Chapter Thirty-Four

Humans like to believe that they are somehow above the other apex predators that evolved on Old Earth.  We as a species like to believe that we are civilized because we have laws that codify our conduct, that we don’t run about murdering each other for a cookie or a toy.  The fact of the matter is that our civilization is an illusion and the idea that wars are not fought over cookies and toys is utter and total fantasy.  We have lied to ourselves for generations that wars begin because of ideals when, in fact, they begin over grand prizes—women, land, resources—if you can put a name to a material thing, humans have fought over it since the dawn of time.  So much for civilization making us better than that from which we came.

— Erich Quizibian, Roots of Disaster: Predicting the Death of the Human Race, c. 5073 PD

18 Novem, 5249 PD

“How long?”  America asked softly as she leaned over Alana’s shoulder at the pilot’s console.

Alana shook her head slightly.  “Another thirty-six hours at least.  I’m not sure exactly what the course he laid was, but as long as we don’t get yanked out by something at the Whispers, we should be home soon.  If we get yanked out at Whispers, it’ll be at least another ten hours to a jump point.  System’s a walking astronavigation hazard.”

And yet it’s the only gateway to outlying systems like Eridani Trelasia.  Anyone who wants to get there has to make it through the Whispers first.  Ezra tried to smother a smile.  There were stories that said the Wanderers had chosen the Whispers as one of their strongholds simply because the system was difficult to navigate.  It had been settled in the era of Farragut and LeSarte—there were even rumors that they’d found shelter at the Whispers for a time.

“Knowing Brendan, he plotted it close,” Ezra said, rising from his spot next to the unconscious pilot.  His friend’s vital signs hadn’t wavered in the last forty-eight hours, which was probably a good sign, though it was hard to tell with these scenarios.  Anytime an implant malfunctioned, there was the distinct possibility that there was more going on than what they were aware of.

Beyond the viewports was the mottled gray of jumpspace.  Ezra stared at it for a moment before he shook his head.  “Do you know how close we are to the Whispers now, Alana?”

“Not sure.  Could be passing through it right now, could be a dozen light-years out.”

The viewport suddenly flared white.

The ship bucked.  Metal screamed.  Ezra and America flew across the cabin as it abruptly tilted at a forty-five degree angle, the artificial gravity not strong enough to compensate for the sudden stress.  Brendan and Grant tumbled from the bunks; Grant came awake with a shout.

“What the hell is going on?” he bellowed, taking his wife by the arm and picking her up off the deck.

Alana grasped the console with one hand, knuckles white, her brows knitting as she tried to make sense of the readings.  “We hit a gravity well that shouldn’t have been where it was,” she snapped.  “Give me a minute and I’ll be able to tell you more.  There’s a lot of crap going on right now in the system that doesn’t make sense.”

Ezra shook his ringing head and crawled across the deck toward Brendan, not quite willing to trust his feet yet.  “So we just got yanked out of jump?”

“Violently,” Alana said, her tone dry.  “Give me a minute.”

Brendan’s eyes were open, tiny crescents as Ezra made it to him.  A little blood trickled from the pilot’s nose and his lips barely moved as he whispered, “What just happened?”

“Not sure,” Ezra told him.  “Can you get back up into the bunk?”


Ezra slid his arm under Brendan’s shoulders and helped his friend heave himself back into the low bunk.  The pilot was tight-lipped and pale by the time he was horizontal again but his bloody nose was already stopping.

Must have been from smacking his head on the deck.  “Going to check your pupils,” Ezra warned, digging a penlight out of his pocket.

Brendan groaned, but didn’t look away.  “Fine.  Where are we?”

“The Whispers, maybe,” Ezra said, glancing back over his shoulder toward Alana for confirmation.

She wasn’t paying attention to either of them.  Grant and America clustered around her, blocking his view of the windows, but he caught a glimpse of all three looking pale.

His stomach dropped.  Not good.


He shook himself and turned back to Brendan.  “Just let me check something, then I’ll give you something to help you get back to sleep.”  Not sure if that’s the best course, but right now I’m not sure either of us can handle him awake and asking a lot of questions right now.

“Just give me the sedative,” Brendan mumbled, eyes sliding shut.  “I know a crisis when I sense one.  Might as well sleep through it if I can’t be helpful.”

Ezra shivered and shook his head, giving his friend a quick once-over despite the request.  Other than Brendan being awake and the minor nosebleed, there wasn’t any change.

But the fact that he woke up when he hit the deck was a good sign.  He prepped a dose of sedative.

The ship slewed sideways abruptly.  Ezra caught himself with a shoulder against the wall and one hand curling around the edge of the bunk.

“Better strap me down,” Brendan muttered even as Ezra started to sedate him.

“Yeah,” Ezra said.  “I’ll get right on that.”  If something else doesn’t go wrong.  Dumping the empty sedative canister into his kit, he yanked the crash webbing down across Brendan and the bunk before he levered himself to his feet.

Grant and America had strapped themselves into two of the seats nearer to the console.  Ezra braced himself against one of them, peering past Alana and out into space.  He could see white hulls in the distance and a planet beyond them.  Light flashed from the ships above down toward the planet.

Then the screams hit and he jerked back, half landing on America in her seat, half meeting open air.  He tumbled to the deck and sat for a moment, stunned.

Planetary bombardment, he realized dimly as the mental screams echoed inside his skull.  Those ships are killing the planet.

            They’re killing the Whispers.

He swallowed bile.  “Who are they?” he asked, his voice shaky.  I knocked Brendan out just in time—either to not hear them, or to have nightmares about them.  He closed his eyes briefly.  I’m sorry, Brendan.  Never would wish something like that on you.

“Can’t tell,” Alana said.  “Not getting any IDs on them and they’re too damn far out for any visual markers.  They’ve scattered the asteroids.  That’s what yanked us out—a really big chunk of rock.”

Must’ve been a massive chunk to yank us out.  Ezra glanced up toward America.  “Are you okay, Meri?”

White-lipped, she nodded.  “I will be.  Any closer, I don’t think any of us would be.”  She reached past Ezra and grasped Grant’s hand.

Ezra found his feet, jaw tight.  “What should we do?” he asked as he grasped the back of Alana’s seat, leaning toward the console, toward the windows.

“We’ve got two options,” she said.  “We either try to get closer and do what we can—if we can—and hope we don’t get blown out of the sky, or we try to clear the system before someone realizes we’re here.”

He began to ask why she sounded like the first option wasn’t a viable one, then his eyes lit on drifting debris that was still smoldering.

More than one ship died here today.

“Hell,” he said in a soft voice.  “They killed everyone they saw in the system on the way in.”

“No witnesses,” Alana said.

Damn.  “Who would do it?” he breathed.

“The question should really be who wouldn’t,” America said, her voice as quiet as Ezra’s.

“Get as many readings and visuals on those ships as you can, Alana,” Grant said.  “The Foundation may need them.  The Guard will.”

Ezra tried not to wince.

You knew a war was coming, Ezra.  This is only the first salvo.  You had to know that.

“We’ll have to tell the Marshals as soon as we make the system,” he found himself saying.

Alana shook her head.  “No.  Nothing over channels.  We’ll tell them face to face and we’ll hand them this shuttle’s logs in person.”

“They need to be warned, ‘lana.”

She glared at him even as she angled the ship between a piece of hull bigger than their shuttle and a rocky asteroid that wasn’t much smaller.  “Yeah, they do, but I don’t want D’Arcy Morgause getting his hands on this before the Marshals do.  I don’t want him to be in control of this.”

Ezra’s mouth went dry.  “Why not?  Do you think he would do something—”

“I think he would do nothing, and that’s what concerns me.”  Alana’s jaw set, her teeth grinding.  “The man’s a snake and I don’t trust him.  He’s not the spymaster we need.”

“But he’s the one we have,” Ezra said, resting his hand on her shoulder.  “I don’t like it, either.”

Alana just shook her head, staring out at the debris and the ships in the distance.  “He won’t care that the Whispers is dead.  He might not even believe it when we tell him.”

He shook his head.  “Then we make everyone else believe.  At some point, he’ll either have to believe, or he’s not going to be of any use to anyone at all.”

“He’ll say we dummied it,” Alana said, anger threading tension through her voice, through every muscle.  “That it’s just sensationalism, if we get reports from the outside.  That it’s all exaggerated.”

Ezra squeezed her shoulder gently. “We have to trust the Council to see through whatever he says.”

“Can we?”  Alana whispered, eyes bright with tears she’d never let present company see her shed.  “Can we take that risk?”

“Prepare for the worst,” Grant rumbled behind them.  “Hope for the best.”

Ezra nodded mutely.  That was their only chance.

America unfolded slowly from her seat and headed for one of the consoles.  “Well,” she said.  “I suppose it’s time I figure out if I’ve still got the technical skills I used to.  Maybe I can get us some better images with the sensors.”  After a moment of studying the console, she crouched and yanked one of the panels free, fingers reaching inside, into the board’s guts.

“How many hours until we can jump?”  Grant asked.

“Six hours to the jump point,” Alana said, shaking her head.  “Better than it could be, but we’re still going to have to clear the debris field and make our run.  Sensors aren’t showing anything alive in our path, though.”  The commando glanced up at her uncle.  “We have to hope it stays that way, because I don’t know if we can fight our way clear of this system.  We were rigged for speed, not for a fight.”

Ezra shivered, still leaning against Alana’s seat.  “I guess I’d better spend the next six hours praying, then,” he murmured.  He hadn’t talked to God in a long time—not since his father died.

Dad would say He doesn’t forget.  I hope he was right about that.

Alana reached up and squeezed Ezra’s hand.  He shot her a weak smile.

“Everything helps,” she said, her voice a bare whisper.

All he could do was nod.  His gaze trailed toward the windows again.  It looked like the Whispers was burning.  The screams were still echoing softly in his head, though dimmer now, quieter.

Most of the population was already dead, then.

“Bastards,” he whispered as he stared out the window.  “They’re going to pay.  Somehow.  Someday.”

“Someday soon,” Grant Channing confirmed, his voice soft and deadly.  “And the price will be high indeed.”

Chapter Thirty-three

My father’s greatest strength—the greatest strength he passed on to me and my children, perhaps the greatest legacy he’s given to the Farragut family is his stubborn streak.  It’s possibly also the worst.

— Ian Farragut, circa 4901 PD

 16 Novem, 5249 PD


“Damnation!”  Adam’s hand closed around the inch-thick shaft of wood that had thumped against his arm and shoulder, glaring through the dim at Frederick, who stood at his bedside, holding the other end of the cane.  “What are you doing up, Freder?  And why the hell are you hitting me with your cane?”

“Shaking you didn’t work.  Get up and get dressed.  Lindsay needs you out by the cliffs, and quick-like.  Daci’s already getting dressed.”

“Mmph.  Adam, what’s the matter?”  Rachel pushed herself up on an elbow, eyes full of sleep and hair in disarray.  She studied Frederick with a slightly puzzled expression.  “What’s going on?”

