Empress of the Dawn – Book 3: War and Peace, Part 1
Written by brantley :: [Wednesday, 20 June 2018 23:13] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 23 June 2018 01:03]
Empress of the Dawn
By Brantley Thompson Elkins
What has gone before:
Book Three: Peace and War
Part One: Secrets and Lies
Kalla was free. Her life was hers alone. And yet she still felt a sense of belonging to this world – a world that was the only constant in her existence.
She hadn’t expected to live this long. Neither had the Scalantrans who had sold her indenture to Feodor more than a hundred of their years ago – 118 Terran years, nor the Velorians who had profited by it.
She was now 136 by Terran count, and still no signs of aging – during the reign of Jayar, more than 40 years ago, she had thought she must be a freak in that regard, but the Scalantrans had set her straight. Anyone she had known on Velor was long gone, and most of those she had known on Andros, or among the Scalantrans, were even longer gone. Only her fellow Companions still lived – and they were far distant.
She hadn’t kept in touch with any of them for more than a few round trips of the Bountiful Voyager after settling here, and in truth she had never particularly wanted to. It was only because of the relations between Andros and Indra and Fujiwakoku that she had known anything about the recent careers of Liessa and Jaleel, and Liessa was the only one she had heard from directly. As for the others, there were only the occasional anecdotes from the Scalantrans, as in the case of Marzha and the lottery on Siguo.
How well did I ever really know any of them? she pondered. After all, we shared barely a year and a half together on the trip out. Yet I spent 50 years with Feodor; I knew Jayar and Methodios practically all their lives. I still treasure the years I remember with Feodor and Methodios – and I still feel an attachment for their families that I can never feel for those distant Velorian kin.
Only, now that she was no longer a Companion, she had a personal life and love she had chosen for herself. She was living with Andronikos Makropoulos at his estate near Nesalonika, where they made free with their bodies… and souls.
As catapan of Strymon, he had been forced into hiding during the terrible reign of Kyros – but he had known from the start that he was in danger as an Andros family loyalist, without her having had to warn him.
That meant he never imagined himself as in debt to her, any more than she could imagine him as a reward for having saved the world. Nor was he either fixated on her or intimidated by her as a Velorian: he treated her as a woman. That was what attracted her to him. With Nikos, she never had a role to play; she could just be.
She had known him casually during the reign of Methodios, and met him again at after the Restoration. He was a widower with grown children by then; that was enough to make him fair game. Only she couldn’t look upon him as mere game, even though he was handsome and energetic for his age. And experienced – he knew his way around a woman’s body, and could be slow and gentle or fast and furious. Depending...
Today it would be slow and gentle. She had come naked to the lake, and he had followed. When she turned her head, she saw that he too was naked – and hard. She donned her gold necklace, lay back and let him slip inside her – savoring the feeling of being filled with a loving cock by a loving man.
When he began to move inside her, it was heavenly. And when he finally came, and she came, it was even more heavenly. She felt all aglow inside, but before long she felt afire inside – and he knew how to stoke that fire. She was thankful for her Velorian pheromones, and so was he; he could keep coming back for more.
“Kai tamoor’sk!” he shouted as he came again – “I love you” in her own tongue. And soon he put his own tongue, and teeth and lips, to good use between her legs – licking and sucking then biting her clit. He was rewarded by her shudders and screams of pleasure, but he wasn’t through with her – he eagerly lapped up her fragrant juices, and she came again.
They pleasured themselves and each other in many ways that afternoon… And when they were done with that, they talked about the lives they had already lived, and would yet live; about the world they both cared about, and what the future might hold for it. Kalla could even commiserate with him about how Candida still blamed her for the death of Dr. Hayama, and concerns about certain cultural trends like violent outbreaks at steamcar races. For her, and him, there were no secrets and no lies.
Except for such few worries, this was the happiest time of her life. She was free of the political responsibilities that had come with being a Companion – even if they had never been part of the Indenture that Feodor had signed with the Scalantrans a hundred years ago. Nestor had come to the throne young, and had a long reign ahead of him. He was unlikely to face any real challenges and, if he did, there was always the Family Council to advise him. She was content to do her part with the Indrans to bring new technologies to Andros, including the Patriarch’s dream of air and space travel.
It had been an eventful time since the day she had set foot here. It was now 1278 by Terran reckoning. By sheer coincidence, the sidereal year on Andros was almost the same as the Galactic year. That made for irregular seasons, but the Androssians were used to it. So was she. She hardly ever thought of the Velorian year, which was slightly shorter than the Terran – her age on her world of origin would be 143.
Would she outlive Nikos, as she had the patriarchs? Or would time finally catch up with her? It might be fitting, somehow, if old age – which was sudden and shorter for her kind – caught up with her in time for her to share it with his. That might give her long enough to complete her work on the projects Nestor had envisioned, and she could then leave Andros to its blooming golden age. A perfect ending…
But on that sunny afternoon, Kalla could not reckon on what she would learn, to her cost and the world’s, when the Scalantrans returned later in the year…
Chapter 1. Surely Some Revelations
For Kalla, like everyone she knew on Andros, the arrival of the Bountiful Voyager had been an occasion for rejoicing. Word spread like wildfire when the Palace made the official announcement, conveyed by farcaller relays all the way from Feodoropolis to Ethrata in one direction and to the Northern Reach in the other.
