A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 2

The main PoV in the Zara stories is Zara of course, and she speaks in the first person.

There is a second PoV to this sequel, which I render using the third person. I had originally planned for you to first experience that second PoV later, as Chapter 3 or even Chapter 6. So you had a few chapters with Zara, got a sense of what was happening in her life and the stormclouds on the horizon, then BOOM, *this* is also happening. Or is it?

This first section of the episode today is now going to be the opening chapter of the book. It’s the alternate PoV. The second section today is therefore labelled Chapters 4 and 5 (back with Zara).

The alternate PoV is intended to shock. The toss-up is between shocking you at the start where you’re thinking who, what, where? before getting to Zara, or shocking you later where you’re not quite sure it’s real… All will become clearer after another couple of episodes.

Anyway, over 5k words for you this weekend …

Do comment please!

 

Chapter 1

Newyan

 

The sun dips toward the horizon and the woods become gloomy, full of ominous, swaying shadows.

Kattalin can’t see any of the others at the moment, can’t hear them. For a few seconds, there’s only the gurgle of the stream at her feet and her heavy panting. She’s been walking fast for hours, but she’s shivering. She’s been shivering since she saw the first movements below them, at the base of the valley, just as dawn broke over the peaks.

The pursuit has been there all day. A kilometer or two behind. Relentless. Remorseless. Merciless. Syndacian mountain troops, mercenaries from the most violent of Frontier worlds. They’re professionals, they’re trained for this. She’s not.

Around midday, there had been gunshots. Maybe a hundred or so in bursts, over fifteen minutes, then silence.

Someone must have stopped. Held up the pursuit for a short while.

Maybe Benat ordered it.

She tries to think what it would have been like, if he’d given her that order.

She doesn’t know.

She’s scared in a way she’s never been scared before, shaken to the core of her being.

She repeats the last lines of the oath to herself: I have embraced my death. Only my duty remains.

It feels a lot more real now than when she first joined the Resistance’s Training Company Bravo.

It had begun to feel real yesterday, when they were all huddled together listening to Commander Benat.

“Comrade Cadets,” he’d started in his usual jaunty, energizing way. Then, he’d stopped himself and looked seriously around the group, meeting every eye, before continuing more quietly: “My beloved brothers and sisters. The call has come, as we all knew it might.”

The hairs had stood up on her arms.

“To the High Command, every single one of you in the Resistance is a true hero, but war respects no single person. To let our main force through into the provincial capital of Cabezón, the Syndacian troops have to be delayed. If the main force takes Cabezón, the Hajnal invaders won’t be able to hide the revolt of an entire town from the rest of the planet. The elaborate lies the media have been telling will be exposed. The planet will be in an uproar and the Terran Marines will arrive to restore order and crush the invasion. But everything hinges on delaying the Syndacian cohort.”

He stood, silent for a moment, his handsome face dark with sun and lean as a wolf’s.

His next words fell like pebbles into a deep pool. “And there is only us. The High Command has called on Training Company Bravo. We must lure them away from Cabezón, into the high passes, and ambush them. Where we will certainly die. But we will die proud, free people, and because of us, Newyan will rise again. I know each one of you will do your duty, for only our duty remains.”

That was yesterday. He’d left them proud and scared.

She doesn’t feel like a hero today. The pride has leaked away.

More shots behind. Much closer.

She kneels beside the cold stream and fills her canteen. Her throat is dry and she drinks hurriedly. This may be the last chance. The pass isn’t far ahead. The last stand.

Her hands nervously flutter to check the scrap of red is still pinned to her chest to identify her to any of her colleagues waiting in ambush.

If I’m going to die, I want to be facing the right way. I want to take some of them with me.

Barely a hundred paces further on and Benat’s senior lieutenant, Ohana, appears out of the shadows like a forest dryad.

The fear soldifies in her belly.

Ohana holds a finger to her lips and waves her to the side.