“Something crashed out beyond the cliff,” Frederick said.  He was the very picture of calm—it was easy to see how he had risen so far, so fast within the Inspector General’s office all those years before.  “Lindsay is there.  She sent me back to get you, but I can only run so fast.  Get up, both of you.  She needs our help.”

“Not our help,” Daci said from the doorway, backlit by light from the hall.  “You’re staying here, Frederick.”

He barked a laugh.  “Not a chance.”

“There’ll be too many people.  You’ll be seen.”

“It’s dark,” he said.  “And I’m twelve years older.  There’ll be chaos.  No one will notice.”

Rachel and Adam exchanged a look.  Adam just shook his head and threw the covers back.  He rolled out of bed, trying not to listen to husband and wife argue behind him as he started yanking on clothes.

Then it hit him.  Something crashed out by the cliff.  What kind of something?  And from where?

He swore under his breath when he couldn’t find his shoes in the darkness.  Rachel was up, now, getting dressed.

“They’re over here,” she said, knowing what he was looking for.  She tossed him one and then the other.

“Thanks,” Adam grumbled, shoving his feet into the shoes and lacing them up.  “Freder, do we know where it’s from?”

“Not sure,” he said.  “But she said someone aboard was screaming.  She heard them when they were still a couple miles up and a lot of miles out, if I’m any judge.”

“Damnation,” Adam muttered again, then headed out into the hall.  “Rachel, use my comm and get two squads scrambled from headquarters if you can.  We’re taking the skimmer.”

“I’ll follow on foot,” she said, groping around in the darkness.  “Don’t let her do anything stupid.”

I’ve never known that girl to do anything stupid.  She’s been raised too damn well.  Adam just nodded, taking Frederick by the arm.  “If you’re coming, move fast.”

Frederick choked on a laugh and limped along with Adam as if his life depended on it.  Daci muttered a few choice words behind them and hurried to keep up.

“What if it’s an invasion force?”  Daci asked.

“Lindsay wouldn’t have heard screaming if it was,” Adam said.  “More than likely some kind of refugees.”  And Ezra Grace is still out in the wilds of space.  Damn.  “Rachel!”  Adam yelled as they reached the door.  “Call Dr. Vilenauva, too!”

“On it!” she called back.

Then he was out the door, crossing the dark, dew-damp yard toward the skimmer.  He threw himself into the driver’s seat and waited just long enough for Daci and Frederick to make it into the backseat before he sent the skimmer hurtling down the roadway toward the cliffs beyond the north side of Nova Spexi.

He could see the faint glow beyond the cliffs and felt bile rise in his throat.

Not raiders.  Something worse.  Always something worse.

            Victims.  Refugees.  His stomach dropped.

He drove faster.


●   ●   ●


Lindsay plunged from the darkness beyond a line of brush and into the hellish glow of the crash site.  She could hear the moans and cries, the screams of the trapped and injured over the sound of crackling flames.

Please come quick, Kara.  Please get here fast, Uncle Adam.  These people need more help than I can give alone.

Still, she moved toward the nearest cry, one mingling with the moan of someone wounded.  The sound came from beneath a sheet of metal that once might have been part of a bulkhead.  It seared her fingers as she seized the edge and tanked with all her strength to move it aside.  She felt faint pressure from the other side.  Someone was trying to aid in their own rescue.

That’s a good sign.

The metal twitched free and Lindsay quickly sidestepped to avoid becoming trapped beneath it herself.  Tucked into a hollow space between the bulkhead and a row of seats were two teenage girls, the elder of them wounded, and a younger girl of maybe eight or ten.  The little girl took one look at Lindsay and burst into tears.

“Are you an angel?”

It wasn’t the primary tongue of the Commonwealth that the little girl used, but thanks to Alana, Lindsay was fluent in the corporate tongue of the Eurydice Compact.

So that’s where they’re from.   Lindsay answered the girl, also in the Compact’s primary language.  “No, but I’m here to help you all the same.”

One of the teenagers reached out and drew the smaller girl against her chest.  Her eyes filled with fear as she heard Lindsay speak in that tongue, arms tight around the child who must be her sister or cousin.  “Where are we?” she asked.  “Who are you and where are we?”

Does she think they never made it out of Compact space?  How could she believe that?  They must have been in jump for days.  Weeks, if they were on the far end of Compact space.  “My name is Lindsay,” she said.  “You made it to the colony.  You’re in Foundation space.”

The teenager sucked in a deep breath, tears welling up in her eyes.  She swallowed hard.  Lindsay touched her arm.

“Come on.  Help me with your friend.”  She nodded to the injured teenager and started to maneuver around smaller pieces of debris so they could carrying her clear of the wreckage.  The teenager scrambled to help and the child moved a little ways away, standing in a clear patch of grass, hugging herself.  Together, Lindsay and the teen lifted her injured companion and carried her over to the girl.


She looked over her shoulder toward the voice as she and the teenager lowered their burden to the ground.  Relief flooded through her as she saw Kara racing through drifting smoke toward her, half a dozen others at her back, most of them already starting to fan out amidst the wreckage to dig out other survivors.  “Kara.”

Kara wrapped her arms around her friend, then looked around, jaw firming up.  “What the hell happened?”

“A ship crashed,” Lindsay said.

“I can see that,” Kara said, glancing at the two teenagers and the little girl.  The younger pair were hovering over the elder.

They must all be sisters or cousins or something, Lindsay thought, watching them.  Her attention snapped back to Kara as the elder woman’s fingertips dug into the flesh of her arm.

“Did you see it before it happened?” she asked.

Lindsay shook her head.  “No.  I couldn’t sleep.  Took a walk and I started to hear the screams while they were crashing.  I saw the ship come down and ran.”  Her gaze flicked toward the road back to town.  “Uncle Adam should be coming, and Marshal Rose.”  And Aunt Rachel and whoever else they’re going to drag along.  Lindsay took a deep breath and then coughed on the smoke.  “Damnation,” she swore under her breath.  “I never realized how vile a crash smelled.”

“I know,” Kara murmured, then shook her head.  “Come on.  I don’t know how many survivors there are, but there’ll be less unless we get to work.”

Lindsay nodded firmly.  “You’re right.”  She dried her hands on the seat of her pants, then glanced sidelong at Kara even as she turned away.  “I think they’re from the Compact.  Does anyone else speak their corp tongue?”

“Just you and me, I think,” Kara said grimly.  “At least until the Marshals show up.  They’re both fluent, aren’t they?”

“Aunt Rachel, too.”  We’re going to have to stay available, I guess.  She turned toward the girls she’d helped out of the wreckage, looked at the teenager.  “Do any of you speak Standard?”

“A-a few,” the girl said quietly.  “But most of us, no.  No one wanted to teach us.”

Why would–  Lindsay’s lips thinned as she began to realize why she’d been able to hear the screams from so far away.

Psychics.  They’re all psychics.

Suddenly, why they were all so frightened made even more sense.  She looked at the girls again.  “How many of you escaped?”

“There were twenty-five of us on the ship,” the teenager told her quietly.  “But I don’t know if we’re all still…”  Her voice trailed away.  On impulse, Lindsay reached out and hugged her tightly.

“We’ll do everything we can,” she promised fervently.  “Everything.”

“Are we safe here?”

As safe as any of us can be, Lindsay thought.  She didn’t say that, though.  Instead, she mustered up a gentle smile and nodded.  “Yeah,” she said.  “Yeah, you are.  You’re safe here and no one’s going to hurt you anymore.”  She didn’t know how she knew that someone had hurt them, but she knew it just the same.  The thought turned her stomach.

The Cullings, she feared, would pale in comparison to what was coming in the next war, the one that would soon engulf them all.


●   ●   ●


“Twenty-three,” Rachel said wearily as she stepped onto Kara’s porch, shaking her head and staring toward the cliff.  The wreckage still smoldered, but the worst of the fires had been put out during the night.

“Two dead,” Lindsay said, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.  She rested her chin on her knee and stared out beyond the porch rail, watching the play of light on the cobbles as the sun came up over the houses across the street.  “Did we find their bodies?”

“A detail’s seeing to the burials right now,” Adam said quietly, leaning against the railing.  He stared at his niece for a few long moments.  Soot and dirt smudged her face; her fingers were stained with dried blood.  She’d done as much as anyone—probably more—than anyone else who’d been on the scene that night.  “You should go home and get cleaned up, Linny-pie.”

She almost winced at the nickname, instead she turned her head, resting her cheek on her knee and staring at him.  “Did they die on impact?”

Adam concealed a wince.  “Yes,” he said.  “That’s what it looks like.”  I’m no doctor, but that’s certainly what it looks like.  And that’s what we’ll tell the rest.

Lindsay pushed herself to her feet.  “That’s probably best,” she said softly.  “That we tell them that.  We’re not going to send them back, right?”

Silence met her question and her gaze hardened as she turned her eyes to her aunt and uncle, to Kara and the rest gathered on the porch.

The girl called the Oracle pulled herself up straighter.  “They’re staying,” she said firmly.  “I don’t care what the Council says or thinks, they’re staying.  Make it happen.”

She marched off the porch and into the street.

“Where are you going?”  Rachel asked as she sank down into a chair.

“To check on them,” Lindsay said.  “The refugees.  That’s what they are.  Someone’s got to reassure them and it might as well be me.  I’m not that much older and I speak their language.”  She smiled weakly.  “Anyhow, it’ll keep me busy.”

Adam stared at her for a moment, then nodded.  “At least get yourself cleaned up first.”

“I will.”

He sank into the seat she’d vacated as they watched her walk away.  Rachel’s fingers twined with his.  “There’s that stubbornness,” he murmured.

“She comes by it honestly.”  Rachel rested her head against his shoulder.  “Did Daci take the skimmer back?”

Adam nodded.  He’d sent Frederick with her when the sun started to come up.  The man had been a shadow, unseen by most but seeing everything.  I’ll be interested to hear his insights later.  Twenty-three refugees from the Compact, coming here.  If he was any judge, the ship they’d stolen to come here with had been an older one, possibly in poor repair, but they wouldn’t know until they analyzed the wreckage.  Regardless, the teenagers and children—because that’s what they were, only three of the refugees were older than twenty—had been desperate to escape the Compact.  It was a desperation he could understand to a certain extent.

“They’re all psychic,” he said quietly.  “Aren’t they?”

“All except for two,” Rachel said softly.

“It all makes sense, then,” Adam said.

Kara frowned, crossing her arms.  “Why now?  It feels sudden.”

“It does,” Adam agreed.  “Which means things are getting worse.”

Next to him, Rachel shivered.  Kara swallowed and stared out at the street.

“It’s going to get bad,” she said quietly.

“Yes,” Adam confirmed.  “Yes, it is.”

Chapter Thirty-Two

Okay, so maybe it’s not as late as I thought it was going to be.  I actually hit a decent, suspenseful stopping place.

On to the chapter.

Bring to me the Gifted you have forsaken, the Lost Ones you have rendered broken, those poor souls who you fear because of what they can see behind your eyes.  Give to me the Children of Delphi, of Akashwani, of Chilanes, Awka, Arochukwu.  Send to me the Get of the Runesisters and the Kuten.  I will take the sons of Psyche and the daughters of Mimir and make them my own.  We are blood, bone, spirit, soul.  We are many, we are One.  We are knowledge.  We are the Guard.

