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Never Jewels Enough
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

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 in sight.

"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 formal farewell."

"Thatís a pity," ShidarPrahal said. "I have always enjoyed talking to you, Ambassador. Do you have any idea of when your replacement will arrive?"

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 thing."

"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.

[ Continue to page 3 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:7.8 / 10
Rated By:7 users
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