Gifts of Jangalore
Short Story Set in the Grand Masters’ Universe
Copyright ©Aurora Springer
Rosa Spruce steered the flitter across the continent, high above the forest stretching from the amber ocean to the horizon. Jangalore was an untrammeled planet of junglescovered in a blanket of yellow clouds. The trees had leaves of a strange indigo color, not the familiar green of forests on her distant home planet. This planet was uninhabited, as far as anyone knew.
She glanced at the date on the com screen and swallowed a sigh. Tomorrow was the festival of lights, when families gathered together to decorate a tree, exchange gifts, and offer prayers of thanks.Rosahad no family or plans to celebrate the festival on the eve of the New Year. Her parents were buried half the galaxy away. Since they had died, she had struggled to survive on her own.
Spruce Security was her most successful enterprise so far. She had scrambled for the credits to buy good quality, reliable hand weapons and the survival suit with its lightweight armor. Then, Rosa had registered as Spruce Security,capitalizing on her skills with weapons and her psychic talent of empathy. Now, she earned a meagre wage as a guard for dangerous enterprises. If this trip went well and they found the ruins left by the fabulous ancients, her bonus would pay off her loans.
Today, she flew over the jungles of Jangalore as the hired guard for Psi Master Varan, one of the elite Grand Masters. He was reputed to reside in a splendid mansion on a planet terraformed to his specifications. After three days of travel in his company, she had become inured to the electric hum of his psychic power. She had not anticipated her attraction to the lean athlete with the strength and agility of a man a third of his reputed age.A hopeless attraction, she feared. Surely he could claim any woman in the galaxy, if he wished. Instead, his passion was reserved for the remnants of ancient civilization. He hoped to discover a new site concealed in the jungles of Jangalore.
Psi Master Varansatbeside her, intent on the detector he had invented. The silver band around his brows was the sole indication of his superior rank of psychic power. The rank of Grand Master was achievedby a combination of inherited talent, rigorous training and artificial enhancements. The faint scar above his left ear suggested one of the ubiquitous com inserts, but she had no idea if he had other implants. His single-minded pursuit of the ancients who had once ruled the galaxy had led them to this uncharted wilderness. The steady clicks from his detector signaled the ancient ruins lay somewhere in the depths of the expansive jungle.
“Did you get a clear reading, Psi Master?” Rosaasked with the deference of her inferior status. She was merely the hired help, and had no clue why he had chosen her. Her credentials for security were excellent. Yet, her native empathy was a low status, maligned and misunderstood talent. Still, he paid well, and she had been enticed by the opportunity to guard one of the few living Psi Masters.
The Psi Master replied slowly, “Yes, the signal is strong.” He glanced at her and waved toward the forest, “Our target lies in the middle of the forest.Let us check the signal from the ground level.”
Rosa swung the flitter in a wide circle,descending to land on the narrow verge of pebbles between the trees and the ocher ocean. Jumping out of the passenger doorof the flitter, Psi Master Varanstrode towards the blue-hued trees that towered in a vivid contrast to the dull yellow of the overcast sky.
Always cautious, Rosa activated the locking mechanismand scanned their surroundings. She couldn’t risk losing their only means of transport off the planet. High in the sky overhead, the native vultures soared with their third wing raised like a huge purple sail. No other movement was visible. She ran after the Psi Master.
The Psi Master walked along the verge of the jungle, searching for a path to the interior. Following two paces behind him, Rosa admired the colorful flowers of the vines draping over the branches. The shadowytrails under the trees beckoned to her with their promise of mystery in the jungle depths. Her empathic senses reveled in the mental signs of the jungle denizens, the tiny sparks of small creatures and the hungry stab of large predators.
Haltingin front of a dirt track, Varan stared into the shadows cast by the huge trees. Then, he touched the controls of the detector strapped over his shoulder. Rosa stood beside him andgazedat his stern face framed in straight black hair. She knew little about the Grand Masters, although she had heard many rumors about their mysterious psi talents.As usual, Varan exuded power and authority. Yet, during the three days of their search for the ancients, she had seen no hint of his vaunted psi powers.
One of the three-winged vultures swooped down to examine them. The Psi Master glanced up, warned by the shadow overhead.
Hesitantly, Rosa said, “Psi Master, the vulture is merely curious about us. We’re strangers in its domain.”