It was hailed as a return to normality, what people were calling the Restoration. The visit had been expected, of course. The Scalantrans were always punctual. There hadn’t been farcallers in the old days, but dealers in shinefur, olive oil, wines and other exports had known to the day when to set up shop for the trade fair. They had been punctual four years ago, when things were far from normal.
Kyros had been Patriarch in 1272, when the Bountiful Voyager had been due on its outbound voyage to Andros and the more distant seeded worlds on its circuit. Only, it had been warned off by Alkmene. That warning had come at the behest of Kalla herself, who had held no official position. She held none now.
Yet it was she who received a farcall from the travel captain, Vahirem, by name, as the Bountiful Voyager approached on the inbound leg of its circuit, headed for Velor. He had a simple question: “Is it safe?”
“Yes,” she told him. “You will find that Andros welcomes you under its Patriarch Nestor Tornikios.”
A simple answer. Only, Vahirem wasn’t finished.
“Our historian Pakiula wishes to meet with you,” he said.
So Cherya must have retired, or even died, Kalla thought. She felt a twinge of regret, knowing that she would never see her again. But she had outlived generations of Scalantrans, just as she had outlived generations of Androssians. That was part of her life; there was no point in bringing it up. But protocol was still protocol.
“I shall be happy to see her at the trading ground.”
“Not there. Here.”
Definitely not protocol; Kalla was taken aback. “But why?”
“It is a matter I cannot discuss.”
Reaching the ship in orbit was no problem for Kalla, nor was cycling through the airlock. Once aboard, she was hustled into the white room by Pakiula, where the two of them could be neither interrupted nor overheard.
“Cherya is teaching on one of our youthworlds now,” the new historian told her. “But when I was chosen to succeed her, she advised me to take you into our confidence on matters involving the Companions. There is something you must see, and after you have seen it, you may be able to advise me, and I can then advise the others.”
What Pakiula had to show was a visual recording, something that could not be played outside the ship – Andros didn’t have the technology for it yet. But what really startled her was the face that appeared on the screen.
“Jerusha!” she exclaimed.
Pakiula paused the recording for an explanation.
“It is indeed her. She approached our agent for Ulakinil at our last call there and asked to see Captain Vahirem. We hadn’t had any contact with her since she entered her indenture, and we had been told by the natives that this was her own decision.
“But she had a different story to tell, a story she had wanted to bring to your High Council for Off-World Affairs. Her most recent master Rasasingan had given her leave to return home, but we had to inform her that we were not authorized to allow that. The most we could do was carry a message. It was for Velor’s eyes only, but because you are First among Companions, and have ever shown a serious interest in difficult social and political issues, I am taking it upon myself to share it with you.”
With that, she let the recording play again. It was hard for to Kalla understand, and even harder to endure. Jerusha had been settled on a world where two factions had been at odds ever since the seeding, and the ruler of one had acquired her indenture. Over the decades, there were several attempts at assassination by the other faction, which she had prevented – taking the lives of the assailants. Only, that hadn’t been enough for Nandivarman, who had ordered her to wreak vengeance on their families.
Opposition to the ruler soon dissipated, and Ulakinil had seemed to be at peace. Jerusha had seen little of the world outside the capital, being kept at the palace to serve as a virtual prisoner. But the third Pandyan ruler to inherit her indenture, Rasasingan, told her he had become the target of a new round of conspiracies by the Turoki, whose very name meant “traitors,” and he had enjoined her to strike against them in advance.
She had done as she was ordered, feeling herself obligated. But then one of the palace servants, herself Turoki, had dared whisper to her that the alleged conspiracies were all imaginary, and that those she had slain had been only the owners of lands or businesses coveted by the Pandyans. Jerusha, whose indenture had been just about to expire, ended her recording with an almost tearful appeal:
I ask all of you of the High Council… is this our “high purpose” as Companions… to be robbers and murderers as well as lovers? Am I the only Companion being placed in such an intolerable situation? Does the High Council know anything of life on seeded worlds? Does it have the slightest awareness of what happens to us after we are sold? I may have no right to appeal to you, but I know that I am right to try. Having told you my story, I shall trust the Scalantrans to deliver it, and as soon as they depart, I shall slay Rasasingan – and then dive into the sun. I know that I could soon live free, but I cannot live with myself. So be it.
Kalla couldn’t speak for some moments, thinking of Kyros, trying to imagine what she would have faced had she ever had to serve him as Patriarch.
“This is insane,” Kalla said. “Can’t anything be done?”
“We will inform the High Council, but it may be to no avail. There is pressure from the Senate to augment Velor’s wealth by indenturing new Companions on worlds like yours where the original indentures have expired as well as on worlds new to the trade. When we undertook the trade, nobody knew how long Velorians would live beyond the gold field, or that they could serve any other role than pleasuring men.”
“None of us knew,” Kalla recalled. “Our powers came as a complete surprise to us, and we still don’t know how many years fortune has granted us. But this is nothing new; Cherya was well aware of it generations ago.
