Mar 7, 2015

Obsidian Penché

return to Chapter 1 of the story
Ghyl wondered: could this be Shanne? Here?

Obsidia had facial features that reminded Ghyl of his lost love, Shanne, but Obsidia did not have Shanne's body. Obsidia seemed to be a normal human and showed no hint of latent puppetry in her features or movements. No, Ghyl felt certain: Obsidia was no Lord.

Obsidia took a step towards the couch and Ghyl rose to his feet. He could sense her mind touching his. They grasped each other's hands. In his mind, Ghyl heard Obsidia assuring him: no, I'm not Shanne. But there seemed to be a quiet echo -in his own wishful thinking?- not any more.....

Janet said, "This is a popular game on Tar'tron, Ghyl. For convenience I've shaped my face into a semblance of your mother. A cheap trick that I'm using to help me gain your trust. Like Svahr, Obsidia has the power to push her body into any desired form."

Obsidia warmly held Ghyl's hand with both of hers. She said, "Your love for Shanne is a powerful current in your mind, oddly tinged with hate. Shanne could not control her fate; she never asked to be placed in the role of being a Lord. Still, your xenophobia can productively be transferred to me, since, like Shanne, I'm not fully human by your standards. With our alien genes, we beings of the Core are better adapted to the magic of Tar'tron than are Earthlings. Part alien but mostly human creatures like me are particularly useful to the Kac'hin."

Ghyl imagined that Obsidia was at work in his mind, prodding and shaping the emotional firestorm that he was experiencing. He tried to openly address his most haunting doubt and source of his fear: "Why did you bring me here?"

Obsidia explained, "When humans first traveled space and went outward from Earth in their spacecraft, they brought their natural power of telepathy with them and spread it through a whole arm of the galaxy. You, particularly, among all the descendant of Earthlings on the many planets that had been settled by humans, were born with great capacity for telepathy compared to most people." Obsidia looked over her shoulder at Janet. "Have Janet explain the reasons for that to you sometime."

Janet complained, "Hey, Obsidia, you don't have to reveal all my secrets!"

Obsidia shrugged, "Neither Janet nor I can hold on to a secret. While in the Core, Ghyl, your only worry should be hearing too many secrets." She transmitted a thought directly to Ghyl: you might prefer to remain ignorant. She kept speaking, "Here, in the Core, you'll enjoy enhanced telepathic powers, but only with time and practice will you be able to handle thoughts in all the ways that I can. With much time, upon accumulating adequate experience, your powers will eventually allow you to top me.....yes, your powers of the mind will eventually exceed my own. You will be able to help me with a task that I have not been able to complete. I had to search long and hard to find you, and now that you are here, I need your cooperation, Ghyl. Towards that end, I'll use every available trick, including Shanne's appearance.....I'll push every advantage I have to help me attract your attention and gain your interest in my cause."

Ghyl had an odd cognitive sensation and he suspected that Obsidia was taking a leisurely walk through his mind, judging carefully how to most effectively control his thinking. Their telepathic contact was two-way, and as with his first tentative dip into the depths of Janet's mind, Ghyl again felt the teasing presence of answers that lay just beyond his reach, hidden within Obsidia's vast memory stores. Ghyl could sense that Obsidia was old. Not just old, but, perhaps, she was better described as ancient. "You seem to know much about me, so you probably know that I strongly resent being used by other people. If I don't agree with your 'cause' then I won't help you. Already I resent the idea that you expect me to help you, even before I know what you are trying to accomplish."

Obsidia laughed and finally released Ghyl's hand. "Your resentment is healthy. I approve. With time you will understand our task and what we will accomplish together. You will soon learn how it is possible that I already know the future: you will gladly assist me. But, until that time, until you are ready to deal with me and satisfy my needs, I'll leave you here with Janet. She and Svahr will provide you with your introduction to Tar'tron and help you exercise your newly amplified powers."

Obsidia turned back towards Janet. "Oh, and Ghyl, let me also give you a warning about Janet. She has never committed herself to the ethical rules of her profession, so in addition to exercising your mind she'll inevitably try to exercise your amplified body, too. So, be warned, just like me, she'll use every trick that she knows to shape and control you. Don't become too dependent on her.....remember your hatred of puppet masters." Obsidia glanced over her shoulder at Ghyl, "It is I who need -and will use up- all of your loyalty." She turned back and spoke directly to Janet: "Do try to make it clear to him: I'm not going to accept having to compete against family loyalties." Obsidia then performed the swift little dance step that could trigger teleportation and she gracefully slipped from the room, disappearing smoothly without any audible 'poof'.

Janet spoke quietly, seemingly deflated by Obsidia's brief appearance, "Let that be a clear and unforgettable warning to you Ghyl. Obsidia is an Observer: she'll be aware of everything you think, do and say. Don't let her use of Shanne's face lessen your fear of Obsidia."

Ghyl complained, "I don't like being spied on. And I don't like the idea that you are keeping secrets from me."

"Too bad." Janet shrugged and smiled grimly. "My advice is that you not be irritated by Obsidia's obsessions, or by what I decide to tell you, or when. She has watched your entire life, past and future. There is nothing you have done or will do that she is not familiar with."

Ghyl decided that there was nothing he could do to protect himself from Obsidia, at least for the moment. "And what of you? You also seem to know me quite well."

Janet giggled and for some reason blushed like a school girl. "That's my job. Truthfully, I only know fragments of your past, particularly the parts that Obsidia arranged for me to be aware of. There are some aspects of your life, particularly your future, that I have not been allowed to know. We'll have the fun of discovering those things as your new life unfolds."

Ghyl was skeptical. "Bah, why subject us to these games? If Obsidia can see the future then why does she need you or me?"

"It is because she can see the future that she needs you. Obsidia doesn't need me, but she's compulsive: since I'm readily available, she's more than happy to use me. Look, Obsidia is obsessed with her power to change the future. Time travel gets complicated when a new Reality is being brought into existence and I don't know what the future holds. You and I can't allow ourselves to worry about all that. You and I have our own tasks to complete and we'll become confused and inefficient if we are distracted by Obsidia's enormities."

Ghyl took a deep breath and tried to let go of his resentments. "Fine. I wish you would start by explaining where we are and how I got here. I'm feeling lost and disoriented."

"That's expected. Your telepathic powers have always given you a strong sense of where you are. However, you have been violently shifted through space and time and so you are now lost. So, let me orient you. Although for convenience I say we are on Tar'tron, you are actually in parallel world that is linked intimately to Tar'tron. For example, we use the same gravitational force level here as exists naturally on Tar'tron's surface, but this is a completely artificial environment. You are going to have to find new methods to orient yourself. Socially, your environment has also been radically altered; most of the people here are from the planet Tar'tron and they don't share your cultural biases."

"I've never heard of Tar'tron."

"In the future, Tar'tron will become the glorious human Capitol world of the galaxy. However, even in your future time, the existence of Tar'tron is still kept secret from the people of Earth. Obsidia would like to change that, but I doubt that she will be allowed to make such a big change to Earth's primitive culture."

