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CH 6: THE ESSENCE OF . . .
 
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MERCY [NOVA AFTERMATH], CHAPTER 6: THE ESSENCE OF THE SPIRIT

M6-0
     Due to the captivating daily routine, Naiollah surprised them all when she announced they were close to Weyla. Ghethe asked her to make a presentation of the System, so that everybody became acquainted with local conditions. From Naiollah’s description, they found out that Weyla was a medium size capable of life-sustaining Star, still very young, and it had two Planets, Kolta and Volda, offering good living conditions inside the Optimum Circle.
     Ghethe explained to Mlane that the “Optimum Circle” divided a Planetary System into the “Inner Circle of Planets” and the “Outer Planets”, and it was a conventional one. The Optimum Circle was positioned at the theoretical limit where the heat from the Star was high enough to generate moderate living conditions on a Planet—around the melting ice temperature. Moreover, Ghethe said that a thick atmosphere or its chemical composition were able to increase the surface temperature, therefore the Optimum Circle was just a theoretical approximation.
     The Weyla Planetary System was composed of eighteen Planets in total. In addition to Kolta and Volda, the colonists of the System also lived in three large space-cities where they were successfully processing a few, scarce, precious minerals.
     Of the two Planets having natural living conditions, Kolta was the one Ghethe had chosen for landing since its physical and chemical characteristics were closer to Batlan’s, therefore they ensured an lesser adaptation strain. Kolta was mostly an agricultural World having much semi-desert land, perfectly suited for some unique cultures, such as “Hrik”—a local plant used in the production of the most exquisite liquors, well famous throughout the entire Empire.
     Politically, the System was one united organism named Weyla Federation, and it was ruled by a democratically elected Representative. The Weyla System Federation was very peaceful and relatively prosperous, although it was also struggling with a prolonged and uncertain economic recession, same as most Systems of the past Empire.

     They were watching the approaching Planet in the Main Salon when Ahlane asked, “What about our escort, Ghethe? Will they land for refueling on Kolta?”
     “I do not think they will land, My Dear, because they have a huge Warship to provide them with supplies and logistic support. I suspect they are confident we are not aware of their presence, therefore they will try to keep that to their advantage.”
     “Shouldn’t we contact someone on Kolta?” inquired Mlane.
     “The procedure is, we wait for them to contact us, My Dear,” explained Ghethe.

     The contact came a little later on their three-dimensional projection, in the form of a nice brunette Lady who smiled amicably when she saw Ahlane and Mlane. After introductions, the Lady appeared to be surprised and deeply impressed by the Zelhane names. She asked for their registration codes, and then she left.
     They waited to be contacted again for quite some time, then a man came on their projection. He presented himself as Nestar Vorgan, the Representative of the Jolute Republic and of the Weyla System Federation, and he welcomed them to Planet Kolta. During the conversation, Mr. Vorgan watched them all with attentive critical eyes. He promised to meet with them, and then he also left.

     Later, they received from an automated tracking system landing instructions for someplace outside Hounven, the Capital City of the Jolute Republic. It took Naiollah only a few i-std. minutes to leave orbit, and then to land on the Planet inside a modern, stylish, and spotlessly clean Alien Transactions Harbor.
M6-1
     “We have to follow the decontamination procedures, Ladies, which are particularly strict on Kolta. I know this could be a little bit embarrassing, but we have to cooperate—everybody does,” explained Ghethe troubled.
     “Wouldn’t it be less complicated to land on one of their space-colonies, Ghethe?” asked Ahlane pleadingly. To her, the decontamination procedures had always been a direct frightening attempt of prying into her privacy, although by having Mlane to keep her company it seemed a little easier to endure.
     “Of course it would, but you see, Ahlane, we have the opportunity to observe the people living on this Planet, and to understand their culture. We need to find out what their problems and needs are . . . I am certain it is going to be a unique experience for all of us,” said Ghethe, and he ended his explanations in a total confidence.
     “Don’t you consider that we lose precious time?” asked Mlane.
     “Time is running only to our benefit, My Dear. The longer we delay our confrontation, the better prepared we shall be. In addition, it is possible we may experience a few exceptional surprises down here, on Kolta. So, forget about everything and enjoy it, Ladies, because—ha, ha!—life is not very long,” replied Ghethe in a very enthusiastic attitude.
     “I hope you do not forget about that strategy we talked about,” said Ahlane with an unclear suspicious feeling triggered, probably, by Ghethe’s dubious excitement.
     “Oh no, My Dear. More or less, I am thinking of it permanently, but I noticed that good ideas come easier after a period of total—”
     He was interrupted by the voice of a Lady asking them to step out the ship, and to walk on separate ways, for Ladies and for Gentlemen, to the decontamination facilities.

     Ghethe followed a trail marked by tiny green lights, and he entered an enclosure equipped with some of the most advanced decontamination technologies he had ever seen. He was asked to remove all his clothes, then he had chemical showers, normal ones, hot and cold disinfectant air showers, then ultraviolet and ultrasound showers, and then all sort of medical scans which ended in a customized vaccine. He was asked to dress in a completely new set of garments—nice, clean, and very comfortable, according to the Kolta fashion—and he was told he was going to get back his decontaminated outfit at departure time.
     The new clothes consisted, mainly, in a sleeveless white dress ending lower than the knees, a big belt, and a sort of a long, cream coat having many excellent pockets. He also discovered a nice, cream colored cap, cone shaped and ended in a small, orange ball, with the tip bent down and the ball dangling pleasingly to one side of the head. Almost all dressing items had thermal controls, because the temperatures on Kolta could be very high during the day, and very low at nighttime.

