Lords of Being
Chapter 22: Five Flying Fish
We arrive at Addis Ababa without incident and with rather more fuel than the Captain expected. We refuel and leave without fanfare. Rosamund has been studying her seed catalog assiduously throughout the journey.
About an hour out of Addis Ababa, there’s a knock at the door of the plane. Which isn’t what you expect to hear at 5 miles above the ground. Hellgrammite looks out the window of the forward left hatch. There’s a young man with fair skin and black hair in business attire “standing” outside. He’s smiling pleasantly and waves at the Courtier.
After seeing Hellgrammite looking out the window suspiciously, Neon asks, “Who’s there?”
“A visitor. I would be prepared.” Hellgrammite gestures for the figure outside to come in. He does, without bothering to open the hatch. He’s accompanied by a second figure, who’s pretty similar to the first.
Rosamund identifies them as spiracula, like the Pages are, then asks, “What can we do for you?”
The first figure responds, “I’m Decker and this is my partner Dealer. We’re here to see a Lady Zabeth.” Zabeth is working with her handheld computer at one of the tables in back. She raises an eyebrow and remains silent.
Rosamund glances at Zabeth, and then asks, “About what?”
“We understand that she’s in the market for a Babylon candle? For Lady Mona? We’re here to negotiate the price.”
The second figure, who was identified as Dealer asks, “You are, I gather, a team?”
Rosamund nods. “Yes.”
Decker continues, “Then any one of you might be willing to negotiate. We deal in goods or perhaps services. What we were hoping for was three calls of service from one of you. We were expecting to get that from Lady Zabeth, but services from any of you would suffice.”
Rosamund asks cautiously, “What kind of services?”
“That would depend on what services you could perform. Given the people here, we believe that any of you will do. What special services can you perform?”
Rosamund narrows her eyes, “I’d like to make our trade a little more bounded. We know exactly what service you’re providing, but you’ve left our obligation open ended.”
Decker explains, “Whoever takes the geas would be obliged to offer three services. For example, if they specialize in alchemy, each would be service of an alchemical nature. And you are allowed to refuse two requests before you are obliged to perform a service. The refusal could be for any reason, including that it’s simply inconvenient at this time.”
Mabel asks, “Does it have to be three geases from one person, or could three people perform one service each?”
“Why yes, the service could performed by any member of the team. That would lessen the severity of the penalty for refusing a third time, if it was shared. The penalty is usually the loss of 30 nights of prana, payable over the course of a year.”
Rosamund checks to make sure that we’re still on the same topic: “This is for a Babylon candle, and its delivery to Lady Mona?”
Never having purchased a Babylon candle before, none of the team members know if this is a fair deal. Rosamund calls Mona to see if the price we’re being offered is good.
Mona confirms that she’s heard of our visitors, but she has never done business with them before. She also specifies that the candle should start out half a cubit long when it’s fresh, and should last a long time. “Normally it would last me two years of my normal usage. Recently I’ve been burning the candle at both ends recently, so to speak. I would say that you’re being offered a fair price. You might ask them if there could be some kind of mediation.”
Rosamond thanks Mona for her advice, and asks her to stay on the line to listen and make sure we’re getting a fair deal. Before she returns to the group, she confers with Mabel. Markets and such are more aspects of Order than Chaos. She relates what Mona told her and adds, “I’d like some bound on it.”
“It could be a call on you for healing magic, Zabeth for cat burglary, and me for dog training.” Mabel pauses, and then adds, “You do realize that the penalty is a loss of prana in human nights. Humans generate it faster than we do. Thirty nights for the average human is about a year’s worth of prana for me.”
“So we should check the size of the candle *and* the amount of prana.”
“Yes,” agrees Mabel.
The two Courtiers join the visitors, and Rosamund asks “What size candle are we talking about?”
Dealer responds, “About 25 cm.” Which is about half a cubit.
“And what is your denomination for prana?”
Decker answers, “A night of prana is the amount of prana generated by an average human. It’s about 10 times what we’d generate in a night.”
“Which means all of your power for a year. That seems a bit high.”