Ghyl guessed, "So when you say 'Core' you mean the Galactic Core?"

Janet nodded. "Very good. Exactly. Currently, in this time, before Earthlings even know that Tar'tron exists, a few near-humans like Obsidia live on worlds of the Core along with human variants like Svahr, beings who have even more alien genes."

Ghyl could not restrain his curiosity about Svahr, "Is thon really part cat?"

"Well, who knows where every one of thons genes originated? But, no, thon uses magic to take on the form of a cat, just because thon can. Thon's also playing a game with you, just as Obsidia and I am, trying to attract your attention, needing to engage your curiosity and keep your interest, thon adopts a physical form that appeals to you."

Ghyl realized that he was leaning over the desk, almost turning his drive and desire to obtain information into an interrogation of Janet. He relaxed his tensed muscles and sat down again on the couch. Ghyl thought about Svahr and thons alien anatomy.

Ghyl could sense Janet in his mind, guiding his thoughts. He put those thoughts into words, "So, Svahr is some kind of human-alien hybrid. But not a Lord, not a puppet of alien masters?"

"Yes, exactly. Some worlds of the Core are alien worlds, places where humans never go. But the people of the Core endlessly experiment with new gene combinations, merging human and alien genes whenever they can. Svahr is close to the extreme end of humanoids that you'll find on Tar'tron, pushed towards mixing in as many alien genes as possible with the classical human pattern while not disrupting thons basic human pattern."

Ghyl thought of the world Damara. Even before he could formulate a question about the alien Damarans, Janet said, "The Damarans are an ancient species, older than humans. Even before any primate of Earth walked upright on two legs, creatures called the Fruthwa were brought to the Core and shaped into thinking, tool-using beings, some of whom eventually became the Damarans."

Ghyl could sense some dark secret in Janet's thoughts, something she did not like to contemplate. "Shaped? By who?"

"By what. For a billion years the life forms of this galaxy have an artificial life form that arrived here after a journey across the intergalactic depths. If you are of a religious nature, you might think of that alien force as being our Creators.....or The Wizards, as do the people of Tar'tron."

Ghyl shrugged, "My father trained me to distrust religion and I don't believe in magic and super-natural forces. I'm surprised to see the people of Tar'tron performing the ritual leaps. I'd hoped to escape Finuka when I left Halma."

"Don't be surprised by all the dancing. Bodily motions and special leaping patterns make it possible for humans to control the magic. The people of Halma simply forgot the origin of their religion and the practical utility of the leaps." Janet could sense in Ghyl's mind that he had stubbornly thrown up a wall of resistance and did not intend to allow himself to believe that the religion of Halma was built upon practical knowledge. Janet could sense that he needed proof and more experience with the magic. "Well, you are skeptical, but you seem open to learning and gaining new knowledge....are you ready to try it? Watch me."

Janet stood up and walked around the desk. She quickly performed the teleportation leap. She disappeared with a loud -POOF!- and a swirl of dust particles remained in her wake. Then Janet returned a few seconds later, appearing back in her chair -POOF!-. The room echoed with the two loud popping sounds. "I'm not very good at it, so I make a lot of noise. The natives of Tar'tron endlessly tease me about how much noise I make when I teleport."

Ghyl said, "I'm nervous. How can I control my destination? How will I return?"

Janet laughed and dismissed his worries with a wave of her hand. "Relax, it is not all that complicated. First of all, it is like riding the overtrend on Halma, a convenience that you grew up with and took for granted. You'll be using our local teleportation transit system and it will not allow you to do something stupid like teleport into the heart of a star. But at first, let's practice the teleportation leap together. Are you ready?"

Ghyl was feeling regret for never having tried to learn the dance rituals of Halma. Still, Janet had not performed the teleportation dance step with much grace, so he stood up and replied, "For some reason my body isn't functioning correctly, but I'll try my best."

Janet cleared her throat and seemed to suddenly have trouble meeting Ghyl's eye. "Um, I've been meaning to talk with you about that, but maybe you'd be better off not knowing...."

Ghyl could sense some hints about the nature of the secret that was held in her mind. He could see in Janet's mind that there was some fundamental and unnerving element of this secret that she intimately shared with him. "Tell me. I must know."

She spoke quietly and with a solemnity that he had not seen previously from her. "This is something from my own past that I still struggle with. You see, 'I' was born on Earth, but when 'I' was brought to the Core, it was only my mind that arrived. My body was left behind on Earth." She stood up and did a clumsy little pirouette. She held her arms daintily out to her sides. "This body is an artificial container for my mind."

Ghyl's disgust at puppetry erupted before he could think, "You're a puppet?"

Janet shrugged and her shirt slipped down, again revealing her bare shoulder. "This is actually a better body than what I had on Earth. I have no complaints." She brushed a strand of her wild hair away from her eyes.

Ghyl suddenly realized why he was having trouble with his own body, why it seemed more muscular than it ever had been before: it was not actually his body, not the same one that he had inhabited his whole life, not the body that had grown with his mind through childhood. For a moment he thought of himself as a puppet, but where was the puppet master? No, he told himself, he was in control, even if his body had been swapped. "I see." He flexed his arms. "I feel like I'm in a stiff new suit. My whole body feels slipshod and clumsy."

"You'll slowly adjust to your new existence, but you will never forget the comfort that you felt inside your original body." Janet held out her hand to Ghyl.

He took a step and grasped Janet's outstretched hand. Standing by his side, she instructed, "Do exactly what I do." Janet slowly performed what Ghyl knew well as one of the basic jump routines that young children practiced on Halma; there it was called Young Brisé. Ghyl followed her movements rather clumsily. Janet seemed to be enjoying herself and she laughed. "Good! Not great. Obsidia warned me that you never took dancing seriously. I'm sorry I was not there to guide you. Still, Amiante could have put some structure into your childhood."

Ghyl sensed a tenderness in Janet even while she ridiculed Amiante's lax style of parenting. He demanded, "What do you know of my father?"

Janet pulled her shirt up to cover her bare shoulder and tucked the front of the shirt into her pants. She warned him, "Be careful what you ask, Ghyl. Some of what I know you might be happier never knowing."

He could sense that Janet was working to keep in place an opaque barrier towards the back of the pool of thoughts that she was freely shared with Ghyl. He harshly pressed her for information. "What do you know about my parents?"

Janet led him back to the couch and they sat down. Again she had to pull up her shirt to cover up the shoulder that rested against Ghyl's arm. With a twitch of her head she tossed her flowing hair to the side, another motion that she endlessly repeated. "Many years ago, when Obsidia recruited me for her project, she sent me into the future. To Ambroy. Obsidia was part of a huge effort to clean up all of the cultural contamination that had been caused by the Fruthwa. Halma was a tough nut to crack." Janet paused and seemed reluctant to continue. "Are you sure you want me to tell you about my time on Halma?"

