With Audin's life in danger, Tener is willing to take the ultimate risk.
Two men, who were once best friends until they parted following a blazing row, meet up again bychance years later. Both men have experienced much during their years apart and life has tempered them.
Even though Tener is now a healer rather than the doctor he ought to have become, and Audin is an engineer working for an authoritarian government department, they discover they still have much in common. When Tener discovers Audin's position has placed him at risk, they find themselves working together in the fight against a corrupt and increasingly dangerous government.
This title is a re-release.
Audin Logon cursed his own carelessness as he hurried along the narrow, poorly lit street as dusk slid into night. He'd had to take a cab from the ministry because his injury meant he wasn't able to operate a vehicle. It had been necessary for the transport to drop him off at the crossroads, as it wasn't possible to drive down the narrow lane. The throbbing in his hand and arm had lessened now, sinking into numbness, and he didn't think that was good. He hoped the healer would still see clients at this hour; some only chose to work during daylight hours.
His colleague at the department, Milius, had assured him that his friend of a friend was a good healer and would never turn a patient away. Audin wasn't sure he believed that, but at this moment he prayed Milius was right. There was no way he could go to the hospital for treatment there; he just couldn't afford the fees "proper" doctors charged. It didn't matter the accident had occurred at work; the ministry considered an employee responsible for his own actions--and his own accidents.
Audin repeated the healer's name to himself, Neret Sanaret, again frowning because there was something about the name which seemed familiar and he couldn't think why. Of course! Sanaret had to be an assumed name. Sanare was the ancient name for a healer; it was too much of a coincidence that it could be the man's real name. Not that it mattered what he called himself, just that he was as good as Milius said, and the man would help him. Perhaps it would be sensible to offer him a little extra for arriving at so late an hour.
There, just ahead in the murky gloom, illuminated by one of the few streetlights, he saw the sign of a healer's shop-- a pestle and mortar topped by the curved surgeon's knife around which a snake curled. Audin sighed, grateful modern healing had progressed well beyond such basic tools, though where the snake came into it, he had never understood. As he approached the door, he saw the nameplate of the man he was to see.
Audin knocked, hoping for a response. Almost immediately, the door opened and a figure stood there. Outlined only by the light from within, the man appeared little more than a dark shadow.
"Healer Sanaret?" Audin queried. "I apologize for the late hour. I was given your name by a friend who suggested you would still be willing to offer me treatment."
"Come in," the healer said.
With a sigh of relief, Audin walked into the brightly lit room, absently noting its neat metallic surfaces and clean white walls before turning to face the healer.
And his voice died in his throat. His heart sped up and his head pounded. It was hard to believe what he thought he saw. He frowned as he cocked his head to one side, studying the man before him.
It can't be, can it?
Yet how could he doubt his own eyes?
Audin stared at the man he had last seen almost a dozen years ago; the man he had regretted losing contact with over what had long since seemed a pointless reason for an argument.
"Tener Allend! My God, is that you?"
Eyes widening, the man frowned. "I fear you have mistaken me for someone else, sir. My name is Neret Sanaret."
Audin was taken aback. He couldn't be wrong. Even the voice was familiar now. The man before him appeared more mature, the eyes were perhaps a little harder, but Audin could never mistake that face. The years had added bulk to his body, but the man's height was exactly the same. His eyes were the same green flecked with gold and his hair was the identical warm brown with fair streaks, just a little longer now as it brushed his collar. "It can't be... You are... Why are you denying yourself, Tener?"
"I am denying only that I am this man you have mistaken me for. Now please, let us deal with your injury," the healer said coldly.
Audin did not believe him, but obeyed, painfully removing his jacket and shirt to sit at the examination table, where he laid his injured arm for the healer's perusal.
"How did this occur?" Sanaret asked as he cut away the rough bandage wrapped around Audin's lower arm and hand.
"I work for the department of military research and one of the instruments I was using to test a device misfired. The thing slammed back and hit me instead of performing its routine action."
"Has anyone tried to treat this?" the healer queried as he carefully examined the injury.
