June 26, 2016: 12:09 pm: Exarthy, writing

Vera kept the document to herself after that building on what Abebi had done to puzzle out more of the book. It was slow work. Vera knew Abebi could do it faster but her gut told her to leave Abebi out of it.

So she trudged on staying up way too late making slow progress sometimes only a word or two per day.

She began to dream about Barnitukku. Not dream *in* Barnitukku, that would have been great progress. She dreamed about puzzling over problematic translation and new words that seemed to bear no relation to anything she had found so far.

One day she sat on the subway platform in a daze from lack of sleep. She was one of only a few people waiting for the train. She assumed that was since it was so late in the day. She had overslept again.

Two men in dark suits chatted to each other about the difficulty of keeping distance while staying in view. It was an odd conversation. The oddest thing about it was that Vera realized the men were speaking Barnitukku snd she understood it.

She stood up with a jolt. “Hey!” she yelled like a crazy person at the men. They both stopped talking wide-eyed and began running toward the other side of the platform. She chased them up the stairs and back down again onto the other side of the tracks as an outbound train arrived. The two men ducked into a car, the doors closing just before Vera got their out of breath. The men didn’t look at her as the train sped away.

The inbound train arrived on the other side as Vera hunched over and panting watched people board, the doors close, and the train departed. She missed her train. She missed her opportunity to speak with people who knew this obscure language and she was late again.

Her job gave her the freedom to be late. The firm trusted its employees to do their best and manage their own time and projects. Which is why it was unusual for Ravesh to call her into his office to ask her what she was working on.

“Translation of something Mr. Dak gave me,” she said truthfully, though implying it was work-related.

Raves pursed his lips. “I see. Mr. Dak is no longer a client though and well, come on Vera. Why?”

“It’s just fascinating. I’m sorry. I know I’ve been— I mean I know I need to pick up a new client it’s just—“

“Vera you know the policy here. You are free to pick up projects and clients at your discretion. But at a certain point you have to pick one up. It’s been months.”

“Months?” she asked. Had it been? She began to figure.

Ravesh frowned and raised his eyebrows. “You don’t know?”

Vera shook her head. “Yes, of course. It’s— It’s been —“

Raves held up a hand. “I’m not here to force an explanation. That’s not how we work. But you need to pick a new client. There are five int he open queue right now. I recommend you look at Mr. Peña but of course, you’re free to pick whatever interests you. But pick one Vera. Please. Today.”

Vera nodded and apologized. “Of course Ravesh. Thank you for the nudge. I needed that.”

He finally smiled. “Don’t worry Vera. This is a normal spot we all find ourselves in sometimes. Someone did it for me once. Pushed me out of my funk. Happy to help.”

Vera left and dropped down into her chair in her office with a thunk and slammed open the queue for projects like a petulant child. In the enlightened managerial style of BHS what just happened was a chewing out. Nobody ever got told to pick a project. But she knew Ravesh was right. She had stretched the good will of the company too far.

There were only four clients in the queue now but Mr. Peña was one. She thought about skipping it just because Ravesh had recommended it but then that would be childish and the last thing she needed when she was under the spotlight was to act childish.

So she opened the project description.

It read, “Odd culture evaluation and population movement issues. needs major projection in socioeconomic and political spheres. Some rare translation.”

Well that was why Ravesh recommended it. It seems like it was up her ally and even might satisfy that translation bug she seemed to have gotten. She set up the appointment.

Durhese Peña was not a man. How that had been misunderstood in the project filing was a mystery for another day. BHS rarely got such fundamental facts wrong. Ms. Peña was instead a tall imposing woman with slate-grey hair a sharp pointed nose and a smile that could swallow a crocodile. She wore a smart Vera Wang suit and wielded her smartphone like scepter.

She opened her smile wide and shot out a large well-manicured hand. “Vera Barnituck, Durhese Peña, a pleasure.”

The hand did not have a vice grip as Vera had worried but did seem to swallow Vera’s hand in its own.

After the pleasantries were over and both had coffee, Vera closed the door to signal the confidentiality of the meeting and sat down. She addressed the mistake that would no doubt be on Ms. Peña’s documentation as well.

“I apologize for the clerical error on your forms, Ms. Peña.”

“Clerical error?”

“Yes,” Vera feigned a self-deprecatory laugh. “I’m afraid they put Mr. down.”

Durhese chortled. “Oh that’s fine. Old data I expect.”

“Oh!” vera said. “Very good.”

