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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 45

Alien Nation

“I wish I knew what some of these initials mean...”

“Can you move your elbow? You’re covering up the rest of this purple triangle.”

“Hey, here’s one. The Old Yrmi Center for the Treatment of Communicable Disease.”

“It’s in the middle of a red lantern district. I don’t think an exotic illness brought on by a Diarian flying snake bite is the sort of disease they treat.”

“We could always go check...”

“Down, Vas.”

Skitch looked enviously around at the plaza. It was swarmed with all kinds of cool alien life forms. He remembered their trip to Starcross Station last year. Now that had been fun. He’d gotten to drink fizzy pop, cruise some bars, deface an evil guy’s military base, help steal a flying ship, and shop in a weird bazaar. Here they were in the Cynosure now, and everybody just wanted to cure Rani and go home. Maybe he and Thalia could sneak off and get lost. If Skitch could find another flying ship he bet Khyrisse would help him steal it. She’d really liked the last one.

“What about the Wintuk Community Hospital?”

“It’s in a ‘Non-humanoid’ area, though.”

“Non-humanoid?”

“It says something about methane.”

“Eewww,” Skitch contributed. The potential coolness of being able to tell Kit he’d been to the plane of cow farts was not outweighing the idea of what all his clothes would smell like afterwards.

“There’s Munden’s Bar...”

“All right, can anyone find something wrong with this one?”

“‘The House of Healing of St. Caraden the Exile... All races welcome.’ That looks pretty good.”

“Who’s St. Caraden?”

“How should I know? He got exiled for something, does that help?”

“She.”

The Rat Pack turned to glare at the speaker, an androgynous youngster with opalescent skin and a piercing, warbling voice. “St. Caraden the Exile,” it said, and flashed an impudent grin at its audience, apparently unfazed. Its teeth were all points, and they curved slightly inward. “She got spiked for advocating baby-birthing between aliens. Many races, better stock.” Its eyes skimmed over Khyrisse’s waist, and the grin intensified slightly. “I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”

“Why not?” Khyrisse frowned at the kid.

“Oh, you’d be all right,” it said. “But some of your friends...” It waved its slim hand in Mina’s direction. “...might not enjoy it there.”

“But it says all races welcome,” Mina said, her brow furrowing.

“They’re all welcome to enter. Not all are welcome to leave. The Caradenites are very militant about race-mixing these days. You go in there, they’ll imprison the purebloods in the harem till they’ve got a half-breed baby out of you.” The alien kid grinned. “They catch a lot of new arrivals that way.”

“Oh, merde,” sighed Khyrisse. “Well, Rani’s a half-breed, and I’m already pregnant. Why don’t I accompany her in, and the rest of you can wait here?”

“How do we know what aliens will consider ‘pure-blooded’?” Val pointed out.

“Yeah, can we not go with the scenario that might involve me getting impregnated by aliens, please?” said Rani.

“Ewwwww!” said Skitch, crinkling up his nose. “You mean they’d make more half-Diari babies on purpose?”

“Excuse me?” said Orlen stiffly.

Khyrisse frowned on him. “Skitch, what did I tell you?”

“All right, fine... say a blob. That’s gross, right?”

“I know a very nice blob,” she said a little lamely.

“The point,” Val rescued her, “is that we don’t want to be forcibly impregnated by anyone, Skitch, of our own race or otherwise. Nor do I assume the gentlemen want to be used as stud horses.”

“Well, it depends how cute the aliens are,” Ebreth deadpanned.

“And how long they’d be requiring our services,” agreed Vas, his eyes twinkling mischievously.

“Enough,” said Khyrisse, thwapping one hand at each of them, the one at Ebreth rather harder. “St. Caraden’s out. ...Flark this. We need a guide, not a map.”

The kid bounced eagerly. “Look no further! You are in search of something special?”

Khyrisse sighed. “We’re looking for a cure for an illness.”

“By magic, thought, blessings or science?” it asked alertly. “I know workers of any.”

“As many of the above as possible.”

It raised its smooth eyebrows. “In one place?” It thought for a long moment, then nodded, pointing to an irregular bronze area on the map. Low Gravity; Anti-Explosive, warned the map in tiny letters. “Bareki. I can take you there. Twenty xiri.”

“We don’t have any local money...” Khyrisse fished in her purse and came out with a topaz about the size of her thumbnail. “Will this do?”

The small alien face shone as brightly as the gem. “For sure!”

“All right.” She glanced around the group. “Damn it, we’re already missing people. Where’s Kingfisher gotten to?”

Bewitched: Next Time Just Call Kelly Temp Services

It took Marty a minute, but even he could see what was going on. The strange dialogue, the secret rendezvous, the kiss... Obviously, Kingfisher had been possessed by Camaro.

“Whoa, how’d you do that?”

“I puckered and...”

“No, I mean possess Kingfisher?”

“I’m not possessed,” said Kingfisher. “Unless you want to possess me.”

“Wait, you mean you’re not Camaro?”

“That molester?” cried Kingfisher, offended. “No, I’m far more right for you than she, Marty Hu.”

What would Ebreth do? Marty wondered. Master Ebreth was always so logical and well thought, he’d probably be able to trick Kingfisher out of this situation. Marty figured he’d try it.

