Authors: Flora Speer
Tags: #romance, #series, #futuristic romance, #romance futuristic
Copyright © 2013, 1993, by Flora Speer
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For my brother, David De Groodt,
who asked for a story about the lost
city of the telepaths.
Only Herne saw the woman.
He stood up so suddenly that his companions
turned to look at him, four surprised faces illuminated by the
campfire. Even Merin lifted her head at his abrupt movement, her
white coif shining in the firelight.
She sat a little apart from the others, her
self-imposed isolation arousing Herne’s curiosity. He had been idly
imagining what color her hair was beneath the neat folds of the
coif - from her eyebrows and lashes he would guess it was a light
brown – and wondering if her body was as delicately made as her
facial bones suggested. It was hard to tell about her figure when
she wore an oversized orange treksuit every day and never changed
into lounging clothes as the other colonists did. Withdrawn,
self-sufficient, interested only in the performance of her duties;
that was how he would describe Merin if anyone were to ask his
opinion of her.
Sensing that she was aware of his attention,
he looked away from where his fellow explorers sat, glancing
instead toward the ruins of the old city of Tathan. The wind
sweeping down from the high plateau and across the wooded plain
caught at the leaping flames of the campfire, sending patterns of
light and shadow along the sleek body of their shuttlecraft and
onto the broken buildings just beyond it.
Herne was a physician, not an archeologist or
an historian, but after seeing the maps made by the first
explorers, he had felt a compulsion to join this second expedition.
The need was so strong and so unusual that he had volunteered to
come along. The city had proved to be nothing but a pile of
half-buried rubble. He wasn’t sure exactly what he had expected of
Tathan, but he was disappointed.
It was while he stared at the shadowy remains
of the city and asked himself what he was doing there that he saw
She stood between a stone pillar and a tree,
where the two soaring shapes formed an enclosed niche. She was deep
in the shadowed area of the niche, and for an instant he thought he
could see right through her. Wondering if what he was seeing was
some trick of the firelight, he blinked twice. She was still there,
and solid now. Real. Substantial. But she could not possibly be
She was slender, her willowy grace barely
concealed by a flowing white gown. A short, gold-colored cloak was
draped across her shoulders to float behind her, its edges lifted
by the wind. Light golden-brown hair tumbled in lustrous curls
reaching to below her waist. Her eyes were shadowed, their color
indiscernible at such a distance, but he could see curving light
brown brows and darker lashes. She was an apparition designed to
capture the full attention of any man, and Herne could not tear his
gaze away from her. She lifted one hand, beckoning to him. He
thought he heard the sound of laughter. Herne rose with a swift
motion, took one step toward the woman, and then stopped as good
sense overcame impulsiveness.
“Did you see something?” Tarik asked. “You
have an odd look, Herne. What’s wrong?”
“The woman. Right there.” But in the second
or two it took for Herne’s eyes to flick to Tarik’s face and back
to the niche, the woman had disappeared. “She was standing
“What woman?” Osiyar said. “I saw no
“Really, Herne,” said Alla, “I wish you would
try to stay awake while we are planning our work for tomorrow. You
were dreaming. All of our scanning instruments show no life in this
area except for vegetation and a few small animals.”
“Merin,” said Tarik, “did you see anything
“ No.” Merin’s voice was soft and low-pitched
as always. “I’m sorry, Tarik. I was watching the fire and listening
to your discussion. I saw nothing.”
“She was there,” Herne insisted.
“Describe exactly what you saw,” Osiyar
Herne did, including his first impression
that the woman was nearly transparent. Even in the flush of
firelight he could see Osiyar’s face grow pale. Tarik saw it,
“Who is she?” he demanded of Osiyar.
“By her white gown and gold cloak she must be
the one my ancestors called Ananka,” Osiyar said after some
hesitation. “She is one of the Others, the spirits of this world.
They were here before my ancestors settled on this planet. There
was such an entity in the sacred grove near my old home in Ruthlen.
I can tell you no more than that because as a mere High Priest, I
was never admitted into the most arcane mysteries, which were
reserved for women.”
“Ananka,” Tarik mused. “The name is familiar.
Something to do with Old Earth, but I can’t recall just what.”
“Ancient Rome,” Merin said in her quiet
voice. “She was one of the Fates, who formed the destinies of
“Of course.” Tarik smiled at his colony’s
historian, who gave no sign of response, but sat with downcast
eyes, looking at the fire. “I remember now. Thank you, Merin.”
“What could a period in Old Earth’s distant
past have to do with Dulan’s Planet?” Alla asked. “Did Herne
actually see this creature, or was he dreaming?”
“Perhaps we’ll find the answers to those
questions tomorrow, when we begin serious explorations,” Tarik said
before Herne could protest again that he had not been imagining
anything. “Since we can see nothing there now, and it is too dark
to search for evidence, I think we should douse the fire, retire to
the shuttlecraft for the night, and set the scanning instruments to
sound an alarm if anything, living or mechanical, approaches us
* * * * *
Merin told herself that she had not lied to
Tarik. She really had seen nothing in the dark area beyond the
fire. But she had not been staring into the flames as she had
claimed. She had been watching Herne.
