“Ah, Master Haven, I am so glad you are finally here.” The Gowan ambassador bowed deeply, his furry head and bright turquoise eyes disappearing for a moment as he got out of view-screen range.
“I am but a Servant of the Light, but I am honored to be assisting in your peace negotiations.” Master D’Lon Haven, the most respected mediator in The Order of the Light bowed deeply as well, until the tips of his blue-black hair nearly brushed the top of his space pod’s control console.
The Order he represented was centuries old and its members were highly respected, both for their vast and amazing mental powers and their commitment to peace and the unity of the universe as a whole. The long apprenticeship and rigorous physical and mental training methods used in the Temple of the Light meant that not all who found sanctuary between its high stone walls were able to attain the title of master or mistress. But because the universe’s most highly skilled mediators, healers, and scholars all came from the Order, there was never any shortage of applicants for the few coveted novice positions that came open each Earth-standard year.
Haven himself had been a Servant of the Light or Light Bringer, as they were sometimes called, for most of his life. He had been found on an aptitude search as a young child and started his training at the Temple in his tenth standard year and he was now around thirty-two. His broad shoulders and muscular form beneath the standard Order uniform of a flowing pale blue tunic over fitted black trousers was testimony to the fact that his training was not limited to diplomacy. Servants of the Light strove to bring peace and harmony wherever they went, but if physical action was necessary, they were willing and able to rise to the task.
As he exchanged pleasantries with the Gowan ambassador, Haven scanned the velvet blanket of stars outside his pod, looking for the fast approaching Tiberion warship. His deep blue eyes narrowed and his large hand tightened on the steering rod when he saw its vast, menacing bulk coming up fast on his starboard side. This wasn’t just another negotiation for trading lanes or decreased tariffs on goods and services. This was a peace summit — a last-ditch effort to avert a bloody and pointless war. The Tiberion emperor, Rudgez the Fourth was poised to wipe the peace-loving planet of Gow gi Nef off the face of the galaxy and commit genocide by killing every Gowan man, woman, and child. And all over some slight, real or imagined, that the Tiberion emperor had supposedly sustained during routine trade negotiations with the hapless Gowans.
“Master, I know we’re almost in range but I wanted to…oh, excuse me.” The light tenor voice behind him interrupted Haven’s conversation. He turned to see his novice, Wren, standing behind him, obviously fresh from the sonic shower because he was dressed only in a towel.
Giving the young man a stern look, Haven turned back to his pod’s view-screen and the fat, furry Gowan ambassador dressed in elaborate golden robes to make his apologies. “Please pardon the interruption, Ambassador,” he said smoothly. “And continue what you were saying.”
“Not at all, not at all.” The ambassador peered through the view-screen, his attention momentarily focused on Wren’s slender, athletic figure, the white towel draped low around his narrow hips and his pale golden skin still beaded with water droplets. “On the contrary, Master Haven, I am both pleased and relieved that you brought your slave with you.”
“Excuse me?” Haven tapped his earpiece and frowned. “I’m sorry, Ambassador, what did you say? I think my universal translator must have a glitch in it.”
“I said,” the ambassador shouted, as though raising his voice would make his meaning clearer. “I am glad you have brought an appropriately desirable slave with you, just as I requested in my last transmission.”
Haven stroked his neatly clipped black goatee and mustache thoughtfully with his thumb and forefinger. “It’s possible that your transmission got garbled in the encrypter,” he told the Gowan ambassador. “But my understanding was simply that you wanted me to bring a companion. Which I did — this is Wren, my novice. He is an apprentice in the Order of the Light.” He nodded at Wren, who bowed deeply, splattering cold droplets of water from his still-wet hair onto the back of Haven’s neck with the motion.
“No, no, no!” The ambassador’s pointed brown ears laid flat back against his round, furry skull in apparent agitation. “That is not what I said at all! I specifically requested that you bring a slave to service you during the negotiations. It is a matter of etiquette with the Tiberions! All persons of rank within their society have one, and to appear before Rudgez the Fourth without one would be the gravest offense.”
