FURTHER TALES OF THE CRYSTAL TOWER
The Weather in Paradise 1.3a
-1- Introduction: About the Weather
-2- Arguing About the Weather
[a] Sky Cycling to Farmtown
[b] Farmtown Town Meeting
[c] The Knights Arrive
[d] Hay Wagon Ride
-3- Country Weather Fun
[a] Barn Party
-4- The Weather on the Beach
[a] Onto the Beach
[b] Camping at the Beach
[c] Fireside Chat
-5- The Weather at the Farmsted
[b] Farmstead Dinner
[d] A Private Discussion
[e] More Fine Weather at the Beach
-6- Following the Weather Back into the Zone
[a] Meeting the Mage
[c] Taking Council about the Weather
[d] Meeting the Zone Innkeeper
(i) Meeting the Innkeeper & Staff
(ii) The Hostess
(iii) In the Tavern
-7- How Earth-Side Weather Gets Involved
[a] Traveling Orders from the Mage
[b] An Aside: Thorn and the Mage
[c] Using the Gates
[d] Old Earth
[e] Out on the Town
-8- Good Weather Top Side
[a] Meeting Phil the Fixer
[b] Got weather magic to sell?
-9- Weather among the Worlds of the Diaspora
[a] Slave Quarry Weather is Always Bad
[b] Good Weather for an Escape
[c] Where is Antikne?
[d] Meeting Mr. Phil Again
[e] Fleeing Old Earth
[e] Battle at the Terra Gates
-10- On an Adventure You Can’t Control the Weather
[a] Battling the Power
(i) The Tower Gate
(ii) The High Tower
(iii) Victory Celebration
[b] Back at the Farm
-1- Introduction: About the Weather
It was always perfect weather in and around NuMarket City – (LATRYaB [“Trade Place”] in the Sacred Language, PSAKaDAS [“Words True Collected”]); just the right temperature to walk along the embankment of the Great River. One could always turn back to view the cluster of tall city buildings, their walls of glass reflecting a deeper-than-Earth-blue sky, some puffy white clouds providing the right amount of shade.
Yes, perfect weather. The Weather Witches (the “Double Ws”) received a regular stipend to assure that.
Its varied inhabitants, if they considered the matter, might have said that the City was, surely, among the top ten of the smaller cities founded during the 21st Century’s Great Human Diaspora to the “hundred worlds” -- of which this world, Alterra, was one. It was also the first world to which a When\Where Gate had been opened, a hundred or so Terran years earlier.
To the east and south of the City stretched a large country region containing many small-holders with their fields, orchards, vineyards and meat tanks. Their weather was always fine too, with just the right amount of rain at the right times – a for-fee service the City offered the hinterland that covered most of the costs of the Weather Witches.
This was an example of governance through consent. The City did not tax the farmers (to do that would be to return to an earlier barbaric era their forebears left behind on Old Earth). Rather, various benefits existed; each was required to be ethically sustainable. On an under-populated world including a significant number of people with various psychic capacities any attempt to coerce obedience was likely to fail anyway. So people learned to mostly let each other be.
That state of things, or rather, non-state, led to a proliferation of innovation, within the special characteristics of this one of the “hundred worlds” -- a world where magic was more central to the culture than any of the standard Terran technologies that had followed humanity out among the “hundred worlds”.
It also led to the development of a not-quite-respectable zone, across the Great River, along the riverside road that leads out to the Circle of Gates, where Alterra’s connections with the rest of the Terran-inhabited worlds are located. It’s known as ‘The Golden Road’ [RATAP CUBOD in the sacred language of Alterra] or alternatively, the Zone.
But that’s getting ahead of our tale. We’ll be back among the bars, brothels and banks of the Zone later. Right now we’re just concerned about the weather.
-2- Arguing About the Weather
[a] Sky Cycling to Farmtown
We’re about a hundred miles away from there, among the abundant fields of the independent townships south of NuMarket City.
Thorn hadn’t been home in nearly three years, since he finished at the Crystal Tower Academy and started assignments as a Gray Knight. Now the Tower was sending him home, during a bit of a crisis among the country folk, to mediate.
“This was not going to be fun” he thought. Well, at least his buddies from the Academy, Ice and Fee, were going to join him at his meeting with the farmers, to lend some weight to the mediation. They’d get a few days to camp-out and get introduced to his old friends.
He swooped down toward a not-small building set along a country road. The building looked like a series of intersecting domes of various sizes, but all the same color as the local bedrock. These structures, with their natural forms and flow, looked like they grew from the ground, unlike the glass and steel towers of the City that bespoke an off-world design, since human culture was not native to Alterra.
The more truly Alterran structures had been ‘coaxed’ from the raw materials beneath the ground. A team of magicians, skilled in Manifesting, meditated for several days, and, at the right moment, the structures rose up and fulfilled the plan intended. Then it was just a matter of adding utilities and furnishings. Yes, this Alterra was a world of magic and manifestation.
Thorn landed his SkyCycle – his personal flying machine powered by Zero Point energy – just at the front entrance to the Farmtown Community Center, next to the portico. There was a large meeting room in the complex where the local folk were holding a Town Meeting to resolve some conflicting weather needs.
His friends were to ‘drop in’ when the meeting was, as expected, near breaking-up while everyone postured and argued; typical town meeting in the region known as Numerica. The arrival of two Gray Knights, in full war gear, who none of the local folk knew (unlike Thorn, who they all knew) should get their attention and nudge them into the compromise he’d have to recommend as mediator.
That’s what being a Gray Knight seemed mostly about: diplomacy and boredom. Thorn really wanted an adventure.
[b] Farmtown Town Meeting
But first, he had to enter the Farmtown Hall. As he did all eyes turned to him and the hubbub of people talking over each other stopped. People first saw a large person in the gray uniform of the Knights of the Crystal Tower, head in a mirrored helm that covered eyes and mouth.
Then the helm came off and they all saw Thorn’s familiar face. Smiles all around, a few waves from folks he knew. Thorn acknowledged them and they immediately turned back to arguing...
He walked up to the front of the room, shaking hands with a few of the older men, getting playfully punched by some of the younger men he had known before going off to the Academy.
The Town Council members were sitting at a table facing the crowd, several monitor screens before them. He nodded to them; turned, held up his hands up, and in a Voice that had more than just sound behind it, spoke,
“Pay attention my friends. First, it is so good to be back among my folk! I haven’t been back to the farm lands since taking my Oath as a NeZDeR – Gray Knight. And it is in that capacity that I appear before you today. Both the Tower and the Numarket City councilors asked me to meet with you all about the very matter you’ve all convened here to discuss. Well, I guess one or the other may have heard something of your plan to hold a Town Meeting. They respect your right to do so and to make your own decisions. I’m here to help you define the issues that matter and see if we can reach a consensus. So why not explain to me what’s going on?”
In the general confusion of what followed it was not entirely clear to Thorn what the various farmers were complaining about; probably just some bull-necked farmer orneriness.
“We need more rain for our rice...”
“But we have to have more sun for our vineyards...”
“The Weather Witches are slacking; not paying enough attention to micro-managing our weather...”
[c] The Knights Arrive
That was the moment when Ice and Fee made their belated entrance. The talking stopped as the two tall Gray Knights, helms covering their faces, entered. They marched together quickly down the central aisle. Ice spoke formally.
“Greetings Brother Knight.”
To which Thorn replied,
“Welcome to the homeland of my ancestors.”
The formalities over Ice tapped the side of his mirrored helm and it retracted, revealing his finely featured face, ice-blue eyes, lightest blond hair, cut short. They clasped arms and Fee, slightly shorter, dark hair close cut, joined them.
“My friends, these are my fellow Knights, come here to help us resolve all difficulties. Let’s hear what they have to say.”
Fee spoke first, but none of those present remembers the words spoken. Such was his Talent that each felt certain that good things were about to unfold; all they needed to do was cooperate. Then Ice spoke.
“Process is prior to progress. How you decide who communicates the decision determines what you decide, so let us start by considering how to communicate with the Weather Witches. That will control what you can accomplish.”
The crowd had quieted down when Fee spoke; now they listened to Ice.
“The first step to consider is the very secrecy of the DoubleWs. We all know some of those with special Talents that involve manipulating the chaos we label ‘weather’ but we do not know which of those acknowledged weather magicians are part of the Weather Witches’ Consortium. We deal with the Consortium, not its members.”
“As we see it, the problem is not the weather. The problem is that some landholders, quite close to each other, need differing water and sun combinations. The first approximation seeking a solution is to ask what the Contract provides. The Great Charter, which our fore-parents, those Original Settlors, agreed to at the Opening of the Gate, provides that Contracts must be respected. So that’s where we start. What does the Contract say?”
One of the Town Councilors spoke up.
“It’s the standard Consortium contract; they invoice us; we pay. But the terms are on the DoubleW website. Let me pull it up.”
“Here’s the wording, ‘The party of the first part [the Weather Witches] and the party of the second part [that’s us, the Farmtown Community] acknowledge that weather witching is a psychic art based on the various Talents of the members of the Consortium, not an exact science. The party of the first part does not guarantee results. This standard contract applies to standard farming sections of five square miles. If finer tuning of results is required, an additional ‘small holdings’ fee will be charged.’”
“Our problem, Sir Knights is that some of the small holders do not want to pay the added fee.”
Ice nodded to Thorn and replied,
“So folks, the dispute, such as it is, comes down to who is going to pay some additional fees to the Double W Consortium. Is it fair for the farmer who wants less rain or more rain?”
That’s when Thorn interjected,
“Fairness often means an equal compromise where both give up something. One of the Great Dragons taught my class of cadets about negotiating and why compromises satisfy no one but are necessary exactly for that reason.”
“Equal dissatisfaction should feel right to all.”
The Councilor smiled, nodding,
“You Gray Knights always sound cryptic, like our Dragon friends. But of course, you point the way forward. If anyone objects, now is the moment to negate consensus... Good. It is agreed. This meeting is adjourned.
[d] Hay Wagon Ride
“Thorn, I understand a few of your childhood friends are waiting outside, insisting that they show you and your fellow Knights some country hospitality. My son Tyr will lead you on.”
The Councilor’s brawny son formally shook hands with the three Knights and motioned them out.
Thorn, using the sublingual communications system built into their Knights’ Belts, told his companions,
[“Tyr was one of my closest buddies, though he is the strong, silent type. Don’t expect much conversation, but Tyr and his friends are steadfast. Watch-out! They will ply you with country moonshine. Uh, let’s have fun!”]
The Knights were led outside to a wagon piled high with bales of hay.
Another of the young farmers motioned up, offering a hand.
“Whoa, friends, first, a Knight and his steed are never parted. We need to get our cycles.”
With that, Thorn pointed a finger toward his Sky Cycle and whistled. The mechanical device vibrated and transformed by folding into a tenth its usual size and flying to Thorm who put it in his backpack. His fellow knights did likewise and all three leaped up improbably high and settled among the young men and women.
Tyr turned an arched eyebrow toward Thorn, laughing,
Thorn started laughing too, as the wagon’s motor started to hum. To his brother Knights,
“When we were kids we had a bicycle troupe that did fancy tricks on our bikes at country fairs. We were called The Show Offs and had tee-shirts with a logo.”
Then to his friend,
“Yes Tyr, I’ve learned a few more tricks. Get us drunk enough and maybe we’ll demonstrate.”
-3- Country Weather Fun
[a] Barn Party
The hay wagon hummed as it rolled along the country road leading from the town meeting hall. They could see the stars through the trees, through the clear night air; perfect country weather.
Soon the road went deeper into fields and wood lots, passing several driveways; finally turning smoothly onto one as night settled in. Down that drive there was a row of candles along the ground, burning in bags they turned into rectangles of light. The candles guided them passed a typical farm house and around to a large barn, with bright light and loud music spilling from its big, opened double doors.
Thorn had noticed that Tyr was sitting closely with a young woman who he thought he recognized. But who was she? There was another younger woman with her, both pretty. The looked like sisters. He should be able to remember.
“Never mind, it will come back. It’s all in the Akashic Record! I’ll have to meditate on that...”
They strode, like Gray Knights should, into the barn. Thorn looked about and then groaned, adding sublingually to his fellow Knights,
[“Oh no, my twin sisters are here. And my big brother Ing is tending the beer chest. They really wanted to get me...”]
Fee responding the same way,
[“I feel they are trying to honor you...”]
To which Ice added, aloud but softly,
“Beside your sisters have, uh, matured since we saw them at last year’s reunion. That shock of red hair would be considered quite exotic in my homeland where most are blond.”
“To these people it means they are witches. And they are. You don’t know... cross ‘em and you’re likely to have a tornado chase you.”
“No reward without risk. What are they? Four years younger than us? I’m gonna go say hello. Fee, come with me.”
Thorn shook his head,
“Six actually. And big brother is here to guard them.”
The three Knights walked up to Thorn’s relations. Fee remarked sublingually,
[“Positive feelings... girls want to tease you... your brother very proud of you...”]
Hugs all around. Ice could not take his eyes from the twins who had blossomed in the months since they were last together. Sublingually to his fellows,
[“Were children... now young women...”]
To which Fee added,
[“Ing feels like a guardian lion”]
Smiles all around. Ing to his brother, arm wrapped around Thorn,
“You are amazing little brother. You look like a Gray Knight. You feel stronger than just a few months ago. Mom and dad send their love. GG PaPa too. Heard you wowed ‘em at the Town Meeting. Ya know the twins have been fine-tuning our farm’s weather for the past six months. They say there’s some strange things happening with the weather. Some technical stuff about fronts and vortexes. You ought to ask ‘em.”
With bottle in hand Thorn continued to introduce his brethren to childhood friends and relations near and far. Ice faded back and returned to the Twins.
“It’s strange ladies, everyone refers to you two as ‘the Twins’ and though I’ve met you yearly since we started at the Academy, I’m not sure I know your actual names... and why does Thorn tell me you’re dangerous?”
They laughed, responding by finishing each other’s sentences,
“He’s right. When we get the same notion together...”
“...things just happen. We did torment him when he lived at home.”
“But we’re proud of him and love him dearly.”
“... and I’m Violet.”
Ice smiling, put an arm through each girl’s arm and led them from the barn,
“Let’s take a look at the night sky, and I want to hear all about your weather work.”
Sometime later Fee joined them, laying back against a hay pile, watching for meteors and talking about the weather.
Thorn found himself back in the barn with Tyr and some others, sitting on hay bales, under a lantern. As he expected, some jars of ‘Good Ol’ Moonshine’ – the local brew, were being passed around. Soon he was drunk enough to feel nostalgic about all these ‘salt-of-the-altearth’ folks.
He noticed Tyr passing the bottle to some scrawny boys half hiding behind hay bales; one looked like he could be his friend’s little brother.
Then he was being challenged by a noticeably drunk Tyr to arm-wrestling. Thorn’s backpack and helm were already on a hay bale so his tunic followed.
Tyr looked at him with one eyebrow raised, one arm around each of the young women. Now Thorn remembered, Ivy, just his age, and her younger sister Daisy. Torn spoke,
“You’ve definitely grown into manhood Thorn, but let’s see if your fancy martial arts muscle can stop my plow-trained sinews!”
Two chairs were pulled up to a barrel and the two young men sat opposite each other. They grasped hands, planted elbows, and looked each other in the eyes. Eyes locked, they began to struggle against each other.
Silently at first, then some notable straining across the foreheads, some sweat on the brow. This continued for some minutes until their muscles were clenching and sweat-drenched.
Fee’s sublingual comment nearly broke Thorn’s focus.
[“You’re both evenly matched though he outweighs you... better for our medication goals for the local to win... if not they’ll think you used witchcraft...”]
Inch by inch Thorn allowed his arm to reach the barrel head.
“My friend, you win!”
The laughter, dancing and conversation continued well into the night. The young folk were not at all concerned about the weather. Some distant thunder, some lightning flashes. Just a normal summer night.
Though, since country life has its own rhythm, country folk, especially the younger folk, began leaving before too long.
“Probably ‘cause they have early chores tomorrow...”
“More likely they want some privacy; ah, your brother is gathering up the twins. They’re going to leave. I feel they are not happy. Violet is quite smitten by Ice. You ought to go to them.”
Having an empath provide guidance made diplomacy easier for the Gray Knight, but having to deal with his siblings was noticeably tougher. Thorn spoke sociably,
“It’s been so good to see you all. We’re going to be camping out by the beach for a few days. Ask Mom when we can come for some home-cooking...”
Ice broke in,
“According to your brother your Mother’s cooking is legendary!”
“I’ll text you little brother, but I’ll give you a day to recover from tonight...”
“And come for breakfast too. You’ll only be a few miles away... we’ll stop by with some of Mom’s fruit pie...”
Ice grinned. Thorn looked pained.
They left and he turned to Tyr, who was next to his fellow Knights,
“Our plan is to stay a few days and camp by the beach, but tonight if we could sleep in your loft that would be fine.”
“Ah, my friend, be aware, there are several of our old friends here who say they are too drunk to travel home tonight, so certainly the loft is likely to be cozy. You know they say ‘Where Gray Knights are visiting, virgins are scarce”
Fee broke in, grinning,
“True, Cadets have to be celibate. Not Knights. My Talent tells me there are not a few virgins here; maybe less tomorrow morning.”
The drinking and dancing continued for a while longer.
Let us allow the Knights and their friends some privacy and return to them in the morning.
-4- The Weather on the Beach
[a] Onto the Beach
The next morning started late. Hangovers have a way of delaying human action. Tyr’s Mother provided a hearty breakfast of strong coffee, country bacon from their meat vats, eggs and biscuits.
By noon the three Knights were latching their backpacks to their Sky Cycles. That’s when Tyr’s younger brother Rad and two of his friends arrived on bicycles. They looked typical for the farm zone’s almost-teens: scruffy, tall and a bit scrawny, but tanned and muscled, from family farm work; unkempt hair, not exactly clean jean shorts, or jhorts, as they’re called, old teeshirts, barefoot.
They recognized the boys from the night before, when they were allowed to share in a bottle of the home brew. Rad called out to them,
“Thorn, uh, Mr. Knight, Sir, Tyr said you’re gonna camp on the beach, so we thought we’d ride there and meet you... We’re the New Show Offs...”
Thorn smiled indulgently,
“That’s fine boys. Company’s always appreciated on a camp-out. I’d love to see how you three, as our successor bike acrobats do it! But you boys don’t have to peddle there; we can strap your bikes to our Cycles and you can fly out with us. How’s that?”
The boys’ grins told him that would be just fine.
“And by the way boys, that’s ‘ZU’ NeZDeR’ (Sir Knight) if you want to be formal, or just ZUD. But my Warrior Name is DABKOTOTeR (Shielder).
My friend Fee is MaDaTMaKeR (Mind Sensor) and my friend Ice is DYaMKaDLABeR (Justice Seeker)
So by early afternoon the Knights were back in the air on their Sky Cycles, one excited boy holding on behind each Knight, heading toward the beaches along the Conjoining Sea.
[b] Camping at the Beach
For several miles along the cost there was an old, somewhat derelict boardwalk that the local folks had built, with platforms scattered along it. Thorn headed toward his family’s site. It had a windward-pitched pergola roof over part of it and a stone fire pit next to it.
They swooped down to the beach with the boys whooping as they landed.
Rad shouted out,
“That was awesome!”
