Copyright (C) 2005 Katherine Padilla. This sample is published by Novaun Novels at www.zerosilver.com and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0.

 

 

TWIN WITNESS TO BETRAYAL

 

By Katherine Padilla

 

Book 2 of

 

HEIRS OF NOVAUN

 

 

Part 1: DISCOVERY OF A TRAITOR

 

Chapter 1: FOREIGNERS

 

An instant later, or so it seemed, Deia was looking in amazement through the shuttle's canopy at the planet of Myke's thoughts--Novaun. Suddenly she could feel her body again, but she couldn't move it. She was so numb and drained of energy that she could no longer maintain a telepathic connection with her companions.

Myke reached for the controls, turned on the engines, and began piloting the craft manually. He reached up to turn on the mouth speaker of his helmet and said, "You three were wonderful! Turn on your helmets and we can talk."

Deia did so, but it took extreme effort, almost more effort than she cared to exert.

"We just arrived in Novaunian space territory," Myke continued. "In about two seconds, we'll be surrounded by Novaunian fighters."

An awful thought occurred to Deia. "They won't shoot at us will they?"

Myke laughed, a happy, carefree laugh. "No, Deia, they won't. But they will be perplexed. We're in the heart of Novaunian space, to them an impossibility. They will wonder how we avoided detection."

Moments later, as Myke had predicted, Deia saw several white, bird-shaped fighters bearing Novaunian Fleet markings. She felt foreign thoughts invade her mind, and although they had no substance of words, she could feel images and understand.

Earth vessel A-BV472--state your purpose for entering Novaunian space.

Myke looked as if he wanted to shout with joy, and Deia wondered if the pilot was someone he knew. This is Fleet agent, codename Myke Zarek, returning to base. Please allow me to contact my superior at the Novaunian Interplanetary Intelligence Agency, Shalaun, and he'll clear me through your commanding officer.

Switch to audio, A-BV472. Your thought transmissions are almost too weak to discern.

Acknowledged. Myke pushed a button on the control panel and began speaking in the Novaunian language.

The image of a white-helmeted pilot with bewildered blue eyes appeared on Myke and Deia's viewing screen. Myke spoke, and the Novaunian pilot spoke, and then the screen went blank.

"Doesn't anyone speak English around here?" Dr. Luciani complained good-naturedly.

"Only us," Paul said uneasily. "I already feel like a foreigner!"

"Don't worry," Myke assured, "you won't feel that way for long. You'll feel right at home in no time."

"Then why do I feel so nervous?" Deia said. "I know we're supposed to have a family here, but I still get the most awful feeling that they won't believe we are who we say we are, or that they will disown us or something."

Myke was amused. "You say that only because you don't understand Novaun's patriarchal structure. Believe me, no one gets lost or disowned. It's more likely that your grandfather will be so thrilled to have you two back that he'll whisk you off to the Doshyr estate in Menaura and surround the place with soldiers!"

Myke finally made contact with his headquarters in Shalaun. He communicated with a dignified man, also dressed in white, with wavy hair the color of honey and jade green eyes. Myke conversed with this man for at least five minutes before the screen went blank again.

"For a commanding officer and his peon, you two are awfully chummy," Dr. Luciani declared.

"Perhaps, but Minon Sharad Quautar was my second father long before he was my C.O. He and my father were stationed together during the Latanzan War and were the best of friends, and two of his children, Kevan and Miaundea, are my closest friends. Kevan, in fact, married my sister Alysia shortly before I went to Earth."

"Oh . . . they're the ones you talk about sometimes," Deia said. "Only you changed the names."

Myke nodded. "Myke Zarek never really lived, so he didn't have a collection of real life experiences to draw on like Teren Zaurvau. I guess you could say that Myke Zarek's life story was always Teren Zaurvau's, Earth style!"

"Well, Teren Zaurvau," Paul said lightly, "tell us what this strange Novaunian word 'minon' means."

"I suppose the closest translation would be 'brother in humanity.' It isn't as intimate as 'brother'; it's used kind of like the term 'mister,' but it's more respectful without being as detached and formal. The word for 'sister in humanity' is 'mineste.'"

Deia squeezed Myke's arm. "So it's all right if we call you Teren now."

Teren nodded. "Please!"

Dr. Luciani chuckled. "And now that we're no longer in Star Force, you can call me 'Ton.'"

"Yes, sir!" Teren, Deia, and Paul chorused, laughing.

*

The sun had just risen on the continent's eastern coast, as the armed shuttle descended on the planet, escorted by a squadron of Novaunian fighters. As the shuttle approached Shalaun, Deia saw that it was a huge, graceful city located on a cape. She was immediately struck by its elegance and aura of serenity.

The city appeared to be laid out in an organized manner, the buildings perfect in form and symmetry, architectural styles that Deia could only describe as classical. All of the sidewalks were constructed of marble, and many of the buildings and houses were delicately ornamented with colorful minerals. Between the buildings were courtyards containing colorful statues and fountains, citrus groves, luxuriant tropical gardens, and many swimming pools of various sizes and shapes. Rising into the sky were gold towers that were discharging and receiving aircars from all directions.

"It's the most beautiful city I've ever seen," Deia whispered. "It really is a paradise."

Paul was also overcome with wonder at Shalaun's sublime beauty. "Is every city on Novaun as beautiful as Shalaun?" he asked Teren.

"All of Novaun is beautiful, but common opinion is that Talavaura in Amaria is Novaun's most beautiful city. I imagine we'll see it soon since it's your mother's ancestral home. Her memorial service will probably be held there."

"Did you hear that, Paul?" Deia said softly. "She'll have a funeral after all."

The squadron commander began giving Teren landing instructions. The armed shuttle tilted, did a one hundred-eighty degree turn, and descended rapidly toward a huge military base. In minutes, it landed.

Deia, Teren, Paul, and Ton quickly removed their helmets as the canopy lifted and the side of the cabin slid open. Immediately feeling the Shalaun humidity and summer heat, Paul and Ton rapidly removed their silver flight suits and walked quickly down the stairs to the ground, anxious to walk and stretch their stiff muscles.

Deia wasn't in such a hurry, and neither was Teren. This first moment together on Novaun seemed like a dream. "I can't believe it." Teren's fingers trembled as they brushed her hair away from her face.

Deia shook her head. "Neither can I." Teren touched his lips to hers, drawing her closer. Deia responded happily.

"Hey, come on, you two!" Paul yelled up at them. "There'll be plenty of time for that later. It's too hot to stand out here all day!"

Teren and Deia put their foreheads together, their arms still entwined. Teren's hair was disheveled and his cheeks were ruddier then normal, making him all the more handsome. "I guess there is plenty of time, isn't there?"

"I suppose, but it sure doesn't seem like it yet, and there's just something wonderful about being able to do this in public." They kissed again.

Teren and Deia released each other a few moments later and slipped out of their flight suits.

"Just friends, huh?" Ton teased once Teren and Deia were on the ground. He gazed seductively at Deia. "Speaking from friend to friend, I want to know when you're going to kiss me like that."

"She'd better not." Teren's voice was angry, but his smile was confident.

Deia laughed, hugging Ton and kissing him on the cheek. Then she reached for Paul, kissing his cheek and embracing him vigorously.

A group of men dressed in white Novaunian Fleet uniforms with short sleeves and standing collars gathered by the shuttle. Each man was wearing an arelada crystal, held in place on his forehead by a white band and carved in the shape of the mukaul bird. Most of the men had tiny arelada triangles embedded in their right temples just below the white bands.

Deia released Paul and slipped her hand under Teren's arm. Teren suddenly, as if he had received some sort of subliminal message, turned to face the blond-haired pilot who was watching him in amusement. "Rayel!" he cried.

