Missing Elements (The Lament Book 3)

The Lament: Book Three






Cat Publishing


Chapter one


No one from the airship came to
see her off when they got into port. Honestly Pran hadn't expected them to.
Most of the crew were busy tying the giant white bag of hydrogen in place. That
was the sort of thing that took attention to detail. A single missing line
could lead to horrible things, or so she'd been told several times. The field
here, at Alpha Seven, was a lot different than most of the ones Pran had seen
so far. In the last weeks she'd set down in nearly a dozen different locations
with the ship, but all of them had been basic and plain grass fields, except
the two that were made of packed dirt, and one that had been so covered with
deep snow that there was no way to tell what was under it.

This place was different.
for one thing. The whole landing zone was huge, compared to what she'd seen
before. Most of the fields were big, even grand in their own way, being about a
quarter mile or more across, but this place was
times that. So much
so that it was hard to tell where the airfield ended and the town began.

The whole thing was made of
stone, she thought, as she looked at the ground while the others ran around
tying the wrist thick lines into metal pieces that stuck up from the ground.
They were strange things, that reminded her of giant sewing needles, except
made of heavy black iron. There was a familiar noise around her, as she glanced
at the tan rock beneath her boot. The cacophony of airmen and women calling out
their tasks.

"Right front line,

"Left front line,

It went on like that, since the
four corner lines had to be put in place all at once. The Lament was being
deflated a bit, like it always was on landing, since even a light breeze could
send the giant thing scuttling away.

That, she knew, wasn't what they
called it. Not the professionals. To scuttle a ship meant damage it to
destruction. To make it so that no one could steal it from the crew, if it came
to that bad of an ending. A craft like this that started traveling along the
ground in the wind was said to be
. That was bad, but the worst
thing was for the lines to only be attached at one point. That really
scuttle the thing, if luck wasn't with them. So they lined the corners up first
and tied them all at once, ready to let go, if the order came down from the
First Mate. Paul.

Pran smiled at him, but didn't
try to catch his eye. He was too busy at the moment for a distraction to be
welcome. Her head itched a bit, the stubble that was growing there a soft
brown, she knew. There was no point in thinking about the irritation, since
both her hands were full at the moment. She carried her instruments, lute in her
left hand, and guitar in the right, with a small pack of clothing and
toiletries on her back. She didn't really own
however. Back on the
ship she'd left the old lute and guitar that Bard Gina had lent her, so that
they could be returned to her. She'd finally managed to get her own finished,
while they'd traveled to the continental capital.

The place was called Lincoln, of
course, but the landing area she was in was Alpha Seven. She didn't know why it
had a name like that, since it felt odd, and out of keeping with the other
names she'd heard. Humboldt and Pumpkin Hallow, for instance. Lincoln sounded
like a name to her, but not one that fit the place. This was perhaps the
grandest spot she'd ever heard of, outside of legend. It was huge, for one
thing. The city had nearly ten thousand people, if Apprentice Roy had been
right on that score. One of the twenty largest places on the continent.

Still, Pran had
hoped that the Guardians would have come with her. She was pretending not to be
herself though, even if she was doing that poorly so far, and while her normal
pattern would be to ask for help in a situation like this, fake her, the one
she was pretending to be, had to manage things differently. Not that anyone
seemed to notice her efforts that way. For weeks, as they'd traveled she'd
tried to be different than the Apprentice Bard Pran everyone knew, but if
anyone had gotten the idea they'd kept it to themselves pretty well. Too well,

Guardian Clark was attempting the
same thing, but again, not even Mara, his partner, had batted an eyelash at the
changes. She even knew that people were being replaced with the minds of
ancient computer downloads. There was no excuse, really, unless the woman
noticed, and was just pretending not to understand, in order
to lull them into a state of complacency. Pran hoped that was the case, because
she'd been being a prima donna for nearly three weeks now. Acting like being a
Bard was important and that people needed to make concessions to her needs.

At least, she had been compared
to the way Pran had really lived on the ship, up to that point. Instead of
doing laundry for everyone, for instance, she just did her own and Bard Ben's.
The rest of the time she'd told everyone that she needed to practice for her
big audition. She really had been, because anyone that had stolen her mind had
be doing that, hadn't they? She'd had seven
of art school, and
wasn't bad at that kind of thing. Anyone that was put in her head to fake being
Bard Pran needed to be at least as good. That had been the hard part for her,
really. It was too easy to pretend to be worse than she was, and someone might
have figured it out if she'd tried something that simple. Working out that she
was just pretending to be from the past. So she'd tried her best to fake being
much better.

It was insane sounding, but by
focusing her mind all the time, like Judge Claire and Mara had taught her, she
was able to sort of make it seem right. Her poise was better, as was her
confidence. Not things Pran lacked in, day to day, but now she carried a mantle
of haughty surety with her as she walked across the hard stone, not looking
back to see if anyone was following her.

There was no reason why they
would, after all.

As an Apprentice Bard she was
supposed to report to her new master, of course. That would have been the rule
no matter what skills she had. If she'd been a Guardian or a Milner, or even a Farmer,
the same thing would have happened. The big difference for her that day was

First, she was an Apprentice
Bard, which meant she had to
for her place. If she wasn't good
enough, the High Bard Councilor would be within her rights to dismiss her
without notice. Any master had that right, of course, which kept people trying
harder than they might otherwise. It wasn't a threat, as much as a constant
goad, for those that were more than a little lazy. If you didn't try your best,
you could be tossed out. On your ear, or other less comfortable landing zones,
if your master thought you needed to be given a lesson.

