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The next day Jareth settled for the host's responsibility, postponed some of his royal duties and invited Sarah for a tour of his Labyrinth. It didn't miss Jareth's attention that his young guest seemed a little more upbeat after meeting his friends over yesterday's dinner. She had talked lengthy and intensely with his court physician Orora, listening keenly and shown great interest in what the older woman had to say. Jareth would never have guessed that Julianne's young daughter would've been interested in medicine as a discipline, but there it was, an eager desire to learn. To delve deeper, to know more. He had seen it in her bright-eyedness, the sheen on her silky cheeks and the graceful animations of her facial expressions that she was finally in her true element as a student, that she was lastly finding the educational inspiration.

Orora had discussed with her as an equal, enthused her as the young Celestian woman she was - not as a child the way teachers met their protégés at Earth, and therefore killed what burning flames of curiosity might reside inside of their hearts. Elated by that realization, Jareth decided that he also ought to polish this raw diamond who was Julianne's daughter, discover the admirable appeal he knew dwelled inside of her and bring it out into the light.

As soon as breakfast was over the next day they rode Jareth's private elevator down to the ground floor and left the palace through a back door, to avoid the general public and their everlasting interest in their king. Exiting the castle they began a leisurely downhill stroll towards the river Ergenad. While passing through the Royal Garden, with its unusual flora, spanning like vibrant green and turquoise canopies over their path, dotted with fruits and flowers in the most vibrant hues, Sarah was pointing out the differences to the plant life of her home. Jareth told her that the high vegetables with wide, emerald crowns were not ferns but a kind of algae. Unlike trees, these specimens had no roots to speak of, instead they stood attached to the ground using suctions on their underside, and they were actually mobile, even if they traversed the world exceedingly slow. He also pointed out the large cone-shaped indigo blossoms hanging from blue wines trellising larger vegetables. Those were strongly hallucinogenic and much appreciated by the people of Infraheim, although in a too large quantity they became lethally toxic.

Jareth continued his narrating while they walked down the tapered stone-laid paths which smoothly ran through the regimented greenery of the shallow slope towards the riverbank, just south of the Eon Tower. He found Sarah an eager listener, curious for knowledge and good at laying in small questions at fortuitous intervals. Lastly, while standing before Ergenad, watching the sun dance on the tips of the scraggly waves, Sarah finally asked questions Jareth had been half-dreading and half eagerly anticipating - questions about Lady Julianne.

"Why is my mother so clearly ill at ease among the Celestians?" she prompted. Jareth hesitated while turning towards the young woman who stood with hands churned down in the pockets of her graphite gray hood-jacket, tilting to and from as she heaved on her sneaker-clad feet, while regarding him through a curtain of brunette hair. "Is it because of what my father did?"
"You must begin by understanding that your mother went through a great ordeal when she was just a few decades older than you are now," Jareth crossed his hands on his back, reining in his long, dark indigo cloak, which had been fluttering almost freely in the wind earlier. "She had a handful of horrid years involving the clash between her husband Reikan, her father Utrorion and the High King Angarian of Whitehall and his council of powerful and mercyless women and men. I'm not sure how much she has told you about these events."

Sarah thought about this for a while, staring at the swirling and foaming breakers lapping the boulders, before lifting her eyes to regard the green water, which was dotted with boats and ships of all kinds and moving in all directions, seemingly no left- or right hand rule applying, still there was a certain discipline to the traffic that went beyond her understanding. After the boats she let her eyes follow the contours of the slender, glittering towers on the other shore, admiring the daring and futuristic qualities of the architecture. The city seemed vibrant with activity and she wondered when she was going to see it for real. Right now, she was clinging to anything that seemed remotely solid in her life, however there was precious little to cling to.

"Not much," she settled for. "Mother gave me a hurried accord the evening we went to Eralda and Whitehall. But I was too excited with the upcoming fiesta to actually pay real interest. As I came to understand later that I should. My revolutionary father – I realize he made a real imprint among the Celestians. What he did seems to have coloured people's perception of me too. I got quite a few unfriendly glares at Whitehall, you know." There was no pity in her voice as she revealed that, mere the staccato of a stabbing anger at the injustice being delt her.
"Then let me honestly reveal that you did not deserve those, so you do better disregarding them completely," Jareth tilted a brow and she took her eyes off the high-rises of the city to instead regard him.

That spiky mane of whitish blond hair seemed almost luminescent in the light of the slanted purple rays of the early midmorning sun. Like thin strands of fiberglass swaying in the soft wind, and she wanted to reach out and touch them, find out if they were as soft and delicate as they looked. With his floridly flamboyant outfit of lace, leather, velvet and gemstones and lacquered shoes with brass fastenings, he sure looked like a diva from another world. Admittingly she'd have had a hard time taking him serious if she knew he was just what he looked like. But this world was his, he was the natural element here while it was her bleached jeans that was eccentric instead of his black leather pants with swirling patterns of golden studs.

After a moment of contemplating silence Jareth's voice cut through her brooding.  
"Actually it should be Julianne telling you these things, since it's her story, but in a way I understand why she kept her mouth shut about it."
"What happened?"

Jareth hesitated mulling that nebulous thought over and over in his head. Then he decided he might as well give it to her. Sara deserved to hear why she had been forced to live the life of an exiled among the humans.
"Don't blame her for taking you away from Eralda," he finished and upon seeing her taking in breath to cut him off, he hassled to continue. "She didn't feel welcome there anymore, not after what her father and husband had done. She didn't want the Celestians' disdain or mistrust to blead upon you. So she did the only reasonable thing one could deliberate. She left. Went into exile. Hoped that the life on Earth would be better for both of you. She held no love for Eralda or its people anymore."
"I suppose it's a noble reason to dislike people, but only to an extent..."

"Yes of course. Many of the individual Celestians had also done harm to her. The rest generally didn't take her side. Again that terrifying contrast between the extreme and the banal. She ended up facing the court alone, which was enough in itself to make anyone resentful."
"But you don't socialize that much with the Celestians either, right?"
"I certainly don't," Jareth shrugged. "Take into account, though, that I've my own challenging and time-consuming realm and court. Your mother does stand alone in every sense of the word." He hesitated contemplatively before continuing. "Perhaps I don't reach out to her as much as I should, but I'm not really around enough to make a difference."
"So Jareth... all she really wanted to do was protecting me?" The question seemed to stretch out into eternity.
"Correct - it's only natural she wouldn't want you, her only child, to make the same mistakes or face the same hurts as she has."

Sarah glanced at him from the corner of her chestnut-dark eyes, thick dark lashes shading something sparkling therein, as her mind worked over private enigmas, considering the puzzle that were her life. Sometimes puzzles were made of little wooden blocks. At other times they were made of tangled vines, studded with thorns and no promise of a rose underneath. Silently she tried for a brief couple of silent moments in time to figure what kind of puzzle she was working on right now.

