Somewhere in the staggering structure there had to be a drip. Thorndyke sensed it before he actually heard it late that first night as he sat in the empty chamber. A metallic plinking. It seemed inconceivable that a structure as monolithic as the Presidium could have a leak either external or internal. The outer sheath was active siliconite and all the internal delivery systems were membranic. A self-regulating bio-mechanical system like that might fail catastrophically, but a minor leak was virtually impossible.
Yet, there it was. Puulink-ink. Steady. Unvarying.
The drip was strange and annoying, but given his situation, it was the least of Saan Thorndyke’s worries. He’d been summoned to the Presidium, the seat of interstellar power for over five galactic transits, to solve a mystery or cover up a scandal. He wasn’t sure which it was yet.
The gist was this: the Viceroy’s son had gone missing. A nineteen year old known for indulging his fancies, which were many, Charden Ulk, had disappeared for weeks before, but not without leaving a trail. Especially on the nets. Ego and arrogance had made his previous episodes of debauchery into media sensations that he went out of his way to promote.
It was an accepted fact that Charden was a born scandal monger, which made the present case even more vexing for Thorndyke. Charden had left absolutely no trail. He was posting nothing of his exploits.
All Thorndyke had to go on was Charden’s undisturbed chambers and a short note found on his tablature. It read:
No sea, no desert, no starscape is large and barren enough for me to be lost as I seek to be lost. Only in the quiet that calls can I be found. Can I be constant.
Thorndyke had smiled at the youthfulness of the statement. The great search for meaning, for purpose, the sense of vastness needed to understand one’s place. A fool’s errand, though each of us were equally foolish once. It had been dutifully reported to him that none of Charden’s personal items were missing except a set of his everyday clothing. None of his personal devices were missing. Friends, acquaintances and recent dalliances had all been interviewed. No leads had turned up.
Charden had completely disappeared. Was it a crime? Abduction? Murder? Or had Charden simply vanished of his own accord? Without a trace.
Thorndyke could not believe there was no trace. That was his specialty. He was an etherist. He tracked elementary particles and found things, animate and animate. The basics were simple. Force moves things. Energy in, energy out. Motion always leaves a trail. Etherists trained their entire lives to observe and measure interactions without affecting outcomes. A tricky business, but it could be done, and Thorndyke was good at it.
Good as he was, he was a bit damn stymied by Charden’s disappearance. Thorndyke spent most of his time searching Charden’s empty chambers, his last known whereabouts. He knew the trail started somewhere here.
Yet, every time he felt he was on the cusp of discerning a path in the ether, the boundless matter/antimatter soup of being, the annoying drip, the puulink-ink, disrupted his focus. Finally, Thorndyke knew he’d have to track that drip, that constant distraction, before he’d be able to make a breakthrough on the Viceroy’s son.
From formation to release to impact, he needed to center on the drip; suss the particle dynamics; merge with the energy flow; invite the strange distractor into his own cycle of thought.
Alone in Charden’s chambers sitting before his abandoned tablature, he read and reread the young man’s final note and faced facts.
Puulink-ink. “No sea, no desert, no starscape…”
Puulink-ink. “Only in the quiet that calls…”
Puulink-ink. “…can I be found.”
Thorndyke floated free. Particles coalesced. A rippling sea washed at his feet; a painted desert rolled towards his outstretched hands; a starscape brushed his hair.
In the midst of it, Charden sat, an imperturbable smile gracing his face.
Thorndyke nodded. Charden lifted a hand, a greeting.
“Shall I tell them?” Thorndyke asked.
“You would return?” Charden said, his imperturbable smile slightly perturbed.
“I have a duty.”
“So do we all. It is here. You followed it. Let them.”
“They may never hear. The flow is not always perceptible.”
“How can they not hear? The leak, the imbalance between plains of existence, nagged and nagged me until I had to follow the source.”
“But you did not always hear, Charden. It is a noisy universe. Most of us have never learned, or we have forgotten how to listen. We do not hear the knock. The call. The flow.”
“A great loss.”
“Never,” Thorndyke corrected. “There is a constant.”
“Indeed. Stay and be.”
“To stay is not to be.”
“Never. Stay constant.”
Charden opened his palms in acquiescence. Thorndyke receded.
Sann Thorndyke powered off Charden’s tablature for the last time and walked out of the young man’s former chambers. He would not be back, and the leak between plains of existence would have to be plugged. The Viceroy would not be happy, but he would at least have an explanation.
And Thorndyke would add a fallback. Etherist: cosmic plumber.