“Remind me again – how did we let ourselves get talked into this?”
Burlon grinned. “It’s all your fault,” he told his friend.
“Mine?!” Cirin yelped, indignant.
“Of course. If you hadn’t stumbled across this little trading station, three hundred sectora ago, the Prett wouldn’t be throwing an anniversary party in your honor, and you and I wouldn’t be carting half our world here now to attend it.”
Cirin slid him a look. “Half our world? Hardly. For every Vennan who came, at least four thousand stayed behind, clinging to their beds and demanding that we leave them in peace. Besides, you love a good party. You know you do.”
“True enough. You can’t bribe most Vennans to leave home, and I dolove a good party. But the party’s not until day after tomorrow. In the meantime, we’re stuck overseeing nearly a thousand world-bound folk here on Tradepoint. By evening meal, half of them will probably be whining that they want to go home early, while the other half wander off, getting themselves into all manner of trouble.”
Cirin shrugged. “Herd them all into the enclave and jam the doors.”
“We don’t have that luxury. I’ve tried talking sternly to them, and I’ll do it again at regular intervals, but most of them have no idea what sorts of trouble they could blunder into. I’d rather not be hauled before the Director – or my own Head of House when we get back – to explain how I managed to misplace several dozen kinsmen.”
“No, there’d be no fun in that,” Cirin agreed. “Well then, we’ll just have to keep track of everybody. I don’t suppose we could hang bells around their necks, eh?”
“Give that a try,” Burlon suggested, “and let me know how it goes, why don’t you?” Reaching the outer doors of the first of the four enclaves assigned for Vennan use over the next few days, he tugged the hem of his tunic straight. “We pick up three of them here, and the other one across the hall. Then we take them all down to Wyve’s office. At that point, we could just drop them off and be on our way, but I’d like to hear what sort of welcome he has planned.”
“A fine one, I’m certain. The Director will be a happy Prett today,” Cirin said. “He’s been planning this Trisectoriana for quite some time.”
Reaching past him, Burlon keyed in the code that triggered the outer door, and they stepped into the decontamination chamber together. There was a subtle whisper of sound as bio-mist filled the air of the compartment, and they inhaled it obediently, long accustomed to the precautionary measure.
As soon as the mist had dissipated, the inner door to the enclave slid open, revealing a scene of modified chaos. Instead of the usual tradegoods stacked in orderly ranks, the big floor was conspicuously bare, while colorfully dressed people scurried this way and that across it, singly and in groups. Some moved with purpose, intent on errands, while others wandered aimlessly or simply stood motionless, heads tipped back while they gazed up at the recesses of the distant ceiling.
Cirin stepped out and veered to the left, skirting around an immobile couple.
Burlon followed him closely, continuing their conversation in private mind rather than trying to make himself heard over the general commotion. =So, at least we finally obtained a Speaker. I was beginning to think we were going to have to do without one.=
=Oh, we had to have somebody, or the Prett would have been offended. Not Wyve, of course. He’s a reasonable man. But the government officials down on the planet are a stiff-necked lot. You don’t want to end up on their bad side. I swear by the Power, the group I dealt with, that very first time, nearly went into a collapse when I showed up out of nowhere. Where were my documents? Where was my ship? And then they hauled out their star charts and expected me to be able to point to Venna.= A sense of Cirin’s laughter colored his thoughts. =It was a lively first encounter. Fortunately, that whole group has long since retired. But the latest ones aren’t much better. Stubborn and prideful, the lot of them.=
Burlon was amused. =They sound like Tetralanna.=
=The Voice we’ve borrowed from House Balamont. Now there’s a thorny branch. All sweetness if she wants something from you, but a prickly lady if you cross her.=
=Well, we’re only here for four days – and only three of those count, publicly. After that, you’ll never have to see her again. As long as we can jolly her through the Trisectoriana, we’ll all be fine.=
Disgruntled, Burlon said, =I still don’t understand why Vedder’s Chosen changed her mind and made such a fuss about him coming. I’d much rather have had himalong to act as the Voice, as he originally agreed. He’d have taken Tradepoint in his stride, and he’s a calm fellow who isn’t above a jest or two. I’m not sure we’ll be able to say the same of Tetralanna, given the cautions that her Head of House was offering.=
=So don’t jest with her. You and I will charm her, instead.” An untrustworthy twinkle came into Cirin’s gaze. =And if she should happen to witness a little unfiltered taste of Tradepoint, along the way…well, that’s not our fault, is it? This place is what it is.=
Burlon’s spirits lifted. =Certainly. We can’t be held responsible for the behavior of the other races here, if she should chance to encounter them. And it might make her appreciate us all the more, by comparison.= Cheered, he saw that they had traversed the width of the warehouse space that was now serving as the main reception hall and a portion of the sleeping quarters. Approaching the door which was their goal, he said, =Here we are. The Speakers are the farthest door to the right, and I’ve stashed the historian in this little room at the other end.=
Cirin rolled his eyes. =It’s no more than an over-sized closet!=
Burlon shrugged. =I put him there so he can work on his written account undisturbed.=
=Ah well, good thinking then, since we haven’t an inch to spare. I suppose he’s a lucky man, whether he realizes it or not. Privacy is a luxury afforded to very few, this trip. Maybe he’ll write about you, out of gratitude.=
As they approached, the door panel slid aside, and the man in question appeared – a man shorter in stature than most Vennans, and slender as a boy, although Burlon knew him to be far older. He carried a hide-bound notebook and a small cloth roll, tied with a braided cord.
