This is response to this challenge to write a 1000 word short story using three words from the list. The three I used were barrier, passion, and coverage. This time I decided to try some science fiction. It was a lot of fun to write.
The rain pelted down against the transparent dome. Black as pitch, it streaked across the clear surface in little rivers of ebony. Above, the sky was a kaleidoscope of colours- pink, red, orange, green, and purple, all swirling within the massive storm clouds.
Lightning slashed across the sky in violent flashes, leaping from cloud to cloud and cloud to ground. As it struck the greyish muck of the surface, it let off clouds of steam that shot into the air like geysers.
Thunder sounded, like drum beats in the heavens. Distorted through the thick transparent aluminum of the barrier dome, it seemed strange and tinny to the ears of Gwendolyn Sparks, purveyor of artefacts, as if the thunder were only some kind of sound effect rather than the devastating force of nature it truly was.
Most of the locals around her paid little attention to the spectacle of the storm beyond the dome. To them it was background noise, a wallpaper made of crashing thunder, swirling clouds, and stunning colour.
Gwen hadn’t been on Medeia for long, so the constant storm was still a strange wonder to her. That, she felt, was one of the advantages to her line of work. She moved around so much that nothing ever became familiar to her. Nothing ever became normal. Every place she visited was different, with its own natural wonders and perils.
She wouldn’t have felt happy with anything else.
She’d come to Medeia three days ago, travelling on a space freighter. Her client hadn’t paid for her transportation, so she’d gone with the cheapest option. It had been a rough ride, but she’d had far worse.
Hopefully, her business transaction would make up for it.
She felt the small case by her side- metallic, light, smooth as plastic, cold as night on Pluto. There was a little condensation on the outside, a few drips of water, like morning dew. With a glance at a small, luminescent display, she could tell that the refrigeration unit inside the case was still functioning, keeping the items preserved from the ravages of heat.
When she’d found them, she’d hardly believed her luck. Artefacts that old were rarely so well preserved. The thrill of finding them had sent her heart racing.
The thrill of running from the Antiquity Authorities had been an entirely different sort of thrill. They’d almost caught her before she’d slipped from the system, disappearing from sight in the rushing river of intergalactic traffic.
Strictly speaking, Gwen wasn’t a licensed archaeologist. She didn’t have the education for it. Where she’d grown up on the fringe of civilized space, she hadn’t had much access to the Imperial Universities or even colonial training schools.
Old things had always been her passion. She loved the feeling of touching history, of interacting with things that had been used by people centuries, even millennia, earlier. Selling the artefacts she found was simply a way of putting bread on the table.
The Antiquity Authorities didn’t see it that way. They hounded her wherever she went.
She didn’t see why they couldn’t just leave her alone. Most of her artefacts wound up with collectors that would take care of them.
Gwen came to a stop in front of a tower built to take full advantage of the vertical space available to it. The top almost scraped against the dome itself, over two miles up.
It was all shining gold and copper. Every inch was intricately decorated, full of ornate figures. Every window was arched, like on the pictures Gwen had seen of Gothic churches on old Earth in the Pre-Industrial Period.
Gwen decided that this was clearly the home of a great artist, a man who truly appreciated the finer things in life. It was also probably the home of a man who would be willing to pay top dollar for those finer things in life.
She reached out and rang the buzzer.
The doors opened and an elderly woman stepped out, dressed in a red-and-gold uniform. Her hair was a shock of white.
“His Excellence will see you know,” she said, guiding Gwen in.
Inside the door was a twisting staircase, curving and rising upwards. The woman led the way, up towards a domed chamber.
Gwen’s client was not so much sitting there as sprawled. Tentacles extended to the far corners of the room, writhing. A green eye pulsed over a beak-like, clicking mouth. The client spat a stream of incomprehensible syllables.
“His Excellence will see the merchandise now,” the elderly woman translated.
Gwen nodded. Her small case opened with a hiss. Resting amidst the refrigeration equipment, was a small wax cylinder.
“One crayon,” Gwen said. “Pre-Apoc period. Excellent condition. Recovered from-”
The tentacles waved like the arms of an over-enthusiastic cheerleader and the beak chattered away. The woman nodded.
“His Excellence is satisfied with the relic,” she said. “Now, as to the cost…”
“The agreed-upon figure was twelve thousand,” Gwen replied. “And that’s just the item. Insurance coverage will be another thousand on top-”
“His Excellence does not require insurance.”
“Are you sure?” Gwen asked. “A lot can-”
“He is certain,” the woman replied. She pulled out a small pad and typed in a few figures. “The money should have transferred to your account. Verify and then give the item to me.”
Gwen checked her pad. An extra twelve thousand credits was sitting in her account.
She smiled at the woman and gave her the case.
“A pleasure doing business with you,” Gwen said.
The woman did not reply. She simply opened the case and pulled out the crayon. She examined it for a moment, then threw it towards the alien. The beak opened and darted forward, catching the crayon.
It slammed closed, three thousand years of history lost in a single moment, turned into a light snack.
Gwen stared, unable to believe her eyes.
For the first time, she suddenly understood that perhaps the Antiquity Authorities might have a point.