Published in Alcyone, Spring 2018
Amah said I was destined to hold great fortune. My mother of course didn’t say that. She didn’t say anything after she dropped me off with her mother on Orous, and went back to R2. She came back once, but that didn’t count. She came on business and didn’t stay.
Everyone calls me Jink. My real name is Jemini Delagrassi but no one’s called me that since I found the jink. Except for my Amah that is. She calls me Jemini. Jem, Jemi, Jink, it’s all the same when you’re a no body from the Wastefield-barrio of Orous, cast off by your mom, and living with your grandmother who won’t say anything about your name or your parents.
Do you wonder that there’s a barrio on a planet like Orous? After all, Orous is where the Imperial cash-coins are minted, and the main Central Bank is located. You probably imagine that everyone here’s in the Banker Guild, or is a midas Trader who piles the cash-coins on his table in perfect towers. You’re forgetting there’s gotta be the ones who clean the place, the poor shanks who cook, and sew, and do the laundry. The ones who clean up the shit.
Orous is also the home of the Peer Guilds, and the Trader’s Guilds. My Amah’s a Flamer. THE Flamer in fact. That’s the Peer Guild’s highest rank. Do you believe in Flamers? There are plenty two-cash fortune tellers on Orous, and plenty of Dreamers too if you want to wait for enlightenment to interpret their dreams or pay a Wik to figure it out. But there’s only a handful of Flamers and Amah is the Match. She is the only living Match in the Orous Flamer Guild. She doesn’t need a Striker Acolyte to help her Flame. She holds the Peering Fire in her palm as easily as the cleaning shank holds a broom. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to suspect that she is the only true Flamer and everyone else is just a Faake. An Acolyte, I mean. Amah doesn’t like it when I call people demeaning names.
My mother isn’t a Flamer or a seer, or anything like my Amah. She hated Orous and left as soon as she looked old enough to get fake papers. You know her, or of her anyway. She’s a notorious black-market trader from the bowels of R2—they say she operates a Birdcage in Nightshade, and has private contracts with the Rebel System. They say she is a thief of hearts—that she loves important, wealthy men, and breaks them in the end. They say a lot of things about my mother, none of those things very flattering. They don’t say much about my father, so I guess no one knows which of her many lovers he was. My Amah doesn’t say anything about it at all.
When I was eight, I found the jink when I counted the cash coins in the till at the end of the day. It was a gold ten-cash on the front, the pyramid and dragon twining around the triangular hole. As it should’ve been. You’ve seen them. Amah wasn’t a two-cash Peer. No one came to a Flamer like Amah without a minimum gold ten-cash. But the back of that particular gold ten-cash was struck like a two-cash coin—the double fish encircling the hole. Oh it was a ten-cash alright, since two-cash were silvril. But it was a jink.
Coin collectors in the ancient world called such coins mules. But there aren’t any coin collectors in the Empire, at least none on Orous anyway. Here, Traders are the closest thing we ever get to coin collectors. You know how they operate. When I found the coin, Amah and I took it to the blue-haired Wastefield trader whose three-door corner shop monopolized Market Square. He offered a twenty-cash to take the “mistake” off our hands—for its value as a novelty. Amah gave him one of those looks that no person in their right mind would ever want to get from a Flamer and we picked up the coin to leave. The trader, who apparently didn’t get where he was by being extraordinarily bright, tried to stop us. But he did have the excuse that most, if not all other Flamers were Faakes. Unfortunately for him, my grandmother isn’t a Faake. Amah “gifted” him with a tiny waver of candleflame—she left it winking on the counter like a calling card. You know how bad that is. He would never be able to extinguish the flame. Not good for business to have something like that on the counter.
The tiny pawn shop on the back alley was run by an old man; his grandson looked to be about my age. The man offered my Amah all that he had for the coin, but suggested that we shouldn’t sell it.
“It’s a jink,” he said, turning the coin from the dragon side to the fish side and holding it under the mag-lite to better see it.
