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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 2

The trading post on Baxam-Col-Vree…

“Excuse me, but we’re looking… for…”

For at least the tenth time, one of the inhabitants of Baxam-Col-Vree walked past The Traveller as though she was invisible, or her words beyond the range of their hearing. It was almost more than the explorer could stand.

“It’s because I’m a woman, isn’t it?”, she muttered to Irinati, as the girl sat on top of a short post, intently studying one of the local coins. “I should’ve known this was going to happen… now where did you get that?

“Man gave it to me”, murmured the girl. “Said I was pretty – why did he have to pay to say that?”

“Better not to ask”, said The Traveller, nervously. That was another negative aspect of his new form – two women attracted a lot more undesirable attention than a man and a woman.

Trying to figure out another approach, The Traveller’s mind went back to his earlier exchange with Mariella, and the mention of the customisation options available to the young woman with the artificial body. Could I perhaps make myself at least appear more… male?, the adventurer wondered. Only for a short while, of course…

“I better not mess about with Miss da Silva’s body”, he sighed out loud. “I don’t want to change something I can’t later undo. So, what else is there…?”

Out of nowhere, Irinati spoke. “We’re at a trading post.”

“Yes, that’s right, my dear.”

“This is a trading post.”

“Well spotted”, sighed The Traveller. Sometimes, Irinati’s incomplete mind would act like an old-fashioned record, stuck in one groove; usually, that would involve long periods of gazing into space, but this time, it appeared that the insurmountable hurdle was this one piece of information.

“We are at a trading post“, insisted Irinati.

She was trying to tell The Traveller something, and as the explorer was about to try and nudge the girl onto a different track, realisation dawned. “We are indeed – and we are offering nothing to trade”, exclaimed an exasperated Traveller. “Why, thank you, my dear.”

“I thought it was obvious”, replied Irinati.

“You seem more… coherent than normal”, observed The Traveller. “That usually means there are shards nearby.”

“I’m not sure”, said the girl. “if this ‘Doomstone’ has three of them, then maybe he’s leaving a stronger trail, one that reaches me more readily.”

“That, or he recently made ‘a big impression’ on the fabric of space-time hereabouts, and the residue hasn’t had time to dissipate”, said The Traveller. “That should be easy enough to track down, but still, we’re here, and we may not get another chance any time soon to collect first hand information.”

The pair had nothing material or monetary to offer, but The Traveller was having an idea. Climbing up onto a barrel, she took a deep breath, and called out over the heads of the crowd “All manners of devices realigned and retuned, while you wait! Quick service, at a price that can’t be beaten! Step right up…!”

Almost immediately, a customer came forward; a hairless green being, stocky, with ridged and pitted skin that made him resemble some kind of ambulatory vegetable. The creature jammed stubby fingers into a pocket, crudely sewn on to what appeared to be a frequently- and poorly-repaired space suit, and took out a battered square metal box, with a scratched screen at its centre. “De chronomeder dun be outta synch”, mumbled the curious being. “Dun kin’t get ubdate signurl. Yew fixes?”

The Traveller clambered down, took out her roll of watchmaker’s tools, and laid them out on the top of the barrel. “Yew dun gunna fix wiv dem tools?”, asked the creature, “Look old…”

“It’s not the tools, it’s what you do with them”, said The Traveller, with a smile and an outstretched hand. “May I?”

The customer placed the multi-function device in her hand, and she set to work. It was a simple problem to fix, requiring the use of one of her family of tuning forks, placed against one of the data terminals and struck with a narrow metal rod. After a count of three, she took the tuning fork away, and handed the now fully functional device back to its owner.

“By De Eturnul Gard’nur, it dun be workin’”, said the creature. “Eben de trackin’ intehfaze! Yew dun dun gud, libble gurl – wot Abgur Ob De Strong Roots dun be owin’ yew?”

“Information”, The Traveller replied. “Have you, in your recent travels, come across the one they call Doomstone?”

“Nod pershen’ly”, said Abgur, “bud aye dun been adda farmin’ colony ad Cirphanus – geddin’ fresh soil fer me bowl, y’ know, an’ aye wus dun asken iffen dey god any scrap – medell, simfettics, waste liquids. Dey’s sayin’ ‘we god lodsa scrap in awbet, ‘coz Doomstone jus’ dun fightin’ awf Balkosi raiduhs – dem dat cud, dem dun’ run away!’”

“And when was this?”

“Two daze afore ah’d dun god dere, an’ dat wuz…” – Abgur consulted his chronometer – “ate poin’ dree fibe standuhd past.”

