Choosing Death

 
The Deadly Sun
A few days pass and the distribution of the inhibitors is complete.
Chiwan, the healing master, joins them in their work.
Just as he guided the sisters when they left their cave, so he guides the sleepers.
He joins me when I reassemble the masters, to answer their questions about life on Siksa and their mission here.
When their questions are done, they wait for me to dismiss them.

“There were fights between you and the Kizak guards.”

“They’re arrogant,” says Uzel, “and claim that Siksa is already an empire world.”

“Fortunately, none of you used the web in obvious ways while you fought.”
“And perhaps the Kizak got a healthy appreciation for Jiku strength!”
We laugh together.

“But the fighting stops, unless you must defend yourself or another Jiku.”
“Understood?”

The group murmurs its agreement and scatters, all except Uzel.
“Can we talk, Yagrin?” he asks.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why did you wake us?”
“We don’t belong here.”
“The web is twisted out of shape.”
“We can pretend the world is normal when we use the accelerators, but without them the world becomes strange and sick again.”

“It’s good for you to experience the world a few hours a day as your brothers and sisters do.”

“Good?!”
“You have your shell, and never need to feel what we feel!”
“We’ve seen your strength, Yagrin.”
“You touch the web stronger than any of us.”
“How can you ask us to go a moment without it?”
“How can you bear to live in a world where the web is broken?”

“At first, Uzel, when the web grew weak and refused to give us its strength, I felt as you do.”
“But the Jiku need us.”
“Should we give up on life so easily?!”
“This is the fight that gives meaning to your sleep.”
“The world is full of wonder, even without the web.”
“The beauty of first light, the laughter of our friends and those we love, the thunder and fire of a lightstorm.”
“Can you remember the awe you once felt at everyday miracles?”
“We knew this as children, but we’ve forgotten.”
“Perhaps the cage is here to remind us of that.”

“The aliens did this to us.”
“There’s no greater purpose in it!”

“How can you be sure?”
“Do we see our purpose before we collide with it?”
“I lived most of my life before my spirit traveled here.”
“I’ve told you the stories.”

“Yes, but they’re hard to believe.”

“Is it more strange than your own story, waiting a thousand years so you can save the world from an unknown enemy?”

“Maybe not.”

“Show everyone that life itself is precious, that you are Jiku first, masters second.”
“This will help your brothers accept you, and turn away from the Kizak.”

“And when they are gone?”

“Your heart must stay with the Jiku.”
“You’ll become watchers, protecting the world, protecting all of life from the whims of rogue masters.”

“I could live in that future, Yagrin, but we’ll never see it.”
“The sun is dying.”
“You told us that, yourself.”
“A few weeks, and the radiation will grow beyond our ability to stop it.”
“What a cruel fate!”
“Waking just in time to watch the end of the Jiku!”

“The vote will be here in less than a week.”
“Until then, serve the people, Uzel.”
“Offer them healing or friendship or courage or love, whatever they need most.”
“Chiwan will fly with you and the other sleepers to help everyone find their way.”
“I hope your work will bring you peace.”

“And what will you do?”

“I will not let the world fall.”

They leave and I prepare for my own journey.
Time to bring Tzina home.
The message wall catches my eyes.
The AI keeps it full of the latest video links, but today few are about the Kizak.
Everyone is frightened of the sunstorms.
I have to free them from this burden, and turn their attention back to the empire.
A few minutes later my message becomes another link on the wall.

“Brothers and sisters.”
“What will happen to us?”
“On Siksa we are no strangers to violent storms of wind and fire and thunder, but a new threat has come.”
“Sunstorms threaten our health, and fill us with fear and anger.”
“I have children as you do, and I worry for them.”
“The inhibitors protect us for now, but our life is fading, all because of the cage.”
“It weakens the web by altering the stars.”
“Millions of them are damaged in this galaxy and the next, enough to set off a wave of destruction that threatens us all, Kizak and Jiku.”
“The only way to stop it is to undo the cage, but the Kizak don’t know how to end what they’ve started!”
“Besides, they would see all life fade rather than free the web.”
“Still, I promise you today that Siksa has a future.”
“When the vote is done, I will shatter the cage.”

