ENTIBOR: AN-JEMAYNE ERAASI: SUS-PELEDAEN ORBITAL STATION
n a world not his own, in a life he had never anticipated, Arekhon sus-Khalgath sus-Peledaen slept—and sleeping, dreamed. In his dream he knelt in the meditation chamber of the starship
where he had not gone in his waking body for over a dozen years. His staff, a cubit and a half of black wood bound with silver, lay on the deck in front of him, and all around him the
vibrated with the urgency of her passage through the Void.
Arekhon wondered what he was meant to do. Had he only now begun his meditation, here inside his dream, or had he just ended it? He couldn’t remember; but somewhere outside the chamber, an alarm began to sound.
He picked up his staff in his right hand and got to his feet. Outside the chamber, the alarm bell continued its steady, pulse-note chime. He found the door and opened it, and stepped through—not into the harsh illumination of a starship’s passageway, but into the Old Hall at Demaizen, and the warm golden light of an autumn afternoon.
Garrod syn-Aigal sus-Demaizen—great Magelord, Void-walker, and finder of worlds—had taken the land and fortune that were his inheritance, and had used them to build a Circle strong enough and dedicated enough to carry out the greatest of great workings: to bring together the two parts of the sundered galaxy, crossing the interstellar gap and healing a rift that had existed since the unimaginably long ago. Arekhon had left the sus-Peledaen fleet and his family altars to become a part of Lord Garrod’s Circle, and when the working demanded it of him he had left his native world as well.
He had walked through the Old Hall in dreams often enough since then, in the years after the Demaizen Mage-Circle had split apart in fire and blood, but never as now, with the weight of knowledge bearing down hard upon him. In these rooms, he had grown from a sus-Peledaen fleet-apprentice with a knack for seeing the
and making luck to a working Mage in Lord Garrod’s Circle—and now he came back to them with the sound of the
alarm bell following him wherever he went.
Sometimes in his dreams he saw the Mages of Demaizen as he had known them before. On those nights he sparred with Delath or Serazao in the long gallery, or talked of space and stars with Kiefen Diasul, though in the waking world both Del and ’Zao were dead, and Kief had betrayed all of them years ago. Tonight, though, was different. Instead of Delath or Serazao, the dream gave him Iulan Vai.
Vai—the last-come member of the Circle, who had brought
from her employers, the sus-Radal, to save the Demaizen Mages from utter destruction, and who had stayed behind on Eraasi in order to repay the debt. Arekhon found her in the long gallery, with its tall, westward-facing windows and its racks of exercise mats and limber practice staves. She hadn’t altered her appearance since the last time he saw her in the flesh. Under the touch of the afternoon sun, her dark hair still glinted with rusty-brown highlights, and she still clothed her compact frame in tunic and leggings of ordinary black.
“Iule,” he said—though she had always refused the forms of affection, even with those who might have had a claim to use them. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you. Did you think you could go away forever?”
“I didn’t think I had a choice.”
“You didn’t,” she told him. “Not then. But everything changes, and we have to change with it.”
As she spoke, the light from the westering sun struck the windowpanes at a new and sudden angle, dazzling his eyes for a moment. When the glare died, he wasn’t seeing Iulan Vai any longer. Another woman looked at him in her place: an older woman, whose thick black hair was shot through with wide streaks of iron-grey, and whose skin was the color of burnished copper. Not Vai, though like Vai she wore plain black and carried a Mage’s staff, and not anyone else he recognized.
“Do I know you?” he asked her.
“Not yet,” she said. “But soon.” Outside the long gallery, somewhere in the rooms—and the life—that he had left behind him, the sound of the
alarm changed from a bell note to a strident metallic wail. “You have to leave now. It’s almost time.”
Natelth sus-Khalgath sus-Peledaen stood with his back to the observation deck of his orbiting shipyard and stronghold, his face only a few inches from the armored glass that gave the deck its name. The world of Eraasi lay before him, a great globe against the starfield, black in the vacuum of space, stars glittering all around it. The sunset line lay across the world, on the left as he looked at it, the darkened crescent alive with city lights.
He knew that elsewhere, hidden beyond the bulk of the planet, the citadel of the sus-Radal fleet-family circled Eraasi in an orbit exactly opposite to his own. But Natelth, secure in his own place, hardly thought of the sus-Radal. He led, and the other star-lords followed; and if he started hopping on one foot, before long Theledau sus-Radal would be bouncing around on his head.
Natelth heard the swish-click of the doubled inner airlocks that isolated the observation deck from the rest of the station, but he didn’t turn. He would have known who was approaching him even if the armored glass had not shown him her reflected image. His sister Isayana, joining him in the safety of exile from the planet’s surface, had come bearing news.
He hated living on the orbiting station.
He watched Isayana’s reflection approaching, not a twin of his own, but close enough that he and she had often been mistaken for such when both were young: the same square frame and strong features, the same black hair now going grey. Isayana’s light-colored garments appeared stark against the black of space, under the dim light of the room. The reflected light of Eraasi provided all the illumination here. The observation deck held no chairs, no furniture, no decoration. When Hanilat and the station slid under Eraasi’s nightside, then he could dial up the lights. He could. So far, he never had.
“What’s happening?” Natelth asked his sister, after she had walked, ghost-silent, to his side.
“Not much,” she said. “The launch of
will be on time.”
She fell silent, looking down at the world where they had both been born, and where they could never live at ease again. Star-lords they were, as their family had always been, but never so much as now.
“We’ll need to spend some time in Hanilat before the end of the year,” he said. “Working out of the family house.”
