Somewhere Else Entirely -128-

After the evening meal Garia has the difficult task of telling a select few about the Beings and what they have proposed. This results in further revelations for all concerned.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

128 - The Impossible Choice

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.

In the Receiving Room Terys bustled over to Garia.

"You have not changed, dear! But we understand, you have not had a pleasant afternoon, have you?" The Queen peered keenly at Garia's face. "What of your problem? You seemed distressed this afternoon. Are you now content?"

Garia sighed. "Your Majesty, I am not content, but I understand what has to happen and I will explain all as soon as possible. I must ask for an exclusive audience with the King, Ma'am."

"Indeed? He is very busy, as you know, especially with Wallesan as our guest." Another look. "I assume it is important?"

"Yes, Ma'am. It involves... my future. But don't say anything to anyone else, please. That's important as well."

"As you wish, dear. Shall you sit? I believe everyone else is here."

The meal was awkward as Garia wanted to get Robanar to herself and attempt to explain what was going on. As she ate she realized that certain other people needed to be included in that conversation. The list grew until she wondered if she was doing the right thing. What was that saying? "If one person knows something, it is a secret. If two people know something, it isn't a secret any more."

"My dear, you seem distracted." Robanar added, "The Queen tells me you were upset over something this afternoon."

"Yes, Sire. I need to speak to you about that and as soon as possible."

"It is that important? Aye, of course, you would not have said so otherwise. But I am busy, as you know. How long will such a meeting take?"

"Sire, it will involve a number of people apart from yourself. It may take some time and I believe you will not want to do anything afterwards."

Robanar raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Then we must accommodate you, my dear. Wallesan, I'm sorry, my treasure must speak to me urgently. If you may entertain yourself this evening? I'm sure we can arrange something."

Garia interrupted, "Sire. I'll need His Grace and Tenant Maralin as well. I think they have earned the right to hear what I have to say."

Robanar looked at Wallesan, both men puzzled. "As you wish, my dear."

The group that Garia eventually wanted was large enough that they couldn't use the parlor or the King's sitting room. They had to use the room where the Council of the Two Worlds normally sat and Garia thought this was rather fitting. Along with Robanar, Terys and Keren were Jenet, Merizel and Feteran, since they had been involved in Garia's original discussions concerning the Beings; Merek, because of the potential consequences of Garia's actions; and Wallesan and Maralin, since they now knew about multiple worlds and personal transfers. Jenet was the only maid present, the others having been given the evening off.

Garia was hesitant. "Sire, Your Grace, I'm not happy asking you for this meeting because I know you have visitors and you're busy but it is too important to delay for much longer. There are things you all just have to know about me, about Maralin, and about the Universe we live in."

Robanar grunted. "You speak of those who brought you and Tenant Maralin to Anmar."

"Yes, Sire. Firstly, I should explain why I wanted certain people here tonight. Jenet, Merizel and Feteran, along with Keren, have known since our visit to Blackstone everything I had found out about those who brought me to Anmar. His Grace, because he has Tenant Maralin and knows some of the background and Maralin because he, like me, comes from Earth and deserves to know why. Captain Merek must be informed because what may happen soon, if you agree, could cause serious problems for your Kingdom."

Robanar raised an eyebrow. "Serious problems? Explain."

"Sire, everyone around this table knows that Maralin and I, and maybe others like Yves Perriard, were brought to Anmar from Earth for various purposes. We called those who brought us here the 'Vast Multidimensional Beings' or more lately just the Beings. They live in a part of our universe most of you will find impossible to understand, or even to see, hear or touch, but it is there nevertheless."

Those from the palace already knew some of this, so just waited for Garia to continue. Wallesan and Maralin, however, were listening with great interest.

"It seems that I have gained the ability to speak with these Beings. It is even possible that I may, some day, turn into one myself, assuming I don't do something stupid and get myself killed. Meeting with them is difficult and I can't tell when I can go there or when I can't, it's just a matter of chance right now."