     He met with the Ladies outside after a long waiting period. Both of them were nervous, with blue cheeks and unfocused looks. The Ladies were dressed in beige trousers made of a soft fabric, well adjusted to their high and very slim waistlines, and tucked-in white shirts. In addition, they had large, cream colored shawls of a glittering fabric provided with thermal controls, which were used to cover the head and the body, when needed, or simply displayed as an accessory, ingeniously draped on one shoulder.
     All of them had new, comfortable sandals, which gave them an exciting weight-loss feeling, since the gravity vector was lower than Batlan’s. The vaccine they received helped them breathe easier, because the atmosphere contained less oxygen, and to overcome the initial, physiological adaptation shock to a new World.
     A tall dark-skin Lady having comforting manners came close, and she invited them to follow her because, she said, they were expected to meet with the Representative of the Weyla Federation, Mr. Nestar Vorgan and his Lady. They walked for a short while, then they climbed into an immaculate public transportation module which soon launched through a labyrinth of transparent tube-ways. That experience filled with joy Mlane’s soul due to its exciting novelty!

     The architecture of Hounven City appeared to be a lot cleaner and way more spacious than in Korwatan, but the real beauty was the transparent blue-violet sky, and the strong yellow light of the Weyla Star. They passed through the center of the City, then they went out towards periphery again. The module stopped near an impressive, tall, pyramidal building, artistically decorated with transparent and opaque ceramics in pastel shades of blue and orange. They stepped out of the module, then they entered the building. Next, they followed the tall Lady up to a sumptuous office-enclosure where Mr. Nestar Vorgan and his Lady were waiting for them.
     After introductions, Ghethe and Mr. Vorgan took seats at a huge extravagant desk, while Ahlane, Mlane, and Mrs. Genea Vorgan took seats in a corner, around a small delicate tea-table.
M6-2
     “Oh, My Darlings, you two look so much alike! If it wasn’t for the age difference I should swear you are twins! Ha, ha! I must admit I couldn’t help noticing the noble features of the Zelhane Family in you two, My Darlings,” confessed Mrs. Vorgan who had such sharp eyes that she left the impression—to both Zelhane Ladies—she was able to notice all visible and invisible details!
     “Thank you, Mrs. Vorgan—” started Ahlane.
     “Oh, please call me Genea, My Darling,” protested Mrs. Vorgan smilingly, and looking deep into Ahlane’s purple eyes.
     “Thank you, Genea. You are so kind,” replied Ahlane smiling back nicely.

     Genea was a beautiful Lady dressed in clothes similar to the ones Ahlane and Mlane had, except for some additional blue, silver, and gold precious metallic embroideries on the fabric. She appeared to be in her mid forties, with a nice blond hair—superbly dressed in a complex loop!—and she had wonderful green eyes on a charming face. She was taller than Ahlane, and exceptionally considerate in manners. Genea had a pale-pink complexion with a specific distribution of orange and red freckles of various sizes, which was a characteristic mutation for some of the colonists born under the particular radiation of the Weyla Star.

     “Would you like little tea, My Darlings? We have a fantastic tea on Kolta with proven geriatric powers! You are not going to believe this, My Darlings . . . ” started Mrs. Vorgan. She was very friendly, and it was clear from her enthusiastic behavior that she savored to the fullest the pleasure of sharing the Zelhane Ladies company.

     Mr. Vorgan was about fifty i-std. years old, and he was tall, with a solid body construction. His hair was chestnut in color, and he had sharp green eyes on a serious, majestic face. The Representative was wearing clothes similar to Ghethe’s, except for some precious metallic embroideries, and his skin was freckled, same as Mrs. Vorgan’s.
     As soon as they were seated, Mr. Vorgan commenced following with great attention the discussions in the Ladies’ corner—although there was a considerable distance to them!—and he was watching Ghethe, from time to time, appearing to be in expectation of important events.

     “Mr. Vorgan, it is a true honor meeting with you—” started Ghethe.
     “Aah, it’s Nestar. We do not worry too much about etiquette around here. May I call you, Ghethe?” interrupted Mr. Vorgan. His voice had a low timber which fitted well with his general appearance.
     “Sure; that’s the way I like it most,” confessed Ghethe smilingly, then he watched confused because Mr. Vorgan was staring at him as if he was waiting for something. “Soo, I hear you have lots of wonders around here, Nestar—” started Ghethe, and he intentionally let his phrase unfinished while looking at Nestar with a smile full of men’s things meanings.
     Nestar made a slight gesture with his head, eyes, and eyebrows towards the Ladies’ corner, which stunned Ghethe by surprise. “Soo, how are things in the Batlan Federation?” asked Nestar, and he made again the previous gesture indicating the Ladies’ corner.
     “Aah . . . It couldn’t be better, Nestar. In fact,” replied Ghethe a lot louder, because he started making some sense of the entire situation, “there are serious discussions about rebuilding the Empire. We need a new political structure in which all the component Systems should be equal, from multiple points of view. In addition, we would like to see that all Systems would develop an economy strong enough to sustain each of them independently in case of an economic crisis, as is the present one.”
     Ghethe was on the right vector, therefore Nestar started also in a louder voice, “I am very pleased to hear this news, Ghethe. In my turn, I think I should present you what we can offer for trade to the future Empire. Please come this way.”

