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Jahr:
2015
Verlag:
Wyrm Publishing
Sprache:
english
ISBN 13:
9781890464479
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CLARKESWORLD

— Year Seven —


edited by

Neil Clarke & Sean Wallace




© 2015 by Clarkesworld Magazine.

Cover art © 2010 by Alexandru Popescu.

Ebook Design by Neil Clarke.

Wyrm Publishing

wyrmpublishing.com

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors, and used here with their permission.

ISBN: 978-1-890464-48-6 (ebook)

ISBN: 978-1-890464-47-9 (trade paperback)

Visit Clarkesworld Magazine at:

clarkesworldmagazine.com





Contents


Introduction by Neil Clarke

The Weight of a Blessing by Aliette de Bodard

The Urashima Effect by E. Lily Yu

The Battle of Candle Arc by Yoon Ha Lee

A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones by Genevieve Valentine

(To See the Other) Whole Against the Sky by E. Catherine Tobler

The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution by A.C. Wise

Gravity by Erzebet YellowBoy

Vacant Spaces by Greg Kurzawa

Tachy Psyche by Andy Dudak

Pockets Full of Stones by Vajra Chandrasekera

Across the Terminator by David Tallerman

Your Final Apocalypse by Sandra McDonald

Shepherds by Greg Kurzawa

Soulcatcher by James Patrick Kelly

Cry of the Kharchal by Vandana Singh

England under the White Witch by Theodora Goss

Aquatica by Maggie Clark

Melt With You by Emily C. Skaftun

Driftings by Ian McDonald

Everything Must Go by Brooke Wonders

Sweet Subtleties by Lisa L Hannett

The Wanderers by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law Along the Event Horizon by Helena Bell

I Tell Thee All, I Can No More by Sunny Moraine

This Is Why We Jump by Jacob Clifton

Free-Fall by Graham Templeton

No Portraits on the Sky by Kali Wallace

The Wisdom of Ants by Thoraiya Dyer

One Flesh by Mark Bourne and Elizabeth Bourne

Found by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Mar Pacifico by Greg Mellor

86, 87, 88, 89 by Genevieve Valentine

(R + D) /I = M by E. Catherine Tobler

Annex by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

The Promise of;  Space by James Patrick Kelly

Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee

About the Authors

Clarkesworld Census

About Clarkesworld





Introduction


Publishing a magazine is a mad dash from deadline to deadline. By the time you publish one issue, you’re already knee-deep into another one. Your focus is always forward. This anthology is the culmination of a year-long sprint that took place from October 2012 to September 2013. It’s also a guilty pleasure. Editing this book provides me with a luxury: the ability to look back and enjoy a more casual and lengthy ride.

It’s easy to lose yourself when you’re constantly running from place to place. Moments like this remind me where we’ve been, refresh my focus on what’s important, and help me figure out where we’re going. To that end, I’d like you to use this anthology as a bit of recouperative therapy. Take your time, kick off your shoes, and lose your burdens for a little while.

I know, I know. It sounds silly, but keep in mind, that for me, these stories were published in the year that followed my heart attack and it’s during the period I became a cyborg (courtesy of having a defibrillator installed in my chest). I count myself as lucky to have every one of those days since, and if I don’t stop to appreciate that, have I learned anything? So let’s just humor me and call this a crazy survivor’s chance to pass along some wisdom.

Go read the stories. I hope they provide you with similar moments of escape!

Neil Clarke



January 17, 2015





The Weight of a Blessing

Aliette de Bodard


On her third visit to Sarah—on the last occasion that she sees her daughter, even if it is only in V-space—Minh Ha says nothing. There are no words left, no message of comfort that she could give her.

Instead, she takes Sarah’s hand, holds it tight until the last of the warmth has leached from her body into her daughter’s; and braces herself for the future.

Even in the visitors’ V-space, Sarah looked awful—thin and wasted and so ethereal that Minh Ha wanted to take her daughter home and ply her with rich dish after rich dish to bring some fat back on her bones. But, of course, it was too late for that; had been too late ever since the much-publicized arrest and the even more publicized trial, all the grandstanding that had brought a taste of bile in Minh Ha’s throat.

The white prison garb and featureless holding room background were imposed by the Guardians, but Sarah had basic access permissions to the V-space, enough to manipulate her appearance—to fill in the hollows under her eyes, color the stretched skin until the shapes of the bones receded into invisibility, and smooth out her hair until it hung once again as lustrous as polished turtle scales. Minh Ha wasn’t sure if her daughter’s appearance was a statement of some sort, instructions given by the leaders of the Vermilion Seal to their recruits before the police sweep-up, or if it was simply that Sarah saw no need to hide the truth from her—or the depth of her contempt.

“Hello, child,” she said to Sarah.

Sarah frowned. “Speak Rong.”

Minh Ha shook her head. “There’s no point. They’ll understand Rong just as easily as Galactic.” The machines that ran V-space were notoriously bad at Rong, a language that relied on human instinct to separate the words—but interpreters were cheap, their services easily bought.

“That’s not the problem, Mother.” But Sarah didn’t elaborate—merely pointed to the low table that was the only feature of the V-space, a pretense of normality in a situation so far from normal it was risible. Nor did Minh Ha probe further; after all, she already knew what the answer was going to be.

“The verdict was upheld today in the State Council,” Minh Ha said, as she pulled out a chair, feeling the solidity of old wood under her fingers—an illusion, perfectly woven by the machines. She’d applied for an interview in physical space, but had been summarily rejected; told that the risk presented by her daughter was too great, and that they would rather have everything take place at a remove; that she could visit Sarah three times, one time for every day that separated them from the execution of the sentence. “But of course, you already knew that.”

Sarah’s face was perfectly still—caught by the warm light from the ceiling, reminding Minh Ha so much of Charles that her heart seemed to stutter in her chest. “Active Rehabilitation on Cygnus? All things considered, I got off rather light, didn’t I?” Her voice had the sharpness of a broken blade.

There was an awkward silence, only broken by Sarah’s even breaths. “You shouldn’t have come here,” Sarah said, at last.

“Don’t be a fool. You’re my daughter. My only child.” And Minh Ha was about to lose her, and she still couldn’t express her own feelings in a way that Sarah would understand.

It had been publicized enough: the ship left for Cygnus, an outlying planet in Galactic space, in three days, carrying in its holds the sentenced Vermilion Seal members. Better cut out the infection at the root and expel it from society, rather than have it spread, undermining the foundations of Galactic society. It was a one-way trip—the passengers drugged and stuffed into hibernation cradles, locked tight until they finally could be released and herded into the holding facilities—staring at the mercilessly sharp horizon and the cracked fields that would be the boundary of their world until death.

At least it wasn’t an execution. At least it wasn’t Moc Tinh Hau—but of course the planet of Minh Ha’s birth had been sealed off from interstellar traffic, for fear that the war that had engulfed it would spread to other, more “ civilized” parts of the universe.

Sarah exhaled, noisily. “Fine time to show your support, isn’t it?”

Minh Ha found her hands clenching in her lap. “I don’t stand by any of what you’ve done.”

Sarah smiled—sharp and bitter. “Of course not. I should have known.”

“We taught you otherwise,” Minh Ha said, all the anger she’d hoarded during the trial irrepressibly bubbling up; all the smiling and keeping silent while Charles all but accused her of corrupting their daughter, of failing to teach her the proper Galactic values that would have prevented that needless tragedy. “How to care for a tree when you’ve eaten its fruit; how to remember the man who dug a well when you’ve drunk its water. Segundus is your home. Why did you need to—”

“What did you want me to do? To keep my head down and accept it all? To lie to myself, over and over, until the lie became reality? I had to do it,” Sarah said. “Had to make the truth known.”

The truth. The absolute that the younger generation found and clung to like lifelines; as if it could protect them. The truth hadn’t prevented the Eastern continent’s war-kites from laying waste to the delta; hadn’t brought harvested rice into the besieged cities; hadn’t even been able to save Xuan Huong, in the end. “There is no truth,” Minh Ha said.

Sarah was silent for a while, staring at the wood of the table as if she saw something within, some mysterious message that Minh Ha couldn’t make sense of. At last, she said, raising her gaze, “You saw the war, didn’t you? I thought you’d understand—I thought you’d want our stories to be worth something, too—” And, in that moment, she was no longer the hardened criminal of the news feeds, or the angry young woman of Charles’ imagination, but simply the child Minh Ha had raised—the round-faced daughter who’d come home after being stung by a bee, and who’d looked up at her mother, confident that Minh Ha would know how to make the pain go away. In that moment, Minh Ha’s heart, patched and glued together from so many shards of childhood, broke yet again.

There’s a moment which comes every time Minh Ha enters the Hall of the Dead: a single, agonizing moment of hope when she sees the streets before the bombs extinguished the lanterns hanging in the trees—when she sees Mother and the aunts exactly as she remembers them, their faces creased like crumpled paper—when she hears them say, “Come to us, child,” in Rong, just as they once did, when handing her the red envelopes of the New Year celebration.

It never lasts.

The filters always kick in; always change and blur everything—always turn the V-space of the city into a labyrinth of featureless, drenched buildings, and the Dead into . . . something else, something alien and utterly incomprehensible. Mother and the aunts flicker and blur, too, and change—their skin taking on a metallic sheen, their words melding and merging until they become altogether meaningless.

It’s for her own safety, she knows—for her own sanity, so that she is not contaminated by the twisted and ineffable brain patterns that have been preserved by the Hall, a crazed and blurred memory of what it means to be alive. She knows; but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

There are eight of the Dead: Mother and three of her sisters, and four more distant cousins who escaped with them. They were all young when they died—too young. Like all of the generation that had fled the Western continent of Moc Tinh Hau before the fall of Xuan Huong, they dwindled away on Segundus. Perhaps it was the stress of living through the first, most bitterly intense years of the war, scraping themselves to the bone to help their families escape from the gathering storm; or perhaps merely the pain of exile, but for some reason their roots never dug deep into Galactic soil. Minh Ha was but seven when they fled, and Moc Tinh Hau is a confused jumble of memories— all of it quite forgotten as she grew up, papered over until Sarah’s acts dragged it out again, in all its exquisite pain.

Until she finds herself, here, now, standing before the Dead; and looking for comfort where there is none.

On her way home, Minh Ha’s shuttle passed by the Memorial.

It was open, though surrounded by a horde of Galactic policemen: the queue of visitors was dwarfed by the gleam of exoskeletons and battle armor, by the metallic sheen of huge cars which uncomfortably reminded Minh Ha of the Eastern continent’s linked-machines on Moc Tinh Hau, and the sharp thuds of bombs dropping over the river delta in the hours before New Year’s Eve—when the entire Western continent had been welcoming their families home for the feast.

“See? I told you they’d have fixed it,” a woman said beside Minh Ha.