“The security people will hate that,” Isayana said.
Another long silence.
“Have you heard any word from any of the other fleet-families?” Isayana said at last. “About some kind of cooperative arrangement for dealing with problems down on the planet?”
Natelth’s face hardened. “There’s no cooperation between starlords.”
“We’re living in changing times, Na’e. What was true a generation ago isn’t going to be true forever.”
Natelth turned to look at his sister. The empty observation platform stretched out to his right, the light from Eraasi bringing up the profile of his face, his right side in shadow. “And how do you propose to bring about this new era of cooperation?”
“We need to make alliances,” she said. “Alliances based on trust, not fear.”
“With the likes of Theledau sus-Radal?”
“Thel isn’t a rival,” she said. “He hasn’t been building warships for almost five years now; maybe he’s waiting for you to notice that he’s not a threat.”
“He’s still there,” Natelth said. He turned back to the window and gestured expansively across the face of the globe below them. The orbital shipyard was in geosynchronous orbit, the starport city of Hanilat lying forever directly below them. Whatever the space station lacked in comforts for the soul—and Natelth thought that it lacked most of them—at least here he could see strangers approaching from a long way off. “Down in Hanilat, waiting for me to make a mistake. And if he isn’t building warships, it’s probably because he’s working on something else. I would be.”
“We have larger enemies than the other fleet-families, Na’e,” Isayana said. She hadn’t stopped looking out, her feet square to the flat expanse of armor glass. A late-season storm washed over the southern ocean, but Hanilat, approaching its own sunset, had a cloudless sky. This station would be visible soon to those who lived and worked below. “We both know it. The other families know it, too. You, me, the sus-Radal, everyone.”
She turned to face him, then, and laid a hand on his shoulder. “What will the people of Eraasi do, when the people of Garrod’s world come back across the Gap to deal with us?”
“Garrod was a meddling fool,” Natelth said. “And I was foolish enough to help him.”
“All done before we knew, and beyond recall.” Her hand continued to rest on his shoulder. “Will you come and inspect
“I suppose I should,” Natelth said, and turned his back on the glittering world outside the armored glass windows.
Arekhon awoke into darkness. The hour was well past moonset, so that the starlit rectangle of his bedroom window took a long minute to resolve into a patch of grey against the black. The furniture—bed, nightstand, chair, desk—took a little longer to emerge from the undifferentiated night. When he could distinguish the outline of the half-open closet door, over on the far side of the room, he got out of bed and began to dress.
His clothes were on the chair where he had laid them out before retiring: garments of local cut, but made in the plain black and white he had always preferred. He’d never grown accustomed to the colors of this world, its alien dyestuffs and yet more alien aesthetics, and after a while he had given up trying. He put on shirt and trousers and a loose jacket, then hesitated a moment before pulling on his boots. Stocking feet would have been quieter, but far less dignified. Arekhon had nothing against suffering embarrassment in a good cause, but he had no desire to suffer it unnecessarily.
He picked up his staff and fastened it to his belt, then stood for a moment, thoughtful, before opening the drawer of the night table and pulling out a hand-sized object shaped like a flattened cylinder. He slid the pulse-gun into the inner pocket of his jacket, then shut the drawer and left the room.
The lower floors of the building were silent and empty. In the town houses of Arekhon’s childhood, the night hours had belonged to the
the constructed intelligences in their metal shells; it had been impossible for anyone to move about in secret without first subverting the quasi-organic servitors. They didn’t have
here on this side of the interstellar gap. The men and women who did what should have been a construct’s labor—and who worked late and rose early—slept in a warren of small rooms high up under the mansion’s gabled roof.
No one lived on the bottom floor except for Arekhon. He was, at least nominally, a scholar-savant under Mestra Elela Rosselin’s patronage, and entitled to maintain private chambers elsewhere at her expense. But those closest to the Mestra knew him—by face if not by name—as the man responsible for House Rosselin’s domestic security, and they would expect to find such a one keeping his quarters under the Mestra’s roof. Arekhon, who had known the Mestra when she was still Elaeli Inadi syn-Peledaen, considered himself fortunate in the arrangement.
The stairs ascending from the mansion’s lower level were dark and narrow. Arekhon went up them with the familiarity of long practice, and up the next set of stairs as well. These were wider, and lit by a night-glow in a niche halfway along. The door at the top answered to a palmprint scan; Arekhon was one of the people it recognized. He placed his right hand against the pad and the lock clicked open.
He passed through one darkened room, noting the dim shapes of chairs and cabinets and pieces of unobjectionable art, all unchanged since his last visit, and through another, this one a private office similarly unaltered, before he came to another door with a palmprint scan. Again he touched the pad, and, when the lock answered, opened the door.
Elaeli was awake, though it took him a moment to spot her in the unlighted room. She wore a loose bedrobe of dark fabric, and—standing as she did a little to one side of the window—seemed at first like a part of the curtain that had been drawn aside. She looked around as he entered.
“’Rekhe,” she said. “I was wishing I dared to go looking for you. I couldn’t sleep.”
He crossed over to where she stood, and put an arm around her, so that she could lean her head against his shoulder. She was as tall as he was, and her light brown curls were soft against his cheek.
She still wore her hair short, after the style of the sus-Peledaen fleet—it was almost the only part of her past she’d been able to hang on to, he supposed. Arekhon had let his own black hair grow out long when he left the fleet for the Demaizen Circle, and he hadn’t cut it since, but Elaeli had more reason that he did to cherish the older style.