************** **************************************************************** Chapter 15
Safely back at the Lorol Mav, Bantu Basha sat at a table with a hand pinching his tall forehead. His head felt like.... it was impossible to describe how his head felt. It was like a slow grinding pain, like a steamroller crushing razor blades in his head, but more so. Bantu had actually considered chopping it off just to stop the headache. Audua had given him something for it, but so far the mixture she had forced down his throat was having no effect. It was probably poison, Bantu concluded glumly.
Bantu stopped squinting for a second to take in the room, and who was in it. He regretted it the moment he did; the light hurt his eyes. Everyone was there, from David Morrison and Shaylor McConnor and the others, to Audua of Lecel and Yenne of Clan Valavan's cousin, Mirvenne of Clan Valavan. He did not trust those two, and na'vo told him that he should be masking his pain right about now. Bantu opened his slitted eyes fully and started pacing while everyone else chatted inanely. No, this was not good, either. It showed him at unease. Bantu stopped pacing and stood straight, arms at his side. This was a neutral pose, he hoped. Ever since Dantu Dabei had thrown them into deep space- on intention or by accident, Bantu did not know -Bantu had had such trouble keeping his honor. He used not to trust the Terran David Morrison, but he had saved his life when any other person he would have treated so would have let him fly over that edge. Bantu owed David Morrison a dept, one he would have to talk with the Terran about fulfilling. The two new-comers were a different problem.
Audua of Lecel seemed too eager to help them, as if she and the Lengrumi had planned everything out so events would fall out the way they did. Why risk her life to help near strangers? David Morrison's telling her everything was a mistake, Bantu was certain. And Mirvenne of Clan Valavan was another problem. Sure, she was Yenne of Clan Valavan's cousin, but they had not seen each other for quite some time, and Mirvenne Valavan could have easily changed from the girl that Yenne Valavan had known. Bantu disagreed with Yenne Valavan telling her cousin everything just as much as he disagreed with David Morrison's telling Audua everything. All of it was just too much for Bantu. He had let his watching eye slip off the others for a second, and the others blundered left and right, almost destroying everything. David Morrison was talking, he realized. Wishing he could ask the Terran to speak more quietly, Bantu tried to listen attentively and ignore the crushing headache.
"Ok, we now know that we aren't safe on Ingor. So, I suggest that we don't leave the hotel except in pairs or groups, and we should leave at times when most people are off the streets. Mirvenne and Audua, I think you are safe, so you don't have to follow this, but I say you should be careful anyways."
Bantu opened his mouth to agree, but he realized even that hurt his head. Talking would be death, he was sure. Bantu let Yenne Valavan agree instead. "That is making the excellent sense, David." Yenne said warmly. "The assassin you described...." Yenne shivered. "Audua, you are being certain that he just... disappeared?" Audua nodded, her cat-like eyes worried. "I am thinking we should follow David's advice." She turned to her cousin. "Mirvenne, I am sorry I can no longer be meeting you at the Ghenda anymore. Perhaps you, you could come here in the every now and then?" Yenne's voice was hopeful, and Mirvenne leaned over to hug her cousin.
"Everyday I will come, Yenne." Bantu was surprised at the tenderness in Mirvenne Valavan's voice. At first glance, her severe features eliminated any prospect of kindness from Bantu's mind. It was well to remember that the outside appearance meant nothing in terms of personality.
When no one else spoke for several minutes, Bantu took it as a sign the meeting was over. It had never actually been called a meeting, but Bantu used the word in his mind anyways. He left for the room her shared with Yenne. Trying to shut out all light, Bantu lay on his bed with two pillows over his pounding head and tried to sleep as the soft sounds of happy conversation drifted through the thin walls of Lorol Mav. He did hoped it had not been poison.
The lobby was empty except for Anto Klarisen, who stood patiently by the main doors, dressed in drab civilian clothes, and stuffing a fist against his mouth in an attempt not to yawn. It was almost five in the morning.