He stared at her, his green eyes half-shuttered in thought, “Can you sense the thoughts of the vulture?”
Blushing under his scrutiny, Rosa replied, “Yes, I am an empath.”
“Interesting,” he commented,returning to his perusal of the detector as if her ability was unimportant.
Annoyed by his cold indifference, Rosabit her lip. His emotions were a mystery, since she could not penetrate his strong mental shield.Instead, she gazed at the beautiful clusters of flowers, and asked, “Which direction does the detector indicate? The forest looks wonderful withthetracks weaving beneath the tall trees and the tangles of flowering vines. I’d love to explore those mysteriouspaths.”
The Psi Master glanced up, the glint in his deep set eyeshintingat his amusement.He tapped the screen on the detector and gestured towards the trees. “The signal for the artifact comes from the interior, almost straight ahead. We have two choices,either we fly over the jungle or walk through it.”
She loved flying, but they had already circled the forest twice. Her instincts urged her towardthe shadowy paths. “Please, Psi Master, I’d prefer to walk. We didn’t spot anything usual from above. Can we travel through the trees?
For a moment, his green eyes pierced into her face, as if he desired to read her mind. But, she detected no probe and his mental shield was intact. He said, “Please call me Varan. We’ve been companions for three days and formality is unnecessary.”
Smiling at his new amiability,Rosa asked, “Okay, Varan, which way do we go?” His request for informality was the first sign of a thaw in his indifference. He had treated her with a distant courtesy, even when they slept in the cramped cabinof the flitter at night.
Varan gestured for her to precede him along the track under the vine-draped foliage. She smiled in delight, shrugged her pack into a comfortable position and stepped forward. On the edge of the track, bunches of bananas hung from narrow-leaved vines. Not the familiar fruit of Earth, but an oval,yellow fruit exuding a sweet scent of ripeness.
Rosa halted just before entering the shade of the trees.A shrill cry echoed from deep within the jungle. She placed her fingers on the cold handle of the laser at her belt, Spruce Security on alert for danger.
His deep voice reassured her, “Don’t worry, Rosa. We are warned and armed.”
She nodded and strode under the drooping canopy of vines with their clusters of pink and yellow flowers. The light dimmed as they marched further down the track, and raindrops showered from the tree tops. The hazyrain was merely an inconvenience.Her insulated suit was waterproof and kept her body at a comfortable temperature.
They walked through the steady drizzle. The track threaded between the wide boles of huge trees. Far above, the tree tops were hidden from view. Tiny winged animals flitted across their path, like pale moths with two triangular wings joined at a hairy sphere. Clumps of blue blades sprung from the undergrowth and fans of white fungus clung to purple tree trunks.
Intrigued by each novelty, Rosaglanced from one side of the path to the other. She relished the earthy scents released by the rain, and the sighing ofwinds in the tree tops.
Varan walked silently beside her. He was intent upon reaching their target, the ancient ruins from an earlier civilization. Every ten paces, he checked the detector to ensure the path was heading in the right direction.
The shadows deepened as they walked into the depths of the forest. Rosa shuddered, the darkness oppressed her spirits. Varan strode along the track with his eyes fixed ahead. He seemed unaffected by the gloom.
Crash, swish, crash, crash!
Rosa paused and stretched her senses to the sound. A large predator movedthrough the trees toward them.
“It hunts for us,” she whispered.
“Stand behind me,” he ordered.He grasped her arm,psi power sizzling from his fingers.
“I’m your security guard,” she protested, pulling out of his grip. The crashes thundered nearer.Branches swayed at the limit of their restricted view through the dense leaves.
Varan said, “That hunter is larger than you by the loudness of its passage through the forest.”
Drawing the blaster from her pack, Rosa insisted, “I have heavy weapons.”
He glared at her, his eyes fierce beneath black eyebrows. “I am the Psi Master. Get behind me!”
She had little choice under his inexorable grip and stood resentfully at his back, listening to the predator’s mind. “It is guided by odors. Can you block our scent, Varan?” she suggested.
His fingers flicked, the band on his forehead glowed, and a shimmer veiled the tree trunks. Raindrops slithered off the invisible dome he had created. The crashes halted. For a moment, the beast was confused.Then, swish, crack, swish, itadvancedonce more. From the direction of the noise, a pale shape moved closer,cutinto sections bythe black boles of the trees.