Dealer responds, “They’re very good candles. And the goal is to urge you to not renege.”
“Is there any way to bound the service? Healing one person of a grievous wound is one thing. Healing an entire town of a plague is another.”
Decker replies, “This is a risk that is entailed. This is why there can be refusals.”
Rosamund continues, “Can we setup some sort of arbitrator?”
Dealer nods, “Certainly, as long as it’s agreeable to both parties.”
“And who is your candle maker?”
Decker evades, “I doubt you’d know him. He’s recently moved to Basra from Bagdad.”
Dealer offers, “Would you like a reference?”
“That would be good.”
Decker proposes the Courtiers' Exchequers, Leong Moon of Chaos, in Hong Kong, and Greta Holtz of Order, in Zurich. Dyed-in-the-wool collaborationists, ideal for our purposes. “They’ve done business with us for years.”
Mabel calls Greta, who confirms Dealer and Decker’s bona fides. In general they give satisfaction and seem to be honest dealers. They’ve been at it for at least 500 years. Mabel thanks her and hangs up.
Rosamond asks, “Would they be acceptable arbitrators?”
“They’re entirely acceptable to us.”
Mabel adds, “There should be a timeframe for accepting an order of service. For example, we’re in the middle of a mission here.”
Rosamund asks, “Deck?”
“That’s our business group.”
Rosamund has one more question, “What protections do you have against attack from another?”
“If the client knowingly brings your ka into a hazardous situation that could bring down penalties on them.”
Rosamund polls the group, which seems inclined to accept. Mona pipes up, “I realize that it’s to get a candle for me. I’ll be grateful. People have me running all over the place these days.”
Rosamund grins. “Especially us.”
“I wasn’t going to mention that.”
We agree to the deal.
Neville asks, “Can you use prana from a human?”
Dealer shrugs. “Prana is prana.”
Rosamund probes a bit more. “So you can use prana from anyone on the team?”
Dealer repeats, “Prana is prana.”
The cabin door opens and Catalyst joins us. “The captain sent me back to find out who the strange voices are this time. It’s all being civilized here?”
Rosamund replies, “Yes. We’re purchasing a Babylon candle for Mona.”
Satisfied that we’re not under attack, Catalyst returns to the cockpit.
Neon asks, “How did you find us?”
Dealer replies, “You were easy to dowse for.”
Decker asks, “Is that a problem? Can we interest you in a mask?”
Rosamund asks cautiously, “What would the cost be for that?”
Decker replies, “Considerably less than the cost of Babylon candle. And then you’d be clients.”
Dealer asks, “Can we interest you in a Deck?”
Rosamund asks, “What’s a deck?”
Decker produces a deck of cards and fans them out.
“And what does it do?”
Dealer replies, “It’s primarily an exchange service for goods and services. We charge about an hour of a night’s prana generation per usage. That would be human hours.”
Neon asks, “What sort of services are in the deck?”
Decker replies, “That changes all the time. They’re things like predictions, alchemy, transformations, and clairvoyant readings. Lately we’ve been doing a lot of technological services.”
Rosamund muses, “So we would list our services.”
Dealer grins. “Right.”
Rosamund continues, “And after three services to clients of the Deck, our obligation would be complete.”
Decker nods, “Right. And after that, any services rendered would be gravy. Also, social contacts are negotiable.”
Rosamund turns to the group, “So what would we offer?”
Hellgrammite suggests, “Well, I do technological magic.”
Dealer pulls out a notepad. You wouldn’t think a notepad of that size would fit in a suit jacket pocket. “May I inquire which kind?”
“Anything electrical or mechanical.”
Decker points at one of the glass menagerie which is observing the proceedings. “One of yours?”
“No, that’s a colleague’s. I do these.” He pulls out a travel case and unlatches it. A few clanks come out and look at him, awaiting orders.
Dealer makes notes in his book, and then asks, “Is your colleague an alchemist?”
“No, but if it’s anything to do with glass, he can do it.”
Dealer nods, “Ah. Vitreomancy.”
Rosamond offers, “Simply healing services, no raising from the dead.”
Dealer makes more notes, “Can you fix mutilations? Regrow limbs or eyes?”
