Chapter 12 – Philippia

"Ship name and registration number, please," said the man on the screen. "And are you official, commercial, or private?"

FX told Wisper to send the ship data and told the man they were TSTO officials. Next, the man in the uniform wanted to know if they were docking at the orbital station or landing. Since they were landing, what size was their ship. And so forth.

Isaiah sat in light trance, listening passively to the thoughts of FX and Borne, the only people with anything to do. The team, entering an unfamiliar situation, had set up a telepathic network as a routine matter. Jeanette and FX were the main routers.

FX's eyes lit on the official's uniform: royal blue, a golden capital phi on the left side, surmounted by a stylized gold crown. Crown. A memory drifted by, probably from FX, of the talks Isaiah and Jeanette had given.

"Philippia is a kingdom," Isaiah had said, "founded a century ago by King Philip, who still rules it. According to Philip, the only trouble with monarchy is that you can't be sure you'll have an uninterrupted run of good rulers. Well, they've got a good ruler in him and, with rejuvenation, there's no need to worry about a succession."

Borne was gazing ahead, into space. Philippia was a marbled blue crescent before them. Above and beyond hung the suns, another closely spaced binary, like Carmel's. But these twins, Julius and Augustus, were a brighter, whiter gold than Elijah and Elisha. The double shadows they cast on the floor of the bridge were sharper, more closely spaced than the shadows of Carmel.

Another memory: "The land surface is mostly forest," Isaiah had told them. "Blue forest. It's much more Earth-like than Carmel. Land plants and animals. Philip wasn't running away from the war as much as he was running to an opportunity. His refugee fleet was much better organized than ours. More pioneers than refugees. He could search longer and further for a good world, and he found one. He and his folk left as soon as he knew no one would try to keep tabs on him. Not exactly in secret, but certainly with no publicity."

"ID received," said the man on the screen. "Flight plan verified. Welcome to Philippia. Navigational beacons are on 12.5, 15.0, 18.4 and ground at 27.7. When you get here, please assume synchronous orbit over the ground beacon. Please give us an ETA at your earliest convenience."

"Thank you–" said FX. "Sir Kenneth," Jeanette prompted telepathically. "–very much, Sir Kenneth," FX concluded with only a microscopic hesitation. "If you'll wait a moment, we'll get you that ETA."

Memory: "They use the trappings of European aristocrats," Jeanette had told them, "but really it's more like Chinese mandarins or a civil service, not hereditary. Titles are awarded through qualifying exams based on aptitude and training and competitions. The competitions include elections. Svetlana is a baronette, on the bottom rung, starting up, in charge of a plantation – a very small town or very large farm. I was there just a few weeks ago."

The synchronous point over the ground beacon was full of ships. It looked alarmingly crowded on the screens; out the window, Isaiah saw only a few tiny flecks. Then they began their descent. Isaiah renewed his strangle-hold on his panic and gazed out the window with forced detachment. He noted a fleck of gray on the tip of the peninsula below/before them.

Memory again, his own this time: "The two main cities are Kingsport and Kingston," he had told them. "Kingston is the capital, at the tip of a peninsula. Kingsport is on an island nearby, where we'll land. There are only a few other cities, so far, all small. A lot of the population lives on chains of plantations set up near rivers. The Philippians are still very sparse on the ground. They have a chronic labor shortage, so they encourage immigration and import a lot of androids."

The view out front was less and less a map, more and more the ground below them, despite the ship's perfect cabin gravity. "Feels like someone is locked in a closet, screaming," FX remarked, puzzled.

"That would be me," said Isaiah, his voice trance-tranquil. "Sorry. I'll drop off the net now."

"Don't bother. Just so I know what it is."

Isaiah distracted himself for a moment by reflecting that FX was so used to telepathy, stopping it seemed more of a bother to him than continuing it. He refreshed his trance again and wished he could sleep through the rest of the landing. Well, and why not? He had had a good long start building up the trance, so his body was quite relaxed, and he had often dreamed of fearless flying.

Isaiah went into voluntary sleep. The traffic on the telepathy net became his dreams. His shipmates gave him mental glances of surprise, then turned their attentions back to the business of landing.

So it was in a dream that Isaiah entered the upper atmosphere, saw Kingsport Island swell up before them, saw the landing field stretch from point to patch beyond the window, saw the ground tilt, and saw the sharp white double-sunlight sweep across the deck again. The telepathy net rose through shallower levels, from verbal through empathic to awareness. There was a slight bump, and they were down. Isaiah woke.

"Touchdown," said FX. "Wake up, Isaiah. Oh, you are."

