Brian W. Antoine
January 23, 1995
The ArchMage looked up from his drink and stared at the young Velan that approached his table. His fur was of a fairer shade than was average, and, though tall, he was quite thin.
Nervously, he spoke, "Archmage?"
"Yes? Speak freely, you have no cause for fear."
He fidgeted, "You might not be so sure once you hear what I have to say..."
The cheerful blaze in the inn's fireplace went out without a sound. "I thought I'd adequately informed those of Nas Zan to stop 'interfering' with my life." The inn was suddenly silent.
Surprisingly, the newcomer relaxed visibly. "No, I am not of that which I do not honor with the term 'family'. While what I say may cause you some small ire, it cannot compare to their actions."
Brian smiled, and the people nearby resumed their conversations, knowing they need not run for their lives, as if running would have been sufficient had the situation been otherwise... "Speak, friend. What is it you need of the Klizach of the Nas Kan?"
"Your journals, spread far and wide, have gained much praise. However... There is the small matter of <ahem> errors..."
Brian's eyebrows raised, "Errors?"
"I have come to offer my services as a proofreader... I have some knowledge of the written language of your world, and would proudly catch those ah... inconsequential slips of spelling and punctuation."
Raising his hand, the Mage signaled the young scribe standing before him to pause for a moment. "Penny?" With a shimmer that hurt the eyes of those looking upon it, a small silver egg announced its arrival into reality.
"Yeah, what do I need to clean up this time?" came the obviously female voice from the direction of the egg.
"You've been assembling my notes and such into a rough journal, right?"
"Yes ..." came the cautious answer. "You asked me to archive the stuff on the off chance that somebody might be interested in seeing how badly you handled things in the beginning." That said, the egg shimmered slightly as its defensive shields flashed into existence.
Just for a second, a look of annoyance flashed across the Mage's face, but was quickly replaced by a small smile. "How did you go about creating those archives?"
"Well, I took the notes you wrote and what recordings I had of what happened and then grouped them together in whatever I could guess was subject related."
The Mage's smile grew larger, though the egg floating behind him still was not in a position to see it. "Did you perhaps do any editing of the material before storing it?"
There was a moment of dead silence, that was soon followed by quiet chuckles from the various patrons of the Inn. In all the years they had seen the Terran ArchMage visiting their world, they had only once seen him resort to physical violence, and there were a few who thought that he'd had just cause. Rather, he had slowly learned their own manner of extracting revenge via more humorous means. The fact that they could see him smiling and that the arguments between him and his 'sister' were almost as entertaining as those between him and his mate Kalindra, had them all waiting to see what was going to happen this time.
"Uh, no. Was I suppose to?"
The gesture was almost unnoticeable, but the effect wasn't. With a small twist of his fingers the Mage brought into existence a small glowing sphere which he proceeded to toss over his shoulder. Before the egg could even react, the sphere flowed over its shields and with a quiet <pop>, both sphere and egg vanished.
"It would seem you have found yourself a task to amuse yourself" said the Mage to the scribe that had watched the proceedings. "I had never thought that the chronicles of the Family Nas Kan would be of interest to the worlds at large, but if they are, they should at least try to reflect well upon us."
"You do not mind then if I take the task upon myself of correcting those flaws I may find?"
"Nope, just don't laugh to loud at some of the early archives. Things were a bit rough in the beginning." Taking a sip of his ale, the Mage grinned again. "Say, do you like Scotch Ale? The last batch turned out pretty good."
Before the scribe could answer, they were interrupted by a scream of rage from outside of the Inn. A scream that the scribe was almost sure he recognized.
"What do you mean dropping me in that manure pile you lousy rotten..."
* * *
Talahran de Van was glad people didn't stare as he staggered down the street towards the public transit station with the living legend who was the Terran ArchMage and Klizach of the Nas Kan. The Scotch Ale had been a little _too_ good, and Tal had gone through three mugs as he'd sat in the inn telling Brian about himself.
"You're sure that you'll get home all right?" asked Brian.
Swaying slightly, Talahran replied, "That will not be a problem. My family is small, and of no great standing. Nobody thought I'd even get to see you, and to actually have been accepted... Nothing short of the resurrection of the Maal will keep me from returning home to tell the others."
With a chuckle Brian verified the shuttle's destination and, with a parting handshake, sent Talahran on his way.
* * *
Two days later, as Tal was cleaning up after the family's mid-day meal, he was shocked by a voice inside his head.
He looked around, saw no one, and cautiously sent, *ArchMage?*
The immediate response was a low mental chuckle.
