I guess I have a couple of more story "noses" to post -- stories I started and abandoned this past summer (2017) because I either found that I wasn't motivated enough by them or I hadn't a plot that seemed to justify them. (I should note that this is a first draft and not proofread. You've been warned.)
Without future ado, here is:
Islands and Velvet Nights
morning gang,' I sang out cheerfully with a wave of my umbrella as I
strolled into the Exports Section of the Bureau of Trade, Department
of Statistical Studies of the Island of Larrendia Governmental
Office. 'The sun is high, the sky blue, the breeze balmy, the birds
cheerful, and our workweek is in its last gasp. What do you say we
take our morning break early and savor this wonderful morning as it
should be savored – out of doors, and in the shade of LeVara's Cafe
with his best Janvar bean caf? The reports can wait an hour.'
proposal was met with a few mumbled 'Mornings.' A not unexpected
response. Unlike me, none of them had fathers who were the High
Ministers of a Larrendia province, which may've allowed me a certain
latitude, that my office mates did not dare to share.
the junior member of this department, I bow to your judgment, though
I can't help but think you will regret these golden days of our youth
spent between these walls.'
looking up from desk no. 3 said, 'The chief was just in looking for
glanced back to the big, slowly ticking, wall clock over the doorway
– 9:11 – I was well within the margin of error. 'Strange. Did he
actually expect to find me at my desk at nine – on a beautiful
morning like this?'
who manned desk no. 5 across from mine, shrugged and without looking
up from his papers, said, 'Or any other morning. Nevertheless, he was
here and seemed very eager to talk to you.'
If wishes were wings, we'd all fly. Did he mention why he was so
eager for my company? It's not like him.'
He just told us to tell you to report to him as soon as you decided
to show up.'
That's rather curious, don't you think, friend Manse? Almost
sinister. Well, we'll all know soon enough, I suppose. But not before
my first cup of caf,' I said, flinging off my hat and slipping my
umbrella into the waste basket next to my desk before digging out my
cafcup from the piles of papers that littered it.
big, dented cafpot was to be found on the incandescent heating plate
on the table beyond the long double row of filing cabinets at the far
side of the room. I carefully poured myself a steaming cup of caf and
inhaled a lungful of it warm, fragrant steam as I returned to my desk
to settle into my creaking chair.
did said you were to see him straight away,' said Bengton from the
desk next to mine, that being no. 9.
I shall, Beng. My heart's all a'flutter. It is an honor not to
sneered at. Rest assured I shall attend to him directly, for as you
can see, I'm diligently blowing on my caf to cool it to a drinkable
temperature. However, facing the Chief without a cup of caf in me is
not to be contemplated. Not at 9:13 in the morning. I must have all
my wits about me during any confab with the Chief. He'd expect
sure that's what he feared,' muttered Masesan without looking up from
raised my cup in salute, and then took a tentative sip of the
steaming caf and then stared at the fat, consular envelope with its
dreary port of Entrevan, Caraffa, shipping report on my desk,
ironically bright and cheerful looking in a shaft of sunlight
slanting in through the tall frosted glass windows behind me, and
sighed. 'We must all take a little rough with the smooth.'
knocked on the Chief's door ten minutes later and waited for the
growl to enter.
growled and I entered. 'Morning Chief,' I said brightly, with my
forced carefree cheerfulness fortified by my cup of caf. 'I
understand you wish to see me.'
growled something about 'not really' but waved me to the chair before
I settled into the chair he said, 'You're still not married, are you,
not that I noticed, Chief. You'd certainly have been invited to the
Any children to support?'
was fogged, but answered, 'No, No. Do mistress' count?'
that I have any of those either. Just curious. What's with all these
questions, sir? Updating my personnel record?'
glared at me. 'Yes, in a way. Yesterday I received a memo from the
Island Governor’s Office instructing me to select one of my staff
for immediate reassignment. They want someone who is young, fit,
smart, and unattached for an unspecified position. You're as close as
I can come to those requirements. You're unattached.'
young too,' I added helpfully.
but even if you were 120 you'd still be ideal,' he growled.
sort of position are you offering me?'
slid an envelope across the desk towards me. 'This may, or may not
tell you. I wasn't told, though I expect you'll find that it's
off-island work of some kind.'
doubt it. Consular posts are not handed out in sealed envelopes, nor
do families matter. No, I expect it's some manner of field work.'
governments do not employ spies, Croftoy.'
sir, of course not. We all serve the Throne.'
course we did. That fat consular envelope was from our “spies” in
Caraffa's port of Entrevan, though they were official members of the
Larrendian trade mission. And while the Ministry of Trade and the
Department of Statistical Studies used these reports to provided a
sorts of assessments to aid Larrendian business interests in all the
other major islands – they were our nominal reason for existence –
we also provided political assessments based on these economic
reports to the Island Governor's office as well. The Islands of the
Founders were all one under the Founder's Throne, but that did not
preclude rivalries between the islands and consequently keeping close
tabs on them.
