Retrograde

by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.


part 1

Ko-Sha took short sips from her goro tea as she laid out the data pads in front of her Advocate. Lunchtime was a crowded affair at the Institute’s common area as students jockeyed for position at the few empty wooden tables. “I’m telling you Na-Den, there is a pattern to each Event.” She looked up at him with amber eyestalks. “The Events are increasing.”

Neglecting his turana noodle salad, Na-Den admired his younger protégée’s determination, studying her data on the small red and blue crystals. Ah, but if I had half her enthusiasm when my head fur was the color of flame, he mused to himself. “This is very impressive work, my dear, but without solid evidence to support your claims, it is simply speculation.”

Ko-Sha’s expression darkened. “I can’t substantiate my conclusions any more than what I have shown you here. Every time I contact the DEC for in-depth Event documentation, I am told that nothing but charred inorganic materials have ever been recovered from an Event or that electromagnetic flux has made recordings inconclusive.” She set her cup aside. “Na-Den, my data indicates that the Events are increasing in frequency.”

Na-Den sighed and scooped up a mass of purple salad from his bowl. “Even if what you are theorizing is true, the DEC has been administering to the public good for over two hundred years. They perceive no danger except to those traveling through the Event area. What makes you right and a million trained Eventologists wrong?”

Ko-Sha frowned, her facial coloring matching the shock of red hair fur that adorned her smooth blue skinned head. “Other than my data, I just have a hunch. Professor So-Gar’s theories on magnetic pseudo-wormholes—”

“Are totally theoretical.” Na-Den shoveled in his forkful of food. He chewed fast, then swallowed. “In over 160 years, So-Gar has never produced a single shred of evidence that Events are anything more than what the DEC has already called them: a freak interdimensional disturbance linking Turast with another world. The disturbances open, a ship or plane is deposited in the Great Woods, and they close for a year or two.”

He finished his lunch and set his fork down on the tray. “You have accomplished some impressive theoretical work, but other than completing your requirements for your Eventology apprenticeship, you have not added much to what we already know about the phenomena.”

“Perhaps Signatory Xi-Tol could grant me permission to travel to the Great Woods? There shouldn’t be any harm in taking some readings?”

Na-Den took his tray over to a nearby recycler bin and slipped it inside. When he returned, the dark age spots on his forehead danced as he shook his head. “You will need more than this to get the province signatory to issue a travel permit into a restricted area.” He slipped a brown overcoat over his tan shirt and gray trousers. He patted her shoulder and smiled. “You should be happy that you are graduating from the Training Guild, Ko-Sha. There will be plenty of time for you to debunk the DEC when you reach your first assignment.” He looked at the crystal clock on a nearby wall. “By the Goddess, I am late for a department meeting. Take the rest of the day to relax.”

As he passed the table, she looked up. “Na-Den, what does the word ‘Umanh’ mean?”

He whirled on her and fought to keep his voice low. “You are never to speak that word in my presence again, do you hear me?” He clutched his hands tight to his sides as his eyestalks retracted in anger.

She recoiled as if stung. “One of my Learning Assistants brought it up in lecture. I was just curious what it meant?”

“The Umanh were once our neighbors here on Turast. Their passing was a time of great sadness for everyone. We will not speak of this again.”

Ko-Sha watched him storm off. Why would he be angry over a word that was common knowledge? I must find a way to make this up to him, she thought as she finished her tea. She gathered up her data pads and stuffed them into a small white carrying bag, slipping the strap over a shoulder.

She smiled and snapped her fingers. There really was more than one way to skin a tarmok cat. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small communication crystal, dialing as fast as her slender fingers would allow. As she stood and walked outside the common area, a cool wind ruffled her head fur as the sun breathed its yellow last as it began to fall below the horizon.

She smiled as she recognized her cousin Ko-Ren’s face appear in the air above the crystal. “Hello Cousin,” she said. “I see you are still trying to keep the red in your fur.”

Ko-Ren’s head fur was beginning to fade from a bright red, signaling the end of his youth. “Still as irreverent as always, Cousin? All that synobi money the family paid for your education and none of your Advocates could take that away.” He turned away from a moment to turn a dial on the triangular computer console he worked at. “Is there a purpose for your call or are you once again looking for humor at my expense?”

Ko-Sha laughed. “I need a favor, Cousin. I want to visit Event Hill.”

Ko-Ren stopped in mid-sarcasm. “Did you say Event Hill?”

“Is there a problem?”

“I cannot discuss Event Hill over an unsecured line, Ko-Sha. There are regulations.”

“It is not illegal to talk about Event Hill,” she replied. “Why are you getting so nervous?”

Ko-Ren leaned forward. “Event Hill is a controlled hazard area. Only Grade 12 DEC Monitor and Retrieval Teams go there.”

“You can get me in,” she said. “You have the clearance to escort me there and back. Will you do it?”

Ko-Ren looked from side to side, then turned back. “Ko-Sha, you know that I would do anything for you, but taking you to Event Hill could cost me my position as DEC Liaison. Every square foot of that area has been investigated by the DEC. There is nothing but trees, grass, and electromagnetic flux in that place.”

She put on her most charming smile. “I only want to take a look around. I promise not to do anything like the trip to the Inertron factory.”

Ko-Ren chuckled. “Famous last words. Bad luck follows you like a hungry crawler beetle. I have never seen anyone who could make Inertron catch fire before.” He paused. “I am sorry, Ko-Sha, but I cannot do it.”

“Cannot or will not?”

He shrugged. “Take your pick. I love you, Cousin, truly, but there is a reason why that area is restricted.”

She pouted. “I understand, Ko-Ren. I should have realized that I was asking too much of you for such a small favor.”

“It is not going to work this time,” he said, his eyestalks changing to an embarrassed mauve. “I have let you get your way far too many times in the past for my own good. Whatever you are planning, you had best forget it.”

“You are right, of course. I was foolish to think that you would want to help me after the analysis I did of your Pulsar 889 data. Free of charge, I might add.”

“You are not going to let that lie, are you?”

She shook her head. “Not a chance.”

Ko-Ren’s eyes twitched from side to side for a long time. When they stopped, he took a deep breath and nodded his head. “If I do this for you, all debts are paid, understood?”

She fought to keep her grin hidden. “Why, of course, Cousin.”

Ko-Ren opened a small window and began typing. “Come to this address. I will meet you there and take you where you want to go. Leave the campus right now. If we are going to do this, it has to be now.”

“Thank you, Cousin.”

“Do not thank me,” he said. “I am not pleased at this.” His image faded.

“Nor am I,” she muttered as she hailed an air tram. “But I need this data.”


Proceed to part 2...


Copyright © 2012 by Wallace W. Cass, Jr.

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