 
Near Death
A tone sounds, and a light flashes on the wall indicating an emergency.
My commdisk carries the same message.
“Yagrin, come now!” says Shazira.
“Dilasa is badly hurt.”
The door opens at my voice command, and I fly out of the house, following the coordinates of the message.

I find Shazira at a Kizak healing center near the coast, two or three minutes later.
Niyta, Chiwan and other healers are already there.

“How did you get here before me?”
“None of you can fly as fast.”

“We received an anonymous message fifteen minutes ago, and we were near here,” says Chiwan.

“You too, Shazira?”

“A few minutes earlier, and I was directed to an island.”
“I found Dilasa on a beach, unconscious, wearing underwater breathing gear.”
“She must have sent the messages before she carried out her plan.”

“What plan?”
“Where is she?!”

“Dilasa was wearing Sindar’s necklace when I found her.”
“She retrieved it from the cave, went into the ocean, and used it to heal the sun.”
“The storms have stopped, for now.”
“I brought her here before the healers arrived, and gave her to the Kizak med techs.”

“How is she?”

“Badly burned.”

I push my way past the unarmed guards, toward treatment room seven.

“My name is Retsin,” says a Kizak tech, when I reach the doorway.
“You can’t come in here.”
“We need to keep the room sterile.”

“She’s my daughter and I’m a healer!”

He hesitates, then steps aside.
“Stand on the pad,” he says and directs me to a raised circle on the floor, just inside the room.
“I’ve heard of the healers, but you can’t compete with our tech.”

When I step in the circle, the pad glows, and a gas drifts up from the floor.
“This will disinfect your clothes,” says the tech.
“Wear this,” he adds, giving me a mask.

Dilasa lies motionless under pulsing lights that slowly change color through the entire spectrum.
I gasp when I scan her.
The surface burns are almost healed, but her internal organs are heavily damaged, except for her heart and brain.
Worst of all, her fire body is unstable.
Once, I shaped a new physical body for Chiwan when he was fatally wounded, but his energy was strong.
Tzina wouldn’t survive it.

“What are you doing for her organs?” I ask.

“You can sense that?” he asks, surprised.
“The treatment field stimulates the tissue to regenerate.”
“If only one organ was damaged, we could work faster, but in her case, we have to slow the treatment so her body can eliminate the toxins produced.”
“I won’t lie to you.”
“It’s going too slowly.”
“We don’t expect her to survive.”

“Show me the chemical structure of the waste products, and give me a sample to scan.”

“What’s the point?”

“I can remove them from her blood, and then you can accelerate the treatment.”

“It’s not possible,” he says.
“And even if you could do it, you wouldn’t be able to locate and eliminate them fast enough.”

“My daughter is dying.”
“Give me something to keep me busy while we wait for the end.”

His expression softens, and he touches a series of commands into the pad to display the molecular structure.

“The chemical notation is different among the Kizak, but I could explain it to you.”

“Don’t bother.”
“I’m familiar with Kizak science.”

When his assistant brings me the sample I complete the scan.
“Are you monitoring the presence of the toxins?”

“Yes.”

“Watch the readings.”

The level drops to zero.
He resets the scanner, but it still displays zero.

“Speed up the treatment.”

“And kill her?”

“She’ll die without it, and I can handle the toxins.”

“I’ll increase the field slowly and we’ll see if you can keep up.”

Fifteen minutes later her body is stable.
“I’m taking her now, Retsin.”

“She’ll survive, Yagrin, but she needs a day or two of rest.”

“I can’t wait.”
“Every physical body is tied to subtle structures of energy that we call energy bodies.”
“They’re damaged.”
“You can’t see the effect yet in the physical body, but she’s dying, and I can’t stop it alone.”

“Bring whatever help you need.”
“I’ll arrange for a bigger room.”

Kihyez told me he once heard that the tower races heal fire injuries with groups of seven healers.
I call Chiwan and five other healers to work with me.
They surround Dilasa and fill the room with their listeners.
“I’m sorry Yagrin,” says Chiwan as he rests his hand on my head, “but this injury is beyond us.”

“We’ll get more healers.”
“Together you can do it even if takes a while.
“Once, my pattern body was torn, and it took the healers days to repair it.”

“This is different.”
“Her fire body is damaged.”
“Whether there are seven or seven hundred of us, there’s nothing we can do.”

