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CH 16: GREAT HURDA
 
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MERCY [NOVA AFTERMATH], CHAPTER 16: GREAT HURDA

M16-0
     Great Hurda was stunned to hear that Ghethe Dakka and Zelhane sisters were back in a different spaceship. Further, he put easily head to tail the reports about a mysterious white ship that had simply materialized in space, three local days before. However, once the surprise of the news faded away, he commenced preparing for action.
     First thing, he ordered to all military ships in the region to depart discreetly for Qualosa, excepting the fastest one, the Super Destroyer “Majestic Lepeena” which was to remain well hidden nearby. Soon after that, he issued orders to those Suta Priests who were to take an active part in the following surveillance and abduction plan to use only electronic devices for communications, to use mental shields, and to keep a great distance from their designated targets.
     Great Hurda was waiting patiently for the chance to divert Ghethe’s attention away from Zelhane sisters for a few brief moments, and then to make his move. He had a plan!

*

M16-1     After eight wonderful days of relaxation, Ahlane and Ghethe were again together at a table, on the beach. They were watching Mlane, Petha, Heile, and a group of nice young Ladies and Gentlemen they just met, engaged in a dynamic game of Loj.
     “Why don’t you play Loj, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane.
     “What? Oh! I like it more when the younger generations have a fair chance, My Dear,” explained Ghethe with an ironic smile.
     “Are you confident you are able to keep up with those younger generations?” asked Ahlane, also ironically.
     He replied, “Ha! Physically, I am stronger than any nine young Gentlemen taken together—or even more. However, while gaining experience, I noticed that I tend to value more those actions and things that have a certain degree of intelligence involved, as opposed to any useless playing or entertaining activities.”
     “Such as, the Essence?” inquired Ahlane looking at him with simulated exaggerated concern.
     “Oh, My Dear! That is a childish thing, indeed, but it is for men . . . Sometimes, it is nice to forget about everything, and to imagine that we are young and happy again,” replied Ghethe smiling gently at her.
     “I am glad you admit it is childish,” said Ahlane.
     He objected, “I do, but you forget, My Dear, that it also has extraordinary benefits for the organism.”
     “Like, a terrible hangover?” asked Ahlane while watching him attentively, again with simulated concern.
     “Ha, ha! Aah, you are cruel, Ahlane.”
     “I would like you to be more . . . normal, Ghethe,” said Ahlane caringly.
     “Unfortunately, I am not, My Dear,” replied Ghethe with vague sadness, then he smiled tenderly back at her.
     “Oh, I am sorry, Ghethe; I didn’t mean to . . . To be honest, I like you exactly the way you are,” said Ahlane, and then she gratified him with one of her best smiles.
     He asked greatly concerned, “You really do, Ahlane?”
     “Of course, I do. In spite of all other . . . qualities, you are a very good man, you have nice manners, and you are exceptionally intelligent. Even more, you can control yourself . . . up to a certain point,” explained Ahlane, and she ended her words in an ironic smile. Giola light was playing in her eyes; therefore, as she moved her beautiful head, her irises changed their purple color to dark-blue, or to violet.
     Ghethe felt deeply pleased with her description. He confessed, “I am very glad you see me that way, Ahlane.”
     “Now, do not start imagining things, Ghethe. I am still analyzing you,” warned Ahlane.
     He asked, highly interested, “And, how long will it take, Ahlane, to reach some definite conclusions?”
     “At least two or three i-std. years,” replied Ahlane with relaxation.
     “Really! I mean, so long?” asked Ghethe perplexed.
     “Why should I rush, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane casually.
     “Yeah, why . . .” managed Ghethe with little energy.
     “Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about . . . your childhood.”
     He sighed then said, “Aah, it wasn’t a nice one,” then he continued after a brief pause, “I lost my parents when I was five, then I was raised by the Government of Gora for the next two i-std. years, until some Scientists from the Neurophysics Department appeared. They selected me, and a few others, for advanced mental training.
     During my teen years I have been subjected to many . . . well, let’s say, complex experiences, but the advantage was that they helped me continue with my studies as much as I was able to. In time I became good, then better, and in the end the best.”
     “The best in what, Ghethe? In mental powers?”
     “Yes, but not only, My Dear. At the Neurophysics Department they valued most people with good psychical qualities, such as altruism and empathy.”
     “And you were the best?” wondered Ahlane.
     “Yes, that is why they made me Chief Investigator. I was the one who made less mistakes, psychical mistakes, although . . .” started Ghethe, and he left his phrase unfinished, looking confused.
     “Although what?” inquired Ahlane intrigued.
“It is difficult to explain this, Ahlane. I was the one who made less psychical mistakes, but this affirmation it is not entirely true,” explained Ghethe troubled.
