A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Poul Anderson. Chapter 7, 8


Where the equator crossed the eastern shoreline of a continent men

called Centralia, Thursday Landing was founded. Though fertile by

Diomedean standards, the country had few permanent residents. Rather,

migration brought tides of travelers, northward and southward

alternately, to their ancestral breeding grounds. At first, once the

sharpest edge was off their sexual appetites, they had been glad to hunt

and harvest those things the newcomers wanted from the wilderness, in

exchange for portable trade goods. Later this business grew more

systematized and extensive, especially after a large contingent of

Drak’ho moved to these parts. Descending, Flandry saw a fair-sized town.

Most was man-built, blocky interconnected ferrocrete structures to

preserve a human-suitable environment from monstrous rains and slow but

ponderous winds. He glimpsed a park, vivid green beneath a vitryl dome,

brightened by lamps that imitated Sol. Farther out, widely spaced in

cultivated fields, stood native houses: tall and narrow, multiply

balconied, graceful of line and hue, meant less to resist weather then

to accept it, yielding enough to remain whole. Watercraft, ranging from

boats to floating communities, crowded the harbor as wings did the sky.

Yet Flandry felt bleakness, as if the cold outside had reached in to

enfold him. Beyond the fluorescents, half the world he saw was land,

hills, meadows, dwarfish woods, dim in purple and black twilight, and

half was bloodily glimmering ocean. For the sun stood barely above the

northern horizon, amidst sulfur-colored clouds. At this place and season

there was never true day or honest night.

Are you getting terracentric in your dotage? he gibed at himself. Here’s

a perfectly amiable place for beings who belong in it.

His mood would not go away. Nevertheless it does feel unreal somehow, a

scene from a bad dream. The whole mission has been like that. Everything

shadowy, tangled, unstable, nothing what it seems to be … nor anybody

who doesn’t carry secrets within secrets …

Myself included. He straightened in the pilot chair. Well, that’s what

I’m paid for. I suppose these blue devils of mine come mainly from guilt

about Kossara, fear of what may happen to her. O God Who is also unreal,

a mask we put on emptiness, be gentle to her. She has been hurt so much.

Ground Control addressed him, in Anglic though not from a human mouth.

He responded, and set Hooligan down on the spacefield as directed. The

prospect of action heartened him. Since I can’t trust the Almighty not

to soldier on the job, let me start my share now.

He had slipped back into space from Lannach, then returned openly. The

sentinel robots detected him, and an officer in a warship demanded

identification before granting clearance, at a distance from the planet

which showed a thoroughness seldom encountered around fifth-rate outpost

worlds. No doubt alarm about prospective rebellion and infiltration had

caused security to be tightened. Without the orbital information he

possessed, not even a vessel as begimmicked as his could have neared

Diomedes unbeknownst.

The image of the portmaster appeared in a comscreen. “Welcome, sir,” he

said. “Am I correct that you are alone? The Imperial resident has been

notified of your coming and invites you to be his house guest during

your stay. If you will tell me where your accommodation lock

is–frankly, I have never seen a model quite like yours–a car will be

there for you in a few minutes.”

He was an autochthon, a handsome creature by any standards. The size of

a short man, he stood on backward-bending, talon-footed legs.

Brown-furred, the slim body ran out in a broad tail which ended in a

fleshy rudder; at its middle, arms and hands were curiously anthropoid;

above a massive chest, a long neck bore a round head–high, ridged brow,

golden eyes with nictitating membranes, blunt-nosed black-muzzled face

with fangs and whiskers suggestive of a cat, no external ears but a

crest of muscle on top of the skull. From his upper shoulders grew the

bat wings, their six-meter span now folded. He wore a belt to support a

pouch, a brassard of authority, and, yes, a crucifix.

I’d better stay in character from the beginning. “Many thanks, my dear

chap,” Flandry replied in his most affected manner. “I say, could you

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