The Travellers
Chapter 1: Day


It was a beautiful city made more beautiful by the golden light of the setting suns. It had rained earlier and the water droplets were lit up like fiery jewels as they adhered to the roofs and statues of the high place—the name for the central hill where the government and administration buildings were. Penglepentia was the capital city for the thousand worlds: a strange name because there never were a thousand worlds and when there had been an empire, it had been an empire that spanned the multiverse not a galaxy or worlds in space, but that had been before the fall. Now Penglepentia was old but still in its twilight there was a greatness and yes, it was the capital, but of just the world.

Dorly was sitting on her terrace, stroking her cat and looking down on the giant bowl that was Penglepentia and looking up she was witnessing the glory of nature as the setting suns made jewelled fire out of the rain-washed high place. Then as red Sharif dropped below the ridge the light changed, now the fiery gems glowed steel blue, but all too soon Turlin followed Sharif and the light became a subdued silver and then that too passed as Porlic followed his sisters and the light faded. But still nature had not finished her wondrous display, for as the suns left the sky so the lights appeared. Flying down from the ridge that surrounded the bowl came flock upon flock of night flyers, with each male signalling his presence with his own light signature calling to the females; announcing his presence with brilliant coloured flashes. It was said that the ancients had built this world; placed the suns and created the night flyers: if this was true then Dorly felt they must have been great beyond her imaginings. Surely the creators of such beauty and grandeur could never have faded.

"Dorly where are you? Dorly?" Tolin her stepmother was calling.

"Here mother on the terrace with Spaw." As a little girl she had christened her cat Silver Paw, but that hadn't lasted, soon with simple childish economy Silver Paw had become Spaw and he now mirrored Penglepentia old and distinguished with much of his glory long forgotten.

Dorly was a pretty girl, small and lithe, with a strength that belied her size and seeming fragility.F Her long red hair was tousled and windswept, she was smudged and scratched, no doubt from more of her illicit exploring. Dorly worshipped her father and wanted to be with him. She acted the tomboy and had already finished the first stage of Traveller training. But for all her waywardness and bravado there was part of Dorly that wanted to be a girl, to be like her mother whom she barely remembered; to let her stepmother make a woman of her. Still she could not; her mother's dying words had been: 'Look after your father for me', the three year old had taken this much more seriously than it had been meant. Her Father was a Traveller—so she must Travel too, or how else could she keep her promise. None but her stepmother suspected this inner conflict and try though she might she could not free her stepdaughter from this self imposed burden.

"Dorly, my pretty Dorly, just look at yourself. Go get cleaned; dress appropriately, we are to have company for dinner. I will do your hair—call me when you are ready."

"Yes Mother. Who is coming?"

"I do not know, darling, some official. It does not matter, you are of an age now you must act the lady at such times."

"I know Mother, I don't mean to disappoint you."

"Dorly, do not say that, you could never disappoint me by being you. I only want what is best for you."

"I know Mother." Dorly said getting up and going to hug her stepmother, who shied away laughing.

"Dorly much as I love you, I think I can bring myself to wait for that hug until you are clean—now scoot."

"Yes Mother." And Dorly ran inside.

A little later in Dorly's room. "Well now that's better." Tolin said as she finished off an elaborate coif than involved plaits and whirls with jewels and enamelled pins.

"Thank you Mother. Is Father home yet or Melic?"

"Yes they are getting ready."

"Dorly, this is important. You must be good at dinner. You are now a lady and have a right to be part of this, but you are not yet an adult. When we talk business you must listen and only talk if invited." Tolin knew only too well how headstrong her stepdaughter could be and was well aware that she would have to be sent from the table if she broke the protocols. "There will be no fighting with Melic: your brother is an adult now and you must show him respect—this is real Dorly, misbehave and your Father, Melic or I will have to send you from the table. There won't be a warning or a second chance, you will just be sent away."

"I know Mother and I will try."

"You will do more than try, young lady: I have some idea what is to be discussed this evening. I think you should hear it—I know you would want to hear it. Please do not be obdurate my darling."