"I guess I judged my mother too hard then," she finally decided upon. "I shouldn't have been that condemning. She only did what she thought was right." The insecurity and apology in Sarah's tone was heartbreaking beneath the thin veneer of composed calm and Jareth felt his jaw set at the unfairness of it all.
"Nor should you judge yourself too hard, Sarah. You're still young, and like all young people you yearn for adventure, to discover the world and to challenge yourself and your skills and cunnings. At these times the cotton of parenthood can feel suffocating. It's only natural, our limitations can misguide us, and ignorance can destroy us. The only way to stay in the path of perfection is by constantly and wisely question our thoughts and decisions as well as the principles that rule our lives. Eventually you'll be able to take a step back and see these events in the clear light of near objectivity. To comprehend that what your mother did – she did out of love. Nothing else." The King gently caught her hand, curling his large calloused grip softly around his guest's long, elegant fingers.
"I might owe her an apology then, don't you think so?"
"That is up to you to decide," his voice calm but with a slivering edge of challenge within, but Sarah didn't feel ready to take up that gauntlet, so instead she fell into a pensive silence.

After another moment of stillness, Jareth continued to tell her about his realm.
"The waters you're looking at now is is the river Ergenad. It flows right through the city of Labyrinth. But it's a demanding old lady, many have tried to cross her in flimsy jollyboats, shortcutting through the maze of our city only to end up at her bottom. There are five other rivers flowing through my immediate dominion like so many great silver-blue serpents, coiling through many tracts of unexplored lands on their route to the distant ocean. Ergenad is also often referred to as the Mother of them all."
"Why is that?" Sarah looked into the capricious green-gray depths.
"She is by far the largest, and some say it is because she was there prior to the others, in the beginning of time, even before people came to this place."
"What do you say?"
"I'm not sure. No one is. But it's a special story. One of those you tend to remember." Jareth smirked with levity and Sarah wondered if he was reminiscing some private joke which he was not really willing to share.


More than an hour later, Julianne finally completed her recollection of the party at Whitehall and the ensuing disappearance of her daughter. Aitoola, the Human Illuminate looked her over from her place behind her desk. To say that Lady Julianne was anxious and worried was an understatement. To say that she was one nerve away from breaking down was probably closer to the mark. She had divulged her initial suspicion that Jareth of Labyrinth had been behind the unfortunate event, something she had revised upon ascertaining the destruction of the Chelsean street intersection where Sarah had vanished.
"Jareth was there all right," Julianne alleged, whilst daubing her reddened eyes with a paper napkin. "However I'm certain it was just a coincidence. Perhaps the vexing old fart decided to have a go at trying to flirt up my daughter. He did give it a crack back at Whitehall after all, almost succeeding. Thus he too became a victim when the Thing struck."

"You think the Alien took your daughter and the Lord of Labyrinth with it?" the Human Illuminate asked, handing the Celestian another napkin pulled from the rectangular paper box on her desk. Gratefully Julianne took the flimsy thing and blew her nose in the perfumed pinkness.
"Yes," she staggered while crumbling the paper in her fist, knowing she was soiling herself, not caring. "Yes, I think he did."
"And you haven't tried to contact Labyrinth to find out?"
"No," Julianne shook her head, still cradling the hard little ball of paper, like it offered some kind of comfort – a buoy in an unruly sea of emotions. "I cannot do that. Not now."

"Why not?" Nonplussed Aitoola faced her guest. Outside the partly opened window a church bell started to toll, the sound almost startling Julianne before she composed herself.
"The Infraheim universe is out of phase right now, moving forward rapidly in time. I cannot get in touch with anyone there in any normal manner. My only chance would be to deploy a Tarondan expert portaller."
"Then why don't you?"
"Because they won't help me. I'm, uh, pariah in their Cosmos. Remember my husband killed almost two hundred of their highest ranking Celestians when they visited Eralda."

"That was hardly your fault." Aitoola's old face displayed comforting wisdom, as if every wrinkle understood Julianne's disquiet.
"They don't see it that way. They see my husband and my late father as abominations. They would hardly give me a hand."
"Even if it was to retrieve a bereft child?"
"Even then," Julianne's blue eyes darkened as does the sea under the passage of a cloud. "They might even consider that child a threat, since she is her father's daughter. That was why I came to you, Your Honour. You, who have the ear of everyone."
"But hardly more," the Indian admitted. "They listen to me, out of courtesy, but behind my back they huff. To them I'm just a paltry human. A pet in a zoo cage. No one to take seriously." Then she posed herself a bit more direct, adding steel to her round, black eyes. "But I have a few – let's call it connections. Let me confer with them. Meanwhile may I give you an advice, Milady?" She tilted her head as her voice turned notably softer.

"Sure," Julianne confirmed, biting back more tears, they were getting old now.
"Go to the lion's den."
"See High King Angarian himself. If anyone can help locating your daughter - he is the one."
Lady Aitoola, the Human Illuminate, watched the beautifully bright pink sunrise tint the endless horizon and the large, bristling city of Calcutta surrounding her abode. Her slender and lithe body, now in restive state, was dressed in an ankle-long radiantly white gown, almost gaseous in its thinness, bellowing softly around her form in the warm wind. She was fighting many unresolved questions in her heart – most of all she feared what she had seen in her crystal Orb of Observation late last night. The cessation of the reality structure, the arrival of the dreaded Alien into her realm. Not only had it caused a lot of harm to the spatial texture as it struck, it had hit near one of the few places on Earth where Celestians dwelled, outside London in the United Kingdom. Aitoola was certain it was no coincidence. The Alien wanted more than ascertaining the Universe of Earth. It wanted something with those Celestians.

Lady Julianne and her daughter Sarah, Aitoola recollected their sad fate. Having fled a revolution which had killed her father and jailed her husband, Julianne had sought sanctuary as far away from most Celestians as she could come. On Earth, among the billions of humans. Yet now something else was coming for them. Something much more horrid than a horde of disgruntled Celestians. Aitoola wondered what it was and if there was something they could do to safeguard themselves. Her race was a brittle one, there might be lot of them - one billion only here in India. Still she had seen what little it took to get rid of a large proportion of her kind. She remembered well the Bhopal Gas disaster back in 1984. More than 3000 died that fateful day. Had they been Celestians, they'd merely been nauseous, before the bodily defence dealt with the toxic gasses and took them apart into harmless components.

If this alien was malign, how could she protect her people against it? If it began a holocaust, would she live up to her duty then and decide who to save and whom to let die?

These were questions she didn't dare asking King Angarian. No matter that he was a true mastermind and the architect of the civilization that was considered one of the greatest powers ever in any of the seven Cosmoses. Angarian's generosity and supremacy was as great as his rage and stubbornness. His rancorousness. Nearly fourteen years had passed since Reikan had been thrown in jail and Utrorion had been killed, still Angarian was clear with not really having put those events behind himself, he was jealously guarding his throne and influence. So how could Aitoola tell him she feared for Julianne and Sarah without angering him? Maybe she could find answers for some of her concerns with the proper questions? Perhaps he would listen and give her doubts some relief?

