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Echoes of an Alien Sky
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They left the Medical Wing via a broad thoroughfare that came out on a terrace overlooking the Central Concourse. From there they could descend either via stairs or by using the elevator. To Kyal, Explorer 6 had more the feel of being back in Triagon than anything reminiscent of the cramped interior of the Melthor Jorg.

"I wouldn't think any of this is going to reflect well for the Progressives," Yorim commented as they walked.

"Does Lorili say much about them to you these days?" Kyal asked Mirine.

"Not really. I don't think she's as enamored by them as she used to be--not the extremist position anyway."

"Hardly surprising, considering," Yorim commented.

The recreation area was fairly busy when they arrived. A lot of people seemed to have decided to make an evening of it, and there were a number of ship's fatigues denoting off-duty crew. A corner was cleared for dancing, but it was empty just at the moment. Nearby, a group of figures were standing around some kind of game or entertainment that was in process. Kyal and Marine found an empty table, while Yorim ordered at the bar.

"The dancers are quiet," Mirine said, looking around.

"Not for long, I'm sure. You'll have to get Yorim up there."

"I'm still getting to know him." Mirine looked interested. "Does he dance, then?"

"Oh, he's fantastic," Kyal assured her, keeping a straight face.

She was just trying to keep up a brave front, Kyal could see as her smile faded. Even as he thought it, she said, "I do hope Lorii will be all right."

"Master Reen, I do believe," a voice declared behind them. Kyal looked around and up.

"Ari!"

Arissen, the zoologist who been one of the party on the trip out, had detached himself from the group by the wall and come over. "I've been ignored in better places than this, you know," he said.

"I had no idea you were even up here."

"Up on some staff business for a few days. I thought you and Yorim were going to Luna."

"We're just back from there today. Ari, this is Mirine, who was there too recently. Arissen was with us on the voyage out."

"Charmed," Arissen said, bowing his head.

"A pleasure."

Kyal looked across to the bar. "Here's Yorim coming now. Hey, Yorim, look who's here."

"Say, Arissen! And you don't look any older. How's life with the animals?"

Arissen shook his head. "This planet! . . . It's unbelievable."

One of the group that Arissen had left called over. "Arissen, it's your shot. Are you still playing?"

"Oh. . . . Take my turn, will you? I've just run into a couple of friends from the ship."

"Okay."

"What's going on over there?" Kyal asked.

"An old Terran game that somebody's discovered. Something more to feed the Terrabilia mania back home, no doubt. Anyhow, how are you two doing? I've been following some of it in the net posts. So those things out there on Farside really turned out to be interesting, eh?"

"It looks as if they were into space electromotives all right," Kyal said. "In fact there was a big meeting about it here today. That's what we're back for."

"Yes, I saw you on the news with Sherven this afternoon. Sounds like a new job. Congratulations."

"Thanks."

"You too." Arissen looked at Yorim. "Were the Terrans into electrogravitics as well?"

"Not as far as we know. Kyal and I just stick together."

"Have you managed to get down to the surface yet?"

"We had the regular week after arrival. I got in with some people who were touring some parts along northern Africa. Got to climb a pyramid. Kyal preferred old bombed Terran cities. How about you?"

"I''ve been farther south. The rain forests. Talk about diversity."

Kyal saw that Mirine was looking distant and only partly listening. The affair in the lab was still troubling her. Probably it was because she had left Lorili only minutes before it happened. "Ari, why don't you show us this Terran game?" he suggested. "Mirine looks as if she could use some livening up." He ushered her to her feet and waved her over behind Arissen before she could object. Yorim picked up his glass from the ones he had set down, and followed.

"Three new recruits," Arissen informed the rest of the company as they arrived.

"Come and join in the fun," one of them invited.

They were taking turns to throw short, fat-bodied darts fitted with tail flights at a circular board divided into numbered sectors. Arissen explained that the game was believed to have been derived from early target practice with bows and arrows. The original Terran scoring rules were not known, so the players had invented their own. Eventually the game in progress ended, and the newcomers were given a chance to try their hand. Mirine went first, squealing with surprise and frustration when her first two darts missed the board completely. But at least she was brightening up a little, Kyal saw.

"It's not as easy as it looks," Arissen commented. "You need a double to start. That's the outside ring. We know that was one of the Terran rules. Go for one of the big ones. Twenty's the best."

"Where's that?" Mirine asked, searching around the board.

"Twelve o'clock."

"What?"

Arissen grinned. "Another Terran-ism. Right at the top. It's from their clock dial. They used it to indicate directions."

Mirine considered the prospect. "A double? You mean that little tiny rectangle right at the top there? I can't even hit the board."

"Just try for the number," a girl to the side suggested. She looked around at the group. "That's all right for first-timers, okay? A new rule."

"Can I start if I just hit the board?" Mirine joked.

"As long as it's somewhere in the numbers," someone answered. Mirine threw the dart.

"Eight. And a treble!"

"Is that good?"

Kyal was staring hard at the board, replaying in his mind what Arissen had said. He shifted his gaze to Yorim, who was watching the next player. Yorim saw him from the corner of his eye and turned his head.

"What?"

"Did you hear what Ari said? They used their clock dial to indicate directions." He waited a moment for Yorim to make the connection, then said, "Eleven 'o clock?"

Yorim turned to face him, the game forgotten suddenly. "The pilot's notes! It wasn't the time of day at all."

Kyal was shaking his head. "We should have known. Terran pilots and military people used a twenty-four-hour system. It would have said eleven hundred or twenty-one hundred if it had anything to do with time."

Curiosity equal to Kyal's own was written all over Yorim's face. "Want to go and check it out?" he said.

Right now?"

"Why not? We can use the net booths that we came past back there across the Concourse. And wouldn't it be something to show Sherven in the morning."

Mirine had come over and was looking at them. "Did you see that? I got a treble. This could be fun. . . . Hey, what's up?"

"I think maybe we've hit more than a treble," Kyal told her.

"To do with directions on Terran maps," Yorim said.

"Are you two at work again?"

"It's important," Kyal said. "There are some net booths back across the Concourse that we just passed. We need to use them to check something. Do you want to come too, or stay here with these people and learn the game? We can stop back for you later."

"After the things I've heard, it could be all night," Mirine said. "I'd better come with you."

"We have to leave," Kyal told Arissen.

"Already? You've only just arrived."

"Something came up that we want to look into. All your fault, Ari."

"Me? What did I do?"

"You can be such an inspiration at times. Don't give up on us. We might be back later."

 
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