“It’s rare, but every once in a while a coin sticks in the stamping block. Everything is calibrated by the computer, and the coins are laser checked after the stamping. But nothing’s perfect. Occasionally star-gold has an extra electron; sometimes there’s a fraction more gold in one of the blanks, or a tiny imperfection in the fractalated edge. After the coin’s struck on one side, it doesn’t drop into the other stamping block. Usually these coins fall out later, or are ruined when they finally drop. Sometimes they drop on the subsequent stamping and though they have incongruous serial numbers from front to back, they are otherwise stamped correctly. Even a coin like that has quite a bit of collectable value. They’re rare, of course, and hard to spot because other than the serial number, there’s nothing different about them.”
“A jink is a coin that sticks on the last stamping for that denomination. It falls to the other slot on the next stamping, which has been changed to another cash value. It has two face or head sides, the correct one, and the one for next run, whatever value that is. The ten-cash star-gold, and the two-cash silvril use the same stamping blocks because they are the same size and weight. It is the rarest of mis-stampings. Just luck this should happen. It might happen once every hundred-billion coins. Or maybe less.”
He placed the coin on the countertop between us.
“So this is valuable?” Amah asked.
“Extremely so. I don’t know of another one, actually—up to now, they only existed in theory. I would save it. Someday your grandchildren or their grandchildren could buy a planet with it. For now, it’s worth something for sure. But maybe more as a lucky piece.”
I smiled at the boy who watched his grandfather with obvious pride.
“He knows a lot about coins,” I whispered to him.
“He knows a lot about everything,” the boy whispered back smugly.
“So does my Amah,” I confided.
“My name’s Fenglion,” he said, “but everyone calls me Pawnboy.”
My grandmother handed me the coin.
“You should keep it Jemini,” she said. “It was meant for you.”
“Jink,” Pawnboy said. “Your name is Jink,” he laughed.
I flipped the coin up and caught it in my fist. When I turned my fist over and opened it, the ten-cash dragon lay in my palm.
“Yes,” I laughed. “Jink it is.”
* * *
DG Barbasherra II was an “importer-exporter” in the S12 section of space where Orous rotated placidly around a little yellow star called Goldilocks. You all know who he is—at least now you do. It wasn’t long after I found the jink that he came to Amah for “advice.”
Barbasherra was a huge, dark man with a voice so soft you had to cock your head to hear him. He put a gold ten-cash in my hand before he sat down; the chair creaked ominously at his vast bulk.
“I understand you can see the future in the fire,” he whispered.
“I perceive the lines of possibility,” Amah said, “as long as it traces the firelines.”
Firelines are a weave of energy that knits the Cosmos and time together. Or at least that’s how Amah explains it. It was a little unclear, actually. I don’t understand how time and energy bond to form mass. And reading such lines in any direction seems unfeasible. But that’s what she does. That’s why I say she’s the only true Flamer on Orous; all the others just fake it. Do you believe in Flamers?
Barbasherra glanced at where I sat in the corner.
“This is very private,” he said softly.
“So is my granddaughter,” Amah answered.
She gave him the look that no one wants.
“Fine. I’ve been approached by GemTek. They’d like me under contract to haul their cargo exclusively.”
Amah held up her fist. When she opened it, a teardrop of flame grew steadily into a blue tongue a hand length tall.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“Should I do it?”
“Don’t you make good money as an independent trader?” she asked casually.
She asks questions to allow the flame to warm and pick up the client’s energy.
“Certainly. But my expenses are also large, and all my own. GemTek would pay for the equipment updates, and the fuel and operating costs. Generally that takes about half the income, maybe more. There wouldn’t be any lag time hauling for GemTek, and no deadheading. The loads would be RTs.”
Deadheading, you know, means space travel without a cargo. RTs are a round trip. Now you know.
“So it sounds as though it would be a good business arrangement for you,” she commented.
“Yes. Although GemTek isn’t favored in Imperial circles. And the work is on the frontier where the mining is.”
“That’s true,” she said, seeing the lines.
Her face becomes lambent when she’s connected to the firelines.
“Do you hesitate because it’s dangerous?” she asked.
“Maybe too boring,” he admitted.
“Yes. Boring,” she agreed. “But also, perhaps, dangerous. I see danger.”
“Hmmmm. That would actually make it more interesting.”