I don't think this is a Throne appointment either. No, the urgency of
the appointment and lack of background strongly suggests that the
powers and principalities above us want to get you out of sight as
quickly and as quietly as possible. And provide deniability to those
of us who have push the paper along.'
your youth and inexperience talking. If I were a betting man, I'd say
you're bound for some steaming hot, pest-ridden little port in the
Savage Islands where the bugs are as big as your fist, lizards as
long as your arm doing nothing more than counting ships and hoping
that things do not get out of hand between Caraffa and Dariana – or
you could be dodging bombs as well. Better you than me, Croftoy.'
leaned back in my chair. It is remarkable how three years of pushing
Trade Consular reports across one's desk can warp your outlook. I
still actually found the prospect rather pleasing. 'Why, thank you,
sir. Shall we see where it is?' I asked picking up the envelope from
shook his head, 'No. I don't want to know. I wasn't told because I
need to be able to deny any specific knowledge of what this involves
should the Throne should suddenly wake up and decide to take notice
of what's going on. Open it only after you've left.'
when will that be?'
should have you termination papers for this department filled out and
ready for you to sign on your way out. Clean out your desk and be
gone by noon. Say nothing about this appointment to anyone. Just say
I sacked you, for the Founders' know, I've plenty of excuses. Or make
up any old excuse why you're out on your ear that you might think
people will buy. No one will believe you anyway. The important thing
is that we want as few people as possible taking notice of it. The
people you work with must be told something but otherwise try to slip
I'll be greatly missed. Why the outrage, once word gets out…'
it in a memo, Croftoy. And file it.'
know best, Chief. Though, I say, you're going to have to scramble to
put together a farewell party for me.''
sighed. 'We'll party after you're gone, Croftoy. And let me make this
absolutely clear once again – you don't want to be greatly missed.
You want to simply disappear, as unremarked as possible. Let's not
tip off any Throne or other Island agents in the Bureau of Trade, if
we can help it. Keep it simple and short your own sake. If you're
going to find yourself in the field, you don't want to leave a trail
from this office behind you. While it's considered ill manners to
kill spies, if the secrets are deep and dark enough, well… the
rules can be bent. And if you do end up in the Savage Islands,
turning up dead will hardly raise an eyebrow. Some of those lizards
are poisonous. Now get out of here.'
nodded and climbed to my feet. 'Right. 'Well, then, I guess this is
'Yes, I guess it is,' he said
with a slowly broadening smile added, 'Why, damnme, it is. Goodbye,
Croftoy. And good luck,' he added, extending his hand.
sir,' I said, as we shook hands. 'I've enjoyed working for you.'
first lie of your new career, Croftoy. You can find your way to the
door, can't you? Or do you need some help?'
my way, sir. On my way,' I said, slipping the envelope of secrets
into the inner pocket of my coat.
was only after I signed my termination papers and was walking along
the long sun and shadow checkered corridor to the Export Section
office that I began to wonder if I had a choice in this reassignment.
You would think I would, though it was hard to pinpoint any spot in
the brief conversation were the point could've been raised. Too late
now, of course. As I arrived at the Export Section's door, I paused,
considered what I needed to do. I didn't think there were any Throne
agents in in the Export Section, but I decided that I'd best follow
entered and briskly walked to my desk, followed by nine pairs of
curious eyes. I pulled open the top drawer of my desk and collected
the two Cryth & Silfer pens that constituted my personal
belongings and slipped them into the inner pocket of my coat
alongside the letter. I had not set down deep roots in the Export
Section over the last three years. There was the cafcup, but I'd pass
along to my replacement. He or she would need it.
what did he say Croftoy?' asked Maseson, looking up.
I'm afraid I have some bad news for all of you. News you'd best take
this sitting down,' I began, looking about the room. 'Good, I see
that you're all seated, so I can come right to the point. The Chief
and I had a frank and open discussion, the result of which has been
that I have collected my personal effects and now must bid you a
mean to say that you've been sacked?' exclaimed Maseson.
suppose I could dispute who sacked who, but in the end, it is not
worth disputing. The bottom line is that I must take leave of you,
now, today, and without a farewell party. However,' I added pulling
out my pocketbook and drawing out a few bills, 'I will leave these
bills with Mase here for you to drown your sorrows after work today.