I pick up Dilasa, and open a gate in front of us.
“If we can reach the towers, there’s still hope.”
“There are healers there who know what to do.”

The group stares at the strange energy.
When they agree, I take us through.

 
Sacrifice
“Put her in stasis, Kihyez.”
“She’s dying.”

The AI opens his mouth to protest.
“Do it now!” I scream at him.

He picks us Dilasa and moves toward the tower.
I follow him to the room with the stasis bubbles, while the healers wait outside the tower.
One bubble is active, with Disu inside.
Kihyez straps Dilasa to a padded table, and activates another bubble.

“It won’t help for long,” says the AI.
“Her fire energy is drifting away, like Disu.”

“Energy can’t move and change without time, Kihyez, and the stasis bubble stops time.”

“Fire energy is beyond time.”
He points to one side.
“Scan Disu.”

At first my vision is dark, empty and quiet.
I push my listener through the edge of the bubble and the view brightens.
There’s still no trace of anything physical, but the fire body slowly comes into focus.
“I see it, but the edges of the shape keep changing.”

“Damaged energy can unravel at anytime, even within the bubble.”
“Disu’s fire body was injured but stable when you brought him here.”
“A few days ago it started to drift, and it’s getting worse.”

“Is it too late to heal them?”

“I don’t know, Yagrin, but soon their fire bodies will be gone.”

“How did this happen to Disu?”
“Before I left the towers, I told you to ask the seven races to send healers.”

“They heard your message, but no one responded except the Madar, and they refused to help.”
“Disu is Kizak, and that race is despised here.”
“Maybe you and the other Jiku can heal him.”

“No.”
“We don’t know how.”
“Call the Madar.”
“Tell them I must speak to Wehdija, the high priest.”
“She knows me.”

The AI brings me to a private room, and soon a screen lights up with her image.
“How can I help, Yagrin?”

“There are two young ones here with damage to their fire bodies.”
“Do you know how to heal them?”

“Possible but dangerous.”
“Who are they?”

“My daughter and Disu, the son of the Kizak emperor.”

She pauses.
“I’ll contact healers from several worlds.”
“They’ll come for your daughter, but not for the Kizak.”

“Disu is not like the emperor.”
“He defied his father to learn about energy ways.”

“And he shot you!”

“His mind was twisted then, but it’s whole now.”
“I guarantee it.”
“Disu must live, to challenge his father and change the empire.”

“That future is far away and uncertain.”

“I need him, Wehdija, to tell the Jiku the truth about the empire.”

“The Kizak drove us to kill our brothers and sisters, Yagrin.”
“We will never forgive them.”

“You were their teachers.”
“Their failure is also yours.”

We stare at each other in the silence.
“They took my years, and left me empty!”
“How can I help them?”

“You’ll always be trapped in the arena, Wehdija, until you let go of them.”

“I hate to admit it, but you’re right.”
“I will be your voice with the others, but I make no promises.”
“If we help the boy, then you carry his actions, and the actions of his people.”

“Agreed.”

“How many healers with you?”

“I brought six Jiku.”

“Any Kizak?”

“No.”

“For this kind of injury the boy needs some healers from his own people.”
“Without that, the healing itself may kill him, or us.”
She breaks the connection.

The healers come, three from each race.
Madar are last, and one of them moves slowly.
They order Kihyez to put the children on the ground at the center of the pathways leading to the towers.
Dilasa and Disu are barely breathing.

“Hurry,” I call out in Madar.
“They won’t last long outside the stasis bubbles.”

One of the Madar raises her arms and reaches out with her thoughts.
Wehdija.

“Are you sick?” I ask.

“Old,” she answers.
“This is my last trip off world.”

“Do you have strength left for healing?”

“My body’s weak, but I’m still the most powerful of our healers.”
“You saved my life and brought me home.”
“I owe you this, at least for your daughter.”

I turn to the other Jiku.
“She’ll speak in Madar and I’ll translate to Jiku.”

I’ll be selective about what I say.
I don’t want to reveal that Disu has a connection to the emperor.

“What is a Kizak boy doing here?” asks one of the Jiku.
“Why are we helping him?”

“We’re healers,” says Chiwan.
“That’s all we need to know.”

