Locks & Gates Excerpt

L & G PB front NEW


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ISBN: 978-1466305441

The fourth book of this series, Locks & Gates, follows the adventures of the Selena Fleet deeper into the Orion Spur—and deeper into our minds. As in each volume, transformations and challenges await… The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga is an allegory of man’s inner worlds. This series spans the development of awakening—from a simple chance encounter to the intentional exploration of the cosmos, from our little bit of real estate in the solar system to the center of the galaxy. A parable of a small nucleus of individuals who band together and set out on the journey of a lifetime.

Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:

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Excerpt from Chapter Two from Locks & Gates  © J.L.Lawson 2011

As the Tahoe wrinkled quietly through the interstellar medium heading for Kis and Leva’s home world, life ship-board was still the familiar pattern of routine and on-going projects. From the labs to the Command departments, the esprit d’ corps had not been higher and walking the Promenade had never been more pleasant…and interesting. Especially on one morning as Captain Alfred Livingson walked from Glenn’s up to the Bridge elevator—turning heads the whole stroll.

“Captain, you don’t have any hair!” Trisi exclaimed as Alfred came onto the Bridge.

“I don’t!?” and he ran his hand across his vacant scalp and chin. With a wink he replied, “No, I don’t.” He confided, “I get to play Fiers in the next Tahoe Thespian’s production of the Cherry Orchard. What do you think of my new look?”

Trisi wasn’t known for her tact, and the rest of the Bridge crew couldn’t help but look to her as she attempted to respond, “You look like Jean Luc Picard of the Enterprise series I’ve been watching with Norah and Becka!” There was a simultaneous sigh in the room.

He grinned, and now anybody could see just how high into his temples his grin really reached. “Flattery will get you just so far, my dear.” he replied evenly, but with another wink to the woman that his mother and his wife had taken under their wings. “I am a fairly gifted actor, you know.”

She was certain it was a conversation between just him and herself. She replied, “I’ve looked through Vera’s ‘scrapbooks’…I know you are!”

He cleared his throat, “Report!” and the Bridge returned to its proper functioning once more.

Venra, at Operations next to Trisi at the Comm, announced, “Ship’s systems are handling the additional numbers of crew and passengers quite well. Anya reports that eco-san three just needed balancing and amendments harvested after the Tournament and all is back to normal. Commander Valeran and his team have upgraded or replaced eighty percent of the ship’s power supplies to handle the increased loads on the cafe-taverns replicators and in the living quarters. The ship’s computer system was only down for thirty seconds last night as Becka and I performed the back-ups and installed the upgraded voice recognition software—no more misunderstandings in the elevators. Last, but not least, Holosuite Two has been loaded with all the new ‘destinations’ requested by the school.”

Anda, at the Science station, reported that “…the telemetry recovered from the mapping probe yesterday indicated that once we pass beyond the Swirmli system, we will have to choose between going directly to Atria, a journey of just over a hundred light years—almost two months at maximum wrinkle—or investigating several G-type star systems which look promising for more than a single terrestrial planet per system. But that will add an addition sixty light years to our voyage to the last of the Alliance partners in this region of space.”

Litana, at Navigation, followed with, “And Captain, once we reach Atria—whether we take the scenic route or not—we will be four hundred light years on the direct path back to the Ahlnouresse. However as the Masters and the Captain have made promises and commitments to revisit many of the folks we have met along our journey…if we turned back from Atria we would be just over a year, at maximum wrinkle, from Sol and Silessa—the Ahlnouresse.”

Danielle and Uma were at the Steward’s station just to make their report, then they were scheduled to assist at the school for a ‘field trip.’ “Captain, when we arrive in the Atria system, the Tahoe will have been on her voyage for four years to the day. We can announce, without any trepidation or reservations, that the ship’s company is healthier, stronger, has a higher morale and is more efficient than ever we have been. It will of course be up to yourself when and how the return trip will be accomplished, but we are certain that the Tahoe’s company is ready for whatever awaits us over the next eight years, no matter how far afield we voyage.”

Chief Erikson, Jimmy, cleared his throat, “From a security standpoint, and knowing what we do so far of our two new interstellar ‘playmates’—the Naud and Naradin—may I suggest, Captain, that we attempt a bit of house-cleaning as we continue deeper into their historical playgrounds? Even with just our own three ships—and our phantom fleets of course—we should be a match for whatever they throw at us. I don’t mean to sound too over-confident on this matter, but as the Masters have made very clear over the last year: we are obliged to do whatever we cando.”

Ivy nodded and turned to Alfie, who was just entering to offer the Engineering report in person. “Captain, the wrinkle enhancements you requested have been made. We are ready for trial runs which we can begin when we depart Malekii the day after tomorrow. Also the shields have been upgraded on each of our vessels. If you decide to take the water route to visit the folks of Sigrid, or fly through the corona of a star instead of around it—the Tahoe will do your bidding. Of course getting out of a planet or star’s gravity well—that’s another matter. All the elevators and way-stations have been serviced and all improvements required have been tended to by our teams under Anda’s direction. Selena is looking good these days, as is Earth by the way.

Finally, and without making too much of it, Paul—Dr. MacLaren, that is to say—has finished directing our crews in the re-skinning of both the Captain’s yacht, Voyager, and the Masters’ yacht, Anna. They are now as nearly indestructible as the Tahoe herself. With the Masters’ assistance at the outset in dealing with the molten nicobalt-rhenitanium, the entire process went beautifully. Oh, and one more item Cosmin wished for me to mention: all air exchangers, temperature regulators, water filtration equipment, lighting, weight surrogates and even doors on the Tahoe have now been set-up on automated maintenance wherever possible—which was pretty much all of it.”

Vivian, one of Vera and Olivia’s apprentices—now an intern—sat at the Medical station and offered a word, “Our nutrition has been enhanced once again by the garden staff. They have successfully incorporated several of the native plants from many of the Alliance partners’ home worlds into both our hydroponic ‘fields’ and in our Arboretum gardens. As a result the health of the crew ship-wide is improved. After the last round of check-ups, we found that exercise levels have stabilized properly for each of our company and our children are developing better than ‘Earth-normal’ in both mind and body. On that note, our two Rutalenas, as Aniva likes to call them, appear to have received the best of both peoples in their genetic make-ups. It’s early to be definitive, but: their mental acuity should be wholly Rutatoi, as is their hearing and sight, their musculature appears to be primarily human, therefore very strong, as are much of their internal systems. Sheila and Naota’s girls are not just the first of their kind, but are a shining example that our two peoples have a beautiful future ahead of us.”

Santios arrived to offer a word about the kitchens and cafe-taverns. He looked around the Bridge at all the officers and the Captain. “I think this is the third time I’ve ever been on the Bridge!” he opened, smiling. “Henri wished the Captain to know that as of yesterday morning, the cafes of Tahoe served their two hundred and fifty thousandth meal—a croissant sandwich and coffee to Master Jonibob, actually. Our engineering brethren have upgraded our replicators and our Ops sisters have upgraded their programs so that we are now able to serve virtually any menu a person could ask for—and that includes some of the really exotic stuff the Malekiai tend to prefer. Should we entertain guests from new planets and systems, we can get up to speed on their food choices in less than four hours. And regarding the number of meals served, we have expanded the seating capacity of all three locations. Those days when the Tahoe is at space dock, or setting up for crew leaves, or on tournament days, or…well the list goes on, at those times we’ve been swamped and desperate for additional tables. If our new seating turns out to be insufficient, we will be asking the Captain to authorize the creation of a fourth cafe-tavern—preferably at one end of the main observation deck where the lounge is currently situated. That’s it.”

Alfred was whelmed at the thoroughness of his staff’s reports. Just because he was already aware of a good bit of what had been said, didn’t diminish their good words for their status and forecasts. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Officers, Doctors and Commanders: When we arrive at Malekii late tomorrow, we will be keeping two very enthusiastic new crew mates. Kis, who is assisting in the Materials and Bio labs, and Leva, who has won the hearts and admiration of our chief gardener and her crew. Our three additions from Tursi, Rivi, his lovely bride Anoran and his uncle, Rastu, have made themselves indispensably a part of our company in their brief time with us. As GingerKat anticipated from the moment we first set foot aboard this ship, we would always be a growing company of individuals—either through birth or enlistment. That has been proven many times over in just these first several years of our voyage.

On a related note, I feel it is incumbent upon me to mention that with the assistance of our young Anda over there…” Anda nearly blushed the color of his flaming hair. “…Even the entire Tahoe, from stem to stern, can now safely return to anywhere we have collected reference potentials…essentially everywhere we have been. That fact shouldn’t be emphasized over much, but it lends itself to: Security strategies, Navigation projections and forecasts, even trade deals involving new resources, merchandises and technologies that would benefit any of the peoples, including those of our own home worlds, with whom we have been in contact thus far. I have asked the First Officer to begin a program along just those lines. I mention all of this because it is all due to Anda’s determination and cleverness in successfully mending our most basic technological secret. Anda, your promotion ceremony is therefore scheduled for this afternoon. You are now one of four Chief Science Officers and a fully vested Bridge Officer—which by the way means that Ivy can schedule you for any shift at all now…sorry!” There was applause around the Bridge on the heels of that announcement and more than a few chuckles at the reality of his new responsibilities and schedule.

Alfred entered the promotion into his log to make it official, and Rintia arrived with his Bridge uniform. “…You can use the ready room to change, Chief!” she whispered as she handed it to him. Anda was beside himself with satisfaction. The realignment of every tangle-tosser ever made had been a daunting and, at the time, seemingly unrewarding task. But as Chief Alfie had just reported: that job had at last been completed. When he emerged from the Captain’s Ready Room, the Bridge staff stood in respect. He took a deep breath and forced his shoulders back as he returned to the Science station and his tasks. Venra glided over to him and whispered, “We are all so very proud of you! Especially the few of us from Melnith; Tryda would be very pleased, we are sure, that you have made good his promise of our good assistance in this ship’s stated aims.”

He grinned up to her and replied, “That I have your good thoughts and respect is more than I could have hoped…and all that I actually need.”

