The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 7, Selling the Artwork
When last we left our heroes, they had just wowed the staff of the Port Ducail Museum of Fine Arts with the sample we'd brought of the paintings we have for sale. Standing below the Museum, one of the few floating buildings in Port Ducail, Morniesul asked Emethi for a tailor who'd be able to outfit him for our meeting with Mr. Lyward, the chief patron of the MMFA. He's looking for clothing which projects an air of understated elegance. Emethi recommends Adwin, a tailor who has a shop nearby. Morniesul approves, saying, "Sounds like a good elvish name." Emethi looks thoughtful for the brief ride to Adwin's tailor shop.
The facade of Adwin's has a series of windows with "blob people" wearing elegant clothing. No features, just white blobs, dressed in variations of the ubiquitous body-stocking. We enter and notice that the windows appear empty when viewed from the inside. A vaguely Eurasian looking gentleman comes forward. He's sort of thin, but well dressed in charcoal gray over just the right shade of tan to compliment his skin tone. The gentleman introduces himself as Adwin and asks how he can serve us.
Morniesul responds, "I find myself in need of a suit of clothing. I'm meeting with a Mr. Lyward, and I wouldn't want to appear beneath him. Something conservative; solid and reliable."
"What kind of meeting sir?"
"I'm selling him some artworks."
Adwin directs Morniesul to stand on a square in the floor. There's some sort of widget above the square, but it looks innocuous. Adwin pulls out an instrument out of his suit and consults it. The suit had been so well tailored, we'd never noticed that the instrument was there. Adwin walks over to a shelf and returns with what looks like a sack made out of beige kleenex. He hands it to Morniesul, asking him to put it on in the changing room. As Morniesul walks away, Adwin turns to the rest of us and asks if he can serve any of us. We say that we'll all be attending the same meeting. Adwin replies, "Very well, then. When will the meeting be?" Unfortunately, we don't know yet. Probably in a day or so.
Morniesul comes out of the changing room wearing his beige kleenex like a potato sack. "It would be good of you to attend to the rest of our party, but please don't let it look like we've dressed up for Mr. Lyward." Adwin directs each of us to step onto the square, consults his instrument and then gets handed a beige paper sack.
Once the rest of us have been dealt with, Adwin replaces his instrument in his pocket, making it disappear. He then pulls out a pen-like device and directs Morniesul to the square once more. Adwin adjusts and tucks the beige paper-like sack, and uses his device to tack pieces together and then slice off the excess. Once the body of the garment has been adjusted to his liking, Adwin reaches into a tub of greenish gunk. He pulls out a handful and uses it to mold the lapels. After a few moments, he steps back . "That should do. Would you please turn to the mirror and let me know if this is to your liking, sir"
Morniesul turns and considers his reflection. "I'll trust your judgment."
"Very good, sir. What colors would you like?"
"Blue and black, if they are appropriate."
Adwin puts away the pen-like device and pulls out the original instrument. He twiddles the controls, and the tailored beige suit now shows as blue and black in the reflection. Adwin considers the effect. "I'd recommend something a bit more toward violet. How's that, sir?" The violet picks up the highlights in his hair perfectly. Morniesul nods his acceptance. "Excellent."
Adwin now turns to Kate. "You wanted something in a wine color..." He tucks, slices and kneads. When he's done, she's standing in a deep burgundy creation, complete with a standup collar that perfectly frames her face (Everybody knows that spacewomen in the future have standup collars! :o) "How's that, madam?" The color not only suits her coloring, it also blends with the outfit that Morniesul is wearing. At least in the mirror.
Adwin examines the result in the mirror. "Will either of you be wearing jewelry?"
Morniesul replies, "No."
"What would you think of some piping, sir?"
"Whatever the most appropriate and conservative style is."
After considering the reflection for a moment, Adwin decides that piping isn't for Morniesul. He then turns to the rest of us.
Katrina decides for definitely foreign, but still stylish. Morniesul leans over to her and whispers, "That would be good." Adwin considers for a moment, rummages through a drawer for a moment and pulls out a small white scarf with a perma-ruffle. It looks exquisite.
Robbie gets a sash about the waist, in a color that coordinates with the colors chosen so far. Salimar gracefully stays the same size while Adwin is working on her. Dafnord requests something in khaki.
