Atalen ya Doaka
Davic, in one of the rooms of the cafeteria, had just finished transcribing the rongorongo characters from the front of the board he’d been assigned. He looked up, through the intersection with another room, and spotted Ian flirting with a random girl. “How does that guy do that?” he asked out loud. “I mean this is the third girl in an hour to come up and hit on him.” He looked down and was just beginning the backside of his board when his wrist crystal beeped. He cupped his hand around it to see who was messaging him then took a last sip of his orange juice.
It was the chat board again. Retta was trying to contact him. He opened a mana window to the site and read the following.
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Khym, I am so frightened; I am reading the Chanur books again and the kif are planning to attack the hani homeworld. The plans are still long term. Right now, they are sending out parties to frighten the stsho and to force a separation between them and Han. I hope the crew of the Pride of Chanur can be safe and beware the kif.
Love Lady Morgaine
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“What the freak?” he said. He read the post again and still didn’t understand anything. Suddenly he felt a bit conspicuous, so he copied the whole post and severed his connection to the site. He looked up and to the left as he so often did when trying to figure something out.
There in his view was Ian, flirting with a different girl! “Ian!” he called. “Ian, come here quick.”
Ian flinched, looked suspiciously at Davic and then said good-bye to the fourth flirt that hour.
“Oh don’t get pissy,” said Davic at Ian’s angry face. “If she wants to see you, she’ll come back.”
Ian shook his head, wobbling his unruly beard. “What!?”
“Come here and read this.” He pointed as he rotated the mana-window floating before him.
“That doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” frowned Ian. “You took me away from setting up a date for this?”
“It’s from Retta. She’s trying to tell me about some danger she’s in.”
“Retta?” Ian scowled and reread the post. “This is from Retta; you’re sure.”
“Lady Morgaine is Retta. So, you must be Lord Khym.”
Davic ignored the jibe. “She sounds worried and is trying to tell me something metaphoric or something.”
“No, it’s not a metaphor, it’s a roman à clef.”
“Ramona Clay? Who’s that?”
“You are so dumb!” Ian shook his head in disgust again. “A roman à clef: a story with a key. It’s a literary term. What did you study in your Bachelor’s degree anyway? Nothing important, I’d wager. It is a type of secret story that conveys hidden message to those who know the key.”
“Oh, so we have to discover the key. How do we do that?”
Ian sighed and then plopped down beside his colleague. “So, you both have discussed this book?”
“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.”
“The meaning is in the relationships between the characters. Tell me, from the story, who the kif are.”
“They’re a group of armed aliens. They look like ferrets. They want to take over Compact Space.”
“And control everyone?” Ian asked.
“And the hani are the ones trying to stop them?”
“Yeah, they’re intelligent lions . . . ”
“And who are the st . . . I cannot pronounce that. Who are they?”
“The st-shhhho are very weak and poofy aliens. Rich, but unable to take care of themselves. Allies of the hani.”
“The Han is related to the hani?
“Yep, their government, old and traditional.”
“Alright.” Ian rubbed his hands together. “Her message is as follows. Wait. The Pride of Chanur is a hani ship with the heroes of the story in it?” Seeing another nod, he continued. “Leduc’s men are planning to attack Atalen ya Doaka. The plans are still long term. Right now, they are sending out parties to frighten Johnson’s Allies and to force a separation between them and Johnson. I hope you, Ian and the rest can be safe and beware LeDuc’s hit squads.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. I want to answer her now, in the same key?”
He tapped his crystal, opening a dictation override. “I want to say this: ’Ian and I and the rest of the crew of the Pride are fine for now . . .”
“Wait, wait, wait. You have to write it as the story: Keep reading, things work out for the crew of the Pride of Chanur.” He interrupted himself and tilted his head in thought. “How will she know when you are talking about yourself?”
“Obviously, I am the character Khym.”
“Oh, so she’s Morgaine?”
“No, that’s from a different series altogether. In this key, she would be Captain Pyanfar.”
“Does she ever get captured by the kif?”
“Pyanfar? Never. But, she does visit them a few times.”
Ian reached over to Davic’s open window and slid a few parameters around. It was now in a collaborative mode. He erased Davic’s dictation and then said “Keep reading. While Pyanfar is visiting the kif . . .”
Davic pushed through the stop icon and erased a few words. “Akkhtimakt on the Kiffish ship . . .” He gestured for Ian to continue. “I just established the name for LeDuc.”
Ian pushed the stop icon. “Who are the other crew members on the Pride?”
“Chur and Haral.”
“Ok. “Khym will take care of the ship with Chur and Haral. Pyanfar will need to watch herself with the Kif, they’re like ferrets. The Han will take matters into their hands, even though some of the st . . .”
“Stsho have phased from gtst, gtste and gtsto to gstsa, which is the terminal state. It’s pretty scary when stsho phase like. We’ll see the parent of the younger member phase entirely and then die.”
Both of the men sat and stared at the display. Finally, Ian asked, “Is there some token between Pyanfar and Khym?”
“Yeah. She puts a service ring through the tuft of his ear.”
Ian pushed through the dictation icon and continued. Davic added a few more words and the two of them reread the whole post. Then when he’d finished proofing it, he copied it to the site and posted it. He had the computer log him out as quickly as it could.
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Keep reading. While Pyanfar is visiting Akkhtimakt on the Kiffish ship, Khym will take care of the ship with Chur and Haral. Pyanfar will need to watch herself with the Kif, they’re like ferrets. The Han will take matters into their hands, even though some of the stsho have phased from gtst, gtste and gtsto to gstsa, which is the terminal state. It’s pretty scary when stsho phase like. We’ll see the parent of the younger member phase entirely and then die. Khym will happily sport the ring through the tuft of his ear. Even though he remembers it was Pyanfar’s tooth that pierced his ear. He winced at that for quite a while, but he forgives her in the end.
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“Wait,” said Davic almost as soon as he logged off. “Ring in his ear. She’ll think I am proposing to her!”
“Nah! It’s just a gesture. You are the least romantic person I know. Besides, you two should get together, anyway.”
It was hard for Ian to study in the cafeteria. It was the only truly public space in the institute reserved for that function. There wasn’t really a physical library. All records were kept in crystal memory as mana patterns accessible to each student on his or her wrist crystal.
There was a study hall with several carrels that students could reserve. But most chose to congregate in the cafeteria where more socialization than studying took place, especially for Ian.
Candie had been by earlier on. So had Zoë and Mindy. Ian was just now beginning to return to his studies when Davic showed up. “Seriously Ian,” he said. “How can you get anything done this close to the main concourse? You know you’re on display, don’t you?”
“What?” asked Ian, annoyed. “What do you mean?”
“The A & B cells are Social Alley. The more serious students go back into the C & D cells.” Davic pointed back toward the outer wall three more cells into the cafeteria.
“I don’t like to study back there, too dark and dank. And quiet. There’s life out here.” He looked up and saw some of the prettier girls. “Oh, she’s hot!”
“How do you keep up your grades with this –beautiful-- distraction?”
“When I study, I study.”
“You know,” said Davic changing the discussion. “I wonder if the kif haven’t sent a mole. In this case, it would be called ‘dinner.’ They had . . .”
“Dinner?” asked Ian. “What are you talking about? Kiffish dinner?”
“Yeah, they had small animals that they’d eat live. They got loose on the Pride of Chanur and got into the workings of the ship.”
“Are you talking about that dumb story or . . .”
“. . . our situation. But, I’m using the Romana Clay. So we can be open without being understood.”
“Okay, saying that the kiffish general . . . ”
” . . . is trying to find out what the Hani government is doing, what kind of moles . . . ”
” . . . would he send?”
“They would hide, send reports, sabotage . . . ”
“Yes, yes, yes! But what kind?”
“They tasted good, so they were appealing in some way to the one kiffish crew mate. Hmmm, who was the most successful spy in WWII? Mata Hari, an intelligent, sexually open woman who seduced many officers.”
“Are you sure you have your stories straight?” asked Ian.
“I don’t think you ought to study in A or B cells. You don’t know who these hot babes are out here in the open.”
“You think they’re . . .”