The boys were excited, jumping up, slapping hands. Ice intervened,
“OK boys, we’ll unload our Cycles and set up camp. But first, you three, in the water! From the way you smell you were all doing farm chores this morning.”
With that Ice scooped up one of the boys while Thorn and Fee did likewise. It was high tide so the Sea was up by the dunes at its edge. The Knights threw the boys, clothes and all, out into the waves, left them splashing in the water.
The Knights returned to the campsite, took their uniforms off and set up a tent. When the three dripping boys returned Ice instructed them,
“Off with those wet clothes. Hang them over the pergola.”
Then turning to the others,
“Well, we’ve got three naked boys who want to hang out with Knights of the Crystal Tower...”
Sublingually he continued,
[“They want to be eNeZDeRKaZ (Warrior Friends) so let’s put ‘em to work!”]
“Boys, jog along the dunes and find drift wood. As much as you can carry, so we can have fire later. When you get back I’ve got a throwing disk, so we can all get some exercise and enjoy the beach.”
He was happy to see the boys return with big piles of drift wood they could barely carry. After a few hours of throwing the disk and swimming in the surf he realized that keeping up with wild farm boys took real effort. Archery and martial arts at his Father’s castle in the far north was more to his liking. He thought,
[“Thorn must have been wild just like this as a kid. Probably was a Cro-Magnon caveman during a prior life on ancient Earth. Well, let’s see if we can tame these three over the next few days.”]
Sometimes, when Ice or Thorn were particularly concentrating Fee could hear their thoughts so he responded sublingually to both,
[“That’s a good idea Ice; these boys are wild, at least when compared to our Cadets! Taming them sounds like a great idea. Let’s rough ‘em up, clean ‘em up and then teach ‘em how to meditate! Might even help their bike trickery…”]
Thorn asked Rad to help set up the fire while Fee opened the hamper Tyr had provided. It kept its contents cold using Zero Point energy. He found some water, some home brew and some moonshine [“That’s Tyr for sure!”] along with prepared skewers containing vat sausage pieces and various veggies. Ice took the other two boys on a jog to get more fire wood.
After they piled the wood near the fire one of the boys went to retrieve his shorts. Ice intervened, grasping his shoulder,
“What’s up boy?”
“Just getting my jhorts...”
“But you Knights aren’t naked.”
“We wear military-style jocksocks under our uniforms which is practically being bare-assed, and now our uniforms are off. If you want to be friends of Knights, you’ve got to learn go with the flow. Understood?”
His big hand quickly smacked the boy across his butt.
“Nope, not right. Say it right, ‘Yessir’ but in Tower Talk: ‘DYUP ZUD.’ Repeat.
The boy did so.
“OK, good boy. Now you three, listen up. You see us wearing our service jocks, printed with the symbol of the Tower, the ten circles of the Tetractys [MaRDaTMaD]. ‘Cause you’ve been behaving we’re going to share our jocks with you. That’s something we do with very few boys; you can have our used ones. Rad, here’s mine. Put it on.”
With that Thorn pulled off his jock and tossed it to Rad. The other two Knights did likewise with the other two boys and waited for the boys to pull them on. Meanwhile Fee went into their gear and brought out three nice clean service jocks and tossed two to his companions. He explained,
“There’s one more step. Do you three boys have com implants?”
“Good. We Knights have sublingual implants that let us talk to each other with no one else hearing. I want to access your implants so you can receive private messages from us. You won’t be able to send any, since you’d need a mic implant by your voice box, but you’ll be able hear when we want you to.”
“I need to have your informed consent. We Knights always honor the NAP.”
The boys nodded.
“This will make you really a part of our team. We’re serious about you being Knight Friends, and we do want to see your riding skills…”
[c] Fireside Chat
Soon the three young Knights and three boys were sitting on the sand around the fire pit, eating and joking. As they finished their skewers and passed around a couple bottles of brew Ice began,
“Well boys, you want to hang out with Gray Knights, so you’ve got to prove yourselves worthy. You’ve started by doing as told. You collected firewood. We’ve played and eaten together. We’ve even shared our jocks with you. We’ve all gotten a bit of a buzz from that cannabis laced home brew, but there’s something not quite right yet. You don’t look right...”
He paused and stared at them.
“We’re used to Cadets your age. You look as strong ‘n’ tough as most of our Cadets so I can tell that farm work is good for you, but, by Tower standards you’re all too wild and unruly, so while you’re with us we’re going to train you to behave right.”
“As Friends of the Knights [eNeZDeRKaZ] you can get paid for helping us. You’ll be our local contacts. We can invite you to come to the Annual Reunion at the Tower and we’ll we want you to present right so anyone could see you really are Knights’ Friends. I need you to agree with me. I want to hear a nice firm ‘DYUP ZUD’ – do it!”
He got back a rather unsure reply.
“Not good enough!”
Winking at his companions, he grabbed one of the boys, Rad, and wrestled him nearly into a choke hold, wrapping arms and a leg around him. The other two Knights did similarly.
“Let’s try it again.”
After a couple of tries, with the Knights twisting boys into new positions between replies, they got nicely shouted responses. Half letting go, he took the opportunity to spank the boy a couple of times on his bare buttocks. The other Knights, beginning to grin, did the same. Thorn remarked sublingually,
[“Hey this is nearly as much fun as abusing Cadets, or our POW manimals...”]
“Something still not right... I’ve got it. You don’t look right. Being bare-assed on the beach is OK. It’s your hair that’s not right. We’re gonna give you boys a proper Cadet trimming. Since Gray Knights have to always look right we carry a grooming kit with us. Just what we need. Let’s get these boys on the platform.”
With that he pulled the boy over his shoulder and stepped onto the deck; had to smack his butt again to stop some squirming.
“Don’t squirm when I grab you. I decide when and how t’ grab ya. You do what I want.”
His companions did the same. The boys were plopped down and told to sit. Ice found his grooming kit and opened it. He sat cross-legged and pulled a boy onto his lap, wrapping an arm firmly around the boy and pinning him to his chest. The other two did the same.
“I’ve got the shaver set to an inch, so I’m going to trim ya. If you squirm, expect to get hit, so stay still!”
Within seconds the boy was trimmed.
“Not done yet; now setting it to shave. Gonna give you a Mohawk-style head shaving. That’s a good initiation mark…”
After a few passes with the shaver both sides of the boy’s head was shaved clean, leaving a strip of thick, short hair, front to back, along the top of his skull. Ice continued to hold onto the boy but passed the shaver.
A couple of minutes later all three were identically trimmed, hauled up over the Knights’ shoulders and run down to the water where they all got the hair trimmings washed off. Some more splashing around and Thorn led them back to the fireside.
[d] Tower Keeper Assistants
“Now you look like third year Cadets, when they all get a Mohawk trim and start to train with Dragons [eMACRODOT]. Later we’ll see if we can see any Dragon Trails in the night sky.”
“Over the next few months, if you three continue to behave we might be able to have you enroll in the Tower Keeper Assistants [ED eLABDTOLeR DYOLABeSOD DABCABeROD]. That’s for boys who want to help out at the Tower complex. That’s what gets you invited to the Reunion Camp-out. You might even, eventually, qualify for work as a Keeper.”
The Knights took turns recounting stories of the early years of the Order of Gray Knights until it was dark.
Another couple of bottles of brew had been shared around the fire embers as the stars came out. They were all in a relaxed mood. Perfect beach weather. It was Fee’s turn to instruct the boys.
“We’re going to teach you how to calm your mind like a Knight does. That’s called ‘meditation’ [HaZCaT]. We’ll start by just gazing softly at the embers. Listen to the sound of my voice...”
Fee continued talking in a soft voice, embedding new ideas and hypnotic triggers. A half hour later...
“...And fully awake, feeling better than before... “
“Now that we’re all relaxed and calm, let’s just lay back, get comfortable and watch the skies for a while. Sometimes you can see Dragon Trails in the sky...”
After a bit Rad was certain he could see something; maybe a streamer of light progressing across the sky. He called over to Thorn whispering,
“I see something... over the Conjoining Sea... light...”
Thorn leaned over and whispered back,
“I do so too... but I also see the Dragon flying before it...”
Their heads together, they watched in silence.
After a while Ice broke in,
“Alright bros! Enough staring... Let’s get some shut-eye. Tomorrow we want to see what you boys can do with your bike tricks. But for now we’ve got a blow-up mattress sort of big enough for us all; it’ll be cozy. From now on tonight, no more talking in the common tongue: if you can’t say it in PSAKaDAS – Tower Talk – keep quiet!”
-5- The Weather at the Farmsted
Next day Thorn and his brother Ing went back and forth by text messages. They were invited for a big farm dinner the next day. Yes, the boys camping out with them could come.
That gave them a day to play around. The Knights were impressed by the boys’ coordinated bicycle tricks, done on the boardwalk. They cheered and applauded, happily watching the boys’ self-esteem growing.
Thorn thought the boys should learn a little about martial arts and Fee wanted to practice meditation so they kept busy. They demonstrated their Kata and sparred with each other, making sure to engage in extra high leaps, vigorous punching and kicking. Then it was time for another meditation lesson. Fee’s triggers worked well and the boys responded to the session by becoming remarkably relaxed and still.
That night Ice remarked,
“All we’ve got left to drink is some water and some moonshine; let’s raid your family’s liquor cabinet tomorrow! But not to worry bro, that moonshine will do for tonight...”
The Knights and boys got boozier than they might have expected since Ing made sure they had his strongest moonshine, laced with cannabis extract. There was a lot of laughter and fooling around.
The next afternoon, after recovering, in the water and on the beach, from notable hangovers, it was time to go. Just before mounting their Sky Cycles the Knights showed the boys how they protected their campsite while being absent from it. Ice explained,
“We’re going to Set the Guards. That means we’re going to raise Psi Energy from the streams of energy coursing through the crystal ley lines of this world. We’ll create a bubble of invisibility around the site and put a Warning in place. Ordinary folk would not only not see the camp, but would not, even if familiar with the area, notice anything amiss. A powerful Wizard might, but the Warning would be obvious to such a person, and would send us an emergency message in case of any Breach of the Guards.”
“Now that you’ve had some practice meditating with us you can help to set the guards. Your energy will join with ours and make raising the power quicker. Nonetheless, this will take about five or ten minutes. We need to form an energetic triangle enclosing the site: two of us at each vertex. Oh, and get your jhorts and shirts on; after we’ve Set the Guards you will not be able to find them.”
Each Knight took a boy and stood apart, forming a triangle around the campsite. Fee started chanting some words in the sacred language and the air started to shimmer. The boys were amazed to watch their camp disappear. Somewhat confused at the experience they were told to mount the Cycles behind the Knights. Then they were airborne again and whooping and laughing.
[b] Farmstead Dinner
Too soon for the boys the Sky Cycles were diving toward Thorn’s family farmstead, swooping down among the buildings of the complex.
Of course the Twins, their bright red hair flowing free, woven with wild flowers, ran out of the farm house to greet Thorn and guests. It was obvious to Thorn that they had been waiting. He groaned. Fee remarked sublingually,
[“Watch out Ice, Violet has you on her mind. What’s in Rose’s head will remain unsaid. Thorn is right; they are – especially when acting together – powerful witches. We all need to watch out!”]
Rose spoke first, formally,
“It is so good to see you Brother, and your companion Knights. Welcome to our humble stead. But what have we here? Ragamuffins you found out in the wild somewhere? Nice Mohawks.”
Thorn, maintaining a studied calm,
“Happy to be here too sisters. My friends have been looking forward to our visit. The boys are Tyr’s son Rad and his friends Will and Od’n. They’ve been camping out with us. They’re volunteering to join the Keepers’ Auxiliary.”
“It doesn’t exactly feel that they volunteered. I hope you haven’t been abusing them too much. They look a bit worse for the wear...”
It was Fee’s turn,
“Not to worry Rose, they’re tough boys and we’re treating them like they were Cadets. Well, maybe we had too much of that moonshine last night, but everyone knows country boys can handle their liquor...”
“Let’s walk around back. We have a big table set up under that big Weeping Willow you used to like playing in as a child. I hope you’ve brought your appetites. Mom’s had us cooking all day yesterday. Rumor is that GG PaPa may show up.”
The table was loaded with even more food than the guests, hungry as they were from subsisting on campfire fare for three day, could consume. The meal went on for several hours. Great Grandfather Daeg – known to all as “Old Daeg” as he was one of the original settlors from Old Earth arrived in plenty of time for dessert – or rather, desserts, as they had their own table piled high with exotic concoctions. Thorn’s mother disclaimed any responsibility for that display,
“That was the Twin’s idea. Don’t blame me when you can’t fit into your uniforms!”
It was getting dark under the Willow when the Twins stood apart from the rest and twirled, holding hands, in an intricate pattern. As they did so, hundreds of soft lights appeared among the hanging branches of the tree. Neither the boys nor Knights had ever seen such a display. They stared with open mouths... Rose replied to their quizzical looks,
“We just invited some Dragon-Companions [eMACRODOTKaZ]. They are to the Dragons of Alterra what our cats and dogs are to us: simpler beings of a similar order. They don’t pay much attention to humans unless you know how to entice them. These are quite friendly and love being around humans who they trust.”
They continued talking late into the night. Later on Rose and Violet suggested that Ice and Fee come with them for a walk in the moonlight.
“The weather is perfect tonight...”
“... For a walk...”
The three boys were falling asleep where they sat, from too many sugary treats so Thorn led them up to his room where there was enough floor space for a couple of sleeping rolls.
“I’ve two sleeping bags. Will ‘n’ Od’n get in them. Rad, you share my bunk.”
The boy looked unsure. Thorn grinned at him,
“Don’t worry. Boys’ butts are off limits.”
Once he got the boys settled down Thorn turned off the light,
“Let’s get some sleep boys. We Knights have another couple of days off, so it’s back to the beach tomorrow. And my sisters did promise to bring over some more pies...”
“So where did Ice and Fee end up?”
Thorn, putting on a stern voice,
“None of your business boy. My sisters and friends are all adults.”
“Right, but I thought you Knights were celibate... at least when you weren’t, ya know, foolin’ ‘round with...”
Thorn broke in,
“‘Nough of that boy! No, we’re not celibate.”
He paused, speaking more gently,
“But we can’t marry while on active duty. We’ve got a 25 year commitment. That doesn’t mean we can’t father sons. Only sons, by the way; there’s a spell placed on us to assure that. Those are the Sons of the Tower [eLATa>LeS DABCABeROD]. Their expenses are paid by the Tower and they always get admitted to the Cadets or Keepers’ Auxiliary. There are a few hundred active duty Knights and dozens of eLATa>LeS.”
“If my sisters and friends produce some pups, they’re likely to have powerful Talents. The Mage wants Knights to breed with Talented women. Marriage not needed. Being on a frontier planet with a small population you shouldn’t be surprised that lots of women want sons by Knights... No more talking ‘til morning. We’re going for a run at dawn; I’ll make sure my brother Knights and you are awake for that! Then it’s back to the beach after breakfast.”
It had been a long day and the four were sound asleep when Rose and Fee, and Violet and Ice found their way back to the girls’ bedrooms.
Next morning Thor got his Knight companions and the local boys up about dawn. He wouldn’t allow any excuses, he said,
“For your bad habits. A morning run is good for us, besides my father and brother are already out and about, collecting eggs, milking cows. Mother’s preparing another hearty country breakfast.”
The Twins were waiting, looking fresh and wholesome in similar but not identical summer dresses, as the barefoot and shirtless young men and boys jogged back to the house. Rose, as usual, spoke first.
“My, you all look so... so...”
“So testosterone enabled...”
Rose, smiling, finished,
“...and that’s impressive considering last night!”
Ice and Fee blushed. The boys sniggered. Thorn wanted to change the topic of talk.
“Hey we’re famished and I can smell the bacon... Same table as last night?”
After sating their appetites, and even the boys having strong coffee, the young men were feeling rambunctious and willing to show-off for the young ladies. They were under the giant weeping willow where the air was cool, still protected from what was going to be a hot summer day.
Ice led off by challenging the biggest of the boys, Od’n to arm wrestling. The boy was willing, but hopelessly out matched.
Then he got Rad and Will to arm wrestle each other. The three Knights cheered them on. Even Thorn got into the spirit of the moment and shouted out to Rad when he won,
“Good effort boy!”
That led to Ice challenging Thorn who suggested, instead, they all pack up a lunch and head for the beach. That ploy didn’t work and his sisters insisted he try. He was stronger than Ice, but his friend was determined, so they pushed and grunted until their naked torsos were wet with sweat. Thorn did prevail. The Twins looked appreciative.
Fee broke in, seeking to end the boy/girl games,
“Let’s perform our Kata for your sisters and maybe they can join us later at the beach with some of those promised pies...”
“We really need to talk to you three, alone, if we can separate you from your future Keepers for a few minutes...”
That got some guffaws from the boys, and some boys getting poked by Ice.
“You guys stay here and eat some more. Or, better, do pushups and sit-ups. You’re still scrawny. We’ll walk with the ladies.”
[d] A Private Discussion
As they walked down the country lane by the farmstead they formed a line, Thorn in the center with a Twin on either side, and his fellow Knights guarding the ends, each linking arms with one of the Twins. They insisted Thorn link to their other arms. Rose began,
“Now this is a nice way to travel, 5 abreast on an empty country road...”
And Violet continued,
“So much more genteel than those Sky Cycles of yours...”
Thorn couldn’t help himself,
“That’s not what I recall you saying at year before last’s Reunion when, Ice I think it was, offered to take you both for a ride. You seemed to enjoy it immensely, all flushed and excited. Don’t know how the three of you fit on the flyer!”
Violet replied in a pretend haughty voice,
“Oh, we were children then. Now we have more important matters on our minds. We have to take care of our boys. I mean the ones on the way...”
“That’s right; we’re pregnant; both of us.”
“Come on, how you could even tell that in one day?”
“I know what I feel...”
“Don’t question what a witch knows she feels.”
“And you three have to take responsibility...”
“Whoa, what did I have to do with you two seducing my best friends?”
“Those two need to plan on being here for us throughout the pregnancies, during birthing and thereafter. They can help around the farm when they don’t have Knight duties. You are being conscripted to help. You want to be a good uncle, right.”
Thorn, sighing and resigned,
“Of course I do. And I know my friends are smitten by you both, so you don’t need to worry about them being absent fathers.”
Ice summed up,
“So we’re in agreement, if Rose is right, and we’ll have two new future Knights in nine months, we’re all-in all the way. That’s settled like adults. Now what’s this about the weather you’ve been hinting at?”
“I’d rather we show you. Let’s head out to the beach. Those boys can hang onto Thorn’s flyer. You can each take one of us, like ladies. They have some sort of Shield around them? Right?”
“Sure, inertial dampener too; we’ll set up the flyers, get the boys bungie-corded to Thorn’s, while you get some pie.”
“Ah, boys, pie and flying. What could go wrong?”
[e] More Fine Weather at the Beach
The boys liked hanging onto Thorn’s Sky Cycle and each other, whooping and shouting as Thorn piloted the flyer. Well, they were not just hanging on, but, as Ice suggested, were tied on with cording. Thorn knew that none of that was necessary do to the flyer’s gravity control so he cork-screwed and pivoted his flyer through the air; gaining altitude and then diving down, swooping just by the treetops and then dune peaks. Lots more boy shouting. It was going to be a fine day; sunny weather on the beach.
