Chapter 1: A Favor for Cantrell
We're in a quiet little park in the center of Pericles. At our feet, we
spot a small rock with the familiar "OZ" logo discreetly inscribed on it.
No crowd has gathered; in fact, no one is looking at us at all. Perhaps it
is because we are not accompanied by a large, fire-breathing dragon, but by
a large mastiff. We decide to pay a visit to Jumping Jacks before returning
to Lanthil via the ranch, and soon arrive there by taxi.
At the gate, we phone into Cantrell. "Hello," says Kate. "We've just returned from … our latest trip. It went well. There's no news that would bother you."
Before Cantrell can respond, Robbie offers, "But we have been over the rainbow."
This gives Cantrell pause, but he soon recovers. "I'm glad you came by. I' ve been trying to reach, ah, some of you."
We hustle inside, and soon are draped around Cantrell's office. He closes the door, returns to his chair, and makes his proposal. "We — Jumping Jacks — have a bit of a problem. We need people with experience in both aliens and psionics. Would you help?"
Kate assumes that she is still in charge. "Sure. But I need to deliver these treaties to Lanthil."
Cantrell ignores this and presses on. "Well, it's sort of urgent. It's a customer satisfaction issue, and involves KaiSen as our client. The problem is on Varkard, a world that has been settled by multiple species, most from the KaiSenese Association. One of these is the Blenari." He flashes a picture of a small, yellow, bipedal saurian. We nod; we encountered them in Martshayla Port. "They are divided into feuding clans. Now, KSA members aren't allowed to aggress on one another, but that rule doesn't apply to them. This is an intra-species matter. The feud has been going on a long time." We nod. The Blenari were still at it in Martshayla Port, 3,000 years in the future.
"Our client, KaiSen, doesn't want this feud to escalate. So we and our agents have been trying to keep it balanced, first helping one side, then the other. But. One side now has developed a definite edge. They've been using some odd psionics, and have hired some unusual mercenaries, the Tlappina Aëlth.
"Our connection on Varkard is a business connection. It's through the company TXT — that stands for Trans Xeno Tech, and those people are the ones who've been doing the pushing and adjusting. They would be the people you'd contact and work with."
Robbie and Dafnord agree that we could us the Munch to go to Varkard and "do business," and people start discussing plans.
Kate realizes that, however urgent this may be, it will take several hours. She has Cantrell summon a fast car and driver for her. She takes a quick trip to the ranch, darts through the mirror, and emerges in a library in the castle in Lanthil. Just outside the library door, she spots a member of the Silver Service, and asks him where Nick is. He leads her to Nick, to whom she gives a familiar, but slightly worn, leather case. "Here is the signed treaty with Tighmark. There's also a draft treaty with Oz; it will have to be vetted by the Silvers, I know." She pauses, waiting for him to ask her questions or say anything. He doesn't, so she says, "See you," and heads back for the library.
She expects him to catch up with her before she reaches the mirror, but he doesn't. He just stands there, peering into the case, and murmuring, "It pupped."
The return trip from the ranch gives her the chance to regret not leaving her new jewelry there or in Lanthil. She decides that, since it's undoubtedly synthetic emeralds and garnets, it doesn't matter if she carts the ropes of gems around the galaxy (and gloats over them from time to time). She also wonders if she'll still be expected to act as a leader, and how she feels about that.
The Jumping Jack driver returns her to Cantrell's office less than four hours after she left. She has missed most of the briefing on Varkard, but the others give her a cursory filling in. It's a terraformed planet, now colonized by multiple species who are part of the KSA, or from nearby worlds. One of its original species has died out, and others have come and gone. The Blenari clans on the planet are the Algis, who are the ones being difficult, the Korando, and a non-clan group, which is trying to avoid the whole situation. TXT is a Terran human based company, which makes its money by studying alien technology, developing design ideas from these pieces, and selling the designs back home.
The information dump ends. Gannar is given Cantrell's information, the entry from The Vacuum-Packed Suitcase, etc. We pick up our suitcases, and are trundled over to the Munch on a few of the little transport carts that dart around the property. We enter the familiar ship.
"Hi, Edvard," says Robbie as he enters the control room.
"Welcome aboard, sir," replies the AI. Upon request, he plots the course to Varkard, and starts making arrangements for us to leave Hellene space. We pick our cabins and spend a pleasant three days and two nights in transit to our destination.
Edvard informs us when we are approaching the planet. Robbie contacts TXT, and informs the man who answers that we are the representatives from Jumping Jacks. He then asks where we should land. Our contact, Eric MacNeil, directs us to the port at Requembel, which we know is the capital. Edvard begins landing arrangements. The TXT person reminds us that this is a multi-species world, and asks us if we speak KaiSenese.
Robbie explains that we carry translating 'fish' in our ears, and that one of our party is a KaiSen liaison officer. He is pleased to hear it.
Robbie then contacts Jumping Jacks — and gets Eric again. Obviously, this is a small operation here.
Our ship passes over the city as we head for the landing field. It is composed of very different neighborhoods; there is no question but that each neighborhood represents a different species. We catch a view of the ocean as we settle easily onto an expanse of concrete. Edvard equalizes pressure and gravity, then, at Robbie's signal, opens the door.
A peculiar scent, perhaps related to the nearby seashore, wafts in. "Ah, the scent of a new world," exclaims Robbie as he picks up his bag and leads us out into Requembel. There is no official bustling over to meet us or check our papers. We look around at the other ships poised on the artificial plain. Daphne soon loses interest in the scenery, and entertains herself by asking questions of Edvard.
Soon, however, we spot a sort of rickshaw headed for us. The motive force is a creature that seems to be a shiny metal blob, with four arms and four wheels. We decide it's an alien robot. The passenger is our guy, Eric, wearing a sort-of toga. He trades identification with our Mr. Roberts, and meets the rest of us. Daphne, in her true form as a pixie, gives him a little pause.
We settle into the conveyance, and Eric gives us a little tour as we go. Our driver, it turns out, is a Tlappina, a colony of creatures, and not a robot at all. The white globes with metallic dangles that hovered over us before we had quite left the spaceport were the customs inspectors. We head into the city, and Eric points out members of the various species as we roll along.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.