A Star Wars meets Minecraft challenge. Hm. How about we go back to my last Star Wars meets… It was June 2013, nobody liked it or commented on it, and I had forgotten the detail, yet it remains one of the most important stories I have written, mainly because it led towards the Orichalcum Library, in the Viridian System. Go back and read it, and then…
Balancing the Buks
Leia and Victor Zalo lay back in their snug starcruiser spaceseats until the flightdeck adjusted the gravity from weightless to space-g.
“What I fail to understand, my dear, is how Ricardo knew you were in need of such valuable merchandise.”
Leia’s deep violet eyes gazed at his smooth, aristocratic face, reminding him how lucky he was to have found her.
“Ricardo always knows,” she said, “just as he knows to say nothing. There is still no guarantee we will slip through the Imperium net, even with these passes.”
Her comment was well-timed. A brief ‘ting’ of a viewscreen requested their attention to the Imperium security vessel stationed between Yar and Tashyar.
“Have you scanned them in?” Victor asked.
“Of course.” Her soft confirmation bore no emphasis; she was as self-contained under the pressure of Imperium questioning as she was watching a movie. Victor smiled, congratulating himself once again for finding her and making her his prime companion. It was a partnership of perfection. The rebels could ask for nothing better.
“Pass, Starcruiser Fidelio. Bonvoying.”
“How kind,” Leia murmured in response, and sat back once more as their autopilot warned them of warpshift in eight, seven, six…
“It’s a very out-of-the-way place. Do you think it suitable?”
“They will have the basics; all we need for starting a new community. And they have space, plenty of it, on the other planet.”
“It is listed as a leisure resort.” Leia scanned the details of the smaller planet, concern etched in her porcelain complexion.
“Only in this part, look. And there is a second, secure resort on this stretch of the coast. But on this continent, there is space to build a whole new community.”
“When they send the message, we will be able to respond, and bring them to us.” Victor’s confidence should have been catching, like it had in the past, yet Leia needed more.
“So we prepare a survival area.”
“More than that; we prepare the foundations of a new community, a new civilisation.”
“With what, Victor? We are hardly equipped to construct a mudhut, let alone a city.”
“We will call at the main city on the larger planet, take stock there. I have a good feeling about somewhere called Pleasant Valley.”
Leia studied the database. Pleasant Valley was over-optimistically named. The data did not match her idea of a pleasant location. Dirt, desert and too much heat. She longed for the green fields and forests of the planet of her youth. Before the Imperium came, of course. The other planet, Sunset Strip, sounded like a B movie. Maybe the continent away from the resorts would be habitable. A suitable place for the refugees to live, grow, work and play. Free from Imperium and Federation alike.
Since the starcruiser was designed for planetary landing, they took advantage of the spaceport facility on the edge of the main settlement. They split up, the better to keep their shopping list from watchful eyes. It was a far-flung outpost – they would be alert for suspicious activity, despite hosting the dregs of society. The unusual might be the norm here, but even norms had patterns. Acquiring the goods to build a new society could tickle a few whiskers.
Victor paid a courtesy visit to the Exchange on the pretext of transferring some of his accounts there. After a half hour meeting with a Mr Garelli, he decided that his Xpantis holding might as well be transferred in fact, a gesture of goodwill, and security against further items that might need expediting through Walton City’s warehouses. Xpantis was one of several assets that could not be traced back to any of his registered identities.
Leia went in search of more transitory assets. They had to keep their trail light. She had an itemised list of exchange material. What she needed now was an honest trader. Or as honest as could be expected in such a place. The market place, which was more like a bazaar, yielded plenty of interesting items, and enabled her to watch the locals, get the feel of the value of different things here. There was little in the way of fresh food, which was high on her list, and particularly food which could also be used as seed, like beans and corn. She had handweapons to exchange, but these were readily available, so not very useful as currency. The mixed box of spacejunk would probably provide something interesting to the right dealer, though.
