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Within the Eyes of Light
cover design 2005 Ardy M. Scott.

 

Book Excerpt

 

 

Within the Eyes of Light - Book III

 

Geoff Geauterre

 

 

 

Prologue

 

She, who had once been so proud for having finally been "Chosen" was not having a good day. In fact, it was proving a particularly trying one. She was seriously thinking about committing murder.

Pure Thought's promise of help, as far as Her Mother was concerned, had locked her into a job she didn't want. Steam rose from her ears. It was one thing to ask, but having the gall to guarantee her cooperation on the scale required was too much.

The concept of establishing a New Aliens Relations Bureau had a smell that defied description. The very size of the task was monstrous. It would take all her time, and she had just gotten used to humans.

She blindly lashed out and a section of the chamber disintegrated. Just you wait until I get my claws on you! The floor beneath her feet buckled.

***

Half a galaxy away Broswell raised his eyebrows to the hovering ephemeral and wondered what was wrong. Lately, the way the Yoolooet kept jerking about, it was obvious he was distracted.

"You all right, old fellow?"

His friend's tones sounded subdued. "Yes. Just experiencing a daydream. Ah, but to get back to the matter at hand?"

"Of course." They directed their attention to the third person at the table.

Councilor Coriss leaned over the portable plot board and pointed out the columns of figures, displaying projections onto the flat screen.         

"As you can see…" He showed them." The asteroids we're interested in are those with definite seams of Diamantium in the spectrograph scans. The realm in which they're located lies deep in a range of massed debris. "Trajectories are erratic with solar winds, there's fluctuating radiation, and no company has shown any interest. It's too difficult and expensive for them to go after."

Broswell smiled slyly. "Until now, that is?"

Coriss coughed delicately. "Yes, well, that is…if you would consider it. But think a moment. With you and Pure Thought coaxing out the richest deposits where they can be accessible, we could clean up with no appreciable time lag or needless expenditure of equipment."

He tapped on the screen. "Diamantium as an energy source makes regular reaction drives obsolete. Anyone using it instead of the old breakdown formulas for atomic disintegration of matter will have a guaranteed thirteen percent jump in engine performance. That would give a yield of velocity nine times currently standard in impulse engines. With enough of this on the market, every heavy metal corporation dealing in high energy fuels will be sent into a tailspin."

Pure Thought drifted downwards, interested. "And that would be to our advantage? Disrupting another's economy?"

Coriss looked up, and then around, a line of concern fixed between his eyes. "My friend, it may seem paradoxical that I should say this, but the answer is yes. The metal planets in this sector use miners who are almost exclusively Class Seven beings, and at the present time, Class Sevens are not regarded by the Syrtis-Minor Federation as intelligent biologicals."

Broswell arched an eyebrow curiously. "What does that have to do with us?"

The ex-Councilor's eyelids lowered partway as he explained. "They've built an underground system that managed to contact the New Alien Relations Bureau. Gentlemen, they've made formal application for recognition."

Broswell wasn't sure he heard that one correctly. "Wait a minute, Cory. Class Seven beings? Class Sevens aren't composed of individuals. That's why they're classed as Sevens. They're examined by experts in the field and found to have only minimal response mechanisms. On the whole you couldn't say they were more capable of brain power than roots."

Coriss' expression was deadpan, admitting nothing.

Broswell had to get into it, as there was something the other said, the way he said it, that picked at him. "You say they contacted New Alien Relations, but don't you mean it was you they contacted?"

He couldn't help but grin. The idea of having a conversation with near vegetables struck him as ludicrous. "Hope you won't take offense, old fella, but if you ask me I'd have to say the idea was pretty far-fetched."

Coriss nodded sourly. "That's exactly what I thought when this matter crossed my desk last month, but then something reminded me…" He shrugged irritably, the line between his eyes gouging deeper. "When those classification standards were listed for these people, they were correlated towards a false assumption. I'm afraid that from the start of their First Contact, the situation was handled carelessly."

He took a filmy handkerchief, patted the perspiring beads dotting his balding head, and glanced around, weighing the diners around them then dismissing them as nothing more than that.

"Individually, the creatures are a mess, granted. But collaterally they share some kind of link, and on the whole are capable of responsible action."

"Hard to believe," murmured Broswell, his logistical mind taking in the hard-to-swallow possibilities.

"It is amazing, actually," said Coriss, "but more than that, when these people were classed over seventy years ago, guess who did it."

A solemn silence ensued until Pure Thought asked, "So these Class Sevens are, in fact, the hands and feet of a thriving mentality? That the classification you gave them was misapplied?"

Coriss smiled gratefully. "Thank you for that tactfulness, my friend, but the facts are cold. Thirty years prior to the Great Alert, I was a hungry, officious clerk looking for promotion. Had I been more responsive to the scientific findings, been more intuitive, I wouldn't have been blinded by ambition and I wouldn't have been here now." The scriber he'd been using as a pointer trembled in his fingers.

Broswell whistled.

Coriss nodded slowly. "Exactly."

"That's a long time to make up for a mistake, Cory."

"I know."

"Especially now, when the metal syndicates are dropping expensive robot systems." His eyes opened wide. "If the syndicates hear what you're trying to do --!" But he didn't need to finish the sentence.

"My life," Coriss completed, "won't be worth a twig."

Broswell looked at Pure Thought and shared the same image of their friend lying in a pool of blood.

"But that's the least of the problem," said Coriss, waving his personal troubles aside. "Think what would happen if these multiple tiered corporations ever found out that the powerful alien mentality their slaves really worked for was the one who had been quietly buying up the market's shares in the same industry. Can you imagine the repercussions?"

Broswell didn't need to ponder the implications. "If the syndicates ever found out what's happened, the position of those people will be similar to what occurred on B'min. They'd be slaughtered."

Ex-Councilor Coriss' handkerchief was having a difficult time mopping up the perspiration pooling at the base of his neck, some of it cooling and trickling down the center of his back.

"I keep telling myself that can't happen nowadays, but it's a pretense because I know there are people who would take out their own mother's teeth if they were made of gold."

"I am unfamiliar about this thing you call B'min," Pure Thought broke in. "Would you describe it?"

Broswell grimaced, remembering the incredible seven-foot tall, five-footed, three- armed natives with bloody spears, many of which held the heads of colonist-agrarians and their families."

"They were a beautiful race, Pure Thought. Beings that seemed like marbled Centaurs. Shy, curious, wondering, and incapable of anger in any form, it seemed, and guardians of a planet wondrous and incredible.

"It was said that when a B'min spoke, words took on musical notes, and even were the listener ignorant, it was hard to imagine not being understood."

"And the disaster that occurred, Broswell?"

"It was the water."

"Water?"

"It had curious properties, properties scientifically remarkable. When one drank the water, it caused a heightened awareness. On the one hand it was harmless, on the other, well, it gave the impression of being able to hear the solar winds, see otherwise invisible light patterns, and one other; one that was almost frightening."

"What was it?"

"It was said one could sense the dead."

There was a long pause. "Could this be proven?"

"They were trying when the disaster happened."

"How?"

"A shaft was sunk into what was thought might be a good well for research purposes."

Broswell sighed, recalling how he'd been laying back in his bunk when the klaxon alarm sounded, and he barely made it out the doors before the blast portals slammed shut. His fighter was prepared, and he assumed it was an attack by pirates.

"And?"

"The shaft was driven into a forbidden area. No one thought to ask permission. No restrictions had been set on the research, no taboos listed. Privileges were taken for granted."

"And?"