As the sun ascended, Aitoola closed her eyes, enjoying for a while the luminous caress of the bright orb gently bathing her. Forcing her eyes open again, she swirled around and left the balcony, entering her spacious living quarters where the day's first meal awaited on a table facing the view outside. The newspapers laid spread upon the glass table next to an immaculate English breakfast. Having been brought up by Anglo-influenced rich parents in Delhi, she had become predisposed with the ways of the British. Colonial perhaps, still she had to admit she liked it. She loved the hot Ceylon tea, the can of milk to mix it with, the jam toasts cut up in triangles and the bacon and eggs served on a round, peach-coloured china plate next to it. The fork and the knife rather than the shop sticks of the Asians.

Seating herself and taking a sip of her tea, she folded open the newspaper she always read first, the London Times. It was proclaiming the usual. Wars going on in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, Vladimir Putin of Russia trying to force his influence down the throat of Ukraine and Barak Obama protesting absent-mindedly. China was on the brink of civil war and France had seen its first case of ebola. An earthquake in Turkey and a general election in Chile. Then the Swedes were chasing foreign submarines in their waters again, something which happened every decade or so. While eating, Aitoola turned the pages, scanning the news quickly, her eidetic memory making it possible to memorize every word therein. The moment she was done eating she took up the red little plastic square which laid at the side of her tray – her magic pager. Thumbing it like a touch screen, she pulled it open, going over her calendar for the day. Then she realized that she had a guest waiting out in the longue.

"Well speak of the..." she thought out loud. "Lady Julianne! Has she also realized the danger she and her daughter are in? And come to me for help? Very well, I ought to see what I can do for her. At least I should be able to infuse some hope. Perhaps I could be an intermediate between her and the King should she not dare to visit him on her own accord."

Necessity driving her and making her fast and efficient, the Human Illuminate stood and walked out into the lounge and in the corner of an eye she spotted a silent servant slipping in to retrieve the plate with the rests of her meal. She grasped a gold-threaded crimson sari from a peg, draping it with wont hands around her body, before descending the broad marble staircase to the longue where her Celestian guest was anticipating her. Here the air was colder, some chill of the night still lingered in the stone walls and radiated from between the decorative Persian rugs of the marble floor.

Closing in on the coach, she noted the overwrought body language of the elegantly dressed lady sitting there, this was more than a worry about some believed Alien intruder. Regardless of the shading ice-blue hat, Aitoola noted the tears glistening faintly on a milky white pair of cheeks. Something else had occurred, that was achingly palpable, the Illuminate realized.

"Welcome Julianne," she saluted and her visitor stood, greeting her the Indian way with a bow, palms pressed together.
"Thank you, Your Honor! Do you have time for a short exchange of words? Bestowing me with some advice?"
"Of course I have," Aitoola established. "Is something afflicting your soul?"
"It is," Julianne cast an eye out in the large, elegant longue. Its scarlet walls, black and white marble floor, red and white coaches, brass vases with fresh flowers, the high, pointy widows and arches, the rotating fans in the ceiling. All very Indian. Down to the faint waft of incense in the air paired with floor wax and the Illuminate's moderately applied Jasmine perfume. "Can we go somewhere where my privacy can be ensured as this is a tantalizing matter?"
"Certainly, Milady," Aitoola smiled comfortingly. "We can sit down in my private office, come with me!"


The darkness of the limbo was deep and cold, quiet and vast, but not omnipresent. Floating nebular tarns and dust clouds of countless colors swam graciously in the endless emptiness. Far beyond one of many invisible clusters of gravimetric currents laid an ocean of colored gas shaped in the form of a gigantic deformed eye. However the power that conquered that infinite solitude, that starless emptiness was not the mighty and scarce phenomena that inhabited it, but a man and two women hovering dexterously in the dusk.

Arch Wizardress Aryesyle was glad to be rid of the obdurate feel of the Radphaser across her eyes, delighted to 'see', 'perceive' and even evoke the two Voidwalkers in her astral form. Regarding Cleanthia and her father Antolas floating to the sides of her she imagined what it must be like living more or less astrally as a permanent condition. Hard. Peculiar. Irregular. Then she turned her attention to the task ahead, feeling adrenalin singe her veins, bringing the world into razor-sharp focus.

Just as Jareth of Labyrinth had indicated, there was a solidifying presence between the universes. A calamitous, fearsome abomination as if cut out of an ancient-old and archetypic nightmare, klaxons sounding their dire warning all over the racial memory. This exploration would take most of Aryesyle's considerable proficiency. Ostensibly only a part of the entity they called The Alien had emerged into the Seven Cosmoses. Without letting it get an inkling of her identity, Aryesyle was now trying to determine its size and shape. The thing was so large it was nearly shapeless; changes in its vast expanse came after long stretches and she could not delineate any symmetry.

She turned to the others, voiced her question in silence. They shook their head.
Too large, came Cleanthia's response.
Too old, Antolas supplemented. And fragmented. This creature has parted with a piece of itself.
Say again, the Avalonite Arch Wizardress frowned. Or she would have frowned, had she been in her bodily form. Her astral just formed the expression in her mind, transmitting it to the Thulean man floating opposite of her.
You see over there, his astral arm pointed, extended itself to give a better intimation at the direction the others should look. See where the darkness is slightly hazy. Ruptured. This creature has let a part of itself go here. Like one of those lizardians you have on your planet, Aryesyle, who gives up a part of itself to get away from a predator.

So you think it has fled an enemy? Aryesyle asked. Might that be why it came here?
I doubt that, Antolas admitted. The thing has disjointed after its advent.
Why? Cleanthia wondered. Something intercepted it in our world? The Cyborg woman from the Hallow Ewe Fiesta?
Or did it – procreate?
More likely, Antolas guessed. However – he dithered, whatever he was about to say now was so bizarre he could hardly believe it, regardless of having seen things more astonishing than most people would even imagine. However it appears that this fragmentation is still part of the original organism in a strange way. Sharing its mind and memories. Almost as if this Alien has sent out a kind of research pod. A very living research pod.

Can it be, Aryesyle conjectured. That this is not one single being? But a kind of hive. A multi-existence of some kind?
I'm not sure, Antolas deplored. Let's dare getting a bit nearer! See if we can get a clearer perception of the thing's vastness.

The women appeared a bit doubtful but they trailed the older Voidwalker who began advancing towards the dark and immense object soaring the Void currents in front of them, seeing the space behind getting more and more eclipsed by its unfathomable proportions. Then, without a previous warning of any kind, everything suddenly turned to chaos. Aryesyle's perception lurched, feeling as though she was on the periphery of an enormous gyroscope. Within a heartbeat she felt her reflexes overtaking her, hurriedly hauling her astral back to her physical body. With a painfully brutal force she slammed back into her physical self again, feeling the agony spread across her form like strident rays of venom as she coughed and struggled to breathe.

