hovering somewhere behind her eyes. As she breathes in, the flame grows, and when she breathes out, it shrinks. For the next three days, that flame would be all that exists.

Breathe in. She’s unaware of the deep ravines to her left and the smooth mountain edge on the right.

Breathe out. Piercing sun nor biting wind elicit any response other than tearing eyes.

Breathe in. The growling of her stomach lands on deaf ears.

Breathe out. Rising and setting suns show off their uncountable colors, but remain meaningless.

Breathe in. Dry tongue cries for attention but goes unheard.

Breathe out. Mountain rains turn trails into slippery mudslides, yet fear keeps its head down.

Breathe in. A distant shimmering, sign of her endpoint, awakes the kernel of consciousness.

Breathe out. The flame is allowed to spread, filling her mind with thoughts and feelings once more.

Assaulted by hunger pangs, she lowers the carrying rod from her sore shoulders. She’s not that thirsty. It must have rained during her three-day journey. She pats her dark tunic. Still moist. With effort, she bends over and unwinds the knots attaching the silk – well packaged to keep it dry, as wet silk pays significantly less – to her carrying rod.

With a grunt, she straightens up again, staring at the portal before her. After a few moment of reverie, she takes a tiny engraved pebble from an inside pocket. The agreed signal. She rolls it through the gateway into another world.

Some connections were between so-called compatible worlds. This one wasn’t. Not for those from this side, anyway. The gravity would break all the bones in her body. The Brundles from the other side could come over, though.

She steps back. Diminutive, stocky bipeds come through the portal. Like a well-oiled machine, the brownish little men, quite humanoid in their appearance, attach a network of ropes to the bundles of silk. With a strength that belies their size – they’re as tall as Zutroq’s distal phalanges – the little Brundles pull the silk into their world.

The last remaining Brundle turns to her and bows briefly before hopping through the shimmering membrane between planets.

#

Intricate machinery everywhere, dimly illuminated by the red dwarf shining through the thick atmosphere.

“Package received.”

“Check. All according to specifications.”

“Proceed.”

“Pilot present.”

“Acknowledged. Begin loading and initiate flight preparations.”

The silk, now compressed into sausages a fourth of their original size, begins the next stage of its journey. Handled by a troop of well-coordinated Brundles, it’s rolled onto a carrier airplane, the bulk of which is taken up by a flat surface on which the goods will be attached.

Without words, the Brundle troop responsible for the silk’s transport – considered a highly honorable task – rolls the sausages onto the carrier’s platform. With a swiftness that speaks of long, arduous training they throw ropes back and forth, catching them in mid-air, to cover the black cylinders with a network of cords, safely attaching them to the vehicle.

“Attachment procedure completed. 114 time units. No misses.”

“Run final checks.”

“Running.”

“Pilot ready. Co-pilots ready.”

“Empath plugged in and ready.”

“Final checks satisfactory.”

“Timer set. Go.”

Smooth and silent, the carrier lifts off. The Brundles on the ground arch their broad necks to watch the airplane begin its ascent. Inside the machine, the mission’s empath leans back into its comfortable chair and closes its eyes. The probe inserted into its brain feeds it camera images from the onboard cameras. All across the dim planet, Brundles put on their empathy helmet, seeing and feeling – experiencing – everything the empath experiences.

Below the plane, an industrialized landscape whooshes by. The moving buildings and relatively large metallic structures make the world resemble a giant clockwork mechanism. An incessant hum reverberates through the thick, foggy atmosphere. After crossing the continent at impressive speed, the drop-off point is in sight. The small, oily ocean unveils itself before the pilots, empath, and millions of onlookers.

“Nearing target. 7062 time units passed.”

“Estimated 534 remain.”

“On schedule. Unloading team may proceed preparation.”

“Acknowledged. Preparation initiated.”

“Signal sequence test run.”

“Test run initiated.”

“Unloading team ready.”

“Test run satisfactory.”

“Stand by. Nearing coordinates.”

The carrier slows down, pushing the pilots and empath back into their seats. On a deck beneath them the same happens to the unloading team. The decrease in speed persists until a complete standstill is achieved, the flyer hovering in place above a nondescript location in the only dark ocean the Brundles’ home world has.