"After the reprisal to the planet-wide attacks on visitors, colonists and scientists, they found out the shaft had been sunk into a hibernating pool, a place where the natives went for rebirth. Somehow, the act drove the race insane, and when it was over, it was over to the last B'min."

"There were no survivors?"

"Pure Thought, when the last B'min died, the planet died with them. To this day the sector is quarantined, standing as a reminder of what a simple mistake can mean."

"The planet…" Pure Thought pondered, "died from within?"

Broswell looked up curiously. "Yes. You could say that. The planet did die from within."

"That won't happen to these people," vowed Coriss, his voice grating with anger. "I won't let it!"

"You're asking," Pure Thought stated quietly, "that we institute the means that will disrupt entire communities, gigantic corporations, whose whole economic systems were purposely designed for cheap labor -- and for what? So that in the interim, a small, rather insignificant group of misapplied Class Sevens and their mind link parent, should be given the opportunity to one day take their own destiny in hand? Is that really what you're asking us to do?"

Broswell chuckled at the look of outrage plastered over Coriss' face.         

"It's all right, Cory. That's how he speaks when he means, 'Yes, we'll do it. It'll probably be fun.' Besides, making a fortune and helping poor natives gain their freedom always looks good in one's personal portfolio, don't you think?"

"By the by," put in Pure Thought, mind cast to several other matters at the time, "since we're to enter the service trade, what is the name of this client?"

Counselor Coriss' smile was a chagrined mixture of dry humor and seriousness, but the reply leant more to the latter. "Among themselves they're known as the Iiilsnndrt."

"What does that translate into?"

"We of the earth."

***

Two Years Later: The native Iiilsnndrt, or rather the Iiilsnndrt Parent, having successfully established claim for itself and its instruments, paid off those who lost out on stock ventures and without the slightest warning flooded the market with cheap Diamantium.

Three days afterward panic hit and caught everyone flatfooted. Manufacturers who hoped the bottom would flip-flop held on trying to stabilize price controls and found themselves led to disaster.

Warehouses filled with an almost inexhaustible supply of rarified fuel. Expenses and overhead couldn't be met. The five heavy freighter-miner ships they purchased were racking up docking fees and in less than a week, their credit balance would evaporate.

To sum it up, the Diamantium they owned, which took two solid backbreaking years to gather, purify and store, was no longer an asset. As one banker wryly put it, "Your insurance coverage is worth more."

"You know," Coriss mused, each sharing a drink at the roadside cafe outside their yards, "when I got the idea, looking at that damnable report, which if news ever got out would spell the end of my career, I thought of you two as a last resort."

"Oh?" murmured Broswell dryly. "Why was that?"

"You were the ones to get my pink cheeks out of hot water," Coriss chuckled. "And in turn, I would make us rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I was the one to show you how to make corruption into incorruption. I was the one…"

Abruptly he looked up, a glint in the eyes making them sparkle in the afternoon light. "Guys, I want you to know I think you're great for getting into this when you didn't have to, but I guess when all is said and done, I was too smart for my own good."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Broswell looked aside and wondered what the other was getting at.

"No, no, I thought I really had something here. I thought I had an understanding with the old girl, speaking of the Iiilsnndrt, but maybe I misunderstood something." He shook his head tiredly.

"Or maybe I hadn't realized that she might have done this for revenge, knowing that I was the guilty party all along. I never quite admitted that to her, you know. Always thought I could keep that from getting out. Maybe I should have been truthful from the beginning, but I --" His chin wobbled. "Guess I was mistaken."         

A roughened hand rubbed across a face that had seen a lot of foul weather, and wrinkled eye corners showed the work of staring into the hydrogen refining furnaces, as he refused anything less than a full share of the workload. His partners, on the other hand, looked vibrant and powerful.

Thoughtfully, Broswell stirred the contents of the drink in his hand, his mind fixing on something. Pure Thought wrapped about his own glass and didn't even pulse.

"I'm going to pay each of you for your time and effort," Coriss added softly, "and…" He looked into Broswell's face and stopped. The other had begun smiling.

"By the Horns of Syrtis -- what a fool I've been!"

"What --"

"Don't you see," the Admiral chortled, "we've been dealing with the wrong people!" Jumping out of the chair with a lunge, he pulled his overalls straight and smoothed down the creases. Then with a grunt, he turned on his heel and strode down the street toward the trading store.         

Coriss looked after him then at Pure Thought, now sipping his eighty- proof brandied ice malt with a frosted head.

"You think Broswell's flipped his lid?" he said cautiously. "Am I responsible for that, too?"

The Yoolooet's form pulsed and scolded him. "This is not your fault, Coriss! Do not berate yourself, my friend. Of late I have had a feeling that some force has been at work here, interfering with our efforts somehow, but we shall survive, never fear."

Coriss' head bowed with a terrible fatigue, the old man feeling his years as never before.

"As for the Admiral," Pure Thought added, "he usually comes up with some interesting moves. We shall wait and see what they are, eh? No need to commit oneself to hooroo-kooroo?"

Unhappily, the ex-Counselor's hand moved to drag his glass over, only to find it emptied. "The word is Hara-kiri," he corrected absently. "An ancient method of redemption when all else fails."

Pure Thought signaled a passing bright blue mesomorph waiter to refill their glasses, and they sat there, sipping slowly, waiting, and waiting, when about forty-five minutes later, the Admiral returned with a jaunty step, face plastered with satisfaction. Before he said a single word he had a drink brought over and took a deep gulp, sweat from the stifling heat pouring down his face.

"I have sold," he announced, "every ounce of the damned stuff." He paused to savor the rest of the drink. "At a little over three thousand credits a kilogram."         

Coriss coughed the liquor down the wrong tube, mind racing, and taking out a pocket calculator, he worked the sums, correlating them to current stock values, automatically evaluating the drop in normal prices after the market was flooded -- then the re-evaluations to pay off what backers they had and bills owed.

This meant Callan, Tolthis, and Charles, his wife (he didn't even want to think about that one), Yellow Eyes, who never did anything unless Charles did it first, and then the three-way split for their partnership.

His eyes looked as if they were about to bulge out of their sockets, and he choked. The little screen revealed that after everyone was paid off… they had close to one and a half billion credits.

Coriss finally got it out. "Who? How? Why?"

Sharing a glance with Pure Thought, Broswell leaned back expansively and buffed his scuffed and work-hardened fingernails on his lapels. "Oh, didn't I tell you? Had an ace up my sleeve."

"Broswell!" pleaded Coriss.

"And besides that ace," he continued, "which I won't go into as yet, there was something else."

He leaned forwards then, eyes turning serious. "My services were accepted for a master plan that will be used to re-design no fewer than twenty planets for commerce and recreation. However, Cory, I'll be frank. None of it will work without you. You're the social expert. You're going to have to help me. It was the only way we could sell almost useless Diamantium at near normal stock market costs."

"I don't understand, Broswell." Coriss looked lost. "What are you talking about?"

"It's simple, my friend. My so-called ace opened the door. But it wasn't the one that carried us home."

Coriss swallowed with difficulty, eyes reflecting a challenge he'd never thought to experience again.

"Who are these people, Broswell?"

"The F))v((rr."

The ex-Counselor started back. "But how -- why? They're openly contemptuous of corporeals. Why would they get us out of the hole? What would they gain?" Suddenly, he dreaded the answer.

Broswell smiled encouragingly. "It was almost too simple, really. You're familiar with the problems they've had, opening a wedge into galactic commerce?" At the other's cautious nod, he went on. "Well, there you have it. First, they're on desert planets. Great for them, but lousy for anyone else. Who wants sand blowing in their faces all the time? Especially when -- ich -- some of that stuff might contain a native, or a small part of one?