Minh Ha, startled, turned away from her contemplation of the dome; but the woman had been talking to someone else: a small and slight redhead with freckles whose hands were wrapped around a small leather case. “I wasn’t sure—” the redhead paused then, nervously fidgeting.

“You’d have stayed home,” the older woman said. She snorted. “On this day of all days—his thirty-year anniversary. Come on. Let’s go.” Her gaze lingered for a moment on Minh Ha, and her face twisted. “The Rong vermin won’t prevent us from honoring our war heroes.”

Minh Ha, shocked—it had been many years since anyone had made disparaging comments to her face—opened her mouth to say something, but the shuttle had already stopped, and the women had got off. She had no doubt they would join the queue of Galactics in front of the Memorial. The leather case the girl had been holding was familiar to Minh Ha: it held a V-space offerings chip, probably a wreath of flowers or a commemorative stele to lay in the streets of the reconstituted Xuan Huong—paying homage to a Galactic ancestor who’d died there, helping the Western continent fight for its freedom.

Minh Ha could hear Sarah’s voice in her head as clearly as if her daughter were sitting by her side. What wonderful stories they tell themselves. What convincing lies.

It didn’t matter. That was what her daughter didn’t understand. There was no coming back to Moc Tinh Hau; no return home to the tombs of their ancestors. Segundus was their home and would be their final resting place; and they couldn’t afford to antagonize the people among whom they lived.

Too late, Sarah’s voice whispered in Minh Ha’s mind; and Minh Ha turned her face back to the receding shape of the Memorial, trying to think about something other than her daughter and the Vermilion Seal—but the gleam of metal from the policemen’s armor didn’t recede from her field of vision for the longest time.

The Dead are to be broached with caution. Patterns saved on the edge of brain failure are no longer those of the living, but strangely corrupted things, belonging to one world and to the next; indistinct whispers, ghost images, and worse—self-replicating patterns that can utterly alter the shape of a mind.

The Dead, in other words, are a virus—skewed code that uses tactile contact in V-space to propagate itself; and to infect the brain patterns of the living. Those touched by the Dead become changed, unfit for Galactic society—speaking in barbaric tongues; sinking into despondence and instability; following visions all the way into mad fits, which render them dangerous to public safety.

In the past year, there have been 2319 instances of filters failing across the 79731 Halls of the Dead on Segundus, out of which 227 resulted in tactile contact—a tendency that is on the decrease thanks to better prevention at Preservation Office level. In most cases, contact is brief; and the afflicted are detected early enough to prevent further complications.

Some, of course, are not so lucky; that is why every Hall of the Dead works in close tandem with appropriate institutions, where the hopelessly corrupted can be prevented from harming themselves and others.

On her second visit, Minh Ha found Sarah on the floor of the V-space room, which had subtly changed. A section of it, walled behind glass, now showed the inside of the Memorial: the wide streets of the reconstituted Xuan Huong, the sky dotted with the glimmer of orbitals, the women carrying shoulder yokes with two baskets of fruit balanced on either end, the Galactics walking side by side with the Rong, smiling and laughing.

It was very clearly the original Memorial, not the hack the Vermilion Seal had succeeded in imposing for a few hours before security kicked in: the Galactics were still prominently there, haggling in their own language with meat sellers at the market; and the heads of whole fish glared at them from the trestle tables. It was . . . all there, and still somehow not there, every detail papered over with the Galactic gaze, the shoulder yokes as exotic curiosities, the fish heads monstrous and vacant instead of promising a meal fresh from the sea, the Galactics blending in the population instead of behaving like condescending masters.

Sarah sat with her legs crossed, staring at it as though she could erase it from existence altogether. She didn’t rise when Minh Ha materialized within the V-space, didn’t turn her head. “Mother. Just in time for the daily education session.” You could have sawed bones with the edge in her voice.

“Are you . . . always there?” It hadn’t occurred to Minh Ha that the V-space could be more than visitors’ quarters; that it would be used for other purposes. But of course every tool could be turned to several uses.

Sarah shrugged. She gestured for Minh Ha to sit by her side, which Minh Ha did, feeling the illusory coolness of the floor under her. “Sometimes, when it suits them. They’re preparing us for the journey, in many ways.” She had marks on her wrists and on her lower arms—little pricks like dozens of syringe injections.

“You don’t sound as though it matters much to you one way or the other,” Minh Ha said, bitterly.

“Should it?” Sarah looked up. Her eyes were dark pits in the awful paleness of her face. “I’ve done what matters.” She gestured to the Memorial in front of her. “They’ve fixed it, but everyone remembers that it could be another way.”

“They don’t.” Minh Ha fought a rising wave of anger—remembering the two women on the shuttle. “You had a moment of fame on the feeds, and that was swiftly forgotten. The Memorial is still as it always was.” As it always had been—a thing which didn’t concern Rong, which wasn’t for them. It was the work of a Galactic man; it wept for the Galactic fallen; for the slaughter of innocents, but it knew nothing about the war. It acknowledged nothing about the Galactic domination and meddling that had exacerbated regional differences between the Western and Eastern continent—leading to a bloody civil war after independence; and to the desperate, last-ditch effort by the Galactics to maintain their foothold on Moc Tinh Hau with the Western continent as their puppet state. “How could you think this would be worth your life?”

“Not my life, you forget.”

“You’ll live and die on a forgotten planet—it’s the same as if they’d executed you!” Minh Ha couldn’t control the anger, the anguish anymore. Three interviews—enough to count them one by one, to know that each of them brought her closer to the final goodbye.

“You forget.” Sarah’s smile was bright, cutting. “They’re merciful.”

“You should have kept your head down,” Minh Ha said. “Now all the Rong are tarred with what the Vermilion Seal did.”

“Keep my head down? As your generation have done all your life? I won’t be silenced, Mother.”

How could she—? “You tell me I’ve seen the war, that I ought to know. I know about grit being sold as rice in the markets, about bombs that shattered the lanterns in the streets—about the ancestral altar growing every few months with new pictures, about how you’d have done anything—anything, as long as it got you out of Moc Tinh Hau. We were on Segundus on sufferance—because they took pity on us. The last thing we wanted was to draw attention to us—to be sent back there!”

Sarah grimaced, but said nothing.

The view in front of them had shifted to a temple, lingering on the gong and the drum on either side of the entrance, and the flow of Rong coming to make their own offerings. The wooden statues in the darkness were smiling, enigmatic and distant, so distorted Minh Ha had to guess at their identities—was the woman in flowing robes Bodhisattva Quan Am, was the man armed with a Galactic axe general Quan Vu?

Two days left. One further interview; and then that was all. How could she—? Minh Ha took a deep breath, keeping her eyes away from the Memorial’s reconstitution. She forced herself to speak calmly, leisurely, as if nothing were wrong; even though the emptiness in her stomach gnawed at her. “Segundus is your home. It’s easy to criticize what the Galactic government has done, but don’t forget that they allowed you to grow up in peace—to be in a position to speak up now.” No one knew what was happening on Moc Tinh Hau now, but there was no reason to think life had gone better—that the Hell Minh Ha remembered from her childhood had vanished altogether.

“You’d think speaking up would be less fraught.” Sarah’s voice was full of mordant amusement. “But there are truths that can’t be spoken out, apparently, or they become terrorism, eroding away at the foundation of the nation.”

“I saw what you did in the Memorial,” Minh Ha said. “The city that you brought to life ‘from the point of view of the Rong.’ That’s not truth—none of you lived in Xuan Huong, or on the Western continent. None of you remember the war. Moc Tinh Hau is just a story to you, no different than it was to the Galactic who built the Memorial.” It wasn’t true, not quite—of course Moc Tinh Hau was the home of Sarah’s ancestors, of course it would remain a special place, more special to her than to Steven Carey, who had interviewed so many Rong yet failed to capture the essence of their lives in his Memorial. But she had to make her understand.

Sarah shrugged. “Do you think to make me recant, Mother?” She gestured at the Memorial behind its pane of glass. “As they do?”

“I want you to understand that this is how we live together, child. The Galactics did what they did on Moc Tinh Hau—” she saw Sarah raise a hand in protest, and cut in before Sarah could say anything— “but if you never forget grievances, then they’ll choke you like ivy. The Memorial isn’t for us, no matter what they say; and it’s enough that we know that.” It was enough not to make waves; not to make themselves noticed; to live in harmony with the Galactics in their new home on Segundus.

“Why are you here, Mother?”

“Because you’re my child. Because I raised you.” Because I’ll lose you. Because, somehow, she wanted to give Sarah something to take to Cygnus, to remember her by; and she couldn’t articulate what.

Sarah turned, and looked at her full in the eye; as a Galactic would have done. Her face was set. “I’m sorry,” she said, and didn’t sound sorry in the least. “You’ve made your choices, Mother. I made mine.”

The Dead watch Minh Ha, impassive. Their faces shift, oddly, weirdly, into some expressions a human face can’t take—rippling between a smile and a grimace and tears. Second Aunt speaks—the words came through all garbled, even as Minh Ha’s filters flash a warning she can’t understand either, something about compromised communication protocols and infected messages.

“I need advice.” She dares not look up, but she sees Mother drift closer to her. There is a smell in the air that is almost like Mother’s perfume, the faint mixture of cloves and sandalwood that followed her everywhere, even into the hospital where she breathed her last, hunched around her pain like a dragon wrapped around a pearl. “Please. I don’t know where to go, or who to turn to.” She would weep, if she still had tears.

The Dead are not the living.

“She’s your only descendant,” Minh Ha says, watching the familiar faces bend and distort like thin sheets of metal. “And they’re taking her away from us. From all of us. Please.”

Mother speaks, but it is all nonsense that Minh Ha can’t interpret—no better than an unanswered prayer at the ancestral altar after all. Can she even sure that any of them understand her? Perhaps the filters distort her own speech to the Dead, just as they mangle what should have been familiar Rong words.

“You’d know what to do, I’m sure. You’d know how to—” She isn’t sure what she wants—to convince Sarah of how wrong she’s been, to rescue her from her inevitable fate, from yet another kind of exile? “Mother. Revered aunts. I—Please tell me what to do.”

There is no answer. There never is any.

Going home, Minh Ha was stopped three times by police barricades; the last one erected just below her compound and staffed with what seemed like an entire army’s worth of policemen. The leader, a beefy woman with the reddened skin of blondes, examined Minh Ha from head to toe; no doubt seeing all there was to see from the failure of her marriage to Charles to Sarah’s arrest. “Where are you going, Mrs Tran?” Perhaps it was Sarah’s words, but today the mangling of Minh Ha’s last name grated—reminded her that she wasn’t home anymore, that her own home had been lost so long ago it only existed in her imagination—all in the past, unable to be ever truly recovered.

“I’m going home,” Minh Ha said. And, because she didn’t care much, anymore, about Galactics or her complex relationship with the city she now lived in, “From the holding facility. I was visiting my daughter.”

