The fifth of Octem 5249 post-Diaspora seemed like the beginning of some kind of end for some of us. Would we survive to see another year? Would anyone? Or would humanity be dead, finally slain by its own hand? We just didn’t know. In the end, I’m not sure any of us really wanted to.
— Kara Grace-Forester, member of the Rose Council (5245-5250)
5 Octem, 5249 PD
“Brendan!” She sprang up from the couch in their small living room as soon as he opened the door. Lindsay Farragut filled his arms and buried her face in his chest even as he stumbled fully inside the house.
“Lin, what’s going on?”
“The Council wants to talk,” she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “They said they needed me to come. Aunt Rachel couldn’t convince them it wasn’t a good idea.”
He exhaled slowly, lacing his fingers through her honey-blonde hair, one arm sliding around her small waist and drawing her tightly against him. “Then you’ll have to go, Lin. They’re not going to take no for an answer if the rest of them have made up their mind about it. Maybe it’s just a vote or something.”
“It’s not a vote and you know it.”
Let me have my hope, Lin. “I can hope, Lin. We can hope.”
She laughed weakly into his chest. “Sometimes it’s all we’ve got, right?”
“Right.” He smoothed her hair and slowly took a step back, rocking against his heel and looking down at her. “You going to be okay?”
Lindsay glanced toward the door, which stood slightly ajar. Alana had the good grace to wait in the skimmer. “Were there lots of people around while you were coming back from base?”
He considered her question for a moment, brow furrowing. “Enough you’ll get a migraine, I think.” Or worse, possibly.
She nodded. “That answers that question. You’ll stay with me, right?”
Leaning down, he kissed her forehead gently. “They’ll have to tranquilize me to get me away from you.”
“Good.” She squeezed one of his hands, then disappeared deeper into the house. He shut the door and sank down in an easy chair for a few long moments, waiting and trying not to think of the possible outcomes of this meeting with the Rose Council.
I hope they don’t know. God, I hope they don’t know. He closed his eyes, leaning back in the chair, unbuttoning his jacket slowly. He dug his notes out of his pocket and tossed them on the table. His communications link joined them a minute later, clattering and sliding into the pile of notes. He wouldn’t need those until tomorrow at the earliest.
Brendan lingered in the chair for a moment, then stretched, stood up, and headed back into the bedroom where Lindsay was changing her clothes. He left his link on the table with his notes.
“Never seen you so spooked about a Council meeting, Lin.” He slid his arms around her waist and kissed her neck gently, interrupting her in the process of changing her shirt. She exhaled a sigh, leaning back into his chest.
“They’ll ask what I’ve been seeing, Brendan,” she murmured softly. “And by god, they don’t want to know what I’ve been seeing. Not really.” She nuzzled his cheek and finished pulling her shirt on, sighing.
“You’re the Oracle, Lin. They value your gift.”
“It’s a curse, Brendan, not a gift.” She turned toward him, cupping his face between her palms. “It’s a curse I didn’t do anything to deserve and never asked for and god knows, I wish I could be rid of it sometimes.”
“But only sometimes.” He brushed some hair back from her face and smiled at her gently. “Only sometimes, Lin. And then you think about all the good you’ve done, and how many people look to you, need you to be there to reassure and guide them…”
She hugged him, then, burying her face in his neck. “Why do you have to be right about this all the time, Brendan?”
He smiled wryly. “Something about being wrong almost getting me killed, I guess.” He kissed her temple, rubbing her back for a moment before letting go. “You shouldn’t keep them waiting. Last thing any of us need is for the Council to be ornery when we get there.”
“Not caring about that all that much comes to mind,” she admitted ruefully, stepping away from him. She went to the dresser and picked up the small case that contained her blackout glasses, rondelles of blackened glass that would protect her from visual stimulate—from seeing anything that could spark another set of visions. “What are you making for dinner?”
He smiled wryly. “I’ll figure that out after we see how fried your nerves are at the end of this meeting. Something soothing.”
She shook her head, sighing softly as she slid the glasses into place and shrugged into a hooded sweatshirt. “Are we walking?”
“No. Alana’s waiting in the skimmer.”
She winced as she drew up the hood, tucking her hair back into its shadows. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“You didn’t ask, sweetheart.” He kissed her temple and then locked an arm around her shoulders. “Come on. She hasn’t been waiting that long.”