Maralin asked, "Is this true of all who came from Earth, Garia?"

She shook her head. "Unknown, Maralin. It has been described to me that I am like a newly hatched... avian, say, or perhaps an insect larva, with little ability to do much at all right now." She shrugged. "Maybe in time I'll be able to do more. The point is, I have no idea if anyone else is capable of what I can do. It might be that you are like an egg that hasn't hatched, for example, or one that may never hatch. I really don't know."

Maralin looked slightly disappointed but nodded. "Sorry to have interrupted."

Garia resumed, "Unfortunately, the Beings have proposed a task for me to do, and you're not going to like it. First, though, I need to give you all some background. Some of you are probably not going to like that, either."

She told them about the galaxy and, briefly, how it had begun and developed, and how the Beings had started appearing billions of years ago. She told them what they had discovered about the future of the galaxy and the Beings' attempts to change the outcome which had been predicted.

Robanar was outraged. "We dance to the tune of these Beings? Is that what you say?"

"Sire, humans wouldn't be on Anmar at all if it were not for the Beings. They try to leave us alone as much as possible. Everything they attempt is to improve the worlds they care for. But like when they brought Yves and me here, they only have the best interests of Anmar at heart, even if it means starting a war. If I may ask you to think big again, Sire. They are trying to improve us all because in the end, the fight will be undertaken as much by us, to save our own people, as it will be to save any of the Beings."

"How may what happens on Anmar affect this... galaxy you describe?"

"Sire, it seems incredible to me even saying it, but one day in the distant future there will be a Federation of worlds throughout the galaxy. Without a united front we cannot hope to save any of our worlds."

"She's right, Robanar," Wallesan agreed. "It is the same as we face here. Without the threat of war from Yod you would never have thought of your Federation idea."

Robanar grunted a reluctant acceptance and waved a hand, but Merek spoke up.

"Milady, these Beings, are they here now? Do they take account of everything we say and do?"

"Yes and no, Captain. I can't describe exactly where they are in terms you could understand. It's a kind of overlap with our world. There are only two Beings assigned to look after the whole of Anmar, so I would normally say you could have no complaint. Are they watching this meeting and listening? Yes, but this is a special meeting about them and they have an interest."

"I do not know whether to be relieved at your words or not, Milady."

"I don't think you have much to worry about, Captain. If I may continue? So, for the first time in millions of years, so I was told, they have someone who is both aware of the Beings and who has been transferred between worlds and knows it. Now while we were talking I once said to them that it was a pity I didn't know what would happen before I came to Anmar because I would have prepared myself better. That gave one of them an idea and after much research, resulted in the proposal they made to me. They want me to go back to Earth."

"What?" Robanar half started out of his seat. "But you cannot! You are about to become Palarand's next Queen!"

"And so I shall, Sire, but there is a catch. You see, when they select somebody to transfer, they usually choose someone who is about to die. This is basically for two reasons, first to avoid complications and second, because it is easier to obtain the material which makes the transfers possible. Most deaths usually involve a certain amount of confusion and they can use that to take measurements, gather samples and other things without anyone noticing. I can confirm to Tenant Maralin that when he was transferred, his Earthly body was about to be consumed in a fire in the apartment he lived in."

Maralin nodded. It was more or less what he had expected.

"On the other hand," Garia continued, "I was apparently in some kind of accident in which I had a nine in ten chance of dying, but I didn't. My original body is still there on Earth in a coma - unconscious - and has been for nearly eleven months. That gives them an opportunity to send me back to collect materials which will help Palarand and the whole Valley - heck, the whole planet! - to develop even faster."

Maralin asked, "Garia, why can't they just send you back to Earth like they brought us to Anmar? You could just pop up on a roadside somewhere."