Morniesul reconsiders image of the group in the mirror. "What kind of jewelry is uncommon, but seen on people of quality?"
Adwin replies "Thumb rings were popular about 50 years ago. I think they're still popular elsewhere in the Reach ... I may have something in my goods."
Robbie suggests that we could go back to Bloil's. "Surely he'd have something appropriate."
Adwin says that our clothes should be ready in about 15 minutes. Kate, Salimar and Morniesul decide to walk to Bloil's, which is not far away. The rest of us accompany Brunalf to the pet groomer that Emethi recommends in the autocab.
We are met at the groomery by a couple of young ladies who are reading magazines. They look up as we enter the establishment. "Good afternoon, sirs. What can we do for you?"
Robbie replies "We'd like our cat dyed. Perhaps black, with a white highlight on the chest."
"That would be no problem, sir. An all-over dye job would cost 15 marks." At Robbie's nod, she picks up Brunalf and says, "You're a big kitty, aren't you? What's your name?"
Robbie quickly answers, "His name is Brunalf. How long will the dye job take?"
"He should be done in about 30 minutes. If you'd care to leave him here, he should be ready when you return."
We agree, and depart, with a telepathic reminder to Brunalf to NOT say anything.
The young lady carries Brunalf to a room in the back of the shop and places him on a table against one wall. Across the room there's a tub full of suds. There's something in a tub that's sloshing. The pet shop employee goes over to it and picks up an octopus which looks at her, dripping. She comments, "You're almost done, aren't you?" and puts it back in the tub.
Turning back to Brunalf, she pets him on the head and says, "Aren't you a good boy! Now are you going to stay still and be good?" Brunalf replies "Mrow?" The young lady reaches under the table and pulls out a wand-like device. She turns a series of rings on the base of the wand, and then starts to pass it back and forth over Brunalf. As it passes, his fur turns solid black. She carefully runs the wand over Brunalf's entire body, paying close attention to his stomach. Then she suddenly pokes her fingers towards his head. Brunalf reflexively closes his eyes and she quickly runs the wand over his face. She then adjusts the rings at the bottom of the wand, and strokes out a chevron on Brunalf's chest.
Putting away the wand, she pulls a frame up from the sides of the table. Once the frame is in place, she pushes a button on the frame. Suddenly Brunalf is encased in jellied air. The only part of his body that can move is his head. "MROW?" The groomer says, "Oh come now. You've done this before." "MRRROW!" A buzzer rings. The groomer says, "You'll be fine" and leaves the room.
There's a slosh from the tub, and an eye looks at Brunalf. More sloshing, and then the rest of the head, covered in suds, and a second eye show over the top of the tub. Then a tentacle. Then more sloshing. Then the whole octopus, covered in suds. There don't appear to be suckers on the tentacles, which seem to have a fringe on them. The eyes are on short, thick stalks. Through the suds, Brunalf can see that the octopus is a light buff color. "Mrow?" Maybe it means surprise when the eyes move apart. The octopus shakes itself off, then crawls along the edge of the tub, towards the wall. Then it crawls up the wall. Then it's crawling across the ceiling, dripping suds. Looking at this goggle-eyed thing above him, Brunalf contacts the rest of us on the net and let's us know that he's not happy. Now it's coming down the wall toward him. Robbie heads back to the shop.
Robbie suggests yowling loudly and upsettedly. But whatever you do, don't talk! Brunalf struggles, but he can't escape the jellied air. He looks back, and the octopus is directly behind him and prodding at the air jelly. "MRRROOOW!!!" There's no notice from up front. Robbie is still blocks away from the pet shop. Realizing that he can't get back in time, he contacts the Nones and has it dial the pet shop on the phone.
When the groomer answers the phone, Robbie says, "Hello. This is Mr. Roberts. I left my cat Brunalf with you for a dye job. Can I please speak to him?"
"Speak to who?!?"
"My cat. I forgot to say good-bye to him."
"Oh ... OK ... Just a moment ..."
