Chapter 31

Yeargh! I only got 2 chaps here, and I wish there were four instead because this sucks so much without the conclusion/cliffhanger. Gah!

Anto Klarisen was surprised when someone was there to meet him and his friends as they stepped out of the elevator, far up into the Central Command. They were home now, safe, but Anto wished it didn't feel like he was deep inside a hornet's nest. The person meeting them was an Aravillian male, something of a rarity- 70% or more of Aravillians were female -who had the same bureaucratic air as the Velexian woman downstairs in the lobby. He only spoke once, instructing them to follow him to the High Commander's study. Anto looked about nervously, trying to take everything in but not really concentrating on it.

They were in the corridors where the High Council and the High Commander had their quarters, where the decisions that affected the entire known Universe were carried out. Anto thought of them as the Corridors of Power, and he had heard a few others mention the name. Snores sometimes shook the walls- the powerful were sleeping. Anto almost laughed at the like he had made to himself- all the important bureaucrats asleep, snores shaking the Halls of Power - but thought better of it. It was not that funny. The floor was plushly carpeted in deep burgundy, and fine works of art hung on the walls- at least Anto supposed they were fine works of art; he was no critic. His jaw dropped at a sight of a Kazaran -an original, at that!- that hung at an intersection of halls. Kazaran was a Velexian who had tried to understand art, and had gained some accidental success. However, his still lives were boring, his abstracts were almost always solid grey or black cubes, and he himself could not tell the difference between a great work and a poor one. Just like all Velexians, he was oblivious to art and beauty.

Finally the dried up little Aravillian stopped, and opened one of a pair of large, solid wood doors. Inside of the doors, the woman who was High Commander sat at a desk, deceptively plain- both woman and desk- with her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose, a habit of Anto's father as well.

Anto had heard rumors about Lako Oraine, who was newly raised, and supposedly not past 35. It was hard to imagine her ever being young, though, and her face looked like it was made of leather. The High Commander had dark brown eyes, the color of Anto's, but where his were calmly determined and friendly, her's were sharp, and looked like she was used to staring down anything and everything that crossed her path. Short, and round, like most Velexians woman, she looked... formidable. Barely five foot one, but most her roundness was muscle, the High Commander looked someone not to trifle with. She also looked like she was searching for an a release for her temper- her eyes had a tinge of frayed patience.

"So, you have returned. We knew you were not dead." Her voice was harsh, and hard, almost a bark. "Aravillians did more then helped us win the Wars, you know. Their talent for telling future events is most useful." Yenne looked torn between forced meekness, and outrage at her race being spoke of as a commodity. The High Commander's words were one of a friendly chat, but her tone... "Tell me everything."

David took it up smoothly, telling how Dantu had ordered Anto to clean Landing Bay 3, and how he had tried to kill them. Everyone had a turn at it, but they had agreed at a story before hand. Nothing about the sho'gan vin was mentioned, the Chrarkae were left out of it, and all they had supposedly done on Aravil was have dinner. When Bantu finished it up, they all looked very satisfied.

"A very nice story." The High Commander said in a dry tone, "But there is one simple thing it stinks of- omission. I know all about Dantu and his little organization, and this is why. Two weeks ago, he and someone else -and I would like to know who!- ran from Space Station Sagittarius, and did murder to get away with it. Either you are part of his group, you were innocent dupes, or you were a threat to him. Either way, I will know what you are." Her tone took on a musing quality, as if she was talking more to herself. "I have had enough trouble keeping the murders out of public knowledge, but who knows how much damage rumor alone will cause?" She shook her head slightly, and focused her stare, like a boring augur, upon the entire group. "Now, talk!" she growled. Her eyes had a strain about them that spoke of patience being put to the test.

They had no choice, but the one the High Commander allowed. After one small glance, Shaylor sighed, and began to tell the tale again, but with everything in it. Aside from the Chrarkae-it was agreed that courts in the Explorien Planet's would see what they had done to Tellorn, be it deserved or not, as murder, and they did not need another complication. Anto was the one who finished it up this time, and he would have breathed a sigh of relief when he saw she was buying it, that there was no need to argue further. He would have sighed, but he realized that that might have just ruined all the convincing they had just done, and set them back to square one.