“don’t feel uncomfortable. I’ve only been MS. Peña for a year at this point. It’s understandable.”

Vera nodded. “Well what can we do for you here at BHS Ms. Peña? I see it’s a population matter?”

Ms. Peña began explaining it was a migration issue regarding a strictly controlled population in a geographically isolated area. Vera was already taking notes before she realized Ms. Peña was speaking Barnitukku. Vera stopped typing and looked up slack-jawed.

“Good,” said Durhese. “You at least recognize the language I think?”

Vera nodded and spoke in monotone. “Yes, I followed the problem. Migration. Restricted population. Geographic isolation.”

Durhese squinted and smiled. “Excellent! You’ve made faster progress than we expected. You really put the scare into our boys at the subway.” Durhese chucked.

“What is going on? Did Ravesh know?”

Durhese shook her head. “That’s one of our magic tricks what we did with Ravesh. It’s what we do. We know how to plan and influence from a distance.”

“So why are you contacting me directly?”

“Well at some points we do need to approach certain people in person. Like you. And we have to take many careful precautions, like Mr. Dak did. But in the end your office is one of the safest places to talk in the world. BHS is renowned for its confidentiality even among its own staff.”

That made sense to Vera. Once she closed that door all record-keeping was encrypted to vera’s key only and no monitoring existed.

“So what do you want with me?”

Durhese smiled. “We want your help. And we want to bring you home.”

June 4, 2016: 2:58 pm: Exarthy, writing

Vera spent most of the evening trying to puzzle out the meaning of the book. Knowing the meaning of barnitukku helped some but not as much as he hoped. She was able to puzzle out a few articles and words here and there or at least she thought she had, but not enough to make any sense of the book.

She was good with languages but not an expert at least not by the standards of her consultancy. So she decided to ask Abebi one of the linguistic specialists to take a look. She picked one page from early in the book and copied out in an email and sent it saying it was a piece of tertiary evidence Vera was working on. It wasn’t a lie. Tertiary evidence meant things not directly related to a job but provided by the client. That
s exactly what the book was.

Abebi loved a challenge and enthusiastically replied that she’d give it a close look.

The next day Abebi came into Vera’s office and tossed a sheet of paper on her desk.

“What’s this?” vera asked.

“That is my finest work. Where did you get that page? You don’t have to answer of course but man. That was tough. And you know I like tough but that was TOUGH.”

Vera looked at the paper. The left half had the original text from the book vera had copied out. The other side had the following translation.

“And [[Vanka]] despaired. She knowingly fled to the side, crying (as) she walked.

Before she could be gone, great [[Melarx]] found her in her hiding place.

He spoke to her and told her to follow for they (were) ((saved? discovered?))

The eight ((besides her?)) gathered by a stone wall at the mountain.

‘This (is) our grave,’ said Vanka

‘This (is) not our grave. Avez found it.’ said Melarx.

Avez disappeared into the wall. Vanka (was)surprised.

Melarx asked ((them? her?)) to follow. A thin crack in the wall let them in to the ((ravine? place of safety?)).

The nine gathered inside. They looked at Vanka.

Vanka told them, ’This is ours. We will keep it secret. But we will also keep our knowledge the same as the others. We (will) not without knowledge be torn(??) again.

Each of the nine made their (duties? tasks?) and worked…”

“Wow,” said Vera. “Thank you. Did you figure out what language it is?”

“No,” said Abebi. “That’s why it’s such a sloppy job. At least sloppy for me. There’s elements of Basque, Kartvelian and Dravidianmaybe some Altaic or Uralics nut nothing Indo-European. It’s weird. It almost looks like a Conlang.”

“Like Klingon?”

“It’s got more in common with Klingon than most other languages,” Abebi laughed.

“Well thank you so much. This is a big help!”

“No thank you. That was fun, as hard as it was. And you know I never ask but in this case, if you ever can share more about it let me know. Because I would have questions.”

That worried Vera. She felt she shouldn’t attract attention and Abebi even hinting at crossing the confidentiality rules they all strictly respected made her nervous. Abebi was never like that.

Vera laughed. “You bet,” was alls he managed.

Abebi nodded and Vera relaxed a little. She wasn’t going to push it. “See you at lunch?”

“Sounds great! Los Tacos?”

“Followed by Doughnuttery as always,” Abebi grinned.

That was their joke. They were always too stuffed after Los Tacos to actually go for donuts.

