Back at the Estate, after the revelation of an invitation in the final compartment of Rain’s puzzle box, the party tried to decide where to go, Crow’s Hollow or take the invitation. When Bruce suggested leaving the decision to God guiding their destiny with a coin toss, Rain took up the challenge. *********************************************************************
“Sure,” Was all Rain said as he flipped a gold crow high into the air, the gold claw motif once more catching the light as it spun and flipped.
“May God guide your hand,” Bruce said low and fervently watching the heavy coin fall.
All eyes watched its rise and descent, all eyes except Rain’s who never left Bruce’s face. He turned his practised hand ready to receive the coin. With a movement so small and subtle, instinctively judge the coin’s fall, he caught the heavy coin vertically between index and middle fingers of his left hand.
Bruce’s face fell in deep disappointment and a twinge of guilt spiked through Rain. But the guilt could find no purchase and was quickly replaced by irritation.
“I have another idea. Instead of leaving things to chance why don’t we use our god-given brains.” He said giving Bruce the coin.
“It wasn’t leaving the decision to chance, it was letting the powers decide,” Bruce grumbled at Rain. He ignored it and turned back to the group.
“Due to all the excitement over the puzzle box, I may have overlooked another piece of information that we discovered at the library.” Rain gestured to Algernon giving him one last chance to speak openly and honestly about the facts he’d been hiding from the group, “Would you like to tell the others about the documents we found before the puzzle box fell?”
Algernon looked surprised at Rain, puzzled by his request and unsure what to say. He turned to the group, his hands open and visible in front of him shaking his head in confusion.
“We didn’t find anything new.” He said and Rain’s irritation was fanned.
“Really?” He said now facing the young man square on, “Now, I suggest you tell us all about planetvores.” The phrase left Rain laced with the force of the Strange. Rain’s indignance and frustration over Algernon’s and Bruce’s behaviour pushing the influence of the words.
Algernon straightened, his gaze locked on nothing, “Alright, the thing about planetvores…” He started saying before his eyes rolled up, his eyelids fluttered closed and he slumped bonelessly to the floor of the lab, unconscious.
Bruce was the first to react, immediately at Algernon’s side, checking breathing and heartbeat before placing him on his side in a comfortable position.
“He’s breathing and heartbeat seems normal. He’s just fainted. “Bruce turned his attention to Rain, his expression thunderous, “What did you do?”
Rain just stood back frozen, his face locked into an expression of unutterable horror.
“No…I didn’t…” He said but nothing he could say was the truth. He had done this, he had turned The Strange on to his friend and pushed. In the end, he just stood there shaking his head and Bruce turned away in disgust back to his patient.
No more than a minute later, Algernon’s eyelids flicked open and he sat up looking curiously at the others circling him.
“What just happened?” He asked as he stood with Bruce’s help, on wobbly legs. Rain, on equally wobbly legs, sank onto a lab stool and silently thanked the powers.
“Well, we don’t know, Rain asked you a question and did something that he’ll never do again, “With another thunderous look from Bruce, Rain could do nothing but look away, “Isn’t that right, Rain?”
“Yes, yes…I’m sorry.” He agreed hastily, relieved, dismayed and curious at the same time, “Algernon, do you suffer from blackouts? I mean, moments that you can reconcile, when you don’t remember how you got where you are or what you are doing?”
Algernon stared at Rain with as bemused smile flicked across his face, “Well, doesn’t everyone?”
The room was silent. The three companions looked at each other with worried expressions.
“No Algernon,” Bruce informed his patient soberly in a quiet voice, “That is not normal.” He looked at Rain whose eyes darted back and forth as his mind made sense of the new revelation.
“How did you know?”
“I get it now,” Rain replied, “I’m…sorry I didn’t understand before.”
“What?” Bruce asked anger once more bubbling up, only just cooly restrained, “What did you just understand?”
“I get people, that’s what I do.” Rain stood, taking the floor. He turned to Peggy behind her lab table, “ I get Peggy, no offence you’re easy,”
Peggy shrugged, not sure if to be annoyed or pleased.
