by Michael Arram


















  ‘Jesus wept, and then what?’  Ed Cornish was shaking his head in disbelief.


  ‘So there I was with fourteen naked teenagers of various sexes and orientations and a nude king of Rothenia in the Hofkapelle of the Residenz, when Rudi walked through the door.’


  ‘But at least you had your good suit on.’


  ‘On balance, I don’t think that helped.’


  ‘Talking of clothes, how did you manage to get them out of the chapel with any dignity?’


  ‘Oh, Rudi took total charge immediately.  Very much in character.  He used his imperial handij to get footmen to plunder his boys’ wardrobes of anything likely to fit the kids and dump the results at the Hofkapelle door.  The girls just had to fit into the looser tee-shirts and jeans: not easy with their wider butts.  Nothing Ossie had would fit them, and the empress’s wardrobe is sacrosanct.  The main problem was getting them all to remember what clothes were for and why they were necessary.  Shoes were another problem.  The avian kids simply refuse to wear them.  Maxxie sent out for a box of flip-flops.  Take away the wings and avians are just hippies.’


  ‘And how did you explain it all?’


  ‘I didn’t.  Maxxie elbowed me aside and had a very long heart-to-heart with his dad.  That was followed by another long heart-to-heart with Leo.  I believe it was very emotional for all concerned.  I’ve been warned not to go near the Residenz for the foreseeable future.’


  ‘Rudi won’t kill you.  So why have you sought refuge with me in Tunis?’


  ‘I had to get out of town.  It’s Harry who’s sworn to terminate me with extreme prejudice.  Rudi had gone looking for Maxxie in the Hofkapelle to have it all out with him.  Once he’d got over the shock of what he found, he discovered the Maxim problem had been sorted by yours truly, and he had a son he could be proud of once more.  Harry wants to kill me because I caught Leo up in it all and precipitated a crisis that was otherwise likely to be years down the line.’


  ‘She’d already spotted he was the first known gay Elphberg?’


  ‘Apparently yes.  She’s a formidable woman and mother is Harry.  She knows her kids intimately and loves them absolutely.  I’m told she’s being wonderful to poor Lucacz, who’s sharing a room now with Leo at the Residenz.’


  ‘Poor Lucacz?’


  ‘As an avian, the kid was quite gorgeous.  You know that with them the state of the soul is reflected in the body, and he’s really striking; blue-green tinted skin, pure white wings and hair, gorgeous blue eyes too which light up with his sexy, shy smile.  The face is small and utterly entrancing.  But his human avatar is – it has to be said – close to repulsive.  I did what I could to repair the damage the Horde did to him, but I couldn’t get rid of the red scar which still disfigures his face, and the body looks like a cholera victim’s.  Only the eyes reveal what he’s like inside.  To embrace such ugliness and put off such beauty for the sake of his devotion to his husband … well, that’s true love.  Leo venerates him all the more deeply for it.  I don’t think he sees the human body when they’re together, which says a lot for our young prince.’


  Ed weighed Henry up over the brim of his wine glass as they lounged naked by his villa’s pool.  Finally he came out with what Henry had been dreading.  ‘You look pretty good yourself, little babe, for a guy in his mid-forties.  Frankly you don’t look a day over twenty-three.  You have that tight belly, shallow navel and those dimpled abs you had when we were in our first flat in Strelzen, all those years ago.  And there’s not a trace of grey in your hair any more.  Apart from the cute little nest of brown pubes, all your wisps of body hair have gone from your chest and bum.  Is there something you want to tell me?’


  ‘Ah ... has Gavin been talking to you?’


  ‘I started noticing changes a couple years back.  It gets more evident by the day that my Henry is growing younger.  Incidentally, I never did think for one moment it was plastic surgery, hair dye and chin tucks.’


  ‘Thank you for that at least.’


  ‘Henry ... this is me, worried.’