Dorly was not yet sixteen and she had been a woman of the house for nearly two years, but in that time there had been little opportunity to experience the formal rights and duties that went with that archaic title. She knew from the way her Stepmother was talking that something very important was happening; the message had got through. "Yes Mother," she replied.

Tolin breathed a sigh of relief she had made her point, she could hear the tone of acceptance in her stepdaughter's response. "That is good. Melic never gave me so many worries."

"I'm sorry Mother, but you wouldn't send me from the table really, would you?" Dorly wheedled.

"No probably not, but that would only get us both in your Father's bad books and he or Melic would send you from the table."

Dorly impulsively cuddled her stepmother, giving her a quick kiss.

"Yes well I love you too." Her stepmother responded. "Come on we had better finish up we need to be there for the formal greeting."

Dorly hated wearing formal dress, though she was enough of a girl to admit it was very pretty and she did like looking pretty, though she would never usually admit it. As only a 'Woman of the House' and not yet a woman in her own right, Dorly could only wear white with the house crests in two bands going down either side of the dress. The dress was made from a linen like material and was in effect a sleeveless tube, tight cinched at the waist, by a wide golden metal belt and hanging so that it just touched her feet with its hem. The tube stopped her knees if she tried to take a full step, which given it was no wider at the ankle was not really a realistic proposition anyway. It was square cut at the neck, going quite low in the front, though in Dorly's case as a 'Woman of the House' it stopped before the top of her breasts. The top continued off her shoulders with a spray of golden leaves extending either side. Her neck was circled with a mass of jewels and necklaces matching the many jewels, chains and pins woven into her hair, which was for the main part up, except for a single thin braid that hung down her back past her waist. Her arms though bare were dripping with jewels and bangles. Each thumb and finger had on it three jewelled rings linked with an impossibly fine gold chain to its equivalent on the next finger. The chains were just short enough to be tight if the hand was fully splayed.

"You look beautiful Dorly, but please try to glide, don't stretch the dress when you walk it's so unladylike and for once please don't break any of your finger chains," Tolin pleaded, "and please don't break mine." She finished.

"That was an accident," Dorly replied defensively.

"I know—I wasn't cross—but please try, it's important this time."

"I will Mother, but why do our clothes have to be so difficult and awkward, it is so unfair."

"You know the story Dorly, because way back when, it was the way a family could show its wealth. Both by our adornment and by demonstrating we don't have to work. The clothes are restrictive, to demonstrate the house has sufficient worth that its woman are merely ornaments."

"But woman aren't owned any more, we aren't objects, so why still?"

"Because it's the custom and many women like to dress up and, well, men like to look at beautiful women, so the custom stays—I like it."

"But you're so beautiful you don't need to dress up."

"Why, thank you Dorly, but I still like dressing up. And you daughter of my heart if not my flesh are also beautiful and I like to see you dressed up."

"I do like looking pretty sometimes; it's just that, does it have to be so uncomfortable: the belt is so tight, the jewels are so heavy and I want to take proper steps."

"It does seem silly, but for all that the answer is yes." Tolin replied with a smile. "Come now, we must attend."

Soon the family were in the formal reception room: Tolin and Dorly were seated and Rontis and Melic were standing.

"Don't pace, Melic—have patience."

"Sorry Father." Melic replied, throwing a quick smile to Dorly.

Dorly smiled back, she recognised an olive branch when she saw one; Melic was letting her know that he was nervous too and not quite comfortable with his new adult position.

"He's just showing off Father, he knows Mother and I couldn't possibly pace." Dorly said smiling.

"Your humour is sharp as always, daughter, but you are right to nudge my memory." Rontis drew himself up and bowed formerly to the ladies. "I have been remiss, my compliments wife and daughter, your beauty brings much honour on my house, I am humbled by your service."

The ladies performed the first order sitting bow crossing their wrists and bowing their head until their forehead touched their wrists.

Rontis laughed then, "And no daughter I don't suppose you could pace, easily, but given half a chance I am sure you would try."

Just then a servant knocked discretely, like all servants he was not of The People and beneath notice.

"Your guest has arrived; does this one have permission to show him through?"