“And I now get Bruce, “ He turned to Bruce wanting to say more and thinking better of it, “But Algernon was so….contradictory. You are so smart, so sharp and…couldn’t remember whole conversations…you’d seem afraid of confronting anything then throw yourself into a fight, like the one in the warehouse…or…throwing yourself at a moving car in the wastelands…do you remember that?” He spun on the spot and faced Algernon was slowly shaking his head.
“I just thought that was how he manifested his fight or flight.” Bruce said, “He is naturally tentative, but when the shit hits the fan…”
“People are more…nuanced than that.” Rain shook his head now facing Bruce, “The written conversation in the cave… the words he uses sometimes…the way he sometimes seems…different…” As he said it he remembered where Algernon’s body language was more determined, less tentative, “…just lots of little things…”
“Can we fix it?” Algernon voice, small and unsure echoed across the lab. There he stood, his arms wrapped around his chest looking scared and very alone.
“There’s nothing to fix.”
“Something for me to study?”
“Bring the two together, the determined and the smart Algernon?”
All three said together, stopped and stared around.
“Just..go slow, “Bruce turned to Rain and Peggy, “Remember what you said Rain when we thought we were going to lose Peggy?”
“What did you say?” Peggy arched an eyebrow.
Raising a hand asking for her patience, Rain stepped forward and faced Algernon.
“Do you think you want to be fixed?”
“It’s not safe.” Algernon replied, but this time, in the context it seemed odd, nonsensical, “I have to go.”
“You’re not leaving my sight.”
“Just a few tests?” The others said together and Algernon stopped, a mouse frozen to the stop, surrounded by waiting cats.
“Please, Algernon why isn’t it safe, can you tell me?” Rain asked but all he got back was the terrified stare of a prey animal facing its predator.
“I don’t understand why I fainted, “ He finally said, “What happened?”
“I asked you a question about…about the scary thing…I made you answer…” Rain looked to Bruce, “You were right…I did do something, I…pushed him to tell me, I wanted to know how he could know and not know at the same time.” Rain faced Algernon again now tears of not frustration but remorse welling in his eyes, “When you tried to answer…you fainted. I’m so very sorry?”
Instead of more fear or even anger, Algernon seemed to calm and grow curious.
“You did something? What?”
“Ah…you remember when we fell into that couple’s apartment in Celephais?” Rain said stepping one step closer to Algernon, “Do you remember that I suggested to them that it was all military exercises?”
Algernon nodded, even smirked a little at the memory. Rain stepped closer.
“That was the first time I’d pushed someone into thinking what I wanted them to think.”
“Oh,” Algernon replied now interested in this new ability. All thought of running had gone and he stood thinking a moment with Rain only an arm’s length away, “Can you use it again, if I asked?”
A collective held breath was released.
“Yes,” Rain nodded earnestly, “If you want, but only if you want.”
“Yes, Rain, only with the patient’s permission.” Peggy scolded from behind her lab bench, “Do you need a lecture on patient rights as well?”
Suddenly the tension that had been building in the room since Rain had posed the question was released. They all chuckled at Rain’s discomfort at the thought of a lecture from Peggy and Bruce now stepped up and drew Algernon and Rain back into the fold.
“It seems to me, maybe we need to go on vacation somewhere. Things have been crazy of late, we could do with a break.”
“Yeah, not Crow’s Hollow for a while.” Rain brushed a shaking hand across his still bruised face dismissing the welling tears and sighed, “I still have my recursion.”
“I was wondering about another trip out to Railsea,” Bruce suggested and there were nods from Peggy and Rain.
“What about the invitation, the Found Gentlemen?” Algernon reminded the party and Rain remembered his puzzle box still clutched in his right hand.
“Found Gentlemen, odd name. How were they lost to have to be found?” Peggy asked, now employing the more relaxed feel of the group to go through a few basic coherency tests with Algernon.
“A picturesque phrase for a certain sort,” Bruce replied dismissively as if they were not the sort of people you would want to associate with.
“Rain is one, he got an invitation.” Algernon retorted.
This comment seemed to disturb Bruce, “He’s not…at the moment. He has an invitation, doesn’t mean he is one.”