  Henry got up, padded lightly across the poolside and cuddled up to Ed on his recliner.  He ran his hands over the torso of the strong, gentle man who had been his help and comfort for many years now.  Taken aback by the sudden feeling of fear that hit him hard in the gut, he held Ed’s sun-warmed body tight and for quite a while could not think of a thing to say, let alone the things he knew he had to.  He held his lover hard, because he fully felt now that Ed was slipping away from him down the stream of time.


  Ed sat up abruptly.  ‘Baby!  What the fuck is it?  You’re beginning to scare me.’


  Henry sat up with him.  ‘It’s the powers, Ed.  They’ve changed me, and I can’t turn back now.  My body’s reverting to its ideal age, and ...’




  ‘I’ll not die, Ed.  I’m slowly becoming a seraph, with all that goes with it.’


  ‘What?  Oh my God!  You’ll go on and on?’




  ‘Oh shit.  Darling baby mine, that’s horrible.’


  ‘No, what’s really horrible is that sooner or later you and everyone I love will go beyond the Final Sea, and I can’t follow you.’


  Ed was mute with the sudden shock, though he surely must have feared that this was the case.


  Henry had to say it now.  ‘You can help me.’  Ed looked at him blankly.  ‘Tovyan has isolated the genetic marker that makes Maxxie so special.  He and his Kris have already used it to alter their genome.  They’ll live as long and as changelessly as Maxxie.  I want you to take it too.  Please, Ed.  Don’t leave me till you have to!’  He was aware his cheeks were wet as he pleaded.


  His heart sank as his partner of nearly two decades shook his head.  ‘It’s too big a thing to ask, little one.  You’re asking me to watch all the people I love disappear too.  I have to think it through.  I’m sorry.  I must talk to people.  Sweetheart, you already look like my kid, soon I’ll look like your granddad.’


  ‘No.  I can disguise it.  They gave me that much grace.  To everyone but you, I’ll seem to age along with you, if I so will it.’


  ‘Such dreadful power you have.  How can you bear it?’


  The earnest, pleading words came out with a desperate passion.  ‘Darling, only with you beside me ... only with you!’








  Maxim, in shades and anonymous gear, rode with the minivans that took his brother, his brother’s zemec and their usakamaradij to the Strelzen International Airport.  Everyone realised that the lodge couldn’t stay too long at the Residenz.  They’d been isolated on the top floor of the west wing, where they could shed the irritating and constricting clothes and have sex as freely as they usually did at home, without attracting attention.  The avian kids were enthusiastic about having sex as humans, and made some rather frank and witty songs about the experience. 


  Igor caused problems when, for all that could be said to him, he disappeared down the Wejg.  He was discreetly picked up by the Sichertsdienst, who found him making full use of the opportunities a gay sauna offered.  He had blagged his way in even though he had no money and was plainly little more than seventeen in human terms.  Upon delivery to the Residenz he was frog-marched to a sexual health clinic, then threatened with neutering by Leo.


  Music was their anchor in their vacation as humans.  Maxim had a full range of modern instruments delivered to their quarters, and soon sex was on the back burner as they explored the delights of acoustic and electric guitars, drum sets, brass, wind and synthesisers.  They were also fascinated by the radically different range of their human voices.  The music they made was every bit as good as their creations in the Petakhrad lodge.  Maxim ferried them to his own sound studio and did some serious production work with them over several days.


  He swore he had enough material for three sensational albums which would sell worldwide and make a fortune, if it weren’t for the problems that would arise from their release.  The Sichertsdienst had as usual made no difficulty about providing passports and other ID for the avian backpackers, but the media attention that any successful album would bring would inevitably expose the artists’ curious lack of any documented history over the last decade.


  Still, in the hope of one day getting the recordings out as by an anonymous group of session men and women Maxim had been happy to finance the considerable cost of the lodge’s backpacking; Leo did not yet have access to his trust fund.  The necessity of booking flights amused the usakamaradij no end.  But they now had the full range of clothes required, modern iPhones, debit cards and, as Lucacz made a point of saying, backpacks.  Their tickets were for Singapore, on from there to Bali, Australia and New Zealand, and after that wherever they wanted, as long as they were back in six months’ time.  There was no disguising the excitement at check-in as they piled up bags, guitar cases and other gear.  The farewell at security was tearful but happy too.


