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The Emerald Sea: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Saturday, April 3, 2004 02:08 EST



    Joel was surprised to see Harry practically hovering outside Sheida’s office. Sheida used what had once been her mountain home as her central headquarters. Since she often hosted parties and other functions it had been large enough to support the minimal staff that she needed.

    But since it was now surrounded by bubbling lava, getting anything in and out required porting, which was extremely high in energy use.

    The answer, as he had found out on his way in, was a permanent portal. Step through the arch and you were suddenly “elsewhere.” He wasn’t sure what the energy level to the portal was, but it couldn’t be high; he had been only one of a dozen or so people that had passed through it while he was there.

    Harry instead of heading for the portal, waved him in another direction. Joel noted that he had a slight limp.

    “I’ve set up your transportation,” he aide said, leading him to a small office. It had, apparently, once been a bedroom. There were now three desks in the room along with boxes of paperwork. There were no external windows so it smelled dank and musty.

    Harry pulled out a sheaf of papers and a small bag that clinked when he set it down.

    “Gold has, again, become the international currency,” Harry said with a sarcastic smile. “Make sure you’re not set upon by ruffians.”

    “I’ll try,” Joel replied, smiling amiably. He opened up the pouch and dumped it out. “I take it I sign for this?”

    “And we’ll need expense records,” Harry replied. “Did you know Sheida before the Fall?”

    “Yes, we were acquaintances,” Joel said, piling the square chunks of gold. “I’d studied the history of management and business before the Fall. She wants me to look at logistics at Washan and other facilities along the East coast.”

    “Mind you don’t step on Edmund’s toes,” Harry replied. He slapped his thigh and grimaced. “He gave me this.”

    “The limp?” Joel asked. He pulled over the receipt and signed it, apparently without reading it. In fact he’d read it upside down while the aide was holding it and while the total was close it wasn’t exactly the same. He’d just signed for a chunk of gold, the equivalent of two months wages for a field hand, that wasn’t there.

    “Happened right after the Fall,” Harry said. “Drove a sword through my mail and tore a hole right into my thigh. He always said that the only way to fight was to intend to kill the other person; I never thought he was serious until then.”

    “Didn’t he know what would happen?” Joel asked, widening his eyes in horror.

    “And haven’t you gotten it fixed? I mean, power is short, but…”

    “Well…we didn’t know the fields were down,” Harry admitted. “And, yes, Sheida fixed it. But it’s still not quite right.”

    Nannites either fixed something or they didn’t, at least when it came to gross tissue damage. They didn’t just stitch things back together but reformed them to the cellular level. Which meant that any remnant injury was psychosomatic.

    “I’ll try not to get my legs chopped out from under me,” the inspector said.

    “How am I getting back?”

    “Sheida wants you to fly on a wyvern that’s headed that way,” Harry said, looking at him oddly. “Apparently she’s really worried about this logistics problem.”

    “Just a good use of resources,” Joel shrugged. “How do I find this wyvern?”

    “Not worried about riding on one?” Harry asked, frowning slightly.

    “Looking forward to it, actually,” Joel smiled. “Better than the coaches.”

    “Well…take the portal then ask around for Robert Scott, he’s the travel coordinator. He’ll know where you’re supposed to go.” Harry stood up and offered his hand. “Good luck.”

    “Same to you,” Joel replied. “I’m sure we’ll be meeting again.”


    “Sure, the logistical issues around here are just amazing.”



    “There are several issues that I’d prefer to set aside,” Chansa said, looking over at his new assistant. “They’re taking up my time and energy; time and energy I need to devote to the invasion plans.”

    “Understood,” Conner said. He had a very old fashioned writing stylus and pad of paper and nodded as he took notes.

    “The two aspects that are taking up most of my time at the moment, though, are trying to establish a political climate for our eventual invasion and a mission by Edmund Talbot to gain an alliance with the mer.”