Teren and the pilot clasped each other and kissed each other's cheeks, then held each other's shoulders and gazed at each other in excitement, their expressions indicating that they were communicating telepathically.

Teren released the pilot and turned back toward Deia, whose arm was still around Paul. He smiled and motioned to her. Deia could feel the images of his thoughts. This is Deia Sheldon. He nodded at Paul and Ton. And this is her twin brother Paul and Dr. Ton Luciani.

Teren said to his friends vocally, "And this is Captain Rayel Sekura, my brother-in-law." Deia, Paul, and Ton all nodded once and acknowledged the introduction in English.

Rayel turned his head and motioned to one of the other officers. The second officer and his men quickly surrounded Teren, Ton, Deia, and Paul and, after taking their four laser scalpels, led them to a nearby building where visitors and prisoners were checked in.

Once in the building, Teren was asked to remove his arelada, and he did, requesting that his arelada eye contacts be placed in a special container of solution and sent immediately to Colonel Quautar. Then all four of them stood one by one behind a sensor screen to be checked for hidden weapons and arelada. When nothing was found, they were led to separate rooms and left for a few moments to remove their Star Force uniforms for further inspection and to dress in the fatigues that had been provided.

Once in her dressing room, Deia plopped wearily down on the white divan and unzipped her boots with slow, heavy fingers. After pulling her boots off, she leaned her head against the wall for a moment, contemplating her arrival on Novaun and her and Paul's impending meeting with members of their extended family. Everything was happening so fast, and she had never felt more overwhelmed or excited or frightened . . . or happier.

*

Miaundea Quautar spread auyvalnut butter sloppily over a thick slice of chilled homemade bread, accidentally dropping some on her thin silk dressing gown. Ignoring the spill, she quickly lifted the bread to her lips. In seconds, the oven beeped. She stuffed the remaining bread into her mouth, quickly opened the oven, and carefully lifted the mug to her lips. She gulped the tea, burning her tongue and throat, then set the mug in the sink and leaned for a moment against the white counter, breathing slowly to calm herself. Funny, even Kavella's zaulyem tea couldn't relax her that morning.

Only minutes before, her father had given her all of the details of her new assignment, one that promised to be especially fascinating. Teren's story was fascinating enough, what she knew of it, but the stories of his companions had to be equally incredible, and she would be one of the first to learn them since she would be their cultural tutor. Along with her duties as cultural tutor, she would deliver a telepathy vision presentation to the presumed Doshyr twins under the direction of their grandfather Patan.

Patan wanted this necessary presentation to be given to the twins by someone unrelated to the family and so had asked her father to appoint one of the Agency's librarians. Since as an anthropologist Miaundea was also a librarian and since she had already been assigned as the cultural tutor to the twins and the Earthon doctor, she had been the natural choice for the task.

The polished white marble floor felt cool under her feet as she walked quickly through the living room to her bedroom and its adjoining dressing lounge. She welcomed the coolness, for even at this early hour of the day, the summer heat was pouring into her apartment through the opened windows.

From what Miaundea knew about Earth, most of its citizens were zealously loyal to their Divine Emperor, for they were proud of their culture and their religion was extremely nationalistic. With that loyalty and the Divine Emperor's practice of using telepathy to subliminally bind the minds of his subjects to his, Miaundea marveled that Teren had been able to persuade three people to help him escape the Star Force base ship.

Perhaps it wasn't strange that he had enlisted the help of the Doshyr twins. They had been raised by their mother, so undoubtedly she had instilled much of the Novaunian ideology in them. Not only that, but Teren had strong feelings for the girl twin. Certainly love had been part of her incentive. The Earthon doctor, however, was an entirely different matter.

Miaundea slipped out of her gown and into a cream silk dress with jade green pinstripes. The dress's hem fell just below her knees, its colors were conservative, and it lacked the contoured lines of the styles from Gudynea she liked so well--nice and respectable. Her father would be pleased. Surprised, but pleased. She fastened a green cummerbund around her waist and seated herself at her vanity. She smeared lotion on her face and touched her cheekbones with rouge, then reached for the dark brown mascara from Telchon. She smiled mischievously. She couldn't be too respectable.

As she brushed her hair, she thought again about Teren. Although she was deeply saddened by the loss of his father, she couldn't wait to see him. He was one of the most interesting people she knew, and he and his sister Alysia were her closest friends outside her family. He and she had been playmates as children and each other's only escorts during their youth, which had always led both families to believe they would be a couple permanently. After all, that was the way it had happened with Kevan and Alysia. Miaundea twisted her hair in the back and placed a long, pearl-studded comb in it to hold it in place, leaving out a few blond strands to hang in wisps around her face and neck. She abhorred braids.

She and Teren had known from the beginning that their relationship would be permanent only in the way of friendship. They had used each other as escorts for convenience. The other young men of Auyval Beach had never liked her at all. As for Teren, he had always been too busy to be interested in girls, although he had been quite popular with the girls and had never known it. Teren was a good friend and he was fun, but he was far too comfortable--too much like a brother--and he was really rather ordinary-looking. (Although she had to admit, he did have a nice shape.)

As Miaundea slipped into her green slippers and laced them over her bare calves to her knees, she tried to picture in her mind the girl Teren loved. Miaundea didn't doubt she was incredibly beautiful and probably exceptionally talented in some way. Miaundea knew Teren well enough to know that any other girl simply wouldn't have merited his attention. And being the daughter of an Amarian princess, she was probably elegant and very graceful. Yes, a girl like that would definitely appeal to Teren.

After dressing, Miaundea rapidly closed the windows and reset the temperature control--no use coming home to a sultry apartment. In minutes, she was anxiously riding to work in a taxi.

Miaundea didn't think she would get to see Teren and meet his companions that day, which was unfortunate, but she would be spending the day assimilating as much as she could of the information the Agency possessed about Earth, and she would get to communicate with Minon Doshyr after he arrived from Menaura. What an extraordinary opportunity!

She was most eager, however, to meet the Earthon doctor. He had to have exceptionally strong mind power to have detected the Divine Emperor attempting to take control of his mind that first time, to have resisted him all of those years, and to have used a telepathic formula as complicated as the spirit dimension formula surely was. That meant he was likely to be intellectually superior also.

Miaundea contemplated the reasons he may have had for leaving his people and his life to come to Novaun. Was it because of a hatred of tyranny? She doubted it. More likely, he had come for the money. She suddenly had an irresistible desire to know how much Teren had promised him. Five thousand gold coins? Ten thousand? She wondered what kind of man became a traitor. Definitely not a virtuous one, and perhaps one who was a little dangerous. She shivered with excitement.

*

Something terrible has happened! Jenan's twins just arrived in Shalaun.

How can that be?

They arrived in an armed shuttle with a young Fleet agent and an Earthon. What is Jovem trying to do to us? The girl was never supposed to see Novaun, and I wasn't supposed to bring the boy here for at least a half a year!

He must have changed his plans. Yes, he changed his plans. There can be no other explanation.

Something went wrong, I tell you. Jovem was so certain Lana was completely submissive and swore he would never allow any harm come to her, but the twins claim she committed suicide!

Lana lied to him about her essence; that has to be it. The thoughts were wrapped in shock, admiration, and shame. She used his own device against him, kept a piece of herself back, and fought him with the only weapon she had--herself.

That's impossible. He would never have taught her to lie about her essence.

He didn't have to. She knew firsthand he could do it and developed her own method.

Awe and understanding surged through them both. That explains why he was so obsessed with her. It wasn't just her beauty and position he wanted; it was her mind. She's as brilliant as he is!

We surrendered at the first difficulty, and all these years she remained at war.