"Next, we come to talent. Everyone knows they're the closest thing to super-computing intellects, but so what? Who would want one as a tutor? The last I heard one of them taught a course in Theories on Time Stress. Drove everyone nuts."

His drink almost went down the wrong tube. "Do you know Callan's people had themselves believing the F))v((rr instructor did it purposefully, just to see if he could." He shook his head. "No, no, they've got a real problem on their crystalline claws, and they know it. Galactic influence is a big hole in their repertoire. In our culture unless one has a hold on a financial cornerstone with command over an industry, no matter what that industry is, then the influence they hope to gain will never emerge. And what, gentlemen, I ask, is a race without influence? Even the F))v((rr don't wish to be ignored. After all, it's one thing to be standoffish, quite another when you're avoided like a plague."

He cracked his fingers and finished it. "Anyway, with the situation the way it was with them, and with us, it was only natural they'd be in the market for advice. So I got on the horn to their Consulate on Seldis V with a proposal."

Coriss' mouth dropped open. "You spoke to GrimShed himself? Personally?"

"Yeah. 'You buy us out,' I told him, 'and we'll superintend the turning of your culture into a thriving commercial enterprise.'" Broswell slapped at a knee. "You should have heard me. He demanded to know what I was talking about, and I told him what a flock of tourists would put in his rock-hard pockets. Millions, Billions, it was a well without a bottom. I thought he was going to shatter with excitement. He wanted to know if I was pulling his leg."

"What?"

"Seems they've been the butt of nasty practical jokers lately. Medusoids."

Coriss grinned. "What happened?"

"Someone by the name of Co-oorboolt, or other, got the F))v((rr into contract negotiations for his people to act as middle men so they could sell F))v((rrian futures. Their cut was supposed to be ten percent."

"That doesn't sound bad."

"Yeah, it doesn't. Problem was there were no futures, at least not the way we mean futures."

"What happened?"

"The Medusoids were selling crystalline futures, as in, immortal sentient computer-type property."

"Didn't the F((v))rr realize what that meant?"

"In time. But not before everyone and his uncle sent in purchase orders for their very own systems upgrade. Then it was explained what 'upgrade' meant to a consumer in the computer world and to the
F))v((rr as the supplier. They went into a panic and were forced to buy up all the market shares to keep themselves off the property block."

Pure Thought flexed. "Are we talking about the F))v((rr or a collection of jerks?"

"As it is, they're sick to death of being taken for suckers. I sold him on resorts, told him what they were, where they were usually located, what they needed to attract customers. The idea of corporeals visiting inhospitable regions to camp, sunbathe, take a dip in salt pools, and have a bit of safe adventuring with lush hotel accommodations and casinos almost had him drooling."

"But," said Pure Thought wonderingly, "what does all that mean?"

"Simple. We'll help them set up a resort empire, where people go to relax, unwind and let down their hair. Where they'll soak up the peace and silence of controlled worlds, let loose from the hustle and bustle of daily frenetic life, and where better can one do that in the galaxy? By the time we're through with them, they will be spoken of with respect. They will be the galaxy's newest gurus. They will sit in their noise-free paradise, check the bills, ensure quality controls, police the system, and protect tourists like jealous hawks guarding offspring."

He hunkered over the table and gathered his partners close. "Underneath it all, the way I've got this plan outlined, I'm going to make them the most tight-fisted group of non-taxable gamblers and bankers you or anyone else ever heard of." He looked like a Yoolooet kit with a fresh kill. "Did I mention we're getting two percent off the top?" He laughed in his drink. "He hustled down my holo-signature onto the contract so fast, I thought he'd been taking lessons."

Coriss finished his drink with a slow calculation before he asked the only question in his mind. "Off the top, you say?"

"Right off the top. The more money they make from their enterprises, the more money will accumulate in our accounts…the more credits we can draw, or let grow with interest."

"Unbelievable," said Coriss in a soft, humbled tone, smiling with a wistfulness painful to see. "Truly unbelievable."

Pure Thought asked what he would do with his initial share, and the ex-Counselor looked down, flushed with embarrassment, seeing himself down the road some years hence, when his obligations were finished.

"You may think this is amusing, but I've been thinking of finding a place where I can retire." He looked up. "I thought of going to Calysia. And yes, I know you'd hardly call it the place for someone to retire, but I'm not going to turn into a recluse. Being on the sidelines now and then to look in on the world developing around me would be fun as long as I could scurry back safely into my own cubbyhole. I'd be pretty content."

Together they lifted their glasses and toasted each other's health. At dinner the Admiral regaled them with stories of bureaucratic horrors, and Pure Thought told how he was at last able to sneak deep into the enclaves of the wondrous Kia-Haduus to find out they weren't bright when it came to handling paired matings, and what a screaming, funny riot they really were.

Then bringing a happily drunk Coriss back to the warehouse where they had rooms, they slipped him into his pajamas and under the covers.

He was planning to name us in his death benefits to help pay back some of the initial expenditures.

The Admiral straightened up. I thought it was something like that. Guys like this give me a pain. Tenderly he patted the lightly snoring sleeper on the arm. Are you sure he intended suicide? Really?

Indeed.

Quietly they went back to the office and fronted their huge stockpile of refined goods. Broswell touched the cases as they passed by, as if they were his babies.

"He's really a good man, as humans go. I'm afraid the business I've drawn him into will take an awful lot of strength and endurance…not that he's incapable of finishing what he starts. We've seen him do things I simply never credited a once fat administrator capable of, but perhaps I should have considered his health more."

"Would you have been able to do this task yourself? Do you possess the expertise it takes to plan the structural development of entire societies, creating workable accommodations for vast numbers of people?"

"Are we talking resorts or evacuations?"

"Are you trying to be funny?"

"In answer to your question though, I must tell you, no. I do not possess that expertise."        

"Neither do I."

"Then we need him badly, I'm afraid. GrimShed was more than a little impressed that the Great Counselor Coriss was part of our retinue, and to tell the truth, he was far less impressed with me".

"What about that little bit of blackmail you were holding onto?"

"It got me through the door, and I was lucky at that. When Cory said the F))v((rr had contempt for corporeals he wasn't kidding." He flopped down into an old desk chair. "He really is a good man, though."

"Too good."

Broswell looked up. "What are you getting at?"

"It has not set well with me, the way we used him."

"You mean as a shield against Her?"

Pure Thought didn't wish to admit it, but finally his form flexed, his color lightening. "Yes. Against Her."

Broswell squirmed uncomfortably, putting his legs on the scarred top of the desk. "Yeah. Bothered me, too."

"There is a solution."

The Admiral took a moment of his own to stare. "You don't mean --"

"Yes, I do. When Counselor Coriss retires to Calysia. Meanwhile, he must be physically supported. That will be my task. I shall be careful augmenting our psychic link. Without it, with his health and at his age, it would be impossible to complete the task."

"What are you saying?"

"Such a man thrives on nervous energy, Broswell. And when something tells them it is their time to die, they accept their fate and embrace death. They are the most difficult ones to bring back."

Broswell frowned. "I didn't know this."

"It was not necessary you should know."

Broswell worried. "Tell me there are others in this scheme."

"We are not alone in this. Charles has a place earmarked on a secluded coast. Traffic will be kept to a minimum, and those in the area will be watching. Also, if he likes, the fishing is good. Is that all right?"

Grand Admiral Broswell nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. That seems all right."

***

Three years later: Pure Thought fidgeted, his form flexing in and out nervously next to the ceiling, floating over the head of the only being in the galaxy that made him feel uncomfortable, wishing heartily that She had a better disposition. In any event, he quivered in a properly cowed manner.

