Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

The Road to Rediscovery
Part 8 - A Fair Trade

The Viridian touched down on the wide wooden landing platform amid the wroshyr canopy. Kionee cut the repulsor lifts and then the remainder of the flight support systems. The rumbles, hissings, and clicks of the ship diminished to a gentle hum.

“Well flown, as always, Mistress Kionee,” Emtee complimented from the co-pilot's seat.

Kionee's attention was lost in the great woshyr boughs outside her ship. Ancient trees that defied imagination, the wroshyr were among the great natural wonders of the universe. Kionee was sure of it. Nearly anywhere else in the galaxy, a wooden landing platform like this one would be completely unheard-of; unstable and monstrously expensive. Here, wood was one of Kashyyyk's greatest resources, especially in the hands of talented Wookiee craftsmen.

Kionee was drawn back to reality by the sight of two tall Wookiees striding along the platform towards the Viridian.

“That would be our welcoming committee,” Kionee murmured, unstrapping from her seat.

“Given their armaments,” Emtee pointed out, “I would say those look more like spaceport guards to me.”

“That's what I meant,” Kionee shot back, but followed that with a laugh. “Let's go. I volunteered to re-open trade with Kashyyyk for a reason.” She pulled her over-stuffed satchel out of the latched compartment by her seat then strode out of the cockpit, down the corridor, through the cargo hold, and down the loading ramp. One of the Wookiees already had a bowcaster trained at her. “Who are you and what is your business here?” the other barked. “We don't allowed intruders.”

Emtee tottered down the ramp behind Kionee. “Oh man,” he murmured.

“I am Kionee Rinnh, a representative of Rinnh Imports,” Kionee replied evenly, despite how much she itched to side-step out of the scope of the wookiee's weapon. “I'm here to discuss the future of Rinnh Imports' trade relationship with Kashyyyk.”

The Wookiee lowered his weapon. “Ah,” he said, “Msssun told us to expect you. Come this way.” In one smooth movement, he sling the bowcaster back over his shoulder and into its harness, the turned and started down the walkway.

“Follow him,” the other Wookiee wuffed gruffly, “I will watch your ship.”

“Uh, thanks,” Kionee replied, then scurried after her guide, struggling to keep hip with his long strides. The abruptness of it all startled her.

MT-412 rapidly fell behind and did not catch up until they ran through a nest of kinraths. Kionee was only able to get off a few poorly aimed shots with her blaster before her Wookiee guide expertly cut them all down and started on his way again as if nothing had happened.

They traveled the rest of the way to Rwookrrorro in silence, but that suited Kionee just fine. She was engrossed in the sights and sounds of the forest around her. She could almost taste the life the enveloped her. Kashyyyk was more alive than nearly any other planet that she had ever visited. Ithor came close, but there was something wild and uncontainable about Kashyyyk that Ithor's careful beauty lacked. It was as if the towering trees and the cries of the birds and beasts of the forest were desperately reaching out to the stars and to the rest of the galaxy.

A small clan of taks dropped down onto the walkway ahead of them, cackling and hooting. Kionee's guide wuffed a warning at them, and with a curious glance at the towering Wookiee, they scurried across the platform, hands and feet slapping against the wood. With another backward glance at the Wookiee, girl, and droid, they swung over the side of the platform and into the shadows of the forest.

Kionee grinned. It was life like this—pervasive, thriving, and determined life—that almost gave her the shivers. So much of the galaxy had lost its touch with its wild roots after eons of evolution and development. To be bathed in life like this was refreshing.

These days, Kionee spent at least half of her life in hyperspace aboard the Viridian with her mechanical companion, MT-412. Stops like these were the places she most looked forward to. She grinned even more broadly. “I love my job,” she murmured.

After a few more twists of the Great Walkway, they arrived at Rwookrrorro. Kionee's guide gruffly announced her purpose to the pair of guards at the gate—or at least that's what she thought he said. Her knowledge of Shyriiwook was elementary at best. Even before the gate was fully open, Mission throttled out between the great wooden doors.

“Kionee!” she exclaimed and wrapped her in a waist-high hug.

“Mission!” Kionee chimed, stooping to hug her back. “It's so good to see you again! How are you doing here with the Wookiees?”

“Oh, I love it,” Mission said, stepping back. “I'm learning a lot of new stuff, hanging out with Big Z and his family, and making myself useful here. It's great to see Zaalbar with his people, where he belongs. They really respect him. And they tread me real good too. Oh, hey Emtee,” she gave a quick wave to the droid.

“Hello Mission Vao,” MT-412 replied respectfully, “I am glad that you are well.”

