World of Zekira Stock in Trade is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.

Legal Tender 12

Fesli was disconcerted by what she saw through her Orb. The device that her cousin had built was still her favorite 'toy' - even though she was long past her childhood she considered what she did playing with it rather than work. Today, she was working with a LandMaster named Gheev, using the orb to visualize the lay of certain hard-to-reach portions of his Hold. It wasn't actually that she was annoyed or confused by the visions of red-brown soil topped with short dark grasses interrupted by longish tufts of some lighter green sprouts. It was that whenever she saw one of the sprouts, she relayed the information and Gheev gave off a kind of greedy tittering.
"There's another, oh - there is a whole field of the things past the grove there," Fesli pointed north-east. "I can see a few more to the west, but they're mostly on the eastern side."
"Good, good," Gheev bounced up and down on his heels. "An excellent day."
"I suppose," Fesli said. "It's getting kind of late, we should be going back. Your sprouts are... what, sprouting to your liking I guess?"
"They are, they are indeed!" Gheev said, mysteriously leaving off any other information. They headed to the carriage, and Fesli's hovering ball came back to her of its own accord. She wore a small locator pin, Neemal had modified her Status pin so if she wore it, the orb would return to her when it's batteries were getting low. She held it delicately in her hands, as she climbed into the carriage. Carefully she settled into the seat - it was an older model of carriage, and there was only a little padding on the seat. Not nearly enough for her easily-broken bones, but she would only come away from the bumpy trip back to the nearest small town. Altem's plainlands were not really to Fesli's liking. It was very deceptive land indeed - though it was generally flat, she could tell that there were endless dips and rises, all covered in the same greenery for miles. She watched a bunch of it, as the sun set, before they reached their destination.
Fesli accepted payment from LandMaster Greev and headed to her hotel room. She was greatful that there were hotels everywhere on Steeding land such as this. Anywhere a circuit race would be held, there was an inn that someone ran just in case. Anything to make a Dec. And that was also the impression she was getting from this guy. Gheev was giddy with excitement when he hired her, at thirty five she was one of the best explorers of her kind: the kind that didn't actually have to get off her rear end to find her way through a forest. The clever design of the orb she used to "see" through obviously helped her greatly, but she was well known not only for her abilities, but for her exotic looks.
Her cousin had similar patterns, but in almost the reverse color scheme. They both made a striking pair, really. Rarely working together, though, their occasional meetings now were all for family events. But a few days later, Fesli and Neemal met up to work out a second orb or something similar. She described Gheev's excitement, and Fesli laughed out loud at her cousin's response.
"Maybe he just gets off on tubers - those are ground-roots, he's having you find. I ... you know what? I think those are what he sells. If they're growing out in the wild like that, he's got it made. All he has to do is harvest them."
"Then why in the world did he need me to find them for him?"
"He's lazy?" Offered Neemal, "he's trying to act like a higher Holder than he is? I dunno, cuz, but he seems like a bit of an eccentric."
"That's nothing new..." Fesli said. "I wish he'd gone and invested in a bit more padding for his carriage service..." She rubbed her bum, laughing. "That would be a better way to spend his investments..."

While the mystery of the LandMaster's tubers was easy to solve, and certainly seven years later it apparently paid off as his famous tubers spread into markets all across Curra, there was a deeper one that left a mark in families all over the world.
It was the eve of the new year, 1597, and the elections held not a fortnight before in Polaen had come in. The strong victor was a woman with black skin and bright red hair and eyes - High Mistress Tenya. Her competition was a variety of High Holders, Suzerain and even a pair of Breeders, from a variety of locales across Polaen's plains. And when it came down to it, this woman deserved to be the Area President. The people of Polaen had watched her ascend from Membayar into her present status, climbing with a keen eye for investments as well as a remarkable force of will and care around people.
She had run with the idea that the Mada law enforcement would be the greatest thing on the Land - its funding was something she'd seen to for decades. She was on the verge of introducing a whole new concept to the law enforcement community: ranged weaponry. However, her competition relied upon that to sway many votes away from her campaign. How was it fair to use hunting equipment against people? Those opposed to her views were quite vocal. But, she'd been elected anyway, and by more than a two-thirds margin above the next candidate. She wanted to work with him to settle the arguments about the weaponry that was developed in her labs, and he was happy that they would get to talking about it at all. She was going to be sworn in to her office the next day, during the Turn celebration.
