Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Secret Agent Jack, Secret Agent Jack, they've given you a number, and taken away your brain….

That's how it feels, anyway. Here I am, trying to conceal from a perfectly healthy intelligent young girl that I'm apparently talking to nothing. Oh, this is gonna be fun… like a safari in the Unformed Plane is fun.

Fortunately, Alise is helping, and she has a wide variety of stories to tell - like the hammock story, that's always good for a laugh. Raina and Star are pretty savvy, too, and Panther can always be counted on to keep the attention on her… cats are all the same, regardless of their size.

In no time at all, the trio have Laila smiling and laughing; and whenever things flag, Panther goes to her back and demands belly rubs. I catch the eye of the male ghost and crook a finger. He takes the woman by the hand and she turns in my direction. Her eyes go wide and then she smiles. I make a follow-me gesture and the three of us walk to a secluded corner.

Of course, two of us can walk through things, which speeds things up considerably….

The corner is screened from view by a couple of enormous plants - no doubt, this being Exton, of the man-eating variety. I take a seat and wave the ghosts to a loveseat like I own the place.

I begin without preamble. "My name is Jack Stone, and as you can tell, I can see you. I can also hear you, so if you'd be so good as to make the introductions…?"

"I am Thaddeus," the male says. "This is my wife, Agatha."

"I'm very glad to meet you. Am I assuming correctly that Laila is your daughter?"

"You are correct, sir. We are very distressed by Rath's treatment of her. Lord Adrian would never have countenanced such a thing. He is an honorable man."

"I take it Lord Adrian is Rath's elder brother?"

"Indeed, sir. He understands what it is to lead a clan and to treat his servants well. Rath cares only for the prestige; he knows nothing of the responsibilities of being a leader."

"I take it, then, that Lord Adrian had nothing to do with your deaths."

"Only that he strove with all that was within him to prevent it. It happened in this way… on Deimos, there is not much in the way of modern conveniences, nor any particular reason for them. Our people still support themselves by fishing and by tending groves and vineyards. Some few of us, as Agatha and myself, serve the Undying Ones.

Two years ago, there was an epidemic - a virulent strain of influenza that killed many on the island. Lord Adrian organized things as best he could, with his own people staffing the clinics by night… but there were too few doctors, and not enough vaccine. He gave Agatha and myself leave to work in the clinic and we were exposed again and again." He shrugs. "Finally the inevitable happened; we were taken with the disease. Even then, death could have been averted. Lord Adrian offered to Turn us both, to give us his kind of immortality. But we were then both late in life, and death did not seem so terrible, if we might only go together." He clasps his wife's insubstantial hand and smiles gently. "My sweet Agatha perished but an hour before I did, and I was ready to join her."

"So you've been dead for two years, and Laila was never told."

Fire leaps up in Thaddeus' eyes. "Indeed, sir! Rath should have told Laila at once and permitted her a suitable period of mourning, even permitted her time to go back to Deimos and visit our resting place. This he has not done, and even now Laila knows nothing of our end."

"I think I can promise you that that will change soon." I lean back into the cushions. "If there's a delay in informing her, it's only because we want to insure her safety before we tell her."

"Young Ramji seems quite capable," Thaddeus says with a smile, and Agatha smiles, too.

"That's true, but Ramji is not his own man. He works for Herne the Hunter, and when Herne calls for him, he has to go. How long he'll be permitted to stay with Laila is anyone's guess. She needs a protector who lives here, who won't be leaving her exposed to Rath. I think we can arrange protection for her, but it will take time." I stand. "Your daughter has made a good impression on a lot of people here. I think you can safely trust to us to keep her safe."

The ghosts smile again. "Mr. Stone, it has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I would that we could repay your generosity, but" - he shrugs with another smile - "things are as they are."

"Never say never." I smile. "Stranger things have happened…."

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