"Yes, of course. Please show him through." Rontis replied. Even servants must be treated with courtesy for only by such ways can true greatness be seen: this was the thirty-third mantra of power. Rontis was always outwardly polite to his servants, but beyond this he paid them no heed and was completely indifferent to their needs or plight. Penglepentia was still a very stratified society and the servant class was made up of people from other realities who had been transported to Penglepentia many centuries ago, before the fall. These Others were effectively invisible to The People they served, beyond their service they had no existence in the eyes of their employers—they were not seen as slaves or inferiors, not even as Others, in fact for all practical purposes they were just not seen. When he Travelled, Rontis was happy to talk with and interact with Others, but they were Others living Elsewhere and it was not the same.

The doors were thrown open and an imposing man strode through: tall, dark skinned, with chiselled features. He was wearing military dress with the minimum of ornamentation.

"Coordinator Stent, so good of you to join us." Rontis intoned. "May I present my wife and second of my house, Tolin M'Qarc Woman in the house T'lint."

Tolin performed a first order sitting bow.

"Honoured, Madam. I was not aware that you were of the imperial family."

"Only sixteenth level, and the honour is mine noble sir." Tolin replied

"My daughter Dorly M'Lint Woman of the House."

Dorly performed a triple first order sitting bow.

"Your beauty gives honour to your house, may my house hear first when you are placed in your house." Stent replied.

It was the response required by form, but Stent was suave and he made it sound like he meant it; despite herself Dorly was flattered. As also required by form she made no reply.

"And my son Melic oathman in T'lint."

"May you gain honour and T'lint grant you a house."

"Thank you Coordinator. Live long with honour." Melic replied.

And then Rontis, Tolin, Melic and Dorly repeated together: "Live long with honour."

Servants came forward and sweetmeats and aperitifs were offered and taken. Rontis, his family and guest indulged in small talk, in this Dorly was included.

"I was hearing that your family has the newest sword master, I take it the sword you are wearing is the new Master's sword: I would greatly enjoy testing its steel before I leave," Stent offered to Melic laughing.

"Then I fear I must disappoint you for the sword in question is my sister's."

"Ah and she is, of course, not wearing it now." Stent turned towards Dorly. "Congratulations, indeed, Mistress Dorly. I would still dearly love to try the steel of the newest sword mistress, but realise that now is not suitable, I shall talk with your Grand Master."

"I look forward to it High-Master Stent." Dorly replied.

"So you know of me."

"Who has not heard of the prowess of High-Master Stent?"

"You flatter me."

"I think not, but by your will it shall be tested."

"Truly the answer of a sword mistress." Stent replied with a laugh.

"But not of a woman of the house," Rontis replied, but before he could say anything further Stent went on.

"Admonish her not, I had addressed her as Mistress, it was her right to answer as a mistress of the sword."

"I had not heard that, your pardon Dorly." Rontis replied.

Dorly crossed her wrists and nodded her head in a second order sitting bow. "With love and gratitude Father."

A little while later and seated for dinner. Stent harrumphed, "With your permission I have a story to tell."

"Please," Rontis responded.

"I know you know of our history and as Travellers some at least of you will know much of what I say, but bear with me I believe a story has its own integrity and to do it justice it must be told complete.

"There was a time long ago when the People were as the Others and lived on the world where they had evolved. Until very recently we did not even know in which class of reality this world had existed let alone which actual continuum, but somewhen, somewhere there existed a world that was home to what were to become The People. Then something happened, something changed, we don't know what but people changed they became The People. I know there are legends and stories, perhaps they are true, though I rather think not, for this is what we now believe...

"The people of this world were very learned in science and magic and they discovered the existence of the Multiverse. With their science and magic they found a way to open up the Multiverse, but rather than the place of wonder they expected they found it to be a place of strangeness beyond their imaginings. They knew even better than we, perhaps, what the Multiverse was conceptually, for they had identified and defined it with there science and magic, they understood that it was realities without number all coexisting and that in essence whatever could be imagined and much else besides would exist in one or more of these realities.

