Arkmar had dozed off when Ryel sat down next to him. She had to shake his knee to wake him up: she was now somewhat dressed, at any rate, in her black pants and a sort of elvish undershirt. It wasn’t morning, but it took him a moment to realize it wouldn’t be morning. The Moon was a bit larger before them, but they weren’t about to glide into its black seas.
“Want to talk?” she asked.
“What? Yes, of course. Obviously. Here?”
She was sitting cross-legged on the deck, and she looked around. They could see Ferd at the helm. “It should be okay,” she said, “come sit right next to me.”
“So we can lay the stupid things out in front of us and see what we’ve got without polluting the minds of the crew with their existence.”
“So we can—? Oh, I get it. You’re not worried we might lose one over the side?”
“The Aether would just throw it back on board,” said Ryel. “No, really. But let’s not go trying it, okay? Now come on, let’s see them.”
Arkmar, sitting right next to her, gave her a long look. “Ryel, you think this is safe? Ryel, how many of these people on board with us are trying to get this thing too? The high elf? The time tech?”
She gave him back his look. “Of course they both want it. We know the high elf does. Think what the, uh, time tech could do with something like this: she might know a bunch of stuff she could use it for. Maybe the captain does too. Maybe there’s a plant or two among the crew. Maybe we should be surprised if there isn’t.”
“At least Thaeron’s off our trail,” said the dwarf. “At least for now.”
“Yeah,” said Ryel, “we won’t see him on the Moon. Good move getting him arrested. He won’t be able to get out the way I did. They’ll have learned. Those gnomes are clever.”
“Thank you,” said Arkmar, “I agree. But there are other operatives one might be concerned about, and then there are the ones we don’t even know of. And then there’s the question of whoever hired you.”
“Yes. There’s that question. Don’t think I haven’t been thinking about it.”
“And then,” he added, “there’s the question of who might be waiting there for us, on the, um, Moon. Because you know what sort of thing lives there, and you know whom they serve.”
“I know we’re in Crawling Chaos country,” said the elf. “Look, Arkmar, there’s problems. There’s issues. There’s all kinds of stuff we have basically no plan for. What then are we supposed to do? Take the five we got and go home? Sell them at a flea market?”
“Well, let me put it this way,” Arkmar tried. “Suppose we get six. Then do you contact whomever and try to sell them? Or do you have to get all seventeen? I mean, that doesn’t even make sense, if we have seventeen pieces, we’re God, right? They have to be getting them off you before that. They ought to be getting them off you before you even get to six.”
Ryel looked off into the sea of stars. “We wouldn’t be God, but your point is well taken. Okay, so I guess I should tell you what I know about my buyers.”
“That would be excellent.”
“Well, there are certain Elves and High Humans,” said Ryel. “That’s what I know about. I was contacted by a member of the Eldar—you understand Eldar?” He did not. “They’re part of the high race of my home world,” she explained. “They’re supposed to be wise and magical and stuff, but they’re also descended from the biggest hotheads you would ever see among the Elves. I’m trying to paint you a picture here: I would automatically trust these people but at the same time I would consider at some point the question of what they want to do with the pieces. I mean, I know what they did with the Silmarils, and it could have been handled better, that’s all I’ll say.”
“Consider at some point? What point would that be?”
“Right now, you big baby. Get those things out and let’s look at them while we debate the proper course.”
So after one more look around and behind by both of them, Arkmar took out the five pieces they had do far: the short cylinder they had gotten off the icky priest in Dylath, the L shaped tube from the fish people, the F with the silvery extra cylinder, the X with the wing nut valve, and the three-tube corner piece. He started idly trying to put them together various ways.
“Six is enough to do something,” Arkmar recited without looking up.
“So six is when we have to develop some kind of protocol for how to deal with the inevitable questions,” said Ryel.
“How about this,” she went on. “Whatever happens, we make sure we know what it can do before we let anyone have it for any price.”
“And if we don’t know who we’re giving it to?”
“Well, we have to know who we’re giving it to.”
“Ryel,” said the dwarf, “do you trust—?” But he didn’t know which name to put next.
She looked at him for a minute. Then she said, without moving her eyes, “No.” She looked away and back. “No, I don’t. So there’s that.”
“But you trust me, for some reason?”
“Yeah. Odd that,” said Ryel. “And for some reason you trust me. Why would you ever do that, knowing what you know now?”
“You have to trust someone. You just seem a good bet.”