     Both Gentlemen stood up, then they went to the Ladies’ corner. Once there, they stopped in attention, waiting respectfully for the Ladies’ conversation to end.
     “. . . and I said, this cannot not be real—” said Mrs. Vorgan, though she cut her words short. She was looking straight in Ahlane’s eyes, appearing to be not much pleased by the arrival of the two Gentlemen in Ladies’ proximity—whom she had miraculously sensed without turning her head!
     She asked in a dry voice, still looking attentively at Ahlane, “Yes, Nestar; what is it that you want, Dear?”
     “My Dear, I would like to present Mr. Dakka the products we can offer for trade to the New Empire—” started Nestar in an official attitude.
     “A New Empire, Mr. Dakka? This is the first time I hear about it,” interrupted Mrs. Vorgan while turning her head and looking at Ghethe with great curiosity in her beautiful intelligent eyes.
     “Yes, Mrs. Vorgan. In fact, you are sitting right now near the future Empress,” answered Ghethe with a courteous smile.
     “Oh, My! Is this true, My Darlings?” asked Mrs. Vorgan smiling very pleased, and looking in turn at Ahlane and Mlane with both curiosity and surprise.
     “Well . . . it was supposed to be a secret—” started Ahlane feeling rather dissatisfied with Ghethe’s indiscretion.
     “But I KNOW how to keep a secret, My Darling! PLEASE tell me all!” implored Mrs. Vorgan.
     “Hmm, excuse us, Ladies—” started Nestar with consideration.
     “WHAT! I mean—ha, ha!—what do you want, Dear?” asked Mrs. Vorgan, and it became obvious to everybody present who was the “True Master” in the Weyla Federation.
     “If you do not require our presence, Ladies, we have our own business to take care of,” said Nestar in a voice full of important responsibilities.
     “Of course, My Dear. You may go . . . and try to behave yourself . . . Dear,” said Mrs. Vorgan while watching both men with looks so sharp and analytic that Ghethe felt they were powerful enough to penetrate all his secrets and intentions, without having any natural or trained mental powers!
     Both Gentlemen bowed to the Ladies, then they left walking with moderate steps. Ghethe sensed, perfectly vivid, Mrs. Vorgan’s pointed looks on the back of his head.
     “Please, tell me about your plans, My Darlings, because . . .” started Mrs. Vorgan, and Ghethe felt he was able to breathe freely, again.
M6-3
     Once out the room, the serious face of Nestar disappeared like magic. He smiled happily, then said, “Ha, ha! Excellent move, Ghethe—you’re a tough one to crack! Now, let’s hurry before she changes her mind.”
     They rushed to a large terrace, then they climbed into a private transport module. Nestar punched a code, and the module started on its programmed way. He turned and smiled largely at Ghethe, then said, “Do not get me wrong, Ghethe: she is a fine Lady, a high-class one but—are you married?”
     “Not yet, Nestar, but I am thinking—”
     “Then you shall see: women do not understand men! Now, tell me: which do you like the most?”
     “To be honest with you, Nestar, about four i-std. years ago I managed to get a triple flagon of the green one.”
     “Aah, the green one!” exclaimed Nestar looking speculatively at Ghethe, trying to evaluate how good a Specialist he was.
     Ghethe understood the look in Nestar’s eyes, and he was well determined to make a good impression. He rushed, “Wait a minute, it wasn’t quite all green: it had a bluish iridescence.”
     “Aha! Oh yeah, that’s a good one. It is also pretty expensive—are you rich, Ghethe?” inquired Nestar.
     “Well, I am fairly well-off,” admitted Ghethe modestly.
     “What was all that stutter about a New Empire?” continued Nestar while looking analytically at Ghethe.
     “I am going to build a new one, Nestar,” replied Ghethe with relaxation.
     “You alone?” asked Nestar smiling disbelievingly.
     “Well, I have the Emperor’s nieces to help me,” answered Ghethe.
     “Oh, I see.” Nestar was a good psychologist. He knew that True Men, like Ghethe and him, needed companions to motivate them when they started an important project. The companions’ help was only moral support and motivation, because all True Men had sufficient moral resources to achieve almost anything they wanted to.
     “It is going to be a new kind of an Empire, Nestar: a kind you are going to like. I promise!” confessed Ghethe enthusiastically.
     Nestar replied with sad looks, “The past Empire was not quite considerate with us, Ghethe. They wanted almost all; and the best!”
     “They paid?”
     “Of course they paid, but this is not the point. We would like to offer it to special people. You know, it is way too good to just sell it—this is simply vulgar.”
     “I agree with you totally, Nestar. In fact, if I were you, I should keep it all for my friends and for True Specialists only.”
     “Yes, that is exactly what I’m thinking about. There should be a lot more in our Essence than just an ordinary trade product. Oh, it has such incredible powers!” said Nestar, and he ended well lost in admiration.
     “You are right, Nestar. We need to do something to restrict its use to True Specialists only, because there are too many those who do not appreciate it properly—”
     Nestar interrupted him suspiciously, “I have been told that on Batlan there is a custom to drink it while having dinner—”
     “Oh, I’ve seen that Nestar: it is disgusting!” declared Ghethe with deep sadness.
     “How did you do it, Ghethe? I mean, with the green one,” inquired Nestar, still suspicious.
     Ghethe explained, “I preserved it for about ninety i-std. days until a special occasion came up. We were a group of five—you know, all Specialists, the Cream of Creams. We started it after midnight, during a discussion between men. We ended it the next morning, and that one is the most beautiful night I remember!”
     “Did you prepare yourself before?” asked Nestar testing the ground.
     “Of course, we did. We had an excellent smoked fish from Fawer—aah, it was so fat! Then, we had Multan caviar and Jarat smoked cheese: it was a wonder! You should have been there, Nestar.”
     “Ghethe, I see you are indeed a Specialist. Is the cheese any good?” asked Nestar with disbelieving looks.
     “Any good! Ha! Nestar my friend, next time I shall bring you some, although these days Jarat smoked cheese is only contraband merchandise. Yeah, you know what I would like to see here in your System, Nestar?” asked Ghethe.
     “What?” replied Nestar surprised.
     Ghethe explained with dreaming looks, “I would like to see here the best market of quality merchandise in the New Empire. You should specialize on trading only the finest stuff, like Cevlon truffles in butter, smoked sturgeon from Neranna, Jarat cheese, Multan caviar, and many other treats. In addition, you should not trade your ‘Essence of the Spirit’: you should serve it in select restaurants and nightclubs right here on Kolta. You can imagine, Nestar, the afflux of Specialists and True Men to your System!”