She understood him perfectly. The rest of the Bridge staff ignored their extended kiss. Well, almost ignored it—Once they came up for air, they were greeted with applause and Alfred gave them permission to leave the Bridge. Which they did. The promotion ceremony later was also made into a wedding. Anda and Vensa were carried by all their friends from one end of the promenade, up the adjoining corridors and back again as many times as necessary for the couple to decide where to make their new quarters. Once they determined the location, the whole ship’s company, it seemed, went to each of their former quarters and brought all their things to the new suite. Then Jacqueline and Georges catered the wedding feast. It was the least the Tahoe could do for their Melnithor partners. If they had been on their home planet, the wedding caravan travels would have been performed by their clans and over the length of their territories. At least aboard the Tahoe they didn’t have to walk too far—nor erect a house or till any fields. Anda and Venra were very gratified that their new family cared enough for them to have done as much as they did. Venra announced their heartfelt appreciation in that regard. Miruna exclaimed, remembering the explanation of the euphemisms employed in Melnithorian marriage customs, “We just wanted you to be sure you knew you have a ‘barn’ for your ‘crops’!” It was Venra’s turn to blush.

At the next Tlachtli Tournament it was announced that the championship team would now be each individually granted a three day pass to any destination of their choosing, in addition to the choice of assignments historically awarded. There was one proviso: children would have to be accompanied by their parents—that went over very well indeed.

The departing Malekiai bid their friends aboard the Tahoe farewell and the Captain commanded that the ship be set for her course on to Swirmli. A thirty light year trip which now, at their new maximum wrinkle of eight hundred C, would take just over thirteen days rather than well over fifteen days—saving better than two days’ travel. Every little bit helped when covering the vast interstellar distances the first time. The first Tlachtli champions were a diverse team of three Rutatoi adults, two adults from Selena, two children and Atel of Melnith. The children, Isha and Randi, wanted to visit Sheranara, which was also the destination of choice for Litana, Rusty and Rintia as well as Atel. The two from Selena, Kent and Anya, wished to visit two separate locations—that posed a sticky situation from the Chief of Security’s point of view. After discussing the matter with Alfred, it was decided that, since Kent was a capable security officer in addition to his other duties, he would escort Anya to Hykorna—her destination of choice—and she would accompany him to Yardlii for his leave of choice.

After the work schedules were rearranged the champions departed for their leaves. This was the first time that Randi and Isabou had been apart for any significant length of time; the same was true for Isha and Ada. Isabou and Ada made extensive lists for their sisters to fill in their absence. Randi and Isha dutifully accepted the tasks and a tear-filled farewell was made between the two sets of twins at the doors of the newly installed ‘Special Leave Elevator’ on the main observation deck. Cosmin, the Senior Chief of Engineering, was tasked with setting up every tosser for the round trip journeys, and with the First Officer, he also saw the leavers off.

Ivy asked Rusty to deliver certain trade documents and a whole shipment of goods to the Alliance Council Offices, since they were headed through the Tahoans’ own space stations anyway to get down to Sheranara. Ivy explained, “Much of this is pretty routine and I wouldn’t bother you with it, but that this particular shipment here…” and he waved a hand at several large containers on the hanger bay deck, “…Are the holo-decoys and shield enhancements for all five stations and most of the Alliance ships stationed with the Gorim…”

Rusty grinned, “Not a problem! What ever time I spend in the stuffy Council chambers and offices, I’ll just tack onto our time on Sheranara!”

Viking grinned, “Fair enough. You’ll probably need that time anyway, judging by the peek I got at the girls’ lists for their sisters…” That was answered by a deep sigh from Rusty; he had seen that list also and was truly hoping either Litana or Rintia would take on the chore of assisting the girls with it.

Special Leave was a fabulous success for another reason, besides as a fitting and much anticipated ‘trophy’ for tournament winners, it also gave the Tahoans a constant monthly presence amongst most of the peoples and places they had been. That was useful for two reasons: One, the Enthileste would always be apprised of any developments requiring their own intervention, and Two, as ambassadors of the cultures represented on the Tahoe, and on behalf of the Tahoe’s mission itself, that constancy of presence habituated all those peoples to new ideas and customs—paving the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

It was after the Captain decided, once they dropped off their Swirmlai passengers at last, that the Tahoe would visit the G-type star systems on their voyage toward Atria. That meant a schedule of: twenty-one days to their first stop, thirty-six to the next, a ‘short’ trip of thirteen days to the third stop, and on to Atria on a twenty-five day voyage. In order to make the long hauls palatable, he took the Stewards’ advice and instituted a cycle of events, including a tournament, which would repeat over the span of each segment of the long journey to visit their Atrian partners.

“And just who is going to tell her?” Paul cringed as he asked.

Behind him, Viola asked aloud as she walked up to the door into the kindergarten, “Tell what to whom?” Paul’s shoulders stiffened. He turned to face his wife.

“You should probably come and see for yourself…” and they both followed Norah and Becka to where Beatrice, Katherina and Portia were still drawing and coloring. Becka reached down an picked up one of their finished sketches.

“They were drawing in different groups today but they each came up with versions of this same one,” offered Becka as she handed it to Viola. There, surrounded by all the familiar plants in the ship’s gardens was Leva.

Viola exclaimed, “That’s sweet! Every time we go down to the arboretum any more the girls toddle off to visit with her. She’s their new favorite person…and she’s so good with them—-she can even tell them apart every time!”

Norah cleared her throat and said softly, “You don’t notice anything ‘odd’ about the picture?”

Viola inspected it more closely and gasped. “They’re Livingson girls alright…So who’s going to tell her?”

The drawing wasn’t just accurate in proportions and coloring, which wasn’t easy considering Leva’s tall slender build and pale cool skin coloring, but also showed the baby she was carrying. “Obviously she will know who the father is…but he’s likely far, far away—most likely on Jontun…” Viola added.

Paul suggested, “Or, the lasses have picked up on it very early and the fellow is on board presently…”

Viola was tempted to ask the girls to draw the father of Leva’s little boy, but that seemed to be prying somehow. She mused, “But she hardly ever leaves the gardens, and seems only mildly interested in Atel, Michael or Frank except as coworkers I mean.”

Paul added, “And Kis goes to his quarters too dog tired at the end of his shifts to…well, have any energy for… That just seems unlikely.”

Becka took a deep breath. “Does anyone know what check-up rotation she’s in? Perhaps the good doctors are already aware of it and have informed her?”

Norah nodded, “She’s in my rotation. We had our last appointments when we were a week out from Malekii. I remember her being there when I went into the clinic. But honestly, Aniva attended her and I didn’t sense that there was anything at all out of the ordinary as Leva left. She had that pleasant expression of serenity she always seems to have.”

Viola decided for herself. She folded the sample drawing and excused herself. “I’m going to see Aniva first, then Leva—if what you observed was an accurate depiction of what transpired, then Leva needs to know.” With that she was out the door, leaving Paul to herd their girls off to Glennie’s for lunch.

Aniva was also on her way to the clinic; it was her shift. Viola caught up to her as she was just crossing the promenade. “Aniva, I have a poser for you concerning one of our company…”

Aniva smiled, “You know better than anyone that personal medical information is private…”

“But what I have to talk to you about isn’t getting information, it’s supplying it…” and Viola held up one of her daughters’ drawings.

Aniva noticed the ‘oddity’ at once, and gasped. “Leva was healthy as an Enthileste when she had her last check-up. Healthy and not pregnant,” she qualified. “She’s not due for her next appointment for…let’s see…another five or six days at least…”

Viola offered, “Would you care to accompany me to the gardens? That’s my next stop. She really ought to know sooner rather than later…even six days later could be significant—the father has to be aboard.”

Aniva nodded and touched her comlink, “Miruna, dear, I’m going to drop by the arboretum with Viola before I relieve you. Is that a problem?”

Miruna’s voice came back, “Only if you will bring back some more flowers for our vases, and one of Atel’s arrangements would be really appreciated…”

Aniva agreed, and turned to Viola, “Let’s get this rolling, shall we?” and they strolled the short distance down to the arboretum entrance. Once through the ‘forest’ and into the gardens, they espied Anya. “Is Leva on-duty?”

Anya brightened, “She’s always on-duty! What a treasure she is…” She looked over through the connecting passage to the hydroponics. “She’s probably in the nursery…” That reference brought knowing looks from Viola and Aniva. They headed through the passageway and spotted Leva tending what appeared to be a profusion of orchids.

Aniva caught her eye. She finished what she was doing and sauntered over to them. “How may I be of service to you ladies today? The clinic is due for having its flowers changed out isn’t it?”

Aniva smiled, “It is indeed. That’s part of the reason I’ve come to seek you out with Viola.”

Leva looked inquiringly at Viola, “Seek me out? Me? Whatever for?”

Viola wasted no time, “You have become something of a hero for my girls…they just adore you, you know. Today in school they began drawing pictures—but only of you. Here’s a sample…” and she handed the sketch to Leva who looked it over admiringly.

“They are really quite good for toddlers…” she began and stopped suddenly, staring at the obvious oddity. “…Uh, they’ve drawn in a baby boy here!”

Viola nodded, “Yes they have. That is the reason I brought Aniva with me to visit you. The children in my family—for generations now—have had a kind of second sight when they are young. It fades naturally as they get older and they must re-acquire it through their own efforts. But they’ve never been mistaken…”

Leva reached for the edge of a bench and sat down, still holding the picture. “But, this is…this is impossible!” She looked up at Aniva and Viola, “I mean, I’m not as young as I look, but neither am I too old by a great many years—I mean that I haven’t…there hasn’t been anyone…” Viola’s comlink chirped.

Paul’s voice rang out, “Vi, I’ve been asking the girls about their drawings today and they are all very clear about two things: what we took to be a ‘boy’ isn’t. If you’ll look closely, the ‘tail’ is on the wrong side. And secondly, Leva isn’t pregnant…she’s becoming an Enthileste!”

The three women listening were in silence trying to fathom the meaning of what he’d just said. He added, “…I just thought that was worth the interruption…”

Viola answered woodenly, “No interruption. Thanks Paul. Are any of the Masters near where you are?”

He answered, “Yep, and GingerKat is already on her way to y’all…”

Before he could finish the statement GingerKat was indeed standing next to them. “I just overheard, can’t help it actually—I tend to overhear everything anymore…Anyway, I may be able to explain this. But I assure you, it is as much a shock to us as it is to everybody else.”