— Annals of the Psychean Guard, 5th Edition, c. 4530 PD

15 Novem, 5249 PD

The night was chill and clear, stars and a sliver of a silver moon lighting the world outside.  They crept out into that darkness from the warmth of the house through the back door, the one that led out to the garden.  Lindsay paused a few steps away from the step-down to wait for Frederick, who slid out with more flexibility than she expected and pulled the door silently shut behind him.

He gave her a conspiratorial smile.  “I feel like a teenager again,” he said as they moved past Rachel’s garden and out into the grass beyond it.  “Sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and all.”

Lindsay choked back a laugh.  “Was that what it was like on Mimir? I don’t think I ever had to actually sneak out.”  Unless I didn’t want Alana to know Brendan and I were going somewhere, but usually if we told Aunt Rachel she found a way to distract ‘lana.

Frederick nodded, his face ghostly in the starlight.  “Yes.  Parents still tried to keep their children safe, their teenagers out of trouble, and hoped their adult children would find happiness on whatever path they chose.  But until the day we became adults, we were all watched like hawks.”  He smiled faintly.  “Is it not like that as much here?”

She shook her head.  “Not really.  I think in some ways we grow up faster, become responsible more quickly.  Brendan’s been training pilots for years.  Most of his students aren’t even twenty and a lot are much younger.  It’s not like Chinasia or the Compact, of course, but we get started early.  Earlier than Mimir, anyway, if I’m to believe what I’ve been told.”  She shoved her hands into the pockets of her light jacket.  “Was civil service really compulsory?”

“Two years of it, unless you gave your services to charities or the Commonwealth itself.”  The corner of Frederick’s mouth twitched.  “My civil service turned into my career.”

“With the Inspector General’s office.”

He nodded.

“Would you really have left after the Mimir investigation?”  After Mimir fell, it seemed like you wanted to, in that vision I had of you and my father, when he told you to go.

His gaze focused on the trees, like ink and shadow against the night sky as they wandered down a wide trail that wended its way toward town.  “I thought I would have,” he said after a long silence, their shoes crunching on fallen pine needles and twigs, crushed seeds and leaves.  “I was angry.  I had just lost my homeworld and the Commonwealth hadn’t stopped it.  Sephora—someone I trained back in those days—told me I was being an idiot.  How was the Commonwealth supposed to stop something they didn’t know what about to happen?  I told her that I wasn’t convinced that was the case.  She told me that if I was so damned sure the Commonwealth could have stopped it, I should be the one to figure it all out.

“I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted, though, so I went to Mimir.  I found your father and begged him to let me help.  He turned me away.  This was months after the initial bombing, while the fighting was still going on, while it was a free-for-all.  Every conglom was scrabbling for a piece of what was left there, Idesali and the Compact most of all.  He told me to get the hell out of there, that I was the only one who had a prayer of figuring out who killed our world.  So I left.  I went back to New Earth, to my job.

“I walked right into my boss’s office and said I was volunteering to investigate the bombings on Mimir.  I told him that if we didn’t investigate the bombings, whether or not the fighting was still going on or not, whether it was safe or not, we would be remiss if we didn’t begin our investigation.  We’d already been waiting for too long, letting politics stand in the way of the truth.  He told me I was right.  He assigned me to the task that very day.”  Frederick shook his head slightly.  “I half regret it now.”

Half regret it?  Because of what happened?  “Only half?”

He chuckled softly.  “Only half.  It was necessary, what I did.  It doesn’t seem like it did much in the long run for the Commonwealth, though.”  He shook his head slightly.  “But it bought years.”  He glanced at her and smiled.  “And now I’m an old man walking in the woods with the daughter of old friends that I never thought I’d see again.”

She swallowed hard against the lump that rose in their throat.  “Brendan and Ezra and Alana will bring them home.”  They’ll bring themselves home.  In one piece, I hope, but something…  Her lips thinned and she shivered in the evening chill.

“Aye,” Frederick said softly, then took her hand and squeezed.  “I’ve only met Dr. Grace, but I imagine all three of them are made of pretty stern stuff.”

They stepped out of the woods and onto one of the quiet, winding paths into Nova Spexi proper.  Lindsay could feel the quiet weight of sleeping minds spread out before them.  She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“Are you all right?”  Frederick asked.

Lindsay smiled and nodded.  “I’m fine.  It’s just that there’s a reason that Brendan and I live so far out of town.”

“Ah.  One of those?”

Lindsay nodded again.  On Mimir, they’d called children like her Geists, psychics whose sensitivity was so high, their talents so strong that they were barely able to be controlled.  Many on Mimir had to control their abilities with drugs.  Here, on E-557, that hadn’t been necessary, though it had been a near thing.

If I didn’t have Brendan, I don’t know what I’d have done.  Having him near did seem to make the load lighter sometimes.

“You handle it well.”

“Thank you.”  She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  “Well, I guess this is where the tour begins.  This is Nova Spexi, the administrative heart of the colony, such as it is.  We’ve got other settlements that I’m sure you know about—Fort Solace and the like.  Nova Spexi’s not that big, but it covers a pretty wide area because of all the green space.  Ezra’s clinic is that way about a quarter mile, backing up to the woods.  He says being on the edge of town with all the natural beauty around helps some of his patients cope.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I suppose it could be.”  Lindsay gestured toward the roadway as they stepped onto it from the footpath, the cobbles smooth under their feet.  “This is Main.  It runs straight through town to the square and then beyond it to the sea.  It was out in those shallows where Chinasia tried to invade almost thirteen years ago.  Most of the wreckage has been cleared away now, or swept into the deep water, but you can still see bits and pieces in a few places.”

“And that’s when your Brendan came here.”

Lindsay nodded.  “He’s the only one that survived.  He was piloting one of three dropships that came down filled with shock troops.  They came apart in the atmosphere and things just got worse from there.  Brendan was lucky to live.”  For a lot of reasons.  “That wasn’t the last attempt one of the congloms made at invading this place, but was the most significant one.”  She tucked her hands back into her pockets, the chill nibbling at her fingertips.  “I don’t understand it.  How can we be that big of a threat to them?  We just want to be left alone.”

“People fear what they don’t understand,” Frederick said softly.  “That’s why they feared the Psychean Guard and it’s not a secret that most of the Guard’s survivors came here when Mimir died.  It’s not safe to be a psychic anywhere else—I’m not saying it’s entirely safe to be one here, either, because I honestly wouldn’t know,  but at least here people don’t automatically assume that you’re some kind of freak of nature, an aberration that needs to be sterilized or destroyed.”

A shiver shot down Lindsay’s spine and she nodded, lips pressed tightly together as her stomach did some sort of backflip.  “Is it all as awful as I’ve always been told?  Truly?”

“Worse,” Frederick said, pain and mourning in his voice.  “Worse, and I’ve seen it for myself.”

She shivered again and swallowed hard.  “I suppose I can understand why so many ran in the early days.  I was always taught it was bad, read reports, all of that, but I’ve never really known.  It’s not something someone can describe to you in words, is it?  It’s something that has to be seen, experienced.”  Like what I saw in those visions.  Like what Brendan saw once or twice when he was young, when he saw things that weren’t meant for his eyes.  Like that one glimpse I had of what Alana had seen before she came to us, before she became one of us.

“Indeed,” he said.  “Mimir was a haven, then.  The Guard and the Foundation were the only congloms where psychics were celebrated.  A few were accepting, had protections in place, but most…most feared them at best, hated at worst.”

Thunder rolled in the distance.  Lindsay glanced up toward the cloudless sky and frowned.  “What was that?”

“Only thunder.”

“Out of a clear sky?”  Lindsay half turned, brows knitting.

A strange glimmer of  light, almost like a falling star, caught in the corner of her eye.  She spun toward it, trying to track it.

She lost sight of the first, but another came in its wake.  Then another, and still another.

What in god’s name…?

“Are you seeing this, too?” she breathed.

“Aye,” Frederick said, squinting into the night.  “I wasn’t aware that we’d be having a meteor shower tonight.”

Me, neither.

The screams began.  She stumbled back a step, into Frederick, who stumbled sideways, crashing down to one knee.  She sat down hard next to him, gasping in ragged breaths.


“Can’t you hear them?” she asked in horrified whisper.

“Hear what, lass?”

“The screams.”

Frederick’s eyes widened and he grasped the young woman’s shoulder in a grip that belied his apparent frailty.  “No one here is screaming.  All’s quiet.”

“They must be up there.”  Lindsay turned her eyes to the sky in time to see a brighter blur of light falling through the sky, plummeting down from the heavens.

The bottom dropped out of her stomach.

That’s a ship.  There are children aboard.

And they’re screaming and no one can save them from crashing to the earth.

She wanted to vomit.  Instead she lurched to her feet.

“Go back to the house,” she snapped at Frederick.  “Wake Uncle Adam.  Tell him I’ll need help down below the cliffs north of the city.”

“What are you—”

“Someone has to help them!  Tell Uncle Adam to find me.”

She launched herself to her feet and sprinted toward the far side of town, her stomach sour and her gaze on the flaming ball that would hit just beyond the city, at the bottom of the seaside cliffs.

They’re refugees, like me, and they’re screaming.  Oh god, they’re screaming. She tried to force the mental cacophony that left her head ringing aside so she could think.

Focus, damn you!  Focus!

She threw her consciousness toward Kara Grace-Forester’s home, feeling her longtime friend asleep.  Giving the other woman a mental slap, she tried to urge the Consul awake before she sped onward, toward the cliffs she’d climbed as a child.

The ship was coming apart as it came down.  Everything felt like it was in slow motion.  Lindsay watched as bits and pieces of the vessel peeled away even as it hurtled downward.

Please.  Please let them live.  Please.

The ship hit with a thundering crash and brilliant flash of light.

Searing pain shot through the Oracle.  She screamed with the voices in her head.

Then she ran on, heart in her throat, knowing deep inside that for the children inside that crashed ship, she was the only hope.

Chapter Thirty-one

Every man and woman carries a weight within their hearts that is their singular burden to bear.  Some of us carry our weights with more grace than others.  It is written that the greatest amongst us carry their burdens heavily but never show the strain to the world.

— Preface to Rose: A Life by Harriet Cartman

15 Novem, 5249 PD

She lay curled awake in Brendan’s old bed at her aunt’s house, listening to the sounds of autumn beyond the walls and letting the comforting presence of four other minds in close proximity lull her into relaxation.  With those other minds so close, it was easier to feel less alone, a little easier to be without him.

But it was still damned hard.

Her fingers bunched the cloth of her blankets.  I hope he’s okay.  Please let him be okay.

They hadn’t heard anything since their last check-in, before Brendan, Ezra, and Alana headed into Compact space to find her father.  Days had gone by without word, without so much as a whisper.

Then, four days ago, pain like she’d never felt before, pain she hadn’t told anyone about—distant but familiar.  She squeezed her eyes shut at the memory, holding in unshed tears of grief.  It was him, but why did he hurt so much?  And why can’t I feel him now?  Was it just because the distances were too vast, or was there another, more sinister reason?

