Silence

  Pilgrims The spaceport near the capital city is called StarPath. It was designed by one of the empire’s leading architects, filled with curves and high ceilings. Most of the waiting areas are underground, beneath the clusters of landing pads. The ships rise and rest quietly, through g-tech that allows them to manipulate gravity. The above-ground terminal is made of three domes, surrounding a taller fourth dome, with a blue stone tower. The smaller domes are red, yellow, and green, with black-roofed walkways at ground level leading to the larger white dome. Each of the three outer domes has a large entrance, marked by an arch thirty feet tall. A river of stars and planets moves across the arch, displaying the colonies of the empire. The inner walls of the spaceport are also in motion, covered with info streams, or decorative, moving patterns. I find the loading gate, and a…

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Sweet Waters

  Traitors The emperor wakes early this morning, like every morning. Teyus spends seven hours in bed, but his sleep doesn’t bring him the rest he needs. He’s troubled almost every night by dreams of aliens destroying the homeworld. Teyus shakes off the fear and fatigue, and sits up. He reaches for a pitcher of juice to ease his thirst, but the pitcher is half-way across the room, spilled on the floor. Many nights, the pitcher moves from where he left it, along with other random objects. Security is uncompromised, and video shows the objects moving by themselves. Despite the cage, the curses still circle somewhere inside him, and burst out. The emperor activates the wall screen to see what’s in the info-streams. They’re still full of talk about the Madar val, and Neyima, the hero who turned out to be a traitor, and freed one of the Madar. The…

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Fear of the Wild

  Cruelty and Purpose The emperor calls me in to see him. “Congratulations, Neyima.” “Disu has made incredible progress in his fighting skills, and he told me that he has agreed to the Madar val.” “Yes, great father.” “I have a few questions for you.” “I want to understand the training that you’ve been giving him.” “My staff has been analyzing the sims that you use.” “Acting?” “Practicing silence?” “Being insulted?” “These seem like a complete waste of time, and totally different from what the other tutors did.” “May I speak freely?” “Of course.” “The other tutors accomplished nothing with Disu, great father.” “Their approach was clearly the wrong one, at least for him.” “But acting?” “A good leader would like to always speak the truth to his people, but sometimes the people aren’t ready for it.” “The emperor must be convincing whenever he speaks, whether or not he’s telling…

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Truth and Lies

  The Rebellious Son “Wake up.” I hear the words from far way, but they help me fight my way back to full consciousness. Finally I open my eyes, but everything is blurry. “Good,” says the voice. “You’re in a med station.” “Do you remember what happened?” “The attack on the prince.” “Is he all right?” “Yes, and so is the guard that you were found with.” “She needed some surgery, but she’ll make a full recovery.” I try to get up, but I just don’t have the strength. “Lie down!” “You’ve been in a coma for four weeks.” “We didn’t expect you to survive.”

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Death of a Child

  Wenri I’m dazed when I land, and it takes a few seconds for my vision to clear. My skin still tingles, but at least I can feel my body again. “Are you all right?” asks a guard, peering down at me. I’m sitting on wet rocks a few feet from the lake. “I was about to go swimming, but I must have slipped on the stones.” The guard wears a headset with an embedded display. She helps me up and stares at me to scan my identity chip. Her posture instantly changes, and she almost salutes before she catches herself. “Officer Neyima,” she whispers, looking around, “sorry to have disturbed you.” She must be in charge of a security detail, so she has access to a database that identifies me as a member of the Special Corps. Most scans wouldn’t show it. The corps is an elite part of…

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Beyond Darkness and Light

  Cloud of Darkness The gate opens seven thousand feet into a dark sky, with no stars. Light rises from the ground and the sea. My field surrounds us and remains strong, even when the power of the nullifier runs out. There are no cages here. “Who are you?” asks Fenik, as we float in the air. “What is this place, and where is Rishku?” “My name is Yagrin.” “There is no Rishku.” “I wore that identity in the prison, so I could enter the women’s sims.”

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Prisons of the Mind

  Neyima The next day, Brewky arranges for me to leave my job, and come to work for the syndicate. My old boss isn’t happy, but Brewky pays him off. “I’m surprised he didn’t just take you.” “I couldn’t say no.” “I think he wanted to make me happy, and I suggested that he treat you well.” “Thanks.” I begin several days of training at the Boss’s underground facility. Blika and Brewky give me a new name, Neyima, and an identity chip. An ordinary chip carries a single name, citizen code, and basic birth data: planet, dates, etc. It can’t be updated without physically removing it and placing it in an empire security device. My chip is different. It carries multiple identities, which I can switch between as needed. I can even alter details of the identities or add a new one. One of the identities is a woman named…

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Children of Fire

  Preparation I float again in a world full of stars, the ship’s simulation of the third arm of the galaxy. The Kizak homeworld is here. I zoom in, and stare at the sun and its planets. The charts from the bird-man helped us identify the star, but what do I do with the fact?! If I go near their world, the Kizak will detect my ship and destroy it. Even if I survive, I’ll be bound by the cage. The empire will conquer Siksa while I sit in prison. I move through the simulation, letting stars rush by me, trying to think of a solution. Fool! The homeworld doesn’t matter. The cage is the key. If I understand how it works, maybe I can discover a way to reverse it, or block it. “One thing is certain,” I tell myself, ending the simulation, “nothing will happen while I float…

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Dreams of Life and Death

  Paths of Healing The airship flies toward the school, only minutes away. “Ilaz looks terrible,” says Keela. Berek scans him. “He’s gotten worse.” “His pattern body was damaged when I drove out the alien.” Berek streams healing energy over Ilaz, but the energy has little effect. “His breathing is so weak,” says Keela. “Have you lost your power of healing?” “No, but this injury is beyond the strength of a single healer, and Ilaz has lost the will to live.” “Tzina told me that his spirit said it would rather die than remain in its prison.” “The alien spirit was the only thing that kept this body alive.” The ship lands, and Berek glides the body into the school. “We need several healers, now,” says Berek. “The king’s son has an injury to his pattern body.” Four sisters surround Ilaz. “Can you help him?” asks Keela. “We can heal…

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Far From Home

  Ancient Wars Months have gone by. When I left the Veezal, I went back to the star where the captured probe was last seen. Since then, I’ve searched through many of the inhabited worlds along this arm of the galaxy. The worlds here are unsophisticated technologically, and know little of energy ways. Many have stories or ruins of an older civilization. The ruins I’ve found are contaminated with radiation. There was a devastating war here, a long time ago. At least I have a name for the enemy: Kizak. It’s the word that Dilasa heard in her last vision, the name of the pink-skinned humanoids. They have a large empire, and their ships visit the worlds here. None of the creatures in this corner of the galaxy are part of the empire. Some wish they could join, but the empire has no desire to include their poor worlds.

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