Friday, October 31, 2008



Parric stiffened. “And you are contacting...?”

Djserka gave Parric a sour look. “And just when, exactly, have I had the luxury of free time to do such a thing? Between your special diet and Her Imperial Majesty’s menu changes-- Do you know how difficult it is to recruit enough Peq for a dinner harvest?”

Parric relaxed slightly. “May I be asking how you are to contacting Rapteer?”

“A trans-cosm beacon, of course,” Djserka said, as if Parric had asked the stupidest question imaginable. “I can show it to you, if you think it’s important.”

Parric nodded, and Djserka led him through the kitchens to the staff lockers. “Here it is,” Djserka said, retrieving it from a locker and passing it to Parric. “A low-end design, if you ask me. No provisions for using the beacon as a carrier signal for data. Just a dumb beacon.”

Parric examined it carefully. It was a translucent oblong box that impossibly seemed to spiral in on itself--a typical visual paradox of the multidimensional design. The transmitter hadn’t been activated. It had no dataport. As Djserka had indicated, it wasn’t very sophisticated.

“You and Rapteer aren’t on, shall we say, amicable terms, are you?”

“It is complicating. Actualling, we are never meeting yet,” Parric said. “But no, I’m not thinking we are amicable.”

“Then I feel, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I don’t believe this the only beacon he secreted within the palace,” Djserka said. “Although I am not inclined to spread rumors--as I’ve said, I myself am not privy to any of their discussions--talk about the palace has it that Rapteer departed shortly after His Imperial Majesty learned of his beacons and confronted him on the matter.”

Parric considered the information. “Is this when His Imperial Majesty is beginning collection of Nexial gaps?”

“Possibly. Access to the gaps was restricted the following day.”

Parric bowed his head and rubbed his wing fingers between his three sets of eyes. “I am fearing this is a trap I’m leading Flavius and myself right intoing.”

Djserka gave Parric a considering look. “You have one of the most peculiar speech patterns I’ve ever encountered.”

Parric nodded. “So I am hearing. My I be asking one more favoring of you?”

“That must certainly depend on the nature of the favor requested.”

“Where are the they holding the gaps? I’m fearing we must soon departing quickly, and finding them on my own will be taking much time.”

Djserka glanced to the kitchen then back at Parric. “Well, that would solve my difficulty of preparing your special meals...” Djserka shuffled over to the kitchen. “Em Kleemjun!”

One of the other Naga-ed-der snapped to attention. “Yes, em Djserka?”

“You are in charge until I return. The starlight swim isn’t until midnight, but I want the appetizers arranged and waterproofed by the time I get back.”

“You are having my thanks,” Parric said.

“Don’t thank me too quickly, Crafter. I’m only doing this to lighten my workload. We’re not merely understaffed and undersupplied, we’re grossly so.”

Parric followed Djserka through the kitchen and out a door on the far side. They entered an open shaft with a narrow, spiral stair winding along the circumference. Djserka looped a strand of silk from its spinnerettes to an anchor on the landing.

“Can you follow? Stairs are unpleasant for me.”

“Of coursing.”

Djserka lurched forward and vanished over the edge. Parric followed.

Parric’s wings blurred as he hovered in the center of the shaft. Already Djserka was several floors below, dropping in a controlled, tethered fall that was as much an aerial dance as anything. Parric slowed his wings and descended.

The shaft went on far longer than Parric expected. When Djserka stopped on a landing two levels from the bottom, Parric estimated they’d traversed nearly the entire height of the palace.

Djserka inclined its head as if it knew what Parric was thinking. “The petite dining hall is indeed in the central palace tower. The main banquet hall is six levels below it. Our stores are between the two. It’s not entirely convenient, but we make do.”

“Are we nearing to the gaps?”

“Yes, Crafter. We’re almost there,” Djserka said, leading Parric through a narrow corridor to a small door that blocked the way. “The doors from the central lifts are guarded, but nobody uses the open stairwells other than em Naga-ed-der bringing orders from the kitchen or collecting imported foodstuffs.” Djserka turned and gave Parric an almost conspiratorial look. “You’d never have gotten this far otherwise.”

“Then I’m thanking you again. And His Imperial Majesty will be thanking you, too, as it is his wishings that Flavius and I be departing,” Parric said.

“I’ll take your word on that, Crafter. I’ve learned to avoid direct contact with anyone with ‘Imperial’ in their title,” Djserka said, going through the door.

It opened into a shallow recess, shielded from the larger chamber by a wall. Unnatural, metallic groaning filled the air, setting Parric’s antennae alert. Djserka’s spines bristled. Voices shouted and barked orders unintelligibly. A foreboding energy crackled throughout the room.

“Something’s not right here,” Djserka said, pulling back. “We must go. Now.”

Parric ignored him, sliding forward to peek into the chamber.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of Nexial gaps pulsed in the center of the room, tethered in place by flickering anchor threads. Normally imperceptible to even Parric’s multiple eyes, the sheer concentration of gaps made them fleetingly visible even to more mundane senses. Four technicians with supplemental prosthetic arms manned control stations around the gaps, cursing freely as they rapidly worked. A dozen Eternal Militiamen in silver-streaked turquoise armor stood about the chamber, cuayabs held ready.

Parric pulled back. “This isn’t the terminal I’m arriving at on previous visitings.”

“That’s the public gap access. It’s been closed and that Nexial gap relocated here, with the others. This terminal is more cargo oriented... among other things. Can we please leave now?”

“Yes, I’m seeing all I need--”

“They’re coming through again!” an urgent voice shouted in the chamber.

Parric jerked back around. The collected gaps shuddered and twitched in disturbing ways.

“Steady now,” one of the techs said. “They’re trying a dispersed penetration this time, random across the grid.”

“I’m getting spikes from three of my gaps,” another said.

“Only three? That shouldn’t--”

A shape lunged through a gap, massive and grasping. The unnatural groan turned to a harsh shriek and alarms blared throughout the chamber. It slammed against the floor then rose again, tooth-filled mouth gaping. It was a foothead.

“Compensate! Compensate! Increase the feed to your containment six percent!”

As quickly as it’d broken through, the shape vanished back into the gap.

Parric retreated down the narrow corridor, featherscales ruffled and antennae twitching nervously.

“You know what that thing is?” Djserka asked, chasing along behind Parric.

“Yes. It is being a moironteau.”

“A moironteau? And what’s that?”

“It is proof,” Parric said without breaking stride, “that you are correcting in thinking Rapteer is leaving more beacons in the palace.”


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