Author’s note: What follows is an excerpt from my novel Queen in a Savage Land, the sequel to The Rubric of All Things. It is very rough and both novels are as-yet unpublished, so maybe I should have excerpted the first one first, but whatever. This was sitting in my documents folder, is reasonably self-contained, and I don’t have the time at the moment to prepare something else, so it’s what you get today. I hope you enjoy it.
The room, if you could call it a room, had no color in it. It seemed to exist only by the barest of margins, as though a simple push against the edges of its colorless, womb-like edges would be enough to find freedom. The room, though, was deceiving.
Thagraddi had pushed, or tried to push his way out now for a long time. He could not find the wall—it was disorienting. He felt that he could see it—his three eyes were very sharp, and had excellent depth perception—but when his scampered towards it with his hind-limbs, he didn’t seem to get any closer. He could feel the ground shift underneath his feet, but that was all—nothing else changed. He remained oddly, incomprehensibly trapped. Was this a room? If not, what was it?
“Hello?” He called, his mandibles clacking together nervously. “Who is there? Where am I?”
Thagraddi couldn’t remember how he had come to be here. The last thing he was doing was…what? Feeding, yes—at the nectar-cracks in the upper galleries of Kshizak Hive, squeezing himself between the fliers and the drones that frequented those high places. He’d had to remove his badges of office just to fit, and the churls hadn’t even scraped aside for him when he’d approached. He’d have spoken with the guards, but there hadn’t been time. Something had happened. There was an explosion? No, quieter than that. His memory seemed blocked, unresponsive. All he could remember were sudden extremes of light and darkness, and of pink, fleshy monsters in long, horribly fuzzy garments streaming around.
Ah, of course; Pallavarians.
“Monsters!” He raged, clicking his foreclaws and letting his feelers go rigid. “Release me! I have done nothing!”
Thagraddi was suddenly not alone. One of the Pallavarian beasts was there with him, wrapped in a long, translucent cloak that almost made him fade into invisibility in the non-room. The creature was tall, bipedal, with long arms ending in disturbing five-digit claws. It did not look armed, but Thagraddi knew better. The Heralds of Pallavar were never defenseless. Thagraddi crouched into a defensive posture, and spread his outer mandibles wide as they would go. “Who are you?”
The Pallavarian pulled back the hood of its cloak, revealing the weirdly soft and smooth ‘face’ of what Thagraddi recognized as a human. He shuddered when it fleshy mouth worked over the words of the Sstimoi language. “Hail, Thagraddi, Guardian of Ui. I am Seppeter Hond, and I come in peace.”
It would not do to offend a human. Many were the fools who had, and all of them were dead. Thagraddi let his feelers go slack and pulled his limbs close to his thorax. “Hail, Pallavarian. I wish to return home quickly—please tell me what I have done to be brought here?”
“You stand accused of a crime, Guardian, and a serious one.”
“I?” Thagraddi genuflected, “Surely there is a mistake.”
Hond’s body rippled in a gesture Thagraddi didn’t recognize. He did his best to hide the revulsion at the human’s supple physique; one would not think creatures so puffy could be so dangerous. “Allow me to be more specific—one of your otherselves stands accused of a crime for which you are being asked to act as witness.” Hond showed his teeth, which Thagraddi reminded himself was a sign of friendship.
Thagraddi felt somewhat more at ease. “Well then, what is it my otherself has done?”
“Collusion with a dangerous anarchist, assault uponAlliancepersonnel, and theft ofAllianceproperty. The anarchist is one you know, or knew.”
“My days of inter-world travel are long done, and my memory has little room for those days.” Thaggradi vented air through his thorax. “Why the abduction? Why bring me here? You know I will cooperate!”
Hond waggled his head back and forth. His hairless pate seemed to shimmer in the non-light of the chamber. “We cannot be certain of these things in all instances. Have no fear—you are not far from where you once were, and will be returned immediately after you cooperate.”
“Well, out with it—what help can I give? Who is this anarchist?”
“His name is Draminicus, a dale of some reputation.”
Thaggradi chattered despite himself. “Nonsense—he’s dead. I killed him myself, the arrogant louse!”
“We know. Your otherself, however, did not—he and Draminicus are allies, companions.”
Thaggradi quivered in disgust at that. “I am not responsible for perverse versions of myself or their actions. What is this to me? Want me to kill the fool again?”
Hond produced a throaty, squishy bark of some kind—a laugh?—and again waggled his head. “No, no, but thank you for the offer. We, instead, simply wish to ask you a question and, please, answer honestly: if Draminicus were seeking a place to gather a large quantity of information and process it, where do you think he would go?”
Thaggradi clacked his mandibles together thoughtfully. “Draminicus was always one to capitalize upon the seething ignorance of the masses, so I imagine he would go somewhere like that—somewhere dark and quiet, far away from you fellows, where he could hide behind a carapace of rumor and perhaps even fear. Daledas, I would guess.”
Hond’s face wiggled. “No, not this Draminicus. He isn’t there.”
“Well, that’s my opinion—what of it? There are a million million worlds out there. How am I supposed to pick the right one?”
Hond regarded the Sstimoi warrior for a moment, and then waved his hands at him. “You are released.”
Thaggradi meant to bow his thanks, but vanished before he could. There was no mark that he had ever been there before.
Seppeter Hond drew the fadecloak around him tightly, allowing it to make him half-vanish from the pocket-world which served as his interrogation room. Touching the locus on his belt, he whispered to the Controller team on Ui. “Very well—have Kardav slip one over and bring in the next.”
Time passed, but the period was unknowable—it might have been seconds, it might have been days—and then, without so much as a pop, the spiny, glittering, multicolored carapace of Thagraddi was there, hunching in the non-light. This Thagraddi looked meaner, more hungry than the last one—not a war hero, but a creature on the run, a desperate thing living on the outskirts of society. If reports were correct about Draminicus and his activities, this would be just the kind of creature he would approach. Hond let the beast scamper around a bit, and then revealed himself.
“Who are you?” The Sstimoi chirped, its body crouching into the same menacing posture as the last Thaggradi.
“Hail, Thagraddi, Guardian of Ui. I am Seppeter Hond, and I come in peace.” He said, bowing his head.
This Thagraddi only hissed in response and backed away. “Maggots eat you, Pallavarian! I’ll die before I tell you anything!”
Despite himself, Hond smiled. “Good—that means we’re getting close.”