Audin hissed as the pain increased during the examination. The healer didn't apologize, but he did meet Audin's gaze with a sympathetic glance. "Only in that a colleague helped me to wash it and then fastened a strip of towel around it."
The healer nodded and then began to thoroughly clean the injury, during which Audin gritted his teeth.
"I don't think it's as bad as I'm sure it feels," Sanaret added, his gaze still on Audin's wound as he used his gentle fingers to repair the damage. "You will need a couple of stitches and there will be some spectacular bruising over the next few days, but it will heal well.
"Take this to ward off infection," Sanaret said, handing Audin a small white pill and a glass of water, watching as he swallowed it. "And take this for later. It will help with the pain," he added giving Audin a small vial with two blue tablets.
The healer opened a drawer and took out some equipment, but Audin turned away, not particularly wanting to see. He clamped his teeth together again as the healer put the stitches in and then sighed with relief as he applied some kind of spray gel onto it and the pain faded a little. The healer--Audin found it very difficult to think of him as Neret Sanaret, he was so sure it was Tener--glanced up as Audin sighed, a slight smile gracing his lips.
"It will soon feel even better," he said, applying a second spray of the gel before he dressed the injury.
"Thank you." Audin leaned back in the chair.
"It is my pleasure, as well as my duty."
"God, you don't only sound like Tener, you speak like him." Audin stared at the healer and after a moment the man met his gaze. Taking a deep breath, Audin added, "Please don't lie to me, Tener. I've regretted that day, the things we said to each other, for more years than you can possibly imagine. Now by pure chance--if that's what it is--I've found you again, don't deny me the opportunity to apologize and try to regain the friendship we once had."
Audin's mind drifted back to that afternoon. It might have been almost twelve years ago, but he could recall every aspect of it. The warm sun painting the opposite wall with stripes of light and dark as it shone in through the blinds covering the window. His book, lying open on the coverlet of his neatly made bed. Tener's dark blue jacket draped over the back of the chair by the small desk under the window. The heat blazing in Tener's eyes as he shouted angry words at Audin, and his own heart beating swiftly in his chest as he shoved Tener aside to stride from the room, calling Tener a fucking bastard as he grabbed hold of the handle.
They had been roommates for three years and had gradually become the best of friends. Audin had even hoped for more but had never quite had the nerve to put himself out there in case Tener turned him down. The day of their argument had been the day before graduation and it had been the last time he had seen Tener face-to-face and the last time they had spoken. Until now.
Tener stared at the man before him, finding it difficult to believe Audin Logon was actually there. The man seemed a little taller than Tener remembered, but he knew that was impossible. His eyes were the same deep blue which seemed even darker when he was passionate about something. His hair was deep black, the kind sometimes referred to as blue-black, and it was cut shorter now. It used to fall over Audin's brow and curl over his nape. Tener decided he preferred it longer and he imagined asking Audin to grow it again for him. Imagination could be a remarkable thing, but it could also be damned painful.
He could hardly remember the number of times he had imagined meeting Audin again. Fantasized the awful argument had never happened and it was simply the meeting of two old friends. Then it was easy to allow the longings of a smitten young man to segue into future imaginings of manly hugs developing into stolen caresses and furtive kisses. More often than not, however, he imagined the adult Audin looking down his superior nose at the lowly healer, who had never managed to become the doctor he'd always aspired to be. However, they had only been fantasies, good or bad, but this was reality.
Audin was standing there staring at him with as much intensity as he had that long regretted, fateful day.
Back then, the tension flowing between them was caused by anger and there had been nothing sexual in it. Tener hadn't been able to believe Audin was so obtuse. He was an intelligent man, but it seemed Audin Logon had a blind spot when it came to politics, or, more precisely, when it came to his father's position as a politician.
It had been the one subject he and Audin had decided early on in their friendship was best left alone, the one thing they could never agree on. Tener was of the opinion the whole system of government was wrong and he would happily overthrow the whole lot of them and start again. Audin could not understand what on earth Tener's problem was, believing the system of government worked fine, and he ought to know because his father was involved in it, after all.