Swirling in her mind, just beyond his reach, he sensed the presence of answers to deep mysteries about Halma. Ghyl knew that he could never let Janet withhold such secrets from him. He had to know what she knew, even-though he sensed her foreboding and her desire not to speak further about Ambroy. Deep inside he did not want to hear what she had to say, he did not want to believe what he somehow already could guess. With a wish that she would reply, 'no,' he asked her, "You lived on Halma?"

"Yes, but only for a few years years. I met Amiante. He longed for social change on Halma and I gave him the tool that he needed to free the people of that world."

Looking at Janet's profile, Ghyl could almost retrieve old, lost memories of her on Halma. Janet added, "You were very young when I left Halma."

Even as he spoke he knew that his words were wrong: "Then you also knew my mother."

Janet fell silent and simply looked down where her hands fidgeted in her lap.

Ghly took hold of her shoulders and demanded, "Tell me the truth!"

"Yes, Ghyl, I'm not only using the facial appearance of your mother, I was your mother."

Ghyl knew it to be true, even as he felt amazed by the revelation. "Was? But, you're so young."

"Age has little meaning here in the Core. I was old long before I went to Halma. Still, my body has not changed significantly since I gave birth to you."

Ghyl could see in her mind that Janet longed to hold him, to be re-united with her son. Even while he wanted to hug her, to feel in his arms the warmth of his mother's body, he could not get past the pain of his resentments. "Why did you leave Halma and abandon us?"

Janet allowed herself to look at Ghyl and he could see that her eyes were full of tears. "Well, of course, you had to be turned against your home world. Had I stayed, I would have interfered, I would have protected your fragile soul, helped you fit in to the absurd culture of Halma."

Ghyl instantly knew that she was correct. With a loving mother in his life, he never would have become an outcast, a new Emphyrio. "Did Amiante know your scheme?"

"He knew of it, but few of the details. He could not be permitted to see the future, but he certainly knew the magnitude of the powers and forces that were aligned behind you. That knowledge gave him the strength to set you on your path in life, to even sacrifice himself for you."

Ghyl asked bitterly, "So you put into place the plan that killed him?"

"I suppose you can't avoid blaming me for his death. You suspect that I used your father, but think about it, Ghyl: he requested that the Historical Institute act and cure Halma of its ills." Janet could sense the rage the was like a storm in Ghyl's mind. "It might help you get through this if I tell you how it all turned out."

"You know my future." He could sense that much in her mind.

"Well, not your future. I know the future of the original Ghyl. You see, when you, a copy of the original Ghyl, was instantiated here in the Core, the original Ghyl lived on and liberated the people of Halma."

While pleased to hear that Halma had been liberated, he still felt cheated. Ghyl complained, "That was to be my life, my great victory."

Janet explained, "You are now on a different trajectory. You have a new life to lead."

"No! My life was stolen from me."

"I told you it might be best if you not know everything." She withdrew further from his shouted objections.

He tried to unclench his jaw. Taking a deep breath, he placed an arm around his mother. "I'm sorry, I was surprised by your revelations. I suppose I must make the best of my new life."

"Yes, you really must."

Something about her words chilled Ghyl. He felt he could read the reason for her insistence in the shades and colors of her swirling thoughts. He asked, "How many times have we been through this?"

"Never before exactly this, since previously we always awakened you in a half-conscious, suggestible state. But, yes, during the past week I've told you this story about the shape of your life a dozen times. You have never taken the truth well, and I had to keep erasing your memories. Your aversion to being used, to being a puppet, naturally causes you to instinctively reject me and reject the possibility of helping Obsidia with her project."

Ghyl stood up and paced around the room for a minute, feeling trapped in a nightmare. Then, as if a wind blew through the fog of his uncertainties and clarified the air, his mental turmoil dissipated. Suddenly he imagined a way out of this maze. He needed to move on. Quickly. Now time pressed on Ghyl with great urgency. "Come, then. Show me that dance step once more. Help me teleport."

Janet rose from the couch and wiped away the last tears from her eyes. She could sense that something had changed in Ghyl, that he had again found a way to anchor himself to the inner nodule of strength and hardheadedness that made him an Emphyrio. Janet did not want to question the source of his resurgent strength, even as its force terrified her. "Take this slow; one step at a time. Just try to relax and have fun. If you get it wrong, no harm will be done. Come find me, in a place you already know." She invoked the teleportation spell and -POOF!- was gone.

Ghyl thought about the assembly room while he performed the short sequence of teleportation dance steps. -POOF!- he appeared in the assembly room. From behind he heard Janet. "Congratulations! Your directional orientation was off, but you found me."

Ghyl turned and put his hand to his head. He was struck by a painfully intense vertigo. Janet rushed to his side and guided him back to the padded table. "That's enough magic for today. Rest a while."

Ghyl moaned, turned his head and tried to vomit, but his stomach was empty. Only a few dribbles of foul acidic liquid came up into his mouth. Janet performed her trick of squirting a fresh stream of water into his mouth, the water seeming to appear from mid-air near the tip of her pointed finger. Ghyl swallowed, wiped his chin on the sleeve of his robe and asked, "Isn't there a magical cure for pain?"

Janet did not want to remove his pain too quickly, since it would help Ghyl learn to make better jumps, but after a short pause she replied, "Maybe there is." For a minute she put her arms around him and gently rocked him while she sang an ancient lullaby that she had long before sung to him as a baby. When he closed his eyes, she waved a hand in a tight circle and a puff of glittering smoke shot out from her finger tip and merged into his head. Soon Ghyl's wave of nausea began to dissipate.

There was a new -poof- and Svahr returned to the assembly room. Svahr said, "Stop abusing the poor boy!"

Janet let go of her son, stood up and stepped away from the table. "Yes, I've done enough damage for today. Now it is play time." She quickly teleported away with her usual loud -POOF!-

Svahr apologized to Ghyl, "Sorry about that! Obsidia is in a rush and it took us an entire week to get you assembled. Janet feels obligated to push you hard. Too hard. She should have waited-"

Ghyl was impressed; first Janet's singing and now Svahr's voice seemed to magically relieve his pain. He tried to sit up, but a new wave of vertigo set in. Svahr pushed him back down and thon went to the head of the table and began a gently massage of his temples. "Relax. Sleep if you can,"

After a minute of Svahr's gentle touch, he felt much better. Thons hands moved down to his tense neck and shoulders. Ghyl asked, "What did she mean, play time?"

"Shh. Relax." After another minute he opened his eyes. Svahr explained, "Your brain needs play. She's pushed you to the brink of cognitive overload. For the past week we artificially prevented two parts of your brain from integrating and coordinating. Now they are furiously rewiring and Janet just kept relentlessly adding more experiential fuel to the fire raging in your brain. You need to unwind. You're tensed and ready to explode."

Svahr began to sing a peaceful song in a language that was unknown to Ghyl. Thon moved around the sides of the table, now massaging each of his limbs.  He could sense something of the seductive mood of the song, of Svahr. Svahr could read the question that was in his mind and thon replied to it, "I'm an experienced specialist in personality assembly. I don't like the way that Janet was brought here and put in charge of your assembly. Oh, sure, Obsidia believes this is wise, because you and Janet are both of Earthly descent, but Janet does not have my experience."