Isaiah rose and stretched. "I must try that again," he said. "A painless dream of flight. Only it was real. I might finally get used to it."

They picked up their luggage and were soon at the bottom of the ship's gangway, where a young man in another blue uniform met them and registered their passports. He then led them across the landing field to the spaceport buildings. To the others, it was a routine stroll over pavement. To Isaiah, it was a small vacation. He traced again the double shadows. He looked at his hands and at peoples' faces and clothes, all more vivid than under Carmel's orange suns. The sky was a deeper blue, and the sea breeze had a saltier smell than the wind off the Noah Sea.

The official left them in a large plaza featuring a twice-life-size statue of King Philip on a pediment engraved with his crowned-phi logo. "Modest fellow," murmured FX.

"Humility is not a common virtue among founding kings," Isaiah pointed out. He wasn't really looking at the statue; he was still looking at the sky. "The light here makes me feel like I spent all my time on Carmel indoors."

"There she is!" announced Jeanette, waving into the distance but not shouting at all because, of course, she had much better ways of hailing Svetlana.

On the far side of the plaza stood two figures in green. One was erect and still. The other, smaller and topped with gold, waved back at Jeanette and strode toward them, leading the first figure. "Jeanette!" cried Svetlana, "How nice to see you again so soon! And under such exciting circumstances!" She turned to Isaiah. "You, I know, are Major Hola. And you must be Captain Bacon," she said to FX, who smiled a little weakly in response.

FX hated his name, but it was no good dropping it for his nickname yet. "Delighted to meet you, Lady Ruzinsky," he answered carefully, clicking his heels for effect. Isaiah caught a cynical little twitch at the corner of Svetlana's smile. She turned to Vivian and greeted her with the same careful, formal cheer.

Another memory: "You don't found an aristocracy," Jeanette had warned her herd of black sheep, "if you love informality. Remember Svetlana is Lady Ruzinsky when you first meet her. She'll probably tell you to call her Svetlana soon enough, but it's surnames and titles until she corrects you."

Svetlana never did introduce the figure at her side. It was, after all, only an appliance, an android. Isaiah knew about androids and had seen pictures of them, but he had never seen an android close up before. This one, he judged, was from a minim clone. It looked like a small skinny person of no definite gender and was designed for light work.

It was clad in tunic and slacks of the same forest green as Svetlana's. But Svetlana's clothes had gold piping, and she wore a little gold pin in the form of an ambling bear. The android had a much larger bear stitched on the left side of the chest and a stripe of yellow running up the right pants leg, up the tunic, and through its face. Except for the stripe, the face was tinted green. Thence the stripe ran across its cap and down its back. The right eye, iris and surround, shone gold, the left, green. In fact, the android was blazoned in its mistress's colors, just like the van she led them to.

For that matter, they were all emblazoned. "If you have a right to a uniform, wear it," Jeanette had told them. "Svetlana won't care about them, but I don't know who she may introduce us to when we get there. They love heraldry and all such proclamations of official identity." The result was everyone except Isaiah, Jeanette, and Borne were in black pants and white tunics – TSTO dress uniform. Vivian had tailored all the suits to perfection, but no one looked at home in them.

Isaiah, on the other hand, felt positively elegant for the first time in a century, in a rose-red tunic that was, for a change, not half as old as time. A gift from Vivian. She made it from the same material that supplied the dress Jeanette was wearing.

Borne was wearing a white shirt with four sleeves and a pair of yellow pants. Svetlana, forewarned, said nothing about the extra arms. The android stared at them. Isaiah, expert in reading facial expression, saw no curiosity in the stare; it was more as if the creature were trying to make sense of what it saw.

"So," Svetlana said at the end of the introductions, "I am more than pleased to offer you lodging and official entree, but my plantation is two hours' drive from Kingston. Do you wish to do any business here before we go home?"

"Yes," said FX, "thank you. We want to check in with TSTO and the local police, and we want to look around the gift shop where Jeanette found the first Dragon's Tooth."

"Very good. Dragon's Tooth? An evocative name."

"Yes. You see it had dragons carved on it, and produced an instant warrior."

"Like the dragon teeth sewn by Cadmos, when he founded Sparta. Yes, I recognized the reference."

Isaiah flashed a brief message into FX's head: "I told you Philippian aristocrats were well educated."

Svetlana led them around to the TSTO offices, a police precinct station, and the port authority office, all located at the spaceport. There, FX made official introductions and Canorus copied data to Wisper on ships' arrivals and departures around the time of Jeanette's last visit.

"Now, where is this gift shop that sells dragons' teeth?" Svetlana asked.