There, a bit of earth and been hurriedly shoveled into a small bank. A net with twigs and leaves entwined is waiting for her, just as Benat had said there would be.

She looks down at it.

This will be my grave.

Ohana has tears streaming down her face. Wordlessly, she unpins the red warning sign on Kattalin’s chest, gives her a hug, and kisses her forehead. Then she is gone, slipping through the forest to the next position.

A few of the other cadets pass her as she gets herself ready. The red flags make them stand out easily. Some give a little wave, some a poor salute. They all look terrified. One or two keep looking back down the slope.

Soon, the Syndacian troops will come, grim and pale and silent as ghosts, and the killing will begin.

She knows she’s been given a position of honor. This is in the first rank of concealed firing positions. The first that will be overrun.

She will slow them down, kill a few and then she will die. Tears spill.

I have embraced my death. Only my duty remains.

The rifle is warm against her cheek, slightly oily beneath her fingers. It’s an old police weapon from her great-grandfather’s time. Her ammunition is stacked and waiting beside her. She’s stuck her knife into the ground, if it comes to that. The net camouflages her. She concentrates on breathing smoothly and being invisible.

She’s lightheaded. She hasn’t eaten all day, but she has no appetite now. Tiredness and sadness, hunger and fear will all cease to matter in a very short time.

Her trembling eases away and her dark, oval eyes look up to the darkening sky.

Goddess, My Lady of Mercy, look down on Newyan now, she whispers. Remember all your children and speed us on our way. And hold your hand over blessed Zarate. May her steps be always sure, and may her words strike true, that all Newyan will be delivered from the enemy. Forgive me what I must do this day, for we are all your children. Forgive me. Forgive me. Into your hands, Goddess, I commend my soul.

Only my duty remains.

It’s time.

Far down the slope, shadows sway and ghosts begin to drift through the trees.

 

<< OKAY THAT WAS THE NEW CHAPTER 1 >>

<< WHICH MAKES LAST WEEKS CHAPTERS 2 and 3 >>

<< NOW BACK TO ZARA >>

Chapter 4

Kernow

 

We can’t go straight away to talk to the sea people.

As it is, our journey is timed to get to Bason around the time the TSS Annan arrives in orbit and they’re expecting us to meet at the base of the Skyhook shortly afterwards. If I had postponed the meeting with the Terrans, I would have needed to explain why.

I’ve taken the decision to be ‘Arvish’ in my dealings about the native race that live in the sea. We Arvish, living on the western coast of Murenys, consider the sea-folk’s secret secret is ours to keep. To outsiders, we talk of piskatellers and let them dismiss it as old folk tales and silly superstitions. I can’t use piskatellers as an excuse for delaying this trip.

And I have to know what’s happening with Newyan, even if I I’m sure I’m not going to like it.

Still, as we fly over the ocean, Hwa and I look down on the glittering expanse thoughtfully. I know we’re both uneasy, thinking we’ve got the priorities wrong.

So does Talan, but she, of course, is fast asleep in the back.

Could I have delayed the meeting at the Skyhook?

Surely this is just a courtesy call from the Terran navy. Surely.

“Will you be all right to fly straight back?” Hwa asks.

“I hope so,” I say. “Then we could meet this Morgen Golan tomorrow.”

She nods.

I’ll get to see my husband, but not for very long this time.

Ninety minutes later, as we’re tracking across the main continent of Kensa and approaching Bason, Hwa gets a message from the Xian delegation. They also urgently need to see her.

“Never one thing at a time,” she mutters with a frown. “Is it really important? It won’t be about Shohwa, she’s back in Xian.”

She queries the InfoHub for details of visiting spaceships. “The only Xian ship incoming at the moment is the Xing Gerchu. How odd.”

“Why odd?”

“It’s not a freighter. It’s a Hegemony courier ship.”

Couriers are fast ships used by the Xian Hegemony within their own association of planetary systems. It’s unusual to see one on the other side of human space.