And that would have been great. If not for the fact that on the Day of the New Year 1597, Tenya was found dead in her home in Mada. Her lover, not-quite-husband Lord Vehdar was beside himself with grief.
A number of qualified investigators arrived to the scene, and all of them seemed to agree that Vehdar was either a tremendously heavy sleeper... or a suspect in the case.
Lin'es' investigation company - now rolling along with a good number of psychometrists, psionics and seers, in addition to body guards, planners, lawyers and the like - was one of those called in. Lin'es, her daughter Fesli, and Fesli's two sons Farek and Likas all joined Farn in trying to figure out what had happened. The crime scene was a mess, people had been in and out all day long.
"How are we meant to understand any of these clues," Fesli said while indicating the corner of the bed which had been tucked and untucked just while they were watching the other investigators, "when people keep messing with them?"
"We will make due," Lin'es said quietly. She waited until the others were gone, and then her own unit went into the room. She'd noticed, and her husband as well, that the other units of investigators did not have such strong psionics on their side.
The brothers made a pass around the room and reported to their grandmother.
"There are three things missing from the room," Farek said, "the murder weapon and two pieces of clothing - the High Mistress' nightgown, and the clothing that was worn by the murderer."
"I can understand one," Lin'es said, still quiet, "but, the murder clothing? Are you sure?"
"I'm certain of it," Farek nodded. He indicated his brother.
"And I'm almost entirely certain that we all know who did it."
"But can you prove this?" Lin'es said. In her hundred-plus years, she'd seen all too many cases blown because there was just not enough proof of guilt. Their family had been made on such things in the past, and she was not about to begin accusing someone if they could not offer an airtight case.
"I can and he can help," Likas said. "Both of us got the worst sensastions from Lord Vehdar when he was still hanging out. I want to go check him out."
"I would like us to do more than that," Fesli said, holding on to a book that was sealed with a simple but elegant lock. "Even if we cannot get into this page by page, I can already feel some important moments coming off it."
"Is that the High Mistress' diary?"
"It's Vehdar's," Fesli grinned. "Even better."
Her mother took it, and handed it to Farn. "But this date," he said, "it's long before this year. How can this possibly help, Fesli?"
"Because maybe there was something more to this than we know?" Fesli asked, taking it back gingerly. She'd been in another accident recently which caused her fingers to shatter, and she still could not hold heavy objects in them for very long. But she was intent on finding out what had happened here in the last week.
Soon enough, the next set of investigators would want to enter and mess up the crime scene even further. Lin'es and Farn wanted to see the first photographs and vids taken when the original police had been called. Since it was a death scene they did have to record the original state of things. That's not to say that no one had moved things before they got there, of course.
"I'm worried that Lord Vehdar had already set things around," Farn said, as they left. "Anything could have been staged."
"There was not enough blood to indicate that she'd fought back," Farek said.
"And there were no other drag marks, to say that she was killed elsewhere and laid to rest in their bed, after." Added Likas.
"Although the place just reeks of having been cleaned well, and recently. Not too much evidence that is left if it's been cleaned off." Farek confirmed what had been gnawing at the others noses the whole time.
The young men were three years apart in age, but they acted rather like twins. They could often complete one another's sentences, and always had their minds on the same things. Their appearances were not dramatically different from one another either, though Farek's violet skin was marked with gold patterns, and his brother Likas' was more purple and blue. They both had attractive purple eyes, and their father Karr's handsome chin. Their major differences were in how they dressed and wore their violet hair - Likas preferred his to be short, while Farek's metallic purple hair was always held long and in a straight tail. They both haid tails - literally, their father's was much bulkier and they wore their shorter more slender tails with pride. Dhanali's influence, surely.
Also the late Animal Mistress' influence was that of the unshakable course that the men would take whenever they were on a case. They had researched her and her life, her family, and found that they had relatives in the 'spy biz' as they called it. They wanted to call in some others, but this investigation would only go forward with a few people working it. Farek was a strong empath who had only slightly inherited his father's heating ability. Likas had an ability to not only sense and read objects or people, their history laid open to him, but he could then visualize in a brilliant light display what he had seen.
