City Without End
Part I: The Little God
Prologue: The Entire
Beside the storm wall, Ahnenhoon, Across the war plains, Ahnenhoon, Over the armies, Ahnenhoon, Around the Repel, Ahnenhoon, Under the grave flags, Ahnenhoon.
—a marching song
HE STILL HAD DIRT UNDER HIS FINGERNAILS FROM HIS GRAVE. His massive hands with their knobby joints sported thick fingers, now grimed with soil. He had hoped for burial in a cloth sack. When he came to consciousness in a box with the sounds of shovels and light welling through the slats, he knew he’d have to work quickly. As dirt started hitting the lid, he blessed Wei who had given him a knife for ripping the planks. And rip them he did, enough to get a shoulder free, covering his mouth to protect a pocket of air. With the burial detail eager for their warm beds in the barracks of Ahnenhoon, they’d dug the grave hastily and mercifully shallow. Next to the looming outer walls of the fortress, Mo Ti quickly refilled his grave. In the distance he heard the sounds of the army’s defensive guns. The Paion must be hitting hard, their zeppelins budding out of the sky to rain ichors on the army of the Entire. Good. Death was a fine distraction on a night like this; it might be just the advantage that would save him. Though it was Deep Ebb, the darkest phase of all, the slumbering sky still burned lavender, throwing a bruised light on him. He must seek the hiding places of the hills. With his massive girth and height, he had never been one easily overlooked, nor, with his face like a tree bole, easily forgotten. Even weak from blood loss, Mo Ti could dispatch a soldier or two, but he had little chance against the terrible lords, thin and vicious, or the Paion, lurching through the grass inside their foul machines. Do not look upon me, Miserable God, he silently prayed. King of Woe, I am beneath your notice, a beetle in dung.
Before loping away, he spared a moment to read his grave flag. Monster of the Repel. Mo Ti smiled. Yes, I am a monster to you, high Tarig lords. He bowed his misshapen body in mock obeisance to the Repel, the lords’ inner keep, where it bulked above the concentric defenses of the fortress. You will see me again, gracious lords.
He held much against them, but not burying him alive. That he had arranged himself. Once in the lords’ custody, Mo Ti needed, above all, to escape Tarig questioning. In his cell he had removed the bindings on his wounds from the sword fight. Blood welled up, spilling onto the floor. Then he mixed waters and dyes to create a scene of death. Finding him an obvious suicide in their dungeon, the Chalin servants had given him a proper burial, it not being a custom of the gracious lords to appear unnecessarily cruel.
He drank deep from the water bladder that had been taped to his leg. Wei had done what she could to help him. But she was a stupid girl not to give him food, too.
Moving swiftly away from the fortress, he took what cover he could in the long grasses. In the distance, the storm walls swayed, sending their dark shadows across the field of contest. Three Paion dirigibles hovered over the killing grounds, their sides pulsing with the weird light of their alien homeland. Before disappearing into sphincters in the sky, they would throw down their poisonous gouts on the ranks of soldiers. Mo Ti hoped the sentries would be inattentive to the Repel’s close vicinity. Soldiers often watched the wrong things.
As did the Tarig. For one thing, they were insensible to the dreams. Even if they could not dream, they were insensible to other sentients’ dreams— dreams that might be spoken of if the Tarig cared whose sleep was troubled. The Inyx mounts spoke heart to heart and now turned the Entire’s dreams to excellent propaganda. How delicious that the young girl the Tarig blinded— his beloved Sydney, for whom he would give his life—had been the first one to see their fatal weakness. How fitting she would be the one to sweep the mantis lords from their sky city.
But now that carefully wrought future was in doubt. Because of the newcomer. The spider. A small, fierce human without a shred of pity for the worlds she would set to the torch. Titus Quinn must stop her, though he didn’t know it yet.
The Rose spider, Hel Ese, came to ally with Sydney. To Mo Ti’s alarm, she had succeeded, displacing him with powers and persuasion. Sewn into her clothes and brought from her world was a small god that Mo Ti did not understand and therefore feared. But the spider had made a strategic mistake. She had allowed Mo Ti to overhear her plans. Impressively cruel plans for a woman. For any sentient being.
He bent over in pain from the wound in his side. It was still two days’ walk to the River Nigh where he would seek passage from the navitar. Rising, he looked into the waxing silver sky, the fiery river that warmed the Entire and his bones. The bright give me strength, Mo Ti thought. The bright bring me home.
He drove his body through the crumpled hills edging the plains of Ahnenhoon. He must find this man, Titus Quinn, the man for whom he had sacrificed himself yesterday during the fight. There had been no time then to tell him of the Rose spider who stalked them all. During that brief skirmish Mo Ti and Titus Quinn had fought off the guards who came in the first wave of defenders. When Mo Ti saw that he could fight three at once, he urged Titus Quinn to flee. He granted the man his life for one reason: instead of destroying the Repel and the land around it, Titus Quinn had repudiated his terrible weapon, sparing the land. And therefore Mo Ti spared him. Then the lords arrived, striking Mo Ti senseless. It was his good fortune the high lord’s human captive, Johanna, was suffering a beating from the Tarig, an undertaking that distracted them from his immediate interrogation.
Thus had Titus Quinn escaped. Wei informed Mo Ti of this fact as he lay in his cell deep in the fortress. Wei was a common servant sent by Johanna to help Mo Ti. It was a fine gesture from a dying woman—a woman who, it was rumored, loved her Tarig lord.
He spit in the dust, thinking of it. Far better dead, Mo Ti thought, than in such an embrace.
A shadow fell over him. From nowhere, a zeppelin scudded above the hill, moving breathtakingly close to Mo Ti’s position. He fell into a deep crouch, nearly blacking out from the pain in his gut. The fatbellied conveyance motored over the next ridge.
Mo Ti stayed low, listening. Silence. The sounds of the airship motor had bled away. From the plains came distant reports of guns. He was just rising to an upright position when he saw it: silhouetted against the sky, a figure on the near ridge. Standing on two short legs, a Paion mechanical, its two multi-weaponed arms cocked at the elbow and ready. The machine almost looked like a man, but it was headless, giving it the nightmare look all children feared. In the hump on its back rode the passenger that drove it. A Paion.
He froze in place. But it was too late. The Paion turned to face him. Mo Ti had no cover; he was exposed to the alien’s view.
Mo Ti ran down the length of the gully. Had the airship disgorged its battalions in the next basin behind the hill? If so, he was a dead man. Reaching the near slope, he forced himself to climb, putting distance between himself and the Paion ranks. Looking back, he saw that the Paion was following. It raised a carapaced arm.
Mo Ti flattened himself against the hill, and the beam went high but near. He admired such accuracy from a running soldier.
Another singular fact stood out. The creature was alone. The Paion always fought in masses, their glowing white shells forming tight knots of offense. But so far, this one was alone. It stalked forward, aiming again. Mo Ti twisted away, rolling sideways on the hillside, escaping the blasts even as he groaned from the exertion.