*So, our little scribe has some talent at telepathy... I'd hoped so, as I couldn't contact you over the standard video communications net. Is something wrong with your receiver?*
Tal hesitated, and reluctantly replied, *As I have said, my family is small... I must confess that was something of an understatement. We are only three, myself, the Klizan, and the Klizach, and we don't have everything that other families do... Our only real connection to the rest of the world is an antique text-only network terminal on which I taught myself my trade...*
There was a pause... Tal had tried to keep his thoughts straight when he mentioned his Klizach, could the ArchMage have noticed anything amiss?
He was startled out of his worries as Brian spoke in his mind again. *We had no idea. Would it be a burden for you to entertain a pair of guests for a day?*
It was Tal's turn to chuckle, *We aren't _that_ destitute... We may not have much in the way of technological luxuries, but we have an excellent garden, and my Klizan is one of the best cooks this side of Velar! Doubtless, no small part of this is because my Klizach is a gardener by trade, and finer vegetables than his are not easily found.*
Brian's relief was easily detectable over the telepathic link. *I'm glad to hear that. Then it's okay if my mate and I pay your family a visit, say just before the mid-day meal tomorrow? I told her about meeting you, and she's curious to find out who'll be mangling her family history.*
Tal winced physically and mentally, *Maybe this isn't such a good idea.*
*Relax, what could she do, kill you?*
Talahran stood there for several moments envisioning his own death at the hands of Velar's ArchMage before Brian burst out laughing.
*Don't worry so much... Honestly, she just wants to meet you.*
Tal relaxed, *Good... We have no pressing obligations tomorrow, and while I normally wouldn't think of speaking for the Klizan and Klizach ni Van, they've both been tested and have no telepathic ability whatsoever, and I must accept in their stead.* His 'voice' took on a more formal tone, *Our family would be deeply honored to entertain you and yours, our house is open to you.*
The ArchMage's tone was similarly formal, *As Klizach of the nas Kan, I graciously accept your invitation.* A merry twinkle entered the 'sound' of his voice, *I'd suggest you make cookies...* and the contact faded after he asked for, and got, a mental picture from Talahran of their home.
Tal's mother had entered the kitchen, and was staring at him as he stood there, looking into space. As the conversation ended and his body visibly relaxed, she coughed politely, "<ahem> Those dishes aren't washing themselves..."
He turned towards her, his face registering startlement, embarrassment, then, to her surprise, mischief and joy. "You're not going to believe this... Guess who's coming to dinner?"
* * *
The Klizach of the nas Van sat by the couch, trying to revive his mate. He looked up at Talahran, "Are you certain? If you're joking, we'll have a nice, fluffy set of rags for cleaning public sanitary facilities with..."
"Honest, father. The Klizan and Klizach ni Kan are visiting us for lunch tomorrow. I wouldn't joke about this, and our house looks like Meenzeii after the Maal had trashed it, so we'd better get moving!"
His mother Satdetin was sitting up by that point, and could only exclaim, "But I haven't a _thing_ to wear!"
* * *
Brian stood impatiently, waiting as Kalindra told Lythandi and Naldantis for what had to be the fifth time how to take care of Lan Louis while she was away.
"Dear, Lythandi can take care of Lan Louis just fine. She knows she can call us if something goes wrong, and Penny's looking over him, and we really _must_ be going or we'll be late."
Kal looked reluctant, but Penny added, "Remember I have Jab's latest mini-rail mounted on the ceiling for that special someone who just can't take a simple 'no'..." Penny's voice sounded downright evil, as if she wanted someone to call her bluff, only to find out that she hadn't been bluffing.
Kalindra sighed, "I know, I'm being difficult, but..."
Brian wrapped his hand around her muzzle, "No buts, except the one you're going to start moving, NOW."
She chuckled and brushed past him, saying, "Then what are you standing there for? We have an appointment to keep, lazy!" At that point, Kalindra, ArchMage of Velar, Klizan of the Family nas Kan, in all her wisdom and glory, took off at a full run. Brian cheated, of course... With a boost from his flight field, he launched himself through the air and tackled her from behind. As they rolled down the hill tangled in each others limbs, there was a magical *POP* and twisted pile of fur, clothes, and laughter came to a stop against the door to the house of the nas Van.
The two most powerful beings on the planet were still giggling and straightening their clothing when the door opened, and a shocked Satdetin looked out. She was dressed in her best robe which, though humble by Velan standards, would have given a Terran tie-dye artist nightmares. She bowed, motioning them to enter, "As Klizan of the nas Van, I bid you welcome. That which is ours, is yours for the duration of your visit."
