Master Paranthany set the vase down delicately at the feet of Mr. Lurgess. Mr. Lurgess, for his part, rubbed his spongy hands together excitedly. Master Paranthany removed his velvet gloves and returned them to their pocket in his coat.

“How did you–” Mr. Lurgess sputtered out. “How did you find it again? It’s worth–”

“A fortune, yes.” Master Paranthany scratched his nose and moved to Mr. Lurgess’s prismatic windows. The cold light of dawn was covering the entire room apartment with bits of red and green and indigo. “Porcelain from the original Ming Dynasty is extremely rare in this day and age. It’s worth quite a bit, to the right person. Or it’s something to let flowers die in.”

“I must insist.” Mr. Lurgess scurried over to the window himself, almost tripping over his dressing gown. The colors that cavorted around his face did little to improve it, in Master Paranthany’s eyes; the little man still looked like a roast pig. “You must tell me how you found it! I know your agency is one of the best–”

“We are the best. You will find no better insurance company on any of the Five Worlds.”

“And you’re a credit to their investigators, Master Paranthany. But you must tell me. I thought for certain this would have been on the black market by now, exchanged through a dozen hands.”

“I am certain it has been. However, I was able to recover some dust from the vase’s former resting spot. With that, it was only a matter of finding the exact combination of molecules and paint patterns.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I had copies made. Printed them right out back at the office. Flooded the market with them. Would take an expert to tell the difference, and even then, its extremely unlikely. In short, I made the thing totally worthless.”

“But that would take hundreds…”

“Millions, actually. Three point five. Most will find their way back to the office, and they’ll be used as base material for another hunt. Standard procedure really.” In one fluid motion, Master Paranthany reached into his pocket, withdrew a package of cigarettes, and shook one into his lips. “But there will be just enough to keep anyone from stealing that vase again. It is effectively worthless to anyone but you.”

“No smoking, please. It’s bad for my eyes.” Mr. Lurgess looked back and forth from the vase to Master Paranthany “But if you…does that mean…do I have…?”

“Well I suppose there’s only one answer to that question.” Master Paranthany lit his cigaratte and let an extravagant plume of blue smoke glide out of his lips. Colors formed unique patterns and shapes upon the surface of the smoke before it all dissipated. “How much is it worth to you?”