The leader grimaced, but Minh Ha held her ground. “I have three visits.”

“So you do.” She didn’t seem altogether happy.

At home, the feedswriters appeared to have got bored; there were but a few of them, loitering at the entrance of the building, and Minh Ha easily bypassed their frantic calls for interviews and information.

In the apartment, she found her sister Thuy busy in the kitchen, and her niece Hanh in front of the computer, watching the feeds. “How is she, aunt?” Hanh asked, but her mother Thuy cut her off.

“There’s someone waiting for you in the living room.”

Minh Ha had been expecting him, so it wasn’t entirely a surprise to find Charles standing before the chimney, looking at the holos on the ancestral altar with the practiced indifference of a man who had turned his back on this particular area of his life. “Good evening, Charles.” Her voice had never felt so formal in addressing him. “Come to see about Sarah, I guess.”

He turned around, slowly, his face a mask; a minute tremor in his hand masking the emotion underneath. “I came to see how you were. And yes, to ask about Sarah. Since it seems you’re the only one she’s speaking to.”

Minh Ha shook her head. “She’s not telling me much.”

“I need to see her,” Charles said. “But, of course, I can’t. It’s all that Vermilion Seal rubbish, telling her to reject all things Galactic. As if she weren’t Galactic herself, born and bred on Segundus . . . It’s all nonsense.” Charles kept his voice even, but Minh Ha could hear the frustrated anger; could feel that he was going to lash out at whoever stood in his way. He hadn’t always been so impatient; but years of bad financial luck had soured their relationship—hardening him, even as Minh Ha became quieter and less inclined to fight him for anything.

“She’s always been headstrong,” Minh Ha said, unsure of what to say. She hadn’t spoken much to Charles in the years since the divorce—they’d gone their separate ways, he to his merchant spaceships, she to help manage the family restaurant’s finances. Only Sarah’s arrest and trial had brought them back into each other’s life; and even then, it had been briefly and painfully, all the old grievances flaring up to life again, biting and unbearable. “I’m not surprised she wouldn’t want to speak to you.”

Preparing us for the journey, Sarah had said—how much of it was her, too, preparing herself, shedding all the attachments to Segundus, forging herself into metal hard enough that nothing on Cygnus would so much as scratch it?

“How is she?” Charles asked.

Minh Ha thought of Sarah; pale and thin and looking half out of this world, already gone ahead. “As well as can be,” she lied. “Convinced that she did the right thing.”

“But you’re not.” Charles’ voice was uncertain; probing into her weaknesses, exposing all her doubts.

“I don’t approve of what she’s done,” Minh Ha said, uncertain if that was the truth anymore.

Charles watched her for a while, and then he said, “You do see that we can’t allow the Vermilion Seal to blackmail the Government into some nonsense about revising the history books. That hacking into public V-spaces and revealing ‘the truth’ is no way to run a society.”

“I don’t know,” Minh Ha said, wearily. One day. One interview left before Sarah was gone forever. “Is this really what we should be arguing about?”

“You have to see—” Charles paused. “You’re the one who gave her all those Moc Tinh Hau stories. The one who encouraged her.”

“I take no responsibility for that,” Minh Ha said. How dare he accuse her? She’d never taught Sarah anything but how to respect the law, to be a good Galactic citizen—and how to best adapt herself to this society the Rong all found themselves living in.

“Of course you do.” Charles said it without resentment or visible expression. “You’re her mother. You delude yourself if you think you have passed nothing on to her.”

Precious little—what kind of mother was she, that she couldn’t prevent her only child from leaving her? “I’m her mother, not her master. Are you threatening me with anything? Isn’t bad enough that I’m losing my only daughter?”

“She’s my daughter too.” Charles voice was low, angry; Sarah had inherited that from him, that tendency to speak tonelessly and yet still exude a sense of menace. “We’re all losing her.”

Minh Ha gestured to the ancestral altar behind him. “The entire family is losing her. You know what this means for us.”

“Your old Rong superstitions?” Once, Charles’ jabs would have been more biting; but now he merely sounded weary—like her, wrung dry by the enormity of Sarah’s acts. “You forget. I left all that behind.” He turned to the ancestral altar, watching the holos. “Do you still go to the Hall of the Dead?”

Minh Ha nodded. “I went yesterday. They had nothing to tell me.”

“They never have.” Charles didn’t move. “You should leave the Dead well alone, Minh Ha—they just drag you down. Like they did with Sarah.”

“Sarah never went to the Hall.”

“You know what I mean.”

Yes, the weight of the past; those resentments he couldn’t understand—the Galactics declaring war on behalf of the Western Continent, hoping to maintain their presence on Moc Tinh Hau; the history holos proclaiming the fight for democracy, as if things were ever that simple or that pure. “The past made us what we are,” Minh Ha said, knowing it to be true.

“But the past is gone.” Charles’ voice was almost gentle. “This is the true lesson of the Halls—the Dead might as well be on another planet. They no longer speak our language or understand our thoughts.”

Minh Ha remembered being on her knees, staring at the cobbles of the V-space; remembered Mother’s agitation, the frantic gestures she couldn’t interpret. She said nothing—merely watched the holo of Mother as she’d been before old age caught up with her, strong and unbending and unlikely to give way to anyone. Why was she gone—why were they all alone, without the guiding influence of the older generation? “I guess not,” she said at last.

Charles turned back to her; and forced a weak smile. “Thank you for the information. I’ll go back to the holding facility and apply for another interview with her. You never know.”

Minh Ha, staring at him, was struck by the white scattered in his hair, by the bowed set of his shoulders, as if time itself had pressed down on him until his old arrogance disappeared—and she thought of the way that everything seemed to have been hollowed out by the arrest. “Do you want to stay for dinner?” she asked, in spite of herself.

Charles shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’ve intruded enough on you for one night. Forgive me.”

After he’d left, she remained where she was, staring at the altar. The Dead no longer speak our language, he had said, knowing full well the unbearable silence of the Hall: the chatter of the V-space, and all the familiar things, just frustratingly out of reach.

“Is he gone?” Thuy asked from behind her; putting her hands on Minh Ha’s shoulders, as she’d used to do when they’d been children in Xuan Huong.

Her elder sister’s hands smelled of garlic and something sweet—perhaps dried jujubes? “Yes,” Minh Ha said, knowing Thuy had never approved of him. “And Sarah will be gone, too, soon.”

“One more interview.” Thuy’s voice was oddly shrewd. “One last thing to give her before she goes ahead into the darkness of space.”

“I don’t know what to give her,” Minh Ha said, frustrated. She thought of the book she’d brought on her first interview, left in a locker somewhere—Master Kong’s sayings, a physical gift she hadn’t been able to give to Sarah. “I don’t understand her anymore.”

“I don’t think you’re meant to understand,” Thuy said, gently. “Just to support her.”

“I can’t—” Minh Ha watched the holos; watched Mother’s face, forever frozen into a half-grimace; watched Second Aunt’s serene gaze, Third Aunt’s awkward smile at the camera. Mother was the one who’d found them safe passage—who had bargained and smiled and bribed Galactic officials until they found a berth on one of the last ships to leave. The aunts were the ones who had opened the Rong restaurant—it was the only non-menial work open to them—and sent the entire family through Applied Schooling. They had lived through a war and an entire life of exile, and surely they would know—surely they would—

Minh Ha thought of everything that they no longer had; every way in which they had been diminished, and cut off from what mattered most.

“You’re right,” she said, finally. “It’s time to accept what I can’t understand.”

Time to give Sarah what she would most need on Cygnus.

There is no answer. There never is any.

None but the ones you make for yourself.

Trembling, Minh Ha reaches out—in that suspended instant before the filters come online, before the Dead are rewritten into safer, saner— sanitized—code. Her hand touches Mother’s; and she feels warmth, traveling all the way from her palm into her madly beating heart.

On her third visit to Sarah, Minh Ha says nothing. There are no words left, no message of comfort that she could give her daughter.

Instead, she takes Sarah’s hand, and holds it tight until the last of the warmth has leached from her body into her daughter’s; and braces herself for the future.

She ignores Sarah’s slight gasp of surprise; the widening of her daughter’s eyes as the patterns of the Dead slip into V-space—from her hand into Sarah’s hand; from her mind into her daughter’s own. It is, in any case, too late to turn back.

As she walks out of the visitors’ V-space, Minh Ha hears the whispers of the Dead in her mind; snatches of sentences that feel sharp enough to tear her mind apart; the bright, terrible sound of bombs over the city—the dark and biting history of her people that she’ll always carry with her, the memories and insights of the Dead that might destroy her, that might make her finally whole.

And she knows that, wherever her daughter goes, she, too, will carry it all—the weight of her ancestors’ blessing, in her blood and in her mind.





The Urashima Effect

E. Lily Yu


Leo Aoki awoke with a shudder in the cold green bubble of the ship, nauseated and convinced that he was suffocating. He shoved his way out of the sleep spindle, found his balance, ran his hands through his sweaty hair, checked his bones: all unbroken. Well, then. There was a snaking black tube cuffed to the wall, its other end pointing into the black vacuum of space. He pulled it off its hooks and vomited into it, miserably and gracelessly. The ship’s drivers continued their deep, soft hum, unperturbed.

Mission command had advised him against looking outside until he had adjusted to life in the cramped quarters of his bubble. It would unnerve him, they said. Unman him, they meant. It was better not to taste unadulterated loneliness for the first time immediately after opening one’s eyes and throwing up. On prior exploratory flights, several astronauts emerging from their long suspension had suffered heart attacks or gone mad, too delicate to withstand the double shock of loneliness and life in deep space.

Leo opened the six portholes orthogonal to the ship’s trajectory and stared out into a perfectly empty, perfectly dark sky. Blackness as pure and rich as squid ink looked through the portholes at him. He felt small and cold and very much alone.

He had to climb a thin ladder to reach the upper window, the one that faced forward to Ryugu-jo. It opened onto what looked, at first, like a globular cluster, a fistful of diamonds dumped onto a bolt of black velvet. He was looking at all the stars and galaxies that surrounded the ship, gathered by aberration into a glittering disc eight degrees across. It was a strange, beautiful, thoroughly unpleasant sight.

He clambered down again and screwed shut the lower portholes. He did not want the darkness looking in. It frayed his soul. He went to the monitor and played a game of chess to steady his nerves. The system informed him that he had been asleep for three years. The ship had arrived at its maximum travel speed of .997c, and soon it would flip its orientation and decelerate until they reached their target, Ryugu-jo in the Alpha Lyrae system. His wife, a prominent astrophysicist, had discovered and named the planet in graduate school. Leo lost his bishops, then his rooks, one after another, then the game. The ship’s computer was polite about his loss.

