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Mercury In Hand

They held mixed feelings about Dain on the ship. The respect came automatically: he was a Zero-rank, and that meant when he converted starlight into fuel for the Maiden's Crescent he lost nothing to entropy. On the other hand, he'd given up being a Generator to work as a freelance enchanter. For such a choice the contempt rose fast and thick.
But his return to his old trade for this trip through the Sol System increased their profit enormously--all Dain wanted in exchange for his service was a quick stop at each satellite, small change compared to the usual fees.
The crew drew lots to see which ten could be spared to escort him down, each run. Jupiter's gas swallowed two men and Pitr broke his leg on Europa, but the excitement remained.
"It won't take long," Dain promised, and got a couple of faint smiles.
They went down to Mercury protected by technology in appearance and magic in fact.
Truthfully, it taxed his strength to keep the temperature around them to levels the tech could handle, but Dain had a wry hunch they'd rather not know. Under lamplight the southern ice glittered, unbelievable, wonderful.
He had the kit ready, but he never grabbed his sample and ran.
"I'm climbing up," Dain told them. "Anyone want to come?"
Yavashe said, "I will."
Unexpected bits of glassy razor-rock tried to cut their suits. With a helmet on he couldn't hear the hiss of solar wind... he sensed it, stole some of its energy and kept reaching for holds. Yavashe would scorn such help. He should know. She'd wrangled her way into two dozen of his landings somehow.
On the rim Dain held out a hand and grinned: "I bet you can guess."
"Maybe you'll be a shipman when you grow up," she taunted him--but her fingers laced through his.
He jumped into the silent dark, and they tumbled, shrieking into radios turned off against every regulation, down and down with little pushes of power to keep them from the wall. Their landing sent up yellow dust in clouds. Dain rolled over, sat up, and stuffed a handful into his kit: done.
He noticed the others had each drawn their initials in the dust.
"Maybe they'll be enchanters when they grow up," he teased Yavashe enroute back to the Crescent, but she didn't find that funny.
Dain took the kit to his room, and ran through the spell he'd perfected at some point around Saturn. One grain of matter was all he really needed... one grain, and Mercury spun slowly in the cup of his palm, a yellow marble, flawed; true.
He slipped it into the velvet bag holding the others; he thought he heard a slosh as it hit Earth. A complete set now and fit for one very rich and self-indulgent client.
The bag in his pocket, Dain returned to the drive chamber to bring them out of the System again and home--another of his regulars had been making noises about bones before he left, and an army of authentic miniature Apatosaurs for his son.
Dain couldn't wait to get started.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Author Comments

I've been writing for most of my life, but "Mercury In Hand" is only my second story to come within a mile of science fiction. I like the idea of enchantment and technology both having places in the universe. It was fun to confirm through "Mercury" that I'm like Dain in one way: I don't need to set magic aside to play with spaceships, or vice versa.

- Amanda M. Hayes
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