Excerpt: Jewels of Bangkok

Planet 2147151 – Bangkok

Elton dodged a group of hyperactive children, wincing as their roughhousing took them tumbling toward a priceless vase—and letting out an audible sigh of relief when they were taken in hand by a displeased-looking security guard.

He was not above being amused and pleased when the guard then dragged them back to their inattentive parents and proceeded to give children and parents a very firm, very loud dressing down.

“Ellie!” Lana said, tugging impatiently at his shirt sleeve. “Look at this, Ellie.”

Turning away from the reprimand, Elton obediently looked where his sister indicated. She was staring, enthralled, at a glass-encased robe of some sort. It was made entirely of hand-embroidered silk. A brilliant scarlet, decorated with flowers in an impressive variety of colors. He glanced at the placard tucked discreetly into one corner of the glass case and saw that the robe came from some ancient country on Earth, thousands of years before the planet had been ruined beyond repair and turned into Rehab.

Huh. He had not known they had been capable of such intricate work that long ago. But, then again, fabrics were not his thing. Fabric, clothes—those was the passion Lana had shared with their mother. Elton’s interests had always fallen elsewhere.

His gut twisted, thinking of their mother, and he forced his thoughts off that dark path. They were here to try and learn how to be happy again, god damn it. All the trials and tribulations, all the betrayal and hate and ostracism were behind them now. Five years of hell were finally over and done; they could move on and put it firmly in the past. All dreams came true in Bangkok, the saying went. He hoped their dream of successfully starting a new life worked.

Especially for Lana; his sister had taken it all even harder than he had. Elton hadn’t lost many friends in the mess, for he had always been something of a loner. Bad enough their father had murdered their mother and then killed himself, never mind the damage the murders had done to their businesses, boutique and the jewelry store, and their reputations… but Lana had lost all her friends, discovered the most painful way possible she had no real friends, on top of everything else. He hoped she found better ones in their new home.

But first, they would spend time together, big sister and little brother, all that was left of their family, and see if they could not mend the broken pieces.

All dreams come true in Bangkok, he thought again and turned his head to look out the glass windows that lined one wall at the bright, colorful chaos of Bangkok. He doubted it was true, about dreams, but they had nothing to lose at this point. To see Lana happy again, he would do anything, even this ridiculous vacation.

Lana looked up, as if sensing his thoughts, and smiled at him. He smiled back, though neither of their smiles were great—a weary, bitter, two steps from broken. But they were not broken yet, and there was a trace of their genuine desire to move.

“Come on,” Lana said, and only a small part of the cheer in her voice was forced. “I want to see your face in the next room.” She took his hand, and dragged him off, and Elton let himself be dragged obediently along.

He had not thought she would want to spend so much time in a museum, of all places, given all that there was to do in Bangkok, but far be it for him to complain.

In the next room, though, he could suddenly think of no better place to be. He barely noticed as he pulled away from Lana, eyes only for the nearest display case. “Vrill pearls,” he breathed, eyes on the beautiful necklace set off by perfect lighting, displayed on black velvet. “Do you know how rare these are?” he asked, not speaking to anyone in particular. The pearls were a perfect, beautiful creamy white, with a luster only real pearls possessed—and the honey-luster of real Vrill pearls, nothing like the cream luster of Earth or the snow-luster of Morden pearls.

Lost in admiration, he tore himself from the triple-row of pearls only to admire a beautiful teardrop sapphire, then a collection of Cela diamonds and a choker of Fornarian rubi

But it was the Last Empress Necklace that really took his breath away. “This necklace is priceless,” he said, barely aware he was speaking at all. “It’s the last remaining piece from the Crown Jewels of the Earth Empire.” It was often called the Last Empress because that tragic figure had been fond of the crown jewels and, according to legend, had been wearing them when she died in the Last War.

After the Last War, Earth had been unfit to sustain real life. Useless for anything else, it had been turned into a rehabilitation planet. Precious few were the artifacts of Earth, one of only thirty planets in the Infinitum Government that had been declared uninhabitable.

The necklace was a true masterpiece, an elaborate arrangement of emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds all from Earth. He would know the hard shine and glitter of Earth gems anywhere.

Lana giggled, coming to stand beside him. “You stare at that necklace the way most people stare at their lovers, Ellie.”

“The jewels would certainly be warmer and more faithful,” Elton said bitterly, then winced as he realized what he had said. “Sorry, Lana.”

“It’s alright,” Lana said quietly, smiling sadly at him. “Maybe on Kreska that won’t be so true, but… well, it’s been all too true of late everywhere else, hasn’t it?”

Elton hugged her tightly. “It can’t be true everywhere, damn it. I promise you’ll be happy again, Lana.”

“And you too,” Lana said, sniffling and whipping her eyes, then lifting her chin and scowling at him. “We’ll both be happy again.”