Wehdija moves to one side and faces the rest of us.
“Four circles to heal,” she shouts, and then begins a slow dance.
With each turn she reaches her arms toward one of the towers, and sends out a thin stream of red energy.
She pauses after the seventh tower, unsure, and then reaches toward the eighth.

The towers shake, glow, and release pulsing beams of light that cover all the paths.
Wehdija’s mouth is closed, but her words echo, again and again, louder and louder until we all must cover our ears.
A few moments after the dance ends, she pounds the ground with her four arms, and the sound fades.

She looks at each of the Jiku, scanning us.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“Your Jiku aren’t strong enough for this.”

“We want to help,” says Chiwan after I translate, “but why are we here?”
“We know nothing about this type of healing.”

“The Jiku must be first circle, wrapped tightly around the girl.”
“Keep your healing bodies small, quiet and strong, covering her.”
“Go now!” she shouts.
“There is little time.”

I move into place, and the Jiku slowly follow to form a circle, all except Chiwan.
The other healers split into groups of seven and surround us with three more circles.

“Come, Chiwan.”

He turns and faces the Madar.
“Tell her to give us a real answer, Yagrin.”
“Why do they need us when their energy is so much stronger than ours?”

“What’s really bothering you?”
“I’ve never seen you like this.”

He sighs.
“I feel like death is all around us.”
“Some of us will die today, and I won’t be part of this unless I’m convinced that we’re needed.”

I carry his message to Wehdija.

“This healing is done through fire bodies,” she answers, “and our fires burn differently than yours.”
“So different, we would kill the children without you.”
“The energy from the towers moves through each circle, before we finally direct it to you.”
“Your healthy fire bodies transform the energy into something more Jiku.”
“But you’re right.”
“This is dangerous, and difficult to get right.”
“Stay alert!”
“Accept as much of our energy as you can, and channel it to the girl.”
“Send the rest back to the towers.”
“Too much energy will kill you or the girl, but hold the stream long enough, and death will pass her by.”

We stand and wait as each tower glows brighter and brighter with its own color.
Minutes pass before a black fire rises up from the ground and spins through the light.
Soon the light disappears, replaced by thick darkness.
Eight streams of energy pour out of the blackness, through each of the outer circles, finally reaching us.
The alien healers seem unaffected by the streams, except for Wehdija who staggers and almost faints.
The physical world starts to fade away, but I hold onto my body so I can keep my place in the circle.
The other Jiku fall, their bodies far away from their still conscious minds, but I hold them up with my will.

The fire within us burns stronger and stronger.
Its power threatens to shatter us, before it erupts in great, sparkling ropes of light that move toward Dilasa like snakes.
We are stars, carrying new life to her.
I love the wild energy, but the other Jiku are struggling to stay conscious, Chiwan most of all.
The edges of Dilasa’s fire body stop drifting, but she remains deathly still.
A moment later I feel her mind, reaching out to me.
Her thoughts are confused, and words come slowly.

“Ina, I can’t sense my body.”
“What happened?”

“Don’t try to move, little one,” I tell her.
“You almost died, and we’re busy healing you.”

Even though his mind is disconnected from his body, Chiwan starts to groan.
Ten minutes pass, and his protests grow more and more frequent.

“Stop,” yells Wehdija, struggling to stand erect.
The healers in her circle move toward her, to hold her up as she sends thin streams of energy toward all of the towers at once.

As the light fades, Dilasa opens her eyes and sits up slowly.
The Jiku healers take hold of their bodies again, and stand with their own strength, all except Chiwan.

“Send the girl away,” says Wehdija, “so we can talk about the Kizak.”

“I’m too weak to stand,” says Dilasa.

I signal Kihyez to come.
“Who is that, ina?” she asks, as he approaches.
“One of our twins?”

“No.”
“It’s the AI who served our brother.”
“He uses bodies with Sindar’s appearance.”
“Kihyez will take you to the tower where you can rest.”

Chiwan sits and looks around, but doesn’t get up, and Wehdija leans on the other healers.
I transform into a Madar shape and take her arms.
This gives her extra strength and she lets go of the others.
Our thoughts touch.

“Your daughter is healed, Yagrin, but there’s no help for the boy.”