His face was thoughtful.
“GemTek’s lines waver in the distance,” she said vaguely. “I can’t see them.”
She looked unhappy.
I took the jink from my neck and removed the chain that kept me from losing it. I tossed it out of curiosity. I didn’t let Barbasherra see me do it. It came up fish.
Amah saw me toss the jink. She tilted her head as though asking a question, and her eyes inquired what I saw. I gave a little sideways “uh uh,” shake of my head.
Abruptly, Amah closed her fist on the flame and extinguished it.
“You shouldn’t work for GemTek. Not even as an independent trader. Not even if they offer twice what they already have. Don’t haul any of their cargo.”
Her voice was stern, ominous even.
“I see a small woman in a black cargo with Navy insignia. A Ranger. You will venerate her and fear her. She will hunt you. It is very distant.”
“Anything less distant?” he asked.
“The Empress will proffer something coveted. You must weigh it carefully.”
Amah had the lines in her head now; the fire filled her eyes. They were lambent blue. You would believe in Flamers if you ever saw one that wasn’t a Faake.
“You will be offered a courier run to Freeport. It’s an important commission.”
“And I should take this job?”
Amah glanced at me. I flipped jink. Dragon. I nodded down once.
“It could be advantageous,” Amah said mildly.
He surged to his feet and dropped another ten-cash in the crystal bowl.
“I’ve never much cared for the CEO of GemTek. She makes a man uneasy. And the mining ports are dull at best. I’ll heed your council, Flamer. Mostly because it jives with what I already sensed. And if it’s wrong, it won’t end my career.”
Amah smiled—a rare and beautiful thing on her wise and elegant face.
“You may call me Gillian Match,” Amah said.
Only her regular customers call her by her given name and her Guild title of Match. Barbasherra would be back.
* * *
Pawnboy and I scrunched beneath the counter of Oldman’s Pawn while his grandfather made his Freeday deals. Pawnboy was my only real friend on Orous—every other person my age was either a barriowaif that my Amah wouldn’t allow me to orbit with, or was the child of someone in the Flamer Guild. The arrogance of the Flamers’ children was such an off-put-to-the-moon I could never stomach them even for a tik. They considered me an outcast since I had no parents, lived with my grandmother, and was called Jink, and I was picked on in devious, non-physical ways. You know the type—bullies. Pawnboy was a real friend, who laughed at me when I got a little too full of myself, and who shared even his most embarrassing secrets with me.
Freeday was the end of the work week, and my favorite day to visit the pawn shop. It was the busiest day for Oldman’s, and the most likely time for an odd treasure to appear. Since it was also the least busy day for Amah, I’d spent every Freeday afternoon in the pawn shop since Fenglion’s grandfather, Gerlion, gave Amah and me the advice about the jink.
By its very nature, Gerlion Oldman’s business was like gambling, but it wasn’t long before we learned to trust the jink. That didn’t mean that Gerlion didn’t loan the locals money for their worthless possessions anymore; but when it came to something a person wanted big cash-coins for, he only had to glance at me beneath the counter and I would toss the jink. If it came up fish, he never spent more than a two-cash on it. Because of the jink, Gerlion’s fortune had improved and he’d gained a reputation in the trader’s world for having unusual things of value, and for paying well for something odd. He was a smart, well-read man anyway, and when the jink improved the odds, he and Pawnboy no longer had to take handouts of monthly food boxes from the Guild. He even had a cleaning shank who came in twice a week, and who cooked a special dinner for all of us when the shop finally closed late on Freedays.
We had to remain invisible to the often-secretive customers but didn’t fit together beneath the counter so easily anymore. In the last three months, Pawnboy had stretched from being the smallest boy on the planet into a lanky, ungainly string with black hair that stuck out everywhere. He even had crooked knees and ears that stuck out. And Barbarian black eyes. Don’t you wonder how someone on Orous got such black, black eyes? He was utterly gawky. He’d always stuttered a bit, but he’d never been awkward until he grew tall and thin. I laughed at him before I realized he was self-conscious about it; I would never do anything to hurt his feelings. He was my dearest friend.
The string of doorbells chimed melodiously.
