The Price of Art

Boundary Shock Quarterly 21: Avast! The Pirate Issue

Captain Ariana Marlan Rumala and her crew are waiting to take their fluxship, Big Top, into the superliminal dimension, via Station Flux-Open 17. They've got a contract to take an art collection to the famous Jezier Museum in the Ka Yan System.

But station Hub Control tells them to stand by. That's code for something is wrong, and you're not going anywhere until we figure it out.

As ship and crew wait for this mysterious bureaucratic tangle to sort itself out, a pirate vessel comes alongside Big Top. Thing is, all Big Top is carrying is art.

Things are about to get interesting.


"Big Top, this is Hub Control for Station Flux-Open 17. Passage request received. Confirm you are go for flux."

"Hub Control, we are go for flux," replied Captain Ariana Marlan Rumala.

At least, Rumala thought so. Her typically confusing chat with the navigator Myndympar twins left her with the impression that yes, they were ready to take the ship into the superluminal dimensional web.

Rumala gave a sharp nod to her first mate, Murmurk. The endo-bio Sivid-Cesstine-Elabara-Brae nodded back, his bare, pink head just shy of the bridge's ceiling, long earlobes twined behind his neck in his species' formal fashion.

"Crew, prepare for flux," Murmurk said, ship-wide, into his wrist comm.

"Big Top, there are seven other fluxships ahead of you. I see you have prior authorization, which should put you ahead of..." Control trailed off.


Rumala stared intently through the diamond viewport, waiting. At this distance, the station was a dot in a sky full of stars.

The silence lengthened. Rumala met Murmurk's quizzical gaze.

"Yes, Control?" Rumala prompted.

"Big Top, Stand by."

"Stand by?" Kip mouthed through gen-mod fangs that overlapped his lower lip. As he sat in the nav chair, he finger-drummed his console impatiently. As Sublight Navigator One, Kip's job was to get them to the flux hole. Then the twins would take over.

Stand by was code for "something wrong". Paperwork, payment--who knew?

Every flux hole station had its own set of tangled regulations, the details of which were usually left to the ship's triad AI, but not always--sometimes a sentient needed to be involved. Or the station thought it did.

"Milk run, eh?" muttered Kip.

That's what Rumala had told the crew. She'd been rewarded with cheers, sighs, clicks, and happy hums. A simple transport job, she assured them, one that would pay for supplies, fuel, repairs, and transit fees that stations like this one charged for flux hole access.

"Big Top, this is Control. We find your prior authorization documentation... interesting. Issued by Love Station, and that provenance is certified, but the manifest is lacking details. What exactly are you transporting?"

"What the hell business is--" Kip began, just loud enough to be heard by the station.

Rumala put a hand on his shoulder to quiet him.

"A privately held art collection," Rumala replied. "donated to the Jezier Museum on planet two of the Ka Yan solar system."

"Yep, that's in the flightplan," said Control. "But what is it?"

Rumala blinked slowly, wondering how to answer, recalling the crates they had brought aboard and what she had found when she inspected them.

"Art," she said. "Ceramic, Metal." She scratched the back of her neck, trying to remember. "Wood, paint. Wire. We're just delivery, Control."

For a long moment there was no answer. She imagined side-channel discussions and very much wished she could hear them.

Then, at last: "Big Top, stand by."



Comments are Disabled