The Benevolence was due to depart in just a few hours. Just enough time for Weyland to run one last errand.
It had taken him some time to track down a person who’d sell him a real plant on the space station where the ship was docked for repairs. He’d only been able to find a small one, grown for aesthetics rather than functionality, propagated hundreds of light years away from its original ancestor on Earth. Now he wanted something else from Earth, something even less practical than a little fat-leafed plant, and he’d finally found someone who was willing to sell it to him.
He didn’t know the seller’s name, but he’d been sent a location for a meeting. The map on his com screen led him down a series of service corridors, the part of the station that visitors were never meant to see. At the end of his route, Weyland found a solid-looking door. He knocked, his knuckles clanging on the metal. A red dot of light flashed in the center of the door, well above the top of his head, and a voice said, “Stand where I can see you.”
Weyland backed up as far as he could in the narrow hallway. The light flashed again and then something clicked inside the door, a mechanism unlocking. Weyland put his palm flat on the metal and pushed, and this time it swung open.
He stopped just inside the doorway, mouth open. There was another corridor on the other side, this one filled with row after row of glass containers on metal shelves. Some were vials as small as his thumb, others big enough that he could have fit his whole fist inside the mouth of them. They were filled with liquids in every color he could imagine, some clear and some opaque, and inside each one was a mass of growing tissue.
“Close the damn door, would you?” said the same voice, and Weyland shut it so hard all the jars rattled.
The hallway took a sharp turn and ended in a small room, made smaller by the densely packed shelves that ran along every wall. A good portion of the available floor space was taken up by a metal work bench very much like the one Weyland had in his own lab. An Eridani was sitting behind it. He was examining something through a microscope, and Weyland watched him as he worked. He had dark skin, almost more blue than green, and an old scar ran along the right hemisphere of his hairless head. Weyland thought it looked like a healed-over injury, possibly accidental; lasers and scalpels both cut cleaner lines through flesh.
At last his contact shoved his work to the side and looked Weyland up and down. “How old are you, kid?” he asked. “Can you even use your credit account without your mom’s permission?”
“I’m twenty-two,” Weyland said. It wasn’t the truth, but he was getting used to the lie.
The Eridani snorted through his nasal slits and gills at the same time, producing an unpleasant buzz. “Never was much good at telling human ages. Good at guessing the stage of development, of course. Mind you, all mammals look the same for a while.”
Weyland looked around at the jars. He had read up on the subject, and he was pretty sure that they weren’t doing anything illegal. Trading in genetic material was allowed by the laws of every nation in the galaxy; without cultured meat, no starship would be able to feed its crew. Still, he got the feeling that he was stepping into fuzzy legal territory.
“So, you’re here about a dog,” the Eridani said. “Got a breed in mind? Schnauzer? Poodle? Basenji? Of course, that’s not the only Earth-native species I have on offer. Have you considered an axolotl? Fantastic pets.”
“What have you got?”
“Besides those?” The Eridani pointed to a corner of the room. “See for yourself.”
Weyland walked over. The shop owner turned his attention back to his work. There was a whole shelf of fauna from planet earth, each specimen in its own tiny glass container. There were rats, and cats, and reptiles, and a surprisingly large section of sloths. Dogs took up a whole shelf, the jars densely packed three deep. There were no names on the jars, just labels with strings of numbers.
“Which type would you recommend?” Weyland asked. He picked up one of the jars and held it up to the light. The liquid inside was a pale red, and the little speck of flesh was just beginning to develop eyes.
“Can’t stand dogs,” said the Eridani. “The hair gets everywhere. You sure I can’t interest you in an axolotl? Maybe a frog?”
Weyland put the jar back and picked up another. It looked just about the same, really. He replaced it and glanced at the next set of shelves nearby, a collection of species from a planet millions of miles away from Earth. They looked a little like fleshy sea urchins. He wished he’d done more research.
One of the containers at the back was so old that a layer of dust had settled on the white cap. Weyland pushed the other jars aside carefully to get a better look. This one had an equally impenetrable set of numbers, but when he picked it up, he thought it at least looked distinct from the others. This one had a hair-thin line running down the center of its developing face.
Weyland took the jar to the workbench and pulled a credit chip out of his pocket. He’d loaded it with exactly the right amount of money, as instructed. When he set both the chip and the jar on the metal surface of the workbench, the shopkeeper looked considerably more excited to see him. “Ah, that’s one of the thirty-two oh seven line,” he said. “Didn’t realize any were still back there.”
“Is it a good type of dog?” Weyland asked, afraid he’d made the wrong choice.
“Oh, it’s my favorite type of dog. An improvement on dogs, if you ask me.” Before Weyland could reconsider, the Eridani grabbed the credit chip and slid a padded bag over the bench. “You can leave the way you came. All sales are final.”