Artist's impression of midnight on Saturn from...


 “The fugitives must die! This goal we, the people of Rizoria, will accomplish; we must accomplish!”

The Envoy’s voice was cool and well controlled, but the rebellious undertones couldn’t be hidden.

Minje drew his bushy, gray eyebrows into an almost straight line across his broad forehead. He could almost feel the eyes of the council members staring at him expectantly. He would choose his words very carefully.

“We regret to see you so distressed, most distinguished Envoy,” he said, “but you and your people must understand that this Council exists to safeguard the sacred laws of the Federation. This Council could never violate the Quarantine, nor could we allow the people of Rizoria to do so.”

Minje’s voice had a deep and majestic quality, Ahja thought as he listened to him speak, and the Master Translator felt proud and privileged to serve such a man.

“No! Permission will never be granted by this Council to violate the Quarantine of the penal colony, Terra!”

The Rizorian Envoy held her arms in front of her, and as a suppliant she fell to her knees. She had released herself from the sympathetic bond which had allowed her to communicate in the Tragian tongue. Her long fingers fluttered delicately as she crossed her arms over her breasts. She spoke again; her voice was as soft, melodic, seductive and as hypnotic as before. The Envoy pleaded her case, and without missing a single word, Ahja immediately assumed his role as translator, translating almost simultaneously, as she spoke.

“I understand the wishes of the great and prestigious Council of Ten. I feared that it would be so, but it was my duty to make known to you the wishes of the people of Rizoria, who are my blood. And it is with great sadness that I shall relay the command of the Council to the millions of anxious Rizorians who wait to hear your words.

“But it is also my sworn and sacred duty to continue in my attempt to make all of you understand.

“The fugitives must die! This is true because they are a disease, and not because the gentle people of Rizoria have grown blood‑thirsty. Think of the fugitives not as people, see them for what they really are‑the most dreaded disease in the universe. This is a plague for which there is no immunity, no escape; it will reach out through the very vacuum of space itself to smother the breath of our existence. You cannot ignore this threat!” The Rizorian Envoy stood. She walked slowly around the silent, brooding hall. All eyes followed her.

Ahja could almost feel the currents of tension sweep through the chamber although the faces of the delegates were devoid of expression, and no attempt had been made by the delegates to communicate. He watched her as she approached each one of the chief delegates as if she would speak privately with each one of them, but no word was spoken. She studied the face of each delegate for a few seconds, a few tried to avoid her gaze. It was obvious to Ahja that without exception the delegates were extremely uncomfortable under the penetrating stare that the Envoy had directed at them, at each and every one of them, even the Master Translator himself.

“What is the purpose?” Ahja muttered to himself as he clenched his jaw. “When will it stop?” Involuntarily he sighed with relief when the Envoy spoke again.

But there was a new element in her voice that he had not heard before, and it disturbed him so much that he stammered as he translated her words.

“We of Rizoria beg you to be bold, and with that boldness, strike! Strike quickly in order to protect yourselves, the worlds that you serve, and the generations that are yet to be. Know you that if we fail to fulfill our responsibility here and now that our names, and our inaction will be cursed in the histories of the future!”

Abruptly, and seemingly unaware that the Council Chamber had exploded into an uproar, the Rizorian Envoy rushed from the Chamber and disappeared into the privacy of the visitor’s cell.

Ahja watched helplessly as Minje moved among the agitated representatives. The Chairman used every iota of skill and experience at his command to soothe and allay the fears that the delegates expressed. The Lord Chairman displayed a vibrant energy that Ahja had not even suspected the older statesman possessed. Never before in the history of two great Federations, had the Council Chamber witnessed such hysteria, not even during the collapse of the First Federation and the dark times that followed.

Suddenly, it was over. It was as if the tension and the hysteria had burned themselves out. The Council Chamber emptied silently, and only Ahja and the weary Lord Chairman remained. Minje shuffled past Ahja as he headed for his private cell; he looked old, older than Ahja had ever seen him look. Briefly, Ahja thought of following Minje to his cell to see if he was needed, and thought better of it. If Minje had wanted, or needed him, he would have made his wishes known to Ahja. It was obvious that the Lord Chairman needed time to rest, and to collect his thoughts and impressions alone. He would summon Ahja when he was ready.

Ahja rubbed his throbbing temples; he needed rest too, and he decided to go home and wait there for Minje’s call.