     “I do not understand you,” replied Ahlane perplexed.
     “You see, My Dear, Social Psychology allows us to say that any society, or any Civilization anywhere, is composed of two main categories of people. The first ones, the vast majority, are the ‘users’ of that Civilization. Those are people who live their lives in the present time only, and they ignore everything that exists outside their actual and ordinary day to day life. They simply take everything their culture has to offer and use it, without ever thinking seriously about how their predecessors struggled for millennia to develop their Civilization, and why. Because those people are always the vast majority, any democratic society, anywhere, is going to be tailored according to their way of life.
     The second category of people are the ‘dreamers’, those who live their lives in the realm of sheer science, or pure philosophy. For them, living will always be particularly difficult, because they cannot fit in any society. However, the dreamers are the true creators of future technologies, of new philosophies, and of new cultural benefits for any specific Civilization.
     At society level, these two categories of people will generate two types of Scientists. The first Scientist is capable of compiling a perfect thesis, therefore he is prone to achieve the highest honors at the Subatomic Research Department. The second Scientist is going to compile a similar thesis, though with many mistakes, mostly grammatical and in format. However, the second Scientist is the one to be appreciated most at the Neurophysics Department.
     Now, if you analyze scientifically the two theses, Ahlane, you should realize that the first thesis says almost nothing in terms of a scientific novelty, although it is perfectly compiled, while the second one, full of grammar and format mistakes, contains incredible ideas. That second type of a Scientist is the one who will make less psychical mistakes, Ahlane, although it doesn’t seem so: it is a paradox.”
     “Yes, but, why is the second Scientist making those format mistakes, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane puzzled.
     “Because there are always these two types of Scientists, Ahlane. The first ones have a good memory, and they study a lot, but they are limited to only what has been proven already. They are always very accurate in their theses because they do not have much to add in terms of original ideas. Even more, what matters to them most is the format or, better said, the perfect wrapping of old ideas. These Scientists will always reach high honors although, according to the Neurophysics Department criteria, they are good only for maintenance, manufacturing, and limited managerial operations. Psychologically, they are labeled as ‘users of technology’.
     The second type of Scientists, Ahlane, is formed by people having a rich, fertile imagination, and an enormous power of logic; therefore, they continuously deny, they investigate, and they push the limits of science. They are the true researchers, the creators of new technologies. Their minds are working continuously on important ideas, so it is rather difficult to them to concentrate on minor and insignificant tasks, such as writing a thesis correctly, because what matters to them most are the ideas, not the format.
     Things are this way, My Dear. When your brain starts filling with knowledge, logical processing becomes slow—very slow. In order to focus on a particular minor job, such as compiling a thesis correctly, it requires time and extra concentration efforts. Therefore, most of the time the second type of Scientist will not want to lose his or her concentration on major, important ideas, in order to shape the format correctly.”
     “The content is indeed the most important, but the format also—” started Ahlane.
     “The content is the only thing important, My Dear. If the format is more or less nice or correct, it does not matter. To understand the importance of the content, consider a Representative. If his speeches are plain, simple, and less elaborated, though he does things right, everybody lives well. However, if he is capable of charming the audience with unreal, strong visions, and he does bad things, then everybody is going to suffer. Such things happen a lot in our society.”
     “Could there be someone who masters both of those qualities?” investigated Ahlane.
     He explained with a kind smile, “I doubt that very much, My Dear, because it is not possible. You see, Ahlane, when you know much, enormously much about science, life, and philosophy, the ordinary aspects of life, as is the format, start losing their appeal.
     This is similar to judging a person, My Dear. Suppose that you are an expert in psychology, and you see a famous, well dressed person. The clothes and physical appearance, or the format of that person, mean absolutely nothing to you, and you simply ignore them because what really matters is the soul, the subconscious personality, the erudition, and the character of that person.”
     “But you are so close to being perfect, Ghethe,” objected Ahlane with great admiration. Next, she went on adding a lot of blue color shades on her face for being too open with her feelings.

M16-2
     “Well, I also have my moments, My Dear, in which I slip it a little. Take . . . the Essence for example,” replied Ghethe ironically.
     “Aha! So, there is where you were heading,” concluded Ahlane with false indignation, trying to wipe out her previous display of secret inner feelings.
     “It came naturally on my way, My Dear. However, to be honest, I may have even more weaknesses, and you are quite right, Ahlane, to wait and see,” admitted Ghethe.
     “More weaknesses! Like what?” asked Ahlane perplexed.
     “You do not expect me to confess about my dark side—”
     “Yes, I do! Tell me!” ordered Ahlane in a very possessive attitude.
