Indistinguishable From Magic

There were dozens of them clustered around Rebbo, none taller than midway up the massive engineer’s shinbone. Shinbones? Mays had the camera zoomed in and focused so he could at least try to read Rebbo’s body language; out the actual window he could see more of the tiny aliens coming from the mostly mud-brick village downslope near the river.

“He making any headway? You’re listening in, right?”

ELLE’s voice came from either side of the flight control panels, and from his dangling earpiece, and from speakers set into the shoulders of his Captain’s chair. “I am listening. I can’t tell if he’s making any headway.”

He pressed the comms button. “You making any headway?”

Mixed in with a chorus of alien chatter: “What is ‘headway’?

“Do you understand what they’re saying?”

Rebbo gestured to the aliens to quiet down, and when that failed, he put his helmet back on. “They are speaking a pidgin version of an archaic Wholmet trade koine. That suggests it has been a considerable time since a ship has landed here.”

“Maybe pre-Company?”

Almost certainly.

“Do they want to sell the ore?”

“I am having a difficult time describing what it is we want to buy. The Boolbul do no mining; all their metal is recycled. There is a machine that melts down broken or worn-out tools and reforms them to whatever specifications they—”

“A machine? A Wholmet machine?”

I would assume so. I have asked to see it. They have agreed on the condition that in return we allow them to tour the ship.”

“What, all of them?”

ELLE interjected. “A working Wholmet machine of any kind would be on an order more valuable than either our current cargo or the ore we were sent to trade—”

“Well no shit.”

“—for. Any reasonable offer on credit, made by us as their agents, would be honored by the Company.”

Mays threw up his hands in exasperation. “But they’d take the machine, ELLE, the Company. We wouldn’t get the profits.”

“There would be a sizable reward bounty.”


Stand by.” Rebbo clicked off to converse with the Boolbul crowd. Suddenly, mid-gesture, they began backing away: some rushed to pick up spears they had earlier dropped on the ground; others continued towards the village, waving their arms as they went. Rebbo was already sprinting back towards the ship. “Their opening position is that it is not for sale.”

No comments:

Post a Comment