The Path

The Path
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An exclusive excerpt from forthcoming novel The Chronicles of Zauba’ah.
Photo by David Jones (copied from Flickr)
Photo by David Jones (copied from Flickr)

“Hygiene facilities are to the left. That includes a garment refresher. Please hold out your wrist for Behavioural Implant insertion.” The penal processor android was deliberately programmed to be void of empathy.

Savant felt a wave of relief that was interrupted before he had a chance to fully grant it an accompanying sigh.

“P-1, did I hear correctly?” a female voice queried from a speaker in the wall behind the android. “Did you just affirm the being you are processing, to be Qheltarian?”

“Minshar Peebi, that is correct. Male Qheltarian, shetznu: Savantesmemtaqinah-Imhotep.”

Savant’s heart sank to his toes at hearing the title, ‘Minshar’. Of all places to be sent to. His tactical indiscretion was now far from tactful or discrete. [private]

A doorway formed out of the smooth matte silver wall, and a mature homyndau stepped through with a look of disbelief that quickly changed to disapproval. She wore a crème coloured seamless, sleeveless jumpsuit with a two by three inch grey panel across the middle of her chest. At the top right corner of the panel there was a white triangle light. She tapped it quickly and it instantly dimmed. Savant guessed it must have been a recording device and was grateful for her having switched it off.

“Never did I expect to see a Qheltarian pass through this institution.” Peebi looked at the armband that covered his companionship marking and stamped her foot irritably. “Please tell me that is not what I think it is! Did I not hear that your arrest was for fornicating with a government official’s mate?”

Savant held his head low. Of all the penal facilities… “I didn’t know she was bound in companionship…” He instantly realised that he had been mistaken; the Qheltarian female before him was not homyndau, she was shetznu. The way she leaped across the counter and dragged him by his ear into an empty private interview room reminded him of his own Minshar. Why oh why of all correctional facilities was he placed in this one? As Peebi slapped the wall for the doorway to seamlessly merge back into it, it dawned on him that the government official must have known crossing paths with this female would be more punishment than the time spent being indoctrinated about the planet’s laws, for the sake of sitting a release test.

“Did you also not know that you were bound in companionship?” Peebi growled. Great, she was a predator type. Well suited to working with the most unsavoury of criminals. There was no point trying to charm her. “Show me your lineage markings this sub-par degree!”

“No, please…” Savant ceased pleading and quickly turned around as she raised her hand and claws emerged from her fingertips.

Qheltarian garments were traditionally made with a translucent panel down the spine for the purpose of allowing their lineage markings to be shown off. Markings were tattoos that were an intricate part of Qheltarian culture. They detailed the name of the wearer’s parents, their position in the family, the names of siblings – if any – as well as their own name, creature form and type.

“Aayish…” Peebi exclaimed as she covered her mouth and closed her eyes. “I know your Minshar and Fenshar. I even held you as a baby. Naturally your peers had yet to name you or I would have recognised you by title.” She woefully leaned back on the wall. “I recall you as Mof-Qina. How could you have been given such a glorious title and be such a fool! You have put me in a very compromising position; I am honour bound to inform your Minshar of your time here.”

Savant pitifully fell to his knees, “Please, please do not. I have dishonoured my family enough. Please Minshar Peebi, call my companion instead, she will forgive me in time. She is a predator type like yourself and a warrior of the Guardian Corps.” Peebi looked disgusted. “I beg you, please. I know you have to report me, but she is my next of kin, she qualifies as one that can receive updates on my state of being.”

Peebi sighed. “Show me your companionship band.”

Savant quickly obliged and bit his lip for how he knew she would respond to the information it revealed, but was still shocked when she slapped him hard across the cheek and roared in anger.

“She is the daughter of Qhel-Tenshar Saphor and Qhel-Fenshar Ganesaal!” Savant gulped, this female was more well-connected than his own nucleotides. What shocked him more than the slap was the tear that rolled down her cheek. “The late Saphor was my elder sister and Elite Guardian Superior. The female you have dishonoured, the one whose hearts you have broken, is my niece!”

That blasted government official, his whore of a companion was no way worth all of this shame.

Peebi angrily wiped away her tears, slammed the wall and stormed out of the cubicle of a room.

***

Two days later the wall shifted again, this time an eerily calm Nirshu stepped through. She tapped the floor with her foot, commanding a liquid crystal chair to grow out of it, and sat down quietly.