Forcing himself to his feet, he switched directions, loping toward the war plains. There, in the confusion of the larger conflict, he might divert this lone Paion to other targets. He topped the ridge, his inhalations coming hard and fast, each breath a slice of pain. On the grasslands in front of him, cannon smoke drifted, forming a curtain over hot spots from flaming equipment and bodies. Behind him, the foul creature lurched after him.
Mo Ti ran toward the mayhem, toward the flash of war engines spouting fire, toward the rallies and sorties of battle. He had no weapon to meet the Paion in arms, no chance against the streaming fire of its hand armament. Mo Ti cursed the Paion and cursed Titus Quinn, too, for whose sake he was fleeing for his life. It was good to curse, to keep one’s strength up, to fend off the pain each footfall brought him.
Looking behind him, he saw the Paion closing on him.
There was no time to run. Mo Ti turned to fight.
Staggering closer, the Paion raised its arm again. By the creature’s gait, Mo Ti thought it was damaged. He saw the weapon corkscrew out of the carapace, bypassing the robotic hand. Fire spurted. Mo Ti lunged to the side, falling heavily and driving the breath from his lungs. The pain nearly knocked him senseless. He lost precious intervals forcing himself to his knees. He was untouched. Trying to stand, Mo Ti saw that the Paion’s hand armament was smoking, hanging useless. It had backfired along the creature’s arm, which now slapped at its side as the Paion advanced.
Encouraged, Mo Ti rose to his feet.
In its milky white casing, the Paion advanced, wobbling on its jointed legs. In height it came to Mo Ti’s chest. It raised its other arm.
No ichors streamed out. The creature’s hand was a blade. So, it would be a knife fight. That was good news for Mo Ti. He advanced, drawing his blade, a short but infinitely sharp knife. He blessed Wei for the supplies of his coffin.
They fell at each other, striking. Mo Ti parried the Paion’s first jab, but the second slashed his belt, scoring the braided leather instead of Mo Ti’s gut. Having overreached, the Paion staggered forward, giving Mo Ti time to come at the creature from the back. Raising his arm in a last-ditch blow, he struck at the hump, sending the Paion staggering. Moving in, Mo Ti knew his knife would have little effect against armor. Instead of striking, Mo Ti used his one undoubted advantage: his size. He fell on the Paion. In the force of his sheer weight, he split the mechanical’s carapace in a grinding tear. He brought his fist up and hammered at the bulge again and again as the creature lay face down.
When he could raise his arm no more, Mo Ti collapsed, still lying on top of the mechanical. Fumes of the body inside came to his nostrils. The Paion could not endure exposure to Entire air. The biological entity within was disintegrating, leaking out of the rents in the armor.
Mo Ti rolled off the Paion. He lay panting on his back, fighting to remain conscious. At last he dragged himself to a sitting position. One hand of the mechanical was spinning round the wrist as though trying to sort out which weapon to bring up next.
“It is over,” Mo Ti whispered. “Go to your gods.” He had seen dead Paion mechanicals before, in his soldiering days. Even dead, they were ugly and unnatural. It was said the headless things took their vision from senses spread over the full carapace. And that no one could win against them one on one.
The hand produced another blade, this one long and thin. Then, satisfied it had done its best, the machine let its forearm clink to the ground.
Mo Ti rose to his feet and looked down at his adversary. Yellow blood seeped out of the hump where the Paion had ridden. Mo Ti looked to the ridge to check for further pursuit. The hills were quiet, feeding halfhearted echoes from the battlefield.
He stepped on the Paion’s wrist and hacked his blade at the offered weapon. You never knew when an extra would be needed. He was, he reminded himself, still a long way from the Nigh. The blade separated from the wrist, and Mo Ti slid it into his belt.
He began his painful march once again. Rest was impossible. Once he lay down, he would sleep for days. Somehow, as the hours passed, he managed to keep his purpose before him: The River Nigh. Titus Quinn. Must tell him, and soon. Hel Ese, the spider, coming in for the kill.
Although Titus Quinn was a lifetime journey away from Ahnenhoon, Mo Ti did not despair. By the River Nigh, all places were near.
Prologue: The Rose
IN THE MIRROR, LAMAR GELDE LOOKED AT HIMSELF in swimming trunks. At seventy-seven, a wreck of a man. His white skin hung on a six-foot frame, muscles trim but stringy, chest thin and leathery despite daily workouts. His belly button sagged a good two inches from where it should be, and his toenails looked like ancient ivory. Grabbing his pool robe, he pulled it over his body, lashing it at the waist. The face, at least the face, bore a semblance of dignity. The latest maxillofacial outcomes took thirty years off him, beginning with the nasolobial folds (receded) and the platysma bands wattling his neck (gone.) He peered closer: a few hairline cracks around his eyes argued for the next procedure, corrigator muscle update. He reminded himself that there was nothing ghoulish about being good-looking at his age. Everyone did it. Well, maybe seventy-seven was pushing it, but if he was going to live a long time, now was no time to start slipping. Caitlin Quinn hailed him with a raise of her poolside drink. He made his way to her, noting that her thirty-five-year-old body still looked fit, though she had the bad taste to complain of it. “What’ll you have?” she asked, pointing her data ring at the house.
“Seltzer and lime.” She stranded the order at the smart wall, her smile wobbling. She’d called him here to talk about something. Anything she needed, he was the man. As Caitlin made her way to the wet bar to retrieve their drinks, Lamar watched Rob and his son horsing around in the pool. He sighed. A nice little family scene on the surface. Underneath, nothing of the sort. Caitlin and Rob were on the outs. No doubt Caitlin was half in love with Titus Quinn, her brother-in-law, and Rob was clueless. Since they were living off Titus’s millions, Rob no longer had to worry about being fired for being forty and hopelessly out of date with savant AIs. Nope. He’d had the money to quit outright before they fired him, and now he and Caitlin had their own little middie startup company. They should take their happiness while there was still time.
Thirteen-year-old Mateo stood on the diving board, waving at Lamar. “Back dive, uncle Lamar, watch!” He danced on the board, then launched his body, folding in a way only a cat or youngster could manage, smoothing out in time to make a decent plunge.
Lamar clapped, impressed. Mateo waved like crazy and swam the length of the pool. Despite no little envy, Lamar was proud of the kid. Handsome, motivated, respectful. Liked his “uncle.” Well, Lamar had promised to take good care of the family. Rob and Caitlin were Quinn’s only family now—they and their children, Mateo and Emily. Lamar had grown closer to them in the interval of Quinn’s absence. Nice kid, Mateo. It made Lamar wish he’d had a few of his own. But Caitlin, seated again next to him, looked unhappy. She had no idea how unhappy she had a right to be. It made him feel like shit.