  Maxim replaced his shades after the final hug and wave and decided to go amongst his people incognito.  His peculiar circumstances meant that he never had a personal security detail, except on public occasions, so no bulky men in suits shadowed him.  The shitstorm of the last media fiasco he had inspired was dying down, and his time away from his fate had renewed his focus.  He grinned to himself as he walked the terminal crowds; airports always cheered him up.  The movement and the possibilities of airports excited him, though most of his air travel to date had been on military or Peacher jets or by means of his avian wings.  He took a seat at a bar and ordered a Tavelner.


  He sipped the crisp, dry white –it happened to be from Helge von Tarlenheim’s commercial vineyards – and pondered his next move.  As overlord of the Petakh nation, he felt a certain responsibility to assist its valiant struggles to make its realm a success.  What did it need? 


  He pondered the passing Rothenians, his beloved people, and allowed his mind to float along beside them.  It was time to do again what he had done many years before, at the time of the Uprising.  He knew the key signs to look for in people: idealism, imagination, kindness and yet a deep discontent with their world as it was.  But now as an adult he had the power to do much more than just make friends and persuade.  He constructed an emotional and moral algorithm in his head: a complex code of need meeting opportunity.  Then, like a viral idea, he let it loose from his own mind to colonise those of his subjects.  Six months from that day, those minds it touched and inspired, young or old, would be stirred by an irresistible vision of wings and freedom, and an insatiable need to be at the peak of the Kaleczyke Horja.


  Maxim grinned at a girl across the bar who was surreptitiously eyeing him up, then turned to his handij and began pondering bulk orders for agricultural goods and technology.








  ‘Hey, Paulie!’


  The tall man blinked and looked around, then down.  He smiled his mild smile.  ‘Well, Henry!  I was told you were in hiding.’


  ‘You wouldn’t shop me wouldya?  Matt and Andy would never forgive ya if Harry Peacher got hold of me.’


  They were standing in the University Square of the Rodolfer in Strelzen.  It was term time and the campus was flooded with students changing classes or heading for the commissary.  In his two decades in Rothenia one of the more striking changes in the country to Henry, brought about by political circumstances as much as by Peacher and Elphberg money, was the steady rise to world status of Strelzen’s ancient university. The medieval core, collegiate church and library were intact, but around them had grown up a distinguished modern campus, with world-class teaching blocks and attractive student accommodation.  The faculty too had grown in both numbers and distinction, and Professor Paul Oscott was a case in point.


  To Henry’s eye the man had aged more rapidly than any of his other friends of that generation.  Of course Henry remembered Paul as faculty from his own days as a student at Cranwell, and the professor would always be a senior figure to him, but to his eye the man was gaunt and stooped, where Andy Peacher and Matt White remained youthful and flexible.


  To Henry, even without the use of his seraphic capacities, it could only be the result of the departure of his only son and daughter-in-law in the Great Uprising of a decade ago.  Paul and Rachel Oscott had not taken up the offer of joining the colony, and Henry rather thought the decision had been made in some bitterness of heart.


  ‘So Henry, to what do I owe the honour of your visit?’


  ‘I got pictures you’ll want to see.’


  ‘Really, Henry?  Would these be from that strange planet you took the Elphberg boys off to?’


   ‘Yeah.  Come on, Paulie, I know you know about your grandchildren.  I got dozens of photos of the little cuties.  Let’s go somewhere to talk.’


  ‘Ah ... very well.  There’s a new Starbucks behind the Aquinenkirche.’




  The ill-assorted pair took their drinks and found seats at the back of the café.  ‘Okay Paulie, open wide your eyes.  Here I present to you, all of seven years old: Andrew and Paul Yurison and Rachel Matthewschera!  The first majalath of avian House Oscott!’