“We need him.”
“The Madar set up an energy school for the Kizak before they left the galaxy.”
“Your people spoke of visions and promised to return.”

“Yes, my sisters told me of it when I came home, but what does it matter?”
“Not every vision comes true, and by now, the school is gone.”

“I’ve been there, Wehdija.”

“So what?”
“If you’ve heard the vision, then you know that the emperors must disappear before the Madar return.”
“Let the boy die.”

“No.”
“He’ll become a different kind of leader, and the way of the emperors will die.”
I reach out for the Dream Hunters gateway, and carry Wehdija’s mind with me.

“What is this place, Yagrin?”

“The place of visions.”
One of the fragments calls to me and I reach out.

Disu stands in the capital city by the spaceport, a few years from now.
A large ship rests there.
The design is unfamiliar, and soon, I see why.
There are several Madar with weapons, standing guard outside the ship.
A large group of a older Madar slowly make their way to the ship’s entrance.
Disu greets each one in the Madar language as they pass.

The vision fades.

“What was that, Yagrin?” asks Wehdija.

“A vision of Disu’s future.”
“He frees the Madar still imprisoned among the Kizak, so they can go home.”

“There were over a hundred in the vision.”
“I didn’t know so many of my people were still suffering.”

Another vision begins with Disu’s death here among the towers, and ends with his father ordering the destruction of several worlds.

“Stop!” she says.
“No more visions, Yagrin.”
“I don’t have the strength for it.”

Wehdija breaks the link.

“The boy must live,” she announces to the others.

“What madness is this?” asks one of the other Madar.
“You said we would come here to heal the girl, not the Kizak.”

“Do as I say, by my word as high priest.”
“I will not explain myself to you!”

I cover her and Chiwan with healing energy, but it has no visible effect.
“I want to save Disu,” I tell them, “but you’re too weak to continue,”

“No time,” says Wehdija.
“The boy’s fire body is slipping away.”

“It’s all right, Yagrin,” says Chiwan.
“Let’s start.”

Wehdija activates the towers again, and then sits on the ground to save her strength.
Chiwan loses conscious ten minutes into the healing.

“Can we go on without him?” I ask her.

“There’s no point,” she answers.
“I hoped that Jiku fire was close enough to Kizak for the healing to work, but it’s taking too long.”

“If we stop now, Disu will die.”

“We can’t hold the stream long enough to heal him.”
“And every time one of us faints, it puts more strain on those who remain.”

“Continue,” I shout in a booming voice that fills the plateau.

She takes a deep breath and signals the others to continue.

One by one the Jiku healers fall away, until I’m left alone in the circle, lying on the ground.
I can barely feel my physical body, and my awareness is drifting.

“How much longer?”

“You have some Kizak in you,” says an unknown voice, “so the healing is moving faster, but still too slow.”
“The outer circles will break, or you will fall.”
“Either way, the boy is done.”

“He has a name and a life,” I whisper.
If I pass out, he’s dead.
I struggle to hold on, but I feel my awareness leaving.

No, I won’t let him go.

My shell rises up, covers me, and my strength returns.
Feeling comes back to my hands, and my eyes open to gaze at them.
Pink.
Without thinking, I’ve taken Disu’s shape.
The stream is gone.
Is it because I’ve transformed?
I look around.
The streams are still here, but they’re not focused on me anymore.
One of the circles is broken.

I stand and reach for the eight streams, feeding them through my shell.
Disu’s fire body glows until it launches blinding rays of colored light, filled with sparks.
The healers move beyond the towers and watch.

In Disu’s place lies a Jiku boy.
His fire body is soon whole, and his physical body shines with a deep red light.
“Stop,” calls the same unknown voice.
I let go of the streams, and focus energy on all of the towers at once.
The light fades.

Disu sits up weakly, and sees a copy of himself.
He tries to speak, but no words come.

I reach out for his mind

“That must be you, Neyima.”

I change back to my Jiku shape.
“You were almost killed when the guard attacked my ship.”
“I brought you here weeks ago to save you.”

“Why can’t I speak?”

“I don’t know.”
“We’ll ask the Madar.”

They walk toward us, and I connect their minds with ours.

“Two died to save this boy,” they accuse.
“Is he truly worth it?”