Standing behind her, Talahran and his Klizach Faledon stood aside and made welcoming motions of their own.
Though the occasional giggle spoiled the formal mood somewhat, Kalindra replied, "As Klizan of the nas Kan, I accept your hospitality and thank you for sharing your home with us." Her eyes got a mischievous twinkle, "Now if you'd share those cookies I smell..."
* * *
Everyone was gathered around the main dining table, talking little but eating much. Tal's boasts about Satdetin's cooking ability had not been idle, and dishes were emptied with a vengeance.
Later, as people gathered in the main living space of the smallish domicile, they talked while snacking on some very nice sugar and nut cookies.
Kalindra, doing her best to talk around a mouthful of cookies, asked, "So, Talahran... You qualified for the title of scribe, with that," and she gestured towards the beat-up looking terminal in the corner, "as your only teacher?"
"Yes. With technology as it is, the tasks of being a scribe need little else, and for that little extra training I needed, I was able to go into town for private lessons whenever we'd saved enough. Though that brings up something I've been meaning to ask Brian ne Kan..."
Brian looked up. "Just Brian," he said with a smile. "I can never remember to answer when I hear the more formal version."
"I was exploring the Terran branch of the Velan central information net, and was wondering if I could get a copy of your family portrait that you have available there. Without graphics capability, I was able to see only its existence and the description of the various people in it."
Brian gave a low whistle, "The fact that you _found_ the Terran branch from here says a lot about your skills. While I assume Penny would provide sufficient security to prevent such an occurrence, we took no chances that a Velan would reach beyond that hyperlink and communicate with unsuspecting Terrans, so we made it ah... 'difficult' to access."
A silvery egg drifted past the window, "You _assume_ my security was sufficient?!?" It floated away, muttering about a physiologically improbable act between a schizophrenic chimpanzee and a dung beetle that had somehow resulted in offspring...
Tal smiled slightly, "I've been doing this since the age of four, and I always have an eye for unusual and hard to find items as I roam the network."
Faledon smiled, and spoke in a voice just a little higher than average, "When he was just a little thing we saved enough to buy that terminal from an antique store. It took the help of a family friend to get it to talk to the more modern network, but once it was working, I just sat him down in front of it and taught him how to type and read his own name, and this is probably the longest we've gotten him away from it since!"
Brian turned to address Satdetin, not noticing the strange way Kalindra was staring at Faledon...
"So, you're a weaver by trade?"
"Yes, though I don't work much on the loom any more, as I am needed by my mate to help sell his vegetables at the market. I'm a good weaver, but there are those living nearby that are quite a bit better. No one, however, can grow things better than Faledon here, so that is the primary means by which we support our family."
Kalindra gave Brian a mental nudge, *Do you notice anything strange about the Klizach?*
Brian glanced at Faledon. The middle-aged Velan was unremarkable, a little shorter than most males, with darkish fur and nondescript clothing.
*No, do you?*
*I'll tell you later.*
Brian, puzzled by his mate's question, shrugged it off and went on discussing Talahran's training, as well as his parents' trades, until Vel started to sink in the sky.
Brian glanced out through the window, and started to get up. "It's been a wonderful <urk!>"
Kalindra guided her mate back down to the couch and removed her claws from his shoulder. "We're not leaving yet, coimelin... First I must find out why that woman sits there and calls herself Klizach."
Talahran and Faledon just sat there, stunned, and Satdetin stammered, "Wh-what do you mean?"
Kalindra turned to look her right in the eye. "Her stature and fur color made it unlikely at best that a Velan of that appearance could be Talahran's father... Since my family has had entirely too many unpleasant surprises, I did some discreet mental probing, strictly as a precautionary measure... The mind I met was female, there is enough difference that I couldn't possibly be mistaken."
Faledon slumped down into her chair as one condemned, and Satdetin looked close to tears. Talahran looked like he wanted to destroy something, though there was no way he could harm the ArchMages of two worlds.
Brian looked around apprehensively, "I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this, and I suspect my mate will be a lot more comfortable once we've heard it."
Talahran visibly forced himself to relax... When he had stopped shaking, he quietly spoke, "The simplest explanation is they did it for me..." He looked like he was going to continue, but Satdetin interrupted.
"He was six years old when it happened. He and I were at the market with the woman you now know as Faledon. She was learning the real Faledon's gardening secrets, and had become a very good friend of our small family. Without warning, a violent tremor shook the ground, tipping stalls and collapsing tents, but we knew what happened to the marketplace was insignificant compared to what we'd find when we rushed home...