That fills a gap in my ‘route map’, thought The Traveller. A bit more information like that, and I should be able to predict where Doomstone will next make planet-fall…

“Abgur dun be hopin’ yew nod mak’n’ trubble fer Doomstone”, said the creature. “‘Im, we spacuhs, we traduhs, we dun be liken ‘im. Space quiet now. Space safe now. Doomstone dun scare raiduhs away!”

And that makes stripping him of his power even harder, The Traveller sighed to herself as Abgur waddled away. I’m going to have to come back here, and help these people out – if they’ll let me. Maybe Dominion can spare a few ships – but if they keep doing that, they’ll end up with no ships left…

Those were worries for another time, for people of all kinds were starting to line up for The Traveller’s services. A bewildering variety of communications and navigation devices were placed on the barrel-top, most responding at once to one of the tuning forks, and in return, a scrap of knowledge was provided that more often than not filled another gap in the ‘route map’.

The line of customers suddenly came to an end, with one final device placed in front of The Traveller; a sleek silver rectangle, its upper surface dominated by a screen, upon which was shown a silver shield, with an arch of stars on its surface, and a circle of infinity symbols orbiting it. It was a badge The Traveller recognised, and when she looked up, the face of the device’s owner was one she had encountered before…

“Mister White”, he murmured. “So, what brings Reality Defence out into the open today?”

“A need to pass on a warning”, said the white-haired man. “You’re asking all the wrong questions right now. Questions someone else has been asking, and when word reaches them of your activities, their attention may just be diverted to you.”

The Traveller had been threatened before, and threatened by this very individual, and his multiversal intervention agency. This, however, didn’t feel like a threat. “And who might this other searcher for answers be?”

“An assassin”, replied Mister White. “You are not the only people looking for the Mystalorn shards, and one interested group has chosen to take the shards worn by Doomstone by force.”

“And would another of those interested groups be your organisation?”, enquired The Traveller.

“We are interested in seeing the shards in the right hands”, answered the Reality Defence agent. “In that respect, we are allies. As we have been more often than you might suspect, for we do have common interests.”

The Traveller frowned. “What, you’re here asking for forgiveness? Get that lumbering man-idiot Vidar Ramis over here, and then maybe we can talk about that…!”

“No, not forgiveness – understanding“, said Mister White, “and this’ll be just about the last chance I get.”

“You’re… dying?”

“You could say that”, replied the Reality Defence agent. “You could say we all start doing that the moment we’re born – apart, perhaps, from you – and that’s certainly the case for us.”

The white-haired man leaned on the rim of the barrel, and brought his face close to that of The Traveller. “When the organisation was founded, we went to speak with an ancient seer, and she shared with us some highly… privileged information”, the agent whispered. “With such things, there is always a price to pay, and on that day, the price we paid was that we received the knowledge of the precise moment our organisation would fall. I’m warning you about the assassin because, very soon, we won’t be there to… get in your way any more, and reality needs all the defenders it can get.”

Mister White took back his communicator, switching off the screen – and the image of the badge of Reality Defence melted into darkness. “Is… is there anything I can do?”, asked The Traveller, as the mysterious man turned to leave. “Surely, you not going to just let this happen?

“I’m already doing all I can to try and limit the damage”, said Mister White, stopping, but not looking round. “If you really want to help, watch for anyone carrying our badge, and… and help them, if you can…”

The magnitude of the moment struck The Traveller hard. She had absolutely no reason to doubt Mister White’s words – whilst they had not always seen eye to eye during their encounters in the past, Mister White had never lied, or exaggerated. The man was deadly serious this time, and The Traveller’s gaze slid earthward as he took a deep breath, and unconsciously allowed Mister White to escape his gaze…

When he looked up again, Mister White was gone, and The Traveller shivered a little. He was sure he had just witnessed a noble man passing through the gates of history.

“You… you saw that, didn’t you?”, The Traveller asked Irinati.

The girl nodded, and murmured a single, solemn word. “Divergence…”

“Of the most conclusive kind, I fear”, sighed the explorer, and he started to pack his tools away. If Mister White had been correct, and there seemed to question his veracity, then it would be a particularly good idea to get back into space, and out of plain sight, as soon as possible. If the stories about this “Doomstone” were true, it would take quite an assassin to deal with him.