Leva’s eyes were riveted on GingerKat’s as she spoke. She asked softly, “I’m becoming an Enthileste?”

GingerKat nodded solemnly. “When you came down to the stream side this morning while Vashi, Jonibob and I were playing with the kids after breakfast and before we took them to school…”

Leva nodded, “Yes. You three are the only ones on the Tahoe I feel completely comfortable near. I’m getting over being a bit shy about people in general…you may have noticed…”

GingerKat nodded and continued, “You came down to the stream and waded in with the children, splashing and playing with them. We have already seen, since you came aboard, the early stages of your third body’s formation. Then with your compassion and love of all growing things, we thought at that moment—at the same time, together—what an ideal Shepherd-Gardener of planets you would be and ideal partner to us in our duties. We have certain abilities of perception somewhat unavailable to anybody else and see clearly your pristine and immaculate inner world—Truly you are extraordinarily unique in regard to personal development; we’ve seen it in only a handful of others. Anyway, we had that thought at the same time and you happened to be staring back up to us at that moment…”

Leva interrupted to ask another question, “Are you saying that: As a result of my own early formation and your own combined ‘wish’ or mental resolution, you catalyzed a process of actual physical transformation in me?”

GingerKat nodded. “Yes. And it is certainly well within our power to do such a thing—grant boons, I mean. It’s just that we haven’t done it before and really hadn’t even considered it to be an option we would ever exercise. Yet we agree completely that if you truly wish to refuse this boon…if it is a change you can’t abide—which we are convinced isn’t the case, else it wouldn’t have ‘taken’ in the first place—we can allow your previous more gradual development to continue as it was. All we have done, thus far, is accelerate an already proven inner transformation from your own labors and efforts over years.”

Leva gazed up into GingerKat’s eyes and her smile began spreading across her face. “I accept absolutely! Make it so!”

Then an interesting thing happened. GingerKat’s eyes became luminous, as did Leva’s. Leva began to perceptibly glow brighter and brighter until it was difficult for Viola and Aniva to keep looking at her. When they were able to open their eyes again and see what was around them, Leva was transformed.

Her own short fur was close to the color of her original skin, her ears were a little shorter, the dragonskin across her forehead, shoulders and down her back to the end of her new tail was a turquoise gold. She laughed aloud and the sound of it was like the gentle rain on a lush forest. She held GingerKat’s gaze and said, “I shall strive to make good your faith in me.”

GingerKat, still in rapport with Vashi and Jonibob, answered, ‘We know that you will. For the time being, you’ll be needing to accustom yourself to a few different abilities than you have previously had.’

Leva realized GingerKat wasn’t vocalizing. GingerKat added, smiling, ‘Yeah, like that!’

Leva responded in kind, ‘This is far more intimate than I ever expected to be with any person…’ and she could hear Jonibob and Vashi respond.

Vashi commented, ‘Just wait until you experience the wrinkle drives engage the first time…Now that’s an intimate experience! and we don’t have a choice but to experience it together as one.”

Jonibob added, ‘We are one together.’

Leva nodded with new understanding, and agreed aloud, “We are one together! I get that now!” Aniva and Viola were startled at the sudden outburst after what was to them: a long silence.

Viola asked, “GingerKat? Please be careful what you four think about when you’re around others…”

GingerKat laughed out loud, “No worries, Auntie! It couldn’t happen without the person first having their own development far enough along, andactually having the conscious wish for this transformation to occur. What this does suggest however is that your daughters have a gifted sight quite beyond that which any of their forebears evinced.”

Viola nodded, “I suppose you’re right about that! How could anyone see the other—astral or mental—bodies growing inside another? This is unprecedented.”

Aniva smiled, “Vashi’s son only ever had the abilities that I understand Hana, Isabou and Randi had…This is a leap above even that remarkable ability…”

Leva’s voice, now clearer and more confident than it had been before, rose, “I for one am thankful that they singled me out for their drawings. This is much better than what might have occurred otherwise…”

GingerKat agreed, “Indeed. The process would actually have continued itself without our assistance simply from your constant and unflagging wish alone.”

Leva nodded, “Precisely; but there are more pressing matters facing the Enthileste in the present…”

Aniva collected herself and with a doctor’s detachment, “Let’s get your check-up now, shall we?” and she took a step back inviting Leva to lead them to the clinic. Leva giggled a purr and led them all out of the nursery. Anya was just rising from her tasks with the newly planted seedlings and gazed in wonder at the sight of the tall Enthileste leading the women and GingerKat.

“Oh! My! Oh!…” she exclaimed in spite of herself.

Leva purred even louder and walked over to her. “Anya, dear friend,” and with those simple words, embraced Anya for the first time.

Anya was more than shocked. “But you never like to touch or be touched! Leva? Is that really you?”

“More me than ever I have been before…” and her tail flipped back and forth over the new growth at their feet.

Anya continued to hold onto her friend. Aniva cleared her throat, “We were just going to the clinic for a quick looksee if you would like to come along. Of course from past experience this could take a while and the results are a foregone conclusion…but it’s best to at least go through the motions…”

“Most definitely!” Anya announced, trying to recover her inner balance, “But how? Who?…” without overwhelming success.

Leva gathered flowers to take along, “Mustn’t forget the other reason you came to visit me this afternoon…” Viola and Aniva were more than impressed that this woman, anybody in fact, could have experienced what she had just experienced and still keep her attention on the here and now and the tasks at hand.

As they all strolled toward the clinic, GingerKat explained what had transpired beginning with the early morning splashing in the stream up to that moment. In response to Anya’s disbelief over even the role the triplets played in the event, Viola emphasized that her daughters’ abilities would subside over time, “It’s just a curious and infrequent occurrence our family has lived with…”

In the clinic, while Anya replaced the wilting floral decorations with the fresh beauties Leva remembered to bring, Aniva began the inspection. Miruna took the occasion in stride. Since her first few hours around GingerKat on her first morning at Bag End, nothing connected with the Boss ever seemed to surprise her anymore. Vera, on the other hand, was visibly taken aback as she entered Sick Bay on an errand. “Another one!” she declared. GingerKat grinned broadly.

Vera recovered her poise at once, “Show her how to take a sample of her own blood…we’ll not be snapping our supply of needles on that hide of hers…”

GingerKat reached over and held Leva’s hand palm up, “There’s no easy way to do this. We really are quite indestructible…” and holding her own palm up as an example extended a claw and forced it into the space between two of her fingers… “Truly there is no pain at all, but they’ll have to act quickly to get the one or two drops that will come out before the wound heals itself.”

Leva tried it, Miruna held a small pipette at the puncture, and as Leva withdrew her own claw, two drops of blood were sucked into the narrow little glass pipette. The puncture was gone instantly as if it hadn’t happened. “That’s odd,” Leva commented, “Malekiai blood isn’t that color! My blood has always had a blue-green tinge, not golden red!”

Anya responded, “That’s what concerns you?! You just painlessly punctured your own skin, it healed instantly, you are fricking transformed into an immortal being…and you are surprised that your blood is a different color?!” They all needed that bit of levity. The laughter worked like a tonic and the room was a little brighter for it.

Aniva announced, “I’ll start the testing straight away. Since we still have the samples from GingerKat, Vashi and Jonibob…and we know what to look for…this shouldn’t take too long. Miruna began the scans on her inner organs, skeleton and musculature. No surprises there either.

All the while, Vashi, Jon and Ginger stayed in rapport with her. They explained all that they knew of their bodies and abilities, their obligations, the sacred planets, the visions, history, anticipations—everything which set them apart from the rest of the world around them. At length, Leva walked Anya back to the gardens and went back to what she was doing before the excitement of the afternoon interrupted her. Anya just marveled at her. Sensing her friend’s state, Leva offered, “…How could any of this make me any less Leva? I still have the same tasks…I just have several new obligations in addition to all that I had before…”

Anya smiled, “The shift will be over in half an hour anyway. Please come with me to supper. I have about a million questions…”

Leva chuckled, “I’d be delighted. I’m actually terribly hungry, and I find I’m looking forward to being around everyone on the Tahoe! How wonderful is that?! Of course it helps that I can already hear most all of them right now anyway…”

“Amazing,” was all Anya could find in herself to say.

“Oh and on our way to Jacqueline’s, I would like to stop in at the ’boutique.’ Vashi is going to show me how to wear a robe—properly. I do feel more than a little under-dressed…”

Anya laughed out loud. Here before her was a goddess rivaled only by GingerKat and Vashi in splendor, and the last thing she could imagine was that Leva could feel anything but radiant.

Atel and Michael were coming into the gardens as the ladies were departing. At first they assumed it was Vashi or GingerKat with Anya. They did a double-take as Leva greeted them in passing. “Gentlemen, the seed beds have all been put on timers; just be sure the fertilizer solution is being stirred properly. I had to take the mixer apart and reassemble it this morning…I’m pretty sure I got it right, but just in case…”

Atel just gaped. Michael nodded. The ladies strolled on out onto the Promenade and headed to the boutique. Vashi was pleased at how quickly Leva picked up the intricate maneuvers involved in wearing the robes. “But then you have always been a most graceful woman…” she admitted.

Leva smiled, “Actually, this is very similar to one of the traditional dances we all had to learn as little girls at court. This is just so much more flowing…”

Anya was emboldened by all the events of the day and turned to Vashi, “Would you care to join us for supper? I mean, I…” and she caught herself. It felt truly awkward being so casually familiar with the Enthileste.

Vashi smiled warmly, “I’d be delighted. Is it alright if the rest of my family joins us? The girls have decided to try something other than pizza for once and Jacqueline has promised a new dish just for them…”

Anya let out a sigh of relief. “Yes ma’am; I mean, of course that would be grand…”

Leva looked askance at her friend. “Anya dear, do try and be a little less nervous.”

Vashi giggled, “I remember feeling the same way around my aunts. They were just so much bigger than life to me. It wasn’t until I overheard them one evening talking about some young fellow that had caught their eye—and in very explicit terms—that it finally dawned on me they were just women after all. Really Anya, we just have different duties than other people and our exterior coating is appropriate for those tasks. Other than that, we are mostly just like anyone else aboard who can hear the heartbeats of everyone, see the landscape of their inner worlds and not have to use the elevators to go where we wish…” She said it all with a straight face and Leva kept her expression neutral as well.