Realizing she had to flee before becoming annihilated, Cleanthia thrashed against currents of the spiritual world. Although she, as a Voidwalker, was one of those most in tune with it, there was nobody to truly preside over this place. All the roads laid out in front of her shifted every time she turned her head, changed her focus and there was no aid for navigation. The world of the in-between had brought even her ilk to its knees before. All she had to work with was the Beacon Crystal which glowed faintly when a door opened. The escape of the void was a series of natural portals, perpetually opening and closing, turning her route into a mise en abyme. But she could not go in a straight line. She didn't know how long it would take to reach her destination – which may present a real problem, as time didn't work in a normal way here. As they had headed out, she had passed through four portals and now she seemed no closer to the end, a notion which made her spine unhinge with a frostbitten chill of fear.

She passed through realms and aeons so foreign to her that they might have poisoned her had she lingered, still she kept her eyes focused on the Beacon leading her home. The burning gigantic Beacon Crystal drifted freely in the breathtaking periphery of the Void, sharing its mesmerizing liquid flaming colors with the vivid rainbow lights and shades of the majestic stargarden glowing behind it. The floating bi-dimensional symbol was more than a rare interdimensional singularity. The surface danced like flames and the apparent deepness within the burning liquid energy was more than a gorgeous phantasmagoria, it was the reflection of the inter-dimensional continuity of the Void between the Known Universes.

Inside, there was another world, another reality. A place no one could enter yet if someone miraculously could - beckoned to visit this dimension of unrealness - they would disintegrate and the little that was left would drift inside the endless crystal labyrinth, forever lost between layers of strange dimensions. But the labyrinth was not the only singularity inside, Cleanthia knew, there was so much more. Toward the endless center rose the a land that was labelled "The True Paradise". A few Voidwalkers had witnessed it and lived to return. They had told of beauties no words could describe. In that place, it was said, living and dreaming were all roiled together, weird threads unravelling at the frayed edge of existence so that what was real might be only illusions.

As in a cold fever the Voidwalker noted the recurrent sound of her own heartbeat, tried to cling to it to block out the sudden onrush of other, stranger sounds. They battered her mind like clawing echoes, whispers and demands and shrieks, garbled voices that perverted her trance state, conjured nightmarish constraints to clamp down the eyelids and keep her from escaping. Torture her.

Once Cleanthia realized she was in a familiar place again she was presented with an entirely unsettling scene. Antolas – her father was writhing in agony on the flagstones in front of her. Cleanthia couldn't shake the feeling that she had something to do with it.
"Father," she leaped towards him, reaching out with trembling hands, in the corner of her eyes she noted the Avalonite sitting up and looking stumped, obviously she was not seeing neither Cleanthia nor her father.
"You..." Antolas struggled for words, blood oozing between his quivering lips. Colder he grew and colder still, his feeble heart strumming with the effort to cling to life. Each heartbeat a strangled note played upon a rent lyre.
"Papá," Cleanthia choked wretchedly.
"Saved... you daughter...."

"Father," Cleanthia repeated softly, holding his twisted and tortured body, stemming the flow of her own tears. In the fading blue of his eyes she beheld a tiny light flare, a weakened beam that gave her just enough strength to recognize the last echo of her father's voice.
"Cleanthia, be strong!" These words, whispered hoarsely, became the brave Voidwalker's final words, his hand fell from Cleanthia's grip, the indolent beat of his pulse faded, his heart skipped and struggled. In Cleanthia's arms he shuddered, his limbs stiffened and the light flickered out of his eyes, his chest sagged and became still, his breath leaked away.
"Father, Papá..."

A wisp of smoke was what he became, a vaporous breath dispersed into the wind and gone.

Knowing he would never move again, Cleanthia let a cry cross her lips, an expletive of despair as the person who had meant the most in her world was no more. She also knew that this was a close as she would get to where she had wanted to be, and she would not tempt providence. With little more than a strong desire, the Voidwalker began to wend her way to the older woman who had travelled together with her.

On the floor, inside of a hexagonal hyperdiamond, glowed the ancient etheric matter which was believed to be a part of the Alien's soul.
Jareth lifted his hand and knocked gently on the door. Not getting a response he pushed the door slowly open and peeked around the corner. On the far side of the room in the generous four poster canopy bed, Sarah was sound asleep, the claret cover heaving slightly with the rise and fall of her breathing chest. Bright gray light illuminated the room from the tall windows, soft and mellow it trickled through the gauzy lace curtains and painted faint rectangles on the tiled wooden floor and yonder furnishing, as if a hesitant artist had daubed their paintbrush across the interior. The only thing heard in the room was the silent ticking of a clock and the soft breaths of his guest. With gentle footfalls Jareth went and sat down on the bedding next to the young girl, reaching out to nudge her on the shoulder.

She moaned and then her lids fluttered up, bewildered first and then, as comprehension dawned upon her, he became astonished to see irritation and annoyance marring her pretty face.
"It's nearing dinnertime, so I was wondering if you might be hungry, Sarah," he gently offered. Sarah shook her head and looked away and Jareth took a breather before deciding to ask about it. "Other than not being home, Sarah, what is wrong?"

Sarah shook her head again, still without saying anything. For a moment Jareth recollected their interactions that day. His Earthly guest had gone from frightened to happy while settling in. She had seemed curious and bright upon interrupting him earlier that afternoon. Now she was upset. After a moment of consideration, he figured what it might have been. Standing up he retreated a step to give her space.
"I was busy earlier, all sweaty and worked out and not in the shape to confront a young lady. Not after having a shower at least. But I really wouldn't mind showing you around after dinner. Right now I have a few friends coming over who can be interesting to meet," he coaxed in a voice as low as the thunder of a distant, rolling storm. "But if you rather wish, you can have your meal brought here."

"I'm not really hungry," Sarah said as she sat up in bed, pulling her legs underneath her and folding her arms around her chest as if she was freezing. And perhaps she was, Jareth thought. Celestians and other humanoids were so much more sensitive to changes in temperature than daemons of his own ilk were. Their range of comfort was so narrow. He'd have to make sure her room was warm.
"Are you cold?" he asked and she shook her head in reply.
"I'm more like... Tired. Confused. But I'd love to see your place." The last sentence was said with a trace of buoyancy, barely a notable change from the earlier dejection. For the first time she met his looks in earnest – and wasn't there a faint glitter therein? Like coins thrown in the deep green of a water well, mostly covered in algae yet briefly catching a ray of sunlight. He was sure he hadn't imagined it at least.

Perhaps Jareth had been about as encouraging as he intended, for not much later Sarah sat primly at the table in his penthouse dining room while the last of livery-clad servants finished laying out the food, white-glowed hands putting down plate after plate with delicacies. The room rested in a placid and warm dusk produced by dimmed headlights and candles in coloured glass-jars scattered across the table. Outside the crepuscular light was turning purple as the night closed in and the large, red orb which was the Infraheim sun descended towards the horizon. Below them the city of Labyrinth was lighting up rapidly, sparkling more and more intensely for every minute passing. Tearing her eyes off the breathtaking view, Sarah turned her attention to the pleasantly-smelling meal and noticed that along with the sort of food she was used to eating, there were dishes similar to what she had received at the converging at Whitehall. She spotted meat and rice and things she recognized as fruit and vegetables, though they were not of any Earthly flora. She also discovered dishes being totally outlandish to her; she had no idea if she was seeing meat, fish or vegetables. Some of it even appeared to be – crawling, thus she quickly decided to pass on that selection.