“Perhaps some of the Xian delegation are being replaced,” I suggest. That’s the kind of official business a courier would conduct.

Hwa shakes her head and I can see her infopad cycle through more information.

“They’d tell me that,” she mutters. Then her infopad screen clears abruptly and she looks away, out of the window.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I’m going to leave you and the Duke to go to the meeting with the Annan,” she says. “I’ll go to the delegation and get back as quickly as I can.”

“What’s up, Hwa?”

Her words are clipped. “The Xing Gerchu’s last port of call was Newyan.”

Bason Air Traffic Control start talking to me at that moment and I have to concentrate.

Less than two hours later I’m in the conference room with Bleyd and I’m having it confirmed that this is anything but a courtesy call from the Terran navy.

 

“A clarification?” Bleyd’s voice is low and smooth, which alerts me to how angry my husband has become.

The group from the TSS Annan have no such insight.

Their leader has introduced himself as Captain Rahman Taha. He’s a startlingly handsome man with a sharp face, dark eyes and silky, black hair. He looks every inch a ship’s captain and the inheritor of centuries of the finest Terran naval traditions.

That image is only slightly marred by comparison to his executive officer, Commander Xolani Ndungane. One look at the pair of them tells me who actually runs the TSS Annan. The captain’s face is unlined by worry, his speech is as slow as pond water and his lazy eyes seem to be focused on a point behind my head when he looks at me. Ndungane, on the other hand, is scowling and his eyes are like lazer pointers. I sense he’s really angry for some reason.

But it’s the quiet third member of the group who really troubles me.

Unlike the others, who are wearing naval uniform, she’s in an elegant cream suit with an apricot shirt . Yeva Ivakin is a politician, despite being introduced as a diplomat. I can smell the politics clinging to her. She sits demurely to one side with a pretty smile on her face that says she’s here to be helpful. It’s all premium grade manure. She hates us.

“Yes,” the captain responds. It comes out more like yaaas. “Kernow being on a direct path to Newyan, it seemed a good idea to drop out of Chang space and make sure we have a thorough understanding of your perceptions of the situation in Newyan and you fully understand the parameters and limitations under which we are operating.”

“I suppose a delay of a few more days is hardly significant in comparison to the time already taken.”

Bleyd’s voice is dripping sarcasm.

Ndungane narrows his eyes. Captain Taha flinches. It dawns on him that we aren’t impressed by him, any more than we’re impressed by the tardiness of the entire effort.

“Quite,” Taha says and tries to repair things. “First of all, allow me to re-iterate the praise of the Terran Council for the way in which you defeated the unwarranted Tavoli aggression here on Kernow. The Tavoli suborning of local media, judicial and administrative functions showed a long prepared strategy, as did their hiring of of a company of mercenaries. Your timing, catching them when they were committed, but before they were fully ready, was brilliant.”

“Hajnal,” I say. The timing had involved a degree of luck, but it’s worrying about the way he’s talking about this: our perceptions of the situation; their limitations on operations. “Hajnal. Not Tavoli. The planet of Tavoli may be as much a victim as Kernow nearly was.”

A silence greets my words. Taha and Ivakin exchange glances. Ndungane’s rich lips compress to a thin line and he sits back, folding his arms across his chest and deliberately taking himself out of the conversation.

What?

“You don’t like using the name ‘Hajnal’?” I ask.

Taha clears his throat. “It’s nothing to do with the name, per se,” he replies.

“It’s what all the surviving conspirators here call it,” Bleyd says with a frown. “You can see the interrogation transcripts if you want.”

“Yes.” Taha holds up his hands. “I’m sure they do. I’m sure that was what they were told. It’s simply that we believe that calling it a multi-planet movement and giving it this mysterious name, ‘Hajnal’, was part of the recruitment process.”

“What do you mean?” Bleyd says.