Ghyl found himself beginning to relax and greatly enjoying both Svahr's touch and thons alien voice. "How many humans are brought here to the Core?"

"Well, you are perceptive...that's an astute question. The answer is: very few. Very few, indeed. Most of my experience is with people of the Core worlds who are not exactly human, by your standards."

"It is common for your people to be duplicated?"

"This might be hard for you to accept, but, yes, duplication is a routine practice here in the Core. In fact..." Svahr fell silent and seemed to regret initiating the whole line of conversation.

"What? Tell me."

"Oh, nothing. This is supposed to be play time, not a chance for me to get you even more upset."

Ghyl asked, "How many more secrets are you hiding from me?"

"Face it, Ghyl, you are in a strange new society and you have much to learn. And, frankly, you are a bundle of neuroses. It does not take much to trigger your anger and bring out your resentments."

"And you are an expert at soothing such resentments?"

"No. People of the Core don't resent being duplicated. And they don't have odd beliefs about their bodies. But you....." Ghyl could feel Svahr in his mind. "Even while you are intrigued by the feel of my nails and fur against you skin, even while you long to reach out and hold me in your arms, you just can't quite entirely relax and trust me. My expertise is in the simple pleasures of life. I've supposed to be your playmate.....I want to help you relax and allow you to start enjoying your new life, but you are afraid....."

Ghyl allowed himself to imagine Svahr taking off thons robe. Thon followed his thoughts and said, "Yes, including that sort of play. I've just spent a week watching your naked body, and I even got the pleasure of beefing it up. I molded your body to my tastes and the current fashions of Tar'tron. I want you to be happy here. Towards that goal, I've prowled through your mind and delved into your fantasies. I took on this bodily form because it appeals to you."

Ghyl complained, but without much strength, "It's not fair the way you all manipulate me.....using my mother, Shanne and a creature pulled out from my inner fantasies."

Svahr laughed, "Suffer, little boy!" For a few minutes thon sang another song and performed a type of sensual dance.

Svahr returned to the table where Ghyl lay, resting. "Anyhow, I'm an expert in play. I've decided on the game that you and I should play while we wait for your mind to adjust to your new body. Do you feel like you can get up?"

Svahr helped him get off the table and they went hand-in-hand down the corridor, past Janet's office. There was no door, and when passing by her office, Ghyl saw Janet at her desk, working on some project. She nodded briefly to him and turned her attention back to her data display.

Ghyl said, "She's watching me."

Svahr led Ghyl into a new room at the end of the hallway. "Everyone is watching you. You're the first new arrival in the Core since Janet appeared. Get used to being our center of attention, Tar'tron's new obsession."

The play room was vast and cluttered with dozens of pieces of intriguing furniture and equipment. Svahr led him to a chair at one side of a small square table. Thon went around to the other side and they sat across the from each other. In a small voice he asked, "Everyone?"

Svahr gave a nervous little laugh, "Oh, hell, just forget about it, will you? Are you capable of letting anything go?" Svahr pitched thons alien voice the way that thon knew Ghyl enjoyed, "Think only of me."

"I'm sorry, but I don't like the idea of being watched. I feel like a rat in a cage."

"I know. Look, I said I'm sorry that I mentioned it. Hey, I'll make it up to you." Svahr winked at him and thons robe fell open a little more, revealing the oddly provocative contours of thons alien breasts. "I promise."

Ghyle asked, "How can you do that? Now I can't get out of my mind the idea of both Obsidia and Janet watching us. I can' such conditions, not with other people watching us."

"Ghyl, don't be such a whiner. If you like, I'll show you how to watch Janet and anyone else on Tar'tron. It's part of the culture need to accept it. Everyone shares their lives and experiences and nobody really has a chance to keep any secrets. Anyhow, it's entertaining to watch other people, particularly when they are doing those things that they love to do. We all feed off of the joy of others. I hope to make you forget that dismal world you grew up on....things are ever so much nicer here."

"Remote viewing?" Ghyl asked, "I can see my mother, any time I want?"

Svahr muttered, "Oh, my, a real momma's boy. Yes, you can watch anyone, including me, any time you want. You now have that power. Look at my right foot."


"Look!" Ghyl suddenly felt Svahr's toes brush his crotch. He bent over and looked under the table. Svahr instructed him, "Watch carefully. Just make these motions with your foot while you think of Janet."

Ghyl replicated the short sequence of foot motions that Svahr had demonstrated and suddenly he could see Janet, still at her desk in her office. Without looking up from her work, Janet waved a hand at him and she said, "Svahr, you are evil....teaching him all your nasty habits."

Svahr defended thonself, "Oh admit it, you've learned to enjoy voyeurism, too."

Janet shook her head, "No, too often I see things that cause me revulsion. Unlike the people of Tar'tron I'm not susceptible to zoophila. Really, who wants to see a giant snake making love to an otter?"

Svahr sighed and said, "You should try it before you condemn it. Anyhow, Ghyl likes animals and he likes me in this form."

Janet said, "Oh, have your fun. I'm busy compiling my notes. Don't expect me to watch your antics."

Ghyl said, "I feel like a snoop. How do I shut this off?"

Svahr showed him another foot gesture and he was able to terminate his view of Janet. "Everyone on Tar'tron uses this distant viewing all the time?"

"You have many new powers to adjust to. On Tar'tron, all of our minds are linked in a network. Little children learn to live with a wider view of the world than can be provided by their eyes. This ability will soon seem natural to you, too. Now, stop forcing me to tell you about more things that will upset you. This is play time."

Suddenly a multi-level chess board appeared on the table between Ghyl and Svahr. On the lower board, a standard 8x8 chess board, rested 32 self-animated chess pieces, most of them in the shape of a small humanoid figure. Ghyl watched the cavorting chess pieces in fascination and asked, "Puppets?"

"Don't worry, they are not real, not alive. This is a simulation." For a minute they watched the chess pieces: each one had an amusing little routine that it acted out while waiting for the first move in the game. Svahr explained, "I've put the game into manual mode. To make our moves we'll use hand gestures. Who do you recognize on the board?"

Ghyl pointed to his own King piece, which was a replica of himself. He looked across at Svahr's pieces and saw a miniature replica of thon, in black fur. "You and I are the King pieces. Cute."

Obsidia as the white Queen
Svahr wiggled a finger and Ghyl's queen rose an inch off of the board. "And Obsidia is your Queen."

Ghyl leaned close and watched the miniature animated chess piece that displayed a detailed replica of the face of his first love, Shanne. He jumped back in surprise when the Queen piece waved at him and said (in a tiny voice), "Hello, Ghyl."

Svahr said, "Sadly, Obsidia is always watching you, so get used to it." Svahr pointed to thons own Queen, "I've taken Janet as my Queen." On the board, the two chess pieces that represented Svahr and Janet kept acting out a brief dance routine.

