2948-04-21 - Tales from the Inbox: The Discarded Diadem
“Welcome to Brett’s Antiques.” Though he had been thirty seconds from locking the doors and going home for the day, Risko Brett turned on the charm the moment the door chime announced the entrance of a lone customer.
“Yes, hello.” The newcomer, a young man whose street clothes in the local style failed to disguise a Navy spacer on shore leave, glanced around at the half-lit storefront. One hand clutched a wrapped bundle to his chest while the other absently raked his close-cropped hair. “Are you closing?”
Risko shrugged, reaching under the counter to turn the display-case lights back on. “I was about to.” It had been a quiet day – the young spacer was only his fifth patron in ten hours, and only three had bought anything. He could tell immediately that this junior enlisted spacer would not be making any major purchases, but it would be bad salesmanship to rush him. “Take your time, look around.”
“Actually...” The young man stepped further into the shop. “I was wondering if you buy.”
Risko nodded. Brett’s Antiques was only too happy to buy items from walk-ins, but he doubted the young man could possibly have anything worth his time. “Depends on what you have.”
Hesitantly, the spacer approached the counter and set his paper-wrapped bundle down carefully, then stepped back as if worried it might explode.
Risko eyed his customer for a few seconds before touching the bundle, but he didn’t see any indication that he was being subjected to some sort of practical joke. Gingerly, he unfolded the crumpled paper, taking it slow even after he caught his first glimpse of silvery metal within. “Can you tell me what it is?”
“Well...” The young man looked over his shoulder, then stepped in close and lowered his voice. “My cousin dug it up on Adimari Valis. He sent it to me a few weeks before Nate took the place.”
Wincing, Risko picked up the item. He didn’t like dealing in Xenarch artifacts, since they tended to attract the wrong kind of customers. Despite his apprehensions, the item didn’t look ancient enough to have been buried in Adimari dirt for five thousand years - its bright, untarnished metal looked new, and it was clearly shaped like it was meant for a human to wear. “It looks like a crown.”
Nodding eagerly, the young man reached out to point at a line of symbols just below the peaked crest at the front. “That’s Xenarch script, there.”
Risko scrutinized the text. He couldn’t tell if the symbols were a forgery – perhaps no-one could, since not even the experts could read the extinct aliens’ writing. “It could be. I’d need to have a xenoarchaeologist look at it.”
“I, uh...” The young man clearly didn’t want Risko to know what he’d already guessed. He’d not given his name; he wanted the transaction to be anonymous. The antiques dealer wondered if the story about a cousin on Adimari Valis was a sham – perhaps the young spacer had stolen the crown or won it in one of Maribel’s disreputable gambling-houses, his presence in which would violate Navy regulations. “I was hoping to sell it today.”
“Sorry, kid.” Risko pushed the crown back across the counter. “I can’t buy what I can’t verify. It might be what you say it is, but it looks like a-”
“A damned holo-drama prop, I know.” The youth ran his fingers over the fluted decorations on the face of the artifact. “I thought so too...”
Risko waited expectantly, but no words followed. He turned away to begin shutting down the shop, supposing that the conversation was over. When he had done so, he turned back to see that his customer had not moved. “Come on, I’ll see you out.”
Roused from staring down at the gleaming metal bauble, the young man turned and allowed himself to be led from the store but lingered nearby as Risko turned off his shop’s holo-signs and locked the door.
“Hey, Mr. Brett, do me a favor.”
Risko turned around in time to see a silvery-white object flashing through the air in his direction.
Reflexively, he caught the crown, which had been lobbed in a harmless underhand arc. By the time he looked up to its owner, all he saw of the spacer was his heels disappearing around the corner at the end of the block.
Chuckling and presuming he’d just inadvertently foiled a half-baked swindle, Risko tucked the flashy item under his arm inside his jacket and walked home to his flat a few blocks away. The crown was pretty – even if it was worthless enough to be discarded as soon as its shifty owner couldn’t get any credits for it, he considered it fair compensation for his wasted time. He wondered which of the many bespoke souvenir-fab shops in the city had manufactured such an attractive piece.
Setting the item on a shelf just inside his front door, Risko busied himself with a meal and his favorite holo-drama, then turned on a vidcast news service. The war and its many minor disasters dominated the news yet again, and he watched with interest but no real concern. Business would continue as usual, and the conflict did bring plenty of new customers to his store, even if some of them were disreputable.
When he retired for the night, Risko was still chuckling at the hapless spacer’s panicked flight and the glittering souvenir left behind. He’d met with forgery before, but no attempt nearly so crude.
With a general lull in the action here on the Frontier since the final withdrawal from Matusalemme, and Saint-Lô scheduled to be away from HyperCast relays for a few weeks on a routine post-refit shakedown patrol, I asked for and received permission to post items from the (increasingly lengthy) backlog of interesting stories sent in by the audience which have very little or nothing to do with the war effort.
The story I chose to pull from this fertile mass of potential with approval of the rest of the team here on Saint-Lô is that of Risko Brett, a small-time antiques and curio dealer on Maribel. Mr. Brett had a run-in with a Navy crewman who he thought at first had tried to swindle him. As he would learn (and this audience will discover next week), it wasn't the Brett or a petty-crime arrest that the spacer was fleeing.