     “Thanks, Ghethe. I like your ideas, only it is not easy to make them reality,” replied Nestar troubled.
     “You know what, Nestar? I have been thinking for quite some time of putting together a League of True Men, of only True Specialists, who should influence towards the good side the development of all our Worlds. The way I see these things is, nobody would know of our existence, and our people should get into power positions throughout the New Empire. We need to conceive new development plans for the Worlds who need help most, and we should protect everybody. What do you say?”
     “How do you see that implemented, Ghethe?” asked Nestar looking interested. The idea of uniting the dormant forces of all True Specialists, scattered throughout the Imperial Worlds, was greatly appealing to him because it gave a noble purpose to an otherwise . . . ordinary passion for Essence.
     Ghethe elaborated, “First of all, we need an administrative structure, Nestar. After seeing you, and given your privileged position, I think it is only natural that you shall become The First Master of the League. You need a permanent secret Council to help you rule, and to implement your orders. Then, we have to think of a hierarchy, and to come up with a decent set of rules and regulations for internal management, hierarchical ascending, and ethical behavior.
     You should have a secret communications system right here on Kolta, to help you get and send information to and from all our members. To end this, we need to have yearly or biyearly meetings with the higher hierarchy members . . . to discuss the most important problems.”
     “Ghethe, you are for certain the greatest man alive! Such an extraordinary vision!” replied Nestar excitedly, and well lost in admiration, while shaking vigorously Ghethe’s hand. He added, “Aah, I wish you would become the very next Emperor!”
     “Do not worry for a moment, Nestar. Even if I am not going to be the next Emperor, I shall be close enough to Emperor’s hand to make it a reality—and you have my word on this. Just give me two i-std. years and no more,” promised Ghethe with confidence.
     “Do you have the right connections, Ghethe?” asked Nestar shyly.
     “More than that,” replied Ghethe, then he looked smilingly at Nestar while closing his left eye.
     “Oh!” managed Nestar, then he remained stunned for a good while. He was more impressed by the gesture itself, than of its meaning. The gesture signaled that everything was under total control, except only a few True Specialists were capable of understanding that sign, since it was a reminiscence from a particular life experience, lost within Nestar’s teen years.
     He started in a conspirator attitude, “I am going to show you something, Ghethe, you have never dreamt about! Have you ever heard about THE BLUE ONE?” Nestar ended his question looking wonderingly at Ghethe with big green eyes.
     Ghethe made a pair of big brown eyes himself, and he answered, also with much wonder and on the same tonality, “BLUE! How is that possible, Nestar?”
     “Only after two hundred seventy Kolta years, and in some very special conditions, the green one changes into blue. It is a dream! I have been THERE only once before,” confessed Nestar.
     Ghethe started feeling cramps in his stomach, and his mouth began filling with saliva. He said in a suffering voice, “How long till we get THERE, Nestar?”
     “Well . . . we have to be very careful, Ghethe. We still have to waste little time, because I have to . . . to ask for permission to enter . . . from my Lady . . . But once we get inside it is all ours!” replied Nestar, hesitantly at first, then ending with great anticipation.
     Ghethe confessed, “Nestar, please, do not talk about it anymore because it is too hard for me. I fantasized for years about coming here.”
     “Ghethe, my friend, we need to discuss about that League you mentioned,” decided Nestar while patting Ghethe on his shoulders. His inner, burning desire was, Ghethe’s ideas required immediate clarifications to the finest details!
M6-4
     They reached an enormous pyramidal building, somewhere in the countryside, which Ghethe had seen before in many three-dimensional images. That building was known among the Specialists as “The Temple of The Spirit”, and it was a fortress of the good old times, though made way sturdier with lots of modern additions. Nestar entered a complex code on a hand-held device, and then a part of the wall started moving away.
     Altogether, Ghethe counted five gates, each built of a different metallic alloy, and each about one i-std. step thick, behind the initial stone gate. He nodded with admiration towards Nestar who was waiting fairly tense for his appreciation.
     The two Gentlemen entered with the module inside, then they stopped right after the entrance tunnel, since it was a huge empty level provided with loading bays for processing the transport containers. Nestar invited Ghethe into an elevator, then they went up to the top level: it was a nice little restaurant built inside the tip of the pyramid. There were a few people around, and Ghethe noticed that the outside walls were made of dark-blue transparent crystals, which allowed to be seen a spectacular view of the surrounding, magnificent, hilled scenery. They took seats.
     Slightly troubled, Nestar confessed, “I am sorry, Ghethe, we do not have the proper preparation with this Accident . . . and with all this recession . . .”
     “I understand, Nestar. This is bad, but we have to face it like True Men,” concluded Ghethe.
     “I shall present you with some of our locals: they are not exceptional, but try to imagine you have something better,” said Nestar, then he started programming codes for various dishes.
     Soon, the selected specialties appeared one after the other on a nearby food distributor. First on their menu were red roasted, big flying creatures floating in an excellent, deliciously spiced, buttery sauce. Next, each of them had an enormous juicy stake in such a good fat sauce, that Ghethe felt just leaving the steak away and having the sauce only!
     Both of them went dutifully for seconds, with those steaks. Nestar explained that the steaks were from a primitive giant reptile which they grew locally for meat, and the sauce was particularly tasty due to the collected juice of the grilled meat. Next, they ended their preparation phase with a wide variety, and in enormous quantities of spiced cold cuts, smoked fish, and local caviars.
     Both Gentlemen devoured the culinary delicacies with total devotion and with passion, as much as they could. A first, direct result was, each of them had to release one gradation of the belt from time to time. For drink, they had only water, and Ghethe said a few nice words about its quality, since it was, indeed, one of the best he had ever tasted.
     Nestar felt greatly honored and deeply impressed because, he said, only a few True Specialists were capable of detecting the subtle differences in quality the really good plain water had.

