The Crossings Intercontinual Worldgating Facility in the evening can seem like a relatively calm place for those who don’t know the venue as well as Nita and Kit do. After sunset the elective daytime ceiling removes itself from over the worldgating facility’s vast shining interior and lets in the huge night sky of Rirhath B’s native cluster: the multicolor swell-and-shrink of a couple of hundred short-term variable stars, slow and placid as breathing. It could even seem romantic, if the place wasn’t exactly as busy in the evenings as it is when the ferocious system primary is up. The transit of three galaxies goes on untroubled through the place as it has for thousands of years now, and business goes on there as well, just as cutthroat as always.
It has a tendency to go on out in the open, as the Crossings management has (after some of the ructions of more recent years) taken a liking to the concept that there’s no harm in most of the place’s business being carried out in plain view. The ability to hear what’s happening, of course, is strictly controlled by the management, who determine what translation modules are operating at any given time and in any specific area, and whether sound waves (in species that use sound to communicate) are allowed to travel past the area where business is being discussed. The privacy of other modes of communication — light, gesture, various forms of expanded sensoria, thought — are managed by other means, either science or wizardry, depending on what makes most sense. In fact, wizardry is much more in evidence than it used to be, since the Stationmaster’s position passed to a wizard in the wake of the events of the Pullulus War.
This is the case on this particular evening, when a rather fraught business meeting is taking place out in the middle of the Crossings’ main concourse, hard by the Master’s office. That office has stood for nearly a thousand years on the same spot where the first worldgate spontaneously popped open in a muddy riverside cave. Of course now acres of polished white floor stretch around that spot on all sides—the main concourse area is about the same size as London inside the M25—and the office itself is an openwork construction of blue and silver chrome and self-programming hybrid management consoles. On-demand meeting spaces are erected around the Stationmaster’s office at need, and right now one of these, with a language-specific cone of silence erected over and around it, is mostly filled with an elliptical, centerless forcefield table.
On either side of the center of the ellipse stand a number of chairs shaped like unusually longlegged camel saddles: these are occupied by six two-meter-tall creatures who look like annoyed blue preying mantises. These are flailing their triple-jointed arms around and shrieking in a manner reminiscent of what rabid peacocks would sound like if peacocks could be rabid. At the far end of the table is a young Rirhait male with his shining, manylegged magenta self draped over a rack unusually plain and utilitarian for a being of his rank and seniority (especially the Master of this facility). At the other end of the table, inside a spell-ellipse whose broad arcs and inner detail are faintly visible through the topmost layer of the polished white floor, are two hominid wizards, one male, one female, both past latency age but not so far so as to be less than extremely dangerous should the mood move them. If the shrieking blue aliens keep looking at one of them and shrieking more loudly than even these circumstances require, this will be the reason. One of these two wizards has reason to bear them a grudge, and the five-minute discussion they’ve just had with her is making them nervous...( Read more... )