He called to mind the truism Broswell whispered before abandoning him at the door. "Just like any woman…" It reminded him of another where it was said, "No greater fury than a…"

"So!" She spat suddenly, drawing Herself high. "You have returned!"

His habitué thinned out as he replied as loftily as he could. "I should think that was obvious."

She ignored the levity. She had a lot to say, and she was just getting started. "For several years now, I and mine have been laboring like slaves for this New Galactic Union, and I realized that ultimately I have you to thank for it!"

Her glance swept around the office she was presently occupying, its furnishings, suited for at least half a dozen different body contours and forms, along with the communications equipment, networking lines strung along chamber ceilings, walls, and floors, with computers of every kind installed, and scurrying all around them were harried looking Yoolooets with errands to perform, and all looked as if they had insufficient time to do it in.

Pure Thought clucked. There was no doubt about it. This was turning into a regular bureaucracy. The only strange feature was the appearance of Yoolooets. Nevertheless, when a job needed doing and doing well, officious super proto-felines were up to the task.

"This is what you have done to us!" She shouted. "This enforced servitude! And what have you to say for yourself!"

If he could have shrugged, and it almost seemed his diminished essence tried to, he would have. "Well," he offered, making every effort not to sound amused, "it looks like you've done an admiral job of it --"

"Get out!"

Even he wasn't sure how he managed it, but he slipped like dark ink across the floor, and out through a crack of the portal as if he was air escaping into a vacuum. The outer offices, he observed, were filled with personnel, honor guards, visitors, delegates, couriers, and the usual important intergalactic tourist…and once safely in the corridor, he reformed from the ground up at Broswell's feet.

"Well?" inquired Broswell impatiently. "What did you find out?"

Pure Thought took a few moments. Deep down he had always thought himself the equal of the Administratrix's Daughter. He was far older, but a moment back there, he was shown who was superior to whom.

"It was as we surmised," he reported. "Our business with the Iiilsnndrt was contaminated. When I was in Her presence, I obtained a sense of satisfaction at our humbled station, having arrived nearly penniless with our scant belongings by freighter…as if we were too weary to make the trip on our own, and too poor to purchase more reasonable accommodations."

Broswell smiled grimly. "So, then. Up to this point She has no idea what our real status is?"

Pure Thought flexed. "I would say, for the present, She is so deep in other matters, She'd have to possess a multiple personality to keep track of it all."         

"Busy, huh?"

"Broswell, to put it more plainly, She is an eight-footed cat with every limb caught in someone's teeth."

"Good. Anything else?"

"Well, I did overhear of a screaming need for more mediators, and a running battle planning meetings. Someone must be found to handle situations that keep cropping up."

"What situations?"

"Grave ones, but I couldn't find out more. There have been attempts by extra galactic representatives to contact us, but they don't know who to contact, and oddly enough, that alone calls for a general policy shift."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"Broswell, I want you to look down. The hallowed floor you're walking on could become the base upon which a new galactic government is built."

Yoolooet-traced human eyes met those of the full-energized ones, and the Admiral asked the question that had been worrying him.

"Okay, so She's pissed and with good reason. So why hasn't She called me? Why only you? Why hasn't She put me on the carpet, too?"

"Broswell, would you appreciate it if I told you that in Her present state of mind She simply considers you a nuisance?"

"Yes, I would."

"All right. She does."

Mentally, they smiled at one another.

"Having second thoughts about this? Want to pull out now while you still can?" asked Broswell.

There was a long pause, and the ephemeral essence solidified, forming a Yoolooet outline. "No, I don't. All this…all that we're doing is necessary, and if the Daughter of the Administratrix suffers, then good. Believe me when I say I'm in a position to know."

Eyes of purest opalescence looked deep into his, and a transparent arm curled over the Admiral's shoulder. "Now enough of this self-indulgence. Let's get down to business."

A youngling passing by stopped and turned dumbfounded. That energy pattern was unmistakably Pure Thought's, but the famed Eldest's ephemeral form looked like that of an outsized Yoolooet's. Turning back to his task, the youngling thought to speak of this to his matron then thought better of it. He was a youngling, after all. Who would believe him?

Down a side hallway of the new Calysian Central Government Building, located in the heart of Grrraagh, the two walked arm in arm, their heads nodding together, whispering, scheming and chuckling.

 

Chapter One

 

Three months and two weeks later, after Pure Thought and Broswell got back, local events took a turn for the bizarre, as two young humans, not even younglings by normal standards, were observed loitering near the west gate of Gangrrissh Air Field.

Technicians working nearby were too busy to wonder about them, and besides, their business was ensuring that matters of transporting freight took precedence. The culture was on the move, and those who paused to dawdle were left behind.

This, of course, made crime, as well as those contemplating illegal acts, an unknown factor. Portal security systems hadn't been introduced yet, and besides, the idea of two small children being criminals was too preposterous to imagine.

However, if anyone had been looking, they might have noted the features of these children appeared grim, smacking of piracy. However, they weren't looked at closely, and essentially, the children appeared innocent.

The girl pulled at the sleeve of her brother's sweater and nodded towards their target. A light freighter-class skimmer had been fueled and readied. The boy glanced at her, a question in his older eyes, but stubbornly, she refused to change her mind. With a weary sigh, he bowed to the inevitable.

A moment more, and then, as if both had become clockwork mechanisms, they were off. Marching in step, they headed straight for the field, got to the exact center, then turned sharply left, went straight for several hundred meters, turned left again, then right, then left and straight for thirty yards and stopped.

Then, inexplicably, their marching resumed, and with a more curious pattern. If anyone noticed, it seemed as if the duo were headed purposefully in some direction.

Thirty-two minutes later, or precisely nine and a half demi-units, they reached their goal. The boy leaned over the emergency hatch lock, concentrated as he touched the shielded surface, which seemed to recognize who it was, and subsequently slid the cover up and revealed a recessed number pad.

Grinning slyly, he pressed the proper sequence, lights blipped across its face, and the ship's onboard computer signaled recognition. The portal irised open, the ramp let down, and on-board computer safeties switched relays from automatic to manual.

The security mode, which would have instantly realized the two boarders were strangers and had no business there, was inactivated. Knowing they had nothing to fear they trooped up the gangway and made for the bridge. The boy got into the left-hand seat and the girl in the right. On-board systems were switched on and navigation, atmosphere, and power controls started up.

After several moments the seals on all holds were set, fuel levels checked, injectors opened, streams of cold collapsed hydrogen flushed into mesh chambers, and they were ready for liftoff.

The fusion-sonic engines flashed, pulsed, pulsed again, and then again. Boy and girl shared a worried glance, but at that point the mesh chambers ignited the hydrogen for a reset, and the engines inhaled pure energy and purred.         

The boy changed the command codes. The girl hummed as she reprogrammed transit directives. When both were ready, they punched into the manual control, fingers flashing expertly and gave the primary command module its instructions for going off planet.

[Oh?] asked the automatic pilot's query mode. [What were they going to be doing then?]

Planetary survey, the girl lied, smiling. [Yes,] replied the little ship. [Planetary Survey was part of its logged tasks. Might it also suggest several parameters, if the terrain they were planning on was generally unknown?]

The twins nodded. Yes, she replied. That would be nice. So first, the little ship checked off the roster list uploaded into its information banks.

[Did they have necessary supplies for the journey?]

The girl giggled. Oh yes, she made sure of that.

[In addition, were they familiar with the terrain?]

The boy grunted. No problem there.