     He smiled caringly at her, then said, “Well, I like a lot to discover true, good, psychical qualities in people.”
     “Me too. Next.”
     “I am fond of very well educated Ladies—”
     “LADIES!” exclaimed Ahlane shocked.
     “Ahlane, people can hear you—”
     “I don’t care! Please explain to me your . . . your obsession for Ladies!” said Ahlane with hardly restrained revolt.
     “I said, I am fond of—” started Ghethe defensively.
     “Whatever!” interrupted Ahlane looking angrily at him.
      Ghethe set about explaining fast, in order to calm down Ahlane’s suspicions, “The truth is, My Dear, that women have more and stronger basic instincts than men do. I studied them for a long time, and I still study them, because I am fascinated by their—” Ghethe stopped short, because he knew he was going to use a difficult word.
     “Their what?” demanded Ahlane.
     “Their simplicity,” said Ghethe troubled, knowing he would have to explain that term.
     “Simplicity! What do you mean by that?” She appeared to be both revolted and perplexed.
     “Women, Ahlane, have a different way of understanding life situations, and of living common sentiments: less complex. Picture this: if you have two heads of state, a man and a woman, the man is going to hesitate more to condemn someone to death than the woman.
     On average, women are capable of being very cruel, merciless, without too many internal, moral conflicts, because they have a lot more simplistic way of analyzing problems due to their affluence of basic instincts. They simply hate deep, complex, logic analyses since it is in their nature to admire and judge by the beauty of the surface.
     Now, the interesting aspect is, at society level most women and men do not have pure psychical gender characteristics: they are mixed, or interlaced, therefore you can see many women having a men’s psychic, and vice versa. I study Social Environment, Ahlane, and I know men very well, since I am one of them; but, I know little about women, therefore I want to study and understand them.
     Those Ladies who are ‘very well educated’ have their logic a lot more developed than the rest, and I shall try explaining why. You see, Ahlane, there is formal education which almost all Ladies receive in better or in worse official schools. That education is of little or no value, because what really matters is what the Ladies themselves understand and feel about life; better said, what really matters is ‘self-education’.
     Those very few Ladies who start understanding moral values are the ones who ask themselves: ‘Why?’, ‘Is this good?’, ‘Is that bad?’ and so on. In other words, they are the ones who think analytically, and they are the most intelligent Representatives of their gender. For them, I use the notion of ‘very well educated Ladies’.
     Now, the notion of ‘very well educated Ladies’ is more complex, and it may have nothing to do with formal education. Picture this, Ahlane: there may be Ladies who had just a few benefits from school education since they live in particularly harsh conditions, or they could live even in a primitive society. Still, some of them do become very well educated Ladies, because that good education comes from their character and logic, not from social environment.
     The words ‘very well educated Ladies’ do not express the idea properly, because their true meaning is, very intelligent Ladies having high moral principles. Those Ladies are the best Representatives of their gender. Therefore, when someone intends to study the opposite gender, the best starting point is exactly those very well educated Ladies.”
     Ahlane enjoyed Ghethe’s long dissertations because he always came with surprising and interesting theories. He was always right, and she was deeply impressed by the power of his logic analysis. She concluded, a lot more relaxed, “So, we are an object of study to you.”
     “I want to understand this Universe I live in as much as I can, Ahlane,” motivated Ghethe defensively.
     “Can’t you find something more important to study?” asked Ahlane, still a bit nervous.
     “Women are so fascinating, and so strange, Ahlane—” slipped Ghethe.
     “Strange! Why strange?” rushed Ahlane, and her resentment was back.
     “They are so . . . unpredictable, My Dear,” said Ghethe hesitantly, knowing very well she was not going to like it.
     “Ghethe Dakka! You keep on saying terrible things after terrible things about women! Please be more comprehensible in your phrasing,” said Ahlane with irritation.
     He started to explain his words fast, while becoming slightly worried that he had managed, again, to stir Ahlane’s indignation, “To me, the only predictable thing about women is, they are unpredictable, because they have a particular type of logic—based on specific values of their gender—which is strange to me.
     Overall, Ladies have a different point of understanding life, and life situations, when compared to men, but that is the psychological state of half of our species. In addition, Ladies influence in a decisive way our entire Civilization, and that is very important to me.”
     “Is that how you see me, Ghethe, different?” asked Ahlane, and she appeared to be upset.
     “My Dear, the best thing possible for people is psychical difference: the deeper is the difference, the better things are. Just think of a society, Ahlane, in which we all are and behave the same, as machines do,” explained Ghethe gently.
     Ahlane replied confused, “But you told me once that you do not want me to see you different.”
     “I was referring to . . . totally different, My Dear,” confessed Ghethe smiling troubled.