May 30, 2016: 3:16 pm: Exarthy, writing

Vera loved New York and jazz. She loved New York so much that sometimes people guessed she must be a native. Not the actual natives of course, always other transplants. When people asked her if she was from New York though, she frequently said she wasn’t but she had got there as fast as she could. She was in fact from Arlington, Virginia. Just southern enough to let her claim to be a southern belle when it amused her.

Her parents set her up as well as they could to go into the family business of law or lobbying. A fine private school in Arlington followed by a full ride at Georgetown with a dual major in Political Science and Economics.

The only legal profession that interested her was being a judge but apparently you couldn’t jump straight from school to that. Never mind the three years of mind-numbing law school she would have to endure as well.

Vera was good at fixing problems. Her title at Benioff, Hamilton and Stein was Solutions and Structural Analyst. But everybody called her a fixer. BHS consulted with major corporations and small governments on all manner of things from security to finance, to organizational management.

But when none of the normal categories applied or could solve the problem, they got sent to a fixer like Vera. She was one of a very few. That meant she was extremely valued by her clients and had to compromise some of her own wants. Like jazz. Like tonight.

She wanted to like jazz very much. She bought all the right records and tried to remember to play them. She did like them when she played them but sometimes she forgot to put them on. She also couldn’t remember what musicians recorded what songs or what the songs were called. She felt like a fake anytime someone introduced her as a jazz afficianado.

“So who’s your favorite jazz musician?”

“Oh you know, that one guy. With the album with the blue cover?”


Tonight she had planned yet again to attend a jazz concert. Joe Lovano at the Village Vanguard. If nothing else it would allow her to say that Joe Lovano was one of her current favorites and she had seen him at the Village Vanguard.

Except she was going to have to miss it.

Mr. Dak has called that morning to schedule his last meeting. He was 81 and retiring so she couldn’t say no and he couldn’t defer until later.

Mr. Dak had been her most interesting client. He hailed from a small country that she was not allowed to know the name of but he had the most interesting problems from the most diverse set of circumstances. Sometimes they were labor concerns, sometimes tariff issues and other times they involved celebrities or musicians. She was sad to see him go.

So instead of dwelling on the concert she was missing she soaked in the New York night as she walked from her apartment on Christopher and Bleecker up to the BHS offices in the Chelsea Market. These were far better offices and a far nicer walk than where they were two years ago on 1st Avenue in the east village.

Mr. Dak was on time as always. She wondered if in this their last meeting she would learn his first name. Or where he came from. He had always been Mr. Dak. That was all the company ever told her about him and all she ever called him and it had become perfectly acceptable. He spoke English well but with an impossible to place accent.

“Ms. Barnitukku” he said as she met him in the lobby. Her name was Vera Barnituck but he insisted on pronouncing it “Barnitukku” and she had long ago stopped trying to politely correct him.

“A pleasure as always Mr. Dak.” She led him to her office and offered him a drink which he declined as always.

“What can I help you with?”

“Ah this our last time. It charms me that you stick to our little traditions,” he chuckled. He chuckled a lot. She would miss that.

“I will miss you as well Mr. Dak,” she smiled. She meant it.

“I have one last problem and I think you will make quick work of it. We have an outsider. A foreigner to our land. We would like to invite this person to join us in some confidential work. This person has proven quite trustworthy. But how can we be sure we are adequate in our trust? What should we do to verify our intentions and that they will be honored? IN short, we cannot forgive a breach of confidence so how can we assure it is right to take this person into ours.”

She smiled at his odd but still correct use of the english language. A hallmark of the intelligent foreigner she most often worked with.

Vera spent the next hour developing a simple approach to verifying intentions and safeguarding confidence based on some recent psychological studies. It’s what she did. In the end Mr. Dak was satisfied. She printed out her analysis for him as usual. He didn’t use email. Then she walked him back to the lobby.

He shook her hand and gave her small formal bow.

“I will miss working with you in this way Miss Barnitukku. when our paths cross again I will be most pleased.”

She assumed this was some translation of a native parting wish so she nodded. “I feel the same.”

His smile lighted up at this bit he said no more and turned to leave.

The next day at work Jim from the front desk handed her a package wrapped in brown paper.

“A courier delivered this this morning. Said it should not be out of my sight until I handed it directly to you. Iy’s from Mr. Dak.”

“Odd. Thank you Jim.”

vera took the package to her office and sat down to open it. Inside was an ancient book written in a language Vera did not immediately recognize. Which was rather stunning as she spoke more than a dozen languages and could recognize hundreds.