“She’ll be angry with you. I hate it when she’s angry at you. She seethes and I can’t…I just can’t tune it out.”
“We could walk,” he offered. “It’s not that far.” She shook her head quickly.
“No. You’re right, we’ve kept them waiting long enough. She’s got the skimmer, we might as well use it. She’d follow us all the way down anyway. Why prolong the suffering?” She managed to smile. He sighed and gave her a squeeze.
“I’m sorry, Lin.”
She shook her head. “Don’t be. You can’t help the way she feels.”
“She still doesn’t approve of me, does she?”
“Brendan, she wouldn’t approve of anyone. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that it’s you in specific she doesn’t approve of.” Lindsay smiled up at him as they headed out the door. Brendan paused to lock up and set the perimeter alarms. Lindsay shook her head, continuing toward the skimmer, where Alana was waiting, studying the nails of the hand that was nothing but flesh. “You act like someone’s going to actually try to do something to our house, Brendan.”
He shook his head. “Force of habit, one I’m really not keen on breaking. Besides, you never know what those cadets of mine might do.” He climbed into the skimmer with the pair of women.
“What took so long?” Alana’s voice was flat, her gaze lingering on Brendan for a moment, even though the question was clearly directed at Lindsay.
“I had to change my clothes,” Lindsay said quietly. One hand found Brendan’s and squeezed as she leaned against him, pressing her face against the side of his neck. Her voice came slightly muffled. “Drive fast, Alana. I think the Council would appreciate me in a coherent state by the time we get there.”
Alana nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” Lindsay was the only one that rated a ‘ma’am’ anymore from Alana. Even Rachel Farragut, who’d raised Lindsay, didn’t rate a ‘ma’am’ anymore.
Brendan glanced off toward their right, not looking at Alana as he squeezed Lindsay’s hand back. He hoped that there would be fewer people on the streets now than there had been half an hour before. For her sake.
● ● ●
Local stone had built the building that housed the government of E-557—housed the Rose Council and the offices of the Guardians, the colony’s military commanders. It was bluish gray, flaked smooth, but still clearly natural. Like most of the architecture on E-557, it looked like it belonged. It all felt like it belonged. It must have had something to do with the Foundation’s assertion that their colony on E-557 should be sustainable—that this world would not follow others down the dark path that had claimed Old Earth, Telluria, and now was slowly claiming New Earth and a few surrounding worlds that humanity had overtaken. This world would survive. Somehow.
Despite the speed at which Alana had gotten them through, Lindsay was shivering and looked tired by the time they arrived at the steps of the building. There had been more, not fewer people in the streets by the time they’d passed through, and she hadn’t been able to fully block the wash of impressions and thoughts from them all. Not everyone lived with a psychic. Not everyone knew how to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Brendan helped her out of the skimmer, ignoring the dark looks Alana gave him. Lindsay pressed her lips together in a tight line, so hard her lips had turned nearly white. Her fingers tangled in his as she steadied. “I don’t know that I can do this, Brendan.”
He drew her tightly against his side, his arm firmly and protectively locked around her shoulders. “Do you want to go home?”
She shuddered and shook her head quickly, almost convulsively. “No. This meeting will probably run into the night. Fewer people out and about when we go home, for sure.”
I hope so. He gave her a squeeze and moved toward the doors. Alana brought up the rear, keeping a wary eye on the surroundings. He still marveled, sometimes, at the woman’s paranoia. No one was coming to E-557 to hurt Lindsay, and no one already here was going to harm a hair on her head knowingly. But there was no convincing Alana of that. He’d tried, and failed.
The corridors were quiet, and they made their way from the large foyer toward the centermost room of the building, down the short flight of steps to the doors to the council’s meeting chamber. The room was circular, sunk underground—“nestled in the bosom of the earth,” was what one of the early colonists had said of it. In truth, about half the room was actually underground and the tiered seating for most of the members of the Rose Council had them sitting at ground level or higher. The chamber’s floor, the circular expanse ten feet wide with its entries marked with the four stations of a compass, however, was underground. It was said that the stone mosaic that created a compass rose across the floor of the chamber had taken five years to finish—and that the early meetings of the Rose Council had taken place at the Mulcahey farm ten miles away.
Urban legends in a barely urban landscape.
Alana held the door for Lindsay and Brendan. Lindsay took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
The full Council was in attendance, including the two of the three Guardians. Lindsay slowly pushed back her hood.
