The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 6, Selling our Trade Goods
We rejoin our heroes as Markel wings away from the Nones astride his trusty dragon. After four weeks cooped up on a small spaceship, glamoured to the size of a large dog with wings, the dragon is very glad to be its normal size and able to stretch its wings.
While the dragon doesn't have any problems rising, since its lift is at least partly provided by psi, it's having trouble making headway. The air on Moncair thins rapidly as you lift out of the valley containing the capital city of Fort Ducail and spaceport and the dragon's wings don't have much to push against. Eventually the dragon solves this by lifting high and then swooping forward as it falls. It would make an alarming sight on the spaceport's radar screen, except that Salimar has glamoured both Markel and the dragon invisible, except to each other. Somehow, they make their way to the edge of the spaceport, avoiding lifting and descending spacecraft as well as local air traffic.
Once out over the desert outside the spaceport, Markel can see by the light of Moncair's remote secondary sun that the desert is carpeted with blue cactus. After a bit he sees animals scuttling among the cactus below him. Suddenly the dragon dives toward the desert floor. Fortunately for both of them, the dragon is an excellent (or lucky) flier. While it misses the crab it was aiming for, it manages also to miss crashing into the ground or cactus in the unfamiliar thin atmosphere. After a few tries, the dragon manages to catch a crab in it's talons (leaving a few mortally wounded crabs behind) and flaps to a high spot to feed.
The dragon lands on top of a butte with a crunch as the crab is crushed beneath it. Violet blood leaks from rents in the exoskeleton. Markel dismounts as the dragon begins to feed. After four weeks of the ship's version of Dragon Chow, any food that it's captured would taste good. Markel helps himself to a leg, which the dragon toasts for him after two or three tries. While both Markel and the dragon have taken their oxygen pills, there's not much oxygen in the atmosphere to combust. Markel decides that the local crab tastes sort of like chicken. Shortly there's nothing left but a picked-over exoskeleton and a contented boy and his dragon.
After resting under the stars for a while Markel and the dragon head back to the ship. Shortly before they reach the edge of the spaceport, Markel sees a group of people next to a large boulder off to the side. The side away from the spaceport. Directing the dragon towards the strangers, he sees two groups. The first consists of six people huddled together. In fact, they look like they've been cocooned. The second group is made up of two men who are holding guns on the six captives.
Realizing that he's unarmed (except for a large fire breathing dragon with sharp talons), Markel heads back to the Nones to report to the authorities. Unfortunately, he's gotten turned around and can't remember which ship is the Nones. Luckily, the dragon has a better sense of direction, or smell, or something, since it has no problem finding the Nones on its own. As Markel strides up to the hatch, the Nones recognizes him and opens the hatch. Markel tells the Nones about the people he saw being held captive and asks it to contact the authorities. The Nones replies that it can contact the Star Marshals, but it has a standing order that a human must conduct any communications with people who aren't "family." Markel says that he'll speak with the Star Marshals. The Nones notes that he's invisible. Markel dusts himself visible and goes to the nearest communications terminal. The Nones places the call.
The screen lights and a square-jawed, uniformed person appears. He's wearing a black uniform with silver highlights and a badge that reads "Moncair Star Marshals." He says "This is the Moncair Star Marshals Office. How may I help you?"
Markel responds urgently, "There are six people being held hostage just outside the space port by two gunmen!" He points in the direction of the spaceport's edge. "They're over there!" Not being from a technical society, Markel doesn't realize that his image on the screen has no relation to his real orientation.
The Marshal looks at him quizzically. "Which way? ... You're calling from the MV Dubious?"
Markel answers, "Yes."
The Marshal makes an entry on a console off screen and says, "We'll have someone out to your ship in a few minutes. Please meet them at the hatch. Is there anything else?"
Markel answers "No," and the Marshal signs off.
Markel goes to the lock to meet the Marshal and make sure the dragon isn't in the way. A few minutes later, with the dragon hiding somewhere, a spiffy air sled with flashing blue bubble lights comes up. Markel describes what he saw again and points in the direction of the spaceport's edge. The Marshal tells him, "Hop in." and they take off. No Jetson's exhaust noises or smoke rings. This is the 55th century.