They landed where their campsite had been hidden by a magic spell. Almost hidden that is, both Rose and Violet had no problem discerning where the platform and tent were. The boys were surprised when the Twins disappeared before their eyes as they entered the hidden area. Fee commented,
“Looks like you boys can’t see what’s in front of your faces! Let’s try a little experiment. Line up here.”
Thorn and Ice turned to him, curious. Fee stepped behind the boys and pulled them together, his arms wide around them.
“Now I want you to close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice. As I count back from ten to one you will relax and re-enter that meditative state we showed you earlier, standing still and quiet. Then I’m going to show you what you cannot see...”
“When you open your eyes, continue to relax and look softly. Now, let your eye slide across your field of vision. Notice, as I know you can, a wavering in the air, almost like heat waves rising. That’s it! Let yourself see through the illusion. Look beyond what you can see. Can you see Rose? How many fingers is she holding up?”
After a minute Od’n spoke, as though from a distance.
“No campsite, but I see the wavering...”
“Me too. Odd I don’t remember where the campsite should be...”
That’s when Rad interjected,
Thorn, who was standing, an arm’s length away, clapped the boy on the shoulder.
“Excellent Rad! You may have a bit of Talent. Give us a moment boys and Fee will dispel the illusion.”
Which is what they did, followed by apple pie. After which the Twins invited everyone to join them by the shoreline, overlooking the Conjoining Sea.
They walked down to the shore, just above the high tide line and sat along the embankment marking that line. The Twins continued walking until they were just off the leading edge of the waves. Thorn noticed how they had grown, wearing matching young women’s shorts, blouses, country straw hats. Now he understood his companion Knights’ interest.
The girls held hands facing the sea and began to gently rock back and forth, singing some words the others could not hear above the wave sounds. Then they raised their free hands up and toward the Sea.
What had been a sunny, cloudless day along the Conjoining Sea rapidly transformed, first with the appearance of clouds forming above the water, then with those clouds changing from white to deep gray-green, showing a threatening turmoil and rolling gusts of heavy wind.
Thorn called over the wind,
“So we get it, you can whip up a hurricane any time you want...”
“We didn’t make this. We were expecting this, as it has occurred, with greater violence, weekly for the past month. We come here to dissipate it. That’s why we waited to tell ‘til we were here, with you, at the right time. There is an outside force seeking to break through.”
The wind increased in intensity.
“I need you three to lend me your Talents, this storm is the strongest yet.”
The Knights stood and joined the Twins by the roiling surf; Fee motioned the boys to follow.
The wind and sea roared at them. With a nod to his companions Thorn manifested his shield. The psi–shield was a powerful part of a Gray Knight’s armament. The other two joined him, merging their shields into a virtual Shield Wall, protecting their party from the heavy waves washing over the beach.
As the storm howled around them the Twins continued their mystic hand and body motions, seeking to dance the chaos of the storm into the orderly and predictable weather the farming folk expected.
The waves and wind-driven spray intensified. The Knights strained to maintain their Shield Wall.
Then, after some minutes the raging storm began to dissipate. The Twins stopped moving and Violet spoke, her voice distant, oddly suggesting the depth of the trance they had achieved.
“...weather anomalies escalating out of control... “
Rose continued in a flat, exhausted voice,
“other-worldly storm... something trying to force a Gate... It seeks the way in... to our Reality...
Violet, almost trance-chanting as she began to sway again,
“Weather anomalies: freak storms; otherworldly energies in them; all... bifurcation bleed-through...
Rose completed the message, as both she and her sister collapsed onto the sand.
“... something to do with increasingly Gate complexity attracting It...”
They carried the fainted girls back to the campsite, which though in some disarray seemed the best in the circumstances. A taste of the remaining moonshine revived them, and some more pie helped as well. They were both unusually quiet.
“You young ladies have an enormous amount of raw power to your Talent. You actually dissipated a hurricane! Impressive. I understand that Weather Witches mostly divert weather fronts to optimize rain and sun, leading to higher farm production. That’s good. But what you just did is amazing; we need to report to the Tower what’s been happening to the weather. We need to text a formal report.”
“Right you are Fee. Remember, the Mage says it appears each new generation born on Alterra seems to have greater psi power than the previous.”
“It’s best if we get what we saw in writing, contemporaneously. Let’s record our memories and then let the Tower AI write the report. That system will find all recent weather anomalies and collate times and places. Bifurcation bleed-through is a real possibility. This is all above our grade when it comes to Multi-Bifuractional Metaphysics – MBM; your Great Grand Dad or the Mage will need to be consulted. The first step is to get our observations down...”
Rad spoke up,
“Uhm, excuse me sir Knights. When things started getting crazy I pulled out my phone and recorded what happened. About a half hour’s worth before I ran out of power. If you have a Zero E Box, I could charge the cellular and we could send the video too...”
Thorn clapped the boy on the shoulder,
“Good job boy! OK, let’s record, send and then relax a while.
After their report and the video were sent off Ice and Fee returned the Twins home.
Later, sharing a blanket on a dune side, watching the stars at night, Thorn, Rad and his buddies talked about Old Terra and their future on Alterra, and what they thought about sons, cadets, auxiliaries, NAP & the LABYABeSRaTD (manimal) POWs.
“It’s always so peaceful here by the Sea. With your friends taking your sisters back home it’s also a lot quieter. The weather’s back to normal too. Is it true they don’t have Weather Witches back on Old Earth?”
“Well, I haven’t been there, but have done a lot of Old Earth history reading; never heard of Weather Witches. As crazy as it sounds, they used to kill witches there. Then when they became sort of civilized people back there who claimed they could control the weather were considered charlatans. So maybe on Old Terra they are at the mercy of the weather. What we saw earlier is disturbing, but let’s not let that ruin a great clear night to watch the stars.”
As they gazed at the sky they continued talking; Rad,
“‘Nother thing that bothers me is what happened to those Earth soldiers who tried to invade us a few years ago. You folks at the Tower enslaved them all. Last year my Dad hired a gang of them to dig some irrigation ditches for us. He said it was cheap labor that would let us increase our production. We had ‘em at the farm for ten days. The worked really hard. They slept in our barn loft. We were told we had to latch ‘em down at night and put a chain around their ankles. That didn’t seem to bother them; they were used to being controlled I guess. I was surprised that they seemed sort of happy after their hard work day ended after sundown, grinning and joshing around ‘an all; just like horny guys anywhere. We had some fun with them, but I feel sorry for them.”
“When they arrived, jogging down our road pulling a wagon with tools and stuff in it, I was sort of shocked to see them naked. They looked healthy enough; strong, tanned. There was a Tower Keeper with them, in the Keepers’ brown, short-pants uniform, who was sitting in the wagon, long riding crop in hand, directing ‘em by smacking ‘em on their butts. He left them with us and came back to pick them up at the end of the contract. I thought slavery was outlawed here, even on Old Earth they don’t allow that anymore. What’s up?”
“Well, first they’re not slaves. We can’t sell ‘em. They’re convicts. They invaded our home world; violated our freedom. Second, ninety percent of the POWs were repatriated immediately after they lost the Battle at the Wall. That so embarrassed their government that it collapsed. We were left with the hundred we held as bargaining chips; that was probably a mistake. But they’re war criminals under our Charter, besides the Old Earth authorities wanted nothing to do with them and would not even mention them in the Peace Treaty. We’re stuck with them. We’re treating them tough but fair, while keeping them under strict control. They have to earn their keep, and then some. The Mage is very clear on that.”
“They didn’t invade us by themselves. Their government made ‘em go through those Gates and a bunch of ‘em were killed when the Gates fizzled... and besides, they seemed like regular guys who were in a tough spot. The seemed to appreciate the extra food I snuck to ‘em.”
“Knights are taught that obeying orders is no excuse for harming any non-aggressor. We always have to uphold the NAP – the Non-Aggression Principle – but that doesn’t stop us from defending ourselves and forcing wrong-doers to behave. They were willing to kill us. Anyone who is willing to obey an order to invade another peaceful society is dangerous and must be treated as such. Those NoAm marines have a reputation for toughness, so we’re just treating ‘em as they expect.”
He paused and shook his head.
“But you’re right; they’re just ordinary young men from an overcrowded planet with a tyrannical government -- probably humane to eventually free them, but for now, life at hard labor as manimals. I think very few off-worlders know that none of the settlors have died of old age here since the Mage opened that first Gate. Our extreme longevity is something of a secret.”
“You know there aren’t any other real prisons here on Alterra; the worst penalty here is exile to some rough frontier planet where misbehaving will get you killed pretty quickly. Exile from a world like ours, where you’d have a very long lifespan, is penalty enough. Our biggest crime concern is what happens in the Zone. Some of those thugs ought to be in the Manimal Corps – LABPAS LABYABeSRaTDOD too. Just my opinion...”
“Something like that is beginning to happen, Thorn. Numarket City got the Mage to agree to take on some of their problems. Our farm zone friends here, like their compatriots, are generally good boys, just getting into the usual teen mischief. But in the City there are some young toughs who view the border between the Trade Zone and town as an opportunity to engage in petty theft and the like. The City had enough and cracked down.
“We got our first, uh, shipment of ‘Delinquents’ over month ago. I had to vet their mental and emotional states. Not pretty. We’re integrating them into the Manimal Corp. Mind-control and hard work will take care of the City’s problem, or so they believe. The ‘DMs’ as they're called had a rough first month, but, they seem to be fitting in better now. Take a bunch of boys and put them in with a gang of hard-working young soldiers, then put ‘em all to labor in a strict military fashion; it’s good for ‘esprit de corps’ – good for productive work too.”
“Lots of folk are concerned about interplanetary con artists and thugs in the Zone. Keeping them in the Zone is best; as is protecting City youth from getting tainted by the Zone... Well, tell us what’s it like being in the Keepers of the Tower? What are you guys trying to get us into?”
“At the start, when the Gate was opened from Old Earth to Alterra, a bit over a century ago, the first settlors homesteaded between the Conjoining Sea and the mouth of the Great River, where the farmlands are today. Farmsteads spread nearly all the way north to where Numarket City sits on the river edge today, and up to the grasslands below the Tower area. The countryside has fertile soils and a moderate climate. Warm enough for two crops a year.”
“We got that; we’re farmers too... but what about the Keepers?
“The Mage needed helpers to make that dozen-story tall shard of crystal that sits on its promontory between the Great River and the Conjoining Sea into the Institution it has become. He convinced a dozen otherwise unattached settlors to take up the job of keeping the Tower Complex in good order, and running the farming operation there. On a frontier planet farming comes first. They were the first Keepers. Then the Mage started training youths as Grey Knights.”
“Today there are several dozen Keepers and as many Keeper Assistants who learn by doing. Assistants get paid a one once silver coin for each week they work, plus room and board. Assistants have to work just one week a month, so they can continue to help at their family farms. Some of them work one or two added weeks a month. The Cadets help out with the gardening, as do the Knights. We all keep busy. You’d get to wear the uniform of a Keeper Assistant, and ya’ll know that farm girls just love Keeper Boys!”
There was some nervous laughter,
“‘Nough said about that!”
The discussion quieted down and Od’n spoke up,
“There’s supposed to be a meteor shower around this time of year. They’re called the Draconians since they appear near the constellation Altdraconius. We might see a few shooting stars every minute. Meteor shower this time of year; auroras to the North in winter.”
“My dad and I used to climb onto our roof to watch them. Our country skies are dark, but when we’d do that, if I turned to the north from the rooftop and the clouds were right and AltLuna not too bright, I could just make out two lit areas of the sky, one larger. Must have been Numarket City, the other the Crystal Tower. They always fascinated me, meteors and auroras too. Maybe there’s no magic on Old Earth, but there certainly is here.”
The boys made sport of counting shooting stars and had reached over a hundred by the time Ice and Fee returned. Thorn and the boys decided to sleep on the beach so Fee grabbed a couple of blankets, tossing out some to use as covers while he and Ice also found comfortable spots on the dune-side, as AltLuna rose in the west.
Next day their vacation was to come to an end, so they would have to leave by early afternoon.
While the boys were body-surfing one last time the Knights talked about them and the desire of the Tower Administration to recruit more help for the farming operation. They decided to bring the boys back to the Tower with them, for reorientation. They stopped by the farmsteads to get parental permission and flew off to the North with them.
-6- Following the Weather Back into the Zone
Unsettled weather always unsettled Fee. As he and Will were flying North toward the Tower, in a loose formation with Thorn and Rad, and Ice and Od’n, he thought about what they had experienced when the Twins worked their weather magic.
“The Twins felt apprehension as they faced the storm. Maybe their pregnancies impacted their daring; maybe there was some other-worldly influence. Troubling...”
Then, to his fellow Knight, via the sublingual channel,
[“Brothers, I felt an Energy Being that didn’t feel like one of our Dragon friends. The Twins intuited that, basically channeling “It’s” intent – to break through. This is really troubling. We can’t let this information get lost in the Tower bureaucracy, no matter how small that may be. Thorn, you’ve gotta get your GG-PaPa to get us an audience with the Mage, right away.”]
They swooped toward the Tower, seeing it gleaming on the horizon, nearly surrounded by glistening water, entering through the portico at the third level above ground, the KORTROP MACRODeROD.
The boys’ eyes were agape. They were turning here and there, excited by all the Sky Cycles parked along the three walls of the portico. There were at least a dozen Gray Knights, here and there.
On a world where human aging appeared to suspend at maturity seeing the elderly was unusual. So the boys gaped again when two gray haired, but vigorous looking men turned toward them. One was wearing the gray uniform on the Knights, in the shade indicating an officer. The other was wearing hiking boots and old blue jean ‘jhorts’ – short pants, and pale blue – Earth Blue – as it was called, shirt and cap. Only original settlors would ever wear that particular shade.
[a] Meeting the Mage
The OS – Old Settlor – smiled at Thorn,
“How are you son? We need to know everything that happened. Yes, we’ve been briefed...”
And turning to Ice and Fee,
“And how are the two fathers-to-be...”
Thorn, at bit exasperated, broke in,
“Do we get to keep any secrets around here GG-PaPa?”
It was the other gentleman’s turn,
“Thorn, you are on a planet with a few million psychics out of a population of a few dozen million people; it’s easier to be brazen than to expect privacy.”
Thorn smiled back,
“Yes Mage, Knights deal with what reality presents us; even if that violates what we think we know about the laws of physics in this bifurcation.”
The Mage smiled and looked about the group,
“The Twins will be here shortly. We need to have you all examined. You were in the presence of a Power we do not understand. You all have an oddness to your auras. Some of the Great Dragons will be joining us too.”
“But first I imagine these country boys are the three who Fee told me want to be Keeper Assistants. We will see about that. I sense a capacity for synchronicities and maybe remote viewing... but for now, you get to be temporary apprentices, while we keep you here, out of mischief...”
The Mage stared at the boys. A Tower Keeper, noticeable by his brown uniform, arrived.
“I want you to follow this Chief Keeper, URDYOLABeS. He will get your uniforms and return you to us in my conference chamber.”
With a wave of his arm the boys found themselves walking out, quietly following the Keeper.
The boys continued to gaze this way and that as they were led along a hallway of rough gray crystal toward a hole in the wall. The Keeper spoke as they went forward.
“So you are the farmer boys Sir Thorn says want to be Keeper Assistants (KAs). That’s good, we need more Keepers. Farm boys are used to hard work, so that’s good too. Well, from the rumors there’s more happening here than the Officers know, or at least are admitting. You three seem to be in the middle of it! My job is to make sure you look like KAs. Acting like KAs will take a little longer. For now, just remember The Three Keeps: Keep Quiet / Keep Out of the Way / Keep Ready to Act on Command
The Three Keeps:
ED DYOLAB SUROD:
Keep Out of the Way
Keep Ready to Act Needfully
DYOLABYO> A<P DaMACLaM ROC-LAB.”
Pointing to the opening in the wall,
“Have you boys ever used a Null-gravity Chute – a NUPZaMeR?”
There were gazes of incomprehension.
“It’s how we get up and down in the Tower. It’s easy. Just lean in, grasp the nearest poll; not the arrow markings; that’s the down-side. You weigh nearly nothing in there. Just haul yourselves down to the third level below ground, the Stores. That’s the sixth story down. Don’t worry, you won’t fall. Let’s go.”
He grabbed the shortest of the three, Will, and tossed him into the chute. The boy floundered a few seconds, feet above head, but grasped the pole and righted himself,
“Hey, this is cool. Like balancing on our bikes!”
The other two joined him and the Keeper guided them down, leading them to the Tower Stores.
There was another Keeper behind a counter.
“Three KA uniforms; large, medium and small. Boys, pick up your gear and follow.”
Each boy was given a brown tee-shirt ‘n’ shorts, a brown belt and tan work boots. He led them through some barracks and to a gang shower. First he had them take off their country clothes and he went at them with a shaver, reducing their Cadet-style mohawks to properly Keeper short cuts. Shortly they were all scrubbed and dressed.
[c] Taking Council about the Weather
The Keeper led them back up a NUPZaMeR higher into the Tower, bringing them back to the Three Knights and the older men. The Twins had arrived too. Violet waved to the boys,
“Well, you boys look cute... like you belong here...”
The Mage continued the point,
“Which is why we had you cleaned-up and geared right. You’re good looking boys, great exemplars of our old ‘Merican stock who populate the farming townships. You look as though you like hanging out with my Knights, so pay attention.”
He nodded to the Twins,.
“I am so very happy for you and my young Knights. The Talents that you bring forth will impact this world. I have seen it...”
The silence after the Mage’s prediction gained a strange vibratory content as those with Talent could begin to feel the arrival of Dragon Energies. There was a barely perceivable shimmering in the air.
The Mage began the meeting, speaking formally,
“This Council is called to order. I wanted all the witnesses here so we can determine what is happening. I have meditated on what we know and have a foreseeing that there is danger here. I feel that the Twins, you Knights and those boys, all touched by an unknown Power, are necessary for the solution. Your Mission is one of search and discovery. I foresee you will be guided by synchronicities and that these boys and Knights are all needed together to, as Jung said, ‘Constellate the circumstances’ allowing the Archetypes to manifest what we need to know.”
“But first I feel the arrival of our friends, the Great Dragons – eD URMACRODOT.”
As the Dragons coalesced even the farm boys, the least Talented of those there, could feel and then see the scintillating energies present.
The humans saluted the Dragons as was customary, by placing the right hand over the heart, then extending it, palm up, toward the Dragon being greeted. The Great Dragon pulsated the air in the room and his Voice was heard by all, vibrating in their minds.
“Our greetings to all in this time of unprecedented chaos among the fluidics of air and sea. Even the Fire Mountains are in turmoil. Something – ><SaYAT – is disturbing the balance of the worlds connected by your Gates. We understand these young folk have had direct experience of this Unknown Power – LAZeR NeMaKaD. We need to share that experience to understand. But beware that we, in seeking a single cause, might miss the multiple and interconnected ‘conditioned causality’ that is likely at play.”
The Mage replied,
“My friend, our greetings to you as well. We’ve seen a recording of the ‘storm’ but direct experience would be best. What do you believe we should do?”
The Dragon continued to coalesce into a form approximating a person, but of a soft opalescent light. He spoke,
“If you will all sit comfortably, we will explore Akashic Record together... but first perhaps some of your Old Earth tea; its aroma is stimulating...”
