Chapter 1: A Request
On Saturday May 12, 1673, three hundred and twenty four years after the founding of Nordam and two days before I was to embark on my journey for distant Kumirsate, I happened to chance upon an old buddy of mine.
“Derek!” I shouted out. We were in a crowded mall, the Manston Plaza Mall. Most people ignored me, and I had to shove my way through the usual Saturday afternoon throng to get to the man.
“So good to see you again!” Derek exclaimed, pumping my hand furiously, “what have you been up to lately?”
“Just the usual,” I said, smiling at Derek’s jovial tone. “You’re can’t be still traveling?”
Derek was a man with odd habits, though we couldn’t quite call him eccentric. On the surface he seemed just like any other guy, but look at little deeper…
He was my best when we were kids, but as we grew older, we grew more distant. He would still drop by from time to time, but long distance contact soon ceased, and I gave up trying to track him down. He would appear, then disappear, and reappear back in town the next week. He travels more frequently than apparently possible by his means as an unpublished novelist. Doing research for his book he says, but from what I can see... Well I think he is a government spy. An unconfirmed theory of course, he wouldn’t say anything when I asked him about it. But in my imagination that’s the type of character I would associate him with.
“I’ll be in town for today,” he said, enthusiastically clasping me on the shoulder. He led me down past the New Riders we were standing in front of to The Miran, a store that specializes in eyeglasses.
“And not tomorrow I suppose, always leaving so soon. Let me get your number so we could mail each other some time.”
“Sure thing,” he said. “Listen, come to the Mall food courts at around ten tonight and we’ll catch up. I need to go meet someone right now.”
“Where are you going? I’ll walk with you.”
“No it really is quite all right, food courts at ten. Go to the table furthest left.”
With that and another pat on the shoulders, he walked into the Miran, out another door and was gone from my sight. Derek was like that, you always had to do things on his schedule.
But luckily I had no prior engagements that day and was able to make the meeting.
When ten o’ clock arrived, I found myself still in the cab. (I had decided to go home and change after finishing my shopping.) By the time I had gotten to the food court it was half past ten. To my relief I quickly spotted Derek’s slight form, chatting somberly with a woman sitting next to him. There was a plate on the table, but no evidence of food having ever touched it.
Derek saw me immediately and quickly waved me over.
“Have you guys been long? So sorry for the delay,” I said, “the traffic was horrendous. There was an accident with the carriage in front of the bus and they had to call a physicist to fix it. Except he took so long in arriving that I had to get out and hail a cab two blocks down.” Of course, this had little to do with me being late. The real reason was slightly more complicated.
Derek just grinned broadly and waved my concerns carelessly away as I took my seat across from the two, “No, we’ve only just arrived ourselves. I don’t believe you’ve met Evelyn? She is my niece.” He gestured to the woman besides him.
“Oh hi,” I said as I took her in. “Nice to meet you.” Evelyn was a very pretty girl of no more than twenty years. I have heard Derek speak of her before, the daughter of his brother and a Kanginese woman. The result was an almost exotic look, a mixture of Derek’s dark brown coloration and the yellow tan of the southern Kanginese. In one word, she was stunning.
“Hey,” she said simply.
“Do you go to university?” I asked her.
She nodded. Her dangling earrings followed the movement, stars of blue crystal caught the light. Must be pure Amerial. “The University of Manston.”
“Oh really,” I said, “Derek and I went there also.”
“I’ve heard,” she said, “Derek’s been telling me so much about you.”
“Oh?” I knocked an eyebrow at Derek’s smiling face.
“So how’s Dreams of Yore coming along?” Derek inquired. Dreams of Yore was my novel, a dramatized history book if you will. It was published last month and been a huge success. I’ve been rolling in cash ever since. I told him as much, with not an inordinate expression of pride.
“Actually I’m about to start on my next book. Going to Kumirsate soon to do some actual research.” I emphasized the word actual. “You know how they oppress women? It would be quite a backdrop, I think the book will have a lot to do with the War of the Ten.”
“The first or the second,” asked Evelyn.
“The second of course. That was when Kumirsate really only came into the international scene as a major power. Quite a shame considering all the human rights problems going on there, with a brutal dictator.”
“Lorscane’s a rascal all right.” Derek agreed, “I’m just surprised they let you in.”
“You’re a little behind the times Derek, Lorscane started a program of “openness” in his country, to promote a little development in his country. More likely he needs Nordamian research so his physicists could learn to use some of that precious Amerial he has so much of.”
“So much wealth, only to trade it away. Must seem like such a waste to him.” Evelyn said.
“It is. Exploitation by more developed countries, hardly a new trend.”
“Think he’s on his last legs? When a dictator opens up a country… well he must be pretty desperate.”