Ghyl was rather disturbed that the dance of the black King and Queen ended in a passionate embrace. Svahr noticed Ghyl's unease. "Oh, try to relax, Ghyl, this is a game. It has been decades since the last time when I physically took your mother. She does not enjoy making love with hermaphrodites, which leaves her little scope for sexual recreation here in the Core." Svahr winked at Ghyl and said seductively,  "I certainly hope you'll be more flexible."

Ghyl tried to express himself with delicacy. "I've only ever been attracted to women."

Svahr teased him, "Remember, I've had a week to rummage through your mind. Even at this moment I can sense your emotions while you are looking at me. I've taken up the challenge of getting you past your sexual hang-ups."

Ghyl felt the need to explain his own attraction to Svahr. "Well, while you sit there, what I can see of you looks like an exotic female creature. Still, I can't forget that you are not a woman."

Svahr laughed. "Are you worried that I'll force myself on you and rob you of your virginity?"

"I'm no virgin."

"Your new body was assembled just a week ago and has never engaged in sexual activity. If chess bores you, we could play a less cerebral game, right  now, right here." Svahr flicked thons fingers and sent the black King piece running across the board to grab hold of Ghyl's King. Svahr said, "You better defend yourself!"

Ghyl's Queen crossed its arms and spoke with disgust, "Svahr, that's a highly illegal move!"

Ghyl tried pointing at his chess pieces and wiggling his fingers at them, but his mangled magic only managed to scatter the pieces across the board. He reached down and pulled his King out of the embrace of Svahr's King piece. When he saw that the miniature analog of Svahr had a rather large feline erection, he said, "That's disgusting!"

Svahr laughed, waved thons hands and the chess pieces all returned to their starting positions. "This is a rather adult chess game, Ghyl, complete with sex, reproduction, death.....I intend to use it to introduce you to life here in the Core."

The Shanne piece admonished Svahr, "Just play by the rules and stop trying to embarrass Ghyl. He can't help being a prudish creature of his home world's repressive culture."

Svahr fired back at Obsidia. "Stop animating Ghyl's Queen. This is my play time. You'll have your fun with Ghyl later."

Svahr showed Ghyl the basic hand gesture for making a piece move on the board. All he had to do was look at the piece to be moved, imagine his desired move and then make the gesture. The piece would then move itself according to the rules of the game. Svahr pointed to the additional smaller boards that were stacked up above the foundation board. Thon began to explain the rules, "There are several different types of legal moves in this version of the game-"

Not waiting to hear the rules, Ghyl moved his King to the second level board, which was only 7x7 in size. "I've played a type of three dimensional chess before, but not on a board like this or with pieces like these."

"Yes, yes, but the move that you just made is illegal in this version of chess, so listen while I explain the rules. All pieces start on the lower board which is called Sand. The pieces have their usual moves in the Sand, plus additional kinds of possible moves that involve the higher boards."

Ghyl complained, "I don't recognize the pieces. This one looks like a lens." He pointed to a piece that was centered on a space in the corner square of the Sand board, a disc-shaped piece that hovered in mid-air rather than resting on the surface of the board.

Svahr explained, "We call that piece a spaceship. Look, on the Sand it can move in straight lines as far as the board is clear, but Ships have an additional type of move: they can teleport out of the Sand."

"Teleportation!" Ghyl chuckeled. "I should have known."

"Yes, this version of chess reflects life here in the Core. Watch the teleportation hand gesture." Svahr first advanced thons right most pawn two spaces in the Sand then move the Ship into the second row where the pawn had been. Then Svahr teleported the Ship. First thons right hand spaceship disappear from the Sand and it then instantly reappeared on the 7x7 board. "There, a teleport move ends on the 7x7 board which is known as 'Sky'. Teleportation takes a piece to an immediately over-lying square, but the square must be open and unoccupied. Thus, you can't both teleport and kill in the same move. Also, you can't teleport your royal pieces until they move out of their initial positions in the first row. Notice how the 7x7 board shifted during the move. It shifts back and forth like that depending on who is making a move."

In the chess game known to Ghyl, pieces were captured. He was puzzled by the terminology being used by Svahr. "Kill?"

"A kill is one type of move, but only the royal pieces have that ability! In this game the pawns can only die and breed."

Ghyl reached out and picked up one of the pawns. The pawns all looked like miniature elves or fairies, each unique; an anatomically correct little hermaphrodite. "Breed?"

"Yes, they breed, but pawns can't kill in this game. In fact, a popular variant of this game disallows all killing. Anyhow, if you move a pawn to a Sand space that already has another piece on it then the two pieces will breed. If it is just two pawns, then they produce a new embryonic pawn and that new piece appears up here on the 5x5 board which is called 'Spoils" by some and 'Spoiled' by others. Then the originally moved pawn 'falls out' to an adjacent empty space, like this." Svahr demonstrated the legal pawn moves. The pawn pieces, as little hermaphroditic elves, went through a quick little courtship dance and brief copulation animation each time they bred. "If a pawn lands on a higher ranked piece, then they breed and a new piece of the higher rank appears on the 6x6 board." Svahr added, "The pawns can also breed with spaceships. Watch this!"

Svahr waved thons hand and a pawn approached a square with a hovering Ship. The pawn was caught in a beam of light projecting from the ship and the pawn seemed to shrink and get sucked into the ship. On the Spoils level, a new piece appeared that looked like some kind of squirming alien creature with tentacles. "The baby alien will later turn into a new Ship."

Ghyl asked, "What happens to the new-born pawns?"

Svahr pointed to a pawn that was on the Spoils level. "It is not born yet! It will remain an 'embryo' in the Spoils for five turns, automatically advancing one row across the board each turn. After five turns it drops down to the 6x6 board, which is called 'Stars'. Only there does it begin to function as a new pawn."

Ghyl commented, "This is complicated."

"Life is complicated. But just wait, it gets more interesting!"

Ghyl's Night piece.
Ghyl, by imitating one of Svahr's gestures, discovered how to levitate pieces off the surface of the Sand board. He lifted up one of his pieces that was next to a spaceship. It looked like a horse-human hybrid. "Is this a knight?"

"We call that a Cent piece. In particular, that one is called your 'Night'. On the other side of the board is your 'Day'. Like spaceships, Cents can kill and teleport. Similar to pawns, they can also breed, but only with other royal pieces, not with pawns."

Ghyl picked up his Night piece and then nearly dropped it when it wiggled like a bucking horse. The Night then calmed and seemed to watch him.

Svahr noticed his interest in the Night and commented, "Pretty little creature, isn't it?"

Ghyl seemed to hear a fragment of a thought: just wait 'til I'm holding you.

Svahr waved thons hand and the Night disappeared out of his hand, retuning to the board. It the moved across the board, trotting, to demonstrate a kill. The Cent piece pointed at a pawn and a flash of blue light blazed, disintegrating the pawn, but then it reappeared in the Stars, laying in a crumpled heap of charred flesh and bones.