What if he’s dead and never coming home to me?  What if that’s what happened?  Bile crept up in her throat and she swallowed it back down again.

No.  Ezra promised they’d all be okay.  Uncle Adam promised.  Everything will be fine.

Lindsay rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling for a few long moments, breathing deeply and trying to will herself to sleep.  It wasn’t coming.  Her mind was too awake, too worried.  She sighed.

Nothing for it.  She rolled out of bed and started to get dressed.  Maybe a walk would do her some good.

She crept out of her room across the wooden floors, her shoes in one hand so she could slip out unnoticed.  Halfway down the hall, she saw a dim light coming from the kitchen.  Who’s still up at this hour?  Biting her lip, she crept onward and eased into the slate-floored room.  Frederick Rose sat at the kitchen table, a mug of tea by his elbow and one of her aunt’s books open in front of him.  A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth at the sound of her tread, though he didn’t look up from his reading.

“You couldn’t sleep, either?”

Lindsay shook her head.  “Not from lack of trying.  I just keep worrying too much about things I can’t change, I guess.”  She moved closer to the table.  “What are you reading?”

He shook his head, traces of a smirk touching his lips.  “Well, I’d started with my own biography, but when I realized I didn’t recognize myself, I switched over to one of your aunt’s books on Ryland LeSarte.”

That tea smells good.  A kettle sat on the stove, still steaming.  “She has a lot of those.”  Lindsay fetched down a mug and began to make her own cup.  “Which one is it?”

“Adamczak’s,” Frederick said, leaning back.  “There’s quite a bit of writing in the margins of this copy, too.  Handwriting that doesn’t look like Rachel’s though.”

“It wouldn’t,” Lindsay said, feeling her face flush slightly.  “It’s mine.  Adamczak’s one of my favorites, but I feel like he didn’t go far enough with his theories.  There was a lot more going on for Farragut and LeSarte that he only scrapes the surface of.”

“Such as?”

Lindsay leaned against the counter as she let her tea steep, swirling hot water around in her mug around the tea ball.  “Adamczak theorized that exposure to not only LeSarte but the chemical weapons that the Compact was developing at the time might have been what sparked Sarah Farragut’s sudden increase in psychic abilities.  The fact of the matter is, she didn’t exhibit any ability whatsoever before she met Ryland.  I’ve seen the idea that she didn’t have any ability in the first place in one or two articles from a long time back—from shortly after they both died.  I’m wondering if they’re right, that maybe Sarah Farragut’s psychic ability manifested because of a nascent bond she formed with Ryland LeSarte the first day they met.”  She chewed her lower lip.  “But that requires a belief that soul mates exist and a belief that bonds can be instantaneous and involuntary at the same time.”

“You sound like you believe they are,” Frederick said, leaning back in his chair and gazing thoughtfully at her.  “Do you?”

“I don’t know.  Part of me wants to.”  She sank down into one of the kitchen chairs and stared at him, cradling her mug of tea between her palms.  “And then the rest of me isn’t sure.  Believing in soul mates and things that are meant to be means that some things are certain.  I see things sometimes when I close my eyes and I want desperately to change them.  If they’re certain, what am I supposed to do?  Sit back and let them happen?  Keep my mouth shut because there’s no way I can change what’s going to be?  I can’t accept that—I can’t.  Not at all.”

“And about soul mates?  Bonds?”

Breath huffed out of her as she choked back a laugh.  “That…yeah.  I guess I do because I met mine and I married him.”  She rested her chin on one hand, staring at the grain of the wooden tabletop.  “Alana was going to kill him—Alana Chase.  She used to be a commando here, one of our best.  She’s ostensibly retired now and spends her retirement following me around like a shadow or a lost puppy.”  Lindsay knuckled her eyes.  Is that how I really feel about her?  She’s actually more like an annoying, overprotective older sister.  So why didn’t I just say that?  She shook her head at herself.  “Anyway, she was out in the surf with two squadrons when Brendan’s ship crashed here.  She was about to shoot him when I yelled at her not to.  I was on the skimmer with Aunt Rachel coming in to see what had happened.”  Her throat knotted.  “I saw Brendan laying there in the water and something in me just knew.  I knew we were meant for each other.  I don’t know if he did then, too, but I did.”  She stared into the darkness of her tea.  “I’ve always known.”

“That’s the curse of being the Oracle,” Frederick said softly, reaching over and letting his hand cover hers.  His strong fingers squeezed tightly before relaxing.  “I can only imagine the weight of your burden.”

“It’s no lighter than yours,” Lindsay said softly, lifting her gaze to meet his.  “You knew who killed Mimir but you can’t remember anymore.”

Frederick shrugged and leaned back.  “That’s true.  I don’t think I would be much happier if I could remember, though.  I would still be powerless to go back and change anything that happened to my world and it seems these days that there’s no way that the perpetrators would face any justice.”  A smile ghosted across his lips.  “So it hardly seems to matter.  The only thing the knowledge would bring to any of us is pain.”

“So why dwell, right?”

“Precisely.”  Frederick closed the book quietly.  “You looked like you were about to go for a walk when you came in here before and found me.  Were you still going to go?”

“After this cup of tea, yes, I think I am.”  Lindsay took a long swallow from the mug, letting the hot liquid warm her to her core, staring to melt the ice inside that had been gathering in the face of Brendan’s absence.  “I just need to clear my head.  I can’t sleep, I just keep thinking about Brendan and how we haven’t heard from any of them in days.  I’m worried.”

Frederick shot her a sympathetic smile.  “I can understand that.  Would you like some company?”

Lindsay hesitated, then smiled faintly and shook her head.  “I wouldn’t say no to it.  Are you going stir-crazy?”

“Just a little bit.  I haven’t seen much of the world cooped up here or at Urgarthe for all these years.  I think it’s time I see some of it, even if it is darker than the inside of a dog out there.”

“Well, I’d be delighted to be your late-night tour guide, then.”  At least it’ll help get my mind off worrying.  Maybe this is exactly what I need.

The enigmatic smile Frederick Rose shot her told her that somehow, he’d figured that out long before she’d ever realized it.

Lindsay smiled back and squeezed the older man’s hand.  “Thank you.”

“You never have to thank me for anything, child.”  He squeezed her fingers.  “Drink your tea.  I figure we’ve got an hour or two before my wife realizes I’m not in bed and starts working herself into a lather.”

Lindsay choked on a laugh and did as she was told.

Chapter Thirty

Sometimes, I wonder what it might have been like to be with Sarah sooner than I was, what it would have meant for us—for me.  Would we have suffered as much?  Would it have been as painful?  Would my burdens have been as heavy?  In the end, though, I always decide that it was best that I shouldered my burdens alone, because it meant that she had more nights of unbroken sleep.

— Journal of Ryland LeSarte, circa 4861 PD


15 Novem, 5249 PD

Ezra leaned against the console next to Alana, staring at the control boards.  “I still don’t fully understand how it happened,” he murmured.  “How did he know they were trying to pull a dump from his implant through the ship’s systems back to the station?”

“He probably felt it.”  Alana leaned back, her gaze sliding toward him for a brief moment.  “You work with this kind of bioware, Ezra.  You don’t know that?”

“All I know about how it feels to have it I learn from patients, and all I know about how they really work in practice, not in theory, is from tech specs and what they tell me.  I’ve never encountered something like this.”

“I hope you never have to again,” Alana said.  She crossed her arms and watched him for a moment, watched his face as his brows knit, his jaw tightened.  “What’s the matter?”

“What if I’ve killed him, Alana?”  Ezra whispered.  “What if I’ve killed my best friend because I didn’t know enough?”

She turned to face him fully.  “How were you supposed to know that he’d tap into Lindsay’s brain from a thousand light years away?  I didn’t even know he could do that.”

“It shouldn’t be possible,” Grant Channing rumbled from the bunk.  He sat up slowly, looking down at his wife for a moment, who still slept.  He ran a rough-fingered hand over her hair tenderly, then tucked their blanket up over her shoulder before he abandoned the bunk.  He studied both the doctor and the commando for a long moment.  His gaze settled on Ezra.

Shit.  Am I about to get some kind of lecture he’s thinking I’ve got coming?

“The pilot,” Grant said.  “He’s Bonded to my daughter?”

Ezra nodded.  “Yes, sir.  My sister and I stood witness.”

The elder psychic’s gaze sharpened and narrowed, then he glanced at Alana, who shrugged slightly.


Grant made a sound in his throat that betrayed neither surprise nor concern.  “You don’t like him.”

“I didn’t,” Alana admitted.  “But Brendan’s good for her, sir.  I can see it now even if I never wanted to before.”

Grant nodded slowly, still studying them both.  Ezra suppressed a shiver.

He’s her uncle, and she calls him sir.  What’s up with that?  “He didn’t want to come,” Ezra said, swallowing against sudden tightness in his throat.  “He didn’t want to leave her, but this wouldn’t have worked without him.  He’s the only person attached to the Foundation that knows Chinasia Corp inside and out.  If he hadn’t said yes…”  If he hadn’t said yes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Grant nodded, crossing his arms tightly against the pale gray of his borrowed shirt.  “I think I follow.  And my daughter’s still back in the Eridani Trelasia system?”

“In Nova Spexi,” Ezra said.  “Brendan spoke to her when we dropped out of hyper for course correction before we rescued you.”  Rescued.  We did rescue him, didn’t we?  From what, though, I wonder?  He frowned to himself.

Alana’s fingers brushed his and the expression melted as his heart gave a little stutter-step.  He tried not to let either of them notice the reaction, covering it with a head-shake.  “That was a few days ago, but I can’t imagine she’d go anywhere else.  She stays pretty close to home most of the time.  Easier on her, I think.”

“The only place she’d go is out into the woods,” Alana said softly.  “And without knowing when we’ll be back, she’ll stay close to home.  She’ll want to be there.”  She glanced at Ezra and he nodded.

“I know she’ll want to be there to meet us.”  Not so much to meet us, but to meet Brendan.

Grant began to pace.  “Interesting,” he murmured.  “Are you sure he was able to reach her?”

“I’m positive,” Ezra said.  “I know the look.  He had to destroy his implant because Chinasia was getting strange readings because he was using his ability.”  Ability either his implant couldn’t pick up when he was young, or ability he didn’t know he had.  “They don’t let psychics fly where he’s from.”

“Chinasia,” Grant said.  It wasn’t a question.

Ezra nodded.

Grant stared at his sleeping wife for a moment, his jaw tightening briefly as his lips thinned.  After a long moment, he shook his head, murmuring, “It still shouldn’t be possible, Bonded or no.”

“What?”  Alana’s fair brows knit as she leaned toward Grant.

“The distance,” Grant said quietly.  “How long have they been together?  Bonded?”

Alana looked at Ezra, a brow arched almost delicately.

Ezra glanced at his feet.  “Seven years.”  He caught Alana’s wince out of the corner of his eye and winced himself.

She must have suspected it was that long.  They’ve been living together that long.