"With access to these realities they would have power beyond their understanding. They soon found, however, that it was not that simple. With their learning they could open and even enter other realities and find new worlds in new continua, but they also found that without the ability to target or choose a particular reality there was no real control. The realities existed, but they could not know one from another, they had no way to feel where they were; what was connected to what; what has split from which. They were blind men in a labyrinth so big it had no top, no bottom, no beginning or end. But there are, as we know, a few creatures that live across the Multiverse, for whom the barriers between realities have no meaning. These creatures live mainly between the realities only very rarely being perceived within a continuum. We know of the Dragons and the Fey, perhaps there are others. We believe now that our ancestors trapped, coerced or made contact with a fey, that they managed this is, I believe, the most amazing accomplishment that I could conceive of, but this they did.

"Our ancestors then did something quite unbelievable, they changed themselves. They found what it was in the fey that allowed them to cross the realities, to traverse the Multiverse and made this part of themselves and in so doing became The People. This is perhaps not so strange because it is alluded to in some of the legends and in the book of fey.

"There is more, though: have any of you heard of vampires?"

"Of course, we all know the stories," Rontis responded.

"What did you hear?" Stent asked Rontis.

"That they looked like people, but they could change into flying creatures and that they were sensitive to sunlight. They can not be killed, but need to steal life energy from living creatures, if they are to exist or move in the world. In some stories they act much as we and are not wholly deadly, in others they are little more than feral animals."

"Yes those are some of the stories, and there may even be some truth in some of them. What we believe is this: there are or was another group of Multiverse travellers, like the fey and dragons and as with the fey our ancestors changed some of themselves with the essence of this other creature and out of this was born another group the Night People; it was this group that gave rise to the stories we now tell of vampires. The Night People Travelled differently and sensed and understood the Multiverse differently and these different abilities were special and necessary in a way that we can't understand, for the Night People were revered and The People willingly let them feed. The People and the Night People cooperated and from this cooperation came this world. Somehow they constructed this continuum. The suns were in honour of the People and the night flyers were to honour the Night People. Now with their magic and science and the cooperation of the two Peoples the Multiverse was theirs." Stent paused and took a long a drink from his wine.

"How do we know this, now, if it has been so long forgotten?" Tolin asked.

"Well I admit not all of this had been lost, it was kept safe by the imperial council, but until recently it was just another book, another history, but as you will hear in a moment there are components to the story that are less than palatable, they did not advance understanding they would just have created fear and discord, for they seemed to remove hope. But it seems we were wrong for out of this knowledge has come hope, albeit won at great cost."

"So the Imperial Council kept our own history from us for our own good—I do not think I like what I am hearing." Tolin responded.

"Bear with me Madam, then condemn me if you feel it deserved, but hear me out before you pass judgement."

"You are right; I crave your forgiveness Coordinator, I shall indeed hear you out."

"Well from here my story becomes a little confused, first I will tell you what happened then I will tell you how we found out, then, I pray, you will understand the secrecy.

"I'm going to start with 'The Fall'. This is probably the single worst understood part of our history. What are we taught about it? Well really all that is said is that we are the inheritors of an enormous legacy that we no longer understand or can control." Stent turned to Dorly. "Dorly you are still being schooled what do you know of 'The Fall'?"

Dorly was a little surprised and not unpleased to be thrust centre stage. "I am just covering it now: there was a period of unrest; a dispute, probably between a progressive faction and a conservative elite. It seems that the progressive group left and that those that remained slowly stagnated and over time much was forgotten. Then about seven centuries ago we had what we now call the second renaissance and since then we have begun to discover again and to rebuild what we had."

"Yes that is the official story, but surely they covered the conspiracy theories?" Stent asked."

"Yes I suppose so. The question is if this faction left why have we not heard from them of found evidence of their actions Elsewhere?"

"Sorry Dorly, I am not trying to put you on the spot." Stent responded with a smile. "I think that you have demonstrated my point that we are all too comfortable with our trite explanations regarding 'The Fall', even our questions are subdued." Stent paused for effect. "Before I give you an account of 'The Fall' that very few have heard, I want just to introduce a few more pointed questions, regarding the way things are and how they came about.