[Then, suggested the little ships' computer, if everything else checked out, and considering it was mostly in manual mode, they would have to do the rest themselves... were they set to go?]

The boy touched the sensitive control panels and keyed in the all clear.

The whine of liftoff crept across the field in higher and higher tones. A few shipping attendants looked up from their labors and one or two knew the craft wasn't scheduled to take off until 2100 hours, but they shrugged and figured it wasn't their business. After all, who could keep up with schedules nowadays? It was amazing they could keep track of anything.

Rising at a steady two hundred feet every ten seconds, they made course corrections every several thousand feet and at specific time intervals. This gave Control, or whoever might be scanning from Control, the idea that the craft was headed first in one direction, then in another direction, and changing its I.D. coding each time, gave a further impression that they were several different crafts, going in several different directions for several different reasons.

If it had been anyone else, if the timing had been off the least little fraction of a second, there would have been static screams from Control loud enough to be heard around the planet. However, in this instance, Control was blind.

The eyes of the two met and locked, and they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was it. There was no backing out. Lips thinned firmly, heads nodded in agreement, and with a stamp of cruelty upon little faces (that their parents would never have understood or recognized), they bent to their task and to the devil with the consequences.

***

At first, barely able to peer through half-shut eyes, Charles couldn't make out what the trouble was. The women shouted at each other in ever-increasing decibels, making it difficult to follow.

Marie kept throwing out her questions in different ways; trust the logic of a woman, while trying to catch Jamey's foot. Charles warmed in the glow of a father's pride. Scampering about the ceiling, the lad was feeling his oats.

Why was she trying to get him down again? Oh, yes. Mustn't do that at the breakfast table. Or…was it that one shouldn't do that at the breakfast table while there were weepy guests? He blinked as his brains went into their next functionary level -- awakening to one's surroundings.

An eye looked up in a quick check, and a wry twist came upon the lips. Just look at him, he chortled, wrapped in sunbeams and shadows, smells and whatever else crossed his fancy, and throughout the disturbance below, the child revealed a tenacity of spirit that would not allow interruptions in his own cosmic world.

Keeping an awareness mode on his floating offspring, he examined his bowl of curds and corn in soya milk and made a quick scan of the morning news fax. He tried to understand what it was the women were talking about, but really, his attention wasn't focused in that direction, and perhaps in a few days, when a lot of work was finished at the office…

This was when his shinbone was met with a force that could only have been delivered via a telekinetic wifely-under-the-table-kick.

Thus, his attention refocused from the screen and the Calysian Herald he'd been trying to read, private musings, scampering-ceiling-awed-child, and whatever else that had been skittering across his winsome wiles. He tried looking concerned.

A frown rippled across his lovely wife's features as she contemplated her cousin's predicament, giving a look that said volumes. She loved this relative of hers, but let's face it, as a mother the woman was a mess.

"But Carolyn, dear, where could they have gone? I mean this is Calysia. Know the place, don't you? The planet where the entire native population has this ability to trace thought patterns? You just don't get lost around here."

As an answer the other bowed her head and let go with a wail of such lament that even Jamey in his private world winced. Then a reflecting sunbeam made up for the blast of noise below him, and he gurgled with delight and made for it.

Exasperated with both, Marie told Jamey to get down, advised Carolyn to use self-control, and told her husband to do something.

Apparently, thought Charles, enviously, Jamey was the only one in that household who could get away with it.

"Now surely," she asked, trying to regain her sweetness, "you have some kind of a hint, don't you? I mean, for instance, what have Richard and Carol been up to lately? Haven't you been keeping an eye on them?"

Carolyn Hennsley stopped sniffling long enough to tell all. Things in the Hennsley Domain have not been going well as of late. Just these past months alone have been almost too much to bear. Take yesterday morning for instance…

Charles groaned and fought against the urge to teleport himself, but it was too early for the office to open, and besides that, he was waiting for Yellow Eyes to call. There were problems they'd been hired to resolve concerning dropping water tables in a ranch basin, which set in well with their private practice as commercial trouble-shooters. A business they thought themselves more than qualified to handle, and with those extra credits coming from their investments with the Admiral, it suited them very well indeed.

Still, his duties as a husband and father did have precedence, and resigning to the inevitable, he girded his powers together and listened to Carolyn's longwinded story.

She got up, made breakfast, sent Bill off to work with a kiss (Bill Hennsley: husband, ex-mercenary, Forestry Control-Eco Section, hopelessly in love with trees), and then prepared something nice for the kids and called them to come down. They didn't show. She checked their rooms, but they weren't there. A note told her not to worry. Something needed doing; they'd be back when it was done.

This was unlike them, she declared. She searched the grounds. Spoke to the neighbors. Called friends. And not liking this one bit, was forced to call Control's Family Section (a euphemism for Parent's Unlimited), a department set up to help human parents cope with mutating kids so everybody wouldn't go completely bananas.

But Control told her they had no way of checking on them. Her kids, she was informed shortly, weren't part of the normal batch.

"And what does that mean?" she asked. "Are they implying my kids aren't normal?"

This time Marie was able to cajole her wayward son into her lap. "It means dear, that even though they've been brought up well, your kids, even by Yoolooet standards, are odd, you must admit." She tried being tactful, but what else could she say?

Carolyn nodded miserably. "It wasn't my fault!"

Charles wondered if she might be hinting at something here. Who else could have been responsible?

"Every time there's company," she cried, "they end up staring at our guests as if -- as if --" She clutched at a crumpled handkerchief. "As if they could see when they were going to die!" She straightened suddenly, a look unlike Carolyn glinting in her eyes. "I tell you it's made my life a living hell!" Then she buried her face back into the hankie and honked with such force a teacup jumped.

Charles saw what the problem was all right. He looked at his wife and saw she was expecting something of him. However, he was wide-awake now and wanted no part of this.

Jamey took that moment to slip out of her arms and float around the kitchen snatching at ghostly motes.

Sighing, Charles wondered what would have happened in those bygone days had he the power to look into the future and see where he was now…being henpecked. Would he have sat so still then and allow himself to be so easily snared?

Jamey leaned over upside down and gurgled happily into his face. Yes, he thought bemusedly, grabbing a hold and pulling down gently, he probably would have.

"You are talking, I take it, about the two horrors? Richard and Carol? The evil-eyed twins? The two cutest little cherubs to put a thrill of alarm down the spines of any intelligent being who happen to cross their paths? What kind of mischief are they into now?"

If he hadn't been so tired from a full three days of work with little sleep, he might have made some pretence at diplomacy, but as it was, he hadn't. So the female parent of said monsters burst into tears, and Jamey pulled out of his father's arms and sailed as fast as he could to safety, being the ceiling.         

Marie took Carolyn into her arms, and with cold eyes promised her spouse that he would pay for his callous behavior.

***

Meanwhile, said horrors were making mach five over Butted Crags, the lowermost point in the White Mountain region, when they both knew they were being scanned. They didn't feel it, the instruments wouldn't show it, but they'd been aware that it was going to happen. It wouldn't affect what they had to do. OverComp was a machine intelligence that had yet to develop the secondary modes giving one a natural sense of curiosity.

If the matter was exterior to itself, it noted it for memory storage. For OverComp, children running around in stolen crafts would not necessarily interest primary attention. Now if it had been an M8…that would have been a different story.

M8 units were secondary functioned. This gave them programmed curiosity modes that directed them to poke their noses where they didn't belong. They knew that, too.         

Fifteen units standard or minutes solar and they were right where they intended to be, the mountain ridge known as The Notch. Using paratorps and deflector screens on maximum, they floated the craft through the dip in the mountainous range, passed the semi-crater where a meteor once struck, and slipped into the heart of a shallow depression where they settled with a slight bump in the middle of a purple-grassed glade.