That was their secret weapon: that was what Lin'es would use for the sureness of her case. If they could take the information that Likas could locate, confirm it, and prove it in a court, they would be the ones who could break the case wide open.
But it was Fesli and Farek who tempered this. Fesli wanted to see what was in the diary, but also whatever was in Vehdar's working journals. He was immediately a suspect until proven otherwise, of course, but he and his money had managed to squeeze in a law team of his own. He claimed they were there to put his mind at ease about his fiancee's affairs, but everyone, even the other detectives, knew that he was putting them there to clean up any other evidence he might have left behind.
The field of detective investigation was surprisingly cutthroat.
It thrilled Fesli to be a part of it all, still. Less than one hundred years old, and she'd seen murders, attacks, vanishings, kidnappings, theft and all manner of other crimes. Her psychometry was stronger than her mother's by far, and she enjoyed the ability to move her senses through other objects than just the one that her cousin had made for her.
That got her thinking, while she watched the other detectives moving in.
"Mother, I'm going to bring in one of my platforms, if you don't mind," she said to Lin'es, who nodded and sent a Bayaran with her to help just in case.
She went back to the room to place it on the dresser, and one of the other local guys tried to stop her.
"You can't leave that here, what is it anyway?" He muttered, "it looks dangerous."
"It's hardly dangerous, it's merely a touchstone for me. A recording device, so to speak." She said, offhand, while she turned it so that its tendrils would help her vision reach around corners.
"That's not legal," someone else said. "You have to get that out of here."
"Excuse me, Land Master," Fesli said, but in my many years in courtrooms, I have never come across such a 'law' about leaving an information gathering piece at the scene of a crime. If you wish to take it up with the Judges later, you may do so, but until then, you will neither touch it, nor insist it be moved." She was about to turn away, and then looked back over her narrow shoulder, "or, place anything on it. It will be quite aggrivating should that happen."
She heard the mutters of the other men in the room as she left, and saw her mother with a big grin on her face.
"You're wicked," Lin'es said, wrapping her thin arm around her daughter's waist. "Now we wait and see what happens, yes?"
"Yes - in the van. I can't leave or go too far, now." Fesli said seriously, "I won't lose another of the platforms to some idiot who doesn't know what it does."
"We can come back when we know that Lord Vehdar is back," said Likas. "Come mother, you're going to need rest."
Reluctantly, Fesli went into their large camp. There were three others, mobile units which contained enough to house the detectives for the duration. Needless to say, Lord Vehdar was not pleased to have such things on the lawn. But, it wasn't his lawn, so he really had no business to complain. There were also a number of local and worldwide news crews on hand, because while an assassination was not entirely out of the ordinary - they usually happened after the politician had been in office for a bit of time.
That evening, while everyone else was busy poring over their photos and notes in the other vans, Lin'es and her group did something entirely different with their time.
Farek was plugged in to the business network, busy locating any of Vehdar's business deals and legal paperwork. He began to turn up some interesting items, but said nothing until later.
Likas and Farn were busy with the diary, they'd slipped it out from Vehdar's items and no one noticed. Since it was older - more than three years out of date - they had a good chance of finding a starting point. They also of course stood a chance of not locating anything of substance. But they knew that Vehdar was involved with the High Mistress for some 12 years, and that was encouraging.
Fesli and her mother, though, were busy making preparations to visit the inside of the mansion again. Only, they weren't going to be doing it with their bodies on. Both women could use their powers adeptly enough that while Fesli was looking through her platform at the scene, Lin'es was going to be "out of body" for a time, taking a walk around the place and possibly following Vehdar himself. He had never exhibited any psionic abilities himself - rare Owners did. Of course their family was an exceptional one, of oddly Bred Membayar and Free Holders - neither of which Status often displayed such powers in great numbers.
"Ready?" Lin'es asked her daughter, who nodded.
Fesli was a bit worried, but they were surrounded by family and in no danger of being seen or felt. At the first sign of such a thing, both had agreed to leave the scene immediately.
They went into their respective trances, and shortly 'met up' in the odd aether outside bodily perception. They were ghosts - in as much as such things could exist - and they could only see each other as though through a veil. In such a vulnerable position otherwise, if something happened to their bodies, Fesli would be the one to wake sooner - since her senses were all that was drifting about. Lin'es' whole mind and being were outside of her own body.