“I never asked anyone to sacrifice themselves for me,” says Disu in Madar.

“You know our words?” asks the largest one of the group.

“There are machines in the palace programmed to teach your language.”
“My father forbid all study of your people, but after Yagrin told me the truth about the wars, I wanted to learn all I could about you.”
“My mind is intact, but I can’t speak.”
“What’s wrong?”

“When we heal the fire body, we often cause damage somewhere else, too subtle to find.”

“Is it permanent?”

“Little is known about these healings.”
“They are rarely done.”

“Who died?” I ask them.

“Wehdija and one of your Jiku.”

I scan the area.
Most of the Jiku are getting up, but Chiwan’s body is still and growing cold.

The larger Madar spreads his arms above me.
“Wehdija knew she was too weak for the second healing, but she pushed herself beyond her limits.”
“What did you do to her?”

My first instinct is to take a Madar shape and strike him, or just hurl him away without a touch, but I let it go.
“I showed her a vision of Disu’s future,” I answer quietly.
“He’ll free hundreds of your people still imprisoned among the Kizak.”

The two Madar stare at Disu without speaking, then walk away.

 
Mourning
“It’s not your fault, ina,” says Berek.

I turn away, with no words to answer him.
The death rituals are over.
Disu and I wanted to follow Wehdija’s body for the last walk, but her people refused.
No outsiders are allowed on the Madar world except for the guardian of its tower.

I gave Disu a Jiku body and a new name, Seelo, so no one on Siksa would know who he is.
The healers that came with me to the towers had no memory of the healing when they awoke.
I told them we came to heal Dilasa and the boy.
Then I sent them home.

That night, Disu and I slept on one of the Fiklow worlds in a round house covered in color that I shaped for Tzina.
When we woke, Makish was there to greet us.
“Botzar will return in a few days,” she said.
“Wait for him.”

“I can’t.”
“The galaxy is dying.”
“If we succeed in saving Siksa, I’ll return to visit.”

She watched as I opened a gate and carried Tzina and Disu through it, back to the towers, and then to Siksa.
I brought Tzina straight to this house, where she must stay, out of sight.
Disu and I stood with Chiwan for the ritual, but that brought us no comfort.
The master is just as dead.
Chiwan tried to speed the healing, channeling more energy than his body could handle.
Why did he and Wehdija chose to sacrifice themselves?
Wehdija was old, but still had a few more years, and Chiwan was strong.

I’ve told no one the truth about Disu, not even Shazira and the children.

“You’re different since you came back from the towers,” she says.
“You were never so troubled by death before.”

“My friends sacrificed themselves to help me save Dilasa.”

“And the boy.”
“It’s a shame he wasn’t completely healed.”

“Yes, but I’m responsible for his injury, and I’ll watch over him until he recovers.”

“Why did you bring him here, Yagrin?”
“He should be at a healing center.”

I press on her mind wall and she lets me in.

“No one is listening, Yagrin.”
“Why are we speaking like this?”

“I’ve changed his appearance and his name, but that’s not enough to protect him.”
“The Kizak must not find out that he’s here, or the boy’s life is in danger.”
“It’s better not to speak about him aloud.”

“There’s something strange about Seelo, Yagrin, more than his silence.”
“Is he a danger to us?”

“I told you.”
“His mind web is healthy, but his language skills and voice are gone.”
“Seelo will spend a few hours a day in a time-compressed training sim.”
“He’s already started.”
“Two days, and he’ll have a decent vocabulary.”

“What good is that with no voice?”

“He’ll be able to understand us.”
“And he can speak within the sim.”

“Let Tzina help him.”
“She hasn’t left the house since you brought her home, and she needs something to do.”

“That’s not a good idea.”
“His mind seems all right, but I don’t want her taking any chances.”

“You’re lying to me, Yagrin.”
“I feel it through the bondsense.”

“I can’t tell you any more.”
“It’s my fault he was hurt, and now, I have to protect him.”

“From me?”
“We need protection from him.”
“When he thinks no one is watching I see him looking at messages on the infonet.”

“It’s part of his language practice.”

“Really?”
“Most of the time he views links in the Kizak language, with the look of someone who understands.”

I don’t respond, but she knows it’s true.

“You brought a Kizak into our house to betray us?!”