They had to hurry now. The hatch was opened, and they got to work. It wasn't long before a repugnant odor wafted its way over the rise. The girl continued working, cooking in the galley, and the boy set out a large tub filled with a scummy substance that slopped over the rim, and the odor grew stronger.

At that critical moment, almost on cue, a beast came shambling down, making a beeline from over the crest.

It was a good seven feet tall at the shoulder, about three and a half tons…a baby of its kind, possessing six legs, and four large tentacles growing from the sides of its small tusks.

A child of this type, of course, would grow only four trunk tentacles, but later, with the proper nutrition and care from a responsible parent, two more were sure to follow, and those would be slimmer and dexterous.

Scientific circles advanced the notion that Galombs were freaks. They had the aptitude for potential intelligence, yet none of the mental growth. It was a shame such docile creatures were so dumb.

The Yoolooets, on the other hand, snorted in derision. As far as they were concerned Galombs were good for nothing except roaming, eating, and keeping people up at night with their incessant bellowing. If it hadn't been for the All Mother's curious disdain for certain types of meat…

However, this one was only a baby, and an orphan, really. Without care it would have died. Then, from this high up, its wailing cries couldn't be heard by anyone, unless, of course, a couple of bright kids knew of its plight, which put a different light on everything.

As it got closer the ambrosial aroma of rancid limburger, the odoriferous essence of its parent's milk, the milk it had been denied for days, started it whining and his speed increased.

The mother had taken a fatal slide off a cliff face, and the kids knew someone had to take matters in hand. Although adults were certainly attentive about some matters, extraordinary measures were called for and there simply wasn't time to waste.

Of course, it was true they could have sought out the help of a few Yoolooets they knew, or somebody at Central Control, but Yoolooets in general, and government bureaucrats in particular, tended to be nervous around them. So, not wishing to impose themselves, they shrugged their shoulders, accepted what they considered were their obligations, and deciding there was no other way, they took the matter in hand.

The Galomb got right up to the side of the ship, its trunk tentacles reaching out tentatively, feeling over it, attracted to its large size, and hoping. It sniffed heavily at the metal.

"Bog-eep! Bog-eep?"

Richard muttered about the intelligence levels of certain mammals and shouted. "Hey! Over here! Come on…come around here!"

It was a difficult time. Once the baby was aimed properly, it sucked at the stuff in a near frenzy. The smell was awful and the feeding was an absolute mess of splattering, sticky gobs flying in every direction.

When its hunger was fully sated, its hind, mid and forelegs collapsed accordion-style so it could sit upright, and then the creature's shoulders stiffened, and with head up and pointing to the sky, it gave vent to a wail of high-pitched multiple honks.

The kids jerked around in shock. They had never heard such a noise, and it was deafening.

"Richard?"

The boy looked at her wearily, exhausted from the back and forth trips he'd made with the feeding tub, his fingers combing the curd goo out of his hair, all too aware he was covered in the quick drying stuff.

"What is it?"

She, too, wiped the goo off her face. "I don't think this is working the way I thought it would."

"What do you mean? Of course it's working. We knew it would when we started. That's why we're --"

"That's not what I mean," she interrupted. "Granted, we saved him. What I'm talking about is this indexing business."

"Oh," he said slowly, and licked his lips, mentally dealing with the new concept, testing the idea, and his eyes widened. It was something he hadn't focused on. "Yeah, indexing. Didn't think of that."

"Neither of us thought of it," she said soberly, feminine logic kicking into overtime. "And because we hadn't…" She glanced over to the noise blaster, who didn't let up on the heavenly appeals. "We could be in real trouble."

"Well," he wondered neutrally, eyeing his elder twin by two minutes, "what do we do now?"

She gestured to the borrowed craft behind them. "We can't bring it aboard. I mean, just look at him." She hated to admit it, but it had to be said. "I had no idea he was so -- so big!"

If the truth was known, they had a few problems when it came to judging sizes.

Irritably, fingernails scraping at hardened curd around an earlobe, he made a pronouncement. "It doesn't matter. You know we can't leave it. We saw what would happen at this stage if it were abandoned. Although, I have to admit myself, beyond that all I get is a hazy picture…"

Then he shook his head, features firming into resolve. No, no matter what happened, they shared the commitment to their unbreachable edict. It forbade wavering.

"We have," he reminded her, "our duty!"

She, on the other hand, was less impressed by that solemn thing they'd sworn to be as infants. Becoming a Guardian of the Universe had had a special appeal then, but now?

She looked at their charge with some suspicion. Whatever made them think they could get away with it?

A long moment passed, but then she shook her head. It was no good. She couldn't figure the odds. All the parameters were there for them to scan, but she was too young to know what to make of them, and then again, there was the dreaded impression that if they didn't do what was right, everyone would suffer.

"There's got to be an answer somewhere," she said, looking askance at her brother, who was deliberately ignoring her. "There's got to be!"

Richard groaned and staggered upwards, clutching at the small of his back. "Well, if there is you'll let me know, won't you? Meanwhile, we had better get things ready. It tends to get cold up this high…" He paused, scowling. "And I suppose it would be a good idea to stay with it out here, too!"

"Him, not 'it'."

"Whatever."

It was while they were pitching the tent that the Galomb stopped sniffling. He wasn't alone after all. He had been fed, hadn't he? Moreover, whatever it was, it was quite tasty.

The baby behemoth got up in a rolling motion and lumbered after his adopted parents. He poked into everything of interest, which was everything, and inquired about this and that. The tent dome barely fit as he settled in for the night between his two rescuers.

***

Charles had reached the point, as Jamey had, where he needed to put hands over ears. This was the second day of a visit from Carolyn and her wailing, her sniffling, and her complaints.

Her husband, she accused blisteringly, naming the blameless Bill, didn't think anything was wrong. The dolt. He had tried to make her see reason. He said the children knew whatever was coming around the corner, so why worry?

"Why worry?" she cried afresh. "They are our children and they are missing!"

Marie sighed with helplessness. Carolyn had still not gotten used to the idea her offspring were always ready for disaster. However, because of their unusual gifts, the neighbors tended to avoid them. It always made Carolyn wretched, but Bill didn't care: he had his trees.

Nevertheless, that didn't mean Marie wasn't thankful for not being in Carolyn's shoes. Selfish enough, true, but nonetheless, it was facing facts. If those kids were hers, she'd see a psychoanalyst herself.

So, continued Carolyn, her mind running a pattern the most introverted psychotic would have found difficult to outpace, since she couldn't rouse her husband to be alarmed, wasn't it obvious who she must go to? So why couldn't her nearest and dearest help? What were they waiting for…to hear from the kidnappers? Why wouldn't they do something?

Charles signaled for attention. "Carolyn, I promise you we'll find the kids. They couldn't have been taken off-planet without raising alarms; so reasonably, they must still be here…somewhere."

He forced a smile. "It's only a matter of time, you know. But it really would help if you went home and waited for word, and no more tears. Carolyn, please. It won't help us find them."

The ensuing flood ceased. Then something happened he wasn't sure he could explain. Her eyes lit up, a smile of gratitude emerged, and Carolyn, having achieved what she came for, an impossible guarantee, got up, kissed her cousin on the cheek, patted a suddenly squirming Jamey on the head, hugged Charles, and left in triumph.

He couldn't believe it. The moment he took command, he'd been taken to the cleaners. His look asked for an explanation from his wife, but she wasn't talking. Instead, she instructed Jamey to control his flights of fancy.

