2948-04-28 - Tales from the Inbox: Diadem of the Damned

In last week's episode (Tales from the Inbox: The Discarded Diadem), Risko Brett thought he had defeated a half-baked fraud scheme targeting his antique shop on Maribel. A young spacer, failing to sell Brett a crown marked with Xenarch symbols, tossed the item and ran. 

While there is no proof the item was in fact a Xenarch relic (indeed, it seems unlikely), it was definitely something more than a fabricator bauble - Brett learned that rather quickly.

Risko Brett woke just before his usual alarm and sat up in bed to find that his head felt unusually heavy. Reaching up to rub his forehead, he found cool, fluted metal before his hand touched skin.  

Suddenly wide awake, Risko sat bolt upright in bed and pulled the offending object off. It was the crown from the previous day, looking if anything more lustrous in the morning light than it had the previous afternoon. He couldn’t remember getting up in the night to fetch it, and was certain it had been on the shelf when he’d retired. Not having experienced any sort of somnambular episode before, he hurriedly scoured his apartment for any other sign that he had been up and about while unconscious, finding only that a few other items had been dislodged from the shelf by the door.  

Uneasily, Risko hurried through his morning routine, placing the crown back on the shelf as he left for the day. Opening the shop and drinking the fresh-brewed real coffee delivered to him by a specialty café down the street soothed his rattled nerves, and he forgot the incident long before the first customer of the day wandered in.  

“Good morning, Mr. Brett.” Cheery old Mrs. Boelens, a regular browser and occasional buyer, waved to him with a good-natured wink. “Aren’t you looking fancy today.”  

Risko looked down at his clothes and realized that his smart-clothes were configured in a far more formal cut than he usually preferred. He didn’t remember changing the settings, but the new configuration seemed to suit his frame. “I suppose I am.” He shrugged. “Looking for anything specific this morning?”  

“Just browsing, dear.” The woman ambled between the display cases. “Did that collection of Heracles pearls you mentioned finally come in?”  

“Yes, they have!” Risko brightened – Mrs. Boelens had bought exotic pearls before and would likely purchase something from the lot he’d just received. “I haven’t had a chance to put them in the displays. Would you like me to bring them out?”  

She nodded eagerly, so Risko hurried into the back room to find a display tray and lay the various brooches, necklaces, and bracelets out.  

When he returned, Mrs. Boelens quickly set to picking each item up and turning it over in her hands. It took her only a few minutes to select one necklace – a modest sale, but a good way to start the day. As he put the transaction through on the shop’s computer terminal, she kept glancing up at him, smiling slyly, as if sharing a private joke – a joke Risko didn’t get.  

“Mrs. Boelens, may I ask what you think is so funny?” As he asked, Risko placed the necklace in a padded package and handed it to her, the credit transaction complete.  

“Oh, nothing dear.” She tapped her temple with one finger. “I just like to see that you know how to have a little bit of fun once in a while, that’s all.”  

“Fun?” Risko frowned as she turned away. He prided himself on his professionalism and patience – he wasn’t in business for fun. Remembering her gesture, he reached up to his temple, only to find smooth, worked metal there.  

Yanking the crown off his head in alarm, Risko mentally backtracked through his morning. He’d left the crown on the shelf in his flat, and he hadn’t had it on when he’d opened the shop – his reflection in the window-glass would have given it away. He hadn’t had time to go home to get it – nor any desire to do so. Shuddering, he darted into the back room and tossed the crown into an empty inventory bin. 

When a small group of customers wandered in almost an hour later, Risko had calmed down once more, though he had begun habitually running his hand through his hair to verify that he had not been mysteriously crowned once again. The four young people were dressed well, but their attitude told him right away that they weren’t going to buy anything. Still, they asked questions about several items, and Risko was only too happy to answer them, if only to take his mind off other things.  

Just as the group was leaving, Risko had an idea. Retrieving the crown from the stockroom, he set it in an empty space in one of the display cabinets. He gave the digital label a low price – lower than anything else on display - and the non-specific text “REPLICA CROWN.” If someone bought the item, it would become their problem, and he’d still make a profit.  

Indeed, the next customer to come in, a middle-aged man with the erect bearing of a mid-level Navy officer, pointed to the crown. “Is this price right? Seems a bit low.”  

Risko made a show of coming out from behind the counter to scrutinize the label. “That’s my asking price. It’s a real eye-catcher, but there’s not much to say about it.”  

To Risko’s dismay, the officer shrugged and moved on to the next display. When he tried to haggle down the price of a hundred-year-old model of a Terran Sphere-era warship, Risko tried to throw in the crown in order to strike a deal close to his asking price. Once again, the man lost interest, and Risko lost the sale.  

At the end of the day, having sold nothing since the pearl necklace that morning, Risko closed up Brett’s Antiques and went home, checking his head and person several times on the way to make sure the crown had stayed in the shop. Assured that he’d arrived home without it, he tried to relax with holo-dramas and news, only partially succeeding.  

The next morning, Risko woke sprawled on the recliner in front of the idle holo-display in his flat, having not even changed out of the clothes which he had worn to work the previous day. Groggily, he stood and stretched, feeling like the whole episode with the counterfeit Xenarch crown had been nothing but a bad dream.  

A glance in the mirror disabused him of that notion quickly. On his head, gleaming still as if it was new, the silver-white crown sat comfortably over his temples, so familiar there that he did not feel its weight.  

Tearing it off his head, Risko dashed out onto the street and looked around. He needed to be rid of the crown. The young spacer had tossed it to him and he’d caught it willingly – was it really that easy to be rid of it?  

He spotted his mark immediately. The shabbily dressed girl was likely no older than thirteen, and she carried a shoulder-bag covered in glittering material like that of a holo-drama ball gown. Risko crossed the street to head her off, then held the crown out at arm’s length, broadening his salesman’s smile. “Hey kiddo. I’m cleaning house. Want a crown?”  

The girl frowned in confusion, then nodded and motioned for Risko to toss the item in her direction. When he did, she turned it over in her hands, smiled, nodded in thanks, then dropped it onto her head and continued on her way.  

Relieved and guilty in equal measure, Risko Brett retreated into his flat, deciding it was time to take a rare day off from the antiques business.