A New Beginning 

Part III
Grasp The Nettle
(not yet copyedited) 


D. Dabinett 



Vidal did not move even as his partner left the room. With almost exaggerated care he drained the glass of water and placed it back beside the fountain. Glancing around he picked up one of the decorative stones that edged the flower arrangement at the end of the bath, and weighed it for a brief moment in his hand. Then with a slight augmentation he crushed the stone to powder, and watched it trickle through his fingers onto the floor.

His face white he turned and studied himself in the mirror that covered one wall. Shidoni, what was the matter with him? He had had a good transfer only a few days ago. And here he was wasting selyn – okay, it was only perhaps a fraction of a dynopter at the most, but he, better than most, knew that he might well have need of that fraction before this assignment was completed. On top of that he had been undeniably rude to both Paul and his companion, and would have to apologise to them both.

The Gen was not so tough as he liked to make out. His sometimes hard exterior hid a surprisingly compassionate nature, and Vidal knew his feelings had definitely been hurt when he had been rebuffed in that manner. The Channel closed his eyes briefly, and then stared at himself once more. Why was he behaving in this erratic manner? It just didn’t make any sense at all.

Drawing on every bit of his self control, he endeavoured to pull himself together. If only he could speak to Gregory Rudd, his therapist. At least he would understand what Vidal was talking about and they would work together to try and find a solution to his problem.

Still it was no good wishing for what could not be. He was stuck here on this detestable planet entirely on his own, and he would have to find his own salvation. It was no good even thinking that he could expect Jason to be of much use to him at the moment.

Shen! Just listen to him! Talk about self-pity! And running his partner down in that manner too! It just wasn’t acceptable. Jason was more than just his partner, he was his Companion and without him, stuck out here on the very edge of known space amongst a race of Simephobes – he would undoubtedly die of attrition. A cold icy finger ran down his spine, as he squarely faced that unpalatable truth.

Having decided he would have to remove the spray skin to see if it would improve his undeniable bad temper, he set about the task quickly and efficiently. Minutes later he sat on the end of his bed a worried frown marring his handsome features, as he tried to come to terms with a totally unexpected situation.

Since arriving on the planet, he had found that wearing the spray skin, did not just blur his zlinning abilities, but made them non-existent. And now, having removed the spray skin from his forearms, he found that yes, he could now zlin, but no where near as efficiently as he should.

Indeed, if he could not see his own bare arms and tentacles, he would swear that they were still covered in the skin! Something was very wrong here, and that fact was undeniable. Therefore, in the circumstances, he had no alternative but to assume that it must have something to do with the environment on Sanctuaire. But he could be totally wrong.


A short while later having showered, Vidal pulled on a robe and made his way straight through the open glass doors, that led on to the balcony. He could see Jason further along, outside his own bedroom, he was sitting down on a lounger resting in the late afternoon sunshine.


He glanced up as his partner approached. ‘Feeling better?’

Vidal sighed and sat down beside him, his hands lying loose between his knees. He had not replaced the spray skin yet, to see if that would make any difference to how he was feeling. ‘I’m sorry. I had no right to snap at you like that, or Paul.’

‘Don’t let it bother you, we’re all edgy.’

‘No. It’s more than that,’ Vidal confessed sensing the Gen’s worry.

‘You’re ill?’ Jason could not keep the concern out of his voice. As he wondered what on Earth they would do if the Channel was to be seriously unwell on this, by their standards at least, backward planet.

‘You mean am I physically indisposed? No, I’m not. Am I psychologically troubled? Yes, I believe so.’ There he had admitted it, not that it would do him much good, but at least he was being honest with his partner. And Gregory would most certainly have advised him to do that.

‘As you can see I have removed the spray skin. Wearing it, my zlinning abilities appear, for reasons I cannot explain, to be nil. Without it, they are extremely blurred, as though I was still actually wearing the skin. Also, although I have no idea if the two things are connected. As I said a moment ago, I appear to be having psychological problems that I have never encountered or experienced before.’

Jason sat up straight suddenly alert, ‘so tell me about it.’

Vidal began to talk, trying to explain in words exactly how he did feel. When he finally draw to a close Jason nodded, and stood up to walk up and down for several moments in silence.

‘Well, to be honest, if it was me we were talking about, and not you. I’d say I was suffering from old fashioned depression.’

