Authors: Kristine Smith
For my Mom and Dad
The altar room in the HaÃ¡rin transept of Elyas Stationâ¦
Jani Kilian read the passage once, then again. Then sheâ¦
By the time Jani reached the landing field, the restâ¦
Rilas steered the skimmer as close to the cliff edgeâ¦
Jani heard the French doors open, but didn't turn toâ¦
“It does not make sense.” Tsecha pointed to the half-tiledâ¦
Jani heard the raised voices as soon as she enteredâ¦
Jani wandered upstairs eventually, after the Main House had goneâ¦
“Are you worried, nÃ¬a?”
“Are you going to tell John right away?” Niall glancedâ¦
The air felt cool, weighty, the lights as bright asâ¦
Rilas replayed the memory of the cart bearing Tsecha surgingâ¦
The Service two-seater coursed over the water like a seabird.
Jani entered the Main House to find a confab goingâ¦
Jani changed clothes. Used what makeup she had to eraseâ¦
By late morning assorted underlings, uniformed and civilian, hybrid, humanish,â¦
Dieter brought up a face on his display. A youngerâ¦
Just track the voices. Especially a certain weighty bass, darkâ¦
“Glories of the ship's day to you.”
Rilas read the title of the Guernsey newssheet once, thenâ¦
Jani opened her eyes and checked her bedside clock. Sixâ¦
Admiral General Hiroshi Mako's office was located aboard the Ulanov,â¦
Stillness. Stillness and warmth and the sound of running water.
“Let's run through this one more time.” Niall pinched theâ¦
“My God.” John stopped at the point where the gangwayâ¦
Jani walked out of Rauta ShÃ¨rÃ a shuttleport's humanish section andâ¦
Jani waited in an alley beside the embassy building whileâ¦
Mako tipped the last of the wine into his glass,â¦
Rilas knew that CÃ¨el had ordered Ansu to kill her.
Rilas dropped the rifle, left it where it fell. Grabbedâ¦
“The dominant's name is nÃ¡ Dena Lau.” Scriabin read theâ¦
Val's medical magic held. By the time Jani arrived atâ¦
“They've been ferrying idomeni out there since the ceremony wasâ¦
“â¦and the first two thousand houses have been completed inâ¦
The altar room in the HaÃ¡rin transept of Elyas Station proved much more suitable than Imea nÃ¬aRauta Rilas had feared, warm and quiet as any in Rauta ShÃ¨rÃ a. A place of clean, white stone, dark woods, and polished silver metal. A place of preparation, and acceptance of the will of the gods.
She had spent half the station-morning in prayer, as was proper for a godly bornsect. She had stood with her back straight, arms raised above her head, and intoned supplications to her favored goddess until the dry air rasped her throat and she grew light-headed from having stood so still for so long. Now, she lowered her arms in a smooth downward sweep, the cramps in her muscles and pain in her joints blending to form yet another prayer.
As her hands fell to her sides, Rilas felt the cuffs of her shirt tumble over her wrists. How she hated this shirt, its blue as blinding as that of an alarm illumin. How she hated her trousers, as purple as her shirt was blue. She thought of her usual clothing, her flowing trousers and overrobe in subtle shades of sand and stone. Her soft tan boots, so much more appropriate than the stiff black things she wore now. She imagined her hair as it should have been, arranged in the braided fringe of a breeder instead of as it was now, loose as
a mane, its only binding a leather coil.
Such was what the HaÃ¡rin called the style, in imitation of the humanish.
Rilas turned and walked to the narrow bench next to the entry, where she had set her slingbag. She hoisted it to her shoulder, felt its comforting heft bump her hip. So many things did it contain. And still a few more did she need to add.
Such I must do, and quickly.
Before it came time for her to board her shuttle to the city of Karistos.
Yet as much as she wished to depart, still she hesitated. She felt agitated, angered, as she had so often over the course of her journey from her blessed homeworld of ShÃ¨rÃ¡ to this most ungodly of destinations. So much planning and preparation.
And now I am here.
At that point where planning and preparation transmuted into action and realization. Completion. Triumph.
Rilas let the bag slide down her shoulder onto the top of the bench. She opened the flap and hunted, through the clothes and the tile samples and all those other objects of no importance. Once she reached the bottom support panel, she touched first one corner, then the one diagonally opposite. The panel separated from the bag frame with a soft
She pushed it to one side and reached into the shielded compartment beneath, felt the tension leave her as soon as she put her hand on the shooter.
She lifted the weapon from its hiding place, confirmed its standby setting by pure reflex, then turned to a bare wall and sighted down. The case fit the curve of her hand, the weight filling an emptiness she had not realized she felt until now. Yet she knew she should not have felt surprise, for such was as it had always been. She possessed metal in her soul, nÃ¬Rau CÃ¨el had once told her, and as always he spoke truth.