     “Are you that different, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane perplexed.
     “I am . . . well, different, but I also have a lot of good in me,” motivated Ghethe smiling timidly.
     She remembered that he was, indeed, a wonderful person. She smiled back, then said in her sweet voice, “I know it, Ghethe. To me, you have been better than anyone else.”
     “And I shall always be the same, Ahlane, not because I . . . I like you very much; because you also are different from any other Lady. You are . . . I still cannot believe that a Lady like you could exist, and I do not know the right words to describe your exceptional true beauty.”
     “Are you studying me too?” asked Ahlane smiling teasingly.
     “More than anyone else, My Dear,” confessed Ghethe.
     “Well, as long as you limit your . . . enthusiasm for Ladies to only one . . . I suppose that is not that bad,” admitted Ahlane hesitantly.
     He started with passion, “When I say that you are beautiful, Ahlane, I am referring to your feelings, to how you are inside—”
     “Soo, the surface does not matter too much to you. Please, explain to me why you keep insisting on kissing my hands,” said Ahlane quickly, and she ended her words in a teasing smile.
     “You see, Ahlane, from time to time a true wonder happens: a good man, or a good woman, gets a nice surface, or exterior. Anyway, the important aspect is, that coincidence is in fact a miracle and, naturally—”
     “Naturally!” exclaimed Ahlane with pretended indignation.
     “Yes, Ahlane, I admire your surface very much. It is a miracle because it shouldn’t have happened. Though, you see, I would like you even without your . . . surface, and I would still like to kiss your little hands as a sign of my . . . true feelings . . . for your wonderful soul,” said Ghethe smiling gently, and his voice was calm, with pauses before some words, in order to stress their importance.
     “Oh, Ghethe! You probably see me better than I am,” said Ahlane feeling deeply touched.
     “No, Ahlane. Should you be, let’s say, nine times more beautiful than you are, but should you have a bad character, I would simply refuse to know you, or to value you. Amazingly, the way you are is a true wonder because, as a general rule, it is impossible to be beautiful physically, and also beautiful psychically. However, your true beauty comes from inside your soul: you are a True Lady, Ahlane,” said Ghethe gently and looking tenderly at her.
     “Please do not talk that way,” said Ahlane quickly while avoiding his looks. She was embarrassed by the love she could clearly see in his eyes, and she was afraid that someone else could notice it. Moments later she added timidly, “Not now,” and then she changed the topic abruptly, “Have you been thinking of a strategy to fight those bad people?”
M16-3
     “Not much, My Dear, because I need more information. I could attack one of their Warships and read the information I need from their minds, only it seems to me they have withdrawn all the military ships from this area. Probably they suspect I could try obtaining information that way, and they may be ready to fire at me on sight, if I come close to their ships,” explained Ghethe troubled.
     “Of course they will! Think of something else!” replied Ahlane nervously.
     “We could go to Korwatan City and start the investigations there, until I find some leads.”
     “Anything else?” inquired Ahlane.
     “Nothing. I need some clues . . . We still have ten more local days left; then, if I cannot find anything better, we shall have to go to Korwatan,” replied Ghethe thoughtfully.
     “Have you been thinking of a new structure for the future Empire?”
     “Yes, I have a very good idea, but we should better wait to finish with that threat first.”
     “Could we simply ignore them, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane with little hope gleaming in her eyes.
     “No, My Dear. The way things are now is, it is either them or us,” replied Ghethe with sadness.
     “Do you have any idea of who they are?”
     “They must have a System somewhere—”
     “Why have they waited for so long, for three i-std. years, without making any major political move?” interrupted Ahlane.
     “Maybe they were hiding after what they did, or they were waiting to see what is surfacing in terms of powers within Imperial Worlds. Another reason could be, they were afraid of punishment from someone like me, and they prepared themselves for the fights to come—”
     “An entire System!” exclaimed Ahlane alarmed, because she had just understood the meaning of his previous words. She added nervously, “Are you telling me that you intend to fight alone the forces of an entire System, Ghethe?”
     He tried to calm her, “Do not worry, My Dear. I can handle them—”
     “Ghethe Dakka, are you sane? I know you have some powers, but you have no chance to survive that!” said Ahlane, and she was very worried.
     “If I do not survive, Ahlane, you have Arpel, Naiollah, and the data crystals. Go somewhere safe, outside the borders, and—” started Ghethe in a caring voice.
     She interrupted him nervously, “I do not want to hear that, Ghethe! We shall never let you go alone against those . . . We are going with you!”
     “Think of Mlane, My Dear: she is so young!” said Ghethe trying to reason with her.
