Obsidian Command

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ibn Sharjar: The challenges, the trades, the curiosity and the gift

Posted on 21 Jun 2022 @ 5:49am by Atif ibn Sharjar - Merchant of the Al Ashar
Edited on on 20 Jul 2022 @ 6:51pm

Mission: M3 - Into the Deep
Location: Southern desert; Obsidian
Timeline: MD 03 2310hours
3013 words - 6 OF Standard Post Measure

About an hour and a half had passed, the new moon was well risen now. It’s thin cool light doing little to illuminate the sands beyond the glow of the lamp. Ibn Sharjar took a draw on his hookah, letting the smoke trail from his lips.

He had heard some movement about ten minutes ago, a soft crunch of gravel, a rattle of harness and the grating vibration of beetle limbs moving. He knew them to have all been sounds that had been deliberately made for his benefit. They had come from various directions around his position on the edge of the outcrop. He had not reacted, remaining sitting crossed legged upon his blanket.

There would be further events, actions designed to test the nerve and courage, to provoke a reaction, to judge worth and courage. He had faced them before and was prepared for what was to come.

There was a new sound now, behind him, it was that of a sword being withdrawn from its scabbard, a metallic rasp, slow, deliberately prolonged. It was followed by the sound of the blade being sharpened on a stone.

He puffed his hookah and stayed where he was, not turning around.

The sharpening stopped. A moment later a small rock came skittering across the outcrop, it clattered into one of his chests.

He idly scratched his knee and took another draw of his hookah, slowly exhaling the smoke.

There was silence for a few minutes, then a series of blood curdling yells came in rapid succession from several points around the outcrop. He felt himself shudder at the first one but locked his limbs up to remain still.

Seconds later a spear flew out of the darkness and thudded into the sand a few feet from his blanket. The shaft quivered in the lamp light.

Again, nothing for a couple more minutes, the spear shaft was now still. Then several things all happened at once, there was another series of shrieks and yells, quickly followed by a loud grinding buzz. It came, he knew, from the mandibles of War-Eralsu. The beasts were trained to make it on command, it was a noise to terrify adversaries. Then a scrabbling sound, and suddenly. out of the night, three huge beetles rushed in on him.

The giant insects stormed in, mandibles spread wide in attack-mode, hunched on each of their backs was a robed figure, couching a long spear. The beetles rushed within three feet of the blanket, then just as suddenly reared up, mandibles crunching together, their forward legs, those with the sharpened hooks, scythed through the air and three spearpoints jabbed forward accompanied by the screams and war-cries of the beetles’s riders.

The beetles stomped and reared, their jaws clattering, dust and sand and gravel flew, showering ibn Sharjar and his blanket.

He remained seated, until they stopped. Then lifted the mouthpiece from his lips and slowly brushed some dust from his robe. He looked up, as though only just noticing the attacking beasts. He looked around all three, gave a long, exaggerated, sigh, his waved his hand as though shooing away a sand-flea; then dusted off a little more sand, returned the mouthpiece to his lips, took a long draw and blew out smoke.

One of the riders roared in anger, jumped down from his mount and came forward, stabbing his lance into the sand, he drew his sword. Waving it around in a series of strokes, demonstrating his skill, he yelled a series of challenges in his own guttural tongue. The figure stepped forward, his boots on the edge of the blanket, the sword point hovering in ibn Sharjar’s face in challenge

Ibn Sharjar, looked up, giving the figure a long look. It would be one of the younger men, eager to make a name and show his manhood before the older warriors.

He lifted the mouthpiece again, holding it in one hand. Giving the figure a broad, wide, smile he spoke, clearly and calmly in the Arabic of his Bedouin ancestors.

You are a chattering spawn of a jackal. Remove your toy from my face, take your filthy boots off my blanket, go back into the desert where you belong and copulate with your dung beetle he finished with a friendly nod and went back to his Hookah

The figure stood there glowering down at him and was quickly joined by another rider. This one also yelled threats and challenges, thumping his lance against his chest.

Ibn Sharjer put down his hookah pipe and sighed loudly. He gave the second figure a similar smile and announced. Like your babbling friend here, you too are the spawn of a jackal. You may join him in the sands and the pair of you may both copulate with your dung beetles together

The third figure jumped from his mount and came forward but before he could shout his own challenge another voice called out. “Enough!”

There was movement in the dark and more figures came out of the shadows into the lamp light. He counted nine in total, the rest gave way to their leader who stepped forward and took a seat opposite ibn Sharjar. He brushed off his boots in respect before stepping on to the blanket.

“You are the sky trader Ateefeben. I see you” the man said, adjusting his robes and getting comfortable. He was older, experienced, tested, his face thin, scarred, as hard as the desert rocks they sat on.