The groomer rolls her eyes and tells the other attendant that she'll be back shortly. Taking the phone, she goes to the back of the shop to find the octopus poking at the jellied air as Brunalf spits at it. Grabbing the octopus, she exclaims, "What are you doing out?!?" She puts it in a second tub. This one has clear water. And a lid, which she fastens. Whew.
Holding the phone out to Brunalf, she says, "Say something, kitty." Brunalf hisses.
Robbie says, "We'll be back soon. Be good," over the phone, and "Hang in there," over the net. He then thanks the groomer, and disconnects.
Once the crisis is past, Robbie thinks to ask the Nones if it can identify the creature. It turns out that air-breathing octopi are popular pets in the Reach. They're known for their curiosity and playfulness. Robbie relays this information to Brunalf, who's not comforted.
At the appointed time, we return to the pet shop and retrieve Brunalf. He's still mad at us. We tip the groomer an extra mark for prompt service.
Meanwhile, back at Bloil's, Morniesul is telling the jeweler, "I'm meeting with a Mr. Lyward and was thinking that I should be appropriately dressed and thought that I should have some bit of jewelry that was not quite ... appropriate."
Mr. Bloil considers, and then says, "When I was a lad, the artistic crowd wore lapel pins. I'm sure I still have some..." He goes into the back and returns with a tray of pins. "Here. Put them down one lapel." He installs them in Morniesul's lapel. "Don't do both sides, or it won't be arty." Morniesul admires his reflection in a mirror and agrees to pay 60 marks for the row. Thanking Mr. Bloil, Kate, Salimar and Morniesul head back to Adwin's to meet the rest of us.
Arriving at Adwin's, Morniesul tries on his new suit. As he examines the result in the mirror, Adwin sidles up and whispers, "You have the undergarment inside out, sir." Oh. Morniesul goes back to the changing room. When he returns, he's properly attired.
As Adwin makes final adjustments on the rest of us, Emethi says, "One thing you should know about Mr. Lyward is that he's been many things in his career. He started out as a verifier. Do you know exactly what you hired me to do?"
Morniesul looks at her and says, "I think so."
"Oh. Well ... Later." Emethi looks pointedly at Adwin, who asks Morniesul if he'll need any other apparel.
Morniesul replies, "I will have one or two other needs in the next couple of days. We'll be traveling to other planets in the Reach." A strange look briefly passes over Adwin's face.
"What can you tell us about Meth?"
"Meth ... is not exactly a willing member of the Empire. A considerable chasm exists between the ruling class of Imperial aristocrats and the Old Settlers."
"What about Loald?"
"Loald is quite simple. It's a quite conservative member of the empire. Clothing for Loald is a cut and dried affair. Quality would be recognized."
Thanking him for his help and advice, we settle our bill and pile back into the autocab to return to the Nones. On the way, Robbie asks Emethi why Adwin looked strangely at Morniesul and what she wanted to tell us. Emethi explains, "There's very little travel in and out of the Reach. It's odd to specify planets "in the Reach," since those are the only planets most people consider.
"Which brings me to a matter I was about to bring up. You're not from the Reach, are you?" We admit that we're not. "In fact, you're from Helene, aren't you?" Well ... we've spent some time there. She continues, looking at Salimar, "If you want to blend in, I recommend that you say very little. You don't have any "tells" that tell me anything. And you sir," looking at Robbie. "You don't have any tells at all. I asked you in Adwin's if you understood what you got when you hired me. I'm a Commercial Verifier. That mean's I can tell when a person is lying, or at least not telling the truth. Mr. Lyward started his career as a Commercial Verifier also. And he'll probably reach the same conclusion that I have, that you sir, are an AI, and you madam are an alien. It's not unusual to find AIs in the reach, but one doesn't usually find one in the form or a human being."
Morniesul says "But we are travelers. It's not unreasonable for me to have unusual traveling companions."
Emethi shakes her head with a grin and says under her breath, "This is definitely the nicest thing that Toma has done for me. Such a nice boy..."
Morniesul continues, "We have an unspecified meeting with Mr. Lyward. Will you be available to come with us?"
Emethi pulls what looks like a stick out of her top and consults it. "I'll be free until the end of tomorrow morning." She looks up and remembers that we're not we're not locals. "That means the next twelve hours."
"Well, then perhaps my ... secretary ... should inform Mr. Lyward about our availability."