Thinking of Esther, he brought up and played the recording she had made for him before departure. They were all required to have sixty hours of audio recordings by family and friends for viewing on the last leg of their journey, to keep them sane and functional in their isolation. He had made a recording for her, too. He had told her he loved her in every possible way for five hours, filled three hours with good jokes and one hour with bad, and he had sung to her and read aloud to her, crouched over the microphone, imagining her face as she listened to him in perfect solitude, surrounded by darkness, flying toward him.

When her voice floated crisply into his ear, he felt his clenched muscles relax, as they always did when he was with her.

“Leo,” she said. He could hear her smile. “You’ll be up by now. I hope it wasn’t too bad. They say it’s usually horrible. Your hair’s probably a mess. I know you’ll look stunning anyway.”

He had to stop to gulp down water from a tube. The nearness of her voice, like a touch on his skin, sparked a few tears. They had met in graduate school in Berkeley, both hyphenated Americans with a preponderance of Japanese in front of the dash. He had preferred solitude as a student, working out alone his pale theorems on a blackboard, but she had insisted on the importance of family dinners, friends, colleagues, collaboration, a vast net of relationships drawn around her own lively, glimmering insights. He was fifth-generation, with great-grandparents who were interned at Heart Mountain; she was third-generation and inquisitive and knowledgeable about the cultural inheritance he had never claimed. He was in physics, a different department, but they had taken classes together and she had always scored near the top. She had fascinated him.

“First I will tell you the story of Urashima Taro.

“Long ago in a dusty fishing village near Edo there lived a fisherman whose name was Urashima Taro. His hands were hard and cracked from work and his skin was brown from sun, but he was a sweet, kind man who worked all day and dreamed strange dreams at night. Like you, in some ways. He fished to feed himself and his elderly parents as well, and the sea always provided them with enough to get by.

“One day he heard a few of the village children screaming with laughter. He went over to see what had excited them so, and found them kicking a small turtle back and forth.

“ ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Urashima exclaimed.

“ ‘The turtle is ours,’ the children said. ‘We caught it. We’ll do what we wish with it.’

“ ‘Let me buy it from you,’ Urashima said, and as he spoke he took coins from his belt and held them out. ‘Can’t you find something better than that turtle to play with?’

“The children looked at each other. Then one of them gave Urashima the turtle and took the coins, and they ran off together, happy to have gotten the better part of the deal.

“Urashima took the frightened turtle, which was no bigger than one of his spread hands, and of a beautiful mottled green-brown color, down to the water. ‘There you go,’ he said, putting it back into the sea. ‘Be safe, and be careful, and don’t let them catch you again. I might not be around next time.’

“The turtle rowed off, and Urashima went to fish.”

Leo forced himself to stop the recording there. He would ration her voice like water in a desert to get through the impossibly long stretches of darkness. The computer indicated a list of maintenance tasks that were not urgent but that had waited until he had awoken, and he went down the list, accomplishing what he could.

After a week, it became easier to live in the narrow green bubble with a jewel-pile of stars above his head. Tubes for all his physical needs were lashed to the walls around him. The computer was loaded with a decent-sized library, a handful of mindless games, a month’s worth of music, and software for data analysis, although any research he did on the ship would take another twenty-five years to transmit to Earth, which was plenty of time for another researcher to work out and publish the same conclusions independently.

He inspected the folded equipment in the bottom sections of the ship, self-extending solar panels and self-assembling buildings with crystalline panes and honeycombed layers, all of it intact despite the rigors of the journey. He cleaned the retracting landers and triple-checked the fuel tank and fuel lines. He played sixteen games of chess and won eight of them, five games of Go, four hours of Snake, and four hours of Tetris, and he read through a significant chunk of the first volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as two drab spy thrillers and a romance novel. He supposed that he had earned a few more minutes of Esther’s voice.

“The next day,” she said softly into his ear, “Urashima was out fishing in his boat when he heard someone call his name. He looked everywhere but the other boats were out of sight.

“ ‘Urashima,’ someone said. ‘Urashima!’

“Then he looked down and saw an enormous brown turtle, its face deeply wrinkled with wisdom.

“ ‘Sir,’ Urashima said. ‘Are you calling my name?’

“ ‘I am,’ the turtle said. ‘Yesterday you rescued a small turtle from children who would have killed it. The turtle was the Sea-King’s daughter. Out of gratitude she sends me to invite you to her father’s palace at the bottom of the sea.’

“Smiling, he said to the turtle, ‘That is very kind of her, and it is good of you to invite me on your mistress’s behalf, but how should I go to a palace at the bottom of the sea?’

“ ‘A very simple matter,’ the turtle said. ‘Climb onto my back and I will take you there.’

“So Urashima, wondering at his own boldness, climbed onto the turtle’s back and held tight to the slick, hard plates. They plunged down together into the sea, leaving behind the boat, the creamy waves of the surface, and the sun. Deeper and deeper they swam, past dazzling silver fish and jelly-eyed squid. Urashima watched everything pass with astonishment.

“Deep in the black-blue depths of the sea, where kelp grew in thick forests and monstrous fish hunted their prey with lanterns, the turtle turned his creased face to Urashima and said, ‘Look ahead, we are approaching the Palace of the Sea King.’

“Urashima peered through the water. He saw first the graceful slopes of roofs like a bird about to take flight, and then a high, imposing gate of coral carved over with poetry.

“ ‘O!’ he said. ‘It is a beautiful place.’ And then, still full of amazement, he began to feel ashamed of his fisherman’s clothes.”

Leo stopped the recording and wiped the water from his eyes. Esther was following him on another flight, the Delta Aquarid, scheduled to launch two years after his. It would be a long wait. He would land and build a suitable home and laboratory for them on the arid, glistening plains of Ryugu-jo. Then he would stand in his suit under the alien stars, looking for a brightening light.

He read several classic novels and philosophical texts to pass the next few days and exercised on the stringy, wiry contraption collapsed into one wall. The long hibernation had melted the muscle from him and congealed the quick currents of his mind, but he had to be alert, intelligent, and at his peak physical condition when he arrived. He was supposed to be disciplined. He was not supposed to replay his wife’s voice over and over, with longing and anxiousness. So he selected his parents’ recordings.

“Your mother and I are proud of you. I know we said goodbye already, but please know that you have been everything we could have expected of you. We will be watching for your signal if we’re still around.”

“Leo? You must be awake now. And hungry. Remember to eat well and dress warm. You used to work for days without eating. You can’t do that now.”

He bowed his head. Their voices echoing in the ship’s green bubble made their absences as heavy and palpable as river stones. He had said goodbye exuberantly, distracted by other preparations. Shivering, he flicked to his wife.

“—But the turtle said, ‘You must not worry, Urashima Taro.’ And the high, gleaming gates, each fashioned out of one single fan of coral, parted to let them pass.

“Within, robed fish bowed to welcome them, murmuring their greetings to the turtle and their welcome to Urashima Taro. He passed through gilded halls where water-light flickered on the walls, past lark-voiced women covered in scales and scarlet octopi and crabs with furious faces on their backs, into a chamber that shimmered like the interior of an abalone.

“There, on two thrones, sat the Dragon King and his daughter Otohime, who was lovelier than moonlight on water. She came down from her throne and said to Urashima, ‘I was the little turtle you saved yesterday, and I am grateful. I am yours if you will have me.’

“Urashima assented, of course, and all of them were led to the banquet laid out in his honor. Then began what were the happiest three years of his life, in which each day was better than the last.

“Toward the end of the three years, though, he began thinking melancholy thoughts about his aged parents on land. How were they getting by without their son? They ought to know how fortunate he was.

“He told Otohime about his wish to see his parents again, and her face grew long and sad. She tried to dissuade him, but he became more and more desirous of seeing his parents and his home.

“ ‘Please, let me go,’ he said. ‘For a few days only, and then I will come back to you and spend the rest of my life here in peace and contentment.’

“Sorrowfully, Otohime made arrangements for his return. At the last, she placed in his hands a small box tied with silk. ‘Take this with you,’ she said. ‘It will keep you safe, only you must be careful never to open it.’

“Urashima promised to obey. The great brown turtle who had first brought him to the Palace of the Sea King again gave him his back to sit upon, and soon they came to the shore near his village.

“But what had happened?

“Urashima found himself in an unfamiliar place. He recognized some features of the shoreline, but the houses were all different and crowded together. He could not find his old home.

“Distraught, he asked a passerby if he knew where his parents might be living. The young man, not unsympathetic, took Urashima to his own grandmother, whose knowledge was vast. The old woman looked up at him hesitantly when he put his question to her.

“ ‘I have heard of two people with those names,’ she told him. ‘They had a son named Urashima who drowned on a clear day. Only his empty boat was found. But that was hundreds of years ago, when this town was a scattering of fishing huts by the sea.’

“Urashima left with fear and confusion in his heart. He was utterly lost in the strange town, and could not tell where the turtle had brought him to shore. Nor did he know how to return to the Palace of the Sea King, because he had forgotten to ask.

“ ‘After some time, though, he remembered the box that Otohime had given him, which he had promised not to open. Because he could think of nothing else, he untied the silken cord that held it shut.

“An enormous white cloud blew out of the box and enveloped him. All his years overtook him at once. His hair went white as snow and his skin drooped and folded. His bones gave way. And there Urashima died.

“Time dilation is also called the Urashima Effect, after the legend,” Esther said conversationally into his ear. “I have told you this story so you would have time to calm down and clear your mind after awakening, and so that it would be easier for you to understand what I have to say. If I know you, you’ve saved up my recording for several days. You’ve been eating well and exercising. You should be physically and mentally stable by now. You are strong enough to hear what I have to say.

“Listen, my love. You were put to sleep a few weeks before launch, and while you were asleep the US and Japan came to the brink of war. Two cyber attacks on a dam and a power plant were traced back to Ichigaya, and three American citizens were arrested in Seattle. There is talk about rounding up those with Japanese blood again.

“It was decided that the Delta Aquarid would not be launched. Not next year. Not ever. The Ryugu-jo collaboration has been scrapped as being too dangerous, given the rising tensions between the two countries. It will be replaced by a unilateral program that will not have the funding for my flight.

“But they decided that you would go anyway. To show our unfaltering national courage in the face of threats and our gracious commitment to peacetime cooperation.

“I protested. This was my project, after all. They would not listen. They refused to stop your launch, and they refused to continue mine. It was suggested that if I did not put national interests ahead of my personal desires that I and my family would be the first to be removed to internment camps.

“We knew that this was possible, but we did not think it likely.

“They say you will not awaken until three years from now. In those three years you will have traveled twelve point five light years, and thirteen years will have passed on Earth. Your parents may be dead by the time you are listening to this. I will be forty-nine. You, my love, you will be only thirty-six, traveling away from me at close to the speed of light.”

Leo had frozen as he listened.

“I do not know who I will be by the time you hear this,” she said. “Thirteen years is a long time.