‘Depression? I’ve never been depressed in my life!’ The Sime refuted the suggestion at once. ‘I’m not a Farris you know – they’re prone to just about everything! When I did my training I roomed with Jordan Farris. I can’t remember a day that he didn’t have something wrong with him, including every allergy under the Sun, and shidoni, talk about hyper sensitive! But I’ve always been as steady as a rock – that’s why they picked me to room with him.’

‘Did I suggest you’re behaving like a Farris? But think about it. Depression can manifest itself in a hundred different ways. My brother Mike suffered from it for years. Mind you, I sometimes think he enjoyed it, he always was an old misery. After all he could easily have gone and had treatment. They can clear it up in twenty four hours you know, so there’s really no excuse for him.’

‘Maybe, but that doesn’t really help me does it?’ Vidal stated. ‘Unlike your brother, I happen to hate feeling like this.’

‘Yes I know you do. By the way, we’ve all been wondering if you’ve been able to zlin anything from the few Sanctuairians we’ve met so far?’ Jason stopped and slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. ‘Shen it, of course you haven’t – sorry - you just said that you can’t zlin. Forget I asked okay.’

‘No, you’re right, and that’s one of the problems. I really should have been able to tell something you know. It’s never been this bad before. I just don’t understand what’s happening. I can only hope that I will adjust and my zlinning abilities will get back to normal, or at least as normal as it can be when I am wearing that shenning stuff.’ He sighed, ‘and I really will have to apologise to Paul, I had no right to snap at him like that.’


Jason paused, and then suggested diffidently. ‘Would you rather not go tonight? It’s only going to be a lot of bigwigs full of hot air and their own self importance. I can always make your excuses.’

‘Of course I must go. It’s not as though I have some illness. After all, I can’t even admit to a headache. Besides which, they may be frightened that I could’ve brought some illness with me from Earth, and insist I see one of their doctors. Can you imagine what would happen if he or she tried to take my pulse, either with the spray skin, or without it, like now?’ Vidal held up his wrist to demonstrate what he meant.

Jason moved to stand beside him. Concentrating, he placed his hand at the back of the Channel’s neck, and after a few moments the Sime took a deep breath, and began to relax.

‘You’re full of tension, I can tell.’ Jason murmured quietly his focus not wavering for an instant away from his partner. ‘Feeling any better?’

‘Yes. It’s strange, but I removed the spray skin just to see if it would help relieve my emotions at all. But it hasn’t. In fact, when I think about it, I felt better before I took it off.’ He shook his head. ‘And I can’t zlin at all with it on, when I really should be able to do so, at least partially. And without it, like now, I feel more than half blind – sorry that’s the only analogy I can think of at the moment, to try and explain how I do feel. But what it really boils down to, is why is this happening at all?’ His dark eyes looked beseechingly into his Companion’s green ones.

‘Search me.’ They were both silent for a few minutes till Jason broke the peace. ‘I’ll help you to replace it when you’re ready, and we’ll see how you feel then. You don’t think?’

‘Think what?’ Vidal demanded.

‘Sorry, I had a silly idea that’s all. Forget it.’

‘So tell me.’ The Sime instructed as he looked across at the Gen again.

‘Well, forget about your zlinning abilities at the moment. I was wondering, if you really do feel better with the spray skin, than without it. Have you considered whether it could be something on this planet, that is causing the problem? Sorry, I said it was stupid.’

‘No, far from it. I have been thinking along similar lines myself. I began to feel that something was not quite right, when we first stepped out of the Shuttle. I dismissed it because the feeling was so vague, and it wasn’t until I actually freed my tentacles from the dampening effect of the spray skin a short while ago, that I really began to feel, not just irritable, but despondent too.’ He jumped up. ‘Come, help me replace it straight away. Perhaps then I can think more clearly and can decide what, if anything, I can do about it.’

The spray skin smoothed itself into position. ‘How do you feel?’ Jason asked.

Vidal smiled slightly, ‘not a hundred per cent, but much better.’

‘Good.’ Jason glanced at the chronometer on the wall. ‘I’d better go and get ready and you’d better do the same. We don’t want to be late and upset all the bureaucrats before we even start, do we?’

‘Agreed.’ He nodded his dark head and touched the Gen’s hand, ‘Jason, I appreciate the help.’

‘You’re welcome. And correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what companions are supposed to do isn’t it?’ The Gen winked at the Sime, as he exited the room.