  The professor flicked through the camera roll with close concentration.  Finally he sighed.  ‘They’re beautiful, unbelievably so.  Such happy children.  And they called the girl Rachel.  So touching.  You can even see a memory of her grandmother in her face.  But a memory is all it’ll ever be.’


  ‘What!  Why?’


  ‘Henry, we are in our fifties.  There’ll be no adventuring for us.’


  ‘Why didn’t you go when you could have done?  What stopped you?’


  ‘It’s difficult to explain; especially now.  We have jobs, obligations and all our friends and networks are here.  Then there’s my work.  I have students and commitments, not to mention book contracts.  And what would an ageing professor of English literature have to offer a new frontier?’


  ‘If you want my answer, quite a lot.  There’s a magnificent empty university awaiting its first large cohort, and English is on the curriculum.  I know Dr Max Jamroziak would love a colleague.  He’s already overwhelmed.’


  The professor shook his head.


  Henry dug around in his inner suit pocket.  ‘There is also this.’  He handed a folded piece of paper to Paul.


  The man gingerly unfolded and read it.  He wiped his eyes.  ‘The boy’s spelling and syntax have improved.’


  ‘He’s a professional: a hospital administrator and a father.  But he and his wife miss their dad and mum, and there’s no reason why they should have to.’


  Paul folded the paper and tucked it away.  He left with only a mumbled goodbye.








  Henry hopped himself back from Strelzen to the Tunisian villa which was the residence of the Oecumene’s governor general, Edward Cornish, marshal-count of Ebersfeld.  It was empty, but the guards on the gate knew that a visitor was likely to be in fitful residence so would not be surprised at Henry’s appearance.


  From the pool terrace, Henry could see the haze in the air above the city to the north.  The sky was a glorious blue and the Mediterranean a darker shade, flecked with white spray from the waves whipped up by the wind off the land.  Anchored in the Gulf were a grey cruiser and attendant destroyers, flying the blue flag of the Oecumene; a squadron of the imperial fleet which now controlled the Mediterranean and Red Sea and was projecting the power of the Elphberg Imperium into the Indian Ocean.  


  Ed was at the royal palace, for the Oecumene had accepted a bright and decent young member of the Husainid dynasty as Muhammad IX, who had pledged his allegiance to the ideals and principles of the Oecumene and had meant it.  All the damage the chaos of the preceding jihadist and Horde years had done was being put right.  German and Scandinavian tourists were once again populating the beaches of Tunisia.  War had receded far now from Europe and North Africa.  Even the Middle East, devastated by decades of ethnic and religious violence, was subsiding into an equilibrium of exhaustion, as the survivors of horror upon horror reached in hope for the peace and political order the Oecumene offered, embracing common humanity, not sectarian and ethnic hatred.


  Tunisia was Ed Cornish’s latest triumph.  His next mission would be less comfortable.  The Oecumene was readying a move up the Nile to unite with its Ethiopian ally.  Sudan would be no pushover for the distinguished soldier and diplomat who was Henry’s life partner.


  Henry took his usual recliner by the poolside and was asleep when Ed shook his shoulder.  He was in the blue undress and gold braid of a Rothenian marshal, though he had doffed his uniform cap.


  ‘Hi, soldier mine!’ Henry smiled up.


  ‘Hey, love of my life.  Time to talk, baby.  I’ve been in conference with Rudi about the gene therapy on offer.  His kids are giving him and Harry similar grief.  It’s like this, baby.  Rudi won’t take the option.  It’s Maxxie’s generation which’ll have to confront the evolution into longer-lived humans with enhanced DNA, not ours.  In forty years or so, it’ll become evident to all that Emperor Maxim Elphberg of the Oecumene is growing no older, and it will dawn on humanity that the ground rules of mortality have changed.  Then there will be a social shock, but at least by then there will be a world society better equipped to deal with it.  Rudi will live the usual allotted span, as he must.  And so will I and all his friends.  Evolution is not for us.’