A folded paper inside contained a handwritten note from Mr. Dak.

“Ms. Barnitukku,

The misspelling and my rather obtuse mispronunciation has always been intentional. In my language the name means both ravine, place of safety, and is the name of my homeland. Do not be surprised that you have not heard of it. It is a small place and not internationally recognized.

But I suspect that knowing just that word your skills will allow you to interpret the rest of this book and our language. I hope you find the pursuit enjoyable.

I have always admired your mind and the work you have done for us has changed the world.


Mr. Aner Dak.”

Aner Dak. Her mind immediately translated it. Aner, the greek word for man. Dak, the hindi word for transport by relay.

“Who were you Mr. Aner Dak?” she asked. “And what is this?”

On the front cover she now could make out the very faded words, “Varalaria Barnitukku”

February 6, 2016: 7:15 pm: Exarthy, writing

Our earliest writings refer to a list of promises made by the original nine. Most of those promises are lost in time as their specifics had been forgotten by the time of written records. All our histories say is that Melarx, founder of our farming made promises that led no, and did not need to be kept. We do not know why. It’s likely he set down plans for farming based on conditions in the old village and which proved unworkable in the special climate of our valley. Whatever the reason, we do not know what his promises were, only that he, like all nine made some and his were not kept. That is still more than we kno about Avez’s promises. We only know she made any because the records all agree there were promises from all nine. But no reference to her particular promises was ever made. And all other references to her was that she was essential as a mother and expert in childbirth. Perhaps her promises related to that in some way but it is never mentioned.

But Vanka’s promises are not only known but still kept bus.

1.) We will never again risk our village by making its location known to those who might harm us. Hence our intense secrecy, even with those we bring here in trust.

2.) We will, in secret, maintain an equal knowledge with those who might harm us.

“But I’ve been told there are three of Vanka’s rules.”

“Yes. It is common to say that. We think of Vanka’s Promises along with what is more properly called Vanka’s Legacy. Legend tells us it was Vanka’s last wish. It is impossible to tell if that is true. It likely did not come from her directly, but arose naturally out of following her intentions. Vanka’s Legacy says that we should, in secret, influence those who might harm us into balanced and if possible, peaceful relations with each other. The aim is to keep them from starting wars that would threaten us in any way. It has become a de facto way to run the world. We are its secr monarchs. Or as our philosophers have dubbed it, exarchs. For we rule from without.”

January 30, 2016: 4:47 pm: Exarthy, writing

Her name was Martina but everyone called her Vanka. In the village language it meant fair or blessed and it was meant as a compliment.

But now as she stood opposed by Nex the son of the dead chief it sounded like a curse.

“Vanka,” Nex spat. “You would have us run and hide like cowards. BUt that is not what my father would want. We must avenge him and protect our lands. We must let Okrex and his hordes know we will not be bowed.

Vanka’s shoulders sank. He made her position sound cowardly and unreasonable. When it was he who was being irrational. Brave maybe, but stupid. She saw the yes of mthe survivors of her village look to her for an answer to him. She knew they did not want to die. But they did not want Okrex to win either.

Vanka spat to buy time. It also eloquently summed up what she felt of Nex’s words. “You sound like fair winds but speak wet dirt. Okrex has given us two options. Fight and die or submit and be slaves. You would have us die. Which is brave. BUt I would have us outsmart Okrex. I would have us live and yet not be slaves. I know the ways through the forest. We can save our village. We can live another day. If venegance we want we can wreak it in the next moons. But if we listen to your words we give Okrex what he wants. We give him our village.”

Nex sputtered at this. She was a fine speaker, she knew. She liked words. She was the unofficial storyteller. But he had not given in to her yet. “You would give him our village too,” was all he managed.

“Yes,” she answered quickly. “But not with anything valuable in it. Certainly not with us in it.” He might get thatch and mud, but that is all. You would give him our bodie.”

Nex gave up arguing with her. She saw it. “We are riven!” he declared, invoking the ancient term for a village that has decided to split in two. It was not what she had proposed. She was heartbroken. More than half their number had died in Okrex’s attack. There was not much left as it was without splitting up.

Nex continued. “Those who would stay and fight, to me. Those who would run and hide, to her.” He didn’t give her the courtesy of using her name this time.

Vanka turned to the villagers. “If you wish to survive, follow me.”

She gathered her things, a pack of the barest essentials and made for the tree line.