The grandmotherly Amelda Watson smiled, though Lindsay’s eyes were still covered. Watson was from old, old Pyschean Guard stock, though she’d been born on E-557. Born at a time when there hadn’t been open war amongst the congloms in living memory. “We’re glad you could come, Oracle.”
Lindsay flinched at the title. She cleared her throat softly quietly and nodded a little in Watson’s direction. “Thank you, Sister. Pray it always be so.”
It was an old ritual. Brendan had heard it a few times before, when he’d accompanied Lindsay to Council meetings. She didn’t come often, even though she held one of the permanent seats on the Council by virtue of her gift—or despite her gift.
Lindsay climbed the few steps and found her seat, sitting down slowly. Brendan lingered near the steps, his existence unacknowledged—also part of that old ritual. He and Lindsay had been together for nearly seven years, but still he was all but invisible to the Rose Council. Only Rachel Farragut and the Guardians acknowledged his presence.
The door clicked shut behind him. Alana hadn’t entered the chambers, like he had. She almost never did. That was fine with him.
Let her seethe outside and leave Lindsay in peace. He closed his eyes as he leaned against the wall that separated the entryway from the seats, glancing upward toward Lindsay. She still hadn’t removed her glasses.
Is she afraid of what she’ll see?
“The Rose Council has requested me, and so I’ve come,” Lindsay said simply, voice quiet. She looked delicate and demure, sitting behind the long, curved table in her seat next to the more imposing Marshal Aidan Church, one of the Guardians.
The big, dark skinned man smiled at her, and the warmth of his smile bled into his voice. “Your seat stands empty too often, Oracle. You’re often missed in these halls.”
She managed to smile. “Thank you for saying so,MarshalChurch. I wish it wasn’t so painful to get here.”
Across the room, next to the Speaker’s chair, Kara Grace-Forester shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry it’s gotten more difficult rather than easier these past few months, Lindsay.” Some of the other consuls looked askance at the woman, a statuesque beauty at just past thirty, questioning the familiarity of address. Kara didn’t seem to notice, or care.
It was just too damned hard to be formal with a woman you fished out of millponds when you were twelve. Never mind having been witness to her Bonding.
Lindsay shook her head again. “It is what it is, Kara.” She smiled weakly. “Let’s get to business, shall we?”
The Speaker, Sergei Petremoore, nodded. “As well we should. Consul Farragut told us something that the rest of us felt we should discuss further in your presence. You have been Seeing again, correct?”
Lindsay winced again, but nodded. “They come strongly and I have no control when they do. That’s why the Council hasn’t seen me in two months. I can’t go out in the street without running the risk of being overwhelmed.”
“Hence the glasses today, then?”
She nodded. “Yes, Speaker. I had assumed you’d appreciate coherence rather than the potential alternatives.”
He smiled wryly. “Rightly so. Consul Farragut also mentioned that you had seen something in particular.”
Lindsay tilted her head slightly. “I’ve seen a lot of things, Speaker. If any of it was important, I would have appeared before now to tell you about it.”
What’s he playing at? Brendan frowned slightly. There had been more than a few sleepless nights that summer, finding them huddled in the starlight streaming through their back window, the one that faced the woodlands and the valley, him cradling her in his arms. Many, many sleepless nights with her sobbing bitter tears, cursing the gift she couldn’t seem to control anymore, trying to convince themselves that what she’d seen were only nightmares, nothing more. Her ability to control her gift hadn’t been this bad since before they’d met. She didn’t understand what was happening or what it meant. Rachel hadn’t been able to figure it out, either. Brendan was at a loss. And Alana…
If Alana had any theories, she was keeping them to herself.
The Speaker nodded again, leaning forward slightly and steepling his fingers. “One vision in particular is of interest today, Oracle. We’ve had some intelligence reports reach us through unconventional channels, and…” He let his voice trail away as he considered his words. Finally, he shrugged and said simply, “We think your parents are still alive.”
All the color drained from Lindsay’s face.
Oh bloody hell. Brendan barely stopped himself from reaching up and taking her hand. He didn’t do it. He stayed invisible, outside of their notice. A silent observer. A sentinel.
Her voice was small, like a child’s, but somehow flat, devoid of emotion. “Where?”
“That’s still a little sketchy, I’m afraid.” The Speaker glanced toward D’Arcy Morgause.