“Why not?” Rain now looked aggrieved that Bruce, “I felt very lost over the year, it would have been nice to be found. Besides, it leads to your past as well.”
“Do you think it would be seen as aggressive if we all come along?” Algernon mused and grin bloomed on Rain’s blotchy face.
“I wouldn’t go without you.”
“Algernon, “ Peggy completed her tests and found Algernon perfectly conscious and aware, “Can I mind-link with you?”
“Hell no!” Algernon replied, but he didn’t jump back or shy away, only laughed at Peggy’s disappointment.
“Well, where else have you suffered blackouts?” She would not be deterred from asking simple questioning at least.
“Mostly in the library.” He confessed and it was Peggy’s turn to chuckle, “I know that feeling, just before big exams.”
Peggy tried one more way to get information without the evasive testing that she knew would send Algernon running. Closing her eyes and linking to that feeling of the swirling clouds of the Strange she asked a question.
What influence is causing Algernon to have mental blanks?
Returning to her in her own voice was a cryptic reply, He carries his past with him, but he doesn’t know it.
Peggy repeated the reply, “What sort of fortune cookie bullshit is that?” She spat in disgust.
“It certainly sounds very familiar for this group, “ Rain replied, “So I guess that mean’s he belongs, congratulations, you’re as loony as the rest of us.”
Somehow without any particular agreement, the group decided to use the invitation and travel to see the Found Gentlemen. They broke up to prepare themselves for the next day in whichever way they thought best.
Bruce went down to the gym and firing range, getting in touch with the instructor, readjusting his routine and mentally re-tunning with exhaustive physical exercise. After, he returned to Katherine’s office topick up his amour and report their next excursion claiming it was a micro recursion of Rain’s finding but not sharing information about the Found Gentlemen.
Rain went out into the city for a few hours, coming back with a new set of lockpicks purchased and not given to him by the Estate. When the cordite had cleared from the firing range he tried out the new arm sheaths and soon became as proficient moving blades from them as he had from his back sheaths. The speed of Lightfeather may be beyond him, but accuracy was his aim. He spent a few hours until his arms ached and he remembered to check in on Algernon.
Algernon tried designing explosive bolts for his crossbow. At this Peggy was a font of inspiration and even offered a plan for a prototype that would use cyphers to create a tiny rip in space wherever it hit. Materials for such an endeavour were rare though, so that led Algernon finally to Lawrence Keaton’s door, his direct supervisor.
The creaking and slamming noise of doors hastily being closed in response to his knock told him that Mr Keaton was in his office and making ready to receive visitors.
“Ah Algernon, I did not expect to be seeing you, what can I do for you?”
“I am in need of special equipment, something that Doctor Peggy believes can be made with the right parts. I understand she calls it an Arrowhead of total destruction.”
Keaton balked at the name of the weapons and automatically shook his head, “You’re doing some great work at the moment, you don’t want to spoil your glowing reputations with unnecessary death and destruction.”
“Don’t you trust me yet, sir? Haven’t I proved my worth?” Algernon replied aggrieved.
“Not with explosives, no.”
“These are more implosive as I understand, sir.” Gesturing with his hands Algernon simulated the difference with a sharp clap.
“You’re really not convincing me here, kid.” Keaton grimaced, “You’ve succeeded so far without wreaking total destruction, keep up the good job I say.”
“But sir, think what could be achieved with better equipment.”
“Precisely. The answer is no. Anything else?”
“I’d like to requisition more surveillance equipment.”
“See, a sensible suggestion, “ Keaton pulled out a requisition slip and started filling it in.
Peggy filled Hertzfeld in on the Implausible Geographic Society, mostly to complain about their crude laboratory set up, but also to vent about Noel and his abandonment to the “other side”. Hertzfeld had problems of his own with his phasing suit and was pleased for a moment’s reprieve to go over Peggy’s plans for the arrowhead. Though theoretically possible, he had to agree the components were not available for such a project. Her attempts at trying on her own failed and she had to shelve the project for the time being.