Tener had felt the tension in his jaw and had wanted to slap some sense into Audin. Seeing how he already liked the guy, he had readily agreed it was best if the subject was not allowed inside their dorm room. Rooms were assigned before students arrived at the college and changing room assignments was not permitted. Students were expected to be adult enough to cope with any difficult situations that might arise.
They had both kept to the agreement for three long years, but for some reason, that day had been different. Before either of them knew it the discussion had gotten out of hand and turned into a blazing row.
"Why can't you just be pleased for me?" Audin had asked. "Father deserves his new appointment as Minister for Military Research. He worked very hard for it and I'm proud of him."
Tener had shaken his head. "Well, kudos to him," he had said disparagingly. "You know damn well how I feel about the government, and that ministry is one of the worst. All they're interested in is creating more and more powerful weaponry to use on other people."
"We have to protect ourselves. Surely you can't object to that!"
"Protecting ourselves is one thing, sending our troops to attack and annex other states is another! Are you really so naÃ¯ve?"
"I am not naÃ¯ve! Annexation is sometimes necessary, better that than allowing ourselves to be attacked by a greedy neighbor. My father says the government has evidence Choigon is making plans to invade and--"
"Choigon? That makes no sense. They're a peaceful people with no reason to attack anyone. If anything, they'd be more likely to ask for protection from attack." Tener had stared intently at Audin, willing him to understand. "If the government has such evidence, why has the public not heard anything about this?"
"Don't you dare tell anyone!" Audin had demanded. "I shouldn't even have told you, but you just make me so angry. It was supposed to be kept secret so their agents don't discover we know of their plans. It gives us time to recruit and train more troops and--"
"I knew it! I hoped it was just my--" Clenching his fists, Tener had tried to get some control over his emotions. "Don't you understand? This is just one more example of the government war machine trundling on? Another state they want to control. Another â€˜threat' they have to address. How many more young men will now be forced to join the military because they're unable to get work?"
Audin had frowned. "Which is surely of help to those so unfortunate."
"Unfortunate? Unfortunate! It's intentional! They have no alternative. The damned government has arranged it so there is hardly any work for ordinary young men. It's all so simple, it's ingenious. It wants the citizens to have no choice but to go into the armed forces so it can pursue its ever-growing desire to invade one state after the other."
"You make it sound as if our leaders are doing something wrong! If it wasn't for our military going in to regain order in such places, there'd be anarchy."
"God, you really are naÃ¯ve! Or is it brainwashed by that bastard of a father of yours?"
"How dare... Bastard? If anyone is a bastard, it's you, you stupid son of a bitch! My father is a just man, a hard-working politician doing all he can to--"
Tener had sneered. "Your father is nothing more than a small cog in an incestuous group of sadistic warmongers. Those unfortunate young men become nothing more than cannon fodder used to add to the coffers of an aggressive, domineering group--"
"You have no idea what the hell you're talking about!" Audin's hands were clasped into fists.
"I don't! Either you're more gullible than I thought or you simply don't care where your family's money comes from. But then, why would you? You got your place here because it was paid for. I had to work and work hard to get here. It wasn't handed to me on a platter."
"I'm not gullible! And I work every bit as hard as you do. My father's a good man and he's earned every penny of his money. You are just a trouble-maker, a shit stirrer."
Audin's chin had gone up and his eyes had flashed. "You're jealous, that's what it is. I never understood how you really felt about me, my family. I thought we were friends, but now I see you just used me to move in better circles. What was it? You wanted better clientele for your medical practice? And I've seen the way you look at me. God, sometimes... I'm surprised you didn't offer to--"
"Don't finish that sentence!" Tener had snarled, his teeth grinding. Tener had been mortified. He'd had no idea Audin had sensed the way he felt about him, and a mixture of fear and anger made him add, "It sure makes me wonder what sort of weird thoughts you've been entertaining."
Audin's face had paled and his lips thinned. "How dare you! I...I can't tell you how glad I am to be leaving this place." He had marched to the door, grabbing hold of the handle as he looked back at Tener, eyes bright with anger. "You keep away from me, you smug fucking bastard!"
The door had slammed behind him and Tener had felt like his strings had been cut as he'd collapsed onto his bed.