Calverigous Arhem reined in his mount before the Temple of the Evanescent Ubiquity. The thing whined and crow hopped sideways. Cal frowned at the unwanted thing and thumped it between its ears. Well, between the semi-autonomous mobile aural receptors that served it as ears.
The Professor’s creations all seemed at least semi-sentient, despite her protests to the contrary, and Aricles was no exception. It looked something like a horse. The digitigrade feed were clawed, and gave its gait an odd bouncing motion that took some getting used to. It positively reeked of the oil Professor Thilnesse used to lubricate its overly complicated innards. Also the stuff she used to fuel it. And it was restive.
Aricles pranced. If it had been alive, Cal would have said it was uneasy. He frowned at the back of its vaguely equine head. If the Perkarthian Society hadn’t been subsidizing this expedition, and if Professor Kellery Thilnesse hadn’t been put in charge of it, and if she hadn’t insisted on his using this peculiar gadget, he wouldn’t have ridden a mount at all. He’d have decently filthy boots. This dust just didn’t suit.
“Calm down, you simulated monstrosity.” His voice grated, the result of a long-ago injury. Club-wielding cannibals tended to welcome strangers. Cal had objected to their hospitality, but he hadn’t come away unscathed. Which sounded like most of his experiences, really. Including his love life.
Cal sighed. He turned in his saddle, sparing a moment to thump Aricles on its head again, and stared at his unwanted companion. Telinna Thilnesse shared her mother’s height and slim build, but she’d gotten her dark curls from her Mantigan father, along with equally dark eyes and skin that had quickly darkened to the color of aged teak under the desert sun. Cal was pretty certain that’s where she’d gotten her temper, as well. At the least, he’d never seen the Professor more than politely disputatious.
“Mr. Arhem! Do not abuse Aricles!”
Whereas Miss Thilnesse never seemed anything but tempestuous.
“Why ever not, Miss Milther, when your mother put such a nicely padded spot right where it will do no functional harm?” Cal was certain the Professor had put it there with him in mind, which verged on the infuriating.
Miss Thilnesse’s eyes flashed, her temper obviously aroused. Fleetingly, Cal wished they might have got along better, but her mother had masterminded the tension of their relationship just as she had the expedition. His status in the Society was up for renewal, and after years spent in the classroom, Cal had to do something of significance.
It didn’t matter, said the President of the Society, that Cal had spent years recuperating from illness and injury. Nor did it matter, said the Secretary of the Society, that he’d spent the intervening time researching, studying and planning another expedition. Unimportant, sniffed the Treasurer, that his specialties were in other areas, that he had little interest in hot and dry, or that he thought he had an excellent team already assembled.
What mattered was that after the last time, he wasn’t trusted at the head of a Society expedition. And so Miss Thilnesse, who glared at him. Cal was nearly certain that her eventual report would sink his career, and had given up caring for her opinion. She was – nominally – his assistant, but he had yet to see evidence of her skills.
Of course, the annoyingly evenhanded part of him interjected, they’d only just arrived at their destination.
“No doubt Mother put it there with you in mind, Mr. Arhem.” Miss Thilnesse’s cool tone was at odds with the anger in her eyes, and Cal took a moment to enjoy the contrast. “Still, as Aricles is a prototype, it would not do to damage him from abuse.”
“Then why don’t you ride the blasted thing?” The question rasped out of his abused throat, sounding far harsher than he intended. Truthfully, Cal was just tired. He’d been pushing too hard, and the journey inland from Sertrigimon had taken its toll on his body, as well as his manners. Such as they were.
“Mother wants to know how Aricles handles under the hand of an inexperienced rider. I’ve spent weeks on his back during his development, so I hardly qualify as inexperienced.” Miss Thilnesse smiled at him, genuine humor mixed with a certain amount of glee at his ill pleasure. “Besides, Mr. Arhem, Mother has a peculiar sense of humor.”
©David E. Pascoe 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is illusory, a delusion born of a fevered mind.