Anya looked from one to the other of them and suddenly burst out laughing. Which released Leva and Vashi from the charade. “Okay, okay!” Anya accepted, “Just regular girls then…”

GingerKat and Jonibob already had the kids at a large table waiting for them when they arrived. The other patrons heads swiveled like bobble-head toys trying to take in the fact that there were now four Enthileste, and the tallest female looked amazingly like Leva! In rapport, Leva admitted she would have run the other way yesterday, if she garnered that much attention at one time. ‘Now, however, it’s an odd sensation but not overwhelming—even natural. Does that make any sense?’

Jonibob responded in kind, ‘I know precisely what you mean. I always preferred being behind the scenes myself. To be so utterly exposed, as we are now, would have given me conniptions at one time. Now? It’s just part and parcel of our life: People are fascinated and stare, touch, question, remark…everything people just do…and it doesn’t affect me in the least.’

Jacqueline brought out the new dishes as she’d promised, and the children tasted their meals hesitantly at first. After the first few nibbles however, they were sold. GingerKat and Vashi let out a sigh of relief—their kids actually could enjoy something new after all. Hooray! The adults placed their orders and Anya began asking some of the questions she had been saving up.

“Why have you been so shy since coming aboard the Tahoe? Why are you so much taller than the other Malekiai that were on Garund and then traveled with us? How did you come to know about the work? Are there many others of your people that have the great knowledge? Why are the Malekiai just now showing an interest in space flight? What made your skin that wonderful color? Did you have any pets growing up? Have you ever had a boyfriend? What is Makekii like?…”

Leva listened patiently until Anya took a breath. Hana, Rudy, and both sets of twins: Isabou and Randi, Isha and Ada were all listening and waiting for the answers to those questions too. The twins had grown very close since the Special Leave adventure. Isabou and Isha, who had been gone together, became the other’s absent sister and were nigh inseparable. Randi and Ada had experienced the same evolution while their sisters were away and were equally tight-knit now. With their mother Misha splitting most of her awake time between the school and navigation duties, she was happy to have her girls spend virtually all their time with the other twins. They were either in one house or the other, as their own little tribe migrating back and forth every night or whenever they wished.

Leva held up her hand. “Let me see if I can get through this batch first. I have been very shy and long before I traveled to Garund for research. As you noticed I am tall, even for a Malekiai. Between that and my family’s notoriety as being ‘odd’—we are alone among all the people of our province in carrying on the work…the great knowledge has been handed down generation after generation and it has set us apart from our neighbors—well that and we are the historic nobility of the southern territories. Not that we make a show of it or anything, it’s actually because there is a state religion and we never joined—that’s an on-going debate in my family: try and fit in, don the tattoos and piercings, do the daily prayers with the others and the ritual communal ablutions…” She took another bite, swallowed and continued.

“We still haven’t. That’s why I tended to shy away from other folks; why I never had a beau. We don’t have pets, per se, on Malekii—it’s a taboo to enslave another creature. But generally people get around that by never shutting animals in their homes and never tying them up in anyway…as a result, there are animals everywhere and mostly all docile. Malekii’s star is relatively dim compared to some, and our atmosphere is very thick. I suppose our coloration is just a result of our arising in those conditions…just like anyone else on any other planet. What I can say about our lack of space-faring is that our first contact with people from another world was quite a shock to us. We do seem somehow related to the Sargassians and Lanorians, but then they are so pink and tan! We thought they were carrying some sort of disease!” She paused while the others chuckled at the image conjured by her admission. “And as to why now, after all these years, are we just beginning to consider going to space ourselves? It was against the tenets of the dominant religious faction. Once their power finally waned and the rival sect filled the vacuum—suddenly it was just fine to explore the creation beyond our own atmosphere. That sort of flip-flop is pretty typical for Malekiai—one day it’s taboo, the next it’s mandatory…” She sat back, having somehow eaten the entire contents of her few dishes of food. “That’s the most I’ve talked…ever!”

Rudy asked, “Why is Kis so clumsy and you are so graceful?”

She chuckled, “Kis is only a boy really…he’s just not used to his height yet. No mystery. We are remotely related you know. His folks did what my folks wouldn’t—that is to join the state religious activities. They gave lip-service to the whole thing and weren’t so ostracized as a result. I happen to know he’s jubilant that he doesn’t have to wear that mask anymore…”

Hana asked, “If he’s just a boy, how old are you?”

“The Malekiai are a rather long-lived people. I passed my thirty-fourth year while on Garund…” she answered easily.

Anya gasped, “I thought you were a teenager! That I was your senior by several years—that’s one of the reasons I sort of took you under my wing…” She chuckled, “How silly was that?!”

Leva purred, “And I truly appreciated your kindnesses. It is comforting to have a friend that isn’t a brother, sister or cousin for a change.”

Isha announced, “And now your a fourth twin like Isabou and me and Randi and Ada!”

Leva giggled, “Yes, I am a fourth twin. From stranger to sister in one day!” She turned to Vashi and GingerKat, “Sisters, I think I’m going to need flying lessons…” The children leapt at that.

“We’ll show you all the best tricks!” they shouted at once.

Vashi chuckled, “No time like the present…after you take your plates and clean them for Jacqueline…” They hopped up and carefully cleared the table. While they were in the back, Anya asked another question.

“How is it that the children never seem to be fazed by the changes that rock everyone else’s worlds?”

Jonibob replied, “I’m pretty sure, seeing how they take in what they take in…from their perspective anyway…life doesn’t move quickly enough!”

As they all emerged from the cafe, Alfred and his father and mother were just coming in. “Ah! Vera said we had a new young Master amongst us!” Olivia exclaimed. “This voyage just keeps getting better and better!”

GingerKat hung back with the Captain and elder Livingsons while her family went to the arena for some practice. Alfred watched as Leva and the others walked down the promenade, “Four Enthileste on one ship. This has got to be the most blessed vessel in the cosmos…”

Olivia asked, “Aniva gave me the gist of today’s events, please fill in a few blanks for me…” GingerKat reiterated the chain of events that led to the transformation and the facility with which Leva took on her new existence.

“…It seems that it was rather inevitable in a way. Her own journey isn’t too unlike yours, Alfred. Long family history of superlative people striving toward self-perfection and attempting to remain as ordinary as possible…that plus she has an abiding passion for all of life in every form—an ideal Enhiides.”

Alfie nodded to Alfred, who spoke up, “That is well. We have a bit of news also…” and he lowered his voice, “…Our long range scans from the mapping probe are unsettling to say the least. The ISM ahead of us is thoroughly scarred with traces of both Naudi and Naradin battleship passage. That bit of space lies on our own chosen route to visit the three main sequence systems on the way to Atria. We have sent a request to the Atrians asking them to make what preparations they may need…but we’ll probably arrive before our message does, unless the Atrian representatives we met with on the Gorim stations have actually taken advantage of the communications systems we supplied to all our new partners. We’ll know soon enough. In the meantime, it would be wise to get your new sister up to speed. It may take all of your combined strengths to deal with a watchful adversary—And they will be far more alert in our future meetings, now that they’ve had their nose bloodied at Elenessa, and their ‘trojan horse’ ploy foiled…”

GingerKat nodded as he spoke. “The Naradin are a proud, however self-deluded, people. It is a foray of expansion they are on at present, perhaps not a full-blown crusade as yet. There may still be the opportunity to quell their appetite. Here is what we anticipate…” and she outlined in stark terms the next phase of the plans the Enthileste had prepared for their expected brush with the planet abusers.

The rhythms of the ship settled back to their regular pace over the rest of the week before they arrived to what Leva’s people called: Rennus. It was the star around which the astro-lab folks had determined were three terrestrial planets and at least one was in the habitable band of orbits. What met their view once they arrived wasn’t what they expected. The planet in the habitable zone wasn’t a terrestrial planet per se at all—it was a water-world. The single moon that circled it was almost half its size, with its own atmosphere and showing the early signs of life at the edges of its little seas. The planet itself had life. While it was almost entirely covered by its single ocean, large islands dotted the otherwise vast unbroken expanses. It was with a great deal of curiosity that the arriving away team made ready to set down on the largest of those islands.

“You don’t need scanners to know this place is inhabited…” Ivy announced as they circled, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire. And unless that was started naturally, these are people not animals.”

Misha observed, “And that is a small city, not a campsite…” What had appeared as bare places in the thick forest were now easily seen to be buildings and paved roads. “But with such relatively few trees on the entire planet, why would they build a fire?”

Anda offered, “Trees aren’t the only things that burn. Many things that grow in the sea, when dried and prepared will serve just fine for a fire. What is more curious is—if Yensa’s calculations were correct about there being only two percent total land mass on the planet—how can they be here at all? I mean that’s either the most remarkable population control system in the universe, or they didn’t arise on this planet.”

Aniva pointed out, “Not to mention the impossible odds that a group of land dwelling beings evolved here in the first place…whatever their numbers…”

The comm came to life, “Voyager, this is Vashi. We have gained permission to visit. Please use the harbor on the south end of the island.”

Ivy took a deep breath, “The south harbor it is then. Alfie please prepare to close off our engines and change over the yacht for sea travel.”

“Aye, aye skipper,” came the chipper response.

Voyager touched the water and her exposed engines seemed to close themselves as the yacht’s Bridge roof retracted and her mast telescoped up from the hold. In a matter of minutes she was a sailing vessel once more. Jonibob waved for them to approach the shore a bit more to their port, and proceeded to walk out to them. Alfie made the correction and brought her to a stop when Jonibob said to stop.

Roger muttered, “I didn’t know they could walk on water too…”

Jonibob announced, “Right this way. The Kuralii are most thorough with their port amenities…There are walking stones from each moorage leading to shore.” Roger grinned in chagrin.

Leva waited for them all to reach the sand before explaining what they’d discovered thus far. “As you’ve probably suspected already, the Kuralii aren’t from this planet originally. They were marooned here almost two hundred years ago. That’s not the big news…they are Naradin!”

