Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They warn us about culture clashes, especially the dangers of exposing primitive cultures to advanced technology. My mother went with the concept of “one being’s magic is another being’s science”. Ever since, if our devices are too much for the locals, we present ourselves as sorcerers or shamans hired to protect a merchant. It’s stupidly effective, too. Fireworks and hologram projectors have saved my life more times than weapons and violence.
I remember her telling me that Fiona seemed more fairy than petite low-gravity worlder. Said she had a talent for mischief. Tonight, I’m probably going to have to intervene, but the mischief is gold standard.
The hulking barbarian points to the media box in her hand.
“Does making the lights go out kill the little men in the relic?”
“Yes, but not the little women. They fall into an enchanted sleep until you make the lights come on again. Then they conjure the ghosts of their favourite men back to life so they can cavort with them some more.”
“They are comely lasses. How does one take service with them?”
“Surely you don’t want to limit your adventuring spirit by living a life of leisure in a little box full of women?”
“After the winter I’ve had? You can pour that adventuring spirit over your backside and light it.”
Fiona flashes me a ‘dug myself a hole’ look.
I shrug, watch the look of panic cross her face, then grin.
Closing my eyes, I interface with V-space and get the Dragonfly to patch me through to our equatorial trading team.
“Tony! What’s Fiona baited into a fury this time?”
I grimace.
“Nothing yet, Larsen, but her current plaything is nearly three metres across. He’s some barbarian who does a guard boss thing during off seasons. Pretty good at both, judging by the quality of his gear.”
“Part of his face got green tattoos?”
“At least half.”
“That’s a Drashtyn Battlemaster. Think medieval special forces with command skills.”
“Man needs a job somewhere warm. Got anything?”
“We’ve a jolly merchant lamenting the lack of toughs to head up his next expedition. That do?”
“Tell him you can bring him a veteran Battlemaster from the northlands using our tame elemental. Providing he pays us full finder’s price.”
“Fiona going to puppet the barbarian?”
“Yup. He’ll be oblivious to being flown in the Dragonfly. We’ll tell him it was elemental magic; he’ll be fine.”
“Tasty. Peggy and Regan and can fake a summoning to give you a landing zone.”
“Perfect. See you tomorrow morning.”
“We’ll be ready. Come in on my beacon. Be sure to land inside the circle of flames.”
“Got it.”
I open my eyes. Fiona is sitting on an enormous knee, looking like a nervous pet. I stand and wave my tankard to get his attention.
“Battlemaster! Before you succumb to a Sprite’s Bargain, I can offer you employ in Wishtar.”
He comes up fast. Fiona rolls out of an untidy landing to tuck herself behind me.
“Gently, now. You know sprites can only do as their natures dictate.”
The massive brow furrows.
“I’m aware, merchant. What’s the job?”
“Trail lord for an expedition.”
“I accept.”
Fiona dashes forward and slaps a control rig in with a low blow. He stiffens, then walks from the tavern with jerky movements, Fiona at his side.
She walks him all the way to the Dragonfly and lays him down in the cargo bay. He starts snoring immediately.
I grin.
“You need to work on the walking, but nicely done.”
“We off to make money?”
“In the warm, too. Wishtar, here we come.”