Ahja’s rest was undisturbed. When he awakened, there was no message on his communicator that summoned him to the Lord Chairman. Ahja’s attempts to communicate with Minje were blocked by a recurring message that stated that the Chairman was not to be disturbed. The Master Translator rushed back to the Central Chamber where he was denied admittance by a squad of armedguards! Ahja walked back to his home in a daze. He couldn’t remember having ever seen armed guards at the Central Hall, nor had he ever read of such a thing. He was sure that somewhere in the governmental by‑laws arms were prohibited in the Central Hall, even by the security guards.

When he got home, the message flashing on the communicator screen disturbed him even more. The message ordered him to remain inside his residence, incommunicado until summoned by the Lord Chairman. Ahja ran his fingers through his hair. What wasgoing on? The Master Translator started to sweat.

One week later Minje’s call came through. Ahja had barely glanced at the familiar colors before running out of his house. So many irrational thoughts had crowded his mind since the fateful Rizorian audience that he had been subject to chronic tension during his confinement, and Minje’s summons was the spark that ignited him into action. He no longer wanted to think; he wanted to act, but one persistent thought nagged at him even as he rushed to the Lord Chairman’s side. Was it possible, that for some inexplicable reason, he had somehow fallen from Minje’s favor? This fear, and countless others disappeared when he was greeted by the Lord Chairman.

The elder statesman appeared to be well rested and in excellent spirits as he embraced his Master Translator. Ahja wasn’t allowed to bask in the warmth of the Chairman’s famous smile for too long, however, no sooner was he seated than Minje got straight to the business at hand. In a very short while the Chairman’s grim words would reach across the quiet cell to rip away from him the last shreds of his sense of security and certainty.

“You must make yourself ready, friend Ahja, for a special mission, a dangerous mission, a mission of the highest importance to the security and well‑being of the Federation.”

Ahja leaned forward, his smile faded rapidly from his dry lips and his eyes and mouth were round with surprise. When he had entered the Chairman’s cell, he had been prepared for almost anything, anything, that is, except for what he had just heard.

“A special mission?” he repeated weakly.

“Yes, Ahja, that is why you have been summoned here. The details are here in this packet. You must either accept, or reject it now, without opening the seals. Once the seals are broken, you will not be allowed to leave this cell, and will have to proceed with the directives of the scrolls.”

“But how can I accept, or reject it Minje? I have no idea what it is. I need more information in order to make an intelligent decision,” Ahja protested as he stared at the Lord Chairman in disbelief. Minje had spoken to him as if they had been strangers, and Ahja was confused and hurt. The green and brown colors in Ahja’s eyes swirled around each other in a mindless dance; they struggled for mastery much as his repressed emotions entered into conflict with each other.

“All that I can tell you now is that this mission is vitally important to Trag and to the Federation. Believe me when I say that I divulge nothing more other than that it entails a grave responsibility, and that you will face a great deal of personal danger. I can also tell you that I feel that you are the only person I would trust with this mission. Tell me, friend Ahja, is there any reason why you cannot open these seals at once?”

Almost without waiting for Minje to finish his speech, Ahja jumped to his feet from the comfortable chair in which he sat. He hesitated as he ran his long and slender fingers through his slightly graying hair. For a moment he felt the black marble floor tremble under his feet, and so as to steady himself, he dug his toes into the soft Drewite leather of his sandles. The muscles of his legs were tensed, and he could feel the rippling effect of that tension along his broad and muscular back.

“I am always ready to serve, thee, Trag, and the Federation. As ever, Lord Chairman, I am loyal. My life, my fortune and my honor are thine to command!” The words of obedience and acceptance were old and unchanged through the chains of endless generations. But the archaic words and the ceremonial chant barely masked Ahja’s growing anxiety, and his fingers shook as they broke the seals. The master Translator read his mission.

He read and re‑read the documents in his hand as if their meaning eluded’him. When finished, Ahja fell back into his chair; his throat felt dry and the palms of his hands became damp while his fingertips suddenly grew numb. After a long while he set aside the scrolls; he felt very tired.

“But why?” he stammered. “Why have you decided to follow this plan of action?”

“Normally an agent doesn’t ask such questions, Ahja, but this is a special case and you are a very special agent. Rules can and should be broken at times such as these.