Lin'es located Vehdar, and followed him for a while. He puttered around, drawing himself a drink and sitting beside the fire for a while. But then, he went back up to the expansive bedroom where his fiancee had lain. That was where Fesli saw him, tailed by her mother's ghostly sense.
"Well well," Vehdar said, to no one. "It looks as though I have quite a mess to clean up before I can make this place presentable again." He started straightening the bed, but what both Fesli and Lin'es noticed was that while he did so, there was a vicious smile on his face. He was clearly hiding something. Lords didn't go around making beds and cleaning floors, did they?! That was why they had Slaves.
Fesli snapped back into her body, and asked briefly, "does anyone know if the Slaves were interviewed?" She went right back, though, sure that her sons would pick that up and do something good with it if they could.
Farek tilted his head and looked at the records on the screen in front of him. "... It doesn't even look as though there were any Slaves on the site. Nor Bayaran."
"That's odd," Likas said, "were they all sent out?"
"Well," Farek said, turning the chair and digging around through other physical notes, "between the pair of them, they had sixteen Slaves and - yikes, Tenya had nearly eighty Bayaran to her name. Not one of them was here. Let me find transportation records, you two keep looking through that thing."
That thing was the diary, which yeilded much in the short time they had been working it. The psychic energy off it was old, but clear. This was a man who meant business, but that was why everyone was confused. Where had the servants been sent? When?
"Ah - got it, there was a record of three carriages being hired to take the batch of house workers away to Vehdar's estate lands down somewhere near the river, Spimlo. Should I call up for someone to talk to them?"
"We'll get to that," Farn said, nodding. "Good work."
Inside the mansion, Vehdar proceeded to wipe the bed's solid wood head and foot boards clean, inexpertly, with a cloth. It was when he stood up and wiped his hands clean on it, that a strange new expression crossed his face.
It was disgust, clearly. But whether it was at himself? Or that he had blood on his hands? Literally?
'Follow him,' Fesli said to her mother, though no words came. It was already a clear priority to Lin'es that they found out where he went with that cloth. Vehdar slipped into the bathroom, and from there into a closet where Fesli lost contact with him. She came back to her body and informed the family what they were watching.
"I can't get a good grip on anything else in the house, I'm sorry." She said.
It was up to her mother, now. Lin'es did not disappoint. What she saw as she followed behind Lord Vehdar was that he went into the closet that contained cleaning equipment - clearly a Slave's domain - and then...
"There's a secret door," she whispered, half in and half out of her senses. She could not remain like that for long so she chose to remain with the Owner. Down into a narrow and dark stairwell, Lord Vehdar went, until he got to a kind of basement room. There, Vehdar paused to open a horizontal door, which had below it a kind of hot shaft. Perhaps it was to a furnace, or merely to a local hot-air vent. Lin'es was not clear on the local geography and natural history, she wasn't aware of there being such things here.
Vehdar tossed the cloth down, and apparently it burnt up because a bit of a spark showed up in the air before he closed the doors. But then Lin'es watched as Lord Vehdar turned around and kicked a piece of coal into a large pile.
She roused herself with a start, and said, "there is another body - in the basement. Furnace..." she gasped. She tried to relax, but what she'd seen was so very unnerving. A hand, pale green in color, covered in coal dust. It was no trick of the light, there had to be another body.
She described it to her grandsons, and Farek took a better stock of the Bayaran and Slaves that belonged to the late High Mistress.
"Oh - there," he said, going a bit pale. "She had a youngish Slave that had been born to the family, looks like almost six generations of service to Tenya's family. She's the only one that had green skin," he said. "And I would bet you that she tried to stop him."
"Well we already know that's where the items that were missing went," Farn said, nodding to Farek who echoed it. "Now, question is do we wait, tell the other camps, and alert the authorities? Or?"
"Or what, father," Fesli asked, "go in ourselves? We are hardly prepared to step in to a situation like this."
"No better or worse than the other investigators are," said Likas.
"And we know we've got information that he thinks is safe."
"I worry that we might be overstepping," Lin'es said, sadly. "It was not quite an authorized run we've just done."