“It would be much easier to recruit someone here on Kernow if they were told that it was all part of a groundswell uprising; a movement covering many planets. You can see the power of that, surely? Imagine a government functionary, disturbed by what’s being reported in the news and feeling immensely frustrated by being unable to influence the way things are going, suddenly learns that there is a this large, secret organisation with an exotic name and huge resources which aims to correct all those problems on lots of planets, and they want to recruit him.”

“There were members of the conspiracy who genuinely believed they were on the right side,” Bleyd concedes, his eyes narrowed. “But there were more who just did it for greed, and others who were blackmailed.”

“Yes. We imagine they had some kind of tailored approach for each recruit, but all with the common thread of this powerful organisation in the shadows. Your example of ones who were bribed, for instance: it would have given them an assurance that the organisation was big enough to keep bribing, and so on.”

“They all called it Hajnal,” Bleyd says. “Why are you so sensitive to using the name? You’re not saying there wasn’t a large organisation behind this? Operating across many planets?”

I lean forward, a desperate sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. “That’s exactly it, isn’t it? You’re trying to tell us that it was all just Tavoli and an attack on Kernow?” The pieces click into place and I feel physically sick. “You’re trying to tell us that there is no Hajnal conspiracy on Newyan.”

Taha’s mouth turns down as if he were truly sorry for having to hold this conversation with me. “We’re not concluding anything without detailed further investigation, Mrs Aguirre-Tremayne. Newyan has made representations to the Council which I am tasked to evaluate even-handedly in the interests of seeing justice done.”

“They murdered my family,” I grind out. “Every single one of them.”

“Both sides have made allegations—”

“And you believe them for one instant?” Bleyd is on his feet now, shouting. “The same people that fired on a trading ship?”

“Please. We realize this is an emotive subject, but the Newyan delegation on Earth explained that the cutter Duhalde was in no way under the instructions of Newyan Space Traffic Control, and that the captain of the customs cutter, a man under considerable stress, took steps he believed appropriate at the time—”

“Appropriate?” I surge to my feet, unable to believe what I’m hearing. “There wasn’t even a warning shot. Rather than let one singe member of the Aguirre family escape, they decided to murder the entire complement of the Shohwa. They deliberately fired to destroy a freighter. And you’re all taking their side.”

Taha’s face colors. He gets to his feet and leans on the table to emphasize his point.

“As a passenger on the Shohwa, you have no idea what happened,” he shouts.

“We will review all the evidence with the recordings in front of us before reaching any conclusion,” Ivakin says.

I’m about to start again when Commander Ndungane’s gravelly voice cuts through. “The freighter immediately engaged its Chang drive as the cutter fired, so it must have been at the transition point. The cutter would have been aware there was no time left for negotiation.”

The Commander is watching me closely and I feel a sudden chill.

Shohwa had engaged her Chang drive early, before the standard transition point. The cutter captain would have had no inkling that was going to happen. But if I start talking about that, I risk revealing details that Shohwa wouldn’t want aired. It’s enough that the Inner Worlds must now suspect that Xian freighters are armed without letting slip that they are captained by Self Actuated Entities. The whole accord of human space could tear apart on that issue alone.

Ndungane may be the most dangerous person in the Terran group, and his agenda may not be anything to do with Newyan at all.

“That’s no excuse for the Duhalde’s action,” I say and sit back down, touching Bleyd’s arm. He growls, but he subsides.

“Indeed,” Taha says, sinking back into his own seat. “The late captain may agree with you. It seems when he considered what he had attempted, he took his own life in shame.”

“And you take that as the unvarnished truth, without ‘reviewing all the evidence’?” I snap back. “The Duhalde’s captain killed himself out of shame? I think it’s more likely he was killed to stop him being questioned.”

“We will review that issue along with everything else,” Ivakin says.

“You’ve already got the inter-system messages between Hajnal conspirators—” Bleyd starts off on a new line, but Taha interrupts him.

“All the messages we’ve seen were taken from communication servers based on Kernow. There’s no confirmation that the conspirators on Kernow were actually communicating with anyone other than fake accounts on Tavoli.”