As they speed away from the Nones, Markel hears something that sounds like wings flapping. It's the dragon following the air sled. He decides to ignore it. Fortunately, the air sled is faster than the dragon.
Shortly, Markel recognizes the rock he saw the captives behind. The Star Marshal lands a few hundred feet away and heads towards the rock, weapon drawn. Markel chooses to stay with the air sled. Just as the Marshal reaches the rock, Markel hears a THUMP behind him. Turning quickly, he doesn't see anything back there. Then he notices the dragon prints on the ground. Muttering, "I told you to stay at the ship!" Markel shoos the dragon away. It goes, but sulkily.
As Markel turns back towards the rock, the Star Marshal comes from the far side. He's behind two men in darkish brown outfits holding their hands in the air. As he approaches the air sled, the Marshal asks Markel to release the captives.
When he reaches the (now ex) captives, they're wrapped up like mummies and trying to talk to each other through the bags that are over their heads. Markel takes the bag off the head of the nearest captive, who looks at him and says, "You don't look like a Star Marshal. I thought you people wore black uniforms."
Markel allows that he's not a Star Marshal.
With a skeptical look, the captive asks, "Where's the Marshal?"
Markel replies, "He's guarding the people who abducted you. He asked me to help you and your friends"
The captive says "Oh. You mean the slavers." And then starts talking at his fellow abductees. Markel takes the bags off everyone's head, and then releases them from their straight-jacket-like confinement. He discovers that he's rescued four women and two men. Everybody looks pretty scruffy, and are in desperate need of a shower, but they're all very happy to be rescued. Markel leads the ex-prisoners to the air sled and finds that the Star Marshal has called in reinforcements to take the slavers into custody. Shortly, another air sled arrives to take the victims to the spaceport. Markel hitches a ride back to the Nones with the Star Marshal who captured the slavers.
The rest of us show up to find Markel hanging out outside the ship, keeping his dragon out of trouble. Dafnord asks, "Where is the dragon?" We smell something metallic in the air, and there are faint violet prints on the ground. Crab blood. Dafnord asks, "Been hunting?" Markel nods. Dafnord persists, "Something wrong?"
Markel replies, "Oh nothing. I think I saved some slaves."
Our ears perk up. Dafnord asks, "Slaves?"
Markel continues, "I told the authorities that there were 2 guys holding 6 guys hostage."
Salimar asks, "How did you contact the authorities?"
Markel answers, "Through the Nones." With that, we troop inside and ask the ship to play back the conversation. Once we've heard what was said, we debate how to find out more about local slavers from the authorities. Perhaps we can learn something which will make it easier to local Aelwe on Loald. Morniesul suggests that we tell the truth; A friend of ours is missing and we heard that people are being captured by slavers. Is there anything that the Star Marshals can tell us? We decide to send a letter, complete with a picture. Since the Nones doesn't have any on file, Robbie downloads a copy of the scene we first met him: on the witch path to what became Lanthil, on his aircycle.
The process of downloading the picture puzzles Morniesul, and he asks how Robbie did that. Robbie explains that he's a robot and sent it to the Nones over a radio link, sort of like telepathy, but between machines. Morniesul's not clear on the term "robot," so Robbie explains that he's sort of a "clockwork" person.
Once the message is complete, we send it to the Star Marshals. Salimar then asks the Nones to send a letter to Emethi saying we're here, were recommended to her by Toma, and would like to meet. "Toma" is the local alias that Tom told us he's know by here.
It being night, and a busy day, we go to sleep. The dragon declines to be shrunk and come inside, so it curls up on the nose of the Nones. Fortunately, it's still invisible.
In the morning, there are messages for us from both the Star Marshals and Emethi. The Star Marshals gives us a succinct report on the capture of the slavers and release of 6 captives and send warm regards to Markel. They say that they don't have any record of any being matching this picture. They will keep the picture on file. They give us assorted net addresses for searches of people known to be taken by slavers. It will cost 30 marks. We tell the Nones to start the search while we listen to the note from Emethi.
"It's always pleasant to hear from Toma or any of his friends. Feel free to contact me at this number. I look forward to meeting you. Emethi."
Before we can ask the Nones to call Emethi, it announces that there is a delivery. Dafnord and Morniesul go out to see who and what have arrived. They find Tom at the bottom of the gangplank, looking at the nose. As soon as the hatch opens, he asks "Why are there are foot prints on top of the ship?"