"Then we get authorization from the right people," Farn insisted. "Now, if we can."
"What all did you get from that, father?" Fesli asked, of the diary.
"That he had some interesting contacts in a service that most Lords doing Steeding and farm equipment don't care much about."
"That would be?" Fesli asked, interested.
"Industrial cleaning supplies," Farn said, "and what's more is that half of those," he indicated Farek's screen print, "were doing either Bayaran or time in prison for one or another crimes."
"That gives him motive," Likas said, "doesn't it?"
"Why?" Fesli asked her son. She was tired, otherwise she'd have figured it out by herself.
"Because if his soon-to-be wife became the Area President, and enacted her Security measures, half of the people on Lord Vehdar's payroll would be in danger of being shot instead of running away from their crimes."
"He was behind them?" Fesli said, shocked.
"We can't prove that," Lin'es said, "but it sounds pretty secure to me. Get on the vid with the Judge, I want this."
"We all want this now," Farn said with a grin.

Mada's courts were big, dark places. Of all the places that Farn and Lin'es had to work, this was not a place they enjoyed. Mada might have been one of the First Four cities, but it sure didn't pose quite the nice image.
This case would take all the family to complete. Each of them had their little nook that they took to the extreme. Fesli would be able to touch and sense items and compare them with others, for psychic residue. There would be counter-arguments, and moves against using such extensive psionic tools in a courtroom - but the Judges, this time there were three, thought it was an exceptional idea to keep each side honest. It was clear to Likas that at least one of the Judges had seen a number of Vehdar's Bayaran through his court before - something that had to work in the law's favor this time. He knew the past history of this Lord and his methods.
But it was after the diary was brought out, that caused the most stir. Likas and Farn spoke about how they would use it, to catch that same psychic residue that Fesli could - but then Likas would be brought back again one more time.
To actually "read" Lord Vehdar himself. It was proven that Likas could successfully tell truths from lies, and get information off of someone that had remained hidden for years. But his ability to transfer this knowledge to a visual image was stunning.
Of course - this took more than a month. Because Vehdar lodged protest after protest, trying to slow the process down. He was also quite infuriated that his fiancee's will had been stalled until this point too, since there was a clause in it about conditions of death and such. Tenya was a bit of a paranoid, and with good reason.
"Why kill the Slave?" Asked one of the Judges. They were clearly convinced that the Owner had done it anyway - they wanted now to know why.
"I did no such thing," Vehdar said. He glared at Likas, who was then brought up near the man. "Wh- what are you doing?"
"I'm going to read you. It will not hurt." Likas said.
His hands, those long hands with their painfully large joints, gently touched the Owner's skin and the air around them lit up like a display.
"Think back to the moment you found your fiancee," Likas suggested, and the images swirled to what appeared to be the bedroom. But though he'd asked for the moment that the woman might have been found - he seemed to dwell on the moments before that. When he'd bludgeoned her to death with a small wood-handled coal shovel.
Everyone in the room jumped back, at that. There was no sound - and the images were seen as from the Owner's perspective, so what everyone saw was right from the killer's eyes.
"What about the Slave, Vehdar?" Likas said, "you've been asked why you killed her."
"I - I di.... She was going to inform Tenya," Vehdar sighed, and the images were a mess of darkness and hot red light, the green skinned young Slave trying to pry the instrument out of his hands so that it could be turned in as evidence. Her High Mistress was good to her family, she was loyal - anyone who had ever Owned or been around a good Bayaran knew the look on her face. She was so distraught that she could only try to make sure that her High Mistress' life was avenged. The same tool was used again, breaking on the Slave's shoulder first and then being tossed down the furnace shaft. He actually crushed the girl's head against the hard stone floor when she wouldn't go down as easily as his sleeping fiancee.
"Lord Vehdar, is there anything you could possibly say at this point, to redeem yourself?" One of the Judges asked, almost pleadingly. He was trying to see past the passion - perhaps there were circumstances they had missed?
"No," Vehdar said. "The Land Master here got it right, already," he indicated Farek.
"I did," Farek shrugged.
"The weapons would be by far the worst things ever to be introduced to the law forces. It would hardly be a fair advantage."
"You know that the only people that would truly lose in that situation are criminals," the third Judge said.
