When Tussol, head of the Department of Intercultural Relations at Lusov University, reached his office that morning, he found Lharen already waiting outside. He bade her wait for a few moments longer while he set himself up inside.
He called her in. “Citizen Belak, is it?” he began. “Our records show that you were a student here, but left before the conclusion of your studies.”
He felt a flash of some negative emotion from her before she quashed it.
“Yes, Professor. I was studying to become a scribe with that department.”
“Ordinarily, your departure would leave you incapable of gaining your qualification at any future date, but circumstances seem to have changed.”
The flash this time was of curiosity, which he had expected. After all, he had been surprised himself when his directions had filtered down the university hierarchy.
“The village of Tsentsen has requested your presence to cover a shortfall of theirs. A scribe has unexpectedly fallen ill, and they have been unable to find a replacement.”
Lharen recognised the name — this was Toresh’s home. This could not be coincidence; Toresh and her father had returned only two weeks ago.
“Citizen, these unique circumstances have given us no choice. As ambassadors between us and the Fezhlê must have at least a doctorate, it has been decided to give you an honorary certificate of completion. Your conduct while with the toplanders will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to allow you to keep that qualification.”
As quick as that, Lharen was reassigned, and walking up the corridor with a packet of papers in her hand. Still in a daze from the morning’s events, she didn’t realise there was anyone else there until they had already collided. Two sets of belongings scattered on the floor.
“Ms. Belak? You’re Fieran’s sister, aren’t you?”
She looked up at the sound of her name. Green eyes stared back at her.
“I only ask because we used to go to school together. Then he joined the peacekeepers and I came here. It’s a nice coincidence to run into both of you in the same week. It must be good to have him back in town.”
“Back? Fieran’s back?” Lharen’s life had also diverged from her brother’s, but unlike with this person, contact between the siblings had been minimal.
“Um, yeah. He’s been posted back to Lusov. Look, can I get you a coffee as an apology for knocking into you?”
“I’m the one who should apologise. I was quite distracted.”
“Ok, then. You can buy me a drink.” He grinned, and then said, “I’m Vedran, by the way.”
He lead her down the corridor to the eatery.
“So, ” he said, once they had collected their beverages. “What brings you here today? You’re getting past the usual age of the students, and you don’t look like an academic.”
He knew the answer already; obviously this was a conversational gambit. Lharen even started wondering if their running into each other was actually a coincidence.
“It’s quite odd being back, that’s true.” Lharen deliberately avoided the question. “I was so angry at Tussol for so long, and he doesn’t even remember me.”
“I picked up an echo of your anger. I’m glad it wasn’t directed at me. What happened?”
“The great professor and I disagreed on a number of subjects. He was not used to lowly students answering back. But I couldn’t help myself.”
“What kind of disagreements? You’d think that someone who ran a department with ‘Relations’ in the title would be better at managing disagreements.”
“Yeah, you would think that. Too much time behind his big desk, I guess. It started off with little things. Finally I’d had enough when he said that the Fezhlê should be grateful that we had civilised them.”
“Wow. I guess you’re right about the desk. I mean, we probably brought them new technology, but they had a fair civilisation going already.”
“How could you know that?,” Lharen asked, “As I was saying to my friend Corla the other day, the past of both cultures is obscure.”
“Corla? She’s the newcomer, right?” Again, he already knew this. “I’ve been hearing a lot about her, and I’d be interested in hearing her thoughts. My group has been up at a dig near Yurilê. It turns out to be one of the first shared settlements between us and the Toppers.”
Lharen had a private laugh at the phrase ‘hearing thoughts’, but everyone involved had made the decision to keep the telepathy a secret. “Unfortunately, she went with some Toplander farmers, and they’re now back in Tsentsen. Quite the opposite direction to your dig.”
“That is unfortunate. Maybe some other time.” He checked his chronograph. “Speaking of time, I’m on my way to an appointment to beg for more funding, and then I’m back up at Yurilê by the end of the week. Thank-you for the drink, and apologies again for letting you knock into me.”
He got up and departed, leaving a sense of satisfaction behind. Whatever he wanted, he seemed to have gotten. Lharen pondered the day’s events over her cooling drink.
“She’s young, still.” Vedren was talking to Professor Tussol. “I get the sense that she’s more flexible in fact than her speech would indicate. Just tread carefully.”
Lharen looked around her room, trying to decide what she desperately needed, and what she could leave behind. Most of her possessions could be discounted immediately. Clutter always seemed to fill up available space.