“But right now, right now I am your wife. I love you, Leo. I am angry and afraid. I broke into your ship’s systems and altered these recordings so that you would know what happened, why I am not following you, and what your choices are. From the beginning these ships were designed for automatic evacuation in case of ship failure during suspension. Specifically, your sleep spindle is equipped with an independent propulsion system and its own fuel stores. I have modified the program slightly, so that if you choose to do so, you can eject from the main ship in your spindle. Enter the manual override silkbox to divert the main fuel supply to the spindle, and look for a release lever by the hatch. It will take you a very long time to return, twenty Earth years at least, but you can go back into deep sleep, and the spindle will bring you safely home.

“The impulse of the spindle’s disconnection will throw off the calculations for the ship’s landing. There is some margin for error, but the engineers never considered a late-flight evacuation. The ship and its equipment will crash on Ryugu-jo. There will be no habitat and no lab on the planet until another Earth government sees fit to send the next scientific expedition.

“I do not know if I will be alive when you come back. If I am, I will be old. My hair will be gray. I will not be the wife you left behind. I will not be the person you remember.

“But at this moment I love you. At this moment I say: when I am seventy years old, I will watch the sky for you.

“If you do not return,” Esther said, “if you choose to fly onward to Ryugu-jo and work there alone—I would understand. We have always both chased the sense of discovery. We have always been driven by the hunger for knowing new things. Your first communications will arrive on Earth fifty years after you’ve left, and your work will be groundbreaking, even if you never see its effects.

“My other audio logs are intact. I went and dug up all the records of your great-grandparents and your father’s side of the family. If you fly onward, I will tell you, in the rest of the time I have, about how your great-grandfather met your great-grandmother in Heart Mountain during the war. I will tell you about your family and the different places your parents grew up, and where your ancestors came from. I will grow roots for you, so that you are not adrift and alone in the dark. You will know where you came from. You will know where you are going.”

Her voice clicked off. Leo shut his eyes and saw the green ship and its precious cargo of instruments and electronics smashing into the dusty surface of Ryugu-jo. He thought of the lonely beacon he had been sent to build, which would beam back to Earth the things he had learned that no one else knew. He remembered precisely and vividly what it felt like to kiss Esther on her warm pink mouth.

He walked over to his sleep spindle, crouched, and ran his fingers along its smooth interior. They stopped on something that protruded from the wall, and he saw it then: a smooth silver bar barely extending into the sleeping space. If he typed in the command, if he climbed in and shut the hatch behind him, if he yanked on the lever—

The portholes all around him were dark and expressionless. Only the top window, pointing toward Alpha Lyrae, showed him a heap of converging stars.

They were traveling at .997c. He was thirty-six years old. It was only three years to Ryugu-jo.

Leo began another game of chess with the computer, and drew black.





The Battle of Candle Arc

Yoon Ha Lee


General Shuos Jedao was spending his least favorite remembrance day with Captain-magistrate Rahal Korais. There was nothing wrong with Korais except that he was the fangmoth’s Doctrine officer, and even then he was reasonable for a Rahal. Nevertheless, Doctrine observed remembrances with the ranking officer, which meant that Jedao had to make sure he didn’t fall over.

Next time, Jedao thought, wishing the painkillers worked better, I have to get myself assassinated on a planet where they do the job right.

The assassin had been a Lanterner, and she had used a shattergun. She had caught him at a conference, of all places. The shattergun had almost sharded Jedao into a hundred hundred pieces of ghostwrack. Now, when Jedao looked at the icelight that served as a meditation focus, he saw anywhere from three to eight of them. The effect would have been charming if it hadn’t been accompanied by stabbing pains in his head.

Korais was speaking to him.

“Say again?” Jedao said. He kept from looking at his wristwatch.

“I’ll recite the next verses for you, sir, if that doesn’t offend you,” Korais said.

Korais was being diplomatic. Jedao couldn’t remember where in the litany they were. Under better circumstances he would have claimed that he was distracted by the fact that his force of eleven fangmoths was being pursued by the Lanterners who had mauled the rest of the swarm, but it came down to the injuries.

“I’d be much obliged, Captain,” Jedao said.

This remembrance was called the Feast of Drownings. The Rahal heptarch, whose faction maintained the high calendar and who set Doctrine, had declared it three years back, in response to a heresy in one of the heptarchate’s larger marches. Jedao would have called the heresy a benign one. People who wanted the freedom to build shrines to their ancestors, for pity’s sake. But the Rahal had claimed that this would upset the high calendar’s master equations, and so the heretics had had to be put down.

There were worse ways to die than by having your lungs slowly filled with caustic fluid. That still didn’t make it a good way to die.

Korais had begun his recital. Jedao looked at the icelight on the table in front of them. It had translucent lobes and bronchi and alveoli, and light trickled downward through them like fluid, pale and blue and inexorable.

The heptarchate’s exotic technologies depended on the high calendar’s configurations: the numerical concordances, the feasts and remembrances, the associated system of belief. The mothdrive that permitted fast travel between star systems was an exotic technology. Few people advocated a switch in calendars. Too much would have to be given up, and invariant technologies, which worked under any calendar, never seemed to keep up. Besides, any new calendar would be subject to the same problem of lock-in; any new calendar would be regulated by the Rahal, or by people like the Rahal, as rigorously as the current one.

It was a facile argument, and one that Jedao had always disliked.

“Sir,” Korais said, breaking off at the end of a phrase, “you should sit.”

“I’m supposed to be standing for this,” Jedao said dryly.

“I don’t think your meditations during the next nineteen minutes are going to help if you fall unconscious.”

He must look awful if Doctrine was telling him how long until the ordeal was over. Not that he was going to rest afterward. He had to figure out what to do about the Lanterners.

It wasn’t that Jedao minded being recalled from medical leave to fight a battle. It wasn’t even that he minded being handed this sad force of eleven fangmoths, whose morale was shredded after General Kel Najhera had gotten herself killed. It was that the heptarchate had kept the Lanterners as clients for as long as he remembered. Now the Lanterners were demanding regional representation, and they were at war with the heptarchate.

The Lanterner assassin had targeted Jedao during the Feast of Falcon’s Eye. If she had succeeded, the event would have spiked the high calendar in the Lanterners’ favor. Then they would have declared a remembrance in their own, competing calendar. The irony was that Jedao wasn’t sure he disagreed with the Lanterners’ grievances against the heptarchate, which they had broadcast everywhere after their victory over Najhera.

Korais was still looking at him. Jedao went to sit down, which was difficult because walking in a straight line took all of his concentration. Sitting down also took concentration. It wasn’t worth pretending that he heard the last remembrance verses.

“It’s over, sir,” Korais said. “I’ll leave you to your duties.” He saluted and let himself out.

Jedao looked at his watch after the door hissed shut. Everything on it was too tiny to read the way his vision was. He made his computer enlarge its time display. Korais had left at least seven minutes early, an astonishing concession considering his job.

Jedao waited until the latest wave of pain receded, then brought up a visual of Candle Arc, a battledrift site nine days out from their present position and eleven days out from the Lanterners’ last reported position. The battle had taken place 177 years ago, between two powers that had since been conquered. The heptarchate called the battle Candle Arc because of the bridge of lights that wheeled through the scatter-hell of what had once been a fortress built from desiccated suns, and the remnants of warmoths. The two powers probably had called their battle something else, and their moths wouldn’t have been called moths either, and their calendars were dead except in records held locked by the Rahal.

Some genius had done up the image in shades of Kel gold, even though a notation gave the spectrum shift for anyone who cared. Jedao was fond of the Kel, who were the heptarchate’s military faction. For nearly twenty years he had been seconded to their service, and they had many virtues, but their taste in ornamentation was gaudy. Their faction emblem was the ashhawk, the bird that burned in its own glory, all fire and ferocity. The Shuos emblem was the ninefox, shapeshifter and trickster. The Kel called him the fox general, but they weren’t always being complimentary.

The bridgelights swam in and out of focus. Damnation. This was going to take forever. After pulling up maps of the calendrical terrain, he got the computer algebra system to tell him what the estimated shifts looked like in pictures. Then he sent a summons to the moth commander.

He knew how long it took to get from the moth’s command center to his quarters. The door chimed at him with commendable promptness.

“Come in,” Jedao said.

The door opened. “You wished to see me, sir,” said Kel Menowen, commander of the Fortune Travels in Fours. She was a stocky woman with swan-black hair and unsmiling eyes. Like all Kel, she wore black gloves; Jedao himself wore fingerless gloves. Her salute was so correct that he wanted to find an imperfection in her fist, or the angle of her arm.

Jedao had chosen the Fortune as his command moth not because it was the least damaged after Najhera’s death, which it wasn’t, but because Menowen had a grudge against the Shuos. She was going to be the hardest commander to win over, so he wanted to do it in person.

The tired joke about the Kel was that they were strong, loyal, and stupid, although they weren’t any more prone to stupidity than the other factions.

The tired joke about the Shuos, who specialized in information operations, was that they had backstabbing quotas. Most of the other factions had reasonable succession policies for their heptarchs. The Rahal heptarch appointed a successor from one of the senior magistrates. With the Kel, it was rank and seniority. The Shuos policy was that if you could keep the heptarch’s seat, it was yours. The other tired joke was that the infighting was the only reason the Shuos weren’t running the heptarchate.

One of Menowen’s aunts had died in a Shuos scheme, an assassin getting careless with secondary casualties. Jedao had already been in Kel service at the time, but it was in his public record that he had once been Shuos infantry, where “Shuos infantry” was a euphemism for “probably an assassin.” In his case, he had been a very good assassin.

Menowen was still standing there. Jedao approximated a return salute. “At ease,” he said. “I’d stand, but ‘up’ and ‘down’ are difficult concepts, which is distressing when you have to think in three dimensions.”

Menowen’s version of at ease looked stiff. “What do you require, sir?”

They had exchanged few words since he boarded her moth because he had barely been functional. She wasn’t stupid. She knew he was on her moth to make sure she behaved, and he had no doubt her behavior would be exemplary. She also probably wanted to know what the plan was.

“What do you think I require?” Jedao asked. Sometimes it helped to be direct.

Menowen’s posture became more stiff. “It hasn’t escaped my notice that you only gave move orders as far as the Haussen system,” she said. “But that won’t take us near any useful support, and I thought our orders were to retreat.” She was overenunciating on top of telling him things he knew, which meant that at some point she was going to tell him he wasn’t fit for duty. Some Kel knew how to do subtlety. Menowen had an excellent service record, but she didn’t strike him as a subtle Kel.

“You’re reading the sane, sensible thing into our orders,” Jedao said. “Kel Command was explicit. They didn’t use the word ‘retreat’ anywhere.” An interesting oversight on their part. The orders had directed him to ensure that the border shell guarding the Glover Marches was secured by any means possible.