The Fleet will suspect he's still alive in a few days, and once they learn his body is gone, they'll know he had help. They'll know about all of the false sales in a matter of months.

What are we to do? What are we to do!

There's nothing we can do. They will have us and he will have us. He'll never allow himself to be apprehended until he has dragged us through the mud of shame and buried us with him.

No! Never! He would gain nothing by implicating us!

Nothing but a little satisfaction to that mutated lust for power. Don't you see? We can tell our story and agree to be witnesses, and we may never have to go to prison. We will be left with a lifetime to rebuild our reputations. He won't stand for that. He told us he would have one of us killed, and he will, I tell you, all to prove his superiority.

No . . . oh no . . . What are we going to do?

 

Chapter 2: DIGNITARY ISLAND

 

Ton gazed through one of the rear windows of the military aircar as it flew over Shalaun, feeling satisfied. Everything was proceeding exactly as planned.

Novaun. Secluded . . . private . . . well defended. It was easily the most powerful planet in the galaxy, not so much for its excessive military strength (although Novaunian Fleet was highly respected and feared), but for its wealth and control of the arelada trade. Because of its exclusiveness, however, the galaxy knew little about its people and their culture.

From the beginning of his job as a plant, Ton had been curious to learn how King could know the Novaunian culture so intimately that he could, with such startling accuracy, predict far in advance every action of the twins and a young agent he had never met. Ton had always suspected King was a Novaunian himself, and now that Ton had met the man, he was even more certain. The man was a traitor and a murderer--he just had that feel about him. He did, however, possess an incredible mind, and Ton couldn't help but admire him.

Ton stretched his arms a bit and glanced to his right. Teren and Deia were nestled together, gazing at each other and occasionally touching each other's faces. After a moment, Deia's closed her eyes and laid her head against Teren's neck, smiling in contentment. He gently smoothed her hair back and kissed her temple. Even as she slept in his arms, he continued gazing at her. He stroked her face and hair with touches so soft, Ton wondered if she could even feel them.

Ton marveled at the methods they used to show affection. There was an intensity of emotion between them that he had never seen in any of his shipmates' short-lived romances and had never experienced in all of his own casual liaisons with women. He had known from the beginning that there was strong attraction between Teren and Deia, but he had always assumed that they were both driven by lust and that they merely believed they loved each other. He had, after all, known many others who had been duped by that sham.

But surely it hadn't been lust that had made Teren so cautious in his association with Deia, knowing that his love for her would put her in danger. Since a purely physical relationship probably wouldn't have affected his mission, wouldn't lust have instead driven him to pursue immediate gratification from her, especially when he was so close to death?

And surely it hadn't been lust that had motivated Deia to give up her ambitions so that she and Teren could be together. Ton had never been motivated to such acts of sacrifice by anything, least of all lust. Now, after finally seeing the two in their affection, he realized that in rare exceptions, love could exist between a man and a woman, because Teren and Deia certainly loved each other.

Fifteen minutes later, Ton, Teren, Deia, and Paul's aircar and its five escort transports lowered as they approached a tiny island. They flew over acres of lawns, gardens, and various recreational facilities that had originated on different planets, then skirted the marble mansion and glided to a stop on a third floor landing platform.

The security men in the escort quickly exited their transports, then surrounded the mansion and took their posts in the guard towers on the beach. The commanding officer of the small security group that had been stationed on the island earlier briefly conferred with the driver of Ton's vehicle, then motioned for Ton and his companions to get out of the car.

The security officer led the group into a sparsely furnished lobby with a low ceiling and polished white marble floor. Off the lobby were two wings of suites. The officer quickly showed Deia her room in the right wing and Ton, Teren, and Paul their separate rooms in the left, then directed them into the dining room, where a large oval table constructed of crystal was already set with eating utensils and napkins and exotic fruits, breads, cheeses, and fish.

The four seated themselves and ate eagerly. Using the spirit dimension formula in flight had consumed all of their strength. By the time the food on the table was almost gone and the four were full, the security officer entered the dining room again, only this time, a young woman was with him.

The woman's golden blond hair was braided around her head, studded with sapphires, and she was wearing a loose-fitting, pale blue satin gown and carrying an infant seat. A tiny arelada crystal the shape of a triangle was embedded in her left temple, and a small round arelada prism sparkled on a gold chain on her forehead. The prism on her forehead reminded Ton so much of the crystals worn by the Eslavu that he gasped. Judging by Paul and Deia's speechless expressions, the woman had affected them the same way.

As soon as Teren saw the woman, he jumped up and shrieked with delight, "Lauria!" The woman, as overjoyed to see Teren as he was to see her, set the infant seat on the floor and met him in an embrace. Teren squeezed her tightly and kissed her several times on her cheeks and forehead, and she returned all of his affection warmly. After a few moments, they backed away from each other slightly.

Lauria was smiling, barely, but her eyes were sad and glistening. "Ah, Teren," she said in English, an unnatural sound coming from a Novaunian woman, "it is so good to see you, but it is true, is it not . . . he is dead."

Teren nodded quickly, his face tense and his eyes glassy.

Tears sprang from Lauria's pale blue eyes as they closed, and her lips trembled. Teren drew her close again and laid his face on her shoulder, weeping silently with her.

At length, they withdrew and gently wiped each other's tears away. Teren's voice quavered, "I thought I was over it, that I could bear it from now on, but I guess I was just pretending."

Lauria forced herself to smile. "Enough grief. Perhaps it is better this way. When Mother passed, he nearly died of a broken heart, but now he is with her and much happier, I am sure."

Teren nodded solemnly.

Lauria held Teren and arm's length and surveyed him. After a moment, her eyes brightened a little, and she smiled. "My baby brother has turned into a man, and a very handsome one at that." She playfully pinched his arm. "But you are looking pale!"

Teren smiled weakly. "Give me a week on the beach, and we'll see who's pale. What are you doing here? I didn't think I'd get to see you for at least another week. And why in the galaxy are you speaking English?"

"Minon Sharad thought it would be easier to communicate with your friends if I spoke their language. Rayel and I have been cleared to be your chaperons."

"Chaperons!" Ton exclaimed. He laughed, then looked over at Paul and grinned wickedly. "I wouldn't trust them either."

Paul shook his head and grinned. "I wouldn't either. That Teren, he's an animal."

"Paul!" Deia exclaimed in exasperation.

"Well, what can you expect?" Ton said mischievously. "Deia's a seductress!"

Lauria listened, amused. "Rayel certainly would not disagree with you. I have communicated with him since you arrived, and he referred to Deia as--now let me see if I can find the appropriate words . . . 'the Earthon enchantress.'"

That comment sent Ton and Paul into hysterics. Deia bowed her head, her cheeks red with embarrassment, and Teren turned away from Lauria and threw up his arms in resignation.

Noticing Deia's discomfort, Lauria walked over to her and knelt down beside her chair. "I am sorry I embarrassed you. We love to tease Teren, but we forget that there is another now who is not accustomed to it. If you are as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside--and I am sure you are--then I can certainly understand why Teren is so enchanted by you."

Deia smiled. "You're sweet."

Teren knelt down beside the infant seat Lauria had brought with her. He gently lifted a tiny silk bundle out of the cradle and held it snugly against his chest as he stood up. He removed the thin white blanket from a fair little face and stroked the sleeping baby's fuzzy blond head. "Is it a boy or girl?"

Lauria stood up and faced Teren again. "A little boy, Braunen. He is eight weeks old."

Deia peered around Lauria at the baby. "He's beautiful! But where are the rest of your children? Teren said that you and Rayel have three others."

Lauria laughed merrily. "Do you think I would bring my children along when I have a chance to be with my husband for a while in such a beautiful place as this? As soon as Minon Sharad asked me to do this, I gave them to my sisters!"