“Good day to you, Keegan te Fliss,” Burlon said to him in cheerful greeting. “You bore the journey well?”
Keegan’s answering smile lit his face. “Good day to you, Burlon te Bentain, and to you, Cirin te K’lar. Such a thing it was,” he continued in tones of amazement, “to be carried along by the River! Since you are First Traveler of your House and do this often, Cirin, have you become dulled to the wonder of journeying upon it?”
Burlon saw that the question startled his friend. After giving it a moment’s consideration, Cirin grinned. “I suppose I have, a bit. The pleasure never fades, but I’m no longer surprised to find that I’ve survived the journey. Travelers like Burlon would do well to go on counting their fingers and toes, each time they arrive. Our Burlon is more Trader than Traveler, you know, and his safety is due as much to the Power’s benevolence as to the magnitude of his gyfte.”
Keegan looked from one of them to the other, clearly unsure how to take the remark, but Burlon laughed. “Pay him no mind, Keegan. This rascal has the effrontery to claim me as First Friend.”
Keegan looked relieved as he crossed his palms to Cirin in deference. “Well, Venna owes you much for your discovery of this place. And for this current trip, as well, since you are to be the honored guest at this…this Trisectoriana.” He hesitated. “That is the word, yes? It has some specific meaning in the Prett language?”
“Oh, my, yes,” Burlon assured him. “Very specific – but then, that is the way of the Prett. They are fond of labeling things, and of taking things apart and putting them back together. They also like dividing things, and then re-dividing what they have divided. And one of their favorite things to divide is time. In the Prett manner of speaking, a day is a sect. A group of forty days is a sector. A year – the time they say it takes for the Prett world to journey around its sun – is a sectora. And a group of one hundred such journeys around the sun is a sectoria.Sect, sector, sectora, sectoria…the longer the word, the longer the time it describes. Tri is their word for three, and they tell us that three such sectoria have passed since Cirin first met the Prett, and so they are calling this ceremony a Trisectoriana.”
Keegan looked a little dazed. “My thanks.”
“More than you wanted to know, I imagine.”
“No. Truly. Words lie at the very core of my gyfte. I could never tire of learning new ones and how they are employed.”
Cirin looked discomfited. “A lot of fuss over nothing. It’s not as if I had been looking for Tradepoint. I Travel for the pleasure it brings me, and I ‘find’ whatever it suits the Power to reveal.”
“Nevertheless,” Keegan said, “I’d take it as a great kindness if, during our time here, you would recount to me what your first arrival here was like.”
“Why? Who, beyond the Prett, would care?” Cirin scoffed. “It was long and long ago.”
“I care,” Keegan asserted, “and I would very much like to write it out and add it to my histories.”
Burlon nudged Cirin with his elbow. “Go on. It might amuse Hayla. You should agree.”
“Only if you can spare the time,” Keegan temporized.
Cirin’s manner relaxed. “Oh, I suppose I’ll have little enough to do, now that we’ve conveyed everyone. And, as Burlon says, it might please my Chosen. So certainly, if you like.”
“But not right now,” Burlon pointed out. “We’re due to collect our Voice and translator, assuming they are ready, and then the First of Memory, so that we can set out for the Director’s office. Wyve will be expecting us.” And he headed for the other end of the little alcove of doors, with Cirin and Keegan following in his wake.