She wouldn’t be in on it. How could she be? She was a middie, smart enough to tend lower-level AI’s, the savants. Same as Rob. But she’d never be a savvy, testing over 160. It wasn’t her fault, but she wasn’t up to dealing with the new world.
Mateo did a flying back somersault, landing on his butt. Rob roared with laughter, and Mateo hauled himself out of the pool, breathless but laughing anyway.
“Good kid,” Lamar said.
“I know.” Caitlin cut him a glance. “Not good enough, maybe.”
He frowned, and the conversation sagged into the waiting silence.
“We got the results. He didn’t ace the test.”
Lamar gaped at her. Didn’t ace the test? The Standard Test. Christ, the kid was the grandson of Donnel Quinn and the nephew of Titus Quinn, and he didn’t slam the Standard? He hung his head, not looking at her. Genetics.
It was genetics. Mateo got his brains from Caitlin and Rob—no shame in that—but he was no savvy. Not like Lamar, or Titus. Christ almighty. A blow.
Caitlin pushed on, falsely cheerful. “He’s bright. IQ 139. He’ll be fine.”
Fine. Yes, depending on your definition. Didn’t Mateo have some big ambitions, though? Something about being a virtual enviro designer . .. well, not likely. Stanford wouldn’t take him, or Cornell. Lamar could pull some strings. But the boy didn’t have the right stuff to make it far; couldn’t do calculus in his head or understand advanced quantum theory. Time was when even the average-smart could do real science, but that time was gone. The easy stuff had all been done, and now, talking to a middie—much less a dred—was like explaining sunrise to a pigmy.
“I’m sorry, Caitlin.”
“Of course you are.” Her voice didn’t cloak her bitterness. Lamar was a savvy.
He shifted uneasily in the pool chair. He should have been prepared for this. Mateo was thirteen, the age they gave the Standard. What was he supposed to say: Brains aren’t everything? Oh, but they were.
Mateo grabbed his towel and made his way to the adults while Rob did his pool laps.
“He doesn’t know yet,” Caitlin whispered.
“Ho, unc,” Mateo chirped.
“Ho, young man.” Lamar pasted on a smile, more rigid these days after his rhinoplasty.
Mateo took a sip of a half-finished soda, and Lamar watched him with dismay. The boy squinted against the July sun, making him look confused and wary. The spark in his eyes, that look of broad perspective, was missing.
Lamar should have seen it before. The boy was a middie, poor son of a bitch.
“Want to see a double twist?” Mateo asked, jumping up. Assured that every adult within two blocks would want to see Mateo Quinn perform dive platform feats, he raced off, heedless of Caitlin’s call not to run on the cement.
His departure left a vacuum in Lamar’s heart. What a miserable mess. Mateo wasn’t in the club. Bad enough to leave Caitlin and Rob behind, but now Mateo? Quinn would be unhappy. Quinn would carve Lamar a new asshole.
Lamar sank into a dark place, thinking of how his little revolutionary cabal was screwing over his adopted family. Thinking of how he’d have to face Quinn for leaving Mateo behind when the world change came about.
The fact was, even Lamar didn’t want to leave him behind. He liked the boy, liked Caitlin and little Emily. For God’s sake, how could he abandon them?
The topic didn’t bear close scrutiny. It was a monstrous scheme. But if the world had to be abandoned, Lamar and his people couldn’t be blamed. That responsibility fell upon the Tarig. They were intent on using the Rose universe as fuel and had been beta testing the concept for fully two years, if not longer. Lately the tally of vanished stars included Alpha Carinae, a rare yellow-white super giant, which people who bothered to learn their stars knew as Canopus. Few bothered. The astronomers were in a lather, of course. Particularly since over the last three months Alpha Carinae had been preceded in death by Procyon, the lovely marquee star of Canis Minor, and 40 Eridani-B, a DA-class white dwarf. People paying attention, like Lamar and his friends, saw these vanishings as yet another hint the end was near. The stars had simply winked out. Impossible, of course. But not for the Tarig.
Nothing, really, could stop them, not for long. Lamar and company’s little plan—with the very apt name of renaissance—would hasten that act of cannibalism, after first saving a few gifted people who the Tarig might tolerate in their closed kingdom. We’ll help you burn it. Let a few of us emigrate, and we’ll show you how.
Grotesque, yes. But who else could fight the monstrous Tarig, if not equally ferocious humans? These were Lamar’s usual ruminations, forestalling the guilt that threatened to inundate his days.
But a new thought was forming. Perhaps—just perhaps—he didn’t have to leave the boy behind. Lamar Gelde might, for example, bend the rules a bit. Given his exemplary service to the new renaissance, hadn’t he earned some privileges?
Of course he’d have to face Helice, and she was fierce on the topic. But the hell with Helice, the little rat-bitch. He’d never liked her, and she wasn’t in charge from across the universe. Furthermore, Quinn would appreciate the out-of-the-box thinking. Quinn would goddamn well owe him big time.
Lamar watched Caitlin as he sipped his drink. By damn, I’m poised to do something good and decent. By damn.
Mateo was going to get his numbers changed. Caitlin was going to retest, too. Her numbers would come up strong, as well. Rob—well, no one would miss him. He was out of the equation. Lamar would have to pull off a bit of backroom manipulation, and normally such a switch could never escape the scrutiny of the mSap . . . but the thing was, he didn’t need to fool the machine sapient that ran the Standard Test. He only needed to confuse the bureaucrats for a few days. By then, it would be too late.
Lamar murmured into his drink, hardly believing what he was saying to Caitlin: “I can get you in on something. You and your family.” Now that he had said it, it filled him with a vast relief. In the midst of the coming storm, amid the colossal suffering to come, someone would have a reprieve.
Caitlin looked at him, waiting.
“I can’t tell you what it is. Something’s coming. Not a word to Rob or anybody, not even Mateo.” He noted Caitlin’s growing confusion. “It won’t matter about the test. Very soon, it won’t matter at all.”
“What are you talking about? Are they coming up with a new test?”
“No, no tests. That’s behind us now.”
She scrunched her lips in thought. “It might be behind you, Lamar, but it’s not behind us.”
He fixed her with a pointed look as Rob, draped in a towel, ambled over from his swim. “I can’t say more. Don’t push right now. We’ll talk, but privately.”
She started to protest, but he shook his head as Rob joined them.
Poor Rob. He was a dead man. It made him feel like hell to know so much, while simple people enjoyed their barbeques and swims. But he couldn’t let himself worry about Rob. He’s holding the race back. Propagating, watering down the neurons. Rob wouldn’t have a place in the future. Not like Lamar. Not like Titus Quinn. Men with the requisite IQ.
It was all based on merit.
And in the case of Mateo and Caitlin, on who you knew.
The most exalted of habitations is the Ascendancy. But the longest is Rim City.