Second, and this was the strange part
that applied only to her, as far as she knew, the spot was
As far as she could tell Bard Clarice wasn't even planning on having her play,
or do anything of note, since she was actually coming in as a spy. More
accurately, she was supposed to be there to backup Guardian Clark, so that he
could uncover the spies on the High Council. To let him go places and meet
people, or at least have some reason to be there, in spots where he might not
otherwise be expected. That was part of why she'd assumed that the man would
have gone with her to the government building she needed. He was her friend
too, and had to know that this would be hard for her, didn't he? Except...
Well, if she were
a download from the past, she'd be a woman
that was several hundred years old or more, living in her too thin sixteen year
old body.

Would someone like that need her
hand held by the big strong Guardian? It would have comforted
, true,
but someone that well aged might not need it. She really didn't either, she
decided, since the city was pretty well organized. The streets were laid out on
a grid, and she could look down most of them from where she was. The long ones,
anyway. Rather than seem desperate, she walked toward the far side, which took
about fifteen minutes, even at a good clip, never turning to examine the world
behind her. When she did Pran noticed the six airships that were there, and
tiny people around them, like ants taking down a bigger insect for dinner. That
was mainly only around her ship though. The Lament. The others were already
safely in port for the day.

When it had become
well, she didn't know, really. Sometime in the last few months, since she'd only
been on it a few days longer than that.

Making herself relax and smile,
she kept her eyes open and mind on her current task, which was finding out
where she was supposed to be. That would be Bard Clarice's rooms... or office,
no doubt, but where she was supposed to find that...

Blinking she looked up at the
large sign in front of her. It was done in stone, and neatly, if not artfully
carved. A thing that had seen some weather over the years, meaning that what it
claimed was probably not only correct, but had been for a long time.

"High Council Building,
street one. One half kilometer." There was an arrow pointing to her left,
since she'd cleverly walked toward the middle of the large tan expanse. Not
that Pran had really been wrong, as it turned out. After all, it had let her
find the way without even asking anyone yet.

to make her seem
confident and like she knew what to do.

Her hands started to sweat on the
handles of her new instrument cases. They were made of wood, but the bodies of
the things were made of old canvas that Captain Mina had traded to her in
exchange for some minor woodworking that the ship needed. The woman was
actually decently nice that way, as long as she had what people needed, and
they were willing to do their part in turn. Everything that Pran had with her,
including the clothing on her back, had indirectly come from the woman, she
realized. It wasn't something she'd considered before, but it was all true.
Even the tools that she'd borrowed to make her instruments had been allowed by
the Captain of the Lament as a favor.

 Resetting the handles in her
hand without setting anything down, she kept walking. That happened with her
chin up and step lively, so that no one would think she was trying to slink in.
would just seem suspicious.

The sun was bright enough, and
her black clothing absorbed it, keeping her decently warm. After a fashion, in
that ice wasn't forming on her lips. Yet. It was November, and even if Lincoln
was farther south than she'd ever lived, it was still kind of chilly out. Not
bad enough that she needed a coat, thankfully. The fact was, she couldn't let
herself get any further in debt to the Lament. As it was she needed to see
about trading some things that she'd gotten already, to pay them back. The storerooms
on the ship had a nifty collection of things that she'd gotten from a man that
had been accused of molesting a little girl. It had been part of her payment
for helping him get some coin together, which he used to run away, being a
downloaded spy.

Pran was keeping it all too,
including his house and all the meat he'd had. That needed to be eaten though,
so a message should be passed along to the people of Pumpkin Hollow, so that
they could all set up trade for it. The man, Will, had been the town butcher.
For ten years. Before that his body had been someone else, and his mind had
lived inside a...

The word for it was computer. She
. It was a thing that she'd never heard of, even in school,
before meeting some of the body stealers from the past. There had been other
things they'd mentioned. Television was one. Also webs. No, that wasn't right.
web. There had never been talk of spiders however, so it was definitely
something different than what she was used to.

The streets were decently busy,
but not too crowded to pass. Around her there were about fifty people, up and
down the long, very well paved, road. The walks on both sides were made of more
stone, and there was no mud to be found anywhere that she could see. A lot of
smaller places practically turned into pools of the stuff for part of the year.
That, and horse dung.

There was some of that in rare
places, but an old man that was hand pulling a small painted cart with a lid
shoveled some of it up as she passed. Smiling at him, she nodded.

"Hello! This city is lovely,
isn't it?"

The man, who was thin and a bit
stooped, but dressed in bright colors, if old clothing, winked at her. It was
nearly flirtatious, she decided.

"That it is, lad. That it
is. Are you playing around here?" He glanced at the case in her right
hand, and was used enough to seeing her sort, she supposed, that he understood
the meaning of a person carrying instruments. He also made the same mistake
that a lot of people had been lately.

Thinking that her almost
non-existent hair meant she was a boy. She didn't correct him, or let her voice
show any sign of upset. Mainly because she just
. Her mind was too
filled with her task for that.

"After a fashion. It's a
private thing, though. For High Bard Councilor Clarice? I'm here to apply for a
position as her new Apprentice."

The man stopped working then and
eyed her closely for about ten seconds.

now? That's
impressive, then, isn't it? And here I woke up this morning thinking that I'd
see no more than piles to be cleaned up! Well, I wish you luck, boy. Do you
know how to get to the right place?" He seemed smart enough to get that
she might not really have a clue, so she smiled as her head shook.

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