"We'd managed to get a larger house than we might normally have afforded given our family's modest means, but it came with a price. Nobody else wanted the house, because it was under an overhanging cliff hundreds of feet high. When we returned, all we found was a pile of boulders and a few broken timbers..."
Her voice sank to a nearly inaudible whisper, "And the body of my coimelin..." She was unable to continue.
As Talahran comforted his mother, Faledon spoke up. "After we-" she coughed, and resumed speaking in a much more feminine voice. "After we salvaged what clothing and money we could, as well as that nearly indestructible terminal, we though about what to do next. Tal was only just starting to show his brilliance with computers, and we knew that he had the potential to reach a much higher station in life than any of us had enjoyed, but we also knew that he wouldn't do nearly as well if it was known that he came from a shattered family...
"Our course decided, we visited a healer who'd been a close friend of the Nas Van for years. Reluctantly, he used his skills to change the scents my body produced from female to male, and Satdetin created clothing that would conceal my figure." She smiled sadly, "I'd never been very well endowed, as figures go... I'd regretted it most of my life, but blessed it the day I learned I'd probably spend the rest of that life as a male."
It was Talahran's turn to speak, "We moved here, nearly halfway across the planet. My mother and I started calling her friend Faledon, and as we were an honorable family living at the edges of centralized society, there had never been reason for an up-to-date description of my father, and our word was not questioned that this person was who we said she was. He shook his head, "It feels strange refering to her as female after so long. Through living a lie every second of our lives, we came to accept the lie as truth, and felt no dishonor for it."
He paused, "That is the explanation you requested... You have the truth, but what will you do with it? Will you shatter the Family Nas Van? Will you spread our shame across the galaxy for all to see? I assume that at the least, I am no longer proofreader of your family history."
Kalindra looked at Brian, but he just shook his head, "Don't expect me to handle this one. You're the Velan, you know the customs better than I do, and most of all, _you_started_this._ I leave it in your hands."
Kalindra thought for a moment, her brow furrowing as she weighed various options, none of them pleasant.
She was interrupted by Penny, who floated silently through the window and came to a stop just above her shoulder. Everyone in the room watched, as the two of them stared at each other until Penny broke the silence. "You've told me many times that living with my brother has taught you a higher form of honor. I believe this would be a good time to make use of it" said the being who had been forced to learn those same lessons the hard way. "Otherwise, custom dictates that they be publicly exposed and their family name stricken from the histories..." All three members of the Family nas Van tensed.
Kalindra was not amused, "No, they have broken severely with custom, but they do not deserve that fate." Three sets of muscles unclenched, and three voices sighed relief simultaneously. "In fact, I think any attempt to 'correct' the situation would only result in harming those who have tried very hard to do a good deed." To everyone's surprise, she smiled warmly at the family before her. "Talahran, rather than dishonor your name, the deeds of your mother and the friend that trusted her judgment only heightens my respect for your family honor. Few who I have met would go to such great lengths to see a child's potential through to its fruition. My mate chose well, you are indeed worthy to assist in the accurate maintenance of our family histories."
When the cheers died down, Satdeten smiled mischievously, "I'm glad you think that way. Had you shattered our family, you'd never have learned of the chocolate-dipped cookies I still have in the kitchen."
"Chocolate?" Kalindra's almost too-quick look of surprise and anticipation was more than enough to set everyone to laughing, except Penny, who kept her thoughts to herself as she drifted back through the window and into the night sky.
* * *
"You have become oddly quiet" came the comment from Kalindra as she and Brian walked towards the nearest shuttle station. "What is it that bothers you?"
Brian stopped in the middle of the road and stared down at his mate. "Nothing is bothering me, I'm just thinking of what we may have gotten involved in and how proud I am of the way you handled things." It was way to dark to see the blush that covered Kalindra's face, but the link they shared told Brian of his mates joy.
"I'm glad you approve" she said as she hugged him. "Penny was right when she said I've been learning that honor and justice can sometimes be different things. Sometimes it takes a gentle reminder though to make me remember it."
"No problem," answered Brian. "We'll just make sure you get rewarded when you do something that makes the rest of us proud."
The two of them turned and continued on towards the shuttle station in the distance. "Well, how would you like a back rub?"
The station attendent thought he'd seen just about everything in the 30 years he'd been working the night shift. He had to admit though that seeing Kalindra nal Kan come running into the station, carrying her mate above her head and screaming for a fast shuttle home, was not something you got to see everyday.