Author Topic: Part 47: Regrets  (Read 6187 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 47: Regrets
« on: May 15, 2023, 10:15:49 PM »
"Please, Allain. We need this, you know it!"

Char waited impatiently for the lag in the transmission to finish up, so that her distant friend could respond. Allain was actually still in Hightop, many leagues to the south. Given the limited range on their radios, their conversation required two relays between them. Fortunately the sandkin in the relays could be trusted to keep this conversation to themselves. Allain had chosen them specifically for their skills and their discretion.

Despite her years working undercover, this was actually the first time Char had used a radio personally. It was still a new technology, actually. The Union had come up with them only a few decades ago, and the sandkin had been able to acquire one and figure out how it worked about eight years ago. How they'd done that had been a mystery to her. Most likely, she hadn't been the only spy working for the sandkin within the Union.

For some reason, message sent by the radios was instant, but only up to a certain distance. After that, the message didn't arrive at all. That distance was increased by elevation, strangely enough. As a result the relay locations were both on high ground. Moss had told her that the Union came to the same conclusion long ago. They had determined that the terrain itself could block radio messages. He suspected, though he'd told no one but her, that the ground actually curved. At a very, very slow rate, and therefore imperceptible to any individuals. That meant, if Tarn was large enough, it might actually be… spherical in shape!

It was a ridiculous notion, of course. Moss had been wise to tell only her. But who knew for sure? Perhaps once this war was over, people could travel in every direction, on both land and sea, and find out the truth. She could dream, anyway.

"I'm sorry, Char," her distant friend finally got back to her. "I told you, the sandkin won't support a peace envoy at this time. Even if I called for a vote, we would be outnumbered nine to one. Everyone here is too focused on the upcoming move north to care anyway. Those who aren't already up in the green lands, fighting the trejuns there."

It was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. Besides, she'd come prepared. "I'm not asking for them to send a peace envoy. Tell them this is intelligence gathering, which is technically true! We still know so little about the trejuns, and the Union knows barely any more than we do! All I ask is that by the time M—uh, my friend—gets to Sprayhaven, there's a water-equipped cart there waiting for him. One big enough for two, actually," she amended quickly. The people in the relay knew who her friend was, but others might be listening in. Also, Moss had told her that his friend would be going along. He seemed uncomfortable with the idea, but she'd been glad to hear he would have company. She'd been alone inside enemy territory for years on end as a spy, and couldn't recommend it to anyone.

There was another long delay, and she once again considered the miracles that were these little communication devices. Sure, communication roots were more durable, and if they included copper wiring, could send messages just as fast, but they had to be laid down first! Remote communication had been a practical impossibility until the Union had done it. For all their bloated bureaucracy, their short-sighted authority figures, and their reactionary instincts, she did have to admit they did have some bright individuals.

Her intangible compliment faded as she considered Moss. He was part of the Union too. Bright could also mean calculating, or cold, or murderous.

She didn't care what he said. This was penance to him, clearly. He would give the trejun civilians a chance to survive, or die trying. All because he'd sacrificed lives before, and didn't want to live with that over the long haul. She knew better than to talk with him about it, too. He would just deny it again, but perhaps Rane could get through to him. She barely knew the young sapling going with him, but he seemed to be a good influence on Moss. At least they wouldn't have to wait and build their own cart here. She'd already been able to convince the majority to get them passage out west, though the carts would be sent back as soon as they arrived.

Allain's response finally came through again. "All right, Char. I can't promise anything of course, but with the rocky terrain, it should take more than a week for your friends to get all the way over to Sprayhaven. By then, the foundry there should have a cart ready for them. The people here are listening to the reports you send in, so you have that long to convince them that 'scouting' Trejuna is the right move. I'll argue your case as well, but there's only so much I can do. We've all had a lot of new experiences down here, and you know how bad sandkin are at adapting. Allain, out."

Char shut off the radio with some relief. Allain's last sentences had been something of an understatement actually. While her people excelled at planning ahead and sticking to their plans, as evidenced by the desert-wide network of communication roots, he was right about their lack of adaptation. They hadn't expected to be revealed to the outside world, much less be at war with part of it, for centuries yet. A lot of them had had a very Union-like response to being attacked, and would therefore be unlikely to support peace for a long time.

It was up to her to convince them.

The sandkin convoy was pulling up even now, and they sent a light signal out to her, which she acknowledged. They would siphon off water from the nearby aqueduct, and partition off a large cart for Moss an Rane to use, but they wouldn't be putting down roots. They were only here to pick her up, and convey her north into the warzone. Reluctantly, Char used her articulator limb to connect with grove Praska's network again. This probably wouldn't be pleasant.