Jeanette consulted her memory with mnemonic skills recently polished by Isaiah. "Over in Kingston. At the corner of Aquitaine and Eighth, near Xerxes Square." They made their way back through the spaceport complex to the plaza, then piled into Svetlana's van.

Kingsport was a busier town than Hebron. Vehicles and pedestrians bustled in greater numbers. Heraldry blazed everywhere: on shop signs, on the sides of vehicles, in the brilliant clothes of the Philippians, half of whom wore uniforms or tabbards or at least badges. Vivian nudged FX. "You're going to love this place, once you get out of the uniform."

"And into another?" returned FX dubiously.

"Not necessary. Look at him. Or her," she said, pointing at specimens in fluorescent pajamas.

"Damn," muttered Isaiah. They were now driving along a shoreside street. There was a bridge ahead, but the android was driving toward a launch ramp. This was an air van.

Isaiah began the deep, slow breaths and willed warmth and blood into his hands, wishing he had more time to prepare. He detected a flicker of psi from someone – Jeanette, he thought. Then Svetlana told the android, "Ten meters, please. That gives a very pleasant view, I think," she told her passengers, "and it is as low as we can legally fly." Isaiah smiled back gratefully.

The view was indeed pleasant. Sport boats mingled with the fishing boats and barges. Borne opened a window and let in sea breeze. Isaiah gazed out, savoring just enough height to be exciting, then noticed a cluster of white objects hovering a few dozen meters away. They looked like pale cucumbers, hanging vertically in the air. "Are those gulloons?" he asked Svetlana. She nodded and added, "Blue-tassled buoys, I think."

They were air-squids, which Isaiah had heard about for decades but never seen. Most of the leathery body was a hydrogen-filled gas bag. At the lower end dangled a cluster of tentacles and eyestalks – blue ones in the case of the blue-tassled buoys. As he watched, five or six of the buoys shrank slightly (by releasing some hydrogen and compressing the rest) and dove into the water. They rose again moments later, one of them wrapping its tentacles around some edible bit of flotsam.

"Can they steer themselves at all?" asked Borne. "Besides up and down, I mean."

"Only weakly," said Isaiah, "by exhaling. Most air-squid live in the forests and pull themselves along the branches. Not strong fliers. These float in and out on the daily shore breezes."

And suddenly the sea was behind them and they were descending on a landing ramp, then sliding off into ground traffic. Isaiah was surprised to feel a little disappointed.

"How do you wish to approach this gift shop?" Svetlana asked. "Openly or not? That is, do all eight of us–" She did not count the android. "–march in there, uniforms blazing, and flash ID? Or what?"

"No uniforms, I think," said FX. He stared down at his and, with obvious satisfaction, covered it with an illusion of blue pajamas, copied from a passerby. "Is this a good costume?" he asked Svetlana.

She nodded. "Casual dress. For Philippians. Do not reveal you are off-planet, or it will seem odd. Are you going to hide all the uniforms?"

FX leaned back in his seat and pondered, then turned around and stared at Isaiah. When he was done, Isaiah found his tunic had changed from rose to tan and lost its insignia. "I'd like you to come," he told Isaiah, "and truth-read the shopkeeper. And I'd like Jeanette to come and ask him questions while you do it. See if they've got any more Dragon's Teeth, and if so, from where. I'll come to do some clair-snooping. Anyone else want to come?"

"I," said Daima. She ran her hands over her uniform. The black tunic paled and the white pants darkened to gray. "I do not go to be seen."

"Here," said Canorus, and tossed a small instrument pack to FX. "Make that invisible and let it go in the store. I'll stay in the van."

"I will go," said Svetlana, "because I am curious, and I do not think you want to be rude enough to tell me to stay out." She grinned disarmingly. "But if you think I will be in the way, I will stay in the van and chat with Vivian and Borne."

"You won't over-awe the shopkeeper when he sees you're a noble?" FX asked.

Svetlana waved her hand dismissively. "All he can see is that I wear someone's livery, not that I own the livery. And a baronette is not very awesome."

"Five is still quite a party," reflected FX.

"Four," Daima corrected. "I do not go to be seen."

"Then we'll go in as two separate couples. Sv– Lady Ruzinsky and me first." Svetlana smiled and told him to call her "Svetlana."

The store stood on a quiet side street. The android parked the van at the far end of the block, and FX and Svetlana got out. Jeanette and Isaiah waited three minutes, then followed. Daima got out with them and promptly disappeared from view.

