Short Stories 366:115 — “A Traded Secret,” by Donald R. Montgomery

coverIf there’s a commonality starting to pop up by the third tale in The Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis, it’s this: the characters are facing the universe more-or-less alone (even when they’re in a crowd), and they’ve already had to cope with odds and situations stacked against them in some way. The next tale, “A Traded Secret,” by Donald R. Montgomery, is another example: Morrab is a human (technically) who was sold to scientists and raised in a high-grav environment to see what would happen. He survived (and does have some benefits from the experience, as well as drawbacks), and now makes his living on Plexis, working for Plexis herself (the woman who turned a failing ore mining and processing facility into an interstellar market boasting: “If You Want It, It’s Here!”)

Morrab doesn’t work a typical job, though. He moves through the tunnels beneath the more open areas, dealing with threats and problems and vermin, alongside a direct line to and from Plexis herself, who sometimes connects with him to ask particular tasks be accomplished. Those meetings are face-to-face, and one is about to happen as the story opens. And Morrab is a little worried (like he has been for quite a while) that maybe Plexis has learned more about him than he’d like her to know.

As a character study, the dynamic between Morrab and Plexis when they meet is superb, and I liked the one-upmanship between them from the get go. Each is feeling out the other, trying to figure out who knows how much, and what leverage that might offer, and the end result is a kind of scoundrel-esque story about two people with dirty hands, one of whom now has access to the appearance of cleanliness, the other part of the reason that’s possible. From a point of view of a reader coming into the anthology, however, I would say this story doesn’t quite stand alone, unlike the first two tales, which someone could read without knowing the Clan Chronicles series at all, really. The revelations of “A Traded Secret” are pretty heavily invested into the world building of Czerneda’s Clan Chronicles series. This is not a bad thing by any means, but I imagine someone reading this story without the knowledge would find the last few lines less impactful.

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