From the first day she had met him, Herne had
piqued her interest, in part because she sensed that he was as
secretive about himself as she was forced to be on the subject of
her own past life. She was skilled in the technique of observing
people without revealing that she was watching them, and she often
He was a fascinating subject for study. His
thick, ash-brown hair, cropped short to suit Jurisdiction service
regulations, had a tendency to curl when the weather was damp, or
when he ran his hands through it in frustration, a frequent gesture
with him. His rugged face and fine grey eyes might have led others
to call him handsome had it not been for the tense quality of his
posture, which combined with the peculiar alertness of his
expression to give him the appearance of a tightly leashed animal
who, once attacked, would fight to the death without asking for or
granting quarter. He would carry that watchful, wary attitude with
him forever, Merin felt certain, because he was from the planet
Sibirna. One of the most terrifying Races of the Jurisdiction, the
Sibirnans were almost as fierce and warlike as the Cetans. But from
her observations, she knew there was more to Herne than the
stereotype of his people.
“Are you sure you saw nothing?” he demanded
“I have already said not,” she responded,
fixing her eyes on his feet. “I was watching the fire and listening
to the conversation, just as I told Tarik.”
Silence fell between them. Merin knew he was
looking hard at her, trying to discover if she was telling the
truth. He made a sound of disbelief before he left her to help
Tarik douse the fire. Merin remained with her gaze still on the
place where Herne had stood, the half lie heavy on her conscience.
She wondered if the shiver up her spine was the result of not
telling the entire truth, or if it had been caused by the entity
Herne had seen, or whether, just possibly, it was because she knew
he had been watching her while she watched him.
He wakened in the folded-down navigator’s
seat that was serving him as a bed. Lifting his head, he looked
around. By the pale green light of the scanning instrument he could
see that everyone else was asleep. Alla lay next to Osiyar with one
arm flung over him in a possessive way. Tarik was across the aisle
from Herne, in the pilot’s chair, now converted to a bed like
Herne’s. Farther back, in the seat next to the cargo bay door,
Merin was distinguishable by the white coif she never removed. The
only sound was the faint humming of the scanners. Yet someone had
called his name.
Herne…it is time…
He rose from his bed and stepped outside the
shuttlecraft. The night had grown colder. He shivered as he turned
toward the place where earlier he had seen the mysterious
She stood there again, in the same spot, but
the ruined pillar and the tree, and the dark niche, were gone.
Instead, a low building faced with smooth white stone confronted
him. Where the niche had been there was now an arched opening,
shining with golden light from within. As she had done before, the
woman beckoned, and this time Herne followed her.
They entered a long, columned hall of shining
white. The center half of the roof had been left open to the sky,
and in the exact center of this area was a pedestal of white stone.
On it, twice as tall as a man, stood the golden statue of a bird,
its beak open and its wings outstretched.
“That’s a Chon,” Herne said, pausing to look
at it. Though larger than any Chon he had ever seen, the statue was
perfectly lifelike, the detail on every feather exactly modeled.
The long-ago sculptor had successfully conveyed all the grace and
nobility of the great, intelligent creatures who, though much
reduced in numbers, still inhabited Dulan’s Planet. It occurred to
Herne that he ought to be surprised to understand that what he was
seeing was part of Tathan during the days six hundred years before
his own time, when the telepaths who built the city still lived
there, but everything that was happening seemed completely natural
to him. “Why did the telepaths make a statue of a Chon and put it
in a place of honor?”
The woman did not answer him. She barely
slowed her steps when he stopped to look at the statue. He hurried
to catch up with her. She led him out of the hall and down a few
steps, then across a garden that lay green and silver and quiet
beneath twin crescent moons.
“Where are we now?” Herne asked.
The woman did not speak. The bidding was
inside Herne’s mind, and it was irresistible. He went with her to
where more steps led downward. Soon they were underground. They
needed no lights; a white luminescence surrounded them, moving with
them. Herne looked back once and saw how dark it was behind
On their right as they descended was a stream
flowing downward into an underground lake that extended so far that
Herne could not see the end of it. The water was dark blue, as if
it lay beneath the purple-blue sky of Dulan’s Planet and reflected
its color. The water as also lit from within. It shone like a
priceless jewel held before a brilliant light.
The steps ended when they reached a white
stone grotto, and there the woman stopped. On the right rippled the
purple-blue lake; on the left was a room with its long side toward
the lake and its inner walls hung with shimmering white fabric. The
woman pulled aside a sheer curtain and entered, then stood waiting
She offered him food, tiny cakes on a
silvery-white tray, and a drink poured into a crystal cup. The
liquid was pale blue and clear, the cup cool when Herne took it in
both hands. He lifted it to his lips but did not drink, for he
recalled something Tarik had once said in one of his many speeches
about old history and the need to remember it. Tarik had spoken of
an ancient legend about a man who ventured into a world beneath the
world, who had been warned not to eat one crumb or drink one drop
in that underworld, or he could never again return aboveground.
Herne set the crystal cup down upon an intricately carved white
stone table and faced his mysterious hostess.