Deia appeared puzzled. "Why didn't you leave the baby too?"

"Because I am the only one who can feed him."

Deia flushed. "Oh."

Teren shifted the conversation away from Lauria's baby. "In all of the excitement, I forgot to make introductions!" He turned toward Paul and Ton. "I guess you've figured out by now that this is my oldest sister, Lauria Sekura." They nodded.

Teren turned to face his sister again. "It seems Minon Sharad has given you a little information about my companions. How much have you learned?"

"He informed me that Paul and Deia are the grandchildren of Patan Doshyr, if that is what you mean. He deemed it unnecessary for them to play-act as Paul and Deia Sheldon while they stay here, and he felt it would be a difficult thing to do under such casual circumstances. All of the guards have been informed, and by the time Rayel arrives tomorrow, he will know too."

Deia hesitated. "I don't mean any offense, Lauria, but I don't understand why Teren and I need to be chaperoned. If we were going to do something, we would have done it by now. And besides, I don't see that it's anyone's business except ours."

"The one thing a Novaunian unmarried man and woman do not want to do is be alone for an extended period of time without a chaperon, especially if there are feelings between them, for everyone they know will think the worst. It is not because people are so distrustful, but because they remember that time in their lives so well and how vulnerable they were."

Teren's mouth curved into an astute little smile. "Tell me, Lauria, did Grandfather recommend you to Minon Sharad, or did Minon Sharad recommend you to him?"

"Actually, they both thought of Rayel and me first. And yours was not the only grandfather who requested a chaperon."

Deia rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "I guess we don't have much choice, do we Teren?"

Teren shook his head. "No."

Lauria squeezed Deia's shoulder. "Do not worry about it too much, Deia. I am not going to watch you every minute. That would spoil things for you and Teren, and it would also spoil my vacation. It is, however, good to have an authority figure near in a situation like this, if only because it helps you live the standards you have already set for yourselves. And if it makes you feel any better, a chaperon probably would have been brought in even if you were not here."

Ton leaned back in his chair, laughing a little. "Which means you're here to chaperon Paul and me as much as you are to chaperon our little lovers. Well, I guess there's a first time for everything."

Paul shook his head in amazement. "It's been less than two hours since we entered Novaunian space, and it seems as though everyone on the planet knew we were arriving days ago. Things sure do happen fast around here."

"That's one of the advantages of a telepathic world," Teren said.

Lauria nodded. "It was not more than a few minutes after you broke orbit that all three of my sisters agreed to take my children, and by the time Minon Sharad communicated with me, he had already communicated with both grandfathers, the overseer of this island, and had arranged for a security team to meet you on the landing field. Then I was able to assimilate your language from another librarian on my way here."

"You learned the entire English language in fifteen minutes?" Paul exclaimed.

Teren nodded. He touched the arelada crystal on his sister's forehead. "The faceted forehead crystal is the emblem of a Guild librarian. Lauria has spent many years beyond regular education requirements developing her mind so that she can assimilate information rapidly and recall it just as rapidly. She stores a specific type of information and releases it into another's mind by request, and by way of the planetary relay system InterMind, she can release it as easily into the mind of a person on the other side of the planet as she can to someone who lives in Shalaun."

Ton regarded Lauria in admiration. "So you're a human computer."

Lauria smiled modestly. "I suppose that is a fairly good description of a librarian. But actually, the human mind working in conjunction with arelada has a much greater storage capacity than a computer and it can relay that information much more rapidly, which is why computers for storing information have been obsolete on Novaun for over a thousand years."

The security officer entered the dining room again, accompanied by Teren's commanding officer and a man carrying a small medical kit. Teren immediately set Braunen back into his cradle and approached the newcomers. He embraced his commanding officer, then communicated silently with the doctor. The doctor held a small square device to Teren's right shoulder, and a glowing image of the inside of his shoulder appeared next to his head.

As the commanding officer introduced himself to Paul and Deia and shook their hands, Ton moved closer to Teren and examined the glowing image, astounded by what he saw. The sensoring devices Ton normally used were precise and accurate, but this image was like nothing he had seen in all his years of medical training. Ton could not only see every nerve in Teren's shoulder, and every cell, but he could see inside and around the nerves and the cells. Teren's wound was as nasty as the image was miraculous. He wondered how long ago Teren had been shot, thinking it criminal that both the D.I.I. and Star Force had allowed the wound to go untreated.

The image of the inside of Teren's shoulder faded and the physician returned his examining device to his kit. He gave him two bottles of pills. Ton assumed that one contained an anti-inflammatory drug and that the other contained medication for the pain.

"That was an amazing image, wasn't it?"

Ton turned to face Teren's commanding officer. "Yes, it was. What kind of device was he using?"

"An Awareness monitor." The officer extended his hand. "You must be Dr. Ton Luciani. I'm Colonel Sharad Quautar, director of the Special Cases division of the Novaunian Intelligence Agency. Welcome to Novaun."

"Thank you, sir."

The physician left, and Lauria asked Teren, "What was that all about?"

"I was shot nine weeks ago as I tried to leave Earth--"

"You were shot!" Deia exclaimed in horror.

Teren nodded slowly. "Yes, but don't be alarmed. I have nerve damage--I figured as much when the burning in my shoulder lingered--but it can be repaired by surgery."

Deia still appeared unsure and very concerned. She stood up and went to him, embracing him tenderly with one arm.

Ton shook his head, feeling angry. "Had they treated you the day you were shot, you may not have needed surgery at all!"

Teren shrugged. "I survived. That wound was the least of my problems." He yawned in Colonel Quautar's direction. "Well, let's get this done before I pass out."

Colonel Quautar smiled and motioned to the men's wing.

*

To Teren's relief, Minon Sharad only required him to telepathically regurgitate the past two months. He wanted everything Teren knew about his father's death and Paul and Deia's situation on Earth. The rest would wait until after Teren had slept.

Once Teren was done, he felt so light-headed that he had to lie down. Fortunately, he was already sitting on his bed. He was too weak to communicate telepathically. "How did Paul and Deia and their mother get lost, minon? Why had I never heard of missing 'royal twins'?"

"It's no surprise that you aren't familiar with the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Jenan Doshyr and the disappearance of his wife, the Princess Lanuvael of Amaria, and their twin children. Perhaps it's because of the extreme tragedy of the story that those of my generation don't discuss it."

"What happened?"

"Minon Doshyr was killed in a fire on Latanza. His wife was believed to have been so traumatized that she went into hiding to save her children from being killed."

"So everyone thought she'd gone insane."

"The evidence was overwhelming."

"He must've planned the whole thing . . . the fire and everything."

"Sanel King?"

Teren nodded. "He's a Novaunian; he has to be. Was there ever a traitor among the Doshyrs or Vumauls?"

Minon Sharad nodded slowly, frowning. "Yes . . . that story is even more tragic than the death of Minon Doshyr and the disappearance of his family, and it's connected in many ways."

"What happened?"

"Several months before Minon Doshyr and his family took holiday on Latanza, his younger brother Jovem was incarcerated for high treason and murder."

"Murder? On Novaun? Who did he kill? And what in the galaxy was his treason?"

Minon Sharad's face was grave. "He murdered his brother's firstborn, a beautiful little two-year-old girl, and it was brutal--a mind rape."

Teren felt as though he would be sick. Paul and Deia had had a sister. All he could see in his mind at the moment was the picture of them with their mother and Sanel--and the sadness in her eyes. A feeling of foreboding suddenly overcame him. How would Paul and Deia react when they were forced to confront this particular piece of family history?

"As for the treason," Colonel Quautar continued, "he conspired to sell part of the Doshyr mining territory to some Vaenan investors, but his effort was thwarted by his brother."