The customer’s step on the floor was firm, quick, and light. I heard the scintillating sound of tiny bells or metal jewelry. The door slammed—it startles customers because it closes so slowly they are halfway across the room when it claps shut. Usually their step breaks; this customer didn’t react. An exotic, heady scent wafted into our hiding place. We can’t see the customer from our spot, but we can see a warped image in the wall of polished dragonfly schist behind the counter. The customer was a woman, a lean, tall woman with long hair, broad shoulders, and a high-collared coat. She dropped a spacer’s pack on the counter and unsealed it.
Pawnboy nudged me with his foot. We had to be very quiet. He made the sign for offworlder, and then for bootlegger. In our silent language that was a fist over the shoulder and a tap to the leg. It was testimony to his rising reputation that a customer like that would walk into Gerlion’s back-alley pawn shop.
But it wasn’t Pawnboy’s nudge that alerted me. For just a moment I thought perhaps it was Gerlion’s surprise over whatever the bootlegger had removed from her pack that made him glance at me like that—startled. Afraid even. I grasped the jink and pulled it off my neck. It seemed to vibrate in my fist. Then the fear that suffused his eyes hit me. I gripped Pawnboy’s knee, my heart tripping.
Why would Gerlion look at me as if he was afraid for me?
I wanted to stand up and see this woman, but I was frozen. Pawnboy took the jink and removed the chain, placing the coin in my clammy fist. He nodded his head at it, so I would toss it. I shook my head. I didn’t want to toss the jink. The jink didn’t want me to toss it.
Her voice was throaty and pitched low.
“Are you Oldman?” she purred, and he nodded.
His eyes were so strange the way they darted furtively past us and away.
“I have heard that you are a fair man,” she said, “and honest. And that you are interested in unusual things. I am in need of a drop point for items that must rendezvous with another Trader or courier who frequents Orous. I am willing to pay with unusual things. And with money.”
“I don’t traffic in drugs,” Gerlion said.
“And I wouldn’t ask you to,” she said evenly, without rancor.
“What would it be then?”
“Chips of data, mostly. Some bootlegged stuff, but I promise, no drugs.” She laughed. “And something valuable and unusual for Oldman’s Pawn.”
“Why me?” he asked. “How do you know you can trust me?”
“Your reputation. It’s good in all circles. And the mark,” she said. “I trust the mark.”
“Mark? What does that mean?”
“Your lintel is marked with a Flamer’s blaze of an honest dealer, a sign bootleggers and traders value. The mark is multi-dimensional; it has a frequency that can be picked up by those who know how to look for such things. I know I can trust you.”
“My lintel? Marked?” he asked. “Who does that?”
“Someone of power. You have done a valuable service for someone with great power.” She shifted the pack, and we heard something ring slightly as it was placed on the counter. “What say you, Oldman?”
This time his glance had that other look, the one that wanted to know if this was a yes or a no. This time I tossed the jink. Dragon. I dipped my chin—yes.
“You know me,” he said slowly. “I don’t know you, Lady.”
“I’m the Star Foxx. Have you heard of me?”
“I’ve heard rumors of a lady bootlegger who deals with Freeport rebels.”
“Then you know of me,” she laughed. “Call me Foxx. Would you be interested in an arrangement?”
Gerlion’s eyes fell momentarily to us, resting for two long breaths on me.
“Yes, Lady Foxx. I think that might work.”
“And whoever is below the counter? Do they agree?”
Pawnboy took one look at my frozen face, and he banged his head on the shelf as he stood up and faced the bootlegger.
“I’m always here, Lady Foxx,” he stammered. “For my grandfather’s safety—”
His wide face went utterly still with shock.
“Jink….” he breathed. I kicked him. He couldn’t give away our secret. He didn’t look at me.
“Jink?” she asked.
“I…I…I… j…j…just think it’s s…s…safer,” he said, recovering quickly. “S…s…sorry.”
He’d never stuttered that badly. The bootlegger didn’t answer for a moment. I imagined her studying him, ferreting out his poor attempt at covering his slip. Pawnboy shuffled his feet nervously. I kicked him.