And a word to the wise – make it after 17:00, and not a minute
is a joke, isn't it Gil?' asked Verra. 'You can't have been sacked
for being 11 minutes late.'
may've been the final grain of sand that sunk the barge, Verra. But
I'm sure the cause goes much deeper.'
will your father say?' asked Bengton.
must confess, that I am not all that eager to find out.'
mean to the Chief for sacking you.'
doubt that he's any more eager to find out than I am. But, I suppose
that we all must take the rough with the smooth,' I replied, setting
my hat on my head and drawing my umbrella from the waste basket. 'I
have enjoyed my time in the good ol'Export Section and slaving
alongside all of you. I shall miss you all.'
then proceeded to circle the room shaking each of my office-mate's
hands and exchange good luck, goodbyes in turn.
finished with Verra, how didn't let go of my hand. 'I think we
deserve the truth, Gil,' she said, watching me closely. 'After three
years, you're one of us.'
am, and I shall miss all of you. I do not know what the future holds
for me, but it is just possible that I may drop you a note or two.
However, I have been sacked, and I trust that will be the beginning
and end of your speculation outside of this room.'
gave a searching look, and then nodded. 'Right. We will expect clear,
complete and elegantly written reports.'
nodded. 'I have told you all I know. But I hope to send you a line
from from time to time.'
I opened the door I turned about and looked about the office one last
time. The narrow room, with a single row of ten desks, set in facing
pairs, running down the middle, had been my home away from home for
the last three years. A double row of filing cabinets filled the back
of the room where our hard work went to die. On the wall behind me
were the rolled up wall maps of the Islands of the Founders and the
twelve major islands. Tall frosted windows lined both sides of the
office. They opened to a small courtyard or light well between the
office wings – the Larrendia Government Offices Building had been
built before the Throne had introduced incandescent lights to the
Islands and it still largely relied on the sun to illuminate its
workings. On bright, sunny days, such as today, the office almost
looked pretty – the muted shafts of sunlight falling through the
floating dust motes to the rich wood desks and piles of cream colored
I found myself genuinely sad to leave, much to my surprise.
raised my hat in salute, and finding no words, for once, turned and
cheerfulness partially returned as I put the Government Offices
behind me. The tree shaded streets of Larran where busy with shoppers
and clerks running errands. Pedal and oil-engine vans and carriages
drifted down the wide streets, dodging the clanking street-rail
carriages that ran down the center of the major streets. I stopped at
LeVera's Cafe for a second cup of caf and a sweet roll. It had been
an eventful morning. I spent my time over the caf, watching the
people saunter past me. They had a purpose, while I found that I felt
like I had actually been sacked, a mixture of freedom and anxiety as
all the implications began to sink in. I needed a purpose, and the
stiff envelope in my pocket proved too tempting to ignore.
seemed safe enough to open it here, so I slit the envelope with my
pocket knife and drew out its contents. It contained exactly two
items. The first a ticket for a sleeper compartment on this evening's
night rail service to Evertre, which I knew to be a small city on
Larrendia's western shore. The second was a single sheet of paper
with a machine-written instruction to call at 10 Kimartha Street at
my earliest convenience. I was to ask to see one Lint Berian. And
when asked who I was, I was to state my name and say I was from
Perner Wenyand; my old Chief. And that was all. When I had stared at
the sheet of paper and ticket long enough to recognize that I could
gleam no more from them, I slipped them back in the envelope and the
envelope back into my inner pocket.
in all, the lack of information made my problems, save one, pretty
easy to solve – a few brief notes to friends – a new job, big
rush, fill you in later – would suffice. It would suffice for
father as well. I'm sure he could find out more, if he cared to. It
would, however, not suffice for Relae. Thinking about Relae I
realized that perhaps I could've used a second cup of caf during my
interview. The more I thought about Relae the more I realized that I
might have been too hasty – too carefree – during my interview
with the Chief, and the less I was looking forward to our standing
dinner date for fourthday. The night rail would not depart until
22:55, so I'd have no excuse for not seeing her. Not that I didn't
want to see her, it just that, well, it was going to be iffy.
boarded the outbound street-rail carriage at the Veytana Street
Market that would take me to Larran's suburbs and the family's
city/country villa where I lived. At 10:10 in the morning the
carriage had a distinctly different clientele then it did at 17:15
when I usually rode it homewards. At 17:15, my fellow passengers were
city-men and city-women dressed correctly in our beige, grey, or
black business suits. We swayed in sync with the rolling gait of the
carriage as we read the news sheets or talked in quiet tones of
business and society as the carriage swayed down the long street. The
10:10 the passengers were far more gaily dressed and far more lively.
Banter and gossip flew back and forth, up and down, the carriage.
Instead of leather portfolios, they lugged baskets and string bags
filled with produce and bakery from the Veytana Street Market.