     “We have imperial blood, Ghethe, and we both know how to live and to die with dignity!” replied Ahlane in a revolted attitude. He remained silent, therefore she added pleadingly, “I just cannot hide and let you fight alone . . . It is not fair! We need to be near and help you, because you are so . . . alone . . . Please ask Petha to help you.”
     “Oh, My Dear girl! Petha would die in the first moments; his help is . . . futile.”
     “Who could help you, Ghethe?” inquired Ahlane with many worries in her eyes.
     “The only people who could have helped were my team of Investigators, but they are gone now. Please do not worry, Ahlane: I am very tough,” replied Ghethe in a gentle voice.
     “When I hear you talking that way, and I look into your eyes, I see a teenager without brains and all courage, Ghethe!” said Ahlane with irritation, although still very worried.
     He tried to reason with her, “We do not have any another choice, My Dear—”
     She interrupted him quickly, with revolt, “Oh yes we do! We can go someplace far, all together, and we can live all our lives in peace!”
     He looked in her eyes until she turned her looks away. He sighed, then said, “You do remember the words of the Enlightened Emperor, Ahlane. Even if we manage a good life for us, for our children it may be hell.”
     “Then, let’s get the other eight ships—” started Ahlane with exasperation.
     He interrupted her in a sad voice, “Even if they were ninety, it is not going to make much difference, My Dear.”
     “Then . . . how?” asked Ahlane, and she appeared to be lost.
     “My powers only.”
     “What if they are three, or four like you?”
     Ghethe replied with determination in his voice, “My powers, and my will . . . and I shall be successful for you, for Mlane, and . . . for our children. Now, please do not talk about it anymore because there are many things you do not know, and it is better that you do not know them.”
     “Tell me only one more thing: are you confident you can win?” asked Ahlane with a lot of sorrow in her caring eyes.
     “Yes, Ahlane. If by any chance anybody, ever, will succeed in kidnapping you, tell them that I shall kill them all, regardless of how many or how strong they are, and it is going to be infinitely worse for them if they do any harm to you. Remember these words, Ahlane,” said Ghethe looking straight through her eyes with a hard face without expression. He seemed to be another man: much older, way too powerful, calm, and unstoppable. He was a different person!
     “I do not like to hear of any killings, Ghethe!” said Ahlane with revolt. She didn’t like the Ghethe she saw; she was scared of him.
     “Unfortunately, this is our reality, My Dear. Think of the Genocide: there must be punishment for that. You see, Ahlane, now that I know the Accident was a Genocide, I have to perform my functions automatically, because I am the Instrument of Imperial Justice.”
     She replied annoyed, “I hate that, Ghethe!”
     “Ahlane, give me your hand, please,” said Ghethe smiling gently.
     He appeared to be again the person she knew. She asked confused, “What?”
     “Just give me your hand, please.”
     “Why? Oh, here,” said Ahlane with abandonment, and she extended her arm.
     “Yes, you are right, My Dear: in certain moments it does not matter anymore. When I was young, around sixteen, I looked for the answer to a question; I got it after two i-std. years,” confessed Ghethe.
     “Two i-std. years to answer a question? What question was that?” asked Ahlane perplexed.
     “The question is this: how do people behave in exceptional situations?”
     “They behave in an exceptional way. Even a child could answer that,” replied Ahlane quickly.
     “Of course, anybody could answer the question, My Dear, but that doesn’t mean the answer is the correct one,” said Ghethe, and he ended his words smiling ironically.
     “It is not?” asked Ahlane. She was very glad he was back to himself again.
     “I spent two i-std. years looking for the answer from life, Ahlane, not from my mind.”
     “And what did life tell you?” asked Ahlane starting to be a little curious about the subject.
     “Life, My Dear, showed to me that in exceptional situations people behave exactly as they are in reality, hidden somewhere deep inside their souls. You could see people whom you knew for a lifetime to be shy and worthless that they are actually heroes, or extremely intelligent. In the same time, others, who appeared to be bold and capable all their lives, they are in fact just worthless cowards; they lack the basic intelligence, and it was only the chance that made them seem so capable, not their personal qualities—”
     She interrupted him, “Did you discover yourself?”
     “Yes, My Dear, but that is not important. The answer to my question helped me understand that people are hidden deep inside their souls, in their subconscious, and they are different there from how they look, from what they do, from what they say, and even from what they know themselves to be.”
     “I feel better now, Ghethe, thank you. I know you did nothing psychical to me, but your hand has given me courage,” said Ahlane. She smiled nicely at him, and then she added shyly, “You could let it go now.”
     “Oh, Ahlane, you are such a sweet little girl sometimes!” said Ghethe with perplexed admiration, although Ahlane could not understand why. He let go of her hand with regret, then he smiled gently back at her.