  Maxim was beginning to assume his father’s role as chief of the armed forces of Rothenia.  His stint of active service as an avian warrior in the Petakh Militia had given him the confidence in dealing with his generals that he had previously lacked.  He found them willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and in any case his father was always ready with advice, and not in the least patronising about it.


  So he was in army camo and wearing general’s insignia when he arrived at the Kaleczyk military zone.  He had replaced the regular garrison with units of the Guard Jäger of Sudmesten, Henry’s old unit.  These were the men who had quarantined the zone a decade ago when it was the temporary home to the Petakh people.  Their experience and discretion were needed once more.


  Convoy after convoy of container trucks arrived, depositing their freight to be lifted by helicopter to the summit of the mountain.  Peacher technicians got busy checking off inventories and packing a mass of technology, weaponry, foodstuffs and agricultural stores for transit.


  This was to be Maxim’s gift to his Petakh friends and comrades.  But the chief gift he intended was a transfusion of willing emigrants to the new world.  The Yaahl war had inflicted casualties on the Great Family it could not afford, and demonstrated its continuing vulnerability.  He intended to more than double the avian population of Rodinija.  The one thing he could not be sure about was the nature of those emigrants.  Time, fate and his spell would dictate that.


  Today was a special day.  His brother and his usakamaradij had returned to Rothenia after a lifetime’s worth of experiences and some acts of quite exceptional lunacy.  Maxim was at the perimeter when the vans arrived, three of them.  Out spilled the fourteen who had departed Strelzen, and an additional ten who had not.


  Leo grinned and gripped his brother’s hand hard, then they kissed.  ‘Okay, Leo bro.  Who’re these extras?’


  ‘Igor!  Bring Tchai over!’


  ‘Maxxie, this is Tchai.  We met in Borneo and he and Igor fell for each other big time.  He doesn’t really believe all the avian stuff, but he and Igor don’t want to be apart, so he followed us back.  Guys!  Strip time!’


  Clothes flew everywhere, and the hangers-on sheepishly followed suit, eyeing up the amused Rothenian troops at the checkpoint.


  Maxxie shook his head.  ‘You want me to mutate them as well as you?’


  ‘Absolutely!  You ready for this, Tchai?’


  The handsome Bornean looked hard at Igor, suddenly half-believing the incredible story the bunch of lovable, sex-obsessed and uninhibited European lunatics had been telling him.  He slowly nodded.


  ‘Okay, then,’  Maxxie clicked his fingers and firstly the Petakhij resumed their form.  The newcomers gawped and two shrieked, but Tchai stroked the body and wings of his mutated lover with awe.


  Maxxie transformed him first amongst the newcomers.  The Bornean’s mouth gaped soundlessly in shock as his body swelled and darkened to grey-blue.  Then it arched as turquoise wings burst from his straining back.  Igor had held his waist as Tchai’s body went through its metamorphosis, and now he dropped his hand to fondle the thick and highly-coloured penis that hung heavy between Tchai’s legs.  It responded and reared instantly.  Igor massaged the monster hungrily. ‘Oh man, Tchai, you’re orsum massive.  Let’s fly!  This is ultimate sex, feller!’


  The avian flock soared upward and soon all were tangled high above the Kaleczyke Horja in a ferocious myelhei, Lucacz and Leo in there amongst them, sharing themselves fully with their old and new usakamaradij alike.


  Maxim shook his head as he watched them.  The sergeant on duty ambled over and saluted his king respectfully and smartly.  ‘Majesty, me and the lads want to make a request if we may.’


  ‘What is it, Sergeant ... er, Feldsteijn?’


  ‘Last time, what with it being the Horde Wars an’ all, we just stood and watched when them avians flew away.  But we been talking, us and the new young guys.  We want to go up this time.  Do they have army where them fly boys go?’


  Maxim chuckled, ‘More of an air force, really.  A fine outfit.  They call it the Petakh Militia, and in its organisation, sergeant, you outrank me.’


