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Return


Book 4 of The kan Ingan Archives


Part 2 of The Arcanian Chronicles




Toni V. Sweeney



Published by

CLASS ACT BOOKS

121 Berry Hill Lane

Port Townsend, Washington 98368

www.classactbooks.com


Copyright  2018 by Toni V. Sweeney


Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.


No part of this book may be 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 permission in writing from the publisher.


ISBN: 978-1-946523-29-7


Credits

Cover Artist: James Robinson

Editor: Sherry Derr-Wille

Copy Editor: Anita York


Printed in the United States of America







Dedication


For Connie Martin, and the many pleasant hours Ive spent Driving Miss Connie.







Acknowledgements


Return was originally published by Double Dragon Publishing. This version published by Class Act Books has been revised, re-edited, and expanded, with new material added, while retaining the original storyline and plot.





“Usually, there is nothing more pleasing that returning to a place where you have endured hardship.”


― Tahir Shah, In Search of King Solomon’s Mines


“And now you’ll be telling stories of my coming back and they won’t be false, and they won’t be true but they’ll be real.”


― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings






Chapter 1


Arcanis, Mother-Planet...I’ve come back to you, at last...

It was an azure ball floating in darkness, partially obscured by translucent white clouds clustered above its oceaned surface, a gauzy blue jewel in the star-picked void.

After three weeks of isolation in his suite, praying and fasting, Aric emerged to come alone to the observation deck, wishing to be by himself for his first view of home after so long.

He’d never expected to see it again.

How many times, while I lay in Susan’s arms, did I dream of this?

That was all they had been...dreams...

...and now, unbelievably, he was here.

He realized he was gripping the railing, knuckles white with pressure. In his weakened state, the emotion he felt was startling, and confusing. He wanted to shout...and weep.

It’s so beautiful.

He could stand there for hours, letting the sight of the planet fill his eyes and dazzle his senses, wanting it to seep into every pore and cell, inundate his brain with that welcome image.

Hearing a step behind him, he shifted his gaze from the planet to the inner wall of the viewport and the image of the young man reflected there, the darkness outside acting on the glassine surface like the backing on a mirror. Aric wrenched himself away from Arcanis, avoiding Miles’ eyes, not wanting his friend to see how sight of the planet affected him.

It didn’t work.

“I understand how you feel, pal.” Miles touched his arm, drawing him away from the railing.

Damn, can’t fool the kid.

“We’ve four hours before we dock. How about a drink?” He gestured to the hatch leading back inside the companionway.

With a sigh, Aric nodded agreement. When Miles walked away, however, he looked over his shoulder, continuing to watch Arcanis grow larger as the cruiser neared the curved arm of the docking station where the shuttles were moored. As if he sensed Aric’s thoughts, Miles pulled him into the corridor.

Come on. You’ll have plenty of time to look at it after we land.” He might’ve added, I hope. He left that unsaid.

With a final glance at the clouds now covering the planet, Aric allowed himself to be led away.

~ * ~

Once they were in the lounge waiting to be seated, however, Miles realized he didn’t know how Aric felt. He had absolutely no concept of the emotion his friend experienced at seeing his home for the first time in fifteen years.

When we arrived on Terra, I was glad to see it, but Ive only been away five years, not fifteen...and to know the moment I set foot on the planet, I may be seized and killed...? Miles definitely had no idea how that must feel. How can Aric be so calm? In the next four hours he could be dead.

The hostess escorted them to the bar and took their order. As Aric started to sit , he stumbled. Immediately, Miles was at his side, only to be waved away.

“I’m all right.”

You don’t look all right.” Even in the dimness of the lounge, Miles could see his pallor, dark circles under his eyes, shadowed hollows in his cheeks.

~ * ~

As soon as they boarded, Aric had locked himself in his cabin. Ignoring the sensors’ chirps indicating someone, undoubtedly Miles, was at the door, he spent almost all the twenty-one day journey fasting and in prayer.

The single meeting they’d had ended with Aric so weakened he fainted. As he lay unconscious, Miles came within seconds of putting his friend out of his misery with a blast to the brain from the firing case of a hand laser he’d smuggled onboard. At the last minute, he found himself too cowardly to kill Aric and prevent what he knew was coming when they landed.

He’d let his friend live.

Aric had no idea any of that had happened.

~ * ~

“Don’t say it,” he snapped as Miles started to speak again. “It was something I had to do.”

“Right. Well...if it’ll get those gods of yours to help you,” Miles’ answer was sharp. “I won’t complain but I’ve never understood why anyone expects starving himself to do any kind of good.”

“I see you inherited some of your father’s attitude toward religion,” Aric muttered and fell silent. It was obvious his thoughts were very far from the lounge, the cruiser, or even that particular sector of space.

He was thinking about Susan.