Vidal dressed quickly, finishing his grooming by running a comb through his black hair. He did indeed feel better, but he would have to try and find out what was causing his zlinning problems, and these mood swings too.

Thankfully he would be able to make a good report about Jason, when he next saw his therapist. The Gen really was trying hard to improve his abilities. A smile of satisfaction touched his sensitive lips. In truth he could not remember the last time he had even thought about Gavin Dar, his old partner, except to wonder how he and his wife and son, were getting on.

An attack of conscience suddenly hit him. He really would have to go and see them on Regis 9. He kept saying he would. Of course Gavin would know how busy his life was, but even so he would have to make the effort.

He ran his fingers through his hair messing it up once more, as he also thought about his own family. His mother had died when he was in his teens. His father and his new wife still lived in the family mansion, as did his older brother together with his wife and at the last count their four children. He also had a large number of Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, who all lived in the same vicinity. He hadn’t seen most of them for many years. In fact, not since he had fallen out with his Father, which was ridiculous, for he had not fallen out with them.

However, in recent months, he had begun to exchange occasional messages with his father, telling him that Gavin had married, and about his new companion. He knew from the tone of his replies that his father would like a reconciliation, and now that things were so much better between them, he really would have to consider a visit home at some time in the future. Perhaps he would ask Jason to accompany him?

The two men entered the huge mirrored lounge bar side by side. Both were surprised to see that there were at least a hundred other men and women present. All looking rather like colourful butterflies.

Vicky and Paul were already there too, with glasses in their hands, talking to their hosts. Paul was dressed the same as Jason and himself, in slub-satin midnight blue straight legged pants, and mandarin collared long sleeved shirts with wide, heavily embroidered cuffs. Typical evening wear for Gen males on Earth.

Vicky on the other hand, was dressed in a long figure hugging flame red dress, with a low scooped out neckline and no sleeves. Together with high heeled slippers that made her easily the tallest person in the room. This fact didn’t seem to bother her at all, as she held herself beautifully erect, the brilliant colour of her gown making her ebony skin and hair glow with both health and vitality.

Paul’s demeanour was both possessive and jealous, which Vidal could sense from half way across the room without the necessity to zlin. Unfortunately Jason too, from the expression on his face, seemed very enamoured of the woman. Vidal sighed. Trouble with a capital ‘T’ was brewing if he wasn’t mistaken. It was the very last thing they needed right now. He could only hope that he was mistaken.

He also hoped that Paul Demetrious would not be so imprudent as to try and warn Jason off what he undoubtedly considered to be his domain. It would be the surest way to make his partner do more than just look. As Vidal well knew.

What Vicky thought about the whole affair Vidal couldn’t tell, for she managed to hide her feelings extremely well. If only Paul were that adept. Vidal stifled a sigh, sometimes when he watched the antics of men only a couple of years younger than himself he felt extremely old. Not that he didn’t enjoy female company himself, he most certainly did, but he had never in his life had to compete for a woman’s attention. Which perhaps explained his lack of patience when he watched how other men behaved. Although he would never admit this, even to his therapist, to whom he was expected to reveal all.

Thankfully the evening went off extremely well. The Gens at least appeared to enjoy the lavish meal, as they demolished course after course, making Vidal wonder, not for the first time, where they found room to put it all. The only time that Jason was seen to decline a dish was if it contained meat or fish, and this was in deference to his partners vegetarianism. Although he more than made up for this with the various cheeses, salads and savoury nut pastries that were on offer, followed by the sweet and syrupy deserts and other sweetmeats. Luckily no one noticed that Vidal ate very sparingly, managing to make a small plate of green salad last the whole meal.

As before, Vidal left Vicky to do most of the socialising with the various officials, and also make the arrangements for the following day. He preferred to hold a watching brief, studying the other humans as well as he was able, and trying unsuccessfully to read the general ambience in the room.

He knew he would have to find an opportunity to leave the spray skin off when he met some of the Sanctuairians. Although as it appeared that his zlinning capabilities would be blurred, even without the spray skin, he wondered what he would achieve by the exercise?

Realising that their hosts were waiting for them to leave before they too could depart. Vidal caught Jason’s eye and the two men said their goodnights, thanked their hosts, and bowed formally as they withdrew to return to their rooms.

Entering the communal sitting room, Jason grinned and threw himself into one of the huge padded chairs. ‘I’m glad that’s over, if I’d had to eat much more, I think I’d have burst.’ He confessed, rubbing his stomach with satisfaction.

