CHAPTER 15: (part 1 of 2)

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Chapter 15

Maggie and Orick got off their airbike. Maggie's legs were so cold she found it difficult to walk, and for a moment she just stood shaking in the snow outside the hot springs, wrapped in her blanket. The place was obviously an inn of some kind. Bears and humans were playing in the water, leaping and splashing, while androids manned dinner tables in a large common room. But it seemed to Maggie to be an odd inn, a relic.

The inn was not a living thing like the trees on her home world or like the city of Toohkansay on Fale. Instead it was made from some poured material, perhaps, Maggie considered, so that it could retain the organic lines of a living hostel even in such a cold environment. It was designed much like the buildings found on other worlds, and if Maggie had not been wearing her mantle, she wouldn't have recognized that Wechaus was Backward. The androids waiting on tables were ancient models, a few thousand years behind the times. Few human patrons wore personal intelligences, and even those who did wore unsophisticated models. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the inn itself, but Maggie imagined that if people here were any more relaxed, they'd have to be dead.

There was no sign of dronon or vanquishers on the premises, and Maggie took that as a good omen.

Maggie opened the front door for Orick. A golden android hurried up with a jaunty gait and said in a prissy voice, "Welcome to Flaming Springs! We're so glad you could join us!" He eyed Maggie's mantle and said, "May I set up an account for our honored guest in the name of...?"

"Maggie Flynn," Maggie answered, somehow surprised that these people would require money for their services. This was new. She immediately began to wonder how much they would require, but knew that when Veriasse came, he would be able to settle the debt. At the very least, she could sell a knowledge token from her mantle. Each of the metal disks stored thousands of volumes of data, and would be valuable to anyone who wore a mantle.

"Of course, Maggie Flynn," the android said, feigning that he recognized the name. "Let me show you to a room. You may order food at any time, and the pools are always open."

He led them through a complex of small huts scattered like hills over the ground. Maggie guessed that steam piping kept the area free of snow. Around the grounds, alien treelike plants with purple fruit lived in containers.

The android opened a door, and Maggie suddenly saw why the rooms appeared so small from the outside. The upper room served as entryway to a luxurious submerged apartment below.

"Will this be adequate?" the android asked.

"Yes, thank you," Maggie answered. "Do you have the time? And the date? Galactic standard."

The android told her the time. They were one day and sixteen hours ahead of when they had left Cyannesse. Maggie made some quick calculations, realized that the temporal distortion was inversely proportional to the distance they jumped between gates. The shorter the jump, the more time they lost.

The android left, and Orick went out to the hot pools to swim. Maggie had had enough of the cold and darkness outside. A side room contained its own small pool where mineral waters cascaded down some falls. The room was decorated to look like a forest, with deep mosses and beds of ferns. Maggie retired there and lay in the water for a long time, letting the warmth seep into her bones. A startling thought struck her: she had left her pack out on the airbike, where it might get stolen.

She climbed from the pool, toweled dry, then dressed and ran out for her pack. It was still sitting in the dark, nearly frozen to the seat. She pulled it free, walked back into the common room of the inn. She had eaten a bite an hour before, but the smells were so enticing that she took a seat, asked an android for a steak dinner with mushrooms and wine.

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