Nevertheless, they were bound for the very same suburban villas,
where they were employed as domestic help; cooks, maids, and the odd
yard-and-garden man pressed into shopping service. And, like the
city-folk, one by one they abandoned the street-rail carriage, at
every stop as it clanged and squealed it way down the shade-dappled
Veytana Street towards the outer most fringe of Larran proper.
was one of the last to leave, a few blocks short of its turnaround
terminal. Our villa, Meadow Garden, lay two blocks off Veytana
Street. It was a not all that large, wood-built foursquare house set
in a not all that large garden lot, completely unremarkable for its
location – the homes of prosperous Larran business men and
government officials. Its bamboo tiled roof was painted sky blue, and
the dark green painted two story veranda that circled it was trimmed
with gilt and draped with flowering vines. From the shadows of the
veranda, its full height window-doors glimmered between the rarely
used storm shutters and varnished wood panels.
walked up the flower lined walkway and entered the cool, dark wood
paneled entry way. 'I'm home!' I called out, just to give the staff
fair warning. Who knows what they do at 10:30 in the morning, with
the master gone?
are you doing home, sir? Is everything all right? Have you come down
with the fever?' asked Mai, hurrying out from the kitchen. She was
our housekeeper and the person in charge when the important family
are not in residence.
fine. I've been given a new assignment, and the day free. Include me
in lunch. I'll dine with you and the staff in the kitchen, no fuss.'
sir,' she nodded, and made no fuss. She'd known me all my life, and
I'd been residing at Meadow Garden for the last three years, since
coming down from the university, so we had a very comfortable
changed into some casual clothes, and wrote my notes before lunch in
my room. After lunch I turned my attention to packing. I'd little in
the way of suitable clothes for equatorial pest-holes if I was indeed
bound for the Savage Islands. I had rather avoided pest-holes,
equatorial or otherwise as a rule. Of course, the pest-ridden
equatorial posting was just speculation, but if it wasn't an
equatorial pest-hole, what was it? In the end, I packed a light
wicker portmanteau with just the necessaries for few days, and some
casual, holiday clothes. Once I knew more about my assignment, I
could purchase a suitable wardrobe. Later, after the afternoon
shower, I wandered out to in the gazebo to do some thinking about
she is not, by any stretch of my imagination, my mistress, we did
enjoy a dear, free, almost casual friendship – a sweet,
understated friendship that I fear I'd taken too much for granted. We
had made no long term plans – save that perhaps that we would make
those plans sometime – we were too young to bother with them now.
However, the normal trade consular posting was five years, and I
could hardly expect my posting, whatever it was, would be
significantly less, so suddenly we weren't too young, but making long
term plans in the few hours and in the face of a five year
separation, was too much to ask of her, even if she did care for me
more than what she let on – or I had let on about her. What I would
say, and more to the point, what she would say this evening I found
impossible to guess.
called at the front door of the MarDarr's villa, not quite three
blocks from Meadow Garden. Her parents owned MarDarr's Market Place,
a large general merchandise store in Larran. Relae came bounding down
the stairs as soon as I was shown into the dark, twilit hall, in
slacks and a light coat.
look wonderful, my dear,' I exclaimed. She did.
Gil. Right on time,' she said, giving me her hand and her cheek to
kiss. 'Were should we go tonight?'
don't want to share you tonight, so I thought we could find a cozy
booth in the little Silfara restaurant, The Sizzle Pot, on the corner
of Veytana and Bley Street. It's close enough to walk to, and I have
some news to tell you along the way.'
News, you say?' she said archly, grabbing her umbrella and hat. 'Good
news or bad?'
she said giving me a sharp look, but said nothing until we had
reached the pavement and turned towards Bley Street. 'Tell me.'
had a rather interesting interview with my Chief the first thing this
morning. He called me into his office and said that the was looking
for a handsome, debonaire, dashing, brave, and resourceful fellow
without wives and children to support for a special posting…' I
began and went on to describe my morning's interview.
publicly, I've been sacked, but in reality I've been transferred to a
different branch of our department – though exactly what branch, or
where I'll fit into it, or be posted, or for how long, has not yet
been made clear to me. All I know is that I have to catch 22:55 night
rail to Aulia tonight.'
afraid so. Not by choice, I assure you.'
walked in silence for a few minutes after I'd finished.
were being your usual flippant, casual self, in all this, weren't
I'm afraid so.'
the fool, and ending up as one.'
would seem so...'
you even think to ask for more details?'
was no point. The Chief didn't know anything more than he told me. He
wasn't told. It's all a matter of deniability should the Throne ever
get wind of it or care enough to inquire.'
you didn't think to ask for a few days to consider it?'