"That's another thing. You should have a phone." After a pause, "You should also have stunners, if you're in the kind of work Toma is in." Emethi then asks the autocab to take us to the nearest hardware store. We disembark and examine various models, all of which look like credit cards. As we're choosing, Robbie receives a ping from the Nones. It's Mr. Lyward, trying to contact us. Robbie answers, in the role of secretary. As he stalls Mr. Lyward, he tells the group to buy a phone. Any phone. NOW! Grabbing the nearest phone, Morniesul pays for it. Robbie then transfers the call to our new phone.
Morniesul answers the phone as we cluster around in the hardware store. Mr. Lyward greets him. "Mr. Morniesul? You've certainly bowled over my curators at the museum. I understand that you have more pieces that you wanted to show me?"
"Yes. There are quite a few in the collection."
"My... By different artists?"
"Yes, from more or less the same area and time frame."
"Would you be willing to bring over the lot? Or I could meet you some place..."
"I am staying at present on my ship. We're docked at slip 94. We could meet there."
"Of course. And you'll have the rest of your collection there. It would be fastest if we met on your ship. I'll meet you there, then." With that, Mr. Lyward breaks the connection.
Emethi says we should go to the ship. Right now. We all troop out to the autocab and start for the spaceport.
As the autocab pulls away, Morniesul says, "I really need to contact the ship." Robbie contacts the Nones and asks it to contact the phone again. Morniesul asks the Nones to have the furnisher put up stark white walls, with two hooks to hang pictures, and chairs. Unfortunately, there's only room for four. "Damn. I wish that there was someone there who could hang two of the pictures. We don't know when Mr. Lyward will show up and it would be disadvantageous for us to be unready." The Nones reminds him that Markel is onboard. "Splendid. Please put him on." When Markel "picks up," Morniesul asks him to hang two of the antique pictures. "Oh, and drape my cloak over one of the chairs, fur side out.
Arriving at the ship, we find that Mr. Lyward hasn't arrived yet. We enter the hold to find that by sheer luck, Markel picked two landscapes, both Hellenic landscapes. One shows the Helenic sky; a small moon next to a secondary sun. Both are of two famous sites on Helene. We quickly change into our new finery.
If there's anything wrong with the room, is that it's geometrical. We rearrange the chairs to make it more comfortable. It's still white on white, except for the pictures. The Nones produces a copy of a catalog which Katrina put together during the trip.
While Morniesul is fussing over the furniture, Salimar goes out with Markel and comes back alone. Markel and the dragon have gone off to stretch their wings and terrify the crustacean population. That's two less on a small ship.
Morniesul hands Robbie a small, card-like communicator. "It does sight as well as sound, and I'm told that it can't be bugged."
"Perhaps we should plan this. We have 4 chairs. Clearly I and Mr. Lyward will sit. And the Verifier. And ... The Cat! He won't be expecting that." Remembering what Emethi said about Mr. Lyward, Robbie volunteers to help Dafnord display the items. Salimar will stand quietly with Kate and Katrina.
"While we have a few moments, Verifier Emethi, it would be good for us to discuss what happens next. At least for a brief period of time, a few tens of days, we'll need to maintain the utmost privacy. Is there some arrangement we should make with you to ensure that our affairs remain private?"
Emethi replies, "Privacy on Moncair, or privacy in the Reach?" At Morniesul's nod, Emethi continues, "I could arrange to forget about you."
Morniesul shakes his head. "We know so few people here, I would hate to lose one."
"You don't want inquiry to follow you from Moncair to the Reach?"
"Then I would suggest that you sell all of your paintings to Mr. Lyward. And I suggest that you come up with a cover story for how you acquired these artworks and stick to it. Be vague about your origins."
After a few awkward moments of silence, the Nones announces that there's someone approaching. We send Dafnord to the hatch to welcome him. Before he leaves, Emethi notes, "There's one more thing. Your automation talks. That's very unusual for the Reach." Robbie asks the Nones to communicate only to him while we have visitors.
Mr. Lyward is lead in by Dafnord. He's wearing an outfit much like the one that Morniesul just bought. "I brought an instrument set up by one of my people to verify the provenance of the art. If you don't mind..."
