"The intellect searches out the absolute order of things as they stand in the mind of God, and without the colors of affection."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature"

The red star was just coming up as the wormtrain stopped on Ghentan Prime. Karl Krispin peered out the carriage window at the red dwarf star rising over the barren volcanic rock strewn countryside. He had just awoken from a nap and blinked his eyes adjusting to the pale red light coming from the window.

Karl was happy that he was traveling on a client's dime and could afford his own cabin. Something about traveling from planet to planet through the wormholes along the train line tired Karl out and he had spent most of the trip napping in the reclining seat in his cabin. Karl abhorred having to travel on the wormtrain sitting in the regular coaches lined with rows of seats. He was never able to get any sleep in those seats. Cooped up with all those other people traveling from planet to planet made him uncomfortable. He was much happier to be here in his own cabin, free to stretch out in the reclining faux-leather chair. He looked at his watch. It would still be five hours and three more planets before the train reached Lachiesis.

He looked out the window at the rocky surface of Ghentan Prime. The planet had only lately been added to this train's route through Cygnus arm of the Milky Way. The mining colony, set up by the Kamea mining syndicate had only been here for about ten years. No passengers would be boarding the train here, but several cars, loaded with the extracted iron would be added to the train.

Karl coughed, thinking about the dense methane/hydrogen atmosphere outside the train, and feeling sorry for the indentured workers who had signed contracts to extract iron from the planet. He imagined spending a five or ten year term cooped up underground and not being able to breath the air outside would be misery.

As he felt the clank of one of the cars loaded with pig iron added to the train, his mind wandered to what he was doing on the here on the train. It had been three days since the messenger from the Duke of Lachiesis had come to him asking for his help.

-x-

It had been a rainy morning on Thallasa. The city of St. Olivia was bathed in rain. As Karl looked out the window of his second floor office, he watched rain pound down on the street bellow. The unpaved street below was awash with puddles making it treacherous to the few who were brave enough to utilize it. Though the planet had been colonized nearly half a century ago there were still few motorized vehicles on the planet. Most of the transportation on the planet was carts drawn by yatugas, an indigenous herbivore that had been domesticated as a beast of burden. Yatugas resembled the Terran ox, but were without horns and covered with dark green/brown fur. Yatugas were used extensively on the planet's gontree plantations that exported lumber to the rest of humanity. The gontree was a large broad-leafed tree, native only to Thallasa, whose trunks grew to be several meters in diameter. Their wood was highly prized due to its hardness, comparable to that of rock, so that it was ideal for use in construction.

He sipped his coffee as he stood by the window. He had been meditating on his situation as he stood by the window. It had been two weeks since he there had been anybody seeking to hire him and he was starting to worry if he would be able to make rent this month. After finishing the last drinkable sip of the coffee he swirled the cup three times and then placed it upside down on the saucer he had placed on the window ledge. Lifting the cup he took several minutes to examine the pattern formed by the grounds on the saucer. In the deposited grounds there seemed to be an arrowhead pointing in the direction where the cup handle had been. Something was definitely coming his way. Around the arrow seemed to be what looked like a chain. The grounds told him that he would be forming some type of union. Being a confirmed bachelor, he doubted it would be a marriage; it must be some type of new business arrangement that would be formed.

Placing the cup back over on the saucer he carried them over and put them in the small sink. He walked back over to his desk and took a seat. Picking up the copy of The Almanac on Desertfolk People that had been resting spine up on the wooden desk, began reading again. He was now about a third of the way through it and had found it very edifying. Although he had a netplant and could have looked up anything covered in the book in nanoseconds, he was always comforted by having old style printed books around him, and the walls of his office were lined with bookshelfs full of old style books.

He had just finished the first line of what he had been reading when he heard sombody enter his office. Quickly putting the book back down where it had been he opened the desk drawer and checked to make sure that his phase pistol was still there, before looking up at his visitor.

"Are you Karl Krispin?" the worn looking, but well muscled man asked him. Before answering Karl quickly looked the man up and down. The man wore a short sleeved kahki uniform with scorpion emblems on the collar. His uniform was soaked and his slacks covered with mud. Karl recognized the scorpion emblem as that of house Lachiesis, the ducal monarch of the eponymous planet. The uniformed man looked weary, his eyes drooping.

"I am he, what can I do for you?"

"My name is Willam Kent, I have been sent by his majesty Duke Avissei the Just, ruler of Lachiesis. He requests your services to find his daughter Nalyari who has dissapeared on the eve of her wedding."

Karl was silent for a moment while he accesed his netplant and looked up Lachiesis. Lachiesis was a desert planet over one hundred and seventy-five light years from Thallasa. Its chief export was thulleberry wine and it was a constitutional dukedom rulled by Avissei the Just. Accessing the family tree of the royal family he found that the king had three daughters and Nalyari was the youngest and the only one who was unmarried.

"My rates are five hundred credits a day plus expenses," he qouted, a rate five times his normal rate.

"I have been authorized to offer you whatever you may require."

"Why don't you have a seat and tell me what has happened."

The uniformed man carefully sat down in the chair sitting before Karl's desk, trying not to get any mud on the carpet, and began telling the story of the princess' disapearence. "Princess Nalyari was promised in marriage to Cassim ibn Achmed the high priest of Lachiesis' Athar cult. Cassim had threatened the duke with a revolt if he could not have his youngest daughter's hand in marriage. The marriage brings a considerable dowery. The cult of Athar has a wide following on Lachiesis and Duke Avissei feared what migh happen if he refused his daughter. The wedding cerimony had been planned for last Saturday, however on the morning of the ceremony Nalyari was nowhere to be found. We suspect that she ran off with a traveling minstrel named Meondobo Vaughn who was passing through at the time. We have tried to contact him, but he has not answered our querys. We have sent men after them, but so far they have not been able to find either of them."

Accesing his netplant he found that Athar was the local equivelant of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, a fertility goddess of love, war and sex. A potent combination he thought. Just to see if he would find anything he looked up Meondobo Vaughn. He found an netmail address, but nothing more.

"You have evidence that she ran off with this minstrel?"

"Not directly, but it is suspicious that he disappeared from Lachiesis the same day as the princess. We suspect that she left with him."

"No idea where they went?"

"No, we have been unable to trace them. The duke was hoping that you would be able to track them down. You have a reputation as an astute tracker."

Karl smiled at the mention of his reputation. "Very well," he said, "I will meet you on Lachiesis in three days. I have some preparations I must undertake if I am to be succesfull."

"Very well. I will see you in three days," said the man, bowing and taking his leave he left Karl alone.

-X-

Karl heard the train bell sound, as the train started moving. Pulling out of Ghentan Prime, he heard the muffled crack of the wormhole opening as the train started moving on to the next planet.