“Retreat is the only logical response,” Menowen said. “Catch repairs if possible, link up with Twin Axes.” The Twin Axes swarm was on patrol along the Taurag border, and was the nearest Kel force of any size. “Then we’d have a chance against the heretics.”

“You’re discounting some alternatives,” Jedao said.

Menowen lifted her chin and glared at him, or possibly at his insignia, or at the ink painting over his shoulder. “Sir,” she said, “if you’re contemplating fighting them with our present resources—” She stopped, tried again. The second try was blunter. “Your injuries have impaired your judgment and you ought to—”

“—let the senior moth commander make the sane, sensible decision to run for help?” Jedao flexed his hands. He had a clear memory of an earlier conversation with Commander Kel Chau, specifically the pinched look around Chau’s eyes. Chau probably thought running was an excellent idea. “I had considered it. But it’s not necessary. I’ve looked at the calendrical terrain. We can win this.”

Menowen was having a Kel moment. She wanted to tell him off, but it wasn’t just that he outranked her, it was that Kel Command had pulled him off medical leave to put him in charge, instead of evacuating him from the front. “Sir,” she said, “I was there. The Lanterners have a swarm of at least sixty moths. They will have reinforcements. I shouldn’t have to tell you any of this.”

“How conscientious of you,” Jedao said. Her eyes narrowed, but she didn’t take the bait. “Did you think I had some notion of slugging it out toe-to-toe? That would be stupid. But I have been reviewing the records, and I understand the Lanterner general’s temperament. Which is how we’re going to defeat the enemy, unless you defeat yourself before they have a chance to.”

Menowen’s mouth pressed thin. “I understand you have never lost a battle,” she said.

“This isn’t the—”

“If it’s about your fucking reputation—”

“Fox and hound, not this whole thing again,” Jedao snapped. Which was unfair of him because it was her first time bringing it up, even if everyone else did. “Sooner or later everyone loses. I get it. If it made more sense to stop the Lanterners in the Glovers, I’d be doing it.” This would also mean ceding vast swathes of territory to them, not anyone’s first choice; from her grim expression, she understood that. “If I could stop the Lanterners by calling them up for a game of cards, I’d do that too. Or by, I don’t know, offering them my right arm. But I’m telling you, this can be done, and I am not quitting if there’s a chance. Am I going to have to fight you to prove it?”

This wasn’t an idle threat. It wouldn’t be the first time he had dueled a Kel, although it would be frivolous to force a moth commander into a duel, however non-lethal, at a time like this.

Menowen looked pained. “Sir, you’re wounded.”

He could think of any number of ways to kill her before she realized she was being attacked, even in his present condition, but most of them depended on her trust that her commanding officer wouldn’t pull such a stunt.

“We can do this,” Jedao said. He was going to have to give this speech to the other ten moth commanders, who were jumpy right now. Might as well get in practice now. “All the way to the Haussen system, it looks like we’re doing the reasonable thing. But we’re going to pay a call on the Rahal outpost at Smokewatch 33-67.” That wasn’t going to be a fun conversation, but most Rahal were responsive to arguments that involved preserving their beloved calendar. And right now, he was the only one in position to stop the Lanterners from arrowing right up to the Glover Marches. The perfect battle record that people liked to bludgeon him over the head with might even come in handy for persuasion.

“I’m listening,” Menowen said in an unpromising voice.

It was good, if inconvenient, when a Kel thought for herself. Unlike a number of the officers on this moth, Menowen didn’t react to Jedao like a cadet fledge.

“Two things,” Jedao said. “First, I know remembering the defeat is painful, but if I’m reading the records correctly, the first eight Kel moths to go down, practically simultaneously, included two scoutmoths.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Menowen said. She wasn’t overenunciating anymore. “The Lanterners’ mothdrive formants were distorted just enough to throw our scan sweep, so they saw us first.”

“Why would they waste time killing scoutmoths when they could blow up fangmoths or arrowmoths instead? If you look at their positions and ours, they had better available targets.” He had to be careful about criticizing a dead general, but there was no avoiding it. Najhera had depended too much on exotics and hadn’t made adequate use of invariant defenses. The Kel also hadn’t had time to channel any useful formation effects, their specialty. “The scoutmoths weren’t out far enough to give advance notice, and surprise was blown once the Lanterners fried those eight moths. What I’m getting at is that our scan may not be able to tell the difference between mothdrives on big scary things and mothdrives on mediocre insignificant things, but their scan can’t either, or they would have picked better targets.”

Menowen was starting to look persuaded. “What are you going to do, sir? Commandeer civilian moths and set them to blow?” She wasn’t able to hide her distaste for the idea.

“I’d prefer to avoid involving civilians,” Jedao said coolly. Her unsmiling eyes became a little less unsmiling when he said that. “The Rahal run the show, they can damn well spare me some engines glued to tin cans.”

The pain hit him like a spike to the eyes. When he could see again, Menowen was frowning. “Sir,” she said, “one thing and I’ll let you continue your deliberations in private.” This was Kel for please get some fucking rest before you embarrass us by falling over. “You had some specific plan for punching holes into the Lanterners?”

“Modulo the fact that something always goes wrong after you wave hello at the enemy? Yes.”

“That will do it for me, sir,” Menowen said. “Not that I have a choice in the matter.”

“You always have a choice,” Jedao said. “It’s just that most of them are bad.”

She didn’t look as though she understood, but he hadn’t expected her to.

Jedao would have authorized more time for repairs if he could, but they kept receiving reports on the Lanterners’ movements and time was one of the things they had little of. He addressed his moth commanders on the subject to reassure them that he understood their misgivings. Thankfully, Kel discipline held.

For that matter, Jedao didn’t like detouring to Smokewatch 33-67 afterward, but he needed a lure, and this was the best place to get it. The conversation with the Rahal magistrate in charge almost wasn’t a conversation. Jedao felt as though he was navigating through a menu of options rather than interacting with a human being. Some of the Rahal liked to cultivate that effect. At least Rahal Korais wasn’t one of them.

“This is an unusual request for critical Rahal resources, General,” the magistrate was saying.

This wasn’t a no, so Jedao was already ahead. “The calendrical lenses are the best tool available,” he said. “I will need seventy-three of them.”

Calendrical lenses were Doctrine instruments mounted on mothdrives. Their sole purpose was to focus the high calendar in contested areas. It was a better idea in theory than practice, since radical heresies rapidly knocked them out of alignment, but the Rahal bureaucracy was attached to them. Typical Rahal, trusting an idea over cold hard experience. At least there were plenty of the things, and the mothdrives ought to be powerful enough to pass on scan from a distance.

Seventy-three was crucial because there were seventy-three moths in the Kel’s Twin Axes swarm. The swarm was the key to the lure, just not in the way that Commander Menowen would have liked. It was barely possible, if Twin Axes set out from the Taurag border within a couple days’ word of Najhera’s defeat, for it to reach Candle Arc when Jedao planned on being there. It would also be inadvisable for Twin Axes to do so, because their purpose was to prevent the Taurags from contesting that border. Twin Axes wouldn’t leave such a gap in heptarchate defenses without direct orders from Kel Command.

However, no one had expected the Lanterners to go heretical so suddenly. Kel Command had been known to panic, especially under Rahal pressure. And Rahal pressure was going to be strong after Najhera’s defeat.

“Do you expect the lens vessels to be combat-capable?” the magistrate asked without any trace of sarcasm.

“I need them to sit there and look pretty in imitation of a Kel formation,” Jedao said. “They’ll get the heretics’ attention, and if they can shift some of the calendrical terrain in our favor, even better.” Unlikely, he’d had the Kel run the numbers for him, but it sounded nice. “Are volunteers available?”

Also unlikely. The advantage of going to the Rahal rather than some other faction, besides their susceptibility to the plea, was that the Rahal were disciplined. Even if they weren’t going to be volunteers. If he gave instructions, the instructions would be rigorously carried out.

The magistrate raised an eyebrow. “That’s not necessary,” he said. “I’m aware of your skill at tactics, General. I assume you will spare the lenses’ crews from unnecessary harm.”

Touching. “I am grateful for your assistance, Magistrate,” Jedao said.

“Serve well, General. The lenses will join your force at—” He named a time, which was probably going to be adhered to, then ended the communication.

The lenses joined within eight minutes and nineteen seconds of the given time. Jedao wished there were some way to minimize their scan shadow, but Kel moths did that with formations, and the Rahal couldn’t generate Kel formation effects.

Jedao joined Menowen at the command center even though he should have rested. Menowen’s mouth had a disapproving set. The rest of the Kel looked grim. “Sir,” Menowen said. “Move orders?”

He took his chair and pulled up the orders on the computer. “False formation for the Rahal as shown. Follow the given movement plan,” he said. “Communications, please convey the orders to all Rahal vessels.” It was going to take extra time for the Rahal to sort themselves out, since they weren’t accustomed to traveling in a fake formation, but he wasn’t going to insult them by saying so.

Menowen opened her mouth. Jedao stared at her. She closed her mouth, looking pensive.

“Communications,” Jedao said, “address to all units. Exclude the Rahal.”

It wasn’t the first speech he’d given on the journey, but the time had come to tell his commanders what they were up to and brace them for the action to come.

The Communications officer said, “It’s open, sir.”

“This is General Shuos Jedao to all moths,” he said. “It’s not a secret that we’re being pursued by a Lanterner swarm. We’re going to engage them at Candle Arc. Due to the Lanterners’ recent victory, cascading effects have shifted the calendrical terrain there. The Lanterners are going to be smart and take one of the channels with a friendly gradient to their tech most of the way in. Ordinarily, a force this small wouldn’t be worth their time. But because of the way the numbers have rolled, Candle Arc is a calendrical choke: we’re arriving on the Day of Broken Feet. Whoever wins there will shift the calendar in their favor. When we offer battle, they’ll take us up on it.”

He consoled himself that, if the Lanterners lost, their soldiers would fall to fire and metal, honest deaths in battle, and not as calendrical foci, by having filaments needled into their feet to wind their way up into the brain.

“You are Kel,” Jedao went on. “You have been hurt. I promise you we will hurt them back. But my orders will be exact, and I expect them to be followed exactly. Our chances of victory depend on this. I am not unaware of the numbers. But battle isn’t just about numbers. It’s about will. And you are Kel; in this matter you will prevail.”

The panel lit up with each moth commander’s acknowledgment. Kel gold against Kel black.

They didn’t believe him, not yet. But they would follow orders, and that was all he needed.

Commander Menowen asked to see him in private afterward, as Jedao had thought she might. Her mouth was expressive. Around him she was usually expressing discontent. But it was discontent for the right reasons.

“Sir,” Menowen said. “Permission to discuss the battle plan.”

“You can discuss it all you like,” Jedao said. “I’ll say something if I have something to say.”