To tell the truth, it never occurred to me.'
didn't? Isn't that the usual procedure when offering someone a new
position? Especially one that might involve an off-island posting?'
yes, I'm sure it is, but perhaps not for this type of posting. In any
event, it didn't seem to come up in the conversation.'
of course you just played along, as if it was all a joke.'
couldn't really deny that. 'Looking back, it would appear so. I guess
I wasn't thinking clearly. It was, like 9:30 and I had only one cup
of caf in me. It just sort of went the way it went… I suppose I
should've had a second cup of caf, but I couldn't keep the Chief
waiting that long.'
there you go, making a joke of it all again.'
walked in silence for half a block.
you never thought of me – of us – at all?' she asked, at last.
The nub of the issue.
well, I did ask if a mistress counted as a dependent that might
disqualify me for the post – they don't,' I began, in a weak
attempt of humor that it wasn't appreciated,. I hurried on. 'But of
course, you're not my mistress. You're my friend. My best friend,
really. And given the nature of the assignment, and the way it was
presented, friendships where neither here nor there. I guess at the
time, all I thought about was that I was being offered a chance to
escape years of pushing papers from one side of my desk to the other.
And a chance for a little adventure. To see something of the islands.
To do something in my youth that I'd not want to do when I was older
and knew better.
truth is, Relae, I don't think I was ever given a choice. There was
never even the hint that this was anything other than orders that I
was expected to obey. Chief made it sound like it had to be someone
from the Statistical Studies Office, and given all the requirements
of the assignment, I was likely the only one who fit all the
must be sixty people in the different departments. Certainly you
can't be the only one who's under 40 who's not married.'
forgetting smart, dashing, handsome, and debonair.'
making that part up.'
it was implied. The thing is, if it had been a regular trade consular
posting, all that wouldn't matter. Age would be no bar and families
would go along. But you can't take a family to some little
pest-ridden port on the fringe of the Savage Islands. And I had no
excuse – that the Chief would accept – to decline offer.'
that thought had ever crossed your mind.'
could I say? I said nothing. The sun was leaving us for night – its
last red-gold rays were gilding the tops of the trees, but the blue
twilight was deepening under their arching branches. I glanced to
Relae next to me. Her eyes were on the pavement, her face grave –
or angry. I waited for her decision.
what do expect of me?' she said, after a long pause.
expect that we will continue to be the best of friends, though it
will be very different with me off somewhere for possibly years. I
expect nothing more of you. Friends for ever.'
“us” doesn't matter that you're leaving…'
course it does matter, greatly – but seeing what I've gone and
thoughtless done, I can't expect anything more that friendship. I
would hope for more, but...well, we – or I, anyway – thought we
had years yet to decide if we were more serious than that.'
a wink and a nod. We were playing – you made that clear. No
commitments, no strings.'
thought you were someone I could trust,' she said softly.
you can. I was a fool this morning. No excuses. And I beg your
forgiveness. But I ask you, if I had kept my wits about me and said I
needed the two free days to consider the posting, would you have
made it a choice of you and us, or what could be seen as my duty to
Oh, come off it, Gil. You want to be this secret agent or whatever.
It's not a matter of duty.'
I want you as well… certainly as a friend, and, well, I guess just
as a friend for now – it would be terribly unfair to expect more
with the prospect of being gone for years.'
find I regret that, Relae, for what it's worth.'
walked in silence for a while.
were a chump this morning. And I have to admit that I am rather hurt
to be an afterthought in your life. But I suppose you're not entirely
to blame. I was in no hurry either to settle things between us, much
less settle down. A few years apart is not a terrible blow to any
cherished plans of mine. I'll just have to find someone else to feed
me supper on fourthday, and do other things with,' she added with a
of course. We've our youth to live, not to mope about. However madly
jealous I'll be, I'll not let it turn to bitterness.'
you'll be jealous, that I can assure you.'
more than I deserve. I am truly sorry, Relae. I was a chump. I wasn't
thinking clearly. And I feel terrible that I didn't think of us. I
was caught by surprise, and five minutes later, I was signing my
never mind. We'll just be friends, but no promises beyond that. Do we
have an understanding?'
I could ask for nothing more. You're free. I make no claims beyond
friendship. Perhaps the separation will make our hearts grown fonder.
I know it's making mine already.'
stopped and looking around. We had the orange-lit street to
ourselves, so she stepped close and we kissed.
you hungry?' she asked softly, watching me after she had gently
pushed me away.