That evening, Algernon was sequestered in the library surrounded by research material when Rain finally found him. Without disturbing his friend, Rain noted the subject of the research, information on psychology and brain chemistry. Seeing that Algernon was dealing with the problem as best he could, Rain let him be and, since reminded of the joys of literature from his Daydream library, found the fiction shelving and burrowed into the collection getting reacquainted with old friends.
The next day, feeling much improved after resting in beds in the safety of the Estate, the group met once more in Peggy’s lab. Rain dumped the invitation out of his puzzle box onto the lab table and Peggy led the translation.
A room, luxurious in its appointments, swam into focus. On three side, richly inlaid wood-panelled walls decorate the space. In the centre two large wingbacked chairs in deep red leather sat either side of a small side table that held a cut glass tumbler, ice defracting the light through a clear brown liquid. The fourth wall was a thick glass or perspex window looking out onto natural space and the decrepit remains of a broken space station. Sparking in the starshine, a halo of broken components, metal and glass gave the station a misty, magical appearance.
Besides their location, some of the group had also changed. Bruce and Algernon looked like their Earth-based selves. Rain was covered in integrated LEDs that flicked through an array of colours before settling into a cheery yellow. Peggy was most changed. Her skin was deathly pale with a slick sheen of moisture. Her hair instead of the soft messy curls, was a black wiry array sprouted from her head. Three-quarters of her face was replaced with a metal mask from which both eyes glowed dimly red. From her right arm, a weapons of sorts protruded out from behind her at the elbow. Her legs were bent backwards like that of birds.
Rain reached out and touched her skin, it was cold and clammy and made him shiver.
“Are you feeling okay, Peggy?”
“I…feel…good…different.” Her voice came out synthesised and neutral, as dead as her skin.
Taking a deep breath, Rain looked at the two chairs, the ice in the glass chinked as they slipped against each other. Picking up the glass, he breathed in the scent of the peat and wood tones of single malt whisky. It made him smile nervously.
“I guess I get to sit down.” He said almost as a question. Bruce nodded agreement.
The glass in one shaking hand, Rain grasped Bruce’s in his other before carefully taking his seat in the nearest chair. A moment of nothing and then an image flickered into existence in the opposite chair.
It looked like an elderly man, with close-cropped hair and beard with clear pale blue eyes. The man’s image was familiar but did nothing to allay Rain’s nerves. Leaning back, he nodded to acknowledge the hologram and waited for the being to speak.
“Greetings Tobias… and friends?” The hologram looked around the room at the rest of the party watching on.
“I suppose you’re wondering why you here.”
Rain raised the glass and breathed in the whisky, attentively listening, saying nothing.
“I like to collect things, I look for people who can find interesting things for my collection. You seemed like someone that I would like to work with.”
With that Rain shot the whisky and focused on the burn before speaking.
“I apologise, “ He finally said when he felt more in control of himself, “I think you found me twelve months too late.”
The hologram of the old man wrinkled his face in consternation, “Oh? How so?”
Without a word, Rain looked to his companions arrayed around.
“Ah. You’ve found your place.” The hologram nodded understanding.
Rain, in the moment, was flummoxed. He felt this moment was important, but didn’t know why. He didn’t think he wanted anything from the image, and it was certain there was nothing he could give. In the end, he settled on the second reason for their visit.
“But sir, we are not here just for me, “ He said, and stood, clearing the chair for Bruce. Bruce sat down.
“What do you want from Rain?” Bruce asked and Rain clutched the back of the chair in anticipation.
The figure in the chair took a moment to think then looked back to Bruce in the chair, “He has a darker past than he knows. I slipped him my card hoping he’d find me when he was ready.”
He knows. Rain thought and for a time he heard and saw nothing as the equivalent of mental white noise dominated all his senses. When he returned to himself the discussion had moved onto the other topic and tears were running down his face.
“Look,I’m here searching for a man from Railsea, he used to work for the Manihiki Fero Navy. I have information that tells me he works for you.” Bruce was telling the figure in the opposite chair.
“Why is he of interest?”
“I believe he knew my Pa, Jimmy Johnson.”
Rain giggled at the mention of ‘Jimmy’, having to stifle it when Peggy stared at him with her red eyes. The coincidence of Bruce’s father’s name and his own first true alias had driven out a bubble of nervous energy in the form of a giggle. He didn’t see anything funny in it, but the thought sparked something for Rain and he tried to focus once more on the image in front of him.