"I suppose we'll have places like this on Carmel in a few more years," Isaiah telepathed, looking around. He had seen the like many times before, though. Only the knick-knacks were a little different here, heavily flavored with royalty. There were portraits and statuettes of Philip in various media, and glasses, coasters, pen-sets, toothpick holders, and other bric-a-brac with the crowned phi on them. FX and Svetlana were at the far end of an aisle, examining what FX's thought labeled "objets de quelque chose" – fantasy castles made from pods, seeds, and other bits of local plants.

Isaiah glanced at a chess set with phi-shaped pawns, then caught up with Jeanette, who was looking over a case of paper weights, fobs, and other small carvings. "I found it here," she said aloud. "I don't see any more."

"It looks like one each of everything," Isaiah said.

The clerk appeared at their elbows. "They're all one-of-a-kind local craftwork," he said. He wore a white tabbard bearing the store's name. "Is there anything you wanted to look at?"

"Talk to him about something else," Isaiah telepathed to Jeanette, "so I can get a sample. Then bring up the tooth in a couple of minutes." He set himself to studying the man's face, voice, posture, and body language while Jeanette asked to examine a doughnut-shaped carving. To avoid obvious staring, he picked up a pack of nobility trading cards and shuffled through them. "All right," he sent after five minutes' leisurely discussion of carved doughnuts (representing a local animal, it turned out). "I've got a fair idea of him. Bring up the tooth when you like."

"Do you have any ivory carvings?" Jeanette asked. "Like scrimshaw?"

"Some, probably," said the clerk. "What's scrimshaw?"

"Carved teeth. Big ones, like from a whale."

"Not that I recall. Let me check." He drifted over to the register. "None of our native animals have teeth, really. You're from Centauri, aren't you?"

"Oh, yes," admitted Jeanette. "You noticed my accent? Thought so. Well, I'm not sure it was a real tooth. I got it here about a month ago. Maybe six weeks. It looked like a carved tooth, but it might have been horn or shell or plastic or even wood."

The clerk did not flinch or take sudden notice at the mention of carved teeth. "Oh, are you trying to match something? Do you have it?"

"No, that's the trouble. I lost it. I was hoping to replace it."

The clerk tapped on the register screen without visible guilt or anxiety, then said, "Sorry, but I don't have anything classed as teeth."

"Try ivory." He did, without success. "Eboroid?" Nothing. "Well, I'll just look around some more." She drifted off. Isaiah thumbed through the cards a few seconds longer, then replaced them, smiled at the clerk, and drifted after her.

After a few minutes of looking at greeting cards, they drifted back. "Ivory carving is very popular on Centauri just now," Jeanette said – a lie, as Isaiah could clearly hear. "Has anyone else been asking about teeth and scrimshaw and things?"

"Not that I know," answered the clerk. Truthfully.

"He knows nothing about it," Isaiah reported to the net. This was what they had expected. Of course, the clerk might have deliberately forgotten, or been made to forget, but that was unlikely. The dragon's tooth had almost certainly found its way into the shop by accident.

"Get him away from that register," came the mental voice of Canorus. "He's wearing a personal psilencer. I can't get through."

"Oh, what's this?" said Jeanette, picking up an animal carving at random. The clerk came to her side and Isaiah was distantly aware that Canorus was now doing something. Curious about the Melior's psi-coding, he pursued the subject.

Over Jeanette's mental and metaphorical shoulder, he saw what Canorus was imagining, his visualization of the psychic task at hand. The Melior stood in darkness, his arms elbow-deep in a glowing cubistic fantasy of many colors. Around him hung neat rows of rectangular plates, like a library of billboards, bearing numbers, scraps of text, and occasional images. In front of him stood a gray wall, semi-transparent. At his side, Isaiah could see a strange, boxy ground car. It was, in fact, a magnified image of the little hand computer Canorus had thrown to FX, made into a car by the addition of a seat and skids.

"Dial," Canorus said. A stream of numbers shot from the front of the car, through the gray wall, and into the mass of colored blocks – a communications chip, Isaiah guessed.

There was the sound of a phone squeaking, but only in Canorus's imagination. He strangled the actual ring signal with his bare (metaphorical) hands. The gray wall vanished. "In," Canorus ordered. The car-computer slid through and poured a stream of characters into the comm chip. Data flowed out of the colored blocks, onto the billboards.

Canorus pulled his hands out of the comm ship and hopped in the car. Moments later, he was elbow deep in another, larger mass of colored blocks, elsewhere in the maze of ranked billboards. A fantasy of colored lines sprang out and resolved itself into a flowchart. It flickered from page to page and from large scale to small as Canorus studied it. From time to time, bits of it lit up. Finally, he stuck his finger into a path and ordered, "Transfer top message to first open section of command memory."