Yenne of Clan Valavan appeared suddenly, and she walked briskly over to where Anto stood, and looked at him meaningfully. Anto snapped his yawning jaws shut, and opened the door for Yenne. Both cadets walked out into the grey morning of Lecel, and nothing moved.
For Anto, the trip to Audua's Docking Complex was boring, done as a favor to Yenne, for many reasons. Firstly, Yenne could tolerate the morning temperatures much more easily then Ingor's usually high daytime heat. Secondly, it was much safer to be out when every sane person was asleep, and, thirdly, Yenne could not go alone, because of the new "Partners or Group" rule David instated. Anto tried to watch the rooftops for signs of possible assassins, but his eyes kept being squeezed shut by yawns. His feet hurt, too. The morning was grey, and dull, and fuzzy. Anto could not find another way to describe it. The sun was only beginning to rise, and Anto came to the realization that Ingor was only exciting because of its crowds.
In no short time Yenne and Anto reached the outskirts of the city, where the Docking Complex belonging to Audua was located. A single street musician was out, and Anto listened to him with intrigue, and thought about everything and nothing, while Yenne and Audua carried on a conversation. There had been no conversation between the Aravillian and he, but Anto felt closer to Yenne then he had before this morning. He felt a bond between them that had started when she had saved his life in the seconds before they were sent into deep space. The tune played by the Ingori street musician was sad, and oddly... broken. Anto could not describe it properly; the tune was coherent, and in time, yet it was... broken. There was no better word. Sometimes Anto wondered what it would be like to have a sense of aesthetics, to understand art, understand what was beautiful; no Velexian yet born had any interest or understanding for arts. Anto himself found the arts curious, but a waste of energy and materials, a useless extravagence. Yenne and Audua were still talking, and Anto decided to sit down on the deserted streets, cross-legged. David worried Anto; his friend had seemed more and more distant since they had left Space Station Gemini. Anto would have to do something about that. Finally Yenne left the platform she had been talking with Audua on. StarRunner was visible on the platform, and Anto had a moment of fondness for the ship that had carried them so far, so faithfully. Yenne hopped down the four feet off the concrete platform onto the concrete sidewalks and approached Anto.
"Anto, good news. I have learned from Audua that we can leave the day early." Anto smiled at the tall, bronze-skinned Aravillian, and it was genuine feeling that prompted it. Anto liked Ingor, but he did not feel safe here. Anto wondered if he would ever feel safe in any place again.
Chapter 17-Day of Departure (oh my god... a chapter title!)
Shaylor McConnor wished that he did not feel so much like a coward. Ever since hearing of David and Bantu's encounter with an assassin, Shaylor had not left the Lorol Mav, not once. He even avoided the lobby, which left him bored, but safe. Or so he hoped.
The news brought by Yenne and Anto was good news, in Shaylor's eyes. He had been eating breakfast as they had walked in the door of the shared kitchen that connected with the two rooms occupied by the five cadets. Both of his friends had sat besides him and told of their little excursion, which had been, as Anto had stressed and Shaylor finally admitted, quite uneventful. The only thing worth noting was that repairs and maintenance on StarRunner were ahead of schedule.
And so Shaylor waited for the day of departure to arrive by sitting reading, writing, and being bored out of his skull. Finally, on the morning of the day of departure, Shaylor walked into the kitchen early, and, for once, in good spirits. He had not felt this fine since going to get the news in the streetmarket, which, of course, Shaylor blamed for starting this funk. He still yearned for news, however, and the single televiewer available showed that televiewer news had taken a sharp plunge in the years he had been absent, degrading to tabloid levels. Shaylor dared not ask anyone what had happened, but he had gathered that ratings of news programs had dropped sharply, and most telenews shows had either been canceled or resorted to sensationalism journalism.