Several dozen people popped up into view, with similar auras to the ones she'd seen over the past few days. Most of the young people were clustered together, and took interest in her sudden arrival. She sent out a polite declination to their request that she join them, and instead focused on the elders. She exchanged brief greetings with the Grovekeeper Jora, and then directed her attention to Moss' father. Wordless communication among the Union groves wasn't easy, but she'd practiced over the years. She sent him a silent request for a private chat, and he agreed without being too obvious about it.

By the Core, she missed sandkin territory! Everyone was so open, there. So honest and forthright. There was no doublespeak, or innuendo, or deception. It had been so refreshing, even if she'd only been there for a few days. And here she was, back among the manipulators.

She braced herself, and spoke respectfully once they were in relative isolation from the others. "I wanted to speak with you again, sir. To thank you for your hospitality, and for looking after the object Moss told you about."

"Bah. I told you before, missy. Call me belhiera'torahn'salk. You're bonded to my son. That makes us family." Despite his slight condescension, which she was reasonably sure was by accident, he did sound friendly.

"I'll try to remember that," she said with some bemusement.

"So I hear Moss will be leaving tomorrow. With little Rane at his side. I don't suppose you could tell me where they're going?"

"I'm afraid not."

He sent out some ambivalence. "Just as well. I'd probably just worry anyway. Besides, you're leaving before he is, aren't you? Today, unless I'm off the mark."

That surprised her, and she knew that it showed. "How did you know that?"

Belhiera'torahn'salk just let out some amusement. "Credit an old soul with some perceptiveness. Those sandkin friends of yours out there aren't getting out of their carts, are they? Even from here, I can sense their impatience. They're waiting for you, aren't they?"

With some anguish, she sent out an affirmative.

"I knew it. You probably have some very important task to do, helping with the war effort, or maybe back home in the Desolation. You'll be missed here, though; especially by the youngsters. You've sparked their imagination in a big way with all your stories. That's a good thing. The last time we had a foreign dignitary here, it didn't work out well for us."

He was referring to the trejun ambassador, naturally. "Yes, I heard. We're nothing like the trejuns, you know. We've spent the last few hundred years trying to stay as hidden as possible. We're only here because they dragged us out of hiding and attacked us."

Belhiera'torahn'salk studied her for a long moment. "Well, Moss said the same thing, and I have no reason to doubt his judgement. You know how much the Union has suffered, especially in this part of the continent. Those burns fade slowly, if at all, and we have long memories."

"I know a thing or two about being burned, and about healing, sir."

He let out more amusement. "I suppose you do, at that."

There was another awkward silence, and she decided to address it directly. "I know this can't be comfortable for you at all. I'm almost certainly not the companion you had in mind for Moss. I want you to know I'm aware of that, and I sympathize. He wasn't what I had in mind either, at first."

"I imagine not. Don't worry, I'm not upset. We all have to adapt to changing circumstances, and Moss has been a changing circumstance ever since he was old enough to speak. I urge you, though. Whatever is wrong between the two of you, talk it out before you leave. I don't know when you'll be back, or if you ever will, so you don't want to leave with that bugging you. It will eat at you—trust me on that."

Again, his insight caught her by surprise. "Moss told you?"

He sent out a negative. "We don't really talk about those kinds of things. But I know my son very, very well, and I have five bonded myself. I know the signs. They're not here in grove Praska, thankfully. I never had the misfortune of living with any of my bonded. Still, they and my children are all important to me. Whatever issues you two have, settle them while you're still able to easily."

Moss had told her his father was a political animal—who had been controlling and distant while he'd been growing up. He seemed to think the old man cared very little for family, other than how he could use them to further his own aspirations. This was a very different person than the one Moss had described. Maybe it was a Union thing. Her own adoptive mother had been distant, even before she'd been moved to the Arbormass. Were parents here just culturally influenced to be as authoritative as possible to their offspring?

She was tempted to explain that they did things differently among the sandkin, but he might end up taking it as an insult. Instead, she sent out an agreement. "Thank you… belhiera'torahn'salk. You've given me a lot to think about."

"I have that knack," he responded easily. "Now, off you go. You've got things to do, and not much time I imagine. Certainly not enough time to keep humoring someone like me."

It was said self-deprecatingly, but she could tell that it was in jest. She again agreed, and disconnected with a fond farewell.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2023, 03:15:46 AM by Daen »