I said, heart pounding.
made the rail station with 10 minutes to spare, and the proper
platform with five to spare. The great rail shed platform was largely
deserted – small clumps of travelers saying their goodbyes, just as
we were. We stood in the vague strip of light cast by a rail
compartment window and kissed one last time.
damn,' I muttered when we parted. 'You are being so cruel.'
my, it certainly has been... I was such an idiot.'
smiled. 'And handsome, debonaire, dashing…'
to mention, brave and resourceful…' I added helpfully,
idiot,' I said and pulled her close again, kissed her one last time,
briefly, and then lifting my portmanteau, and the warm box of steamed
buns we had stopped to pick up along the way, I turned to board the
took three steps, and then turned and walked back to her.
love you, Relea,' I said.
unfair, Gil,' she said softly, but blushed.
know. But I need to say it to you in person, Relea, not write it in
some sad, lonely letter. I probably have loved you for such a long
time, that I took it for granted and, well, there seemed no reason to
say the words-- we understood each other. I know it changes nothing.
I just don't want you to wonder.'
just shook her head. 'Get on the train, and try very hard not to be
such an idiot.'
managed to find my compartment, and lifting the window, waved and
called out goodbye to Relea just as the rail carriages started,
hesitated, banged and started again into the night.
opened the box of steamed buns and selected one. I took a bite. I had
been an idiot, and a fool, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I didn't know what lay ahead, but I knew now what I was leaving
behind. Too late. Refusing this posting was not in the cards. She'd
not take me back if she thought I bowed out, even for her sake, but I
needed to get back before I faded from her memory. I'd a feeling that
my two priorities were mutually exclusive.
turned off the compartment's light to watched the tree shaded, dim,
incandescent-lit streets of Larran march by, one by one, until they
ended and the countryside began – black, blue and silver in the
light of several million stars, the silver stream, and Corath, the
smaller, silver moon. Black clumps of woods, lined silver fields,
fence lines, roads, and dark houses in blue shadows slipped by, and
by, and by, sometimes unseen, hidden behind my tumbling thoughts, my
regrets. Still, I didn't feel like sleep, and so I watched the
rolling landscape slowly grow brighter as Darmeth, the big gold moon
rose, out of sight from the east, over the fang-like mountains of the
Central Ridge that guarded the great dome of Mount Larrenda. Sometime
after midnight, I began to catch a glimpse of the sparkling ocean as
the rail line approached the western coast to skirt the volcanic line
of mountains, some still smoking, that divided the island of
Larrendia in two.
may have dozed, the last hour or two, since I was startled by the
knock on the compartment door when the attendant announcing that we'd
be arriving in Evertre in a quarter of an hour.
don't want to arrive in Evertre at 4:47 in the morning. Well, you
don't want to arrive anywhere at 4:47 in the morning, but the
deserted platform, dim, cool, and smelling of hot oil-engine fumes,
was anything but inviting. I was the only one to debark, but there
were several clumps of 4:47 people huddled on the platform to take
the rail on to Larrenda's second city Aulia, its southern port, two
hours down the line. Fortunately, the Station Hotel had a sleepy-eyed
clerk on duty – the 4:47 from Larran was not a surprise – and I
was able to secure a room.
awoke, much refreshed around 9:30, a nice, lazy, fifthday time and
climbed out of bed by 10:00 – too late for the hotel breakfast,
but with the tourists out and about, I was able to secure one of the
bathrooms on the floor to bathe. I donned some casual, touristy
clothes and stepped out into the bright Evetre morning. I quickly
found a cafe with a plaza on one of the terraces that overlooked the
city and its holiday cottage suburb that fell to the old volcanic
crater that was Evetre Bay, not more than a long league away. I
sipped my caf and nibbled on my sweet roll and considered my next
move as the sun warmed scent of the ocean played around me.
been unceremoniously herded to Evetre, I found I was in no great
hurry to report to no. 10 Kimartha Street. To begin with, I'd have to
find Kimartha Street, which, I admit, I wasn't going to do sitting in
the sun on the SeaView Cafe's plaza. But even if I didn't order a
second cup, which I did, the scouting expedition would likely not
turn up the establishment much before noon, and I expected the
interview to far more extensive than the one that landed me here, so
I decided that my earliest convenience would be sometime after lunch.
by two cups of caf, I set out to explore Evetre, a town of two story
wood buildings is built on a series of long, terraces climbing the
slope of the West Guard. Each terrace consisted of a single broad,
building lined avenue. Short, steep cross streets linked the
terraces. The long, lowest terrace was a broad street market crowded
with shoppers – natives and tourists. I asked a fruit vender where
I could find Kimartha Street. I was told that it was six block south
– one of these short cross streets. Of course no. 10 Kimartha
Street was just short of the top of the town, and I was feeling it in
my legs when I puffed past, a dark, narrow, building leaning up
against the lava-stone terrace wall. It was only wide enough for a
doorway and a dirty display window, empty save for dusty spiderwebs.