There was a simultaneous gasp from the away party. “They are a treasure trove of information about their former worlds; all handed down to them from generation to generation. It seems the original castaways were something of a reconnaissance team—on what turned out to be a one way journey to the Orion Spur. Their vessel smashed into an asteroid belt out beyond the fourth planet and they limped down to this planet in a last ditch effort to survive. Fortunately for them the balance of their ship’s crew were from a world where sailing and such were just a way of life—the Kuralii, a subject system in the Naradin Empire. They don’t speak very highly of their overlords either…”

They had been walking through groves of some sort of palm-like trees as she spoke and were just nearing the small city they espied during their approach. Misha asked, “And they built all of this in just a couple hundred years?”

Leva replied, “Determined people do remarkable things. That and they didn’t have many other options. Their ship was salvaged for whatever was useful and instead of bemoaning their situation, they got busy. This is one of thirty inhabited islands on the whole of the planet…granted it’s not an enormous planet—not unlike what I understand Trieste-Avalon to have been. Wait until you see their sailing ships! One is supposed to be arriving today or tomorrow from the nearest island. They have a good communications network here and have even been able to get their former star ship’s scanners operative, so they knew when y’all got to within the orbit of their moon. That’s the extent of its reach.”

Vashi and GingerKat were sitting in a little plaza with several folks who looked very much like people from Earth—except for their bifurcated upper lips and deep-set eyes. Jonibob made introductions.

“These are the Kuralii. Their ancient culture arose in the Sagittarii Arm. They have cultural memories of the legendary Enthileste and so have graciously responded to all our questions…They call us the Anhilees. Ivy, Alfie, Anda, Roger, Misha, Norah, Aniva…this is Ko Pars, the leader of this settlement, and his wife Mue. These are his brothers and their families. Most of the other folks of this island are out harvesting their crops and will be back here before sundown. Ko Pars and his clan have already done their harvesting—that grove you walked through coming here was a part of it.”

Ivy extended his hand in greeting and Ko Pars sniffed it and petted it. GingerKat offered, “Like the Rutatoi, they’re used to rubbing cheeks, not shaking hands.”

Ivy corrected, “My apologies…” and he leaned forward to the grinning face of his host. The Kuralii smelled like the land and sea they lived upon. Mue greeted each of the ladies in turn as did Ko Pars with the gentlemen.

“The Anhilees have told us that you have had interactions with the Naud.” Ko Pars mentioned as he sat back down. “Nasty people. But the Naradin had to have someone to grind under their heels in this space—good choice…”

Alfie chuckled at the wry humor. “Is it so that you are a seafaring people? My own family has been on the seas for several generations.”

Ko Hus, a brother, spoke up, “Yes. The sea is home. Our navigators are the reason the Naradin allowed our planet to miss out on their usual ministrations—genocide, stripping her resources, fouling her waters and skies—their own notions of friendly gestures.”

Ko Insu, another brother, nodded, “Mustn’t be too unkind when recalling their pleasantries toward others. Don’t forget enslavement, their ridiculous Emperor-worship and my favorite: serving in their military…”

Misha asked, “Are there records of this, or are these just the stories your parents and grandparents passed along?”

Mue got up and went inside the near building. She came back out with a bulky metal tablet. She held it in front of Misha and Norah and waved her hand over the glassy surface. “This is the ship’s records. Our parents and grandparents wouldn’t speak of their memories of the Naradin overlords.”

Norah shivered involuntarily as she scanned the images flashing by. If it weren’t for the the horribly poor nature of the recordings—as if by someone with no clue how to use the recording device—she would have accepted it as a fiction. But the gruesomeness and callous disregard for life rampant throughout the records was enough to convince her it was a genuine representation of the Naradin.

Mue continued, “What they did enjoy telling us was how they assassinated the Naradin commanders aboard the survey ship and forged a new life here unencumbered by their former taskmasters.”

Roger asked, “We have determined that the Naud steal what technology they have and can’t do any more with it than the simplest functions it is capable of performing. Is this a hallmark of the Naradin as well?”

Ko Pars nodded, “After a fashion that is fair to say of the Naradin. However they have a far greater reach and a far lengthier history than the Naud. They have scoured their regions of space over millennia to acquire whatever they wish. It is true they consider it beneath them to actually know how those technologies really function—hence the tools of enslavement and conscription. The Kuralii were prized for our navigation skills because the Naradin can’t find their way out of a dark closet on their own. They simply blunder into a star system ravish it and blunder off again—always keeping a record of where they have been so they can hope to find it again if need be.”

Mue offered, “It is the Hin who are most to fear. The Hin are their marshals, their bodyguards, their unswerving servants. The Naradin battleships are directed by them and it is they who are the sword of their will. On every planet ruled in the empire, the Hin are there to enforce the orders of the emperor. It is hinted in the records that the Naradin control them through some kind of oath that every Hin swears to. We don’t know more than that. It was well that there were no Hin aboard the survey ship which brought us here—Else our ancestors would not have lived to see the sun on the sea once more. The Hin are ruthless…but do not seem to think for themselves.”

There was a horn sounded from the direction of the harbor and Ko Pars smiled. “Our friends will be coming in from the fields now to greet our neighbors from Jade island.”

Ivy asked, “Jade Island?”

Mue chuckled, “That is what they call it themselves, just as we call our own island ‘Clouds’.” She lowered her voice to Vashi as if telling a secret, “Our men are strong workers and good-hearted, but they are fanciful when they sit to think…”

The boat from Jade Island was as magnificent a vessel as Leva said it would be. It was an enormous proa and laden with many sorts of foods and materials. The Kuralii shared all that each island produced, so that all benefited from the particular abundances of their islands and talents. The people of Clouds Island were tasked not only with cultivating their fields and groves of trees, but it was here that the central technologies resided as well, and it was Ko Pars and his folk that maintained that equipment. So it was Clouds that was something of a crossroads for all traffic between the other islands. Just as Ko Pars had said, the other residents were gathering at the shore of the harbor to both welcome the Jade island sailors and to load and unload goods and such.

Leva explained to Ivy and Alfie, “While all the Kuralii are sea-faring folk, even they have a ‘sailing class.’ True mariners who are just unsuited for life ashore. They sail the islands’ proas and maintain the balance of goods for each island. Ko Hus and his wife told us that their mariners’ skill is such that they can navigate almost by smell and sound alone. And on space ships they are capable of finding the smallest asteroid over and over and over without charts and without sensors. That is why they were so prized by the empire. Here they are esteemed and each island sponsors—feeds, supplies and maintains—one of the mariner clans who sail the seas on their behalf. So this is the Jade Island proa…but in actuality it is just that the Jade islanders sponsor them…not that these mariners are residents of Jade island.”

The feasting began once all the Clouds citizens had seen to the mariners’ needs and answered the bulk of their Tahoan guests’ questions. The Kuralii made a special place at the gathering for the Anhilees and the Mariners were seated in honor on either side of them.

One of the results of their visit to Clouds was that Norah arranged for the Naradin records to be copied and downloaded into the Tahoe’s computer. Alfred was pleased that they would have some greater understanding of their nemesis before any direct encounters. The Kuralii welcomed parties of shore leave from the ship’s company and Ivy was able to determine what they might benefit from in the way of trade with the Alliance. The island folk were mostly self-sufficient but opportunities for regular interactions with trading ships, if only for sharing stories and the few niceties they couldn’t produce themselves, was most welcome. As Mue put it, “There is safety in being on trade routes. We will not have to face intruders so much alone…And our children will be able to learn the ways of others also. This is always a good thing.”

The Tahoe wrinkled for the next stop on their journey towards Atria. It was when the drives were engaged that Leva, for the first time, experienced what Vashi had hinted at regarding the intimate sensations and feelings the wrinkle sub-harmonics engendered in the Enthileste and to a lesser degree in the Rutatoi.

“Captain’s log, Starship Tahoe, Stardate: four nine oh six point seven. Should the Tahoe ever need sterling navigators, Lo Niur of the Kuralii on the Islands in the Rennus system has volunteered himself and his sons for that service. His grandfather was chief navigator of the Naradin survey ship, Tuines. It was only through the careful manipulation of his position and intentional misdirection that the ship entered the asteroid belt of that system and was damaged only just enough to allow the Kuralii to overthrow their Naradin taskmasters and maneuver the ship to a landing on the waterworld they named: Islands. We are very pleased there are others like the Kuralii and that we have gained a greater insight into the workings of our nemesis’s empire. We are blessed to now have four Enthileste, or Anhilees as the Kuralii from the Sagittarii Arm refer to them. Once again we have been reaffirmed in our knowledge that regardless of the form of their outer coating, people are people and our inner worlds are law-conformably the same. We anticipate further contact with both the Naud and the Naradin long before we enter the space now confirmed to be their outpost in this Spur: the region of Shaula, Lesath and Antares.”

Alfred stirred his coffee, and began to review the Tuines recorder copies once more. Uma, Henri, Litana and Rastu had translated what little script was used in the Naradin records so that he could follow the history of that ship from the moment it left the shipyards of Hinre, through its early years as a scout ship and fighter, on to the several years it was used as a senator’s personal yacht, then ultimately re-commissioned as a survey ship and its final voyages into the Orion Spur. The astro-lab team made the determination that the Tuines was equipped with the standard drive system and other gear used by nearly all Naradin space-ships. Its maximum speed was well below that of the Tahoe, and its armaments and sensor technology were equally inferior. All that could be derived from the records, was. Each department took a look at the full length of the Tuines’s voyages to establish as complete a profile of the empire and its workings as possible.

“Is that your third time through it? It gave me bad dreams for several nights…I don’t know how you can stand it…” Misha commented as she took her shift on the Bridge at Navigation.

Alfred smiled, “I have taken to thinking of it as a poorly constructed comedy of errors…Like this Senator and his entourage—how ridiculous is this?!”

Misha shuddered. “That’s the part I was particularly referring to, Captain…” and she focused on the readouts and status reports in front of her. “We are four days out from the Pegulit system…The Malekii have such interesting names for the stars in their skies…Did you know that Pegalit means ‘keeper of the keys’? They associated this star with Rega—Atria—because Rega is the door to the eternal realms of Malenisto—the divine bringer of wisdom. How poetic is that?”

Alfred nodded absently. Anda, at the Science station, replied, “That is interesting…those two stars for the Melnithor are Isrin and Astero—the heavenly guides of Tryndyl, an Enhiides who first brought the concept of ‘math’ to our planet’s people.”