"So what do the Doshyrs believe happened to Jovem? After what you've told me, I feel very strongly that Jovem Doshyr and Sanel King are the same person."

"Not possible. Before Jovem went to Shalaun to stand trial, he committed suicide."

Teren rubbed his temples. "And supposedly Princess Lanuvael went crazy and took the twins to Earth by her own choice. After what I showed you, minon, you can still believe that?"

"I won't know what to believe until I've interviewed Paul and Deia."

"It's the same man."

"You have no evidence, and Awareness monitors don't lie."

"Sanel King is far too young-looking, and he knew Paul and Deia's father."

"King could be a Kavellan. Or a Manourean. And it would be unusual for a man not to know something about his wife's first husband."

"I know there's no solid evidence yet, but the possibility makes too much sense. You have to admit that it does."

"It would explain a great deal," Minon Sharad conceded.

"Certainly it couldn't hurt anything to send someone to Menaura to take a look at the grave."

Minon Sharad thoughtfully tapped his lips. "Perhaps not . . . if we can keep it unofficial." The corner of his mouth lifted in a conspiratorial smile. "Patriarch Doshyr himself might be willing to take a telepathic peek into his son's grave before he leaves Menaura."

*

Miaundea slipped into a taxi after work that afternoon, invigorated by her communication with Patan Doshyr and his daughter Amburna, but disappointed she had been unable to see Teren and meet his friends. She was, however, excited about the opportunity she would have to meet with Deia alone the next morning to give her the clothing and personal items she would need.

Miaundea took the taxi to her parents' home in Auyval Beach as she did every Fourth Day evening for dinner and family council-scripture discussion. The taxi stopped on the landing platform where the neighborhood walks came together. She emerged from the taxi, exhausted from a long day of mind work, but happy. Since the weather was pleasant, she took the walk instead of the transport pod that connected the landing platform with her parents' home.

After she had been walking five minutes and was almost to her parents' home, her happiness evaporated, replaced by excitement and, at the same time, dread. There he was on his way to the beach for surfing with two of his friends, tall and muscular in his swim shorts and tank top, fair and dark-haired, with contemptuous, heart-stopping blue eyes, beautiful, brilliant--an arrogant prude. There he was, resplendent, a supernova in a galaxy of weak little stars, her childhood love, her greatest enemy--Maurek Avenaunta.

She struggled to repress her excitement, but the more she struggled, the more the excitement intensified, and that made her angry, angry at herself for still being so excited by him, but more angry at him. How dare he walk by her parents' home! How dare he ruin her evening!

The three young men approached her before she could hurry across the walk to her parents' house. When Maurek saw her, something all-too-familiar happened to his face, something Miaundea could only assume was displeasure at seeing her. It flushed, then paled, then some of the blood returned, leaving it mottled. His eyes weren't contemptuous this time, but staring at the ground to avoid looking at her. After a moment, they rose again, as if compelled, and looked at her uneasily.

The friends, Fanal Huneer and Trenaun Vodel, looked at nothing but her dress as they approached. Trenaun gazed at her in amusement, and Fanal was wearing a taunting little smirk.

Trenaun rested the bottom of his surfboard on the marble walk and leaned on it. Hello, Miaundea, he communicated with an air of friendliness. It's been a long time. His eyes were still studying her dress.

Miaundea resented Trenaun's attention to her clothing. Hello, Trenaun, she communicated icily.

Fanal did not appreciate the coldness of Miaundea's reply to his friend. It's a miracle, Trenaun, he communicated sarcastically. The queen of Auyval Beach deigns to give you a hello.

Miaundea felt bitterness rise within her. And I'm so delighted to see you too, Fanal. Miaundea looked away from them and resumed her walk to her parents' home.

Feeling one of them seize her arm, she turned. Seeing the culprit was Maurek, she looked at him uneasily, yanking her arm out of his hand and stepping away from him.

Maurek stepped away from her, his eyes charged with agitation and his face quivering. He hesitated, then communicated quickly, That's a pretty dress, Miaundea. You look very pretty today. Trenaun looked at Maurek in surprise; Fanal was suspicious. The corner of Maurek's mouth lifted into the slightest of smiles, and Miaundea thought he was ready to laugh at her.

Miaundea's body tightened in outrage. Of all the gall! How dare he taunt her with a compliment on her dress, her bland, conservative dress! He wasn't going to get away with such sarcasm. It's a miracle! she communicated in mock shock. Maurek Avenaunta deigns to give my dress his approval. It's too bad there isn't a dance tonight. Perhaps I would even go with you.

Maurek stared at Miaundea as she turned and walked determinedly back toward the neighborhood landing platform, quaking with rage.

Miaundea slid into the waiting taxi and took it to her apartment downtown. Her fury was dying, but she couldn't face anyone at the moment, not even her family. Three and a half years had passed since that horrible night, the night that had started it all. Three years had taken them into the Fleet and her away from Novaun for fieldwork. She had seen Maurek rarely in the three months she had been home and until that evening, had never communicated with him. Fanal and Trenaun she hadn't seen at all. Why hadn't they changed? Why did they still have to provoke her? She loathed them, but, at the same time, she longed for their approval and respect. Auyval Beach passed by her in a blur.

When she arrived at her apartment, she trudged into her dressing lounge and sat down on her chaise longue, enveloped in despair as she remembered. She had loved Maurek once. He had always been extraordinary. Extraordinarily handsome. Extraordinarily brilliant. Extraordinarily talented. She became interested in diving because he was interested in diving. She went to the pool every day and watched him passionately, although always passively.

Maurek always watched her too, and as time went on, he became less subtle about it. Although they were attentive to each other, they never communicated, except with smiles and an occasional touch in passing. When he asked her to the Salyumala Ball, Auyval Beach's most extravagant annual event, she was thrilled. She immediately began designing and sewing a dress as magnificent as the ball she would be attending. She put all of her love for Maurek into that dress. She wanted to be beautiful for him.

When the dress was finished, it looked even more exquisite on her than she had imagined it would. It made her look sophisticated, not so much like a little girl, and as lovely as she was capable of looking. The dress was crimson satin, overlaid with a delicate lace, dotted with tiny crystal beads, the hem falling just a little above her knees, with moderate slits in the sides. It flowed elegantly over and around her curves, showing them off to their greatest advantage, the front and back V-shaped necklines coming together at points at her shoulders.

Her parents warned her about the dress. They believed some people would be uncomfortable with it and think it was too revealing. Her father admitted to being disturbed by the dress himself and nearly forbade her to wear it. She, of course, defended her dress, telling him that there was nothing immodest about it and that she would wear it whether he approved or not. Her mother resolved the conflict by pointing out that it was disturbing, but only because the style was so different, not because it was immodest. Her father eventually gave up and told her that he didn't mind her wearing the dress, as long as she didn't complain later about the negative comments she would undoubtedly receive. Miaundea expected a few negative remarks about the dress, but she never anticipated the disapproval and rejection she would receive from Maurek.

Her older sisters were baking a cake for the guests that they would entertain after the ball, and the whole house was filled with its aroma as she ran to answer the door. She was overwhelmed by excitement to see Maurek and hoped he would be as excited to see her. She tingled with anticipation when she saw him standing on her front porch, dressed so neatly in his new white suit.

At first, he was excited to see her. He was smiling, and his blue eyes were radiant and alive. Then, almost immediately, his face flushed, then was pale, then mottled. He communicated, completely flustered, That dress . . . that dress is, well, it's . . . totally improper. Please go change.

She couldn't believe it. Of all the nerve! Insisting she change her dress! I will not! This dress covers me and is completely appropriate.

Her defensiveness seemed to give him courage and resolve. If you don't change your dress, then I'm afraid I can't take you to the ball.