“So, young man,” Foxx said, “can your grandfather do business with me?”
“Sure,” he said without stammering.
“Then we have a deal… I’m at a loss for your names aside from Oldman.”
“Gerlion,” he said, “and my grandson, Fenglion.”
Pawnboy shuffeled his feet, again. You know how boys are around beautiful women. Nervous. And stupid. I wanted to see her. I kicked him again.
“Here is the first chip. Please lock it up. I don’t know who will ask for it, but they will ask for the message from the Star Foxx. And this is for you.”
She tapped the thing on the counter—it intoned slightly from her fingernail or a ring on her hand.
Gerlion picked up the item. From my vantage point it looked like a dull, brown cluster of short tubes of different lengths.
“And this is…what exactly?” he asked.
“That, Gerlion Oldman, is a Hverik Flute.”
“A real one?” he asked, incredulous.
“A real one,” the bootlegger said.
“Wow,” Pawnboy said.
Gerlion put the flute to his lips and blew lightly into one of the pipes. Deep, rich sound burgeoned around me; it vibrated in my head and my chest. It was like the moan of wind and the laughter of water, low and high at the same time. The windchimes outside the shop pinged hollowly, and the bells over the door rang, and various other things around the shop echoed with sound. Have you ever heard one of Hverik’s Tintinnables? That was my first encounter.
“I wouldn’t blow that too often unless you want to draw a crowd,” she cautioned. “There are people looking in your windows already.”
I heard a clink, like cash coins in a small purse.
“I’ll take that string of Trader’s Tears you have in the display,” she said evenly. “I can tell from here they’re real black pearls. I know what they’re worth. This should be enough.” She must have jiggled the bag of coins—I could hear them clink. Ten-cash. A lot of them. You know the sound.
“The flute would cover the Trader’s Tears and some,” Gerlion said.
“The flute is our deal for the drop. I’ll pay for the Trader’s Tears. I don’t know when I’ll return. If the courier leaves something for me, this will help cover the cost of securing it until I return or send a courier for it.”
“It’s too much, Lady Foxx.”
“No, it isn’t. Someday, you’ll remember I said that. I will be in touch.”
Her retreating steps were firm. When she opened the door, the murmur of people outside drifted in. The flute did draw a crowd. I hoped they wouldn’t come in.
Pawnboy sighed, and deflated. I didn’t know if he was relieved the woman was gone, or if perhaps his puppy love was dashed. He dropped down and scooted in next to me.
“She was you,” he said, as though this still stunned him.
“Whatever that means,” I said, testily.
“No. It’s why I said Jink,” he said. “She was exactly you, but older. And her hair was long, to her knees—in a braid tied with talis and bells. She was in a foxelle coat that came to her calves and boots that were over her thighs. And she looked just like you all grown up and dressed like a queen… red hair, blue eyes, even the freckles… she was beautiful. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I stared at him. He said she was me. He said she was beautiful. Did that mean he thought I was beautiful, with my short, spiky red hair and my too-blue eyes? You know, there’s only one person in the cosmos who looks like me. My mother. Why was my mother here? Did she come to get me? Take me with her?
“I have to go,” I said, and I ran all the way from Oldman’s shop to Amah’s.
* * *
I stood outside the door to catch my breath. I took the jink from the chain, asked a question, and tossed it. Fish. I rethreaded the chain and put it over my head. Almost, I didn’t go in. Almost, I turned to go back to Oldman’s Pawn. I drew a long breath and pushed the back door open.
She doesn’t look a thing like me, you know. Well, except for the red hair and blue eyes. Her mouth is a lot bigger for starters. And her nose is wider. And her eyes are rounder and bluer and don’t tilt like mine, the opposite direction of my mouth. And I’m a toothpick by comparison. She curves in all the places that men like curves and she dresses to show it off. My hands are thinner, and long-fingered, and my voice squeaks, and I don’t hold myself like that, or sit like that, or turn my head as if waiting for someone to light my smoke, or draw out a weapon. And… I realized what I was doing and blocked the next thought.
