Trees Unlimited. Chapter I.

20 Apr

Lea Vexa gave a gasp of shock, then stared at the naked bronze-skinned young man standing at the edge of the dark green tropical forest.

The riverine continued its rapid movement up the muddy Toch, taking the short, child-sized traveler away from the unclothed savage male who gazed impudently at the hydrazine-powered passenger vessel passing slowly by.

From behind Lea on the main deck sounded an unfamiliar voice that caused her to turn about with more startled surprise than that resulting from the scandalous sight on the shore.

“You have never seen a naked Varzean before, have you, Miss?” smiled a large stranger in bright white uniform. He wore no hat on his large tow-haired head.

Lea’s dark brown eyes watched unblinkingly as the handsome male moved over to the railing where she stood and stared directly into her face.

“Pardon me, but I couldn’t help noticing your shock,” he told her with a sparkle in his large yellow eyes. “It was obvious to me that you had never seen one of our aborigines before. Do you come here from a distant place, then?”

Lea averted her gaze, looking down at the red deck planks of the riverine gas-vessel.

“I am from Landia,” she informed him. “We have never been to Tochsylvania before. Everything is absolutely new to me. Everything is new and unfamiliar to me. I look at everything around me with surprise.”

“You are journeying with someone else?”

She gave a nod as her eyes darkened. “My father. He has been invited to the Samekh latifundium. Have you heard of it?”

“Indeed,” he affirmed. “In fact, my station is close by that particular plantation, Miss.”

“Vexa,” she told him. “My name is Lea Vexa.”

The tiny foreigner extended her hand.

“I am Resh Zayeth, chief of Dendrologic Station Five.”

The two of them shook hands.

“My father is a leaf collector,” she said proudly. “In fact, that is the reason that he has been invited to visit Master Samekh at his plantation, to look at a very valuable collection of local leaves.”

“I see,” smiled the tall man in the white suit. “Perhaps we will have the opportunity of meeting again while you are in this area, Miss.”

Lea said nothing, for she had just spotted her father approaching along the deck behind the tow-headed dendrologist she had just met.

“Excuse me, please,” was all the petite young woman said as she hurried past the tree expert, toward her parent.

Resh, turning about, saw that the father was only a little taller than his daughter was.

An amateur leaf collector, he sighed to himself. One of those. What were the Samekhs up to? he wondered.

Thav listened to her brother’s footsteps on the planking of the wharf.

Mem Samekh drew near the slim, tall female figure who had so little physical resemblance to himself, her older sibling.

He was a heavy, rough-looking planter with a hooked nose and sardonic gray eyes. Thav looked different from him in every possible way. She possessed a silent beauty that was nearly ethereal. Black hair, milky blue eyes, and smooth facial features gave her a quality of uniquely rare attraction. There was little resemblance between the two of them.

“The ship will be a little late,” he grumbled, stopping and speaking to his sister in a rough, heavy voice.

She said nothing, looking at him with vacant abstraction in her eyes.

“You must be pleasant to our guests, Thav,” he continued in a low tone of voice. “The daughter is only a few years younger than you. I want you to get to know the Vexa family well. Do you understand? You must make friends with our visitors. That is of enormous importance for both of us.”

I comprehend only too well, dear brother, she mused to herself.

Instead, Thav frowned. “They may not like us at all. It is not possible to judge people by written missives and holowire calls, is it?”

“True,” reluctantly nodded her brother. “That is why we must attempt to make the proper impression today, my dear. Mr. Gimel Vexa and his daughter must become our trusting friends. We must draw them to our hearts, in a manner of speaking. You grasp my meaning?”

His desolate gray eyes peered at her intently with an almost tangible pressure.

At that moment, Thav fully comprehended the dimensions of his scheme to save the Samekh latifundium from its creditors, and how far he was willing to go toward that end. She realized her brother’s desperation.

The wealthy Landian leaf-collector was to be attracted and drawn in by her, that was the key to his plan of financial salvation. She was to become the human bait at the center of the scheme. They were to snare a valuable objective together.

All of a sudden, a loud whistle sounded from the river.

“Our new friends will be here soon, Thav,” said Mem Samekh sternly. “We must give them the finest reception possible.”

Gimel Vexa marveled at the lush tropical vegetation of the leafy jungle forest on both shores of the Toch River. His daughter, though, shared nothing of the collector’s ecstasy with the rich greenery. She seemed to be ignoring the wild, unusual natural setting, as if it held no importance to her.

The two of them stood together by the deck railing, watching the river landing draw closer.

My father is an enthusiastic fool, said Lea to herself, holding tightly to the fingers of his right hand. She sighed with bittersweet sadness.

From his earliest childhood, his parents had permitted him to indulge a passion to collect and mount all possible varieties of tree leaf. This became his inner passion, setting his heart and mind on fire. His life revolved around what others considered merely his personal hobby.

Landia provided a moderately temperate climate within which the youth became a leading owner of deciduous leafery.

Decade by decade, he made his way to the top ranks of his field of interest, attending conferences and conventions in many lands of the great Continent.

Gimel married and eventually took over the stock brokerage business of his wife’s family. But his drive to possess tree leaves never flagged or left him. Collecting them remained primary in his mind. It developed from a hobby into a mania.

Lea came to believe that the early death of her mother made leaves a sort of sanctuary, a refuge from the never-ending pain of the loss of her father’s mate.

In the past year, her parent had somehow made contact with this particular plantation owner. She was not at all certain how it had happened. Suddenly, he had a burning need to see the jungles of Tochsylvania for himself. His fervor for tropical leaves grew greater by the day. Taking hold of his thoughts and emotions, his interest came to take total possession of him. It became impossible for Gimel to stay away from the tropical forest land and its leaves. He had to see and study this environment for himself.

The invitation from the stranger named Master Samekh clinched his decision to travel.

So it was that this adventure into the unknown had been born, Lea grimly told herself as the hydrazine river boat struck the berth on the wharf.

“Look, Lea,” her father said, pointing with his left hand. “That must be our host standing there. And his sister is the woman beside him. They have come to greet and take us to their home.”

The daughter gazed with curiosity at the two figures on the dock.

What would be the result of meeting and entangling with these people? She wished that she could somehow foresee that future.

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