The sign over the door said, in peeling paint,” Fouson & Song
Trading Co.”. They looked to have peaked in prosperity about the
time my father was playing with blocks in the nursery.
puffed past it with nothing more than an incurious glance and
continued up to the terrace in search of a restaurant for lunch. And
to catch my breath. I found an unassuming restaurant that through its
front windows seemed popular with the natives and enjoyed a leisurely
lunch in its quiet, shady back terrace that overlooked the rooftops
of the terrace below to provide a view of the town and cottages that
spread out to Evetre Bay and the ocean behond.. I lingered over a
desert cup of caf until after 13:00, and if I give you the impression
that I was rather reluctant to present myself at no. 10 Kimartha
Street, you wouldn't be far from the truth. I needed to clarify what
I would, and would not accept in this posting. I couldn't throw the
whole thing over – Relae wouldn't stand for that, not after having
accepted it, however thoughtlessly – but I wanted answers, full and
complete answers. And I decided that I wasn't going to commit to an
open ended assignment. If it was to the Savage Islands, I'd think two
years would be more than enough. With that decision, I drained the
last of my caf, and rose to meet my fate.
stepped up to the door of no.10 Kimartha Street and pushing the latch
handle down, pushed open the door. There goes my last chance of
giving this a miss, I thought, and stepped into the dim, narrow front
room. It was bare except for an ancient looking counter that ran the
width of the room. A young woman sat in a chair beyond it reading a
young woman looked up and gave me a rather guarded, “Good
beamed at her, 'It is indeed. It's a shame you can't be out and
enjoying it. Working on a free day…' I shook my head sadly.
can I help you?' She seemed unreceptive to my sympathy.
here to see Lint Berian.'
who should I say is calling?'
Gil Croftoy, in person. Perner Wenyand said I should look in.'
put down her book and picked up the single folder from the small desk
beside her and opening it, gave it, and me a long look.
that's my official imagebox print, it doesn't do me justice,' I
remarked casually, catching a glimpse of my imageprint in the folder.
closed the folder, and stood. 'Wait here,' she said, and with a brief
knock on the door behind her, stepped in. She certainly hadn't seemed
inclined to banter – I suppose having to work on a free day
depresses the spirit. I then reminded myself, once again, to get
serious and keep my wits about me – this time. For once.
she returned, half a minute later, she walked to the end of the
counter and raising the shelf said, 'You can go in.'
stepped by her with a polite smile and into another bare room
dominated by large desk. This time I was greeted cheerfully by a
youthful looking fellow who hurried around the desk to shake my hand.
to the firm. I'm delighted to meet you, friend Croftoy! I'm Les
Berian, managing director. Please excuse our rather threadbare
appearance. We're just borrowing this office. Here today, gone
tomorrow. All a game, of course, but the powers and principalities
want results, but without leaving their finger prints.
delighted to meet you sir,' I said shaking his offered hand
respectfully, reminding myself not to fall into bad habits.
a seat, Croftoy. Glad to see you found us.'
you, sir,' I said and took a seat before the desk as directed. And
then waited for Berian to settle in as well.
the fellow from the Statistical Studies Office,' he said, waving the
folder his receptionist had brought him.
fame proceeds me, I see,' I said. 'I only learned of this posting
it did. And I must say that I couldn't have asked for someone more
qualified if I had ordered you up,' he said brightly, with a broad
smile that suggested that he had. 'I expect you have a lot of
questions. So feel free to ask any question, friend Croftoy. I think
I can answer most of them.''
nodded again. 'Yes, I do. My Chief claimed not to know anything about
didn't – though he knew, of course, how the game is played. You
never know – just when you think the Throne has grown blind, bang!
You find yourself being asked by a coldhearted Agent of the Throne to
explaining all sorts of uncomfortable things. Being able to say “I
wasn't told.” with a clear conscious is a blessing. Knowing only
what we need to know makes all our lives simpler.'
necessarily,' I said. 'In any event, I believe that its customary
when offered a position, to describe what that position involves –
assuming you know what it involves,' I added, with a smile, hoped
would've made Relae proud, had she been here with me. 'So perhaps you
might began by outlining the job I've been posted to, and afterward,
if I have any questions I'll ask them.'
laughed. 'Just so. Forgive me. I forgot that they just doped this on
you out of the blue sky. All this is second nature to me. Right.
Let's begin at the beginning.
powers and principalities of our dear island have grown increasingly
curious, about what Caraffa and Dari are up to in the Savage Islands.