“Location reached.”

“Unloading team go.”

“Signal sequence started.”

About a dozen Brundles, clad in puffy suits, walk out onto the platform loaded with the silk bundles. They begin unhooking the cables in a pre-determined, much practiced progression. Meanwhile the bottom of the machine is flashing a succession of colored lights at the ocean’s surface.

“Sequence ended successfully. 38 time units.”

“Unloading team ready for final release.”

After a few tense moments, the placid ocean, so it seems, flashes back its own light sequence, mainly blue and green flickers.

“Response sequence validated.”

“Acknowledged. Unloading team perform final release.”

“Release achieved.”

“Return to deck.”

“Complete mission 7662 time units.”

“Recorded. Begin return flight.”

#

A tug at my tendrils alerts me that my syms have performed the bioluminescence display and acquired the silk. They crawl back, across worlds, and the clicking of their scales lets me know they’ve arrived. When they reach my upper back, they reattach themselves to the berths in which they have made their home. They don’t mind entering the Brundle ocean. I do.

As they settle in, each one hanging on to a ball of silk, I undulate my long tail, beginning my journey through our ocean world. This time, the random distribution of tasks appointed me for the silk transport. And that’s okay. It’s a good job. Better than some of the others.

I’m nearing cruising speed, passing currents and feeling the water rush through my gills. Others see me pass and send their greetings, throbbing sound waves pushing me forth. I respond in kind with my own pulsating melody.

The syms are chatting away in their staccato language. They’re happy with the task as well. I know it makes them feel important. Slight vibrations emanating from their berths tell me that they’re constantly running their bristled red-and-white segmented limbs across the silk balls, ensuring that the integrity of the packaging is maintained while simultaneously excreting insulating slime. Can’t have the silk getting wet, now can we?

Brushing through water threads, each characterized by its own unique combination of pressure and temperature, somehow focuses my too often too distracted mind on my near weightless cargo. Though we have little use for the product, we are well aware of its status in the trading conglomerations of the federation. Which is why we have agreed to maintain and participate in the most economical trade route for the rare and valuable commodity. It costs us little, only one transporter every cycle, for a trip of negligible duration.

Speckles of sunlight warm my back as they pierce through the kelp nurseries where the next generation is growing. The rare sight of younglings always pleases me. Soon, I too shall become eligible for reproductive attempts. One day, perhaps, a descendant of mine shall swim these seas. Maybe even carrying silk.

My syms fidget in the berths they once crafted in my skin when we were all still younglings, alerting me to the fact that we’re nearing our destination. I shiver at the thought of diving to the colder waters below. Slowing the undulations of my long tail, I decrease my speed and look downwards, searching the dim shimmer of the portal that’s placed on the ocean floor.

Diving slowly, I trace out an expanding spiral, attention focused on any small change in the diffuse light sources beneath me. All but one are signs of bioluminescent creatures. The one that isn’t, is what I’m looking for.

The syms unfold their segmented limbs and leave their places on my back, crawling to my torso while each holds its freight with two pair of limbs.

There. The faint flicker of the gateway reveals itself.

With a powerful flick o’ the tail, I quickly dive deeper. The sooner I can return to the warm surface waters, the better. Another flick. The syms are hanging on for dear life, their pointy claws, digging into my thick skin, tickling. Their excited high-pitched exclamations tell me they’re enjoying the ride.

The entrance to another world becomes clearer.

I slow down and steer closer carefully. When I come to a stop, my syms scuttle back a few paces to grab hold of my tendrils. I urge them to hurry. It’s getting cold here.

They push off and navigate closer to the portal. The currents are negligible here. Cautiously, my partners near the shimmering surface. They’re close enough to touch it now.

Softly, they move the silk balls towards the gateway, and, in a slow and controlled manner, push the cargo through.

Good journey, silk.

#

Splash.

Two wet black balls fall on the clean marble floor.

“The silk’s arrived, sir.”

“Good,” the Master-Merchant, responsible for the further refinement and distribution of, among other goods, Earth silk across the federation, says curtly, staring at the holoscreen.