     “Ghethe, are we actually . . . growing old? I mean, do we ever mature psychically because . . . I . . . I do not feel it too much,” confessed Ahlane timidly.
     “Remember those two categories of people I told you about, Ahlane: each one has particular psychological characteristics. The first category is made of people who manage to become psychically mature before the age of eighteen; the second one is made of people who will never mature.
     For the first group, psychical maturity may come as early as nine, or even sooner; however, what is specific to them is, once they mature psychically their minds are closed and locked. They will never be able to understand life as it is: permanently changing, with new values and mysteries added, and in a constant evolutionary process.
     The second group, only a few this time, are people who will never grow up, or mature psychically. These people will remain with the mind of a fourteen i-std. years old even when they reach biological ages of one hundred twenty two: they know more, but inside their souls they will be children forever.”
     “Are we from the second group, Ghethe?” wondered Ahlane.
     “Yes, My Dear. That second group is formed from people who love life, though they never stop being curious about it. They know they need to study life itself all their lives, in order to understand a little something about it, as opposed to those who simply live their lives in a more or less comfortable way, imagining that they know it.”
     “I feel I want just a comfortable living, Ghethe,” confessed Ahlane with scared looks.
     “No, My Dear. You are only a little scared girl because you care . . . for me. You feel well and secure near me and . . . you do not want to lose me,” explained Ghethe gently.
     “How do you know that? Aah, you have read my mind! Ghethe Dakka, that is indecent of you—”
     “No, My Dear, I did not, and I shall not. It is just . . . plain obvious.”
     “Oh!” managed Ahlane surprised, and then she started adding a lot of blue on her cheeks. She was thinking, what else was also obvious . . .
     Soon Mlane, Heile, and Petha joined them, and they left for lunch. Ahlane continued being nervous and upset for the rest of that day.

*

M16-4     Great Hurda was working as fast as he could on his plan. He had no idea for how long Ghethe and Zelhane sisters would continue to remain on Thalo Three, therefore he knew he had to act rather sooner than later.
     The first part of his plan was to lure the Zelhane sisters inside a shop, to quickly incapacitate them, and then to whisk them away. Accordingly, Great Hurda had bought twenty-seven small shops in different, nearby commercial centers. He asked the shops to be redecorated, provisioned with the finest merchandise available, and operated by his people.
     In order to distract Ghethe’s attention for those a few necessary moments, Great Hurda had recorded a Declaration in which Qualosa Guild declared War to the Batlan Federation. Moreover, he got in contact with the main local news distribution agency, and he told them that he was going to release extremely important political information any day soon.
     All the decoy shops were ready, and Great Hurda was monitoring them patiently.

*

M16-5    One day after breakfast, Ahlane decided they should go shopping, then all of them boarded the two transport vehicles. Ghethe was anxious and distracted, because the main news distribution agency was announcing for three days in a row that very important political information was going to be released as soon as possible. What made him nervous was, he felt the old indefinite subconscious warning that his future actions were going to be influenced, somehow, by that broadcast. He was driving one of the transport vehicles, and Ahlane was near him.
     “Why are you so worried, Ghethe? It is a very nice day today, and we shall take everybody this afternoon to visit botanical garden on Lorxeta Island—which I hear it is a paradise! They have amazing exotic plants and . . . and we could walk together . . . Would you like it?” asked Ahlane looking at him with a sweet, wonderful smile.
     “Of course I do, Ahlane. I am waiting for some important news . . . If they are what I feel they are, we may have to leave this Planet soon; maybe even,” started Ghethe, then he looked at her and saw disappointment on her face; he ended, “tomorrow.”
     “Well, at least we have this afternoon and the evening,” said Ahlane with renunciation, and then, slowly, she moved her hand towards his. The first thing he did when he got hold of her hand was to start kissing it with so much passion that Ahlane went all blue in an instant. She said in a troubled voice, “Ghethe, please, the others could see us.”
     “Oh, I am sorry, My Dear . . . I lost my control for a moment . . . and I do not know why . . . usually . . . I am a lot stronger,” said Ghethe, while he continued kissing her delicate fingers and her hand from time to time.
     “All right, you have had enough!” decided Ahlane in a firm voice, then she withdrew her hand.
     “I do not think I can hold it any longer, Ahlane: I love you very much, and I am asking you to marry me.” As soon as he ended his words Ghethe felt a wave of paralyzing fear washing throughout inside his body. At first, he was stunned by the words he had said; then, he thought about it, and he realized the words were sufficiently decent, and sooner or later he would have said them anyway.