“Well, don't just stand there where the kinrath could get you,” Mission urged abruptly, “Come on inside. I know you said your visit was gonna have to be short, so Zaalbar's got everybody ready at his place for you. Come on.”

The guards let them all pass through the gate and their guide departed back down the walkway towards the small spaceport. Mission led them through the treetop village. It had changed, subtly, since Kionee's last visit before Czerka Corporation barred Rinnh Imports from trading with the Wookiees. The ever-present Czerka guards were gone along with any trace that they had ever been there. Though she was now the only human in the village, the Wookiees did not scowl at her as she passed. They eyed her with wariness in their eyes, but not the fear, mistrust, or even hatred she had grown accustomed to.

“That whole trunk full of houses is new,” Mission narrated as they walked, waving towards the eastern edge of the village. “They put them up after Big Z got back and started trying to unify all the Wookiee tribes. It's for all the out-tribe Wookiees who want to live here or visit here to work with Zaalbar and his dad on this new government. It's amazing how fast Wookiees can build, and up in the trees! They even built me my own house, Twi'lek sized, behind Zaalbar's.”

“It sounds like you really are getting on well here,” Kionee observed.

“Yeah, the Wookiees really are great people,” Mission agreed, “And I get to help them out. I know more about how things work in the rest of the galaxy than anybody else here. I'm an honorary member of the Kashyyyk Governance Council. The only non-Wookiee,” she said proudly.

“That must be quite an honor,” Emtee observed.

“You bet it is,” Mission beamed, “I never thought I'd be so important on any planet. Oh, here we are.” She steered them to front door of an impressive Wookiee bower. The front door and lintels were carved in dramatic patterns of trees and leaves. “This is Zaalbar's place,” Mission exclaimed. Grasping the door handle, she twisted it and leaned hard against the door. Mission pushed it slowly open with her full weight.

Inside where six Wookiees sitting around a low—low by Wookiee standards—table. Zaalbar was at the center of them all.

“Here's Kionee, representing Rinnh Imports,” Mission announced.

“Hi,” Kionee said with a small wave to the Wookiees seated before her.

“Welcome back Kionee Rinnh,” a Wookiee spoke, Emtee translating for her. It was not Zaalbar that welcomed her, however, but a burly Wookiee with clumps of black fur peppering his chocolaty brown coat.

“Krrarn,” Kionee realized, “It's good to see you again.”

“And I am glad to see that the Czerka interlopers did not permanently damage our trade relations with Rinnh Imports,” the big Wookiee replied. Krrarn had always been Kionee's trade contact on this part of Kashyyyk until Czerka barred her entry. With the escalation in slave exports, Kionee had feared that brawny Krrarn would be among those shipped off-planet. She was relieved to find otherwise, though she would not bring it up to him.

“I am glad to see you again too, Kionee,” Zaalbar said, rising from his wicker seat. “Welcome back to Kashyyyk.”

“Thanks,” she said, closing the distance between herself and the Wookiees with three long strides. She took Zaalbar's big paw in a firm handshake. “I'm always glad to come back here.”

“Then we hope to see you a thousand times more,” the Wookiee to Zaalbar's left said formally.

“Kionee, this is the council of trade and finance,” Mission explained, “I guess you already know Krrarn. This is Shormoka from Wanwraal Village,” she pointed to the Wookiee who had just spoken. Skipping over Zaalbar, she introduced the three Wookiees to his right, “And this is Taalwen, Erfokk, and Ancchyerr.”

“Please, sit down,” Zaalbar urged.

Kionee found a wicker stool behind her and settled down into it. Mission took a seat beside her and Emtee hovered over her shoulder, ever ready to translate. Finding all eyes on here, Kionee began, “So I'm here to re-negotiate trade relations with Kashyyyk on behalf of Rinnh Imports. I understand that you have recently been engineering a new form of global governance.”

“It is a work in progress,” Shormoka clarified.

“Well, anyway, your governance is at least different than what it was before our trade was interrupted by Czerka,” Kionee continued. One or two of the Wookiees growled at the mention of that name. “So Rinnh Imports wants to re-negotiate with you on a completely blank slate. We support your reformation and we want to see you thrive.”

“That is very generous of a galactic-wide corporation like Rinnh Imports,” Erfokk observed with some distrust.

“Hey, I don't blame you for being suspicious,” Kionee replied with a shrug, “But you can trust me when I say this: the head of Rinnh is my dad and he really does want to see you guys succeed. He really hates Czerka for what they did to you guys, and after meeting Zaalbar, he's determined to make supporting Kashyyyk one of his personal goals. That's part of the reason he sent me here. He know that I'll make sure you guys get a fair deal.”

