Anith, Linth’s cousin owned one of the flying-boat vehicles. This one was much smaller than the bus-like one they had been on before and the two cousins took the front seats, while Mirenda and Nabel clambered into the back. Linth and Anith began talking away in their own language, which was nothing but gibberish to their passengers.
Nabel took a deep breath and closed his eyes, slowly letting out the air through his lips. Now that he had a moment to think, he realized that his brain was a mess of thoughts and emotions. Strewn about the room of his mind like one-day-worn clothing were thoughts such as: “Is this real?” “I’m hungry.” “I can’t believe Mirenda let me fly away from the space station.” “If this is real—what else is there about existence that I am completely unaware of... that everyone where I come from is unaware of?” “How does this boat-thing I’m in work?” “Why are we going to see the man who started this terrible war and isn’t he the last person we should be friends with?” “How is it possible to have such a humid desert?”
After only a few moments, the thoughts in his mind became too much and spilled out onto his lips. “Is any of this really happening?” he asked Mirenda quietly.
“I don’t know. Probably.” Then she added sarcastically, “you are crazy enough to enter a hole so I’m not surprised that you doubt everything around you.”
After a moment taken to recover from her harsh words, (he hadn’t realized that she was still so angry at him,) Nabel shrugged. “What’s done’s done. If you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I for one think this whole, crazy, impossible place is much better than the space station. And even if the air is way to humid, it is still more fresh than the stale stuff I’ve breathed all my life.”
There was silence between them, and, after a few minutes, a pause in the conversation in the front seat. Nabel took advantage of this pause.
“Anith, how does this vehicle work?” he asked.
“Just the sort of question a technician would ask,” replied Anith, grinning over his shoulder at Nabel. This looking back made Nabel nervous—the vehicle was going extremely fast. Then Anith launched into a lengthy and technical explanation, which Nabel gobbled up eagerly, even though he barely understood any of it.
Mirenda and Linth on the other hand, stopped trying to follow after the first sentence and completely tuned the conversation out by the fifth. By the tenth, they began their own conversation, over Anth’s voice and Nabel’s eager nodding.
“Linth,” said Mirenda, “who is the council?”
“They are a very powerful group within the government “
“The government? Does that mean you have a universal government of some sort?”
“Oh—no, not at all. There are lots of different governing bodies across the known universe. I was just referring to the one that we belong to.”
“Oh. And who is on the council?”
“Don’t worry—you’ll meet them all in good time.”
“Yes, but, well, I feel that we should be prepared—know what to expect when we meet them. Who’s in charge? Who do we watch out for? That kind of thing.”
“There’s our politician speaking!” laughed Linth.
“I just want to be prepared,” the confused Mirenda defended.
“Of course, of course. And I can answer some of your questions, but not now. Because we’ve arrived.”
And they had.
Jutting up from the flat plains below like the crust of a pie left on an empty plate was a gnarled pillar of rock. Mirenda was not sure if it was a natural formation or not. But what crowned its top was definitely not natural. It was a house, or fortress, full of pointed towers and arched windows and surrounded by an oasis of green. Trees grew in flower-filled gardens and vines crawled up white-washed walls.
“Now,” said Linth, as his brother brought the vehicle into a docking position in a large swimming pool within the palace walls, “try not to be surprised at his appearance. And whatever you do—don’t say anything about it. He’s rather touchy on that subject. He will explain all in his time… so try not to be impatient.”
“His appearance?” Nabel wondered aloud.
“Yes.” The doors opened and a pair of short and stocky men in grass green and sandy gold greeted them with a silent bow, then turned to lead them into the fortress.
“Wait,” said Mirenda, realizing that they had forgotten something. “What is his name? You never told us.”
“Lord Acton,” Linth replied as they entered the palace.
Mirenda and Nabel gazed about them in awe. The fortress, (or was it just somebody’s house?) was like a fairy-tale castle, minus the dark dreariness that fills real castles and plus the cleanliness and convenience that an excessively advanced society can provide. They passed through arched corridors and by beautiful gardens where serene fountains splashed cool, clean water into the moist air. Elevators, instead of stair bridged the various stories. They were led farther into the palace, through a long carpeted hallway lined in arched doorways leading to interesting rooms, one such, Nabel noticed, was full of books.
Nabel expected at any moment to be led into a great and elegant throne room where the powerful man who started the war would be waiting on his raised dais. His expectations on the first bit were dead on—they soon entered an elegant throne room. But he was wrong about the second part. There was no one on the throne. The room was empty but for a child sitting at a low table to one side where sunlight from tall stain glass window fell, making colorful patterns on the floor. The child wore a very ordinary striped button down shirt and black pants. His sleeves were rolled up and his face had a look of deep concentration on it as he used his small and colorful fingers to move the paint around the paper before him.
“Lord Acton,“ one of their escorts spoke for the first time. “There are some very important guests to see you.”
The boy looked up from his work and studied them for a moment with his bright, intelligent green eyes.
This was Lord Acton? The man who had started the war? But he was only a boy!
Nabel couldn’t help it—his jaw went slack in surprise. Remembering Linth’s warning, he quickly shut it with a snap, but the boy had noticed.
“I will forgive your insolence,” said Lord Acton, “because of who you are.”
“And who are we?” Mirenda asked quickly. Surprise had clearly not tied her tongue.
The boy smiled at and wiped his hands on a cloth. “I like you. Straightforward and not easily intimidated.” Then he said to his attendants: “I’ll continue painting later. You may leave us now.” The green-suited men bowed and left.
“Sir,” said Linth, “They have not be informed of, well, anything. Except that there is a war and that you are the one who started it.”
“And that someone thinks that we are going to end it,” finished Mirenda because Linth clearly had not planned on adding that part.
“Alright,” said the boy thoughtfully. “Come to my study and I’ll try to explain.”