"In the middle of the US? I'd have no ID, no history, no money, nothing. It would be very hard for me to start afresh with no background at all, especially in the suspicious climate there today. I could do it that way but it would probably take years to build up enough finances and background to make it work. By replacing my old body with a fresh clone I simply merge back into the life I would have had if I hadn't left. My old body must be fairly badly damaged if I've been stuck in a coma for nearly a year."

Robanar nodded. "I think I understand, Garia. But what of your presence here? It cannot continue, surely."

Garia sighed. "That's the big problem you have to face, Sire. If I do this, I'll just vanish from Anmar one day and reappear maybe nine months to a year later. If that happened without any warning, there could be chaos."

Robanar grimaced as he understood the problem.

Keren wanted to find a way not to lose his betrothed and asked, "Could you not stay here as well and then change over when your task is done?"

Garia shook her head. "That would give the Beings the unenviable job of killing the body which stayed behind - this one - to replace it with a new one which had all the Earth memories. As I understand the process, the original's memories have to be integrated as the new body grows. They can't be added afterwards, which means I'd lose all those that happened while the copy went to Earth." She paused. "There might be another serious problem. If I stayed here while a copy of me went to Earth, I could very well be pregnant when the copy returned. Is it likely they would want to kill me at that point?"

Merek muttered, "Milady, I have a headache."

Garia gave him a wry smile. "I know just what you mean, Captain."

Robanar asked, "Surely this can wait? Can you not secure the succession before you must needs leave?"

Maralin said, "Sire, if I read Garia's words right, that body on Earth won't last much longer. To keep someone in that state is expensive. The sooner she goes, the better."

"Maker!" Robanar buried his head in his hands. "First a war and now this."

Terys said, "Must this happen so soon, dear? We have prepared your wedding, is it all to no avail?"

"Ma'am," Garia replied, "The wedding will be fine, I think. What will happen will occur some time soon afterwards. Because of the difference in day lengths and so on, and because they have to make me a new body, I don't have an exact date, but the wedding can go ahead as planned."

Keren looked pained, as well he might. The thought of losing his new bride had struck him like a blow.

"You would have to reappear on Earth as Gary, would you not? In order to replace the sleeping body there now."

"That is correct, yes."

He frowned as he tried to puzzle through the complications.

"But you are a girl here, and you will be a boy again there... Does everyone, then, who is transferred, change genders as you and Maralin did?"

Garia shook her head. "No, what happened to us was not how it's supposed to work." Her expression twisted as she tried to find a way to explain in words that they would understand. "Okay. I'll leave the bigger explanation for another time, if I may. Basically, the machines are supposed to make an exact copy of the original by using the original instructions, the ones that cause a new baby to grow in the first place. Very occasionally the machinery goes wrong and we come out switched. The Beings who monitor Anmar don't have males and females like us so they didn't realize for a long while that anything had gone wrong. To try and find out what caused the problem, they selected Maralin since her life on Earth was about to end anyway."

Keren saw the problem. "But they must needs rely on this flaw to make a new body for you on Earth, and that will likely result in you being a girl again."

"No, it doesn't work that way, Keren. The instructions for me said, "make a boy," and that is what originally happened on Earth. They'll be using the same instructions again so it is unlikely I'll be a girl again. On the rare chance that did happen, they would scrap that body and try again until they got what they wanted."

"Ah, I see. At least..." His smile was rueful. "I feel so ignorant! So, what will happen when you return to Anmar? The same process?"

"Yes, of course. They have given me a undertaking that I will return here as a girl, because I will be needed here as your wife. As far as most people will be concerned, it will just be as if I have been away on holiday, or recovered after an illness, or something like that."

"But... why can you not remain here, while your copy goes to Earth, and then he comes back to Anmar as a boy? I would not mind it if you had a twin brother."

The Beings hadn't mentioned that option to Garia, but she had an idea what they would likely say.

"It's tricky, Keren. I think there's a kind of rule which states that the same person can't be alive in more than one place at any time. There's the potential for too many complications. That's one of the reasons they look for dying candidates for transfers. The whole transfer business appears to be bending the rules as it is, which is one reason there are so few of them."