Yenne was sitting at the single metal table, dolefully eating a bowl of the cereal David had bought. Shaylor could understand her reluctance to eat the sludge; only David seemed to find it appetizing. Shaylor shuddered at the thought of pouring animal milk over the processed grains, sugars, fats, and chemicals. Mostly chemicals. His Aravillian friend looked up as Shaylor hummed a tune while getting the only other breakfast option- a type of fish meat from Krigon. Finally he heard Yenne's spoon clatter as she set it down, and asked "Why are you being the happy one today, Shaylor?" Shaylor grinned, and spun around to face his friend.
"I had a great idea. Let's go visit Mirror Lake." Yenne's face went from its previous teasing to incredulity. Shaylor had expected this, but he needed to do something to convince himself that he was not a coward, and he needed a partner to leave the hotel.
"Shaylor, I was mistaken. You, you are the mad one, not the happy one!" Yenne forgot herself enough to take a large spoonful of cereal and put it in her mouth. She immediately spit it out into her napkin. "Tell me one good reason why we should do this, Shaylor." She said after wiping her mouth.
"Because we are like cowering animals. If we continue like this, our whole lives will be a copy of the last three days. We have to be brave. Just think, do you ever anticipate coming to Ingor again? No? So we should see at least one of the sites. The Lake is practically on the hotel's doorstep, and it is Universe famous. Oh, I see what you are thinking. I got Audua to mix this up for you." Shaylor fished a turquoise pill out of his front pocket.
"Climajust tablets! Shaylor, how many do you have?" Yenne hopped up and looked in his shirt pocket for herself. "Four! Shaylor, we cannot be affording this."
"Don't worry, Yenne. Audua gave it to me free of charge."
"Is she even a Doctor....?" Yenne asked in a trailing off manner. Finally she took the tablet, and went to the fridge for water. "I am seeing that you truly want to do this, even need to, perhaps. So I will go." Yenne said while searching for a beverage. Finally she came out with a picture of the juice of a Terran fruit, called an orange. Pouring a glass, she popped the pill in her mouth, drank the juice, made a face and muttered ,"Bitter.",and set the glass down. "Now, lets get going. Do you want to pack a picnic?" Yenne asked from the doorway that led to the room she shared with Bantu.
"That's a great idea, Yenne. I'll get started." Shaylor packed some food into the basket that David had used to shop with. It had been cracked during the business with the assassin, but it was still usable. He put in some of the food that was at the very least edible for he and Yenne, and turned to wait for Yenne to emerge from her room. Bantu came out first, said good morning, and reminded him to try and follow good na'vo while he was out. Shaylor was glad that the tall Krigoni had not tried to stop him; since agreeing to ‘lessons' on Krigoni heritage, Bantu had treated Shaylor like he was a child and Bantu the overprotective father. Finally Yenne emerged.
She was wearing her usual baggy green chopong, a garment much like pants, but her chapong was one Shaylor had not seen on Yenne before. It was dark blue and quite modest. It was well to remember that Yenne did not dress alluringly because she wished to, but because she had to. The Climajust must have been taking effect, because she shivered a few times while walking with Shaylor for the door. It must have been the air conditioning, because the shivers stopped as soon as they stepped into the oven that passed for a street.
Once they reached the Lake, Shaylor spread the blankets on a green hill with a view. The Lake was very important to the Ingori Sikis religion, of which about forty percent of Ingori were members, including Audua. Shaylor had learned that Ingori who wore volumnous white robes were members. Before interstellar days, it had been the dominant religion on Ingor, but religions always took major hits when a culture became interstellar. Because of this religious significance, the shores of the Shining Waters were preserved from development. Shaylor and Yenne laughed and talked and ate, and when they were done the went down to the waters edge. Yenne suggested they go wading, and in no short order they were up to their knees in the shimmering waters. That is, until a cross Ingori in intricate white robes came running up to them, yelling in a heavy accent that they leave this place ‘immi-did-ata-ly'. Yenne and Shaylor ran away from the Ingori, who was waving his arms frantically, laughing the whole time they did, even though Shaylor hoped inside they had not offended the Ingori, who was probably a priest, too badly.
