I stood in my kitchen and tapped my foot. On the wall the communication screen remained dark with a faint blue ring pulsing once in a while. Last night I had dug into available information on Karhari. Things were worse than I thought. Karhari wasn’t just closed. It was under Holy Anocracy restricted travel seal. The Holy Anocracy consisted of aristocratic clans called Houses and only a handful of Houses were permitted to enter Karhari’s atmosphere. Anyone without an appropriate House crest would be shot down. There wouldn’t be time to explain, bribe, or offer apologies. A quick check of my contacts at Baha-char, the galactic bazaar, told me that the entirety of my savings couldn’t buy me entrance. I was reduced to begging.
Maud wouldn’t have asked for my help unless she was in imminent danger. I would beg, offer favors, and promise the moon and sky to save my sister. Late last night I had placed a message to Arland of House Krahr. He hadn’t responded.
A seven-foot tall darkness loomed next to me. Orro thrust a small plate in front of my nose. I looked down at a small bagel covered with purple jam.
“Thank you, I’m not hungry.”
Orro’s foot-long spikes rose. He growled under his breath and moved away. I paced back and forth. Arland was my best bet. If I couldn’t get him to help me, I had no idea where to go next.
Through the kitchen window, I could see the backyard. The boost bike lay opened on the back patio. Sean was elbow deep in it, while the Ku, whose name was Wing, of all things, pranced around him. His pet spider-cat creature scuttled around gathering sticks and building some sort of a nest or possibly gathering kindling for a very small bonfire.
I waved my hand and the inn opened the window, letting cold air in.
“…Of course the stabilizer failed.” Sean plucked a weird looking gadget from the tool chest. He’d asked if I had tools and I gave him access to the repair garage. He saw the rows of shelves filled with an assortment of mechanical wonders, swore for little bit, and then picked out a tool chest. “That’s what you get for buying spare parts from an Alkonian chop shop.”
“Cheap parts!” Wing volunteered.
“Look, it can be fast, good, or cheap. You can have any two but never all three.”
“It’s the law of the universe.”
When did he learn to fix boost bikes?
Something clicked within the engine. Blue lights ignited on the bike’s dashboard.
The communication screen chimed.
“Accept the call.”
Arland’s face filled the screen. Handsome, with a mane of golden hair framing a powerful masculine face and penetrating blue eyes, Arland would’ve stopped traffic at any major intersection. Women would get out of their cars to take a closer look, until he smiled, and then they’d see his fangs and run away screaming.
The Marshal of House Krahr looked splendid in full heavy armor, a deep black shot through with blood-red.
“Lady Dina,” he boomed. “I’m at your command.”
And he’d lost none of his flair for the dramatic. “Are you going to war, Lord Marshall?” Please don’t be going to war.
“No, I was attending a formal dinner.” He grimaced. “They make us wear armor to these things so we wouldn’t stab ourselves out of sheer boredom. How might I be of service?”
“I have to go to Karhari. The matter is urgent and I really need your help.”
Sean came in and washed his hands at the sink.
“Karhari is the anus of the Galaxy.” Arland frowned. “What could you possibly want there?”
His blond eyebrows crept up. “You have a sister?”
“What is she doing at Karhari?”
“I don’t know.”
Last time I had heard from Maud was over three years ago and at the time she was on Noceen, one of the more prosperous of the Holy Anocracy’s planets. Klaus and I had gone to see her when we were searching for mom and dad. It was a short visit. Finding out that mom and dad had disappeared nearly broke her. She would talk with mom all the time while my parents’ inn was active, so when communication abruptly ceased, she’d had no idea what had happened. She tried to get passage back to Earth, but her husband was involved in some sort of complicated vampire politics and she couldn’t go. During that meeting I got a feeling that everything wasn’t going well, but she wouldn’t say what the problem was.
Caldenia entered the kitchen, wearing a beautiful pink robe, and took a seat at the kitchen table. Orro swept by her and a plate with a bagel and jam landed in front of Her Grace.
She picked the bagel up, biting into the dough with her unnaturally sharp teeth. When most people bit a bagel, we clamped it down and pulled, tearing it. When Caldenia bit a bagel, there was no clamping down and pulling. Her teeth simply sheared it, as if the dough had been cut with big heavy scissors.