Maralin suggested, "Perhaps they look for key people, men or women who would make a significant difference at the receiving end, who would otherwise be lost to the Universe."

Garia nodded. "That's a good way to put it."

"So let me understand the situation," Robanar summed up. "You would marry Keren and then, some few days after that, you would disappear from our world in much the same way you arrived here. Is that so?"

"Yes, Sire. Only it might be a week, or two or three. I don't know exactly."

"Then, after some months, you would appear here again... at least, someone would appear here who would look like you... or would the resemblance be more general? Would you look like Milsy, for example?"

"No, Sire. The instructions to make me would attempt to make the exact same body I had before." She frowned with thought. "I'm not sure, Sire, but there might be some natural variation built into DNA so I could look very slightly different when I come back. For all intents and purposes I'd be the same person, though, with all the same memories and everything."

Robanar nodded. "As you say. Where would you appear, then? Must we send out parties to find you again? Would you appear where you were found before?"

Garia grinned. "No, Sire. That was one of the reasons for having this meeting. Before, you had no idea who or what I was and things just developed naturally as was intended. Same with Maralin. This time, you'll know who I am and where I came from and I can be delivered anywhere suitable, Sire. There would be no point in making a mystery out of it."

Robanar grunted. "That relieves me somewhat. The thought of the wife of the next King of Palarand lying in a field somewhere, or in a ditch... No. You are right, since we are aware of what is happening there is no need for secrecy."

Keren put in, "There's a point there, father. Both Garia and Maralin had no memory of who they were for several days after they arrived. We would want to make sure that she is properly looked after until her memory returned."

Garia suggested, "That was again part of the point, Sire. You'll know I'm coming and where, and suitable arrangements can be made."

Robanar nodded and then turned to Terys. "My dear?"

"Well, I don't know, husband. This has all been such a shock, and for poor Garia, too! Do not forget that this is as unwelcome to her as it is to us. Tell us, Garia, what would happen if you did not do as these Beings request."

Garia shrugged. "Things would carry on much the same as they do now, Ma'am. Only, you all now know about the Beings, and that has to have some impact on any decisions you make in the future." She thought. "For the Beings, it would appear that the struggle they have would be much easier if I did this, Ma'am, but the chance of success if I don't is not very great. The chances of the galaxy surviving are around six in ten whereas if I go it will be nearly nine in ten."

Maralin asked, "How long are we talking about, Garia? I mean, before this all happens to the galaxy?"

"About a million years, Maralin. Only, by then it would be far too late. Like anything, you have to prepare well in advance, and that will be a big operation to co-ordinate."

Maralin's eyes narrowed. "You're talking about interstellar civilizations and all that, aren't you? Massive space fleets and defensive positions. That's going to take many thousands of years to build up. I can see why they are planning so far ahead, now." He abruptly chopped down with a hand. "That's not important to us, though. What do you plan to bring from Earth?"

"Give me a chance, Maralin! I only learned about all this this afternoon and it's a lot to take in. Since we know I'll be here at least until the wedding we have some days to make a list of things that might be useful."

Maralin nodded assent and Robanar asked, "Merek, your thoughts?"

"I am astonished, Sire. Even after everything that Lady Garia has presently brought us I thought that she could surprise us no more, but I was mistaken." He paused, collecting his thoughts. "I do not like this adventure any more than you do, Sire, but it appears Lady Garia should do as the Beings have requested. If the chances she has spoken of are anywhere near true then it would be folly to ignore the opportunity. She speaks of battle, Sire, and that is something I am familiar with. We must take every advantage offered and so must the Beings.

"As to her informing us of what is proposed, I fully understand, Sire. I would not like to consider your reaction if one day she simply disappeared from amidst us."

The look on Robanar's face showed everyone else what he thought of that idea. He glanced around the table, his gaze stopping at Feteran.

