Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...
Part 1, Braeta
A day or two after the departure of the Nones, the ranch addresses Tom:
"Excuse me, sir."
"What is it?" Tom replies, a bit peevishly. The house never seems to address him lately (plus or minus 30 years) except with some sort admonition, criticism, or reminder that he's out of sequence.
"The perimeter reports and intruder, sir."
"An intruder? What sort of intruder?"
"Human, sir. Within human parameters."
"Armed? Dangerous? Hostile?"
"Not visibly armed or hostile, sir. But she is headed directly this way."
"She? The intruder is a woman? What more do you know about her? Is she anyone we know?"
"No, sir. We have fed her readings to the headquarters system in Pericles and consulted the public nets. She is known to neither."
Tom vows to have the systems reprogrammed. "So, an unknown woman is approaching the ranch."
"Yes, sir. An intruder."
"How common is it around here to not be in the records."
"Many of the locals are not known to the public nets. Approximately 23%. Of those, it is estimated that we have tracked and recognize 97%. Fewer than .7% of the locals are therefore totally without records. Of those, most are assumed to be infants and children."
"And the intruder is an adult?"
"She is fully grown, sir. Of indeterminant age."
"Indeterminant? I take it that is unusual?"
"Yes, sir. Sensor scan of a local or other known race or subspecies should at least allow for an estimate."
Tom recalls that the system's first assessment of her Was that she was 'within human parameters'.
"How soon will she arrive?"
"Approximately two minutes, sir."
"Can you show her to me?"
A nearby screen comes to life. It shows a large dark-skinned auburn-haired woman of ... indeterminant age -- she's an adult, with the look of someone of around 30. She is wearing local garb -- a somewhat Romany/Gypsy outfit -- long multi-tiered floral print skirt, low-necked white blouse, scarf holding her hair back. She has a ruck-sack over one shoulder and a walking staff in her hand. She is walking purposefully up one of the horse paths out of the woods.
Tom goes out to meet her. He does not do this straightforwardly, though. He tucks a stunner unobtrusively about his person and leaves the buildings. It is his intent to first come in her eyeshot crossing from one point to another within the ranch compound, plausibly on an errand -- NOT marching out to meet her. He will then "notice" her and hail her.
As he starts to put that plan into effect, while he is walking through the ranch to get in position, he launches a Second Sight viewpoint to find her and slowly zero in on her, feeling for psi as he goes.
Tom thumbs through his memory in double time. Nothing in conscious memories, at least. Lord only knows about all the little incidental encounters that happen day-in and day-out. He leaves the ranch house and notices that the garage door isn't entirely opaqued. He wanders over and opaques it all the way.
Meanwhile his second sight flicks out and towards her. As it approaches, she looks up and smiles -- at it or at a passing bird, he cannot tell, as her gaze doesn't fall directly on it for more than perhaps the barest flash, if at all. Certainly they make no ... eye-contact, as it were. He trots out a bit of vibes from the locus of the viewpoint. By now his mastery of vibes is good enough that he can detect just about any one with mind enough to be capable of psi. He doesn't register anything by way of active psi, but he does notice her. She has a lot of presence, as it were.
He runs the flavor of that presence over his memory as he turns and starts to head across the lawn, off towards one of the corrals, and on a course that intersects obliquely with hers. His memory once more comes up with nothing in the top several layers.
They "spot each other" nearly simultaneously and exchange smiles as they turn to head toward each other. Her smile seems a bit more sincere than Tom's feels, at least to him. Perhaps he put up a better front than all that, eh? Ah, well.
"Mr. Noon!" Her smile broadens in recognition or satisfaction or discovery or... something. "Tom Noon, isn't it?"
Tom's mind quickly runs her voice over several layers of memories recently stirred up rummaging for her appearance or presence. If anything he is less successful. Her voice sounds not at all familiar, nor can he place the accent, with long, full, lush vowels and rich consonants. "Mmissdrr D'awmm Noown" his name sounds as it slowly falls from her mouth.
Tom's own answer is a bit delayed, he realizes either from surprise at her apparent recognition, or from savoring her voice. The sounds aren't from any tongue he speaks, but he rather wishes that he did. He gives himself a bit of a mental shake, belatedly hoping that he didn't make it a physical one as well.
"Have we met?" he says with painful lack of originality. Being all alone on a ranch in the middle of east nowhere, chosen for its isolation, hardly seem to bring out his more suave side. He smiles at least.
"Not exactly." She smiles. "But I saw you once or twice... in Hong Kong."
He calls back the bits of his mental machinery that were seeking out some memory of a language with quite those sounds, or that were using that search as an excuse to roll them around in his head. 'Hong Kong'? He wonders. The voice certainly isn't from the East, nor is she. Though her skin is dark, it's lighter than most of the Indian subcontinent and not near as yellow as any of the Orientals, and her hair is a rich auburn, with as many shades of red and brown as some blondes have of gold, straw, and browns. 'Hong Kong'?
He sighs mentally. This conversation seems to have decided lags in it each time it thumps over into his court. 'Hong Kong'?
Hong Kong. Well. Unless there is an amazing screw-up, someone who knows his name and saw him "once or twice in Hong Kong" is announcing herself as another time traveler. Of COURSE the conversation lags when it's his turn; she's obviously been casing him.
Feeling definitely uneasy, Tom bows slightly, gives a formal sort of smile, and says, "Very interesting. Would you care to tell me about it? It's pleasant sitting under that tree, or you could come into the house. Let me get you some iced tea. I know I'd like some."
