Quilla cursed in silence. Beaconites were a pig-headed lot. The pioneers of human expansion into the stars of their galaxy and then beyond, ha.
He ‘bumped’ into them earlier at a genetics conference at one of Gasmoor’s universities and wangled an invite to lunch, then to dinner, the latter by telling tall tales of Valaris’s mineral wealth.
Beaconites saw Valaris as backward and barbaric. Beacon was a giant city world. No fields, no farming, empty oceans and rivers. They bred so much in the past they left no space for the crops that should sustain them, and it led directly to forced expansion into space. They had not learned the lessons that brought them to their world. Today food was grown on another planet and manufacturing on yet another, expensive and potentially economically crippling enterprises. They thought they had it right. Theirs was the way. They controlled births rigorously, as well as pollution, immigration, imports, and it was true Beacon in the present was clean, but it was stagnant and they annexed two worlds to keep them in that style. The only reason they bent to the whims of politics, for Valaris, lay in Torrullin. Somewhere someone whispered it was in their best interests to keep the Enchanter sweet.
They had the temerity to over-utilise others’ resources, like the planned logging expedition.
The Forest! Steer the talk to the old trees.
“Of course, Valaris has other resources as well,” he murmured to his companion at the dinner table, a staid middle-aged ambassador.
The stupid man took the hook.
Quilla went on, “I overheard you speak of a logging expedition at the Vallorin’s function and I thought why go so far when we have established trees right here.”
All ears now.
“You know of the Great Forest?”
“I thought that was out of bounds.”
“I’m not sure the Vallorin will allow it,” He definitely will not, Quilla fumed. “I do have his ear and the money could be well-spent on other things.”
“Right,” the man murmured, lowering his voice more. “Could you have a word?”
“No harm in trying, I always say. But, my friend, let us assume we can work this thing to our advantage, how can you transport those gigantic logs back to Beacon?”
The man’s eyes rounded at the word ‘gigantic’ and he leaned in close. “We’ll keep this between us, shall we?”
Quilla leaned in as well. “Naturally.”
“We have two new cargo ships capable of hauling great weight and size.”
Bingo. “Surely that is a great expense?”
“Indeed, but money well spent. Logs have great value and one trip will recoup initial outlay.”
“And so much faster, too,” Quilla whispered, nearly gagging on his wrath.
“You’re an astute businessman, I see. If you can achieve this, I’d look good, make a greater profit, and I’ll certainly make it worth your while.”
“Excellent,” Quilla winked. The fat man almost drooled in his greed. He picked the right one. “How much time do I have?”
The ambassador licked his lips and glanced around. Nobody seemed the least interested in the conversation. “The ships are due to launch three days from now.”
“That’s not much time; these matters require finesse.”
“I know, my friend, but it’ll take six days travelling from launch at Ceta to actual provisioning on Beacon. If you can have us an answer in eight days, I can file a new flight plan to bring them to Valaris first, and we can both make some money. What say you?”
“Excellent. How do I contact you?”
The fat man looked around again. He seemed uncertain, which Quilla did not mind, he had what he needed and was not averse to bowing out at this point, and then the man appeared to come to a decision. “I can give you a comms device that will enable you to reach me on Beacon, but I need your word you’d return it when the ships arrive here.”
“No problem,” the birdman returned, wanting only to escape.
“Follow me outside.” The man lumbered up and tottered his way out of the eatery. Quilla did not like it one bit, but it would not do to arouse the man’s suspicions now. A deal falling through was not a sign advertising theft, whereas showing reluctance could set the man a-thinking after.
He slipped out. The rest of the party were wholly unconcerned; they pegged him as a lightweight.
The ambassador- my butt, Quilla fumed- waited at the railing. Quilla played his part, sidling nearer. The man took a gadget from his pocket.
Quilla hefted it; it was light. “How does it work?”
“Voice activated. It works on a symbiotic principle, piggybacking on the radio waves throughout the universe. Expensive, but worth the time saved, and it’s also private. I’ll give you the code and you tell it where you need send transmission to and it finds the signal. You can’t allow this to fall into another’s hands, hear?”
Quilla murmured an affirmation. Of course not, this thing allows you to make deals quicker than anyone else. First come, first served. The man whispered the code and Quilla memorised it.
“Try it,” the fat man whispered.
Quilla complied, murmuring the four-digit code into the commset. It vibrated in his palm and glowed faintly green.
“To end, you repeat the code.”
Quilla did so and it stilled in his hand. “Fantastic,” he muttered, meaning it.
“Isn’t it?” The ambassador was flattered. “My son invented it. Now, to reach me, you tell it my name or my location and it will find me. I’ll have a like one on me. Easy.”
“You should market these.”
“We intend to, but not quite yet. Hmm?” The man winked.
Much later Quilla wondered whether a greater watch should be set on Beacon, long-term scrutiny. Beacon was dangerous in ways few could comprehend; sometime in the future she could become a power few would withstand.
But not yet.