“I don’t know…” I said slowly, “While history tells us that’s the case, Kumirsate is in the unique position of being in an economic boom, rather than have it be disastrously failing. Nobody in Kurmisate will have time to think about human rights while making money hand over fist.”
“Except the women.” Evelyn put in.
“If he’s smart, he would do something about the women situation. But I doubt he’s a real progressive.”
“The trouble is that a lot of people there agree with him, even the women themselves.” Evelyn shook her head in disgust a little as she said this.
“Yes, that is the problem,” I said, smilingly happily. I was warming up to this discussion with the pretty young lady.
“Shall we order?” I nodded my head towards the counter. There were many people on the line, but at this late hour most of them preferred to bring their food elsewhere. We were in no danger of getting kicked out.
“Listen,” Derek said, “I need you to do me a favor.”
I frowned a little as I leaned towards him. “Have you gotten into some kind of trouble? Do you need money?”
“No,” Derek chuckled, “No money, the favor has to do with Evelyn.” He nodded his head towards her as he said this.
I looked at Evelyn curiously. “Well, I know a few professors at UMan, but Derek probably knows them just as well.”
“Nu uh,” Derek said, and this time his expression was uncharacteristically serious. “I need you to take Evelyn and get out of town.”
I blinked, and asked the first question that came to my mind. “Why?”
Derek leaned in closely. “Listen,” he repeated. “How many years have we known each other? 19? Have I ever lied to you, deceived you, cheated you, or asked for any major favors?”
He waited for me to think. His face was one of expectation. He knew what I would say, but yet was willing to let me find the answer for myself.
“No,” I admitted.
“Then please, please trust me, and for this one time help me.”
I marveled at his coolness of expression. His dark face held perfectly at ease even as he pled. Only his eyes betrayed a glint, and that was probably more an effect of light than anything else. I asked the second question. “Why me?”
Derek smiled then. “Here,” he said, pushing to me a regular unmarked white envelope.
“What is it?”
He just smiled and nodded his head towards it. Inside was a form. In big bold letters across the top of the page were the words: SELF-DESTRUCTING ONCE VALIDATED. It was a statement from the Kirk Bank. It has sufficient information for me to access an account that was created for… me, I realized with a start. It lists my name, address, and contact number, and even has a lightsketch of me on the back. It was another shock when I got to the exorbitant amount of cash contained within.
I stared at Derek confusedly. “I can’t accept this,” I muttered as I put down both pieces of paper, but truly, who wouldn’t want free money?
“Kirk has offices worldwide, and better yet, is untraceable.” His usual casual expression had returned as he carelessly tore up the envelope in his two small hands.
The statement itself began to disintegrate between my hands, another marvel of modern technology. “I thought you might find yourself needing some emergency cash. You can withdraw any amount here on the instant, no questions asked. And as to why I chose you, I’ve always admired you for your sense of honor, I trust you wouldn’t take advantage of the situation brother. Don’t let me down.”
I only stared at him in confusion. “This is a lot for me to take in all of a sudden.” An account with over fifteen thousand notes has now been validated. So much money all of a sudden. More money than I could make in five years!
Derek quietly excused himself to visit the rest room. I stared at his retreating back as I began to imagine the possibilities. I had some ideas about inventing a printing machine, starting a publishing company. The fees that the physicists charge for book making is simply extortion. With this money, I have the capital to make my dream a reality.
“He’s not coming back you know.”
Evelyn nodded towards the direction Derek has gone. It took me a moment to snap out of my reverie and register what she had meant. “Oh no.” It was with pure panic that I sprung from my chair. When Derek goes, he’s gone.
Of course Derek was nowhere to be seen when I got to the restrooms, and it was with consternation that I turned back towards the food courts.
But for a bit more than a moment I actually contemplated just walking off and leaving Evelyn sitting there in that small square table. I have the money, and a man like Derek can probably find someone else to do him his favors.
Evelyn looked at me expectantly when I got back. Derek probably knew where I lived. Besides, other than killing the cat, curiosity was also key in advancing human society. And I’m no cat. What was my reasoning anyway. Her smile could only be interpreted as wry amusement. I shook my head at her rather angrily, “the two of you planned this didn’t you?”
“He told me that he was going to go after you get that form validated.”
“Why does he feel the need to run off so abruptly? What’s the rush?”
I wasn’t caring too much about impressions right then, I was still seething inside. How easily Derek used the allure of money to distract me! What the heck am I to do with this girl? I was going to leave the country in two days! It struck to me suddenly that Derek, and by extension Evelyn, must’ve known about my impending trip, and that is why she was with me.
But this was Derek, an old friend who pled for my help. I was at least going to hear Evelyn’s story.
I leaned back in my chair and sighed somewhat melodramatically. So in that brightly lit food court at the center of the world, I gestured to the beautiful young woman with that slightly intoxicating smile of teenage know it all to begin her story. She understood immediately, and it turned out that her story wasn’t half bad.