Coming of Age on Tuvulot, Episode 8: Changing Fortunes!

[Editor’s Note: Read the whole story from the beginning!]

After a few more days, the Omah-Drunan, which had already waned, was now passed. Their heads clearer, Lozlian and Aldruvet knew it was time to return to everyday life. That meant living apart for a while until they settled their accounts and found a new place to live. Though Lozlian wasn’t eager to return to the Kroleni civil service, he couldn’t contemplate raising his children, who were already on the way, on the tiny stipend granted by the insectoids to the Yonopcry who remained on the reservations.

And yet, as he boarded the train for Hanaplero for the first time in weeks, he felt as if he were seeing the world for the first time. The Kroleni Administrative building, which had once seemed mighty and imposing, now looked dull and functional. Besides, as he approached the entrance, he noticed, for the first time, that it was overdue for minor maintenance. Up until then, he’d never seen the slight misalignment of a few of the building’s obsidian tiles, which must have started to come loose from their moorings.

In hindsight, he told himself, that made sense. As important as Tuvulot was to the Yonopcry, to the Kroleni it was a minor province in a vast, interlocking collection of colony worlds. In any case, the building was still in good working order and once he entered his familiar office, it was as if he’d never left. Except, that is, for the unmissable air of calm. His coworkers, once nervous under the eye of their Kroleni overlords, seemed unusually relaxed. A few meters past the main reception desk, he was greeted with a round of spontaneous applause that went a long way to explaining why their mood had shifted. As one of his fellow administrators mentioned:

“You made the Yonopcry look good,” she told him. “Now the insectoids know we really count for something.”

Lozlian smiled. Though he was glad to take the praise, he knew better than to think their masters would ever go that far in their assessment of a “subordinate partner species.” At the same time, he had no argument with enjoying a few weeks of reduced scrutiny from the Imperium. Soon enough, when the next quarterly reports were due, the Treasury would be no more tolerant of substandard performance than before.

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Yet, for now, the Kroleni’s attitude toward the Yonopcry had shifted. Thanks to Lozlian’s intervention, the war with the Chyloradrin came to a halt much sooner than the Kroleni Council anticipated. That suited the newly mated Yonopcry perfectly. Now instead of either fighting or pitching in with the administration of goods and services to the insectoid fleet, he could concentrate on more important matters. He could shop for a home with Aldruvet and help her arrange for parental leave from her position at the Finance Ministry.

Yet in the midst of these happy chores, the Kroleni didn’t let him off the hook. Once the last Chyloradrin ships had been swept back to their homeworlds, Lozlian received a summons to appear before the Inner Ring of the Kroleni Council.

The night before his appointment, Lozlian tortured himself with a thousand imaginary worries. Would he now be punished for taking an unauthorized initiative? The next morning, he was inconsolable, despite Aldruvet’s soothing reassurances.

Despite his anxiety, he took the slightly longer train ride out to the Hanaplero Civic Center to learn what the insectoids had in mind. When he arrived, he went straight up to the sixteenth floor where three Kroleni, including Achimlemoor, were seated behind a raised stainless-steel desk that, at four meters tall, towered over him. Gruelinaphliar, a female Councilmember he was unfamiliar with spoke to him in a clipped, emotionless style.

“Regional Trade Liaison Lozlian, we would like to officially commend you for the bravery and … ingenuity … you showed in contributing to our recent war effort against the reptilians. Now, on to today’s business. We have a proposal for you.”

Lozlian’s throat went dry, yet he tried to stay calm. So far, the word “prison” hadn’t come up once.

“Based on your astounding success in battle with such limited means,” said Gruelinaphliar, “we would like you to assemble, train and lead a permanent Telepathic Corps, to be the newest branch of the Imperium Military.”

Lozlian gulped. This was a lot to absorb.

“I’m honored” he said, yet he was hard pressed to elaborate. Fortunately, the three Kroleni were eager to fill up the airwaves with detailed plans and stages of deployment. The more they talked, the more uneasy Lozlian became. Though he’d taken up the Kroleni cause in a moment of desperation, he had no desire to become a career soldier, no matter how bloodless his role would be on a personal level.

Besides, as he’d seen from the incident with his own unruly strike force, the risks to the Yonopcry he enlisted were real and far from minimal. Finally, Achimlemoor, who had been the last speaker, looked Lozlian in the eye.

“What do you say, Regional Trade Liaison Lozlian?” she asked.

Lozlian bowed his head, shuffled his feet a moment, then looked up.

“With respect,” he said. “I believe I know a better way for my telepaths to serve you.”

To the insectoids’ astonished abdominal ears, Lozlian improvised a description of a telepathic diplomatic corps. Rather than being exclusively composed of Yonopcry, the corps would draw recruits from each of the other eight telepathic species in the Kroleni Imperium.

“Instead of resolving conflicts through combat,” he said. “We’d use telepathy to bring non-aligned species around to the Imperium’s point of view — and to the advantages of joining us or forming an alliance. Instead of fighting wars, we’d prevent them.”

As his final words echoed through the resonant meeting room, the three Councilmembers greeted Lozlian’s proposal with stunned silence. Finally, Osheakriduan, the one Kroleni who’d remained silent the entire time, spoke up.