His manner was pleasant, but his eyes were so presumptuous at that moment, too presumptuous. He had no doubt that she would respect his wishes and change her dress. Then it appears you will be going to the ball alone! She slammed the door, but not before she saw his expression of astonishment and humiliation.

Seeing him so humiliated that night hurt her as much as his rejection. She feigned illness and didn't come out of her room for a week, except to go to the bathroom. Even then, her parents never suspected her feelings for Maurek. She had never even told Alysia. Those closest to her assumed she had exiled herself to her room because her pride was hurt. She emerged from her room after a week, haggard and hardened, left to thrash in the wake of Maurek's mortification. How could he have told all of his friends that he didn't take her to the dance because she had come to the door "dressed shamelessly, like a hussy"?

Miaundea never discussed the events of that night with anyone, communicating only, I will not tolerate having a domineering prude insist I change my dress. She had promised her father she wouldn't complain about any negative comments she might receive about her dress, and except for that simple explanation, she never did.

Miaundea pulled herself off of her chaise longue, dragged herself to her closet, and removed the wardrobe bag that stored the dress she had worn that night. She had placed it in the bag then and hadn't been able to bring herself to look at it since. Holding her breath, she ever so carefully removed the dress. It was as lovely as it had been the night of the dance. Her eyes filled with tears, leaving her dress a glistening veil in her hands. She fought hard to keep the tears from falling. She never cried, not even for Maurek. Especially not for Maurek. Her tears dissipated, and she was again staring at her sparkling party dress. It should never have happened. She would do the same thing again given the same provocation, but still, she wished it had never happened.

She laid her dress on her bed and went to her crystal vanity. She carefully removed what little make-up she was wearing and brushed her hair, parting it more traditionally in the middle, braiding many tiny strands, and looping the strands of braids and pinning them to her head with tiny jeweled barrettes. She arose from her chair and went to her full-length holoreflector.

She gazed painfully at her reflection. She was so petite that she looked like a little girl, especially in that prudish Novaunian-style dress that had no form. Her facial features were tiny and bland, except for her eyes, which she had always felt were disproportionately large. Why couldn't she have been born taller, more curvaceous, and with lush dark lashes? Why couldn't she have been born beautiful? She made a face.

Is this what you want, Novaunian men? Miaundea the ugly little girl? No one but that prude of the century ever noticed her, and I never liked her!

With fierce rejuvenation, she took off her cream-colored dress with its pinstripes, wadded it up, and threw it in the trash, then slipped, trembling, into her magnificent party dress. She reseated herself at her vanity and shook out the dowdy braids, brushing and teasing her hair, parting it again on the side. She applied her make-up generously, brushing her eyelids with silvery gray eye shadow, blackening her lashes with heavy mascara, and touching her cheekbones with rouge. Then for an even more emphatic impression, she painted her lips with crimson lipstick.

She went to her holoreflector again and smiled at herself in satisfaction. Who needs you, Maurek Avenaunta!

 

Chapter 3: THE INTERROGATION

 

The moment Teren saw Minon Sharad the next morning, he knew that his hunch was correct. The grave's empty, isn't it?

Minon Sharad nodded. It's official--our government now presumes Sanel King is Jovem Doshyr.

*

Ton entered Colonel Sharad Quautar's office suite on the second floor of the mansion the next afternoon as Paul was leaving. The colonel met him at the door and extended his hand to him, smiling. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Ton."

"You speak English easily," Ton observed. "Lauria speaks it correctly, but not so freely." Even as Ton spoke, realization trickled through him. "How long has it been since you were assigned there?"

"Twenty-six years."

"But that would have been at the beginning of the Dark Years. Were you there during the initial invasion?"

Colonel Quautar nodded. "We were in Washington, D.C. to pick up an agent. I was in the craft that shot down Tohmazz Zarr."

Ton tilted his head toward the colonel, eager for more information. "What happened? I was taught that Zarr was killed by the Dirons in the invasion."

"That's a story that will have to wait for another time." Colonel Quautar waved Ton into an armchair upholstered with pale blue silk.

Ton sat down. "You don't look old enough to have been there. How long do you Novaunians live, anyway?"

The colonel reached under his diamond-trimmed half vest. "About two-hundred years." Ton could do nothing but gape.

The colonel brought forth a device that looked like a stylus. "With this instrument, I'll insert a tiny arelada crystal into your temple. This will give you complete Awareness, but you won't be able to transmit thoughts beyond a distance of five meters. When you and your friends are allowed to leave Dignitary Island, you will each be given the amount of arelada necessary to use InterMind."

The colonel held the device to Ton's temple. "You'll feel a slight prick . . . There. Now I want you to pull the spirit dimension formula out of your Awareness and put it to the front of your mind. I'll overlap spirits with you partway and block the memory."

Ton did as the colonel asked. In moments, he was unable to recall the spirit dimension formula.

Colonel Quautar replaced the cylinder device in the pocket under his half-vest. "The Earthons possess this knowledge and know that we do too, so you shouldn't worry about their kidnapping you for the spirit dimension formula. By the same token, the memory block will enable us to allow you to move about freely on Novaun or anywhere you would like without worrying about your selling the formula to another government."

Ton nodded that he understood. Colonel Quautar seated himself in the chair opposite him. "It's necessary for me at this time to ask you a few questions."

The colonel was so close that his knees were no more than half a meter away. "You mean you want to interrogate me."

"Call it what you want, but I prefer not to refer to this interview as interrogation. I want our communication to be natural, and I have no desire to intimidate you in any way. I also want you to understand that none of what we discuss will be made public. Indeed, most of it will not go beyond this office."

Ton shrugged in surrender and pushed his lower back against the chair in an effort to move as far away from the colonel as he could. "Then let's get it over with."

"I'm most interested, Ton, to know what motivated you to come to Novaun with Teren."

"It seemed like a good thing to do at the time."

"Why?"

The colonel's question caught Ton off guard. He had expected a reprimand, a request for a more specific answer--anything but a "why."

"Well, as Deia said when she approached me about Teren's problem, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. In fact, coming to Novaun was probably the best career move I've ever made. The military's much too restrictive."

"Your attitude suggests that you believe your career was the only aspect of your life that was affected by your decision. Won't you miss your friends? Your family?"

"I don't have any friends, and no, I won't miss my family." Ton realized he was drumming his fingers on his thigh and immediately stopped, not wanting the colonel to observe how nervous he was.

"Will anyone in your family miss you?"

"They'll be glad I'm gone."

The colonel leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his waist. "I understand, Ton, that you were born on Earth date August 6, 2 Before Liberation, in Baltimore, North American State, to Marco and Lisa Luciani, and that you have two sisters, Angela Passari and Jacquae."

Ton grunted. "Teren certainly was thorough. I didn't tell him those things."

Colonel Quautar smiled good-naturedly. "Teren may be young and relatively inexperienced, but he knows his business. I understand your mother is an inspector in a synthesizing machine factory, but according to the Sovereign's file on you, your father has no occupation."

"That's strange. Even if I don't know what my father does, the government should."

"How long has it been since you've seen your father?"

Unable to meet the colonel's penetrating gaze any longer, Ton turned his head and studied the gem-studded tapestry on the wall. "He left right before the Divine Emperor's army marched on Baltimore and burned out Antonio Vaccaro and his rebels. I was eight months old."

"Then he isn't Jacquae's father."

"No."

"Did your mother ever talk about your father and what he did?"

"Oh, she talked about him, had quite a few colorful names for him, but I don't ever remember her mentioning his occupation." Realizing that he was drumming his thigh yet again, Ton moved his hands to the armrests of his chair. "What does this mean? Certainly the government knows where my father is . . . doesn't it?"

