Flash: Scrimshaw

Copied from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nantucket_Whaling_scrimshaw_E.Burdett.jpg
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Photograph taken at Nantucket Whaling Museum, Nantucket, Massachusetts. September 15, 2008

“Can’t you buy anything?”

“Sorry buddy, but these are all standard and I got plenty.” The shop owner’s voice laced with barter avarice. “Unless you are willing to come down in price.”

“I am only asking a quarter what I paid for them.”

The deeper male voice managed to keep the whine of desperation back, but Felicity could hear the fear of grounded spacer clawing its way out of the too heavy, and yet too empty belly. She knew the answer even before the owner gave it, and she could tell the spacer knew it too. She glanced up for the stock, mostly in recognition of the man’s ability to keep the panicked dread clamped down.

Wow, now that is someone who didn’t skimp on zero-G exercises. Arm muscles bulged a bit as he gripped the scrimshaw case. Black hair was beginning to grow in, so the man was losing hope. At least five days growth. The clothes hung just a little on him, so he hadn’t been grounded too long. Most likely why he still had scrimshaw to sell. His box looked banged up, so he wasn’t some newbie whose captain left as a lost cause before the novice blew up the ship. Her eyes wandered over the portside overalls, becoming more interested in the puzzle the grounded spacer represented – and admittedly his looks – than the store stock, until she noticed the series of loops on the left side attached to two forks.

Wait, a harmony? They never have trouble finding work.

“I pay a tenth of market price for used goods. Sign says so out front, Jack. You get a quarter for unique pieces.” The seller moved his assessing equipment below the counter. “Ain’t much comes through here, but I can sell used goods to people who come to this backwater hellhole.”

“I got one handmade.” The harmony stroked his case. “A Candlewood, he … I … I got to eat.”

Hard-edge sarcasm destroyed the comradeship sales pretense the shopkeeper had welcomed Felicity into his store. “You got an Abbot Candlewood?”

“No, no, his brother, Clevon Candlewood.” The engine specialist held his box protectively against his board chest.

The merchant paled a little. Everyone knew the Candlewood’s ability to make scrimshaw beads. Some made their living from the beads, while others just did it as a pastime. While Abbot was prolific, Clevon was the better artist by far, but he did it between terraforming gigs.

“You got providence?”

Tears streamed down the guy’s face. His head jerked in a nod.

“Hold up.” Felicity didn’t realize she was going to speak until her clear contralto broke the venue. The two men turned as one. “A Clevon Candlewood you say?”

The harmony shuttered. Baring his desperation to a land jackal was one thing, but in front of a fellow spacer…

“The keep here can’t give you what it’s worth, needing to pay gravity charges. I’m willing to give passage to the Paradise Links for a Clevon.”

“Passage ma’am?”

“Yeah, you would use my bunk when I’m on duty, and food would be rationed and typical zero-g gruel, unless you work a little, but we could contract something out.” The shopkeep looked ready to interrupt, but she had a regular run and often picked up a bead passing through. The route was far enough off the main many of his mass-produced pieces were discontinued and she was able to fill in holes in her collection. The man was a jackal, an honest one because his providences were always spot on, but he still was a dirt breather, and he was easily distracted by the cash of the now. “You can wrap me the Mother Goose Cupboard and transfer the ownership file to this chip.” She tossed a thin blue stick to track providence of the artwork. Both the bead and the stick would be added to the box clamped under her bunk.

“Oh, I can work. Still got all my tools.”

“On you? Cause I lift in two hours, burn starts in one, and we got to get you to close all your books and open the ships before leaving.”

“Yes ma’am. Carrying everything on me now.”

Felicity reassessed his outfit. He had to have sold everything else. Only two forks didn’t bode well for an experienced harmony. He had loops for eight. But she wasn’t hiring him to keep her ship flying through the discord, just offering transport.

And maybe bunk space. He wasn’t crew, so, for once, that option was open. Unless he signed on for something. His sculptured arms looked strong enough to hold her all night. She shouldn’t have offered the work possibility; she hadn’t been properly lifted since, damn, since before she got her stripes nine years ago. Only one or two dirt breathers at a Links. Could she sneak in bunk requirements if he was only on for three stops or would that be unethical? You know the answer to that Felicity. On the other hand, if he was full harmony – she would need to find out his certification level – that would put them equals according to spacer guild rules. Nah, with two forks best she could hope for is a failed apprentice. Still harmonies tended to play outside the rules; she also heard they always found the right note to hum for a woman.

(words 890; first published 11/13/2013; republished new blog format 12/2/2018)