Carefully, to prevent his large disk-shaped head from upsetting his balance, he walks, almost glides, towards the ground floor room where the silk supply for this quarter has arrived. His aide, member of a lower caste – as denoted by the smaller circumference of his head – takes a few paces back when the Master-Merchant arrives.

“Open it.”

A laser knife flashes, perfectly calibrated so as not to damage the precious goods. The Master-Merchant steps forward and puts a spindly four-digit hand into the hole created in the silk bale, which is being lifted from the ground by his first aide.

Three eye-clusters, located just below the widest rim of the head-disk, close. “Hmm,” he muses, “It’s a good load. But then again, those Earthlings always manage to get a high-quality yield and our associates, despite their best efforts, fail to duplicate it.” The merchant, member of perhaps the most powerful trade conglomerate in the entire federation, opens his eyes again. “Oh well, we’ll figure something out. That ball,” he points to the second load, still lying on the marble, “will be stocked in our private supply, as usual.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Master-Merchant turns around, silk robes swishing, and returns calmly to his private calculating room. As he enters, the large, crystal-encrusted wooden doors close automatically behind him. He leans back into his standing recliner and taps the secret code onto the hidden keys of the armrest. Holographic, three-dimensional numbers and graphs fill the room. Most of them expressed in FedCoin currency.

With a few quick digit movements, he adds the newest freight of silk to the calculations. Numbers increase and graphs become slightly steeper. His small mouth, placed on the stalk supporting the disk that is his head, twitches as it forms the briefest of smiles. Incessantly, the numbers and graphs twirl and mutate in the intricate dance that is the defining mark of the interstellar stock market.

Smile long gone, he turns off the assault on his senses.

Nimble fingers forming another key sequence, he conjures up a personal project he’s been thinking about. Another set of graphs and numbers appears. But this time, a static one. If the Earth’s silk production could be… hindered… for a while, his profits would be astronomical. And they could subsequently be used to speed up the efforts of a small consortium, of which he is current president – even though officially that position is reserved for one of his straw men – to synthetically mimic the rare soft fabric.

A slight vibration of the standing chair alerts him that someone seeks to contact him on his private line. The holo-projector shifts from his pet project to a rendering of one of his colleagues, disk at least equally large, only with a bluer sheen.

“Greetings.”

“To you as well, my friend.”

“I’ve gone through the numbers. They seem legitimate.”

“Of course they are.”

“Keeping one bale for yourself was a smart move. Makes me think you’ve been planning something like this for a while.”

“Can’t be too careful in this volatile market.”

“Indeed. Anyway, I’ve contacted my agent and, if we agree on terms, we’re good to go.”

“I thought the terms were already negotiated?”

“Yes, well, my agent has pointed out that, despite the substantial danger she’ll run, no risk reward is included in the proposal.”

“Somehow, I knew you were going to pull something like that.”

“It’s a fair remark, I think.”

“Fair enough, an additional point seventy-five percent will be awarded to you if, and only if, the assignment is successfully and discreetly completed.”

“Make it one and we’ve got a deal.”

He thinks for a while, in his periphery juggling a few floating numbers. “Agreed. But no more tricks like this.”

“Agreed. Always a pleasure. We’ll proceed as planned.”

#

The human emissary tries to explain, nervously wringing his hands. He doesn’t use a translator, but attempts to speak Zutroq’s language. Despite the broken phrases and stuttered progress, Zutroq appreciates the effort.

“No silk… virus… caterpillars die.” The puffy cheeks of the small pudgy Earthling are red due to a combination of enunciation efforts and embarrassment.

“No silk… Sorry.” He shrugs his small single pair of shoulders. His anxious, edgy demeanor convinces Zutroq that he’s speaking the truth. Or at least what he thinks is the truth. It’s bad news, but she can’t really blame this poor sod in front of her.

“When will the silk be back?,” she asks, trying not to intimidate the small man with her towering silhouette.

The man wipes the sweat from his brow and shakes his rotund head. “Not know… Sorry.”

Zutroq nods, a gesture that is oddly universal among the headed civilizations in the federation. “I understand. When the silk returns, please consider my services again.”