"To tell you the truth, I'm not sure, and we can't know unless we see his personal file. If the government doesn't have any up-to-date information on him, then perhaps he left the planet or secretly changed his name. The other alternative is that he died and his body was never identified."

Ton couldn't think of a thing to say.

"Do you ever wonder about him? What he was like?"

The tapestry suddenly went hazy. Ton diverted his attention from it to his lap. "Sometimes. My mother always said that he was as much a son of Abomination as Antonio Vaccaro, but she always spoke with bitterness, so I was never sure what to believe."

"Does she believe he really was one of Vaccaro's rebels?"

"No. If anything, she believes the opposite, that he was a Zarrist spy in Vaccaro's organization and that he bolted when he learned Baltimore was going to be torched. I don't think she'll ever forgive him for leaving her there to live through what happened after that."

"Would you like to know where he is now and what he's doing?"

"I'm not sure."

"Did your mother ever try to get a divorce?"

"I don't know, but I was always under the impression that she used the known difficulty of obtaining a divorce on Earth as an excuse not to try."

"So she never remarried."

"No."

"According to your school records, your grades during levels one through seven were mediocre, then practically overnight, during level eight, your grades jumped from mediocre to excellent, and you were able to complete the next five levels in only four years, allowing you to graduate from intermediate school as a science major at the young age of sixteen, still receiving perfect grades. I'm curious to know, Ton, what it was that brought about such a dramatic change."

Ton shrugged.

"I find it difficult to believe that a twelve-year-old boy would take that kind of initiative entirely on his own, especially a boy in your particular situation."

Ton stared at his lap for a long minute. Finally he said, resignedly, "It was Adrian. Adrian Passari, my eighth level teacher. He spent hours and hours tutoring me in his home, and he encouraged me and believed in me when no one ever had. He saved my life."

"How long did this go on?"

"Four years."

"You two must have become quite close during those four years."

Ton finally met the colonel's gaze. "Yes . . . we did."

"What happened to change things? Did it have something to do with your sister? She married him, I presume."

Ton's body tensed. "Yes, he did marry Angela, and then five months later, he found her with another man, the whore. And then she had the gall to lie and tell everyone that she was leaving him because he beat her." Ton leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and his face into his hands. "Adrian is honest and decent, and he didn't deserve to be betrayed. And he really loved her too, or at least he thought he did. A lot that got him--shot in the back. Things between Adrian and me never were quite the same after that."

"Did you communicate with him while you were in Star Force?"

Ton rubbed his temples. "All of this happened shortly before I joined Star Force. I wrote to him occasionally during my three years on the Prince Jahnzel, but he never answered. Then before I went to the Sovereign, I saw him while I was in Baltimore on leave. We corresponded regularly after that and spent my last leave together in Europe."

Colonel Quautar laid a hand on Ton's shoulder, startling him. "A few minutes ago you told me you didn't have any friends to miss, but it seems to me that you and Adrian are very good friends."

"Yes, I guess we are," Ton admitted, sitting up. "But my friendship with Adrian is something very personal, which is why I didn't want to tell you about it. I wasn't lying before. I don't have any other friends on Earth or anywhere else I've been stationed, and Adrian is more than just a friend. He's like an older brother. I will miss him." Ton relaxed into his chair, feeling drained.

"Was it Adrian who told you to resist communication from the Divine Emperor on your Day of Awakening?"

Ton shook his head, finally able to meet the colonel's gaze again. "I did that on my own. I'm not sure Adrian's even a resister. One doesn't speak of those things on Earth, for obvious reasons."

"Did the knowledge that the Divine Emperor wanted control of your mind change your feelings about him and Earth's religion, or did it simply confirm what you already knew or suspected?"

"Before that time, I'd never given religion or politics much thought. My family supported the Divine Emperor and his government and attended Worship regularly, because those are the things good Earth citizens do. And since I was young and had nothing else to believe in, I never questioned it. But when the Divine Emperor attempted to take control of a cell in my brain, I understood everything about the government's corrupt intentions and Tohmazz Zarr's sham, and it made me furious, so I immediately threw him out."

"Did you ever allude to what happened to anyone?"

"I never came out and said it, because no one would've believed me, no one but the Executioners. I don't think I understood at the time, though, how great a danger the Executioners really were to me. By the time I realized it, I also realized that my brain was my best ticket to a nice long life. As for the other, I did stop attending Worship, which caused an uproar in my family."

"Did your experience with Zarrism disillusion you to such an extent that you turned atheist?"

"Yes, I suppose it did."

"Why did you choose the medical profession?"

"Medicine has always interested me, even when I was very young, although I'd never given it serious thought until after I met Adrian."

"And it was Adrian, I presume, who suggested Star Force."

Ton nodded. "I was somewhat familiar with Star Force at the time, of course, but I'd never even heard of the cadet program. I had no money for medical school, and no money to support myself while I was in school, so Star Force seemed to be the best route. As it turned out, it was the best thing I ever did. I needed to get out of Baltimore and the situation there with my family, and I also needed to make my own life."

"So once you joined Star Force, did you find that you enjoyed medicine as much as you thought you would?"

"It was wonderful. Star Force has an excellent program, and everywhere I was stationed I was able to train with physicians who are experts in their specialties in the best of facilities. There was always so much to learn and experience, and I never could get enough of it."

"Both Paul and Teren indicated that you helped Deia study and spent time with her in ways that weren't required by the job, which led the other cadets to believe that you wanted her as a lover. Was there any truth at all to that speculation?"

Ton shook his head. "I've never been attracted to her in that way."

"Why? She is, after all, an extremely beautiful girl."

"Yes, she is very beautiful. Like a statue. And she's also about as exciting as one."

The colonel understood completely, and oddly, Ton felt pleasure in that. "How do you explain Deia's acceptance of you when you were so disliked by most of the others?"

"I can't explain it other than to point out that she's tolerated Paul for eighteen years. If she can tolerate him, she can tolerate anyone, even me."

"I assume you don't have a high opinion of Paul."

"He's a spoiled aristocrat and more vain than anyone I've ever met. All we heard from him this morning was how badly his new clothes are tailored and how none of the colors bring out his features properly. As if any of us even care!" Ton rolled his eyes. "He is impossible to live with."

"And if you didn't have to live with him?"

Ton considered the colonel's question. Finally he replied, "Maybe then I wouldn't think he's such a bad sort."

"Do you think your relationship with Teren will change now that his mission is over?"

"I'm not sure. Whether there was ever more to the friendship than his need for a third helper has yet to be seen."

"Do you feel that your experience using the spirit dimension formula with Teren, Deia, and Paul has changed your relationships with them in any way?"

Ton contemplated the colonel's inquiry for several moments. "I'm not sure if it's changed things. It's really too soon to tell." He ran his finger over the piping on the arm of his chair. "But we were in a very emotional state, and I don't know about the others, but I could feel their essences, and well . . . I feel like I understand them all a little better now, especially Paul and Teren. I didn't notice it so much with Deia, and I think that's because I'd already felt the same thing with her, only in a smaller degree, while doing the mind power experiments."

Colonel Quautar seemed satisfied with Ton's answer. "What were your career plans before Deia approached you about coming to Novaun with Teren? Were you planning to retire with Star Force, or were you hoping for an eventual discharge?"

"I would've stayed with Star Force. Discharges are difficult to get unless you're well connected, and I could've waited years beyond the fourteen I was committed. Besides that, I'm well-suited for space travel and I enjoy it, and I've never had a home on Earth to go back to."

"What would you like to do now? Do you wish to remain on Novaun, or would you prefer to have us set you up on another planet?"