“Lord Arland, my sister sent a message to me asking for help. She isn’t the sort of person to ask for help.” In fact, Maud would rather die than ask for help, but she wasn’t willing to gamble with little Helen’s life.
“It’s very important I get to Karhari as soon as possible. Is there any way you could expedite my application for a permit?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
My heart sank.
“There are no permits being issued for travel to Karhari. As I’ve said, it’s a pit of a planet. Most of it consists of boring plains with large herds of massive herbivores wandering aimlessly through them. There are no good hunting grounds, no great mineral wealth, so it offers very little in the way of value. It was colonized early in the history of the Anocracy and then we lost touch with it for almost five hundred years. The descendants of the original settlers have been cut off for so long that even though the planet was brought back into the Anocracy’s loving embrace a hundred years ago, the rule of law is barely recognized there. It’s the place we send our criminals, exiles, and heretics.”
My sister was stuck in eighteenth century vampire Australia.
“Is there anything that can be done? Anything at all?”
“There is only one thing to do.” He hit me with a dazzling smile, displaying his sharp fangs. “I’ll take you there personally.”
“My uncle’s cousin was granted holdings on Karhari, so House Krahr has a presence there. As Marshal, I can travel there any time I want.”
I almost jumped up and down. Still, my history with House Krahr had been complicated already. And Arland had developed a somewhat seasonal infatuation with me. “Are you sure? The fuel expense must be significant…”
He leaned closer to the screen. “The expense will be minimal. We’ll use the Earth jump gate, bounce off the net here, and will be in Karhari by tomorrow morning. Besides, thanks to you, House Krahr has found itself in a very advantageous position on Nexus. Our profits have soared. I can bounce back and forth between here and Karhari thirty times before the House Steward will gently chide me to keep an eye on the budget. Family is all any of us have. It is decided. Will you be ready in an hour?”
Just like that. “Yes!”
“I shall be in orbit in a few minutes. Is it only you or are you bringing anyone with you?”
“She’s bringing me,” Sean said, stepping next to me.
Arland’s upper lip trembled. He killed it before it became a snarl and peered at Sean. “Whatever happened to your face? Never mind, not important. Your presence isn’t necessary. Lady Dina will have sufficient protection.”
“Is the Marshal threatened by my presence?” Sean asked, his voice calm.
“Then I see no reason why I can’t come along.”
“Karhari isn’t Earth, werewolf. You’ve never fought a vampire in open combat. You aren’t ready for a planet full of us.”
Sean’s face was calm. “As you said, the rule of law is barely recognized on Karhari. I should be right at home.”
Arland struggled with it for a moment. “Fine. I’m not the one to keep a man away from a funeral pyre when he’s jumping over obstacles to get to it. See you in an hour.”
The screen went black.
Never fought a vampire… That made no sense. When Sean led the Merchants’ defense on Nexus, he slaughtered enough vampires for several lifetimes.
“He doesn’t know. How can he not know you were Turan Adin? You shared Nexus memories with the rest of us.” Arland was there. Sean and he had been linked through me and the inn.
Sean frowned. “When I think back to it, I don’t know which memories were his. I don’t think he knows which ones were mine. You asked only about things that happened on Nexus. I was always Turan Adin on Nexus. The armor never came off. I thought of myself as Turan Adin. I left Sean here on Earth with you.”
Werewolves of Auul were poets. Sometimes I forgot that, and then he said something like that.
“Will you tell him?”
Sean shook his head. “If I do, he’ll try to kill me.”
“We met in battle once. I had a chance to kill him, and I didn’t. He knows that.”
Arland was a proud man. Sean was right; he wouldn’t be able to handle it. Then again, having Sean in close proximity to Arland wouldn’t be doing wonders for Sean’s recovery either.
“Are you sure you want to come?”
He looked at me for a minute. “I’m going to pick up some equipment. Don’t leave without me.”
“And if I do?”
“I’ll have to chase you in my ship and blow the Galaxy’s existence wide open. Please don’t leave without me.”
He headed out the door.
I crossed my arms and looked at Caldenia. “Does everyone have an interstellar ship except us?”
“You should get one.” She licked the jam from the corner of her mouth. “We do have to keep up with the Joneses, my dear.”