     When they ceased eating, each had the belt at least five gradations looser. Nestar called the Majordomo. He was a thin man with a big nose and small black eyes filled with rather unfriendly looks. Soon, it became clear to Ghethe that Nestar and the man knew each other very well, and they had many crossings into the past.
     “We need to go down,” said Nestar in a curt voice, and looking with irritation at the man.
     “Do you have the approval of the Lady, Sir?” asked the Majordomo with his nose pointed towards the tip of the pyramid.
     “Yes, we do!” replied Nestar confidently.
     “I have to verify that, Sir,” announced the man after looking shortly at Nestar in disbelief.
     The man went away. Both Nestar and Ghethe were holding their hands closed in fists, and they were looking into each other’s eyes with great tension.

     The Majordomo came back with a comnode interface. He handed it to Nestar saying, “The Lady whishes to speak to you, Sir.”
     Nestar’s facial expression turned to a nice smile in an instant, as he took the comnode interface in his hands. He said, “Yes, My Dear.”
     “Did you have a good time, Dear?” asked Mrs. Vorgan.
     “I am sorry, My Dear, we have analyzed important political issues, therefore we had no time for the actual good time,” replied Nestar while changing to an official attitude.
     “Really! That is so nice of you! My friend Ahlane wants to talk to Mr. Dakka.”
     Once he got the comnode interface in his hands, Ghethe asked smiling at Ahlane’s projection, “Are you all right, Ahlane?”
     “We are very well, thank you, Ghethe. Please keep in touch with us.”
     She appeared to be a little worried, but Ghethe thought that the Ladies were perfectly safe in Mrs. Vorgan’s care. He replied, “Aah . . . yes, Ahlane.”
     “Please take care of you, Ghethe,” added Ahlane with an incredibly beautiful smile, though a little bit sad.
     “Sure! Thank you, Ahlane,” replied Ghethe smiling nicely back at her.
     The comnode connection closed, then Nestar asked the Majordomo in a demanding voice, “Well?”
     “Yes, Sir. The Lady says it is all right,” answered the man.
     “Then open that wretched gate!” demanded Nestar impatiently.
     The man extracted a device from his pocket, then he turned his back to them in order to enter a secret code. Nestar stretched his neck far beyond the ability of a normal man trying to catch anything from that cipher. Next, a massive elevator gate opened, and both Gentlemen jumped inside
     Nestar said, “Level zero.”
     When they reached the bottom level, another set of five massive gates opened, one after the other, and they entered a huge corridor cut into the dark natural rock. Nestar found a pair of wide-beam laser torches, then he took Ghethe’s hand and started on an ingeniously twisted, random-like path. From place to place there were enormous ceramic recipients in specially chopped niches, each protected by expensive subatomic shielding equipment, and having long specifications engraved on silvery metallic foils.
     “Oo—” started Ghethe lost in admiration.
     “Ah, that’s nothing,” said Nestar while dragging him away.
M6-5
     The two Gentlemen walked holding hands for over two local hours—appearing to be two lost big children, in comic robes and funny caps—until they reached a very old section of the corridors. Ghethe was totally lost, despite the fact that he had an excellent visual memory, because they took too many corners, they went down on too many stairs, they crossed three underground rivers on bridges, and then they took many other corners and stairs down.
     Finally, Nestar stopped walking. He looked carefully back and forth a few times, then he touched a concealed sensor. A good portion of the wall pivoted inside, and the two Gentlemen went on a large stairway down.

     They were inside a huge natural cavity provided with many discrete though sufficient local illumination devices, and with a sophisticated, old-fashioned, climate control equipment. Most interesting, there were over ninety, very large, wooden kegs, pleasingly aligned in rows of nine, and each had an intricate color code and a number.
     “Ha, ha! We’re here!” shouted Nestar with great joy while watching Ghethe with demonic eyes.
     “Tell me, what IS in here, Nestar?” asked Ghethe while vibrating with anticipation, with eyes ready to pop out of their sockets.
     “Here, my friend, is my secret! My father told it to me, and I shall tell it to my son . . . later. What you see in here is all over two hundred seventy Kolta years old!”
     “GIVE ME SOME!” managed Ghethe to articulate, barely holding himself together.
     “Ha, ha! Come here. Check this one,” ordered Nestar happily. He produced two small crystal cups, then he filled each of them carefully, about one third of capacity, with a thick, transparent and bluish liquid from the very first keg.
     Ghethe grabbed his cup with shaking hands. He looked intensely at the color of the drink; he smelled it deeply . . . he tasted it and . . . after a good while he said in a coarse voice, “Wow! I cannot believe his!” He finished the rest of the cup in one gulp, then he remained motionless for more than one i-std. minute. Next, he let go of a very loud, “YES!”
     “Ha, ha! Now, try this one,” said Nestar, then he poured a third of a cup each from the next keg.
     The “Essence” was a bit deeper blue in color, and Ghethe described it as, MARVELOUS!