Ton laughed. "The minute I leave this planet, I'll be shot for treason. I have no desire to leave." He picked at the piping on his chair. "How safe is it here, really? I don't see that Teren and Deia and Paul are in any danger since this is the planet of their birth. That makes their actions justifiable even to the Earthons and their warped sense of values."

"Novaun is extremely safe," Colonel Quautar said carefully. "No one enters our space illegally who is not immediately grounded on one of our border planets, and no one is allowed to mingle in Novaunian society on any of our planets without being cleared, because our telepathic society cannot work uninhibitedly and successfully if there are impurities.

"I would not be being honest with you, however, if I were to tell you that foreign agents are nonexistent on Novaun. Occasionally one gets in, but as soon as he or she is discovered--and our society being what it is, that usually isn't very long--he is immediately put in prison until he is no longer a threat to us. If a foreign agent breaks a law, he is subject to punishment under our law, and the penalty for premeditated murder is execution after trial. During the forty years I've been in this business, we've captured around one hundred foreign agents. Only three of those attempted assassination, and all three were thwarted in their efforts."

The colonel sighed. "Only one person in recent Novaunian history has murdered and avoided the punishment, a native Novaunian, a traitor of the worse kind--Jovem Doshyr."

"Would this Jovem Doshyr be related to Paul and Deia?"

"Yes. He's their father's brother, and until yesterday, was believed dead."

Ton nodded slowly. "Sanel King."

"Yes. But you will learn that story soon enough, so I'll tell you no more about it. I was merely illustrating that you are safe here. Accomplishing an assassination on Novaun is extremely difficult, and when it is accomplished, the assassin is dealt with immediately and effectively. Planets who deal with us know this, which is why their spies don't attempt it unless, in their opinion, it's critically necessary.

"Now as far as the Earthons go, assassination is common procedure. They are not, however, bloodthirsty barbarians. When they deem assassination necessary, it is always because it will benefit them in some way, and it is seldom done for vengeance, particularly when the killing must be accomplished under difficult circumstances, as on Novaun. Your death wouldn't serve the Earthons any useful purpose, because they've probably already declared you dead to the public anyway. The situation being what it is, it would be unlike them to risk the life of one of their best agents for you."

The colonel studied Ton's face. "If you are so worried about your life, why did you come with Teren in the first place? And don't give me, 'It just seemed like a good thing to do at the time and I had nothing to lose.' A person does not place himself in a potentially dangerous situation, whether real or imagined, because 'It seemed like a good thing to do at the time.'"

"You really want to know why I came? Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money."

Colonel Quautar scrutinized Ton's expression. "I see."

The colonel still didn't believe him completely--Ton was sure of it. He wasn't, however, going to pursue his doubts in the interview, but he would put him under surveillance once he released him into Novaunian society. Ton felt some comfort in that, and yet he knew he would have to be careful.

"So did I pass?" Ton suddenly asked. "Am I a spy?"

The colonel raised his eyebrows and smiled temptingly. "I'll reserve judgment until I've received all the necessary information from my various sources."

"One of whom is King himself, no doubt."

Colonel Quautar's smile lingered. "Perhaps you can introduce me to him."

Too jarred to think of a comeback, Ton forced himself to chuckle.

Colonel Quautar's smile faded. "Since you wish to stay on Novaun, I must at this time impose a few rules on you."

"Rules?" Ton said skeptically.

The colonel nodded slowly. "Yes, rules. I'm being completely honest when I tell you that I don't want to do this. I don't, however, have any choice, since many aspects of your lifestyle can't be tolerated in this society."

Ton's skepticism changed to scorn. "The reason you don't want to do this is not because you would have me live my life the way I choose. You just wish my habits corresponded more to those of Novaunians so that you wouldn't have to set any rules."

"You're right. I abhor many of your personal practices, and I wouldn't want to see you live the way you do here or anywhere else. I hate to see anyone engage in such destructive behavior. I doubt there's anyone you'll meet here who won't feel the same way, but that's beside the point.

"It's unlikely anyone will be prejudiced against you because of your past, as long as you don't make an issue of it and as long as you abide by the rules. The only way I can see your past being a true problem is if, by chance, you decide you want to marry, but that's something you'll have to work out for yourself, when and if that time ever comes.

"As far as rules go, there will only be two. First, and this is extremely important, you can't drive or use InterMind within six hours of having a drink, a taffuao, or any other drug. This is necessary, because it doesn't take much alcohol or osalaem to impair a telepathic network like InterMind. If you do use the network under the influence of either one of the drugs, I'll find out about it immediately, so don't even try. Along with this, you won't be allowed to drink or smoke publicly, but you may do it in your own living quarters. I'll communicate with your landlord personally to make sure you are extended this courtesy. While you are here at the mansion, you may smoke outside too, as long as your companions don't mind.

"Secondly, I don't want to learn that you've made improper advances toward any young females, and I don't think I need to explain what I mean by 'improper.' If you do, ninety-nine point nine percent will be outraged, and rightly so. Then they and their families will become suspicious of you, and if you lose that kind of trust among Novaunians, I will have to take away your privileges to InterMind. If, by chance, you do find a girl who is willing and are physically intimate with her, then you will be responsible for your portion of the fine, which means you could end up paying the government anywhere from one thousand to twenty thousand gold coins, and I can guarantee you that in your case, a judge would not be lenient. If a child comes from the union, then you would be responsible for that child too, which in your case, would probably mean you would have to pay a settlement of several hundred gold coins to the girl's family since you wouldn't be here long enough to do anything else. Do you understand?"

Ton nodded.

"If you break either one of the rules, you'll be responsible for all of the fines, and I'll immediately deport you, because no one's going to want you here if you can't show proper consideration and respect for the established customs and laws of this society, and more importantly, it's impossible to live in this society without using InterMind. I know this is going to be difficult for you, so if in a few months you decide you can't abide by the restrictions, I'll set you up secretly on another planet. The Earthons will never find you, unless you want them to. Do you still want to stay here?"

"I really don't have any choice."

The colonel nodded once, considering the matter closed. "Now for the matter of your payment. The twenty-four thousand gold coins Teren promised you will be deposited into a bank in Shalaun. In the next day or two, I'll send over a representative from the medical community in Shalaun to discuss your options with you. Then once you determine the direction you wish to pursue your medical training, I'll have my daughter research the available positions and help you make application."

Ton shook his head. "No. I want a representative here today."

The colonel's eyebrows shot up in surprise and amusement.

"I've been working my entire career to specialize as a neurosurgeon, and I intend to complete my training in that specialty. The available positions may be limited, and I have no intention of idling away my time on this island when I can prepare myself to obtain license to practice medicine on this planet, and I do intend to practice as soon as possible. I need language training, information on the diseases encountered here and their treatments, information on medical equipment and technology, and especially, the names of the medicines Novaunian physicians use and their chemical compositions."

"I understand. I'll get someone over here this afternoon."

Ton nodded, satisfied with the colonel's answer.

The colonel stood up and proceeded to the door. Ton arose and followed him. Before Ton could leave, the colonel placed a hand warmly on his shoulder. "There's no need for cynicism on Novaun. The people here are very loving and hospitable and sincere, even to young Earthons who are reluctant to trust them. I wish you well."

Ton frowned, surprised by such perception and show of kindness from the colonel. After a moment, he nodded once. "Thanks."

"Go ahead and send Deia in."

"Sure." Ton immediately stepped through the door to face a wide-eyed Deia.

"How did it go?" she whispered.

Ton brushed the back of his hand over his forehead and let out a heavy, "Whew . . ."

"What did he ask you?"

Ton shook his head. "You're getting nothing from me--I like to forget bad experiences. You're on your own, kid."

It was only after Ton had proceeded down the corridor a little way and had heard the office door slide shut behind Deia that he could allow himself a deep sigh and a shiver of relief.