Jareth also waited quietly, staring thoughtfully at the empty places further down.
"As I earlier mentioned, others will be joining us soon," he finally said.
"Ones whom I count as friends."
"Lady Nurah?" Sarah asked hopefully. Jareth felt a smile twitch his lips.
"I don't know if she'll make it to this meal, but there's a place reserved for her. There always is."

Counting the settings, Sarah noted that there were five in addition to the one she imagined as Nurah's.
"Who else?"
"Patience," Jareth said gently, not looking at her, his brief jovial demeanor returning to the same solemn complex one it had been before. For the second time that day Sarah felt like a silly little girl. Ruefully she thought he was succeeding where Julianne had failed - reigning her in. She began to resent him for that. At least the servants were not witness to it, since they had already completed their task and left through the large doors at the yonder wall.

Not long after nine soft chimes were heard from a clock mounted on the wall. Sara had looked with puzzlement at that timepiece earlier, it had four hands and was numbered from one to 13. Two of the hands were moving in accordance like a regular clock, while one was moving backward and the last seemed to not be moving at all, but was stuck on the number 4. As the last reverberating chime rung out into silence, the doors opened up again and a tall and slender woman walked into the dining room. She had skin as black as coal, yet her hair was fair as a Scandinavian's and fell in flooding waves over her bare shoulders. Her brightly crimson dress appeared like painted upon her busty body and she had large hoops in her ears. But the most astonishing thing was the curved, silvery horns protruding from her temples like with an Aries!

Just behind her stalked an elderly-looking man; barefoot and naked but for the short dark-blue woolen kilt around his hips to preserve modesty, fastened with a wide, decorative silver belt. His pale skinned body was covered in tattoos, red and green meandering vectors outlining what appeared to be letters of some kind, intermingled with pictures of beasts.

Jareth stood and opened his arms in welcome. Evidently he was in his true element. His posture relaxed, his hands more animated while he greeted his friends.
"Welcome!" The duo bowed in response. "Please, be seated." The horned woman took the chair to his left and the elderly man sat down next to Sarah. "Orora, Cascal, allow me to present Sarah, daughter of Lady Julianne formerly of Lealia, present days of England, Earth." Jareth went on, gesturing to his guest, "Sarah, this is Professor Orora, my court physician and Cascal – one of the best Shamen in Labyrinth," he concluded indicating the man next to Sarah.

Sarah gave them each a courteous nod, though she wasn't sure how to address Cascal. When she turned her head she saw something shimmer out of the corner of her eye; the air around Cascal glistened like starbursts, and youth replaced age in his countenance. Yet when she looked directly at him he again appeared in the guise of the wizened old man she had first seen. It reminded her of the girl he had met at the Whitehall diner. The one who had been almost invisible, if you didn't look at her through that strange instrument called Radphaser. The Voidwalker, Sarah recalled her name as Cleanthia.

Orora and Cascal had but sat down when four more arrivals entered. Two mustached men who seemed to be identical twins, dressed in the same deep purple frocks with gleaning buttons and wide, ostrich-feathered hats which they swept off their heads in unison upon arriving, displaying salt-and-pepper hair combed back and with protruding widows peaks. Behind them walked a lithe woman with an almost bluish tint to her pale skin. She was attractive, but in a very harsh way. Everything about was hard and sharp, high cheekbones, high arched brows and a pointed nose. Her raven bob-cut hair contrasted with the white in what appeared to be a dress uniform with a broad scarlet sash around her narrow waist. By the side, she carried a slim rapier, the gemstones on the hilt glittering in the lamplight. Half a step behind followed a swelte woman, also in a dress uniform, a red this time.  

Rather than standing this time, Jareth waved them in, while an entrée of consommé magically appeared in cups in front of each of the dinner guests. It was steaming faintly, emitting promising bouquets of palatable flavors. Watching the others, Sarah picked a similar silvery spoon and savored the soup, it was delicious, tasting like minestrone soap but spicier and pleasantly creamy. Once again, Jareth presented Sarah before going on with announcing the newly arrivals.
"Sarah, allow me to introduce the brothers Revin and Galim, accountants at the treasure, Endrara, my Commander in Chief and her subordinate, agent Levantine!"

Sarah immediately recognized Levantine for the Kim Kardashian lookalike with the horns from the Hallow Ewe fiesta. The daemoness looked almost reticent, it was obvious that dining with the king was not an everyday occurrence for her. Endrara on the other hand carried herself like she was invincible and owned the world – as if she was queen and Jareth her subject rather than the other way around when she in a very genteel manner held out her hand for Jareth to kiss. After that she took her place next to Cascal, head held high and an aquiline, watchful look with which she scrutinized Sarah as the newcomer she was. Watching her Sarah understood that she was in the presence of a very dangerous woman.

"Jareth," Endrara began without preemptions. "I've just received a message from Eralda, Lealia. It appears to be three agents coming our way. They're aiming to enlist in the quest against the Alien."
"What alien?" Orora asked. Putting down her spoon, she leaned forward, facing the warrior.
"The one threatening all of the Seven Cosmoses," Endrara responded coolly, with a voice as if she was questioning if the medic had been hidden under a rock for some decades.
"And just why are they coming here? What makes them think that this alien should be secreted in Infraheim, the smallest and youngest of the Cosmoses?" Orora in turn appeared to be insulting Endrara's intelligence and it became apparent to Sarah that these two women were resenting each other.  

"Because of your encounter, Your Majesty," Endrara turned to Jareth, ignoring the horned woman. "It's not a meal discussion, as certain people may find the military lingo boring, however I've been analyzing your observations and I am certain the Alien has taken its refugee in Infraheim after intercepting Earth. That it may be hiding somewhere within Labyrinth. Biding its time."
"Waiting for what?" Jareth asked, facing the warrior.
"We don't know yet."

"You really don't?" Orora raised a neatly plucked brow. "Not even with all your incredible intelligence deployed?"
"No, have you any better ideas?" the Commander in Chief turned her attention back to the medicus, the dagger-pointy fringes of her hair brushing her protruding cheeks as if they were threatening to cut through them. As she spoke the candles adorning the table wavered and flickered in a most eerie way and the temperature seemed to drop. Sarah felt an unexpected shiver of unease lick itself down her spine.
"As a matter of fact," Orora began, but Jareth cut her off.
"Leave that to after the meal, miladies. You're uncomplaisant to our guest. I imagine Lady Sarah cannot be less interested in your private disagreements. Instead, tell me who's on their way here, Endrara! After that I'd like to know more about that discovery of yours, Orora, as it may change medicine as we know it altogether."

As Jareth spoke the candles settled themselves again and the room temperature returned to normal. Sarah inhaled, realizing she had forgotten to breath.