"You will all have been to the hall of the ancients: it's mandatory, when we first are acknowledged as a man or a woman. Unless you have made this a particular area of study you will only have seen the surface, but you should be aware that the entire hill of the high place is hollow and that there are levels below that go quite simply miles into the ground. You know that these machines are still powered and are self repairing. Why is it then that we cannot talk with the machines; why is all the knowledge locked inside them closed off from us?" Except for a few of the lesser machines and the 'Free Library' we can do nothing with any of them, yet they work and toil in ways that we know not. I pose a question that is never asked: what happened, to cut us off from the machines—we didn't forget how to use them, they can't be used at least by us, how come?" Stent looked around, he had their attention now.

"Surely this is conjecture?" Melic asked. "I though we only knew the machines were active and that they had been purged of their data during 'The Fall'."

"That was the view, but then six months ago Theorist-Prime Nartor accessed one of the machines and unlocked a large cache of knowledge: that knowledge is still open and the machine is now usable to a small extent. Nartor, however, died as a result of his actions."

"So that's what happened." Rontis commented, thoughtfully.

"Yes there has been much secrecy regarding Nartor's demise, most seem to have assumed the secrecy is to prevent a scandal and have tacitly allowed it. Soon this wrong will be righted and the story of Nartor's heroism will be told, but not yet, the time is not quite right as you will see."

"The council has always had one book about the fall that promised the whole truth. The trouble is that we have never been able to make any sense of it. Why you might ask has this book never been made public, so that scholars could study it.?" The truth is that the book last saw the light of day nearly a millennia ago. Recently the Imperial University lodged a request to study the imperial archives. They planned to catalogue and to ultimately digitise them so that they would be available for more general study. It was during this process that they found a reference to this work and requested sight of it. Well as you can imagine the existence of an undecipherable book that documented the fall was quite a shock. The first problem was that no one knew where the actual book was. Well to cut a long story short it was finally found locked away in the imperial vaults. Once found any excitement quickly turned to disappointment: the book was complete gibberish. Anyway the scholars felt that there was more to this than was obvious on a first look and began to attempt to decipher the contents. This was finally done by Theorist-Prime Nartor and his wife Scholar-first Dimli. It was Dimli who finally found the key that lead to the solving; now deciphered the contents of the book were frankly shocking, it appeared to turn nearly everything we knew about our past upside down.

"According to this book there were two peoples the Sun People and the Night People. Both peoples were crucial to the operation of the empire. Now it was the case that the Night People were fewer in number than the Sun People, but the influence the Night People had was out of proportion to their numbers. The Night People were naturally gentle and wise and were disproportionately represented in government. To most this was as it should be, but there were some who were jealous, who craved power for its own sake. As far as we can fathom this group was entirely comprised of Sun People. This group believed that the Night People were, as they, intent upon taking power, and were in fact succeeding in this regard: they resolved to thwart them and to this end conceived and carried out the most terrible crime ever committed. They kidnapped a number of young Night People then released a disease that they hoped would wipe out all the remaining Night People. They miscalculated, however; their disease was truly deadly, but not just to Night People it affected all People. In the end nine tenths of the Sun People were destroyed and in so far as we can fathom all the Night People." Stent paused to take a much needed sip from his glass.

"But what of the young Night People who had been protected?" Tolin asked.

"Well that is the question; according to the book a few Sun People and even fewer Night People worked out what was happening freed the kidnapped young Night People and escaped Elsewhere. The book then says that only by finding one of the Night People will we be able to access the machines and find out more, for the machines will only work when accessed jointly by a Sun Person and a Night Person."

"So how then did Nartor access the machine if that is true?" Dorly asked.

"Dorly," Rontis began.

"No leave her—the question is sound and I beg your pardon I have no right to interfere in household discipline, but please let us consider her an adult for the rest of the meal, I have imperial authority." Stent displayed an imperial passport.

"So be it." Rontis replied in an awed whisper.

"The question is sound, young Dorly, but it seems that the book allowed an exception; in the back there were instructions for accessing the machine without a Night Person. It seemed that a vial had been prepared with a serum that would allow a person to function as a Night Person. Nartor found this vial, I don't know how or where and I guess we will never know for sure now. He took one of the three doses, it contained, and was able to access the machine. He lived just a few seconds more than nine minutes from the time he took the serum and his dying words were 'Now I understand.' Those nine minutes were enough however the machine opened an entire segment of data covering the fall and the escape of this small group of Night and Sun People.