Rosa cringed and Varan pulled her against his side. The whiteshapes rippled larger.The predator thudded against the tree trunks constricting its passage. A huge head with an enormous jagged suckerof a mouth protruded between the trees. The sucker mouth swayed toward them.
Clinging to the Psi Master’s arm, Rosa gritted her teeth and aimed the blaster at the gaping maws of the monster.
“Stay close. The monster cannot penetrate my barrier,”Varan breathedin her ear. One of his arms was securely round her waist. He raised his free arm,emittingpower from his hand to reinforce the protective shield. The long, pallid body of the animal reared in a great arch over the glimmeringdome. The coils slithered over the barrier, oozing slime like a gigantic slug. Grey sludge dribbled over the dome, outlining the invisible hemisphere. Underneath, thepredator’s victimsstared in awe at the enormous body of the serpent. Rosa shuddered in disgust. If the shield broke, they would be crushed by the gooey coils. She pressed tightly againstVaran’slean body.
The monstrous head swung from side to side in search of itsvanished prey.It sensed nothing under Varan’s shield. After an eternity, the pale length of the hugeserpent undulated over the transparent dome and moved beyond, smashing into the forest on the other side of the track.
Silence dropped, and Rosa exhaled the breath she had held. “The beast seeks another victim,” she whispered.
Varan stared into the trees where the crashes faded into the distance. The shimmery dome vanished with a flick of his psi power. He murmured, “Not a creature to encounter without a warning.”
Turning towards Rosa, his green eyes flashed on her face.He spoke in his usual sober tone, “I grow impatient to reach our destination. Let us move on. These hazards are mere distractions from my purpose.”
Amused by his calm demeanor, Rosaslipped the blaster intoher pocket and stepped along the trail.
Grey and purple mosses festooned the tree trunks as they moved further into the dank interior. Their feet rustled in the dry litter of dead leaves on the dim path. Faint chittering noises soundedoverhead, and Rosa glanced uncertainly at her companion. He merely shrugged.
They walked on, alert for any sign of danger.
Rosafocused on the different sounds, low coos, chuckles and whistles from small creatures hidden in the dense jungle. The tendrils of their mundane thoughts of food or shelter coiled into her sensitive mind. None were predators for humans to fear. She scarcely noticed the brown,twiggy bushes on the side of the track.
A barrage of tiny cracks snapped her into reflex action. She dodged aside,grasping her laser. Needle-like thorns shot from the bushes, missing her by inches.
“Watch out!” Varan yelled. His power flared. Blue light flashed from his flattened palm and the shower of sharp needles disintegrated. Simultaneously, Rosa flew through the air toward his outstretched hands. She slammed against his hard body and he held her protectively. Psi power tickled where their bodies touched.
Rosa gasped, “By all rights, you should be punctured with thorns.”
“I’m fast,” he said, dismissive of his power.
He made no attempt to release her. She felt the rise and fall of his chest with every breath. A thrill of desire washed over her. Rosa giggled at the absurdity of her position, clasped in the arms of the cold, aloof Psi Master.
“Do you usually giggle when a man holds you?” His breath fluttered in her hair.
“It depends on his intentions,” she hissed. “You shouldn’t jump an armed woman. I’m fast too.” Rosatouched the tip of her laser onto his bare neck.
“You’re a dangerous woman,” he murmured, pushing her away gently.
She stared at the twiggy shrub, bristling with long thorns. “Our passage must have activated the arrows. The bush is quiet now.”
“Yes,” he said.“I believe we will be safe if we detour around those bushes.”
They marched along the track once more.
“I’m sorry, Varan. I missed the thorns because I sense animals not plants,” she muttered, dismayed by her mistake.
“You sense living minds, not merely animals. In my opinion, you could detect the mind of a sentient plant,” he corrected her words like a pedantic scientist.
His combination of protectiveness and detachment frustrated her. Did he consider her merely a business partner? The Psi Masterhad expressed an interest in her empathic talent, yet he had never tested her abilities. Rosa resolved to unleash her full emotive powers if he ever dropped his mental shield.