    “We have pods of orca that are allied with us,” Conner said. “Surely they can deal with the mer.”

    “The mer and the delphinos have a long term friendship,” Chansa said. “The delphinos, in turn, are well thought of by those few idiots that have turned themselves into true whales. And the latter travel throughout the oceans. Between those groups they will know, to a minute, where our ships are. It’s important that they are neutralized. And I mean totally neutralized; either on our side or unable to affect us. The invasion fleet is going to be on the ragged edge of possibility as it is. The mer have to be taken out of the equation.”

    “I see,” the agent said, apparently doodling. “Where are the mer at this time and what assets do we have in place? For that matter, I’ll need access to power for communications and a budget, not to mention updated intelligence.”

    “I can give you everything except the power,” Chansa said. “Since that idiot McCanoc got himself killed, that’s been in short supply; even we council members are limited.”

    “Well, it will be quite impossible to perform my job without power, my lord,” the agent said, closing the pad. “And there are other things. To get to the mer will require ships. I’ll need soldiers as well as contacts with the orca. And the way that I work, my lord, is that you tell me what needs to be done and I do it. My own way.”

    “That’s pretty damned impertinent,” Chansa said, flexing his jaw.

    “I’m sorry if you feel that way, my lord,” the agent said. “But that’s the way that I work.”

    “Why don’t you get your power from the Demon,” Chansa temporized.

    “I don’t work for Milord Demon, sir,” the agent said with a sincere smile. “I work for you. Asking him for power would be impertinence. And he can be so direct about such things.”

    Chansa chuckled and nodded.

    “I’ll get you a list of what’s available. Find yourself an office; there’s all sorts in this warren. Give me a list, a reasonable list, from that. And besides the orcas, I’ve talked to Celine and we have some special assistants for you. After that you’re on your own. You’d better be worth it.”

    “I’m sure that I’ll be worthy of the trust you place in me, my lord,” Conner said.

    “I’m not,” Chansa replied. “Now get.”



    The one problem with the portal was that you couldn’t see who was on the far side; it was simply a shimmering wall of opalescent light. As Joel approached it he wondered who all the people going in and out of the house were and, for that matter, how they were cleared for entry. As far as he could see, anyone who reached the town could use the portal to penetrate Sheida’s inner most sanctum. He was sure there was security on the passage, but what and how had not been discussed.

    There was a short line waiting to pass through and he joined it, nodding at the woman in front of him.

    “You’re new,” the slightly built woman said. She was barely up to Joel’s chest in height.

    “Just passing through,” Joel replied. “I had a meeting with Harry about improving the logistics.”

    “Not much to be done with just the one entry,” the woman sniffed. “Getting fresh food in and out is real bother.”

    “You’re a cook?” he asked, automatically fishing for information.

    “For Herself,” the woman replied with a note of pride. “I’m on my way out to have a word with the butcher. The last load of meat was simply dreadful. Not that Herself eats much, she eats like a bird to tell truth, it’s really terrible. I try to get her to eat more but even my best pastries she barely nibbles. It’s a real shame.”

    “Do you cook for the rest of the complex?” Joel asked as the line moved forward.

    “I’m one of the cooks, but I’m mainly to supply Herself,” the woman said.

    “Sometimes when she has a big meeting I’ll take charge of that. There’s a head ‘chef’ but he’s such a pain, a real primadonna if you know what I mean.”

    “Uh, huh.”

    “But when they do have a big party it’s a real pain. First getting everything through on portal and then getting all the guests in and out. You have no idea how much food it takes for a big party, oh, but I guess you do if you handle logistics?”

    “Rather large parties, yes,” Joel said with an amiable grin. “But I just do paperwork, you know. I don’t have to do the cooking.”