     When they were checking the ninth keg—a wonderful dark-blue—Nestar confessed, “I’ll t . . . tell you a s . . . secret, Ghethe, bec . . . bec . . . bec . . . ause you’re my f . . . friend. Whe . . . when we shall r . . . reach the sixteenth . . . one, it will be pur . . . purple.”
     It took some time before Ghethe understood the news, as he was well stunned by all those incredible discoveries, then he decided, “POUR!”

     After a certain period of time they managed to reach the sixteenth keg. Amazingly, the Essence was indeed purple! They were down on the floor, since their legs were very soft.
     “How’ . . . s th . . . th . . . th last . . . one . . . Nest . . . Nesta’?”
     “I d . . . don . . . t . . . kno’ . . . I n . . . n . . . nev’ . . . r . . . r . . . reach.”
     “Ha, ha! Nev’?”
     “Ha! Nev’!”
     “Forwa’! Ha, ha!”
     Contrary to the obvious difficulty in articulating the words, they were talking and laughing continuously, but what was most amazing was the fact that they understood each other’s rambling words perfectly clear! They discussed for long local hours about the future League, and Nestar suggested naming it “The Essential Club”. Of course, they poured down many drinks to celebrate properly the birth of the new political organization. Next, Ghethe invested Nestar as the “Grand Master” of The Essential Club, by pouring on his head a full cup of purple-violet Essence.
     They drunk a lot, and they sang many crude songs for that investiture. Later, Nestar became highly emotional, and he empowered Ghethe with the Executive Order of The Essential Club, and with the title of “Chancellor” of the Grand Master, also by pouring on his head the content of a cup filled with precious violet-purple Essence.
     They congratulated each other a lot for the newly gained positions. Again and again they felt the need to express their happiness singing terrible songs, but the real beauty was, the songs were loud—very loud!

     By the time they reached the twenty-fifth keg they fell asleep for a few good local hours, until Ghethe woke up with a spasm of fear for wasting precious time. He shook Nestar to wake him up, then said, “F . . . for . . . wa’!”

     While talking, planning, singing, sleeping and, obviously, drinking—even more than nine times from the same keg!—they managed to creep up to the forty-eighth barrel. The Essence had a wonderful, iridescent, pale-violet color, with an unbelievable delicious taste, except it seemed to have a life of its own since it kept on appearing and disappearing from their cups all by itself!
     Soon after that they started feeling hungry. After a while and a few more cups they became very hungry. It was the right time to leave, only they had to wait for a while in order to gather little strength to stand up. Then, again singing horrible songs—with words fitted “on the spot” and totally indistinguishable from very loud, prolonged vowels—laughing and holding onto each other, they started on the way out.

     Unfortunately, in order to exit that place they had to climb a few stairs, and that proved to be a repetitive and painful task. They tripped and fell on top of each other on the stairs for about five times, until Ghethe suggested crawling out. That posture didn’t make their task easier, due to the particular Kolta style of dressing; however, with great efforts and obstinate perseverance they managed to escape.

     The search groups discovered them two local hours later, lost in one corridor. Both of them were offensively dirty, horribly soaked in sticky pungent Essence, and dressed in indecent, torn rags. In addition, each Gentleman was in a dangerous, agonizing, unstoppable laughing crisis . . .