  ‘Well, we was thinking we’d ask to enlist with their king, with your permission, sir.  And some of the lads got young families they’d want to bring with them.’


  ‘Heard and granted, sergeant.  But not till a week’s time.  I’m expecting a lot of new arrivals.  Till then you are my soldiers and you’ll do your best to seal this mountain off from the world.  But make sure that you, your men, their partners and kids are all here that day with whatever things you want to bring with you, and I’ll add you to the list.’








  ‘Glad you could come, Henry.’


  ‘I want to see Leo off too.  Looks like a camp down there already.’


  ‘They began arriving three days ago.  All sorts really, but generally young and disadvantaged.  Some single and some with families.  A gratifying number of technicians, medics and farmers, which I think is what Rodinija needs.’


  ‘I see your brother and his friends are in amongst them.’


  ‘Yeah.  They needed to know what they were going to be transformed into.  Oops, duck!’


  A dozen joyous new meledhij zipped low over Henry and Maxim, who were surveying the scene from the Soviet war memorial atop the peak.  The kids were whooping their delight at the power and abilities of their new bodies.  Three of them had younger brothers or sisters clinging on to their shoulders, fledged novachekij unable as yet to fly but still desperate to be in the air with their elders. 


  ‘So, er ... how many?’  Henry asked.


  ‘Three thousand and counting.  Far more than was here the day of the Great Uprising.  Just as well I got all those supplies in.  Odd thing is that there’s not one horned avian amongst them.’


  ‘Now that is odd.’


  ‘I think I got the spell wrong.  Doesn’t matter I suppose.  The novachekij don’t have horns at their stage of development, and there may be some future horned Petakhij lurking amongst them.  Even if there isn’t there’re quite enough horned ones as it is, now Kurt Osterwelle has been taken on to the Council.  Leo will take his place there too, once he makes twenty.  Okay, time for me to do my thing.’


  Maxim shrugged off his clothes and took avian form, his imperial armlets bright on his biceps.  He beat his great wings of red and gold, and the armlets glowed as he issued an empathic command to the new Petakhij.  They responded quickly, flying up to the peak in a storm of wings.  Even an ongoing myelhei faltered and dispersed.


  Maxim took station on the platform of the monument, and the thousands of avians stood in front of him in a colourful multitude.  Some had a single shade of skin, others had whorled or striped pelts, but not one was not beautiful.  Novachekij of various ages ran amongst them, some not yet fledged, their wings just buds on their patellas.  Many of the females had babies at their breasts.


  Maxim displayed his wings wide, a gesture that brought relative silence to the great crowd.  His voice had no problem reaching each of them.  ‘Dear people, you know me as your king in Rothenia, and I am as much your king in this guise as human.  You will soon go from this place into a new world, as has been explained to you, and there you will find an avian realm in sore need of your skills. 


  ‘Inside each of you is a burning desire to change the world.  Well, now you will have the chance not to just change a world, but to build one from the ground up.  And there you will find what you need but this world cannot offer you.  Yet still, in that place, I will be your king, for I am king over all peoples, human and Petakh, and I will never forget you.  Indeed, I fully intend to be with you on Rodinija as opportunity allows.


  ‘But so that my concern for you will ever be before you, my beloved brother Leopold will join you in your venture, for he has a principality of his own on Rodinija.  There as here an Elphberg will rule, and I hope many of you will take service with his house and occupy the avian land of Radelngrad.


  ‘Tomorrow you fly to Rodinija, and I’m only too sorry that I cannot make the journey with you.  But as the sun sets on Rothenia, you will enter the rift and see the sun rise over the towers of Petakhrad.  In that mountain city you will kneel in the Great Hall of Audience, and do homage to King Damien and Queen Helen, from the oldest among you to the smallest novachek.’