“Please, a moment,” Ivakin holds her hands up as Bleyd starts to rise again.

She waits for a good ten seconds before going on. “We admit, we’re having difficulty with the scenario depicted in your testimony to the Terran Council.”

I take deep breaths. Bleyd and I have to hear what they’ve got to say. Yelling at them isn’t going to achieve anything. And if I lose my temper, I risk saying something that Ndungane might pounce on. There’s a lot that went on which Xian does not want known.

“Without any judgment on your perceptions of what happened on Newyan, you must allow that this vast conspiracy theory is extremely implausible,” Ivakin goes on, her voice sweet with reason. “Here on Kernow, the one place we see the Tavoli plan in operation, where they attempted to control the media and judiciary, and where they were intent on murdering key people who refused to co-operate with the takeover, they failed. Surely you’re not saying they succeeded on all these other planets and we know nothing about it?”

“Yes, we are,” I reply. “Just as no one knew anything about Tavoli being taken over in exactly that way.”

“We can’t comment on your speculations about that,” she shakes her head, as if regretful. “What happened on Tavoli itself is now a matter for the Terran Council’s Commission of Enquiry to establish.”

Commissions of Enquiry are notorious for never reaching conclusions.

“Referring to it as a conspiracy theory is a deliberate and calculated insult,” Bleyd says, voice tight with anger. “You’ve clearly already made up your minds, but no doubt you’ll now tell us you’re forming another meaningless Commission of Enquiry for Newyan.”

Ivakin wrinkles her nose as if she smells something unpleasant. “I’m sorry you can’t agree that the need for truth—”

Captain Taha stands up abruptly. “I suggest a half hour break for all of us to regain our composure.” He urges his companions toward the door.

Their avoidance of Bleyd’s comment hits me like fist in the stomach. They are forming a commission. That’s why this is meeting is with ‘staff’, not crew. This isn’t really a naval mission at all. That’s probably why Commander Ndungane is so angry. Taha and Ivakin are going there to form a Terran Council Commission of Enquiry for Newyan. Nothing significant will ever get done, and this is all the Terran Council will do for any of the planets blighted by this vast conspiracy.

In effect, the Hajnal have won.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Kernow

 

“They want something.”

My husband is marching up and down the cramped conference room, scowling.

He looks as if he’s been running on adrenaline and caffeine. Without knowing the details, I understand that the momentum of his plan to unify Kernow under a new parliament stalled when he went with me to Earth to present our evidence about the Hajnal. Putting it back together is like ‘making a pyramid from billiard balls’ apparently.

I can’t regret that he joined me to go to Earth—we got married on the Shohwa while we were en route.

But I regret not being able to do anything about repairing his plans. I’m still an outsider, especially as far as the Founding Families and the Kernow politicians go. What I’m doing at Cardu will have to be my contribution to the effort.

Well, that and getting the insane Autumn season social circuit stopped.

Bleyd is too pale. I’m used to that scar on his cheek standing out from the tan of his skin and winking at me when he smiles. Now I can barely see it, white on white. And he looks so tired.

I want to take him in my arms and comfort him. I want to lie on the lawn in the sun with him, go riding along the coast, just the two of us. Breath the sea air. Listen to the dreaming statues singing on their lonely, windswept cliffs. Share food and wine and laughter deep into the night.

It’s not to be.

Gaude messages me. Couldn’t we attend just one party in tomorrow? Despite how well the proposal for a single Harvest Ball event is proceeding, Lady Dowriel hasn’t had enough time to cancel and she’s always been a good supporter. She’s being persistent with her invitation and he feels he can’t tell her we won’t attend. With both of us already in Bason, it’s not so far.

No. I’ll call him later and let him down gently.

Meanwhile, I finally stop Bleyd’s pacing, push him down into a chair and begin to massage his shoulders. The skin is too loose; he’s not eating well. Not exercising. The muscles are too tight. Given more time and privacy, I could do something about that, but even the massage gets cut short by another urgent call, this time for Bleyd.