Daeg bowed to the Great Dragon, and to the Mage,
“I know where you keep the tea things so I’ll be right back.”
He disappeared. Various Beings present were surprised. Thorn and the Twins, however, took it in stride, having seen their Great-Great Grandfather disappear and reappear many times. The Mage started,
“Let’s start by reviewing the video again and then we can decide what we think we know.”
A minute later Daeg reappeared with a large tray, steaming pot of tea and cups on it. The sweet, herbal aroma preceded him as he carried it across the room. The scintillating energies of the Dragons coalesced around him and the wafting aromas.
After passing out the cups and pouring the tea he sat with a cup for himself, as the video ended.
The Mage began again,
“So what do we know? We have the video, the Twin’s information and Fee’s concerns, which Daeg confirms, as he witnessed the Storm too, from further away and saw what was within it.”
“I saw an entity, not quite coalesced, that reminded me of a MACRODOT, but different, alien.”
The Great Dragon interjected,
“Yes, we sense similarly... but now, all relax, as we supplement your recording with what we can divine from the Universal Reord.”
The humans present found themselves back on the beach with the otherworldly storm again raging. This time, standing apart from the action the Twins and their companions were able to clearly see that an Entity, wrapped in shadow and storm, sought to manifest in their reality.
“Yes, that is what we thought. An Entity from somewhere else... Now .lt us divine the potentials with Trimancy regarding the Power attempting to breakthrough. I would liken that Power to the entity Morgoth of your old home world’s ‘Lord of the Ring’ mythos, or, from another mythos, Cthulhu. Yes, there are mythic bifurcations, actually, infinite versions of such. Your fiction writers never truly write fiction. Perhaps one of those Beings seeks to enter our shared Reality.”
All the adults present concurred and Divination by Threes – ZAMaMeR-SURYaT – was consulted, using a random number generator. The Threes revealed,
Prime 9: 4 [Dragon: MACRODOT]
Prime Term: 2 [YODL - Joy]
Aspect: 3 [negative]
Subsequent: 4 [ZaL - Life]
Subsequent Aspect: 3 [negative]
Root Term: 56 [CUT - Flame]
The Mage analyzed the Trimancy reading.
“These Trimantic statements lead me to conclude the proposal to send Thorn and his team out among the Worlds of the Diaspora is an absolute necessity, especially as time is short and a crisis is fast approaching. The ‘Flame’ is the unknown Power; our Joy will be negated, as will Life, unless we follow the course our Dragon friends have suggested: seek out the data we need to address the risk presented.”
“Unless you disagree, I am instructing the team to go under cover as Merchants of Disrepute – weather tech merchant-pirates. That might smoke out some valuable information. Thorn, remember, this is a research trip, not a ‘reconnoiter in force’. That’s why you are going in disguise and with these three boys.”
“The trick is how not to look like a soldier. With help from our Dragon-friends we will use magic to help disguise you boys and Knights. One spell will assure that ordinary folk will not question your disguises. Most folk will not even notice you unless you want them to. Another will grow your hair a few inches quickly. We’ll send you into the Zone, to the Innkeeper, to complete your cover and send you out through the Gates.”
Thorn took a pause in the discussion to ask,
“Sir, can you explain the Gates among the worlds through which we will travel? I think our Keeper boys need to understand...”
Nodding, the Mage spoke about the Gates:
“You all need to understand... Effective When\Where Gates were sought for thousands of years: Atlantis, Old China, Alchemical Mittel Europa, 20th Century CERN facility. Finally, near mid-21st-century, it became possible to construct working Gates.”
He paused, took a sip of tea, and proceeded to lecture.
“There are certain things we can say about When\Where Gates:
 Local Gates that allow instantaneous transit from Gate to Gate on the same world.
 World Gates that allow instantaneous transit from Gate to Gate between worlds, creating a network of interconnected Gates, what is called the Gateways.
 Bifurcation Gates where the Wise may transit from one Bifurcation of Reality to another; the Gate from Old Earth to Alterra was one of these.
Bifurcation bleed-through was just a theoretical issue until your Twins stopped an unauthorized entry by an unidentified Entity.
There are some basic natural laws that apply to Bifurcations.
[a] The First Law is the Law of Bifurcation Identity. Bifurcations which are identical are one and the same bifurcation.
[b] The Second Law is the Law of Bifurcation Attraction. The more similar bifurcations are, the more similar they will become; the less similar, the more they may diverge.
[c] The Third Law is the Law of Bifurcation Interaction. Consciousness, applying Intentionality through Frequency, allows the Wise to transverse Bifurcations, singing their way among the potentialities through precise frequency generation. Thus the Talented may determine where the Gate opens. Bind Runes expressing those frequencies are especially useful in this operation.
 Reality Gates, the rarest of all, allow transit between realities with differing ‘Premises’ which can include laws of nature as well as spiritual or psychological variations. There is great risk when using such Gates.”
“You’ll be given more mission-specific information when you meet the Innkeeper. Listen to him. He is more than an Innkeeper!
Now though, I want you six to focus on the sound of my voice as you enter into a deeply relaxed mind-state. Our Dragon allies, Daeg and I will cast protective spells around you...”
The two elder wizards stood and faced each other. They clapped their hands simultaneously, loudly, three times. The sound vibrated on and on... A bright light seemed to emanate from the Dragons, growing so strong as to overwhelm the humans’ eyesight, briefly. At the same time the wizards chanted, several times, in both English and PSAKaDaS (the language of the Tower),
“Together bring protection now! – LARYaD YaKRODeR CABDABeR TaD!”
The companions could feel the protective spell take hold. Then, in response to a second, shorter spell, they could feel their hair growing unkempt, their complexions a bit swarthy.
[d] Meeting the Zone Innkeeper
Old Daeg volunteered to bring the Six to the Innkeeper. The Mage added,
“Use the Tower Gate – it has an override – to infiltrate them through one of the World Gates. They need to be in character, so get some civilian, off-world clothes on them. The folks at the Inn will finalize their disguises with appropriate ‘pirate’ garb. Oh, and you shouldn’t be seen with them on the street.”
(i) Meeting the Innkeeper & Staff
Daeg led the boys away, responding to Ice’s question about what the Zone was like.
“The Zone is like the area near any World Gate on most any planet of the Human Diaspora: merchants, money changers, prostitutes, spies and the like. It’s like nowhere any of you have ever been!”
“We want you undercover Knights and boys to hang out in the Zone pretending to be Intergate Merchants with not-quite-lawful weather control equipment, including spells, bindrunes and the like for sale, no questions asked. Then it’s off among the Many Worlds...”
They thought they looked the part: much more hair than any Knight would wear; scruffy mismatched clothes – more like pirates than merchants – not always much different between such riffraff of the Gateways.
The boys were instructed to play the part of apprentices to the merchants, little different than slaves, actually. They wore only their well-worn jean shorts and each had a large back pack strapped on with multiple belts and locks. The Mage explained,
“There is a weight and size limit when using the Gates so small pack-boys are favored by Inter-Gate Merchants. Each pack is nearly four feet tall, reaching from your waists to well above your heads. Looks like they are heavy, which they are! Not to worry, you boys will be fine. Enjoy the adventure!”
Standing there, with leather collars on, dank hair tied back, barefoot and shirtless, weighted down by their packs, they did look like slave boys so Thorn volunteered to take on the job of slave-driver. To which Old Daeg replied,
“We’ll grab a Cadet-training switch on the way to the Gate. Are you sure you’re willing to do this? You were always a caring boy; I remember watching you once rescue a dragon fly from a spider web; it allowed you to gently pull off the webbing and then it flew away...”
“Don’t worry about me GG-PaPa. I’ll play the role... we all will.”
They arrived through a Gate in the Great Circle of World Gates at the far end of the Zone. It appeared they were coming from somewhere else, but they had slipped out through the Tower’s Universal Gate and then back in through a World Gate.
They headed straight toward the Inn which the Knights understood was a front for Tower Intel. Fee reminded them not to march, not to look like soldiers. The boys had been told to always stay a few steps behind the ‘Merchants’ and to jog at whatever speed was needed to allow them to keep up with the ‘Merchants’ brisk walk. Fee had explained,
“Slave boys always jog or run – or stand at brace, quiet and still.”
The Innkeeper was waiting at the front desk. He was a fit young man with dark curling hair, about six foot, with a friendly smile. He led them to a conference room in the back. They shook hands, using the Secret Handshake of the Agents of the Tower (pressing with the middle three fingers and then just the middle finger), thereby confirming each other’s’ implant codes.
“Glad to meet you, uh, ‘Merchants’. Well, my job is to train you for undercover work, hopefully to keep you alive. I’m good at what I do and have the Mage’s trust. I’m not one of the Old Settlors, though I did know him back on Old Earth. He was my friend and I became one of the earliest to be brought back. When the Mage brought me here I was as surprised as any of us returnees are – imagine that! Imagine that! A Resurrection Machine – really a specialized Gate – and here, a magical world among a hundred human-dwelling worlds! Each just a few steps apart...”
He shook his head, signaling that he remained amazed.
“The key to this Intel Op is to use the Zone Court and fake a ‘random exile’ through the Gates. Since the Zone is isolated from the rest of Alterra, exiling bad actors here in the Zone is how we keep the peace. Exile is also our undercover method to get off world. So after a few days of practice here we’ll get you moving through a Gate and see what you can discover. The Mage told me we need to trust the magic he wove about you. I must also trust, though, in careful planning and practice, practice, practice...”
“The secret of effective undercover work is to always remain in character. Always assume you are being watched, because you are. You sort of look the part of three pirate merchants and three slave boys. But you Knights look far too wholesome. You need to stay drunk for a couple of days, and get rougher with the boys. There aren’t any bruises on them. They ought to look more like slave boys. Have ‘em wear mouth guards so they can’t talk.”
“If you manage to connect with black-market weather tech you will find that the purveyors will be very cautious and will expect you to act like pirates. Your boys look too much like they’re on an adventure. They need to look worn-down and scared, like they had been kidnapped... Knowing how the Tower usually operates, they probably were. Don’t let ‘em get enough sleep or food. Those boys need to be knocked around more, ‘specially if you’re in the bar, in public. That’s where the other merchants will notice newcomers and how they behave.”
“OK, let’s do some role playing. Pretend my conference table is in the bar and you’ve just walked in. What do you do?”
The ‘Merchants’ pulled some chairs over. The six began to sit down, as the boys shucked their heavy packs.
“Nope! Not right! First, three chairs only. Second, boys keep those packs on so if some thief tries to grab it, they’d have to drag you away too. Each boy stands next to your ‘owner.’ Pull out the chair for him and push it in as he sits. Merchants, it would be in character for you to punch your boy on the upper arm, or elbow him in the gut for no apparent reason. Take every opportunity to show dominance. Then you boys squat on your haunches, next to your owner. Good, you boys look flexible enough to act like well-trained slave boys.”
“Order big mugs of beer first, then food. Always booze first. If you request, one of the waitresses will put a bowl of water on the floor beneath the table for your boys. It will be hard for the boys to get under the table with their packs on, but you should encourage that. Nudge ‘em with your boot between their legs. That’s it. Later, as you’re eating, you can offer your boys some scraps. Don’t let it seem that they get fed regularly. Just scraps. And have ‘em do tricks to get their feed. You know, as he turned toward Rad, like this:
‘Open ya trap boy! Mouth guard out. Tongue out. Leave this on ya tongue.’
Place a piece of food on the tongue, then you ignore the boy for a minute or two. He hummed for a few seconds.
‘Do not swallow. Close your mouth.’
Again, wait. You can make sure onlookers see your boot toe bouncing the boy’s balls through his jhorts. Then,
‘Chew 25 times.’
Wait again. Smack the side of his head.
‘Swallow. Good Boy.’
“Now you do that.”
The Knights practiced mistreating the boys.
“That’s alright, but don’t hold back on punching or smacking. Onlookers will see you pulling your punches.”
The Innkeeper watched the merchants practice abusing their boys some more.
“Good. Keep up the pressure on the boys to keep quiet and obey. But now, let me take you to your room.”
He led them upstairs to a room which had only a single big bed with a coverlet, no pillows or sheets.
“Gateway Merchants get basic accommodations. Toilet ‘n’ shower at the back of the hall. I know you Knights are trained to Present Right, looking like soldiers. That’s exactly what you cannot do if you are going under cover. Do not shower two days in a row. In fact, don’t shower much at all. Don’t use soap, water only. Exercise together with the boys, in your room. Get sweaty together. Mr. Merchant, I saw the switch you have. Use it. Let’s see some switch marks, even some bruises, on their calves, shoulders, torso. Anywhere not protected by those backpacks.”
Show me. Thorn swallowed and smacked a couple of times on various exposed boy skin. The Innkeeper shook his head and took Thorn’s switch.
“That’s not right. Here’s how it’s done.”
He started smacking left and right, catching boys’ buttocks and legs, getting satisfying yelps.”
“Now that’s better. That’ll show right. Keep at it. I’ll send ‘pirate food’ up to your room. By day-after-tomorrow you should look enough like pirates for your first visit to the bar.”
After the Innkeeper left Thorn pulled off his grimy leather vest, took up his switch, and turned toward the boys.
“OK slaves, let’s start. I want to see just ten push-ups, with your backpacks on. Then we go from there. Bros, you two too; twice as many. Let’s get sweaty.”
While the Knights had no problem with ten times ten push-ups the boys struggled under their backpacks. Thorn ‘encouraged’ them with the riding crop, across their legs and feet, wanting to make sure the Innkeeper would see improvements in their disguises.
“OK boys that’s enough for now. Backpacks off. Let’s do some stretching until that food arrives. Then we’ll teach you how to do tricks for your feed. Hungry slave boys need to learn to do whatever it takes to be allowed some feed.”
Thorn added sublingually to his fellow Knights,
[“It’s going to be great fun abusing these three; just like hazing Cadets...”]
[“Well, new KAs are supposed to accomplish some hard task to prove their desire to be of service in the Tower. Maybe this is theirs.”]
At that Fee asked to take over the stretches and instructed his fellow Knights and the boys in ‘Buddy Stretching’ which pitted their strength against each other, using isometric forms involving the static contraction of muscle. Thorn and Rad we obviously into the team work, pushing each other to the limit.
Fee’s sublingual comment to Thorn,
[“Watch out, a bromance with Rad is OK, but don’t let it get out of hand -- treat him with respect.”]
(ii) The Hostess
Worn out by a long day, they were happy to hear the knock on the door that indicated food was arriving. A matronly, but serenely beautiful, Hostess, pushing a cart, entered the room. To Fee’s mind she embodied an architype and was more than real. He was sure it was a valid feeling.
“The Boss told us to provide real pirate fare for some disreputable off-worlders... that wouldn’t be you boys by any chance?”
Fee blushed as he realized he must have met her last year at the Tower Reunion. She must be the mother of a Cadet he knew who was about to enter his Pleb Year. He knew her. They had spoken. She had claimed to be an actress. She was a very cultured lady from an Old Settlor Family. This bawdy woman could not be her.
Ice, signaled by Fee sublingually, intervened.
“Yep, that’s us. We’re pirates from... out there...”
He waved his hand toward the window. The woman laughed,
“Have it your way... boys. You can never tell who is listening here in the shady Zone... never certain who’s the actor and who the audience. Yes?”
She sniffed the air...
“Nice jocks boys. I would say, under a day’s grime, you three bigger boys are young Gray Knights pretending to be undercover merchants, pirates, whatever. And you three, despite the almost convincing bruises are no doubt farm boys from the townships LARPing as kidnapped and enslaved boys. What on Alt-Earth would you be doing here? Whoever authorized bringing three pups on an Intel Op should have his head examined. I say “his” as no woman would be that dumb.”
Ice, doing his best to maintain a straight face continued, ignoring her unveiling of their disguises, continued.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Do you have contacts with buyers of, uh, shall we say, not exactly widely available, uh, things. Ya know, about weather control – magic stuff, high tech stuff. We’re buying and selling. These three are just street rates we grabbed to carry our wares through the Gates. If they behave we may take them on as ‘Prentices. Or we could sell ‘em, off this world of course. The Innkeeper told us he’d provide some control gear for our boys, so people in the Zone would not question their status.”
“Well, let’s get you fed and then maybe we’ll talk about acting out a role without tripping up in the first few seconds. I’ve got strong ale and a bowl of potato porridge with bacon and cabbage. Pirates love this. It will make you fart...”
“There’s a bag with control cuffs and mouth guards. Well, I’ll be back to clear-up and then we’ll talk.”
She was gone when Will spoke up,
“Wow that was wild! It’s like you guys knew her. Wasn’t it the Mage who told us we all had to go on this, uh, mission together?”
The smell of food stopped all alternative considerations, at least for a while. Thorn had a wicked grin as he stood over the food bowl,
“I said slave boys have to do tricks for feed, and I meant it.”
Ice catching onto the game chimed in, mock-seriously,
“Now Thorn, I see some bacon in that porridge. Please do not wrap that beacon around your, uh, ‘pork’ and have them eat it off... that would not be respectful. And the bacon is probably too hot.”
Thorn, emphasizing his disappointment,
“What, are you telling me I can’t make ‘em do humiliating but entertaining tricks for their food? You guys just don’t want me to have any fun.”
Ice started guffawing, grabbed Od’n and play wrestled him to the ground.
“Let’s get this control gear on ‘em and then we can get on to some ‘tricks for food’ games.”
The boy clearly didn’t like what Ice was planning, but the bigger Knight was able to pin his wrists back with one hand while getting a control belt, ankle and wrist cuff on him. Latching his wrists back completed the operation. One hand back around the boy’s neck forced his jaws open so the mouth guard fit in place. Another twist and his ankles were latched together and he was on his knees, not looking very happy at all.
Ice nodded, satisfied with himself. Within seconds the other two boys had been likewise grabbed and geared. The three Knights were sitting on the floor, crossed-legged, while the boys were kneeling between them.
“Now boys, that’s better. No more squirming around or talkin’. We pirates are gonna eat first, since we’re the masters and that bowl’s not very large... You can wait until we’re done and then, if you are good boys, we’ll hand feed you a bit. But, for you to look like abused and hungry slave boys, we gotta treat you that way.”
The undercover Knights ate their fill from the common bowl, with the three wooden spoons provided. Then Thorn released Rad’s ankles and hauled him onto his lap, wrapping an arm around him, pinning him back against the Knight’s muscular chest. His companions, grinning, did the same to their boys. Mouth guards out.
“OK, now that we’re all comfy, let’s figure out how you’re gonna earn your feed.”
He pulled Rad’s head back and started chewing on the boy’s ear and neck. When the boy squirmed he tightened his grip,
“Good thing you’re flexible boy...”
Grabbing the right ankle he twisted the boy’s leg up so he could slap the bottom of the boy’s foot, which he did, hard, several times. Pulling the leg up higher he was able to reach the boy’s rump which he smacked loudly again and again. His companions and the other boys were watching intently.
“If you squirm I’ll continue to hit. When you stop I’m going back to tasting you. If you want feed you need to submit. Got it?”
Rad turned his head and glared at Thorn but stopped struggling. The Knight went back to licking and chewing on the boy’s neck and shoulder, leaving a trail of hickies. He stopped. He released the boy’s mouth guard.
“Good boy. You get two spoonful’s for that. Then we’ll see what other tricks you can do for more.”
