The child stirs but does not wake. Mercifully she rolls over, turning her face away from him. With the removal of the pressure of her head the enamel ore comes away easily and he glides quietly backwards with it in his arms and down to the carpet. He rises again, drawing the compensation from his back pack. Christ, what a fuckin’ euphemism. What kind of compensation do they call this? A coin of the realm. One pound Sterling for an enamel nugget that will keep a full sized thaumaturgic generator operating for a week. OK, so it’s Treasury’s responsibility to set the exchange rate – mid nineteenth century, one groat, mid twentieth, sixpence, now one pound. But even after all these years, even after so many, many transactions, he still finds it hard to reconcile himself to the fundamental unfairness of the exchange. He suffocates his whimpering morality and draws the coin from his pack; unfolds it; rises to the bed, holding it in front of him like an enormous tray and carefully slides it under the pillow. He is momentarily confused as it clicks against something hard. And then he understands; realises that he is now confronted with the crowning glory of his career: that fabled moment whose very existence is disputed daily over endless jars of nectar in the mess halls of every airfield in the land. This is it; the fabled Double Exchange. In the whole of his career he’s never met a single Operative who actually claims to have made a double exchange. He doesn’t think anyone really believes they ever happen.  He’s overcome with excitement; shaking; can barely control himself. He has to steady his hands to reach round behind the coin and fix his grasp on the second fuel nugget. Now he draws it around the coin and once again balances it carefully as he lowers himself to the floor. He stands back, shaking his head in disbelief at the scale of the evening’s transaction. He is overwhelmed by a surge of guilt, for he has no further coin to exchange for the second tooth. But his conscience is all but dead and the guilt is rapidly displaced by the thought that the Operation Plan contained no reference to their being a second nugget. Of course it didn’t. How would the Department know? The computer programs make no allowance for statistical aberrations. He knows already that he will not report it. The second fuel nugget is his, and it’s going to make him fabulously wealthy.

But now he sees the problem; how to carry two nuggets when his pack is designed for one. Quickly he decides and places the first nugget into the pack. The weight is considerable, but he is not daunted.  He will carry the second in his arms and will conceal it somewhere near the Extraction Point before Transport arrives. When he’s certain he remains undiscovered, he will return and will break it down to sell piece by piece on the black market. He can’t even begin to get his head around its value.

To be continued

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