"Altogether my ass," Endrara huffed under her breath as she spiked a cube of bread on a tiny fork and ingested it before putting down her cutlery. "Coming here is an Ebraan man named Tilathian. Formerly Secret Agent to Her Majesty Queen Sarentona of Terandabar, these days a diplomat, although he's kept his military rank of a Centurian Knight, which indicates he's still doing undercover work for her. Even wet if I should make an educated guess. Then from old Taronda there's a Mage Supreme named Chervin."
"Chervin," Jareth echoed his name and Sarah recalled that he was acquainted with the Tarondan.
"And finally a, uh, a woman. Named Atrey Oine." Endrara made a face. "An Eraldan Cybernetic Entity."
"A Cyborg," Orora cut in and drank of her wine. "Do not think less of them because they are made out of artificial matters. Of silicone, synthothein and mechanical parts. You do have a few of them in your sold as well, if I remember correctly."

"They're expendable brutes," Endrara shrugged it off as if the argument was purely off-topic. Then she continued, pretending that this altercation had not ensued at all. "This trio is ready to go after the foe. Not to kill mind you, but merely to observe, since we cannot engage in a battle with the Alien before knowing what it really is. Where its soft spot may lie. There might even be a chance for us to communicate with it. Understand it. Possibly even find a way to elucidate this without being contingent on violence. It'd be so much better for all of us since we wouldn't have to offer expenses on warfare. But I'll take care of our visitors and share with them the intelligence we have. See what we can do, what we can learn."

"I thought you liked your game of violence, Endrara," Orora smirked, rose her green tulip-shaped glass and sipped of her wine. "Or am I being mistaken, have you got comfortable as you reached that rank of yours?"
"I'm not the one hiding indoors," the commander returned, and once again the candles danced, even fiercer this time. "And you don't need a microscope to see the enemies I face."
"You – or your weaponry wouldn't stand a day against a Zerancian double-helix virus," Orora shot back.

"Enough," Jareth cut them off, obviously vexed now. "How about the Voidwalkers. Have they gotten to work yet?"
"I'm not sure," barely notably Endrara shook her head. "My understanding is that the Eraldan Secret Service and the Thulean Voidwalkers are not on that well speaking terms with each other. Some conflict of interest no doubt. Therefore I deduce we'll have to ask the Celestians upon their advent. And be primed to persist in our interrogation."
"I wouldn't worry about that," Jareth replied. "I know Chervin. He's intelligent and very loyal to the Council. The old mage knows this is a question of survival. For all of us. He won't let internal conflicts stand in his way."  

Now, Sarah couldn't wait anymore, no matter that she might be breaking all kinds of protocol, she felt the need to cut in.
"What is a Cyborg?" she asked, as images of Science Fiction robots and Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator were dancing in her mind. "Is it really a part robot human?"
"Sort of," Endrara huffed, but Orora leaned forwards towards Sarah and as Endrara ensued informing the King, the physicist decided to have a private conversation with their guest.

"A Cyborg – which is short for 'cybernetic organism' - is an umbrella term describing organisms with both organic and biomechatronic parts," the horned medic began. "Nine Lealian decades ago, or roughly 350 of your Earth years, if my mental arithmetic got it right - the Lealian technomages found it possible to tie a sentient soul to an adequately developed artificial intelligence. To create this 'new frontier' - a bridge between mind and matter. In short their thinking machines – computers – became sentient and able to think for themselves and not merely taking programmed order."

"They became alive?" Sarah asked.
"Yes, they are alive, in every sense we regard life, since they do have souls," Orora replied with a nod. "Not all people seem to grasp that, questioning the Cyborgs' claim to life since they have never been born but rather manufactured. But they do have souls, that has been confirmed enough times."
"They can go astral. Letting their mind leave their physical bodies, something every higher sentient being can learn to manage with a bit of training. And most of all – they can die."

Sarah swallowed at the very word. Die. So terminal. So final.

"What happens when a Cyborg dies?"
"They stop working," Orora answered. "You can charge them with as much power you wish, they still won't interact. Then their organic parts start decomposing. That's all proof I need that they are alive. The difference between life and death – or rather adequately not life – is what distinguish life the way I define it as a medic."

"Fascinating! So one of them is coming here?"
"Apparently so," the medic pondered. "She seems to be some type of warrior. Undercover Spy. Not like those Cyborgs I've met, mind you, which were mostly surgeons and similar professionals."
"Are there a lot of Cyborgs here?" Sarah asked. "In Infraheim."
"No we don't have them," Orora shook her head. "Only as visitors from time to time."
"You see our electricity doesn't work like in other universes. Too erratic. Our universe is still too young. It'll probably stabilize some millions of years from now, but that's none of our business since neither of us will be around by then."

Jareth regarded Sarah, absorbed by the way she interacted with Orora. The ease of her conduct. The natural animation of her hands, the enraptured glitter irradiating from her eyes and the pinkish blush of her cheeks, the way she seemed to forget the world around her and the food on her plate. She didn't appear half as forlorn as she had been just half an hour earlier when they entered the dining room. No, instead she was shining, radiant with relaxed inclination and that kind of self-confidence only people who had forgotten their egos could acquire. Unconsciously, Jareth slipped a hand under his purple vest, rubbing feverishly the skin over his heart. He could feel it drumming so loud it was a wonder people around him didn't turn around to check where the ruckus came from.

She was indubitably getting to him – sneaking under his skin - and he felt a sudden ineptness as this unsolicited yet pleasant thought. Falling in love with the daughter of the disreputable Reikan, that really wasn't supposed to happen, was it? She wasn't only inappropriate for the King of Labyrinth, she was also way too young for him.

Taking a large gulp of wine from his glass he forced himself to listen to what Revin was saying. Figures and numbers. Debit and credit. The boring necessities. Jareth deployed one of his more beloved traits - the ability to listen and remember while actually thinking of other things. Like Sigiria, the woman he was taking to his bed tonight. Her long, blue-black legs, her wavy silvery hair, gleaning yellow eyes and sharp carnivores, her tiny, spiraling horns. A true daemon and of a noble family too, cunning in the art of pleasing a man, since she had been taught by the best. Sigiria should be able to take his mind off Sarah – and this unexpected infatuation. Or so he hoped...
Glittering leviathans bearing limbs capable of crushing boulders and others capable of stacking grains of sand reared in high pillars of gearbox-grinding movement, hung from the ceiling like mechanical multi-limbed bats or squatted on the vast plain of the factory floor. All the movement appeared chaotic, even lethal – an enormous single machine rather than distinct engines, where it seemed a human would be minced and scoured away in seconds. The sight would have driven even Vulcanus himself screaming from the premises, Atrey thought, especially had the old god seen the silver skeletons which were the product of this labour.

Contrary to the first impression this was all unreservedly well-organized. A three-dimensional assembly line designed by another entity of her cybernetic kind, so efficiently fashioned that no movement was wasted, no process interrupted, no energy squandered.
"I just obtained a quickpathy note from Khrysaor," Alessios informed. "We've got the chassis prepped for installation, so we may go down there now." Turning around, Atrey studied her fellow Cyborg. His classic profile, a slightly beaked nose, brown eyes, and thin dark brows below plaited purple hair artfully lined with strands of gold. He was taller than her but not much, so she had to lift her eyes to meet his, something she was unused to.