Thorn took up one of the spoons and ladled a mouthful into the boy’s mouth who tried not to look grateful for the food. The Knight took a second big spoonful, but into his own mouth. He pulled the boy’s head back and pushed their mouths together. Using his tongue he transferred the food from his mouth to the boy’s. Rad swallowed and closed his eyes.
“Good boy. Maybe that’s the only way I’ll feed you from now on.”
He got a sharp sublingual retort from Fee,
[“Bro, don’t take that too far. The boy’s already smitten with you...”]
[“Feeling’s mutual. I won’t break the rules; he’s a minor so he’ll remain a virgin... but since you and Ice made sure my Twin sisters are no longer virgins, you’re in no position to complain ‘bout how I handle Rad!”]
Ice, nodding his head in mock disbelief fed his boy conventionally, as did Fee. Thorn continued his mouth-to-mouth feeding a few more times.
“Bros, we shouldn’t over feed these ‘street rats’ – they need to look lean and hungry. Besides, that’s all the ‘pirate feed’ we’ve got. Like good pirates we get our fill first; the scraps go to our slave boys. Od’n, lick this bowl. Since we have to wait for the Innkeeper, I guess we might as well get some shut-eye. That’s what soldiers are supposed to do when they’re waiting, catch-up on sleep. Probably applies to pirates too...”
They were all sound asleep a few hours later, sprawled across every inch of the bed, when the supposed Hostess returned. She banged the door shut behind her, waking them up.
The Knights went into a Defenders’ Triade pushing the boys between them, until the light was switched on and they saw who was in the room. Fee spoke first,
“Hey shouldn’t you knock first?”
“Not if I wanted to catch you unawares... you boys were so cute, piled up in your jocks. But the first thing you did was blow your cover. That triad is a dead give-away! You cannot be seen defending yourselves! Another give-away is wearing jocks! Let’s practice your acting like pirates. I have another food cart outside when we’re done.”
She laughed and winked
“Do some tricks for me and we’ll get you all fed again.”
The three companions blushed and Ice once more tried to ignore the obvious, this lady knew everything that they were doing.
“Hey ya know, we’re rough and tough pirates so we just don’t give a damn... ‘Me ne frego!’ ...but tell us, how do you think pirates should behave?”
For the next few hours they listened and practiced how to stand, how to talk, how not to be mistaken for soldiers. Finally the refilled food cart was brought back in, this time with regular food as would grace the table of any home on Alterra.
“Alright boys, dig in; last home cooking you’re likely to get for a while. And make sure those ragamuffins get nearly enough this time. I’ll be back tomorrow for more talk about pirates. Then tomorrow night you can head to the tavern behind the Inn and we’ll see...”
Ice summed up after she left,
“It’s all good. Train, eat, sleep: hangin’ out with my bros.”
The next day was a continuation of the previous, but with several other unnamed Inn staff (or were they Intel trainers?) showing up to question the pirates. Whichever, they seemed intent on tripping-up the pirates’ cover stories. That evening their Hostess returned to oversee their pirate garb, mostly ill-fitting and mismatched, and prepared to send them on their way to the Inn’s tavern.
“Well boys, you look something like interstellar traders or pirates or whatever... But you still look too healthy and strong. Not at all sufficiently diseased and addicted. I’ve got some grease paint here; we’ll soon have you looking like disreputable characters, like everyone else in the Zone!”
They did look more the part when they were allowed to try out their cover persona at the tavern.
(iii) In the Tavern
Behind the perhaps intentionally ramshackle Inn, comprised as it was of seemingly ill-fitting Alterran ‘grown’ domes and Old Earth-like commercial construction pastiche, people were always getting lost and no one could really tell whether, or where, secret passages and doorways might be located.
There was a mostly gravel ‘garden’ behind the buildings which ended at the Tavern at the Inn. There was an open air seating area, under a partial canopy and further protected by tall, large leafed trees; there were various lights hung here and there. Behind that was the bar that served it, and behind that was the Tavern building, including another bar. Loud music came from the inside.
Thorn and his companions decided to stay outside. They found a table with three small benches. One ‘pirate’ and one ‘slave boy’ could just about fit on each. The boys were instructed,
“Keep your hands behind your backs. Don’t squirm. We eat first, you get the scraps. No talking!”
Mugs of ale were served without asking for them. Then the “Nightly Special” of various sausage links and fries arrived. Fee noticed their ‘slave boys’ were nearly salivating.
“Let’s give ‘em each some sausage then, when we’ve had our fill then they can lick the plates.”
Ice laughing, added,
“Right, good size sausages for boys to practice on...”
“In case anyone is watching we should made a big deal of the boys ‘practicing.’”
Thorn took the hint and went further. He picked up a large link in one hand and took Rad by the back of the neck with the other.
“Mouth open boy. No biting.”
He slid the sausage into and out of the boy’s mouth, suggestively.
“Suck but no chewing.”
He continued while Rad avoided looking him in the eyes. He spoke louder.
“Good slave boy; good sucking form boy. OK. Now you can bite and chew.”
An obviously drunk patron, dressed in the motley travel clothes that seemed normal for those using the Gates, stumbled by, watching,
“Good sir, an excellent boy. Looks like he loves to be of service. Would you consider renting him out for a few hours?”
Thorn, staying in role, growled back,
“The boy’s mine. Besides, don’t they have a ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ rule here? So long as we’re off world within ten days we can leave without anyone questioning us. If I rented him to you I’d be engaging in slave profiteering and I’d get booted off-world at a run, without the boy. But thanks for the offer man; if we run into you on another, friendlier world, I’m always ready to profit!”
The drunk moved on.
-7- How Earth-Side Weather Gets Involved
Apparently practicing at being pirates went well and on the third day of their grace period their Hostess led them down some corridors into another room and through a false wall into a passageway below the Inn.
They were surprised to find a warren of rooms and halls with various folk bustling around.
“This is Intel’s Zone facility. There’s a Gate back to the Tower in here. I understand the Mage is waiting for you. He wants to see how you look. If the mission is a ‘Go’ you’ll be back here for deployment in a couple of hours. Good luck boys.”
[a] Traveling Orders from the Mage
The Mage was waiting for them at the other end of the Gate. So was Old Daeg who spoke first.
“Well, well... you might actually be mistaken for pirates, oops, I meant Gateways Merchants!”
The Mage ushered the boys from the Gate, located at the ground level of the Great Tower, outside and to a small wooden building situated in a small copse of trees about a hundred feet from the Tower entranceway. This was the Mage’s personal “Tea House” [ZaZYaB] which he kept for private meetings ‘outside the Tower.’
Those who had them left their boots outside and found comfortable spots on the Tatami Mats covering the floor. The Mage sat next to the tea equipment and spoke while brewing.
“My greatest concern was whether the Terran Forces were planning another invasion. Now I am not sure what Force is seeking us...”
“My great-great granddaughters seem to have confronted something that doesn’t need Gates to transit probability ribbons, bifurcations, if you will. The whole Gateways system is at risk...”
“Or maybe superfluous at the level of our Interloper...”
“It felt more like a probe, not ‘reconnoitering in force’. I was astounded. The Twins held It at bay.”
Mage to Thorn:
“If we’re being probed our automatic defenses are shunting the energy into the weather. Chaos into chaos. We need to know. I need you six to find out. The consensus among the Wise is that you were ‘touched’ by Whatever It Is and are likely to attract It... Since your sisters are, uhm, you know... with child, we cannot let them be exposed to It further. You are, I must be honest, bait.”
The boys looked seriously at each other. Fee held his hand out between them, first Ice, then Thorn then the three younger boys reached their fists together. Daeg and the Mage clapped them on the shoulders. Daeg continued,
“I hear you’ve been subsisting on pirate grub in the Zone. We’ve got some sandwiches to go with the tea, so let’s dig in.”
[b] An Aside: Thorn and the Mage
A bit later, while waiting for the others, Thorn and the Mage found themselves quietly sitting in the Tower garden, reminiscing about when he was a Cadet, why he was singled out for ‘tough guy’ training. They talked about two beach incidents, years apart and before this latest storm on the beach. These included the ‘fight’ with his cousin’s crew on the beach halfway between the Tower and the City and coming late to class due to swimming, how the Mage reacted and why.
“I guess I did get spanked more often than any of my classmates. How did I end up as Commander of Cadets?”
“Well, that was pretty simple. By the end of the first year I usually have the personalities of my new Cadets figured out. I start by understanding that each boy has a unique set of psi Talents. As a result I need to treat each boy differently. Your friend Fee, for example, is an Empath. He never got spanked, even when he and Ice were right there with you when some mischief came down... like when you and your City Cousin had that altercation on the beach. Punishing you punished Fee as well, since he would feel what you felt.”
“This is a peaceful world, fairly well governed by the NAP, so few boys exhibit the gumption – that’s a great Old Earth term – to push limits. Maybe because your sisters have enormous Talent you acted out a bit. I liked that, but knew I had to push back and that gave you the opportunity to show you were a tough guy. After you invented the Shield Wall, you were the obvious choice for Cadet Commander – DyaMeS NeZHaDeROD ...”
“Young ‘alpha males’ love to show off. Your young friend Rad is like that too; a natural leader, always ready to test his strength against older men. Just like I gave you opportunities to assert yourself, you should do the same for him.”
“Right Mage, I remember another ‘beach incident’ when my bros and I were late to our weekly class with you because we had been jumping off the shoreline rocks and swimming around; forgot the time. We showed-up only a minute late...”
“Yes Thorn, I remember too. You three came running into class, which was being held in an outdoor seating area, wet jock-clad only, dripping and carrying your uniforms and boots.”
“Yes Sir! You let my friends put on their uniforms and sit down. I got treated different.”
“I probably let myself get a little too annoyed at first, and you did look cute, bare-assed, wet and out of breath.”
“You told me to get down on the ground, hold my feet up. I knew what was coming next, ‘cause you always seemed to have a switch on you whenever I was around. Getting hand spanked across the butt was never a big deal. But that switch hurt! My toes stung for hours. You alternated smacking ‘n’ handling feet ‘n’ legs, twisting ‘n’ pulling. My calves must have been really tight ‘cause they hurt too, but, to truth-tell – PSADNAK-KaDeR, ‘cept for the sore feet, getting handled like that felt good. And you didn’t stop talking about history while making me suffer.”
“Exactly. I was forcing you to submit, while I continued to teach a history class. You know the rule, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ That applies to both of us. I need to know that my Knights will obey any lawful order. Besides, you were all puffed up with showing your classmates how you could take it. You did tough it out and I was, and am, very proud of my boy.”
“First, pay attention to beaches. There is some collaborative consciousness messaging here; something bubbling from somewhere. Here is what I want you to know about your Mission...”
The Mage continued, whispering to Thorn.
It was getting dark when he asked Daeg to take the ‘Away Team’ back to the Zone so they could start their trip.
[c] Using the Gates
The pirates and slave boys didn’t look out of place as they came up from the Zone’s underground Intel HQ, through a toilet, and into the bar behind the Inn’s Beer Garden. It was noisy and crowded just as Daeg had foretold.
“You’ll come up behind the Inn, through the back of the bar. Some toughs will pick a fight with you. Barely fight back. I know, I know. I see it in your faces, ‘Knights never back off. FAFO!’ But this time you are in character, and pirates always back off! They will hustle you all out and to the nearest Peace Officer. You will be deported, back through a Gate with a supposed random setting. The real setting will be for your starting point on this quest, which, my friend the Mage might have pointed out to you, is to gather intelligence, not expose your mission, so we may be prepared, whatever may happen. Stay sharp, look shady.”
A few minutes later, as the old wizard ‘predicted’ they were ‘captured’ and rushed through deportation ‘due process’ by late afternoon.
The ‘pirates and slave boys’ were shoved through one of the Gates. After a moment’s disorientation they were other-where, stepping into murky daylight. There was a circle of Gates and large building surrounding a plaza. Thorn summed the obvious.
“Oh, gosh, this must be Old Earth!”
To which Ice quickly and loudly added,
“Arrgh there me maties, ‘tis a good day fo’ us pirates, uh, merchants, t’ visit th’ old world...”
They found themselves standing in that large circle of Gates on a plaza between very tall, and in a few cases very old, ‘skyscrapers’. They were at a place they had all seen in training VR simulations: the Circle of Gates of Old N’York at UN Plaza. It was chilly. A blustery wind blew through the streets. These depths of the City appeared to be in perpetual gloom. They were not dressed for the weather.
Towering hundreds of floors above the old skyscrapers they could see the glittering Mile High Towers that formed the modern mega-city, high above the old ground-level, in which shadows the Old City stood. Where they were, while still preserved as an historical site, and containing Old Terra’s Gates connecting to the Hundred Worlds, was surrounded by seedy bars and hotels; just such an area where interstellar pirates would congregate. Like Alterra, Old Earth had a restricted zone that stretched for a mile around the Gates in the old city, where off-worlders were welcomed.
When ‘better’ people needed to use the World Gates they would helicopter directly from the high towers and into the Circle of Gates.
The companions had been told to find a certain cheap hotel in the Gate Zone, as the area was known on Old Earth. The desk clerk, behind bullet-proof glass, did not ask for their names or identities; cash, from any world, was all that was needed. The pirates had been supplied with various types of off-world currency, and a price in various worn coins we reached; they found themselves in another seedy room, not unlike the one they were in at Alterra’s interplanetary Zone. It had a small barred window through which winter-cold Terran air seeped.
With a quick nod and finger to his lip Ice started off when they closed the door behind them,
“Well mates, we’ve gotten t’ Old Earth and they didn’t take our merchandise when they booted us out o’ that Altearth. So we’ve got weather control gear and these three bois to sell.”
Thorn, making his voice even deeper than its normal baritone, broke in.
“No bro, we’re not sellin’ these bois; they hardly broken in yet. We gotta build some more meat on ‘em t’ show they’re good bearers. Can’t sell ‘em as virgins ‘cause no body gonna believe they still are, so let’s use ‘em right and sell ‘em in a couple years when they full grown.”
Turning to Rad he continued,
“Boi, get that window open; it’s ripe in here. You bois, take off your back packs. They must weigh near a hundred pounds each. Long as we’re all in a locked room ya don’t have t’ carry ‘em. When we’re out, you are responsible for ‘em. Anything disappear an’ ya gonna get whupped...”
Nodding his head slightly toward the camera poorly concealed by the room’s one lightbulb up in the middle of the ceiling,
“Let’s do an inventory of what we got. Know we got some travel bars an’ we ought t’ get some more since we be travelin’ t’ sell what we got.”
The team ran a mock inventory of their goods, some of which were advanced enough that there might be the ‘right’ buyers, showing them to the camera as they correctly assumed they were being watched and what they had would be reported to the right buyers.
“Yep, got some good stuff here. We ought t’ ask at the front desk. We could pay a finders’ fee for any intros that work out...”
The men kicked off their worn boots and piled on the too-small bed, the only place to sit in the room. That’s when Fee motioned for the bois to get off the floor and join them on the bed. Travel bars were passed around, along with a jug of something alcoholic. Ice spoke up.
“Well maties, let’s rest a while and then go out later t’ see who we can connect to...
Thorn broke in again,
“We get t’ rest, these bois got work t’ do...”
With that he winked at Rad, rolling his eyes up to the camera again,
“Slave bois gotta put out...”
He pulled Rad’s jhorts off, leaving the boy naked. His companions did the same with the other boys. Then they pulled each other’s pirate rags off, tossed into a pile, off the bed, leaving them all bare under the camera.
“Boy, up; turn off that light an’ get back here.”
Whoever was watching might have lost interest as there was little to see with the light off; only various colored lights flashing in from the advertisements on the adjacent buildings. The young men and boys fell asleep, with Thorn whispering into Rad’s ear, as he pulled the boy against him,
“Let’s make it look good bro. In case they have an infrared camera...”
[d] Old Earth
Later, well after midnight local time, Thorn awoke as Rad was shivering against him. The open window, while moderating the room-stench, brought the room temperature down toward the frigid cold of outdoors. All but Ice were used to a much milder climate and hadn’t considered the local weather before embarking on their adventure.
“Well, since we’re awake let’s explore. There are a couple of local bars that might be interesting. Bois, get ya shorts ‘n’ those backpacks back on.”
While putting the heavy backpack on Od’n asked the companions,
“Masters, how can we buy things here; do you have Earth money?”
Ice spoke up,
“No boy, but we have some travel coins. Let me explain; if you’re gonna be my ‘prentice, you got to know how merchants pay. Merchants both buy and sell – buy cheap, with cheap money; sell dear, for good cash. There are two types of cash: commodity money and representational money.”
“Commodity money comes in coins of various sizes and materials. There are copper pennies, usually with a tenth of an ounce of that metal. There are silver dimes with a tenth of an ounce of silver, and quarter ounce and one ounce rounds of silver as well. Gold comes in tenth of an ounce, half ounce and full ounces, just like platinum coins. You’ve got to use a calculator and the current relative value of those metals on whatever planet you’re on. Then you bargain...”
“Representational money includes crypto currencies and debt currencies, usually represented in balances in accounts or ‘wallets’ as they’re called. Big transactions are conducted through the blockchain and any agreeable currency. No one has to take any particular form of money and the old days when governments thought they could dictate what’s money (they called it ‘legal tender’) are long gone. Got it?”
The boy nodded his head. Ice smacked the boy’s butt.
“Enough time avoiding the weather boy, let’s go.”
[e] Out on the Town
It was cold and drizzling outdoors. Looking up they could see the towering buildings of new Old N’York sparkling, and a dark sky above, but down at ground level various changing light sources, such as advertisements and signs, lightened the gloom a bit.
The rag-tag group found themselves trudging along a wet and grimy sidewalk barely above the rainwater flowing on the street. Ice led them toward a tavern he had been told to find. When they arrived it looked oddly like the bar at the Inn back on Alterra. It started to rain harder. Fee expressed their thought,
“What awful weather. Let’s get inside. Bet this sort of place probably looks the same no matter on which of the Hundred Worlds...”
As they entered they were surprised to realize they were in one of the infamous Topless Bars of Old Earth. The music blared. Nearly naked women and men gyrated on platforms just out-of-reach of the patrons. Multi-colored lights flashed in time to the music.
The seating was arranged into booths with long benches facing the raised dance platforms. The companions arranged themselves on a bench with a boy next to each ‘merchant.’ Thorn whispered to Rad,
“Guess there’s no place to leave you three squatting on the floor, so you get to sit... and I see other inter-world backpacks in most of the other booths. We’re in the right place; let’s see what Earth-food is like.”
The serving girls, wearing a bit more than the dancers, but not much, brought a big platter of some rich, dark stew with vaguely familiar vegetables and mysterious meat, along with spoons and bowls, flagons of thin Terran Lager Beer. The boys stopped staring at the dancers long enough to stare at the servers. Then the aroma focused all six on the stew. Thorn ladled out big portions for the men and lesser, but still substantial, portions for the boys.
Eating, drinking, gazing at the dancers... poking each other in the ribs as the dancing got more energetic... more drinking... laughing...
A short person in a dark hoodie, pulled around the face, comes by holding a bottle, talking fast,
“Good Earth Whiskey friends; you from off-world... need guide? Let me pour some into your beer. The beer here is weak; this will fix. That’s me, Phil the Fixer. I make things happen. You look like Gateways Traders. Here is my card. You call me tomorrow. I make the introductions for you. Maybe on another world too. We see. You call?’