The rain stopped and daylightglinted ahead. Shafts of sunlight struck through the canopy of leaves, half blinding their dark adapted vision. The trees thinned and the trail led into a brightly lit clearing.
Wide-eyed in wonder, Rosa circled the open area. Sheadmired the colorful flowers clustered on shrubs around the edges of the sunlit space. A movement caught her eye. An animal swung from a tree, its mind buzzing withcuriosity about the strange intruders. The small grey animal clung to the branch with six legs.A long thin tail swished back and forth under its scaled body. Its round head bore three golden eyes on each side.
Rosa stretched her hand toward the animal, radiating friendliness. She sensed its intelligence and mild hunger. It cocked its small head and stared at her face.
Turning to her companion,Rosabegged, “Please,Varan, can you fetch some bananas to feed it.”
He lifted a dark eyebrow and his voice was laden with sarcasm.“Bananas from Earth? How much telekinetic power do you wish me to expend to feed an alien monkey?”
“No, I don’t want bananas from Earth,” she said, wondering if he could really teleport fruit from such a distant location. “I meant the banana-colored fruithanging from the vines at the edge of the jungle. Did you notice the ripe, yellow fruit?”
A bunch of the oval fruit appeared on the palm of his hand. He offered the bananas to her with a theatrical bow. “I am pleased to serve you.”
“Thanks!” Rosa said, grinning in appreciation of his humor. In reality, she servedunder his command.
Kneeling down,sheheld outanalien banana to the six-legged monkey. It jumped to her feet, grabbed the fruit in its six fingered hands, and leaped back to the safety of the branch. She heard it chitter, calling its friends to the feast. Five more monkeys scampered into the clearing, waving their tails high in the air. She tossed the yellow fruit to them.
Varan watched her with an appreciative smile twitching on his lips.
The alien monkeys devoured the fruit and five of them scurried back into the concealment of the blue-leaved trees. The sixth animal stared at the humans for a minute. Then, it blinked all three eyes and trotted to the farther end of the open space. The monkey paused at the edge of the clearing and looked back at them.
“It wants us to follow,” Rosa whispered.
“Are you sure?” Varan asked, quirking his eyebrows in disbelief.
“Come on!” she said and strode off in the direction of the lone monkey. It led them further, past moss-coated tree trunks and into another open space. In the middle of the glade, half concealed in a drapery of vines, were the tumbled stone walls of a ruined building.
Varan breathed in awe, “We have found the remains of the oldest civilization in the galaxy.”
“The monkey, as you aptly called it, led us here,” Rosanoted curtly. He probablybelievedher empathy a minor talent, unlike the awesome power he could command.
He swung to face her, “Rosa, your sensitivity to minds is remarkable! I should trust your instincts.”
She blushed at the warmth of his unexpected compliment.
The Psi Master flicked his fingers andrevealed a pink flower in his hand.He offered it to Rosa. She accepted his gift and gazed at the flower, a rose with five petals and an amber center matchingthe tawny color of her eyes.
“Will you pin it in my hair?” Rosa asked, handing him a hairpin. He examined the hairclip as if it was a mysterious artifact. She indicated the side of her head, and he fastened the rose to her dark locks. His hand stroked down the length of her chocolate brown hair, and she trembled with pleasure at the warm sparks of his power.
Snapping erect,Varan said, “Let’s explore the ancient ruins.” The Psi Master grasped her round the waist. His power surged and they flew into the air, soaring over the broken stone wall.
Rosa laughed. Flying in his arms was wonderful. She leaned against him, enjoying the tingle of his radiated power. To her disappointment, the flight was short. He landed on the other side of the wall. Ahead, an arch in a second stone enclosure beckoned further on.
“Strange,” he said. “This wall shows little erosion.” Indeed, the stone walls had few visible breaks. The Psi Master strode toward the arched entrance, oblivious of the ominous silence.
The friendly alien monkeys had vanished and a menace loomed in her sensitive mind. Shivering in apprehension, Rosa hesitated. She pulled out her laser, ready for trouble, andran to catch up with Varan.She stepped under the stone arch at his heels.
He halted and gripped her arm, gazing ahead. “Look!” he cried.“We’ve found the source of the signal.”
A pillar of solid rock stood in the center of the enclosure, half-covered in blue-green vines. On top of the pillar, eerie blue lightsreflected from the facets of crystals mounted in a metal bowl.