Morniesul explains "It's the dragon".
Tom mutters "That's another for the file-and-forget file..." Behind Tom is a large box which he says contain the ULATAs; the bicycles with legs that are due to be delivered to Meth, in the Empire. There's also two smaller boxes of net tokens, one each for LFR and VOA. Then Tom looks at Dafnord and grins "Oh, and I forgot about this one. It's an arms shipment." Dafnord's eyes light up and he opens the final box as Tom heads off on the cart. It's full of arms. No legs, just arms. Dafnord calls out to Tom on the net, and bounces off of Tom's shields. Dafnord turns to Morniesul and asks "Did Tom say who the arms are for?"
Morniesul answers, "No," and then runs after the cart. With Elven speed, it doesn't take long to catch up. Jogging next to the door, he asks Tom "Who are the arms for? More clockwork men?"
This gives Tom pause. "Clockwork men?"
Morniesul explains "Like Mr. Roberts."
Tom shakes his head and says, "No, they're for men and women to wear. They put them on line a coat. They're called splice jobs. Some planets don't like having things like that around, so watch out. There are 8 pairs." Morniesul thanks Tom for his help and returns to the Nones, where he reports what Tom said. Dafnord mutters about dumping the splice jobs with the snow globes as he starts packing things away.
We ask the Nones to contact Emethi at the number she specified in her note. After a few rings, a female voice answers. "Yes?"
Robbie asks "Is Emethi there?"
The voice responds "This is her. Who's calling?"
Robbie answers "This is Mr. Roberts from the MV Dubious. We were given your name by Mr. Toma. We'd like to meet you at your convenience. Would you like to come here or would you prefer us to come to you?"
Emethi responds that she'd prefer to meet us at our ship, and could come right away. Robbie thanks her for her time and tells her that we'll be expecting her, and breaks the connection.
Emethi shows up fairly quickly. She's fair, with a delicate build, looking like Audrey Hepburn. Somehow, the standard body stocking looks good on her. Dafnord meets her at the hatch. She asks, "You are Mr. Roberts?"
Dafnord replies, "No. Please come with me," and leads her into the ship. The furnisher has been set to make the front of the hold look like a place for people to meet, with comfortable chairs and a low table. We all introduce ourselves.
Emethi smiles pleasantly and says "I understand that you need a commercial verifier."
Salimar responds "Yes ... as well as an advisor."
Emethi asks "Are you buying or selling?" We explain that we're looking to sell, and she says that she charges 60 marks per day, and happens to be available for the full day, if we'd like to hire her. Since Tom recommended her, we agree and lead her behind the screen put up by the furnisher and show her our trade goods and the assessor's report. She recommends that we sell the art and the jewelry on Moncair; we're likely to get a better price in the empire for the other goods. She offers to give us the names and addresses of art dealers, and offers to accompany and introduce us.
Morniesul asks about people who would be able to dye the cat. Brunalf indignantly replies that he is not a skunk. Emethi raises an eyebrow and says that she's never seen a neo-cat before. They're very rare in the Reach. She goes on to suggest a pet groomer. This does nothing to smooth Brunalf's fur. We suggest strongly that he keep his mouth shut.
When she finds out that we haven't been to the Ministry of Identities yet, she offers to escort us. We agree to meet her outside the spaceport, after we pick up some cash at the nearest ATM. "I expect that you'll be wanting DBA's -- Doing Business As. Or we can get you Commercial Citizenships." When we look puzzled, Emethi explains "A Commercial Citizenship registers you as citizens of Moncair. I don't expect that any of you have citizenship in the Reach..."
We agree that we'll want Commercial Citizenships, at a cost 20 marks apiece. Morniesul suggests getting one for the cat also, just in case. Emethi grins and says that we should let her handle the cat's papers.
Reaching the Ministry, we all pick out Terraformer names from the handily placed display, both for ourselves and for our parent of the same sex. We each go through the process. Salimar goes through twice, once as a male, and once as a female. The clerk doesn't notice, or doesn't care. When she and the cat reach the head of the queue, Emethi picks up Brunalf and puts it on the desk, broadly suggesting that we're getting papers for the cat as a joke. The clerk doesn't even bat an eyelash. Once we're done, Emethi leads us out with a satisfied smile on her face. Perhaps she's had a run-in with this clerk before.