‘No one made you stuff yourself like that, did they?’

‘No. But with you picking around the edge of that lettuce leaf all night. We couldn’t all do the same. They might have thought that we didn’t like their food. It might even have caused a diplomatic incident. I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make for the TIB?’

Vidal snorted rudely in reply, as he too sat down. ‘We’d better wait for the others. We need to find out what time we’re expected to leave here in the morning, and where we’re going.’


Glancing across at his partner, Vidal wondered how to broach the problem of their two companions, or even if he should mention it? Jason could be quite volatile if his feathers were ruffled, as the Sime knew only too well to his cost. But if he didn’t bring the problem out into the open, at least as far as they were concerned, he would feel that he was shirking his duty.

Picking his words with infinite care Vidal explained what he had seen of Paul’s attitude to Vicky, and her apparent indifference to him, that didn’t somehow ring true. Then went on, ‘of course, if we want things to go smoothly for all of us on this mission we mustn’t interfere. We have to let them work out their personal and working relationships, on their own. Don’t you agree?’

‘You mean I mustn’t interfere, don’t you? Shen it all Vidal when are you going to learn not to pry into my personal life? I’m not a complete idiot you know. I have no intention of doing anything to jeopardise this assignment. But once we’ve left here, that is another matter entirely, and I don’t expect you to meddle, okay?’

‘Of course.’ They sat in silence for a while before Vidal murmured, ‘I put that rather badly didn’t I?’

‘Yes - you always do. I sometimes wonder what you really do think about me Vidal. Am I just a brainless body that produces selyn for your benefit? Because that’s how you make me feel at times.’

‘Jason I.’ Vidal stopped as the door opened and the other two Gens entered the room. It was obvious to both men that they had been quarrelling. Vicky managed a tight smile, but Paul simply scowled. He was obviously annoyed to find that they had not already gone to bed, as his first words on entering the room made quite clear.

‘You two still up? It would be nice to have a little privacy now and again you know,’ he snarled rudely.

Vidal’s dark eyes settled on the Gen’s flushed face. ‘Indeed? It seems to me that you’ve had too much wine, and have forgotten why we are here. May I suggest you retire to your room? I assure you we’ll not disturb you there, and you can have all the privacy you require.’ His voice dripped with ice. ‘And with any luck, by tomorrow, you’ll have yourself under control.’

The blonde merely scowled at Vidal, then strode from the room closing the door with finality, behind him.

‘Sorry about that.’ Vidal said as Vicky sat down.

‘No it’s me who should apologise to you. He’s not usually as bad as this, I really don’t know what’s wrong with him.’

‘We only waited up to find out about tomorrow’s agenda.’ Jason assured her.

‘Of course. Well, they’ve assigned one of their Ministers to baby sit us. You met him tonight, but you might not remember - Nathanial Henderson? She glanced across at them quizzically.

Vidal of course remembered him at once. Jason did not, and Vicky gave a brief description to try and jog his memory – medium height very heavily built, hair combed straight back, and he sported a thin moustache. As the profile could have fitted at least a dozen people he had been introduced to that evening, many of whom wore moustaches or beards as seemed to be the fashion amongst the older men on Sanctuaire, he still could not place him.

‘Oh well, never mind, it’s not very important. You’ll be meeting him tomorrow anyway.’ Vicky said with a grin. ‘He’s coming to pick us up after breakfast. Our first port of call is the National Scientific Institute. Where we’re to meet the representatives of a cross section of all the various scientific disciplines on Sanctuaire. They’ve been arriving in the City for the last few days, all eager to meet us apparently.

‘He also tells me that we’ve been the subject of great interest on their newscasts and in the media. Although I suppose, as we look exactly the same as your average young Sanctuairian citizen, the interest isn’t as intense as it might be if we were truly different. They have been visited by a few alien races in recent years apparently. Oh and by the way, Nathanial Henderson did suggest setting up a sort of press conference before the end of our visit here. I said we’d think about it.’ She chatted on.

Jason nodded his agreement. ‘I have to admit I was a bit surprised not to have the news-hounds chasing us when we first arrived on the planet, much like they would follow visiting dignitaries on Earth. I suppose we are dignitaries aren’t we?’

‘Yes, but it’s not their way. In fact, it’s against the law for the media to harass anyone in that way, without their consent.’ Vicky explained at once.

