Never Jewels Enough
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
He met ShidarPrahal just inside the entrance. The HaKuru was
hurrying up the tunnel, as fast as his limbs could carry him, and almost bumped
into the man. He stopped so quickly that a shower of gravel scraped and
skittered across the floor.
"Your pardon, Ambassador," he said in his crackling voice,
each word bitten off by his beaky mandibles. "I was just informed that you had
been stopped at the entrance. I was coming to order you to be allowed to pass Ė
but I see that you have already."
"Yes, a Sniffer came up and passed my scent." Anurag frowned
at the Mediator. "What is going on? How dare you stop me?"
"Come down inside," the Mediator said, "and weíll talk."
Anurag followed ShidarPrahal down the passage. The tunnel
was filled with soldiers; they rustled and clicked and passed by on all sides,
popping out of side tunnels only to disappear again. Normally these reaches
should have been filled with the worker castes, but today there was hardly any
"So youíre leaving us?" ShidarPrahal asked conversationally.
"You said last time that your stint here was almost at an end."
"Yes. Iíve just come to turn in my implant and take the
"Thatís a pity," ShidarPrahal said. "I have always enjoyed
talking to you, Ambassador. Do you have any idea of when your replacement will
Anurag shook his head. "There wonít be a replacement. Weíre
closing the embassy and pulling out. The rest of the staff is already gone. You
mayíve seen their ship taking off. Iím the last one left, I am leaving at dawn
tomorrow, and thatís that."
"Oh?" The Mediator fell silent for a while as he digested
this information. They were now moving down passages lit by dim yellow
glow-globes set in the ceiling. Around them the soldiers crawled and clattered.
"May I ask why?"
"Thereís no point to this embassy. Your planet has nothing
to trade, no resources Earth might want. Itís not even strategically sited. Nor
do your people pose any kind of military threat to us. Youíre not even,
biologically, interesting enough to spend time researching further. After all,
even Earth has colonial life forms as complex as you." He waved a hand. "So
thereís really no point to Earthís maintaining this embassy, with all the
expenses that come with it. Thatís all."
"So what youíre saying is that weíre too insignificant to be
worth your notice." If the Mediatorís clicking could convey emotion, it might
have been filled with dry amusement.
"You can put it that way if you want." At this level, deep
inside the Colony, the walls were smooth-packed and hard, and the lighting was
brighter. They were approaching the luxury areas, reserved for the upper
castes. "Of course, being beneath Earthís notice isnít necessarily a bad
"Thatís one way of thinking about it, certainly." Down here
the guards were so huge that they could not walk on their own; they blocked
tunnel entrances with their monstrous heads. ShidarPrahal rapped on a blind
carapace and it heaved slowly out of the way, allowing them to pass. "Of
course, you leave us at a bad time."
"And what is that about?" Anurag stopped. "Iím not going any
further until you tell me whatís going on. What are all these soldiers doing
around us, and why was I stopped at the entrance? I demand an answer."
"Come in here, please." ShidarPrahal indicated a small ovoid
room carved out of the side of the tunnel. Anurag didnít recall having seen it
before, but then the inside of the Colony was being constantly rearranged and
modified. As soon as theyíd entered, a guard sealed the entrance with its head.
"We can talk privately in here."
"Privately?" Anurag glanced around the room. It was totally
bare of any kind of decoration, the walls and roof glass-smooth. The only
furnishing, apart from a fabric-covered hump to one side, was a glow-globe set
on the floor on a pedestal. "Do you have secrets?"
†"Secrets, yes..." the Mediatorís four pairs of round black
eyes studied Anurag carefully, as if trying to judge his reaction. "The clans
are going to war," he said.
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