"I believe you would not voluntarily do this, no matter who ordered it- it must be horrible to be in a situation such as you were- but she worries me." The High Commander singled out Audua with a glare that looked fit to knocking down walls. "Who in their right mind leaves their home planet, a profitable business, a secure and happy life, to travel with people who might be killed tomorrow, people for whom safety will be a foreign idea for the rest of their lives?" Her voice was deadly soft, and left a stunned silence in the room. The High Commander's eyes stared like daggers at Audua.

The accusing stare focused on the small Ingori woman so hard she staggered as if hit. "Me? Audua asked in a small voice. The High Commander nodded almost grimly, and Audua took it as incentive to explain herself.. "Well, I had befriended most of these people before they left, and they had told me their secrets after I saved David and Bantu's life, so I decided it was safer with them." The stare of the High Commander's did not change, except for perhaps growing flatter, in disbelief. Audua looked like she was going to faint. "Also, I am a member of the sikis religion, and as you might know, I was approaching a time of major life change, and I would be a fool not to take the opportunity such as this when it presented itself to me." Audua plucked at her intricate white robes as if at proof, which they were. She had told Anto a little of the sikis beliefs-all Velexians were atheist -and one belief was that one should not stagnate through life. Ingori life was divided into periods of eight years- Audua had been a child, young adult, and a medical student/business woman. Now, at 24, she was searching for another life change.

Audua sagged as she saw the slight softening in Lako Oraine's eyes, almost to the point of leaning on the nearby wall. "Now," the High Commander said in her rough iron voice, "what to do with you? I believe I have a task that is suited to your means. You will hunt the sho'gan vin." She sat, unblinking, and took in the stunned reactions that all who stood before her exuded.

"What?!" Yenne yelped. "That is the impossible task, High Commander! I am saying, we are the ones who are the lowly cadets, while the ones who we will not be hunting are the ones who are Exploriens who could send us to do laundry! It is the madness!" Yenne's high, clear voice was much more accented then usual, and that showed her distress.

Bantu looked like he wanted to let out a wry look, but no doubt he distrusted Lako Oraine, and he was still offended by David. Anto was unsure how the tall, pale blue Krigoni felt about Audua, but she had no gained full trust in his mind, Anto was sure. Na'vo demanded his usual iciness, and Bantu delivered, in a manner that almost appeared as talking down to the High Commander. "She is right. Any whom we suspect could easily lock us up in cells, with no questions asked, and likely have us made away with before you had heard of it. Your choice of us as hunters lacks logic."

The High Commander was the one who looked wry, now, and she even threw back her head to bark a short laugh. "Krigoni, it makes more sense then you can see, for you see, you six are the only ones who I am sure are not sho'gan vin, so you are the ones who would be best to hunt that group." Her laughter vanished, and the tightness around her eyes returned. "It sickens me- actually makes me ill! -that an Explorien, sworn to do what is right, would kill in cold blood. I mean to make Dantu, and anyone like him, pay for it before I take their heads." She growled almost animalistically, and Anto thought it wise that no one pointed out there was no crime in the Explorien Planets that allowed execution as punishment.

David was not content, however, and Anto cursed his black haired Terran friend when he continued to speak. "That is all very well and good, but it does not change the fact that we are so far below anyone else in the organization. If we are to search for people like Dantu, then can't be going along with no authority whatsoever. I refuse to do this." David crossed his arms, and Anto was reminded of a saying that had been formed only days after the Terrans and Velexians discovered each other- When a Terran crosses his arms in stubbornness, it will be easier to move a mountain then to change his mind. Anto wanted to sit very badly- when David got all stubborn like this he could be insufferable -but the only seat in the room was occupied by the High Commander.

"You know, you are legally dead. I will have to resurrect you, and I can change your records. I can make life very unpleasant for you." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Now I resort to threats. Very well. I can see what you are saying If it is more authority you want..." She waved her hands, almost as if performing a magic trick. "I may have a new fight on my hands with the High Council about this, but...You are now all Exploriens. All of you." She saw Audua's shocked look, and amended her statement. "Oh, not you. All duties, responsibilities, and privliges of an Explorien will be conferred on you the moment you leave this room. I suppose finding your way home in one piece is training enough. I will let you keep the Saucer Ship that carried you home as your own vessel, but you need a Medical Officer. I will contact-" She was cut off by Audua, who made a noise of half protest, half disagreement, with a dash of fear added in.