*

M6-6     Mrs. Vorgan continued speaking until both Gentlemen left the room, then she paused abruptly. She looked for a moment at each Zelhane Lady in turn, to capture their attention, then she declared, “They are on to it!”
     “They are on to what, Genea?” asked Ahlane perplexed.
     She explained, “Oh, is that miserable Essence of theirs.”
     “I never heard of it, Genea. What is that ‘Essence’?” asked Ahlane with anticipation of bad news.
     “You never heard of ‘The Essence of The Spirit’ My Darling?” asked Genea in disbelief.
     “No,” admitted Ahlane troubled.
     “Oh, My Darling!” exclaimed Genea while looking at Ahlane with terrified eyes. She asked quickly, “What is Mr. Dakka to you? Are you going to marry him?”
     Ahlane looked swiftly at Mlane, then her face started gaining on blue color shades at an alarming rate. She replied, “No, Genea! He is a friend of ours; a . . . a very good friend of ours.”
     “Do you care about him, Ahlane?” persisted Genea while watching Ahlane attentively, with her penetrating eyes.
     Ahlane’s face colors turned to even deeper shades of blue, though she said in a firm voice, “I care very much about him, Genea. Please, tell me what is happening. Is he in any danger?”
     “Danger . . . could be, My Darling, but rest assured that NOBODY can do ANYTHING about it!” concluded Genea with confidence.
     “What kind of danger is that, Mrs. Vorgan? I want to talk to him right away!” demanded Ahlane close to a panic crisis.
     “Ha, ha! Relax, My Darling. He will not come back, regardless of what you may say to him now. Relax, and let me explain what is happening. You look as frightened as I was when I heard of it the first time. Tell me, Ahlane: does your friend have a strong nerve?” continued Genea with her interrogatory.
     “Oh yes, very strong. I should say, even the strongest,” replied Ahlane with confidence.
     “Aah, then there is nothing to fear about. He will come back all right in a day or two,” said Genea in a relaxed voice which was supposed to calm Ahlane.
     “A day or two! What is happening around here, Genea?” asked Ahlane nervously. She was very scared, and Genea was taking too much time with her explanations.
     “Ha, ha, My Darling! Let me tell you the story of this incredible Essence of The Spirit.
     About five hundred Kolta years ago, when this Planet was first colonized, people have discovered a local plant which they named ‘Hrik’. Now, this awful plant makes a special fruit. Please believe me, My Darlings: I have absolutely no idea how some men managed to extract an organic component from that fruit, and to further distill it until they came up with this terrible ‘Essence’. I presume noobody can match a man when it comes to discovering horrible things like that!
     Anyway, the ‘Essence’ proved to be undrinkable for women, and this aspect started the entire circus: men began saying, ‘that drink was for men, only’! Things went even worse. They soon discovered that only five or possibly one out of ninety men were capable of drinking ‘that thing’,” explained Genea appearing to be an expert on the topic.
     “Is it toxic, Genea?” asked Mlane worriedly.
     “It is toxic, My Darling, but only for women and for the rest eighty-five out of ninety men. Those who do drink it without problems become, automatically, ‘True Men’!” replied Genea, and she ended her words in an ironic accentuation.
     “Are they poisoning themselves?” asked Ahlane while continuing to be very worried.
     “Noo, it is not a poison, My Darling. In fact, after the drinking fever passes, it has been proven the Essence has fantastic benefits for the general strength of the organism. It has geriatric qualities, it improves dramatically the antibody protection, and it increases psychical power of concentration—”
     “Aah—” started simultaneously Ahlane and Mlane, and both of them left it unfinished.
     “Yes! The only danger is in their drinking frenzy: if they drink too much, they could destroy their organism. However, if they have a strong character—a very strong psychic—they will survive,” explained Genea, and she ended in a confident attitude.
     “Is that . . . ‘Essence’ addictive?” asked Ahlane still nervous, though a lot relieved.
     “I do not know how to answer your question, My Darling, although Nestar is my husband for twenty Kolta years. Better, you tell me. Things are this way: once a year, as a minimum, they feel the need to ‘go for it’ and nothing may stop them, not even reason, love, or . . . well!” explained Genea appearing to be perplexed.
     “Once in one Kolta year?” wondered Ahlane.
     “That is the minimum, but the average is two Kolta years. As you can see, My Darlings, the source of that ‘horrible thing’ is right here, in my garden, and my husband is the closest of the ‘True Men’ to it. However, he never ‘went for it’ in twenty Kolta years sooner than one year. Now, you tell me, Ahlane: is this dependency, My Darling?” asked Genea.
     “I do not know . . . Please tell me more, Genea. What do they actually do?” replied Ahlane looking troubled. She didn’t like the idea that Ghethe had a strange passion for that “horrible thing”, but to “go for it” only once in one i-std. year, or better in two i-std. years, she thought that could be . . . somehow . . . acceptable.
     “Oh, they start with ‘preparing’ themselves, meaning, each of them commenced eating atrociously, nine times more than normal, and only very fat and rich in proteins ‘things’. That is ‘required’, because the Essence is going to dry them to the bone of energetic substances. Then, they will sneak to a place—lately, a very secret place known to my husband only, and trust me Ahlane: I tried so hard to find it but . . . Well!
     Once inside there, they start drinking dementedly, until they should eventually become hungry again—very hungry! That may take two days, or even more, depending on how well they have ‘prepared’ initially. Only a very strong hunger could ‘force’ them to come out from their hiding place into the real world,” explained Genea while spicing copiously her story with ironic accentuations.
     “What is the taste of ‘that thing’, Genea? Do you have any idea?” asked Mlane timidly.
     “My Darling, all I can tell you about ‘that thing’ is from what I heard or read about. It seems that, in the moment the liquid gets into contact with the wet tissue of a ‘True Man’, he feels a terrible blow, similar to an explosion of light in his brain, which slowly dissipates onto the nervous cells towards periphery. Amazingly, I have been told that they actually ‘feel’ that light departing gradually away from their brains, a little bit at a time! Those explosions of light in their brains lead to a condition comparable to intoxication, only it is of a different nature.
     As for the taste, I heard many stories—each one more unbelievably absurd. Generally, the taste is described as a mixture of a few tens of fresh fruits, though it takes a good ‘Specialist’ to detect more than nine of them. That is the reason they prefer to ‘go for it’ in the company of a ‘True Specialist’: to further ‘explore’ it!” explained Genea while continuing to spice her description generously with ironic accentuations.
     “Could they damage their brains with that . . . that—” started Ahlane.
     “Oh, no, My Darling. I would have blasted that fortress of theirs with my own hand if there had been any brain problems. No. On the contrary, it seems the ‘Essence’ helps mental development. How can you explain that my husband managed to become a Representative? He, the heaviest drinker of them all!”
     “Oh, that is of some relief, Genea. And you say there is nothing to divert them from—” started Ahlane a lot more relaxed.
     “Nothing, My Darling, and that is because they think it is a test of their manhood! Now, you know how strong that feeling is rooted inside a man: they would let themselves killed to prove it!”
     “Yes, I think I start to understand,” said Ahlane, because she could imagine Ghethe with the feelings Genea had described.
     “The good part is, those men who are capable of drinking that misery are, without doubt, the best of them all,” said Genea looking at Ahlane amazed.
     “How is that possible? I think that is a clear proof of . . . of stupidity, Genea,” replied Ahlane confused.
     “You see, My Darling, those ‘True Men’ consider themselves to be ‘The Cream’ of the men. Amazingly, that is perfectly true. That ‘Cream’ is made of men who are still children inside their souls: innocent, with exceptionally good hearts, and very brave. Maybe there is an extrasensory relationship between that drink and their psychic, or who knows what chemistry—” explained Genea with irony, though also with consideration on some of the topics.
     Ahlane interrupted her, also very much amazed, “Yes! You have described Ghethe exactly as he is. Such a child!”
     “I know. It is the dream of each teen boy to become one of the ‘Cream’, though many do not manage it, and that is, I presume, because they have something more from the mother side. Now, those who do become part of the ‘Cream’ are, without doubt, true men—I mean in character—and please believe me, My Darlings, there is nothing more extraordinary than a true, good man,” said Genea, and she ended her ironic explanations in a serious attitude.
     “Oh, thank you, Genea. This story is so incredible!” said Ahlane while feeling that her internal tensions began to dissipate.
     “I believe each woman is shocked when she finds out. Luckily, in a way, there are only a few men belonging to this particular ‘elite’,” replied Genea.
     “What I do not understand Genea is, when did they plan it? I mean, they have hardly been together for a few i-std. minutes,” asked Ahlane bothered, with a vague feeling that Ghethe had abandoned them.
     “Oh, My Darling, a few i-std. minutes! Ha, ha, ha! Aah . . . all they need is a few local seconds to look at each other and it is all settled,” explained Genea while looking amused at Ahlane as if she were a naive little child.
     “Are you serious, Genea?” asked Ahlane, and her abandonment feeling started changing into betrayal.
     “Yes, My Darling. When their time comes . . . Aah, you will see,” assured Genea.

