Get ready for some puns: "archetype" and "orc-type" or, "Orchetype". Or - well, anyway. This is a silly piece. I hope you get a chuckle.
“The Orchetype?” The name was as unimpressive as the ship itself, a squat, old bucket I wouldn’t trust to break orbit.
“My Lady’s little Joke,” replied the dwarf, puffing a bit from keeping up with my longer strides across the length of the spaceport.
I’ve spent some time with dwarves, what with a little light syndicate work, some illegal asteroid mining ops, and a short stint as a bouncer in a Gabranian whore house. Doesn’t matter if they’re three spanners to the wind or stone cold sober, they’ll emphasize just about any Noun that can’t outrun a Capital Letter.
“Your lady has an odd sense of humor. I wouldn’t name my left testicle after one of those brutes.” As the blast doors closed safely behind us, the prickling on the back of my neck eased; though to be honest, it never actually goes away. That rumor my last lover spread about me sleeping with my boots on and a vibra knife under the pillow? Not a word of it true. It’s grav shoes and a blaster.
“Brutes? Oh, you refer to O.R.C.s.” How the dwarf managed to jam Capital Letters and periods into normal conversation, I have no idea. Something in his clone code, probably.
“Yeah, orcs. Big, dumb, terrible breath, and way too many of them infesting the galaxy.” I looked up the gangway into the unlit depths of the Orchetype. I wasn't sure I really wanted to go up there. Or meet the dwarf’s “Lady”. It’s one thing to sell illegal, rare genetic material of dubious quality to a crazy old wizard, it’s another to walk willingly into her lair.
“O.R.C.s,” corrected the dwarf again, passing me on the ramp. He muttered a long phrase into the ship’s security system, something bristling with Capitals and completely unintelligible, and the ship’s interior lit up like it was plugged into a planetary power stack.
“OK,” I breathed, as my eyes adjusted and my brain caught up to what I was seeing. “Color me impressed.”
The hold of the ship was stuffed with glowing trees. Or, maybe, Trees, since these were rooted directly in the ceremsteel floor, made out of living jewels stretched into trunks and limbs, and reeking of magic. The dwarf himself looked stuffed with pride, and if it was his work, I could see why. I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I got over it quickly.
“Through there?” I asked. The dwarf led me through the fantastic forest and into the main cabin.
“Lady-Wizard Catlin Greystar,” he announced, now all major domo. “Trader Apollo Landing,” he continued, introducing me.
I'm not sure what I expected, but the wizard Greystar wasn’t it. She stood two meters plus and was draped in a black-as-space robe that must have been straight off a New Paris runway. Her grey hair flowed like silver from her high forehead to her trim, silver-belted waist. She appeared young at first, through magic or more mundane means, but her eyes showed her age. She was old. Very old.
“Mr. Landing.” The wizard’s voice was a rich, mesmerizing contralto. Magic, lad, I told myself. You hate magic, remember? “Thank you for joining me. A man in your profession prefers public places, I'm sure. But I assure you, you are not in any danger here.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ve always considered myself adaptable.”
“An important trait for a smuggler.”
“Please,” I interrupted with a smirk, “I’m just a simple trader.”
“Who finds things that others want and will pay a great deal for.”
I spread my hands. “It’s a talent.”
The wizard waved me to a seat at a galley table. The dwarf stood against a bulkhead, fingering the handle of a small axe stuck through a gold-filigree belt.
“Of all the… traders who answered my advertisement,” Greystar began, “you are the only one who provided the details I was looking for. I would very much like to see the merchandise.”
I tried to look in those eyes to read the woman - was she going to do things the hard way or was she a straight dealer - but it was like staring into a black hole. And I'd come this far, figuring I could handle whatever came along. I pulled out a handscreen and fired it up.
“Please, Mr. Landing.” Greystar laid a cool hand on my own. “Only the actual material will do.”
I hate being rushed, but then, I hate dealing with wizards. I should have been born a few hundred years ago, when it was just humans out here in the stars. Then some scientist cloned up our ancient racial competitors out of a bunch of old bones she found on Sirius Five - dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls - and magic somehow came back into the universe along with them. I've heard the theories, but all they mean is that no one really understands any of this, unless it’s the wizards.
I pulled out a little black box and set it on the table in front of Greystar. The dwarf twitched when I reached my hand in my jacket. I moved nice and slow. No sense getting the little guy riled.
The wizard reached for the box. “Now, now,” I said. “It’s keyed to my voice, and’ll take your hand off if I don’t give the right command.”
I guess even magic has its limits. She pulled her hand back pretty quick.
“There’s the matter of payment.” I could almost feel the metas going into my account. Enough to buy my own ship again. I’d had a run of bad luck, until I’d won the little box in a poker match with a very drunk elf. Imagine my delight when I read Greystar’s advertisement and realized I was only a few cheap jumps from a good mutual meeting point.
“Could I interest you in some magic beans?” asked the wizard, arching one perfect white eyebrow.
“Ha ha,” I said.
“No, really. They’ll fetch a fortune on any cloud planet.”
I slid the box back an inch. “Ten thousand metas,” I said with more confidence than I felt. I couldn’t get a read on the woman.
Greystar nodded slightly over at the dwarf. “Baffin,” she said, “Would you please bring over the godmium?”
I barely kept from squealing like a kid with his first taste of buddha cream as the dwarf nonchalantly placed a shining silver sphere next to my little black box.
“More than you requested, I believe,” said the wizard. “But there will be some difficulty converting it to metas, so…”
I swallowed, and scanned the metal ball with my handscreen. The confirmationcame back with a distinct ping. “I believe this will do,” I said, with only a hint of greed. I reached to take the godmium, but the wizard stopped me with a shake of her head.
“Now, now.” She pointed at the box. “Your turn.”
I leaned over it and intoned: “One ring to rule them all.” The box chimed and a tiny keyhole appeared in its top.
“Really?” the wizard complained.
“The elf set the code!” I protested.
She turned her black eyes to mine, and I felt something pull on me like losing atmosphere from a leak in an airlock. “The key,” she said.
I don’t know why I hesitated, but I said, “What does O.R.C. stand for?”
“You're not saying it right,” put in the dwarf. “He means O.R.C., my Lady.”
“That’s what I said.”
“And if I answer your question, will you produce the key?” she asked, a little impatiently.
“Original Re-magicked Clone-type,” she said.
I was sliding down the fifteen kilometer slope of Mt. Pilgrim on Rigel Ten, and couldn’t stop until I knew everything. “Which means…”
Greystar smiled, and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “The O.R.C.s were my first creation. Their DNA was easier to work with than the dwarves and much less complicated than the elves with their eight MNA fiticules for every one of the four basic proteins in their DNA. Though I admit I made a few mistakes with the orcs. I'm really quite surprised how quickly they've re-produced.”
She sat back with something like satisfaction while I processed everything. She was relaxed and confident, which made me nervous and antsy. I don’t like feeling antsy. It's not my style.
Original Re-magicked Clones, I thought. Her first creations. Dwarves and elves with DNA and MNA. I didn’t like where this was going.
“I want that key, Mr. Landing,” said the wizard, her dark eyes burning. “I want that box. I want the precious fragment of bone inside that box. More complicated than elves by magnitudes.” She sat back. “Because, really,” she mused, “What good is a Dark Lord without a Space Dragon?”
I took the deal, of course, and hightailed it to the other side of the galaxy as fast as my new ship could jump. Because, really, what good is a simple smuggler if he’s a dead hero?