"Um.... I have sufficient medical training to fulfill that post, and I would ask you to confer it upon me. I am the most conveint choice, and at least you trust me." Audua finished weakly, and the High Commander look at her, not the accusing glare, but the evaluating stare she had fixed more generally on all of them earlier.

After a long pause, she spoke. "Do I, now? Trust is earned, and convincing me that you are not inherently evil doesn't mean I trust yo. But you're right, convience is all. You have the job, providing your story confirms. What Medical School did you attend? For how long?"

"I attended Lengrumi Collective Medical Academy for five years, High Commander." Audua said with a thankful curtsy. A curtsy! Anto wondered where in the Universe she had picked that up.

"Good. You can expect Pandor to check in on you, and you can make your reports to him." She saw their blank looks, and an exasperated tone entered her voice. "My secretary? Do you understand? Good. I expect you to awake when the others do, so Pandor will escort you to quarters. Dismiss." The last word was for Pandor, and Anto was disgusted that he had not noticed the little Aravillian. With a shock of equal disgust, he saw that the Aravillian had been recording their conversation- all of it! Anger boiled inside, but giving vent to anger seldom accomplished anything. Better to be determined, calmly sure, and you would accomplish anything.

As Pandor led them back to the elevators, Anto looked at the plush carpet, and thought. If the High Commander was so worried about trust, why did she trust her secretary with so much? If she truly wanted to catch sho'gan vin, why had she been so slow to raise them to Explorien? How had she even know of the name? Anto was surprised when he saw that he was the only one left in the group- Pandor had dropped them off at their new quarters one by one, but Anto had not noticed where they were. As soon as he was inside, Anto dropped on his bed and fell asleep right on top of the covers, without even undressing, or taking off his shoes.

Chapter 32

Bantu Basha walked the corridors systematically, sure of his purpose- to remedy his situation, which was being lost, by bumping into someone he recognized or someplace he knew. The High Command Building (C.C.B) was huge, almost two mile high, and covering a large amount of ground, so much so that from outside its width was the most impressive feature, not its height. Inside, it was a warren of tunnel-like hallways, and Bantu regretted not trading room numbers with everyone last night.

Bantu ignored the shocked looks some Exploriens gave him as he marched purposefully by. He himself wore his Explorien Uniform, which he had found in his room, draped over on of the two black metal chairs. It was a simple black shirt, black pants, with a white t-shirt to wear over it to designate him as a Computers Officer. Most of the Exploriens who were shocked were old teachers, from his days here and at Space Station Gemini, but a few were people he had trained with, who had been his colleagues, and who had been raised to the Exploriens while he was away. Bantu did not stop to give explanations, for it was more then sure the others would see people they recognized, and if they all told a story without consensus, then it would be apparent all stories told were lies. Bantu would wait for Lako Oraine to announce their return, and let her supply the reason for their three year absence.

Bantu's P.S.E unit, which he had clipped on his arm (P.S.E units are small computers that have various functions- Utility Lasers, time and date telling, other tools) and he headed straight for an elevator, and once inside programed it for Cafeteria 16. It was the breakfast time he had designated himself, and he would continue his search after he had eaten.

As he walked into the Cafeteria, he was surprised to see Yenne of Clan Valavan. Obviously the Aravillian woman was shocked to see Bantu as well, and she stood up and shouted to him from across the room. Heads turned.

Sighing, Bantu made a small wave to show he had seen her, and then went to the line up for food. He still admired Yenne's spirit, but she had no sense of na'vo. The cafeteria served two or three choices for each species, making the total number of dishes available twelve. Bantu picked the first Krigoni breakfast; a mush made of pheala fish and golllus leaves. He sat by Yenne.

