The Ghosts of Eden
Antonio decides against using performance drugs in the upcoming fight.
Arg'kre ing'shrr's household are transported to Va'atchi'iktuan by airship. As the crew of the Joyous Venture leave her palace they are met by demonstrators. The crowd is well-mannered and stick to chanting rather than throwing things. Robert senses that the underlying mood is ugly and that the crowd are basically made up of low status individuals (the male/female ratio is unusually equal and the male's are small). The general demonstration seems to be protesting against the presence of humans on the planet - the implication is that the government has informed them of the humans presence.
On the airship it transpires that Miho and Andi have been assigned a nursery to sleep in - a misapprehension which persists when they reach Va'atchi'iktuan.
While in travel Miho starts compiling a list of possible archeological sites from the Kurita survey data. She identifies a dozen or so near to the holy city but it is impossible to tell what they might be. The survey equipment they have with them includes Ground Penetrating Radar, Ultrasound, An Electronic Imaging Device (call an Omnivue), A Laser Electron Beam and a portable Mass Spectrometer. Meanwhile Robert and Andi search the Internet and locate records of about half-a-dozen other finds which are related to the Holy City. These range from obvious imitations to the genuine article. They conclude that there is simply not enough evidence available to tell whether the Holy City is the only ancients site on the planet or not. Records indicate that the Ancients favourite material is Silicon Carbide (Felix Holstein observed this on Asterion and concluded that it was laid down with an organic matrix. He hypothesised that it was secreted by ant-like creatures). This means that detecting whether a site might have ancient artefacts will be relatively quick - though it won't help in the location of sites. None of the other worlds known to have been visited by the ancients contain more than one site but again the evidence is insubstantial and its possible that the other sites have not been found. Several theories (including limiting their imprint to reasons of military security) have been put forward about this. Robert is interested in Beekhu DNA in connection with the ancients but can find no evidence of a "Beekhu Genome Project". Antonio agrees to try and acquire some DNA during his fight.
The airship flies in over Va'atchi'iktuan. The buildings here are much older than those in cities on the other continent (whose name I don't seem to have recorded). There are no buildings that resemble skyscrapers Beekhu preferring more open architecture based on the courtyard principle. Va'atchi'iktuan is a walled town (all the holy sites lie within the walls). A rough sketch of the layout of the city is:
Have to do this at work xfig not installed at home
It occurs to Miho that they should try to buy some children's literature about the Holy City since it is more likely to explain concepts the Beekhu take for granted. There is a discussion as they come into land on the lack of any real secularism in Beekhu society.
At the airport there is another demonstration. Here there are two identifiable factions. There is a faction which seems similar in character to that on the other continent. According to Robert their demonstration is primarily directed against Arg'kre ing'shrr. The second group are more openly hostile and are primarily against humans. There are prominent displays of red/black and yellow in their crests. Robert gives a run down of crest colours:
Arg'kre ing'shrr is met by an official of the matriarch, the ruler of Va'atchi'iktuan. As a result of the demonstration Arg'kre ing'shrr's household is to be airlifted to their accommodation. The G'kah'ah will take place the following day. Arg'kre ing'shrr instructs Robert to see her later bringing the name of Komiko's captain. Because Falci is unpronoucable by Beekhu Antonio decides to adopt the name "Antonio Hawk".
This time there are pets in the nursery. Andi and a lizard take an instant dislike to each other.
Robert goes to see Arg'kre ing'shrr. He starts by adding Antonio and Komiko's names to the list of Arg'kre ing'shrr's champions. Arg'kre ing'shrr says she has a list of the opponents but doesn't suppose they will mean much to Robert. She is clearly worried about the reaction when Antonio's identity is discovered. She then shows Robert some documents relating to the ancients. Specifically an article by Felix Holstein and a star map - these both bear the Kurita logo. Robert helps translate them for her and points to the location of the other ancient sites on the star map. He leaves when a priest arrives.
Komiko is worried by Arg'kre ing'shrr's interest in the ancients and is concerned that the Beekhu may embark on some kind of crusade if they are given star ships.
Antonio shaves his head, oils up, and dons his loincloth. Andi and Miho are quite taken by the effect, Komiko's reaction is not noted. Arg'kre ing'shrr informs them that Antonio's identity has not gone down well and his fight has been rescheduled so it is against a better opponent and will be the last bout. There is clearly something symbolic going on. For a change Komiko is placed at the back of Arg'kre ing'shrr's entourage.
The fights are in general quite dull. The Matriarch's champion who Antonio must fight beats Arg'kre ing'shrr's champion after a long bout. Arg'kre ing'shrr's champion appears to capitulate through exhaustion, the Matriarch's champion still appears fresh.
Antonio is shown to the ring by an ex-gladiator whose crest reveals sadness and grief. The Matriarch's champion receives a rapturous welcome. Antonio's reception is muted at best. Arg'kre ing'shrr leads a formal clap of recognition. Komiko presents him with an earring as a token of her esteem and kisses him on the cheek
Antonio just manage to avoid the first blow and then almost lands a punch. At this point the Beekhu appears to become sluggish and seems to be having trouble seeing. Antonio manages to break his jaw and put him down in relatively short time. Some confusion ensues since Antonio hadn't studied the rituals for winning a fight. However Miho had earlier fixed him up with a throat mike and Robert is able to give him instructions. Arg'kre ing'shrr is obviously surprised at the outcome. The Matriarch and her harem appear surprised initially but then their crests indicate to Robert that, in retrospect, they are not surprised at the outcome. It's only on leaving the arena Antonio remembers he was supposed to be collecting DNA. Fortunately he has Beekhu scales embedded in his knees and a fist covered with Beekhu blood.
Antonio is convinced that his opponent was drugged in some way and cross-questions Komiko. Komiko denies having anything to do with it. Miho suggests, not entirely seriously, that maybe Komiko is psychic - she was concentrating so hard on the fight that she bit her lip. The crew discuss how the Beekhu could have been drugged, a time release capsule in his food seems the most likely possibility although various flying devices are also possible. All would have been hard for Komiko to place or operate unnoticed. Given Robert's conviction that Arg'kre ing'shrr's reactions indicate surprise and some mistrust of Komiko the only other candidates would seem to be some faction within the Matriarch's court.
There is a reception that evening to which Komiko, Robert and Antonio are invited. Antonio is presented with a ceramic statuette - probably a replica of an ancient artefact. The priest Robert saw earlier converses with Komiko. Her name is Arg'gran ko'harr. She congratulates Antonio on a superb piece of cheating and the conversation reveals that the legend of the deceitful monkey has a rather different interpretation in Va'atchi'iktuan. In particular the monkey is seen has having done the Beekhu some sort of favour by stealing whatever it was he stole. Arg'gran ko'harr asks Komiko why she is interested in the holy sites. Komiko explains that this is interested in the ancients and compares herself to the holy acamedicians. She describes herself as on a pilgrimage. The priest is obviously pleased with this answer. A discussion ensues about the possibility of breaking the Kurita blockade and allowing the Beekhu to make pilgrimages to other holy sites.
Back in their room Komiko worries about her ability to satisfy the expectations of Arg'kre ing'shrr. In particular she fears that Arg'kre ing'shrr may not appreciate the difficulties and time necessary in both bringing star ships to Beekhu and breaking the Kurita blockade. The rest of the crew are more interested in discovering what happened during the fight and what its implications might be. Komiko agrees that they appear to be pawns in a Beekhu political game and feels it may be safest to get off planet as soon as possible.