“The gentleman in question is out on an errand at the moment.”
“Could you tell me where he went? Maybe we can find him.”
“He’s out acquiring an item for my collection. He will be back in a day or two, “
“Collection?” Peggy interrupted in her mechanical voice, “Could we see it?”
The hologram turned to look at Peggy and slowly nodded its head, “Yes, why not.”
The image stood and led the group through the door at the back of the room and into a dark space highlighted by pools of light. The lights were forcefields surrounding some of the most well-known items of history and fiction. A sword pertaining to be Excalibur was set beside a piece of the hull of the Titanic where the iceberg had ripped through like tinfoil. Part of the Berlin wall with a graffitied image of two middle-aged men french kissing sat alongside a small plain gold ring in a very thick forcefield.
Pop cultural references and item from major moments in Earth’s history side by side. It was not surprising when Algernon gasped and raced through the exhibits to stand in front of a low bodied motorcycle, decaled in branded sponsorships and painted a bright crimson red. Try as he might, he could not get past the forcefield to sit in the Shotari Kaneda’s Akira bike.
Rain had been following along behind the group, blind to the stuff displayed around him. His eyes were only for the figure, moving through the lights, sometimes commenting on one piece or another, discussing in general terms the properties of the forcefields that protected them. The hair was different, but that was nothing, the way this figure walked without stiffness or infirmary was also different and harder to reconcile, and it had been 25 years and a whole lifetime of experience watching people ago. But the more Rain watched, the more he was sure that the hologram was of the man he knew as Mr Joseph.
“Excuse me, sir,” He interrupted the tour with a crack in his voice, “May I ask your name? I assume that Mr Joseph is no longer appropriate?”
The figure stopped and smiled, happy that he’d finally been found out, “You may call me Ni’Challan.” He said and turned back to his collection.
“You collect people and things, “ Peggy could be heard from behind a working shuttle from the NC-1701 Enterprise, “Do you have John and Athena Martin in your collection?”
“Or Lededje Y’breq?” Algernon asked seemingly in the same vein. Though Peggy’s answer had been monosyllabic, the image that was Ni’Challan thought about his answer for a moment.
“Interesting. I don’t, but maybe I should look into this individual.”
The tour moved through a group of specimen jars with various biological examples. Peggy clearly identified a face-hugger from the Alien franchise and determined that it seemed dead.
“What is this place called?” Algernon asked as they passed another thick window of perspex that looked over the debris field that was the space station.
“Originally it was called the Graveyard of the Machine god.” NiChallan joined Algernon at the window, “Or I should say at the end of the space that was the Graveyard and The Strange.”
“Ah, we knew a girl who visited the Graveyard of the machine god, made an android mother. She might be worth you collecting.”
“What about her?” Peggy interjected, “She’s on a traineeship, she’s doing well where she is.”
“Well, it would get her out of the Estate.”
“Why would she want to leave the Estate? It’s the best place I’ve ever work?”
As Peggy and Algernon bickered, Bruce sidled up beside Rain who was hanging back lost in his thoughts.
“Are you going to ask him about your history?” He whispered low so only Rain could hear, “Sounds like this might be your chance to find out.”
An electrical shock part excitement, part horror travelled Rain’s nervous system making his shiver. This was the moment he’d been wishing and dreading in equal measure for 25 years. To let it slip by now would be a tragedy. Again, he felt himself forget to breathe so he nodded and took a shuddering breath in.
“Ni’Challan,” He said, not recognising his own voice as it came out strained and stiff, “You mentioned something about my past. Just for interest sake, you couldn’t tell us my story, could you?”
Ni’Challan, who had grown bored of the argument, had wandered through the collection. He stopped and once more turned his penetrating gaze on Rain.
“When I was told about a possible candidate for collection, such a rare and tragic case, I had to see for myself. What I found was a creative, problem solving individual that had a great deal of potential.”
When Rain did not reply, barely moved, he continued, “You don’t remember do you?”
“No sir, “ a stilted reply.
“Do you know your real name?”