“You know, if we go on like this, Camaro will, uh... beat you up,” Marty said, the first thing that came to mind.

“She can try,” Kingfisher said coldly.

“Oh, she’d be able to. Between her magic spells and good innocent spirit, she’d uh...” Marty frowned. “Where was I?”

“You were realizing that I’m the woman you need, Marty.”

“Well, like, I’m a paladin, you know, and you’re...”

“The closest thing my god has to that.”

“But I’m tall, and you’re...”

“Tall.”

“Okay, uh, well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll have Camaro write up all of her good points, and you write up your good points, and I’ll, uh... compare.”

“You expect me to apply to be your mate?” Kingfisher demanded.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea too!” Marty smiled. “So, like, hand it in to me when you’re done and I’ll, like, get back to you!”

“That’s the most... hm. Okay.”

“Right, and, uh... remember, this is the guy’s room.”

Marty bolted for the exit to rejoin the party.

With Old Odd Ends From Holy Writ

The alien kid ushered the Rat Pack into a long monorail car. Ebreth felt a little uncomfortable--it would be entirely too easy for the kid to send all twenty of them plummeting to their deaths in a ravine somewhere. The Rat Pack had gotten out of deadlier situations than that before, though. Ebreth had to keep reminding himself he was an adventurer now, and they played by different rules.

Kingfisher sat between Aithne and Val. Without prompting, she suddenly said “Isn’t it strange how they can do that? Men, I mean? They make themselves like prey, daring you to hunt them down, and it’s so...” For once, her soprano voice was without edge, and it actually sounded lilting, gorgeous. Her face was flushed. “Uh, never mind,” she mumbled, a bit of Grendel creeping back into her.

The monorail didn’t move as fast as the Trade Carriage, but the ride was smoother. Jack lost coherency again and spent most of the ride in a scary-looking but apparently not dangerous seizure of shapeshifting. By the time the car stopped, he’d stabilized into a dense lead statue of himself. He could move and talk all right, but very slowly. Ebreth and Marty decided to carry him for now.

“Almost there!” the kid encouraged them, bouncing back and forth like a balloon in the wind. “Once we cross the border, it will be easier. Things are lighter there.”

“Low gravity,” murmured Valende, smoothing the map.

“Indeed!”

***

The Rat Pack crossed from a smoggy afternoon into late evening, with only a staticky feeling to mark the boundary. They were suddenly standing on an odd sort of boardwalk running along the second floor of a lamplit street, the wood bleached almost as white as the stone of the buildings. The hot, humid air was full of the smells of cooking, spices, alien flowers. From somewhere nearby came the musical roar of the ocean, mingled with voices and the spiraling wail of a flute.

Khyrisse stepped through after their guide and swayed suddenly, hit with a powerful wave of vertigo. She bounced back up when her foot hit the planks, as if she’d become instantly forty pounds lighter, and completely lost her balance. She grabbed onto Ebreth--who was no more troubled by the change in gravity, apparently, than he was by a tilting deck.

“Figures,” she laughed under her breath.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes... Oh, that’s weird,” she said, as her head gradually cleared. She stamped her foot, still holding onto Ebreth, and left the ground again briefly.

Aithne swayed and fell as she crossed over, and Marty helped her up. Kingfisher, who had passed the border without difficulty, intentionally tripped now, and Marty, looking very confused, helped her up too. “Thank you, Marty,” she cooed.

Khyrisse shook her head. She guessed she’d been almost as unsubtle at times, back in the early days of the Rat Pack. And where Marty was involved, ‘obvious’ might be the only option. Whichever of the paladin’s suitors was the one he was actually responding to, he had clearly been paying more attention to his appearance lately--it was the first time since she’d met him that Marty actually struck Khyrisse as attractive.

The sorceress abandoned that silly train of thought to frown as Val had an attack of vertigo and fell against the railing. Then Mina, and then Vas. She’d assumed Ebreth was just sure enough on his feet to weather whatever dizziness had come over her, but that didn’t explain why Garal and Princess Thalia were having no problem with the transition while the dexterous Vastarin was. All the magic-users are being affected, one way or another. I don’t like that idea much.

“Different laws,” the alien guide hastened to reassure her as she slanted a look at him. “Magic works a little differently here. Not harmful, just disorienting at first.”

Everyone did seem fine, even those that had been hit by vertigo. Khyrisse sighed. “Where’s Jack?”

“I’m here,” Jack’s voice said faintly.

“Oh, merde...”

Jack poked his translucent finger at the stone wall. It disappeared up to the second knuckle. “Well, at least I’m the right size and shape,” he sighed, a bare wisp of sound in the breeze.

“Oh-oh.” The guide was wide-eyed. “They don’t have spirits here.”

“Just what we needed, a dry county...”

“No, spirits of the dead! You’ll scare the natives.”

“I’m not dead,” Jack protested.

The alien kid tugged on Khyrisse’s sleeve, pointing to the shadows beneath the running balcony. “I can take you down beneath the tier, and go the back way.”

“Won’t the people you’re taking us to be frightened, too?”

“No more than by weird diseases.” It grinned. “As in, not at all. The Actors are hard to faze. You’ll see.”

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