"Sire, I agree with Captain Merek. I was chosen to guarantee the safety of the Baroness and I cannot do that if she is somewhere else entirely. If, however, we know that she is to depart and, further, that she will one day return to us, then we can take some reasonable measures to calm those others we are responsible for."

Robanar grunted. "That is true, Commander. We have foreknowledge of this event and we may prepare some explanation for it."

Wallesan spoke up, looking uncomfortable.

"Robanar, forgive me, but there is something here I think you may have overlooked. Lady Garia speaks of matters about which nobody else on Anmar, save perhaps Maralin, can confirm. I would ask you to remember the Great Convocation. I would not wish you to make plans which depend on, if you will forgive me, My Lady, a young woman's word. Is there to be proof of any of this?"

Robanar leaned back. "I have considered it, Wallesan. For proof, you have only to look at the paper in front of Lady Merizel, at the electric clocks which are now on the walls of many of the palace rooms, at the steam engines which belch steam and smoke almost everywhere one turns. Garia is not of Anmar, she is from somewhere else entirely, and I am quite prepared to believe whatever she tells us."

"In that respect I agree she provides proof. But I am speaking of the invisible Beings she has described to us today."

"That is of course true. She provides us with an explanation for her presence but we have no means of proving if any of it is true." Robanar turned to Garia. "My dear? Is there any way we may be satisfied?"

"Of course, Sire. That was part of my agreement with the Beings. I knew you would need some kind of tangible proof... although perhaps tangible isn't the right word to use. Besides, I have a feeling that the proof will become a frequent visitor to the palace."

Garia stood and looked at the air above the table.

"Nurse, if you would make yourself visible."

In the air above the center of the table, a visible form appeared that Garia immediately labeled hologram. It was composed of white light and showed the Solid form of Nurse, standing about three feet tall and clothed in a wispy full-length gown. His feelers were folded down over his head giving the appearance of hair. Without exception, everybody gasped. The effect was so similar to the appearance of a classic fairy that Garia almost giggled. The figure turned and bowed to Robanar.

"Your Majesty."

The voice was high-pitched but not that of a woman's, somehow. Garia guessed that it had to be artificially generated.

Could be worse. We could have ended up with something that sounded like Stephen Hawking.

Robanar stood, facing the apparition with apprehension. "What are you? Do you have a name?"

"Your Majesty, I am one of the Beings who the one you call Garia has been talking to, although perhaps 'talking' is not the proper word to use. I am what your society would term a Questor, since my task until recently was to study the humans of the world you call Earth. When it was discovered that the being Garia had..." the Being paused, considering its words, "...become able to contact us, I was reassigned to help her adjust to her new circumstances, as I am familiar with her species. My species does not use personal identifiers in the way that you do and you would not be able to pronounce my title. I was named Nurse, since she appears to me as a new hatchling. To avoid confusion, and to make conversation easy between us, you may label me Senusret."

"Senusret? Hatchling? You are not a human, then."

"Indeed not, Your Majesty. No human could ever bear wings like these. My species lives on a world so strange to you I could not begin to explain it in any way you might understand. Suffice it to say, if I were to be present here in front of you, I would die immediately and violently. What you see is only a projection."

"Projection?" Robanar turned to Garia. "What means he?" He paused. "It is a he, is it not? Yet he wears a gown."

Garia's brow furrowed. More difficult questions! She hadn't even thought of telling them about a camera obscura, let alone any kind of projector.

"Sire, I think the Being is still in its own space, since he said he could not survive in ours. What you see is a kind of picture, an image of what the Being would look like on its own world. When I visit him... elsewhere... he looks totally different than that." She pointed at the hologram and added, "I get the sense that Nurse... uh, Senusret is male, Sire. I'm not sure about the gown."

"Hatchling, I wear this garment because my appearance thus will be familiar through myths and stories among these people. If it offends any, I can easily wear something else. I understand this society would have reservations about seeing someone humanoid who was naked."