—from The Radiant Way
IN THE NEVERENDING CITY, Ji Anzi and Titus Quinn finally found a magistrate willing to marry them. In this city of one hundred billion people, they had few friends. One, to be exact: Zhiya. And she was a despised godder, though appearances could be misleading. Anzi knew that Zhiya’s network of contacts sent tendrils throughout Rim City, throughout the Entire. One of Zhiya’s contacts was this resin-addicted magistrate who lay before them. He was barely conscious, an impoverished legate who lived on the never-ending wharf in a hovel almost too small to hold the three-person wedding party. It wouldn’t do to engage a fully conscious magistrate to officiate. The whole city was looking for Titus and Anzi, backed up by legions of Tarig, and perhaps Titus’s enemies in the Rose as well. He was a man well hated, but beloved of Ji Anzi. She held his hand now, ready to join their lives. It must be done quickly. With so many searching for them, they might be discovered at any moment. Titus said that marriage was a thing that would bind them now and forever, no matter what happened next. He was, Anzi knew from profound experience, a man who wanted a family. He’d had one. Now he had her, and it seemed he meant to keep her. The legate had agreed to marry them, but Changjun stunk of resinladen smoke and was so weak he couldn’t sit up.
Titus turned to the godwoman Zhiya. “He’s half dead.”
Zhiya shrugged. “The less he remembers, the better.”
Anzi looked askance at the magistrate, wondering how she had come to this moment, to marry Titus Quinn in a shack that smelled of drugs and vomit.
The legate reached in the direction of the voices, rasping something unintelligible.
“Certainly,” Zhiya answered him. “Your fee to be paid in resin.” She brought out a small chunk from her pocket, opening her palm to display it. “Yours very soon, honorable Changjun.” Zhiya might serve the God of the Entire, but she was not above drug dealing and treason. Titus trusted the dwarf godwoman with whom he’d forged a friendship on his way to Ahnenhoon. Anzi took his word for it that Zhiya opposed the lords and supported Titus—a startling betrayal for a high-ranking Venerable.
A spike of laughter from outside reminded Anzi that amid Rim crowds were many who would gladly hand them over to the Tarig. After Ahnenhoon, she and Titus were notorious. But what, Anzi wondered, did people think had happened at Ahnenhoon to make both her and the famous outlaw fugitives? She doubted the realm’s sentients knew the All needed the Rose for burning. She doubted they knew Ahnenhoon was the sight of more than the Long War. Its fortress was the repository for the great engine that was already burning stars, allowing the Tarig to test their plans for further burning.
Looking around the filthy hovel, Anzi wondered if the legate could be roused to conduct the civil ceremony. He was saturated with the drug and had pissed himself. This was not the marriage she had dreamed of. Was it a good idea? They hadn’t had time to think it through. Titus loved her and was taking her for his second wife. Second, if Joanna was still alive. This was doubtful. But for Titus’s sake, she hoped Johanna lived. The burden of her death was something Anzi hoped he would be spared by the God of Misery.
Zhiya checked again at the door—as though she could stop a Tarig from entering. Zhiya was hardly a soldier: barely four feet in height, with a sideways gamboling walk and a persistent disregard for her service to her religious order.
Zhiya smiled at the reeking legate. “Hurry, Excellency,” she crooned, “Marry them and celebrate with the heavenly smoke.”
The legate roused himself onto one elbow, but it was only to reach for the nugget. Zhiya surged forward and shook him by the shoulders. “By the mucking bright .. .” she began. But the man fell back, eyes rolling up. He had passed out.
From just beyond the walls came the sound of the sea splatting against the breakwater. Changjun’s room had a glorious location next to the largest sea in either universe. But then everyone in Rim City had more or less the same location, the city being many thousand of miles long and a stone’s throw wide.
Titus glanced at Zhiya. “Check the street. We’re leaving.”
Zhiya didn’t budge. “I could perform the ceremony.”
Anzi stifled a gasp of dismay. “No. You’re a godwoman. The Miserable God would curse us.” Anzi cast around for another solution. “Find us a priest of the Red Throne.”
Zhiya kicked at the slumbering legate, muttering. “My dear, it’s a charming thought to be helped by a Red priest. Unfortunately, it would get us all killed. But if you get another idea, be sure to keep it to yourself.”
“But,” Anzi continued, unfazed, “the Society of the Red Throne—”
“Believes in the lords, commerce, and the three vows. No, Anzi, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Only three can do the job: a legate, a ship keeper, or a godder.” Motioning toward the comatose legate, Zhiya said, “You’re down to two choices. See any ship keepers?”
Titus looked at Anzi, saying softly, “Let her do it, my love. What more can the Miserable God bring on us?”
Anzi raised an eyebrow. What more could He do? What, besides threaten the Rose universe with extinction? What, besides give Titus a weapon to save the Rose, and then, diabolically, make it a weapon he couldn’t bring himself to use? The cirque he’d brought into the Entire, the small silver chain around his ankle, had proven to be a molecular weapon that would erase not just the Tarig threat but the whole of the Entire. At Ahnenhoon, as Titus was at the very moment of depositing the weapon at the base of the engine, Titus’s first wife told him to make peace with his God. In this way she let slip that Titus was about to die. That everyone in the Entire was about to die, since the weapon would destroy the Entire. He’d asked her what she knew of the cirque and how she could know. He learned that he’d been tricked by Lord Oventroe to bring a doomsday weapon to Ahnenhoon. Oventroe, who had inspected the cirque and promised it would take down only the engine.
They had fled Ahnenhoon, he and Anzi, with the job undone, the engine still churning. But they were forced to leave Johanna behind. She had no doubt been caught at the foot of the engine, the place she was forbidden to be. No doubt it all came out, eventually, what she was there for.
A saving grace was that Johanna would be forced to reveal that Titus had the overwhelming weapon. That he left with it. It could still destroy the Tarig land. Therefore the lords did not dare to simply cross over to the Rose and kill the Earth to forestall future aggression. The lords would most certainly do so if not restrained by this most useful deterrent: the cirque in Titus’s possession.
But the problem was he had thrown the cirque away.
Titus said again, “Let her do the ceremony, Anzi.”
He looked at her with such longing it nearly stopped her breath. Anzi slid a glance at the godwoman, considering whether she could bear to be married by a godder.
Zhiya blurted, “You think I want to do it? If you ask me, Titus should marry me. I’ve lusted after him from the first day I saw him.” She shrugged apologetically at Titus’s bridetobe.
Titus was still focused on Anzi. “Marry me, Ji Anzi, and let the Miserable God do his worst.”
At the blasphemy, she raised two fingers to her left eye. “Beloved, never say it.”
“Someone has to stand up to him.”
Anzi turned to Zhiya. “Yes, then,” she whispered. “You’re not so despised a godder as most.”
Zhiya sighed. “By God’s balls, a fine compliment. But shall we get on with this?”