Ice took the card and nodded. The ‘fixer’ left as quickly as he came.
The boys continued drinking and were now much drunker. A grinning, drunk Thorn turns to Rad, pointing at the dancers,
“Bet you could show ‘em a thing ‘r two on th’ dance floor... Go ahead boy. Climb up there... see ya tappin’ your toes, so get to it!’
He gave the drunk boy a shove. Rad looked back at him with a shrug and a drunken grin. He climbed onto a platform and started dancing with one of the bare-breasted girls.
Fee, sublingually to his companions,
[“That boy has the right moves... but Thorn, keep an eye on him; this is the sort of place were boys go missing. Whew that whiskey was strong. Maybe drugged? Maybe safest for us back at the hotel...”]
Fee’s thoughts were lost in the din as the others watched Rad, who had pulled down his jhort zipper and then pulled the shorts off, leaving him naked and obvious. He threw his shorts over toward Thorn who caught it, laughing. The boys were cheering and whooping... oblivious to everything around them.
Fee pushed his thoughts at his companions,
[“We’ve been drugged... if we weren’t trained to control our minds we’d be out of it, like the boys. We need to get them back to the hotel... now!”]
Thorn shook his head to clear it. He stood up, went to the platform and hauled Rad over his shoulder; back at the table he grabbed the boy’s shorts and back pack. He ordered,
“We leave now.”
Ice dropped some coins on the table; he led Od’n while Fee led Will. They each took their boys’ packs.
Once outside in the cold air their heads cleared a bit. Backpacks in place and keeping a close watch around them, they quickly moved the couple of blocks back to the hotel and then up to their room. Fee sublingually reached out again to his companions, then spoke to the boys.
[“Half expected some thugs to try to take our backpacks; if that happens we have to defend carefully so no one thinks we’re trained fighters.”]
“We all, especially you boys, need to sleep it off... and Rad, try to keep your pants on. Seems you’re always stripping or Thorn’s pulling your jhorts off... Lights off; I guess we’ll call Fixer Phil tomorrow. Unless our hangovers stop us...”
The companions and boys piled on to the bed and, after some drunken tossing and turning, and possibly more, fell asleep.
-8- Good Weather Top Side
Winter weather in Old N’York was never pleasant. Contemplating going out into the cold drizzle again, with a hangover, was not good at all. At least this room had its own privy and a shower with warm water. Though crowded, standing under the shower helped overcome the hangover. Since boys will be boys the shower turned into some general hijinks and maybe too much fooling around. But a bonding experience, no doubt.
Eventually Phil the Fixer got called. Turned out the weather up above was good. The companions and their boys checked out of the hotel and headed out.
[a] Meeting Phil the Fixer
Like the Zone back on Alterra the ‘Interplanetary Trade Zone’ (ITZ) on Old Earth was bordered and access was restricted. Earth’s ITZ covered part of the lower levels of the old Isle of Manhattan. Most anything could happen in the ITZ, without the planetary authorities noticing, since the territory was an ungoverned enclave. Getting a pass to Phil the Fixer’s office was simple enough, since Phil issued it. They had to go to a specific building which had an elevator to “Top Side” – the towering buildings above them that were outside the Zone -- the ‘real city’ where ‘true’ N’Yorkers lived.
The shiny chrome elevator had been retrofitted into the lobby of what once might have been a grand hotel in the old city. It was clearly still a better grade of hotel than where they were staying. After their passes were checked and a call made “Top Side” they were allowed onto the elevator. Its speed rapidly escalated and within seconds their elevator car rose above the old hotel roof. They realized three of the car’s walls were glass and they could see for miles as they rose above the old buildings, generally fifty stories or lower, through a gap of perhaps a hundred stories, to where the huge monoliths of the New City rose to five hundred or more stories. Those structures were gleaming in glass and steel, linked by walkways and flying vehicles.
They all stood silently in awe, watching the sun glinting off the towers which rose into the particular bright blue of Old Earth’s sky; magnificent Earth weather.
They were met by a well-dressed gentleman when the elevator stopped.
“Welcome to Top Side. I am J. Philip Randolph, speculator and bon vivant. My friends down below call me Fixer Phil. And your names are?”
The companions were wide-eyed as they realized this gentleman was the same person as the seedy character in the bar the previous night. Thorn led off,
“My name is Thork. My companions are Fred and Ichabod.”
“And you boys?”
“Their names don’t matter. We call them 1, 2 and 3 in order of size.”
“I see. Please follow me to my Chamber of Commerce.”
The ‘merchants’ and boys, still surprised at the transformation of their host, followed quietly.
The room he led them to had a large conference table and a wall of glass overlooking the cityscape. There was an obviously valuable set of silver serving pieces holding carafes of hot coffee and tea; silver platters of fancy little sandwiches filled with various colored mixtures; more platters with chocolate-covered cream puffs and similar small desert concoctions.
“Please, sit and eat; then we shall inspect your wares.”
Thorn was blunt,
“Not sure we can trust your hospitality. Someone drugged our beer. You were the only person who added anything to it... what have you to say for yourself. We don’t take kindly to betrayals...”
Fixer Phil spoke soothingly,
“Ah my friend, you misunderstand. Let me explain. We have some pathogens here to which off-worlders are not immune. Before I can allow you to come to Top Side I have to dose you with a homeopathic that charges your defenses.”
Thorn replied more firmly,
“You could have asked our permission. Don’t we have to give informed consent?”
“Hmm, you’re better informed than most ‘merchants.’ You know what the Hundred Worlds’ Treaty says? ‘Interplanetary Travelers have no rights out of the ITZs’ – besides, you are probably concerned about those old vaccines that caused more harm than they prevented. No, we no longer use those barbaric substances; we use vibratory remedies, highly dilute -- protects off-worlders for the ninety days they are allowed to stay and then disappears. No side-effects, no after-effects. It works on the quantum level.”
“So long as you are outside the Zone I am responsible for you, so, eat, drink, relax...”
Thorn continued to press,
“We’ll eat whatever you taste first. Then let’s talk business.”
Sublingually Fee reminded them,
[“I don’t trust him, but he’s our entry into the weather control dark market and they’re our entry into whatever is happening to the weather, so we have to play along, let him think we’re dumb traders.”]
[b] Got weather magic to sell?
The fixer carefully sampled each dish and joined the ‘merchants’ in several rounds of drinks.
“I trust my table has met with your approval. Let us see what is in those trade packs.”
Ice motioned to the boys to open the back packs and Phil rummaged through them, pushing aside mismatched clothing, travel bars and the like. Soon he had a pile of odd-looking devices; a hodgepodge of seeming science-based mechanical and vaguely organic parts. Some seemed to be vibrating, humming; others had small lights twinkling.
“This is an interesting collection of mostly old and perhaps outdated weather control devices. Some have a bit of value. Some, because of their age, can be enhanced gaining substantial value. Do you have access to additional tech like these?”
Ice took over negotiating.
“That’s why we’re visiting a few of the worlds. We have access to a lot of weather tech; it’s not easy but we know how to get it. We didn’t bring our best stuff, to protect our sources. We want top prices and are willing to walk out right now if you think you can low-ball us!”
Phil continued in his soothing voice,
“Now, now, no need to have any concerns. I can sell whatever you can get. Best prices, though, are off-world. Let me show you that you can trust me. Let’s become partners. I’ll advance you some trade gold and sell all your wares. You’ll then pick up more items and I will send you to a certain place where you will get twice the value. That means you keep all the profit you expected and don’t have to pay me any commission, since we’re partners and I’ll just get my half, plus any necessary incidental expenses.”
He held out his hand to Ice who replied,
“We’ll give it a try. Now, how much gold-in-advance are we talking about?
“That depends on what you’re selling. Include your boys and I can get you a very high price.”
Thorn broke in,
“Whoa, I thought slavery was illegal on Old Earth...”
“Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’, starting in the mid-1800s slavery has been unlawful here. But ‘no’, since what happens in the Zone stays in the Zone. Besides, the records will show that I ‘rescued’ enslaved boys and they agreed to repay me by being indentured for a decade. It’s a good deal for the boys; they’ll end up as free Earth citizens.”
“If they don’t mind being some rich person’s pet.”
Phil with arched eyebrow,
“Do you expect me to believe that you ‘pirates’ haven’t done these boys?”
Thorn, stifling a blush, prevaricating on his feet...
“Uhm, well sure, ya gotta rape ‘em when ya grab ‘em. That’s how they learn their place. Besides, we’re not pirates. We’re legit merchants.”
Phil, returning to his usual unctuous voice,
“Of course you are. But if you want to keep the boys, that is not a deal-breaker. I am sure they’re useful. What do you think your stock-in-trade is worth?”
Ice, picking a number more or less at random,
“Three gold ounces and ten silver.”
“Ichabod, you may have asked for too little. But I will happily pay you and if these sell higher, you’re my partner on the overage. Since our current business is concluded, let’s celebrate our partnership. While I have your money brought over, follow me to my Sport’s Lounge. I think you might find my guest accommodations somewhat more comfortable than most Zone hotels! You can leave your backpacks here. I assume you will spend the night here. Please follow.”
Phil was feeling good. Not only did he have these young and inexperienced traders to exploit, but the drugs in the drinks he shared with them were designed to promote brotherly feelings and male bonding. He bowed slightly and waved a hand toward a door.
Fee reported sublingually to his companions,
[“I don’t feel harmful intent. He is very satisfied; thinks we’ll be profitable for him. We got dosed again. Something to relax us. He drank it tool. He, uh, has designs on us. This is likely to get raunchy. Pretend it’s KAZaZ?”]
Down the hall and through a door they were confronted by downward spiral stairs that opened into a windowless room. The companions and boys stood, wide eyed as Phil explained,
“This is my game ‘n’ fun room; my Man Cave. All the best VR and other games; fully stocked bar; pool table, ping pong; and look over the far end, boxing rink benches and lockers with showers, hot tub.”
Taking in the fancy lighting and high-tech toys Phil’s guests gazed around silently.
“Come to think of it, that’s a great place to start.”
He sniffed meaningfully.
“You are all ripe. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Hey, we all showered this morning.”
Phil put a firm hand on Thorn’s shoulder, guiding him back.
“You’re a strong young man. Most of the pirates I meet are not at all healthy...”
“We do a lot of waiting around so we get each other to exercise; make contests from fitness. Hey we don’t intend to ‘walk the web’ of Gates forever; we want to make a killing and settle down. We’re not low-life pirates!”
Phil chuckled as he herded them toward the shower.
“Get those rags off and dump them down that garbage chute. I’m going to have to get you some decent travel clothes since you’re my partners and you reflect on my company. In the shower. And I want to see you scrubbing each other. There are scrub brushes, soap, wet/dry shavers. I want to see you scrubbing for at least ten minutes. Then I’ll inspect you. Move, move!”
He stood there, arms crossed, watching, while the companions and boys got into the gang shower. They enjoyed the hot water, coming at them from different directions with multiple shower heads. After the allotted time Phil called out,
“Alright. That’s enough. Water off. Line-up here.”
As they lined up Phil got the shaver and continued,
“I’ve decided to groom you so you’ll look like merchants, not pirates. Legs apart; hands behind your necks. No squirming while I handle you. When we’re done you get full access to all my toys. We’ll have a great time.”
“Might be military; pirates are never this cooperative, though those drugs probably help... don’t know.
From the way they let Phil shave and handle them it became clearer to him that his new partners were much more than they tried to show. Definite military training. But which agency from which world was so interested in weather control? He knew his guests would be very suggestible for the next day or so.
“Can pump them for info... night as well enjoy it.”
He gave them tight military buzz cuts; longer on the young men, shorter on the ‘slave’ boys. Then he shaved their private parts and underarms. Mr. Phil noted the older boys allowed that without objection; the younger boys squirmed a bit.
“Looking good! Back under the shower for a quick hair rinse-off and then the games begin!”
When he had their attention again,
“We’re going to start with the real stuff; VR later. Over to the boxing rink. I’ve got some light weight MMA gloves there. I want to see some good bouts. I want to see your best bare-ass fighting form!”
The boys thought that was funny which didn’t make Thorn happy so he cuffed Rad,
“Quiet boys. Watch us and learn how men do it! Later it’ll be your turn.”
Phil thought it interesting how the drugs were letting his ‘pirates’ real personalities, probably as soldiers, come forward, and letting them accept his suggestions without questions. It was cute the way they and the boys interacted. He made sure the rink cams were recording.
“This is a friendly fight. One knock down and we switch fighters. After the three of you we’ll have your boys wrestling. And then champ pirate and champ boy; winner takes all!
Thorn and Ice went at it first, with Ice getting knocked on his butt after a quick jab to the stomach followed by a roundhouse kick. Fee lasted longer against Thorn since he did a lot of ducking and weaving. So Thorn grabbed him and pinned him on the matt.
Then it was the boys’ turn, with Rad pinning the other two boys in turn.
“We have our champs. Now you two go at it. One round of boxing followed by MMA until one of you is pinned.”
Thorn felt even more aggressive than when he started, but Rad had the same determined look as their eyes met. The boxing round was inconclusive. Thorn landed a couple of hard blows which the boy withstood. Rad got a couple of quick punches to land as well. Then the boxing round was over.
The two then went at each other MMA-style, fists and feet flying, until Rad tripped Thorn who went down hard, Rad jumped on him and nearly pinned him. Thorn twisted and placed Rad into a lock he could not break. But neither would he tap out. After about a minute of restricted breath, though, Rad fainted and Thorn let up his hold, pulling the boy into a sitting position on his lap.
“Bro, you OK? Breathe deep!”
His eyes fluttered,
“Could o’ broke ya hold if I had more breath...”
“Love you bro; you’ve one tough fighter!”
He hugged the boy. Fee broke in sublingually,
[“I figured out the drug. It’s an old Earth drug called OxyContin. Makes you love everyone... you two don’t need much! This will be a wild night.”]
To Phil the Fixer he said,
“Hope you enjoyed the bouts. Can we have our clothes now?”
“Uh, right. I need to photo you so my people can make sure the clothes will fit. Line up here.”
Phil photo’d them front and back. Then asked them to pose, hamming it up, showing their muscles and fighting stances. He got them laughing and pawing over each other.
“OK, we’ll have clothes here in the morning.”
To which Thorn replied,
“Alright! Bare-assed bro party! What do you want from the bar?”
No doubt a good time was had by all, though not clearly remembered by any. Phil was happy to facilitate a bonding experience by volunteering to make more drinks which were further enhanced with that ‘love’ drug that had worked well before. After all, he had Earth’s reputation as ‘The Party Planet’ to uphold.
There was naked ping pong and pool and dancing and more wrestling. Eventually everyone fell asleep.
Late the next morning, after a naked breakfast (or was it lunch?) their new travel clothes arrived.
Matching tan hiking boots; clean jeans for the men, jhorts for the boys, and matching blue tee-shirts with Phil the Fixer’s logo, a silver gear wheel with three gold coins in the center for the men; plain sleeveless tops for the boys in the same shade. Once dressed he had them pose for photos again. Phil thought,
“Cleaning them up proved it; not Gateways rats, but someone’s operatives...”
“You all look sharp! I want you to remember you’re not freelance traders anymore. Now you represent my company brand – ‘3Coins ‘n’ Gear’ as it’s known in the trade. Any problems, you contact me immediately. Here are some silver coins for your travel expenses. I’ve put the gold in an account for you. Here’s the card for that. Don’t waste it! Report back with your next batch of tech. If you cross me, you will not be happy because I won’t be happy. I have a reputation for strict control of my people. Alright, time to return to the elevator below. Then go directly to the Gates. Use Gate #12 setting #443.”
Thorn replied for them all,
“Yessir! You can rely on us. We’re good company men.”
Phil nodded knowingly as they left, thinking,
“But for which ‘company’? We’ll discover that soon enough.”
-9- Weather among the Worlds of the Diaspora
Gate 12-443 took the company to a desert world – hot and dry weather. They were met by someone also wearing a 3Coins ‘n’ Gear company shirt.
“My name is Dave. Mr. Phil told me to meet you. My car awaits.”
The vehicle was a long, expensive-looking petrol automobile. Fee sublingually commented,
[“That’s the smell here! They use hydrocarbons to operate their vehicles. That’s odd.”]
Dave led the companions and boys to the rear doors and motioned them in. He entered through a front door to sit with the driver. There was a transparent barrier between the vehicle’s sections.
The seats were comfortable... There was a refrigerated cabinet with what were probably alcoholic drinks. Gentle music was playing. Thorn transmitted to his fellow Knights,
[“I guess Phil is not such a bad guy after all...”]
At that very moment Dave depressed a button and an invisible, odorless gas was emitted into the back of the vehicle. Just that quickly the companions and their boys were unconscious.
[a] Slave Quarry Weather is Always Bad
They came back to consciousness in the dark. They were bound close together, to some sort of wooden palate, bound, hands over heads, ankles latched apart and waists bound too. They were naked and had ball gags stuffed into their mouths.
After a while it started to get light and they could here sounds of movement, then shouting, as many men were being rousted. Thorn could see they were in a small, ramshackle barn or shed, early dawn light beginning to stream through the gaps between the boards that made up the barn walls. Turning left and right he could see his companions and the boys were similarly bound and naked.
Through the gaps he could see other scruffy, naked men, carrying picks and other digging tools, along with burlap sacks. The light got much brighter as the sun rose.
The shed door banged over and light flooded in. Dave was standing there with a couple of the naked men. Thorn noted their gear: collar, wrist cuffs and a belt that appeared bolted around the waist; one had a red sweatband. Dave nodded to him and the slaves hefted the palate up, leaning it against the wall. The red-headband slave stood at brace to one side, the others left.
Dave poked at his prisoners with a short switch that jolted them where ever it touched.
“Mr. Phil told me you are not what you seem. He told me to find out what you are; what you know. However, apparently he doesn’t want me to damage you too much, as, he says. I’m to return you to him whole, but ready to tell him everything...”
He removed Thorn’s gag.
“There’s nothing to tell!”
He pushed the gag back into Thorn’s mouth.
“Have it your way. Mr. Phil likes to test his new recruits; see how tough and loyal you can be. I’ll be back in three days to see if you change your minds. Meanwhile if you expect food or water you’d better get out into the quarry Pit. We’re mining rubies. Find rubies, get fed... If I can’t get you ready to talk Mr. Phil says I can embed control chips in your heads and can keep you all here as quarry slaves. In three days you’d better be ready to talk, or else.”
He used his jolt stick again, repeatedly shocking them. Then to the slave,
“Get these slaves properly equipped and get them to work in the Pit. You’re their slave boss. Work them hard so they learn how to behave. Smack ‘em around as much as you need; I don’t care if they get bruised, but no maiming. Keep them together and away from the rest of quarry slaves; use this shed. If they come to their senses they’re likely to be temporary guests.”
Then to the companions,
“Frankly, I’d rather keep ya’ll here. I enjoy turning Gateways rats into hard-working quarry slaves. I’m good at it. Mr. Phil says this facility could house up to a couple hundred slaves and I’m just about half-way there, so plenty of space for ya’ll. I’ll be back in three days; you will all be back on this rack and we’ll see...”
He turned abruptly and left. The slave noticeably relaxed. He opened a sack he had been holding and proceeded to latch collars around their necks, then wrist cuffs, then those stout belts. He released them one at a time and latched their wrists back. Then he replaced the large and uncomfortable gags with sports-like mouth guards.