Morniesul waves him towards the pictures. "But of course."
"Hm. Very good. Where did you say these were found?"
"I didn't. It was from one of my salvage operations."
"Was it in vacuum?"
"No, a special atmosphere."
"Mmm. These appear quite genuine. How many more do you have?"
"Eleven more, plus sculptures." Katrina hands Mr. Lyward a copy of the catalog. "We were quite fortunate that there were papers of authentication with the art."
"Of course. Well if I could just see each of them individually..."
"Certainly. Have a seat." There's only one open. The others are occupied by Morniesul, Emethi and Brunalf, who's purring is just audible.
Dafnord and Robbie proceed to bring out each pictures in turn.
"As you can see, there a number of different styles, only two by the same artist."
Mr. Lyward makes occasional grunts as he looks at one object after another. He appears to recognize the works of two artists. During a pause while waiting for Dafnord and Robbie to remove a particularly bulky sculpture, Morniesul asks Katrina if we have a catalog of the folk art and ephemera. She hands him a copy, which he passes to Mr. Lyward.
Once he's seen all of the art objects, Mr. Lyward says "Very interesting. Would you be willing to tell me any more about the provenance of these items?"
Morniesul replies, "There's not much to tell. We found them considerably distant from here. It appears that they had been there for most of the time since their creation. It has certainly left them well preserved."
"Well. That is certainly enough for me. I'm willing to offer you 890,000 marks for the entire catalog."
Morniesul glances towards Emethi, who nods, slightly. "That seems entirely fair."
"Excellent. If I could have your account, I'll transfer the funds now..." Robbie hands him the account pad. When Mr. Lyward hands it back, he discreetly verifies that the correct amount has been deposited. Mr. Lyward grins and says, "I'll have someone by within the hour to collect my new prizes."
Morniesul offers, "We could repack them in the container in which we found them..."
"Yes, that would be excellent." Rising, Mr. Lyward says, "Terribly sorry, but I have to dash. It's been a pleasure doing business with you." With that, he bows to Morniesul, who bows back, and then to the rest of us, and leaves.
As Dafnord and Robbie prepare to repack the art, Kate points out over the net that we should be very careful to clean off any old prints. Good point. It would be embarrassing to explain why there are contemporary and 3000 year old prints that match. We clean the container, both inside and out, and then repack it.
Morniesul turns to Emethi. "Thank you once again, Verifier, for a job well done. Before you leave, I have a few questions. A relative of mine is lost here-abouts. We have reason to believe that he has run afoul of slavers. We have hopes of encountering him on Loald. We have no idea what ... price ... people here are valued at."
Thinking of our swollen bank account, Emethi replies, "I don't think you'll have any problem buying him back unless he's drawn enough curiosity to draw the attention of the authorities. Is he as unusual as your selves?"
"He's from my family... I'd say he's a bit more exotic."
"Is he psychic, as I take it you people are?"
"He would be taken for an old settler of uncertain stock. Most slaves are sold to private individuals. If he's exhibited unusual talents, he should fetch a few thousand marks. If he's particularly valuable to his new owner, then that will raise the price. While I recommend that you try to buy your relative's freedom, if that fails, the Empire's habit of slavery is mostly disparaged throughout the Reach. If you have to liberate your relative, once you get outside the Empire, and you should be OK, since most people would not be willing to help the Empire recapture you."
"You may recall the jewelry we sold to Mr. Bloil. He commented on how deeply textured the psi was on the jewelry. I believe that the same equipment would show similar texturing on my relative. Is there much chance that he would be examined with such equipment?"
"It depends upon the circumstances of his capture. Typically, people become enslaved as a punishment for great crimes or great poverty, or if they've been captured by a privateer. I think that's most likely for your relative. If he was taken by a privateer, he was probably given an medical exam to verify his value. He may have been examined for basic psi. A privateer is not going to be equipped or disposed to make a detailed study of their captives. An exotic specimen would drive the value down, since a privateer's aim is to dispose of his captives as quickly as possible. He'd be taken for an Old Settler, who use psi more than New Terraformers. If they detect anything, they'd believe that he was just a hedge wizard. That might drive the price up, but not too high. Only as a curiosity, possibly an entertainment."