Almost two dozen followed her. She would not keep her promise. Not all would survive.

January 25, 2016: 1:52 am: Exarthy, writing

Bil left his house to head to the community center and find Erika. It was an unusually bright morning. In any other place on Earth it would have been described as sunny but in Barnitukku, the sun never appeared in the sky. An odd shelf of rock and trees prevented that. But plenty of sunlight made it through anyway and today more than usual.

Lots of people were outside enjoying the light. He knew them all. It was a small place and they all relied on each other. So he smiled genially and hid his worry. Erika had said she would be at he Vistatu, the community center in the middle of town until late but she had never come home.

In most areas on the planet that would have been cause to worry about some kind of accident or crime. Barnitukku was small enough that anything like that would have immediately spread through the town like wildfire. Crimes were not unheard of but they were rare and accidents while less rare were taken very seriously.

So Bil was curious to find out what had kept her. She must have just decided to sleep there rather than walk home. The Vistatu was meant for that. IN fact it had been its originalk and ancient purpose and it still offered beds and comfort to any Barnitukku who needed them.

The Vistatu was very small even by the town’s generally small building standards. It was made of mud bricks that had been replaced many times in its long centuries. In fact it had been patched and repaired so many times none of its walls were made of the original materials, meaning it really wasn’t as ancient as it was regarded. Except for one brick. Legend said it was the first brick put down, but Bil and many others doubted the original builders took the time to commemorate it. Rather it was likely a brick some ancient Barnitukku noticed was one of the few left from the original building and pointed that out. Since it happened to be on the ground the story grew that it could have been the first one, then that it must have been and then that it was.

Whatever the case, Bil gently opened the aluminium screen door attached in blasphemous contrast to its walls of varying antiquity, and entered.

The lights were off and he flicked the switch to turn them on. Some rather old bulbs flickered to life. Erika lay on a couch in the entrance room. That was very odd. The sleeping couches were off towards the back.

“Erika?” Bil asked.

“Vankam,” Erika said greeting him and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, then opening them wide. “Oh my it is morning isn’t it? I meant to just rest before I walked home. So sorry to worry you.”

“No worry,” Bil dismissed the concern. “I’m more curious what kept you,” he lied.

“We have a katarru man from the camanaba,” she said. Erika had a bad habit of speaking in patois. Barnitukku were supposed to speak in English whenever possible in vigilant preparation for any trips outside the country.

“A piece of scrap iron from the outside world?” Bil gently chided.

“Well if you want to be literal about it,” she grumbled. “He’s a systems analyst for one of their intelligence agencies. Was going to pull a Snowden before I found him and convinced him to come with me.”

Bil nodded.

“And he’s awake,” said a voice from behind them both.

Bil turned to see a tall blonde european in modern dress of a t-shirt and jeans.

“And he’s still not sure he’s convinced.”

Bil bowed then quickly realized that was the wrong greeting and stuck out his hand. The other man shook.

Erika had risen and stood between them. “Bil, this is Mattias from the country of Germany. Mattias this is Bil.”

“Nice to meet you Mattias. Welcoem to the hidden kingdom of Barnitukku.”

“So you all call it that. I thought Erika was just the dramatic one,” Mattias said.

“She is,” said Bil. “But not about that. Our Kingdom is hidden.”

“What about the part where she said it runs the world?”

Bil laughed. “A bit dramatic. We guide the Exarthy. But. Maybe it’s a distinction without a difference. Most would say we run the world.”

December 12, 2015: 7:19 pm: Exarthy

I write here what no one should write. I affix what is forbidden to set down. I am Exempt. It is my burden, it is my blessing, it is my destiny and it is my choice. It is the only way one becomes Exempt.

With these words I seal the telling so that it shall not be read or if read not believed or if believed not credited beyond the believer.

For here I tell of the hidden kingdom and it’s relations with the Exarthy. You have been warned.

For more than 15,000 years, the exact number is known but not relevant, the Hidden Kingdom has existed as a haven for the Exarthan Governors. They in stealth persist in their Exarthan Courses and retreat here when necessary to rest and recover and sometimes to die.

The Electarch nourishes them, advises them, and appoints them when that time comes.

It is the way that balance and dynamism is maintained in the wider worlds. For the Hidden Kingdom is stagnant. It is safe. It is the heat sink of conflict and the sponge of iniquity.

Only once in its history has an Exarthan breached its secrets and invaded its havens.

This is that story.