The door to my room bursts open behind me. I turn to see Carnesol shoving my servant, Osc, into the room. Half-dragging, half-carrying a trunk containing my things, Osc stumbles and drops the trunk. I resist the urge to assist him and instead look at Carnesol.
“What is the meaning of this?” I ask.
“Your clumsy servant unpacked your things in the wrong room,” Carnesol replies evenly.
Having observed Carnesol’s behavior in leading me to this room, I surmise that he changed his mind on room assignments but doesn’t want me to know. His first choice was probably not as sumptuous as this one. Peering over at Osc’s frail form quivering in our presence, I feel a smile spread across my face.
“I had such hopes for this one when my Esteemed gifted him to me for the trip,” I say as I walk over to Osc. “I only promised that I’d return him intact.”
Osc doesn’t look up at me, but continues to stare at the floor, his head bowed. Holding back only slightly, I smack Osc across the face with the back of my hand. The force throws him to the ground. I hear a dark chuckle escape from Carnesol as I turn to face him.
“I’m afraid the journey has taxed me. Let me take some time to settle in,” I tell him.
“Of course. That one,” he says, pointing to Osc, “can stay with the others on the opposite side of the courtyard.”
I nod. “How will he know when I need him?”
Carnesol looks at me for a moment before pointing to a multi-colored tassle hanging from the ceiling. “The bell-pull. Don’t you have that in Haspel?”
Realizing my error, I respond, “No, our servants stay outside our rooms until we call them.”
Carnesol stares at me no doubt considering whether this is better than what they have here. “I’ll leave you to settling in.”
I nod, watching as Carnesol leaves. As soon as the door clicks shut I turn to Osc. “Clumsy fool! Unpack my things now!”
Osc slowly rises. The side of his face now sports an angry red welt. He nods silently to me and opens the trunk. I assume a reclining position on the large chair and feign exhaustion. With half-closed lids I study the room, intent on finding any openings or cracks through which I could be spied. In this dim light it is hard to tell. Other than the keyhole in the door, which would take some effort on behalf of a Bormea to look and listen through, I can’t detect anything else.
Satisfied with my cursory examination, I turn my attention back to Osc. “Aren’t you done yet?” I grouse.
Osc looks up at me, his movement halted by my comment.
I flex my fingers as best I can, moving the position of my hands as I do so. Osc watches my movement carefully and then shifts what’s in his hands to the crook of his arm in order to free up his hands. If anyone is spying on us, all that they would see is what appears to be Osc touching his fingers together and occasionally rubbing his arms. Between us though, we developed a means of communicating nonverbally to each other before arriving here for just such a situation like this.
I nod and turn away from Osc as he resumes unpacking my things. He’s informed me that his injuries are slight. He made the bruise on his face appear worse than it is. Though participating in the abuse of a servant will help me with the other Bormeas, it does set Osc up for further abuse from others. While I am concerned about Osc — the scout portraying him — I realize I am even more relieved that all of our gear is intact. Carnesol didn’t see anything out of the ordinary when he forced Osc to repack all of my things.
The other scout, Osc, will have more access to this compound than me, even if he has to reside in smaller quarters across the courtyard. There will only be certain times of the day (or night) when it is appropriate that we are in contact. We’ll have to be quick with relaying any information to each other at those times. Looking around the room, I wonder how either one of us will be able to remove any of its contents to send back as samples. I shake my head to clear my mind. All we need to do is send fibers, wood shavings and partials for the samples — not the entire piece. Is it this life form or environment that is slowing down my thought process?
“Master, I am finished with your things,” Osc’s quiet voice interrupts my contemplation.
“It took you long enough,” I bellow while moving my fingers to tell him to stay alert.
Osc bows. “My apologies. Will there be anything else?” he asks as he informs me where he stowed the scanner.
“No! Now get out!”
Osc remains in a bowed stance as he backs up and lets himself out of my room.
Through the shuttered balcony door I can hear traders yelling out the benefits of their wares mixed in with the bleating of livestock. I close my eyes reviewing how we arrived here.
* * *
“Are the others in place?” I ask, while scanning the horizon. We still have some time before dawn breaks, but I want to make sure our new identities are intact before that.
“Yes,” comes the voice behind me. “The Commander assigned them to the cities and surrounding territories, as you recommended.”
“Good.” I turn to face the other scout, “And what about our ride?”
It holds up a viewer to the darkened terrain. “I’m getting a reading of a heat signature to our west. It’s moving this way. That should be the other one.”
I nod. My role hinges on both perception and deception. As long as we can convince the Bormeas of Tastan that I am authentic, they will have no reason to doubt me and send someone to Haspel to authenticate my story. To that end, my arrival, my entrance in their city and to their compound, must rival their expectations.
Based on images from the probes and the capabilities of the inhabitants of this planet, along with their available resources, I designed a craft for travel. My Bormean life form would never survive a walk across the wasteland, nor should one of that status be forced to do so. Arriving in something unexpected and beyond what had been seen in Tastan would help me gain immediate access.
“Here’s the robe you requested,” the other scout announces, holding a garment up in front of me.
I nod as I take it, immediately feeling the weave of the fabric and guessing at the materials used. Carrying it aloft, I walk over to a small outcropping. In the shadowy crevice, away from any other distractions or probing eyes, I alter my form into that of a Bormea, pulling the robe on to complete the look.
The other scout watches my approach with wide-eyes, blinking only once when we are a pace apart.
“Do I match?” I ask in my natural voice.