“Perhaps you had some difficulties with the computer algebra system,” she said. “I’ve run the numbers. We’re arriving 4.2 hours before the terrain flips in our favor.”

“I’m aware of that,” Jedao said.

The near side of the choke locus was obstructed by a null region where no exotic technologies would function. But other regions around the null shifted according to a schedule. The far side of the choke periodically favored the high calendar. With Najhera’s defeat, the far side would also shift sometimes toward the Lanterners’ calendar.

“I don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve,” Menowen said.

“If you don’t see it,” Jedao said, pleased, “the Lanterners won’t see it either.”

To her credit, she didn’t ask if this was based on an injury-induced delusion, although she clearly wanted to. “I expect Kel Command thinks you’ll pull off a miracle,” she said.

Jedao’s mouth twisted. “No, Kel Command thinks a miracle would be very nice, but they’re not holding their breath, and as a Shuos I’m kind of expendable. The trouble is that I keep refusing to die.”

It was like the advice for learning the game of pattern-stones: the best way to get good was to play difficult opponents, over and over. The trouble with war was that practicing required people to die.

“You’ve done well for your armies, sir. But the enemy general is also good at using calendrical terrain, and they’ve demonstrated their ruthlessness. I don’t see why you would pass up a terrain advantage.”

Jedao cocked an eyebrow at her. “We’re not. Everyone gets hypnotized by the high fucking calendar. Just because it enables our exotics doesn’t mean that the corresponding terrain is the most favorable to our purpose. I’ve been reading the intel on Lanterner engineering. Our invariant drives are better than theirs by a good margin. Anyway, why the hell would they be so stupid as to engage us in terrain that favors us? I picked the timing for a reason. You keep trying to beat the numbers, Commander, when the point is to beat the people.”

Menowen considered that. “You are being very patient with my objections,” she said.

“I need you not to freeze up in the middle of the battle,” Jedao said. “Although I would prefer for you to achieve that without my having to explain basics to you.”

The insult had the desired effect. “I understand my duty,” she said. “Do you understand yours?”

He wondered if he could keep her. Moth commanders who were willing to question him were becoming harder to find. His usual commanders would have had no doubts about his plan no matter how much he refused to explain in advance.

“As I see it,” Jedao said, “my duty is to carry out the orders. See? We’re not so different after all. If that’s it, Commander, you should get back to work.”

Menowen saluted him and headed for the door, then swung around. “Sir,” she said, “why did you choose to serve with the Kel? I assume it was a choice.” The Shuos were ordinarily seconded to the Kel as intelligence officers.

“Maybe,” Jedao said, “it was because I wanted to know what honor looked like when it wasn’t a triumphal statue.”

Her eyes went cold. “That’s not funny,” she said.

“I wasn’t being funny,” he said quietly. “I will never be a Kel. I don’t think like one of you. But sometimes that’s an advantage.”

She drew in a breath. “Sir,” she said, “I just want to know that this isn’t some Shuos game to you.” That he wasn’t being clever for the sake of being clever; that he wouldn’t throw his soldiers’ lives away because he was overeager to fight.

Jedao’s smile was not meant to reassure her. “Oh, it’s to your advantage if it’s a game,” he said. “I am very good at winning games.”

He wasn’t going to earn her loyalty by hiding his nature, so he wasn’t going to try.

It was even easier to win games if you designed the game yourself, instead of playing someone else’s, but that was a Shuos sort of discussion and he didn’t think she wanted to hear it yet.

The eleven fangmoths and seventy-three calendrical lenses approached Candle Arc only 1.3 hours behind schedule. Jedao was recovering the ability to read his watch, but the command center had a display that someone had enlarged for his benefit, so he didn’t look at it. Especially since he had the sneaking feeling that his watch was off by a fraction of a second. If he drew attention to it, Captain-magistrate Korais was going to recalibrate it to the high calendar when they all had more important things to deal with.

The crews on the lenses had figured out how to simulate formations. No one would mistake them for Kel from close range, but Jedao wasn’t going to let the Lanterners get that close.

“Word from the listening posts is that the Lanterners are still in pursuit,” Communications informed them.

“How accommodating of them,” Jedao said. “All right. Orders for the Rahal: The lenses are to maintain formation and head through the indicated channel”—he passed over the waypoint coordinates from his computer station—”to the choke locus. You are to pass the locus, then circle back toward it. Don’t call us under any circumstances, we’ll call you. And stick to the given formation and don’t try any fancy modulations.”

It was unlikely that the Rahal would try, but it was worth saying. The Rahal were going to be most convincing as a fake Kel swarm if they stayed in one formation because there wasn’t time to teach them to get the modulation to look right. The formation that Jedao had chosen for them was Senner’s Lash, partly because its visible effects were very short-range. When the Rahal failed to produce the force-lash, it wouldn’t look suspicious because the Lanterners wouldn’t expect to see anything from a distance.

“Also,” Jedao said, still addressing the Rahal. “The instant you see something, anything on scan, you’re to banner the Deuce of Gears.”

The Deuce was his personal emblem, and it connoted “cog in the machine.” Everyone had expected him to register some form of fox when he made brigadier general, but he had preferred a show of humility. The Deuce would let the Lanterners know who they were facing. It might not be entirely sporting for the Rahal to transmit it, but since they were under his command, he didn’t feel too bad about it.

“The Rahal acknowledge,” Communications said. Jedao’s subdisplay showed them moving off. They would soon pass through the calendrical null, and at that point they would become harder to find on scan.

Commander Menowen was drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair, her first sign of nervousness. “They have no defenses,” she said, almost to herself.

It mattered that this mattered to her. “We won’t let the Lanterners reach them,” Jedao said. “If only because I would prefer to spend my career not having the Rahal mad at me.”

Her sideways glance was only slightly irritated. “Where are we going, sir?”

“Cut the mothdrives,” Jedao said. He sent the coordinates to Menowen, Communications, and Navigation. “We’re heading there by invariant drive only.” This would probably prevent a long-range scan from seeing them. “Transmit orders to all moths. I want acknowledgments from the moth commanders.”

“There” referred to some battledrift, all sharp edges and ash-scarred fragments and wrecked silverglass shards, near the mouth of what Jedao had designated the Yellow Passage. He expected the Lanterners to take it toward the choke. Its calendrical gradient started in the Lanterners’ favor, then zeroed out as it neared the null.

Depending on the Lanterners’ invariant drives, it would take them two to three hours (high calendar) to cross the null region and reach the choke. This was, due to the periodic shifts, still faster than going around the null, because the detours would be through space hostile to their exotics for the next six hours.

Reports had put the Lanterners at anywhere from sixty to one hundred twenty combat moths. The key was going to be splitting them up to fight a few at a time.

Jedao’s moth commanders acknowledged less quickly than he would have liked, gold lights coming on one by one.

“Formation?” Menowen prompted him.

There weren’t a lot of choices when you had eleven moths. Jedao brought up a formation, which was putting it kindly because it didn’t belong to Lexicon Primary for tactical groups, or even Lexicon Secondary, which contained all the obsolete formations and parade effects. He wanted the moths in a concave configuration so they could focus lateral fire on the first hostiles to emerge from the Yellow Passage.

“That’s the idea,” Jedao said, “but we’re using the battledrift as cover. Some big chunks of dead stuff floating out there, we might as well blend in and snipe the hell out of the Lanterners with the invariant weapons.” At least they had a good supply of missiles and ammunition, as Najhera had attempted to fight solely with exotic effects.

The Kel didn’t like the word “snipe,” but they were just going to have to deal. “Transmit orders,” Jedao said.

The acknowledgments lit up again, about as fast as they had earlier.

The Fortune Comes in Fours switched into invariant mode as they crossed into the null. The lights became less white-gold and more rust-gold, giving everything a corroded appearance. The hum of the moth’s systems changed to a deeper, grittier whisper. The moth’s acceleration became noticeable, mostly in the form of pain. Jedao wished he had thought to take an extra dose of painkillers, but he couldn’t risk getting muddled.

Menowen picked out a chunk of coruscating metals that had probably once been some inexplicable engine component on that long-ago space fortress and parked the Fortune behind it. She glanced at him to see if he would have any objections. He nodded at her. No sense in getting in the way when she was doing her job fine.

Time passed. Jedao avoided checking his watch every minute thanks to long practice, although he met Captain-magistrate Korais’s eyes once and saw a wry acknowledgment of shared impatience.

They had an excellent view of the bridgelights even on passive sensors. The lights were red and violet, like absurd petals, and their flickering would, under other circumstances, have been restful.

“We won’t see hostiles until they’re on top of us,” Menowen said.

More nerves. “It’ll be mutual,” Jedao said, loudly enough so the command center’s crew could hear him. “They’ll see us when they get that close, but they’ll be paying attention to the decoy swarm.”

She wasn’t going to question his certainty in front of everyone, so he rewarded her by telling her. “I am sure of this,” he said, looking at her, “because of how the Lanterner general destroyed Najhera. They were extremely aggressive in exploiting calendrical terrain and, I’m sorry to say, they made a spectacle of the whole thing. I don’t imagine the Lanterners had time to swap out generals for the hell of it, especially one who had already performed well, so I’m assuming we’re dealing with the same individual. So if the Lanterner wants calendrical terrain and a big shiny target, fine. There it is.”

More time passed. There was something wrong about the high calendar when it ticked off seconds cleanly and precisely and didn’t account for the way time crawled when you were waiting for battle. Among the many things wrong with the high calendar, but that one he could own to without getting called out as a heretic.

“The far terrain is going to shift in our favor in five hours, sir,” Korais said.

“Thank you, good to know,” Jedao said.

To distract himself from the pain, he was thinking about the bridgelights and their resemblance to falling petals when Scan alerted him that the Lanterners had shown up. “Thirty-some moths in the van,” the officer said in a commendably steady voice. “Readings suggest more are behind them. They’re moving rapidly, vector suggests they’re headed down the Yellow Passage toward the choke locus, and they’re using a blast wave to clear mines.”

As if he’d had the time to plant mines down a hostile corridor. Good of them to think of it, though.

Menowen’s breath hissed between her teeth. “Our banner—”

His emblem. The Kel transmitted their general’s emblem before battle. “No,” Jedao said. “We’re not bannering. The Lanterners are going to be receiving the Deuce of Gears from over there,” where the Rahal were.

“But the protocol, sir. The Rahal aren’t part of your force,” Menowen said, “they don’t fight—”

That got his attention. “Fledge,” Jedao said sharply, which brought her up short, “what the hell do you mean they’re not fighting? Just because they’re not sitting on a mass of things that go boom? They’re fighting what’s in the enemy’s head.“

He studied the enemy dispositions. The Yellow Passage narrowed as it approached the null, and the first group consisted of eight hellmoths, smaller than fangmoths, but well-armed if they were in terrain friendly to their own calendar, which was not going to be the case at the passage’s mouth. The rest of the groups would probably consist of eight to twelve hellmoths each. Taken piecemeal, entirely doable.