Ghyl exclaimed, "So that's why it is called killing!"

"Yes, to distinguish between two different ways of taking a piece. But take note: a 'kill' on the Sand level simply moves the "killed" piece to the 6x6 level. There is a revitalizing magic in the Stars. One turn later, the previously killed piece is automatically 'reincarnated' on the Sky board. No piece remains in the Stars for more than one turn before automatically entering Sky."

"Do pieces ever get removed from this game?"

"If a piece is captured on the Sky level then it is removed from the game. In chess, we say, 'you only live twice'. In general, there is a lot of breeding down in the Sand and more fighting in the sky, although as I mentioned, some people prefer a variant of the game where breeding also takes place in the Sky."

A wolf piece (black).
Image Credits: Sharp FX
The remaining pieces, that flanked the King and Queen, looked like two-legged animals while at rest, but they could gallop across the board on all fours. Ghyl pointed at one and asked, "What is this piece?"

Usually on Tar'tron, as here, it is called a Wolf. In addition to all the moves that a Cent has, a Wolf can also travel through time."

"Time travel? How does that work?"

"Both forward and backwards time travel are legal moves. If you decide to move a Wolf ahead in time then it waits on the top level, called 'The Shire' until the specified number of turns have passed. Then the piece moves onto the Sky board and is again available to be moved. Travel back in time can be tricky. The position of all the pieces are set back to where they were at an early point in the game, then the piece from the future is added in at its new position. Play continues, but effectively the 'time travel' move has replicated a piece and there are now two copies of that piece on the board."

"Replication? That seems like a powerful type of move."

"Yes, but as for castling, there are limitations on time travel. Each wolf can only travel through time once, and there is an important proviso on backwards travel. You can only travel back to an empty space. If you mistakenly try to travel back through time to an occupied square then that is a blunder and the moved piece is lost and removed from the game."

Janet as the black Queen
"Okay, I think I understand. Forward time travel goes by way of The Shire. Embryos spend five turns on the Spoils. A piece that is killed in the Sands spends one turn in the Stars then is reincarnated in the Sky."

Svahr added, "One more thing. There is a fifth type of move called replication. Only Kings and Queens can replicate and as for castling there is only one allowed replication each game for each player. A replication sends a copy of the piece into the Sky. The Kings and Queens are often called omnipotent. They can kill, breed, teleport, time travel and replicate."

Ghyl felt a competitive desire to start a game. "Who goes first?"

Svahr reset all the pieces to their starting squares. "Since you are just starting to learn the game you should go first."

Six hours later, Janet strolled into the play room and watched. Ghyl still had not come close to winning a game, but he now felt like he understood the rules and he had learned a strategy that could usually get him into a mid-game stage. After watching a few moves, Janet asked, "Having fun?"

Ghyl sat back in his chair. He replied, "Yes, I am. Svahr is a patient teacher."

"Well, I suspect you are hungry. Why don't you two come down to Nan Long when you complete this game." Janet wandered out.

A few moves later, Ghyl noticed that he was tired and hungry. He asked, "What is Nan Long?"

Svahr unsuccessfully tried to stifle a yawn. "A nearby meeting place and hangout with good food and good conversation."

Ghyl tipped over his King and resigned. "This is a complex game. I think I need to watch a couple of good players go at it."

Svahr stood up and stretched. "On Tar'tron, chess is a popular dating game. Often a young couple can't get through a game without literally going at it."

Ghyl commented, "Tar'tron seems like a less repressed and repressive environment than what I grew up in."

Svahr took Ghyl by the hand and led him out of the play room through the front door. The outdoors looked like an urban park and a few other pedestrians were out strolling. Svahr gave thons assessment of Tar'tron culture, "I've known both Earth and Tar'tron and I prefer the relaxed villages of Tar'tron. Here, the people are fascinated by biology and we are constantly creating new human variants, mostly just for the fun of creation and to find out what kind of mischief we can get into. Particularly, we are trying to find the optimum level of telepathic communication for our civilization."

Ghyl and Svahr walked together through a long series of interconnecting corridors and chambers and discussed the pitfalls that arose from having one's mind and thought too open to exploration by other people. Finally they arrived at their destination and entered through an archway that had "Nan Log" carved in the stones of the arch in a language that Svahr had to translate for Ghyl.
Main entrance to Nan Log.

Ghyl found that Nan Log was a kind of social gathering place, a mixture of restaurant, bar and small theater. The smell of savory foods made Ghyl realize how hungry he had become. Obsidia and Janet were waiting for them at a table.

 Ghyl kissed Janet's cheek and said, "Good evening, mother." He sat down next to her and opposite from Svahr.

Svahr muttered to Obsidia, "Golly, he's such a mamma's boy."

Obsidia shook her head and chuckled, "Well, it might appear so to you."

Svahr pressed thons point, "I can sense his feelings for Janet."

Obsidia explained to Svahr, "I tried to warn Ghyl that Janet will be trying to fix him up with tarts like you, but he's less worried about you than the possibility that Janet will ravish him on her couch." She then turned her head and addressed Ghyl, "Really Ghyl, there is no shame in being attracted to your mother. Don't feel that you have to over-compensate and play the role of doting son."

Janet raised her hands above the table, "Quite, you two. If you understood Ghyl then you'd understand Ghyl's deep connection to his soul mate, his belief in one true love. So save your amateur psycho-analyses for your private gossip sessions. Now, it's time for dinner." She made a complex gesture with her hands and the first course appeared on the table.

Ghyl asked, "Am I able to perform this trick, too?"

Janet nodded, "Certainly. Think of a beverage that you want and do this." She made a fist, twisted her wrist and taped a knuckle on the table. A tall thin glass containing a blue liquid appeared near her hand.

Ghyl watched Svahr and Obsidia conjure up their drinks, then he tried it. Nothing appeared.

Obsidia asked him, "What drink were you thinking of?"

"Ditzim ale as served at the County Pavilion on Halma."

"Ah, a special order." Obsidia spoke a few words in a language that Ghyl did not understand. "It will be here soon."

Janet explained, "Magic does have its limitations."

An automaton: non-biological servant.
A waitress arrived at their table with an empty mug on a tray. Obsidia gestured towards the waitress and told Ghyl, "This is an automaton, one of the servants that you will find everywhere on Tar'tron."

To Ghyl's eye, the waitress looked almost like a person, possibly a girl or a hermaphrodite like Svahr, although she had feathers instead of hair and her face seemed to glow like a painted porcelain lamp. Even as he looked at "her" artificially precise facial features, he received a telepathic message: you should refer to me as 'thon'.

Obsidia spoke again to the waitress, once more using the language that was not known to Ghyl. The automaton then placed a hand on Ghyl's shoulder. Ghyl could feel something tickling his mind and sparking his memories of past times when he drank ale. The waitress withdrew thons hand from Ghyl's shoulder and thon nodded knowingly and placed the empty mug on the table. Thon knocked on the table and the mug filled with ale. Ghyl took a taste and said, "Not bad." An image the waitress's strangely artificial face flashed in Ghyl's mind: is that the future?