"You say that you cannot verify Mr. Roberts..."
"Yes. And I've heard that his sort is not usually about in a form that would be mistaken for human."
"Yes... How much fear does that engender?"
"It varies from place to place. In the Empire, he'd be remembered for being a robot. In the ASR, it would be considered rude to remark upon. He could be identified by any telepath."
"Certainly psilencers should mask this?"
"Could I ask an opinion?" Morniesul asks. Emethi nods, and he continues, "Given what we intend to do, we may need to threaten my relative's current owner. If I have to do this, mightn't it be best if whoever makes the threats couldn't be read, since if they can't be read, then they can't be proved to be telling a falsehood.? I was thinking that Mr. Roberts might act as your military commander. What do you think?"
"Yes, that's a good idea." Emethi opined.
Robbie agrees to this, and points out that Emethi said that Salimar also couldn't be read. She should also be a "militia" member, along with Dafnord.
Grinning wolfishly, Morniesul says, "If Mr. Roberts is our manifest military leader or military threat, Salimar is our horror to be unleashed."
This clearly makes Emethi immensely uncomfortable. "Well, that should give you several approaches. Do try to money first."
"Of course. One more set of questions before you go. I'm wondering how some of our armament would be considered here." Morniesul pulls out a macrometal knife. "It's not a hopeless antique, is it?"
"No. It will be treated with great respect."
Morniesul puts away his knife. "I'm looking for a lenient and cooperative official. I have a weapon which I would like to have evaluated to know how it would be regarded if I took it off this ship at Loald."
Emethi considers the question and replies, "I know one of the Star Marshals. I could ask him to come to the ship. May I use your communications link?" As she goes to the bridge to make the call, Robbie tells the Nones to respond to her request. While she's away, Morniesul pull his book out of jacket pocket, opens to a page and pulls out an ornate pistol. It looks like a space opera rendition of a dueling ray gun. He asks the Nones to put a table in the midst of the chairs, and puts the gun on the table when it appears.
Emethi returns from the control cabin and tells us her friend will arrive shortly. "Are there any more questions, while we're waiting?"
Morniesul considers, and says slowly, "There's a lot of odd things about us..."
"Have any of them been dangerously far from the norm?"
Thinking back over the events of the last couple of hours, Emethi replies, "I think the most dangerous thing I've seen you do is refer to the Reach as one place among many. To us, the Reach is all of the universe.
"So there's nothing for us to ask you to forget."
Emethi continues, "I take it that you're not only from far away, but time travel."
After a pregnant pause, Robbie confirms this. Morniesul says that that doesn't quite apply.
Before we can pursue this further, the Nones tells Robbie that we have a visitor. Dafnord goes to the hatch to let in a Star Marshal, who introduces himself as Officer Ossiden. "Emethi told me that you have a concern about a weapon?"
Morniesul waves at the ornate weapon on the table. "Yes, that one on the table. I wonder if it shows as particularly dangerous."
Ossiden examines it, then waves an instrument over it. He puzzles over the reading, and tries tapping the instrument on the table, then reading it again. The gun is a glamour blaster. Truly a magical device, made by high-tech elves. As far as Officer Ossiden is concerned, it's a table ornament.
After Officer Ossiden tells us that he can't get any readings from the gun, Morniesul ask, "So it wouldn't be considered particularly dangerous?"
"No. What is it?"
Morniesul pauses, and then replies slowly "It ... could be considered a stunner. It's just that it's from very far away."
"That should be OK. Was that it?"
"Yes. Thank you for your time, officer."
Officer Ossiden leaves. Once he's gone, Emethi says, "Well, I certainly wish you luck. Where are you headed next?"
Robbie replies, "Toma gave us a shipment bound for Meth. From there we're going on to Loald."
Emethi nods, and rises to leave. Morniesul reaches into a pocket and hands her a small dwarven ring as a token of our esteem. She accepts the ring as a souvenir but then refuses additional cash payment. "I quoted you a rate half the usual cost since you were friends of Toma. I decided after the trip to the MMFA to do this job for free since you've given me more entertainment than I've had in quite a while." Shaking our hands, she walks to the hatchway and pauses. She turns and says "And you can tell Toma that it was a nice try."
With that she departs.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved