The old professor worked almost until midnight that day. The lab was already turned upside down. The board was written full of equations, formulas, runes. The papers lay all over on the floor, page-long calculations scribbled on them. The experimental tools and chemicals of the storage were piled on the table into fragile, little towers.
He was close to the long-desired breakthrough. He just couldn't stop. The excitement kept him going on. He didn't feel tiredness, not even a spark. He knew it was only a matter of minutes, and he would get the final results, then the years of research would finally reach its goal.
What he was unaware of that a hooded figure was approaching him in the middle of the night and not for a friendly chat. The professor, however, could solve the last equation before his arrival. He looked at the numbers astonished for a moment. Then he exclaimed victoriously.
He instantly ran to the phone and called the Academy.
“Hello,” a voice replied, which obviously belonged to someone who was woken from the nicest dream.
“Haloran, this is Rufus. I've got it! I worked it out.”
Sleepiness left Haloran's tone instantly.
“You said you wouldn't finish this week.”
“I found a way to simplify the process. Now it is certain. We can reach the required velocity.”
Rufus waited what his friend got to say to the news, but he got no reply.
The phone went mute altogether.
“Sorry, professor. It was me. I disabled the line.”
“Who are you?”
The hooded figure stood in the doorway. He lowered his hood, revealing his face. The tall, young man had the phone cable in one hand and a pistol in the other, aiming at the professor.
“My name is Liner.”
The man walked to the desk, constantly keeping Rufus at gunpoint, and picked up one of the papers. The professor watched frozen of fright what his attacker was doing.
“What do you want from me?”
“I've got to admit, you've done an excellent job so far. And collaborating with the Archmage was a simply brilliant idea. If you had worked with your doran colleagues from the University, we would have found you long ago.”
“You want to kill me because of my work?” Rufus poked toward the weapon with shaking hands. “Why? It's a great scientific achievement.”
“Kill you? With this? Please.” Liner laughed. “This is merely a stun-gun. If I shot you, you just wouldn't wake up until morning. Of course, that means you also won't wake up when the lab catches fire.”
“No, you can't!” Rufus got desperate.
“Oh yes, I can. You piled up quite a lot of flammable materials. It takes only one spark and...”
He didn't finish the sentence. The professor only saw the flash of the stunning ray, and he collapsed like a ragdoll. Liner leisurely walked out through the door and lit a match.
“You people won't go anywhere,” he muttered under his nose and threw back the burning stick.
The chemicals on the table ignited instantly, and the fire spread within seconds. Liner raised his hood and left the building in a hurry, which painted the skies red over the campus. By the time the firemen arrived, he was far away.
This incident didn't exactly happen in the neighbourhood. Not even on planet Earth. The story begins on a moon of a gas giant in a distant star system, a world called Gallidor.
This place was similar to our home in many aspects. A fine example of convergent evolution. According to researchers, it went through a progression similar to Earth's, and life reacted similarly. Similar plants had evolved, similar animals, and finally the dominating primates, who were called doreans or dorans. Of course, countless differences could be found, but more about that later.
Jaden Savam lived on this planet. He was the citizen of the doran part of the capital to be precise. The entire moon was ruled by only one country with Gallidor City in its heart. The societal arteries of the globe ran through this town of nearly three million inhabitants. The economic life, politics, trading, the higher education, and the scientific work all took place here.
Jaden had been learning history for two years at the Gallidor City University. He wasn't an exceptional talent, but neither did he belong to the worst. He mostly took his exams successfully and lived the life of the undergraduates, which also showed definite similarities with the earth-students'. Jaden looked ahead of an important day. One of the reasons for this was his last exam of the semester about the Century Wars.
In the morning, he staggered out to the kitchen, yawning, to make some coffee. While the drink was brewing, he opened the kitchen window wide to inhale the fresh morning air. Silence still sat on the block of flats where he lived. Only a few cars were moving on the streets. Beyond the Eastern Express Road, over the shorter buildings, on the net of the magnetic railway, the first high-metro was giving a lift to the morning shift. The huge city was bathing in the first rays of sunlight reflected down from the surface of the gas giant, which was slowly emerging from beyond the horizon, ready to cover half the sky.
That was one of the weirdest things about Gallidor. How could Earth-like life develop on a moon so far from the sun? The atmosphere's composition, the thickness of its crust, the reflecting abilities of the gas planet's clouds, and loads of other properties need to be in perfect harmony to support such a complex ecosystem. The chances of that are astronomical. Only a fraction of the case of Earth. Nonetheless, the universe is uncomprehendingly big, so if the odds of something is a billion to one, we can expect that it exists somewhere.
This problem, however, didn't bother the residents of that moon, neither did Jaden show any interest in the gas sphere. He was staring at the Academy, rising from the Acropolis, at the hoofs of the Torlo mountains, at the far end of the city. He wished to learn there, but his origins didn't make it possible. He had no reasons to complain, though. As a student of the University, he received an excellent education. Except he didn't learn with whom he wanted to. After he had drunk the last sip of his coffee, he shut the window and went to get dressed. He put on his most elegant clothing, but the exam was only a secondary reason to suit up for him.
Before leaving the apartment, he peeked into his flatmate's room. The man seemed to be lost in the land of dreams and was trying to give away his position by loud snoring. 'How will this guy get to work again?' Jaden thought, shaking his head, then he left.
Jaden's little, floating moped rested in one of the long string of garages lining up in front of the 7- storey apartment buildings. He pushed it out to the street, then, on the wired the asphalt, he retracted the aid-wheels and turned on its electromagnets. As the interaction with the magnets beneath the road kicked in, the machine elevated off the ground, to about an inch height, with a quiet hum. Jaden liked it very much over his old wheeled bike. The new one, without the friction, was much easier to control via the gentle air nozzles. There were still a few rolling vehicles left on the streets, but they were slowly disappearing.
The University wasn't far from his flat. Just far enough to justify using the moped. Leaving the service road in front of the garages, Jaden drove out from the forest of apartment towers, onto the bike route, right next to the 8-lane Eastern Express Road. This nifty little shortcut offered a safe separation from the crowd of cars and trucks, which wanted to get through the capital quickly or brought wares to and from the industrial areas in the outskirts of the city. In a few hundred metres, after passing the greasy and ever-busy brick building of Grand Market, Jaden turned left to the University Avenue. There was still about two miles to go on the straight-as-an-arrow street, between the ages old, well-kept houses, but the imposing main building of the University came already into sight.
Standing at the main gate of the massive structure, one can't help but feel tiny, yet amazed. The structure was robust, occupying the area of a stadium, still graceful with its numerous columns, the nicely carved relieves, and windows like huge eyes, covering every inch of its main walls and the bastion like corners.
Jaden found parking space for his moped a few blocks back, near the student hostels. He left his bike and was about go to his exam when he heard someone shouting his name.
He turned towards the voice. He smiled friendly when he saw the greeting came from Hyvege, his good friend since high school, coming down the stairs of the hostel. As far as Jaden knew, he was also taking a test on the subject of thermodynamics at the physics faculties.
“Hyvege! Hi there! Are you prepared?”
“Ah, hell! I'll get kicked out. My leg won't touch the ground. How about you?”
“I should be okay. Unless I get the 'consequences'.”
“You shall know that too. If you get that, just think of what I'm learning, and you'll remember everything. Let's go.”
They were about the leave, but Jaden took one last look at the Acropolis in the distance, peeking through the gaps between the University buildings.
“For the Gods of Zin! Stop staring at the Academy this much,” Hyvege told him off. “You've kept doing that more often lately. As if you could ever get among the mages.”
“You're right,” Jaden sighed. “Let's go!”
Here was another thing, which separated Gallidor from a plain old Earth-like planet. A dorean subspecies, called mages according to certain translations, which made almost half of the population, was able to do magic. No one knew details about their evolution, where their abilities came from, but they were there. Their people learned at the Academy. Those certain Century Wars was the conflict between the dorans and the mages. Ever since they had ended, everyone lived in peace next to each other.
Next to each other, on the two sides of a very definite line, and most of the people wouldn't ever cross it. The truce officially had never been broken, but the disagreements still could be felt, although they agreed on a ceasefire almost 120 years ago.
Jaden and Hyvege reached the physics department, which was closer on their way, but not the usual sight greeted them. Instead of open gates, closed crime scene, instead of arriving examinees, examining police officers, and in one corner of the building the smoking ruins of a burned out lab were in front of them. They just stood stunned behind the cordon.
“What the hell happened here?” Hyvege asked upset.
“I don't know, but I have a feeling you'll skip this test.”
From among the investigators, a young woman in civilian clothes stepped out to them.
“Are you pupils of Professor Rufus Ferdani?”
“Just him,” Jaden pointed at his friend who still couldn't speak of the shock.
“My name is Neelys Ward,” she turned to Hyvege. “I'm afraid, I have to tell bad news. The professor died last night. Today's exam will be postponed until further notice.”
“Thank you for letting me know,” Hyvege sighed, whereas he could barely breathe. “Jaden, good luck! See you in the Docks.”
He went, looking dazed, towards the main gate. Jaden watched him leave for a bit, then, when he turned again to the ruins, he noticed something surprising. The detective was talking to a large, older man in a dark green robe. Jaden recognised the clothing instantly. That was why he refused to believe his eyes. The man was a mage, in Academy uniform, and there hadn't been a precedent for at least two hundred and fifty years for a mage visiting the University. Jaden found this a bit odd, but he didn't get too excited over it. He decided to hurry, not to be late for his exam.
The man with whom Detective Ward got engaged in an intense hassle was none other than Haloran, Archmage of the Academy.
“Please understand, we've found no evidence of an assassination,” Neelys said.
“But you're only searching for an hour,” Haloran yelled back. “When I was on the phone with Rufus, the line broke up in a second. The next time I hear about him, I'm told he's dead.”
“The wires burned out. That must have broken the connection.”
“And they got incinerated in an instant!?”
“Our arson department is still examining the lab, but they've already found numerous signs of explosive materials. A detonation could have burned out everything in there immediately. Until we find evidence of the opposite, we must assume it was an accident.”
“Well, keep looking!!” Haloran burst out.
“Why do you stick to the murder theory so much?”
Haloran got uneasy over this. Just in case, he listened in on the detective's thoughts, but he found nothing to be worried about. She indeed wanted to solve the case, and based on her experiences this was an accident.
“I have my reasons,” the mage muttered silently and left in a hurry.
Haloran, in fact, did have very good reasons to think this was a murder, as well as to be so secretive. It very much seemed like the conspiracy he and physics professor discovered at the beginning of their partnership was very much real and catching up with them. He knew that the people who killed Rufus would come for him too soon. It wouldn't matter that he was a mage with great powers who could defend himself. They would put him six feet under. He just couldn't comprehend, why.
He caught a taxi in front of the University and headed for the Academy. Sitting in the car, Haloran was considering his options. He reached out towards the driver's mind, who was thinking about making quite an overpriced check for taking his passenger to mage territory. Haloran took a deep breath and buried his face into his palms. Paranoia began to take over him.
He developed the ability to read minds with the help of Rufus. The professor showed him that the brain generates electromagnetic waves, which can be detected with the proper tools, and Haloran worked out how to sense these waves and transform them into images and sounds with the help of magic. When they came up with the method, Haloran didn't use his new skill because he found it unethical, and he wouldn't even dare to think of publishing it. That would only result in distrust among the gallidoreans, then in half a year dorans would come up with something to block it.
Nowadays, on the other hand, he found himself eavesdropping on every other person he met. Ever since they started their big project with Rufus, thanks to their preliminary investigation, they knew they couldn't trust anyone, so they kept it in secret. But the doran was found anyway, and Haloran knew it was only a matter of time, and he would follow his partner. But he didn't even know who were after them and mostly why. At least he found out what he was going to do.
He wanted to be sure that, if something had happened to him, their work wouldn't go to waste, or at least the future experimenters wouldn't be endangered. He grabbed a paper, a pen and made a few notes.
The taxi finally stopped in front of the Academy. Haloran paid the bill and jumped out of the car. He was immediately scanning the crowd of students, heading into the vast, cathedral-like building. His searching eyes quickly fixed on the one he was looking for.
“Good morning, Amalia!” he greeted her and tried to force an encouraging smile on his face.
She was Haloran's best student. He was certain, if someone, she would figure out what to do.
“Professor?” the girl turned back.
“Amalia, I brought your test results,” he told and handed over the folded paper.
“But I didn't have any...”
The young mage was about to ask what test, but one stern look from Haloran was enough to make her silent, and her expression turn into a worried frown.
“Erm..., thank you, Professor,” she replied faintly and took the paper.
“Sorry, but it's not so good this time.”
He didn't say anything else, just hurried towards the entrance. Haloran was quite uneasy about his decision. He didn't worry that Amalia wouldn't figure out what to do. He had taught her for long enough, and she was always the smartest among his pupils. Haloran was certain that once she delivers the message, she would start her own investigation because she would want to find out what happened. On the other hand, he worried if he could trust such responsibility to her and drive her too into danger. But someone has to bring through what he and Rufus started. If his suspicion proves to be true, that could affect the whole of Gallidor.
His fear even increased when he saw the men-in-suits waiting in front of his office. Well, the gallidorean version of those-kind-of-men-in-suits.
“Professor!” one of them accosted Haloran.
“Yes. What can I do for you?” he said pretending to be calm.
“You have to come with us.”
“Who are you?”
“You don't need to know that.”
The mage immediately scanned the strangers' thoughts. At least he tried. To his great surprise, he couldn't hear a thing.
“In that case, I prefer not to accompany you.”
“It's not a question of argument.” And to pressure his words, the suit pulled a gun.
Finally, that filled Haloran with confidence. He waved his hand, expecting the weapon would fly out of his attacker's hand, but he became horror-struck seeing it didn't work.
“That won't work.”
In the other one's hand, all of the sudden, a syringe appeared, and before the mage could react, he was stabbed in the neck with it. Haloran felt losing control over his body and starting to walk ahead of the suits toward the exit. He could only see from the corner of his eyes that one of them slides an envelope between the wings of the office door.
They marched through the Academy, and despite his great mental powers, Haloran couldn't let his many colleagues and pupils know that he's being kidnapped. The trio stepped out from the building, got into an unlicensed car, and drove away. Haloran knew he was finished, yet he could only worry about the thought that if he did the right thing by giving the paper to Amalia. He had no idea how right he was.
Although Murphy's law was unknown on Gallidor, that didn't mean they wouldn't be applied. Jaden, of course, got the Consequences of Century Wars at the exam. He just sat over the paper for the first ten minutes he had for composing a presentation of the thesis. Then he remembered what his friend told him and started his deduction from the very beginning.
'The whole conflict began with the dispute around the first company that wanted to introduce aerial transportation. As persuasion, the doran owners paid a substantial amount of money to the pilot-candidate mages to overcome their unwillingness of flying the vehicles with magic. The first attempts turned into a disaster. After a short flight, the pilots lost control over the aircrafts, which crashed. They and dozens of the passengers died, yet the owners of the firm successfully denied all responsibility for the incident.
A radical group of mage leaders figured that they could easily take rule over all the dorans, who weren't advanced enough to protect themselves against magic, this way preventing them from causing such catastrophes in the future. Back then, the doran army, only armed with swords, couldn't resist against the battle magic, effective also from a distance. Thus, the first period of the war ended in a small-year with the mages victorious.
After that, dorans lived under the oppression of the mages for ten small-years. By the end of that decade, small underground movements were established, which tried to weaken the mage regime with the so-called guerilla actions. These active movements were found and dissolved one by one.
Later, passive movements were founded, which rather gathered scientists around themselves who would build weapons, matching magic.' Well, yes. It appears that Earth is not the only planet where the army grants the money and the resources, and science advances. Jaden carried on with taking notes of his thoughts. 'As a result, many areas of science went through drastic development, for example, thermodynamics, mechanics, magnetics, electrics, etc.' Particularly at the two latter, they had greater achievements than the scholars of Earth. Most doran devices were driven, in a way, by magnetism, like their floating vehicles. Naturally, Gallidor wasn't drowning in smog. They knew, though, how the power of explosions can be tapped, but they rarely used it. The first weapons the movements developed – which worked much like our Lenz-canons, a kind of electromagnetic catapult, except much more advanced – shot the mage regiments to pieces in the battle of the Brann-plains. This was the first serious doran victory in the 50th year of the war.
From that point on, the fights went on with varying results for another 50 years or two big-years. Sometimes peace ruled the lands, – Peace? Bit of an overstatement. Truce. – other times battle noise filled the air of the planet. Both sides came up with newer and newer, more and more effective ways of killing. The mages had some unpleasant moments when they came across the first doran tanks on the battlefield, spreading lightning over them, and it wasn't any less pleasant for the pilots when their waggon started to glow and melt around them. The Zin flew twice around its sun when the opponents admitted that they can't defeat each other, and laid down weapons for good.
Ever since, we can say, dorans and mages lived in peace next to each other, but this was just a pretence. The old grievances hadn't faded away completely, even though the wars had ended for more than 120 years. Both people had something the others did not. At one side, technical achievements, the other, the power of magic. Haloran and Rufus were the firsts to discover that by combining the two Gallidor would be destined for greatness.
Jaden wrote this all down – except of course the case of the professor and the Archmage – with more professional phrasing and handed in the paper. But it didn't satisfy the examining committee.
The Dock in Gallidor city wasn't the unloading area for ships, especially, that the capital didn't have any bigger water banks. It was written on the name plate of a pub, regularly visited by the University students, at the bank of the punting lake, in the nearby park. Only a tiny patch of woods separated it from the school. Hyvege was drinking his beer in that place for over an hour, while just staring out of his head. The windowless, gloomy hall's poor lighting provided a suiting background for his dark thoughts.
Then Jaden sat down next to him, with a similarly bored expression on his face, ordered a beer and started drinking. They didn't speak for minutes, just sat numbly. Hyvege broke the unreasonable silence in the end.
“Did they kick you out?”
“I was flying all the way here.”
“Nice. Not even mages can do that,” Hyvege tried to be ironic. “You got the consequences, right?”
“Yes. I told them what you've suggested. The war affecting science. Then the professor said that I missed the results in politics and society.”
“And I also ignored the church's perspective on the war.”
“Ignored? They ignored the war! They did whatever they always do. The priests prayed to the Gods of Zin and raked their little gardens, while the bishops made money.”
“Yes, but I should have said that on the exam.”
Another interesting aspect of Gallidor is the religion and church. Maybe the only planet in the universe where only one religion was founded, and – apart from very few atheists – everyone shared its beliefs. The teachings said that their world and civilisation were created by the gods living on the gas giant above. And the church, based on this idea, didn't demand anything from the people. No taxes, no blind faith, no sacrifice, nothing. Right from the beginning, it participated in the economic life of the moon, effectively enough, to become self-sustained. And despite this, both dorans and mages went to church regularly and prayed to the celestials, without questioning their existence even for a moment.
“And how are you?” Jaden asked changing the topic.
“Better. But I'm still processing what happened. We weren't even that close with the old man, but it still makes me sad he's gone.”
For a short while, they were sipping their beer in silence. Then Jaden slapped to his forehead.
“Damn it, I'm late.”
The bottle hit the table, and Jaden hurried away, without saying goodbye.
“What's got into him?” Hyvege wondered and vanished the remainder of his beer.
Amalia was sitting uncomfortably in the Frontier restaurant and getting edgy. It was not enough that her teacher asked her to deliver a message under suspicious circumstances, now her boyfriend was ten minutes late from their date. While she was waiting, she took a look again at the piece of paper Haloran gave her. On the outside just the addressee, 'For Detective Neelys Ward', in the inside, six names listed. Neither of them rang a bell for her. She had no idea what to think of this. There wasn't much to go on. It was obvious, though, that something was not right if a detective was involved.
Then the bells of the entrance disturbed her thoughts and made her look up. Finally, her boyfriend, Jaden, arrived. She stood up and waited for him to approach their table.
“You're late!” Amalia said strictly.
“You could expect it,” Jaden answered cheerfully, which made the girl smile too.
Amalia would have appreciated if Jaden showed up on time, but when she looked into his eyes, she just couldn't be mad for such a minor thing.
They were the first doran-mage couple ever since the war broke out. It was a textbook love-at-first-sight. Jaden went to the edge of a mage territory of the city, to the Frontier restaurant, to do something stupid and irresponsible out of desperation. Amalia was on her way back to the Academy hostel from the flat of her friends when she saw Jaden. She stopped him using magic.
Amalia was about to give an angry lecture to the upset doran, Jaden was ready to go against anyone with magic, but when their eyes met something held back both of them. They talked through the incident calmly and discussed their points of view.
Later, they met many times, and they were soon together as a couple. The Frontier became their usual place. But they had issues telling about their relationship even to their closest friends.
“I know. I've already got used to your incapability to be punctual,” she said and hugged her boyfriend.
“If you knew my flatmate, you would consider me as a genuine clockwork.”
“I hope you can soon take me to your place and prove it.”
The rest of the conversation was about the minor everyday trivia. How's the exam period going, what's on the news, how's the weather, and stuff. About the unusual thing that had happened to Amalia that day, she didn't say a word in the beginning, but she knew it would come up eventually.
“Are you serious? They can actually control animals with magic?” Jaden asked surprised.
“Yes. And if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it.”
“It's amazing, what they can do these days. I only hope, they wouldn't use it against dorans.”
“No way. And even if they could, your people would find something to block it. Besides, a more evolved mind is not so easily affected.”
For a few more bites, they were silently eating their dessert when Amalia decided to bring up the sensitive topic.
“Strange thing happened to me today,” she said, changing the course of the conversation.
“A professor of mine gave me a paper as if it was my exam or something.”
“What was it?”
“It was six names, and I'm supposed to deliver it to a detective.”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“The circumstances. I don't like that the professor needed to be so secretive about it. I'm afraid, he's got into trouble.”
“Who are you supposed to give this?”
Amalia read it up.
“Neelys Ward.” Jaden froze hearing the name.
“I've seen her today. One of the profs got burned inside his lab. She was there at the crime scene.”
“Yeah. And you know what? I think you will visit my place sooner than I expected.”
Jaden couldn't know that the timing isn't the best since his flatmate, in the company of Hyvege, was about to consume a larger amount of alcohol.
After Hyvege successfully drowned his sorrows in the next five or six bottles, he had enough of drinking alone. He went to Jaden's, but he only found his friend's flatmate at home. First, the man was protesting against the booze, saying he still had stuff to do that night, but after Hyvege had told him what happened in the morning, the glasses were quickly filled. From that point on, it didn't take long, and the whole building could hear the music.
Hyvege, though he couldn't understand a word of the lyrics, he heard it enough times to sing Muse's Starlight with full throat. When the song ended, he had to ask.
“Eugene, will you tell me once what's it about?”
Eugene Jones let out a big sigh and answered.
“Well, at least one verse is about me.”
That was the standard answer when he didn't want to translate from English to Galledorean language for some reason. Meaning, always.
Speaking of Eugene, we might want to stop here for a bit. He is the closest to our comprehension, given that he came from Earth. According to his best knowledge the only one on Gallidor. The only one who even knows the moon exists at all. Although many people were looking for it, or in fact were looking for Eugene. He had to leave home due to a line of unfortunate events, for which he was still wanted. His actions were lacking the intention of wrongdoing. He, in fact, wanted to help. Except things didn't work out as he planned and that nearly lead to a catastrophe. This was the reason why he had to flee through space and time.
Eugene worked for an organisation called the Time Guards. The university student, from London, got to this agency on the day of his graduation, through a bunch of freak accidents, from 2010 to 2422. These guardians were the ones making sure that if someone ever had managed to get their hands on time travelling devices, the history of the planets in human hand wouldn't be affected. Eugene, with an, in his head, heroic attempt to save lives, managed to derail this history. After that, he left the agency in a hurry with some serious technologies nicked, and with a bounty on his head. The ones who were his colleagues and friends until that point started to chase him from planet to planet, from time to time. Their advanced tracking devices could find him wherever and whenever he showed up. Of course, Eugene wasn't that easy pray. He stole similar gadgets, which would detect any anomalies in time nearby.
He fled through the stars and time-plains for years until he came across a world hidden from his temporal sensors, occupied by human-like people. An energy shield protected it from noticing any kind of time travel nearby. That was Gallidor. He didn't know where the protection came from, but at the time it wasn't even important. He performed the most dangerous manoeuvre of his life and jumped right into the atmosphere of the planet, hoping to disappear from his chasers for life. Ever since, he hadn't seen anyone of the Guards, or of Earth as a matter of fact.
He lived on Gallidor for three years, and he examined the secrets of the planet. His interest in science literally forced him to get to know that world as well as possible, and his sharp mind helped him with that – while his laziness caused him quite a setback. Jaden often wondered upon how quickly Eugene understood things, and these times he questioned his friend why was he working at the metro with a brain like his. This had many reasons, but mainly because it is not so simple to fit into an entirely alien world.
First of all, there was the language. In the beginning, he tried to make people understand him, playing Activity. He managed to get a room in Jaden's apartment and became a janitor at the metro. It was enough to make a living. But he was constantly listening, and slowly he could understand words, and later whole sentences. After this, it was an easier task to define which sound fitted which letter of the 37 symbol alphabet. When he understood everything, he decided it was time to speak. As a practice, he revealed himself in front of Jaden. That succeeded so well, the doran nearly passed out since he thought Eugene was a mute illiterate. He wasn't even willing to believe the earthling until he saw with his own eyes the base set up deep in the Torlo mountains, the spaceship, the futuristic computers – the most advanced calculator on the planet didn't even come close to a Commodore – the alien books, heard the alien music. And even after all these, he doubted he had not lost his mind. Not many knew of Eugene's true origins. Only Jaden saw the headquarters in the cave, and even he had no idea that his flatmate was a time traveller.
After Eugene had learned the language perfectly, he could become ticket inspector from a janitor at the metro. He couldn't get a job, which would require any level of degree because he just couldn't get used to their measurement system. Without that, it's problematic to do any kind of scientific work. He could consider himself lucky that the people were counting with decimal numbers on the planet. They had different values for time, but somewhat similar. There was hour, minute, and second. Only their duration was different. Apart from those, there were 26 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 5 weeks in a month, 10 months in a small-year, the time which the moon needed to go around the gas giant, and 25 small-years in a big-year, which was enough for the Zin to go around the sun. It took months for Eugene to acclimatise to these. With the other standards, to measure for example mass, distance, volume, he still had issues. Although the table to describe the changes was slowly developing, it still had huge holes in it. It was worse than to start using US measurements instead of the metric system.
Among others, this was the reason why Eugene worked for the metro. But he didn't give up that easily. He kept going on with his research and recorded every bit of data according to his own way of thinking.
“I really would like to see Earth one day,” Hyvege said.
“One day. Maybe. One thing is certain. It will not be soon.”
“Doesn't matter when. I just want to see.”
“Let's drink to that.”
They hit their glasses together, but before they could sip from the beer, Jaden and Amalia stepped into the room. On their way, the boy also spoke of his morning and said a few words about his flatmate.
“Eugene, we need to talk.”
The two jugs stood still in the air, and the guys didn't even bother themselves with Jaden. They were staring at the girl in a robe with their mouth open.
“Who is she?” Eugene asked.
“My girlfriend,” Jaden replied as if he was telling the weather is nice.
“Aaaa-ha,” Eugene groaned.
For a short time, tense silence fell upon the room, which was broken by mage soon.
“Hi, I'm Amalia Jornos,” she held out her hand.
“Hi! Amalia? Lovely name. You could have been named like this back home.” Amalia seemed a bit confused about this statement. “I'm Eugene Jones, and this is Hyvege Lasset.” He shook the guest's hand and emptied his glass with one large gulp.
The couple told them in a few words that they first met in the Frontier and got together after a couple of dates. Then they got to the events of the morning. Eugene heard quite a lot of it from Hyvege, but his face turned glum when Amalia added her part.
“Jaden! To the balcony! Bring that paper too!” he said strictly.
They both went out to the small balcony of the flat, while Hyvege was left alone with Amalia. They both stood a bit nervous in the silence until the boy had to share his revelation.
“Now I know why Jaden keeps staring at the Academy these days.”
“Jaden, do you have any idea what you are asking of me?” Eugene told him off.
“Yes. To help with the investigation. You were a sort of detective after all. This wouldn't be the first time when you got involved in a case, and you solved it long before the police could. With your knowledge, we could solve this as well.”
Eugene scowled at Jaden for a bit before answering.
“Are you seriously using me to impress a girl?”
Jaden silently stared at Eugene for a few seconds, deciding what to answer. He chose the simple truth.
The earthling let out a big sigh and ran through the names on the paper. That gesture made Jaden feel he won. He was hoping his flatmate would appreciate his honesty and playing detective might actually be fun. Yet, Eugene kept looking for excuses.
“To know who these people are, we would need the police database. There's no Internet here.”
“What's that intanet?”
“Doesn't matter. The point is, we would need data. I won't break into the police for it.”
“I didn't ask you to. I'm asking you to help the investigation.”
“So, I shall help a mage in a police investigation? Are you nuts? Have you forgotten what's my favourite hobby?”
Well, yes. Jaden didn't forget it. Except he failed to take it into account when he presented his request.
Eugene chose an interesting way for conducting his research. In his free time, he acted as a burglar. He broke into mage houses and tried to work out their secrets in their own homes. He examined their books, their items and from a distance their spells and lifestyle. And apparently, this lead to results.
“If I'm not mistaken, today's is your last go,” Jaden said.
“Yes, and I would appreciate it if it went quietly.”
“No! The eclipse will be tomorrow. If that proves my assumption, and I find the star which I'm searching for, then I give up being a felon.”
Jaden felt a bit confused.
“If you are so close, why do you have to go again?”
“Because if I'm wrong I'll need even the last crumbs of information. And I've already promised the others. They know I quit after tonight, but it would be suspicious if I called it off now. ... Well, I'm off.”
He said bye to the others and left the apartment. Jaden came in grabbing his head.
“He doesn't want to help,” he said to Amalia disappointed, but the girl just smiled.
“Don't worry. He'll help.”
Liner walked into Borlon's office with a rather uneasy feeling on his mind, and it didn't help that his supervisor greeted him with the usual sour expression on his face. But to think of it, what reason would he have for smiling when there was a war going on.
“Liner! Is it done?”
“Yes. The professor is dead. The Archmage is in our custody.”
“Good. Thank you.”
Borlon seemed to be finished with the conversation and returned to his work, but Liner stayed.
“There is something else,” he said.
“Why do we do this?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, the paradox is on its way. Nothing could stop it. We sacrifice this entire project to win. So, why keep bothering these people?”
“Well, let's just say we have already seen things go bad at the last moment. The War Council has found a way to ensure that we turn the tides of this war for good, and a bloodshed like this never would break out again. But for that, we will need the Archmage. So let me know if there's any progress with him, otherwise, let me go on with my work.”
Liner couldn't think of anything else to add.
Eugene headed to the Dock a bit upset. The last thing he needed was participating in a police investigation. Of course, he understood Jaden's motives for asking this, but he had no desire to meet the law. It was a comfort to know that he had no more break-ins.
After going along the walkway among the apartment blocks and through the park, he soon reached the punting lake. The other side stood the Dock. Those nights, when he was conducting 'research', that was the place to meet his accomplices, Ivynel Belahant and Toran Kagron. Both of them joined Eugene for different reasons. Four generations of Ivynel's ancestors fought in the wars, so for her, causing trouble for mages, we can say, was a family tradition. Toran was part of a secret organisation that believed the war wasn't over. Just like Eugene, he was gathering information of the mages, except for other reasons. At least that's how it started, but later the thrill of the mischief took over. In the beginning, Eugene had concerns about the reasons why his companions joined him, considering he didn't want to be part of anything affecting the whole planet. But he needed help. Luckily, the objectives changed quite soon, and Eugene saw that the doran war engineers would have a hard time getting something out of the magic toys they found in family houses. For warfare research, they should have robbed the Academy, but to Eugene's pleasure, no metro-rail lead up there.
When he stepped into the pub, the DJ played the Supermassive Blackhole, especially for Eugene, while this was his least favourite Muse song. Despite his efforts of non-interference, he successfully managed to force his musical taste onto the people of the moon. He gave a lot of thought to decide if it was worth the effort to save the songs from his mp3 player to the local sound carriers. In the end, he considered that it was a good choice to spend weeks with developing the conversion method. Although Gallidor shared many similarities with Earth, it definitely wasn't the same for Eugene. These kinds of small things, like going down the pub where the songs of his favourites bands are played, made it a bit more like home.
His partners waved to him from the far corner of the pub. When he sat down at their table, the girl pushed a beer to Eugene.
“Thanks, Ivy!” he picked up the bottle and took a sip.
“So, where do we go tonight?” Toran asked.
“I've found a nice little house in the mage villa district,” he folded out a map and pointed at one spot, “right under the rail, halfway between the Swimming Pool and the Town Hall stations. The owners, a married couple who are making and fixing robes, went for a holiday to the Ashmir seashore. We go there, scalp the roof, take what we need, and leave. Easy as pie. Any questions?”
“What are we waiting for?” Ivy asked the question.
“Great! Let's do it.”
Since the metro stations were locked at midnight, they had to leave from the centre. That's when Eugene's job, and the belonging key set, came in handy. From the terminal station, they had to walk to the house on the rails and got to the burglary.
Eugene took a PDA-like device from his vest pocket, which could detect the presence and concentration of a specific radiation within hundred metres. When the mages use magic, they gain energy from this radiation. Everyone on that planet thought, even the mages themselves, that whatever they do was some kind of miracle, beating the laws of physics. The earthling knew right from the beginning that this was rubbish. He was certain that something explainable worked behind the seemingly impossible deeds. With the help of his gadgets he soon discovered that the planet, and in fact the whole solar system, was covered by a force field, which the mages can harness. When they cast a spell or put a charm on an object, the field got dense at that point, and Eugene could configure his detector to measure this.
His current project was to find out where the energy was coming from and to create a precise mathematical model of magic. He had a theory for the first, the latter was in progress. He only had a bit of a problem. It seemed that his detector was about to give in at the last heist.
“What the hell is wrong with this?” he looked at the display, which indicated that the whole area became a huge knot in the field. “No way everything's bewitched here.”
Ivynel also had a device in her bag, looking exactly the same like Eugene's. One wouldn't get involved in a four-dimensional interstellar chase without spare PDAs.
“This works just fine,” she said. “Alarms on the doors and windows, as always.”
“When will they realise that's not enough against us?”
“They don't even know we were ever there,” Toran replied. “We only take stuff, which they think got simply lost. Or it's not that valuable.”
“But for us...” Eugene clapped his hands together. “Let's go!”
They put three small, electric spindles, with about twenty metres of strong but thin cable in them, to the bottom of the rail. Ivynel and Eugene attached the end of two to their belts, and Toran lowered them. Eugene stuck the third cable to a point on the roof, then he cut it around with a pen-like laser. Toran lifted the roof piece so the other two can jump through the hole, into the bathroom.
They turned on the detectors and went to discover the house. Eugene stopped after two steps.
“What has got into this?” he was hitting the PDA.
“For the Gods of Zin! Just leave it and come with me?”
“And you leave this nonsense. I told you it's rubbish.”
“Why are you so sure that your atheist thinking is right?” Ivy told him off and stepped out from the loo.
“Because not even gods can live on a gas giant,” he muttered and followed the girl.
They searched the living room first. Ivy picked up a cone shaped object from a shelf, which had the field more concentrated around it. While she tried to figure out, how it could work, she gave the detector to Eugene. He also started to browse for magic objects, first only by looking, then he also checked the PDA, and he really didn't like what was on the display.
“Look at that,” Ivy exclaimed and directed the cone towards Eugene.
Bright, colourful lights sprang to dance around Eugene, like he was standing in a holographic 3D kaleidoscope. He wasn't particularly impressed. He had seen prettier star clouds. On the other hand, Ivy's detector produced the same error as his, which he found rather surprising.
“You look at this,” he handed over the device.
“What is it? Working fine.”
“Not for me.”
“Give me yours too.” Eugene grabbed the one from his pocket and gave it to the girl. “Uh-oh!”
“You know what's the problem?”
“Could be. It senses you as a magic object.”
“What?” Eugene burst out. “Impossible.”
Ivynel showed him the displays from her hands. The results were conclusive.
“This can't be..., unless...” The penny dropped. “God damn it!”
He barely said it, and the display blinked at the place of the front door, and the latch clicked.
“You said they're gone for a week,” Ivy whispered nervously.
“They are. That's someone else,” Eugene replied with constant volume. “What will Jaden get for this?”
“How did you know?” asked Amalia and turned on the lights.
“My gadget gave in and detects me as a magic object,” he threw her the device.
Amalia examined the detector interested. She slowly turned a full circle and kept comparing the furnishing of the room with the image on the screen with more-and-more surprise on her face. In the end, Eugene noted with great satisfaction the utter shock in the mage's eyes when she confirmed what the machine does. She couldn't even have a chance to ever see a computer, especially such a tiny and advanced one, which could even...
“This picks up charmed objects?” she asked shocked.
“And the casting of magic as well. I assume you put some tracking spell on me after Jaden told you what I'm doing for a hobby. That's why both gizmos got confused when I had it.”
“Yes, that's what happened. Except for the part that Jaden talked about you. All I knew that you could help with the investigation. The rest I've heard from your conversation on the balcony.”
“That's the case. You know, I'm a mage.”
“Eugene, who's this?” asked Ivy.
“Jaden's new girlfriend. So, you plan now to report me?”
“No. My plan is to blackmail you. I won't report you if you help Jaden and me with the investigation.”
“It's a long story, Ivy. I'll tell you later.”
Eugene scratched his chin and kept looking into Amalia's eyes while constantly spinning his brain-engine on a way out of this. Ivynel seemed to give up the hope of understanding at least a word. She sat down in an armchair and waited for the staring contest to end.
“Okay. On one condition. You take this tracking rubbish off me, and prove that you could eavesdrop through the closed window.”
“Ivy, let's go.”
The doran and the human went out to the terrace and closed the door behind themselves. Ivy attacked Eugene angrily.
“What the hell's going on?”
“Turn away from the window. It's an experiment.”
Being very cross radiated from Ivy, but she did as she was told. Eugene checked the detector. He gladly acknowledged that he didn't carry the spell anymore, and the device could be used flawlessly.
“Why turn away from the window? What experiment?”
“I don't want to risk her being an expert in lip reading. Check this.”
He held out the PDA in front of the girl. They could see the field got dense between them and Amalia, so magic was in progress.
“Does this mean she can hear us?”
“I shouldn't have told her what's the machine for. Do you know what's this on the screen?”
“A bluff. She can't hear shit!”
“Of course I can,” rang Amalia's voice in both of their heads. “And do not swear!”
They slowly turned back to the room from where Amalia waved to them with a triumphant smile on her face. Eugene immediately started typing on the PDA, so Ivy could now see functions of it like none before. On the edge of the display, Arabic numbers and Latin letters were running up and down, symbols, which a very few gallidorean had seen before. Ivynel couldn't possibly know, that her partner just increased the detector's sensitivity, to get answers from it.
“What the hell? I didn't know this thing can do this.”
Eugene couldn't improvise a reply all of a sudden.
“Erm..., code, so others can't understand it. Amalia, show me again how you talk inside my head, please.”
According to the detector, the trembles ran through the forcefield right to the mage.
“Soundwaves,” Eugene muttered in English, barely audible. “The field can carry sound waves in a directed manner.”
“Sorry, what?” Ivy asked back hearing the foreign words.
“I can do that, but I doubt I can show you how.” Echoed Amalia's voice within their skull again.
Vibrations, with a different wavelength, streamed toward Eugene. 'Brainwaves. From her, but not from me. Gotcha!' He grinned and stepped in from the balcony closely followed by Ivy.
“You just did,” he said.
“What?” the smile disappeared from Amalia's face.
“And you don't even know how it works. You just do it.”
“And what makes you say that?” she asked defiantly.
“If you knew, you could read my mind. Wait for me on the street. I'll be down there in a minute. We just pack out from here.”
The girl headed toward the front door and the thieving duo to the bathroom. Eugene was about to attach the cable to his belt when Ivynel stopped him.
“Tell me what was that?”
“We should get ready. I'll tell you in the meantime.” He turned on his radio. “Toran, you better hear this too. Slowly pull us up.”
While they were leaving through the hole and soldered the roof-part back without a trace, Eugene gave a brief description of his afternoon. Lucky for him, the other two understood that he had no choice if he wanted to stay out of jail. But the dorans still couldn't trust the mage.
After Eugene had left them, Ivy gave a voice to her doubt.
“He's hiding something.”
“Of course he is. He is a criminal.”
“I don't mean that. Why is he collaborating with a mage now?”
“He doesn't hate them. He just examines them. He said that many times. He trusts us.”
“Yeah? Then why did signs appear on the gizmo, which I've never seen before? If he trusts us, why didn't he tell us that thing can do more than we knew? If he knows the same about mages as we do, how could he figure out instantly how that chick's spell worked?”
Toran looked at Ivy wondering.
“Undoubtedly, you've asked the right questions. Do you think he's up to something?”
“Well, I'm not sure, but... yeah. It's more than probable that he has a plan, which doesn't involve us.”
“What do you think?”
“We follow him, observe him, listen in on him. The tools are back at base in the basement.”
Toran scratched his head like he lacked confidence in this.
“I don't know. After all, he trained us how to play ghosts. Don't you think he's gonna figure it out?”
“At least we'll find out how much his training worth.”
“All right, we can do it. But first I also need to tell you something.”
Eugene was walking Amalia home since a few things still weren't clear to him about her motives. They strolled a lot on the dark and desolate streets of the mage villa district, among the towered houses, so Eugene had plenty of time for asking questions.
“Why do you want so badly my participation in the investigation?”
“Because Jaden wants to.”
“You realise, he wants me to help to impress you, don't you?”
“And I'm convincing you to impress him.”
“Oh my goodness, what a l'amour?!” Eugene cried out.
“What's lamoor?” frowned Amalia.
“French. Doesn't matter.” Eugene waved. “How long have you been together?”
Eugene turned back the clock in his mind to see what happened then that made him miss the fact his flatmate got together with a mage girl.
“Wasn't that on Peace Day by any chance?”
“It was. How do you know that?”
“Jaden went home to his parents that day. They were visiting his brothers' grave as every year. It was nearly dawn the next day when he came home. I thought he drowned his sorrows into booze, but when I asked him, he refused to talk about what happened.”
“I happened. But if Jaden doesn't want to share the details with you, I won't tell them either.”
“It's okay! I understand. You have a right to have your secrets.”
“Thank you. The thing is, we don't want to be that secretive. Personally, I would really like if our friends mingled, but I didn't have the courage yet to introduce Jaden to mine. I was even surprised he wanted us to meet.”
“Well, I'm quite unlike any doran. I possess the objectivity of an outsider. But what I'm surprised over is that after this short time together you already trust him enough to trust me?”
“Who said, I'm trusting you? You rob mage houses.”
“Still, you asking for my help. A total stranger's.”
“Not me. Jaden. I'm merely the convincing force.”
Eugene became dim. This answer didn't convince him at all. He could never understand the emotional decisions. So he kept asking.
“What exactly did Jaden tell about me?”
“Not much. Just that you are a doran, clever, and resourceful, yet you're a ticket inspector, unless you're too lazy to get up for work...”
'So far, so good,' thought Eugene.
“...and you found the ones who put his family's house on fire when the police were helpless.”
“That's why he needs your help.”
“It's not entirely correct this way.”
“Because I cheated.”
“Cheated how? You're not saying that you didn't catch the ones you should.”
“Oh, sure I did. Except my methods were not so tidy.”
Considering the rules Eugene ought to follow, it was indeed a bit nasty business. Of course, he cheated with time travel. When Jaden told him what happened, how everything of theirs burned to ashes, how he lost his two brothers, how hard it was to stand up again, how his family could never come to terms with such loss, Eugene decided to travel back in time. On the night of the arson, he found out who did it, captured a few pictures with which he got a confession out of them in the present. Collecting the rest of the evidence was a piece of cake for the ex-timeagent. The culprits were part of an extremist mage-group, and they had a long string of vandalisms on their tab. That was the first time their actions resulted in death. They were sent to prison for a big-year.
Except, this kind of investigating was against the rules, and we are not talking about silly made up regulations, but the laws of Time. Messing with those can easily be the end of masses, even an entire planet. Especially, if it's done by something as thick as a human.
Eugene was well aware of that. He nearly managed to destroy his home by the misuse of time travel. So, when he found Gallidor, he swore to himself he would never travel in time again unless it granted him a safe voyage home. It didn't take long to break his own code. But he desperately needed an ally on that moon who trusted him without question. He believed the only way to do that – quickly – was to ignore the rules and catch the arsonists. He wouldn't go that far to actually stop them. Lord knows what paradoxes would have that caused.
“Not so tidy how? I still don't get it.” Amalia kept struggling with the answer she got.
“And I really hope you'll stay that way.”
Soon, they've reached the hostel where the girl lived on the Acropolis. After saying farewell, Eugene headed back. From the front of the student home, the view of the city bathing in the night lights was quite spectacular. But then, the terrible recognition struck Eugene that he had a good long walk ahead of him.
“The hell am I gonna do now?” he asked himself the rhetorical question and instantly gave the answer. “There must be a place where Academy students go for a drink,” he said and went on to find the first pub where he could linger till dawn.
The next morning on the metro he just stared out of his head. Only the sign on his shoulder suggested that he could have something to do with ticket inspection, but the passengers weren't so sure of that. He weakly repeated the 'Tickets please' evergreen line, but he couldn't get himself to actually check the validity of the paper notes in front of him.
At noon, four hours before the end of his shift, he went home, fell onto his bed, and in a minute he was out as if he was beaten to death, completely forgetting his promise to Amalia.
The Zin was about to set when Hyvege and Jaden walked in on something unexpected. Eugene in the bed, in a coma, and Amalia sitting in front of him, in an armchair, with a glass of yellow liquid in her hand, and rage in her eyes.
“What the hell happened here?”
Amalia presented the simple facts.
“I'm waiting for this idiot to wake up, then I shove this down his throat to sober him up, then I'll curse him until he passes out again.”
Jaden and Hyvege were blinking at each other questioningly.
“And why would you do that?” her boyfriend asked carefully.
“He promised to help with the investigation.”
“I would rate this positive.”
“He just completely forgot about it,” she replied, now with a bit elevated voice. “He was drinking in the Bustard till dawn.”
“What's that?” asked Hyvege.
“Our regular place. One of the guys in my group told that all of a sudden a doran walked into the bar and tried to drink them under the table.”
After a short, uncomfortable silence Jaden had to ask:
“Silence, please!” They heard a painful growl from the bed's direction, but no one would have told it was Eugene's voice unless one had heard him with a hangover.
“Finally!” Amalia stood up from the armchair and stuck the glass under Eugene's nose. “Drink up!”
“Is this supposed to be some anti-hangover magic potion? I tried just enough during university years to know it won't work.” Eugene examined the suspicious looking liquid sceptically.
“This will. Drink!”
“Are you serious?”
“I'm a mage. Have you forgotten it? Along with your promise?”
Eugene's face turned glum and took the glass. Apart from its slight orange taste, it hadn't got any positive effect. The taste counted only because nothing showed any resemblance with the orange on Gallidor.
“Thanks! When is this supposed kick in?”
“Immediately,” she stared stunned at the man still in ruins. “It has worked every time so far.”
Eugene got up as slow as he was a hundred years old, rubbing his head, and painfully groaning. Apparently, the physiology of the humans and doreans were so different that he couldn't expect the alien medicine affecting him. He had to use his own less effective methods.
“Getting it!” his flatmate came in with a glass of transparent, bubbly liquid.
He took it and tottered toward the bathroom closing the door behind him.
“Where is he going now? What did you give him?” Amalia asked.
“Very salty sparkling water. That will clear up his system.”
The girl refused to believe this would work better than her potion.
“I suppose, we watch the eclipse,” Hyvege told. “That was the plan for tonight.”
As soon as he said it, Eugene came back wiping his mouth with a towel. He looked a bit better, but his eyes were still quite blurry.
“That's better,” he said relieved and stepped to his cupboard.
He was searching in it for a short time among the odds and ends, then he took out a telescope with a tripod. He hurled it onto his shoulder and marched out with the exclamation, “To the roof!”
Amalia was already boiling with rage. Jaden carefully reached out for her hand, to calm her down, but she snatched her arm away and went after Eugene. Jaden and Hyvege looked at each other, shrugged, and followed them.
Upstairs Eugene put the telescope on its stand and began spying the sky. Gallidor City slowly turned away from the Zin, and the solar system's distant, weak-lighted star crawled above the eastern horizon. Its shine was just enough to blur even the biggest stars of the sector. About every two or three years, one of the big and close enough inner planets mantled the sun completely. These times the far away, tiny, blinking lamps could show themselves a little brighter.
“What are you doing here?” asked Amalia when she caught up with him.
“You know, I figured out something,” he said not taking his eye off the lens. “You mages require energy for your spells, because the hum..., sorry, the dorean system is not capable of doing such things.” Meanwhile Jaden and Hyvege also joined them. “I worked out what could be the nature of this energy, how can it be detected, where it could come from, and finally, I have a chance to observe its source.”
Amalia went up with the intention of getting Eugene down again via the shortest route possible, but she had to admit, she was very much interested in what he said. She looked up to the sun, which was almost covered by the 4th planet of the system as if it could give her advice about what to do. The things she learned from Eugene in the past 26 hours slowly dismantled the order of the world she knew. Mages of the Academy were only taught how to use their powers at a professional level. Where it could come from was never mentioned. And now it seemed a doran gave the answer. At least she thought a doran.
“And where does it come from?”
Eugene stepped away from the telescope and pointed at the lens smiling.
Amalia took a closer look. The sight astonished her completely. While she was admiring a wonder of the universe, Eugene saved every single bit of data to his PDA recorded by the telescope's computer.
“Jaden. Come and take a look!” she shouted excited.
The boy ran there to observe the unique phenomenon, and Hyvege checked it on the PDA's display with widened eyes. Eugene just smirked under his nose.
“I'll be damned. Hawking radiation is responsible for magic after all.”
“What's that? I've never seen such a star before.”
“This, my friend, is a black hole,” Eugene gave the answer.
Everyone was gazing at the brightly glowing gas disk, which surrounded such an unimaginably deep blackness that they had not witnessed ever.
“And what would this be?” Hyvege kept asking.
“A dead star collapsed under its weight. Its mass pulls so strong that nothing could escape from it. Not even light. Sucks in everything in its way. You know how mass pulls, right?”
Everyone cast nasty looks at him as a response.
“Oh, so you do.”
Although he was living on Gallidor, he still wasn't sure where they stood at which area of science.
“We are not stupid Eugene,” Jaden told him off. He knew where Eugene's uncertainty was coming from. “We know what gravity is, and how it keeps planets and stars in their orbit.”
“Yeah, sure. And you believe that the creators live on that gas ball above.”
At this point, everyone decided to ignore Eugene. He just shrugged at their reaction. He kept playing with his PDA and tried to interpret the received data.
“Why do you think, this is the source of magic?” Amalia asked.
“Black holes emit a kind of radiation,” explained Eugene not even looking up from the screen. “Usually this is such a high-speed stream of particles that is pretty bad for your health, but this one's even good for its environment. And only by wishing or carving some fancy glyphs you lot can control this torrent.”
Amalia just stared at him in amazement. She just couldn't get her head around this. It would have never crossed her mind that magic could come from a weird black star. It wouldn't have crossed anyone's. She also could not understand Eugene. What motivated him so badly to extend his knowledge that he would risk getting arrested?
“We only considered how we could extend the usage of magic. Never thought of what makes it tick. You seemed to work it out, yet you're not a mage. You don't even have a chance to use this energy. So, why bother doing all this?”
“It strengthens my belief if I find an explanation for something which seems impossible.”
“And what do you believe in?” Hyvege asked sceptically. “Certainly not the Gods of Zin.”
“I believe that everything is possible,” Eugene answered smiling. “For instance, who can harness this energy, they could do anything.” He looked up at the sky. “Oh my goodness, if the dorans and the mages would leave behind their silly bickering and combine their forces, this planet could achieve such great things.”
“Eugene! I think we took the first step,” Jaden said.
He looked deep into Amalia's eyes and kissed the girl. Eugene just smiled over the scene, but he became glum again when he looked at the palmtop.
“But something's not right with this beast.”
“What is?” Hyvege questioned.
“It's damn close. Not a light year. Otherwise, we couldn't even see it. But if the data is correct,” he waved the PDA, “then this system should have fallen into it long ago. We're not even moving towards it. Eats up everything, yet Gallidor stands still.”
“The Gods of Zin take care of us,” Hyvege explained with a popular cliché.
“Tell more nonsense, please.” Eugene retorted. “Something else must be at work here.”
After that, the inner planet slowly moved on its celestial path letting the sunbeams vanish the strange star even from the lenses of the telescope.
The next morning, Amalia and Jaden woke up to Eugene, bursting into their room.
“Oi! Wakey-wakey! We have work to do!” he said with the volume of an alarm clock and stormed out.
The couple hadn't really woken up yet on the early hour. They were just rubbing their eyes and listening to Eugene running up and down in the flat.
“What does this nutjob want?” asked Amalia numbly.
“I think the same as we do. Start the investigation,” Jaden replied.
“Yeah, but at 6 in the morning?”
For that, Eugene waltzed in again. He was almost ready, but his shirt was still unbuttoned, and a toothbrush was in his mouth.
“The Achadehy i' no' 'wo minich' awah,” he said while scrubbing his teeth at the velocity of a grinder.
Amalia and Jaden just stared at the man with a blank face. They didn't understand a word he said. Eugene disappointedly stared at the ceiling and walked out from the room. He could be heard mucking around in the bathroom, then he returned without his toothbrush.
“Amalia, you're not in the hostel. The Academy is not two minutes away. The metro only brings us to the foot of the Acropolis. We still have to go up. So, hurry up.” He clapped urgingly and left again.
“I can't get my head around this guy,” the young mage sighed.
“You're telling me,” agreed Jaden and slowly climbed out of the bed.
In an hour and a half, they were standing on the high-metro, on their way to the Acropolis.
“Why are we going to the Academy?” asked Amalia. “I thought we will talk to the police.”
“I would ask the professor first about these names.”
“I believe, if he could, he would look into it himself and wouldn't trust it to me.”
“And I believe he did look into it, but for some reason he wants you to do so as well. I intend to find out why he can't tell it personally... Somehow.”
After another half hour, they reached the top of the stairs, leading up to the plateau on which stood the Academy. Seeing the school Eugene stopped for a moment, – like always – and his eyes greedily sucked in the magnificent view.
The high plain that gave home to the whole campus was, in fact, the bottom of a chasm. On the north-west side of the field, a huge rock wall towered above the buildings, which ended nearly a mile high in the Reerge Peak, the western end of the Torlo mountains. The Academy itself, with the dozens of slender, nicely carved turrets, looked like a Gothic church, except it was a lot wider as from the main nave many-many corridors lead to all the departments of the establishment.
By the way, the towers, like the ones giving a Gothic feel to the whole structure, could be found on almost all mage buildings. Eugene always found it an amusing coincidence that most of the wizardy fantasy stories of Earth mostly took place in a kind of Gothic setting.
Then, after a second of staring in awe, he shot out toward the main gate past Jaden and his girlfriend with a bit longer steps than he was supposed to.
“Eugene, stop!” Jaden told.
“We're in a hurry,” he answered and stepped through the threshold.
He couldn't get further from the reception. A forcefield shone up with blue light and pushed him back. Jaden clearly knew what to expect and wanted his flatmate to avoid the collision.
“Wow! What's this?”
“Security,” the doorman informed him and turned to Amalia. “Guests' names?”
“Jaden Savam and Eugene Jones,” she said.
The old mage stepped to his desk and took two glass balls from its drawer, which seemed to be containing some kind of red, glowing material. Seeing this, Eugene carefully half pulled his PDA out of his pocket and blindly set it to record everything. The old mage waved over the balls, and as a result, they started to emit weak, blue light.
“Keep that with yourself all the time, while you're here.”
“Right,” said Jaden. “Thank you!”
They took the balls and could go on without the force field stopping them. When they were walking the crowded corridors, Eugene finally grabbed the sensor and started to examine the received data. He was certain that the ball would confuse the machine again, so he calibrated it not to sense anything closer than a meter.
“Wow! Everyone's tagged in here,” he said astonished. “Inside the building, I've got a life-sign detector.”
“Put that away!” Amalia snatched it from his grasp.
“Come on, give it back. I haven't had such a rich bounty of data for months.”
“You get it back when we are done here.”
In five minutes, they had a row with Haloran's secretary.
“What do you mean he's travelling? Why didn't he say a word?” Amalia asked upset.
“I'm sorry miss. I can't know that. The professor didn't tell me anything. I only received his letter.”
“Can we take a look at that?” Eugene asked.
“If you wish.”
The secretary handed over an open envelope and a typed letter within, which had professors signature at the bottom.
“Does it say, when he comes back?” Jaden asked.
“Not mentioning it. Do you have a few more of his letters?” Eugene turned to the secretary.
“The professor keeps his official letters in his own drawer.”
“I'm sure of that, but can we get a peek?”
“Not without the professor's authorization.”
Eugene got fed up with the woman's robotic repetition of the phrase 'the professor'. He saw that the secretary was well tamed and wouldn't make an exception in protocol for a student, especially not for two dorans.
“Well then, thank you for your help,” he said with a crooked grin and span on his heels. “Let's go, guys.”
After another half hour, they were nearly in the middle of the city, not two blocks away from the Basilica, in front of the tall Tetrahedron buildings. These were indeed three slices of an actual tetrahedron pulled slightly apart to make place for a central column structure. At about every five landing, corridors linked the slices to the column. The 30-storey complex, emerging high above the downtown houses, gave home to the police, fire department, and the general hospital of Gallidor City.
It was founded after the war to enforce the mage-doran cooperation thus avoiding the outbreak of another long conflict. The management sections occupied the top five floors, and every other level below belonged to another department of the individual units, each of them giving jobs to closely the same amount of dorans and mages. On a daily basis, two leads of the departments gave a status update in the column to the managers from the other two Tetrahedron wings and the two representatives of the Duality Government. These reports went to the top of the column so the governmental decision makers could improve the welfare of society based on actual facts.
Apart from minor incidents caused by bickering between mage and doran colleagues, the system worked fine as a well-oiled engine. For the citizens of Gallidor, this was indeed the best place to see that although the dorans and mages didn't need each other, they could manage a lot easier if they cooperate. For example, the doran logic was always better. Their deductions were more precise when it came to detective jobs, and they noticed the clues easier at a crime scene. On the other hand, in the field, the mages proved to be more effective at catching felons. They could also cure injuries and diseases quicker, but without the doran equipment, they would need a lot more time to reveal the cause of the problems. Regarding distinguishing fire, usually the type of the fire decided whose methods were the winner.
The small team went to the police department. At the registration, they asked to meet with Detective Neelys Ward, who soon appeared as requested. When Eugene's brain finally processed how she looked, his speech centre could only return a single syllable:
“What can I do for you?” the detective asked turning a bit bored after Eugene's opening line.
The woman's strict tone shattered the mirage. Eugene's mind restarted in a second and picked one of his cover stories – thanks to the recent glitch, not his best one.
“Erm..., Dirk Gently, holistic private investigator.” Eugene showed up his long expired student ID for a second. “I have a message for you from the Archmage. He sends you this letter.” He gave the piece of paper with the six names to the detective. “Also he and his two pupils here insist that I participate in the inquiry related to it.”
Saying all this like it was the most natural thing in the world and the self-satisfied grin presented with the introduction didn't seem to impress the detective. Her reaction was actually the opposite.
“Sorry, but that's not how it works,” she said. “You can report a possible crime, but we won't involve you in the investigation. And what's a private investigator?”
The smile froze off from Eugene's face, and he whispered to Jaden with gritting teeth.
“Don't tell me your planet does not have PIs.”
“Never heard of such thing.”
“Great.” Then suddenly he realised something was off and glanced again at Neelys. “Interesting, you're not finding the holistic odd, but the private investigator.”
“Yes. The latter have two parts which make sense, but only separately. The first is clearly gibberish, which suggests that you're trying to hide something.”
Eugene dropped his head disappointed. Maybe he shouldn't have used an already exotic English word. Strangely, these prepared misdirections usually worked on Earth against humans.
“Look,” Jaden stepped forward, “we know our... partner didn't make the best impression, but we believe that he could provide an insight, notice connections others wouldn't. His intentions are as clean as it could be.”
“You were there two days ago at the lab fire, weren't you?”
“All I can say, I will look into the professor's request and keep you updated on the results,” she showed up Haloran's letter, “but we won't involve a civilian. Thank you and goodbye!”
She turned around and left, cutting any further debate.
“What now?” Amalia wondered.
“We better discuss that at home.”
Neelys barely returned to her desk, she had to stand up again. A blue text appeared in the air in front of her, requesting to go to her mage colleague's office. She was quite puzzled for what reason would that certain person want to see her, but she went anyway.
“Captain Martellon,” she said stepping in, “you were looking for me.”
“Detective Ward. I'm glad you came on such short notice.”
“Of course. So, what can the Homicides do for the Counter Terrorist Unit.”
“That man you just talked to. His name is Eugene Jones.”
“News spread fast around here.”
“Of course. If someone under CTU observation all of the sudden just walks into the yard.”
“What?” asked Neelys dumbfounded, “That halfwit? A terrorist?”
“A possible terrorists who, apparently, researches magic, presumably its weak points.”
“Assume that's so. Why would he help in a murder inquiry?”
“We don't know yet. That's why we assign a partner for you,” Martellon nodded towards the door.
Neelys turned around to see who entered, but that made her even more confused.
“Isn't he on the wanted list?”
Meanwhile, in the flat, the mood got a little tense.
“Are you nuts?!” Amalia laughed rather hysterically than of joy.
“No, I could easily do it. What do you think I was doing with that gizmo? Even though you took it away, it kept recording.”
“Forget it! I don't want you to do it. Not even if you could, which I doubt.”
Jaden played with a yo-yo on the sofa, but it didn't really help to chase away his boredom over the argument.
“You wanted me to help, and now the case even interests me. So, bear the consequences. We go and break into the Academy.”
At around midnight they were standing again at the reception of the mage school. Picking the lock was simple. Neutralising the forcefield was promising to be a bigger problem... for a doran, but not Eugene.
“And why do you think you can turn off the protection?” asked Jaden.
“I recorded the frequency of the signal the doorman sent to these,” he pulled two guest balls from the drawer. “In theory, it was a simple enough spell to replicate it with a waveform generator.”
He put down the two red spheres to the desk and turned the PDA on. He pressed two buttons on the screen and excitedly waited for the result.
“That's it.” His mouth curved into a grin when the balls turned blue. “Easier than I expected.”
He threw one of them to Jaden, took the other, and hurried ahead. He waited for the others staring at Haloran's door. Finally, Amalia's face turned satisfied.
“I suppose a bunch of spells safeguard the Archmage's office,” Jaden said.
“Well, how do you open this?” Amalia asked mockingly. “I won't help you.”
Eugene didn't reply, just applied a strong, well-aimed kick on the entrance, and the room revealed itself.
“Like a stuck loo door,” he glanced at the frozen-struck mage and stepped into the pitch black hall.
He was about to click his flash torch on when a white ball of light appeared above Amalia's held-out hand, which floated lightly over Haloran's desk shining in every corner of the space around the burglars.
The place was furnished with taste. As one would expect an Archmage-office to look like. Right in front of the three-meter-tall, two-winged door stood a big desk with nice carvings, on top of it papers and pens in regular order. Apart from two gaps, wide shelves were in front of the walls, which either tried not to crash under the weight of the books or gave home for magical objects, made for purposes unknown to human or doran. Over the door and the desk, huge runes were engraved, a great circle, from which many branches serpentined down to the floor. During the day, light streamed through the dome-like roof window.
“Now we're talking. Cool place,” Eugene said admiringly when he looked around.
“Are you happy?” Amalia asked sourly.
“You have no idea! What do these two runes mean? This is the one area of magic I know nothing of.”
Eugene was staring at it mesmerised. In the meter radius circle, all kinds of pictograms were painted. The strings of symbols broke out from the centre like the wriggling tentacles of an octopus. They were nothing like the Gallidorean alphabet, and it was more diverse than the Chinese writing.
“They are surveillance for the Academy.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jaden.
“The data of every student and worker are stored in these runes.” She pointed above the door. “And those keep track of who, when, and where was in the building. The records are dated from the foundation of the Academy. I'll be in big trouble when someone finds tomorrow that I broke in here in the middle of the night.”
“You can get data out of this mess?” Jaden got surprised.
“Well, if I translate the runes for a day, sure. But, of course, there is a lot simpler method.”
She moved her hand over a sign behind the desk, which instantly projected the glowing replica of the Academy above their head like a hologram. Eugene and Jaden stared at the virtual model with wonder in their eyes. Amalia pointed at Haloran's office on the image.
“See that two blue and one green dot? That's us.”
“Haha! That's amazing,” Eugene laughed. “Can you rewind it to the last time when the professor was here?”
“No, my privileges allow only this much access. We can see where people are at the moment, nothing more.”
“And with higher privileges?”
“Of course. We can watch the earlier records and query everything about the individual dots.”
“Basically, why are we here? I hope this is not one of your usual heists.”
“No. I wouldn't bring you two along,” he replied faintly not taking his eyes off the projection.
“Then why?... Hello!... Would you answer?!”
Eugene just stood paralysed as the picture started to assemble for him. He scowled alternately at the rune and the model. He could almost see the pictograms turning into English text. Well, at least one of the most logically convoluted version of it – if this makes any sense.
“Can't be!” he sighed amazed. “No way!”
“What is it?” his partners asked simultaneously.
“It's a programming language. And I thought the IT is not advanced here at all. More advanced than back home, but people think it's magic.”
“What the hell are you babbling about?” Amalia asked.
The earthling beamed at the couple. Amalia was totally confused, while Jaden looked rather worried and tried to indicate with small gestures that his flatmate should shut up now. But Eugene just ignored it and gloriously kept going on about his great discovery.
“It's obvious. Put the right resources under a correctly formatted text, and it will do something, you wouldn't believe it's possible.” He started to point at random parts of the rune. “Database, controller, user interface, graphic output.” He looked at the glowing model for last. “All is together for a complex computer system. Brilliant! I only need to work out what could be the binary's counterpart.”
After this monologue, Jaden was grabbing his head, and Amalia eyed the human like he was a lunatic.
“Do you know that you are constantly talking nonsense?”
“What? No, it all makes...,” finally he realised his cover was blown, “utter rubbish to you. Oh, son of a...”
Amalia kept looking at him waiting for an answer. Jaden glanced up for a moment, shaking his head, and his face turned scared suddenly.
“Erm, guys! We're not the only ones in the building.”
“What?” the others looked over there.
“Two blue dots and one purple are heading this way.”
“Purple?” she asked frightened. “That's a problem.”
“Why, what does that mean?” Eugene asked.
“Damn! Let's go!”
“Too late,” Jaden said.
The two blue dots stopped. The purple one advanced to the office, and Neelys Ward appeared in the door. Eugene gave the most colourful cursing the English language was capable of.
“You followed me?”
“Yes. I suspected you're up to something, so I put someone on your trail.”
“Let's see who they are,” Eugene replied phlegmatically and pointed at the model above him. “This picture here tells us you have two dorans as a backup.”
“That's right. We keep an eye on you ever since the mages began to report minor burglaries. We suspected that sooner or later your goal is the Academy to gain data usable at warfare,” Neelys said calmly. “We were right.”
He wasn't exactly expecting that. From the cover of the wall stepped forth Toran and Ivynel, the girl in handcuffs. Eugene added the swear-set of Gallidor to the English.
“For God's sake Toran! You're a cop?!” he shouted.
“And what about the underground organisation, gathering intel against mages?”
“I'm not part of anything such, but I needed something for you to accept me in your team.”
“You rat bastard!” He walked a circle in his anger. “That's the reason I have never tried to break in here until now. I never wanted the information, I would find here, to fall into the hands of a bunch like that. It would look bad on my resume if I ended up causing another war.”
The two officer just blinked blankly to that.
“Then why have you come here?” Neelys wondered.
“Thanks for asking. I'm curious about that too.”
“Amalia, you shut up! I'm here to find evidence concerning the physics professor's death.”
“You're not conspiring against mages?” Toran asked surprised.
“Of course not! Otherwise, I would have applied to your fake-org, day one.”
“Then why all the burglaries?”
“Research. Is it such a bad thing to have scientific interest?”
“No. The trouble is with your methods. Why this?”
“I won't achieve a thing with nice words and asking. The mages are not exactly willing to give away their secrets.”
“What makes you think that?” Amalia asked offended.
“For once, I tried it at the very beginning, for second, you don't even know your real secrets.”
“That doesn't change the facts,” Neelys said the verdict. “You committed a felony. We are taking you in.”
The handcuffs appeared in her hand, and she was about to make the arrest when Eugene paced a few steps back.
“All right, all right, okay! I admit, I screwed it up. You can put me behind bars. But before that, let me show you why we came.”
The detective stopped for a moment and took away the cuffs. She grabbed her gun instead and pointed at the human.
“Go on!” she waved with the pistol.
“And give me the detector, please.” Toran took a weapon too. “We don't look for something, which doesn't concern us.”
Eugene unwillingly handed over the PDA and stepped out from the office while he was constantly kept at gunpoint. He only needed the letter lying on the secretary's desk. He went back to the room and started to dig through the professor's papers. When he finished, he raised a bill and compared it with the letter.
“Gotcha!” he exclaimed grinning, quickly forgetting how upset he was a minute ago.
“What have you found?” Toran asked.
“Do you have a graphologist?”
“Why bother? Look at that! Amalia, can you lower that ball of yours?”
The girl did so, and everyone gathered around Eugene. He put the bill and the letter apart and picked up a few other papers from the desk, just as much the sphere could light through. He put them together so Haloran's signatures would match, but they were only partially the same.
“Whoever writes down their name, no matter how many times, you won't find two identical among the signatures.”
He did that trick with various writings of the Archmage.
“So if we happen to find a pair...”
He raised the two separate papers and put those together as well. The light revealed that there wasn't a millimetre difference between them.
“...we can suspect forgery.”
Everyone was astonished about the result. Eugene had to face the fact that the gallidorean law enforcement was not exactly at the top.
“Not to mention, the professor apparently writes his personal letters by hand, and this one is typed.”
“I'm starting to understand why Jaden wants your help,” Amalia said spooked. “Where do you get this stuff from?”
“I saw it in a Highlander episode.”
He allowed himself a smile, then he remembered who surrounded him. He threw the paper onto the desk and headed for the door.
“Now we can go to jail,” he said grumpily.
“Stop!'” Neelys told and stepped behind him with the cuffs.
Eugene stood still while the detective locked the shackles on his wrists and whispered in his ear.
“Nice catch, though.”
“Yeah. That's a real comfort.”
“Now, that's settled. I think we're heading home,” Jaden said with an agitated tone.
He grabbed Amalia's hand and hurried toward the exit.
“You're not going anywhere,” Toran stopped them. “You were at the scene. We only have to decide, if you are accomplices or witnesses. You come with us.”
When the grille door of the cell slid to its place, the first thing Eugene did was to occupy the one couch in there. The others looked at him waiting for a solution to get out of the situation, but he didn't seem to be bothered with such trivia.
“Don't you think we ought to do something,” Ivynel threw at his head, “say get the hell out of here?”
“Why? We're exactly where we're supposed to be. If they find something about the six names, they can tell us right away.”
“If you don't get involved in this stupid investigation we wouldn't be here in the first place. I told you that you shouldn't trust the mage chick.”
“Hey! It wasn't me who told you to break into everywhere,” Amalia burst out.
“But indeed, it wasn't wise to trust Toran,” Eugene replied calmly ignoring Amalia. “Otherwise, if I don't agree to get involved, I would be here for two days.”
“Argh! Do what you want, I'm leaving,” Ivynel kept raging.
She grabbed a skeleton key from her pocket and stepped to the bars. She barely came close to the lock, and a purple forcefield pushed her back. She furiously tossed the tool on the floor.
“Haven't you considered, they would like to keep the mage criminals inside as well? A tiny lock wouldn't stop them,” said Eugene, sticking to an educating tone. “You better calm down and get some sleep.”
Instead of anger, desperation took over Ivynel. She silently crouched down at the other end of the cell. But she had to add.
“I'll skin Toran alive once I get out.”
“You'll get a chance sooner than you'd expect. And now, if you excuse me.”
Eugene turned to the wall and didn't speak until morning. In five minutes, he slumbered peacefully.
The little gang wasn't bothered until next noon, except by the one bringing the breakfast and lunch. The tension had settled a bit, but they still didn't talk to each other. Everyone blamed someone else for what happened.
It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon when a guard came to escort Eugene to an interview room where Neelys and Toran waited for him. It was furnished with only a table and three chairs. The earthling sat onto the seat closer to the door, the two detectives opposite him, at the other end of the table.
“Let's start with the simple question,” Toran said strictly. “Who the hell are you?”
“Now comes the good cop, bad cop routine?”
The two officers looked perplexed at each other, then at Eugene.
“Answer the question,” Neelys yelled at him.
“Apparently, it's the bad cop, bad cop scenario,” he muttered under his nose and fell silent.
They waited for a while, then Neelys started to lay out his ID cards on the desk.
“What can you tell me about these identifications?”
“What shall I tell about them?”
“Say, why are they all fake?”
Neelys and Toran waited for an answer, and Eugene a few slaps to get him talking. Since none of these happened, Toran proceeded to the next question. He took a box from a drawer and spread its content in front of the accused. Eugene almost fainted when he saw the ruins of his favourite palmtop.
“The hell have you done with it?” he freaked out.
“I got it examined. Neither of the mage or doran scientists had any idea what this can be, or how it can work.”
“It won't anyhow, now that you tore it apart!” Eugene screeched like a little kid whose favourite toy soldier just got bisected.
“Good thing, there are more of them,” Toran pulled the other detector from his pocket.
“Give me that!” Eugene grabbed for it, but Toran took it away from him in time.
“According to Belahant's testimony...”
“Of course, you've already interrogated Ivy.”
The detective didn't get bothered. She kept going on only slightly louder.
“...this device has hidden functions, encrypted with a secret symbol system.”
“Ah, I assume you would like me to show these.”
“No need for that.” Toran laid the PDA in front of Eugene. The screen was flooded with Latin letters. “We could figure it out ourselves.”
“Then what do you want from me?”
Neelys started to unfold another set of plastic cards, British ones this time.
“We don't know what's written on them, but we suspect these are Ids as well. We noticed the same symbols on these as the ones on your machine. We showed it to the best rune experts, and none of them saw even a similar text. Can you give an explanation to that?”
Eugene leant back in the chair and finally could allow himself a victorious smile. Could it be that someone finally worked out his secret?
“You would like to know, wouldn't you? Any guesses?”
“We have one. This is the secret writing of a group conspiring against mages. The cards required there for identification.”
Grin froze onto his face. He wasn't expecting this answer.
“Some of the cards have very specific magnetic properties, similar to the computer's memory,” Toran showed up Eugene's old credit card. “Tell us, which underground movement is capable of manufacturing such advanced tools.”
The human's expression turned sour and buried his face in his hands. He expected some fantastic story, which either happened to be true or what he could ridicule. Instead, he got concerns about national security in his face, which were even logical from his accusers' point of view. Not minding the fact that Eugene already said that he wanted to avoid, at all cost, his research falling into the hands of such a radical group. The dorans interpreted his reaction as a confession. It was their turn to be satisfied.
“So?” Neelys asked.
“You couldn't be further from the truth,” Eugene replied disappointed. “Any results about the six names?”
“Sure. But we can't say anything about it.”
“Then I would like to return to my cell.”
“Eugene, if you do not testify...” Toran yelled.
“Then you lock me up for two small-years for pity theft. You can't sentence me for conspiracy until you have proof, and I can assure you won't find any because there is nothing to prove. If I show you the truth, now that can tear down your world to dust.”
For a short while, they stared at each other silently. Finally, Neelys gave up and had Eugene escorted back to the cell.
The next one to be questioned was Jaden. He was also queried about Eugene. The same questions were put to him as to Eugene. But the doran gave no answers, except for the last one. He just had to laugh at that.
“What? Eugene part of organised crime? This is ridiculous! At least, knowing reality.” He suddenly changed to a more serious tone. “Although to think of it, for you that would sound insane.”
“Please, enlighten us about the reality,” Toran requested.
“That's what I can't tell you.”
“For a while we track Jones. We will find out eventually,” Neelys said.
“Track him? 26 hours a day?”
“Then why do you need me?”
“You could spare us from wasting time.”
“And yourself from a few years in prison what you'd get for aiding a felon,” added Toran.
Jaden snorted quietly.
“You know, your problem is that you consider Eugene a dangerous terrorist whereas his biggest crime was to take a few worthless objects. For research.”
“Then what's the point of this secrecy?”
“You must ask him about that.”
In a few minutes, Eugene faced Jaden in the interrogation room. The human couldn't speak for a few moments when he saw his flatmate sitting in the opposite chair.
“Well, I didn't see that coming.”
“I'm not here to question you. I want to convince you to confess.”
“Why would I?”
“To avoid prison.”
“Come on! I can handle a few years. I can't get more than two. They've got nothing on me apart from the burglaries.”
“But they have that. What is it? Why are you so afraid of revealing yourself?”
Eugene just laughed.
“I just wouldn't like an army of scientist sticking needles in me.”
“Why would anyone? I imagine they had a few questions, but they wouldn't make you a lab rat.”
“Look, Jaden. Science-fiction is unknown to you. Your artists have not entertained the possibility of an alien visitation. Ours have, and the human reaction is not remotely pleasant. I always considered those stories rubbish until I witnessed a few happening in real life. Some creatures coming to our neighbourhood ended up getting ripped apart and put back together again. Thank you, but I don't want that.”
Jaden was listening to his friend shocked. He could hardly imagine such thing could happen. Thus far he was very much interested in Earth, but after this, he thought he should stay away from it.
“You must be special then. You're not like that.”
“I'm not that special. I'm merely not shitting my pants of the thought of the unknown, so I don't have to step up aggressively against it. Our leadership, on the other hand, making decisions for our people. Well, they are a different kind. Seemingly, they even scared of their own shadows. If someone came up with a notion the snow flower endangers their power, they would exterminate the snow flower. Personally, I think, they have to be a coward to grasp for power over everything that can harm them. Otherwise, who in their right mind would want the responsibility to lead the masses in the right direction.”
“I doubt that's the case here.”
“Yes, I can imagine the doran reaction would be different. But I haven't examined your society that thoroughly, so I can't really tell. I only focused on your science and magic. That's promising, though, that I came back safe and sound from a questioning concerning terrorism. But my expectations might come from Hollywood.”
“What's..., never mind. I'm sure it's an Earth thing. What you can be sure of, that they will find the answers they seek. And with that, they will work out you're not exactly from the neighbourhood.”
“But it wouldn't only be for my own good if that stayed a secret.”
“What do you mean?”
“This world is held together only by the religion. That what's common in every galledorean. Imagine, what would happen, if I told that on my way here I passed the Zin, and I found no gods there. If they realise that, not only the mages and dorans will go against each other, but internal conflicts will also ravage the planet. The order will collapse.”
“Then you lie.”
“Yes. In that case, they will use my ship to beg audience from the gods and all will happen as I described. Except, I'll be lynched before for lying.”
“Sooner or later we will leave the planet on our own, and all will know it.”
“That's still some chapters away. By then your people's way of thinking can change. But even if it didn't, I wouldn't be responsible for the chaos.”
Eugene leant back wondering. He knew only too well how Gallidor looked when he first found it, five hundred years later. He wanted to avoid the desolation he witnessed to be his fault again.
“So, we have only one option left. Good old blackmail,” he concluded with a grin.
He jumped up immediately and went to the offices. He hurried past the guards so swiftly, they didn't even notice that one of the prisoners was leaving.
Jaden just sighed and gave up he would ever be able to follow what was in the human's head. He sat and waited for the guards for a while, but he soon realised if he wanted to gain understanding about the events that were happening, he must catch up with Eugene.
When he found the earthling, Eugene was already quarrelling with the guards in Neelys's office. After some wrestling, he managed to shake them off himself and leant on detective's desk determined.
“I have a proposi...”
Eugene glanced back. The two constables were still, and Jaden was already in the room.
“You two. Out!” he grunted at the uniforms, but they didn't move. “What I am to tell the detective is personal. None of your business.”
“Please, go out,” Neelys sighed. “I can handle this.”
The guards marched out instantly. Jaden stepped out of their way politely and closed the door behind them.
“What do you want?” Neelys asked strictly when they were alone.
“You tell me what you have found on the six names. In return, if you promise that you won't say a word about it, we'll go to our flat, and I'll tell you everything.”
Neelys raised her eyebrows over this kind of negotiation.
“I have a better idea. You give us everything, then, in light of that, I'll consider if I tell you anything about the six names, then I'll only tell the court the truth about you.”
Eugene rubbed his face. He suspected this plan wouldn't be easy to implement. Instead of another suggestion, he came up with facts.
“Then I tell you what we will do. We go to our flat. I tell you the truth. First, you laugh at me, then I'll show you proof. You get shocked, then you'll accept my help without hesitation. Finally, if you don't want a second world war, you'll be silent as the grave about me.”
“Okay. I admit, you got me intrigued.”
“Everybody comes from our cell.”
“Toran comes. You'll go to the flat in a prison transport van.”
“I phone someone, and we can go.”
They packed the illustrious company into a van and headed to the house near the campus. Tense silence escorted them all the way. Everyone looked excited about finally finding out Eugene's secret. Only the earthman was completely calm. He was certain all would go down as he predicted. It wouldn't cross his mind the day could still hold surprises for him.
Hyvege waited for them in the doorway. He approached Eugene, and, at first, he almost didn't notice his friend had not come alone.
“Hi! What do you want to talk about?” the boy asked. “And who are all these people?”
“They arrived for the world premiere of the 'Close Encounters of Third Kind'.”
Hyvege's face suggested that Eugene's film reference required further explanation.
“If you still would like to see the Earth, I can show you a piece of it.”
The spark of excitement glinted in the doran's eyes and hurried after the others with a 'Thanks!' exclamation.
Upstairs Eugene herded everyone into his small room and tried to make enough seats. When all settled down, Eugene asked for the PDA and set a certain range setting on it a bit wider. Everyone waited excitedly for the big announcement – even Eugene – except for Jaden who preferred to direct his attention towards his yo-yo again in the corner. The earthling took a deep breath and poked it out.
“I am an alien, and I came from a planet called Earth.” Big exhale and a grin. “And I waited so long to say it like that.”
Only he didn't achieve the expected reaction. Instead of loud laughter, long lasting, disturbing silence sat on the room. When they realised what a rubbish Eugene just said, he could only suspect some giggle from the background. It did not come from the detectives. Toran just grabbed his head, and Neelys stood up with handcuffs in her hands.
“Okay, that's enough. I'll send you to prison for as long as possible.”
Eugene's reply was filled with disappointment.
“Why? I told you the truth.”
“I've never heard such nonsense in my life. Talk about Earth.”
It was time for Eugene to play his ace in the hole. He stepped to the wardrobe and pulled a lever. Before Neelys could do anything with the cuffs, blue light flooded the room, and by the time it passed all turned dark. They weren't in the flat anymore. Eugene couldn't let it go without a sarcastic note.
“Yes. Teleportation is a typical gallidorean technology.”
Not that his device had anything to do with Earth.
Liner just hurtled into the chair tiredly.
“Still no luck, I presume,” Borlon said in front of him.
“No. The old man is stubborn as a mule,” Liner rubbed his face desperately. “He won't tell us where is it, and how does it work. Shall we probe his mind for the answers?”
“No. It will leave him as a vegetable. We'll most likely need him to operate it.”
“What do you suggest then?”
Borlon leant back in his chair frowning. Liner could see his boss was trying to come up with some plan, and it didn't take a long until Borlon's lips curled into a hideous smile.
“We shall gain his trust.”
“We locked him up. How do you propose we do that?”
“He doesn't know who is the 'we', in which positions do we have people. We can organise a rescue party. They will break out the professor, maybe even make a sacrifice or two to ensure him of their loyalty. Then, when he is asked why he was incarcerated in the first place, he will lead us to that stone of his.”
This plan made Liner smile too.
“I'll get to it right away.”
“What the hell happened?” Toran freaked out. “Where are we?”
“On my secret base,” Eugene replied with affected mysteriousness.
When their eyes adapted to the darkness, the dim daylight from the mouth of the cavern allowed them to see a few more details of the interior. At that point, when everybody's pupils were dilated enough, Eugene turned on the light, stressing all the optic nerves in the room with significantly more than bearable neon light.
“Argh, why did you do that?” Hyvege rubbed his eyes painfully.
“Because you wouldn't see this in the dark,” the human pointed behind his back.
The equipment Eugene nicked from the Guards now decorated that hole in the mountains. In the middle stood a computer system, on a desk, with four screens and two networked terminals. The most advanced 25th-century technology. Eugene monitored all that he could on these. His satellite deployed in orbit, the mage forcefield, the protection field around the planet, and the temporal anomalies among many other things. Over the machinery hung four displays, showing the local time of the present-day London and Gallidor City with the symbols of both planets. To the right, there was an office desk with heaps of papers and books on it. In the background, one could see the current status of the ongoing measurement table and the belonging calculations drawn on the blackboard. Finally, there was an early 21st-century laptop on the left, stuffed with Eugene's favourite pieces of music and films, and an electric guitar along with an amplifier and two loudspeakers. From the ceiling of the cave hung a projector directed at the blackboard.
Everyone stared awestruck at the alien equipment.
“Where the hell are we? Exactly?” questioned Neelys.
“In a cave, in the Torlo mountains,” Eugene answered. “The view is splendid from the entrance. In clear weather, like now, you can even see the Grey Meadow.”
“Where did all this stuff come from?” asked Ivy.
“Directly? From my ship. It's above us on a tiny plateau, protected by razor-sharp rocks from all angles.”
The crossfire of the uncomprehending looks, Eugene found himself in, suggested further elaboration was required.
“Oh, you don't have that kind yet. It's not a ship for water. It's a space ship. Made for travelling in outer space.”
“Can we see that?” Hyvege asked excitedly.
“Sure,” Eugene shrugged. “Just don't touch anything. There's a ladder further ahead in the cave. It leads right to it.”
Of course, everyone headed upstairs. All but Jaden who was still observing the quadruple calendar. Eugene stepped next to his flatmate and also stared at the display. 29th of May, 2009. Back home his younger self just started the exam period or tried to dissolve the stress in beer bottles with the other students. For a moment, homesickness took hold of him. He desired a pint of proper Irish porter, telling funny stories to the long lost friends, possibly even (only a tiny bit) the exams. Then he dragged himself back to reality and turned to Jaden.
“Will you finally poke out what's wrong, or shall we still stare at the clock for a bit longer?”
The doran raised his hand in front of his face as if he wanted to say something to change the world.
“I never understood. Why do you call it a ship?”
Eugene's face stiffened.
“You have some fine questions. You know, I don't understand either. That's its name, period. Maybe because, like a proper ship, it's going through the big fat nothing.”
“Ship goes on water.”
“After two days on the ocean, it will seem big fat nothing. Now, let's go up before my home gets ripped apart.”
“Your home is there!” Jaden pointed at one of the screens, which showed satellite picture of their house block.
“It's very nice of you Jaden, but I'm only renting a room there.”
The plateau was indeed rather small, less than half a football court. In the middle of this barren clearing stood Eugene's ship. Also not too big. Just enough for Eugene to use it as a space caravan. It had a 3x3 meters gate at the stern, opening to the cargo hold with the size of a bigger wardrobe. On its further end, stairs lead up to a corridor. On one side, two bedrooms, on the other, a bathroom and a kitchen. Halfway, under a trapdoor, a ladder lead to the engine room, and the corridor ended in the cockpit.
“Like it?” Eugene stepped aboard.
“I've never seen anything so cool,” said Hyvege grinning.
“You know what's cooler?” Eugene glanced out the window toward the edge of the plateau. “The view. It seems the two ladies also want to check that out.”
Among the rocks, a short canyon led to a ledge from where the whole area could be seen. The pointy peaks occupied the view till the western horizon where, over the capital, the chain broke. With a good telescope, in clear weather, one could catch most southern tower of the Academy in the distance, peeking out from the shadow of the Reerge. To the east, the mountains ended quite soon. Beyond the tops, tree-covered hills filled the scenery. Sporadic villages and towns broke the monotony. By the time the small creeks, coming from the mountains, reached the lower lands, they grew broad and strong enough to cut the landscape into pieces.
Amalia and Neelys stood at the edge and took pleasure just watching the world ahead.
“Nice, isn't it?” said Eugene when they stepped out from the canyon with Hyvege.
“Wow!” The boy dropped his jaws. “To the Gods, I should go hiking more often.”
“I told you earlier, but you never listen. Just don't bring tourists near these parts. Although, it would be tricky for anyone to get here. I chose this place because it's practically impenetrable.”
Neelys watched the landscape, but her frowning face suggested her thoughts were somewhere else. Unlike Hyvege, the main news for her was that life exists beyond Gallidor. It's hard to imagine the magnitude of the shock, but it's definitely bigger than looking down from the top of a mountain. All that she knew and believed collapsed in an instant. And the man who crashed her well-known image of the world grinned next to her and offered his help with an investigation. Eugene could see that every nerve in her body protested against it, but the detective knew she should accept it because the alien knowledge could grant a view, which she didn't even have the chance to comprehend.
Amalia seemed to be entertaining similar concepts. She raised her eyes to the enormous sphere of Zin wondering.
“Jaden told me, you're an atheist,” she said suddenly.
“Who, me?” Eugene got surprised, but there weren't many more candidates for that title.
“I thought it must be for some made up reason like for the rest of them. I never considered that you know for a fact that there are no gods. Because you came past their planet and you've seen no sign of life. How could you keep that as a secret?” she asked reproachfully.
Eugene faked a painful expression.
“Oh, come on. I just explained it to Jaden. I don't want to say it again. Go and ask your boyfriend. Hyvege, you should also attend that seminar so I can speak with the detective in private.”
Neelys glanced back suspiciously, but she didn't turn around. She just pretended not noticing Eugene, guiding them to the canyon, so the two of them could stay alone. She even tried to ignore him when the earthman stepped next to her, but then it was too late.
“All right, Mr Jones. Toran has the files. Help!” she said, but obviously she was not happy about this decision.
“I will. But now that we're not enemies, we could use this casual-you-form. It's so strange to say that. In our..., erm..., grammar we don't have that.”
And in theirs, there wasn't even a word for language. There was only one and was no need to come up with the concept. There were speech, writing, and ruling these, the grammar. So, even though Eugene spoke a few Earth-languages, which had the separate words and norms for addressing people in a casual and official way, it was a bit difficult to talk about it. But Neelys quickly figured out he was talking about first name basis.
“Okay, Eugene. Solve the case,” Neelys instructed and left him on the ledge.
“Damn,” Eugene cursed when he was left alone. “I still wanted to ask her out for a drink.”
There was no point in gazing around. He also went back. When he reached the other end of the canyon, Toran stepped in front of him.
“I think you better stop Ivy before she... Hey, give that back!”
Eugene didn't bother himself with the mole. He just walked past him, but before he got too far from him, he reached back and grabbed the cop's bag. Toran stood still for a moment and glimpsing at Neelys as if he wanted to ask her what to make of this thievery, but he ended up hurrying after the human. By the time he caught up with Eugene, he was already behind his desk and going through the files.
“Like I said, Ivy is about to take off with your ship,” the detective said strictly.
“She can't without the key,” Eugene replied not looking up from the papers. “So, we have a car accident, a house fire, a mugging, severe allergic reaction, falling out from the 10th storey and one suicide. Adding professor Ferdani to the mix and..., all can be an arranged murder.”
“You don't say,” grimaced Toran. “Guess what! We've worked that much out.”
“I see. Then let's see what else.'”
He unfolded all six files onto the desk in the hope of discovering something common when looking at all at once. Toran waited for a result with his arms folded, showing he was bored and a bit sceptical, but only after five minutes browsing Eugene found something.
“That's interesting. All their research, every last bit of it, disappeared or got destroyed when they died.”
“Any other obvious remarks?” the detective asked cynically.
“I'm looking at these for five minutes!” Eugene yelled at him. “You say something not obvious after this much time.”
“Fine! Our analysts went through the whole anyway.”
Eugene leant back in the chair with a bitter smile on his face.
“Really? And you didn't want to mention this before? I assume now comes the part that they found something they couldn't place anywhere.”
The irony duel didn't seem to settle so easily.
“Yes,” Toran pressed the word through his gritting teeth, then he told the results. “After they went through the testimonies of the colleagues, pupils, the scraps what was left of the research, we found something in common. Two numbers.”
“Two numbers?” Eugene murmured.
Toran took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it over to the human.
“Two numbers with a unit. What's this, speed?... It is. And what a speed?”
“Not much at first glance. Except these are really huge velocities, so big you could...,” Eugene's voice fainted for a moment. “And even their ratio...”
His face turned dark.
“Could be. I have a suspicion.”
He started to dig through the numerous papers on his desk. After a short browsing, he lifted two of them. They were two hard copies. One from the half-done unit table and the other was the physical constants of the planet he had already determined, given in Earth measurements. He almost wanted to cry seeing there wasn't one among them with less than five digits after the decimal point, and he couldn't allow himself to round.
“Damn! That could take a while.”
“Just shout when you're done.”
After an hour, – half of which was spent with procrastination – Eugene was still busy with tossing numbers around. The others, when they saw all the wonders of the plateau, gathered around the blackboard and waited for the result. The anticipation quickly turned into common boredom. After a long while, Eugene finished with the calculations. He almost carved the last dozen decimal digits slow and haltingly. He circled and underlined the result and hurtled into his chair.
“Finally! Done!” he sighed. “God, I hate maths.”
“And? What did you get?” Neelys asked.
Eugene picked up the paper from Toran and compared it with the numbers on the board.
“No way!” he shouted, and it seemed his eyes were about to fall out.
He jumped up as if the chair itself had kicked him out.
“What is it? Tell us!” Neelys tried to hurry him.
“I was right. It's the first and second cosmic speed.”
“What's that?” Hyvege asked.
“The first is the velocity, with which you throw away an object, it won't ever fall down, but stays in orbit. With the second, it can leave the planet for good. But you're a physicist. You are supposed to...”
Eugene froze. Something started bugging his mind. The others waited for him to speak, but he remained silent.
“What is it?” Jaden queried.
“I don't know yet. Something is off about this whole thing.”
“What if you all went home now? I need to think.”
The earthman was very grateful that no one asked questions. They just headed for the teleport, and he could stay alone with his thoughts, theories, and doubts.
Eugene didn't show his face for two days. The others had no idea what he could do up in the mountains, what he ate, what he drank. It only crossed the detectives' mind after 52 hours of alien's absence that they were badly duped. It was that late only because Jaden and Hyvege were swearing to Earth and Heaven it had happened before that he announced 'It's thinking-time!' and disappeared for days. Amalia could only hope the boys were right. In light of what she learned recently, she could easily imagine Eugene was not even on the planet.
But she was wrong as Eugene still was on the plateau. In his base, he had enough food stockpiled to sustain him for weeks. He could think better, if he was on his own, could sit on the rock ledge with a tobacco pipe and a bottle of wine and to stare at the landscape, which could occasionally be interrupted with tearing the strings of his guitar.
No one understood what the cosmic velocity was, and why did it bother Eugene so much. The reason was simple. It just didn't fit into the picture. The significant scientific discoveries happened in different points of Earth's and Gallidor's history. But between the results, based on each other, passed a similar amount of time, and that was the contradiction. Newton's paper about gravity already mentioned the speed of getting to orbit and not much later escape velocity was also determined. Opposed to that, Gallidor knew about gravity for half a millennia, but nothing of the cosmic speeds, and apparently someone tried to stop them ever figuring it out.
With the advancements of Eugene's current present, if someone on Gallidor wanted to discover the cosmic velocities, most likely, they had the intention of reaching them. This didn't make sense. Who would have wanted to prevent Gallidor from reaching space? One thing was sure. That could not be a one-man job. An organisation in business for at least a hundred years.
The obvious suspect seemed to be the church. They were probably afraid of finding Zin's gods to be no more than a fairy tale. But that fact wouldn't ruin the clergy. It was the strongest economic power on the moon, and the decrease in the number of believers wouldn't endanger it. Would it be for religion? If they turned out to be wrong, their faith would be lost forever. Looking at the Earth examples, Eugene could believe someone would kill and set back a whole planet's evolution out of blind belief. But that could not be applied here. If they were really that sure in their beliefs, they would do anything to get to their gods.
No matter how hard he tried, the pieces just didn't want to fit together. He was afraid that there was only one way to uncover the truth.
Amalia also insisted on finding the truth, and she decided she waited long enough for the alien. She just needed to locate the teleport switch in the room and... and pull the lever, which supposed to be simple, but the mage wasn't sure if she should tinker with alien technology. She hesitated a bit until she could convince herself that this was the only way leading to any scrap of information on the case status. She took a deep breath, pulled the lever, and in a second she found herself in the mountains.
The only glimmer in the cave came from a small, yellow, blinking lamp. She didn't bother much trying to turn on the neon lights. She just created a glowing sphere and went to the ladder. She found the human at the end of the canyon, but she nearly got a heart attack of the sight what greeted her.
“What the hell are you doing?” she shrieked.
Eugene sat comfortably on the ledge with a glass of wine in one hand and a weird instrument in his mouth. The man puffed a neat little ring and slowly turned to the shocked girl who had never seen anyone smoking before.
“What do you mean? Having some wine and tobacco.”
“For the gods' sake, you're breathing smoke!”
“Something like that.”
“But..., this..., you...,” she just couldn't find the words.
“Don't be so upset. This is just a stupid Earth habit, which you're not familiar with, so much that you keep cannabis as a decoration plant instead of puffing it to feel a comfortable numbness.”
“You lot are truly beginners in self-destruction.”
“You're talking gibberish again.”
“I know.” He emptied the head of the pipe. “I stop now. I'm busy.”
He drank the remaining wine, closed the chair, and headed for the canyon. It seemed he meant it. He darted out so fast Amalia could barely keep up with him. Thanks to that, the girl nearly bumped into him back on the plateau where Eugene stopped on the spot without warning. He was staring at his ship as if that certain decoration plant got into the mix of tobacco.
Amalia kept looking at him and the ship, trying to work out what he could see now, but she had a feeling the man's gaze was reaching a lot further than the mountains. So she waited patiently. She began to realise there was no point in asking questions.
“Who and when discovered gravity?” Eugene turned suddenly to the mage.
“Alton Saccis around five hundred years ago. Why?”
“How did he die?”
“I don't know. Maybe you should ask Jaden or Hyvege.”
“Right then. Come on then!”
In two minutes they were in the flat. The boys and Ivy looked up startled when Eugene rushed into the living room with Amalia.
“Oi! Guys! How did Alton Saccis die?”
“He was killed, stabbed in the open street. It never turned who did it and why,” Hyvege replied as if he was reading it from a lexicon.
“You don't think that he was killed by the same as the rest of the scientists.”
“Crossed my mind. When was this exactly?”
Hyvege gave the date, and Eugene was already hurrying back to his room. Before anyone could do anything, he teleported away.
“Jaden, tell Neelys, Eugene found something!” Amalia instructed and ran after the earthling.
This time, she didn't hesitate to pull the lever. She still wasn't fast enough to find Eugene in the cave. She quickly climbed to the plateau, but only found the empty parking space of the ship.
In her big rush, she didn't even notice the blinking light turned to red.
Eugene travelled back 500 small-years in time, camouflaged the ship, and headed to the capital. During that period Gallidor changed more than Eugene expected. Obviously, it didn't have the familiar cobweb-like metro-network. Instead of the huge concrete and steel structures, the city consisted of smaller stone houses. The doran and mage architecture wasn't yet separated, and the city wasn't divided into completely different looking parts. Only three buildings were recognisable, which hadn't changed over the centuries. The Basilica, rising out from the city centre, the cathedral-like Academy, standing on the Acropolis, and the, at that time, lonely building of the University. Eugene considered he should take his chances at the University for finding a scientist. He parked his ship over the statue park which wasn't there anymore in the present. He carefully selected the moment, when no one could see that he appears out of thin air with a blue glow.
Entering the main gate, he didn't notice much difference to the future. The plants, the direction signs, and the reception were missing, but everything else was the same in the spacious lobby. Something that couldn't be said of the dorans inside. The average age of the students was about ten years higher, and it also had a bigger dispersion. All the pupils wore the same contemporary black suits, and the masters wore exactly the same robe as the Academy professors, except, it was also black and not dark green.
In those days, the two schools were even communicating with each other. Especially that, at the most important faculty of the University, the students could learn about the world of magic. They learned everything about it except how to use it. In human history, the more and more serious obstacles were overcome by the advancements of technology, and in the process of the research, some laws of nature were revealed. To handle these kinds of problems on Gallidor the mages came up with new spells, and, in the beginning, that was satisfactory for the dorans. That set back science for a long time on the moon. In those days the University passed on the mathematical, historical, literalistic knowledge piled up throughout the centuries. But Eugene wasn't interested in what was taught at the University, rather what could the one teach who recently just found out why does everything fall down. Without the signs to guide him he needed to ask for the whereabouts of the professor. Given he very much stood out from the crowd in his 21st century Earth clothes, people weren't so keen on helping him out. As he roamed the corridors, every pair of eyes stared at the weird looking man doubtfully. But in the end, he finally was pointed to the right direction.
Alton Saccis was a bit different from the other teachers. He was maybe in his early fifties, tall, and fit. Not the sort of man who just could be attacked on a crowded street. Eugene caught him just in time. The professor was stuffing papers in his briefcase and was about to leave when the earthman stumbled in.
“Good day, Professor Saccis!”
“Sorry, I don't have time. I need to goooo...., to a..., meeting.” Saccis' voice fainted when he looked up at his guest. “What the hell are you wearing? I guess you're not a student here.”
“All that fuss about my outfit. I could barely find you thanks to it. And no, I'm not your student. I'm conducting research on the same area as you do, and I came for a consult.”
“A consult? I didn't know anyone else was studying gravity.”
“I started my work after reading your papers on this topic.”
“How come I never met you? The very few people, who showed interest in my work, are all employees of the university.”
“Of Gallidor City. I'm coming from University of Bratarnal.”
“You crossed the Mid-Ribbon Ocean for a consult? It's a long way away.”
“You have no idea how long. But I encountered a problem, which I thought worth the trip to get your advice.”
“Thank you. But now I really need to go if I don't want to be late. Tomorrow we can discuss your problem.”
“Fine, but please answer me one question. Can you tell me if you managed to determine the velocity?” Eugene deliberately not mentioned the word 'escape' and pressed the word 'the'.
“You mean the velocity required to leave the planet?”
“Yes, that's the one! That's what I'm stuck with.”
“You don't need to bother with it anymore. I had success with the calculations, and in fact, I'm now going to negotiate about its practical application.” Namely, accelerating an object to that speed with magic, as Eugene considered. “Tomorrow, if you like I can discuss the results with you.”
“Thank you very much. That would be great. I'm leaving then, not holding you up. See you tomorrow.”
Eugene stepped out from the room and gave way to the physicist with a humble smile. Now he got half of the information he came for. Alton Saccis indeed discovered the escape velocity, but before he could tell it to anyone, he was murdered. The next question to be answered was who.
Eugene made sure no one could catch him in the disappearing act and activated the teleport. Next, he followed Saccis from above. With the ship's sensors, he recorded every movement of the scientist. If events unfolded as they were supposed to, he would meet the killer before he could tell anyone what he found. But the reality didn't live up to Eugene's expectation because Saccis went to the Basilica first, which gave a suspect with a motive. The professor was there for about half an hour, and when he left, he seemed to be heading to the Academy.
Eugene set up a hypothesis. Saccis discovered gravity. He discovered Newton's mountain. He figured out that after reaching a certain speed an object wouldn't ever fall, and he determined this speed. He thought that, with the help of the mages, he could even reach this speed. That's why he went to the Academy to negotiate about how to do that. But such an undertaking requires capital. He found the best benefactor would be the church. They certainly would grab the possibility of visiting the Gods of Zin. The clergy agreed, so Saccis went to the Academy to present his idea. Except the priests didn't speak their mind. In fact, they got scared. They were terrified of the possibility their religion was based on a lie. Eugene had to admit, their fear was valid. It's dreadful to think what would happen if the whole planet lost faith.
He started to think he should stop the investigation at this point. Now it was not just a simple murder case. It was a conspiracy affecting the whole world, part of its history. No matter how he found the church setting back development at all cost wrong, he couldn't intervene in the natural flow of events. The memory of the possible consequences was still very vivid in his mind.
And while he was thinking about that, he barely noticed the professor stopped. It couldn't be told why. Then he simply fell. Some of the pedestrians looked at him wondering, and some ran to help him, but they too jumped back startled from the quickly spreading pool of blood. He bled out in seconds. Alton Saccis, the discoverer of gravity, died, and Eugene didn't even notice it. For long moments, he could only blink in surprise until realising, he could actually get to know something if he rewound the record.
The moment Saccis stopped, a man in black robes bumped into him. Seemingly nothing happened, only a small collision. Eugene still couldn't believe his eyes. Would that be all? Did he get killed so easily? After reviewing the recording for the third time, he got to face that was it. The killer was a professional. One swift cut to a vital artery and the scientist's death was unavoidable. He quickly set the computer to look for the man on the live feed of the scanners. The assassin didn't get far. The face-recognition soon picked him out from the crowd. From that point on, Eugene only had to follow him.
His suspicions got confirmed. The murderer was going to the Basilica and didn't leave it that day. With that Eugene considered the case closed. The conspiracy was uncovered. Church blocked science. That was it. Not the first planet to go through it and not the last. He couldn't carry on. He had no right to intervene. He activated the ship's time machine and returned to the present.
Arriving back, he found the plateau abandoned. He went back to the flat, but it was also empty. Two options were left he could think of. The Dock or the ledge. The latter was quicker to check, so he went back and found his friends on the edge of the rocks, in the deck chairs, sipping wine.
“I see you having fun.”
“Only waiting for you, seeing the sights,” Ivy answered. “Where have you been?”
“Well..., erm..., checking upon a theory,” Eugene stammered, but he cut it short. “It was a cold trail. My idea didn't work.”
“So, no news in the investigation.”
“Look,” Hyvege shouted. “There's the Grey Meadow. Now it's visible.”
Everyone looked to where the doran pointed. At the edge of the horizon, a big grey stain spoiled the otherwise green view. The most feared place on the moon. No one knew, what was there. From a safe distance, one could only see the blur. Whoever ventured too close, would it be a doran or mage, never returned. Numerous expeditions got lost who challenged themselves to reveal its secrets. No one ever heard of them again.
“Told you.” Eugene shrugged.
“Do you know the legend about it?”
“Of course, I do!”
Almost everyone on Gallidor knew the story about the Grey Meadow. It talked about the first dark mage who ever lived, over two thousand years earlier. He filled the place with dangerous creatures and curses of his own design. Some said, he was protecting a magical object of incredible power, but the protection proved to be too strong, and the mage got trapped in his own domain. Of course, this was just a fairy tale, and truth was never found out.
“I assume you already know all about it,” said Amalia.
“Actually, not a thing.”
“I thought you already found out everything of it,” Jaden said surprised.
“I tried and would very much like to know what's there, but it's not that simple.”
“Well, well. We come across something you can't understand,” Hyvege gloated.
“Yet. I can't understand yet, but I'll figure it out. The thing is, I just don't know magic well enough.”
“When did that ever stop you in anything?” Ivynel snorted.
“You know, on Earth, there's no such thing as magic. Mere phantasmagoria. If I heard of a place like that at home, I would go there and quickly prove that the legend is total rubbish. Here, on the other hand, it's very much possible that a nutjob magician just fancied to stir the crap up, and until I have all the information on the topic I could possibly need, I would rather stay away from his creation.”
“If I didn't know you better, I would say you're scared of magic,” said Jaden.
“Oh, very much,” Eugene confirmed. “Now that I know where it comes from, even more so. A black hole is the source of the most fearsome power in the universe. Who can control it perfectly, they can conquer the entire cosmos. Thank goodness, humanity can't use this power.”
“We can,” Amalia protested, “but we don't want to conquer all.”
“You're using it without knowing what it is. You respect it, and you're not nearly advanced enough for it. Plus, the way I see it, since the war, you lot don't have such ambitions.”
“I sure don't. I believe a hundred years of bloodshed took care of these ambitions.”
“Good! It's not fun to rule. It's hard to do it that it would be beneficial for everyone. I've seen many systems crush under the weight of this responsibility. But enough of philosophy. I'm off to take a nap.”
Eugene was about to step into the canyon when Amalia shouted after him.
“You should check your machine downstairs. A lamp was blinking on it.”
“What?” the human turned white of fear, “What colour?”
“First yellow, but now it's red.”
“Oh no,” he sighed and rushed into the valley.
He barely noticed the others, climbing down to the cave a few moments later. He imagined as the gallidoreans just froze for a moment, exchanging baffled glimpses when he left them. Then they jumped up from their seats at once in a rush and ran after him as if they were part of some comedy scene. But as Eugene turned his attention again towards the screens, he painfully realised that this couldn't be further from comedy. Somehow, he felt the air getting thinner, and he had to bite on his fist to stop the tremors running through his hand.
“What is it, what happened?” Amalia asked carefully.
“Our time is running out,” Eugene said weakly. “Running out quickly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Two weeks and Gallidor will be erased from history as if it never was, and I have no idea how to stop it.”