Diamonds and Dust
written by Grzegorz W. Musko
In the taverns of the Abandoned Reach, human patrons are advised to keep their voices low and their presence scarce. Vrubel had planned to do so, but then the conversation turned to diamonds.
“Just tell me, one more time, how big is this planet?”
The Sovian turned his heads and sighed, draining his drinks before repeating, “about the size of the Earth-moon, give or take.”
Vrubel leaned in, “and she lives there all by herself?”
“Yes, I already told you,” the Sovian snapped, his three sets of needle teeth glinting in the bars blue light. “She’s lived there for god knows how long.”
Vrubel felt the excited thumping of his heart and tried his best not to look so eager.
“Do you know the co-ordinates?”
“Sure, won’t do you any good though, that whole system is entry-forbidden.”
It took only one more bottle shared with the Sovian before Vrubel had the planet’s co-ordinates scrawled down on a ring-stained napkin. Stumbling drunk to his cruiser, he couldn’t help himself from laughing wildly.
Making a note to get rid of the Sovian afterwards, he lurched his ship off the ground, aiming it into the empty heart of the Reach.
The engines he’d stolen sailed beautifully, and soon a speck appeared in the endless night. A minuscule clump of red dirt, it was hard to imagine the treasure it was hiding.
Coming closer, he saw nothing on its surface, just barren desert across its entirety. Nothing, except a wooden house, its Old-Earth style looked alien under the star-less sky and amidst the utter nothing.
Gently guiding her, Vrubel tipped the ship down and began to descend. Just as he broke through the atmosphere, a dark purple light surrounded the ship. The cruiser rumbled, swaying wildly, and warning systems began to shriek. His fingers rushed to the command boards; nothing responded, Vrubel grabbed the manual controls and pulled back, hard.
It wasn’t his first crash, but still it surprised him when he opened his eyes and was still alive. Vrubel pulled the doors open and jumped out. Then, satisfied there wasn’t a single scratch on the cruiser, he began to walk towards the house.
He found her on the porch, an old shrivelled creature, wrapped in furs, not even resembling a human anymore. Her eyes, a watery blue and completely vacant, fixed on him as he approached, and her mouth parted.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” she said, her voice a dry croaking whisper.
“I’ll leave as soon as I have the diamonds, Madame Baroness.”
He opened his jacket, so his pistol stuck out, “the ones you fled with I mean.”
She laughed, “those? They’re in the house, I think.”
Just in case, he pulled his gun out and stepped into the house, her chuckling following him inside.
“You should not have come here.” Her voice followed him as he searched the house, tossing aside albums and dresses, knocking over boxes and pillaging through their contents.
“I disagree,” he called back, opening a dusty box.
On a faded red pillow, the purple diamonds shimmered casting dancing lights. Each diamond was the size of his fist, each one was worth more than he could imagine.
The smile on her face, cold and cruel, surprised him as he left the house and walked to his cruiser.
He forced the ship doors open and pulled himself in. Vrubel set the diamonds on the dash and turned on the ignition. Nothing happened. Nothing happened the second time either, or the third. Not even when swearing, and cursing the old junk pieces, he attempted to brute-force the engines.
His monitors and controls were as black as the sky above them, and in their reflection, his smirk had turned into a furious scowl.
The red dust rose around him as he marched towards the house. The withered Baroness only cocked her head in amusement when he tore his pistol from the holster and thrust it in her face.
“I want your ship, right now,” he said, cocking back the hammer.
“If it worked, do you think I’d still be here, with nothing but diamonds and dust for company?”
Vrubel noticed his hands were shaking.
She laughed again,”well I suppose now, I have you here too.”
Nothing happened when he squeezed the trigger. The gun gave a pathetic click and Vrubel threw it on the ground.
Coated with sweat and dust, red-faced and seething, he spat out the word “ozone.”
The Baroness nodded, “an electromagnet field, melts anything that relies on electricity upon impact. Took my guards a month to figure out why we couldn’t leave. They hung themselves, after a decade on the only tree here.”
“I’m afraid I’m not, my dear thief.”
He spent the night in his cruiser, tearing at its mechanical guts. When it didn’t start by the morning, he did the same to her ship. For all his efforts, he couldn’t muster even a flicker of life out of either machine.
“There’s no way out is there?” He asked her.
“Well, I haven’t found one in over seventy years, thief.”
In the beginning, Vrubel sat by his cruiser, watching the sun move across the sky, rolling the diamonds in his hand. His skin became creased with wrinkles and a matted beard sprawled out on his face.
When his own food ran out, he stumbled to her. She would laugh at him and he would sit silent. Still, he was fed and in return helped her dig in the ground for water.
Years later, they began to tell each other stories. From his first heist to his last and from her first ball to the massacre in the palace.
One night the Baroness died and Vrubel buried her, marking the grave with a ring of diamonds.
At night when he’d stumble home, still searching for an escape, they would shine. The most beautiful light he had ever seen, glinting up at the empty star-less sky.
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