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November 17, 2018

    Two officers of the United Space Navy entered the court of King David the Just with butterflies in their stomachs.  King David would be no trivial foe if they messed up these negotiations.
    The court was a sea of vibrant color that dashed against King David's golden lion throne and Queen Abigail's silver eagle throne.  The sunlight through the many windows set the thrones and robes ablaze.  The reflected hues enriched the drab gray of the officer's uniforms, while the male officer's red hair resembled a torch.
    King David stood.  "Greetings!  Please, name yourselves and be seated."
    "I am captain Erik Llewellen of the USN Starfarer.  This is my commander, Hope Starwender."
    King David sat and studied them intently.  "You are the captain of the single ship your commanders sent, and this is your first officer?  How nieve.""  He leaned back in his throne with hooded eyes and a masklike face.
    "Sire, please don't do what I think you're thinking of doing," Queen Abigail pleaded.
    King David grinned.  "Malluch!"
    A young noble stood forth.  His black hair was mere stubble, and his crimson tunic was open, showcasing his brawny chest.
    "See this fly that bothers my queen?  Retrieve it."
    Malluch waited attentively to strike.  With a snap his arm lashed out a whip that was back on his belt before the officers had realized that it had happened.  He calmly picked the insect off the floor and presented it to his king.
    King David smiled.  "Well done.  Take the captain to the dungeon and the woman to the kitchen.  She will work with the slaves."
    Malluch nodded.
    "You can't do this!" Starwender protested.  "It's against the law!"
    "I'm the king.  I make the laws."
    "If I don't check in in fifteen minutes," Captain Llewellen warned, "My crew will know something's wrong."
    King David didn't hesitate.  "Go."
    Hope whispered to a kitchen slave, "What's going on?  Why are you here?"
    The slave replied,  "My people warred against King David.  He defeated our army and captured our land, but he was gracious and merciful.  We must serve seven years to right the wrongs we've done, and we'll go free.  Then King David will help us repair our homes.  Where are you from, that you didn't know this?"
    Hope struggled to believe this story after the monarch's swift agression, but the slave seemed truthful.  "I come from Venus."
    "I've never heard of it.  What's it like?"
    Hope smiled.  "Well, it was really hot...."

    "Ah, here you are." King David hailed.  "If you would be so kind, we will contact your ship and begin the ransom negotiations."
    Erik frowned.  The dungeon wasn't so bad, for a dungeon, and Malluch had waited on his needs like a servant, but he was wary of the king.  His chiselled face and virile frame seemed to hide a cunning mind.
    "I don't seem to have a choice," he agreed.
    Malluch glanced inquiringly at his ruler.  King David responded,  "Nah, don't tell him.  Let's do business."
    "You want the Starfarer?" the communications officer demanded.
    King David shrugged.  "I could demand a few tons of platinum instead."
    "This request will have to be relayed to my superiors."
    "I wouldn't take too long.  My prices tend to inflate with time."

    Queen Abigail joined her husband on the balcony that adjoined their bedroom.  "My love, don't you think you're taking this a bit far?"
    "I only asked for the Starfarer, a few pounds --"
    "One hundred, dear."
    "One hundred pounds of platinum, and six Arabian horses."
    "This is becoming expensive for the USN."
    King David studied his beautiful wife's tanned, heart-shaped face.  The moonlight was falling on her loose black hair, just the way that drove him craziest.  But the concern in her bottomless ultramarine eyes kept him focused.
    "How does the Starfarer's crew feel?"
    Abigail lifted her eyes to the stars.  "Angry.  Anxious.  Restive.  It's time to stop."
    King David nodded.  "I will tomorrow."

    The next morning Malluch greeted Erik with a rare smile.  "Come."
    Erik, who had gotten used to the laconic nobleman, was flummoxed.  What could he be grinning about?
    The throne room was stained ruby by the dawn.  King David and all his court were smiling.  Erik's curiosity was screaming.
    "Erik!"  Hope called. 
    Malluch led Erik to her side, grinning like a maniac.  Hope and Erik traded puzzled glances, their first communication since their capture.
    King David humbly approached the pair.  "Captain Llewelen, Commander Starskimmer, I owe you an apology.  I've gone too far.  In my zeal for friendship, I thought to teach the USN a lesson by showing them how easy it would be for one so inclined to take advantage of your goodwill and innocence.  I fear I may have made an enemy.  Please, help me make this right."
    The duo was shocked.  King David undid Erik's handcuffs and concluded, "I am setting you free with my apologies and an offer of friendship.  I retract all ransom demands."
    Erik and Hope incredulously traded glances.  Could this really be happening?
    King David clapped his hands.  Two boys came forward, bearing chargers.  King David presented the ambassadors with two richly jewelled, engraved, and gilded silver horns.
    "I have no starshhips, but I proffer seven hundred pounds of platinum and twenty-four horses of the king's stock to the USN as a gift of friendship."
    "Really?" Hope breathed.
    "Men may sometimes call me a cruel coward, but none shall call me miserly."
    "Thank you, Your Majesty!" Captain Erik exclaimed, shaking his hand like a madman.  "I'm sure this will be the beginning of a long and prosperous friendship."


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