"Bantu! It is being good to see you!" Yenne exclaimed as he started to eat. Yenne had a steaming mug of chiapemme set before her, as usual, and she inhaled the fumes before sipping characteristically. "I was beginning to fear we would be separated forever. Are you knowing where the others are? Shaylor? David? Anto? I am not the one who is knowing." Yenne took a larger sip of the clear liquid- Bantu was not deceived, chiapemme tasted like a mix of honey from terra, and sweet nectars -and once again her face lit up. Seemingly Yenne had a fixed, predetermined behavior when being reunited with people.

"Anto!" She yelled out over the distance between the door and their table. Once again heads turned as the bulkily muscular Velexian paused, sheepishly acknowledged Yenne, and then moved into the line up for food. Bantu also admired Anto for his calm determination, but he also did not understand na'vo, and probably never would. No, make that certainly, for it had been proven there were things in the code of na'vo that only the Krigoni mind could comprehend. Shaylor was getting along nicely in his lessons; in month that it had taken them to travel from Aravil to Velex, he had had five lessons with the young cadet- Explorien, he corrected -and he appeared eager to make up for past mistakes. However, the Terran in his nature shined through, for he was still easy to trust, and had vicious mood swings, as all Terrans did.

Anto appeared with his tray, and all three Exploriens sat at the table. What an odd way to think about himself, as an Explorien, but it was true. Anto's breakfast was the only thing Velexians ate for breakfast- a cup of ice cold water and a square piece of a type of bread.

"So, how are we to begin this hunt?" Anto asked both of the others.

"I have yet to decide." Bantu said in his crystalline voice, but inside his head he knew he had not even a clue about how to go about such an inquiry.

"Well, perhaps we should have a meeting? So today's objective is to find people." Yenne said knowingly.

"That makes excellent sense, Yenne." Bantu congratulated.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * From the tall arched window, close upon a mile above the ground yet barely halfways up the Central Command Building, David could see for miles around, beyond the city of Banglor, whose skyscrapers appeared dwarfed by the Central Command, beyond to the rolling plains and dark forests that boarded a broad, nameless river that flowed south and west to the sea, which was a sparkling chain of diamonds on the horizon. It all bored David horribly, yet it was a lesser boredom then what was behind his back. Soon, though, he had to turn and face Shaylor McConnor, who was sitting in a large oak and leather chair, and the huge pile of papers- paper, in this day and age! -that lay before the half-bred. They were in the archives, and David wanted leave so bad he could taste air that was not stuffy, dry, and tinted with dust. Tinted? The archives were so deserted that David doubted if a cleaner had been here for a year! The beam of orange light, from the afternoon sun, was filled with dust particles, and David did not notice them twirl as he stalked through the pillar of light. Afternoon! A day, wasted, just to indulge Shaylor! David wondered if the amount of Krigoni blood someone had affected their ability to irritate.

"Shaylor, there is nothing here! How many times do I have to say a piece of paper will not tell you if someone is sho'gan vin?!" This would make ten, at the very least, and David kept telling himself that Shaylor did not even need him here, but something told him not to leave without the smoky, opaque haired creature.

Shaylor sighed, and said, "David, you never know what is buried in the archives. You can find surprising things if you know where to look. Very surprising things." For some reason a faint smile curved his lips. He wished he would stop it with the smile. "People throw things in here, and they never see the light of day again." David threw up his hands, and for some reason it seemed to convince Shaylor. "Alright, I suppose enough is enough, if there was something here I would have found it long ago." Shaylor looked around the archive, which was where they were.

The achieves were a huge place, taking up the better part of two floors, and they were divided into five sections, one for each Explorien Planet, and decorated accordingly. They were in the Terra section now, and it seemed to David everything was oak and leather, from the huge doors, to the imposing bookshelves, to the large oak table before them. It all reminded David of a slightly gothic library, and he wanted to be back to the present as soon as possible.

"I suppose we can go." Shaylor said. He took up two computer pads without explaining what they were, and they marched out into the hallway, and took the elevator to the supper meeting they had planned.

* * * * * Sigh... I tried to paste on 4 chapters here, but this sucks without the other two chapters! I need a conclusions, because people tend to read in bits. It sucks! I hate my comp!

Go here for conclusion!

Thank you!