“You are Ran’huf First Lance of the Pitra-tani, the Tribe of the Indigo Rocks. I see you” ibn Sharjar replied. This was the third time they had met. Each time there was the challenge and test before trade. It was their custom to gauge the worthiness of strangers in their lands.

Though he now knew the process, it was still unnerving and the first time, though he had been warned before by another tribe, had been quite frightening. The ordeal had been worth it though, there were rich deposits of Obsidian Opals in the southern deserts, large milky green-black precious stones. They had a deep iridescence and internal fire, most opals ranged between a scale of one and five in intensity. It was not uncommon for Obsidian Opals to reach levels six and seven. The Pitra-tani had good quality stones in abundance, and he had made a tidy profit moving them on to gem dealers. They were also skilled in carving pieces of Eralsu carapaces into exquisite artwork and fashioned leather goods out of wild Chuchaki hides.

The man gave a soft chuckle. “I see also Ateef has grit in his teeth” commending ibn Sharjar’s stoic endurance of the ritual test

“There is peace between the Pitra-tani and Ateefeben for the time of trade, under the gaze of the Divine One” Ran’huf announced, loudly so the others could hear him.

“There is peace between us” ibn Sharjar repeated. He held out the Hookah mouthpiece to the warrior, whom he knew had developed a taste for it.

Ran’huf nodded and took it, taking a cautious draw. He been a little too ambitious the first time he had tried it, sucking in a great lung full. His coughs and spluttering had been a source of great amusement to the other warriors. He had borne the teasing with forbearance at the time but now he treated the Hookah with respect.

They shared some polite enquires as to the others health, then Ran’huf rummaged into his knapsack and brought out several bundles. He opened the first one, setting out half a dozen large opals on the blanket.

As First Lance he would have the right to begin the trading. The others gathered round, squatting down to watch the haggling before their own turn.

Ibn Sharjar flipped open the two chests. He had brought his own trade goods. The remote tribe had little use for normal payment methods, money, currencies, credits, latinum all had little or no value to them. What they would barter for were goods they could use, either themselves or in trade with other tribes.

Ibn Sharjar prided himself on turning a profit, he was a shrewd and cunning dealer. While sharp practice was second nature and frankly expected, he also prided himself on making a fair bargain. There was no value in openly cheating customers, not if he expected to deal with them regularly in the future.

He was also wise enough not to treat these tribesmen like fools. While they were somewhat unworldly and had little knowledge, or indeed interest, of things beyond their own region, they were intelligent and astute.

Honor, trust and reputation had meaning, and he meant to protect his. He knew of a couple of other merchants who had tried to hoodwink some tribes. One had been lucky to get off with a severe beating and the loss of a hand. The other had been staked out and left to die under Loki’s rays.

The chest contained items he had learned the Pitra-Tani valued; ingots of high-carbon steel for the fashioning of sword blades and spear tips; precast light alloy arrow points; carbon-fiber bow strings; rolls of synthetic material straps that could be used for beetle harnesses and would endure the sun and heat without cracking like leather, likewise strong ropes. Spices, oils and unguents were also prized. Along with some off world jewelry and hand tools.

He had learned quickly that they had no interest in technological equipment. The first time he had offered a small handheld electronic device that could be used to find underground water sources there had been mutterings about blasphemy and it being a tool of the fiery ones. Electronic binoculars were similarly dismissed but old-fashioned optical pairs were acceptable

The next few hours were spent in barter, trade and haggling, until both sides had swapped the items they came with. He was dealing with one last tribesman, the youngest, perhaps fifteen years old, he who had been first to bring the challenge with his sword.

He was dressed like the others, in the robes of his tribe, but had an unusual necklace, that hung out from his neck when he leaned forward. It had several small rectangular gems in it that ibn Sharjar had not seen before.

The fellow had only a couple of opals and some leather belts to sell, though the belts were well made and had skillfully inlaid strips of polished beetle shell that glittered in the lamplight. They settled on two ingots of steel, a dozen arrowheads, two bowstrings and a reel of strapping.

The fellow was pleased with his side of the bargain. “You are a man of grit Ateefeben” he said “You withstood my sword challenge with courage”

Ibn Sharjer gave him a grin. “It was not easy my friend, you will be a strong warrior one day” and tossed the fellow couple of extra arrowheads.

The lad snatched them up, grinning thanks and began to rise then stopped and sat back down. “Would Ateefeben be interested in old iron?” he asked hesitantly. At least "old iron" metal was what the translator interpreted the words as.

“Old iron?” Ibn Sharjar asked

The lad laughed, “No, no, not old iron! The metal of the ancients” he corrected and rummaged in his robe, pulling out a small purse. He undid the strings and withdrew a small piece of shiny metal.

It was some eight or nine inches in length, perhaps five across and maybe a third of an inch thick. It had been worked and there were several neat rectangular holes in it, arranged in a grid. There was also the traces of some kind of pattern or inscription on the surface. He handed it over.