“Yes, Venerable,” Anzi said, almost inaudible. “Bless us.” She closed her eyes, unable to meet Zhiya’s gaze.
Without preamble, the godwoman muttered the blessing. Anzi heard it in a blur of resin smoke and adrenaline . . .
“Anzi,” Titus said at last, nudging her from a sickening reverie. He drew her into his arms, whispering, “My great love. My wife.”
“Is it over?” she asked.
“Yes,” Zhiya snapped. “Many days of bliss to you both.” She peeked out the door. “We’ll raise a toast at the whorehouse.” She ducked an apology to Anzi. “My side business, but they do know how to have a party.”
“Titus,” Anzi said. He paused, waiting for her to go on. “Have you thought what will happen if they catch us?”
He nodded. “Yes. They won’t catch us.”
“But, if they do?”
Zhiya sighed. “The longer we stay here the more chance there is that they will catch you. Go now. Talk later.”
Anzi fixed Zhiya with her gaze. “No. There is no later.”
Titus grew wary. “What is it?”
“It’s the chain. It’s gone. Lying at the bottom of the Nigh.” The chain as a deterrent was the only chance left for the Rose, and Titus knew that as well as she did. He just didn’t want to admit what it meant. “If we separate, and one of us is caught, we can claim the device is with the other person.” She saw him resisting this idea. “The chain still has power—if they believe we have it. They’ll be afraid to move against the Earth if they think I’ll open the links and let out the plague. Or you will.”
“Pardon, but I think yes.”
Zhiya rolled her eyes. “What a fine beginning to marital harmony.”
Ignoring her, Titus said, “No. If we’re caught we’ll just say we gave it to someone for safekeeping.”
“But who would that be? Among all the sentients of the Entire, who loves the Rose? Only you and I. The lords would suspect us.”
“Anzi,” he pleaded. “No, I don’t like it.”
“I might choose to go without your agreement.”
They looked at each other for a long moment. Titus was processing this.
He had already heard the wisdom of what she said. She thought he’d already decided, but was postponing saying so.
She went to his arms. “My love,” she whispered. They held each other.
Anzi pushed away finally. “Wait for me, Titus.”
He held her at arms’ length. “I hate this. Go, if you think best. But don’t pretend to have the cirque. I can’t ask it of you. I won’t.”
“No. Don’t ask.” He was always wanting to do the right thing. He had done so many awful things that he weighed small things too hard because they were easier to grasp. This was a small thing.
When he saw her resolve, he said, “Come home to me.”
Zhiya regarded the leave taking with growing impatience. “Where will you go, girl?”
“To a far primacy. Somewhere you can’t guess.”
Zhiya flicked her gaze at Titus. “I’ll put her on a vessel, then.”
He nodded. After a pause he said, “Give us one hour alone.”
The godwoman smirked. “What? Here?” She noted the unconscious legate sprawled on the only bed. “You don’t have the luxury of an hour.”
“Give us some goddamn time, Zhiya.”
Anzi put a hand on his arm, getting his attention. “We’ll have our time.”
It was something she was not quite ready to believe, but she said it anyway, her heart cooling. She lifted her hood and yanked it forward, moving to the door.
Titus intercepted her at the door, pulling the hood back. Cupping her face, he kissed her in a way that instantly heated her.
She pressed him away at last. “The Chalin never say farewell. I won’t say it now.”
“No,” he agreed. “Protect yourself first. Promise me.”
“First before what?”
Zhiya took Anzi’s arm. “Pull that hood over your head, and let’s get out of here.” She cut a reassuring look at Titus, but Anzi could not look at him again.
She and Zhiya slipped through the door.
Once out in the street, the godwoman hurried alongside Anzi toward the wharf, where a navitar vessel might be found. “You have no more intention of putting yourself first than I do of going celibate. You are an impressive liar, Ji Anzi.”
Anzi nodded under her hood. “Thank you, Venerable.”
Lies seek the light like Inyx do the steppes.
SYDNEY RAN INTO SLEEP, INTO HER DREAMS eager to share in the carnage.
Dreams were the battlefield, the only arena where the mantis lords were vulnerable. Each night she lay her head down to sleep, to fight. She was no Inyx, could not join the raids of her Deep Ebb army, but her thoughts urged them on. At the head of the Inyx forays was her beloved mount Riod, slicing into the minds of those who slept, sending poison. The worst kind of poison for despots: truth.
The gracious lords have deceived us all. They are not flesh and blood, but wayfarers in bodies of their creation, fearing to live, tethered to their ancestral home, far outside of the Entire. The lords are simulacra, fearing carbon-based life. They do not die or have children. To them, birth is stepping into a form for a time. Until they scurry back to the Heart, where they exist as unholy burning things. Denizens of the Entire, should we venerate such creatures? Should we trust the radiant lords, who can retreat at any time to their true home—the Heart? It is a hellishly burning place where their minds swarm in chaos. Only here in the Entire can a Tarig have a body, a life, and worshippers. Would you be subject to such as that?
The dream took Sydney, as Inyx dreams could, filling her drifting mind with urgent sendings. Then it cast her up, like a wave tosses a shell on a beach. She lay sweating in fear and excitement, sticking to her bedclothes, as the storm moved on. She knew that the same kinds of dreams were harrowing the sleep of sentients throughout the Entire. Each one interpreted the sendings in their own dream-logic. Lacking perfect coherence, the dreams still suggested truths, sowed anxieties. All part of her plan, of Mo Ti’s plan: to bring the Inyx herds together in one common force, then use their united dreamsendings in an insurgency of the mind.
Mo Ti’s plan, when he’d brought it to her so long ago, had been simple, breathtaking: Discredit the Tarig. Undermine them. Crush them. And though Mo Ti was at present far away, Sydney executed that plan, joined by Riod, greatest of the hoofed and horned magnificent Inyx. She didn’t know how she would crush the mantis lords. That part was yet to unfold. But it began with a dreamtime rebellion that could penetrate Entirean distances. Each night, a new dream swooped into the minds of sleepers, like a bird landing lightly on a branch, waiting to peck at vital parts.
She sat up, too stimulated to sleep. It was Between Ebb, nearly morning, and Riod would return soon. She rose quickly and dressed, thinking of him, but not too strongly. He shouldn’t be distracted from his work in the fields nearby. There, the herds grazed and dozed, looking harmless, while forging their heart-sight into a sword.
Sydney moved quietly, not wanting to disturb Helice, asleep on the other bed. They shared a tent and compatible ambitions; most ebbtimes, they spent hours talking. For the first time in the Entire, Sydney had a woman friend.
As she washed and dressed, she glanced at Helice, thankful for her but also blaming her. Helice had brought word of the cirque. In response, Sydney had no choice but to send Mo Ti to stop her father from using it. To kill him. The decision sickened her. It was an ugly thing, even if her father had abandoned her and steeped himself in privileges and princedom. How he could have done so, she would never understand. It didn’t matter anymore.