Grant began to shake his head again, opening his mouth to speak, but Alana interrupted him.

“They’ve lived together since he came to E-557.  Rachel took him in, raised him with her.  Twelve years.”  She stared at Grant, watched his face.  His brows knit and he shook his head, starting to pace.

“It still doesn’t make sense.  How can the bond be that strong?  The distance is…”  He stopped, hands curling into fists, and cursed under his breath.

“What’s wrong?”  Ezra asked, heartbeat starting to quicken.

“LeSarte,” Grant said.  “The only time I can ever remember two psychics connecting over such vast distances are the stories about Ryland LeSarte and Sarah Farragut.  Rachel…”  His voice trailed away and he swallowed before he continued.  “Rachel was doing research on them, on their lives, when all it started.  She’d confirmed it, found the documents, journals in LeSarte’s own hand confirming that the legends were true, that the stories were real.”  The bear of a man knuckled his eyes and cursed again.  “How can it be possible for my daughter to be doing the same thing?”

Alana’s voice was a hushed whisper, as if she was half afraid to speak.  “Lindsay is the Oracle.  Did you hear of her?  Of the Oracle?”

Grant grew pale, fumbling his way to one of the other seats along the console.  Ezra touched his shoulder lightly and to his surprise, the older man didn’t shake off the touch.  “Yes,” he said.  “I heard whisperings about a prophet the Foundation had.  I never dreamed it could be my daughter.”  He stared at nothing, blinking slowly.  “My little girl is a prophet,” he murmured.  “The prophet.  The Oracle.”

The big man buried his face in his hands.

Ezra looked at Alana.  She looked stricken, jaw slack, eyes bleak.  She heaved herself up from the pilot’s seat and came to kneel on the floor in front of Grant, putting her hands on his knees.

“Commander—Uncle.”  Alana’s hands tightened.  “It’s all right.  She’s all right.”

“You didn’t tell me,” he said, his tone faintly accusing, muffled by his hands.  “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Could be because she didn’t want you thinking of your daughter like that,” Ezra said quietly, his hand still resting on Grant’s shoulder.  “I’ve known Lindsay all my life, Commander.  The fact that she’s the Oracle just meant that we tried to avoid being around crowds, not that she was much different than any other kid.  My sister and Alana were still fishing she and Brendan and I out of swimming holes and the bay.”  Ezra smiled.  “She’s just another woman, Commander, one with a gift she didn’t ask for that she’s handled with grace and poise beyond any I’ve ever seen before.”

The big man took a few ragged breaths.  Alana’s knuckles were white as she squeezed his knees.

“It doesn’t matter, Uncle,” Alana whispered.  “It’s the only thing I’ve never been able to protect her from, but Brendan does it for me.  She’s fine—or will be, once we bring him home to her again.”

“It almost killed LeSarte,” Grant said.

“LeSarte didn’t have Farragut as early as Lindsay had Brendan,” Ezra said even as his stomach twisted.  What if he’s right?  What if it’s Farragut and LeSarte’s life for them?  Ezra glanced over his shoulder at the pale-faced, unconscious Brendan.  He watched his friend’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall.  He bit his lip.

No.  We’ll make certain of that.

When Ezra looked back at Grant and Alana, he saw them staring at each other.  He swallowed hard.

“Maybe I should go check on Brendan,” he mumbled.

Alana nodded.  “Yes,” she said in a bare whisper.  “Maybe you should do that.”

As he turned away, he saw Grant lean down and hug his niece albeit briefly.  Not for the first time, Brendan wondered at the family dynamic and decided that maybe, just maybe, he’d understand it someday.

Then, he turned his attention to another branch of the family, a part that he was afraid he’d have to fight desperately to keep alive.

Chapter Twenty-nine

Frederick Rose could have been anything he chose to be, but he chose to apply his considerable intellect toward problem solving, toward sorting out mysteries and meting out justice.  I hope someday to be half the Inspector he was.

— Sephora Damerian, eulogy for Frederick Rose, 5237 PD


15 Novem, 5249 PD

“So the Council actually agreed to let them settle here?”  Frederick asked from behind him.  Adam half turned toward him and shrugged slightly.

“On a probationary basis, anyhow, and volunteers only.  We’ll see how it goes.”  He stood among the ripening late summer tomatoes, staring up at the twilight sky.  The days were quickly getting shorter as the season wore on.  Soon the nights would be longer than the days and summer would give way to autumn and the harvest, then winter.

Will there be war before winter?  He frowned slightly.

“Do you think it will work?”  Frederick tugged the kitchen door closed behind him and limped to the edge of the garden.

Adam shrugged.  “Lindsay seems to think so.  The rest of us just have to hope.  Scarelli—the Mission Systems rep—is certainly enthusiastic about the idea, and he seems sincere in his desire to stay here.”  He crouched, plucking a few small tomatoes from their vines, cradling the orange-red fruits in his calloused palm as he straightened up again.  “We’ll have to see if it will work in the long run.  They’ll be under significant scrutiny for a long time, I’m thinking.”

“That doesn’t come as any surprise.”  The former Commonwealth Inspector leaned against his cane at the edge of the garden, extending a hand to take the tomatoes from his friend.  “What did your illustrious spymaster have to say about all of it?  I heard minimal complaints about him when you all came back.”

“We kicked him out of the meeting,” Adam said as he handed over the tomatoes and bent to pick some more.  “He was against the idea from the first bloody second.  Adriano wouldn’t have been able to say a damned word if we’d let him stay.  So we registered his vote—his mind wasn’t going to change—and asked him to get back to work on determining exactly how bad the situation is inside of the Commonwealth.”  He smirked, glancing at Frederick.  “Of course, anyone coming in from Mission Systems is going to be a wealth of unvarnished information for us, completely outside of D’Arcy’s control.”

“Sounds like the man’s feeling threatened,” Frederick said, frowning briefly.  “Does he have reason for it?”

“Don’t know,” Adam said, careful not to look at his old friend.  “Does he?”  The minute Freder knows that I’ve got the idea in my head, he’ll shoot me down.  We’re not at a position where I can talk him into it—not yet.

“From the way that you’ve all talked about it, no.  You don’t have anyone to replace him with.  Never mind that rot about old Foundation stock.”  Frederick’s eyes narrowed in the dim.  “Are you trying to gather enough evidence to oust him?”

“I’ve been trying for some time, actually,” Adam said.  “But it’s for naught until we have someone to replace him.  I don’t know who we could use.”

“Dr. Grace seems to have a great deal of contact with the wider galaxy.”

Ezra Grace, a spymaster?  Adam snorted.  “He’s a doctor, my friend, and a good one.  First of all, I’d rather not endanger his reputation by turning him into a spy for us.  Secondly, I’m not certain how easily he’d be able to cultivate the type of contacts we’d need in a spymaster anyhow.  Yes, he’s known in the galaxy and yes, he’s got contacts, but they’re all in the medical community.  I doubt that would be all that useful for a spy.”

“You might be surprised,” Frederick said quietly, then shrugged slightly.  “Who would you choose?”

“I don’t know,” Adam lied.  “There just aren’t any good candidates yet.  Aidan might know better.”

The corner of Frederick’s mouth twitched upward in a smile.  “Liar.  You have ideas.”

“No good ones,” Adam said, smiling back.  Not yet, anyway—still not sure talking you into it would be a good idea.  Perhaps another candidate will present themselves”  “Not yet, but I have hope.”  With another handful of tomatoes cradled in his palm, he picked his way out of the garden and joined Frederick at its edge, staring up at the starlit sky beyond the trees.

“It’s peaceful here,” Frederick said softly.  “More peaceful than I ever would have suspected.  Reminds me of the retreat.”

“That’s the idea,” Adam said.  “I built it that way.  Found the spot and did it.”  He smiled at the surprised look on his friend’s face.  “Didn’t realize that, did you?”

“I suppose I didn’t—though I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, should it?”  Frederick shook his head slightly, eyes distant as he stared at the sky.  His voice grew quiet, almost mournful.  “How much have I missed, Grumpy?  I hid from the galaxy—the galaxy wasn’t supposed to hide from me, but that’s what happened.”

Adam winced.  “We did it so you’d be safe, Freder.”

“I know,” his friend said.  “And you weren’t wrong.  But that doesn’t make it easier.  I used to…I used to know what was going on out there.  I barely even had to think about it.  And now?  God help me, I’ve got no idea what’s what, who’s in power, which conglomerates are ascendant…if Sephi could see me now, she’d be ashamed of what I’ve become.”


“Sephora.  She was the junior inspector that I worked with—one of the few people in the galaxy that got along with Daci as well as I did.”  A ghost of a smile crossed Frederick’s lips.  “I like to think I taught her almost everything I knew.”

I wonder if she was working with him on the Mimir investigation.

The question must have been on his face, in his eyes, because Frederick shook his head slightly.  “She was with me when Mimir happened—with Daci and I.  When I started to get…close…to whatever I must have known before they tried to kill me, I’d recommended her for promotion to First Grade herself.  She’d gotten her first assignment.  Corporate irregularities at Idesalli.  The last time I spoke to her, she was on the way home from their headquarters.  That was…a day or two before the gap starts, I think.”  There was still pain in his voice, frustration when he talked about the gap in his memory.

He wishes he knew who killed Mimir as much as every refugee wants to know who murdered our homeworld.  Adam touched his shoulder lightly.  Frederick smiled wryly and shook his head.

“No sense lamenting it again, is there?” he said quietly.  “Tell me about the meeting.  What else happened today?”

“Why didn’t you ask them?”  Adam nodded toward the kitchen door.  Inside, their wives and Lindsay were making dinner.

Frederick shook his head.  “Daci’s still trying to protect me, and Rachel and Lindsay will only let her—at least for now.  I think she hopes that after this is all over we can just go back to Urgarthe and be left alone again.”

“And you don’t want that anymore?”  Adam asked, heart starting to lift a little.  He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his old friend until they’d been able to start speaking every day again.  The thought of Frederick being gone again made him a little sad, a little sick.  You don’t have many friends to begin with—friends from back home, from your past are even more rare.  Shouldn’t be a surprise that you’d be upset at the idea of one of them disappearing again.

“No,” Frederick said.  “And God help me, too, because I really don’t want it and it’s going to upset her more than just a little when I tell her.  Baby or no baby, Adam, I don’t want to go back into hiding forever.  Maybe…maybe whoever was trying to kill me has forgotten.  I certainly don’t know why anymore.”

Fat chance.  “We can only hope,” Adam said.  “Have you told her?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t know how.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s not a discussion we need to have until this is all over, and this won’t be over anytime soon, will it?”

“No,” Adam agreed.  “I’m afraid it won’t.”

“See?  Then it’s a moot point.”  Frederick’s gaze shifted toward the sky again.  “And I’ve got plenty of time to figure out what I’ve missed.”

“You’ll need help,” Adam said.

“Of course I will, but you’re itching to give it to me, aren’t you?”  Frederick smirked, looking at Adam sidelong.  “You want to put my analytical brain to work on whatever intelligence your illustrious spymaster is bringing in—and then some.  Don’t you?”