D’Arcy cleared his throat. “Preliminaries have them in the hands of the larger congloms in N-E space. We’re sorting through other data to confirm our suspicions as to which of the two they are in actuality.”
“If my aunt has told you what I saw, then you already know who has them.” There was a slight tremor, but more steel in her voice, now, less child-like. She was shaking off the initial shock of the news quickly, then.
A shiver worked its way down Brendan’s spine. He knew one of those places. After all, he’d told her what it was.
But we didn’t think that one was real. We were sure that one was a dream. A nightmare. A dream. Both all at once. They were alive, but somehow out of reach, and in pain. And in those places… He suppressed another shiver. How could there be hope?
Rachel Farragut wasn’t looking anywhere but her hands. D’Arcy cleared his throat. “You’re certain of the places you saw?”
“I’m not as certain about Eurydice Compact. But I’m very certain about Chinasia Corp. Commander Cho was able to confirm that what I saw was, in fact, a Chinasia Corp facility.” She licked her lips, hesitating a moment. “We thought it was a nightmare. Something that I’d gleaned from his mind at some point, from his nightmares. He’d been there, Consul Morgause.”
Marshal Windsor leaned forward. “How long ago?”
Lindsay bit her lip. “Almost twelve years ago. Before he crashed here.”
Windsorglanced toward the shadows that hid Brendan. “That was right before he crashed here.”
“Yes.” Lindsay took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Her voice had normalized, now, steadied despite the news she’d been given. “Yes, it was. But he never saw anyone there.”
“Which is why you thought it was a nightmare?”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, sir.” It was hard to not call Adam Windsor ‘sir’ when he got that tone of voice. The man commanded respect. Most of the Guardians did. They had to. But it was the kind of respect that they earned, and easily. They were good at what they did, and they gave a damn. About everyone. They had to do that, too.
Windsorglanced toward D’Arcy. “What do your preliminaries say to that, Oh Great Spymaster?”
D’Arcy flinched at the title more than the sarcasm that laced Windsor’s voice. It was entirely possible he hadn’t noticed the latter. “Preliminaries point to Chinasia more solidly than they point to Eurydice.”
Brendan felt his heart sinking. She’ll never see either of them again.
Rachel looked sharply at him. He winced. He was thinking too loudly again. He withdrew deeper into the shadows by the door and took a slow, deep breath, finding calm and his center—and shoring up mental defenses that he’d been letting flag.
As he worked on those defenses, he prayed that Lindsay wouldn’t need him to get through the rest of the conversation.
“Is there anything the Foundation can do?” Of course, Lindsay knew the answer to the question before she ever asked it. There wasn’t anything the Foundation could do. The Foundation had withdrawn from New Earth space, from that sphere. They only contact they had with New Earth and its satellite settlements, the conglomerates of New Earth, was mostly to sell them food. Limited resources, too, but mostly food. And to quietly smuggle any surviving members of the Psychean Guard still in hiding to E-557 where they could be safe.
Safe. Once upon a time, the Psychean Guard had been considered the only ‘safe’ place for a psychic. Now, being Guard and being back in New Earth space would get you killed, or kidnapped, or any number of worse potential outcomes, despite the supposed protections that the New Earth Commonwealth claimed to enforce. Brendan had little doubt that they did try to enforce their own laws, but he suspected that law enforcement was stymied by the congloms and other factions.
“From where our agents are? No. From here…” D’Arcy looked toward the Speaker, then the Guardians, then back to the Speaker. “We’ll have to see what we can come up with. We can’t do anything until we can confirm locations, though. That’ll take at least another week. Maybe two.”
Rachel Farragut finally cleared her throat, forestalling comment by Kara and another consul, Mugabe Zenak. “That’s unacceptable, D’Arcy,” she said quietly, though her tone brooked no argument. “And you know all too well that’s unacceptable.”
“We understand that she’s your sister, Consul Farragut. But that doesn’t mean that her rescue—”
“Bullocks, I’m not talking about her rescue, Consul Arigato. If America and Grant have been captured by any of the congloms—but especially one of the Big Five—they pose a strategic threat to all of us. To all of us. To this world. To the colony. To everything that the Foundation set out to do when they sent the first settlers here. Hell, to everything the Foundation thought and believed four hundred years ago when they came up with this idea. They know things, Daichi. We can’t afford to leave them where they are for very long, now that we have leads on them. We can’t. It’s an unacceptable risk to take.”