The waitress explained, "From now on you will be able to conjure up Ditzim ale anywhere on Tar'tron. Sorry for the delay. If you would like to spend some time sharing your memories of other foods, please make an appointment with me." Thon winked at Ghyl and handed him a ring then turned and left the table.

Ghyl called after the waitress, "Wait! Do you have a name?" Without slowing thons walk, the waitress looked back at Ghyl and a reply came telepathically: Hortensia.

Ghyl looked at the ring and asked, "Not being familiar with local customs, I hope I didn't just get engaged."

Svahr took the ring and fitted it onto one of his fingers. "You can use this magic ring to summon the servants. Just wiggle your finger like this," She demonstrated the twitchy motion, "And the nearest automaton will be summoned."

Ghyl asked, "Servants walk rather than teleport?"

"In a busy place like Nan Log it is not really safe to teleport. At other times, in less busy locations, a servant will teleport to your side when summoned."

Janet placed a hand on his cheek and he felt her searching through his mind. "You now seem much more relaxed." She asked him, "How did your play time go?"

Ghyl described his struggle to learn the complex chess rules of Tar'tron. "I'm slowly learning how to make use of time travel moves in chess. It's a great addition to the game."

Obsidia showed Ghyl the hand gestures that would remove an empty plate from the table and summon the next course. "I'm pleased that you made good progress today familiarizing yourself with time travel. There is a difficult time travel mission that I need your help with, Ghyl."

He asked, "Why me? Why have you gone to all the trouble of bringing me here?"

Obsidia dismissed his question with a wave of her hand. "You'll come to appreciate my reasons, eventually. For now, just accept the fact that I need you and your telepathic abilities on my team. You have a rare skill: you can access information from the future with your telepathic powers."

Ghyl looked around the table from face to face. "Three humans on the team; let me guess. You are searching for a human who is somewhere in the future."

Obsidia chuckled, "That's a good illustration of your ability to receive useful information from the future. For you, it might seem like making an educated guess, but you actually do obtain information from the future and will soon you will learn how to focus your powers. Then you will be able to consciously search the future for important information. Still, you are not omniscient. Svahr and Janet are not part of your time travel team, they're just getting you ready for the mission. Let me introduce you to your partner in time."

One of the patrons of Nan Log left a nearby table and came over to stand beside Ghyl. He recognized her face. "You were my Night in the chess game." He stood up and they grasped hands in a friendly greeting. Ghyl could not resist examining her anatomy, particularly how her human-like torso fit onto her lower body which was that of a small pony. He looked around the room and now realized that many of those present had been represented as the pieces in the chess game.

Obsidia said, "Ghyl, this is a resident of Tar'tron known as Pliqua. Bet Pliqua."

Bet folded her legs and Ghyl sat down in his chair. "Yes, Ghyl, I was able to watch your play session with Svahr. In fact, I was carefully monitoring your brain's motor system and measuring how quickly you were learning the rather complex time travel dance."

Somehow Ghyl felt a special connection to Bet and he could not resent the idea of her watching him and snooping through his mind. "I only learned the hand gestures to control my pieces. The pieces did the dance steps."

Obsidia explained, "Still, you were learning the time travel dance steps by watching the chess pieces, or, more importantly, integrating the subconscious motor program for the dance with your conscious thought patterns. Earlier this week Janet and Svahr taught you the dance steps, but what you learned was held only as synaptic adjustments to parts of your brain like the cerebellum."

He said to Bet, "You are like Svahr. This centaur form is not your real body shape."

Bet nodded. "But like Svahr, I enjoy taking on various animal forms."

"But you are a woman, not a hermaphrodite."

Bet smiled broadly, "I'm glad you noticed the difference."

Ghyl could sense a strong and growing mental connection to Bet. He sent telepathically: you are on Obsidia's team because of your telepathic powers.

Bet replied: exactly, we will be a strong team.

Obsidia admonished Bet, "Don't teach Ghyl bad habits. It is rude to slip into one-on-one telepathy while at a social gathering."

Bet had her own comment to fling back at Obsidia, "It's not polite to listen in to private conversations."

Obsidia laughed. "Too bad. You can expect me to be there listening at all times, even tonight when you two are alone."

Bet protested, "Hey!"

Ghyl asked Obsidia, "You've seen our future?"

"Yes, of course. Bet will take you home and you two will have a pleasant evening together. I approve. You two need to learn how to function as a very close team."

Svahr complained, "But Ghyl and I are still in the middle of our play time."

Obsidia put a hand on Svahr's arm. "Sorry, but Ghyl's not into threesomes."

Ghyl experienced a brief flash, a vision from the future. He felt certain that he would travel into the past as part of a threesome, with Bet and another person: a mysterious male figure that was, as yet, unknown to Ghyl.

Obsidia could sense something of what Ghyl had just experienced. Did you see the Buldoon Arques?

Ghyl replied: I saw a man.

Ghyl asked, "Will our time travel mission involve going back through time or forward in time?"

Obsidia explained, "You and Bet must go back into the past, Earth's past. You will travel with an Earthling who will soon arrive here in this time, on Tar'tron."

Ghyl mused, "One thing I've learned from the chess game: you have to be careful going back through time."

Obsidia nodded. For a time the discussion centered on time travel. Bet conjured up a dish of berries and ice cream and ate her dessert. Obsidia told a wild tale of a trip she had once taken through time, but nobody believed the story.

Having finished eating, Obsidia sent away the last of her plates. Sensing that Ghyl was not comfortable with the prospect of traveling through time she told him, "Time travel is not as bad as the chess game might lead you to believe. In the game, if you try to travel through time to a space that is already occupied, your piece is destroyed and lost from the game....the time travel fails. In the real world, attempts to carry out impossible time travel journeys simply do not have a chance to begin. Impossible time travel does not occur. It just can't happen."

Obsidia stood up and extended a hand to both Bet and Ghyl. "Come, I'll show you." They followed her to the small stage and the room quieted. Bet transformed into her natural humanoid body shape and everyone in the room gave them their full attention.

Obsidia addressed the audience, "You have all been watching Ghyl's progress this week. You were invited here this evening to witness his first leap through time. For those of you watching from Tar'tron and who might not have been keeping up with the details of my project, let me remind you that Ghyl's replicoid was brought here through time. Ghyl's mind and soul were recently assembled into a new body and he is now ready to do a practice leap through time." The patrons of Nan Log applauded politely.

Obsidia sent instructions to Ghyl: just like the chess pieces, the Silver Oblque Penché.

Ghyl felt a rising sense of panic: where are we going?

Bet was in his mind: we will arrive right here, five days ago.

Together they stepped through the movements. Suddenly, the Nan Log lounge was empty except for Bet, Ghyl and Obsidia now by themselves in the room, still in their places on the stage. Obsidia congratulated Ghyl, "Good job! How do you feel?"

"I'm a bit dizzy, but not too bad."