    “Well, you have no idea. I mean, at least we have a decent kitchen but it’s still too small and the stoves could use a good upgrade. Fortunately I’d made a study of real cooking before the Fall. None of this three sprigs of over-spiced carrot and a piece of chicken the size of your thumb, no sirree…”

    After they passed through the portal into the receiving room Joel managed to extract himself from the woman and mentally groaned. He wasn’t sure who was in charge of Sheida’s counterintelligence but it left a great deal to be desired. These people simply didn’t think in terms of security. That her senior cook wandered in and out talking to any stranger was bad enough. But if there wasn’t a good filter on the portal anyone could go in and out. Or anything, slipping a toxin into the food would be no problem. A time release binary would take down everyone in the complex.

    He was half tempted to turn around and go see Sheida about it but after a moment’s thought he decided to continue the mission. He’d be reporting at some point and he could ask her, or one of her avatars, about it later. He looked up the ‘transportation coordinator’ and found out that his dragon wouldn’t be leaving until late morning the next day. With that information, and where to meet the dragon, he set off into the town.

    Like most of the post-Fall towns, new construction was evident. Most of it was packed earth, what was called adobe in other areas. Chian was at the base of the western mountain ranges where they met the plains, drawing from both areas. The town was filled with herdsmen from the plains, most of them wearing rough bison coats against the early fall cold, and people that he designated ‘townies.’ After casting around for a bit he found a money changer. The building was one of the few made of stone and obviously old, not only pre-Fall but probably from the semi-mythical “settlement” period. There were guards at the door armed with short swords and they frowned at him as he stepped through the open door.

    The interior was dim, lit only by small windows set high on the walls. He waited for his eyes to adjust then walked over to the barred counter at the end.

    “I’d like to change some gold for credit chits and some chunk silver,” he said to the woman behind the counter.

    “Let’s see it,” the woman replied, pulling out a scale and jeweler’s loupe. He slid over one of the chunks of gold, wondering if they’d ID him as from Sheida.

    “Federal mint,” the woman frowned after a glance at the imprint on the bar. “We haven’t seen many of these.”

    “Neither have I,” Joel replied with his patented vapid smile. “I did some contract work for the Federals and that’s what they paid me with.”

    “I still need to assay it,” the woman sniffed. She rubbed the metal on an emery block then dropped a solvent on it. There was a brief hiss and she compared the color to a chart. She gave another sniff and put the gold on a scale, frowning all the while. Finally she looked up with a reduced frown.

    “There’s a fixed value on these,” she said, rummaging in a drawer until she pulled out a sheet of paper. She compared the date then shrugged. “Four hundred twenty-three credits.”

    “Close enough for government work,” Joel replied. “I need it in as small a package as possible.”

    The woman opened her cash drawer and extracted a handful of bills, stamped bronze coins and some loose silver in irregular chunks. She put the silver on the scale and added a tad more then slid the whole under the bars.

    “Three hundred credits in cash,” she said, counting out the bills. “Five twenty cred pieces and twenty-three in silver.”

    “I’ve never seen these,” Joel admitted, picking up one of the bills. It was printed on one side with the eagle of the UFS and on the other with an image of some person he didn’t recognize. It said “Fifty Credits” on it. He rubbed at the printing and the ink stayed in place.

    “It’s the new scrip currency their distributing,” the woman explained. “It can be exchanged for fifty chit credits anywhere in the UFS. If you go to one of the unincorporated towns, most of them are willing to accept it too.”

    “Seems a bad trade for gold,” Joel temporized.

    “Well, if you walk back in with that we give you the exact same amount, less a two percent transaction fee,” the woman replied, clearly used to explaining the facts of life to utter newbies. “Or, if you have an account with us we waive the transaction fee.”

    “So you act as a bank as well?”

    “Yes, we’re Federally licensed and act under charter of Idoma,” the woman said.

    “It’s a bit different than before we chartered, but not much. And we’re insured against loss, which is a nice feeling. Too many moneylenders and changers have been robbed since the Fall. Now it’s a Federal offense and the inspectors will chase anyone who robs a Federal bank to the ends of the earth.”