     The bad part was that Ahlane was silent, and he started being scared. He said, “Please, say something, Ahlane.” She did not answer and Ghethe thought, more scared, that he had done, probably, a very big mistake with his rush. He called her again, gently, “Ahlane.”
     “I do not know what to say, Ghethe. I have to think very well . . . Please, do not talk about it anymore . . . and do not let the others see anything. Please, promise me,” replied Ahlane in a timid voice. Her face was very blue, and she kept her looks away.
     “I promise and I shall do anything you want, Ahlane. Please excuse me if I was too direct,” said Ghethe beginning to recover from his fears.
     “Do not talk about it, Ghethe . . . I need some time to think . . . please,” said Ahlane shyly, and he felt greatly relieved because she was not angry.
     “May I tell you that . . . that I love you . . . sometimes . . . when nobody hears?” asked Ghethe timidly, although he knew he was pushing her.
     After a while Ahlane answered, also timidly and avoiding eye contact, “Yes.”
     “I love you very, very much, Ahlane!” said Ghethe passionately.
     “Only once a day, Ghethe!”
     Her reply had been quick and a bit annoyed, meaning, she had passed fairly well over the shock of the news. After a period of silence, Ghethe said in his somewhat usual voice, “Thank you, My Dear. It is indeed a very beautiful day today, and I shall always remember it.”
     “Me too,” said Ahlane almost whispering, with her looks turned away.
    
     He waited for a good while for their internal tensions to dissipate. It was obvious that both of them needed badly a change of topic, therefore he said, trying to make his voice sound casual, “Ah, hmm, hmm, you mentioned something about a . . . a garden, My Dear?”
     “Oh, yes . . . They say we could find there the amazing Cothelathod flowers,” said Ahlane, still making hard efforts to recover from her internal shock.
     “The singing ones?” wondered Ghethe.
     “Yes. How do they sing, Ghethe? Do you know?” asked Ahlane looking at him.
     She appeared to be interested; he explained, “Yes, I heard about them, and I studied the subject. They were discovered on a natural Satellite in Fuletza System. The flowers produce crystalline sounds because they grow small bells made of wood peel and grains of sand. The problems came when they discovered the flowers are capable of extending their main stalk very much in order to search for their needed building materials.”
     “Are they intelligent?”
     “No, it is a reflex action. They search for fine grains of sand in order to develop their small crystal bells.”
     “Why do they need the bells?”
     “The sounds of the bells attract the animals to eat the plant, and that contributes to its spreading. The bell is also protecting the seed, which has the shape of a tiny hammer. When they mature, the swinging of the seed inside the bell, whenever there is a faint wind blow, produces those very fine, crystalline sounds. If you have a garden, the choir of their sounds is incredible.”
     “Aah, I can hardly wait to hear them!” confessed Ahlane enthusiastically.
     He warned her, “You have to be very careful with those ones, Ahlane.”
     “Why? They are just flowers . . . right?” asked Ahlane confused.
     He explained, “The sounds generated by those flowers act on particular nervous centers in most brains. They could stimulate . . . some very strong emotions.”
     “You are not serious. How could a flower induce anything into the brain?” asked Ahlane in disbelief.
     “It is not the flower, My Dear. It is the frequency of the sounds: it resonates with particular nervous centers,” detailed Ghethe.
     “And . . . what are the effects?” asked Ahlane beginning to suspect something unpleasant.
     “Not dangerous, though strangely connected to . . . love,” said Ghethe, and he ended smiling ironically at her.
     “WHAT!” exclaimed Ahlane shocked.
     “Ha, ha! I am serious. They could induce inside your brain a momentary love for someone . . . or for something.”
     “You mean, I could fall in . . . in admiration for . . . the gardener?” asked Ahlane with indignation, though also amused with the idea.
     “Ha, ha! Yes!”
     “Ha, ha! I don’t believe you!” replied Ahlane totally bewildered, although she knew very well he never deceived her or exaggerated things.
     “My Dear, there are thorough studies about that flower, and that was also the reason I studied the topic. It is indeed incredible.”
     “On second thought, I think we should better go to the Battre Mountains for the Jump-Glide,” said Ahlane in a casual voice.
     “Are you afraid, Ahlane?” asked Ghethe provocatively.
     “I am not afraid of those . . . little monsters, Ghethe,” replied Ahlane with dignity.
     “Well then, let’s go together and see those flowers—holding hands,” proposed Ghethe smiling pleased with the idea.
     “You will have to wait a very long time for that, Ghethe Dakka. I am not going to let a mindless thing induce anything into my brain, even if you hold my hand. Besides, what if Mlane starts to adore the gardener?” asked Ahlane with indignation.
     “Ha, ha! I think you are more afraid for yourself,” concluded Ghethe ironically.