We know, of course, that they are rapidly developing oilnut
plantations on many of the northern most islands, including the big
islands of Garda and Desda, as you diligently recorded in your
reports of imports and exports.'
nodded. Our trade mission consuls on the other major islands send
long lists of imports and exports compiled from public records to the
Exports Section of the Bureau keep on top of all the current trade
patterns. The Island Government of Larrendia also looks over our
shoulder to see what the other islands are up to. I covered Caraffa
exports and so I knew that they were exporting shiploads of
construction equipment – blade tractors, power shovels, drags,
heavy lorries, and other earth movers to the Savage Islands to clear
the vast swatches of jungle for oilnut trees to meet the ever growing
demand for oil fuel. Larrendia was too far north to play much of a
role in this expansion, much to its chagrin.
like you, other sources of information have caught hints of something
else going on as well.'
you referring to the Throne's (Caraffa) Sea Defense Force's recent
policy of hiring cargo ships to carry what seems to be heavy
construction equipment listed only as naval supplies and with no
the fact that the turnaround time for those ships is too short for
them to be delivering their cargoes to either of the big islands of
Garda or Desda.'
they are building something – a base or harbor – on some unknown
island for some unknown reason.'
Though we have a fairly good idea what island they are delivering
those items to.'
their naval base on Crater Harbor, Panida.'
that's a long established base on a long settled island. Even if they
were expanding it, they'd not need as much equipment as they seem to
be acquiring. And it is my understanding that the island is fully
developed. It's been reclaimed for well over a hundred years.'
However, Pandia is not their ultimate destination. While we have no
permanent observers on Panida – yet, we do have a few reliable
correspondents who call on that port, sailors and island traders.
From their rather infrequent reports, we have reason to believe that
the merchant ships in question discharge their cargoes at the naval
base on Panida where the construction equipment is transferred to Sea
Defense transports for delivery to their ultimate destination.'
considered that for a moment. 'Pandia certainly fits the turnaround
schedule. But why? Why not send it direct to its destination?' I
asked, and then answered my question after a moment more's thought.
'Because they want to keep that destination secret.'
is what we think. So secret that they will not risk sending their own
transport ships back to Caraffa to pick up these cargoes. Sailors
talk, and they don't want them talking where they might be overheard
by people like us. Our own Sea Defense people have determined that
the Caraffa Sea Defense ships operating in the Savage Islands have
not returned to their home ports in Caraffa for over two years. They
now seemed to be based out of Panida.'
what are they hiding?'
no idea, not even a guess, save that it's deeper into the Savage
Islands – beyond Garda and Desda. It's going to be our task to find
out what their secret is.'
going beyond Garda and Desda?
smiled, 'I hope not. We're hoping that we can discover the secret on
Panida. I assure you I'm no more eager to get deeper into the Savage
Islands than you are. But I'll get to the practical details in a
minute. There is one other aspect of the mystery that I want to
briefly mention. We'll go into all the details on the voyage out.
'It's no secret that Caraffa and
Dari are fierce rivals in the Savage Islands, racing to develop the
oilnut plantations on Garda and Desda in order to ultimately control
them, even after the Throne decides to admit those islands into the
Union of Islands. With the ever increasing demand for oil, those
islands are going to be rich, and both Caraffa and Dari want the oil
to flow through them. Now there are rumors that that rivalry involves
the Throne's Sea Defense ships of both those islands. Ships of TSD
(Caraffa) and TSD (Dari) are rumored to be battling each other in the
narrow sea between Garda and Desda. Captain Contre, our ship's
captain, has, himself, observed at great distance what appeared to be
a gun fight between the armored cruisers of those two branches of the
Throne's Sea Defence. He had observed the ships early in the day, and
shortly after sunset, observed flashes of what seemed like gunfire
just over the horizon. Of course they could have been chasing off
native raiders, but it would be very unlikely that the native raiders
would have attempted to take an armored cruiser, so…'
and Dari are waging war against each other? And the Throne does
not war, perhaps, but naval skirmishes – knife fights deep in the
Savage Islands with armored cruisers and the like. And yet neither
island lodges formal protests or files their grievances with the
Throne… Clearly, or at least as clearly as our very limited
intelligence allows us to see, there's something in the Savage
Islands, something so…rich, powerful, or dangerous, that they may
be willing to kill each other to obtain, while keeping it such a deep
dark secret that they'll not even risk bringing the ships involved
back to their islands. All we know is that they both want whatever
it is, and neither has any intention of sharing it with the rest of
us or the Founders' Throne itself.'
as I said, it is our job to find out what they are hiding.'
are we going to do that?'
basic, boring, intelligence work. We are going to set up shop – an
actual shipping business, in fact, on Panida and then we'll keep our
eyes and ears open. We have an island trader that we'll send around
the islands north of Garda and Desda to extend our eyes and ears, and
perhaps, in time, establish some outlying business offices closer to
the scene of action, if it looks promising. I'm quite sure that the
islands are ripe with rumors, and that if we work diligently and
intelligently, we can shift the truth out of them, in time without
ever venturing beyond them.'
I'm sorry to leave you in the lurch, but here is were the manuscript ends...