After some time of walking along near deserted shores, they came across a gift shop, of all things. After much thought, Shaylor bought a heavy green ring, made of a material much like jade, except that it was far too shimmery and illuminescent for jade, even polished jade. It had not cost much, but Shaylor thought it was very pretty indeed. They returned to Lorol Mav very happy that they had left the hotel this morning, and Shaylor felt very vindicated, even bold. Everyone was there, which reminded Shaylor they were due to leave this evening. For some reason that made him sad.****************************
Mirvenne and Audua were sitting among the other three cadets, in the room shared by Shaylor, Anto, and David. Yenne and Shaylor picked spots to sit, and a sort of meeting started.
After some discussion between Yenne and Audua about the state of StarRunner, there was a lull. Shaylor and Yenne had this planned, he just needed the right time to bring it up. Suddenly Shaylor was handed a gift from the sky. "David, I require to talk with you in private." Bantu said in that lull, and the Terran rolled his eyes and followed the tall, spindly Krigoni, who had already left the room, confident that David would follow his orders. Shaylor looked at Yenne, and nodded frantically. This would be like diving into cold water; the only way about it was quick. Yenne stood, and took Mirvenne by the hand.
"Mirvenne, I require your help in the kitchen." Yenne said, almost formally, and she led her cousin into the aforementioned kitchen, which left Shaylor alone with Audua, which was ten times more awkward then Shaylor had feared. How to go about this, now? Yenne had suggested bold, but that was not Shaylor's style. Maybe... maybe if he acted like it was a small deal, it would be better.
"Uh...." Shaylor stretched that meaningless syllable for far too long, and clamped his mouth shut before he had to take a breath. Idiot! "I was at the Mirror Lake this morning and I saw this and I thought it would be nice on you and I bought it and do you want it I mean it's no big deal but maybe you do and do you plan to come with us I mean you don't have to and you don't need to but it would be nice and maybe safer for you then staying here, and-" Shaylor stopped as surely as if someone had interrupted him verbally, but for once he did not call himself an idiot, although that trademark tirade of his had been far too long. Audua reached out with her dexterious digits, and touched his hand, and took the ring. She stuffed it somewhere into her volumous, intricate white robes.
"I accept your offer, Shaylor. You are most interesting, and I believe traveling with you will be a chance of a lifetime, and since I am approaching a time of life-change, I would be glad to accept your offer." Audua spoke simply and truly, and Shaylor decided that she was far braver then him. He reached out, and she took his hand, and they both smiled at one another. For once in his life Shaylor McConnor did not feel silly, or stupid, or useless at all.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Yenne of Clan Valavan watched from the kitchen as Shaylor and Audua had their exchange. Inside, she was leaping for joy. Yenne had always enjoyed playing match-maker with her friends, but it had never worked right with Shaylor. That had been their one big fight, and all because she had approached the girl that he had liked and told her. He had always been nervous around girls he was interested in, but she had high hopes for him and Audua. They would be happy together, or her name was not Yenne of Clan Valavan! She would see to it that everything for them was perfect. But why did she feel a flash of white-hot jealousy when Audua had reached out to take the ring from Shaylor's hand? She was happy, not jealous! Yenne had never once in her life thought of Shaylor as anything but a best friend, and she examined her mind to see if that had changed. It had not; her feelings for Shaylor were love, but friend love, platonic love, admiration, whatever. She was certainly not in love with Audua. So why did she feel jealous? Audua and Shaylor would be a happy couple, Yenne would make sure of that. She wanted them to be in love. But why did it hurt especially when Shaylor reached out for Audua's hand? Yenne could not even beginning to know why. ************** *************************************************
The air tasted fresh, and cool, and slightly metallic against David Morrison's tongue. Aboard StarRunner, their Saucer Ship, he and the six other passengers prepared to leave Ingor, perhaps for good. David gingerly tested the throttle, and was pleased at the increased smoothness of operation. Audua's crew had done a good job of it, more then Yenne could have done in weeks, no matter how many of her now famous all-nighters she pulled. Impatient now, David surveyed the Control Center of StarRunner while waiting the signal from Shaylor that all was clear on the landing pad.