“And I trust Kionee,” Zaalbar voiced, “She is an honest human.”

Kionee pulled a small datapad out of one of her vest pockets and held it out towards Krrarn out of habit. He took it in his huge hands, making it seem little more than a toy. “This is what I've got to offer you today in my hold, as well as a database of our regularly supplied produce lines elsewhere in the galaxy, so you can make requests for the future,” she explained. “What do you have for me today?”

“The samples,” the Wookiee Ancchyerr reminded Mission sharply.

“Right,” Mission bolted up from her chair. She returned momentarily from the next room, which Kionee guessed to be the kitchen, judging by the pleasant smells drifting out from the open doorway, carrying a lidded wicker basket in her arms. “Here,” she said, placing it on the table in front of Kionee.

Kionee removed the lid and set it aside. The top-most piece was a massive seed cone, woody and oblong. She gave it a sharp shake and several pale, fleshy nuts clattered out onto the table. Picking one up she examined it closely.

“That seems to resemble a Corellian pine nut,” Emtee observed.

Kionee nodded. “That's what I was thinking,” she agreed, “Only much bigger.” She turned her attention back to the Wookiees, who were all watching her with interest. “May I?” she asked, holding up the nut.

“Of course,” Zaalbar replied. “These samples are for you.”

She popped the nut into her mouth and crunched into it. It had the same mellow flavor as the smaller Corellian nuts but lacked some of the sweetness. She nodded thoughtfully as she munched. Swallowing, she asked, “So how much are you offering it to me for?”

“How much do you think is fair?” Zaalbar asked.

“Oh, come on,” Kionee rolled her eyes, “If you ask me, I might demand a totally unfair price.”

“But you would not, Kionee,” Zaalbar observed, “You are an honest and generous trader.”

“But others won't be so fair,” Kionee pointed out sternly, “I don't want to spoil you, or you'll go soft and let yourselves be cheated all the time.”

Zaalbar turned to the other Wookiees around him and began to chat in low wuffs and growls.

“Don't translate, Emtee,” Kionee hissed at her droid even before he could start, “Give them their privacy.”

“As you wish, Mistress Kionee,” Emtee replied quietly.

The Wookiee's discussion died down almost too quickly. “How about fifty credits per kilo?” Zaalbar offered.

“You're just saying that because fifty is a nice round number,” Kionee observed shrewdly. “If I were anyone other than me, I would take that offer and I would still be ripping out off. If you're going to protect your agricultural sector, you've got to do your research. You've got to know what similar products out there are, what the demand is, and what they're going for. That can all change week by week.”

“We always traded at fixed prices before,” Krrarn observed.

“That was because that's what you set up with your first trade deal, and Rinnh stuck by it because it was easy, and frankly, we were making money off of it,” Kionee admitted. “You could do a lot better this time if you wanted to, but you're going to need someone like an Agricultural Minister, or even a whole committee to keep an eye on stuff like this. Or you could let trade like this be privatized.”

“So, what do you suggest then?” Taalwen, the only female Wookiee present, implored her. From the look in her eyes, Kionee could see that she had gained the woman's trust.

“Let me have that,” she held out her hand for the datapad she had given to Krrarn, who returned it to her. She bit her lip as she scrolled through the database, running numbers through her head. “If it were me,” she said slowly, “I would push for seventy-six credits per kilo, and no less than seventy, for sure.”

The Wookiees rumbled their surprise and exchanged encouraged looks.

“People like me will always try to barter for the best deal,” she explained with a laugh, “It's part of our job. And most of them aren't as much of a pushover as I am.” Turning the pad so that Mission and all of the Wookiees could see it, she continued, “See this? The closest thing I know of off the market to this nut of yours is the Corellian pine nut, as I said earlier. When you're trying to market something new to exporters, you should see if it compares to something that already exists. That would be helpful to you in that there isn't much of a Wookiee market off of Kashyyyk, so you don't have the home-sick population to sell to. You will mostly have to count on existing flavors to work your way into the galactic market. Novelty foods, no matter how much you love them here, will be a hard sell, unless you can get some press or some famous chef to do a special on them off-world. What is a delicacy here, you might not be able to sell for very much if no one knows what it is abroad. Stuff like that,” she concluded and passed the datapad back to Krrarn.

“Keeping that in mind,” Kionee continued, “I'm going to go through all your samples now, but I won't make you any offers until you've had more time to do your research and think it over. I'm here through tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you for your fairness with us, Kionee Rinnh,” Shormoka said earnestly.

“Like I said, I want to see you guys thrive,” she shrugged.

