Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Charade (08/14/08)
TITLE: Game at the Gate
By Nancy Jo Wilson
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When he came with his father three years ago, the sight thrilled him. Few from his region had ever seen the city. He expected lights, action and it delivered. His young mind was awash with the sounds of crowded streets and the blur of hoverpods zipping past. The day began in rapture and ended with his father being whisked off to prison. Caleb was smuggled out by two Amoz citizens. Phairon Dez, the daughter of a Ruling House, led him safely to a guard who, in full uniform and helmet, flew him to his farm in a military hover.
Now he was going back. His people, the Kinz, needed information and he was the only one with any hope of getting it. "You have friends in the city," Galax said.
Caleb wasn't so sure. It was a single day three years ago, would they even remember a simple Kinz boy? Caleb recalled repaying Phairon's kindness by screaming at her he hated all Amoz people. Would she want to help him? Not only was there that obstacle, but he also needed to convince the man at the gate he had business in the city. Once inside, he had no idea how to find Phairon or the faceless guard. Galax told him to go, but didn't tell him what to do when he got there.
The city grew ahead of him, but he was too busy rehearsing his charade to notice the gleaming towers. He veered his transport away from the golden arch of the main gate and toward the Kinz entrance. A guard stood there and Caleb's heart thumped double when he saw him. The man's uniform was black from top to bottom. His head covered with a helmet and dark faceplate. Caleb couldn't see a speck of flesh and wondered, briefly, if the man had any at all.
He took a deep breath. It was showtime. Pulling up to the gate, he adopted a slack, disinterested expression. A face that said "I do this all the time."
"What is your business?" inquired the guard.
"I'm on business for Mistress Phairon Dez," Caleb said in the relaxed tone he'd practiced until his throat was dry. He hoped the mention of her rank would intimidate the guard and dispel any further questions. It didn't.
Instead, the guard grunted and studied the viewer on his sleeve. "There is no record of it."
Caleb wanted to throw the transport into reverse and take off, but it would be pointless. The guard's hover could intercept him in no time. There was no turning back, staying in character was his only protection.
He furrowed his brow and said, "Are you sure? You know, Mistress Dez sent the summons late last night. Perhaps it hasn't posted yet." The act was seamless, laced with shrugged shoulders and a bewildered expression.
"Get out of the transport," said the guard. The stakes were rising, but there was still hope. So Caleb obeyed, disguising his shaking hands by shoving them in his pockets. The man touched the wall revealing a large viewer and, to Caleb's dismay, Phairon 's face appeared on the screen. She hadn't changed in three years. Her blue hair was down instead of up, but her face was still soft and her eyes still gentle.
"Mistress, this Kinz boy claims to be on business for you," said the guard as he snatched Caleb by the neck and thrust him in front of the viewer.
An eternity passed in a second as Caleb's brown eyes pleaded with her. She cut her red ones at him knowingly before snapping at the guard, "Of course he is. Would he be here if he wasn't?"
Caleb swallowed a relieved chuckle as the guard loosened his hold. "My apologies, Mistress. There was no notice in my log."
"That doesn't concern me. Your ineptitude has delayed my business. I'll have to send someone to fetch him." Before the guard could answer, the screen went blank.
"Park your transport over there," he growled and shoved Caleb toward it. With his back to the guard, he risked a small smile. Phairon had played the game perfectly; without even knowing she was in it. Galax was right. He did have friends in the city.
This piece uses characters from the book I'm currently writing.
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