She asked, "Is it uncomfortable for you?"

"Not in any way. Though clothing as you understand the term is not regularly worn on my home world, we have festivals as you do where we may cover our bodies with textiles of various kinds."

Robanar had recover a little from the shock of finding a glowing Being standing in the middle of his conference table.

"By your presence you confirm that everything Garia has told us is the truth. I have never doubted her word though others may not trust her as we have."

"Your Majesty, I do confirm her words." The hologram rotated to face Wallesan. "Your Grace, are you satisfied?"

The shock was still plain on the Duke's face but he managed to answer, "I suppose I am. This whole tale is so fantastic I may take some time to accept that it is all real."

"It could not be otherwise," Senusret said. "What you have been told today is entirely outside your experience. I would be more concerned if any of you did not doubt Garia's words without proof."

Maralin asked the image, "It is true, then? What Garia told us about my death?"

"It is true. I will not dwell on the detail except to say that like most who have transferred, you recognize that you have been given another chance and are not intending to waste that chance. I will apologize for your uncomfortable arrival on Anmar but the circumstances were unusual. At the time you were selected for transfer, the invasion of Joth had not begun, though our projections indicated it as a strong possibility."

"I see. Yes... I had to be left somewhere I could be found before I froze to death. The confusion surrounding the evacuation of the city hid my sudden appearance." He nodded at Senusret. "Thank you for giving me a second chance. I can do so much more here."

"That is the single purpose of such transfers as yours, though there are sometimes useful side effects." Senusret turned. "Forgive me, Your Majesty. I see that some of those around me find my size and brightness to be uncomfortable. I shall adjust my projection to reduce the glare."

The hologram shrank until it was only about a foot high and then Senusret began reducing the brightness. It was only at that point that Garia realized she had been squinting against the glare. The image then drifted away from the center of the table to a point opposite Robanar. Those sitting nearest moved their chairs aside to make room. It meant that all could now see the Being and speak to it without addressing its back.

"You have shown yourself," Robanar stated. "Does this mean you may now offer aid? What may we expect from your people?"

"Regrettably little, Your Majesty. Since our entire plan was built on the principle that no Solid should ever discover us, even speaking to you like this requires the breaking of an ingrained habit. We can no longer request that you act as though we did not exist, but you should continue implementing the policies you have already begun - and I may be breaking a rule by even offering you that much advice. For a number of different reasons we cannot offer you direct assistance."

Robanar looked disgruntled, so Garia spoke. "Sire, I understand the point. They can't offer us material assistance because they are so far ahead of anything that even I can recognize that we simply wouldn't understand it. Until we develop mathematicians who can understand and apply multidimensional math it would be pointless. Also, if they helped us at all it would make it impossible to calculate what effect our development would have on the future prospects of the galaxy. Anything we do we have to do ourselves, Sire."

"But this journey of yours to Earth, to return with items which may help us, is this not the same thing?"

"No, Sire. To use their terminology, it will be a Solid collecting Solid items which will all be thoroughly understood on Earth, much like my clothing and watch. That information can be calculated, Sire."

"Ah. As you say, Garia."

"There might be things which Senusret can tell us, though," Garia mused. She turned to the image. "Would you say there would be a problem helping us know about the past of our worlds? I can't imagine any harm coming from today's people knowing Anmar's history, or telling them something of Earth's history since Anmar shares some of it."

"An interesting idea, hatchling. Oh, I suppose I must stop calling you that, mustn't I? Garia, then. I will have to consult my superiors but in principle you may be right. The history of Anmar would be available for any competent archaeologist to find, so I see little reason it would cause problems to tell you more. The history of Earth is a different matter, since it may involve devices or ideas which may not become known on Anmar until later or at all. I will find out what I am permitted to tell you."

"Another idea," Garia added. "What about astronomy? As far as I know nothing of Earth's modern astronomy has much effect on what happens on Earth. Information about the galaxy can only help in the long run and shouldn't involve machinery we can't build."

