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The farm-hand pulled his probe out of the ground and tapped dirt off it with his talons. He rubbed his palms against the backs of his hands to get some moisture from the oil gland, then wiped it against his forehead in an attempt to provide some cooling against the morning sun. He looked at the probe in his hand and out across the field of wheat while he stretched his back, his hands on the hover-sled with his tools. He looked over the tools – which a farmer a thousand years ago would have found familiar – and then at the probe in his hand. Centuries of progress, and our race stands at the apex of all known races, but I still have to walk up and down the fields with these same implements, even if a few new gadgets have been added. Someone said that the Humans had other ways to do it, but I don’t believe them. Farming is as it always was, just more to think about now than they used to. I do like this new grain, though: it is hearty and grows in a hurry, even if it does require a lot of water.
He set the hover-sled to follow mode and continued on his rounds. At least I don’t have to carry the tools on my back anym….
The thought died in his mind as he walked around a tool shed and looked out at another field which lay at the bottom of a small embankment. Someone had cut down sections of the grain in the form of some sort of strange pattern. A handful of circles, connected by straight lines, had been cut from the field. He guessed whoever it was had taken about twenty percent of the crop from that hundred acre field.
Fear gripped his heart and pulled his talons in tight. Nearly twenty percent of a field gone, over night. When? How? He didn’t want to be the one to report it; the blame would then fall on him, somehow. He couldn’t leave it unreported either, though, then he’d get in trouble for not reporting it.
He stood there for several minutes, his mind working furiously. He finally looked down at the probe in his hand, across the field at the barn with the tractors, and back at the shed which contained his soil samples.
Eventually he shrugged, and walked back to the shed. He had tests to fake, and a tractor to check out, and a field to plow under.
Enibal stared out the window into the blackness of space, watching both the stars outside the window and the reflections of people bustling about the space port behind him. How is it that I, a dedicated and unrepentant coward, love space travel and the ports of call that go with it? So many fear space so much they could almost be considered to have a human phobia, yet I enjoy it here. I am not sure why Aunt Eldia decided to come in on one of those luxury liners that are too large to land on the ground, but I’m glad she did. It is always nice to get up here, and the ride down on the space elevator will give us some time to catch up.
He continued to stare out into space and contemplate eternity. The reflections of those behind him began to get annoying, so he gestured over the railing for a display, and was glad to see that the window had standard interfaces installed.
A few minutes later he settled down into a comfortable couch in one of the observation rooms of the station, killed the lights, and sat back to watch the space traffic while waiting for his Aunt’s ship come in.
At length it arrived: The Empress
, pride of her company’s fleet. He sat and admired her sleek lines and smooth curves; every angle spoke of elegance and comfort. I wonder if the rumors are true, that they got special dispensation to name the ship because it was the prototype for the Her Majesty’s own private liner?
He took another good look as the ship floated before him. It wouldn’t surprise me. It certainly projects a certain regal grace.
He pulled his coms unit and checked to make sure the berthing hadn’t changed, then set off with a spring in his step.
He arrived to find people already streaming out of the gates which had been connected to the ship. It only took a few moments to find gate 115. It always feels odd to have gates numbered instead of given letters, but I suppose it makes more sense; everyone uses numbers, but everyone’s written languages have too much variance.
He had no trouble positioning himself at the point where the stream of people exiting the gate started to split off. Why does everyone keep parting in front of me?
He started to look around and remembered the two guards – one of them human – that Kazlor had insisted he bring with him. Oh, yea.
A high-pitched squeal brought his attention back to the stream of people before him, “OHHH!!! My darling little Eniballie! So dashing in those ambassadorial robes! How have you remained single all this time?” He found himself wrapped in a hug as his aunt seemed to appear out of the crowd. She kissed him on both cheeks then stepped back to hold him at arm’s length.
“Oh, my dear boy, I’ve missed you! Now, let Aunt Eldia have a good look at you!” She stared him up and down, a large smile on her face. He took the opportunity to study her for a moment, and found that nothing had changed. She wore the same sort of form-fitting pants and blousy shirt with a plunging neckline she’d become so well known for, and had kept herself in remarkable shape: He’d felt the strength in her when she hugged him.
She finished her assessment and continued talking, “You’ve filled out a bit, good! I have to admit I’d gotten worried when you kept taking postings on low-gravity worlds, but I see the higher gravity here has done you good!
“Oh, but where are my manners?” She turned to a younger woman who’d stopped beside them, and spoke in semi-formal tones: “Ambassador Enibal Pensar, allow me to introduce you to my personal assistant. I picked her up recently to help me keep track of the holdings I’ve begun to pick. She has been a great help in organizing everything already, let me tell you, and she has been an incredible traveling companion as well. I do hope the two of you will get along. She goes by Vashna.”
Enibal looked into the young woman’s eyes and nearly lost himself. He felt his hands blush as her deep, red eyes seemed to bore into his soul and try to envelope him at the same time. He could tell that a razor-sharp mind lay behind those eyes, and found himself wondering what secrets might be hidden there.