Marik Roscarrow. The man has thrown himself into the unification project, taking on much of the easier work from Bleyd. But he’s hit a problem in the Delkys Islands. He can’t even get them to agree between themselves, let alone with the rest of Kernow. If Delkys aren’t speaking with one voice when Trethow are added into the mix next week, then the whole thing will start to unravel. He needs Bleyd.

The Delkys Islands are on the other side of the world.

“I’ll have to fly overnight,” Bleyd says. “Which means I have leave here in an hour and sleep on the journey.”

Thank the Goddess the aircraft Bleyd has been loaned is capable of that kind of flight. And has a crew to fly it.

Messages go out, postponing and re-arranging other scheduled meetings. And a note gets taken down the corridor to the Terrans: if they want something, their time is running out.

 

They want something, all right. They’re back in the room in five minutes.

But what is it they want?

I’m having trouble concentrating.

The Terrans have achieved something the Hajnal never managed to—they’ve made me despair.

There is nothing I can do for Newyan. Nothing I can do for all the workers thrown off the Aguirre estates. Nothing I can do to avenge my murdered family.

I try to flood my mind with other matters. What did the Xian delegation want so urgently with Hwa? What do the piskatellers want with both of us?

It doesn’t work. And that despair shakes something loose. Wakes an old memory of my grandfather.

But it’s mine!

My birthday present, the best thing in the whole world, has been taken by my cousins and their friends. I want it back.

It’s not theirs. It’s mine!

Grandfather looms like a watchtower, blocking the afternoon sunlight from my world.

If you won’t fight for it, you don’t deserve it, he says.

I blink. I still see his face at times, more real than the world around me.

The Terrans have got Bleyd talking. He’s running on autopilot, one eye on the clock, half his mind on what he’s going to have to do in the Delkys Islands tomorrow, and half of the rest distracted by the effect this is all having on me.

He’s demolishing their argument that it isn’t possible for the Hajnal to undermine and take over a Margin World.

“The weak point is media control,” he says. “On Earth, you’re the inheritors of multiple nation states, each with their own multiple media sources, resulting in dozens of independently owned media companies, even centuries after unification.”

Taha shrugs. “There are lots. Smaller ones get bought up and bigger ones get split up occasionally. What of it?”

“Each of those companies are filled with reporters keen to make a name for themselves by getting hold of stories their rivals haven’t. The same situation applies to the innermost of the Inner Worlds. There is a market.” Bleyd pauses. “By the time you get out this far, there isn’t the perceived diversity of interests, nor is there the infrastructure to support more than a couple of news organisations. Then move beyond Kernow and the Inner Worlds, into the Margin, where the Hajnal operates, and the reality is even starker. There are no news channels. There are information channels, possibly only one, and everyone believes them.”

Ivakin snorts. “Why?”

“Because in the Margin worlds, the population is measured in hundreds of thousands, not in billions. People have the feeling that they’re all in a mutual enterprise and it’s a marginal existence. There simply isn’t time for factional politics, and without that incentive, all the people want is information, not some reporter’s scoop.”

“That’s manifestly not the case with Newyan,” Ivakin points out.

She’s right. Newyan is one of the most successful of the Margin worlds. It has a population in the millions, a wide diversity of interests, and there are political parties. Or there were. But there was only ever one media channel that people got their information from. That was our weakness.

“It’s not only about Newyan,” Bleyd replies.

“No, we have a huge list of planets accused of being part of this conspiracy with no more ‘proof’ than their inclusion in that list by Xian trading ships,” she snaps back. “If you were cynical, you’d almost suspect some trade motive on Xian’s part.”

“Our remit is Newyan,” Taha says, stopping a riposte from Bleyd.

“Yes, Newyan.” Ivakin is running off their friendly script now. “A world oppressed by oligarchs selected by obscure historical family ties, calling out for democratic systems that will allow them to apply for inclusion into the core of Inner Worlds.”