Rain was sure his heart had stopped at that moment and a shaking hand enclosed the pendant, the white flower with a green centre, “I have only the name Tobias Cudo.”
“Amir.” The short gentle sound left Ni’Challan’s lips and struck Rain like a battering ram. Instantly another name sounded in his mind, Ademovic.
“Mean anything?” Bruce asked quietly at his side. The shock and rareness of the memory, the truth of it was too much and Rain could do nothing but shake his head. Ni’Challan didn’t seem to notice and continued on with his story.
“…a mostly pleasant childhood I understand…”
“Parents?” Rain whispered.
“Yes, they were taken from you, tragic.”
“Who took your family and who and why?” Bruce asked Rain who was now, head bowed silently weeping.
“Sir, do you not know your history?” Ni’Challan turned his pale gaze on Bruce, “The Bosnian War?”
Bruce had to shake his head in ignorance of the conflict.
“On the 11th July 1995, Serbian troops overran UN peacekeepers and took the city of Srebrenica. In the following week, more than 8000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed. It was a massacre.”
“Eight-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy-two.” Rain automatically corrected without looking up. It was true, and now it had finally been said, it was real. He hadn’t expected facts to hurt.
“But how did you know to look up those number, that massacre?” Bruce asked.
“It…was…mine…” Rain said, “My foster records…no details, just a lost kid without a name from Bosnia, but enough…not hard to look up.”
The room went silent as the only sound was Rain gasping for breath between tears and Bruce shuffling awkwardly beside him.
Peggy now took the opportunity to change the subject. She had been staring and the objects in the collection with a question that she now able to articulate.
“Usually when you bring an artifact through to another recursion, they change to fit their new surroundings.” She said, gaining Ni’Challan’s attention.
“Hey yeah, “Algernon added, “When we watched the probe go through the inapposite gate in Celephais, the display changed as it entered a more technological recursion.”
Peggy nodded, “Exactly, so what’s stopping these artifacts from changing to just hunks of space junk?”
“Ah,” Now Ni’Challan seemed to see Peggy and responded accordingly, “The force fields, you have already noticed. They were able to trap a piece of the reality of that recursion along with the artifact. Of course, being on the edge of The Strange doesn’t hurt, this is the only place where this technology can exist.”
“I guess you’re not inclined to share this piece of research with others?” Peggy’s red eyes lit up adding a rosy blush to her grey complexion, “Not even for good will.”
“I think I’ve shown you quite a lot of goodwill.” Ni’Challan moved away leaving Peggy to ponder the nature of the force field in front of her.
She looked around, trying to make sense of it and noticed a series of optical sensors that lined the roof of the exhibition space. She studied the force fields in as much detail as she could with her enhanced naked eye. Ni’Challan did not try to stop her, but neither did he give her any clues. She knew it was drawing power from the Dark Energy Network, but how and to do what, she had no idea. In the end, she had to file away what she had gathered and let it be. Maybe the concepts would come in useful if not the direct practice.
“I suppose if you’re to wait for Rondat tu Vin to return I should show my hospitality.” Ni’Challan now said to the group, “I have rooms I keep aside for recruits. Even if you aren’t joining me,” He looked at Rain who was unable at that time to respond. “You are all welcome and look like you could do with the rest.”
Ni’Challan led the way to private rooms that the group took advantage of and rested and reflected on the day.
Hours later and the group were invited to have breakfast with Ni’Challan. In another room of massive proportions, a continental breakfast awaited. Ni’Challan also waited at the head of a long dining table. Flanking the table, another window looked out onto space, this time a clear view of stars and nebulas, free of space station debris. They mostly ate in silence, staring out the window or lost in their own thoughts until a movement at the window drew their attention.
As they watched, a bright spot of energy grew, lengthening forming a tear in space. Through it came a spaceship that Peggy and Rain instantly recognised as the one he had seen in Celephais. Peggy moved over towards Rain on her springy mechanical legs and touched his hand to create the mind-link. Instinctually, Rain’s hand seized hers in an desperate grasp at comfort and she was flooded with sensory information from the physical touch and the link.