“This slave is Bossir to you. Any slave wearing a red band is a boss and must be obeyed. Keep those mouth guards in place. It you don’t, you’ll all have to wear the ball-gags. No talking. Just follow my lead.”
“First you’ve got to learn ‘ganging’ – that’s standing in a tight line, thumbs over the belt of the man behind; nose against the neck of the man ahead; line-up man-boy. Good. Bet ya’ll were soldiers before capture. Right?”
No response, so Bossir pulled up a short belt that hung from his waist and smacked ‘em around a bit, across legs, butts... They sullenly listened to his instructions.
“When ya not working ya gotta gang it, and ya gotta learn t’ jog like that whenever ya moved. All quarry slaves kept naked so ignore it when ya get hard. It’s normal. It’s hot ‘n dry outside. We’re gotta move and find some o’ the red stones. We get feed for rubies, an’ water for the pink matrix stones that have tiny rubies in ‘em. We get a pick ‘n’ shovel and a bag. The rest is up to us. Master Dave is strict and tough. He can be cruel, but mostly, if we work as hard as we can and find those red stones he doesn’t kill any o’ us while playing...”
It was hot, sunny and dry outside, in the blaring sun, as far as they could see. Like an endless beach. No water in sight.
Under other circumstances, that weather might be considered hot but fine.
Bossir jogged alongside the companions as they went from the group of barns and sheds across a wide flat area to the lip of the quarry. There was a narrow rough trail down several hundred feet into the ruby pit. Then they were at a workface with no one nearby.
“We’ll start here slaves. You work until the sun dips to the edge of the Pit and then turn in your finds for feed and water. It gets dark fast this time of year...”
He released their wrists and worked with them steadily, chopping at the workface. They found a couple of brilliant rubies and some of the pink matrix stone.
It was dark when they got back to the shed. Bossir gave them little bars of some vile-tasting feed. Then he latched them to the palate and left.
Manipulating the mouth guard Rad was able to whisper,
“Thought Grey Knights could break out of anywhere?’
Thorn, doing the same, replied.
“Of course we can, but we can’t reveal our psi powers, assuming they work on this world. We have to use strategy. Have to find out what useful weapons we have.”
“Weapons? They took away everything; we’re all naked!”
“Boy, our weapons are built in. But can we use ‘em? Maybe we’ll have to foment a slave revolt. Meanwhile, while looking for rubies, let’s rehearse our cover story; the Innkeeper warned us to have it ready...”
Three days later the companions were even hungrier. Their skin had serious sunburns with peeling. On the fourth morning no one came for them and they remained latched down well after dawn. Fee sublingually reached out.
[“This is rough; feeling weak. I’ve lost track of time, but I think Dave was supposed to be back yesterday. Now they’ve left us here. We have to make a move.”]
Ice broke in,
[“Been trying. I’m sure I got a psychokinesis reaction from some of those pink stones. I think we have some psychic abilities on this world. Thorn, we need to act.”]
That is when the shed door slammed open. Men, obscured by bright daylight, entered. The palate the companions were bound to was lifted and leaned against the shed wall.
Dave and Mr. Phil were both standing there.
“Well, well, you six don’t look very good at all. I am disappointed. I expect my pirates to be tougher. I suppose ruby mining is not your forte. Well, that’s up to you. If you cooperate with me, you’ll be back to the Gateways. Don’t cooperate and you’ll stay here, hungry and scorched. Dave, these critters need some further convincing. Then they’ll be ready to answer my questions. Go ahead.”
“Thank you Mr. Phil. You know how much I love torturing boys.”
Dave took a small black device from his pocket and held it up. He depressed a button and an electric arc sizzled between two probs. He started jolting the bound companions here and there. Wherever he hit all the companions jumped and shouted through their moth guards. Then he turned a dial on the device and decreased the jolting. That did not help much since he started focusing on specific body parts of various pirates and boys: their feet, their underarms, even, eventually their testicles.
When he stopped the companions were panting and shuddering. It appeared that the boys had all fainted.
“Thank you Dave. Now my friend Dave here, as he said, loves to abuse young men. I am not of his sadistic persuasion; I’d prefer more intimate connections. I am going to ask you a series of ‘yes/no’ questions. I know the answers to some of these questions. Built into the rack I have you on are some sensors that will transmit a signal to me if you are being false. If you fail to correctly answer, or hesitate, I will allow Dave to have some more fun. If you piss me off I’ll let him keep you here. You, Thork, will nod yes or no. Let’s start.”
“Are you human?” – ‘Thork’ nodded ‘yes.’
“Do you work for yourselves?” – Nodded ‘yes.’
“You just lied. You agreed to work for me. Dave, jolt them.”
Dave, grinning, jolted them once. He turned toward Mr. Phil, questioningly.
“Yes, that is enough for now.”
“Do you work for any Old Earth government?” – Nodded ‘no’.
Mr. Phil looked at the screen of his cell com. He could see the app window that analyzed Thork’s vital signs to determine stress and truthfulness. He thought it interesting that his prisoners’ vital signs remained steady, though the boys were more distressed.
“Hmm, that appears to be a true statement. Curious.”
“Do you work for any government on one of the Hundred Worlds?” – Thorn hesitated, not sure whether the Tower counted as a ‘government.’
“Your hesitation suggests you are not sure. Hesitation evokes punishment. Go ahead Dave, three jolts.”
After the jolting the questioning continued. After a long time, as the sun was setting Mr. Phil seemed satisfied. He turned toward Dave.
“I need time to make some inquiries. Say ten days. They could be valuable hostages. They might be what they say, in which case I might let you have them for a couple of years and I’ll let them be my loyal agents, since they’ll understand what happens to disloyal agents. Take them to our base in town and keep them under lock and key. Do not damage them.”
Dave looked disappointed.
“Don’t look so sad. If I don’t get back to you within ten days, assume they have no value to me and you can bring them back here and do whatever you want with them. But do remember if you let them live the rubies they find may give you more pleasure than tormenting them would. I know you so well I know you are conflicted. Treasure or Pleasure. Well, have fun!”
[b] Good Weather for an Escape
It would have been obvious to the companions that escape was more likely to be accomplished when they were back in town. Dave understood that too. He put his prisoners in six cages in a windowless truck. Then, in the middle of the night, the cages were brought into the basement of the ‘Gear ‘n’ Coins’ building. The cages were left in dank basement room. Each prisoner was bound and gagged, and further tied to the cage itself, suspended from several points.
“I would have preferred to have you all stretched on a nice, strong rack, for some serious pain play. I have a wonderful rack here in another part of my basement, but Mr. Phil wants me to keep you all safe and secure. I can, however, later make you do humiliating tricks for water or food. That should bring me some satisfaction. And it’s always possible that Mr. Phil will not get back to me in the next ten days and I then can do what I want with you... He is far to kind.”
He was grinning while he ‘inspected’ them, poking and smacking them. Once Dave left, leaving them in darkness Thorn used his sublingual mic to signal the others.
[“We need to break out. Fee, do you sense any infrared or other sensors? Ice, can you telekinetically get us unlocked? We need to disappear from here before Dave gets back. Then it’s back to Earth to confront Mr. Phil. Bet he knows what’s wrecking the weather...”]
The actual escape was simpler than they expected. Ice did have enough telekinetic control to pop the various locks that held them in the cages, and then the cage and door locks too. His Talent was also useful in avoiding cams and other sensors, or in confusing their electronics so they appeared to be malfunctioning.
It was late at night when they found themselves in an alley behind the large building that housed Mr. Phil’s operation. They were naked, hungry and thirsty, hiding, crouched behind a garbage dumpster. Thorn had an arm around Rad, but he and the other boys looked worried. They could see, at the end of the alley, a sandy downslope ending in a body of water. They weren’t sure which of the ‘Hundred Worlds’ they were on. They realized their escape would be noticed very soon and Dave’s men would come searching for them. Thorn, quietly,
“We need to get some clothes. Any idea where ours might be?”
“I’ve got a trace, since they were in contact with us. They’re in a storage room on the other side of this wall, about 30 feet that way.”
Fee looked at his companions,
“I feel I can use some ‘Misdirection Invisibility’ I’ll go back inside and retrieve our clothes; Ice, please interfere with their surveillance system. Brothers, vibrate the Rune Dagaz to support that spell that the Mage put on us. Boys, you’re on guard duty.”
Fee crept back along the ally to the door they exited, disappeared inside. The boys noticed Thorn and Ice sub-vocally chanting, eyes closed...
A minute passed, then another. Thorn started to frown, but continued chanting. Finally a fully dressed Fee reappeared, carrying a duffle bag and one of their backpacks.
Rad shook his head,
“How did you do that?”
“Easy. Mr. Phil wants controlled and servile agents. They are easy to confuse, not much harder to get ‘em not to see me as naked. But it got easier once I got dressed again! I even found some plain gray tee shirts so we won’t have to wear Mr. Phil’s Gear ‘n’ Coins logo.”
“You just walked in there, got what you wanted, and left?”
“Right. It’s all about intent, and that spell that Grand-PaPa and the Mage wove with the Dragons. I’m starved. Let’s get away from here and toward food and drink!”
“Do we know if we’re in a Trade Zone? Near any Gates?”
After wandering downhill for a few minutes they found themselves at a tavern on a pier at the edge of a big harbor with a narrow exit into a large body of water. The food was good. The ale was better. They were feeling good, talking loudly. Mostly about escaping enslavement and how those ruby pit slaves should be freed.
Near the end of the meal Fee asked,
“Do we have any money on us? I don’t think our coins were still in our clothes...”
“Not to worry; I’ve got a ‘Platinum Card’ implant.
‘Yes, Brother, maybe worry. If you use that implant you’ll alert whoever is watching us to your identity.”
“Not really. It uses an anonymous blockchain code. Have it for emergencies. This is an emergency...”
At that moment two uniformed, and armed, security guards came over to their table.
“Gentlemen, I am Detective Smith from the New World Security Agency. We police the ITZ here on Europa Nueva. I trust you are all enjoying your transit through our Zone.”
“Yessir, we’re here to see if we can buy or sell some top-quality, totally legal, inter-world trade goods.”
The security agent, remaining courteous,
“Some of our local folks thought the heard your companions planning to foment a labor revolt; we run a clean and extensive ITZ here and don’t get involved in local politics.”
He paused, and then continued, possibly prevaricating:
“If you’re an off-worlder and you don’t have funds to pay your tab, you’ll have to work it off in the pits at the far end of the ITZ. Someone else overheard you calling the miners ‘slaves’. Those ruby pit workers are not really slaves; just under an annual service contract. A few months, uh, slaving there and, if they’re frugal, they can have enough saved to set up a ruby claim on their own, or get back on the Gateways. That mine-owner likes to pretend... somebody was messing with your heads!”
Smith noted the relief he saw on their faces.
“If you’re broke we’ll have to transport you to the pits.”
“Not necessary sir, we’ve plenty of money. We’re buying weather control equipment, programs and the like. We’re merchants, not Gateways pirates! Scan my Platinum Implant...”
Smith, passing his cellular across Ice’s chest,
“I see. I mistook you for Gateways riff-raff, Sir, though you don’t look like pirates. I can introduce you to some of our local weather merchants if you’d like.”
“That would be appreciated.”
Smith nodded, handed Ice a business card, thinking as he left,
“Those boys are not real merchants. The older three feel like military or intelligence service. The boys are just window-dressing. We’ll need to keep an eye on them; might be revolutionaries.”
“Well, let’s finish eating and see where that card leads us. That guard handing us that card has to be a synchronicity, like the Mage said, we ought to pay attention...”
“‘Specially when beaches’ involved... it says, 23 Beachfront Road.”
The data encoded in the card led them along the beach road to a nondescript warehouse on the other edge of the Zone. The card and the door both said “Weather is Us.”
As they opened the rough door, barely seeing through its dusty window, Fee broadcast,
[“Be on guard. I sense risk.”]
A bald-headed guy in a greasy gray overall came out from the back of the shop to the counter that blocked it off from public access.
Ice spoke up first,
“Greetings sir, we were given a card with this address...”
He proffered the card. The guy looked at the card and nodded.
“Follow me. They are in the shed at the back of the property.”
He led them through a warehouse filled with tall shelving and large palates of boxed goods; out the back and across a gravel lot to another slightly smaller warehouse where he left them at another door; the logo on which said:
This door did not have any window, just a small peep-hole. Ice wrapped on the door.
Another seedy character opened the door. This person was less greasy but more decrepit, almost reptoid in appearance, probably from one of the nonhuman species that had begun interacting with the human diaspora.
“What do you, uhm, Gateways Traders want?”
Ice replied calmly,
“We’re here to buy weather devices and programs. We can get, let’s say, some validated weather magic if you’ve got buyers...”
The person’s left eye opened wide, focusing on Ice, while the other, disconcertingly drifted lower observing their feet.
“You don’t say...”
He paused; then spoke with slow formality
“The gentlemen will follow me.”
They trailed him inside, through another warehouse, but this time, filled with odd mechanical or electrical devices that could have been related to weather tech. There was even a section with a bunch of barrels marked with chemical names such as silver iodide and potassium iodide.
Down a side aisle to a side door that opened on a path down to the beach.
“You’ll find a beach house down there. The humans you seek are there.”
[“I don’t like this...”]
[“Strong feeling of synchronicities constellating. Let’s go with it...”]
The ‘beach house’ was a nearly ramshackle shack backed up against the cliff behind the beach. It had a deep porch and small tower overlooking the water.
The boys climbed up steps to the porch and rapped on the door. A pleasant and intelligent looking, mature woman opened the door and smiled. She looked them over,
“Who are you and how did you come to be here?”
“We’re here to see you about the weather. I was given a card with your address.”
He proffered the card.
“Well, in that case, come on in. Let me make you some tea. My partners will be here shortly. We’re always interested in meeting young folks interested in the weather...”
It was Fee who signaled his companions,
[“I feel no threat here. But let’s be cautious. I’ll avoid the tea in case it’s drugged...”]
To which Ice added,
[“Right. Exactly what we didn’t do with Mr Phil! Guess we’re learning...”]
The beach house was decorated in rattan furniture, sea shells and prints of the Ocean in various states of weather. The boys relaxed, happily eating the sweet cakes their hostess supplied.
After a half hour or so two others came into the room from the back of the building. They were older men. The lady spoke,
“Let me introduce you young folks to my partners, Hermes and Aaron.”
The eldest spoke first,
“I am Snacs, welcome to the WWC – the Weather Co-op. You have us at a disadvantage. You know who we are and where we are; we would appreciate knowing the same for you...”
Ice, assuming his most diplomatic tones,
“We’re weather merchants. We’ve been walking through World Gates to buy and sell devices, programs, chemicals. My name is Ichabod. My companions are Thork and Fred; Thork is the big one... the boys are our bearers.”
“I see. Your bearers are bearing nothing. Where is your merchandise?”
“We were robbed on Old Earth, but we can get most anything. I have plenty of funds for purchases too...”
“Many an unwary traveler learns that Walking the Gates is risky business.”
Snacs nodded his head toward his partners who nodded back.
“You seem honest lads to me. Let’s talk weather... what do you know about the weather anomalies that have been popping up across the Hundred Worlds these past few weeks?”
“That’s something we want to know about too. We’ve heard about a couple of storms that seem to be messing with World Gates. How widespread is the problem?”
One of the weather partners responded,
“We have contacts among nearly all known worlds. There have been reports from nearly all of them about strange electrical discharges associated with the Gates...”
Thorn broke in,
“How can you know that?”
“Ah, young man, our Weather Underground is part of a Co-op, with members everywhere. But what world are you all from? We can let you know what we know about your home world.”
“We’re from different worlds and no longer have any involvement in our home worlds...”
Snacs, somewhat annoyed,
“You’re not being honest with us. Your silent friend ‘Fred’ is observing us with more than just his eyes. He’s a wizard and a powerful one. You all look too wholesome to be Gateway rats. I suspect you are operatives from Altera. There are strong protective spells woven around you all.”
“I don’t understand why you folks from Altera constantly pretend to be what you’re not. Your world does not need to hide; there is magic on a surprising number of worlds... Please let your Mage know that the Weather Wizards Co-op wants to cooperate. Consider us your allies.”
One of his partners continued,
“Additional to the electrical anomalies there have been distortions in the World Gate system. Some users have ended up on worlds they did not intend. Bifurcation bleed-through is suspected. If the Gate System fails, the Hundred Worlds will be cut-off from each other.”
The other took up the discussion,
“Were any of you present a few weeks ago when something happened on Altera? We’ve heard rumors of ‘Something big attempting a breach...’ What can you tell us?”
Thorn took a deep breath,
“Alright; ‘Fred’ tells me we can trust you. We were there. Something truly alien tried to use the Gateways to break into our reality. It felt malevolent. Two very powerful weather witches pushed it back. It was like a hurricane, certainly the most powerful storm in the weather records of our home world. We were sent out to reconnoiter; to find out how widespread the phenomena are becoming. There were rumors on Worlds’ Net. We need to know how long before that Something succeeds at creating a bifurcation breach. We need to be prepared.”
Fee spoke, quietly,
“We are trying to understand how psychic abilities, and magical procedures, interact in the Hundred Worlds. What does magic mean in a multiverse of infinite bifurcations? We are certain the breach will be aimed at either Old Earth or Altera, or both, and so we need to be ready.”
“Well ‘Fred’, I suspect you know more about magic than we do. My advice is to remember that psychic abilities are part of the nature of human consciousness; no metaphysics involved.”
He paused a moment,
“Magic, on the other hand, challenges metaphysical concepts as it is not limited by the normal rules of nature. In an infinite universe magic has no bounds.”
“But as to the breach, it may have started about five years ago. When the Terrans tried to invade your home world they used huge amounts of energy to force temporary Gates between those two worlds. You probably know the disastrous outcome... You were there, yes?”
Thorn nodded; Snacs continued,
“We believe that invasion prepared the ground, so to speak, for what is happening now. There was significant bifurcation bleed-through. That Something seeking entre was attracted by the rapid opening and collapsing of those Gates.”
He paused, looking to his partners; they nodded again.
“We have one piece of information that may be useful. There is a frequency associated with opening the Gates. In one octave that frequency is 137.2 hz. Detect that frequency, in any octave, and you can expect a forced Gate to open. Is that what you’ve been looking for?”
The three companions smiled and looked relieved.
“That’s unexpected, but certainly a very important piece of information. That frequency should allow us to block the next attack, if we get back home in time.”
“We’ve also heard rumors of another, related, problem. There is a clandestine group that seem known as Antikne, the Anti-Knights. They may be seeking to contact that Something coming through. Can you tell us anything about that?”
“If that’s what you want to know, you’ve confirmed what I’ve suspected. You three are Grey Knights. It’s an honor to meet you. You folks are hardly ever off Altera.”
“But to answer your question, we’ve heard rumors about Antikne. They seek to use the energy of chaotic weather to bring discord to the Hundred Worlds and sever the Gateways connections among the worlds. They believe that Old Earth is where all humans should live. That means the nearly trillion people on the Hundred Worlds must be eliminated. They think that Something will annihilate the Diaspora... But if you want to find out more, I suggest you return to Old Earth before returning to Altera. There is a trader in Old N’York who may know more. He goes by several names. One is ‘Mr. Phil’. Do you know him?”