“The Rizorians are fanatics about this question of the fugitives, Ahja. One way or another, they will find a way to break the Quarantine to accomplish their goal. Realizing that there is very little that we can do to stop them, it seems logical that we help them accomplish what they feel they must. With our intervention, the fugitives will be located and returned to the Rizorian authorities, and our presence will insure secrecy and discretion. With all the factors in our favor, the entire incident will be finished before anyone can suspect that the Quarantine has been broken. Furthermore, time is of the essence. We must act before the Rizorians grow impatient and attempt something rash that our diplomacy might not be able to handle. As you are well aware, the discovery of the breach of the Quarantine could lead to galaxy‑wide unrest, perhaps civil war. ”

“Or worse.” Ahja barely mouthed the terrifying words. “The Terrans might discover our presence—”

“And if they do, it could be the end of civilization as we know it … that is, if you believe in the old legends.”

Ahja gasped in terror. “Minje, don’t you believe?”

“Well, of course I do, but at this moment heresy is not the question here. I believe that it can be done, and the Federation and Trag will be safe.”

“Lord Minje, forgive me, but I don’t feel that I am the one for such a mission. I’m a language specialist, not a spy. I have no qualifications for this mission at all. I could train an espionage master in just a short while to carry out all of the essential language and cultural aspects of this job just as we have done in the past.”

“Ahja, you of all people should know better than to question my judgement. You’re being obtuse. In the past, the language and the subject’s customs have been known quantities. This mission requires first hand observation and learning in the field. Only someone with your abilities could fulfill those functions in a short period of time. In this case it will be quicker, and more efficient for an espionage master to train you. And I have chosen the best. In reality, it’s a simple mission. You will travel to Terra to the sectors pinpointed to us by the Rizorians. There you will learn the languages, and the customs of the Terrans in the target areas in order to be able to move among them as you search for the fugitives. In this way, the Terrans’ suspicions will never be aroused.”

“How were the sectors pinpointed?” Ahja swallowed hard and repeatedly, yet his throat remained dry.

Minje smiled and relaxed. With that one question, he knew that Ahja had accepted the mission fully; the rest would be easy.

“I don’t understand it too well myself, Ahja, technology was never one of my strong points. It seems that all of the Adept, and some of the carriers generated a strong and unique pattern of brain wave activity. In order to hunt the renegade Adept more efficiently, the Rizorian Purification Squads perfected an ultra‑sensative detector that is extremely accurate. As I said before, I have no idea of the technology involved, nor is it necessary that we learn it for our purposes. The detector is simple to use, light in weight, small and easy to conceal. Nothing else need concern us.”

The Lord Chairman poured to glasses full of Tagian brandy. “Here,” he said to Ahja. “You look like you can use this.”

Ahja took his drink, but his lips barely brushed against the amber nectar. He put his glass down as the Lord Chairman continued speaking.

“Brain wave detection is not a new concept, as you know, Ahja, but what surprises me is the long range capacity of the device. It’s really incredible; wait till you see for yourself. I can almost believe that the Rizorians can accomplish anything that they set their minds to. It’s difficult not to be impressed by them. But I digress from the topic at hand. The sectors pinpointed for you on Terra are the areas where Adept brain wave activity has been detected and recorded.”

The hunt was on; Ahja’s hearts beat faster and his hands shook slightly.

“On the planet, the detector will narrow down the possibilities,” the Lord Chairman’s voice had acquired a tone of nonchalance. “Unfortunately, there is one drawback; it seems that at close range, the detector’s accuracy decreases. The Rizorians explained that it has to do with the close proximity of many other active brains that interfere with the signal. Towards the end of your search, you’ll have to rely on close and personal observation, and at this point is where you’re likely to encounter the most danger. For this reason, it is up to you to uncover their exact location, identify the fugitives and signal the Lodestar for a security force to remove them from the planet surface.”

The Lord Chairman stopped to drink deeply from his glass, and he sighed with pleasure.

“So you see, Ahja, you need very little training. A security team, and the best of the espionage masters will monitor your every move. The skills that you, and only you possess, are the vital ones for the successful completion of this mission.”

Ahja felt his eyes burning; it was as if he had been staring into the core of a solar furnace.

“For the good of the Federation I would walk into the void of space without question, Minje. You know that to be true, but to be a party to the hunting of people as if they were game animals, is most difficult for me.”

“And for me too, friend Ahja, I do understand. Our’s has been a complete dedication to non‑violence for many generations, but, Ahja, think how this directly affects our survival, and the survival of our ideals in a hostile galaxy. Since the start of this despicable affair, I’ve cursed the Rizorians and their fanaticism, and yet at the same time I know that I cannot allow my personal feelings to interfere with the work that is at hand.”