She was too used to this existence to think any of her dealings would be kept secret. The five shysters she identified as prime targets probably drank together each night crowing about the deal they’d done. She dismissed the one named Zito early in her assessments; too like Ricardo for comfort – bar owner, with many other interests in the town including escort agencies; he would take too much interest in her and what she was doing here. Horatio was built entirely differently, a squat slab of a being, unlike the rough sophistication of Zito. But again, he owned a bar and a gambling joint. She needed someone who was more mobile, needed fast turnover.
Karadoxis Slime was a Venusian with a particularly bad case of aranoisis. His normally blue skin was a crusty green, peeling at the edges. It had nothing to do with exposure to the Viridian sun, and she had just the thing for him.
“I hev neffer heert of it,” he said in his funny accent.
“My mother said it was a family secret,” she whispered, holding her breath until she was able to pull back a little. She dug in her carisac and pulled out a flat tub the size of an old-fashioned coin. “Let me—”
“No!” Slime pulled back as she wiped her finger across the surface of the hard cream within. He put his head on one side to watch her finger. She turned it over to display where she had touched the cream.
“It’s safe. Look, I put it on my face.” She applied the cream to her cheek, which left a rosy circle. “It will show on my skin for a few minutes, but yours will absorb it straight away. Shall I..?” She approached him, finger outstretched.
“I, er… no, uh.”
She dropped her finger to his protesting arm and lightly smeared a patch of crusty skin. He jumped back from her, glaring, then paid intimate attention to his arm. She stood calmly and watched, nodding to him encouragingly as he lifted his eyes to hers then returned to studying the effect on his arm.
“More!” He said, looking at the tub. She opened it again, and he wiped his own digit on the surface this time, transferring the cream to his other arm.
“Just stroke it in gently,” she advised. “Don’t rub. And you don’t need much. This tub could last six months.”
“Stantart or Viritian?”
“Standard. Of course, something this valuable would be worth a great many goods in exchange.”
“What yu luking for?”
“Oh, food, of course. But we could do with some plascrete powder; a sawmill, water or pedal powered; an adze, a mattock…”
“Where yu setting up?”
“We’re heading for the Scania system. We have friends there.”
“Frens who don’t haf sawmill, mattocks?”
“Oh, I’m sure they do, but you don’t want to borrow all of your neighbour’s things straight off, do you?”
Slime looked at her with narrowed eyes. “What yu escape from?”
“We are all escaping, my friend,” she said with no sense of guilt. “Why else would we be in the Viridian system?”
“I hef some of them stuff. Cream buys mill. What else yu got?”
Leia treated him to a cawffee at the bazaar entrance after she inspected his stash in a cloth-covered dead-end alleyway he called his warehouse.
“So, we have a deal?”
“Deal. Yu need more fud tho.”
“How do you mean?”
“Yu got all that stuff, yu ken set up closer than Scanya. Set up here needs more fud. And watter.”
“We’re not setting up here.”
“Yu not setting up astroyed, so yu set-up SS. Yu need more fud.”
“Can we get more food?”
“What yu got?”
Leia sighed. What were the possibilities of buying back some of this stuff later? She could sell a sword, but Victor would want to keep it back for a last resort. There were some of the cultural stores they’d saved over the years – maybe, if she tried those, they could get those back. Although surely they weren’t worth much on a place so lacking in culture as this dirty, uncouth, miner’s outpost.
“I have books,” she said with a sigh.
“What are buks?”
“Stories you can read, without a viewscreen. You can hold them and read them here, just as we are, without the need for a pad or anything.”
Slime seemed unconvinced.
“All the best cities have them, often in a library,” she tried again, knowing full well that most cities had burned their books as part of their fight for survival. Books were rare antiques. She’d kept her heirlooms with her for years, and now… food was more important. And maybe she could get them back later; after all, what self-respecting miner would ever want to be seen with a book?
“I take buks for fud.”
Two days later, Leia and Victor left the Viridian System, headed for Scania, a few dozen lightyears away. They looped round the Beehive Cluster and returned to Sunset Strip, arriving from the most unlikely direction Victor could think of, hoping to escape the very moderate detection network that was all the Viridians could afford.
Now to set up Haven, and start building a community that the rebels could call home.
© J M Pett 2016
In case you don’t remember the detail of my short stories – this fits between Paradisio and Orichalcum Library, both of which are in the Viridian System Sampler