Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I set up at the same table every week. It’s right in the grey zone between the lights of the barroom and the shadows around the private booths.
“Got a Manturical honour blade. Django said you could help me get it back to its owner.”
There are snickers from the shadowed forms clustered around the nearby tables. They all know what I do: pay solid scrip for interesting things, and ask no awkward questions about legal holders and chain of provenance.
I look up at the scarred Dantonan. A veteran gunner down on his luck, if the seams on his face tell the truth.
“Honour blade, eh? Place it down there ”
‘There’ is at the other end of the table. Out of snatch range for me, which reassures potential sellers, but in range of the scanner mounted underneath.
As he reaches under his armoured cloak, I see the red corner of an upship contract sticking up from a pocket on his hip pouch.
The scan feeds back to me: ornate, but too recent. I shrug.
“You pay much for this?”
“Won it in a game of blades.”
The Dantonans have the nicest euphemisms for surviving vicious melee.
“Good thing. It’s not genuine.”
His upper offhand starts a flick to his pouch. He controls the nervous move. Tells me all I need.
“I can still use it, gunner. Can go two hundred in blue.”
He pauses, then nods and slides the weapon my way. I tap the amount into my cache, call down the funds, then print a verified sapphire-coloured ingot. I let him watch me do it all.
“Clear skies.”
With that soldier’s farewell, he reaches for the ingot. Fortunately, it’s one I know the reply to.
“And sleeping foes, gunner.”
He grins, takes the ingot, and leaves. He needed one-fifty to clear port duties. He can have a drink and a meal on me.
Sliding the blade to one side, I stare pointedly at a shadowed figure standing under the arches. You’ve been lurking there for long enough. Either step up to sell, try to kill me, or leave.
They step into the light. Street urchin turned specialist of some kind. A lot of shaped armour and the silvery sheen of field generators. Okay, not some kind: she’s a bodyguard, or a good reason to have bodyguards.
“Got a Manturical honour blade. Django said you’d rip me off, but still pay the best price.”
My dear friend Django gives me warning via what he tells sellers to tell me: this one is dangerous.
“He might be right.” I point to the other end of the table: “You know the routine.”
The scan reveals it’s the oldest honour blade I’ve ever encountered, and it’s stolen.
“Good piece. Can go two thousand red.”
It goes quiet about us. Nobody has ever heard me offer that much, let alone at the top of the spectrum.
“Four thousand.”
I raise a hand.
“If you’re expecting me to split the difference and offer three, you’re going to be disappointed. Two and a half is my limit.”
“Do me five by five hundred and we’re good.”
I print five ruby ingots. We trade. She leaves. I pack up. It’s expected, given the size of the prize I’ve just acquired.
My warrior drone descends from concealment among the rafters above.
“Steel Plaza?”
I nod, then follow it out. I hear whispers start as I go. They’re sure I’m headed for a month of debauchery. I’m sure I’m headed for the insurance brokers. Paying me double is still cheaper than having to pay the claim.