“So you approve of ‘democratically’ murdering entire families,” I interrupt her. She is sick. I am one of those supposed oligarchs selected because my family was a Founding Family. And the rest of my family was murdered because of their status.

But it’s Bleyd who angrily takes up the thread before Ivakin can respond.

“That is a willful misrepresentation of the politicial situation that covers a number of the Inner Worlds, including Kernow, and most of the Margin.” He takes an exasperated breath. “All those worlds, including Newyan, were settled not by any governmental effort. Earth lay struggling and exhausted with its burdens, unable to help anyone because it was tying to help everyone. Individuals and groups built and manned the First and Second Expansions. They found and settled planets, terraformed them, made a successes of them.”

“So then they should own those planets forever?”

“They certainly shouldn’t be stolen by murderous groups with the blessing of the Terran Council!”

Taha stops the conversation again, before it gets any more out of control.

“We know the history. And the Terran Council acknowledges the efforts those worlds made in the Third Expansion and those agreements are enshrined in the Accords.”

Earth and the core Inner Worlds went through a terrible spasm, where billions of people they couldn’t support fled outwards in whatever transports could take them, looking for places to settle. That was the Third Expansion.

Almost all such unplanned and ill-equipped ventures had one hope—that an already settled world would accept them.

But the settled worlds belonged to the people who’d settled them, and those worlds had been chosen to get away from the madness at humanity’s core.

It was a dark time.

Founding Families fought over the policies. Entire systems descended into war and barbarism. The Frontier was born—where the unwanted, the displaced and the desperate fled.

Out of it finally came the Accords. A way for the core’s overpopulation to emigrate out. A way to handle the conflict. An agreement to prevent a flood of unmanageable undesirables.

It wasn’t a treaty so much as articles of understanding, but it recognized the Terran Council and gave them powers through custom and tradition. It codified a structure between Founding Families and immigrants—the Charter.

The Accords were a compromise no one believed would work at the time, and yet they had ended the Third Expansion, and given humanity centuries of peace, at least in the Inner Worlds and Margin.

And I sit in the conference room, listening to the Terrans and thinking of wind-born seeds, each seed carrying a full imprint of the source—every good and bad thing all together.

Bleyd is arguing the interpretation of the Charter as it has applied to places like Newyan and Kernow. The Founding Families defined their estates, which remained in their families so long as they wished them to, and these were regarded in law as sovereign nations. The rest of the planet was provided under licence to the arrivals, who formed governments and infrastructures.

“But what if there are no remaining members of the Founding Family to pass the estate to?” Taha asks.

The Charter allows that to varies by planet. On Newyan and Kernow, the estates pass to the government.

Which, on Newyan, would also apply if the remaining member is convicted by a properly constituted court of serious crime.

I finally get the first glimmer of what the Terrans want. It’s like ice in my chest.

Meanwhile, Bleyd completes his answer to Taha’s question and rises to his feet.

“And I have run out of time,” he says. “So any further clarifications should be sent by message to my adjutant, who is more than capable of answering queries of this nature.”

Taha stands.

Ivakin smiles. “Oh, we may come up with some more, but no doubt we’ll see you at Lady Dowriel’s party tomorrow night. We’ve just accepted an invitation to attend. I understand it’s quite something.”

Ndungane looks furious. Even Taha looks embarassed and mutters about the mission to Newyan looking like a long posting, and taking the opportunity for a last social gathering.

Bleyd shakes his head. “I’m flying to the Delkys Islands tonight,” he says.

He’s about to tell them I won’t be there either, but I’m quicker than him.

“I’ll see you there,” I say firmly.

At least Gaude will be half pleased.

The Terrans have boxed me into a corner over Newyan, but there’s no way I’m going to allow them to foment problems behind Bleyd’s back in Kernow.

 

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first book, 'Sleight of Hand' is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/Sa0D3n

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