Emethi then takes us to Bloil's, a jeweler's in a nice section of town. When we arrive, Mr. Bloil is behind the counter. He greets Emethi, who explains that we have some unusual items that we'd like to sell. Mr. Bloil leads us into the back room, which we notice is well monitored. Even better than the display section of the store.
We lay out the mundane jewelry. Mr. Bloil asks, "What are you asking for it?" Morniesul explains that we're from far away and hoping to get it appraised. Mr. Bloil starts examining them, and throwing off prices for each price. After Mr. Bloil has looked at the first few, Emethi says, "That what you'll want. Now what are they worth?" Mr. Bloil grumbles and raises the prices and mutters about damned verifiers. By the end, he agrees that we've got a nice selection in archaic styles. He offers us a price of 1400 marks. Well, of course the style is archaic. We point out that the items we've shown him are about 30 centuries old. Mr. Bloil looks skeptical, but goes out to get equipment to date our stash.
Watching the doorway carefully, Morniesul waits until he hears Mr. Bloil returning and then turns to Emethi and asks, in his best officious voice, "Verifier Emethi, Do I understand that Mr. Bloil has given us a fair price for these items?" Emethi responds, "Yes, he has." Morniesul continues, "Then would he be a good candidate to show the other items?" At this point Mr. Bloil returns. Emethi and Morniesul pointedly do not react to his return, though Emethi grins at Morniesul when Mr. Bloil's back is turned. Mr. Bloil's instruments read off the scale. While he can't confirm that the jewelry is 30 centuries old, he can confirm that it's very old. This raises the price he's willing to offer to 4000 marks.
Morniesul then reaches into his pocket and pulls out 3 dwarven gems, and hands them Mr. Bloil. "I obtained these on one of my further travels. Could you please appraise them"
Mr. Bloil starts to examine the first gem and immediately notes, "It's very finely psi-textured."
Morniesul responds, "That would be understandable, given the rock they were mined from."
Mr. Bloil continues, apparently not having heard Morniesul, "Definitely some form of hand-made psi. Good lord, the texture is... Sir would you be willing to reveal the source of these?"
Morniesul replies, "I obtained them from the place they were mined. You wouldn't know the name of those mountains."
Robbie chimes in, "They were mined by dwarves. They're Faerie gems. "
Mr. Bloil looks at Robbie and just nods. Sure. Faerie gems. Uh huh. He turns to Emethi. "I don't suppose that you'd be willing to work double. I'd make it worth your while..."
Emethi grins and says, "You know that's against the rules."
Mr. Bloil looks pained and turns back to the gems. He examines the second and third and exclaims, "These are certainly not natural!"
Morniesul repeats, "No, they were mined."
Mr. Bloil looks up from his appraisal. "These are unique. It's difficult to place a price. You said that you were looking for an appraisal. Are you willing to sell? I'd be willing to offer you 10,000 marks per gem." Mr. Bloil may not believe that the gems were mined by dwarves. But they are uncommonly good, wherever they come from.
Given our time constraints, that's a good deal. We agree to the deal, and Mr. Bloil transfers 34,000 marks to Tom's account. While the accounts are being settled, Dafnord scans the store for something "unique;" things that we hadn't seen in our time on Helene. Unfortunately, there isn't anything that looks particularly unusual to his untrained eye. Once the credit transfer is complete, Morniesul asks for manufactured gems, preferably recently developed. Mr. Bloil shows him a display of self-luminous opals. They were developed about 300 hundred years ago. Morniesul asks for a dozen. Mr. Bloil asks if he'd like to pick out which ones he wants. There are 14 in all. Mr. Bloil offers to sell the lot for 230 marks. Morniesul accepts.
As we leave, Mr. Bloil offers to act as Morniesul's broker for any other gems he'd like to sell. Morniesul thanks him and replies, "Perhaps at some other time."
Once outside, Robbie goes to the nearest branch of Tom's bank and opens an account or our own. He then transfers most of the money we've earned into our new account, leaving Tom twice what we started with. Morniesul will also send Tom two of the opals with a note: "To take back home," and signed "M."