“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy,” Elton replied, then smiled before she could harp on him. “Though if someone wanted to buy me the black pearl chokers going to auction at the end of the week, I would not complain.”

Lana rolled her eyes, but laughed. “You and those chokers. You have coveted them since you first saw them on Lady Matley’s neck ten years ago.”

Elton’s lip curled. “She and her daughter did not suit those pearls at all.” He grimaced. “Not that they would suit me, but at least I’ve the good sense to know that.” He just wanted them for his collection, diminished though it was. Turning away from that thought, because thinking of the jewels he had been forced to sell to make things right and help them start their new life would just mire him in despair, he focused on his sister and the jewels on exhibit.

Giggling again, Lana reached out to ruffle his hair, blonde and wavy like her own. They also shared their mother’s green eyes, her slender form and modest height.

Their father had been tall, broad, and of dark coloring. Elton had always felt bad, growing up, that they got none of their fathers looks. It had been a silly thing for a kid to worry about, especially since his parents had been rather eccentric in opting to have both their children completely naturally and leave everything up to chance. Besides, what he had not gotten in his father’s looks, he had gotten at least twice over in his father’s talent.

Nowadays, he was grateful he bore practically no resemblance to his father and resented even the talent they shared. The fewer connections to the lying bastard, the better.

“So what do you think?” Lana asked, looking at the Last Empress.

Elton looked at it again himself, pulled by it, absorbed by it, and eventually said, “It’s a tragedy the other pieces were lost. The entire collection was a masterpiece beyond all reckoning, better than even the IG Crown Jewels, and those are composed of the only remaining gems of Lost Zero. The Empress Necklace alone is beyond price; having even more pieces of the collection…”

“I think it’s more a pity you’ll never get to recreate them the way you’ve been planning to for what, your entire life? That’s the real crime.”

Elton shrugged, trying to pretend the memory did not hurt, even if all the memories hurt. He had spent his life studying gemstones, but Earth gems were his specialty, and he would have solidified his reputation by recreating the lost crown jewels of Earth. “They would have been subpar anyway. The number of earth gems I would have needed simply do not exist anymore. I could have made excellent facsimiles, but that’s all.” He indicated the necklace. “There are four hundred gems in the necklace alone, and it’s said at least 1500 are in the entire collection, possibly more.”

“I cannot imagine carrying so much weight, and god only knows how much more she wore in clothing.”

“Weren’t they genetically enhanced, though?” Elton asked. “She could have born the weight easily.”

“That’s her there,” Lana said, though they both knew what she looked like already. But the portrait of her in the museum was impressive, one of the few showing her wearing the entire collection of crown jewels—tiara, necklace, bracelets, arm cuffs, earrings, rings, and even a chain around her waist setting off an elaborate green and gold robe.

“She was beautiful,” Elton said, admiring how well she wore the jewels. Though they had been made at least a century before her birth, she suited them so perfectly, they might have been made just for her.

“Very,” Lana agreed. “Look at her dress—I do not care how skilled and advanced the sew-machines are now, nothing gets a fit like hand-stitching, and that embroidery! I’ve been doing this for almost thirty years, and I can’t embroider that prettily.”

Elton laughed. “Yes, you can. The way everyone keeps looking at you, I think they would agree with me.”

“Hush you,” Lana said, but smiled. “As if I’m the only one being looked at.”

“Eh. They wouldn’t get very far with me,” Elton said with a shrug. He had never been very good with people, and he preferred not to try these days. “You know me; I have eyes only for jewels.”

Lana laughed again. “That makes me wonder what you’d think of the Jewels of Bangkok if we were actually lucky enough to see them.”

Elton frowned. “What are you talking about? Bangkok possesses no special jewels other than those hosted in their museums. There is no collection known as the Jewels of Bangkok.” In reply, Lana only doubled over, laughing harder than ever. Scowling, Elton jabbed her in the ribs, which only made Lana laugh still harder. “You’re not being a very nice big sister.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Lana said and slowly regained control of herself. “It’s just that I always forget how oblivious you are to everything. It’s so cute! Bangkok, as you know, is a privately owned planet. It was bought ages ago by the Daie family, who came from Mars, actually. The latest Lord of Bangkok is Tresnor Daie. He is, however, mostly retired. The active running of the planet is left to his sons who are nicknamed the Jewels of Bangkok for their beauty and flash. Honestly, Ellie, I would have thought that even you would have heard of them, with a name like that.”

“I’m only interested in real jewels,” Elton replied with another shrug, refusing to be curious. “How much of this museum do we have left?”

“Hours,” Lana said. “Why don’t we stop for dinner and come back in the morning before we head off for the tower tour?”

“Alright,” Elton said and held out his arm for Lana to take. Casting one last look at the Last Empress, he led Lana out of the museum and back to their rooms in Blue Dragon Tower.