    “Or one of Paul’s regions,” Joel noted. “Okay, I’ll take it. Can you direct me to someplace to sleep? I’m leaving tomorrow.”

    “The Hotel Brixon is nice,” the lady said, pointing out and to the left. “And they have a good dining room.”

    “Thank you for all your help,” Joel replied, picking up the cash and slipping it in his pouch. “I’m sorry I can’t open an account.”

    “Well, perhaps if you spend more time here,” the woman replied. “Chian is really growing, almost like a second capital city. There’s always work to be had.”

    “I’ll consider it,” he said. “Have a nice day.”

    “What is it that you do, again?” the woman asked.

    “Contract work,” Joel replied, as he turned away. “I like to think of it as…salvage.”



    The man currently using the name Martin St. John sipped at surprisingly good wine and looked around the crowded tavern. He wasn’t casing his fellow diners. The Brethon merchant that had had the misfortune to meet the seemingly friendly young man on the road from Setran was returning from a good sales trip. It was the merchant’s nuggets of silver, each the size of a knucklebone, the preferred currency in Ropasa over the inflationary paper scrip of New Destiny, which had paid for the bad stew and good wine to follow.

    The wine was the reason the inn even existed. The building had been at the crossroads for literally millennia, first as an inn dating back to the time of the Hundred Year’s War, then as a private residence that was maintained across the millennia. The last owner had used his wine cellar, and the broadsword that hung over the fireplace, to reestablish it as an inn in the years after the Fall. Until he ran afoul of New Destiny’s Changed legions and the ownership had passed to cronies of New Destiny.

    The food had been better before the coming of the new owners. But they had held onto the wine cellar. In time, they might even learn how to make a decent stew. But for now, it was good enough. HE was out of the rain, it was pissing down outside, he had a full belly and the mature claret was putting him into a nearly expansive mood.

    That was until the door opened and a tall, spare figure, walked in out of the rain.

    The man took off his broad brimmed hat and shook it, looking around the room with eyes that were almost entirely white. The denizens of the inn looked at the stance and, most especially the eyes, and turned away, the conversation dying for a moment then picking up to an almost unnatural chatter. Martin hoped that the man was looking for someone, or something, else. But the newcomer caught his eyes and smiled in an entirely friendly way and then made his way across the crowded room.

    “Brother Martin,” Conner said. “What a pleasant surprise.”

    “Surprise, hell,” Martin replied, bitterly. “What the hell do you want, Brother Conner?”

    The Brotherhood of the Rose had existed before the Fall. In the pre-Fall world, there was very little need, or reason, for criminality. It required both incredible cunning and a deep desire to do harm; when literally anything could be had at a whim, crime took on a truly bizarre form.

    For the Brotherhood it was a game, a way to while away the time between birth and death in a world surfeited with luxuries. To steal a woman’s virginity and betray her trust, to find the one thing that a person cherished and relieve them of it, to kill, in a world where everyone was protected by energy fields, nannites overcame toxins and healing was virtually instantaneous, took cunning and skill, especially since the few remaining police of the Council had access to investigation technology that was nothing short of magical. And it was a matter of points among the “Brothers” to do such things with style.

    In the Brotherhood, Conner had racked up a truly amazing point total.

    Since the Fall, the skills that Martin had developed had kept him warm, fed and as comfortable as it was possible to be in the Fallen world. He realized that all of those things might be coming to an end. Or not.

    “How have you been?” Conner said, sitting down across from him and crossing his legs at the ankles. He waved to the server, a young man who looked harried at all the customers, and looked back at Martin. “How’s tricks?”

    “Oh, you know,” Martin said, leaning back also. “I get along. This and that.”

    “Yes,” Conner said, smiling. “I’m sure. I passed a bit of a gaggle on the road. It seemed that some local merchant had been set upon by vagabonds. Such a terrible thing. Paul’s doing all that he can to reduce crime in the areas under his control. I’m sure that the ne’er-do-well will be caught in time.”