He wore monomer coolveralls with ribbed high collar and wrist-sleeves terminating in interface rings for 'factor gloves and helmet. The material of this garment was silvery and contained squares of memfab displaying what at first looked like the view from some craft flying above a strange city. Alessios had told her this was in fact an ophthalmoscope view of some ancient valved electronics he had studied during his youth.
"C'mon guys, move your asses," she called across her shoulder, tearing Tilathian and Chervin from their vantage point by the railing, where they were admiring the utilitarian ballet with fascination. Since both of the men came from societies based primarily on magic they were unused to this kind of elaborated industries. Almost with reluctance did they head over to follow the Cyborgs.

Alessios leading, they made their way along the viewing gallery to an antique spiral staircase leading down to what the engineers called the shop floor. The quartet walked straight into the lethal blur of machinery and - of course - it flinched away from them, as it stretched and flexed like efficient, perfect muscles creating a safe space ten metres in diameter around. Thus enclosed in a hurricane's eye they walked until they reached the second stairs taking them down to their destination.

Here on a smaller floor, technicians pursued specialist projects whilst, behind a glass wall alongside them, silver skeletons with ribbed chests open like butterflies marched gracefully towards a perpetually cycling clean-lock and then further on to the glare beyond where sentience awaited them. In this room it was sometimes difficult to distinguish specialist project from technician. Even pure humanoids like Tilathian and Chervin were visually identical to droids which had donned syntheflesh. No wonder there were humanoids so in love with the machine it was difficult so see any humanity left in them.

Khrysaor was a slender and nimble looking silvery thing with glittery limbs, including two extra arms with strange protrusions instead of hands. As a matter of fact he looked like an odd hybrid between a man and a polished-chrome beetle. Alessios halted in front of him and a rapid conversation followed – in fact it was so rapid that it was over just as Chervin had begun widening his eyes at the strange contraption he was seeing.

With a fluid hand gesture, mirrored by nitid spidery limbs, Khrysaor indicated a droid skeleton perpendicular nearby, its chest open just like the others processing beyond it.
"This is it?" Atrey spoke in words rather than quickpathy, courtesy of the extraterrestrial visitors. The thing was seven feet tall, its ceramal bones bearing that slight bluish tint of the newer alloy/ceramofibre composite. Everything about it breathed heavier, more robust, impressive.
"No," said Alessios, also speaking now, getting the hint of protocol from his guest. "That's an anthrop chassis. That's the one you're here for."

Atrey looked where Alessios was pointing - at a lozenge of memory crystal sitting in an AI support column on a nearby bench. The other Cyborg walked over, pulled up a swivel chair and sat down, reached out and tapped the base of the column to get the mind's attention. To one side of the column a projection monocle rose off the bench. Below it the air flickered and the standard iconic head appeared against a cyan background of meandering wave-forms. Metallic - even the eyes, teeth and tongue.

"Unit G1025 Mirheim, I'm requesting selective data about the Infraheim universe." Khrysaor retrieved a piece of memcrystal the size of an infant's fingernail out of a pocket of his overalls and inserted it into the slot at the base of the column. Immediately it began to load. The projected head multiplied to infinity as if positioned between facing mirrors. Alessios then snatched the monocle out of the air, killing the image. Finally he retrieved the memcrystal and handed it over to Atrey.
"Everything you need to ascertain, including some outback languages spoken in the suburbs. The upload cycle should take about four hours if you install it all at once."

"Thanks!" Atrey accepted the crystal and slipped it inside of the wallet she carried in a leather tie around her neck. She might be fine with not omitting her status as a Cyborg in front of Chervin and Tilathian, whom she considered good friends after knowing each other for at least 300 Lealian years by now. But it was another thing lifting her syntheskin and exposing the slots in her head, which were for input/output of data. That was in a way too – private. She knew that plenty enough people on Ebraa had implants and electronic enhancements, yet it was nothing compared to what she carried. On the inside as well as on the outside.

"Then – to your arms," Alessios turned to Khrysaor, who bent down and retrieved a large box which he placed on the desk in front of the visiting trio. He then opened up and began unpacking a cylindrical container, then plucking out item after item, placing them all neatly in a row on the desk. The clutter which had been there before had vanished completely during their transitory exchange of words, the armsmaster had cleared it all off and put it 'the ancients know where' as the saying went. In front of them on the shiny surface were three identical cases in a grayish material which looked like plastics, but weren't. They were semi-organic protection holsters of the guns and the ammunition there within.

"One for each," Khrysaor said in a matter of fact tone, before he handed one of the guns each over to Chervin and Tilathian before he opened up the third, ran through a short demo process before casing the gun again and handing it over to Atrey, who received it with a nod.
"Now to the fancy stuff, I assume," she challenged the other Cyborg.
"The fancy stuff," Khrysaor said. "You've seen too many of these human filmed tales. What's he called? Double Agent Seven or something?"
"Oh come on!" Atrey taunted. "We're out to save the Seven Cosmoses and all living therein! I know you have it!"

"Ah, just because you ask so nicely then, sweet Atrey" Khrysaor replied and if it had been possible for him, he would have puckered his thin lips in an air-kiss. Instead he just reached inside of his magic box again and produced three more cases, cylindrical this time. Once more the procedure with handing the things out and then opening a fourth cylinder, which he also kept in the box. "These are infraparsians – enhanced telepathic tools that is. It'll make it possible to read brainwaves on any part of the Ukmanian scale there is. Telepathy for humanoids generally range from 6.8 to 16.4 Uk's – this will enable you to perceive thoughts on a scale from zero to 25. Higher than that and the thoughts are turned into visible wave-forms, and at least you, Atrey will be able to perceive then. And lower than zero, subpathy."

"Necromancy," Tilathian replied and made a warding move with his hands.
"That's the same thing," Khrysaor pointed out. "Now these things record as well, should you come upon something you wish to save for further analysis. Just hit this yellow button," he ended by indicating a small round bulb opposite of the object's business end."
"Useful. However I prefer the crystal ball," Chervin deliberated as he turned his object over in his hand. "Much more reliable in the world where I come from, where everything is so hard and blunt, even the electromagnetic waves are lethargic." He turned the object over in his hand.

"One doesn't have to exclude the other," Tilathian pointed out and on a cue the Cyborg quartermaster produced several of the items, that were smaller than the usual balls and some were red and blue.
"What's with the colour variation?" Chervin asked.
"The blue ones have an extra function, they are transmitters. The receiver is the mainframe here in Elefteria. Should you desire to save things, they can be sent from wherever in the seven cosmoses you are, even between them or in Astral form, and within common moments the information becomes downloaded here. These waves will travel the way through the multiverse using controlled sub-waves. Then you may guess what the red ones are for too."
"Downloading things," Tilathian said and fingered one of the reds.