“Yes, but I’m much better with plants. It would take a while. That would be a more difficult service.”
Zabeth offers numerological skills. She says nothing about cat-burgling.
Hellgrammite calls Si, fills him in briefly on our deal with the Deck, and asks him to join us. Neville’s phone rings. “Neville, it’s Si. Please hold your phone out.”
Neville holds out the phone, and Glass is suddenly standing next to him. Glass shakes himself, and then brushes dust off himself. Then he turns to our visitors. “Silvester Glass. Call me Si.” He hands Dealer a stack of cards. “Entrepreneur and angel.” Dealer and Decker take a step back and their eyes open wide. “Financial, of course.” There’s a sigh of relief. “My services go quite dear at times.”
Zabeth offers, “Well, if entrée is what you want, I can provide an introduction to various… security agencies.”
Hellgrammite offers his software services too, with the caveat, “I will not do malicious software. I will clean it up, but I won’t cause it.”
Neon has been watching the lights, apparently ignoring the conversation, when he offers, “My skills are rather specialized. If you need a lighting designer or something more rarified, have them contact me.” He hands over a card that’s glowing. “I work with some of the top talent in Hollywood.”
Decker grins, “Very well. This is shaping up very nicely. Two things. First, may we have an address to send the contract to?”
Hellgrammite asks, “Physical or email?”
Decker shrugs, “I’m afraid physical will be necessary. We must work on that.”
Hellgrammite responds, “I could help with that.”
Glass seconds him, “As could I. For now, this will do for a physical address.” Si hands Decker a card. It’s for a small insurance company associated with Lloyds.
Dealer nods. “We’ll write up the details of this transaction and have them to this address shortly for your approval. Now that that negotiation is concluded, would you like to buy a mask?”
Rosamund nods firmly, “Yes, we would.”
Decker grins, “Very good. May we have identifiers or names for everyone who will be protected by the mask?”
Each of us gives their name, “Hellgrammite.” “Mabel, and I want to include my dog Hookie in the protection.” “Neville Carrols (Human, prana source).” “Claude Neon.”,“Silvester Glass.” “Lady Rosamund.” “Lady Zabeth.”
Dealer writes each name in his notebook, then asks, “And the gentleman who came in?”
Glass responds, “Mr. Baker. He’s to be included in the protection.”
“And your pilot?”
“Captain Barron. And this airplane is to be protected too.”
“We’ll send you email when the mask is in operation. Is there any other business with us that you would like to transact?”
Hellgrammite says, “We’d like a Deck.”
Decker replies, “We’d have to prepare one. Is it to be yours, or the teams? They have to have specified users.”
Hellgrammite says, “I’d like one.”
Rosamund adds, “We’d also like a way to contact you.”
Dealer replies, “Of course.”
Neon asks, “Do you have a phone number?”
Decker hands him a card saying, “Material plane contacts. No problem.” The card reads, “Dealer and Decker. The Deck.” There are a list of international phone numbers, email addresses, and even a wire address. He leafs through one of the decks. “We’ll put you on the Ace of Cats, unless you’d prefer some other card?” There’s no objection. “If you’ll gather for a group shot?”
Before anyone can move, Rosamund asks, “Can we have a symbol instead of our images?”
Dealer shrugs, “Yes, that certainly can be done. What would you like? A picture of a jet plane? Perhaps the number VII”?
Rosamund grins, “The number would be fine. And when will the candle be delivered?”
Decker replies, “Lady Mona will be getting the candle within 12 hours after you’ve approved the contract we will be sending to the address you gave us. Do you have any further business you’d like to conduct before we leave?” There’s no response. “Then thank you for your time. We look forward to doing business with you in the future.” The two figures bow, walk to the hatch, and leave.
We continue on our way to Madagascar.
Shortly after our guests have departed, Captain Barron wanders in, possibly to grab a bite to eat, and stops to chat with Glass. “Your friend is at the helm. He told me everything is all civilized back here.”
“We’ve got the usually number of people on board?”
“Did you have a good… trip?”
“Yes.” Glass stretches. “I haven’t felt this good in ages.”