“They fell for it,” Menowen breathed, then wisely shut up.

“General Shuos Jedao to all moths,” Jedao said. “Coordinated strike on incoming units with missiles and railguns.” Hellmoths didn’t have good side weapons, so he wasn’t as concerned about return fire. “After the first hits, move into the Yellow Passage to engage. Repeat, move into the Yellow Passage.”

The fangmoths’ backs would be to that damned null, no good way to retreat, but that would only motivate them to fight harder.

If the Lanterners wanted a chance at the choke, they’d have to choose between shooting their way through when the geometry didn’t permit them to bring their numbers to bear in the passage, or else leaving the passage and taking their chances with terrain that shaded toward the high calendar. If they chose the latter, they risked being hit by Kel formation effects, anything from force lances to scatterbursts, on top of the fangmoths’ exotic weapons.

The display was soon a mess of red lights and gold, damage reports. The computer kept making the dry, metallic click that indicated hits made by the Kel. Say what you liked about the Kel, they did fine with weapons.

Two hellmoths tried to break through the Kel fangmoths, presumably under the impression that the Rahal were the real enemy. One hellmoth took a direct engine hit from a spinal railgun, while the other shuddered apart under a barrage of missiles that overwhelmed the anti-missile defenses.

“You poor fools,” Jedao said, perusing the summaries despite the horrible throbbing in his left eye. “You found a general who was incandescently talented at calendrical warfare, so you spent all your money on the exotic toys and ran out of funding for the boring invariant stuff.”

Menowen paused in coordinating damage control—they’d taken a burst from an exploding scout, of all things—and remarked, “I should think you’d be grateful, sir.”

“It’s war, Commander, and someone always dies,” Jedao said, aware of Korais listening in; aware that even this might be revealing too much. “That doesn’t mean I’m eager to dance on their ashes.”

“Of course,” Menowen said, but her voice revealed nothing of her feelings.

The fangmoths curved into a concave bowl as they advanced up the Yellow Passage. The wrecked Lanterner hellmoths in the van were getting in the way of the Lanterners’ attempts to bring fire to bear. Jedao had planned for a slaughter, but he hadn’t expected it to work this well. They seemed to think his force was a detachment to delay them from reaching the false Kel swarm while the far terrain was hostile to the high calendar, and that if they could get past him before the terrain changed, they would prevail. It wasn’t until the fourth group of Lanterners had been written into rubble and smoke that their swarm discipline wavered. Some of the hellmoths and their auxiliaries started peeling out of the passage just to have somewhere else to go. Others turned around, exposing their sides to further punishment, so they could accelerate back up the passage where the Kel wouldn’t be able to catch them.

One of Jedao’s fangmoths had taken engine damage serious enough that he had ordered it to pull back, but that left him ten to work with. “Formation Sparrow’s Spear,” he said, and gave the first set of targets.

The fangmoths narrowed into formation as they plunged out of the Yellow Passage and toward five hellmoths and a transport moving with the speed and grace of a flipped turtle. As they entered friendlier terrain, white-gold fire blazed up from the formation’s primary pivot and raked through two hellmoths, the transport, and a piece of crystalline battledrift.

They swung around for a second strike, shifting into a shield formation to slough off the incoming fire.

This is too easy, Jedao thought coldly, and then.

“Incoming message from Lanterner hellmoth 5,” Communications said. Scan had tagged it as the probable command moth. “Hellmoth 5 has disengaged.” It wasn’t the only one. The list showed up on Jedao’s display.

“Hold fire on anything that isn’t shooting at us,” Jedao said. “They want to talk? I’ll talk.”

There was still a core of fourteen hellmoths whose morale hadn’t broken. A few of the stragglers were taking potshots at the Kel, but the fourteen had stopped firing.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Akkion Dhaved,” said a man’s voice. “I assume I’m addressing a Kel general.”

“In a manner of speaking,” Jedao said. “This is General Shuos Jedao. Are you the ranking officer?” Damn. He would have liked to know the Lanterner general’s name.

“Sir,” Menowen mouthed, “it’s a trick, stop talking to them.”

He wasn’t sure he disagreed, but he wasn’t going to get more information by closing the channel.

“That’s complicated, General.” Dhaved’s voice was sardonic. “I have an offer to make you.”

“I’m sorry,” Jedao said, “but are you the ranking officer? Are you authorized to have this conversation?” He wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the direction of the conversation. The weight of collective Kel disapproval was almost crushing.

“I’m offering you a trade, General. You’ve been facing General Bremis kae Meghuet of the Lantern.”

The name sounded familiar—

“She’s the cousin of Bremis kae Erisphon, one of our leaders. Hostage value, if you care. You’re welcome to her if you let the rest of us go. She’s intact. Whether you want to leave her that way is your affair.”

Jedao didn’t realize how chilly his voice was until he saw Menowen straighten in approval. “Are you telling me you mutinied against your commanding officer?”

“She lost the battle,” Dhaved said, “and it’s either death or capture. We all know what the heptarchate does to heretics, don’t we?”

Korais spoke with quiet urgency. “General. Find out if Bremis kae Meghuet really is alive.”

Jedao met the man’s eyes. It took him a moment to understand the expression in them: regret.

“There’s a nine-hour window,” Korais said. “The Day of Broken Feet isn’t over.”

Jedao gestured for Communications to mute the channel, which he should have done earlier. “The battle’s basically won and we’ll see the cascade effects soon,” he said. “What do you have in mind?”

“It’s not ideal,” Korais said, “but a heretic general is a sufficient symbol.” Just as Jedao himself might have been, if the assassin had succeeded. “If we torture kae Meghuet ourselves, it would cement the victory in the calendar.”

Jedao hauled himself to his feet to glare at Korais, which was a mistake. He almost lost his balance when the pain drove through his head like nails.

Still, Jedao had to give Korais credit for avoiding the usual euphemism, processed.

Filaments in the feet. It was said that that particular group of heretics had taken weeks to die.

Fuck dignity. Jedao hung on to the arm of the chair and said, as distinctly as he could, “It’s a trick. I’m not dealing with Dhaved. Tell the Lanterners we’ll resume the engagement in seven minutes.” His vision was going white around the edges, but he had to say this. Seven minutes wouldn’t give the Lanterners enough time to run or evade, but it mattered. It mattered. “Annihilate anything that can’t run fast enough.”

Best not to leave Doctrine any prisoners to torture.

Jedao was falling over sideways. Someone caught his arm. Commander Menowen. “You ought to let us take care of the mopping up, sir,” she said. “You’re not well.”

She could relieve him of duty. Reverse his orders. Given that the world was one vast blur, he couldn’t argue that he was in any fit shape to assess the situation. He tried to speak again, but the pain hit again, and he couldn’t remember how to form words.

“I don’t like to press at a time like this,” Korais was saying to Menowen, “but the Lanterner general—”

“General Jedao has spoken,” Menowen said crisply. “Find another way, Captain.” She called for a junior officer to escort Jedao out of the command center.

Words were said around him, a lot of them. They didn’t take him to his quarters. They took him to the medical center. All the while he thought about lights and shrapnel and petals falling endlessly in the dark.

Commander Menowen came to talk to him after he was returned to his quarters. The mopping up was still going on. Menowen was carrying a small wooden box. He hoped it didn’t contain more medications.

“Sir,” Menowen said, “I used to think heretics were just heretics, and death was just death. Why does it matter to you how they die?”

Menowen had backed him against Doctrine, and she hadn’t had to. That meant a lot.

She hadn’t said that she didn’t have her own reasons. She had asked for his. Fair enough.

Jedao had served with Kel who would have understood why he had balked. A few of them would have shot him if he had turned over an enemy officer, even a heretic, for torture. But as he advanced in rank, he found fewer and fewer such Kel. One of the consequences of living in a police state.

“Because war is about people,” Jedao said. “Even when you’re killing them.”

“I don’t imagine that makes you popular with Doctrine,” Menowen said.

“The Rahal can’t get rid of me because the Kel like me. I just have to make sure it stays that way.”

She looked at him steadily. “Then you have one more Kel ally, sir. We have the final tally. We engaged ninety-one hellmoths and destroyed forty-nine of them. Captain-magistrate Korais is obliged to report your actions, but given the numbers, you are going to get a lot of leniency.”

There would have been around 400 crew on each of the hellmoths. He had already seen the casualty figures for his own fangmoths and the three Rahal vessels that had gotten involved, fourteen dead and fifty-one injured.

“Leniency wasn’t what I was looking for,” Jedao said.

Menowen nodded slowly.

“Is there anything exciting about our journey to Twin Axes, or can I go back to being an invalid?”

“One thing,” she said. “Doctrine has provisionally declared a remembrance of your victory to replace the Day of Broken Feet. He says it is likely to be approved by the high magistrates. Since we didn’t provide a heretic focus for torture, we’re burning effigy candles.” She hesitated. “He said he thought you might prefer this alternative remembrance. You don’t want to be caught shirking this.” She put the box down on the nearest table.

“I will observe the remembrance,” Jedao said, “although it’s ridiculous to remember something that just happened.”

Menowen’s mouth quirked. “One less day for publicly torturing criminals,” she said, and he couldn’t argue. “That’s all, sir.”

After she had gone, Jedao opened the box. It contained red candles in the shape of hellmoths, except the wax was additionally carved with writhing bullet-ridden figures.

Jedao set the candles out and lit them with the provided lighter, then stared at the melting figures. I don’t think you understand what I’m taking away from these remembrance days, he thought. The next time he won some remarkable victory, it wasn’t going to be against some unfortunate heretics. It was going to be against the high calendar itself. Every observance would be a reminder of what he had to do next—and while everyone lost a battle eventually, he had one more Kel officer in his corner, and he didn’t plan on losing now.





A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones

Genevieve Valentine


There’s a cloud across Europa.

Every time Henry looks out at the flat, gray disc, he tries to think what you’re meant to think: We’re almost there, soon you can breathe, it’s nearly rain.

He tries.

Henry knows, every time he goes out on the ice in a crawler to fix a transmitter, that he’s driving over the work of generations.

They’ve been here for centuries: drilling through ice until they hit water, sending drones to scoop molecular mess from the Storms planetside, spreading kilometers of fertilizer to bleed nitrogen, cultivating native algae and some bacteria they’d carried with them, bright little soldiers for hundreds of years, kept inside until there was enough atmosphere for any of them to survive on their own.

A few did, these days, in little patches gripping the ice; they were well-marked, so you wouldn’t run over them.

(The biologists promised that if all went well, there might be hydroponic gardens on the surface, someday.

That was all they could promise. There wasn’t any rock to rest soil on; there would never be trees, here.)

They’re trying, though, trying for any life they can make or build or find. None