The Psi Mastertook a step forward and reached out to touch the crystals. Shrill cries of warning broke the silence and six monkeys leaped into the stone enclosure.
“No!” Rosa screamed and tugged at his arm. His hand paused below the bowl of crystals. The bowl rotated, and the crystals shot crackling violetbeams into the dull sky.
Recoiling swiftly, Varanglanced at Rosa. “Your instincts are correct. The place is dangerous.” He checked the indicator on his detector and explained, “The crystals emitted lethal radiation. Even a Psi Master is not immune to the deadly rays. It’s lucky we didn’t fly directly over the pillar.”
Rosa nodded, wide-eyed and speechless with fright.
He shrugged, “We’ll leave thedetector by the pillar. We can do littlemore, since we cannot stay safely in the ruins. I’ll have to devise a protection against the radiation.”
Chitters announced the monkeys’ claim for Rosa’s attention. Three monkeys scampered from behind the pillar. She sensed their friendly intentions. One scampered to her on four legs, grasping anobject between its two front limbs. It offered her a dull red stone, cupped in its six-fingered hands.
Rosa took the stone.She felt sharp edges on the stone instead of a smooth surface.
“Thank you for the gift, my friend,” she said in wonder. She opened her hand to show Varan the gift from the alien monkey.
He placed his hand under hers and murmured, “You have a ruby jewel.” His power trickled through her fingers and the facets of the gem glinted crimson. He pulled out the sensor probe, “Let me check for radiation.”
“This ruby is safe. I’m sure the monkeys understand,” she said, slipping the jewel into her belt pouch.
“Truly amazing,” he remarked. “Your empathic talent led us here and kept me safe. I’ll double your bonus for successful completion of the job.”
Glancing at his severe face, Rosa smiled her thanks.Thewarm expression in his green eyes made her flush with pleasure.
Clasping his warm hands around hers, he stuttered, “What… What are your plans when you return home, Rosa? Will you visit your family for the festival of lights?”
Unsure how to interpret his uncharacteristic embarrassment, she compressed her lips and muttered, “I have no family to visit. My parents are dead.”
His eyes glowed and his words burst out, “Will you be my guest for the festival? You would be doing me a great favor. A Psi Master soon outlives his nearest relatives and friends.”
“Oh yes, Varan, I’d love to spend the festival with you!” Rosa blurted quickly,in case he would retract his offer. Her eyes widened as she sensed his mental shield loosening. The Psi Master’s emotions coiled into her consciousness. She became aware of the warmth of his passion restrained by keen intelligence. Rosa tilted up her head, and blasted him with her pent-up desires.
He moaned in delight. His arms slipped around herback, and she wrapped her hands around his neck. Power surged sweetly through her nerves as their lips met in a long kiss. Happiness sang throughher, and was echoed in his mind.
Later, he murmured, “We’ll return to the flitter and fly to my mansion to celebrate the festival. Afterwards, when I’ve devised better tools, we can return to examine these ruins.”
A smile brightened Rosa’s face at his words. She would be his companion, even after the festival. “Can we talk to the monkeys?”
“Of course, intelligent aliens are well worth studying.” He slipped his arms around her waist. They rose into the air and soared over the trees towards the flitter. Behind them, purple lights flared into the sky from the crystals mounted on top of the pillar.
Embraced in his strong arms, Rosa gavethanks for the bountiful gifts of Jangalore. She had received the ruby crystal from the alien monkeys and discovered the ancient site. After three years of struggle, finally her debts would be paid off. Most of all, she was grateful for Varan’s wonderful kiss and his invitation to the festival with hints of a future together. Shewould celebrate the festival of lights with Psi Master Varanin the joyous start of theNew Year and a new life.
Copyright © 2014 Aurora Springer
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidence.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aurora Springer writes science fiction and fantasy with romance and a sprinkle of humor. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, one dog and two cats. She has imagined wild adventures in exotic worlds since childhood, but has spent much of her life writing science facts. Unfortunately, her everyday life bears little resemblance to the exciting tales of her heroes and heroines.
Novels by Aurora Springer include:
Series: Atrapako on Eden
Series: Grand Masters’ Universe
See excerpts and background of Aurora’s novels at http://AuroraSpringer.blogspot.com
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