“I’m sorry, I…”

“Hush. I have paid the fee for your release test. I’m sure it will take only one sitting for you to answer all two thousand questions correctly. So, I will just say what I have to say and leave you alone. To date, this is the most embarrassingly obvious demonstration you have made. You don’t love me or want me anymore, I get it. But really, did you have to come to the only planet in this solar system for which adultery is a crime, and bed an official’s wife?

“For the sake of his reputation, it has been reported in the news as a ‘government official’, but no doubt you knew he is actually a monarch.” Savant knew he had gone too far this time, she wasn’t yelling. She hadn’t even changed form to become a dauscha felid, but the telepathic ability of their specie made it so he could hear the sound of her soul sobbing like a baby. He’d definitely gone too far. “He has gone to great lengths to keep this incident hushed. If it became public knowledge of his wife’s… well, if it got out, he would no longer qualify to succeed the throne.” Nirshu slowly pulled out something wrapped in a brown cloth. “I said I would never have my companionship band removed, but I have arranged it so that you can remove yours. I never want to receive this kind of update about you again.” She slid the package toward him and got up to leave.

If his wife’s emotionless words didn’t burn enough, the contents of the package caused Savant’s heart to pound so violently he feared it might result in permanent damage. The device within was illegal; it was a sub-dermal regenerator adapted to remove Qheltarian body markings.

“Nirshu please, I know how this looks. I didn’t want separation. I was trying to make it so that we could be together again as companions by eliminating our desire for one another. I – I thought that in light of the visions that foretold of you being with another, it would be easier this way for both of us. For you especially…” Savant was beside himself. Of course he knew she’d figure out that he’d cheated on purpose, but he never imagined that she would leave him. She was supposed to get insanely angry, then soften and forgive him as she always did. As Qheltarians, the specie of whom companions were bound for life, he never thought it would come to this. His horror was genuine, he loved her, needed her; but through separately unique instances, they had each been foretold of what their future held…

Savant snatched up the regenerator as the doorway manifested and Peebi entered, holding a microfilm data slate. “It would seem the charges have been dropped. A sponsor has come forth and cleared them. He says he will speak to you both after you have reconciled and decided against parting company… Nirshu my dear, I know he’s an idiot, but surely you are not going to separate?”

For the first time since entering the room Nirshu shook uncontrollably. “Who could possibly know what we had just discussed about separation? I had wanted this to be a quiet, dignified parting. Now my humiliation is becoming common knowledge.”

“I’m so sorry…”

“I said hush!” Nirshu bellowed. Now she was shouting.

“No my child, it isn’t what you think. The sponsor… He is a N9ne Blood, an Initiate scout. He told me.” Peebi nodded with an excitable grin, which quickly became a frown as Savant dropped the regenerator in shock. “Aayish, he told me to confiscate that from you, but I insisted that even you couldn’t be so stupid as to have one in your possession.”

Now Savant was shaking. “Did you say ‘N9ne Blood’?”

Peebi ignored him and turned to grab her niece, who was frozen in disbelief. “To think, my kin has been scouted to become an immortal god! Your Tenshar would be so proud!”

N9ne Bloods weren’t a particular specie, but a collective of the multiverse’s most elite who were the emissaries of All. They were charged with the responsibility to maintain order and balance amongst the vast galaxies and dimensions. They were the gods written of in scriptures and religious texts. Interpretations of who they were varied from planet to planet. On some they were believed to be an omnipotent singular being, but whichever one you went to, one way or another everyone knew of them. For one to incarnate into a body and visit a planet was an occurrence so rare that they had become almost mythical characters, the existence of whom was believed only by religious zealots and historians. On some lesser evolved planets, the concept of their existence had been manipulated to indoctrinate, and utilized as a system of mass population control.

The trio gasped and stepped back, as within the small room a vortex slowly began to expand.

“That’s how he appeared to me; he stepped through one just like that.” Peebi whispered.

No one stepped through, but both Savant and Nirshu suddenly found themselves being gently pulled toward it. They both held their breath as they entered. They had barely stepped through, before they found themselves exiting into a brilliant white expanse of nothingness that lay in every direction.

“My apologies; the duration I could be on the planet without causing destabilization to the environment was nearing expiry.”

The male being before them was clearly of the Kunamari. The species were albino with eyes like the Orientals of Earth, save the unique band of colour that framed their eyes and encircled their head. Their cheeks had pearly white mood freckles that became flushed with colours that matched their emotion. Both the males and females never cut their hair and wore it elegantly tied up with elaborate sashes that represented the house they belonged to. This male, however, wore a plain burgundy sash that matched the colour of his ocular band. He wore a plain ivory gown that if not for the unusually designed vest he wore over it, he would have disappeared into as though it were camouflage. The vest was octagon in shape, the material a golden metal mesh, and was bound with a similarly woven sash that criss-crossed over the back and front of his chest. The sashes were laced with semi-precious stones that somehow weren’t actually stones. They looked as if they had been melted to become a semi-solid ribbon that was incrementally laced in and out of length of the sash. As they stood before the male, the bottommost part of the stone-ribbon glowed. The glow seemed to slowly creep up the lacing.

Nirshu meekly moistened her lips to speak. “We had heard of you, I mean of your collective. We had been keen to embark on The Path of the N9nth Degree.”

Savant knew she must have been more nervous than she had thus far let on, for she subconsciously slipped her hand into his. It added to his own anxiety. Nirshu feared nothing and no-one, yet despite how only moments ago she had wanted to leave him, she was gripping his hand tightly in order to control her excitement.

“We are aware that you had been seeking us. We have been watching.” The glow of the ribbon climbed up to the next increment. “I had been sent to enlist you previously, but you were not together. Scout duty is tedious enough without having to chase after such a tiresome duo. I preferred instead to wait until you rediscovered one another.” The N9ne looked down at his sash before continuing. “My name is AqinluSavisMorak’korett, but I am known as Morak. With your polymath intellects, no doubt you have acknowledged that the glow of the retainer lace on my vest is climbing. It is an indicator of how long I can remain in any one environment before my presence causes damage. I have taken the liberty of placing a forcefield around you both as you exited my portal, but you too will soon fall prey to the pressure of my aura.

“It has been known since your conception that you both would become candidates worthy of Ascension to the Ranks of N9ne. However I must warn you, The Path breaks many before they even make it to F1rst Degree. Are you still willing to attempt to walk it?” The couple emphatically affirmed their willingness. “Good, it would have been a shame to have to endure this clone body for nought.” Morak turned to look at seemingly nothing in particular. “I have just programmed the flight information into your stellar craft, as the type of vortex required to arrive at our destination would be hazardous to your mortal form. When you arrive, tell the attendant that you have been invited by myself and to arrange immediate preparation of your Designation Ceremonies.” In unison with the glow having ascended to his shoulder, without further word, Morak turned and exited through another vortex and the white expanse dissipated for them to find themselves on the bridge of Nirshu’s ship.

***

Despite the incredible speed of the vessel, it still took three rotations to arrive at their destination; an unimpressive lifeless asteroid in the middle of a star system neither of them had ever been to.

“Tak-Nirshu, your presence has been foretold. Mof-Savant, your presence has been foretold. Welcome to spacestation Ouranos. Please release control of your ship that you may be guided to the Southern Stellar Port.” In light of how the ship seemed to already be caught up in the gravitational pull of the huge asteroid, the port controller’s voice was reassuring.

As they disembarked, a short hairy creature ran to meet them. “Invited by N9ne Morak, yes! Late! Missed time allotted for Designation Ceremony, yours. Another ceremony due in three degrees. Prepare, quick quick! Follow, follow.” The attendant ushered them impatiently to an immigration room. Take key. Lead you to temporary quarters. Clean, neat, dress. Yes!”

Nirshu’s patience was wearing thin. She hadn’t dared fire her questions at N9ne Morak, but this little creature was as good as prey to her. “Stop this instant! We have both researched extensively about The Path, and from what I overstand, formal Designation Ceremonies do not happen until one has actually completed their F1rst Degree. How could we have already been assessed for what Class Designation we have been deemed?”

The little creature stopped momentarily to re-read the information on his microfilm data slate. “Nirshu and Savant both. Qheltarian shetznu of Foressa-Sen Province. F1rst Degree complete. 2econd Degree complete. Th3rd Degree complete. You late, yes! Designation Ceremony overdue. Must do before entry into 4ourth Degree. Prepare now, quick quick!” The hairy attendant had no desire to be chastised for not carrying out his orders effectively. His meek high pitched voice suddenly amplified into a lower pitched roar, “Nowwwwwww!”

Savant snatched both the key and Nirshu, before she could pick a fight, and followed the direction the small yellow lit arrow that the disk of a key indicated. “Did you not hear what he said? We have been placed directly in 4ourth Degree, don’t you dare let your warrior instinct get the better of you now!” he whispered urgently.

“But how? No explanation offered, we are just supposed to accept what it says, and do what we are told?”

“Remember what we learnt at the Information Trade Hub on Sasqara Vori, many of the tests we will embark on The Path are a test of trust, sincerity, integrity, endurance, worth and so on. Not to mention we were personally invited by a N9ne, or do you regard him to be insincere? We have wanted this all our lives, it is the reason we left our star system in the first place.”

Nirshu threw up her hands, “Dz-kauh, for the first time today, you actually make sense.”

As they approached a habitat area, the key vibrated, indicating a change of instruction. The single arrow had parted to become two pointing in separate directions. Nirshu gave a quiet sigh of relief for having been assigned individual quarters.

Once inside she quickly bathed and dressed into the perfectly fitting strapless dress. At the top was a simple white stretchy panel of fabric that covered her breasts; below that it fitted tightly, corset style, but was made of a fine gold metal mesh similar to the material on N9ne Morak’s vest. With consideration to her lineage markings, the material along the spine was a panel made of the mesh that led up to the neck to become a choker style collar. The front of the skirt part of the dress was short, just reaching the top of her thighs, while the sides came slanting down to frame her legs and meet the back that trailed at her ankles. The skirt was also white, but around the entire hem, was a thick gold band that shimmered as she walked. The high cut front of the skirt was designed to show off the trousers that were made of the same fine gold mesh, transparent enough for her mocha coloured skin to show, without being so revealing as to be undignified. The sleeves were gold metal mesh tubes with circles cut out at the elbows that were separate from the main body of the dress. On the right sleeve a small tag flashed for her attention. It read: ‘Design of Lefareyya – Artisan Class. Please pull.’ She tugged at it gently. A recording immediately began to play:

“Please enjoy the bespoke creation of Lefareyya, Th3rd Degree Artisan Class. Stamp once to activate announcement and visible aura feature. Swipe left thigh to deactivate announcement only. Swipe right thigh to deactivate visible aura only. Swipe in slow increments on respective thighs to alter radiance and volume. Stamp twice to deactivate all features.”

Nirshu excitedly stamped her foot, but heard nothing. As she walked toward a reflector panel, a gentle fanfare melody played. In the reflector she saw that her aura had been made visible for all to see; a warm glow of yellows and blues surrounded her person. As she stopped walking, so too did the melody stop playing. She laughed and walked again, the music played once more to the beat of her stride. “Such a novelty will soon become an annoyance,” she said aloud to herself, and swiped her left thigh before testing with a few steps. Silence. She played with the visible aura feature until she settled at a humble four inch radiance and satisfactorily beamed at her reflection.

She hurried out of the room to find Savant wearing a fine white collarless suit with similar gold trimmings. The elbows of his sleeves were of the same gold mesh, as was the lineage panel at the back along his spine. Before she could take in the intricacy of his suit that was clearly made to match her dress, the little fur ball of a creature appeared and cut into their admiration with his shrill orders to, ‘Quick quick, follow follow.’

They were already long overdue to embark on The Path. [/private]

Tosin Coker

About Tosin Coker

Primarily a metaphysical science fiction author, through her novels Tosin Coker stimulates, educates and entertains, injecting spiritual wisdom through the infectious personalities of her characters to whom readers readily relate. As a result she has become highly regarded as a channel of knowledge and inspiration. A London-born resident of Nigerian parentage, Tosin is a mother of three, living with sickle cell, who believes in motivating by example, actively affirming that, “The only limitations are those set by the self-imposed boundaries of the mind.”

Primarily a metaphysical science fiction author, through her novels Tosin Coker stimulates, educates and entertains, injecting spiritual wisdom through the infectious personalities of her characters to whom readers readily relate. As a result she has become highly regarded as a channel of knowledge and inspiration. A London-born resident of Nigerian parentage, Tosin is a mother of three, living with sickle cell, who believes in motivating by example, actively affirming that, “The only limitations are those set by the self-imposed boundaries of the mind.”

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