Rilas bared her teeth.
Such is as I am
. Joy filled her as the air she breathed. Even her godless apparel no longer angered her. She always felt most as herself when she held a weapon in her hand.
She stood for some moments, arm extended, imagining targets past, targets yet to come. Then she lowered her arm, this time more slowly. Turned back to her slingbag and returned the shooter to its hiding place. Refastened the bag, raised it again to her shoulder, and departed.
The Elyas Station passenger concourse battered Rilas to the pit of her soul. Voices, humanish and HaÃ¡rin, combined to a cacophony that pierced the brain. Corridors as long tunnels, walls colored red and blue and purple, lined with darkened roomsâthe interiors of which she could not see, marked by signs she did not understand. Smells, ungodly and sickening, a mingling of hot foods and brewed drinks and bodies that had not entered a laving room for days. Tension, as those stenches enveloped her and those bodies passed close enough to touch.
She glanced at an idomeni timeform that hung from a purple-tinged wall, and her step slowed. Her shuttle had not yet arrived at its dock. Once more she had miscalculated, rushed when she did not need to do so. Once more she had time.
More time than I need.
Her usual problem, and also, she knew, the cause of her anger. For that time needed to be spent somewhere, and as she traveled on public spacecraft, that meant she spent it in places such as these. Mongrel places, tainted by humanish, and by HaÃ¡rin who had lost their Way. She watched them walk with one another, converse with one another, these misbegottens. Humanish, their hair braided in breeder's fringes whether they had bred or not, their clothes the flowing overrobes of the most strict bornsect. HaÃ¡rin, hair clipped skull-close or left unbound, the females in wraps of cloth that clasped their forms or fluttered about them as though torn by winds, the females and males both in blinding patterns and colors avoided by even the most unruly outcast.
Yet I appear as one with them.
Rilas pressed a hand to her stomach, and felt her soul rumble.
Elyas is a godless place,
CÃ¨el had warned her,
more so than any of the others you have visited. There, you will witness such as you never imagined possible.
She remembered the weariness in his posture as he spoke, the anger in his bowed shoulders and the turn of his head.
“Soon, nÃ¬Rau,” Rilas whispered to herself. “Soon it will be as it was.” As the gods meant it to be, before all had been sundered and defiled. Before the ungodly had put it wrong. “I shall put it most right, and truly.” She lowered her hand from her stomach and clenched it. “Soon.”
She stood in place and uttered another prayer to her favored goddess, and felt herself calm. So often had she called upon Caith in her times of uncertainty, and just as often had Caith heard her pleas and brought her peace.
In your blessed chaos, goddess, allow me to find my Way.
She kept her head bowed as she prayed, and pretended to read the covers of an array of newssheets displayed in a shop window. In a godly place, she would stand most straight, as she had in the altar room. Then she would raise her hands above her head and plead to Caith in the keening voice of an abject suborn.
But such would call attention, and I am about on secret business.
Business such as that which she had performed on Amsun, and before that on Padishah and so many other humanish places. She bared her teeth for a moment only, savoring the pleasure of her task.
I perform as I must in the midst of my enemies, and it is their methods that I use.
From her names, to her clothes, to the information in the documents she carried, she was as a liar, and when she lied, she became as one with her goddess.
I am of Caith now
. She raised her head to stare at her blurred reflection in the glass, and the warmth of peace filled her.
I am as chaosâ
She sensed a shape out of the corner of her eye, a shadow she had not detected before. Her heart slowed, its beat strengthening. She turned, her hands raised to chest level. Made ready to strike, as she had so many times beforeâ
âbut saw no enemy, only a misshapen thing perched atop a pedestal, grey as old stone, tongue lolling and teeth
bared. She stepped closer and examined a face as long as a beast's. Then she moved on to its clawed hands, reaching out and touching the cold, smooth surface.
“It's called a gargoyle.”
Rilas turned to find a humanish standing at her shoulder. A male, dark-skinned as a Pathen. He wore his black hair clipped short, as was proper for his kind. But he dressed in a most outrageous HaÃ¡rin style, his shirt and trousers assaulting the eye in clashing shades of green and orange. He looked her in the eye as he spoke, as was the humanish way. A most unseemly familiarity.
“They're the guardians of this place. They watch over the pilots, the mechanics.” He edged closer to Rilas, until his shoulder grazed hers. “We've never had an accident with fatalities at this port. We're the only station in the Commonwealth that can make that claim.”
Rilas took a full step back, as she had been taught.
You must be most direct and obvious when you repel humanish males
, one instructor had told her most long ago,
otherwise they do not understand.