There. He's being polite. If she's nervous of him, she needn't walk into his "lair." Running off for iced tea gives him a chance to at least notify the house systems and/or fetch a communicator. Of course, she realizes that. But this seems more cordial than saying, "Pardon me while I make a tactical retreat and re-group."
Actually, Tom doubts that an enemy would approach this way. They'd either attack frontally, sneak up invisibly, or be even subtler about a disguised approach. He suspects she is a "client" (and someday he must find where and when he hung out a shingle reading "World-Wanderer. Press here in case of emergency") or an emissary with a complaint.
With a smile and a semi-formal bow of her own, she says, "Yes." She nods approvingly and adds "It is only fitting that we observe some ceremony when two of the Blood meet."
After another moment or two she says, "You may call me Braeta."
She shows no preference for where to sit, and so Tom leads her into the house for tea.
"Two of the Blood"? sigh First Aelwe and now her. This family can't sequence for sour apples. Assuming she's telling the truth. And meant the New Blood, not some other kindred Tom didn't know he belonged to. (He never considered himself one of the New Blood until (1) he heard of the term from Daewen and other Silver Councilors, and (2) Chris accused him of being New Blood himself, which he still denies. Family, yes, and gladly, but New Blood, no.)
Tom leads the way to the Best Parlor, goes to a console, and murmurs orders for iced tea. In another language, he murmurs orders for the conversation to be recorded, video as well as audio. He collects his thoughts, and turns, smiling, to face Braeta.
It occurs to him suddenly how tall she is. Used as he is to Daewen and her daughters, all of whom are between six feet and two meters, he hadn't really noticed it. Too, she doesn't look so tall because of the way she is proportioned. The elven women are tall and willowy thin. Braeta, on the other hand, is heavyset, with wide shoulders and broad hips. Her waist is narrow and her arms and legs are heavily muscled. All-in-all, the first impression of her is of how solid she looks, quite masking her height.
"Please, have a seat." he invites gesturing to one of several overstuffed chairs. "Our tea should be here shortly."
"Thank you. It's very kind of you to invite me in."
A floating tray wafts in, carrying the tea. Tom takes a moment to play host, pouring the tea and then takes his own seat across a small coffee table from her, a place from which he can watch her carefully.
"Braeta." he says, casually. "Interesting name. What's its origin?"
She smiles a bit mysteriously, no, knowingly, as if they shared a secret. "It's a very old name." she says. "Its origins are in a language lost long ago."
"I see. And, if I may ask, what is your origin?"
"I am the daughter of D'aeouaeoes," she replies, as if that made it terribly clear. As she speaks the name of her father, her accent becomes more intense.
"Tayooayose, you say?"
She nods in affirmation, and then after a moment, resting her tea on her knees, she leans forward to stare at Tom, a bit of puzzlement wrinkling her brow. Seeming to realize that it was unfamiliarity, and not disbelief that prompted Tom's question, she adds, "D'aeouaeoes, the fatherer."
Tom wonders idly if this Daeouaeoes or Tayooayose is related to Daewen, or as she sometimes has styled herself Daeanna, a name nearly as bereft of consonants as that of 'the fatherer.'
His lack of recognition further worries her brow.
He shifts the topic a bit, hoping she will be more forthcoming, "Yes. Well, then, may I ask what your errand is here?"
"I had hoped to find another of the Blood and to ask your help. Perhaps I was mistaken." She begins to set her tea upon the table, leaning forward as if to rise from her chair. "But, no." She says and sits before ever really leaving the chair. "I know I saw you. It was you in Hong Kong. You must be of the Blood, you band." Her voice mingles conviction with doubt.
"How did you happen to be in Hong Kong. And when were you in Hong Kong?" Tom asks, hoping to draw her out.
"I travel a lot, as do many of us. I had heard tales of Nguyen Cat and was there to see what sort he was."
Tom can hardly help but react a bit at the name of Nguyen Cat; after all, one doesn't often hear the name of someone at whose hand one has died. He listens attentively as she continues.
"I had concluded he was not the good sort when you arrived. Tales of you caught my ear and so I watched you as well. I witnessed your battle and deaths from a distance. Later, after your resurrection, I was still in the area. His tournaments were likely to attract our sort, and so I watched the arrivals. When I recognized you, I followed. Though I did not directly witness your revenge, I was not far away. I returned to Hong Kong often in the following years, often enough to be certain that you had given him the final death."
She stops a while to study Tom, puzzlement clear in her eyes. While he clearly recognized Mr. Nguyen's name, he is just as clearly puzzled by much of what she has said. Doubt creeps across her face. She sets the tea cup down.
"I... I..." she begins hesitantly, and Tom finds her awkwardness suddenly surprising. He realizes after a moment's thought that, so far, she has moved and acted with tremendous grace and poise, and that awkwardness looks quite out of place on her. She continues, "I'm afraid I've made a mistake." She begins to rise from her seat.
Tom, politely rising with her, says, "No. It's all right. But--" She pauses at this, and he continues in a comforting tone he's not at all sure he entirely feels. "--but perhaps you should begin at the beginning. Assume I don't know, or can't remember, the... obvious. Take your time."
Relief washes away the awkwardness of her puzzlement and she sits back down.
"I'm sorry, but I was so sure. I..." She stops herself and nods. "Yes, from the beginning then...
Copyright © 2003, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.