  The assembled multitude of avians cheered.  Then they broke up and sought the tables in the camp below, loaded with food and drink.  Bonfires lit up and the Petakhrad lodge broke out their instruments to fill the evening with their infectious, happy music.  Maxim flew down and took up his guitar with his brother and friends.  Henry just wandered the crowd, enjoying the sight and sounds of the emigrant camp.


  Henry took a walk out to the perimeter guard post to greet the soldiers, many of him veterans he had commanded in the days of the Horde War.  They grinned, snapped to attention and addressed him as ‘General’.  A further small camp was set out here, consisting of  families and friends of the garrison, not yet transformed but ready to go.  Children were running around flapping their arms like wings, obviously aware of the change ahead of them.


  A car approached out of the night at that point.  It towed a trailer behind it.  Out of the car emerged Paul Oscott, blinking in the perimeter arc lamps.


  ‘So you’re taking up the invitation?’


  ‘If they’re willing to accept avians with arthritis.  Rachel is more or less immobile these days.’  He indicated his wife still at the driving wheel.


  ‘She’ll have one more walk ahead of her, and then a new body which doesn’t experience such problems.’


  ‘Is that so?’


  ‘Your problem will soon be a superabundance of energy, and a sex drive you’ve not experienced in decades.’


  ‘Hmm.  I’ve brought my library, I couldn’t leave it.’


  ‘I’m sure they’ll find a corner of a container for it, or you could carry it yourself.’


  The professor’s eyebrows raised.  ‘I’ll be that strong?’


  ‘And some.  The soldiers will drive the trailer up.  You two come along with me.’


  Paul assisted his wife out of the car, she offered Henry a kiss, and then Paul supported her down the track towards Kaleczyk.  It was hard going, and at a point beyond the guard post Henry decided the time had come.  ‘Paulie and Rachel, I’m going to do the metamorphosis now.  You’d better take your glasses off, you aren’t going to need them any more.’


  ‘A pity.  They were so much a part of me.’


  Henry triggered the transformation.  There were gasps and cries, and then a Petakh pair loomed darkly over him, unusually tall even for the species.  The couple stood a while silent, then embraced.  ‘Just head for the campfires, guys,’ Henry suggested.


  Henry stood in the dark under the trees, watching the couple stride off vigorously, hand in hand, heading towards a new life and the grandchildren they had yet to meet.  He stayed there a while, pondering the subject of farewells.








  The rift closed, and Maxim resumed his human form and went looking for his jeans.  The Kaleczyke Horja was again empty, apart from the party of humans who had been present to take leave of the emigrants.  It had taken a lot to open so wide a rift, and Henry had to share power with Maxim to do it.


  ‘I feel empty,’ observed Andy Peacher.  ‘Will I ever see my nephew again?’


  Maxim took his shoulder.  ‘There’ll be a tour excursion departing from this mountain in a couple of years, Uncle Andy.  I’ll be making an inspection of my second realm and I’m planning on taking friends and relatives with me, so it’s not a final goodbye.  My dad said he’d come too, though getting leave from the Oecumene will be awkward.  I may have to mess with the time stream.’


  ‘Can be tricky,’ Henry observed. ‘Are you planning on making temporary avians of the tourists?’


  ‘Their choice, but to take the new form is easier than relinquishing it.  They should be aware of that.  And what about you, Uncle Henry?  You can go there any time you want.’


  ‘Yeah, I know.  But my work is here for now.  The Petakhij can take care of themselves, even more so after today.  I have to go talk to Tovyan in Wien.  All the old problems remain: population, power and resources.  Then there’s the new ones: the emergence of homo sapientius to begin with.  And what about the Yaahl armada last seen a thousand years ago, heading away from the Rodinijan system in search of new prey?’


  ‘You think they’ll come here?’


  ‘I think that humanity has been making its presence known to the Universe for over a century.  Our broadcasts may turn out to be an invitation to the Yaahl to party.  I need to try to locate them, and maybe their victims too.’


  ‘You can do this?’


  ‘I have to try.  The One’s responsibility is Earth.  Mendamero may have a bigger sphere of operations.’