Card shuffled slowly towards the door of his shop. There was no good reason in all the wide galaxy that someone should be pounding on his door a full two hours before he opened. He would have ignored it, but he needed the business; he hadn’t had much since Grandpa had died. It was unfair. He was good artist, almost as good as his grandpa had been. The shelves of his shop were proof of that. He had an assortment of glass pieces: animals, vehicles, famous people, popular planets, and pretty baubles. His favorite were the figurines of Tabitta Wilde.
“I’m coming,” Card muttered, though not loud enough for the person at the door to hear. It had been for his own information only. He tried to smile as he opened the door, but he doubted it was convincing. “Good morning,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“Who are you?” a familiar looking man said as he entered the shop. “Where’s Klevin?”
“Grandpa died a few months ago,” Card told him. “I own this shop now.”
The man gave him a doubtful look. Where had Card seen him before?
“But you’re a kid,” the man said. “You’re a freaking little boy.”
That was unfair. Seventeen was hardly a little boy.
“I’m a glassblower just like Grandpa was,” he told the man. “If you don’t like what’s on the shelf, I do commissions too. Are you looking for a present or something for yourself?”
The man shook his head. “Do you have anything your Grandpa made?” He looked around hopefully.
“Those all sold out pretty quickly after he died,” Card said with a sigh. “Grandpa’s art was always very popular. I’m just as good though. He taught me his tricks.”
The man raised an eyebrow at that. “He taught you all his tricks?” he asked in a strange tone. It sounded like he was fishing for something.
“He tried to teach me everything, but there was always more to learn. He said he’d teach me something special when I turned 18, but it’s too late for that now.”
“That’s too bad,” the man said, sounding disappointed. “I was really hoping for one of Klevin’s trinkets. He always made the best.” The man started walking to the exit.
“Wait! What about this one?” Card said, grabbing a glass dragon from a shelf. “This was his design. He had a book of weird notes locked up in his workshop. This one required a flux of powdered dragon toenail. I wouldn’t even know where to find that, but grandpa had a big jar of it in his workshop. Weird.”
The man carefully took the dragon out of Card’s hand. He inspected it from every angle until he was apparently satisfied. “Tell you what kid, I’ll buy that one from you and see how I like it. If it works out, I’ll come buy some more from you.”
Card happily sold the dragon, which ended up being his only sale for the day. A few people came in and looked around, but no one bought anything. At the end of the day, he locked up and went into his workshop.
Card started by making sketches of the pieces he planned on blowing. In the background, his TV was playing his favorite show, Wilde Spaces with Tabitta Wilde. He finished his sketches and decided to blow the ram-scoop cruiser first. He mixed his sand with his flux and added a pinch of gold to give it a red tint. He put the mixture in the furnace and watched TV as he waited for it to melt, but his show had been interrupted by another garbage news report about the king’s disappearance. If he had managed to evade the authorities for this long, Card figured they would never catch him. Oddly though, Card couldn’t help but think he had seen the man somewhere recently, but he couldn’t figure out where. Eventually, the glass was ready to be shaped. His grandpa’s old robot spun and handled the blowpipe, while Card put the human touch and – more importantly – human breath into the piece. With his tweezers and tongs, Card pinched and pulled the glob of glass into the shape of a space-faring vehicle. He wiped the sweat from his face and smiled at the piece. He may not have made much money today, but he had made art. He repeated the process several more times until he was too tired to continue.
In the morning, Card again woke to pounding on the door. It was the same man as the day before.
“That dragon is perfect!” the man exclaimed. He was looking more familiar than ever now. “I showed it to a few people and they all loved it. Can you make more, say 500 units?”
“You want 500 dragons?” Card asked incredulously. “What would you do with 500 of them?”
“I would sell them, of course. Did I mention I’m a wholesaler?” He flashed a familiar smile. “Look, you have a good product, but you just aren’t getting it to the right market. I can help you with that. What do you think?”
“I think that sounds amazing!” Card said. He was selling 500 pieces! This was great! This could save his failing business. He didn’t know what he would do if he wasn’t blowing glass. He simply didn’t have any other skills. But now that he had found someone who appreciated his art, he could make a living. That left Card with one very important question. “What’s your name, anyway?” Card finally asked.
“You can call me Mr. Regis,” he said.
“Great to meet you Mr. Regis,” Card said. “You know, you look familiar to me. Where do I know you from?”
“I’ve worked with your grandfather on occasion,” Mr. Regis said, as if that cleared it up.
It was an unsatisfying answer, but Card had more pressing questions. “OK, so what color do you want the dragons? Or do you want a variety of colors?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I trust your artistic judgment.”
Card’s artistic judgment was affronted by the indifference, but he shrugged and pressed on. “What kind of dragons do you want? I’ve got the kind I sold you yesterday. I’ve got some with shorter snouts. I can make Bendoran dragons, or Calabrian, or Etruscine, or any kind really.”
“Make whatever is simplest,” Mr. Regis said. “Whatever you can make fastest. They don’t even have to be dragons. Just make sure you put the dragon toenails in the, uh, in the ingredients. That seems to be what sets it apart.”
“Wait, I thought you liked the dragons?” Card asked, not liking where this was going, though he couldn’t identify what was bothering him.
“Oh, I do. I just think that if you make something simpler, you can make more, faster and we can make more money.”
“I’ve got all these pieces in my shop,” Card said indicating the figures and baubles on his shelves. “You weren’t interested in anything until you saw one that looked like something my grandpa had made.”
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk investing in you until I knew you really had learned from Klevin,” Mr. Regis explained.
Card was quickly getting annoyed. He still didn’t know what was bothering him, but he had an idea of what it involved. “You know, if you really want me to mass produce my art, I should leave out the powdered dragon toenails. Mixing it in slows down the process,” he lied.
“No!” Mr. Regis said panicked. “I can really see the difference in the pieces with the toenails in them.”
“No, you can’t!” Card shouted. “I can’t see any difference and I’m a master. There’s no way you can. Look at this globe,” he said, grabbing a globe he had made the night before. “I made this one with the same flux as the dragons just for curiosity. There’s no difference between this one and this other globe.”
“Careful how you handle that thing, you idiot!” Mr. Regis said, suddenly frightened. He was staring at the dragon globe.
“What, this?” Card said, shaking the globe.
“Are you trying to kill us?” Mr. Regis shouted as he snatched the globe from Card’s hand.
“There is more going on here than selling art,” Card demanded.
Mr. Regis took a slow, deep breath before responding. “I hate to break it to you kid, but your grandpa’s art wasn’t popular because it was pretty, though that was always a nice touch.”
Card narrowed his eyes. “If it wasn’t artistic value, what was so great about grandpa’s art?”
“Klevin made the best weapons. Take these dragons. They explode when thrown.”
Grandpa Klevin made weapons? As ridiculous as that thought was, it seemed strangely plausible. Something else bother else bothered him more.
“So, what you’re saying is you don’t care about my art?”
“Sorry kid, it’s the weapons I’m after. If it makes you feel any better, these dragons really do look nice, almost as nice as the ones your grandpa made.” He extended a hand towards Card. “What do you say? It’s good money. I get the feeling you could use it.”
This wasn’t a choice Card ever expected to be confronted with; become a criminal or lose the shop. If he lost the shop, he’d lose the equipment – Grandpa’s equipment. And, he’d never blow glass again. That wasn’t an option.
And so, Card became the second most artistic black-market weapons dealer ever.