He withdrew the hand. The code vanished back into the processor. Canorus then simply stopped the visualization. He was sitting in the van, with the others, where he had always been, and was now aware of Isaiah's telepathic regard.

"What were you doing?" Isaiah asked.

"Moving a copy program in. To copy their data to Wisper."

Isaiah didn't really hear a polite little cough, but the whiff of emotion he felt was its equivalent. It was Svetlana. She, too, had been watching Canorus at work. "You will not be able to use that data as evidence before a magistrate," she warned them. "It was obtained illegally."

"Just looking for clues," Canorus answered, "not evidence." He radiated a desire for privacy, so Isaiah and Svetlana reduced their depths of contact.

"How much of what we're doing is illegal?" he asked Svetlana.

"Only twiddling with their computer. Our psi snooping and patharchy is no worse than rude. So far."

"If they don't want people using clairvoyance in their shop," sent Jeanette – and Isaiah jumped, suddenly recalling he was standing next to her by a shelf of knick-knacks – "they can install a psilencer."

"Clairvoyants are not common enough here," Svetlana answered. "Certainly psi-coding is not common, or they would probably have put a psilencer on their register."

"I don't know anywhere that psi-coding is common," Jeanette replied. "And a good thing for us. Speaking of snooping, shall we examine their history?"

"An excellent idea," Svetlana answered.

"Isaiah, please cover for us," Jeanette said. Then her contact grew shallower. Isaiah blinked and looked around. Leaving the psionic impressions behind was like coming out of a reverie, or withdrawing from a book. Cover? Why did they need cover for retrocognition?

He soon saw why. Absorbed in their tasks, neither woman moved. For that matter, FX was standing motionless, too. Isaiah looked a little closer – FX was entirely motionless. Isaiah's new telepathic skills told him FX was not there at all; there was no presence; that was only a mirage left behind.

The clerk would notice all this stasis soon. "Do you have any books here?" Isaiah asked him.

"A few, sir, over here." The clerk led Isaiah away from the others.

Isaiah scanned the rack. "Any histories of Philippia?"

"This one, on card, and most of these tour booklets have some history in them."

"I was hoping to find something about religion on Philippia."

"Oh? Well, we don't have a book on that exact subject, I'm afraid. Most Philippians are Templars, if they're anything, I think. Though there are a lot of Christian immigrants from Carmel. Or did you want something on the relations between Carmel and Philippia?"

"Yes, that's it. I'd heard..." Isaiah regaled the clerk with a forty-year-old tale of the daughter of a Philippian noble marrying the son of a Carmel merchanteer and their subsequent troubles. These involved politics, money, religion, and the psi issue, in intricate combinations. The clerk glazed over lightly and nodded at appropriate intervals.

Finally, FX's image rippled slightly and once more coincided with the real FX. He browsed over the shelves of nature specimens. A few minutes later, Jeanette and Svetlana came back to the present and resumed shopping.

"... so about seven years ago, they just gave it all up and moved back to Terran Space. Settled on Hellene, I think," Isaiah concluded.

"Ah," said the clerk, too dazed to realized he was free now.

"Buy something," Isaiah shot telepathically to FX. He felt they owed it to the clerk.

"I'd like this," FX announced, grabbing something off the shelf. Moments later, they were back out on the sidewalk. Daima was walking with them. "What did you buy?" she asked FX.

"Let's see," FX said, peering into the paper bag. "A cross between a mouse and a crab, dipped in lacquer. Anybody find anything interesting?"

"Got the data," Canorus said as they returned to the van.

"Good," said Jeanette, "because we didn't get anything. Svetlana and I retrocogged on the shelf where I picked up the tooth, and on the register, and from some viewpoints up near the ceiling. But all we have is the faces and voices of the people who work there. There are three women and one man besides that clerk."

"And I think they all wear psilencers," said Svetlana. "I kept coming to dead ends and skips. And the past is so long! Even a few weeks of it. We could find nothing that looked significant. And no remarkable psi events. Just telepathic chat and dowsing for bargains."

"I came up dry, too," said FX. "I scanned the whole shop for psi traces. There are a few items there that were made with TK, but none have patterns or cloaks on them – not that I could see, anyway – and none had the signature of the psi that made Noah."

"I did examine the boxes in the rooms behind," Daima said. "Also I did not find patterns, cloaks, or the Noah-maker signature."

"Well, that all fits," said Vivian. "We always thought it got there by accident. We'll have Wisper comb through that data to find out what warehouses and delivery services the shop uses."

"Very good," said Svetlana. "Also, you could investigate me."

On to Chapter 13, Baronies
Back to Chapter 11, Arrivals
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop

Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013