When she drew back the tent flap, she was surprised to find the herd surging from the pastures into camp. Their sendings began to filter to her. Look up. It comes. Her eyes cut to the sky. Nighward, a shadow cut a crease into the curdling lavender folds of the bright. At great speed, the speck grew. It could only be one thing.
The camp was in chaos. Tarig strode across the field—by now empty of the dreaming herd—cutting a swath through the encampment. Only three Tarig debarked from the ship. As they approached they looked cumulatively like a tripart fighting machine, tall, taloned, and glinting in the morning bright. Sydney rushed back into the tent where Helice was hurriedly dressing.
“Leave!” Sydney hissed. If the lords found a Rose woman among them… “Hide!” Sydney could hear footsteps approaching. But there was no time for Helice to leave. The tent flap flew wide. The lords were here.
Helice bowed deeply, like a servant.
The one in front had the slightly leaner physique of a female, and affected half-gloves that would not impede her in her fight. This one glanced at Helice, then turned to Sydney.
While the two other Tarig stood somewhat back, the gloved Tarig said, “The Rose child, ah?”
She didn’t like this Tarig. “I’m not of the Rose. I’m of Riod’s sway.”
The lord looked down from a height of seven feet. In Sydney’s ten years of captivity she had seen the Tarig so infrequently that their physical aspect could still intimidate.
The lead Tarig said, “You will use proper address, small girl, lest my cousins take offense.” The other Tarig watched Sydney with black eyes.
“Yes, Bright One.”
“You may call us Lady Anuve.”
“Yes, Lady Anuve,” Sydney made herself say. Her mouth gone dry, Sydney forced herself to breathe. Had they discovered the dreamcasts? Her thoughts raced. Was their rebellion over already? Riod, she thought, presuming he would be reaching out to her mind, Stay far from the tent. You will hear all that transpires. We can’t change what comes now. Be brave, my heart.
“I will dismiss my servant,” Sydney said, waving Helice out of the tent. The Tarig ignored her as she passed—small, scarred, and bald—hardly a personage.
Lady Anuve flicked out a talon. Snagging a length of Sydney’s hair, she murmured, “Hair the color of soil.” The talon whispered down the side of Sydney’s face. “And eyes to match.” The claw stopped at Sydney’s left eyelid. Once, long ago, a talon like that had blinded her, as this Tarig lady surely knew.
Sydney, despite her defiant stance, started to shake.
Retracting her talon, Anuve shoved Sydney in the shoulder, pushing her through the tent door into the morning air. There the herd had begun to gather in front of Sydney’s pavilion, among them Adikar the healer, Takko the Laroo, AkayWat her Captain of Roamlands, and all their mounts.
Riod stood at the forefront, looming as tall as the Tarig. Tell her this is my sway, and she must speak with me, Riod sent.
“Riod is master here,” Sydney told the Tarig lady. “You should speak with him. I’ll tell you what he says.”
“One hears that riders in this place have bonds with Inyx mounts. Is this so?”
“You will use proper address, or we will kill you.”
“Yes, Bright One.”
Anuve looked at her, calculating. “Do you love this beast, then? So one hears, that the bond is close to love.”
“I have such a bond with Riod, Lady Anuve.”
“Ah.” For the first time Anuve looked at Riod, and then at the mounts behind him. “Send them away, and all their riders.”
“But Riod .. .”
“Riod may stay.”
Riod, beloved, Sydney thought. But he had heard Anuve’s command. He told the gathered Inyx and their riders to move off, out of hearing, out of harm’s way. AkayWat, riding Gevka, was among them, looking dismayed. It reminded Sydney that it had been a long while since she’d spoken with her old Hirrin friend. Sydney concentrated on a reassuring thought, trusting that the mounts would hear her and relay it to the riders.
Helice was on foot, refusing as always to ride her designated mount. She turned to leave, first locking glances with Sydney as though to say, don’t betray me.
When Riod and Sydney were alone among the Tarig, Anuve fixed Sydney with a cold, accusatory stare. “Your eyes have been tampered with.”
Relief flooded over her. They’d come because of her sight, only her sight. Sydney released the breath she had been holding. She must take exquisite care. Some lies were needful. Others were useless.
“Yes, Bright One,” she finally said. The Tarig were the first who tampered with her sight, and she had tampered back. The mantis lords wanted to spy on the Inyx through her eyes, so they could watch for Titus Quinn. But then Helice had removed the tampering.
“Now we wish to know how this was done. You will tell me now, small girl, how you took back your sight and also how you knew to take back your sight. Hnn? We are curious to learn these things.”
When Sydney didn’t answer, Anuve said, “It was your father, one assumes. Yes?”
“No. My father never came here, Bright One.”
“You will tell me who it was, and how it was, that your sight came to be restored.” Anuve nodded at one of the other Tarig. He took out a tiny flechette and flung it at Riod, where it stuck into his hide at the shoulder.
Riod shied as Sydney rushed to his side. Grabbing at the barb stuck in Riod’s hide, she tried to pull it out, but the protruding end was too sharp. Riod staggered, then collapsed into a sitting position, his legs folded under him. He didn’t respond when she touched him or frantically called to him in her mind.
Anuve nodded. “Now you shall tell, yes?”
Sydney barely controlled her fury. “I knew you had my eyes by the way I felt when you looked out of them, my lady. My body rejected your surgeries.”
Anuve regarded her quietly. “Think of another answer, girl of the Rose.” She flicked a gaze at her two Tarig companions, and they moved away, beginning a search of the camp. She went on. “There have been events at Ahnenhoon. You will not have heard, we suppose you will say, that your father brought a weapon to our great Repel. Lord Inweer stopped him from using it. The darkling fled. Here, ah?”
Fled. Titus fled. Still alive, then. “No, lady, he isn’t here. Search as you like.” Titus wasn’t dead. Somehow, Mo Ti hadn’t killed him.
The Tarig lady put a finger under Sydney’s chin, tilting it up to lock their gazes. “Your eyes did not repair themselves. You will have some time to think over what you are saying. The Tarig are gracious. We understand sentients have bonds with those called father. But if he is not here now, then you have no reason to deny he was once here. Tell us, and we will spare Riod’s life.”
Riod’s life? Sydney was instantly stricken.
Anuve nodded at Riod. “As he is now, so he remains until I release him from the inhibitor. So he remains until my cousins draw their claws across his neck. By the first hour of Prime of Day. Go to the tent and think carefully.”
Sydney looked at Riod, her emotions in turmoil. Nothing, nothing from Riod. His mind was locked in, his body helpless.