"We now know that this requirement for dual access by both Night and Sun People was not just a method of ensuring cooperation, it really was fundamental to the way the machines work. The scientific and magical infrastructure of the ancients actually required the combined abilities of both sets of People to function. Consequently, we know that we cannot re-access our culture without some Night People. Finding a living Night Person has become the single most important goal of our society." Again Stent paused.

"This story is amazing, but why us and why now?" Dorly asked. Her Father looked strangely at her but he did not comment, she had been granted adult status until the end of the meal, she knew those rights would be honoured.

"That question goes for me too." Melic added.

"For all of us." Rontis finished, flashing Dorly a quick smile and a nod of approval. Then as a jokey comment to Dorly. "You are doing well daughter, but please don't use your adult status to challenge him, neither Melic or I can match you with a sword and since you would cease to be an adult at the end of the meal, it would be one of us that would have to act as your champion."

"You guessed our plan." Stent responded. "Ah gentle Dorly we must find another way to be together."

Dorly blushed spectacularly but joined in the general laughter, on the whole she was enjoying being an adult, but she was not sure she would want to risk this with just any company. Stent was pleased, as well; the tension had been building too much too quickly and a little light humour had been useful.

Stent sipped his wine and composed himself again. "Why you and why now? Well let us just say we need your help. Bear with me a little longer the story is not quite finished."

"We will wait." Rontis replied.

"As I am sure you have realised this new data has told us of our beginnings and told us at least something of the nature of the Night People. We know that they were damaged by sunlight and that though they could and did eat, drink and live as we there was something they were missing that they had to take from a living being. So long as they took carefully, then it seems that even if they took regularly, there was no damage to the donor, there may even have been a benefit. They were not feared or shunned, they were a welcome part of our society, we even interbred, though it would seem that the offspring in such cases were always one of the other: there were never hybrids. Usually all the children were Sun People, but sometimes some would be Night People and when this occurred it would be that maybe one out of four of the daughters would be of the Night People; Night People boys were very rare it seemed they did not usually survive to a Sun People mother. In fact the evidence seems to imply that we had to interbreed, because Night People females were almost always infertile, with only one or two in every ten being able to conceive. There is some evidence that the success rate was a little better if they were paired with Sun People, with perhaps another one or two out of ten being fertile. Things were still worse however, since it appears that male Night people were very rare save where the mother was a female Night Person. Here at least the genetics worked in our favour and all their male children were Night People no matter who the father. If you know a little genetics then you will understand that this tells us that whatever it is that makes a Night Person is carried on the 'X' chromosome and this means, I am told, that whatever it is that makes us Sun People is also carried there and that the Sun genes are dominant over the Night genes.

"It seemed that after the fall for some time there were still occasionally Night People born, but that these babies always died very quickly contracting the disease to which we were immune. From our records we now know that the disease is gone, as almost certainly is our immunity. In the period immediately following the fall things were confused, but we can guess that these Night People babies weren't welcomed as they should have been and it seems that families that produced them were shunned. It would seem that overtime the presence of Night Person genes have become very rare and certainly there is no record of anything that could be a Night Person birth in any of our records. Having analysed Nartor's body and following clues in what he found, our scientists now believe they could test to see if any of us still carry Night People genes, but they are not too hopeful of finding any.

"We also found confirmation that a group of Sun and Night People did escape. And we think we know where they went, but we are not sure where they are now or if they still truly exist. They found a reality and a continuum that mirrored almost exactly our own beginnings; perhaps it is a split line from our own line, if we ever find these other People we will ask them. It seems that they settled there, and that they bred their genes into the people there, we don't know why, but using the code that Dimli broke we have found information in their computer systems, something they call an Internet. It appears that they are protecting and breeding certain families of the Others who inhabit this world. There seems to be an individual who is supremely important in this regard, apparently an end product of a breeding program that has spanned tens maybe hundreds of generations. We need to find this individual and study him in situ and then bring him here and that is where you come in."