Adam smiled sheepishly.  “How long did it take you to figure that out?”

Frederick shrugged slightly.   “You all complain bitterly about the man, but you’re the only one I hear suggesting that someone could do better.  Put my hands on what he’s got and what your analysts have and I’ll see what shakes loose.”

Lindsay poked her head out the kitchen door.  “Uncle Adam?  Frederick?  Dinner’s ready.”

“Are you going to tell Daci?” Adam asked Frederick as they started for the door.

“About what?  Keeping myself busy?”  He smiled.  “I don’t see any reason to—not yet.  She’s got enough to be concerned with.”

Adam threw his arm around his friend’s shoulders.  “I appreciate the help.”

“I’ll make you pay for it somehow.”  Frederick smirked.

“You always do.”

Chapter Twenty-eight

The Eurydice Compact—none of the other congolms—appear to be above using children to achieve means to their ends.  There is no heart left to them, no compassion.  In my time among them, I managed to help a few to see the truth and learn to feel again, but it will never be enough.  It will never be enough until they’ve all been saved from themselves.

— Ambassador Alexander Channing, Psychean Guard, c. 5199


14 Novem, 5249 PD


“Is he any better?”

Ezra stirred from his doze at the sound of Alana’s voice.  She stood above him and she blinked blearily at her, eyes momentarily refusing to focus.

Tired.  What did she ask me?  “Huh?”

The corner of her mouth twitched slightly toward a smile but the smile didn’t quite appear.  “Brendan.  Is he any better?”

“Oh.”  Ezra rubbed the sleep from his eyes, stretching slightly.  He glanced back over his shoulder, toward Brendan’s bunk.  He was still out like a light, his eyes already ringed by dark circles.  “No,” he said, shaking his head as he looked back up at Alana.  “Not really.  I’m still trying to figure out what happened.”

On the bunk across from him, Grant and America had fallen asleep, their bodies pressed together like a pair of spoons. Alana looked at them for a moment, then drew a blanket up over their sleeping forms.  Ezra smothered a frown.

Never seen her quite that tender.  And considering the reaming that Commander Channing tried to give her…what the hell was that all about?

It wasn’t safe to ask that question, though—not quite yet, but soon enough.  He settled on a safer question.  “When did they fall asleep?”

“A couple hours ago.”  Alana sat down next to him on the deck, resting her elbows against her knees, letting her hands dangle between the V of her legs.  “We’re on autopilot in hyperspace.  Even I could pass out and we’d be fine for at least another two or three hours.”

“How long since I apparently dozed off?”  Ezra rubbed his eyes again.  His mouth tasted slightly sour, so it must have been at least three hours.

“That was at about 1500 Nova Spexi,” Alana said.  “It’s a little after 1900 now.  You feeling better yourself?”

Ezra made a sound that wasn’t a yes and wasn’t a no.  “I don’t think I’ll get any real sleep until we’re back and I’ve got Dr. Vilenauva or someone to back me up with Brendan.  I’d kill for something hot and stimulating right now.”

“All we’ve got are stim patches,” Alana said, looking at him sidelong.  “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  Something else to look forward to when we make it home.”  Ezra stared back at her.  “What about you?  Are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Ezra’s nose wrinkled.  “Sounded like Commander Channing was ready to go about twelve rounds with you if he could.  What was that about?  It sounded like you’d met before.”

She winced, though the expression was there and gone so quickly that he almost didn’t see it.  “We had.”

Huh.  Is that why she’s so protective of Lindsay, then?  “When?”

Alana stared at him for a moment, then looked away, toward the mottled gray of hyperspace outside the ship’s windows.  “When he helped me escape from the Compact,” she said, her voice almost too quiet to hear over the hum of the ship’s systems.  “It was a long time ago.”

“He helped you escape?”  Why doesn’t anyone know about this?  Did Rachel know?  Marshal Windsor?  I know Brendan doesn’t.  Does Lindsay?

            I doubt it.  He stared at her for a long moment, studied the set of her shoulders.  She was tired, her body loose-limbed and sagging.  He’d never seen her quite like this before.  He touched her shoulder gently.  “Alana?”

She almost flinched, fingers twitching, but she caught herself, sighing and resting her head against her knee.  “Yes.  No one knows.  No one knew except for he and I.  Rachel…Rachel might have suspected a connection, but I never said anything and she never really managed to ask.”

“She did,” Ezra said softly.  “She said it to me when I went to try to get her to help me talk Brendan into coming along.  Told me that you’d do anything to protect Lindsay, her family—maybe not Brendan, but Lindsay and her parents.”

Alana turned her head to look at him, a strange, pained expression on her face.  “Did she say that I wouldn’t protect Brendan?”

“No,” Ezra admitted.  “But she said she was pretty sure you didn’t think they were a good match.”

She snorted softly.  “For a long time, I didn’t.  The more I saw them together, the more I realized that it was a good thing that I didn’t get to make the choice about who she should be with, because I started to realize that she really loves him and he really loves her, regardless of what I think of any of it.  It wasn’t my choice and that was a good thing. Rachel did right by her—by both of them.”  Her eyes slid closed for a moment and she sighed, lifting her head from her knees.  “But if you tell him any of that before I’m ready to say something, I’ll have to kill you.”

Ezra choked on a laugh.  “I believe you.”  He reached over and touched her shoulder, half expecting her to seize his wrist in an iron grip.

She didn’t.  She just looked at him and smiled faintly.  “You do, don’t you?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

“I guess I don’t know anymore,” she said.  “I’ve spent so long trying to make people feel that way.  It’s never felt strange before.”  Her gaze drifted away from him toward America and Grant.  “No one ever goes looking for Alana Chase.  People run away.”

A hollow feeling started to form at the pit of his stomach.  “That’s not true,” he said.  “Not everyone.”

The corner of her mouth twitched slightly.  “You and Rachel and Lindsay are apparently exceptions, and they’re stuck with me.  I’m not sure what your problem is.”

I think I love you.  He couldn’t say the words.  He just squeezed her shoulder gently.  “Maybe I’m just special.”

“Maybe you are,” she said.  She kept staring at the pair on the bunk in front of them, comfortable in sleep, like two parts of a whole.  In a way, Ezra supposed they were.  Bonded couples were like that.  Lindsay and Brendan certainly seemed that way most of the time, and so did a few of the other Bonded couples he knew back home.

Alana’s gaze shifted into a thousand yard stare as they sat there together.  She folded her arms around her knees, looking small and vulnerable for the first time in all the years Ezra had known her.  They sat together in silence, listening to the ship’s hum and the sound of their companions breathing, the sound of their own breath, their own heartbeats.  Alana shivered a little and Ezra got up, getting a spare blanket from a storage locker.  He draped it around her shoulders and sank back down next to her, but she never looked up.

What is she thinking about, I wonder?  What is she remembering that she’ll never talk to anyone about, holding it all inside until it eats her alive?

Alana broke her silence a few moments later.

“He didn’t come looking for me.”

“Who didn’t?”  Ezra asked.

“Commander Channing,” she said quietly.  Her voice was small, reedy, as if she’d been crying for a long time even though she hadn’t made a sound.  “He’d come looking for Sandro.”


“Alessandro Chase,” Alana said.  “His brother.”  Her arms tightened around her knees.  “But Sandro died when I was still a child.  While they were doing…this…to me.”  She nodded to her metal-sheathed arm.  “Commander Channing found me instead.”

Ezra’s voice came as a bare whisper, his heart pounding in his throat.  “How did he find you instead?  Searching for an A. Chase in the Compact database?”  Commander Channing is from the Compact.  Did anyone know he’d left family behind when he escaped?  He got out young.  I remember that part of the story.  Did he even know how much he was leaving behind when his father got him out?

“He sensed me,” Alana whispered.  “I was the only person that felt like his brother to him.  Their mother was dead.  His father was the one who’d gotten him to the Guard in the first place.  Diplomatic immunity, all that.  Channing was born a citizen of the Compact and a member of the Guard, but his father was an ambassador.”  She squeezed her eyes shut.  “I remember my grandmother saying that he tried to save her, too.”


“Ambassador Channing.  It didn’t work out, though.  She had to stay when he left.  They tried to make her steal Commander Channing, too, to make sure the Ambassador couldn’t take him back to Mimir.  She refused.”  Tears glistened on Alana’s face, squeezing out from behind Alana’s closed lids.  “They’d put her in his household to seduce him.  They didn’t expect that they’d end up in love.  Sure, they wanted her to have a child with him, but they wanted that child to be their pawn—not end up in the arms of their enemies.”

Blood pounded in Ezra’s ears and he felt light-headed.  This was a part of the story he didn’t know.  Does anyone know it?  Rachel and America must.  Marshal Windsor?  The other Marshals?  His arm snaked around her shoulders.  He winced at the tightness of her muscles, the rigid set of her shoulders.  She was like a spring coiled too tight, waiting for the pressure to be released in one big explosion of energy—or to snap.

Her eyes blinked open.  She stared at him for a long moment, swallowing twice, jaw trembling.  Then she leaned into his embrace and let him gather her into his arms.  She’s kept this secret her whole life.  Why?

“Why didn’t you ever tell anyone any of this?”

“It wouldn’t have helped me protect Lindsay,” she whispered, voice thick, roughened by tears.  “So why bother saying anything?  It just didn’t matter.”

“Alana.”  He tilted his head to make eye contact with her.  “Why have you been acting like a mother bear protecting her cubs around Lindsay for all these years?”

“I promised Grant,” she said.  “He let himself get caught so I could get away.  He did that for me.  But he made me promise to take care of my cousin because he wasn’t going to be there to do it.”

Her cousin.  “Sandro was your father.”

Alana nodded, tears still oozing from her eyes.  “I barely knew him.  But he and my grandmother…before the Compact took me from them and trained me…they made me understand what I needed to do, why I needed to do it.  They told me everything.”

His stomach twisted.  “That’s a heavy burden for a little girl.”

“Sometimes we don’t get to choose,” Alana said.

“No,” Ezra agreed.  “No, we don’t.”

He held her until she pulled away, wiped her eyes on the corner of the blanket, and squared her shoulders again.  Traces of vulnerability disappeared behind her mask of quiet, strong competency as she got up, stretching slightly and heading back to the console.

There was a trace of softness in her eyes, though, as she turned to look back at him before she dropped into the pilot’s chair.  “Thanks, Ezra.”

His heart gave a strange little double beat.  “You’re welcome, Alana,” he said.  “Anytime.”

Chapter Twenty-seven

They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

— Book of Hosea


13 Novem, 5249 PD


“Perhaps you could explain that?”  Kara said after a moment of stunned silence.

It’s as bad as we feared.  Adam leaned back in his seat, steepling his fingers in front of him and watching Scarelli’s face.  He knew most of the proposal, but by no means was he aware of the full extent of Mission Systems’ plans.

But if they want to move all of their operations here just like that, then it can’t be good back in NeCom space.  He tried to keep his expression one of bland interest, even though D’Arcy was gone.  It wouldn’t be good to look too intrigued.