Arigato Daichi leaned back in his chair, dark eyes wide as he stared at her. Rachel Farragut had never been considered a powerful force on the Rose Council. She was docile, quiet, listening more than speaking, a mediator. She wasn’t often assertive like this. It was a shock.
Brendan smothered a smile. The Council had just gotten an eyeful and earful of the woman who’d raised him.
The Speaker looked toward Lindsay. “Do you see why we needed you here, Oracle?”
“Speaker, they’re my parents. I can’t necessarily trust anything I see regarding them. I just…I just don’t know. Whatever I might see could be dreams and imaginings.” She hadn’t seen her parents since she was very small, since they gave her to Rachel and told her to get her to E-557, where she could be safe—where she could be happy. America Farragut and Grant Channing had a war to finish, and a people to avenge. They have been part of the Inner Collegium of the Psychean Guard. Most of those that had lived through the attacks that killed Mimir had vowed to finish the war they had been sucked into against their will, to avenge their fallen brothers and sisters, even as they ordered most of the survivors to flee, to find their way to the safety of E-557. To the safety of the colony.
“Your visions are the only ones we know we can trust, Oracle, regardless of whether or not they’re fantasy.” The Speaker sighed not quite dramatically, shaking his head slowly. “There has not been a Seer such as you since LeSarte.”
He left it unsaid that her bloodline ran directly back to Ryland LeSarte. That was an open secret in the colony, though a bare handful of those living on E-557 that were not in the Council’s chambers knew that the tiny, almost frail Lindsay Farragut was, in fact, the rumored, fabled Oracle. No one off-world knew her identity.
The entire population of E-557 aimed to keep it that way.
Lindsay cleared her throat. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the insinuation, Speaker.”
He sighed. “Then let me be clear. We need your visions now, Oracle, now more than ever. We all know that something must be coming. Whatever it will be has been building since the congloms exhausted themselves in their infighting seventeen years ago, since we blocked their last attempt to colonize Etrasia nine years ago.” Etrasia was on the other side of the world, rich in mineral deposits, and only lightly settled. The land was largely pristine. That was all part of the plan. The Speaker folded his hands. “And we need them right now. If that is something you cannot do, I beg of you, look me in the eyes and tell me that you cannot do this one duty for the people who look to you for guidance and the world that is your home.”
It was guilt, and they all knew it. They also knew it would work.
Lindsay swallowed hard. “Pray I don’t enter a fugue state, Speaker. I can’t control my visions these days.”
“So you’ve said,” the Speaker said softly. “Consul Oronoko is prepared to record anything that may be said.”
Lindsay nodded slowly and reached up to remove her glasses. Brendan held his breath.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Me, too, Brendan. Me too.
He winced at the pain in her thoughts.
She folded the arms of the glasses in and set them down gently in front of her and stared at the smooth wood of the table for a few long moments. After a few deep breaths, she lifted her gaze, taking in the faces of the rest of the Council, faces she’d seen rarely these past few months.
For a moment, it seemed like all the fear had been for nothing, that everything would be fine.
Of course it didn’t turn out that way. The visions hit her like an avalanche coming down the slopes ofMountQuartermain.
She went rigid, then started to shake as words tumbled from her lips in a semi-coherent stream describing what flicked past her mind’s eye, her Seer’s eye. “Sky is purple, sky is purple, mushrooms light the dark sky, no stars, no stars, no stars, dying, dying, they’re all dying, everyone all around me the plains are burning the plains are burning the sky is burning it’s dying it’s dying it’s dying pain, oh the pain, it hurts so much…”
Brendan was already moving. He dashed around the wall and up the three short steps toward where Lindsay was seated. Her hands were squeezed into fists, knuckles white. Her eyes were open wide, but she wasn’t seeing anything but what was going on behind her eyes, nothing but the visions.
“Acid, burning, fire, pain. Starships and fighters fall like snowflakes, like rain. Storms and swarms and ow, ow, ow…it hurts, it burns, it consumes…”
I have to snap her out of this. He knew it in his gut. He knew it. Something was going on here, something more than he could tell, could perceive. He knew something was wrong. Brendan swung around behind her, grasping her by her arms and starting to haul her up and out of her chair. She was limp, but somehow heavy, dead weight in his hands. His arms closed around her and he crushed her against his chest, heart pounding. Snap out of it, Lin. Snap out of it.
His world exploded.