“This is manmade?” I gaped at him.
He shrugged one shoulder. “We take security seriously. Without the Kardoval, we would be lost. They are protected.”
I got the hint. Not that I thought Garjah was threatening me, or was worried I would do anything. But the other Four Arms didn’t know me. And I was bringing a deadly animal with me. I stoked a hand down Bouncer’s side. “Hear that, buddy? Let’s not get too… excited.” That could be difficult. Look what he did with Timok. I pursed my lips, suddenly not quite as amused with him picking up on my feelings.
Resolving to stay calm, I focused on the window. Beyond the canyon was a yellow carpet of plants dotted with pink fronds that spiked above it. Arches of orange and black rocks dotted here and there in the landscape. The squared off rocks glinted in the sun like geometric bridges going to nowhere. I glanced out the windows on Garjah’s side.
“What is that?” The spiky top was higher than we were gliding, but it ended in a bulbous bottom that had to be as big around as a ship, and that was held up, or maybe tethered, by a multitude of strands that were sunk into the ground. Holes in the sides of the matte green spike opened and shut.
I squinted. “Is something coming out of those holes?” The shapes undulated with extremely large, translucent wings over a narrow body.
“Don’t worry, the trincophants are too small to be a danger to this transport. They’re just attracted to the trail of energy left behind our transport.”
“What exactly are they consuming?”
“Electricity, of course. They absorb it from the sun usually but love to gorge when transports come and go,” Garjah said it so matter-of-factly I goggled at him. The lack of sound or vibration from an engine suddenly struck me. The transport we were on was moving incredibly fast, but I wasn’t hearing any traditional source of power.
I opened my mouth to ask what exactly was shooting us faster than I was ready for toward the Kardoval when we topped a small rise and a city spread out below us. I’d seen many cities on many planets created by many different races.
This shouldn’t stand out.
Maybe it was how important the city was, or not really the city, but the rulers inside the city. I didn’t normally meet leaders in a culture. Other than following local and galactic law, I didn’t have to worry about them, and they certainly didn’t care about little ole me.
My stomach flipped, and Bouncer sat up, nudging me. When I only placed a hand on his head, he leapt to his feet and jumped on the seat between me and Garjah. He rumbled and hung his head over my shoulder, wrapping his paws around my torso.
“I wish he wouldn’t do that.” Garjah spoke, but I couldn’t see him since Bouncer was rubbing his head against me.
“He’s just nervous.”
“You’re nervous, and he senses that.”
There wasn’t anything I could say to that. It was the truth. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling the musk of Bouncer’s skin and the slightly rank scent of his breath. Wrinkling my nose, I rubbed my head on his and then pushed him away. “Okay, I’m better. We’re fine.”
His paws, the claws sheathed, slid down my body until he draped over my lap. Garjah was pushed into one corner of the seat, his lips pressed together. Stroking one of my lower hands down Bouncer’s pebbly spine, I held the other one out to Garjah. “You won’t leave me?”
“No one will ask me to, and I wouldn’t leave you even if they did.” He interlocked our fingers.
The transport’s windows were not opaque so others could see in. There were stares and gestures from transports that moved alongside us for a time, but I only caught a few glimpses of the reactions on our speedy journey. We quickly separated from the traffic—a commonality in every settled world—and headed toward a building that stretched high into the sky with rounded corners capped with light blue metal that reflected the surroundings in distorted shimmering waves.
I swallowed and smiled with my teeth tightly clenched, letting Garjah lead me out. Bouncer stayed pressed against my thigh. An aide dressed in a draping tunic around his lower shoulders that stretched up and tied around his neck and just below his upper shoulders greeted us with a low bow.
“If you would come with me. The Kardoval await you.”
Expecting a meeting hall, or maybe an audience chamber, I was thrown completely off balance when we were shown into an office not much larger than the dean of the Academy had. Sure, it had a large table with armless chairs and a separate sunken seating area along with a refreshments bar full of prepared dishes and even some completely human ones if I didn’t know better… but it wasn’t the tribunal I’d expected.
Especially when one female rushed from a door, shaking hands raining droplets, and a scowl on her face. “Why is there always a malfunction with the dryer when someone important is coming?” She paused, her eyes widening. “And of course he’s here.”
She wiped her hands on her shimmering gold tunic. “Hello, hello. How are you?” She offered me a hand. I took it, shaking it gingerly. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is that not a custom of your species?”
“Oh, um, sure. Just not normally with wet hands.”
“Completely dry hands before shaking. Got it. I’ll make a note.” Her eyes closed for a second, then she smiled. “We’re so pleased you’re here.” She glanced from Garjah to me, then down at Bouncer. He elicited a response I hadn’t. “Oh, um, a cerops. I forgot that was mentioned.”
A male snorted. “You did not forget, Mereval. You chose to focus on the human.”
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