Thorn groaned. Snacs continued,
“Yes, I suspect you know him. Well, he’s your next stop. Good luck. You need to move quickly.”
The companions and boys took their leave and retraced their way back to the World Gates and on to Old Earth.
[c] Where is Antikne?
Since the companions needed to complete their mission and return home they decided to confront ‘Mr. Phil’ as soon as possible. After, however, a good meal and a good night’s sleep. Since secrecy no longer seemed necessary, or possible, they used Ice’s ‘Platinum Implant’ to rent a room in the better hotel where one of the elevators to New Old York was located. It was a good deal nicer than any of the other accommodations they had previously. The food Room Service provided was good. The room had a large window and two beds. Shortly they were all asleep.
Rad was awoken in the middle of the night by Thorn tossing and turning. He shook the knight awake.
“Thorn, what’s wrong?”
Suddenly awake he did not seem to recognize his surroundings,
“What? What? Oh, Rad. Just a strange dream...”
“What did you see, Thorn? Let me write it down, like they do for remote viewing teams.”
“Crazy images: Dragons and Anti-Dragons; Knights and Anti-Knights. Wherever they may be, they are not on Altera. Is there another World among the “Hundred Worlds” that could host them?”
Rad jotted some notes, looked back at them and his eyes widened,
“Dragons and Anti-Dragons; Knights and Anti-Knights -- Old Earth and Altera... they’re here, Thorn, they’re here on Old Earth!”
[d] Meeting Mr. Phil Again
The next morning the companions vacated the room they had rented and went to the elevator that could take them hundreds of stories above Old N’York to the new ‘City in the Sky’ as the towering edifices were often called. While the boys and his companions blocked the view from the hotel front desk Ice psychically manipulated the security lock on the elevator door, allowing them access without prior approval.
Again the view of the old and new cities as they rose upward was spectacular. The cities of Old Earth remained the largest human conglomerations on any of the Hundred Worlds. Certainly no town on Altera was anywhere near as large.
Then they were knocking loudly on Mr. Phil’s door... he opened it, feigning surprise,
“My, my... look what the winds between the worlds have blown to my doorstep.”
Thorn pushed his way in, as Mr. Phil retreated.
“We’re here to get some honest answers. And we’re not pretending to be defenseless anymore.”
Mr. Phil, feigning dismay responded soothingly,
“I never thought you were defenseless; in fact, I was quite surprised that you let us play with you all for days... but you don’t seem the worse for the wear. And that party in my game room was memorable. We still don’t know where you’re from...”
“You couldn’t possibly be agents from Alterra; that world hardly ever engages with the other worlds of the Diaspora...”
He paused for effect,
“But of course that’s exactly where you’re from. Your original scruffy appearance nearly had me fooled...”
“Understand; I’m just as worried as you are about what is happening to the weather. But the strange weather appearing on various worlds connected by the Gateways is just a symptom. I think the very Reality that underlies the Gateways is under assault, and that has got to impact my bottom line, so I am ready to help anyway I can.”
He paused again,
“There is a Lensing Device made by some members of the WW Co-op, at my expense, that should be helpful to you. It emits a certain frequency, about which you already know... yesIf properly energized it should seal any attempt to fully breach the barriers between bifurcations. The Crystal Tower has just such a power source. Prove to me that you’re from Altera and I’ll have the device brought here.”
Fee signaled his companions sublingually,
[“I feel we can trust him this time, but I was wrong before. If he has such a device we need to get it. Ice, what do you feel about this?”]
Ice carefully addressed their host,
“We acknowledge we are on a mission from Altera. The energy source you’ve referred to is called an ‘Intentionality Cannon’. Yes, a lens for the cannon could be very helpful. Our commanders divined that we would find surprising allies and synchronicities on this mission and it seems we have...”
Mr. Phil seemed relieved. He bowed and motioned to the companions
“While we’re waiting for the device, please come in and join me in a drink. I promise just alcohol and cannabis; nothing else. Is there anything else I can do for you until it arrives?”
Mr. Phil led them back to the party room and began to mix drinks. Thorn spoke up,
“Yes Sir, we’ve been traveling across the Gateways, experiencing different worlds, and I remember when I was a Cadet reading about some sort of Treaty that governs access to the Gates. Can you explain how that works?”
“Certainly ‘Thork’ – but the actual Treaty is just a few sentences. Let me pull it up on my PAD and read it to you all. It is quite succinct.”
“The Gateways Treaty:
1. All persons have equal access to World Gates and no person within any Interplanetary Trade Zone (ITZ) may be prevented from leaving through any World Gate.
2. Persons outside an ITZ may not be prevented from entering the ITZ from the host planet except upon good cause and due process according to local law.
3. The host world is not responsible for whatever may happen within an ITZ and may not police such zones except to wall them off and prevent release of toxins or pathogens that may impact the host world. The host world may restrict exiting from the ITZ, but may not prevent actual refugees or escaped slaves from applying for refugee status or travelling on to other worlds.
4. Each ITZ is an autonomous free-trade zone which will provide private security and may expel any traveler or group of travelers, with all their goods, after 3 standard days.
5. World Gates are established by the Gateways Company of Altera on every human-occupied world that provides an ITZ of at least ten kilometers square.
6. All persons using World Gates are to be treated equally, with one fee schedule applying to all. Each user of a World Gate submits to the provisions of this Treaty.”
“So there you are: the Gates, the Zones and free-trade. The lens should be here in a few minutes. And our drinks are ready. Anything else you need?”
“Yes, one more thing. What do you know about Antikne – the Anti-Knights [KNeNeZDeR]? Where can we find them?”
“I have some vague information, but it is not definitive. They are somehow connected to the attack on your world from Old Earth a few years ago. Perhaps they were hired by the Old Regime to open all those temporary Gates. Let’s consider them to be Agents of Chaos, but not creative chaos, rather, destructive mayhem! I suspect they know more about that Something that seeks to breech our Reality. There may be a cell of them here on Earth. However, I suggest you leave them alone and get the lens back to Altera. You may need to use it sooner than you expect.”
[e] Fleeing Old Earth
The lens arrived; drinks were consumed; the companions took leave of Mr. Phil and took the lens, which was a relatively small device, the size of a brief case, weighing perhaps twenty pounds. Thorn held on to it while the other Knights and boys surrounded him. Fee instructed,
“We must protect the device no matter what. Boys, stay close. We have a couple of miles through the dark warrens of Old N’York to get to the Gates. Remember we can override any of the Gates and point them back to Altera. We go through the nearest Gate. Expect anything!”
It was night as they left the elevator back down to ground level. After a couple of blocks the companions began to relax a bit. Then Fee signaled sublingually,
[“I feel a growing threat. Antikne is shadowing us. They will attack any moment. Knights, shields up!”]
As they turned a corner the attack started. Unlike the coherent-light based shields and projectors wielded by the Knights, the black-clad Antikne sent streams of shadow at the companions who immediately formed a triad with the boys in the center, Thorn continuing to hold the device under one arm as he cast his shield with the other. Ice and Fee cast both shield and projectors.
One of the shadows reached out toward Thorn, seeking to wrap around the device. Ice responded with a blast of coherent-light while they continued to protect the group with their psionic energy shields. The light blast withered the encroaching shadow and the companions broke into a run for the final blocks across Old Manhattan to the UN Plaza where the Gates were located.
The shadows sought to reach them again as they wove through a small crowd of people waiting to access the Gates.
Then there was a larger, storm-like shadow materializing. The crowd fled in some panic which allowed the companions to run to the nearest Gate and jump through.
They found themselves in the Altera Gate Circle, back on home ground.
[e] Battle at the Terra Gates
The companions quickly reoriented themselves and reformed their defensive triad as the boys backed away. The Gate through which they had entered shook and Something sought to break through.
Thorn, shouted, standing between and just before his fellow Knights, all their shields displayed,
“You shall not pass! Do not seek entre. These Gates are forbidden to you. This Shield Wall stands adamant!”
The Power said, “I know that story. About the boy who brought his companions together and made a wall to defend his folk, by uniting their separate shields into one Shield Wall. There is power in that tale about wall-building. Do you not know there is also great power in destroying walls – in breaching them? Which has more power: making or breaking?”
Thorn said: “Making. No doubt in my mind at all. Know that I was that boy. I intend that you not pass!”
At that moment Ice and Fee released a pulse of pure light energy toward the Gate, which enveloped the Power’s bifurcation probe. It trembled into itself and disappeared.
One of the boys spoke up, from where they had been crouching aside,
“Wow... that was too easy! It just imploded! It’s gone – you did it!”
“Yes that was too easy. I feel it just retreated; it is not gone and is still lurking about seeking entry. We need to get back to the Tower with the Lens. I feel that’s the target of the next attack.
Ice shook his head,
“Everything is at risk. Is the Lens a red herring? Is Mr. Phil involved with Antikne? Will the brunt of the attack be on Old Earth, or here on Altera?
-10- On an Adventure You Can’t Control the Weather
The companions ‘high-fived’ as they felt the elation of what appeared to be victory on a battlefield as several dozen sky cycles swooped down at them from the direction of the Crystal Tower, across the mouth of the Great River. Their leader shouting to the companions,
“We’re here to guard the Gates. We heard what you’re carrying. Grab cycles and get it back to the Tower. The Mage wants all of you.”
After some nods and fist-bumping all around the three Knights and the boys sped back to the Tower, entering through the sky portico at the Third Level.
They were met by top commander Knights who hustled them toward the Intentionality Cannon control center. There the Mage and several Knights and Keepers were waiting. A Great Dragon had coalesced around the Mage who appeared in his uniform as Commander of the Gray Knights. Thorn spoke as he held up the case which held the Lens,
“Commander, we have some concern about this frequency Lens Device. It may be other than it seems. Some of us think the person who provided it, this ‘Mr. Phil’, might be an agent of Antikne. He is a slippery fellow...”
The Mage spoke, but the humans present also heard the Dragon ‘speaking’ directly into their minds. The two Beings echoed each other in a sing-song manner.
“We must beware of danger and risk...”
“We will inspect.”
“No harm here.”
The Mage, bowing, took the Device.
“Controlling the Tower Intentionality Cannon Controls the Gates.”
As he turned to enter the Cannon control room he issued final orders,
“Boys, follow this Keeper and join Daeg and the Twins in the Temple Above. You may be needed there. Knights, rush to guard the Tower Gate. The crisis is upon us...”
Everyone scattered and as they did so, they could sense chaotic intentionality warping their perceptions of reality. It seemed the very walls of the Tower were pulsing, as though the crystals forming the Tower were stressed. When quartz is stressed it produces electric discharges, and magnetic fields coincident to same. The effect was greatly disorienting. Static charges were arching from wall to wall. The whole of Reality seemed to groan...
The Knights activated their psionic Shields and ran toward the Tower Gate.
[a] Battling the Power
(i) The Tower Gate
The Three arrived at the Tower Gate as several Knights were fending-off a darkness emanating from the Gate. They all formed a Shield Wall. Together they held back the Dark as Thorn spoke, a Dragon coalescing about him, repeating in the Sacred Tongue,
“You shall not pass.” “NeDaMLABYO>”
“You may not enter!” “NeYOBDaMaMYO>”
“You must leave now!” “DaMYO> TaD!”
They could feel Great Dragons adding their compelling Voices in the Sacred Language.
With great effort the Entity shouted back into Thorn,’s mind,
“Great power can I grant you; dominion can I grant you; deification can I grant you!”
Thorn, pushing his Shield forward, as the other Knights kept pace, shouted back,
“Nothing will I take from you; get you gone! – DaMLaMYO> ”
(ii) The High Tower
At the same time the boys had joined Daeg and the Twins at the top of the Tower where they saw a huge storm forming over the Conjoining Sea, a few miles beyond the River Mouth. Lightning was flashing and what seemed to be a large tornado was sucking huge amounts of water into its funnel and spewing it out again. Numerous smaller water spouts were forming, evaporating or merging.
Just then the Mage and Great Dragon, struggling against disorientation, placed the Lens and, together, intended the Gates, in all the ‘Hundred Worlds’ be sealed from outside forces. While especially talented Wizards might still be able to bend the Gate System to allow them to transit bifurcations, Realities accessible would be limited such that randomly chaotic forces could never again break the barriers warding the World System from the creative Void itself – if the Lens were true and the Cannon had sufficient power to reconfigure all the Gates on all the Worlds of the Human Diaspora.
Rad recalled later experiencing
“A storm to end all storms at the Mouth of the Great River. A line of tornadoes fronted enormous super cell thunder storms. Hail and blizzard precipitation drove against the Tower which trembled under the assault.”
“Then the Twins came to the rescue. They (while gestating their Knight’s Sons -- eLATa>LeS URNeZDeROD) danced and sang, disbursing the Storm before it could travel across the River mouth and overwhelm the Circle of Gates... Over a few minutes the weather calmed, the clouds broke up and a huge double rainbow arched from the Tower across the mouth of the Great River toward the Circle of Gates. A brilliant sun gleamed off the choppy waters.”
The Mage was more succinct:
“The main attack was aimed at the Tower Gate; an enormous metaphysical as well as physical Storm the weapon of the Power. As it was pushed back we sealed the Gates. The Lens worked.”
Shortly after the weather calmed the combatants met in the Temple Above. From their vantage high in the Tower they could see that some of the thunder storm cells which had spun off the weaponized weather were still visible here and there, but they were spreading and dissipating.
That is when they saw a persistent rainbow over the mouth of the Great River, as the sun broke through. The Mage summed the situation,
“The Lens worked, that frequency it was set to emit was correct. With it we can protect the World Gates, assuring humanity the opportunity to continue to spread among compatible worlds. This threat has been met, but we must remain on guard against future risks. For now, yonder rainbow reminds us of our hard-won liberties. I hope our guests will stay for the evening. A Victory Celebration is in order! But now, if you will excuse me, I need to speak to the leaders of the Realms of Altera [ED e TAKYaBTAB ZOMTATOD].”
(iii) Victory Celebration
The Keepers of the Tower rose to the occasion and prepared, on very short notice, a substantial feast to celebrate the victory. The weather (with a bit of weather magic) cooperated with a dry and mild evening. Tables were set among the surrounding gardens.
There were twinkling lights set among the trees and plantings, and on the tables.
Soon the Tower Gate was discharging guests from across the planet, while Knights arrived from various postings, sky cycling through various Gates. Of course the Cadets were already there. Music, food, comradery; several hours of meeting and greeting.
Thorn and his sisters and friends found themselves sitting around a table under some trees, a couple of dozen feet above the rushing waters of the Great River as it swirled along the peninsula on which the Tower stood.
They laughed and traded stories of their childhoods. By the time the party was winding down the table was piled high with mostly empty plates.
The Knights, their Keeper companions on the adventure, and the Twins, had been joined by several relatives who all had tales of the weird weather and the Great Battle, seen from afar. GG-PaPa, Thorn’s great-grandfather, further regaled them with stories of Old Earth and the coming of humanity to Altera.
Even later in the evening the Mage came by to express his appreciation. Accepting a mug of mead, he said,
“It is my great pleasure to make a momentous announcement...”
He waiting until the chatting stopped and all eyes were on him.
“Thorn, please stand. Once again we owe you a great debt of gratitude. While you may question the importance of the journey accomplished by you and your companions, be assured that, but for the experience you gained along that way, you would not have been able to confront the Entity, nor would we have received the Lens in time.”
“But this time a worthy reward can be granted. When you and your Dragon companion confronted the Power the Dragon completed the next step in its evolution, becoming one of the Great Dragons. You, Dragon Rider, have likewise achieved a higher rank in the Order of the Crystal Tower. Welcome to the Fourth Degree – KUP KaROD.”
Thorn blushed; the Mage continued,
“And one more thing... you will begin training, with your Great Dragon, in the Way of the Fifth Degree – KUP CAROD – in a year or two, when our current Protector of the East retires, I expect you will become CABDABeR COKUMOD. Congratulations Thorn!”
Hugs all around... Thorn grinning, laughing... and then Mr. Phil walked over... offering his hand...
“Congratulations young man...”
“What are you doing here?”
Thorn shook his head, continuing, calling to the Mage,
“Why is he here?”
The Mage, smiling,
“Ah, Philip. Yes, he’s a Terran... one of our best purchasing agents, with a special interest in the weather. He arranged for the Lens to be made by some folks who might not have wanted to do business with us... Very helpful.”
“He tortured us!”
Mr. Phil, soothingly,
“We did put on a good show... it had to look real so certain persons ‘watching’ remotely would trust me enough to make a Lens they thought would open a Gate for that Something to enter. You were the bait...”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“The design, though, had been intentionally reversed to produce a device that would, instead, seal the Gates against invasion. We didn’t really damage any of you, and I made sure you could escape. I wondered why it took you so long to do so...”
He held his hand out to Thorn. With some urging by Fee the Knight responded by offering his hand.
“Thorn, I really did enjoy partying with you and your companions. You’re all always welcomed at my place on Old Earth.”
Later, after Thorn’s sisters and their other guests left, the three Knights and Keeper Assistants helped with clean-up and then headed back into the Crystal Tower, exhausted from their days’ long journey among the Worlds of the Diaspora, that had cumulated in battling, and defeating, the invading Power. Yet, they were still so stimulated by the recent events Fee realized they’d never be able to just go to sleep,
“Let’s grab some sleeping bags and find a quiet spot outside, right by the tip of the peninsula, and watch the weather. I think we need to decompress...”
Thorn added, to Fee, then to Ice,
“If you get ‘em I’ll find some mead. There must be some left. Ice, take the boys and find a spot; we’ll be right there.”
[b] Back at the Farm
A few days later the companions were all back at Thorn’s family farm. His mother insisted they let her and the Twins provide a ‘proper celebration meal’ for their neighbors to acknowledge ‘our weather heroes... and heroines’!”
So they were back under the giant weeping willow behind the farmhouse where he, as a child, would seek shade and solitude. It was now the family’s favorite place for feeding larger groups than just the immediate family. There were four large, rough-hewn wooden tables facing each other, with bench seating for forty around the outer side. Glittering fairy lights, thanks to the Twin’s magic, twinkled among the tree’s branches.
Every seat was filled with guests from across Farmtown; the guests of honor spread among the others. Copious amounts of food arrived from the house in a seemingly endless stream, accompanied by beer, mead and wine. Half the farm wives in the neighborhood were cooking while the other half were serving. The feast ended with pies, cakes, ice creams and other concoctions in such abundance that even the country folk could not finish it all.
There were toasts and speeches, and dancing and singing. Thorn was led to stand on a bench, perhaps too drunk for the maneuver, and give an impromptu appreciation, leaning a bit on Rad and Ice, Thorn, slurring a bit,
“Friends and Family... my companions of the Tower... so honored to have you here. But let’s not forget the real heroes here: my twin sisters! They faced the enemy’s first feint and pushed it back; then, when the main attack came they turned bad weather into good. My knight companions and our favorite Farmtown boys, now officially Keeper Assistants, Rad,
O’dn and Will played important roles too. Love our knights ‘n’ boys!”
He held up his mug,
“To the Twins!”
He sort of half stepped and half tripped off the bench, leaning on Rad and Ice’s shoulders. The guests applauded and went back to drinking.
As Altsol was setting they noted the last gleaming sunlight catch some moisture remaining from the storms of the previous days. A full rainbow glimmered into sight over the River for several minutes and then was gone.
© 2022 -- 1.3a