Amah frowned and for just a moment, a flare of blue light suffused her eyes. My mother smiled, a heart-shaped mouth thing …that’s what blinded Pawnboy, apparently. I watched her gather herself, and in that moment, hated her for her indifference, and for loving her big life and her big self more than me. In the next thought, I vowed to never do that to anyone, all at the same time I wanted more than anything to be just like her. My pulse throbbed at my throat and my heart beat so fast it hurt.
And then her face dissolved into childish surprise.
“Jemini,” she breathed, “you’re so beautiful.”
That was not at all what I expected. It completely deflated my defense and I paused, just inside the door.
“Hi,” I said stupidly. I’d wanted to be angry, tried. “I don’t look a bit like you.”
“No,” she agreed. “You are the image of your father.”
Not at all what I expected.
“And he was…?” I asked, trying to sound defiant. And angry.
“A beautiful prince, and a hero of a man.”
Oh, of course. She was a romantic too. Trader’s slugs, even you could have told a better story.
“Does that kind of a fantasy have a name?” I said bitterly. Rudely.
Instantly I wanted to take back my words when her eyes filled with tears, and Amah gave me the look that no one wants.
But, at that point, I decided I might was well go all in.
“Nice to meet you, mom. Why are you here?”
I didn’t even look at my grandmother because the next look after the look that no one wants is the look no one recovers from. Do you believe in Flamers? You do if you’re smart. I watched Vixen Delagrassi gather herself again. Hated her all over for loving everything more than me. Yep, that’s her name, Vixen Delagrassi, the Star Foxx. You’ve heard of her. She’s the bad-ass villain heroine that every girl wants to grow up to be. I wanted to be just like her, be crappy to people all over the Cosmos. I thought about starting with Pawnboy and completely gave up any desire to be like this woman. You go right ahead if you like. You don’t have a grandmother who’s a real Flamer.
“I came here to get you,” she said slowly.
Well, this was a lie. I was incidental to business, or she’d have shown up before now, and come here first, not to the pawn shop. And I’d tossed fish.
“And do what with me, exactly?” I asked. I now felt Amah’s disapproval. It was about to set fire to my shirt and singe my hair.
“Take you to a private school on Altair. Or military school, if you’d prefer.”
“Thanks, mom, for coming all that way to ask, but no thanks.” The heat eased and my shirt didn’t catch fire. Amah didn’t want me to go.
Not what I expected. I twitched uncomfortably over my rudeness.
“Would you like some tea?” I asked. Trying.
She gazed at me in the strangest way.
“You are exactly like your father,” she said softly. “And I did love him, just so you know. His name was Jan.”
“So why aren’t you and Jan together?” I asked.
“He didn’t know about you.”
“He would have liked you a lot.”
“Oh. And you don’t?”
“I do, actually. Now I’ve met you.”
“Because I’m like my father.”
“No. Because you’re you.”
Not what I expected.
I made us all tea. I said nicer things. I said it was great to meet her. I said I hoped she’d come back and see us soon. I said no, I was sure I didn’t want to go away from Orous to school. I said yes, I would agree to have a tutor. I said I had to go to dinner with my friends.
* * *
The hired homemaker shank put something that smelled marvelous on the table. Pawnboy and his grandfather watched me carefully, saying nothing. I ate a serving of the wonderful pie—some sort of meat pie with a thick, flaky crust. I broke off a chunk of the dark bread and dipped it in oil. Still they watched and said nothing. I served another helping of the pie. And fruit.
“What is a Hverik Flute?” I asked, finally.
Gerlion sighed deeply, and smiled.
“I thought you’d never ask,” he laughed. “Hverik, the great Sarrian composer, created an entire orchestra section of amazing instruments called Hverik’s Tintinnables. He used strange and extraordinary substances, coupled with musical engineering to create instruments that sound and play like no other instrument. Hverik’s name for the flute is a Tintinnable Calliope.”
“The tubes of the flute,” Pawnboy said, “are made of this metal that’s mined in Denab. It’s called tinob. It’s found with silvril—a by-product actually—but is mostly not used commercially because the metal is too soft, and flashes if exposed to too much heat. Kinda like bluesmoke on boom-gas. Tinob has two electrons of antin, and one of b-gas, which has very unusual frequency properties. B-gas is like superlight, and is almost never captured, but somehow is trapped by the two antin electrons.”