“Yes… Yes…” After a brief bout of vigorous head-shaking, the Earthling bows, turns around and vanishes to his home world, leaving Zutroq without a job and without money. She doesn’t need much to get by. But her children would have to leave their private den and be randomly distributed among the government ones. As brothers and sisters torn from each other, the young ones would be groomed for a life of hard, cheap labor.

Not if she could help it. But how? Her knowledge of the mountain trails, all she really had to offer, should be useful for someone, shouldn’t it?

That night, for the first night since she swore abstinence, she indulges in ample servings of strong Sake. The gentle murmur in the lowbrow tavern transforms into loud shouting and physical brawls as the night progresses.

She wakes up along the side of a small sandy road in a lesser part of town, body sore in places that are otherwise hidden from her awareness. Embarrassed, she massages the tapering top of her head.

No solution has yet found its way into her consciousness, which slowly coalesces from the shards that the Sake had produced.

One decision, however, is already made. She would do the right thing. She’ll travel through the mountains and alert the small creatures responsible for the next stage of the silk’s journey.

Stretching, her eyes fall on a street vendor, where she buys a bowl of Bami and a cup of insect tea.

After strengthening her inner self, she’s on her way. Lost in thought, her feet carry her automatically past the rice terraces, to the steep mountain trail, which eagerly laps at her feet like a dudog that sees a familiar face.

She begins her ritual. Breathe in. Breathe out. She stops her trance-inducing respiration exercise. Not now, she thinks, I want to experience the mountains this time.

Using her carrying rod – which, surprisingly, has survived the previous night – as walking cane, she sets off. Unlike her previous trip, the weather’s nice this time. The mild heat emanating from the dancing suns, along with the lack of food and water, focuses her thoughts. Her sense are infused with the silent beauty of the mountains. Their looming presence welcomes her, the rare traveler that passes them. As she ascends, the world unfurls before her, pages from a book written over eons with the formidable force of nature. Unfiltered awe grabs her, dispelling negative thoughts.

By the time she reaches the other side of the mountains, flicker of the portal beckoning in the distance, she’s at peace. Her children haven’t once left her thoughts, but she’s adamant to find a solution. Bend, but never break, she tells herself. Like water, I’ll adapt to whatever comes my way, and steady determination will allow me to erode even the hardest rock in my way.

Before the suns have made their way across the light yellow sky, she tosses the engraved pebble through the world-connecting membrane. A few moments later, a contingent of Brundles move back and forth across the sand-encrusted soil, their movements oozing confusions.

“Where is the silk?,” the translator of the group leader chirps, reminding Zutroq of the flymals that joined her on parts of her three-day trip.

“There is no silk. The Earthlings have run into trouble.”

“But there is always silk. There has to be silk.”

Two sets of shoulder rise in a shrug – another near-universal gesture. “I’m sorry, but not this time.”

“But there is always silk. There has to be silk.”

“Yes, you said that already. I don’t know what to tell you. Something went wrong, and there’s no silk, nor do I know when, if ever, the silk will return.”

“But…”

Zutroq raises her hand, interrupting the tiny humanoid. “Sorry, but I told you everything I know. I suggest you return to your planet and spend your time and effort on another worthy pursuit.” She turns around and heads back to the mountains.

#

Confusion erupts on the Brundle side of the portal. Initiated concerted efforts come to a grinding halt. For once, movement slows.

“But there is always silk. There has to be silk.”

“Silk suffers from source problem. Timeframe for resolution unknown.”

A brief, unusual moment of tense silence.

“Commence contingency plan #11.3b.”

“Contingency plan #11.3b in effect.”

Activity returns, a clock has been rewound. Small, brownish humanoids bustle to and fro. Groups divide into smaller groups and coalesce into new combinations. Puffs of smoke rise up again. And the tiny part of the world that halted resumes its turning. The majority of the silk team has already been dispatched, and its members will either be allocated to new tasks, or, if they prove superfluous, ‘returned to the planet’, as it’s euphemistically called.

On the silk dock, previously home to a substantial team of busy Brundles, only a skeleton crew remains, preparing the carrier for what might just be its final trip to the ocean. No ropes and cables fly around, no big bales of precious cargo are being bound into place, no empath is installing itself.

“Pilot present.”