“He’ll help us defeat them.”
“I’ll tell you more when I can, but for now, you’ll have to trust me.”

 
Sins of the Fathers
“We have a problem, Master Yagrin,” says Keela.
“Even though the sunstorms have stopped for the moment, and no one is fighting, the Kizak guards won’t leave Siksa.”
“I spoke with one of my contacts in the government.”
“The Tshuan council asked the emperor to call the Kizak back to their ships, but he refused.”

“I’ll speak to him.”

I contact the ship, with Keela beside me, and soon the emperor appears on the screen.

“Yes, Yagrin?”

“We agreed that the guard would stay off Siksa.”

“They did, until they were invited down to help keep the peace.”
“Now, they’re needed to ensure there’s a fair vote.”
“Without them, your sleepers and other masters will scare the people and twist their hearts.”

“The council asked you to remove the guards.”

“And I will, if the vote goes against us.”
“Until then, we stay.”

“Your actions are unlawful.”

“Not according to empire law and soon that will be the only law on Siksa.”
The screen goes dark, and I smile.

“I don’t understand,” says Keela.
“What do we do now?”

“We publicize the council’s request to the emperor, and his refusal.”
“Then we show a video of our conversation with him.”
“We tell the people that when they join the empire, they lose control of their cities and their lives.”

I post the video links and wait a few hours for the people to get upset.
I’m not disappointed.
There are thousands of comments, mostly angry against the Kizak and the empire.
Others wonder if it’s too late to get rid of the empire.

I float more memories of the Kizak onto the infonet.
First I reveal the vicious nature of the palace guard, and the emperor’s words about their training.
His lack of concern for the lives of his guards, when it suits his needs.

Then I show the emperor approving the torture of his son.
Finally I introduce Siksa to my time with Disu.
I float my own memories, along with ones that I once pulled from his mind.
He speaks against his father and the empire, his hatred of their beliefs and ways, and his desire to change it all.

I want to use the emperor’s reactions against him, so a day ago I activated a listening device that I placed in his office on his shape.
It uses technology from a distant world that one of Mayla’s probes brought back.
The device transmits sights and sound from the room to a small satellite, which forwards the signals to this house where they’re recorded.
The bug is designed to self-destruct if handled by anyone other than me.

I scan through the video at high speed until I find something useful.
One of the emperor’s aids enters his chamber.
“Another message ship is here, emperor, with news of the home world.”

“Make sure the messenger has no weapons, and then let him in.”

“It’s one of the new, faster ships, fully automated.”
“There’s too much radiation in the new design for passengers.”

“Get me the disk yourself, understand?”

“Yes, great father.”

The guard soon returns and lays a message disk on the emperor’s desk.
“Wait outside,” says Teyus.
“I’ll let you know when I have a message to send back.”

The emperor puts the disk on a pad, and runs the decryption program.
“My news is not good, Great father,” says the image.
“We accelerated the growth of three embryos as you requested.”
“We all agreed that three was an excellent choice, a number of great fortune.”
“The embryos were born from the artificial womb, and we gave them the enhancements.”
“They all died.”
“It’s rare, but some Kizak bloodlines can’t tolerate the enhancements.”
“We could try again, but I advise against it.”
“Instead let me grow more children for you, without the enhancements.”
“I wait for your direction.”
The image fades.

“It’s settled then,” says Teyus aloud to himself.
“I take an oath on the blood of my ancestors, and their great service to the empire.”
“The enhancements are not an option, and I won’t let another child of mine be born with the curses as I was.”
“When I die, there will be nothing left of my blood.”
“Before then, I’ll choose a successor from those who serve me faithfully, who will do anything, kill any being, any race, any world, to wipe out every trace of the curses.”
“I’ve been too weak, but no more.”

I clear the screen, and return to the view that monitors the infonet for messages about the Kizak.
I float the emperor’s own words on the infonet, his self-hatred and easy acceptance of death and genocide.
The AI sets the view to filter for comments about this message, and a link to it appears in red on the screen.
Then I wait and watch while video links flash into existence all over the screen, like stars being born.
They move like a great herd toward the center, crowding around the bright red link, as though they worship it.