He had learned, long ago, to take in details without having to actually direct his gaze, and he had to admit that the face which framed the eyes was quite beautiful, and that face sat atop a body which… Damnit, get ahold of yourself, Enibal! She could almost be your daughter!
Her hand stretched towards him as a coy smile appeared on her lips. The hand was turned just so
, where he could take it as an offer to kiss her hand or shake it. Something took hold of him and he found himself bowing over the hand to gently lay his lips upon her hand, while he kept his eyes locked on hers.
Her eyes went down to their hands, so he glanced there as well, and saw a blush in her hands almost as strong as his. He released her hand and straightened, and she gave a small giggle as she brought her hand back. He forced a small laugh in return, nodded to her, and broke eye contact to turn to his Aunt. Inside he continued to laugh at himself. Making eyes and kissing hands of a woman who is barely more than a girl! Stop it before you make her uncomfortable, you stupid man! Still, there is something disturbingly familiar about that girl.
His Aunt beamed a smile at both of them, “Oh, wonderful. I am sure you two will be marvelous friends!” He chaffed a bit at her tone, but the age difference between him and his aunt was greater than that between him and this girl, so they probably didn’t seem that distant to her. He decided to let it pass, and put on his best diplomatic smile.
Aunt Elida gave him a look, the kind of look she used to use just before she thumped him on the head. He smirked at her, then favored her with a more normal expression. She answered with a curt nod and smirk of her own, then hooked her arm in his and started walking. “Let’s get a move on dear, won’t do to stand here in everyone else’s way. I have so much to tell you about the places I’ve been, and the deals I’ve made, that is if you still want to listen to your batty old Aunt’s stories.”
Her hand held the inside of his elbow, and he put his free hand over hers. “I always loved your tales, Aunt Elida. I may have grown older, but my love for your stories certainly hasn’t changed. In fact, I think those tales have a certain responsibility for me choosing the path I did. Part of what I wanted to do was get out and experience the wide universe, meet new and interesting people, and see the sorts of things you described.”
She laughed, a hearty inclusive laugh. He noticed that Vashna had fallen into step beside him, rather than by his Aunt, but he kept his attention on his relative as she talked. “You may have managed to one-up me there, nephew. I can count on my hands the number of different species of aliens I have ever met, and here you have been living among them for so long, and have even made good friends with a few, judging by your letters.
“That’s one of the reasons I jumped at the chance when you wrote me. I have grown curious about the various other species who inhabit our galaxy, particularly those newcomers. I so want to meet some of them.” She turned her head to look over her shoulder at his human bodyguard, “Yes, young man, that includes you, but you are working now and I respect that. Once we are secure and you are off duty, I would be pleased to make your acquaintance, if you have some free time.”
The guard looked slightly non-pulsed for a moment, then gave a small half-smile. “Of course, ma’am. Any friend of the Ambassador is a friend of mine.”
Enibal felt his hands blush slightly at the genuine warmth in the man’s tone. His aunt gave the guard a dimpled smile, then turned her attention back to him. “Now, you aren’t just telling your beloved Aunt what she wants to hear, are you?”
He chuckled, “I miss sitting there and listening to you, really. Miss it enough that I booked us passage down the space elevator in a private Ambassadorial lift rather than a shuttle. We will have an entire day of peace and quiet to get caught up.”
She leaned into him and bounced on her toes, “Oh, I do so love those things! It is the best way to get to and from orbit, in my opinion, if only for the view! We are going to have the most marvelous time, aren’t we Vashna?”
He turned to look at the younger woman, who responded with an inscrutable look followed by a small smile and a nod of her head. He turned back to his Aunt as she started catching him up on the family gossip, beginning with the latest stories about his parents.
Once they were safely ensconced in the spacious Ambassadorial car the bodyguards did a sweep for listening devices a while the rest of them got comfortable. The car was spacious, with a kitchenette, two sleeping rooms with three bunk beds each, and a parlor room with a curved, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling window. The main chair had controls to turn this window into a screen, and the suite was rounded out with top-notch communications gear.
A message came in that all of the passenger’s bags had been delivered to the car’s holding area, with a note on how to access them from within the car if desired, and asking when they would like to begin their descent.
He hit the ‘As Soon As Possible’ response button, and was surprised when he heard the car immediately begin to move towards the cable. A few moments later they heard – barely – the car lock onto the elevator and decouple from the station, and he got another message stating that the car was now on interior life support and had begun its descent. (Prev) (Wiki) (Next)
Yes, yes, another somewhat slow chapter introducing a couple of new characters. When telling a larger story, it is necessary sometimes. Can't all be lasers and swords. Still, these two are over-due to arrive, and we get to tease another detail of what is coming. There is a little more to this as they talk on the elevator (and enjoy the view), then we get to see another fighter practice, and the back-room dealings there. Stay tuned!
Comments and corrections always welcome and appreciated, of course.