Abram would have enjoyed his trip to Hyborea a lot more if an assassin hadn’t interrupted what would have been some great drunken sex. Someone was going to regret that he was still alive—probably him.
from The Silvergrey Sea
As glad as he was to no longer be working where he had to watch people die horribly, Brian was not happy to be here.
Covert operations were nothing new for the Order. They would often spend years, even generations checking out new worlds opened to them by the many Portals of the Mother Lodge, learning all they could about a culture, recruiting from among its ranks and, finally pillaging all its knowledge—often without ever revealing their existence to the population at large.
Spying on his own was another matter and one to which he had difficulty adjusting. He understood the necessity; he just didn’t like it.
When the detective, Harry Tranker, left the chapterhouse after spending over a day as the guest of Nija Superior, he knew he had to act quickly to prevent exposure of the Meraculus Mercurius.
First a message to their operative in the southern temple city. Then a message claiming to be from Nija, telling him of a captain that would guide him by riverboat all the way south. It would mean a delay of several days, which would give the one waiting time to plan a surprise.
With any luck, this whole mess would be covered up inside a week.
He hoped that the other, on Noir had had success in her efforts to quiet the traitor, Drago. The other, Abram Hermit, would never live to see Hyborea.
It had been almost a year since I had been aboard ship. I had forgotten how much I missed it. Hermetists were many things: bureaucrats, magistrates, scientists, collectors of lore. But mariners were what we mostly were.
From the earliest days of the Order, we had been explorers and seekers of knowledge both.
I never felt so much at home when not moving as it did now, gliding smoothly through the clement Silvergrey Sea.
As luck would have it, I was sailing aboard the Giordano Bruno, the same ship that had brought Harry to Hyborea. I shared a pint of grog with Maeve in her quarters after the evening mess on the third day, swapping lies about our seminary days. I was slouched in the only chair in the room, feet up on the tiny desk. She was sprawled on her cot, hat and coat hanging on a peg in the corner.
I ended a pause in the conversation with, “So, how did you and Harry get along?”
“Quite well, thanks.” She grinned, blushing. It was so much easier to tell with someone who had translucent skin. She took a sip of watered rum. “I kept him quite calm for the trip.” At that she laughed.
Knowing them both as I did, I didn’t doubt Harry had been more than merely calm. I joined in the laughter.
“Do you think he’d mind if I looked him up? After this business of yours is over, I mean?” She asked it casually, but the undertone of seriousness was there.
I shrugged. “I’ve never known him to turn down pleasant company. So, he made an impression, eh?”
Another nod and a grin. Another sip.
“You have a thing for dishevelled, whiskey sodden collections of bad habits, do you?”
Her laugh was loud; she rolled over, nearly falling off the bed and spilling the dregs of her rum. “Oh, feck!” through trailing giggles. She sat up and reached for the drawer of the nightstand.
I expected something to clean the spill, but she emerged with a full bottle of rum. “Why am I drinking this cat’s pee when you have that?” I quickly swallowed the rest of my grog and held out my mug. She glogged a good eight ounces into it, after she had filled her own.
She sat up on the bed, the better to drink and avoid the wet spot. I spent the next half bottle of rum telling her about my oldest friend. Despite my best efforts, she still seemed smitten with the lucky bastard.
Something about the space of the Silvergrey was conducive to deep thoughts. One morning, I was staring at the flickering light in the distance thinking such thoughts when it happened.
In the confused distance where a horizon would be in normal space, movement.
A ripple in the air.
It got larger, approaching.
I could see waves of distortion in the sky and the sea.
As I thought to shout a warning, someone else did. Though I didn’t turn to look, I knew everyone aboard was watching, now.
Then the sound, like a returning echo of a scream.
The shockwave approached much faster than I anticipated.
It rolled over the ship, knocking me flat. The sound was deafening and terrifying. I could feel it in my chest.
For a few seconds, the boat rocked in a Silvergrey Sea that was actually turbulent.
It passed like a nightmare at break of day.
As I stood on a deck that was steady once more, I saw the same look on every face—terror.
The senior officers had a confab in the Captain’s cabin. I was invited as a courtesy. Nothing much got said beyond a determination to report the incident to Mother Lodge. Determining the source of the shockwave—if that’s what it had been—would be left to others.
No one had ever heard of something like this happening.
Almost no one.
I kept my peace about that, for I knew better.
When digging for information about Harry’s client, Drago, I had encountered reports about a similar incident around the time he must have been a captive.