Anoran, apprenticing under Teniqua who was just then uploading the results of a collaborative project for the clinic, responded, “Is it a coincidence then that for the Tursai those two stars are the lintel of the Window constellation, through which it’s said came the messenger of Gortu—she defied the other gods and sent the secrets of writing to Tursi.”

Alfred heard all the curious observations of his staff and had to ask, “Has anyone asked the Masters if they are aware of any special significance for these star systems among the Enthileste?” No one answered. He pressed the comlink on his chair, “Would one of the Masters…” and GingerKat was at his elbow. “You’re getting quicker and quicker young Master!” he commented after not finishing his request.

“One of us keeps an ear tuned to the Bridge at all times now. Vashi is spelunking the ice caves of Sheranara with the twinses in the holosuite, Leva is knee-deep in the eco-san, and Jonibob is tuning the piano for Glennie… As far as these two stars are concerned, they are certainly within the realm of the gardens for which we are responsible. Yet what the arising cultures pass along as lore regarding their connection to wisdom, numbers, writing and the rest…I’m afraid we won’t know until we get there…This job didn’t actually come with an operator’s manual. What else may I assist with while I’m here?”

Alfred thought a moment, “Have you four decided if you will take the children up on their request to visit South Selena?”

GingerKat purred, “Once we are sure that Bag End is unoccupied and just how far along the Federation has moved toward its formerly stated agendas…we’ll see.”

“I think I heard Becka and Norah discussing a Martian field trip…did they ask one of you about the state of the atmosphere?” he followed.

Ginger nodded, “Jonibob says it’s almost breathable…maybe another few years yet before anything but grasses will really take root and thrive. If that’s all Captain, Hana and Rudy put their movie on pause while I popped up…”

Alfred grinned, “By all means. Thank you GingerKat.” He went back to his ‘reading.’

Valeran, at the helm, asked, “Captain, does it ever occur to you that the Masters don’t actually have to remain aboard…I mean seriously, they seem to have taken on the administration of practically everything in this whole arm of the galaxy!”

Alfred looked up and noticed it wasn’t just Valeran looking to him for a response. He cleared his throat, “The Enthileste are the gardener-shepherds of planets…you all know that. And you probably know that they do indeed have far reaching responsibilities as a result of that obligation. What you may not fully realize is that our four revered companions are also absolutely dedicated to this ship’s mission. Sire Alviss understood that. Siress Frigga and the keepers of Sigrid realized that. It is useful that each of us truly understand that as well. The Masters are also parents, friends, partners, sisters, nephews, leaders, help-mates and are struggling to fulfill all of those roles seamlessly. They are what every sapient person may aspire to become. I, for one, am humbled and encouraged that they remain an ever-present reminder for us all, that: sacrifice and service can be borne with grace.”

Valeran remarked, “They have everything! What sacrifice?”

Alfred nodded, “I suppose you could look at it that way. But you could also see it from their perspective—for instance: the sacrifice of everything their lives once were…Or the foregone sacrifice they must make of all their friends, family and children as one by one they outlive even the most remote of their descendants…Or the sacrifice of private thoughts…or of personal desires and wishes…Or the sacrifice of their personal histories for the immensity of their obligations and those of all Enthileste since the dawn of time…Or even the sacrifice of anonymity, into which we each have the luxury of retreating…Sacrifice, Commander Daane? Had you truly given that remark any thought?”

There wasn’t a dry eye on the Bridge as their Captain concluded. Valeran could only say, “We are so blessed…”

Orbiting Pegulit were three planets. The outermost was very much like every other terrestrial planet they had encountered—weather in the atmosphere, mountains and prairies, seas, rivers and lakes. What this planet had that many did not were hunter-gathering peoples spread across the globe in tribes and clans. No cities—-the height of their ‘civilization’ appeared to be scattered uninhabited but permanent settlements…perhaps at the crossroads of migration journeys or central gathering places. There were no farms, no apparently domesticated animals—it was a peek into the Tahoans’ own dim pre-history. They did not interfere.

The second planet orbiting Pegulit was another story. Bereft of any sentient life it might have once harbored, the Enthileste walked the empty open spaces. The planet itself was healthy—the air was clean and clear, the waters unpolluted. What was strange was the entire lack of anything but the most fundamental animal life offset by the prolific plant growth. Just a quiet planet content to nurture the life it harbored.

The ship’s charts were amended, and course was set for the last system on there voyage to Atria-Rega. GingerKat did find out that Bag-End at least was currently unoccupied. Both South and North Selena Resorts were bustling. A University had, under the aegis of Selena Corporation, finally been established on the lower slopes of Mons Malapert and the traffic from Earth had increased dramatically. The Martian Resort and Science Center on the rim of Valles Marineris was also home to the newly established Federation Academy for the training and research of Solar System Exploration (FASSE). There, young men and women, many educated at the Selena University or her sister institution on Rutin, were trained in everything from asteroid mining practices to starship maintenance, from how to set up an extraterrestrial settlement to extrasolar navigation. The Federation had just commissioned its first full-fledged starship, to be constructed on Deimos by their own engineers. Her initial mission was to make the, for them, long journey to Alpha Centauri. The Constellation, her christened name, was still being outfitted, and her anticipated departure date was to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the Tahoe’s departure. Naturally the Federation scientists and engineers were unaware that for the Tahoe the journey to Rutin had been a journey filling only the first morning after leaving South Selena. The crew of the Constellation expected to be en route for eight years.

Earth itself had undergone what amounted to a global Renaissance. With the advent of inexpensive and universally available electric power, even the remote and formerly neglected people of the planet were able to obtain education, a sustainable food supply, and access to global markets. Besides the rise of general affluence, there arose a new class of leaders—Statesmen—who rewrote the political past and ushered in the first planetary system of beneficial administration. The Federation was part and parcel of that trend by leading the way in offering both direction and purpose to the global alliance.

Interestingly, the South Selena Corporation underwrote nearly every off-planet endeavor, making them not only the go-to folks for funding, but also for the professional administration of those activities. Truth be told, they were the faculty and staff of FASSE, they were administrators of the first Lunar University, they were the operators of all the space ferries and skyhooks on and between the Earth-Moon-Mars-Jovian Moons routes. And it was they who made the supply runs and maintained delivery schedules to and from the mining outposts in the Main Asteroid Belt.

All this and a bit more greeted GingerKat, Vashi, Jonibob and Leva as they accompanied Norah, Becka and Olivia on a guided field trip for the Tahoe school children. Those kids were nearly as knowledgeable in the disciplines taught at both the University and at FASSE as the graduates—and in terms of practical use of that knowledge had already surpassed most of the faculty of those institutions. The Selena children of the Tahoe made themselves up to look like Melnithor, Malekiai and Seranim so that the Rutatoi children wouldn’t receive any special notice from the people they met. Becka and Norah led the children on tours and did a bit of sight-seeing, they made arrangements to return and investigate other researches and on-going endeavors.

Alfie, Ivy and Jimmy came along, naturally, and went straight to the Corporate offices at the Resort. With only their most trusted executives in conference, Ivy laid out the trade pacts and Alliance responsibilities that he had committed the corporation to fulfilling thus far on their journey. To say they were amazed would be an understatement. To suspect they were stunned into inaction would underestimate their strength of resolve to routinely deal with the unexpected. The Enthileste decided that the people of Earth and Rutin should find their own way forward in forging mutual relations…when they finally met and the door was permanently opened to acknowledging life beyond Sol or Silessa.

The Enthileste visited the sanctum of Enta Ahlnouressa, and when the field trip was ready to move on to the facilities at Valles Marineris, they introduced Leva to the functioning of the temple on Alta Ahlnouressa.

“And anything but the future can be had here for the asking?!” Leva repeated aloud.

Vashi cautioned, “One thing we are learning already is that the anticipation of nearly immortal lives has sharpened our appreciation for the unexpected, the littlest surprises that come along are now cherished moments…”

Leva could see the reality behind that comment and understood a little deeper the nature of her existence. Jonibob offered, “On the other hand, the only time we have used it thus far was to fill in some gaps in our scant knowledge of the Naradin…and of the role of the Enthileste in those regions. You know what we know of all that. The information provided by the Kuralii was just as useful albeit not nearly so deep in history…and no one had to ask an oracle to obtain it. So you see, just because all knowledge is available here doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the only source.”

Again Leva nodded in comprehension. “Actually what I was meaning to ask, I may as well ask you three first…”

After continual rapport and the near blurring of any separation between the thoughts of one of them from the others, her suggestion was a mild surprise. Of course there were little drawers and closets in each of their minds which remained closed to general inspection. But since Vashi, GingerKat and Jonibob were united by bonds both conventionally physical and profoundly spiritual, there weren’t many of those drawers and closets left to air out between themselves.

Leva asked, “I have never given thought to entering into a relationship for any purpose I can think of—once, that was due to my own guarded lifestyle—now, it’s because I know I will outlast any such usual bonding by a very long a time—which leads me back to just us again…”

GingerKat spoke for all of them, “If there is blame to assign, it goes to me…” Leva shook her head. GingerKat continued, “On the other hand, if you choose, we welcome you as a ‘partner’.” The inflection she applied to ‘partner,’ left no ambiguity.

Leva glowed. “I have given it quite a bit of thought…all that that means…I choose to be bonded to you fully…Is there some special ceremony or anything?” At that moment she was sitting on the dais, the other three were sitting around her as they talked. She did ask a heartfelt question…

The oracle responded in the only way it could—it answered. The four of them were given the rare privilege of perceiving first hand the nature of the Enthileste bonds and intimate relationships that had preceded them down through the ages. Four beings of brilliant light glistened for the duration of the oracle’s answering presentation. After how long, none of them could say, they were once again merely sitting together on the dais in the dimly lit hall.

Vashi gasped, “Now that’s what I call a union ceremony!” There was only purring laughter from the others winding through her mind in response.

Leva spoke clearly for each of them, “We are one together.”

Back on the Tahoe, still a week away from the charted system the Captain wished to visit before the twenty-five day voyage on to Atria-Rega. This particular system had a rather illustrious history in Alliance circles. Pax was both the suspected original home world of the progenitors for the Sargassians, Lanorians and Malekiai, but also where the first Alliance partners, those three peoples and the Atrians, signed the charter to establish their now long-lasting organization. It was with a great deal of anticipation that they sped onward through the intervening interstellar space, now growing less dense again.