Scarelli cleared his throat quietly.  “It is becoming clear to our board of directors, our staff and our clientele that the larger conglomerates are beginning to flaunt the regulations that were designed to protect all of us after the wars.  Once all of those protections disappear, it’ll be too late.  Everyone who can get out needs to do it while they can.”  He spread his hands.  “The…offer…to take the warship off our hands has afforded us just the opportunity we need to get the hell out of their reach.”

“They,” Amelda said, tapping a finger gainst her lips.  “Who do you mean when you say that?”

“Chinasia Corp for one.  The Eurydice Compact.  Idesali.  Take your pick.  They’re all trying to stake their claims to whatever’s going to be left when the war finally happens.”  Scarelli shook his head.  “I’m not delusional.  It’s coming.  I don’t think it can be stopped.  Have any refugees come here yet?”

Adam saw his niece startle out of the corner of his eye and lowered his hands, resting his palms flat against the tabletop.  “Should we have seen refugees?”

“Maybe not yet,” Scarelli said quietly.  “But they’ll come.  Sooner rather than later, they’ll come and they’re going to beg safe haven.  It’s not safe for psychics in Commonwealth space anymore, not like it used to be.  The protection is still there on paper, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  I wish it did.”

Lindsay cleared her throat.  “When.”

Scarelli looked at her, his jaw firming.  “I would say within the week, if not sooner.”

She glanced at Rachel and Amelda, then leaned back, brows knitting.  She tapped one gloved finger against her lips, clearly half lost in thought.

“People are afraid,” Scarelli said.  “People who never should have had to be afraid are afraid now.  It’s not fair.”

“No,” Adam agreed.  “It’s not fair.”  He chose his next words carefully, hoping he’d get the maximum effect—on the council, on Scarelli, everyone.  Too bad D’Arcy’s gone.  He’d look like he’d swallowed a sour peach whole.  “So to be clear, we could be looking at a situation similar to what occurred before Mimir fell.”

A pained expression washed over Scarelli’s face, his brows drawing together, his jaw growing tight.  “Yes, Marshal Windsor.  That’s exactly what we’re afraid of.”

It’s what we’re all afraid of, isn’t it?  Another Mimir.  Another war.  Billions dead.

            Humanity finally destroyed.  I wonder sometimes if that’s not what the universe intends.

He tapped a fingertip against the wood of the tabletop before him.  “And that’s why you can’t stay in NeCom space, despite the Commonwealth’s protections for free enterprise.”

“That’s correct,” Scarelli said, smiling faintly, as if he was relieved that someone seemed to understand their motives.

Don’t look so pleased yet, Adriano.  You may not like what comes next.  “And you’re willing to give up all of those protections and come here, to our corner of space, and play by our rules?”

“You say that as if we have a choice.”

Adam shrugged.  “You do.  You don’t have to come here.  You can stay where you are or strike out on your own, stake your own new claim, start over.”

“We don’t have the resources for that,” Scarelli said without a trace of pain in his voice.  “And it’s not the path we want to walk.”  A smile ghosted across his lips.  “It’s not the one I want, anyway.”  His gaze flicked toward Rachel, then back to Adam.  “I never saw the writings that came off of this planet as propaganda.  I read them all, but I never dared to believe.  Then I came here and I can see that it’s working.  I can make other people believe that, now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  There are so many people within Mission Systems, in Commonwealth space, that will believe if they’re given the opportunity—once they can see the truth.

“This world, the way you live, that’s the truth.  It’s the only way we can survive.  Humanity won’t make it through another exodus.  We’ve been dying by inches for centuries.  It needs to stop, and if I and my colleagues at Mission Systems have to be the sacrificial lambs falling on our swords to make that happen, to make folks back home believe in the Foundation, then so be it.”

“It won’t come to that,” Lindsay said softly, looking Scarelli in the eye.  Adam’s muscles knotted as the man met his niece’s gaze.

“How do you know, Consul?”

“You’re here now, aren’t you?  That could make all the difference in the universe when it comes to shifting the tides of war.”  Lindsay’s eyes flashed with a determined light, the same that Adam had seen before in her mother, in her father.  “Mimir stood alone when it fell—the Guard stood alone.  Even the Foundation stood powerless to help them when the bombs fell.  That won’t be us.”

Her words shot shivers up and down Adam’s spine.  Now I just hope that she’s right.  He stared at her for a long moment.

Have faith, Adam Windsor.  Have faith.  He met Rachel’s gaze, saw only the barest trace of worry there.  Faith.  They needed to have faith.

Lindsay smiled.  The smile was dangerous, a soldier’s smile.  It was like looking at Alana Chase for a moment.  “When they come—and we know that they’ll come—they’ll find that we here are quite a bit most difficult to take down than they think.”

Chapter Twenty-six

Politics is less a game than a duel with swords that cut deeper than the sharpest steel.  Cut one opponent the wrong way and they will slash you to ribbons, or merely wound you enough to let you slowly bleed out on the floor.

— Senator Alexander Farragut (PG – Mimir), New Earth Commonwealth Senate, c. 5225 PD

13 Novem, 5249 PD

“Let’s get to business, ladies and gentlemen.”  Sergei’s voice was just barely audible above the murmur of conversation within the Council chamber.  Most of the representatives had taken note of Scarelli’s presence outside and the questions had started.  The Marshals and Mugabe had been damnably tight-lipped.  The speculations were flying.  A few voices started to edge toward panic.

Lindsay folded her hands in front of her and studied the leather of her gloves, waiting for everyone to shut up.  Her head buzzed, a slight pounding behind her eyes, but no visions came.  I just hope that it all stays settled until he comes back.  I don’t think I can handle another swarm without him here.  Her hands unconsciously tightened and she forced them to relax.  He’s going to be fine.  Even if we haven’t heard from them.  Everything’s fine.

“—not going to hang on the word of some Guard legacy.”

Some eyes drifted to D’Arcy, whose voice had carried in the sudden silence of the chamber.  Others didn’t dare look at him, they instead looked at Rachel, at the Marshals, at Lindsay—the Guard legacies in the room.

Sergei cleared his throat.  “Are we ready to get started, then?”

Silence answered him.  Sergei nodded.

“Very good.  Let’s get to business, then.  Marshal Windsor, Consul Zenak, I am told that we have a guest that wishes to address the Council?”

Mugabe and Adam exchanged a look before Adam stood slowly, clasping his hands behind his back.

“You’re correct, Speaker.  The vice president in charge of operations from Mission Systems has petitioned to be heard by this council on a matter that touches on system security and resource management.  Consul Zenak and I have discussed the matter at length with Marshals Rose and Church and we are in agreement that we should—at the very least—hear what he has to say.”

As Mugabe got up to let Scarelli into the chamber, D’Arcy leaned forward slightly toward Adam.

“Something tells me that we aren’t going to like what Mr. Scarelli has to say, Marshal.”

Nice little display of your ability to do research, D’Arcy, Lindsay thought, studying the spymaster.  But I’d be more impressed if you already knew what he had to say and told us instead of relying on us to assume that you know what he’s got to say.

“I think we should hear him out,” Lindsay said.  “We’re facing a war and we’ll need any allies we can get.”

D’Arcy looked at her but avoided meeting her gaze.  “A war we only have your word is coming.”

“My visions don’t lie about things like that, Consul Morgause,” Lindsay said, sitting up a little straighter, as if her spine was made of steel rebar, “and I wasn’t raised to lie about something that important.”

“No one is impl—”

“Of course he is,” Kara snapped, cutting off Arigato’s defense of the spymaster.  “The man looks at her with barely veiled fear and speaks of her with barely veiled contempt.  He doesn’t believe what she’s had to say.”  The second youngest consul pounded her index finger against the wooden tabletop before her.  “We know that things aren’t what they should be in New Earth space.  If my brother was able to figure that out, you sure as hell should have been able to, too.  We know that something’s brewing, even without the visions.  Those just told us how bad it could get. Don’t you dare deny that there’s a war coming.”

“Are we ready for our guest, or shall I sit back down?” Mugabe asked, his voice just barely on the respectful side of sarcasm.

Sergei stared at Kara and D’Arcy for a long moment, his gaze tired.  He seemed to silently challenge one or both of them to speak again.  Kara leaned back in her chair and D’Arcy crossed his arms, looking like a petulant child.  Sergei shook his head slightly and nodded to Mugabe.  “See him in, Consul.”

Mugabe nodded and opened the door.

Lindsay had to smother a smile at the look of awe on Scarelli’s face as he walked into the council chambers.  Perhaps he hadn’t quite expected something like this, or perhaps he hadn’t expected the council to be so small, or its members so varied.  His jaw snapped shut audibly as he drifted to the center of the compass rose inlaid in the tile floor of the room, slowly turning in a circle to study each of them in turn.  Lindsay rested her chin on her elbow and stared at him for a long moment.

I hope I’m right about him, about this.  All I know is that we need help.  Is Mission Systems where we’re supposed to get some of that help?

Mugabe spoke quietly and clearly as he shut the door and turned to Sergei from his position down on the chamber floor.  “Speaker Petremoore, distinguished colleagues, I present Mr. Adriano Scarelli, Vice President of Operations for Mission Systems LLC.”

Scarelli momentarily looked like he wasn’t sure whether he should bow, salute, or nod.  Instead, he clasped his hands in front of him and looked up at Sergei.  “Speaker, it is an honor to be allowed to speak to all of you today.  I admit that this is more intimidating than any investors summit or board meeting I have ever presented to—I cannot express how glad I am to be able to speak to all of you today.”  He drew himself a little straighter even as Mugabe abandoned him on the floor and resumed his seat at one of the curved tables.

Scarelli spread his hands.  “I am authorized by Mission Systems LLC to make a very unusual request of everyone here as well as everyone currently residing in this system.  It is our hope that you will allow us to relocate our operations from orbit in the Comanche system to orbit the fourth planet in the Eridani Trelasia system.”

“Absolutely not,” D’Arcy snapped.

Lindsay rolled her eyes, though she tried to hide the look.  Of course.

The sound of an open hand slapping a tabletop made them all jump.  Amelda Watson was the source of the sound and she glowered at D’Arcy with barely contained annoyance.  “Consul Morgause, still that tongue of yours, if you please, at least long enough for us to hear Mr. Scarelli’s proposal before you dismiss it out of hand.  Some of us, at least, are inclined toward open mindedness in this matter, though clearly you are not.”

Daciana Rose cleared her throat quietly.  “Speaker, may I make a motion?”

Sergei simply nodded.  Daci smiled briefly and continued.

“Since Consul Morgause has already implied that not only does he know the details of Mr. Scarelli’s proposal but has also made his opinion known on the matter, perhaps he should be excused to continue his intelligence gathering with regards to the current tactical situation in NeCom space.  We will need that information to continue conducting drills and planning for our eventual defense of this system.”

Lindsay hid a smile at the twinkle she caught in Daci’s eye.  Nicely played.  Maybe I should take lessons from her.  I don’t think I could have tied that noose and tightened it so quickly—not without getting a knife to my kidney before I was done.

The Speaker paused for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair.  “Is there a second?”

Lindsay waited two heartbeats before she put up her hand.  “I second, Consul.”