Though I didn’t know for sure, I suspected the Drago’s abduction and the shockwave or storm were connected. I just had to figure out how. It had to have something to so with the Meraculus Mercurius. They’d been mining the Silvergrey Sea for information all those centuries ago.
Despite an intense investigation that I suspected included torture, neither the means nor the type of information they sought had ever been disclosed. I recalled the research that Jayne Hermit had been conducting and began to wonder about it anew.
The Mercurius of the time had destroyed the M.M. root and branch.
Apparently, they’d left a seed behind.
Drago was very important to someone. Someone else wanted him seriously dead, for whatever value he had. I didn’t know who was on either end. I hoped Harry knew.
All I needed to do was find him.
Sleep always came easily to me aboard ship. Maybe that was the reason I didn’t hear anything until the smack! and the thump! that that woke me. I sat up sharply, turning up the oil lamp by the bed.
Maeve, wearing nothing, was standing over another Hermetist whom I didn’t recognize, still holding a wrist that looked to have been thoroughly broken. A long, thin blade was clutched in a now useless fist.
“Morning, Abram. Sorry to wake you.” She was flushed and panting.
I didn’t waste time with foolish questions. I scampered over the bed to get a better look at my would-be attacker. A closer look didn’t help. I had no idea who this man was. Maeve was leaning over him, fingers pressed against his neck at the join with his chin.’
The look in her green eyes told me the man was dead.
“How hard do you hit him?”
She was shaking her head. “Not hard enough to kill him.”
“Do you know him?”
“Never seen him before. He’s neither crew, nor passenger.”
“How did you know to be here? I’m grateful, you understand, but…” I let it dangle.
She concentrated on the body, as she spoke. I noticed a bit more of a blush, “I was on my way here, anyway. I got to thinking you might want some company.”
I certainly wouldn’t have minded. “Oh.”
She smiled a little, still not meeting my eye. “Rum and good conversation always make me randy.”
“It’s been known to have a similar effect on me.”
“Anyway, I was just outside your door when I saw it closing, slowly. I thought you were still up, so I ran to grab it before it closed tight. I surprised him—” she pointed to the corpse with her chin—“and got two punches off before he could make a sound. That’s what woke you, evidently.”
“Why is he dead?”
She opened the corpse’s mouth and began gingerly digging around, looking into cheeks and under his tongue. “There are some white flakes of something in his teeth. I think he suicided.”
We shared a look that asked more questions than either of us had answers for.
The ship’s chirgeon confirmed it a suicide. A search of the records also confirmed the man had not been a Hermetist. We couldn’t get an ID on him at all. Nor was there any explanation of how he got aboard ship, though stowing away was just possible. Captain ordered a search of the holds in case he’d left anything that could give us information.
Captain also had questions for me. Many.
I didn’t have any answers for her other than my guesses about the Meraculus Mercurius. She was frankly incredulous about that and I couldn’t blame her. It sounded crazy when I said it out loud. There was the fact of an assassin posing as a Hermetist currently in a meat locker in sickbay, though.
I kept my knowledge of Drago to myself. Not knowing whom to trust, trusting no one was the best course. Unless Harry had been (uncharacteristically) post-coitally loquacious, Maeve didn’t know anything about him, either. Captain seemed to sense I was holding back, but she’d been a Hermetist long enough to know there was no point in pressing.
The next morning we arrived at Hyborea’s port.
I’d spent the day in my cabin, napping and doing research, trying to dig up info on Harry’s whereabouts. He’d been incommunicado for over a week, now.
Maeve stopped by in the evening. Despite another bottle of rum, neither of us was particularly horny that evening. She did bunk with me, though.
I enjoyed the company.
I headed straight for the chapterhouse. I had only been on Hyborea once before and hadn’t stayed long. I brought some shaded specs to keep the glare off.
I was granted a meeting with the local governor of the Order, Nija in only few minutes. She was a native, something that stuck in the craw of many a man in these parts I was sure.
I asked after my friend.
“I got your message about him. I’ve been making inquiries, but he’s no longer in the city.”
“How long was he here for?”
“Less than a day. He came asking after a native male who disappeared three centuries ago. Name of Drago. I offered him lodgings here, but he seemed anxious to move on when I told him we had little to give him in the way of info.”
“He didn’t mention his plans?”
A headshake, “No. Sorry. I can confirm that he didn’t go offworld.”
“There’s only one place he would likely go, then.”
A nod and a grim smile. “I took the liberty of booking you passage on a Hermetist ship sailing south this evening.”