The trader was one of the off-worlders who’d crashed on the island continent across the straits. This one had grey eyes like the morning before the sun rose but all the newcomers had grey eyes of some shade, just as they all had pale skin, pale hair and flat noses. ‘Storm-washed’ the locals were calling that colouring. The villagers couldn’t tell if this trader was a man or woman but they had that problem with the whole shipload of crash survivors. Every one of them were all bone and sinewy muscle, a sparsely fleshed race whose women had no more padding to the villagers’ eyes than their men.
In contrast the villagers were heavily fleshed with large muscles, a tendency to body fat and prominent noses. They were better fed too, but they’d had generations to adapt to this planet and to make it adapt to them. It wasn’t their fault their new neighbours didn’t seem listen to advice. “Don’t eat the local fish,” they’d told the strangers from the sky but their foragers had netted enough fish for a feast and the neurotoxin in the fish had decimated their numbers. They were no good at growing food either, being more interested in their gizmos and making more of them than in farming.
Which made it all the odder that their traders weren’t interested in trading for food. They always came for crystals. The villagers didn’t understand why the strangers were so interested in the clear stones, but they were happy to swap them for metals and the pottery clay the star travellers didn’t know how to work.
The trader had set up a stall in the marketplace and looked at every clear stone that was brought to the booth. Each stone was held up to the sun then put in a machine to be examined because, apparently, you could not tell with the naked eye if it was the right sort of stone. Each stone the trader bought, and not all were bought, went into one of two tins and a price was paid based on stone size and which tin it was in.
It was Gomeh the potter who asked, “Why are you trading for stones when you could be paid for these things in food?”
“We have enough food now there are fewer of us,” she replied, for the trader had a woman’s voice, “but we seek to repair our ship so that we can go home.” She sighed, “I do not wish to malign your home but we do not love this world and although you have been helpful, we have run into its perils faster than you can warn us of them.”
“We were already serving and eating the fish when our negotiators radioed through your warning. We’d tested it and it was supposed to be safe!” Pain and bewilderment marked her voice.
“Our ancestors found that too,” Gomeh nodded wisely. He did not ask who she had lost at that feast. “What do you use the stones for?”
“Ship circuitry components.” She smiled. “What we can make is a little crude but it should be enough to get us home.”