Ibn Sharjar took the item, it was surprisingly light and he quickly realized it was not metal but a plastic alloy composite of some sort. Holding it to the lamplight he saw there were neat recesses around the rectangular holes and under each hole there were engraved marks, what he had mistook for a pattern was perhaps some sort of script, though he had no idea of its origin.

He flipped it over, there were stubby ridges around the holes, and several round short tubes, with round holes in them, protruded from the surface. He peered at one of them, the hole was threaded he noted.
There was also perhaps some kind of printed circuit embedded in the material. He examined it further, whatever it was it was old, it had that aged patina. Looking closer he decided, whatever it was it was indeed ancient, one side seemed melted, perhaps burnt.

The lad saw him looking at the melted edge. “This metal is very hard to work, it goes soft in the fire but will not harden, it drips and burns with black smoke if you get it too hot, but it can be shaped and will hold that shape, but after reheating it goes weak and brittle”

He held up the necklace, “These stones were in some of the holes when I found it”

Ibn Sharjer asked to look at the necklace and it was passed over. What he had thought were gems were colored plastic. Some had a character marked on them. He held one to a rectangular hole on the item, it fit perfectly, the stubby ridges were the remnants of some sort of clip or clamp to hold the lens in place. It seemed more and more like some broken bit of a control panel.

“Where did you find this?” He asked, intrigued

The lad shrugged “Beyond the dunes”

Ibn Sharjar smiled, it was a local term. Although simple it could have several meanings, from literally just beyond this dune right here to a much more distant beyond all those dunes over there, then another two kilometers out into the sand and then some

It could also mean that sometimes the speaker did not wish to say exactly where a place was…

“Is there more of it there?”

“Maybe, there are some caves…” The lad was non-committal and ibn Sharjar did not push it.

Instead he just nodded, the thing was a piece of scrap plastic alloy, it was basically worthless. The lad had probably found some old bit of junk somewhere and pried off this bit for the colored pieces to make his necklace. Still the markings were unusual, there was a vague similarity to Obsidian script; but he knew they did not produce such things here.

He shrugged, besides a curiosity, it was essentially meaningless to him, but always with the eye on a future bargain if the lad brought something better next time, he asked “What did you want for it?”

“One of the jars of the red spice, the hot one?” The lad tried

“Hmmmm” Ibn Sharjar played the game, making a show of thinking it over. “Perhaps half a jar is fair, but it is near morning and I am tired” he held up a jar of chilli powder “A whole jar and two more arrowheads for this and your necklace?”

“A deal!” The lad ginned and ibn Sharjar passed him the jar and a couple more arrowheads. The lad jumped off and went to brag of his bargaining skills with his fellows.

Ibn Sharjar clambered to his feet, stretching his limbs. He tossed the piece and the necklace into one of his trunks and closed the lid. In the east there were the first faint traces of an oncoming dawn, within an hour or so the sun would be up, then these cool rocks would become a radiation battered anvil.

Ran’Huf approached, the group were making preparations to leave now, they would return to their campsite to wait out the worst of the morning sun.

“Though you are of the sky, Ateefeben, know this, you are welcome to trade with the Pitra-tani, of the Indigo Rocks.” the warrior said. “Do you recall what you requested to trade last time?” he asked with a small grin

“You have them?” ibn Sharjar asked, he recalled but had not wished to ask, lest he shame them for not being able to supply his request.

Ran’huf signaled one of his men, who went to his beetle, he unslung a large heavy leather bag from the pommel of the saddle and brought it over, carrying it with two hands. The surface of the bag moved as he approached and placed it down on the blanket

“Three days old, but be careful, they will take your fingers!” Ran’Huf grinned and the others chuckled, holding up their hands with fingers bent, as though missing.

Ibn Sharjar went to reopen his chests, “What do I owe you?”

“A gift, Ateefeben of the sky! Go in peace” Ran’Huf smiled and jogged to join his men as they mounted their beetles.

Moments later they cantered off over the dunes, lance points catching the first of Loki’s rays as they strode over the horizon.

Ibn Sharjar shook out his banket, emptied out the ash and tobacco remnants form his Hookah, gathering his things he bundled them up, placing them back inside the hatch, then dragged the two chests back over and loaded them in too. He closed and secured the hatch from the outside

He returned to the large leather sack. He gave it a tap with the toe of his boot. The bag moved! He picked it up by the strap, on closer inspection he could see there were several slits cut into the leather to allow for the circulation of air. He could feel further movement as he carried it to the cockpit hatch and clambered in, closing it behind him.

He thought for a moment then, carried the bag back into the central corridor, placing it down in a corner. There was further movement then stillness.

He grinned and returned to his cockpit. It was time to be in the air!


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