The ‘field trippers’ returned and the children made ready to make a series of presentations to the entire ship’s company on the status of their original enterprises back home ,and in particular what each of the children carried away from their rare excursion. Ivy contacted their Alliance partners and relayed the results of his conference with his executive staff. Namely that in no more than eight more years, tourists from Earth and Rutin would be traveling to destinations scattered among the partner worlds. As a matter of reciprocity, the space of Earth-Rutin would then open to the markets and tourists from the Alliance. He sketched out the current progress of development towards those goals and expressed his satisfaction that any timetables which they mapped out would be acceptable to the South Selena Corporation. The other bit of information he passed along to the Alliance members was the manner of the currently negotiated distribution network for Tahoan technologies available before the moratorium expired for direct contact with his principles.

The company was thrilled with the news presented by the schoolchildren. That so much had transpired on Earth in their absence gave them a sense of renewed pride in what they had been instrumental in effecting and also in their continued mission aboard the Tahoe. When the First Officer gave his own briefing to the department heads and Bridge staff, there were a few questions.

“Are you sure that the Federation hasn’t improved their wrinkle drive capabilities? Because if they have, we really should make another trip to Rutin to offer a bit of heads-up.” Rusty asked.

Alfie fielded that one, “The drive installed on the Constellation is the very same one that our Corporation sold them at the outset of their proposed construction project. Our own records are crystal clear on that score. Chief Erikson went aboard as a guest of one of our own engineers working that project and inspected it for himself…”

Jimmy nodded, “It’s just the classic drive, unaltered even to incorporate Commander Valeran’s modifications from his and Danielle’s voyage on the Tesseract. Please be assured, the Tahoe, Anna, Voyager and Tesseract are the only ships in the Orion Spur capable of eight hundred C velocities…”

Rusty was satisfied, but then Anda asked, “Aren’t there any truly capable physicists amongst this brightest and best who built the Constellation? Honestly, the changes required to make this technology perform as wished aren’t very extensive…”

Viola agreed but explained, “Two things prevent them from tampering even accidentally to increase their unit’s efficiency: One—They don’t have any reason to suspect that it will perform any better than it does…What it is able to do now is so far beyond the historical progress made by them on their own; ‘better’ is inconceivable. Two—The wrinkle drives and tangle power generation units we left behind will literally cease to function if strict protocols for their use are not followed precisely. Our elevators are voice actuated—our voices only. Even if all of those precautions come to naught and they somehow are able to do the impossible—We will know instantly and deal with what comes.”

Alfred added simply, “The Enhiides of Hykorna left no room for doubt that our central technologies should remain just that—ours. That we have assisted in the building of ships and outfitted them with what we can is our obligation. But the wrinkle technology they are all using is only slightly enhanced from the same one that they have used for over three centuries. Chief Anda is correct in one train of thought—should anyone someday uncover the secrets for tweaking their drives up to maximum capacity and efficiency…well they will have earned it. Any other questions?” No one seemed to have any more concerns.

Uma asked, “This is a question a little off the current topic, but if there are no follow-up questions…” she waited, “I wished to request that the entire company have an opportunity to visit Pax. It is nearly a month on to Atria-Rega and the people of Pax are said to be as welcoming as the Gorim or Nourii…”

Captain Alfred acceded instantly, but turned to the Enthileste to ask, “Would the Masters consider managing the ship alone in our absence?”

Jonibob offered, “We’ll go you one better—install elevators in the yachts so you can go back and forth at will…”

“Done!” Viking and Gypsy announced almost at once.

GingerKat and Vashi gave perhaps an overabundance of advice to their children as they went off in the company of Alfred and Vera, Rusty, Litana and Misha for an extended holiday. The Tahoe was a quiet place without her personnel aboard. Leva asked playfully, “Have any of you played Tlachtli since your transformations?” Their newest partner was rapidly becoming a most treasured companion.

GingerKat answered, “I did. But it was difficult restraining myself from certain rather unfair practices—not needing wings, no popping about, we could play blind-folded and still snag every drifter, or ring a bruiser with every try…”

Jonibob replied, “I’ve been considering a few minor changes to the game to make it a little more challenging for ones such as ourselves…”

Vashi grinned, “I like the: no wings and blind-folded part already…”

Jonibob chuckled, “Then you’ll really like this, I got the idea while tuning Glenn’s piano…” and he proceeded to offer his ideas.

They set the Bridge to automatic functions and stood in the Arena. “Now, the trick will be to avoid destroying all our preparations…” GingerKat chuckled.

Jonibob brought out all the practice bruisers and set the basket of them in the middle of the pitch, while GingerKat sealed the drifter net. Vashi turned off the weight surrogates to the arena while Leva turned off the main lighting. Evenly spaced all along the walls were mounted enormous bows. But instead of bowstrings, on each one there were the triple wires of a single piano note. “This is going to go fast because we’ll need every bruiser; not a single one should be allowed to hit an arena surface; let’s give it all we have,” Jonibob encouraged and slung the basket in a circle over his head; the balls flew out in every direction.

At once four blindfolded individuals were corralling the errant balls and sending them of in different directions than they were otherwise sailing. The first note was sounded, followed instantly by the next and the next… In the near darkness, the melody line of the tune became clearer and the tempo of the song at last established itself. With a sense of accomplishment pervading their rapport, Jonibob suggested they move to the next level. Chords of music began to accompany the melody line and still not a bruiser touched a wall, floor or ceiling…

Glenn and Jeanette with Alfie and Olivia happened to return just then to the Tahoe on an errand to retrieve a few things they hadn’t known they might want to have with them on their excursion. The moment they exited the elevator there was music thrumming and echoing throughout the otherwise still ship. Alfie asked, “Glennie isn’t that one of your compositions? I didn’t know you brought recordings up here…They must be playing music on the Bridge…”

Jeanette replied for Glennie who was too rapt at the sounds coming from the decks and bulkheads themselves, “It’s his music, but…that’s not an instrument that Glennie or anyone else has ever played…”

Olivia turned her head this way and that, “It’s coming from down the Promenade, not the Bridge…” and she meandered slowly toward the sounds, with the others behind her equally curious to find the source.

They walked passed the Arena entrance where it had gotten the loudest, but seeing that it was dark inside and noticing the gravity was off, they kept going. Glenn remarked, “No, it’s behind us now. It has to be from the Arena…” They walked up one of the side ramps into the gallery and peered inside the Arena.

Through the darkness were flashes and streaks. As their eyes adjusted to the lower light there was a simultaneous gasp as at once they each beheld the source of the symphony. There in mid-air were four glimmering beings, seemingly just sitting with their backs to each other as if on a suspended platform. It was what was happening all around them that caused the spectators to catch their breaths—shimmering with the frenetic energy of their rapid oscillations, Tlachtli balls were hammering out the music on the huge stretched strings all around the vast arena.

Glenn whispered, “It’s a piano in the round… How are they doing that?!”

Alfie grinned, his eyes had adjusted a bit more than the others, “…And blind-folded to boot!” Indeed, as they gazed more intently it became apparent that the Enthileste, with thick leather bands tied around their heads covering their eyes, sat in the vortex of a whirling almost living disc of energy—like the nucleus of an atom surrounded by its clouds of electrons. The music approached a crescendo. Glenn and Jeanette recognized that it was about to reach the anthem-like denoument. When Glenn played that piece on the piano, Jeanette always added a higher vocal harmony to give the music an organic…even living quality.

At once a chorus of voices—a veritable choir—erupted above the now pounding stress of the anthem as it marched up to new emboldened heights of intensity. The entire ship seemed to lend its very existence to the resonant reverberations now vibrating through every deck plate and, they suspected, the hull of the great vessel itself! The finale shook them such that they felt it in their bones; their hearts leapt with the rhythm of the masterpiece. Their breathing followed its cadence and then it happened—the grand finale. As they watched, the whirling mass that were the dozens and dozens of bruisers halted in an arrested orbit around the serene figures in the center. In a rush, they exploded out to strike the penultimate chords then flashed back to their former orbit at rest once more. That rest was palpably filled with the anticipation of the resolving chords; it was like waiting for a great wave to at last crash—the hair on the napes of their necks rose as if the air itself held the static electric potential of that anticipation. But the Enthileste allowed themselves one last flourish. Instead of a momentous single explosion of the one chord of resolution…they improvised, incorporating every motif, sub-theme and progression the symphony held into a compressed swelling detonation of release that made the projectiles striking the strings appear to be a solid disc spinning around and around. As suddenly as it struck, it was over and the Tlachtli balls once again hung suspended in space orbiting the now radiant beings at their center.

Glennie, Jeanette, Alfie and Olivia applauded as if their hands had no feeling, and cheered as if their throats could actually lend loud voice to their hearts swollen with over-powering emotion and awe. GingerKat reached up and removed her blindfold, the others followed suit. They floated to the floor of the pitch, the orbit of bruisers lowered with them, and as one they bowed humbly to their audience—at last allowing themselves to acknowledge the presence they had recognized the moment they had appeared. So intense was their concentration…so immaculate had to be the precision of their aim and rhythm, only the barest notice that they were being watched could be allowed to seep into their awareness.

Leva, GingerKat and Vashi exclaimed as one voice, “That’s Enthileste Tlachtli!” Jonibob took another bow to his partners as all three returned his homage. Their family in the gallery were exhausted, wrung out by the most intense spiritual-musical experience any of them had yet undergone. They walked woodenly down the ramp out of the gallery to the promenade. The Enthileste emerged from the Arena doors, heading off singly to the Bridge, to Main Engineering, to the Gardens, and to the Science labs to make the routine checks of systems and projects on-going during their ‘game.’

Alfie called to Leva as she glided out toward the arboretum entrance, “Leva!” he called. She was at his elbow before his voice had fallen.

“No need to shout Alfie, dear, I’m right here…” startling all four of the spectators.

He composed himself and asked on their behalf, “What compelled you four to create such a miraculous production as what we just witnessed…?”