     The Ladies continued their conversation on various, interesting topics, while having tea and delicious cookies. Two local hours later, a personnel Lady came in and told Genea that someone wants to talk to her, then she handed a portable comnode interface.

     The voice of a man started, “Your Excellency, the Honorable says he has your permission to—”
     Genea interrupted him quickly, “Yes, he has my permission, and alert the tracking teams. Give me Nestar, please.”
     A few moments later Nestar said with a pleasing smile, “Yes, My Dear.”
     “Did you have a good time, Dear?” asked Mrs. Vorgan.
     “I am sorry, My Dear, we have analyzed important political issues, therefore we had no time for the actual good time,” replied Nestar while changing to an official attitude.
     “Really! That is so nice of you! My friend Ahlane wants to talk to Mr. Dakka,” said Genea, then she handed the comnode to Ahlane and whispered, “Please, be considerate, Darling,”
     “Are you all right, Ahlane?” asked Ghethe smilingly.
     “We are very well, thank you, Ghethe. Please keep in touch with us,” replied Ahlane.
     “Aah . . . yes, Ahlane.”
     Ghethe appeared to be in an expectant mood of important events, and Ahlane remembered Genea’s explanations. She replied in a caring voice, “Please take care of you, Ghethe.”
     “Sure! Thank you, Ahlane,” said Ghethe smiling innocently at her.
     Ahlane closed the connection. She looked at Mlane, then at Genea, and said, “So! What are WE going to do now?”
     “Oh, My Precious! FINALLY, we have little time only for ourselves! Come, My Dears; I want to show you something you haven’t even dreamed about . . .”

*

M6-7     Ghethe woke up from his dreams of epic manhood challenges on a hospital bed. He opened cautiously one eye and saw that Mlane was near, then he opened the second one and searched the room to discover that Ahlane was talking to a doctor.
     “He is awake, Ahlane,” announced Mlane.
     “Allow me please, Ladies,” said the doctor, then he started with various lights into Ghethe’s eyes and with all sort of head scans. Finally, he asked, “Can-you-talk, Ghe-the?”
     Ghethe tried to answer, but his mouth was glued and bone dry. He shook his head meaning no.
     “He is all right: he understands my words. We need to feed him with liquids—fat liquids,” advised the doctor.
     Ahlane took Ghethe’s hand, then she asked caringly, “Why haven’t you told me, Ghethe?”
     Ghethe felt a lot of shame, though in the deepest corners of his soul he was, in fact, triumphing! He clearly remembered they had reached the forty-seventh keg—an incredible iridescent pale-violet—and next time . . .
     “You have three broken ribs, Ghethe, but you are going to be all right,” said Ahlane with compassion in her eyes.

     They began feeding him with fat soups. Slowly, the dryness in his mouth went away.
     Ghethe looked in Ahlane’s eyes and said in a faint voice, “I am . . . sorry . . . Ahlane . . . It is a . . . men’s—”
     She interrupted him with sadness, “Yes, Ghethe, I understand. Genea explained it to me. You are such a child, Ghethe!”
     “A . . . man,” managed Ghethe with a timid smile.
     “If that means manhood, then men are nothing else but little children,” replied Ahlane disappointedly.
     He struggled to explain his great achievements, “Nobody . . . tasted it . . . not even . . . the . . . the Emperor . . . It is a . . . s . . . secret!”
     Ahlane replied, hardly impressed by his performances, “I know. Now, you must rest for a while. The doctor says we could leave by the end of the day.”
     “Nestar?” asked Ghethe with concern in his eyes.
     “Nestar has five broken ribs, and a broken arm. You can be proud of yourself, Ghethe: you are in a better shape than he is,” replied Ahlane with caustic irony.
     “Ha, ha!” triumphed Ghethe in a quickly restrained burst of happiness.

     The recovery from dryness went fast. Ghethe found out that his adventure had lasted for more than three local days and three nights, and that information filled his soul with happiness: SUCH A GLORY!
     He was going to rest in bed for at least seven i-std. days, because those broken ribs were rather difficult to fix properly, only everything was just perfect to him—even pleasing!
     Later, he was told that Nestar was awake, therefore went to him to express his eternal friendship. He wanted to know if Nestar had reached the forty-seventh keg before, and he was very happy to hear that he didn’t.
     Before leaving, Ghethe set a temporal block on Nestar’s memories over to the formation of The Essential Club. He felt very bad he did it, but it was possible their followers would investigate his activities on Kolta. The mental block was going to disappear automatically after one hundred twenty Kolta days, and Ghethe promised to himself to continue developing in secret The Essential Club organization.

GREEN LEAVES




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