Vidal walked across to stare out of the window at the dark sky. ‘Mm thank heavens for small mercies. We’ve enough to contend with without the media too. Still if we’re to go to the National Scientific Institute tomorrow, that sounds like progress. We might learn quite a lot more about this planet and it’s history. Providing we ask the right questions of course. I suggest we have a "council of war" before breakfast tomorrow. Try and thrash out what our approach should be. I was hoping we could have done all that tonight, it’s still fairly early– but never mind, tomorrow will do just as well.’

‘Paul isn’t usually so unprofessional. He hasn’t been acting like himself since we got here.’ Vicky informed them quietly, obviously embarrassed.

‘We’re all on edge.’ Jason said diplomatically.

‘Were you able to zlin anything?’ She asked Vidal.

‘Unfortunately no. As I explained to Jason earlier, there is definitely something wrong with me.’ He then went on to explain his dilemma, for both she and Paul had a right to know.

‘You think the Sanctuairians are causing it?’ She asked at once.

‘Extremely doubtful. They don’t even know that I’m a Sime, and even if they did, they would not know about how the spray skin works, or how to affect it. No, hopefully it may rectify itself, if not, then we must look to a more natural phenomenon for the cause. Quite possibly something on this planet.’

An hour later, and Vidal knew that Paul and Vicky were asleep.

Shouldering into his robe the Channel stepped outside onto the balcony. He immediately saw his partner further along, leaning against the balustrade staring up into the dark night sky.

Without looking around the Gen began to speak. ‘You know, one of the constellations up there is familiar, even if it’s not in the same position in the sky.’ Jason pointed. ‘See, that’s Orion over there lying on its side.’ He turned to look at the Sime. ‘Is there something wrong?’

‘No. I’m glad you’re still up. I just wanted to say that I have never thought of you as anything less than my partner. I have certainly never considered you to be, what was it you said? My own personal selyn producer?’

Jason smiled, ‘I know that. I guess you’re not the only one who’s touchy, let’s forget it.’ He tipped his head back once more to gaze up into the velvety blackness. ‘You know it seems strange not to see the old parish lantern gleaming away up there.’

‘Parish lantern?’

‘That’s what country folk where I come from call the Moon. Sanctuaire doesn’t have a satellite, but of course you know that don’t you?’ He stifled a yawn. ‘It seems I am tired after all. If you don’t want me for anything I’m off to bed.’ Jason began to walk away and then hesitated, turning slowly. ‘There’s one other thing Vidal. Did you hear what Vicky said earlier?’

‘Of course.’

‘No. Did you really hear?’ Seeing the query on the Channels face, he went on. ‘ She said – "he hasn’t been acting like himself since we got here" – referring to Paul.’


‘So, you haven’t been yourself either have you? Look I know Paul isn’t the most sociable person I’ve ever met, and he’s certainly not the type that I’d choose for a close friend. But he has definitely got far worse since we arrived on this planet, don’t you think?’

‘Are you saying that we are both suffering from the same malady?’

‘Why not? Don’t dismiss it out of hand Vidal. After all, we have no idea what’s causing your emotional mood swings do we? For all we know we could all be effected, but in different ways, or perhaps it just hasn’t manifested itself in Vicky and I yet. Although with you it’s far worse, because it seems to be affecting your ability to zlin.’

‘It’s a possibility I suppose.’ The Sime conceded slowly. ‘We must both keep a close eye on the situation just in case there is something in your theory.’

‘Good, that’s all I ask, and if I do find myself acting strangely,’ he paused, and smiled wryly at his friends mocking expression, ‘all right then, more strangely than usual! I’ll tell you, okay?’


The Channel smiled, ‘on past experience, I shall probably notice long before you.'


The next morning Vicky pushed her breakfast plate away with a sigh of satisfaction. ‘Well I’m not exactly sure what I’ve just eaten, but it was delicious,’ she informed the others who, with the exception of the Sime, all nodded their agreement.

‘I wonder if they eat lunch?’ Jason mused glancing around at the others.

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this,’ Vidal interjected at once. ‘You do realise that you’ve only just finished eating - all that?’ He pointed to the large number of empty dishes that now cluttered the table top.

‘Of course.’ Jason joined the others in laughing at the Sime’s horrified expression, ‘but just remember, if they only eat two meals a day, we’ve got a long wait till dinner, and in that case we should perhaps eat more breakfast. Whereas if they do eat lunch, we can look forward to it with anticipation, can’t we?’