She scolded gently. It was not the behavior of a well-bred child. Now, did he understand Mommy? She gave him a kiss on top of his head, and he sat in her lap.

"Well then," she asked her other child, "and when are you going to bring them back to her?"         

He saw she was serious. "You know it just won't do. Everyone thinks I'm superman, and it isn't so." He leaned his elbows on the breakfast table and gazed deep into her calming eyes.

"You and the others imagine that because of the skills I have, I can do anything. You tend to laugh when I start explaining how difficult problems really are. You get the idea I'm joking when I say 'this can't be done.' Well, let me tell you. This-can't-be done."

She cleaned soya-malt off Jamey's face. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

He nodded. "Yes. Those kids out there, wherever they are, are natural mutants. The Yoolooets may have opened the door, but don't think for a second that wild talent was given them." He laughed sourly. "Do you know even the Yoolooets are frightened of those kids? What they have now…not what they might develop, is enough for a redlined dye marker to go up in the Yoolooet psyche every time they're in the neighborhood. And I'm talking several hundred meters!"

"Okay," said Marie softly, "but I'm getting the impression there's something else, isn't there?"

"Yeah. I lied. Nobody on this planet is going to trace them if they don't want to be found. In some remarkable way, if they want to, they can become invisible."

"What?"

He snorted. "You heard me. I said invisible."

She blinked. "You mean, if they were right here and wanted to be, er…unseen, they could just…disappear?"

"You got it. Before Control figured out what they could do they had people given the job of following them going around in circles talking to themselves."

"Where's your proof?" she challenged, her logic demanding something other than a suspicion.

"There are witnesses."

"Witnesses?"

"Uh-huh. Hundreds. Same story every time. They're seen coming, they're seen going, but when you look for them, they're gone."

"What about telepathy?"

"That's something else. They haven't yet developed telepathic skills, but it has been suggested by their actions that they are aware when they're scanned."

"Well, then?"

"It's not that simple. And it's not easily dealt with."

"Why not?"

He grimaced. "Because in a world of telepaths, non-telepaths do not stand out. They must be located. It takes a high talent to do that. However, for these kids, it's different. They know it, can either avoid it, or in some fashion shield themselves from it…" He shrugged.

"They can't be found?"

"When one's attention wanders from something then casts back to find it's not there, what do you think? Did you move it? Did someone else move it? Did it move itself? You look around, you don't find it, you wonder about it, and finally, you convince yourself that you'll find the object in question later and go your way."

"So either you're dealing with an extraordinary talent, or it's a lack of attention?"

"You got it, kid. There's no better way of describing it."

Worriedly, she looked at Jamey. What if he disappeared? How would she locate him?

"What it really comes down to," he went on, fingering a mug of hot chaffee, "is that our Control Facilities doesn't know what to do. That's what they meant, you see, about they're not being part of the normal batch. This isn't a case of running around trying to catch up to aspiring levitants. These kids are dangerous. They swim in the stuff of time and space, and for them, it's as natural as breathing."

"I recall someone like that. Only he was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right friends."

It was a telling point, and he felt it deeply. It wasn't fair. She wasn't fair. This was what happened, he grouched, when you involved yourself with other people. Your secrets were ultimately revealed, and your defenses collapsed on top of you.

As if to emphasize that point, Jamey flung a piece of soft breakfast in his face. He turned to the little tyke and made a horrible face! But Jamey only laughed. He knew it was Daddy!

With a heavy sigh, he reformed his features, having lost this war on all fronts. "You know, this is not going to be easy."

But whatever obstacles he faced tracking down the duo, there was still that look in her eyes, and the com unit waited.

***

        

The children woke at the same instant, each with a tentacle firmly entrenched around them. The Galomb took no chances this time. In addition, its huge eyes were on them, sleepily closing, opening, closing, limpid, warm, trusting, puppy-dogs. Absolutely sickening.

"Richard," she warned.

"I know," he told her grimly, "you don't have to tell me."         

But because she was a female, she did so anyway. "Richard, the whole planet is in an uproar looking for us, and right now, we've got a Galomb-sized problem on our hands."

He was moved to tell her what he thought of the entire matter, but she cut him off as usual.

"I know what you're going to say. I know I was the one who talked you into this. I was the softhearted one. I was the one who re-routed the supplies we'd need to the ship using the transporter code I stole -- I know all that!"

"Great," he muttered, tapping on the living restraint about his waist, "she knows all that."

"But Richard," she wailed, "I'm getting scared!"

Galomb head and Galomb eyes rose with concern. As for Richard, as suddenly as he'd felt good about her taking the blame for getting them into this fix, he felt lousy about it, too.

"I've just realized," she groaned, "what we've done!"

His ear cocked at the plural form, but he knew better than to interrupt. She wasn't through by a long shot. This was one of her "states of confession" moods, and he was the audience.         

"This," she said, grabbing hold of the fleshy appendage clutching at her lovingly, "is a baby Galomb. Have you any idea how big these creatures get?"         

He was curious. "No. How big do they get?"

Her fingers weren't big enough to get a good hold of the thing, so she used both hands to enwrap it, trying to budge it, but it wouldn't be budged.

"Richard, this one is just two years old!" She sniffled, baby blues filling with tears.

He hated it when his sister got like that. Women! They were all the same. They used the same tactics that got them into trouble to get them out of trouble. Furiously, he wondered if there were people somewhere in the universe who might have learned this truism without having been burned by it first.

Sniffling turned to snorts. Wails crept up the scale stretching for a high C, and all he wanted was to sleep. Two days of steadily feeding the baby Galomb had taken all his strength. But it was no good. He couldn't ignore her. His eardrums felt as if they were vibrating.

"All right, all right!" he yelled. "I've had enough. I surrender."

The bemoaning stopped. A small smile peeked out of fingers-over-face.

"Just let me think this through a moment. I'm sure there's an easy solution. We just haven't thought of one yet."

It took him an hour to find it in the ship's computer library, but he was right. Simple. If one took into account of the laws embodied in land-animal management, they could legally slip out of this one.

First they'd call Control and get the search stopped. Then they'd take the Galomb home with them. That would cement their defensive posture and their standing. If they claimed to uphold the rule of wildlife management no one would dare say anything against them. Somewhat worriedly though, he recalled the material and none of it was really that satisfactory.

In the event an indexing with a wild animal takes place, with the death of a parent of the species, or by adoption, the creature involved will be made part of the household and cared for regarding the standards of its health, physically and emotionally.

At best, it maintained an overall quality of the management facilities. At worst, it was a frightening edict. The Rule of Family and Clan taken one step further and made to stick.

For instance, tourists upon requesting jaunts into the wilderness were given long and stimulating lectures about the dangers of their legal standing were they to become the owners of any "pets."

The waivers they were forced to sign were daunting enough, but when told that if they were unfortunate enough to be indexed to a creature of the wilds, a transferal of their citizenship from their home world would follow immediately. This transferal affected the holdings in partnerships, stocks and personal property by both Calysian and Galactic Law.

Technically speaking, they would have become prisoners of their indexed animals, prisoners of the planet, and therefore, prisoners of their own incredible stupidity. Oh, yes, he remembered one other issue.

Indexed creatures are not allowed to leave the planet. Anyone attempting to remove an indexed animal will be punished by a fine and imprisonment.

The fine was a transfer of all property to the government, and since there were no prisons, imprisonment meant civil servant status for life.

Even Richard shuddered. Such a disaster had happened to one or two people of late, and when they sought recourse in the courts, they found no sympathy. An investigation revealed they'd ignored good advice. Result? Well, at first, they were miserable, true, but with the help of trained psychotherapists, they learned to adapt.