The scout tilts its head before nodding. Taking other garments with it, the scout heads to the same crevice to make its change. While waiting, I detect in the distance the approach of something large. Lifting up the viewer I can see a cluster of heat signatures, all moving quickly in this direction.
I turn at the sound of footsteps behind me. The other scout is no longer recognizable in its new form. Combining the body type and facial construction of many of Haspel’s citizens, we created an identity for the scout acting as my servant. His diminutive size is emphasized all the more when standing next to my Bormean form. Everything about him, from his garb to his features and form speak of plainness. His hair and his rough-woven clothing are the color of dust. There is nothing striking about his looks, allowing him to blend into a crowd and go unnoticed when needed.
As I’m about to comment on his transformation, I see him crane his neck to peer around me. I turn around to watch the approach. The sound of something beating against the ground grows louder. There is a rhythmic pattern to the noise as though the element of movement is choreographed.
Then, out of the darkness it looms, rapidly bearing down on us. In front are a team of nasidors breathing heavily from exertion, their muscled flanks dripping with sweat. Instead of running us down, they turn away from us so that the entire transport can be seen.
I can’t help but smile when I examine the reality of my design and ingenuity, wondering if this is what Nemel feels like every time he completes a weaving. I walk alongside the nasidors briefly taking in their size and build and comparing them to the other beasts I have seen. They are far larger than a nungo, resembling more of a lonar though with four muscular legs for strength and speed. Even with my increased height as a Bormea, the back of a nasidor is even with my head. While scouting Tastan, I heard that nasidors were bred for hauling wood down from the hills. I could see by their powerfully formed shoulders that this is the case. As though anxious to move on, the team of nasidors stamp and paw at the ground while snorting out great puffs of air from their large, flared nostrils. Beads of sweat hang off short, almost fibrous hair which covers their body. A low rumbling sounds from the nasidor closest to me as it watches me with big dark eyes.
I reach out to run my hand over the flank of this one.
“Don’t go near them in that form,” a gruff voice warns me.
Turning, I see a dark form sitting in a high seat at the front of the transport vehicle.
“You’re a threat to them.”
I step back, noticing immediately that the rumbling sound has dissipated.
“I had a difficult time getting them to trust me,” the form adds as he alights from the craft and lands with a thud on the ground.
Even in the darkness I can distinguish the speaker to be a Necco, one of the Bormeas’ half-breeds. As I approach him, I can see that we are nearly evenly matched in size, though his body is more muscular than my own. Having studied the Neccos surreptitiously in Tastan, it is a relief to stand face to face with one and study it more in depth.
“Do I look as grotesque as you,” comes the voice from the Necco but with the familiar thin tone of another scout.
I nod and then turn my attention to the craft.
“We’re going to attract attention with this thing,” the scout tells me, as it backs up to look at it with me.
“What is that?” asks my other companion, as he joins us.
“Something I designed to get us into the Bormeas’ compound,” I reply as I circle the vehicle.
In its most rudimentary form it appears to be compact hut on runners, but it is more than that. It is a vehicle no one on this planet has seen or thought to construct. While the Listras have their talups, this craft is designed to carry a Bormea from one city to another. In doing so, we’re giving the inhabitants of this planet a new concept. We could be altering their future. Considering the Nosram’s plans to conquer this planet anyway, creating something beyond their means seems a less catastrophic alternative.
I took the concept of runners from the Listras and designed ours to be wider, curling inward at the front and back. The runners attach to the main body of the craft by means of multiple support pieces underneath, making it capable of carrying a heavy load of weight. In front of the craft is an open seat for the driver, who steers the team of nasidors by means of leather straps attached to each one individually and to the group as a whole. Behind the driver is a small compartment, large enough for my servant. The main body of the craft serves as a container for me, a Bormea. The back area of this compartment is built on a slant, so that a Bormea can ride in a reclining position while resting on cushions. While there are small windows on either side of this compartment, both are draped with fabric to block the bright rays of the sun. On the top of the craft is a rack to carry trunks filled with personal possessions. There is also room for the most important possession needed on a trek like this — a barrel of water.
In addition to being bred for hard labor, the nasidors also are known for their capacity to go without water for a long time. Whether it is due to their two stomachs or the hair that covers their body, we have yet to determine. Even though the other scouts and I could probably survive the trek without a lot of water, it is the perception that we need it that we carry it with us.
“So, it works?” I ask.
The Necco scout nods. “It glides right over the terrain. We might go a little slower, now that you’ll be in it.”
“We need to get moving,” I inform him. “We’ll need to stay out of sight until shortly before our arrival.”
* * *
I open my eyes as the warmth of the day creeps into my room. The din of noise in the market place down below jolts me from my thoughts. I will have to learn to blot out that blend of sounds if I am to get any rest.
With the heavy drapes pulled back a little, thin strips of light cut through the shuttered balcony door leaving trails of highlights on the woven rugs. In their meager beams I can see dust lazily floating about as though undecided where to land. Staring into the confines of my room, I recognize that there is a lot to study just in this space, but after our wearisome travel a rest is warranted.
We arrived shortly before dawn when I knew most of the Bormeas had retired to their rooms and the city streets were the most empty. News of my arrival is now being spread verbally among everyone with actual facts blended into fabrication. Markings on the cobblestone roads from the runners will only add to the intrigue.
This evening I will be presented, first to the other Bormeas and then to the general public. By now all of the other scouts are in place as well. The full mission is underway.