"Good, walk it off." Obsidia led the way out of Nan Log and into the quiet passageways that led back to the assembly room. "Ghyl, I want you to witness one of your training sessions."

Bet said, "As I recall, this was a particularly grueling day. Svahr drilled us mercilessly, like green cadets, working us late into the night."

Ghyl could not remember being in the assembly room on previous days. "I recall none of that."

Obsidia explained, "You were not fully conscious until today. You were in a suggestible state where you could learn motor skills. Svahr was training your cerebellum. Remember how poorly your body functioned this morning. It took a week of work by Svahr and Bet to get you that far."

Bet sent: and at the same time I was learning the shape and currents of your mind.

Ghyl asked Bet: how is it that your mind is so well suited to mine?

Obsidia replied: Bet was designed to have optimal gene combinations for human telepathy. Still, she was only able to find you, Ghyl, not the Buldoon Arques.

"Janet also mentioned the Buldoon Arques, but nobody has explained it."

"Well, it is a delicate subject." Obsodia seemed to carefully select her words. "Soon an Earthling will arrive on Tar'tron. It must appear that he discovers the Buldoon Arques. So, in essence, I believe that it is necessary that you not know anything about the Buldoon Arques. Still, you will help the Earthling complete his time travel mission and everything will turn out fine. With your ability to look into the future, you might come to know the true nature of the Buldoon Arques before the Earthling does. If so, please restrain yourself and allow the Earthling to discover the Buldoon Arques for himself."

They arrived at the assembly room and were greeted by Svahr and another copy of Bet. The other copy of Ghyl moved like a zombie and did not speak. The three of them, Ghyl, Bet and Svahr of the past, were sweaty and naked. The bet from the past said, "I'm glad to see you up and about, Ghyl."

Ghyl looked rather uncomfortably upon their naked bodies. Both copies of Bet read his thoughts and laughed.

Obsidia said to Svahr, "Just five more days. Keep up the good work. Demonstrate for Ghyl the nature of his motor training."

The Bet from the future explained to Ghyl, "We mostly just danced to music, teaching you various dance steps and giving your cerebellum time to adjust to your new body."

For a minute the group from the future watched a rather energetic dance routine performed by Ghyl, Bet and Svahr of the past, then Obsidia sent a message to her fellow time travelers: let us return to our own point in time.

This time they executed the dance steps that comprised the Golden Oblique Penché so that they could return to the future. Ghyl arrived with a throbbing headache and more severe vertigo than had been triggered by travel into the past. He was allowed to rest on the padded table of the assembly room for five minutes then they walked back to Nan Log. As she passed through the archway, Obsidia said, "Excellent!"

Ghyl felt a familiar train of though impinging on his mind. They had arrived inside the lounge just at the point in time when they were performing Silver Oblique Penché. Ghyl saw himself disappear from the stage and he followed Obsidia back to their table. The applause died down. Obsidia said, "And we have successfully returned from our little trip through time. We will keep you all informed as our mission unfolds."

A kind of greeting line formed and Ghyl was obliged to speak briefly to most of those present in Nan Log. Mostly they offered well wishes for Obsidia's planned mission. He responded to many personal questions such as one that explored his reaction to finding his long lost mother. Ghyl was at first pleased that no question was repeated twice, but then he realized that everything he said was being shared among the entire group, and probably on Tar'tron as well.

Feeling rather foolish and uncomfortable with all the attention, he took to sharing thoughts with Bet, who stood at his side. Finally she told him: congratulations, you survived the publicity blitz. Now, come with me.

Bet took him by the hand and led him out of Nan Log. Thon commented, "You had a busy day." Bet was now back in her centaur form. "Climb on, I'll carry you."

Ghyl look at her dubiously. "I don't want to hurt you."

She laughed, "Don't worry, you could ride me all night and not hurt me." He got on her back and put his arms around her human tummy. Bet broke into a gentle trot and took him to her home. Once inside, she transformed back into her human form. Ghyl conjured up another Ditzim ale and sat down on a stool in Bet's kitchen.

Ghyl asked, "So people do cook here?"

"Some of us cook as a hobby. Actually, as part of my preparation for our mission Obsidia suggested that I take up cooking. I'll make you breakfast in the morning before I take you back to Janet."

Ghyl had begun imagining that he was done with Svahr and Janet and that he would now work with Bet in advance of their mission into the past. "Janet?"

"She still has to work with you on the rough spots, the problems remaining from your assembly."

"I'd rather have a session with Obsidia. I still don't understand what she expects from me."

Bet waved a finger in the air and some peaceful music began to play. Another flick of her wrist and the lights dimmed. "Well, it is not all that complicated, even if you and I can't be told the details. You and I will go to Earth and create a new cult for practicing saltations to Finuka. Obsidia intends to change the course of history on Earth by having you and I establish the ritual practice of dancing on Earth."

Ghyl complained, "I was glad to escape Halma and get away from all that nonsense. Why do we have to subject the people of Earth to Finuka?"

Bet shrugged and took the ale mug from Ghyl. She made it disappear then put her arms over his shoulders. "It's been a long day. Do you really want to keep talking about Finuka and Obsidia?"

Ghyl kissed Bet. "You were the prettiest piece on the board today. I couldn't keep my eyes off you."

Bet kissed his nose. "I'm glad that you think so. I can see in your mind that you've guessed that I can control my facial features and that I've made myself over so as to please you."

He commanded, "Promise that you'll show me your true form some day."

She laughed, "Never! Svahr helped me to sculpt your facial appearance to my tastes. We're now a perfect fit." She pulled open his robe and kissed his chest. "I've wanted to kiss you all week."

Ghyl asked, "Why have you suddenly stopped sharing your thoughts with me?"

She explained, "I want to explore your body now, without distraction from your thoughts. I've been in your mind all week. Your mind never never simply relax. Your intensity intimidates me."

"My father trained me to his habits. And I've been wondering about that. I suppose Amiante was trained and prepared for his mission just like you have been trained by Obsidia."

Bet placed a finger on his lips. "Shh! No more. Tonight is our play time." Again they embraced.

Ghyl drew back and caught his breath. "You know, I'm still not really in tune with this body."

"Just relax, Ghyl. We have no agenda, no timetable. Starting right now, tonight, we'll have a long happy life together."

Somehow Ghyl had always known that a soul mate was waiting for him. He had not ever imagined that she existed in his past, in a time before he was born, on a distant world near the center of the galaxy. He had one more question before he could quiet his mind. "Bet, do you know our future, will we die on Earth?"

On the theory that Ghyl would shut up if his mouth was full, Bet took off her shirt and put one of her breasts to his lips. "According to Obsidia, we will live together for a long time on Earth then we will return to the Core. I'm not sure that we will ever face a lasting death. Here in the Core people routinely out-live their bodies."

For the rest of the night Ghyl had very little to say and, for a time, he even stopped thinking about the fact that Obsidia was watching.
Chapter 1: Brisé
Chapter 3: Hortensia
Chapter 4: Harlem

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