Senusret was silent for a noticeable time before speaking. "Astronomy is a subject I am not qualified to speak on, Garia. You must understand that the galaxy we perceive is not the one that Solids can detect. I must ask for guidance before answering." He paused, before adding, "However, you have shown that there may be some subjects on which it could be safe for us to converse." He turned to Robanar. "Your Majesty, it seems that I may be able to offer you certain kinds of information, even if I am forbidden to offer direct assistance."

Robanar nodded. "As you say. I did not appreciate your problem. How often are you likely to appear, then? How may we manage such meetings as these?"

"Your Majesty, I regret that meetings may be infrequent. Once... Garia departs for Earth I must travel there to supervise her visit, which involves many complications. When she returns I should be able to give you advance warning."

"As a matter of interest," Garia asked, "can you tell us how far away Earth is? It doesn't really matter but it might be useful to know."

"Earth is some eleven hundred of Earth's light-years away from this world, but the star they name their Sun cannot be seen from here because of intervening dust clouds. It takes me five of Earth's days to travel from one world to the other, although I do not travel across the Solid galaxy to make the journey."

Maralin asked, "Hyperspace?"

"I regret I cannot answer that question. What there is that Solids may make use of you must discover for yourselves at the appropriate time."

"Oh. Sorry I asked."

"It is natural for you to be inquisitive. I must warn all of you, however, that you should not attempt to infer anything should I be unable to answer any of your questions. A refusal to reply may not indicate a negative response or even that I know the answer to your question."

Robanar asked, "Who shall be told of your existence?"

"I will appear only to those people now present in this room, Your Majesty. That was part of the agreement reached with... Garia. If any others are present, I will not make myself visible. For your part, no-one outside this room may learn of my existence. To know that a being such as myself existed would cause undesirable side effects." Senusret turned to Wallesan. "Your Grace, of course you will return to your own domain once the bonding ceremony has been completed. If there is need I may appear to you and to Maralin there. I would caution all that I have other duties and may not be available at all times to converse. We must arrange some kind of signal to let each other know that a meeting is required."

Wallesan nodded once. "Agreed."

Robanar added his own agreement, then asked, "You mentioned others. Are we likely to see any of them?"

"No, Your Majesty. I was chosen for two reasons, I am familiar with your species and my own form is approximately the same as yours. Most of the others who visit Anmar from time to time are of different species that you would find difficult to speak with. Perhaps Garia could explain."

"Sire, Senusret is right. Some of the others I have met are... strange. There is one who would empty this room in moments if she appeared here. Think about something that looked like a spider with the size and appetite of a grakh. Humans are not the only intelligent life in the galaxy, Sire. It seems they can come from anywhere and be almost any shape or size."

Robanar grimaced. "Then perhaps it is well that only... Senusret may appear. I have not the stomach for strange apparitions, nor do I believe many of those here do. I have enough trouble coping with such a bisken as I see before me."

Senusret said, "Your Majesty, I will depart now. My unexpected presence here and my unusual appearance have caused stress to you and those you speak with. You need time to talk among yourselves of what you have seen and heard here tonight. I will advise Garia if and when I may appear again."

Robanar stared at Senusret, considering his words. "Very well." He glanced around the table. "Is there anything anyone desires to ask, before this being departs? No? We are all too mazed, it seems, for sensible thought. Senusret, we thank you for your presence and what you have revealed tonight. You have answered many questions but still more remain."

Senusret bowed and then the image gradually dimmed until nothing remained. Garia blinked, adjusting her sight to the light of the candles which normally provided sufficient light for the room. Everybody sighed and relaxed in their chairs.

Wallesan was the first to speak, blowing out a long breath of relief before saying, "Robanar, when Lady Garia asked for my presence tonight I did not expect such revelations! To know that Anmar is but one of many worlds, that there are Beings who may travel between them, that we are all part of a Great Plan, this overwhelms me. I shall consider my actions in a different light in future."