     “Could those little devils affect your brain too?” asked Ahlane looking smilingly at him.
     He admitted, “They say the flowers are simply unstoppable, because the phenomenon is based on mechanical resonance.”
     “Then, are you not afraid you could start kissing Petha’s hands? Ha, ha!” asked Ahlane amused.
     “Ha, ha! Things are even worse: I could fall in love even with an interesting piece of . . . of gardening equipment,” explained Ghethe.
     “Ha, ha! And you’ll start kissing it!”
     “Yes! Ha, ha!”
     “Aah, ha, ha!”
     They stopped. Mlane came to them feeling frustrated that they were having that much fun without her. She asked suspiciously, “Hey, what is all this excitement about?”
     “Ha, ha! My Dear, we were talking about an interesting piece of equipment,” explained Ghethe.
     “Oh! What equipment is that?” asked Mlane perplexed.
     “A very . . . tempting one! Ha, ha!” replied Ahlane.

M16-6
     The Ladies went on searching the shops, looking tenaciously for the mythical “something”. As always, Ghethe and Petha were waiting for them outside, listening to the news or having refreshments, and looking from time to time to see if the Ladies were all right inside. After a while, they came close to a nice perfume shop that displayed some of the finest and most expensive products.
     “We shall go inside here, Ghethe; I am looking for something,” announced Ahlane, then the Ladies entered the shop.
     A young man of the Qual race came to meet them. He asked, “May I be of assistance, Ladies?”
     “Yes. I am looking for a special brand named, ‘Lady Ohlane Seh’,” explained Ahlane.
     “Oh, My Lady! That exquisite fragrance has been distilled expressly for the House of the late Emperor.”
     “I know. Do you have any?” asked Ahlane.
     “Please, allow me to review our inventory, My Lady, because I think we may have some—although it is incredibly expensive! Meanwhile, please feel free to sample all our collection, Ladies,” said the man, and then he went to the back room of the store.
     Ghethe and Petha were watching the news when a special bulletin was announced. The hidden figure of a hooded man started speaking, and Ghethe knew in an instant that broadcast was the one he was waiting for.
     The hooded man made a brief presentation of the existing social and political situation in a few of the most important Systems, and both Ghethe and Petha followed each word attentively. When he finished his general presentation, the hooded man said, “Qualosa Guild intends to rebuild the Empire under a new, better structure. We announce to the Batlan Federation that they have forty-five i-std. days to surrender unconditionally, after which military action may start immediately, without further warnings.
     The headquarters of the Qualosa Guild are in the Qual System, Qualosa Planet, and I am Great Hurda of the Suta Priests, the Qual System Representative . . .”
     “Yes!” thought, Ghethe. He had a location and a name, and he rushed to buy that piece of news for further study. Next, he heard the voice of a child saying, “Message for Mr. Ghethe Dakka; Message for Mr. Ghethe Dakka; Message . . .”
     “Hey! Come here son; I am Ghethe Dakka,” said Ghethe, then he handed the boy a few Credits.
     “Thank you, Sir,” said the boy. He handed the message, then he ran away.
     Ghethe studied the message. It was of a standard construction, and it could be bought for a small amount of Credit fractions from any news distribution machine. He touched the “ON” sensor and read, “They shall die instantly if you attempt to rescue them . . .” Ghethe’s brain froze. He twisted towards the perfume shop and—THEY WERE NOWHERE!
     He started scanning mentally furiously and indiscriminately around, therefore a few people collapsed due to his avidity to find information; then, he remembered the words, “They shall die instantly if you attempt to rescue them . . .
     Petha was scared and confused with what was happening to Ghethe: the man he was looking at was not the one he knew! Ghethe had a dour face, very pale, with unfocused looks. He asked about what happened, then he saw Ghethe turning and looking into the perfume shop. He followed his looks, and . . . THE LADIES WERE NOWHERE IN SIGHT!
     Petha rushed inside the shop, then into the back room: it was empty, but it had another door to the outside of the shop built of massive metal, and it was locked. He ran outside and looked for Ghethe, then shouted, “Come, Ghethe! We need to run to the back of the shop!”
     Ghethe got hold of his shoulder, and Petha stopped as if he had collided with a solid wall. Ghethe handed the message without a word, and Petha read, “They shall die instantly if you attempt to rescue them. Go to your ship and wait for message.
     “What is this, Ghethe? WHERE ARE THE LADIES?” cried Petha desperately.
     “Come,” replied Ghethe in a strange voice which brought fears into Petha’s soul.
     They rushed to the ship in Ghethe’s transporter. Ghethe did not speak, appearing he did not hear, and his face was very pale, frozen, numb; completely expressionless.

GREEN LEAVES




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