Well, they didn't have to worry about that. Neither of them wanted to leave Calysia, but he wondered if they'd be reprimanded?

He took a quick peek into the future and was relieved. Good old Dad. They'd be okay. But wait…wasn't he forgetting someone? He bit his lower lip. What about Mom? This time his peek into the future was like a stab of lightning. What he saw made him cringe.

He clawed his way out of the covers, and over the warm, comfortable tentacle, past the wondering big brown eyes that followed his every move, silly creature, and emerged from the tent making for the ship and the com unit.

There were matters that needed his attention.

***

Bill Hennsley opened the door, took two steps into his home, and bumped his head against a furry tree trunk. He rubbed his nose, looking up from the eco-reports he'd been skimming, and found himself face to face with a monster.         

No, he corrected himself academically. It wasn't a monster. It was worse. It looked like a Galomb. He backed into the door for a better view. Yes, it was a Galomb. Tusks, trunk-like tentacles, six log-type legs, a mass of fur that moved in and out, in and out, in and out, and the warmest, friendliest looking eyes. He could swim in eyes like those.         

Alarmingly, trunk-like tentacles whipped out, pulled him close, tusks brushed him from waist to neck, and the creature sniffed the cool, clean smell of the forsts with adoration. A heavy sigh washed over Bill Hennsley's face, and the huge eyes closed in ecstasy. More family.

No! He shook his head trying to pull away in time. It couldn't happen. It couldn't.

"Bog-eep!"

Too late.

The kitchen door banged open and the kids bowled into view, each with a huge sandwich.

"Hi, Dad!"

"Uh, hello, kids. Have a nice time?"

"Uh-huh…"

Munch, munch, munch.

He looked from one to the other and wasn't sure what he was witnessing. It looked and felt like a conspiracy. But could he prove it? What was worse, did they know what he was thinking? If they knew, would their response be calculated to blunt what it was, depending on what he'd do or say? He rubbed at a temple and tried to think.

"Uh, kids, do you know where your mother is? I tried calling earlier, and the message line hadn't been cleared."

He looked into two blank cherubic faces and wondered why he'd come home at all. Lately, he found it more difficult to leave his duties at the Ranger Station. It was pleasant in the region of the forsts, so calm, everything he experienced there was the opposite of everything he experienced here.

With an effort, he concentrated on the duties of parenthood. "You know, of course, that she's been having a real crisis about our neighbors refusing to come over." He gestured helplessly to the heaving mountain of fur he was currently wrapped in. "But kids, really, this will drive her up the wall. I mean," he softened the message, "where would we put it?"

The kids smiled at each other -- they were "seeing" again. "Don't worry, Dad. It'll be great, you'll see," Carol said.

"Yeah," added Richard, "people are going to visit all the time now. Mom will get lots of attention, and after a while, she'll even like it. It'll be a part of the family."

"Yes!" insisted Carol. "Our Galomb will be a part of this family for a long, long time. And think of it, Dad. With the proper upbringing and care, it won't be long, and he'll be able to adapt!"

Brother and father looked at her and weighed that remark. Bill didn't know what his daughter meant, and Richard wondered what it was his sister had seen that he hadn't.

Bill shuddered. The trunk appendages released him and moved around, feeling things, getting used to them. It was then the head of the household got a real whiff of the great outdoors and held his breath.

Pointing towards the back, the kids got the message and maneuvered the baby behemoth. Pushing, pulling and pointing, then giving a shove towards the dining room, they wrestled mightily to sway it into the kitchen and out into the garden. It was amazing nothing broke.

Bill eyed the tea set Carolyn's mother had given them as a gift on their marriage, and remembered the afternoon they received it, while the old bat whispered furiously into her daughter's ear that there was still time to change her mind.

He never let either know that as a professional soldier one of the skills he'd been taught was reading lips.

Turning casually to look around he accidentally brushed against the two-hundred-year-old setting and sent it crashing to the floor. Oh, well, what are you going to do? New pets.

With a look of satisfaction, he went for the trash bucket and swept everything up. Now what else did he have to do? He turned into the study, slipped into his favorite chair, propped up his feet, and switched on the com-set.

Picking up a tactile keyboard, he accessed the screen and queried it for a section on law. It wasn't long before he got to the part of indexing, and read through it twice. This was rough weather for a poor sailor.

Refusing to slide into a funk, there were things that had to be done before Carolyn got back. He looked up. Where was she? He accessed post, but there were no messages.

He got up and went outside where the kids were having a ball scrubbing down a delighted baby Galomb. He asked if they knew. They looked at each other solemnly. Parents Unlimited might know.

He found out that by the time they arrived in van carrying their new acquisition, the people who brought them took one look at Carolyn staring at the Galomb and took her away for a while.

He swallowed. Poor kid. Well, she was due for a rest anyway. He went back inside and returned to the screen. There were a few particulars he had to look into.         

What he got opened his eyes. His wife getting carted off was one thing, but this…he licked his lips. Busy little beavers!

His insurance firm of Yoolooet, Grraagh, and Howell had already been contacted. They were taking care of the transport bill, which was nice. Moreover, due to the nature of the incident, which involved the rescue of a baby Galomb in distress, no criminal charges were pending. Still, the bill was a whopper.

1) Unauthorized use of a transport craft.

2) Unauthorized ordering of food supplies.         

3) Unauthorized use of transporter codes.         

4) Unauthorized use of emergency frequencies.

5) Charges for refuel, refit, cleaning, and mech check.

Upon further investigation, civil charges and fines were voided.

Relief washed over him. But what was that other thing? He pored over the message until he stopped at baby Galomb. He blinked. What baby Galomb? He keyed for information concerning baby Galomb(s) in general.

First, he got a rundown. Interesting. Then what their family unit consisted of…more complicated than you would have imagined, he thought dourly. Then there was a breakdown on what their living conditions were likely to be, what their growth patterns were, and what they ate, considering environmental and local conditions.

It was close to evening before he finished reading about Galomb(s) in general and their environs. It was a short, masterful work by a visiting scientist employed by the Riley Foundation, the definitive work on the subject.

Now he knew more than he wanted to know about baby Galomb(s). He couldn't hear anything from the garden, but at that moment, he wasn't in the mood to look in on his loving children. They'd done him good, they had. In some ways, he was a proud dad, but in others, they were a disaster.

 

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Author Bio

Geoff Geauterre is a retired civil servant with a degree in History and special interests in Journalism and Research. He has lived in Florida, New York, Chicago, Boston, Maine, Montreal, Northern Quebec, Calgary, Northwest Territories, and parts of Alaska. He's said he gained his sense of humor from the back of a mule.

Experienced in Medicine, Administration, Security, Publications and News Services as a reporter and commentator, with over four years in the U.S. Navy, he later applied that background when attending the University.

Geoff has traveled to England, France, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and the Mediterranean Islands. He likes studying Philosophy, Comparative Myths, Legends and Religions. He is also reasonably certain of having gained prior experience in writing in another life. He only hoped it wasn't one that led him to the guillotine!

TTB Titles: A Nightful of Mages - sf/f novel
A Play of Shadows - suspense

Eyes of Light SF/F series
Behold the Eyes of Light - Book I
Far Come the Eyes of Light - Book II
Within the Eyes of Light - Book III
Beyond the Eyes of Light - Book IV

The Fourth Guardian - sf/f novel

The Soapmaster's Apprentice - sf/f novel

Author web site.

 

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Within the Eyes of Light Copyright 2005. Geoff Geauterre. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

 

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