“We appreciate it,” Taalwen murmured her gratitude, “You treat us like intelligent sentients.”

Kionee smiled then dug into the wicker basket again. One by one she examined each specimen, touching, smelling, and tasting. Asking the name of each, she took holo captures and jotted down notes as she went for Rinnh's database. There were fruit, vegetables, more nuts, edible flowers from the canopy, dried spices, and even bulbous roots dug up from the Shadowlands. She asked the Wookiees to describe how each was eaten and what it was usually prepared with. Less than half of what was presented to her in that basket was familiar from her earlier trades. The Wookiees clearly wanted to open up the way for more exports. Much of it, oddly enough, closely resembled plants she was familiar with elsewhere in the galaxy, only larger. There was so much variety in what this tiny region of the planet produced in edible foodstuff, it was almost as if Kashyyyk had been specially engineered as a giant garden.

When she was finished, she replaced the lid on the basket and straightened up on her stool. “Now, I'll give you more time to figure out what you'll offer me for all of those,” Kionee started, “But let's talk imports now. What are you looking for from me?”

“We always enjoyed the selection of fruits Rinnh brought us before,” Krrarn started, “Mooja, renji, and flemmit, in particular.” Her old contact continued on a long list of trade goods they were looking for and even the quantities of each. This, at least, the Wookiees had thought out. She punched in more notes on her datapad.

“You're lucky,” Kionee nodded when he finished, “In that I actually have a number of those things in my cargo hold, based on our previous deals. Now what do your current agricultural tariffs look like?”

“Tariffs?” Erfokk asked.

“Tariffs are how you protect your own products against cheap imports from other places,” Mission piped in proudly. To Kionee, she added, “I've been doing my research.”

Kionee nodded, “She's right. Take your kroak nuts for example.” She held up the large conifer cone again and continued, “They are very similar to the Corellian pine nuts. Enough so that if someone wanted to, they could probably come in here and sell the little Corellian ones for cheaper, and then all your people who harvest kroak cones won't be able to compete with the foreign prices fairly. Tariffs help keep your domestic market competitive with your imported market, on equal or better footing.”

“Oh, I see,” Erfokk nodded thoughtfully.

“I take it you're going to need some more time to think on that too,” Kionee observed.

Zaalbar exchanged a few looks with the rest of the council. “Can we make our deals tomorrow morning after we have time to talk tonight?” he asked.

“Of course,” Kionee nodded, “I kind of expected that. That's why I've got a more flexible schedule for tomorrow.”

“You call staying less than one full day flexible?” Mission accused.

“It's better than my usual schedule on any planet where I only have one point of contact,” Kionee replied neutrally. “I'm just glad I get to stay as long as I do this time. I love Kashyyyk.”

“Good,” Mission said firmly, “Then you'll be back often.”

“Well, if we're finished her for now,” Ancchyerr started, “Let's break for dinner. I think it is ready by now. Thank you Kionee Rinnh.”

“Just doing my job,” she replied warmly. Inviting odors wafted from the kitchen, but Kionee was far from hungry, her stomach full of fruits and vegetables already from her samples. Of course she would have to stuff herself even fuller at the Wookiee dinner too. She really did love her job.

The Wookiees all began to stand up and move towards the kitchen for dinner. Kionee stood with them and was suddenly struck by just how tall the Wookiees were in close quarters. “Boy, do I ever feel short,” she whispered to Mission.

“You feel short?” Mission laughed. “How do you think I feel?”

“Tiny? Minuscule?” Kionee teased, “Though I think you have gotten taller since I saw you last.”

“Doesn't feel like it with all of these guys around,” Mission laughed again.

“I bet,” Kionee grinned.

“How about after dinner we watch a holovid?” Mission suggested eagerly, as if she had been waiting the entire meeting just to broach the question. “I've got a holo projector set up at my place, but nobody around here appreciates good core flicks.”

“That sounds great! Emtee isn't much of a movie watching buddy either,” Kionee replied, “You know, I've got—”

“I don't have much of a selection though,” Mission interrupted.

“I beat you to it,” Kionee said proudly, pulling out a colorfully packaged holodisk from another one of her pockets. “I picked up Yvern Starsinger's newest film last time I was in the core. You seen it yet?”

“'Blue Coruscant'?” Mission practically jumped off the floor to take it from Kionee's hands. “I've been wanting to see this one since it came out!”

“It sounds like we've got a plan then,” Kionee beamed.

“You should come back here more often,” Mission said half-seriously, “Tell your dad that you want all the Kashyyyk runs.”

“I'll see what I can do,” Kionee replied with a smile, all the while knowing that she could never promise tying her self down to one planet.

- Next Part -


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