Unlike the usual order calm of a fractal starscape that Rain was careful to project to Peggy, Rain’s thoughts were a mess of emotions, sounds, smells, words in other languages all spiced with an adrenaline kick that seemed very familiar. Maybe it was her partly computer brain at that moment, but she was able to remove herself from the human mess and focus on the coherent thought, the strongest being a name.
Yes. A simple reply returned
She acknowledged the message, quietly letting the others know.
They waited, watching as the ship maneuvered towards a dock and locked in place. Engines on board the ship powered down and a passageway extended out to an airlock door on the ship. Through the door, a trolley covered by a tarp trundled up the ramp. Ni’Challan who had excused himself could be seen in the passageway, greeting a middle-aged man pushing the cart. They exchanged a few words and then Rondat moved the tarp enough to let Ni’Challan see beneath. Satisfied with the delivery, Ni’Challan beckoned Rondat inside and to the group.
“Here is a man who thinks you can help him find his father.” Ni’Challan pointed out Bruce who stepped forward to speak to the newcomer.
“Very well, why do you think that?” Asked the man in a straight forward tone of voice.
“You sold this journal in Celephais, “ Bruce pulled out the journal to show to Rondat who glanced at the book before returning to his gaze Bruce. “That is my Pa’s journal from Railsea.”
“Yes, “ Replied Rondat simply, “He joined up with the Fero Navy, he said he didn’t need it anymore.”
Behind Bruce, the connected Peggy and Rain silently watch Rondat tu Vin. Sharing the same thoughts they could clearly see that though he was hiding the truth of Bruce’s father “joining the navy”, the fact that “he no longer needed” the journal was an outright lie.
“By the last entry in the journal he’s been there ten years?” Bruce asked flicking through the few entries there were to the last written page.
“If you say so, I can’t say I kept in touch,” Rondat replied and Peggy and Rain nodded together, that was the truth.
“It says here something about navy recruiters sniffing about.” Bruce pointed to a section, “When was the last time you saw him?”
“When he sailed out from Manuhiki.”
“Any way of confirming that information?”
“I would assume Navy Admin.”
“Manuhiki.” He laughed nervously and looked around the group like that information should be self-evident. All he got in response was silence.
“I’m sure the Navy will be quite happy to help…”
“Was he press-ganged?” Bruce interrupted.
“Never, no, our recruits are all volunteers.”
The two lie detectors stiffened at the outright lie.
Bruce changed the subject, “Found Gentlemen, what do you collect?”
Rondat looked to Ni’Challan who nodded for him to continue.
“A statue.” He lifted the tarp to reveal a primitive carved statue. Peggy recognised it from her anthropological studies as a statue of Nodens, and ancient Celtic god and also of the ghoul.
“You bought this from Lightfeather?”
“Yes, “Rondat stiffened defensively.
“Which was it before then? Was it bought or stolen from the ghouls who owned it?” Peggy spoke sharing her knowledge of the idol with the group, “Lightfeather is a thief.”
“I have a long-standing relationship with Lightfeather, “ Ni’Challen said without guilt, “He’s able to get things that others aren’t.”
“That relationship may well be over, last we saw him he wasn’t looking very well.” Bruce said to Ni’Challan without taking his eyes of Rondat, “A rival drug cartel got him.”
“He in drugs?” Ni’Challan said seemingly surprised by the revelation, “ I just buy objects for my collection.”
“It doesn’t matter, “Rain said tiredly to Ni’Challan, “We’ll not inconvenience you too much longer, sir. Just one question. We have recently become the interest of a planetvore, do you know anything about them or how to stop them?”
Ni’Challan gestured Rondat away who quickly took his cue and left the room.
“That is unfortunate. I collect things not information, I don’t know much about them.”
“I really don’t think you were wrong about me.” He said quietly, “Just one year too late. Is there a way I can keep in touch?”
“You have my card.” Ni’Challan replied and Rain nodded, a sad little smile flickering across his face, “If you want something you think I could find, let me know?”
As they walked back to the wood-panelled room, Algernon made a silent detour returning moments later. Silently, without discussion, they translated back to the Estate, everyone happy to be leaving Ni’Challan and his collection, for now.