The artificial docent handed a thick, smooth sheet to Cvkia. “This is a list of rules that you agree to abide by in consulting Sage Goroy Sadak.”

Cvkia glanced over it, reading quickly as her eyes darted back and forth. “I’m not allowed to look him in the eyes?”

“Sage Goroy Sadak’s eyes have been known to distract supplicants. I assure you that they are extremely useful on his homeworld, but to those who have never seen them, they can be…deep-set and unnerving.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to freeze up,” Cvkia said. “Does that happen often?”

“Humans tend to. Others, it varies. For obvious reasons, Xinoi are completely unaffected, but then, they can’t even read the card, can they?”

Continuing to read the card, Cvkia flipped it over. “Try not to exhale?” she said.

“Sage Goroy Sadak’s physiology finds CO2 mildly toxic,” the docent said. “We recirculate his atmosphere with the CO2 scrubbed, of course, but if you get excited, exhale too much, it could be problematic. You will be removed if this happens.”

“Fine, fine. I will look at the floor and hold my breath as best I can.” Cvkia handed the card back to the docent.

Its servos whirred in an approximation of annoyance. “You will be removed of your failure to comply reaches a dangerous level.”

“Very well.” Cvkia was shown through into Sage Goroy Sadak’s chambers, passing through a decontamination grid, a full scrubber, and a body-penetrating scanner. Finally, she was shown to a hard plastic chair facing a translucent wall. Shadows flitted about on its other side, sometimes corresponding to strange noises but more often not. Every few moments, the overhead CO2 scrubbers would kick on, causing a burst of harsh ozone smell and lifting strands of Cvkia’s hair skyward.

When the translucence finally shuddered, lifted, vanished, a small pod was extended outward, connected to the wall by snaking cables and radiation-hardened hoses. Perched atop the pod was a curious creature–Sage Goroy Sadak himself. He was the size of a small child, but with a brilliantly silvery-blue coloration. His mouth seemed twisted in a permanent grin, and his eyes were two flat black orbs that occasionally had silvery bursts of luminescence flicker across them.

“A child?” Cvkia said.

“Aren’t we all?” Sage Goroy Sadak’s voice came not from his mouth but rather a speaker set below and between his dangling and vaguely sausage-like legs. “But I assure you, it is simply a coincidence of convergent evolution. I am well-suited to my homeworld’s gravity and climate.”

Cvkia had been attempting to hold her breath when not absolutely necessary, and was beginning to feel lightheaded. “I see,” she said, in a bit of a wheeze. “And all the secrecy, all the security?”

“Necessary as a precaution only, and often enforced perhaps too strictly by those who are as jealous of my gifts as I am free with them.” Goroy Sadak raised a hand. “Please, breathe normally. It will not matter if our conversation is brief.”

With a gasp, Cvkia gulped in cold, ozone-tinged air. “Why do you let them do this?” she said. “Lock you away, when you would dispense your gifts freely?”

A sound out of the speaker that might have been a chuckle, or an attempt at one. “Even among my people, I am quite gifted. But I am, and have always been, a complete pacifist. I am also, if I may say so, something of a hedonist. I enjoy my creature comforts and find it very difficult to be roused to vengeance. If it suits the Confederation to keep me here, in comfort, who am I to stop them? Information, like entropy, will out. Now, what have you come to ask me, Ms. Cvkia Nebojsa?”

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