"You want Rontis to Travel to this world?" Tolin asked. "How is he to find it—you can't Travel somewhere unless you can glean it."

"There was a gleaning in the data Nartor gave us. A Travel team has already been there, one is there now that is how we know what is happening there. Yes we do want Rontis to Travel there, but more than this we need Dorly to Travel there."

"How dare you, she is not yet an adult; she may have finished stage-one training, but she hasn't been anywhere yet. She is not ready for the risks and responsibilities—she is untested, what if she can't hold the image for the time of the journey?" Tolin exploded.

"She will be part of a group if she loses the image, she will be brought back as a passenger and we will try again. If she can't do it we will find another, though that might prove difficult, since she is the best candidate." Stent replied. "The empire needs this."

"And what if she falls Elsewhere, will you bring her back then, and if you do what would be her fate?" Tolin demanded. "I can't let you do this—I won't lose her."

"The law is the law, but in all other ways we will protect her." Stent protested.

"I'll do it," Dorly announced.

"No you won't." Rontis replied and then to Stent, "I and Melic will go, Tolin is right Dorly is not ready. We will do what you require." Rontis finished with what he felt was an air of finality.

"I appreciate it; you and Melic are needed, but so too is Dorly she must go or the mission is of no use.

"As I have said we must observe our subject in situ, when you get there you are going to go native for a while—we want you to pose as inhabitants. Dorly is going to go to school there, this will allow her to watch our subject and hopefully for her to befriend him; that your daughter is so pretty can only help in this regard."

"So why does Dorly need to Travel surely she could go as a passenger and in fact so could I to complete the family?" Tolin asked.

"If you were trained to Travel that would be the ideal, but we can not afford to have anyone who couldn't get back on their own if necessary. We don't know what is happening on this world we don't know if this individual is being watched, but if he is as important as we believe, we must assume that he is. It might be necessary to split up and return in a hurry; we must have all the information we can and if we could have his genes that would be the ultimate."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Tolin asked in a shocked tone.

"Well only if things were to go wrong, it would be for the empire."

"You have five seconds to apologise and then you will leave." Rontis replied.

"Father you can't say that, he has out manoeuvred you. Until this meal ends I am an adult, it is up to me to take offence. I do take offence Coordinator unless you have a very good explanation." Dorly interposed.

Rontis was clearly very angry, but acceded, saying: "Very well Coordinator, you have been given a chance—explain yourself."

"I love the empire and I would do anything to serve it and the People. I know you love the empire no less than I. We need the Night People, without them we are nothing and if in some way we could reintroduce them I believe all our lives are as nothing when measured against that goal. I appreciate what I appeared to suggest was by normal understanding unacceptable. What I was trying to demonstrate was that what we find out might make such a course of action necessary and in that case it has to be possible. Please believe me I would never suggest that such a thing should be our goal or even considered save in very extreme circumstances; I was merely trying to illustrate how desperate and important this mission was. I do honestly crave your forgiveness: in my zeal to make my point I appreciate I exceeded what could be considered acceptable, however, I have to say at least this way you know the whole truth."

Rontis felt himself stepping back from the brink. "We all serve the empire and I and all my family will do our duty. We will talk on, though this issue will be settled before we Travel."

"I will do my duty, but what you ask, I wouldn't know ... I am not ready ... he would be an Other." As she spoke Dorly was getting closer and closer to tears.

"Dorly, my pretty Dorly, don't worry: what was said was wrong. We will talk later." Tolin said gently to Dorly, then to Stent. "You may have done much harm; that you meant well may not be enough."

"I understand Madam: sixteenth level is still high enough to squash me, but believe me when I say this mission is first level. Please believe me I said what I said, because my honour required it. This is better said up front than ordered later without warning. Though it is not likely, it might be ordered—it has been discussed." Stent said this quietly but they could all hear the sincerity in his voice.

"I believe I may owe you an apology Coordinator. I like not your message, but I believe you are doing your duty and acting with honour. I now know my part and I like it even less, but I will do what I can to prepare her." Tolin stated with quiet dignity.

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