"Aye, brother." Robanar was somber. "Yet the business of government must continue as it did before, I deem. The rest of Anmar must know nothing of what transpired here, the life of our lands must go on as it always has. We have a war to fight and win and that must take all our immediate attention." He turned to Garia. "My dear, I am not sure if I must thank you for what has been revealed here tonight. I do thank you for revealing to us that you must needs depart Anmar for some while. Without forewarning great damage might have been done."

"Sire, I swore you an oath and I shall abide by it. If you do not want me to go, then say so. It isn't my choice to leave everyone and everything I love, Sire."

Robanar regarded Garia with surprise. What must happen was obvious but she was his vassal and she was giving him the final word.

"Garia, your loyalty to me and to Palarand do you credit. However, if you will recall when you made that oath to me I said that I would not prevent you leaving Palarand at a future time, since I knew you answered to higher beings than myself. We have just met one of those higher beings and he has given me sufficient reason for your departure. Do you wish that I should release you from your oath?"

"What? Sire, no! Palarand is my home and always will be. Besides, I'm about to marry your son, aren't I?"

"That is another matter." Robanar turned to Keren. "Son, the circumstances have changed, or been changed for us. To marry and then to lose your bride after some short space of days may put a different color on your situation. I know what you previously declared, but it is right that I should offer you the chance to reconsider. Even though the remaining time is short, it may still be possible to postpone your wedding until Garia returns. What say you?"

Keren's response was direct and immediate. "Father, I would not consider such a thing. We are meant for each other and the sooner we are joined the happier I will be. I do not like the thought that I may so soon lose her, but it will be little different than when you sent me upriver as an envoy. We have been apart in the past and I have no doubt we will by circumstance be apart in the future. Such is the life of a Prince and such is also the life of a King."

Robanar bowed his head in acknowledgement of the realities of being a member of royalty. "Then we shall proceed with the wedding as if this meeting had not happened. Merek, we must prepare our people for the time when our new Princess shall leave us for some while."

"Aye, Sire."

"Garia, I know that it was your intention to travel with Keren to Blackstone after your wedding. Has this latest scheme caused your plans to change in any way?"

"Sire, I've barely had time to think through all the implications. Um, my first thoughts are that we should just continue as planned, Sire. Like when I went north before, it would be a good way to get me away from people's attentions so my departure, if we can call it that, won't be noticed too much." She frowned. "There's going to be a problem when Keren gets to Blackstone, I guess, but we can talk about that another time."

Robanar fixed her with his eye. "There are many matters we must needs consider, Garia. I pray we may find time to manage all before your wedding day."

"Yes, Sire. I'm sorry to complicate matters like this."

"It was not your doing, my dear. You have nothing to apologize for, I deem. Come, I think we have all done enough for one evening, let us rise and return to our usual activities while we consider what we have witnessed here tonight. For myself, I could do with a drink, I believe. Wallesan, would you join me?"

"Aye, brother. I must needs come to terms with what has happened here tonight."

* * *

Keren walked with Garia back towards their suites.

"I wish you weren't going, Garia."

"I wish I wasn't going, either! Like your father said, this wasn't my doing. I just happened to make a chance observation to the one single person who knew what had happened to me on Earth, that's all. Suddenly the whole galaxy is scrambling to make use of the opportunity that represents." She snuggled closer to his body as they walked, his arm over her shoulder. "I just want to be married, that's all. I want you."

Keren looked down at her and smiled. "And I you, my love. We will have some days together, will we not? Let us make the best of the time left to us, then."

She rolled her eyes. "You'd better not wear me out, that's all I ask! I'll be worn out as it is with the festival and all the other weddings, let alone my own ceremony."

"Not to mention all the eminent visitors who are coming for your wedding, my love. Don't worry, I'll probably be as worn out as you so I'll be gentle, I promise."

"I can't wait, but I know I have to."

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