Anuve pushed her toward the tent, and Sydney staggered at the casual strength of the Tarig’s arm. She ducked through the tent flap, standing alone, wild with fear. The bright lit up the cloth pavilion roof as though it were a normal day, as though the day had in store a ride with her mount and the usual pleasure of his company. She sat on her cot a long while before she could even begin to think. The questing, fearful thoughts of the mounts reached out to her, and she formed a thought for them to take: Let me think what to do. Wait, my friends.
As the bright waxed overhead, Sydney sat on her cot.
The Tarig didn’t know about the herd sendings. All they knew is that Sydney had foiled their attempt to confiscate her sight. All she had to do was give up Helice, to say: Helice came to me for help, having sneaked into the realm. I gave her sanctuary. She fixed my eyes. She has a little machine .. . But Helice had value, almost infinite value. She had the renaissance plan. Of the herd and its riders only Riod and AkayWat knew about this, so Sydney diverted her thoughts from the subject quickly.
Sydney walked to her clothing chest and opened it. She took out her best jacket and riding pants. They were white, or nearly white. She changed into them, taking the one item she needed most. She stepped outside.
One of the Tarig stood there, keeping guard. Anuve was nowhere in sight. “I want to be sure Riod is all right,” she said to the lord. “Let me approach him.”
A nod granted her permission. Coming up to Riod, she knelt and whispered to him: “I’ve never been afraid to die, Riod. I love you.” She took out a knife and pressed it to her own throat. She spoke so the Tarig could hear her clearly: “Come near me or my mount, and I will kill myself.”
The Tarig lunged forward. But Lady Anuve shouted out, “Stop. Let her be.”
Anuve came into view, her metal skirt slit to allow her long stride. She approached within ten feet of Sydney and Riod and looked down at them. After a minute she said, “You will tire of holding up the knife.”
“I’ll do the job before then.”
Anuve stood as still as Riod and watched. Apparently, as Sydney had gambled, they didn’t want her dead.
Thoughts from the herd fell on her like rain. Come back, mistress. If Riod’s time has come, he goes bravely. Sydney. Come back. Mistress. And, amid the cacophony of anonymous thoughts, AkayWat’s impassioned plea: Give them the Rose woman, AkayWat begs you. Stay with us, oh stay…
Sydney found she wasn’t afraid. Once she had decided to die, the rest was—if not easy—at least peaceful. She let her mind go blank, beyond emotion or logic.
Sometime during this profound calm, the camp stirred around her. Sydney hardly registered the movements. The heartsendings grew stronger, more difficult to ignore. At last, reluctantly, she came back to full presence.
Insistent thoughts came pulsing to her from the herd: A brightship comes. Another ship.
Sydney moved slightly. Turning toward Riod, she saw him still immobile. Where the flechette was stuck into him, a trickle of blood had dried, forming a red crack down his side.
After a time, a new Tarig strode into view. The lord stood next to Anuve, taller, more commanding.
The newcomer and Anuve were speaking, but they kept their voices out of hearing range. The other two Tarig were also joining in, as though there were no difference in standing among them. The conference ended.
The new Tarig approached Sydney. He crouched next to her in that way Tarig had of appearing all knees and elbows, inspiring her expression, mantis lords.
“Do you know this Tarig lord, young girl?” he asked.
She shook her head, unable to summon the spit to speak.
“Lord Inweer. One has come from Ahnenhoon. You know Ahnenhoon?”
“At Ahnenhoon, Johanna was our companion. You have before you that lord. Do you understand?”
Again, she nodded. “Stay back,” she croaked. Though, in truth he was close enough now that he could easily grab the knife. He was also close enough that she could stab him in the eye, the best way to kill a Tarig.
“Your father was here, and he must have had means to return your normal sight. One can forgive you this small treason. Do not lie to us, and this lord will help you.”
“Riod .. .” Sydney whispered. “Remove Riod’s barb, and we can talk, Bright Lord.” She looked into his implacable face and found herself saying, though she hated to say it, “Please.”
Lord Inweer stood up and yanked the barb from Riod’s side. Flecks of blood spun off it as he flung it away.
Riod’s chest expanded, grabbing air.
Sydney whispered, summoning the required lie: “My father fixed my eyes. Then he left, Bright Lord.”
“Ah. That is a good answer. Where did he go?”
“He would not tell me.”
Inweer watched her. Then he did something Tarig never did. He blinked.
It made his face look almost human. “We will tell you of your mother, now. Johanna is dead. One could not save her. She helped her husband when he came against the great engine. My cousin killed her for this crime. We buried her at Ahnenhoon.”
Dead. Sydney felt a pang at the news. Her mother had been dead to her for a long while—but now she was dead in truth. The news hit her with some force. How strange that recently she had sent Sydney a scroll with a moving image of herself. There were times, deep in the ebb, when Sydney looked at that image and wondered about her mother. Now, she would never know more.
Inweer went on, “This lord held her in regard.”
This was the lord she had so despised, the one her mother had been living with as mistress of his household and of his bed. She had hated them both. Now he was going to help her. She felt numb with all that was happening. Riod, she thought passionately. Johanna is dead.
Riod’s awakening mind sent: I am here. Always here, best rider.
Inweer had no part of their private heart-sendings. He watched them as though he knew they were talking, though. “One has the power to raise you up, small girl. This lord will do so for the sake of Johanna. You will ask no questions, but accept all conditions.”
“And Riod will be safe, my lord?”
“You may keep your beast. One has no interest in his fate.”
She lowered her hand. She couldn’t drop the knife because her fingers were frozen in their grip. Inweer pried her fingers open and took the weapon.
He said, his voice very deep and soft, “She asked for you, pleaded for your safety. This we granted, giving you leave to rise up among the Inyx. Now you will need further protection from cousins who find you distasteful. You will have a position. It will mean you must leave this sway. Do you agree?”
At her side, Riod trembled, coming to full alert. She touched him. My heart.
Shall I kill him? Riod sent.
“No, Riod,” she said aloud. “Lord Inweer can help us.” The lord was waiting for her reply. “Where will I go, Bright Lord?”
“We have considered the idea that the Chalin Sway should be yours. The master of that sway can be dismissed. You may do well there. In return, you will entrap your father the next time he appears before you. That is the condition. He cannot be loose in the Entire. We do not discuss this or compromise. Ah?”
Well, that was easy to agree to. “Yes, my lord.”
Satisfied, Inweer rose from his crouch and conferred with the other Tarig.
Riod pulled his front legs under him, lumbering up, front first, then back. He dipped his head down to allow Sydney to hold on to his fore horns. Then he lifted his head, and Sydney rose up using his strength.
Someone approached them from the ranks of the riders who had been gathering at a distance. Takko the Laroo brought Riod a pan of water and Sydney a cup. He nodded at her, his face conveying relief. Sydney felt her skin crack at the effort of smiling.
The Tarig group turned to Sydney and Riod at last. Anuve spoke, “We like not the idea of the Chalin sway. It is too much to give, and it has its master, Zai Gan.” Anuve and Inweer exchanged glances like cuts. Surely she could not overrule Lord Inweer, who was, after all, one of the ruling Five. “We have in mind, however, that small girl might go to Rim City. She can be magister of that city.”