“Is this the way you people… live?”
“Only lately. It’s been an unusual arrangement for unusual times. Usually I spend 60-70% of my time working virtually. On the net.”
“I was wondering if this is something you were used to.”
“No, it’s post-apocalyptic. By the way, I had a thought while I was out for a spin. I took a moment or two to setup some searches. It occurred to me that when we were looking at those catalogs in Florida, I saw a setup that you might fancy. Instead of the two fold-down beds, what if we had them install a pair of these. Your own compartment with a door?” He shows Captain Barron a picture from one of the catalogs of a small cabin. Two should fit in the rear of the plane.
“If you’re willing, I’d be happy to take it.” He wanders into the kitchen to make a snack, the stretches out on one of the couches to take a nap.
Hellgrammite calls one of his most paranoid friends in Colorado and asks, “Hey, Bloodhound?”
“This is Goggles. You know how I keep things free range. Well, it’s got me into trouble. I’ve got a bird I need bring home to roost. Can you call Longhorn or the Twins and see if they’ve got room in their henhouse. If that doesn’t work, call in my favor with the Colonel. Use my safe email.” And he hangs up.
Sometime after Captain Barron has dozed off, Catalyst calls from the cockpit, “Could someone come up and consult?”
Glass goes forward. Catalyst gestures ahead and slightly to the left. “What would you say that is in the beam of the headlight there? And the other headlight there?”
“Looks like a flying fish. It’s rather high altitude.” (30,000 feet.)
“I wasn’t sure. They’re only found over oceans, right?”
“And they’re not usually at the altitude of jet airplanes.”
“I think there’s another straight ahead.”
Glass pulls on his special glasses. Yes. There’s another fish. He reaches to the windshield and it magnifies, and then does night vision. There are three flying fish. As he watches, a fourth joins the school.
Glass goes back to the main compartment. “Mabel, you’re good with animals, right?”
“Some animals, sometimes.”
“We seem to have… You know when you’re in a boat and have fish riding your bow wave? We seem to have fish riding our wave.”
They go to the cockpit. There are now five fish. Glass can perceive that there is a lot of magical activity going on. While he’s not an expert on examining souls, these… things… seem to have “normal” fishy souls. “They appear to be both fish and magical.”
Glass returns to the cabin, and goes over to Neville. “Recall the falling frogs?”
“This time it’s fishes. And they’re pacing us.”
“This I gotta see.”
“I thought you might.”
They go forward. There are five fish, in a quincunx formation, the same pattern as the “5” spots on a die.
Glass returns to the cabin once more for his gun. Rosamund notices him heading towards the cockpit with it and asks, “Is our mask in place? Did we get that mail?”
Glass pauses, and then calls out, “Hellgrammite, have we gotten any mail?”
Hellgrammite checks, and there’s a message that just came in. It reads:
Hellgrammite sends a reply:
Thanks. How do we get the payment to you, and what is the manifestation of the mask?
A reply arrives in a few minutes:
Please have a party member who has acquired sufficient prana to make the payment say the following word:
As best Glass can tell with his rusty proto-Semitic, the Hebrew means something like "Store up treasure in wise words."
Glass goes to the cockpit and reports to Catalyst, “We’re told that our mask is in place, and it will be inconspicuous as necessary. Given that there’s nobody here to see them… Maybe.”
Rosamund has joined them and lifesenses them. The more she examines them, the more it seems that they’re the mask we were expecting. “Tell them thanks for all the fish.”
The cost of the mask is for one night’s prana for the average human. Neville’s human, has no use for prana, and has been assured that he’d regenerate the prana in a single night. He says the word, and feels a strong desire to lie down and take a nap.
About 10 minutes later, there’s mail from Dealer and Decker:
We are in receipt of 30% of your bill, and look forward to the residue at your earliest convenience.
Apparently Neville’s prana storage capacity is below average. Neon says the word this time, and feels tired. A short while later there’s another message from Dealer and Decker:
We’ve received the residue of your bill. Thank you for your prompt attention.
We fly on with our escort of five flying fish.
Last Updated: Sep 4, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved