Seven entered. Three thugs, their boss, some mysterious outsider, Rhode and myself. But once we did, I forgot about the others. I forgot myself. For the breadth of a collection such as Saan Qorm’s had few rivals throughout the universe. It was a collection like no other. It demanded one’s full attention.
Awed, not one of us uttered a single word. So I immersed myself in the don’s gallery, rushing past Saan and his guards. Soaking in its splendour and eating up its eminence. Of course not literally, though my jaw had fallen agape.
Saan’s vault, that well, was only so wide and so tall that Amazon would not have been able to fit perfectly inside. But over such fault the chamber was redeemed for being miles deep. Like the tunnel to a mine; going further than what should be considered possible. I wondered if there was a wall at the far end of that chamber, that could only be reached after days of walking. A wall I could not see beyond the vanishing point.
Nearly all of the exhibits were balanced atop plinths of raw niobium spaced about three feet apart. Though I assumed, there were some additional security measures yet to be seen. They were most likely connected to proximity sensors, which if set off would trigger a vacuum, depriving us of oxygen. I couldn’t speak for Vaustok, but I felt certain we all needed it to breathe.
My eyes darted from one exhibit to the next as I was unable to focus on just one. Rhode meanwhile, skittish of the hauntingly beautiful Vaustok, kept to the rear of the group. Crossing his arms, he had begun to monotonously read aloud the names and descriptions of some of the exhibits as he went past.
“A Dojj Kaahaalu’s vanadium armour… a complete skeleton of a pygmy Sqo… the Seed of the Jynx… Diamonds from the surface of Zéltathorr… The Fist of Fierendyn…”
I spun about and insisted, “That’s not possible. The surface is almost completely volcanic, and the atmosphere of Zéltathorr is rich with... aeriform iron and antimony, isn't it? And as for Fierendyn, she is a myth! She never existed!”
“The diamonds, I grant you were extremely difficult to acquire. But I did not fetch them myself.” said Saan. “And Fierendyn’s legends may not be true, but the relic you see before you is genuine. Perfectly preserved in a cryogel for two millennia. It was picked up orbiting the star Lantana, of all places.”
Rhode continued on unenthused, “The mercurial blood drained from the grand vizier of Taez Akamorn… the Eye of the Immortal, Eleazar…” And as the man strolled on, the glaring eye began to track him.
I sighed after listening to Rhode. For I realised that not a single item in the gallery he had read out thus far, nor any I had viewed deeper inside could possibly be real. As a child I heard the stories of the fabled beings Eleazar and Fierendyn and the Jynx. Tales of the great wars fought against the unstoppable army of the Dojj Kaahaalu. All those centuries ago. But I grew up. And they were nothing more than stories. Until I came across the next gem in Saan’s collection.
On a pedestal, in a transparent cask, and draped in waxen spotlight above was an orb— or rather a marble— so small I could swallow. It hovered inside of the glass box, held up by magnetic forces so that it could not fall or touch its base. Peering ever closer I saw what looked like oceans waving, azure flowing like a tide. In between was greenery, like islands in its sea. Closer still, I saw it gyre as if tilted on an axis. And wisps of silver like shrouds floating micrometers above the orb as it slowly spun.
The description on the plinth was probably written in an Izmiri language and thus unreadable to me, but I suspected I knew what the marble was.
My next words were quite viscous to spit up, “Is… this….?” Though I barely needed say anything as Saan was swift to answer.
“The long-lost Planet Hröna,” he beamed as he sauntered over to me, whilst two of his henchmen strode by his flanks. He looked so smug and proud I could have mistaken his expression for patriotism. “It was rescued from a supernova by the ancient goddess Inanna. I assure you, Mister Kellar. It’s real.”
I had never seen the planet before. Nothing like it in fact. But as I looked at it, a good hard look; wading into the blue of its waters, I was reminded of Kára. It felt like I was looking into her eyes.
Suddenly I was listening to Rhode, who had taken my original position. That of hostility, impatience and impertinence. And yet, he lowered his voice rather than raise it. He apparently made a full recovery from the shock of Vaustok’s appearance.
“Your collection is… impressive, Saan. Without a doubt. But not why we came here. We’ve held up our end of the deal; you have your merchandise, now transfer the funds.”
“No, Saan,” bit Rhode, “you have tried our patience, and we have endured for long enough. Where is our payment?”
Pohrs bumped into Rhode and for a moment, the two Saravians looked as though they might butt heads. But Rhode had the meaner glare. At that point, not even the imposing Pohrs could make him back down.
“I was hoping we could first negotiate another deal. Perhaps alongside Madam Vaustok?”
His laugh was false, but Rhode meant it to be. “First, you insist we come to your planet for the arrangement; then you bar our captain’s entrance; you drag us into your grotto; and now… you insult us further by refusing to pay? Until we have done business with this treacherous creature?” He motioned to Vaustok. It was an obvious reminder to be wary of Saan’s hospitality, and his company. Thus I was quick to shove aside any thoughts of treasure.
I tiptoed over to Rhode whose eyes were looking anxious. Whose hands had drifted down his sides in anticipation; one hung just above his holster. Once I was standing beside him, all eyes were on us. Even the giant gold and damson Eye of Eleazar twitched and focused on us both.
“Come now, Mister Tasmir…” Vaustok said softly enough to make me tremble, “am I so terrible that you cannot be persuaded?”
Rhode countered swiftly, “You ought to know by now. I’d rather die.”