“Attachment procedure abandoned.”

“Run final checks.”

“Running.”

“Pilot ready.”

“Fuel levels recalculated and adjusted. 86 time units.”

“Final checks satisfactory.”

“Timer set. Go.”

Smoothly, the empty carrier airplane takes off, ascending quickly, tracing its way along a well-known flight-path. Familiar landscapes swoosh past beneath it. This time, however, no one is watching, in person or through empath. The silk team has been declared superfluous and is performing its final iteration. Conducting their last masterpiece, arranging every note so that the timing is flawless and resource-use optimal. A concerto of efficiency, potentially ending with the demise of its musicians.

Despite the harsh rule of despondency during the flight, all Brundles involved devote their full effort and attention to the execution of their tasks, determined to make the period that ends their tale a faultless one. The ocean comes into view, its darkness foreboding the fate of the little travelers.

“Nearing target. 6213 time units passed.”

“Estimates for remaining period range from 559 to 1856. Uncertainty in decoding speed of recipients.”

“Within limits. Proceed with encoding message.”

“Acknowledged. Input code algorithms now.”

“Recursive test run.”

“Test run initiated.”

“Encoding proceeds according to specifications.”

“Test run satisfactory.”

“Stand by. Nearing coordinates.”

While decreasing the vessel’s speed, the carrier’s pilots easily find their way to the location they know so well from previous missions. With a pale green sky as background and an oily black ocean beneath, the unloaded airplane stops, soaring in place.

“Location reached.”

“Acknowledged. Proceed.”

“Modified signal sequence started.”

Colored lights burst into life at the underside of the carrier, flashing the encoded newest chapter in the silk’s story to the other-worldly creatures lurking below the dark waters.

“Progression satisfactory.”

“Sequence completed. 54 time units.”

“Awaiting response.”

The sea takes longer to respond than usual. But eventually – 121 time units after the end of the sequence, to be precise – an answer colors the water. Hesitant lights echo the confusion of the silk-less recipients, confusion the Brundles are familiar with.

“Message received and acknowledged.”

“Acknowledged. Complete mission 6735 time units, top efficiency recorded.”

“Return to base for disassembly and termination.”

“Acknowledged.”

#

A loud message wakes me from the daydreams I occasionally succumb to when tending the foodweed-forests. My slumbering syms wake as well.

It appears that the one responsible for the current silk-run didn’t receive any product. A light-encrypted message was sent to the syms in the Brundles’ ocean, awaiting cargo that wouldn’t arrive. Something purportedly went wrong on Earth. Hence, no silk.

Not really a big deal for us. But for others, I can imagine, this is rough news. Some peoples have built quite an extensive trade network in which the silk forms a foundational node, not to mention the individuals who have built their lives on silky fundaments. Lives have undoubtedly been touched.

The syms of my fellows relay the light message, so that my two permanent passengers receive it in its original form as well. After further transmission to the next pair, they chatter excitedly. Irksome even. Like me, they suspect foul play.

Meanwhile, the appointed transporter asks for advice on its further journey, if any. The loud thrumming of discussion fills the water, swaying the foodweed I was tending to until a few moments ago. We quickly agree that the one appointed for silk transport this cycle should proceed as planned, travel to the world portal, and send a message through.

All around, colorful bioluminescence pervades the water as all syms are tasked to cooperatively put together the note that will be transported across worlds. Meanwhile, the silk carrier without silk is underway, keeping in touch through thumping, fast-traveling vocalizations and complex patterns of sym-produced light.

The Earthlings’ silk production, then, has come to a halt. Accident or sabotage? Based on the tales told by travelers from other worlds that reach us, I incline towards the latter. Trans-federation trading is, so I’m told, harsh business. Our own protectionist policy has managed to safeguard us from the most violent stock-market swings, but we are neither stupid nor blind. We know that the hidden despot of profit secretly rules the federation.

But perhaps I’m being too cynical now. Perhaps, some unknown, unpredictable natural event occurred on Earth’s silk farms, destabilizing the silk trade, and by extension, nudging the stock market in undesirable directions. Well, undesirable for some, at least. I dare to wager that someone somewhere is going to benefit from this, whether it’s intentional or accidental.