Many found the long limbs and gold-toned skins of idomeni females attractive, and the efforts of some of them to convince the idomeni females of such had led to unseemly incidents.
I can allow no unseemly incidents now.
Thus would her trained hands remain at her sides, and her yen for the shedding of blood remain unsatisfied.
“I have never seen one of these gargoyles before.” Rilas kept all inflection from her voice, and did not look the male in the face. His sort found idomeni eyes most attractive as well, a fact beyond understanding.
, they called them.
, Rilas thought,
and blind besides
. She had studied many images of cats, and none of their eyes appeared as hers. Her pupils were as round, not slitted, her iris and sclera dark and pale gold, not a single color. Not as a cat's at all.
“You've never visited our famous station before?” The male bared his teeth. “The architect wanted to construct a Gothic cathedral in the outer reaches of the Commonwealth. There were plenty who said we should have stopped her,
but scratch an Elyan and you'll find two thingsâa unique sense of humor, and bred-in-the-bone pissiness about being told what to do.” He pointed toward the wall at the far end of the tunnel-like concourse. “We're particularly proud of our Rose Window.”
Rilas looked to the immense circle of glass that filled the space, whorls of blue and yellow separated by translucent red. Blessed red. The holiest of colors. The privilege of priests, used to tint an artificial window that spread artificial light over this most blasted and soulless of places. “A godless thing, and truly,” she said, turning away from the sight that even her love of chaos could not make as right.
The male tilted his head and tried to draw her gaze. “I admit this place isn't to everyone's taste.” He waited, as though expecting Rilas to respond. When she did not do so, he backed away from her. “There is an area in the east corridor set aside for the more orthodox idomeni.” He jerked his head downward, a rough humanish bow. “My apologies for bothering you.”
Rilas watched him go, remaining still until his garish form disappeared among the crowd and she felt sure that he would not return. Only then did she walk across the concourse and enter the locker area where HaÃ¡rin passengers stored their belongings between flights. She encountered several as she made her way down the narrow corridor, and noted that she appeared most as they did. She looked as her name now, nÃ¡ Nahin Sela, the oddity with which nÃ¬Rau CÃ¨el had christened her before she left behind the warmth of her native Rauta ShÃ¨rÃ a and departed her blessed homeworld of ShÃ¨rÃ¡. Her dominant had never before chosen the name under which she would perform her assigned tasks, but in this instance they had both felt it appropriate. Most seemly, and truly.
“Nahin.” She walked the narrow aisles separating the rows of lockers, repeating her name as some did their gate numbers and departure times. When she came to her locker, she acted the tired traveler in case she encountered any other
HaÃ¡rin, fumbling with the touchlock and struggling to remove the bags as she had seen others do. This was not difficult, as the handle of one bag was not long enough to loop over her shoulder and the other felt as though it had been filled with bricks.
When next she spoke with those who had rented this locker and left the bags for her, she would berate them. Her travel documents listed her vocation as “tile broker.” Did those who assembled that which she needed think she meant to carry tiles on her person! She hefted her clumsy burden of purchases and baggage and hunted for a laving room.
By the time she found an empty laving cubicle, the first call for her shuttle sounded throughout the locker area. She opened the cubicle door with a vend token and edged inside, the weighty bags banging against her shins. She hefted them atop the narrow counter, then began her preparations.
First, she removed cleansing materials and washed her face and hands, tucking strands of hair behind her ears and studying herself in the small mirror.
Most as humanish, and truly
. She wrote a symbol in the air as a gesture against demons, then resumed her search through the smaller of her bags, rooting past shoes and a tightly folded weatherall until she came to the thing she sought.
The small case looked as something that would hold earrings or hair ornaments. Indeed, when she opened it, such was what she found. She fingered past the fine gold loops and tangles of braided cord and beads until she found that for which she searched. A ring, alternating bands of gold and silver set with a scattering of small stones.
Using her thumbnail, Rilas worked one of the stones loose from its setting. The colorless disc appeared smooth and featureless to her eye. She held it to the cubicle light and tilted it back and forth, in search of any scratch or crack. Satisfied that none existed, she held the disc under the faucet and rinsed it under a stream of warm water, working it between her fingers as she did. Just as it flexed and began to soften, she positioned it on the tip of her index finger and
bent low over the sink, using the thumb and index finger of her free hand to hold open her right eye.
She flinched as the warmed plastic touched the surface of her eye. The disc adhered and spread, squeezing her corneaâtears dripped into the sink as she fought the urge to sneeze, forced herself still, and quiet. She had performed the same action on Amsun, on Padishah, and numerous other places, yet every time, it felt as a surprise. She blinked once, slowly, and felt the lens settle into place. Blinked again. Then she raised her head and looked into the mirror.