"I know that now," Vehdar said. "But you must understand, she was so naive. She wanted to protect me from this," he waved his white-grey hand. "The world was so dangerous, she said... She did not know."
"You acted entirely independantly," asked the other Judge.
"I acted for the betterment of a ... business. Mine, others. No one in specific, I acted alone for the better good."
Fesli drew in a breath but could find nothing to say. The Judges pronounced that Vehdar's Status be forfeit into Slavery, and he be put to prison for the rest of his natural life. As he was taken away, Fesli heard the Judges speaking among themselves, and had to pry.
"It was the Slave," said the one woman Judge. "If he hadn't killed her that way, I don't know that I would be able to convict him."
"What, killing the newly elected Area President wasn't enough?" Asked the other, a squat tan skinned man. "It took a Slave to tell you he's a madman?"
"No, it took a Slave to show me how much he wanted to keep his secrets," she replied. "One can only wish to Own a Slave of such bravery and loyalty. That is a tremendous shame, that he killed such a woman."
"Judges, if I may?" Fesli asked, and the trio stopped, "what's to become of the Will reading now? He must not be allowed to use that to his advantage and get out of this."
"Since Tenya was wise enough to include the phrase 'with no outside harm done' in her death conditions? He'll not be getting in on that Inheritance." The squat Judge said.
"I would say that it's too bad that Slave Imja had to die for that man's pride," said the woman Judge, "she should have been rewarded. I'll see if she had any family."
"And I suppose that we will have to strike up a new image for our Area coin now, too," said the third Judge, a tall grey and yellow colored man. "Since Tenya's face was to be on them for the next decade."
"Maybe we can convince her successor to allow them to keep it..." Said the woman, as they went down the hall. Fesli was sure that they'd all done the right things. Everyone had their role, everyone's job well done.
Though it was really none of their business, Lin'es and her brood attended Tenya's will reading, just to see what happened. It was a good thing they did.
Three of Vehdar's relatives tried horning in on the action - and were escorted out by the guards. Since he'd condemned himself and his whole relationship, and she had never apparently been too fond of his aunt or her sons, they were entirely out of the will.
But it did leave about three dozen Bayaran deeply indebted and with no one to rely upon for their work. With the bunch of them standing around, literally in the yard outside the house where they had last been living and working, the Membayar who had done the legal work turned to see the trio of Farn, Lin'es and their daughter Fesli.
"Yes?" He asked.
"We'd like to see about the Bayaran," asked Lin'es. "We've just come into a bit more of a windfall than we expected with the publicity of this case," she thumbed back at the crew of cameras (the other half of the family - so predictably - still involved in all that broadcasting mess!) and reporters outside the estate's walls. "I think that we might be able to work a deal."
The batch of Bayaran looked worried, stunned, and hopeful all at once. "I think we can swing that, if you do the batch."
"Are you planning on getting your sons into this?" Asked Lin'es of her daughter.
"If they think they need the help, I can't see why they couldn't retitle to Membayar. It isn't like we don't have the room. We have the work too, I am certain of it."
"Then I will get these men and women," the lawyer said, "up to their rooms for a bit, and next week we'll talk about those arrangements. It won't be hard, Mistress Lin'es, I know how you are in court. You won't have any trouble getting the whole batch and then some."
They walked back out to do interviews, and saw that Likas was showing his powers off. "It's a great thing he can do," Fesli said. "Would you have ever thought that my lousy layabout of a first husband could have given me any better sons than this?"
"I never said he was lousy," Lin'es said with a hidden grin. "I only said he was a bit lazy and seemed to hardly be able to hold down a proper job."
"That was why I bonded him in the first place," Fesli said with a laugh. "Because I knew potential when I saw it, just like you did," she winked at her father. "Karr will want to know all about this, so I'm going to head home. When you need me, I'll be around. Now I want to collect my 'reward' and my sons."
"Good day, my daughter," Lin'es said, bowing quite formally to her daughter, to the great amusement of the onlooking camera crews.
"How much of a reward is there?" Asked Farn.
"There are about seventy vid messages, on her professional line at home," Lin'es said. "All asking about if we'll take their cases."
"Oh - well that's good enough."
"Of course it is," Lin'es said, laughing.

Read the next book, Labor's Love Lost!