The interconnectedness of things never seizes to amaze me. In this star-system-spanning federation, comprised out of dozens of intelligent civilizations, caterpillars fall sick and the thin strands binding worlds together shiver uncontrollably. A web of cultures, greater than any other we know of, proves susceptible to the smallest perturbation. As interstellar trade pervades the 27 star federation, the interdependency among the star-circling inhabited worlds grows. Ironically, the pursuit of individual profit binds us all together.

Addressed by my syms, I awake from my reveries. They tell me that, contrary to usual proceedings, their colleagues on the transporter will cross the portal and deliver a brief message to the other side, aided by a translator device, while simultaneously using bioluminescent patterns that adhere to the federation’s com-codes.

Communicative vibrations from the transporter, coursing through the water, keep the rest of us updated.

Portal found.

Syms grab tendrils.

Reach portal.

Go through.

Feels odd, stretched across worlds.

The currents calm down. A silence rarely heard permeates the oceans, as we’re all curiously awaiting further news. After a few moments, a wave-front of speech informs us all that the syms have managed to get the message across. Congratulations go back and forth, both in deep hums and shrill chirps. As these die down, speculation begins. What happened to the silk? And what will the effects of this event be?

I engage in conversation, but return part of my attention to the food-weeds swaying softly back and forth above me, nurtured by the currents.

Time, I know, will tell.

#

“There’s no silk, sir.”

He feigns surprise. “What? What do you mean?”

“If I understood correctly, something went wrong on Earth’s silk farms, resulting in a complete stop of silk production.”

“What went wrong?,” he asked, disk-head turning a darker shade of green. If you have to fake, he thought, you better fake well.

His aide’s representation on the holoscreen involuntarily swallowed. “I don’t know, sir, that information was not available. The segmented syms of our associates can’t stay in our atmospheric pressure for long, they’re used to the weight of water. Besides, I doubt they know anything more, the message has been passed over the entire trade route.”

Angrily, he pushes out a breath. “The arrival room is still continuously monitored according to our security protocols?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Any news about the silk and you contact me immediately. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That is all.” Without awaiting the response, the Master-Merchant shuts off the holoscreen, head subtly changing color to a lighter shade of green. A quick smile flits across his face.

A call comes through. As he expected. A quick sequence of taps and an immaculate rendering of the bluish head of his colleague appears, floating in mid-air.

“I expected your call,” the Master-Merchant says.

“Of course you did. Did you get the news already?”

“A few moments ago. Everything went according to plan?”

“Indeed. The caterpillars have been infected and our agent got away with it. No suspicions have been uttered towards us. Seems like we got away with it.”

“It would seem that way indeed. Well done, my friend. And be sure to extend my kudos to your agent.”

“Will do.” Silently, the blue-hued merchant casts a few anticipatory looks at his co-conspirator.

“Of course, payment is on its way.” He conjures up the virtual realm that holds his finances and trading commodities. With barely suppressed glee, he notices that the silk price was already rising quickly. Every merchant, after all, has spies, surveying the important trade routes. The number denoting one of his secret personal funds, hidden, of course, behind an intricately crafted imaginary corporate identity, decreases markedly as he transfers a substantial sum to an equally mysterious account. An investment well worth it, he tells himself as he sees the silk price soar to unknown heights.

“Received. An absolute pleasure to do business with you, my friend.”

“Likewise. I know I don’t have to remind you that discretion is paramount for both of us?”

“Goes without saying.” Slightly grinning, the blue-headed trader adds: “Say, have you heard about the silk disaster yet?”

“As a matter of fact, I have. Unfortunate. However, not entirely undesired. Time those Earthlings learned some humility.”

#

TRANS-FEDERATION EMERGENCY TRADE BROADCAST

“Due to unknown circumstances, silk production on Earth has crashed. Preliminary reports suggest that a highly contagious virus has infected the rare caterpillars. As a result, prices for Earth silk have risen considerably. Master-Merchant QtrL, responsible for the commodity’s distribution across the federation has generously agreed to oversee further development of a new silk trading scheme. Furthermore, he has pledged a substantial amount to a consortium that aims to reproduce the silk using artificial means.”