~ * ~

It might be spring on Arcanis, but when they left Pyras, it was early winter. A freak blizzard hit, blanketing the bases with a heavy coat of white.

The weather delayed their take-off schedule. He and Miles stood a little away from the others, neither speaking. Occasionally, Miles would stamp his feet or cough, exhaling a vapor cloud immediately blending with the near-opaque snow-laden air. Ignoring the blizzard’s wrath, Aric leaned against the railing, head bared, his hair and the fur lining of the thrown-back hood already white with snowflakes.

Susan told him she wouldn’t come to the shuttle with them, refusing to watch him walk out of her life.

…but, suddenly, there she was...

Aric kissed her, then held her tightly, his cheek resting against that snow-gilded hair while Susan tried to keep from crying. She wiped at her eyes with one hand, pulled off her glove to touch Aric’s cheek. Gently cupping his jaw, she stroked her thumb across the white scar made by the jalbeay’s claws.

Turning his back, Miles walked a few feet away, giving them some privacy. He dropped his kit on the snow-covered polyconcrete walkway and thrust his hands into his pockets, becoming very interested in the way the branches on the trees at the end of the building bent under the snow’s weight.

Behind them, the speakers announced the call for boarding. Miles picked up his pack. Aric pushed Susan away, staring at her as if memorizing her face.

My Snow Queen, so easily melted...

The call for boarding came again…last call, all passengers board now.

Aric released her, walked away and didn’t look back, Miles following.

Susan stood a moment longer, then ran for the shelter of the terminal doorway and its protection as the shuttle lifted.

Once they were airborne, Miles took one last look out the porthole at the landing area. Surrounded by swirling flakes, Susan still stood on the terminal stoop. He watched as her figure became smaller and smaller until it vanished from sight as the clouds closed around the shuttle.

Aric stared straight ahead...

~ * ~

The bartender brought their complimentary order, two polybottles of a selected soft drink and two glasses. Silently, Miles flipped up the cap with his thumb and squeezed pale yellow liquid into his glass. He didn’t drink, waiting for Aric to say something...

...anything...

At last, the Arcanian reached for his own bottle, looking at it carefully. He’d learned to be cautious where Terran beverages were concerned. Anything Terran, in fact. So much contained ingredients his alien system couldn’t tolerate, like chocolate, so terribly delicious but violently deadly to Emeroids.

He set it down again.

“What is this?” His scowl was the first show of emotion Miles had seen in a long time.

“Soda.”

It wasn’t what Miles wanted to say but… Hell, apparently Aric wished to change the subject and if it would get his mind off what was coming, he’d go along with it. For now.

“Lemon soda.”

“I know Terrans have some rather esoteric tastes, Miles, but why would you want to drink lemon juice and sodium bicarbonate?”

It’s not sodium bicarbonate.” Miles let irritation overcome his concern, forgetting for a moment there hadn’t been any soft drinks at the base. Plenty of alcohol, coffee substitute, and fruit juices, but no sodas at all. One of TerraFormation’s vagaries. Go figure. “It’s carbonated water and... Oh, just read the ingredients.”

Very well.” Turning the bottle sideways, Aric began to scan the listing engraved on its side. “Carbonated water...citric acid...hmm...” Lips moving silently, he continued reading, only to look up in exaggerated horror. “Gods, Miles...you actually ingest this stuff? It sounds toxic.”

Listen.” Miles took the bottle from him and set it down with a slightly loud thump. “If I stopped eating or drinking because of the contents, I’d starve to death.” Defiantly, he raised his own glass. “Cheers.”

Aric picked up the bottle again, looking at it thoughtfully. To Miles’ surprise, he popped the cap, tipped it and drink, directly from the bottle. He swallowed more than he intended and began to cough as the effervesence stung his tongue.

“That’s the worst stuff I’ve ever tasted.”

“You can drink Tyrean whiskey and say that?”

That was a drink Miles tried only once. Aric called it a soldier’s drink, but as far as Miles was concerned, it was either an acquired taste, a display of Arcanian masculinity, or some sort of weird masochism to drink that stuff. To his Terran palate, it was a mixture of turpentine and menthol, foul-tasting and deadly, even more so because it was served heated.

At Aric’s discomfort, he smiled. “What’s the matter? I thought you Arcanians were such great drinkers. Why, we give this to our babies.”

“In that case, it’s a miracle your species has survived. No wonder Earthers are so odd.” Aric directed a glare at the bottle, running his tongue over his lower lip and grimacing as if still tasting the acidic residue. “Their brains are mutated from things like this.”

Still smiling, Miles signaled to the bartender and ordered his old favorite. Good ol Terran B&B...bourbon and branch water...and a kettle of Tyrean whiskey for Aric. Briefly, he felt better, as he always did when he and Aric sparred like that, batting non-lethal insults back and forth. Nothing like taking good-natured jabs at each other’s cultures to forget current worries.

