Over five years ago, certain friends suggested that I ought to make readings of my books. I obliged readily, without stopping to think just what this would entail. Now, 21 books, 571 episodes and almost 6 years later, I am done, at least as far as Chetwin’s Space is concerned. To you who have helped along the way – you have already been thanked over and over: Yosua, who designed and built this space to make the readings possible; Briony, who supported the effort in so many ways; Anya, Michael, and Caidren, to Rem, Fire, and Jul – the Pockets who added to the listening experience with their reviews and round table discussions. So much love and support went into all this – I am one of the luckiest people I know. And you listeners who have checked in faithfully throughout the years – I hope that you have enjoyed the sharing as much as I. Oh, and stay tuned – I am asked to write the fourth Meg & Sue book and who knows? If and when it is done it is sure to find its place in here, so Mailchimp might once again come knocking on your door!…
” …That knife was aimed directly at my back. He moved aside and took it for me.” “And why would he do that?” “Because—” Hesta halted. Looked to B’hoc Lunan. Her friend stood as turned to stone. “I don’t quite know,” she said. “Because I am sworn to protect the hesta, at the cost of my own life and that I have done and ever will do should need arise.” Gudric. And there he was, within arm’s length of Brocan, face to face.
“But you—are you so sure that you can manage that Konder? Are you sure he will do as you say?” Gudric laughed aloud. “Most certainly, when at each shoulder waits a knife set to carve out his lights if he strays but one word from his brief.” Meyren looked sharp. “Each shoulder? Who’ll be at the other?” “A merciless B’hadgazane. Come, let’s get that sleep. We have but four spaces left.”
The afternoon rolled on, clouds flocked together, blocking Demiel’s last low rays. Night dark came sooner than usual, without even Ao’s sliver to mark it. One space, two. Then suddenly came a stirring. The men were getting up and preparing to move. Gudric calmed his breath, and stood ready to follow on their heels.
No wonder Father was so distracted. He was late getting the season started, was the rumor he’d put around the howdh, and that was partly true. One comfort: if Vokar was lurking out there, at least his mother was in full public view under Harobadt’s royal roof.
Brocan opened his eyes, looked up. Came slowly to his feet. His voice came in a hoarse whisper. “Tahinay.” The radiant figure approached, cast such a smile on them both. And was gone.
Brocan did not come. But Hesta did not fret. Or pester to know why as she would have done back in the old days. She and her old nurse had shared many helaks since then, on the most important levels had reached an understanding beyond mere words. Content for now that things would come when they should, she sat, quiet, drowsing in and out, content to be with Rakia, home at last.
Hesta huddled into her cloak as they sped on, winding along a road growing gray with early morning fog. Suddenly, the coach lurched, began to go down, quite steeply, along a road that set the coach wheels bumping and bouncing as perilously as they had ever done across the plains. They were crossing the Wash, as Rakia had said they would. The warehouse quarter. In Kond, you must sink before you rise, the old woman had been so fond of saying with heavy meaning.
She opened her eyes, saw the stars streaking across her screen. As she watched, they slowed, floated down off the screen to hover right above her head, bright specks hanging in the dark of space. No. Not space. Deep night sky. And the patterns that they formed were as familiar to her now as the Plough and Orion’s Belt. . . .
He stood her off, looked into her eyes. “Call Bors. Start evacuating now. Everybody. Non-stop. No holdouts now, you hear me? You have twelve hours. Take off the moment everyone’s aboard. Hengst… He’s…” The Hesikastor’s voice went out. His image flickered. “… blanket-bombing the entire globe, he’s… ” He vanished. “No! Grandfather—no!” Shira stood rubbing her arms. Too much! Her mind kicked in. She hit her wristic. Called Bors, code red code red code red.
When she checked back into Main C&C, the Eaglet was down, crews were aboard, already at work. MacAllister was still there with a tech team. Auxiliary C&C was fully activated, and Gunther was in his quarters, finally crashed.
“While the captain’s ashore, his bosun is at the helm. No one boards without official leave. It sure gives one pause for thought.” Shira stared down at the wristic. Now what was that about? MacAllister was joking as always, but as always there was something behind it. “You mean I can’t go up that gangplank without permission?” “That’s right,” MacAllister said. “Not without the captain’s approval.” She logged off, thinking how, in her ignorance, she’d done exactly that.
In that cold infirmary light he looked like a corpse. Ellisen eyed the blanket under the straps. What did it hide? Something bad, else why the tube? Goddammit, someone come and talk to me! Skeleton crew fully engaged on flight deck. Bullshit. Hell, could they even fly this thing? He paced to the door, banged on it. Paced back to the screen. And back and forth, stopping every now and then to watch Sven. Would they ever pay for this!
“He warned me. Shira—is it final? Shall I never see him again?” Her voice wavered. “Who can say?” Shira took a stab at crispness. “He’s been popping in and out for a while. He’s like the Cheshire cat only he goes in and out all at once.” “Shira, this is not amusing. Where does he go?” “Nowhere, Aunt. He’s likely here with us now.” Aunt Marita sat down abruptly, pulling her shawl more tightly around herself. “Metz Aramadz.”
So she stood, watching the cascading sequences, decompressing the tightly packed hieroglyphics into symbols that she recognized, watching those symbols detach, spritz out into a single line, the line resolving into stark spare text: -begin ellisen off end stealth team off end pioneer ship secured end gunther sven stand by end out-
Dang those people in the lift! (Ord) stamped hard up onto the first step. Too hard. Its edge broke off under him. He snatched for a non-existent stair rail, fell forward onto the stair, smacked his head on a step’s sharp edge, and went out. For an instant, his limp inert body lay sloped at an angle over the stair, then slowly it started to slide, bumping and gathering speed until he was rolling over and down.
“Have we a deadline yet, Hesikastor?” (Matthew.) “Yes. We evacuate when that ship lands.”
Though he was braced, he started as they cracked and split apart. Figures burst through, six goons, plasmers ready. As the last passed through, he slid out, and along the passage to the stock room. Stepping close to the wall, he found the plate, pressed, and dashed for the hatch. He half-fell clumsily down the companionway and activated the fans. Then collapsed, trembling, took off his helmet to sit with his back against the passage wall.
“You know who fired that shot? The one Katz took for you?” “How would I?” Ellisen said angrily. “They were all taking pot shots at us and if you hadn’t got us strung out like birds on a phone wire it would never have happened in the first place.” Sol shook his head. “You poor, dumb bastard. I saw who got off that shot, and the one before, the one that nearly clipped your ear. I saw his face quite clearly.” “So?” “It was your son.”
“Whatever, that Great Cavern, that ramp, and the plateau comprise the staging ground for our exodus. No one knows of it, of course, except for those involved in its preparation those many years ago.” “You foresaw all this, Hesikastor?” A bright smile lit the old man’s face. “Not specifically. But every foxhole ought to have a back door. That deep place is ours. It’s been ready for dire emergency since Bourg life began. Through it lies the way out. So now’s time to oil the hinges, turn the key.”