Sydney was not dead. No, and she was being given a great prize, instead. Numb, she could only listen.
Anuve regarded her. “It may suit our purposes. She may prove herself a loyal sentient.”
Rim City. At the foot of the Ascendancy. “Wherever you send me, Bright Ones, I have to bring Riod.” Sydney blurted it out, then saw how the Tarig regarded this interruption. They stared at her with expressions that silenced her.
Inweer said, “Take two or three companions, then.” He turned to Anuve. “She will need loyalty around her.”
Inweer went on, “We would have her be mistress of a sway. Thus we will invest Rim City as a sway. It shows the Bright Realm that she has earned our respect. It shows that she is pardoned for her Rose birthing. It is well to pardon from time to time.” He nodded. “One concurs with you, Lady Anuve. She will go to Rim Sway. It is a place no one else could want and no master of a sway need be cast down.”
Anuve fixed Sydney with a black look. “And you will bring Titus Quinn to us?”
Sydney nodded. “Yes. He’ll come, Bright One.”
Anuve growled, “He tends to slip away.”
“I’ll help you, my lady.”
“The daughter helps to snare the father? Even a father who helped her realign her sight?”
“Yes, my lady.” They had no clue what her relationship with Titus was. That when he was a prince of the city, he had left her to her enslavement among the Inyx before she had found Riod to champion her. He had let the lords blind her. And he had lived like a king.
Lord Inweer was eager to be on his way and took his leave. Sydney and Anuve watched him stride back to his ship. He must feel satisfaction, Sydney thought, that he’d done a favor for Johanna. Now she was left with the aftertaste of accepting a favor from him. As the brightship slipped silently into its ascent path, Anuve murmured, “We must wonder how the lord gives credence to you.”
“The bright lady must know I do not love my father.”
“Do not all children love their parents?”
“Not all, Lady Anuve.”
“This will favor our purpose, Rose child.”
The phrase grated. “I am not a Rose child, my lady.”
The gloved hand came back and across Sydney’s face, sending her staggering backward. “You are what we say you are, ah?”
Sydney regained her footing and nodded, shrugging the pain of the blow away.
Anuve persisted, “We say you are a decoy.”
I am your death. Sydney smiled. The Tarig had learned that humans smiled. They just hadn’t learned all the reasons why.
Already, Sydney’s mind was on Rim City. Oh Mo Ti, she thought. In that far city she would finally take on her new name that Mo Ti had devised for her: Sen Ni, to give her darkling name a Chalin style.
One step closer to raising the kingdom, one without Tarig lords and ladies.
The camp was in a state of watchful brooding. The news spread quickly that Sydney was going to Rim City and that Riod would go with her. The shock of these revelations hit hard. Knots of riders stood talking in low tones, fearful of drawing the attention of the Tarig still in camp.
Helice stood in one of these groups, listening hard, trying to grasp what had happened, though her language skills were still imperfect. The riders didn’t despise her as much as before, since many had accepted her surgery to restore their vision. Blind riders might have been the fashion once; no longer. Helice had ingratiated herself with the riders, but her refusal to bond with a mount kept her an outsider.
That wouldn’t matter anymore. She was going to Rim City. She’d be among that select group Sydney brought with her, no doubt about that. The girl needed her. For renaissance. One couldn’t think about that subject among the horse-beasts, though. She turned the thought aside.
She looked around her, trying to guess which of the nearby Inyx might be probing her mind. She disciplined herself to not dwell on certain matters. The beasts could pick up thoughts, but only with effort and only if the thoughts were strong and well formed. Helice kept her mind skittering over her plans, touching on them and darting away. But even if the Inyx glimpsed her intentions, what could they do? She had been more or less honest with Sydney. Their goals were compatible, at least for a while.
As plodding as the Inyx were, even they could grasp the significance of Sydney moving to Rim City. There, Riod would be close enough to the Tarig home base to fine-tune their dream probes to greater effect. There were still pieces of intelligence Sydney and Helice needed. Rim City was a perfect base camp for the final assault. The riders said that the city was under the very shadow of the Ascendancy. Perfect.
Though the day was hot, Helice pulled her scarf up around her neck. She was self-conscious about the infection that had taken hold in her burns. The injuries she’d sustained from the rough passage into the Entire hadn’t healed well. Just when she thought she might be getting better, the burns on her neck and chin began to fester. The mSap’s medical knowledge was equal to any possessed by Earth’s finest physicians, but the tissue sample she’d analyzed yielded a culprit bacterium unknown to Rose medicine. To find a pharmaceutical treatment, she needed a laboratory, test subjects . . . it would mean weeks, even months of painstaking work.
Certainly the camp healer with her local remedies was of no help. Maybe Rim City would have better doctors, although she couldn’t afford close scrutiny. She didn’t know what medical technologies the Entire had, but it was a disturbing possibility that a physician might notice she was a little … different. Chalin were human, or seemed to be. Who knew, though, if their physiologies were exactly the same?
No time to worry. Helice was buoyed by the prospect of being at the center of things. She had always savored being at the locus of events, decisions, and power. Not because she wanted power for herself—that was a side benefit—but because it meant working at the top of her game, using all the neurons the gene lottery bestowed. There was no better thing.
She wasn’t without sympathy for those who couldn’t think on her level. She was well aware that most people would view such sympathy as condescension. In a culturally correct world, everyone was equal in some cosmic sense. The problem with cosmic sense was its fuzziness. It led to illogical conclusions such as that people deserved to be kept warm, fed, and entertained by virtue of being human. And if such humans had been able to take a suitable role in contributing to society, she would have been in favor of tithes for the mentally disadvantaged. However, these days there were so few suitable occupations. Nan bots built and maintained physical structures; AIpowered services of all kinds performed humble tasks. The unfortunate majority, with their average intelligence—hovering within fifteen to twenty points of one hundred and wickedly called dreds by some—led lives stuffed with virtual entertainments. Truly a circus maximus of the latterday Roman Empire.
Well, they could live as they wished, of course. But the problem was— and here is where it affected Helice and her circle—they were yoking the intellectually gifted to their little cart.
That state of affairs was coming to an end.
Well, there was a bit more coming to an end, but it would be best not to dwell on it in front of the Inyx.
City without End © Kay Kenyon
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Kay Kenyon, nominated for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell awards, began her writing career (in Duluth, Minnesota) as a copywriter for radio and TV. She kept up her interest in writing through careers in marketing and urban planning, and published her first novel, The Seeds of Time, in 1997. She is the author of Bright of the Sky: Book One of The Entire and the Rose, plus numerous short stories, including those in I, Alien; Live Without a Net; and Stars: Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian. She lives in Wenatchee, Washington, with her husband.