“Do you honestly believe that the Adept are as dangerous as the Rizorians claim, Minje?”

“I don’t know, Ahja, but the Rizorians believe that they are, and because of that, we have no other choice. We do what we must, and only because we must.”

Ahja stared at the Lord Chairman, who was the chosen leader of his people and of the Federation as well, and he wondered whether it had been difficult for this great man to compromise his belief . . . The Master Translator clenched his jaw, and the green and brown pattern of his eyes once again reflected the many disturbances in his thoughts and feelings. Minje’s sharp and highly trained eye could not miss the swirling of the two colors in conflict. He knew that there were many unasked questions tugging at Ahja’s lips that would never be asked; Ahja was that type of man, and Minje knew him well.

“Ahja,” he said nervously, “I want you to know that I have planned everything myself, everything down to the last detail, but I did have help. The Rizorian Envoy’s assistance was almost indispensible. In fact, she will lead the Purification Squad on Terra herself to assure that this operation will be carried out with total secrecy and discretion.”

“The Envoy herself!”

“Yes,” Minje smiled, and Ahja noticed that it was not his usual professional smile; it lent an expression of softness and affection to his face. Ahja frowned.

“Friend Ahja, you will discover that she is a truly remarkable woman. To sea[ our pact of friendship and mutual trust, she spoke her private name for me! As you know that is a great honor.”

“Yes, I do know,” the Master Translator replied coldly. Suddenly the expression on the Lord Chairman’s face embarrassed Ahja, who turned his attention to one more reading of the scrolls. As he read, he tried to control the sickening turmoil in the pit of his stomach. The words in front of him blurred into unrecognizable smears, and still he pretended to read. After a long, long time, Ahja looked up.

“Very well,” he sighed, “and am I also to hear the private name of the Envoy?” Ahja had been unable to suppress the sarcasm that sounded harsh and out of place. He had not expected Minje to answer him.

“Sa‑Dayna.” The voice that did answer Ahja’s question was soft, melodic, and it moved through him like the sighing breezes of the Tragian mountains.

Ahja had not seen the Rizorian Envoy enter; he wondered how long she had been there, watching him and listening to his conversation with Minje. The spell created by her seductive Rizorian voice snapped; he decided that he did not like being observed.

“We shall work together, Master Translator, and therefore it is fitting that we too should exchange names to solidify our friendship and our unity of purpose.”

The inescapable hypnotic power of her voice caught Ahja in its web once again. He struggled against the luminous, silken threads of the web half‑heartedly. The Envoy continued to speak, but Ahja didn’t hear the words, or understand their meaning. He listened instead to the soft hissing of the cool, Tragian summer rain that drifts onto the hot clay mesas and evaporates into hazy mists too lazy to rise upwards. The curl of the mist bends over to rest heavily upon the land …

The Rizorian envoy had been standing next to her translator in sympathetic bond, but now she broke the link. She drifted closer to him and smiled radiantly.

“It would please me, Ahja. It would please me very much if you would speak my name and seal this covenant of ours.”

“Covenant?” Ahja asked as if in a deep sleep, moving through a half remembered dream. He was still under the spell created by her voice, to which he would have sworn that he was immune.

“Yes, thou will locate the fugitives for us. Speak thy name with mine. Thy pledge will be sealed, and thy name will be spoken of with honor by all the peoples of Rizoria.”

The sounds of her speech were magic. Ahja felt compelled to follow her with his eyes as she moved around the cell.

“Sa‑Dayna, most illustrious Envoy of Rizoria, Ahja pledges his service in thy quest.”

“We are all very pleased, Ahja.” She smiled.

“If you please, Envoy?” Ahja had returned to the formal language, his next question was too important.

“Yes, friend Ahja?”

“What will happen once we find the fugitives?”

“They will die! To that end we have all pledged our lives. They will die swiftly and cleanly, I promise!”

Her voice and the words that were formed by the music of the Rizorian language pressed against Ahja. But this time he was not caught up in the magic they created so effortlessly. The meaning of the words and their ugliness proved to be an effective antidote. It seemed to Ahja that indeed she spoke with the collective voice of millions of the merciless people of her world. Her words seemed to echo insanely through the endless chambers of his mind. Instinctively, he covered his ears. The cold passion of the Envoy’s words continued to slam against him. Ahja wanted to run.


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