    Martin tried not to gulp as he took a sip of wine that suddenly tasted of vinegar. Before the Fall, getting caught generally led to close supervision. In extreme cases, and he knew he fell into the latter category, a brain wipe might have been ordered, with a nice, docile personality imposed upon the criminal. Since the Fall, crime was generally a local thing. If a thief was caught, the locals tended to be direct and final. Rope was cheap and, after all, could be reused.

    With the coming of Paul’s legions, though, things had changed. Paul had much better uses for criminals than making corpses. His legions were always looking for new bodies, bodies that gave up their own energy to be Changed into the brutal, bestial beings that served as the bulk of his army. It included a brain-wipe, of course, but instead of a nice docile personality and a life of ease, if not interest, the former thief became just one more orc to be sent into the camps.

    “I’m sure,” he said. “How are you?”

    “Well, I have to admit that I’ve found an employer,” Conner said, taking the cup of wine that the harried serving boy had fetched ahead of a dozen other customers. “I hate to think that I’m going legit.”

    “Legit, yeah,” Martin snorted. “I can just see you pulling down a pay-chit.”

    “Well, I have to admit that regular food, the money to buy clothes…” he said, eyeing Martin’s weather-beaten ensemble, “has a certain pleasure to it. Especially since the jobs so far have been…right up my alley.”

    “I hate to think of the body count,” Martin said.

    “Well, as it happens, I’ve currently got too many projects to handle on my own. So I’ve convinced my employer that I could find suitable…subordinates. Such as yourself.”

    Martin eyed him for a moment then shook his head.

    “No. I don’t know what racket you’ve gotten yourself into, but I know I can’t trust you as far as I can throw this inn. I think I’ll just keep going my own way, thanks.”

    “I’ll add,” Conner said, more or less ignoring him, “that the offer would include a pardon for any little offenses that you might have, accidentally I’m sure, committed against the caring government of New Destiny.” Conner smiled in an open and friendly manner. “Such as a certain merchant on the Setran road.”

    “Who in the hell are you working for?” Martin asked, his eyes narrowing.

    “Why, New Destiny of course,” Conner smiled. “Such a fresh and forward looking name, don’t you think. Do say yes, Martin, it would mean the world to you.” Martin flexed his jaw and took another sip of wine then nodded.

    “Okay, what’s the job?”

    “It seems that those rascals from the United Free States are getting concerned about a certain fleet that is building on the coast,” Conner said. Martin just nodded; the movement of the Changed legions, and all the provisions to support them as well as the building of a fleet of ships, was impossible to miss anywhere within a hundred klicks of the ocean.

    “They seem to think that the mer will do them some good,” Conner continued.

    “I’ve been tasked, among other things, with ensuring that the mer, one particular group of mer to be clear, don’t ally with the UFS. One way or another.”

    “Where are they?”

    “Well, that’s the nice part,” Brother Conner said. “It seems they’re located in the Isles off Flora. So you can look forward to a relaxing sea voyage and then a pleasant tropical vacation.”

    “I’m not going to be able to do much about this by myself,” Martin frowned. But given the cold autumn rains outside, a tropical vacation sounded just about right.

    “Of course not,” Conner snapped. “You’ll be…managing a group of orcas and a new breed of Change called ixchitl. You’ll be the control. I’ve a fleet of six ships that will take you to meet them and then carry you to the Isles. They’re some of the first completed and you’ll have Changed marines as well as their leaders under your command. Stop the alliance with the mer, wipe them out if you have to, and destroy the UFS group, and their ships, at the same time. Our information is that they’re sending a new type of ship, a ‘dragon carrier.’ The dragons, wyverns actually, aren’t going to be a problem; they don’t have a way to attack the ships. Is all of this clear enough for you or do I have to write it down in words of one syllable?”

    “No, that’s clear enough,” Martin said, looking at the shutter covered windows beaten by rain. “When do I leave?”

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