Torrullin cleared his throat, drawing the man’s attention.
The linguist indicated he should speak, and Torrullin addressed him first in Valleur, saying basically how are you and when he drew a blank he tried the common tongue, but that also elicited no recognition. He attempted Siric, and then the man spoke … neither understood. Torrullin spoke a few words in Sagorin and then Sylmer and although the man frowned as if he almost understood, it took them nowhere.
The linguist began to smile, finding the situation amusing, and Torrullin grinned as well. The man beckoned, leading them into his office where he waved them into two chairs before his untidy desk. He opened a drawer on his side, bringing forth three glasses and holding up a bottle of wine significantly. The two before him were parched and both nodded. With a wide smile the man poured three generous measures and indicated the glasses. Torrullin leaned forward and took possession of two, passing one to Tristamil. With ceremony all three drank and Torrullin’s eyes widened. It was an excellent cultivar, without doubt. The linguist grinned at the reaction, nodding emphatically.
Words bandied as they attempted to establish common territory and both Torrullin and the linguist obviously enjoyed the game. Tristamil glanced from one to the other, bemused. He had not understood before how many languages there were in the universe and had not realised his father was proficient in many.
A short silence fell as both men sifted through their stores of knowledge, and Torrullin gazed around the office at the paintings on the walls. Some were too strange for him to find comparison, while others were familiar. The linguist was not only a collector of languages, and his tastes were eclectic. His gaze alighted on a realistic rendition of dolphins erupting from an extraordinarily well-worked azure ocean and he pointed at it, saying, “Dolphins.”
The man’s eyes rounded in astonishment and he swivelled to stare at the painting. “Intelligent mammal,” he whispered, and turned back to Torrullin expectantly.
Torrullin laughed and held his glass out. “This is a truly excellent wine; may I have some more?”
The man clapped his hands and grabbed the bottle. “It is indeed a good wine, a very good year, fruity, yet not overly sweet …” and both burst out laughing.
It was English, an ancient dialect from the original human world Earth … a long, long time ago.
The Enchanter dreamed.
He climbed old, worn steps of stone winding up a grey hillside and he carried something, something light and alive. He looked down to check what he held, terribly precious, was safe and warm. A tiny pink face peeked through the gap in the swaddling, little black eyes blinked.
Satisfied, he concentrated on placing his feet properly on the smooth steps, slick and dangerous in the encroaching mist. Soon it would envelope all, block out sight and sound. He hurried up cautiously, mindful of his little cargo.
His destination was the modest stone temple perched precariously on the summit of this lone hill in the Plains of Medinor before his pursuers plumbed his purpose, and he thanked the Goddess for sending the mist to obscure his trail through the ever-present dust below. A tribute, a sacrifice, was what he bore. For him to live beyond this day, it had to die.
He looked again, but now the white swirls were so dense the tiny face was indistinct. He was glad he could no longer see her; what he had to do was hard enough.
Weary, so very tired of running. Lifetimes of hiding. He could no longer go forward always looking over his shoulder, wondering when they would find him, snare him for the beast they thought him, cage him until they had enough sport.
He stood poised on the final step, lost in a world of choking white, but knew the shortest side step would plummet him and the babe he bore, his salvation, into the sharp rocks far below, the result of an ancient landslide.
Those rocks, this hill, the only landmarks in a featureless dust plain that had no beginning and no end. Before him the slight shadow that was the shrouded temple.
He stepped forward and the baby squirmed.
The Enchanter awakened.
Cold with dread he rose from the bed.
It was starting again.
The dank castle on the edge of a lake in the centre of Luvanor’s Kantar continent was deserted of guards, retainers and caretakers.
It was not, however, empty; there were birds, snakes, bats and insects the size of a man’s fist, all of whom reclaimed what they regarded as their territory. Bat droppings stank up the place, feathers hung suspended from thick spider webs. Squeals of newborn chicks, mostly raptors, echoed through the dark, empty halls and passageways. Brightly coloured, dangerous snakes slithered out to find warmth according to their biological instincts and rats skittered away at the sight, fearing to become dinner. In a short time the jungle and its creatures had retaken the stone habitat.
It was not habitable and Krikian wrinkled his nose. “You’re not serious.”
“Perfect,” Lowen uttered, while looking around nervously.
“We’ll clear a section,” Torrullin said. “And it is perfect. Nobody comes here.”
He led them up dark, slippery stairs to find the chambers the Valla women and children used. They were now in Grinwallin. The chambers were cleaner, if marginally.
And he was dismayed. It was not right to leave Krikian in these conditions - it was akin to punishment. Whatever haste determined, it was not this.
“It will be light soon. We clean up and then rest.”
“Agreed,” Krikian said, dropping his load.
“You’re delaying,” Lowen accused.
“I would not leave my worst enemy in this hellhole. And we need a full night’s sleep. We get this place habitable in daylight, and then we go.”
She had an ancient carpetbag with her and she set it down with great care. “Fine.”
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