Talk our enemies into submission?” he asked. “Don’t be absurd.”

And yet, Lozlian’s recently enhanced awareness told him that the other two Councilmembers were already seeing the wisdom of his plan for a new Telepathic Diplomatic Corps. All the same, it would be a few days before they made a final decision and, for once, he was grateful for a bit of administrative delay. It would give him time to orient himself to his changed status in the world and the rich new emotions that enveloped his every action and aspiration.

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As he walked back to his office, his mind floated in a bubble of warm, self-satisfaction. So it was hardly surprising if the perky alert that popped out of his comlink was even more irritating than usual. He took a deep breath and answered without checking the link ID and was surprised by the fluty sound of Elizabeth’s voice.

“Lozlian?” she said. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Lozlian smiled. That curious human expression always sounded odd in translation. As if Time itself could have attributes like sentients did. But what she said next sounded even stranger, if for a different reason.

“My father’s team is heading home tonight,” she said, “and I can’t leave without saying goodbye.”

Lozlian’s eyes widened as she asked him to meet her for a late lunch at a small outdoor café off the city’s main square. Now that he was mated, he was free to do so. All the same, he was caught off-guard. Yet, knowing how urgently Achimlemoor wanted to keep solid diplomatic ties with the humans, he agreed. Within a half hour, he was sitting opposite her at a glass-topped table at “Cozy Cove.” It was one of several touristy eateries in the area that Lozlian would not have chosen on his own.

But when he arrived, Elizabeth’s bright smile was so broad, the irony drained out of him.

“There you are, you fuzzy ball of kindness,” she said. “I really have to thank you. If you hadn’t contacted your shamans, I’d probably be dead by now.”

Lozlian nodded though he knew there was no way to tell how much impact the shamans had had on her recovery.

“Sorry you didn’t get to finish your research,” he said. “You must be disappointed.”

“Oh no,” said Elizabeth. “I learned a lot about the Yonopcry. You’re kind, brave, loyal and … I don’t know, you’re ready for whatever life throws at you. My people could learn from that.”

Asked what she would do once she returned, Elizabeth gave him a sheepish smile.

“Maybe I’ll follow your example and get married,” she said. “But maybe you’ll let me stay in touch so you can answer questions I have about the Yonopcry. Now, you know what, I have to run. The ‘flight window’ as they call it, is pretty narrow. Guess I’ll never see you again, but I promise I’ll never forget. Now let me go before I start crying.”

Lozlian was about to stand when this surprising alien did the one thing he least expected. She leaned forward, stretched out her thin arms and hugged him around the neck — before running off down the polyslate tiled sidewalk in the direction of her hotel. In spite of himself, he waved after her.

Hard to believe, thought the now-mated Yonopcry. So much has changed.

Realizing that Elizabeth’s bill hadn’t been settled, Lozlian fed his credit tile into a designated slot at the side of the table and clucked his tongue. He’d have to explain that expense to Aldruvet and the thought of it made him chuckle.

Guess I really am mated now. he thought.

The next day, word came down from the Kroleni Council, giving him authorization to start a new Telepathic Diplomatic Corps. The position provided a healthy salary increase, a separate budget to cover his living expenses and authorization to submit a staffing plan. In this respect, as in all others, he was glad to have Aldruvet with him. Her experience in finance would come in handy with writing up a plan the Kroleni would approve.

But beyond such nitpicky details, Lozlian knew he had broader concerns. First on the list was using his new leverage to secure the release of the shamans from their long interment at Tergidinoor-Telsidinoor. Just as crucial, he had to find the best way to approach representatives of the other telepathic species in the Kroleni Imperium. Of that he had no idea. Unfortunately, the title of “Diplomat” didn’t actually prepare him for the task.

In that moment, he decided that his best option was to let the cause speak for itself. Not only would the other species contribute to the reduction in interstellar war, but his new diplomatic corps would raise the status of telepaths across six galaxies. If his new venture succeeded, he figured, it could give rise to a new power dynamic within the Imperium. The more dependent the insectoids became on his efforts to manage trade and advance their grasp of science and technology, the more power would accrue to the telepaths.

A smile crossed his furry mouth as he remembered his brief encounter with the street performer Humsecta a few weeks earlier.

We’ll see who’s ‘superior’ now, he thought.

In hindsight, he wondered if the threat the human had outlined on his data cube message was real. Could Dr. Duval’s new star drive double as a dangerously destructive weapon? Yet he was immediately reassured. With a well-honed team of telepaths, working together, not only would he be able to keep the Kroleni’s enemies in line, he could keep a watchful eye on the insectoids’ own bad actors.

By now, Tuvulot’s slightly rosy sun was beginning to sink behind the hills surrounding Hanaplero and Lozlian turned gratefully toward the high-speed train station that would take him home again. Just before entering the station, he paused to gaze at the sky and wonder if, had his father known what was coming in about two dozen years, he might not have despaired so deeply. But as another passenger pushed past Lozlian impatiently to reach the train platform, he realized that the most endearing quality of life was that, no matter what, it continued to rush on. It had led him this far and now his only concern was with traveling the rest of the way — starting with a fast ride on a familiar train to the warm embrace of home.


Mark Laporta is the author of Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, the first two novels in the science fiction series, Against the Glare of Darkness, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.He is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.