She giggled, “Jonibob is being gentle in my training…I asked if anyone had played Tlachtli since their transformations…and our Jonibob used that opportunity to bring me up to speed in the disciplines that we must all have to effect our will in the commission of our obligations…So…Enthileste Tlachtli! Gotta run…” and she vanished to attend to her little chores.

Jeanette and Olivia stood dumb-founded, “That was just a training session?!” “Who are these beings—that they perform such miracles merely to gently train themselves!?”

The question hung in the air only for a moment; Vashi appeared next to them and took the ladies arms as if they had been strolling together, “We are Enthileste. We are one together. We are four aspects of the same being, the same purpose personified in four avatars of energy. We are Enthileste. We are one together…” and she vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.

Alfie whispered to Glennie, “And they obviously thought they were going to have some privacy on this ship for once…”

He replied, “And this is what they do when they are left to their own devices…I do feel as though I’ve just intruded on the privacy of someone else’s very thoughts…”

GingerKat appeared between them, just as Vashi had a moment before between the ladies. Taking their arms as if she’d been strolling along side them for a while, she assured them, “We are Enthileste. We have no privacy, no egos to bruise, nothing that can be taken from us or forced upon us. We are Enthileste…” and like Vashi and Leva before her, she vanished.

Jeanette, Olivia, Glennie and Alfie resolved to simply fetch what they came up to retrieve and return to their holiday plans on Pax—just let the Enthileste do whatever they did, without interference from them. As they stepped out of the elevator in the Anna onto the surface of Pax once more. Alfie let out a breath which he felt as though he had been holding. “That was one of the most intense, surreal, and inspiring experiences I think I have ever had…and I was trained by Masters!—my mother and father!”

They headed off to where they had arranged to meet up with some of the others for supper. They gathered around a hanging deck of a restaurant, overlooking a long tree-lined slope leading down to the lapping waves of a shore. Still not recovered from the afternoon’s exhausting experience, Jeanette and Olivia attempted to describe what had occurred before them when they had simply gone back to the Tahoe to fetch a few items.

Misha, Litana, Vera, Becka and Norah, with Danielle, Uma and Iseul, along with their kids and spouses listened in rapt enchantment at the improbable account of the concert. Vera muttered, “And the gravity was off…”

Iseul and Litana repeated, “…And they were blind-folded in the dark…”

The others simply sat in quiet awe. Alfred at last offered, “That’s what I was trying to say to Mama after Elenessa—words simply fail us when we try to quantify the ineffable quality of the Enthileste…”

Rudy, Hana, Isha, Randi, Ada and Isabou just grinned. Rudy stated, “Our folks are the funniest, smartest and gentlest people in the world!”

Hana chirped, “…And we are going to be just like them when we grow up!”

The twinses announced in round robin, “We…” “Will…” “Be…” “One…” “Together…”

The adults could only acknowledge that there was no higher aspiration than that singular ambition. Alfie repeated as if to himself, “…Just a training exercise…”

Over the next several days, as folks from shore leave returned either on errands, or to retrieve something, or simply to sleep in their own quarters at night, each person exited an elevator half hoping, half expecting to hear the music everyone had now heard storied to have been playing on the ship in their absence. Jonibob and his partners had removed the ‘piano-bowed strings’ from the Arena walls and there was nothing to indicate that the stories that circulated had any basis. But for the integrity of the storytellers it would have been dismissed out of hand. Since it was Alfie and Glennie, Olivia and Jeanette who were the source of the tale, it couldn’t be discounted as the product of a fanciful imagination.

The Enthileste went about the maintenance of the Tahoe as they always did, never letting on for a moment that they were anyone other than just whom the company had come to know and admire for their patience and gentleness. It was the children who begged to have the ‘concert performance’ repeated. GingerKat reminded them, “Our training is to prepare us for the obligations we have shouldered. We must practice all our skills and abilities; when we face the actual demands of our calling, we will be dealing out life or death. So our practice and training isn’t for exhibition, it is to make us surgical in the execution of our responsibilities. That your grandparents happened upon us in the midst of our training was simply an unrepeatable occurrence…”

Hana insisted, “But there aren’t any rules that say you can’t let anyone watch you play Enthileste Tlachtli!”

Jonibob tried, “You are correct. How would you set it up if you were to arrange for us to hold a demonstration….or performance?”

Hana consulted with her sisters and Rudy, “It could just be for us…”

Vashi asked, “And would you tell everyone else to close their ears and stay away from the Arena?”

They consulted again amongst themselves, “No, that would be selfish…”

Leva asked, “Do you think we are being selfish to decline giving a performance of our training?”

Hana admitted, “No…you have to train, just like we have to practice to be the best we can be at Tlachtli…We don’t really like to have anyone watching us practice…”

Rudy added, “…And that’s just a game. You are training for real life…”

Hana resolved, “You aren’t being selfish. Not really…But it would just be so fantastic to hear and see!”

Jonibob, in rapport with his partners, concluded, “The company of this ship is as much our family as you six are…”

Vashi, GingerKat and Leva emphasized, “Although you each are very, very special to us…”

He continued, “We will offer an exercise of our training as a gift to the Tahoe—just like a any other play or concert—we will simply be the actors in a play…the musicians on a stage…”

The children ran off at once to tell Papa Alfred and and Mama Vera the great news. Word spread like wildfire—the monthly scheduled Tlachtli tournament was pre-empted and not a single soul on board was the least bit disappointed. The Bridge was set to auto-function; all activity on the ship was put on hold as the performance hour neared. Jon and Vashi remounted the ‘piano-bowstrings’ around the Arena. Ginger and Leva turned up the gravity in the pitch to maximum. They were, after all, in a training exercise—what good would it be unless they increased the difficulty level of every attempt. They gathered up the large basket of bruisers and their blind-folds.

The lights of the Arena were merely dimmed slightly as they donned their blindfolds and Jon cast up the basket of bruisers in an arcing motion of one arm. Instantly the Enthileste corralled the chaotic trajectories and motions, then directed the balls in service of their chosen musical selection—the same piece overheard once before, but this time with a more baroque, intricate handling of the score. As the introduction gathered momentum, they rose from the intense gravitational attraction of the pitch floor into the center of the vast hall, and as before simply appeared to be resting cross-legged on an invisibly suspended platform.

Because of the more frenetic style of presentation, the blur of balls became a shimmering disc of energy in oscillation much sooner in the presentation and it remained a pulsing cloud around the central calm at its heart—the eye of the hurricane. As before, the pounding resonance of the production reverberated through the Tahoe until it once again felt as though even the hull was assisting with amplifying the musical vibrations of compelling beauty. The audience didn’t need the exquisite hearing of the Rutatoi to feel the harmonics in their very bones. It was mesmerizing and enthralling, as if in some way their own emotions were given expression in the rising and falling of the music—that they weren’t spectators only but participants in some integral way with the performance itself.

As on the first occasion, the approaching anthem-like recurrence of the major themes held the audience nearly breathless in anticipation. It rose and crashed upon their the core of their beings like wave after wave pounding the shores of their consciousness. The finale neared; as one, their hearts seemed to halt in their chests at the eternal moment of anticipation—the gestating pause when the balls orbited feverishly in an abeyant rest before the explosion. The eruption so caught everyone off-guard that nearly everyone fell back as the ring of balls were detonated and mushroomed toward their targets. In a crescendo that overshadowed all that had come before, the final chords throbbed in a frantic race to the close.

The silence that so suddenly followed found the spectators gasping and panting for breath. So exhausted they all were from the tension and inner exertion the performance had demanded of its listeners, they felt close to collapse. It was what they beheld with their own eyes which bewitched them into remaining erect, enchanted to wobble, emptied but still standing… The four at the center of the orbiting ring of bruisers slowly descended toward the floor. Then without actually touching the deck of the pitch, removed their blind-folds, seemed to stand and then clearly bowed to the gallery of witnesses. Involuntarily, there was a reciprocal bow of humility in return from the awed company in attendance.

Jon held out the basket and the bruisers, as if ducklings following their mama goose, filed into the container and were finally at rest once more. The lights sprang into full brilliance, the gravity was lessened to mere micro levels, and the Enthileste vanished. The cheers and applause that erupted spontaneously at the realization the performance was ended was near deafening and rivaled the concert itself in sheer volume. Jon, Vashi, Leva and Ginger re-appeared, but at the gallery-level above the deck, and simply held their postures, in mid-air, of humble appreciation for the ovations offered. As one, they spoke to the minds of all there assembled, ‘We are Enthileste. We are one together. Our great love for you our family has allowed us to make a demonstration of this exercise. Thank you for the efforts of your attention and understanding.’

As if on cue, Ginger announced aloud and clearly enough to be heard by all: “Let’s Eat!” Laughter and clapping heralded the company’s exodus from the galleries up to the Main Observation deck where a feast awaited them all.

Inevitably there arose the repeated question: How did they do it? Ginger answered all of them at once, “As with all things, we cannot change others, only ourselves. That extends to our manipulation of the world around us—there is no telekinesis involved here. We cast each ball individually, but at so great a rate that it only appeared that we were motionless in the vortex of activity. We can assure you: we were very active in the exercise you witnessed.”

Vashi added, “There is a saying: only compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. That is what GingerKat is saying. We are mostly physical, the bruisers are physical. When we encounter what is less physical we can use less physical means to affect it—air, vacuum, electricity, thought or the images of sight and sound. These we may deal with on different terms than the grossly physical.”

Jon pointed out, “That we appear to counter gravity is in the eye of the beholder…”

Leva acknowledged, “Time is the uniquely subjective phenomenon. Our existence is closer to that of energy than of matter. Many of the laws that constrain ‘ordinary’ existence simply are not applicable. So even with Time itself we have a rather unprecedented relationship…”

Alfred accepted their explanations on behalf of the company, “It was a treasured experience that we will savor throughout our lives. Thank you for allowing us this opportunity.”

Ginger added promptly, “Should we be compelled to fulfill our absolute duties of purpose during the rest of our voyages, as we did for Elenessa, you all shall have another such opportunity. That is essentially what convinced us to make ‘public’ what for us is necessarily a relatively ‘private’ matter. In the end: that much at least is relative.”

Jon concluded, “Relative to our actual obligations, what you witnessed today was: acting.”


2 thoughts on “Locks & Gates Excerpt

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