“Okay, okay, okay. It’s bad enough that my MOM decided I need a tutor. I don’t need a lecture on the properties of tinbob, or whatever it is,” I growled.
“So you’re not leaving?” he said. Hopefully.
“Why would I leave?” I asked.
“Why else would your mom come here?” he said.
“For business. Remember?”
“So you’re not leaving?” he asked, again. Annoyingly.
I took off the jink, tossed it, and caught it on my hand. Dragon.
“Yes. I’m leaving.”
I tossed it again. Fish.
“But not with Vixen Delagrassi.”
I tossed it one last time—against my better judgment. Fish.
“And not soon.”
* * *
DG Barbasherra II came into Oldman’s the next Freeday. For a change, we were sitting at a table in the corner, playing jilt—which Pawnboy had never yet beaten me at—and not scrunched under the counter. Gerlion decided we were old enough and respectable enough that we didn’t need to hide. Besides, Pawnboy didn’t fit. We were nervous about it, Pawnboy and I. Until Barbasherra came in. When he saw me there, he smiled and his stiff uncertainty evaporated.
“I’ve come for a message from the Star Foxx.” You knew it had to be him, didn’t you?
“Oh, of course. Just a moment.”
Gerlion went to the back. Barbasherra moseyed from display case to display case, the floor creaking under each step. He stopped abruptly. When Gerlion came back, Barbasherra pointed excitedly at Hverik’s Flute.
“Is that truly a Hverik Flute?” he asked eagerly.
Gerlion removed it from the display case, placing it in Barbasherra’s hands. The big Trader blew a cautious note, very softly. All the glass in the shop reverberated with a windy, hollow note. His smile was childlike.
“2000 ten-cash,” Barbasherra said firmly. “That is all I will pay for it.”
That was a lot of ten-cash. Almost three times what Amah made in a year.
Gerlion was an honest man, but not a stupid man. And he was a trader at heart. I also realized in that moment he had the best trader’s face of any man on Orous.
“5000,” he replied mildly. Pawnboy gripped my leg under the table. My pulse was about to burn up my veins.
“2500 is the best I can do,” Barbasherra said eagerly. Too eagerly.
“4500 is the closest I can get to that,” Oldman said. “After all, this is a Tinntinnable. They are extraordinarily rare. You may never see another in your life.”
“3000 then. That’s my last offer.”
“Alright then,” Gerlion said, taking the flute to put it away. “There are others who know how rare it is.”
“Alright,” the big man said quickly, “alright. 3800. 3800 ten-cash.”
Thirty-eight hundred ten-cash was more money than Oldman’s had made in the last five years.
“4000 and it’s a deal,” Gerlion said, placing the flute back on the counter.
Barbasherra picked up the flute and nodded slowly. Gerlion wrapped the flute into a leather case while Barbasherra counted out his coins. He placed the tencash in little stacks on the counter. Traders on Orous typically dealt only in coins, but it crossed my mind it was time for Oldman’s to open an Imperial credit account.
When DG Barbasherra II left Oldman’s Pawn, Gerlion Oldman placed all the ten-cash coins into a self-sealing bag and handed it to me.
“This should be yours.”
“Why? Are you starblind, this will keep you and Pawnboy for years.”
“But Jink,” he said, “you could go anywhere, start a life.”
“Why would I want to leave Orous, and Amah, and my friends?”
“Because the jink said you would.”
“Then it will happen without your money. Open an account.”
I handed it back to him.
“Amah said I was destined to hold great fortune. Now I’ve done that,” I laughed. “Maybe some of the other stuff will come true too. If I need help, I’ll let you know.” You should believe in Flamers. Real ones, anyway.
You know this story doesn’t end here, because you heard about Barbasherra’s Lucky Run in the Interstellar Flashes. I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t always The Jink who was Barbasherra’s Chart Keeper during the Lucky Run. I came from the Wastefield-Barrio on Orous and I am Jemini Delagrassi, a girl who got misprinted on one side. I just hadn’t figured out what the other side was yet.