…o O o…

On board the Pride of Kraan II

Whenever Suya took on such a forceful role, Jason usually expected her to play the part for a short while, then things would… quieten down, and both of them could fully enjoy each other’s company. This time, however, his wife was a little more hot-blooded, her attitude a good deal more fierce – his behind definitely more red, and tingling from the punishment he’d received from those usually gentle delicate hands, housed in those almost shoulder-length supple black patent leather gloves…

Sometimes, people just have to celebrate being alive, he thought as he briefly escaped “Mistress” Suya’s attentions by retreating to the bathroom. All that chaos, all that death – we only beat The Emperor a few weeks ago, and I know I’m grateful I – we – made it out the other side, bodies, minds and free will intact.

Jason glanced back to the bedroom. The soft whisper of hair gliding over skin, the slightly tacky sound of lacquered leather touching lacquered leather, told him Suya was stirring. Aderosayl has his forge, ‘Snake and Sleek have their new ship, and Suya has… not being “Suya”, every now and then…

The gentle creaking of patent leather warned Jason to prepare himself, and he tensed ever so slightly as high heels started to ring out against the floor-tiles of the bathroom. In the mirror, he could see Suya slip into the room like a cat, a look of frosty determination on her face, breasts rising and falling in time with distinctly hastened breathing – it was, Jason felt, “time for the kill”…

Suya pressed right up against Jason’s back, the warm glossy leather of her thigh-length boots slick against the backs of his legs. Those gloves came reaching round, sliding over his hips, his stomach, his chest, those lovely slender fingers drawing breath-taking circles around his nipples. If he “pounced” first, he could take her by surprise-

The door-chime rang.

Suya’s arms fell away. Jason leaned forward, his forehead bumping against cold mirror-glass. Jason sighed, and dodging past Suya, as she sat on the counter surrounding the wash-basin, he threw on a dressing gown and went to the door.

Standing in the passage was Cloudmane, his younger brother. The white-haired mystic usually kept to himself during space voyages, and never came near anyone’s private quarters – not, however, until now.

Behind Jason, there was the almost non-sound of soft leather landing on the bathroom tiles. If he was quick, the moment could still be salvaged. “What is it?”, asked Jason. “This better be…”

“I sense him”, said Cloudmane, firmly. He sounded more like the Cloudmane of old, from before a nasty brush with death, and the questionable experiments of dark forces. “The one they call… Doomstone.”

This was something Jason had been hoping for – a chance to investigate a local super-being who, through chance, irony or outside influence had come to take on the same name as a powerful adversary with roots in Mystalorn’s long lost ancient history. Za’Lita was most familiar with the original, and it was the investigation of the “new” Doomstone that she had most wanted to carry out. Jason had promised his sister that he would pursue the matter if the chance arose. “Are you sure?”

“The shards leave a distinctive trail through space, which we have just passed through”, said Cloudmane. “It is him…”

The second glove dropped to the bathroom floor.

“Can we follow that trail?”, asked Jason.

“I believe so – if we don’t delay.”

“Go get Sleek, and tell her to assume command of flight operations”, Jason told his brother. “Tell her what you just told me, and give her all the…”

Jason’s heart sank a little as the sound of a long zip-fastener being undone reached his large, pointed ears. The zip running down the back of one of Suya’s long, shiny dominatrix boots…

“…all the help you can”, he continued. “I’ll join as soon as matters allow…”

An empty boot clattered on the tiles, discarded in frustration… but Cloudmane wasn’t moving. “Is there anything else?”, growled Jason. “Look, Suya is waiting for me…”

“I sense something else, related to the shards, but not a shard”, said the mystical hero. “Distant… weaker…”

“You go look into that – use whatever on-board facilities you need”, Jason told him as the sound of a second unzipping started to come from the bathroom, a little more reluctant than the first. “I’m going now.

He closed the door before Cloudmane could open his mouth again. Hurrying back to the bathroom, he found Suya sitting there with just the one boot half-on, unzipped to just past the knee, the open shaft of the boot hanging loose like the petals of a shiny black flower. “Duty calls?”, she muttered in an irritated fashion that was most unlike her. “Don’t let me keep you…”

“They can wait”, he assured Suya, placing his hands on the counter to either side of her and bending forward to kiss the woman he loved. “I can hardly sit on the command deck with a sore backside…”

“There’s that stuff you use after workouts”, suggested Suya. “I could…”

“You’d be better able to reach if you… I dunno, sat on my back?”, said Jason silkily. “And… well, you could still wear your boots…”

Suya extended her booted foot in Jason’s direction. He took hold of it, and slowly refastened the long golden zip, right to the top, close to her behind. He then gathered up the other boot, helped his wife back into it, and together they returned to the bedroom, Suya with her gloves in one hand, and the bottle of healing lotion in the other…

The rest of the universe, like it or not, was going to have to wait.

…to be continued…