With evening beginning its onset, flourescent lights, which ran continuously when StarRunner was in space, were also in use here. Their pale glow cast a strange light over Anto Klarisen's face. David's Velexian friend's emotions were difficult to read at the moment; David finally decided he was completely neutral to all that was happening. Bantu was all icy, as David was used to seeing him. Earlier today he and David had had a three hour talk that had begun with Bantu insisting that he had debt to David, and David thinking it was a joke, to Bantu trying to become David's servant, of all things! From there they had started shouting at one another, somehow, and now he was offended, which meant that according to the Krigoni system he had to treat David with the same usual icy disdain until he apologized for something barely understood. Yenne was fiddling with dials in an agitated manner, probably nervous about the way Audua's crew had done their work. Yenne could be very particular at times. She asked questions of Audua infrequently. The slight Ingori woman shrugged at each question and told Yenne to relax, that her crew were professionals. At first David had been suspicious of her coming, but the more he thought of it, the more respect he had for Audua's intelligence. First of all, it would be much safer going along instead of being alone with the dangerous knowledge she shared. Second, by selling her business complex, she had obtained a huge sum of money, whose amount she refused to divulge, but when David had guessed at one million Galactic Chips- ten million credits -she had just furrowed her eyebrow ridges into a ‘V' and whispered "Higher!", then smiled as if embarrassed. Thirdly, according to Audua, the Ingori life for a member of the Sikis religion was divided into eight year sections. Audua had been child, adolescent, student-businesswoman, and now that she was almost twenty-four Ingori years old it was time for her to make another major change in her life. Every Ingori Sikis did this every eight years, because according to Audua what did not change rotted and died. There was a fourth reason, one that David had figured on his own. It was simple, really, when he saw Audua look at Shaylor, or he at her. There was definently a reaction there. Shaylor himself was shaking his head in thought, as was his habit. David had thought of Shaylor as slightly neurotic, but he had undergone so many shifts of character and personality since David had met him that David was now unsure of how to think of the cross-breed. Mirvenne was sitting on a stool bought for her at the last minute in the now-infamous streetmarket. The stern looking Aravillian woman sat with a straight back while staring out of the view screen; now it only showed Lecel's skyline. She was coming because, according to her, this was her chance to get a free ride back home.
Finally David was jerked from his thoughts by Shaylor's voice. "The crew is clear of the ship, and we have clearance to leave Ingori orbit and enter trans-space at Portal 3." Any inhabited planet had designated areas for entering and leaving Trans-space, numbering from a single one for science and industrial colonies to a full six for a heavy trading planet such as Ingor. After all, interstellar travel was achieved by punching pinholes in reality, and if there were too many of those around a planet... well, the results could be disastrous, even though they had never been observed.
David brought the ship up slowly, giving himself time to get used to the modified controls. His Explorien teachers, often exasperated with his poor grades, had told him that the only thing keeping him from flunking out was his extraordinary skill as a pilot; indeed, he had often been told he would be the best pilot in the Explorien Planets in no few years. Deftly flying around skyscrapers and avoiding all of the other airbornes in Lecel, David crossed the Mirror Lake and the vast plains surrounding it in what seemed no time. Mountains appeared, and he climbed with them. Taking it slowly, so as not to increase the G level too high, he slowly eased out of the atmosphere, and made his way to the point in space around Ingori designated as Portal 3. Five guard ships were posted around it, and they signaled to Shaylor that his clearance was confirmed, David slowly reopened the tear in reality that had already existed there, and inched StarRunner into the breach. There was the familiar tugging feeling as they broke the bonds of reality, and then they were on their way to Aravil, the next stop on their journey to Explorien Headquarters on the planet Velex. David was filled with hope for once, and it was a wonderful feeling.