“I assumed that you wanted me to bring a companion for state dinners and the like,” Haven said smoothly, wiping the water droplets from the back of his neck with one hand. “But I understand the Tiberion emphasis on correct protocol and symbols of rank.”
“Does your understanding encompass the fact that my entire planet will be obliterated if you offer the Tiberion emperor offense?” the ambassador spluttered. His large blue-green eyes narrowed to slits and his whiskers twitched in excitement. “Observe,” he continued, stepping back so that the scope of the view-screen included a Gowan woman who was standing behind him. Like the Gowan ambassador, she had large jewel-toned eyes, pointed ears at the top of her head, and fur all over her body. But in her case, some of the fur had been shaved off in what Haven supposed were meant to be erotic patterns, outlining her small, firm breasts and the tender vee between her thighs.
“Your slave girl, I assume,” he said neutrally as the Gowan ambassador came back into view.
“Naturally not!” The ambassador sounded huffy. “We Gowans do not condone the sale of other sentient species — it is abhorrent to our nature. This is Ylla — she is a courtesan trained in all the finest court manners and graces. She is accompanying me as my slave in order to satisfy the Tiberions’ barbaric customs.”
“Greetings, Servants of the Light.” The erotically shaved courtesan/slave girl bowed demurely and smiled to show tiny, sharp white teeth.
“Well, this problem is easily solved, then.” Wren smiled and placed a hand on Haven’s broad shoulder. “I’ll simply pretend to be your slave as Ylla there is pretending to be the ambassador’s, Master.”
“It may not be quite that simple.” Haven frowned at him and shook his head. “Don’t offer to act until you understand the action you will be taking, Novice,” he sent through the private mind-link all masters and novices shared for the length of their partnership. But it was too late — the Gowan ambassador had seized on the idea already.
“It seems a perfect solution to me.” The ambassador was all smiles again, showing his own set of sharp white teeth as he nodded encouragingly.
Haven frowned. “Ambassador, if you would excuse us for a moment. I have a few matters to attend to and I will call you back when we are about to dock with the Tiberion ship.”
“Of course, of course.” The Gowan ambassador bowed deeply again, his rich robes rustling with the movement, and then the view-screen’s picture folded to a small white dot in the center of the screen as Haven cut the transmission. Before he could say another word, Wren was standing in front of him, a look of determination in his wide-set, amber eyes.
“Master, I can handle this.”
Haven sighed and ran a hand through his thick blue-black hair. “How do you know what you can handle, Novice, until you know what it is you are supposed to be handling? How do you know what a slave’s duties are according to Tiberion custom?”
Wren shrugged gracefully. He was never going to attain Haven’s height or size, but he had a swimmer’s build with lean, toned muscles and smooth, pale golden-tan skin that drew the eye with each easy movement. His hair was beginning to dry into its usual brownish-blond spikes, and he rubbed one hand through it as he talked.
“It’s probably what you said, Master — attending state dinners, waiting on you hand and foot.” He grinned irrepressibly. “Nothing I’m not used to already.”
“Worthless novice.” Haven shook his head, smiling to take the sting out of his words. In the past he might have grabbed Wren and rubbed his large knuckles roughly through the golden brown spikes of his hair or slapped him on the rump. But lately, the casual contact that had been the hallmark of their partnership ever since he had taken Wren as his novice almost four years before and their friendship even before that seemed…dangerous somehow. Wrong. So he contented himself with returning the young man’s grin, keeping his arms firmly crossed over his broad chest.
“I know what’s at stake,” Wren continued. “And I know you were against taking me on this mission in the first place because of the danger but, Master, you can’t keep me a child forever. I’m nearly twenty-two standard years old — the same age you were when you rescued me. When you bought me for ninety-five credits and a fresh loaf of dewberry bread. Remember?”
“Do I remember?” Haven sighed as he looked at the slender young man standing with hipshot grace before him and wondered how Wren had grown so fast. “How could I forget?”