“Have you ever wished you could have a second chance, Miles?” Aric raised the bottle again and took a longer drink this time, without coughing. “To do something over again?”

“Are you kidding?” He thought of Becky.

Damn fool question. Of course I have. A thousand times.

“I’ve been thinking. If I had such a chance... ” He smiled and that startled Miles.

Anyone would be charmed when Aric smiled but he certainly hadn’t been doing much of that lately.

“I’d do all of it again, every bit of it.”

All of it?”

Aric took another drink before answering. “All of it. Well, I’d go ahead and tell my uncle who the traitors were instead of having that idiotic moment of loyalty, and I’d remove myself from Elizabeth’s tempting presence as soon as I felt the least attraction, but other than that? Yes. I’ve had a great time. You’d be surprised at the things a prince-tanist can get away with...the carousing...the women...”

“Tried to live up to that Arcanian reputation, huh?” Miles allowed himself a grin and was rewarded with another smile from his friend.

“Live up to it? The kan Ingans originated it. Did you know the girls at the Pleasure Dome had a special name for me and my friends?

“Not ever having been to Arcanis, you know I don’t.” Miles had a sudden foreboding it was going to be something salacious. He hoped. “Care to share?”

“‘The King’s Studs.” Aric announced, with a great deal of smugness.

A little play on that old title, The King’s Killers?” Miles prided himself on remembering that deadly little nickname from the bit of history Aric had told him. “I take it that wasn’t a designation for all Arcanian men? Just you and your fellow Bloods?”

Not the Bloods. You misunderstand.” The coppery head shook in denial. “That... designation as you call it...was only for Eby, Kim, and myself.”

Eby.” Miles thought about that, remembering what Aric had told him about the two men he considered his closest friends. “That’d be the one who figuratively stabbed you in the back by joining the True Arcanian Society? Then tried to do it for real? And Kim, that’s the dig—” He changed what he was going to say as Aric aimed a warning glare at him. “I mean, your cousin?”

That’s right.” Aric very generously let that little insult to Kim pass. “We personally opted for Space Studs’ but my uncle claimed that little epithet when he was younger, so…” Thoughts of the two men sent Aric’s own memories on a tangent. “Eby and Kimi... I truly believed they were the best friends a man could have…” His voice trailed away and he contemplated the bottle a moment. “You know, this stuff doesn’t taste too bad after the initial shock. How much alcohol does it have in it?”

None. It’s soda.” Miles stressed that word. “Non-alcoholic.”

“Strange, it certainly feels alcoholic.” Aric considered this phenomenon. He drank more soda while Miles sipped his own drink.

“Aric, there’s something I’d like to ask you.”

“What’s that?” The soda gone, Aric set the empty bottle carefully on the bartop and gestured to the bartender for another. It was silently supplied.

“It’s about you and Elizabeth.”

“Water under the bridge, Miles, to use an old Terran expression, which I completely comprehend, by the way. Besides, is that proper? For a man to ask his friend about his mistress?”

It seemed highly improper when the mistress had been that man’s sister.

Aric was well aware Terran and Arcanian customs were sometimes at odds. He’d often been caught between them, embarrassingly and awkwardly. As if to have something to do, he picked up the replacement bottle, removed the cap, and gulped down a third of it.

“No, but I have to know.” Miles was aware Aric and Elizabeth started out as bitter enemies—the spoiled prince-elect and the woman who disinherited him by marrying his uncle. He also knew their passionate hatred of each other evolved into an equally violent love affair ending only when Elizabeth betrayed Aric and he was exiled.

He remembered the terrific fistfight he and Aric had when he realized the tall stranger with the long copper braid, visible symbol of his Exile’s vows, was the same man who so maligned his sister, and also the terrible event changing his attitude. Because of that awful moment, they were friends. More than friends. Each had spilled his blood for the other, exchanged blood. They were now blood brothers, closer than Arcanian and Terran could be.

That was the reason Miles was with Aric now, to do what he could to save his life. To save him so he could return to Susan and live happily ever after.

“Aric?”

“Mmm?” Aric had finished the bottle. He sat with eyes closed, leaning his chin into his palm.

Were Elizabeth and Deröés ever separated? Did your affair begin while she wasn’t living with him?”

“Hardly.” Aric opened his eyes. “The old man wanted her near him as much as possible. He was totally besotted, drunk on Terran passion. He certainly wouldn’t let her sleep alone. Maybe he didn’t trust her. The gods know he had good reason if he’d been aware.” He gave a short ironic snort. “There was a secret passage. As soon as he was asleep, she came to me. She spent more than one night in my bed while my uncle snored.”

Miles was shocked. Aric never said anything like that before, always shied away from speaking of anything to do with his life on Arcanis, unless directly questioned. He was even more reticent about talking of Elizabeth because of Miles’ relationship to her. He was aware an Arcanian would never spoke of the intimate part of his family life, though he might brag of his conquests all he wanted.

The only reason Miles knew about Aric’s affair with Elizabeth was because during their only Leave from Pyras, his friend let his drinking get away from him and his drunken mutterings told Miles more than he wanted to know.

It was six months later before Miles admitted it, however.

Guess he had a right to, didn’t he?” Miles muttered. After all, Aric and his sister had carried on a seven-year affair right under the margrave’s nose. He’s talking too freely. Why?

“Gods, Miles, it was wonderful.” Aric leaned back, flinging his arms wide. He nearly toppled off the barstool.

Miles caught his wrist and pulled him back onto the stool. Other customers at the bar glanced their way, smiled indulgently, then went back to their conversations.

“...and dangerous. I think that was what made it so exciting. The thought that he might walk in and find us. It was always so frantic.”

I ought to be ashamed, Miles told himself. Encouraging Aric to talk about it, leading him on to say more.

He told himself it was because he wanted to be certain of the reason for the affair. He had to assure himself Aric hadn’t simply used Elizabeth to satisfy the notorious sexual appetite Arcanians were said to possess.

“Did you love her?”

Aric didn’t answer right away. He scowled as if thinking about it, and when he finally spoke, his answer was whispered.

Love her? Miles, I worshipped her.” He shook his head, rubbing a hand across his eyes and blinking as if they suddenly stung. “She was the only woman I wanted, and when she betrayed me to the council by destroying the evidence that would clear me, that hurt more than my being exiled.” He looked up, smiling a little sadly. “She told me she loved me...then threw the papers into the fire and watched them burn.”

“Was she worth it?”

Miles had worshipped his older sister. Though he was only five when she left Terra to marry the margrave, the things his parents told him about her made her seem an angel in human form. It was only after he got to know Aric that he realized the Arcanian was only one of many men Elizabeth hurt to get what she wanted, whatever it might be.

“She was worth every minute of it, Miles. Your sister is a beautiful, passionate little witch, and my damnation was a very pleasant one.” Aric sighed and laughed. It was a soft, self-satisfied sound.

...and you, sir, are a cad.” He couldn’t be angry because he knew Aric was telling the truth. Elizabeth was a witch, more than that if the truth be told, who made men enjoy being used by her.

“No, I’m drunk.” Aric caught at the railing and hauled himself to his feet, swayed, regained his balance and sat down again. “That stuff’s potent. Damn, Miles. You sure there’s no alcohol in it?”

Miles picked up the pop bottle. He couldn’t believe drinking the harmless stuff could make Aric snocked. Still, so did eating chocolate and taking aspirin. He wondered which ingredient was the culprit.

If I had it to do over again... Silently, he repeated Aric’s words.

If he could do it over again, he’d marry Becky Thompson as soon as he learned about the baby, would keep her from going on that flight to Colony 3 where she and their unborn child died in a jealbeay attack. If he’d done that, Becky would be alive and he’d be going back to Terra as a husband and father and…

I wouldn’t be traveling to Arcanis with Aric. That startled him. Was this supposed to happen? Did I lose my girl and our baby so I’d be free to save Aric? Is he that important?

“You bastard.”

That insult, though spoken with a half-smile, interrupted his train of thought. Miles stiffened.

With a mild hiccough, Aric peered at him, accusing goodnaturedly, “You’ve…plied me…with alcohol just so you could interrogate me.”

“Actually…” Relaxing, Miles started to reply, then shook his head.

Aric was now past the serious-talk stage, floating into good-natured compliance but nowhere near drunken belligerence...yet. He decided to play along.

“Okay, you caught me. So, since you’ve guessed my secret agenda, mind if I ask you something else?”

“Since when do you need my permission to ask anything, my little Milky brother?”

Shit. Aric was certainly mixing his insults with friendship, calling him both Milky, a derogatory term for Terrans, derived from the Milky Way, and brother in the same breath.

“About Arcanis.”

“Not a safe subject.” Aric sobered, mask falling into place.

He looked away and Miles took the gesture for refusal. Then, he sighed and there was acceptance of the inevitable in the sound. His amber eyes met Miles’.

“Go ahead and ask.” He waggled a finger. “I know you, Miles You’re going to keep on until I say what you want to hear anyway. So...” He waved a hand permissively.

Miles got very busy with his glass, setting it down, moving it, studying the wet rings it left on the opaque plexicon bar top.

“Well?”

“I don’t understand why you want to go back. You said yourself the margrave obviously isn’t interested in your whereabouts anymore. At least it seems that way. Maybe, since it’s been so long, he doesn’t care now.”


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