We pile back into the autocab and head off to the art galleries. Emethi leads us to a small place with a wide variety and styles of art. Looking around while waiting for the proprietor, we realize we'd never considered the possibility of holographic paint before. And the smells... The subjects are... we hope that they're surreal. Though we have seen stranger things before breakfast...
The dealer is (technically) male, but he's way too fashionable for us. Dafnord shows him our collection, and he admits that he's out of his league. He recommends we go to the Moncair Museum of Fine Art here in Fort Ducail. Morniesul questions whether the MMFA can compete with the private collectors. Emethi explains that the MMFA is a private collector. Oh. As we leave, Morniesul asks the dealer for a card. He pulls out a credit-card-like thing and peels one off, then hands it to Morniesul with a flourish. Definitely the first holographic copier we've seen.
We discover when we arrive that the MMFA is one of the few buildings in Fort Ducail that floats. Emethi leads us to the elevators. They are simply disks with fragile looking glass guard rails that float to and from the building above. While Morniesul isn't sure about this, we eventually assemble in the lobby of the museum, with Dafnord carrying a sample, covered in a cloth.
Emethi leads us to the desk and asks to see the curator. Morniesul puts on his best [elvish] demeanor, standing tall and aloof, clearly above talking to underlings. The receptionist gives him a glance and asks Emethi, "On what business?"
Emethi explains that we wish to have some objects appraised. Eventually the curator comes out. She's a stoutish lady, who looks haughtily at Emethi and asks, "Yes young lady?" Emethi passes off the curator to Morniesul. "Ah, are your the curator? I've traveled rather far and have come across some antiquities which may be of interest to you." Dafnord holds up the painting and unveils it. "The majority are from the same era, but of differing styles." The curator closely examines the painting, then saying that we should come into the back offices, heads off. We follow her.
She leads us into the back of the museum and hands us to a dried up old prune of a being and leaves without another word. We take this to be a technician in charge of authenticating art pieces. He comes out from behind his desk and says "Yes, you have something for me to see?"
Morniesul gestures to the picture that Dafnord is still carrying. "When we found the picture, we found this certificate of authentication with it." He hands the paper to the technician who examines it and then exclaims, "Helene?!?!"
Morniesul replies "Yes. We understand that the derelict had been adrift for quite some time." Emethi just watches, with a small grin. The technician bustles off, and then comes back with a dater, and then goes over to a terminal. Much flashing of lights and beeps later, the curator reaches into his pocket and pulls out an ornate pill case, carefully selects one, and swallows it dry. He looks at us and says, "This is most remarkable. It's quite fortunate that the certificate is of organic materials. After a lengthy database search, I've been able to determine that the wood fibers in the paper were from Helenic materials."
Morniesul asks, "Does your museum deal in art from this period?"
The technician replies, "The museum deals in art which is of interest of Mr. Lyward. But he is interested in... curiosities"
Morniesul responds, "We could provide a catalog of our other pieces. Whatever is convenient to Mr. Lyward."
The technician answers, "I think that would be a good idea. Uh, madam!" and rushes off.
We're left with Emethi who's grinning broadly. "I said that I charged 60 marks a day. You can have today for 40. This is the sweetest thing that Toma has ever done for me."
The technician comes back with the curator. "Honestly. You can check it yourself. It's from Helene. You can check it yourself. We really must tell Mr. Lyward." The grumpy lady checks out things herself. Much flashing of lights and beeps later, The battle-ax turns to us and says, "Yes, I do think Mr. Lyward needs to be told. You have more of this, you say?" Morniesul nods yes. "One moment please." She goes to the terminal and sends a message to Mr. Lyward. "I expect that Mr. Lyward will be getting back to us shortly. If you'll leave this sample here..."
Morniesul replies "Of course. If you'll give us a receipt. You can contact us at the spaceport. Our ship is the MV Dubious at pad 94."
The curator produces an impressive looking receipt. Salimar accepts it and inspects it carefully. The elderly gent escorts us out, to the surprise of the receptionist.
We return to the street and Morniesul asks Emethi for a tailor. Emethi is sure that she can recommend a very good tailor. Morniesul wants something ... discreet. Gotcha. She knows just the place. Off we go for a bespoke suit, in the current, conservative local mode.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved