Caelestis, New Eden
April 3, 167 AA
Silence jumped lightly down from the branch, careful not to land in the deep snow that still lay on the sunset side of the tree. She was immediately joined by her two sisters who appeared from behind the rocky outcrops on either side of the trail. They lowered their noses to draw in the scents left behind by the three men, briefly lifting their heads, upper lips curled back, breath stilled, as they distinguished each separate smell.
Two of the men, one belonging to a pride that roamed this area, the other a beak-nosed stranger, had left their scents on this trail within the last double rising of the two moons. She hissed and felt the fur on her neck rise as the scent of the third man revealed that he was one of rootless ones, cut off from the teeming life of this world. One of the Evil Ones.
Follow? Smallest Sister asked, light grey eyes wide.
Yes, but keep well behind. Tell us if they turn back. Youngest Sister, you take the far side of the canyon.
The sun had risen to its highest point and was pleasantly warm on her back by the time she met up with Youngest Sister where the canyon was blocked by a wall of stone. It had been easy to keep out of sight as they tracked the men’s noisy progress up the trail.
Youngest Sister lightly touched some dried scat with her right front paw. Father’s kind?
Silence didn’t answer. This sister was all too interested in the wild snowcats of this world.
Take cover, she ordered, hearing the men’s voices grow louder. Youngest Sister leapt back up to the edge of the canyon and disappeared.
They’d been instructed to track and observe these men who arrived far down the valley in one of the flying machines. She chose a narrow ledge well above the men’s line of sight and lay down, knowing that her grey-spotted white coat would make her all but invisible. She stilled her heart as her mother taught her, becoming one with the rocks behind her.
“Here’s the place I was telling you about,” the beak-nosed man said as he led the other two into the end of the canyon.
In a display of dominance, the Evil One pushed past him and pointed at the towering wall of rocks. “Under that?”
“That bootleg survey report by the first Founders said this region of the Mynyddeira Mountains would be a good place to look,” the beaked-nose man answered, lowering his eyes to demonstrate his subordinate status.
Silence didn’t understand every word, but the Evil One showed his anger in the darkening of his skin and his clenched fists. He said, “What good does that do us as long as the damned Ganesh Family side with the tree huggers every time there’s a vote on the Council? They don’t want to lose their monopoly on Tenebra. If I’m going to back something illegal…I need to know there will be results. Can you promise me that, Bekker? You’ve failed me before.”
The beak-nosed man pointed at the other man, the one whose scent marked him as belonging to a local pride, and said, “Peddwyn swears that what you are looking for is here…a lot of it.”
Silence saw the local man freeze like a startled ngharw. There was something off about this man’s scent. Something more than simple fear. She had smelled it once when she and her sisters came across a clustiau hir that had tried to chew off its leg caught in a trap.
The Evil One’s voice rose. “And you say he knows this because he can hear it singing? How would some ignorant Original know what we are looking for?”
“I told you, I’ve trained him to tell me when he senses one of the rare ones. I can assure you, he knows the price he will pay if he turns out to be wrong.”
The Evil One slowly gazed around, his eyes gliding right by Silence. Rubbing his hands together, he said, “If the rumors are true that the deposits on Tenebra are running out, I’d make a fortune.”
“Yes, sir, that’s what I’ve been telling you.”
“Do some tests. See what you find. I’ll set it up to look like we are scoping out a good place to build our next small hydro-electric plant…provide cover for sending a team up here. But they have to be men who will keep their mouths shut. No Originals. In fact, I want a plan from you on how to get rid of any of the natives who still live in this part of the mountains. You’ve done it before down in Vida. Poisoning the water is the easiest way. Then offer to move them to one of the existing villages to the south of here. Anyone resists…well…you know what to do.”
The Evil One laughed and said, “You better be right about what is under that cliff, because if you’re not, or anyone gets wind of what we are doing, your pet Original isn’t the only one who will pay a steep price.”
He turned and strode back down the trail, the beaked-nose man following behind.
When they were out of sight, the local man looked up at her, staring for a moment directly into her eyes before slowly nodding once and then swiftly disappearing from sight.