 
Fathers and Sons
The emperor’s aides try to contact me, but I block the message.
Kizak and Tshuan guards come to my house and tell me that it’s urgent that I speak with the emperor, but I refuse.
Disu spends that day and part of the next by the message wall, listening to his father’s words, and watching the Jiku response.

He seems obsessed, but he won’t stop except to eat and sleep.
“Let me in,” I tell him, “so we can talk.”

He acts as though I’m not here.
I tap on his mind wall throughout the two days, but he refuses to open it.
Finally at midday he responds.

“I have my voice back,” he replies aloud, “and I know what to do.”

He explains, and I spread the word all over the infonet in my own name, that just after sunset there will be a shocking speech about the empire in the great amphitheater of the Tshuan capital.
Everyone expects the speech to be mine.
Kizak guards will come, and the emperor will be watching.

I give Disu back his own body, and take him there, safe within my shell.
I stand beside him as he speaks and yells and cries about all that is good and all that is broken about the empire.
He ends off with a promise.
“When I’m old enough, if my father doesn’t kill me first, I’ll tear down the old empire, and build a network of worlds that stand together, but make their own choices.”
“Your vote is tomorrow.”
“Send a message to the Kizak that you want no part of their empire of fear, hate, and death.”

Overzealous guards fire on us, but my shield holds, and I send out thin energy bursts to kill the attackers without harming the innocents all around them.
Disu and I escape through a gateway to a remote part of the city, where I contact the emperor’s ship.

“What is this trick, Yagrin?!” he screams.
“Disu is dead.”
“How dare you put some Jiku in his shape, with lies about me.”

“I’m alive, father,” says Disu, “although you will wish I was dead.”

It takes several minutes of angry words between them, before the emperor starts to believe.

“He is my son, Yagrin.”
“Bring him to the guards so they can transport him to my ship.”

“So you can kill me, father?”

“No harm will come to you.”

“But I heard your words in the office.”
“You promised to kill everyone that’s cursed, and that includes me.”

“Bring him to me, Yagrin.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

“I agreed to let you have the vote and released Berek.”
“You owe me this.”

“Disu isn’t part of our agreement.”

“He is now.”
“I gave you your son.”
“Give me mine.”

“I won’t let you twist his mind again.”
“I’ll take him far from this galaxy to keep him safe from you.”

“Without him the deal is off.”

“What do you think you can do?”
“Your weapons can’t touch me.”

“There will be no vote.”
“I’ll conquer Siksa, or set off the explosives.”

“Even if you and your guards die?”

“You know I’m ready to die.”
“I won’t let the cursed ones roam free.”
“They’ll contaminate the rest of this galaxy, and then my homeworld.”

I smile at him.
“If you ravage Siksa, I’ll go to the homeworld myself.”

“And do what?”
“You’re not ruthless enough to kill billions of innocents.”
“I’ll tell you what will really happen.”
“You’ll be angry, but you’ll be busy day and night helping the Jiku rebuild.”
“When you finish restoring the cities and towns, your people will have other needs.”
“Your anger will get weaker and weaker, and you’ll do nothing about it.”
He laughs.
“I’ll give you until midday tomorrow to bring me Disu.”
“Otherwise, we attack.”

“While you and your people were distracted, emperor, the vote took place.”
“Eighty percent of the people voted, and three quarters of them want no part of the empire.”
“If anything happens to Siksa, I’ll make sure that you and your guards die a slow, horrible death.”
“But when that’s done, the Jiku will have no one left to blame but me.”
“I’m the one floating your private memories on the infonet and confronting you.”
“When my people reject me, I’ll take my anger, go to Wenri, and join the rebels.”
“World by world, we’ll crush the cage and the empire that you and your fathers built.”
“The cursed will rule and spread our ways everywhere.”
“Maybe I’ll decide to take your throne for myself!”

Disu and I pass through a gate, and leave the emperor staring at an empty room.


Empire of Stone -- 4: ReturnPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Allies and Enemies
  2. Strangers and their Gifts
  3. Diplomacy and Death
  4. Fall
  5. Sanctuary
  6. Treason
  7. Rescue
  8. Eclipse
  9. Standoff
  10. Into the Storm
  11. Sleepers
  12. Choosing Death
  13. Peace and Destruction
  14. Sacrifice and Rebellion

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