"Yes, indeed. Cyborgs like me and Atrey have had these interfaces within our brains for centuries, but this is the first time we make them available in a general technomagic format. Now, there are five extra within this container, should you feel the need to share information with others on the mission. People you trust of course. Finally there's also ways to directly contact us here in Eralda should you need urgent support. "
"Can these waves navigate through time stretches and knots?" Atrey asked.
"We don't know that yet," Khrysaor admitted. "As a matter of fact, this is the first time they'll be field tested. You'll be guinea pigs in a way. However it's better than withholding them – if they can help you out there."

"Thanks," Atrey and clasped one of the balls in her hand, feeling the familiar sensory expansion as the equipment interfaced with her mind. "And besides it's Agent 007. James Bond."
"Who?" Tilathian asked.
"The Earthly film tale hero. A fictional colleague of ours."
"Peculiar name," Alessios pointed out.
"Wait till you get to hear yours – it's Q."
"Q?" Even with his narrow range of modes, Alessios managed to express bafflement. "Well, I don't have it in my files, but I might check it up one day. Earth culture is a vast bucket of goodies of all various kinds. Now, for the showstopper, Khrys!" the Quartermaster Cyborg turned to his colleague as he became awarded with another interested smile from Atrey.
"The Showstopper?" she prompted.

"Yes, that's what my revered colleague has chosen to call this little thing," if Krysaor had been made that way, he would have blushed by now, as he reached inside of his goody bag and retrieved one last item. It was elongated, cylinder-shaped and matte-black, about four inches long and a half inch around. At one end there was a small ball in a reddish lustrous material mounted and as Khrysaor twisted it, the object doubled in size and started to reverberate with a silently humming noise, so low in frequency that it was more or less felt rather than heard. He raised it and pointed it in the direction of Tilathian, who stood nearest.

"What is this now?" Tilathian asked as he for some reason was reminded of boats and sea-faring. Then he felt a sharp pain at the top of his right hand, like a sting of an insect, but it was gone almost before he was even certain he had felt it.
"It's a Cusam," came the reply as Khrysaor twisted it once more and the sound died.
"Say again?" The Terandabarite frowned.
"Cusam – short for cutter and sampler. A bit like a harpoon, but without the wire. What this little thing does, is cutting off a small sample of an organism's outer cellular structure. Not much more than about ten or eleven singular cells, but enough for research purposes. Like micro interfacing and cloning."

Then he lifted off the red knob on the top of the cusam and held it over a small circular glass object on the table.
"Here," he commenced, "I have eight cells from our Terandabarite friend. Eight cells, which I may use for analyze and identification. For you were not going to kill this intruding Alien, right? Merely observing it."
"That is correct," Atrey nodded her head. "It is for others to decide the fate of this thing. Kings and Queens. Generals and politicians. Nothing for simple field soldiers, like us."
"There's nothing simple with you, my dear!" Alessios interjected.
"You know what I mean, Al," the Secret Service agent replied. "Besides some of the people out there believe that a young teenager girl is going to be the one to finish the beast - and her father believes she'll die in the process. Needless to say, I cannot let that happen. Civilians should not be put at risk in a venture like this."

"Atrey," Chervin began. "I and Till were in that prison cell too, we heard what Reikan said. About his prophecy and his daughter. I read his mind as he spoke, he was not lying. Not a single syllable was untrue. Then his ability to perceive and interpret metawaves is quite a bit over average. It is very possible that the futureal interpretation he perceived will come true."
"I believe what you're saying, Cherv," Tilathian said as he was cradling his right hand and eyeing the glass piece where his extricated cells sat. No matter that you lost way more cells than that in just an hour, there was something utterly disturbing with having them 'stolen' like that. A guinea-pig who wasn't even asked! He sighed and moved on. "You're perhaps the best one available at these things since Orinian went home. At the same time, I'm with Atrey, I don't want to risk this young woman. Or any other civilian who never asked to be involved in this. You signed up, Cherv, and so did I and Atrey. Let us deal with this. Let us find this beast. And then let's kill it!"

"But the edict of the Council," Chervin wavered with the faintest tremors of unease. "They told us clearly that we were only in it to observe."
"That's because they're frightened of course," Tilathian shot back. "They're chicken scared that we, the people on the front line, should infuriate this specimen one way or another. Have you heard such a ludicrous thing? Infuriate! Our job is to speed up enemies. Speed them up and then put them down."
"If we 'put this thing down' as you say, we're transgressing our authorization," Chervin protested.
"So? We'll be heroes."

"That's enough, guys," Atrey cut in, as she retrieved the cylinder with the items and tucked it under her arm. "It's probably interesting what you are trying to hit home, but we have very little time now. We must be on our way tonight already, before the stretch starts."

"What stretch?" Alessios asked, still with his eyes on the two extraterrestrial men.
"The time stretch between Infraheim and Lealia, when time starts running faster in Infraheim," Atrey explained. "Starting tomorrow and over the next five days period, the time will start running faster in Infraheim and during that half-week almost a standard year will pass. Trying to enter or exit Infraheim during that period may be extremely dangerous. Not to mention that if something happens in Infraheim meantime, the Alien breaking through for instance, we won't be able to do anything about it. They will be trapped in their stretch without any help from the outside."

"Freakish," Alessios responded. "I didn't know, I've got to check up on that place a bit more."
"There's a way around our problem, Atrey," Chervin informed. "If we portal through Taronda and then Earth, then we might be able to break into Infraheim and avoid the Stretch. Tarondan time runs diagonally with Earth and since the latter nearly matches Infraheim, we might be able to shortcut Labyrinth."  

Tilathian made a face, shame burning on the tips of his pointy ears – as he hadn't follow an iota of what just had been said. The ever receptive Atrey noted his eyes widen marginally and the blood stream in his outer skin increase just a tad – and she took mercy on him.
"Imagine that you want to intercept another vehicle," she began. "You can either race after it, but you know you're chanceless, because it can run so much faster than you. Or you can intercept it, using a shortcut you know but they don't. That's what we'll do if we miss our time-window. Instead of portalling to Infraheim and risking ending up a year in the future – their future, we can portal through Taronda and further on to Earth and then enter Infraheim that way. Intercepting them."

"Let me beforehand," Alessios turned towards Atrey, "wish the three of you the best of luck."
"We sure can need that," Chervin replied as he holstered his weapon. "The thing we're going after is no Orxasian prankster."
"Then what is it?" Khrysaor looked up, for the first time his voice revealed anything else than mere professional interest.
"That's what we've been trying to find out," Chervin said. "And failed," he added a tad reluctantly.
"It's nothing our society has ever encountered before," Tilathian explicated, his voice deepening with disquiet. "Suffice to say, we are all stumbling in the dark."

"Why Infraheim?" Alessios prompted.
"It's the only clue we have," Atrey shook her head. At this time she wished she had what the Earthlings called a religion. Some supreme being to pray to, someone in whose hands she could to lay down her life and her confidence. But she knew better. The gods she knew were directors who gave the orders and she was their mechanic angel.

Journal History

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