‘I trust you aren’t including me in that.’ Vidal retorted.

‘I’d never dare!’ And Jason winked at Vicky.

‘Good I’m glad to hear it. Now just to reiterate what we agreed before breakfast. I trust everyone has our general strategy for this meeting very clear?’

Paul nodded his blonde head along with the others, and then went on, ‘of course it will all depend on the format they adopt. It could be totally different from what we’re expecting.’

‘In which case we’ll just have to adapt,’ Jason answered abruptly. Paul was at least trying to co-operate this morning, but he’d made no effort to apologise to any of them for his virtual temper tantrum the night before.

‘By the way Vidal.’ The Sime turned his head to look politely across at Paul, who was sitting on his left. ‘I realise you’re wearing that stuff on your arms, and Vicky told me about the problems you’re having with it, so there’s no need to jump down my throat again. But have you managed to find out anything at all about the Sanctuairians?’

‘I apologise for snapping at you. I take it that you mean, do they produce selyn, as our Gens do? Well the short answer is, as I explained to your colleague – I am unsure. Please, let me finish,’ he begged, as Paul opened his mouth to speak again. ‘As you said I am finding it virtually impossible to zlin through this spray skin.

‘However, I did sense some selyn in the general ambience surrounding me last night, possibly more than could be accounted for by the presence of the three of you. But it could be that the people here produce a very small amount of selyn for their own personal use, but not sufficient to meet the need of a Rensime, let alone a Channel.

‘We really must find a way for me to dispose of this spray skin so that I can get some sort of reading. It would be even better if I could make lateral contact with one of them. Perhaps you could all consider the problem, and come up with some workable ideas?’

‘The last thing we want to do is frighten the life out of them, by you suddenly displaying your tentacles. Not till we’re certain of what their reaction is likely to be,’ Vicky stated. ‘No offence Vidal.’

‘None taken. I agree with your diagnosis. Hopefully we may learn more about them after our visit to the Institute today.’

As they approached the imposing group of buildings that made up the National Scientific Institute. Vidal had decided, along with the others, that he could quite cheerfully strangle Nathanial Henderson. For the pompous little Minister sitting next to him, was still holding forth about the forthcoming meeting, and what an unprecedented privilege was being bestowed on them all.

‘I have asked the Institute to keep this meeting fairly simple Mr. Trent, since we don’t wish any of you to feel intimidated,’ he gushed. ‘Especially you, dear lady.’ Vicky’s only reply to this was to peel back her lips and bare her white teeth in the pretence of a smile.

‘I think we shall just about cope Mr. Henderson.’ Vidal replied, managing to keep his voice neutral, as he continued to stare out of the window. Then sensing his partner looking at him, he turned to meet Jason’s green eyes that were brimming with laughter. Could his companion never take anything seriously?

None of the buildings that they had passed so far were above two storeys high, and each was set in acres of garden. Hardly surprising when they had so much land available to them. They certainly had no reason to build upwards and so ruin the landscape for others.

The complex that made up the Institute consisted of five buildings, set in a semi-circle around a large garden that had a fountain in the middle. Each building was connected to the other by a covered walkway.

They were led into the centre building, and as they entered, all four humans were surprised to find the entire hallway lined on both sides with men and women, each bowing formally as the group passed.

Nathanial Henderson’s rounded figure waddling along in front of them, reminded Jason of a Battleship, with he and the others like a flotilla of smaller ships, bringing up the rear. Biting his lip to hold in the burst of laughter that threatened to escape, he kept his eyes firmly on the floor, refusing to turn and meet the Channels dark eyes, that he could feel burning a hole in his back.

At the end of the corridor they found themselves in a huge airy room, in the middle of which stood a massive horseshoe shaped highly polished table. They were escorted to the top of the table and asked to sit down. Once they were seated, the people they had passed outside filed in, and as each took his or her seat, they bowed again and stated their name.

Vidal aware that his Companion was amused about something, but did not intend to meet his eyes, turned his full attention to their hosts. He had not expected quite this much formality. Indeed he had imagined it would be a far more informal gathering where, once introduced, they could all then wander around from group to group discussing and asking questions.

If, as Nathanial Henderson had intimated, this was keeping things simple, he could only hope that he would never be asked to attend a formal conference.

His dark eyes quickly scanned his colleagues faces, pleased to see that whilst they all looked surprised at both their reception and the setting, none of them appeared to be ill at ease.



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