“And I third,” Reine Oronoko said quietly, quite unexpectedly.  Lindsay glanced at her and caught the faintest trace of a smile on the woman’s face, eyes bright.  “Should the Speaker request it, that is,” she added, one corner of her mouth quirking upward.

“The motion carries to a vote.  Consul Moore, if you would collect the tally?”

Jensen Moore stood from his spot at the table and picked up a leather bag that shifted and clinked softly at the touch.  He made one circuit of the room, distributing the flat-bottomed glass marbles within, one black and one white.  The Rose Council voted using the ancient method of the stones; it had since its foundations and continued to do so even after all these years.

“If everyone would please make their selections,” Jensen said.

Lindsay swept both marbles into her lap, her fist curling around the white one.  Jensen began another slow circuit of the room, each consul dropping a marble into the bag, casting their vote.  Once it was done, he motioned for Scarelli to step back.

Jenson crouched in the heart of the room and carefully upended the bag onto the heart of the rose.  Thirteen white stones gleamed in the lamplight, one black shining darkly among them.

A collective breath sighed out of the council.

“The ayes have it,” Sergei said.  “Consul Morgause, you are released to your intelligence gathering.  The Council will deliberate without you and your vote against Mr. Scarelli’s proposal has been noted.”

D’Arcy stood stiffly.  “Yes, Speaker.  I will give you a full report of what I’ve learned as soon as it can be made available.”  He shot a venomous glare at Daci as he crossed the floor and walked out of the chamber.

She made an enemy today, Lindsay thought, but her heart felt lighter.

“Forgive the interruption, Mr. Scarelli,” Sergei said.  “You were saying?”

Scarelli smiled faintly.  “Just that Mission Systems is ready to sign whatever agreements are necessary to relocate to the Eridani Trelasia system.  The Commonwealth is dying, and the Foundation is our only hope for humanity to survive the storm.”

Chapter Twenty-five

War makes strange bedfellows.

— General Deacon Black, Rose Foundation, circa 4843 PD


13 Novem, 5249 PD

Lindsay tugged at her gloves, adjusting them for the tenth time.  “I’m not sure I want to be facing D’Arcy Morgause right now, Aunt Rachel.”

“Are you seriously considering not going, Lindsay?”

She sighed.  “No.  I’m not.  It’s just…something feels wrong, Aunt Rachel.  Really wrong.”

“Connected to D’Arcy?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.”  Lindsay exhaled a sigh.   “Something’s not right with him.  But I can’t put my finger on it.”

Rachel shook her head.  “The man’s a snake, Lindsay, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to try anything all that questionable.”

“He was purposely delaying giving us information on my parents.  Who knows what else he’s been holding back?”  Lindsay raked her fingers back through her hair.  “Whatever information he’s about to give us is already out of date.  If he’s called the Council to give us information at all.  He could be on a fishing expedition.  Uncle Adam’s been very tight-lipped about the operations he’s running right now.”

“As much as that probably galls D’Arcy, the man knows the value of keeping military operations quiet until danger has passed.”  Rachel took her by the hand.  “Come on.  Don’t want to be late.”

“Are you sure we should be leaving Freder alone?”

“Stop trying to get out of this, Lindsay.  Freder’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself.  Most of the time.”

“Listen to your aunt, Lindsay,” Freder called from the living room.  “No one’s going to bother me here because everyone still thinks I’m dead.”

“And it’ll stay that way until you decide otherwise, Freder.  Come on, Lindsay.”

Lindsay sighed and let her aunt tug her out the kitchen door.  “Uncle Adam’s not going to be able to put off meeting with Mission Systems again, is he?”

“He said something about making new arrangements last night.”  Rachel headed for the skimmer and Lindsay followed, exhaling a sigh.

“I don’t want him to go.  Not until they’re home.”  She rubbed her eyes and climbed in next to Rachel, leaning her head back and staring at the sky as the older woman got them underway.  Rachel sighed.

“We’re going to need those ships, Lindsay, regardless of when Brendan, Alana, and Ezra get home, and we need them as soon as possible.”  They sped along through the trees, down the roadway toward their meeting.  “He shouldn’t have delayed as long as he did, to be honest, but he did it because of you.”

Lindsay winced, feeling a momentarily pang of guilt.  Great.  Now it’s on my head if we don’t have enough ships in enough time, when this war starts.  She reached up and massaged her temple.

Rachel glanced at her sidelong.  A faint smile tugged briefly at her lips.  “Not entirely because of you, sweetheart, I promise.  But he knew how hard that mission was going to go on you, so he delayed.  It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t concerned about being away from the command center in case updates came in.”

Really?  “I guess I didn’t realize how much he cared about them.”

“You’d be surprised.  I was surprised.”  Rachel grinned.  “He’s inordinately fond of Brendan, which is what surprised me the most.  Then again, regardless of how things were going between Adam and I, I doubt he’d have let you two get close if he didn’t like him.”

Lindsay laughed, though it was a weak, almost broken sound.  “I think Brendan would be surprised by that, too.”  But I guess I’m not—not really.  She’s right.  Brendan never would have gotten close to me if Uncle Adam didn’t approve.

“We’re all surprised to find out that authority figures actually like us,” Rachel said.

Her niece nodded.

They parked the skimmer not far from the Council building and walked the last few dozen yards.  Lindsay’s apprehension hadn’t faded, her shoulders uncomfortably tight at the thought of another ten rounds with D’Arcy Morgause.

I’m not sure I can stand it.  This might be the time that I snap. She suppressed a sigh.  Rachel squeezed her arm gently.

“Stiff upper lip, sweetheart.  It’ll go well.  I doubt anyone’s well-disposed to D’Arcy right now.”

At least she knows why I’d rather not come.

They came across the Marshal standing in a knot outside the meeting house.  An unfamiliar man stood with them, as tall as Aidan Church but slender with olive skin and dark hair peppered with gray.


“Evacuate no-essential personnel and send them to the ground.  These people—they’re not going to care who’s manning them.  They’ll hit the orbitals first and use the burning wrecks to cover their landers.”


Lindsay snapped back to herself, sucking in a ragged breath.

Rachel squeezed her arm again.  “What’s wrong?”

Lindsay sucked in a ragged breath.  “Just saw something.  That man—he’s not from here.”  Who is he?  How did he get here?

            Her aunt’s brows knit as they approached the four.  Adam turned at the sound of their footsteps, offering a brief, weak smile.  “Counsels Farragut, I was hoping we’d catch you out here.”  He gestured vaguely toward the olive-skinned man.  “This is Marcos Scarelli.  He’s the vice president of operations for Mission Systems.”

Lindsay rocked back against her heels.  Rachel looked like she wanted to do the same, but recovered more quickly, extending her hand to the man.

“Mr. Scarelli, Rachael Farragut.  What brings you all the way out here?” She shot Adam a quick glance that clearly asked the same question, though more pointedly.

“Marshal Windsor has been gracious enough to arrange for me to address the Rose Council this afternoon,” Scarelli said quietly.  “We have a proposal for them that I very much hope that the Council will approach with an open mind.”

Adam ignored the sharper look that Rachel gave him, reaching around her and drawing Lindsay forward.  “Mr. Scarelli, this is Lindsay Farragut.  Commander Channing is her father.”

“Commander Grant Channing?”  Scarelli took Lindsay’s gloved hand with only the barest trace of hesitation.

Lindsay nodded.  “Yes.  I took my mother’s name when I came here from Mimir.”  Scarelli’s grip was firm and Lindsay forced herself to match it. Hearing him speak, she knew it was his voice she’d heard in her short-lived vision.

“My father met him once, a long time ago.”  Scarelli smiled faintly.  “He said that he was a dangerous man, one that he hoped never to cross.”

A blush crept over her cheeks as she shook her head slightly, withdrawing her hand.  “I never really knew him.  I was evacuated when I was a baby.  I haven’t seen him since.”

Something softened in Scarelli’s gaze.  “I’m sorry, Consul Farragut.”

She forced a smile.  “It’s not your fault, Mr. Scarelli, and it was a long time ago.  Perhaps I’ll be able to know him someday.”

“Then he’s still alive?” Scarelli looked away from Lindsay toward Rachel, then toward Adam and the other Marshals.  Adam cleared his throat.

“To the best of our knowledge.”

Rachel caught Lindsay’s wrist.  “We’ll see you inside,” the elder Farragut said, tugging her niece along in her wake.

Scarelli smiled briefly and nodded.  “It was a pleasure to meet you both.”

“Of course,” Lindsay murmured.  Rachel just smiled.

Once they were inside, Rachel let go, a shudder wracking her.  “I hope he knows what kind of game he’s playing,” Rachel murmured, looking back over her shoulder at the doors.

“Game?”  Lindsay blinked at her aunt, then followed her gaze back toward the doors.  “What are you talking about, Aunt Rachel?”

The elder woman shook her head slowly.  “There’s something going on that he hasn’t told me about, but I think that it caught him off-guard, too.  Mission Systems is here for a reason and I’m not sure the Council’s going to like it.”  Rachel turned and started walking toward the Council chamber.

Lindsay shook her head, crossing her arms.  “They’re going to ask us if they can stay, Aunt Rachel.”

Rachel froze, then twisted, moving as if she was caught in a block of ice.  “What?”

“Are you surprised?”  Lindsay asked softly.  “Even if D’Arcy hasn’t told us the whole truth, none of us are stupid.  We know that things must be getting bad back in Commonwealth space—I’ve seen what’s coming, Auntie.  I know it’s coming.  It’s just a question of when and how bad.”  She sighed and went to Rachel, putting her hands gently on her aunt’s arms.  “We’re asking Mission Systems for the ships that the Guard ordered before Mimir fell.  We’re a port in the storm they see rising all around them.  It’s only logical that they’d ask for our protection.”

Rachel barked a bitter laugh.  “What protection?  We need those ships so we can protect ourselves.”

“Distance, maybe?  I don’t know.  Maybe they know something we don’t.”  Lindsay’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug.  “Regardless of what he says, Aunt Rachel, I may vote for them to stay.”

The other woman stared at her as if she’d grown a second head.  “What if they want to rip up the mountains and turn our rivers and lakes to acid?”

“They’re not stupid, Aunt Rachel.  Something tells me that Scarelli knows what they’re getting into—at least in part.  You heard what Mugabe and Uncle Adam said.  They’re not going to settle here unless they agree to live by our rules.  If they don’t want to do that, though, if they want to build an arcology out in the asteroid ranges?  I won’t oppose that.  Would you?  Would you deny them the chance to get away from New Earth space as long as they won’t try to force their way of life on us, destroy our system?”

Rachel swallowed twice before she dropped her gaze and shook her head slightly.  “You sound like your mother,” she said in a bare whisper.  She took Lindsay’s face in her hands gently and kissed her forehead.

“I don’t know where you got that wisdom of yours, Lindsay,” she said with a sigh, turning away and heading toward the Council chamber, “but you’d best put it to good use today.  You’re right.  Regardless of what Mr. Scarelli has to say, we need Mission Systems and their cooperation—I just hope that we don’t have to sell our souls to get it.”