“What’s new is that the Senate wants to make up for lost time, and income, by indenturing new Companions even on worlds where others are already serving, without waiting for their terms to expire; and to sell multiple indentures at the outset wherever there are sufficient potential buyers.”
Now Kalla was alarmed – and angry.
“That could lead to Companions being set against one another on behalf of their masters!”
“You have good cause to be concerned, and if such even might become the case on Andros, I would strongly advise that you appeal to the Patriarch and Great Synod to prohibit it. We are and would be bound by planetary law…”
Pakuila paused for a moment.
“I must also share the story of Rilanna, which we were ashamed to tell you at the time, although we later mentioned that there had been cases elsewhere. Her buyer was King Beowulf of Myrce – but when she first bedded him she misjudged her strength, even under gold, and he was left… less than a man. The law of the land was that she be declared outlaw, and any man might slay her with impunity.”
“Indeed, none could, although many tried. She managed to avoid killing or badly injuring any of her assailants, but later fell in with true outlaws, who offered her board and bed in return for her protection. Eventually, they founded a realm of their own in the remote highlands of the main continent. She is still there, to the best of our knowledge, but we have had no contact with her or her people.”
“And of course you informed Velor of this?”
“Indeed we did. We were assured that the High Council would take greater care in training. Since then we haven’t heard of any further… accidents. But we were advised to say nothing of this. Myrce was understandably reluctant to accept any Companion afterwards, but Hrothgar, the grand-nephew of Beowulf, was finally… persuaded.”
Silence hung in the air.
“And the new Companion might have to deal with the old?”
“Since Rilanna’s indenture has expired, I suppose they could justify it. But more disturbing to us than the stories of Jerusha and Rilanna are developments that have to do with the Aureans. And this too you must not share with anyone on Andros.”
Kalla had learned about the background of that from Sulva, ship historian during Feodor’s reign, but hadn’t shared it with the Patriarch. It had begun with the First Strike. Some years after she and her fellow Companions-to-be had left Velor, a caravan of Scalantran ships had landed on Aurea, hoping to open trade. The Aureans had attacked them, enslaving the traders and converting the ships to their own use.
Because they were simply trading vessels, adapting their technology for use in warships was an onerous task – one still in progress at the time of the Scalantrans returned two cycles later. They had sent a single warship, but it was far advanced over anything the Aureans had, and their defenses couldn't hope to match it. After giving fair warning, that ship had wiped out the Aurean before it could be mobilized, destroyed the orbital infrastructure and obliterated the planetary capital. The First Strike.
The Scalantrans had more to gain from eliminating Aurea’s technological threat than from killing its people. It had been the same centuries earlier in a conflict with the Diaboli, a telepathic race that had exploited its mental powers to cheat them in trade. Having discovered this once they were out of range of mind-control, the Scalantran ship had simply thrown rocks at the offending world, and the Diaboli had never troubled them again. With the Aureans, however, it was different. Very different.
“We learned only recently that they have developed new warships and planetary defenses,” Pakiula said. “It will take generations for us to reach a consensus on how to respond. Thus far, they have made no overt moves against us, but they have annexed a few planets in their immediate region. They may anticipate and mean to counter another attack on our part, or they may have ambitions beyond that.”
Even though its trading circuit was far from Aurea, she continued, the Bountiful Voyager was now armed with energy weapons. Ships in other sectors were taking their own counsel, some arming themselves, others waiting watchfully for more definite signs that an Aurean threat seemed likely to materialize.
“If war ever does come to our sector, Andros could be caught up in it,” Pakiula now said, an ominous tone in her voice.
“Why Andros in particular?”
“It’s strategically located along our trade route; if the Aureans could establish a presence here, it could cut off Indra and the further worlds and make it far more difficult for us to help defend those worlds.”
Kalla didn’t know what to say.
“Indra is aware of the situation, and is willing to share its space technology with Andros,” Pakiula said. “We had already encouraged them to establish a presence in your system. But it will take some time for Indra to build a fleet of warships; that is a massive undertaking. And we can’t let any hint of it get around… lest it reach the Aureans.”
So that was the way of things... what has been the way of things
And so it began. As Kalla looked homeward from space, she could have no idea how it would end.
Chapter 2. Below and Above
“It can’t come from me, or seem to come from me,” Kalla told the Family Council. “Whatever we do, moreover, can’t appear to be directed at the Scalantrans. They are only intermediaries. It is Velor that established the trade, and now appears intent on changing the rules of the game – perhaps even the terms of indenture.”
Nestor had called the family together at the Choniates Estate, although it usually met at the Palace. The Patriarch was reluctant to have anyone in the capital besides his kin and a few trusted intimates know that the former Companion was taking part. It was a delicate situation, with Candida, who – still blaming her for the death of Dr. Hayama – had refused to come because Kalla was taking part.
It wasn’t a matter of whether to prohibit the indenture of another Companion on Andros, but rather of how to present the matter to the Great Synod. For Kalla, it was a matter of sending a message to the High Council without it seeming to come from her – and without giving away what else she knew from the Scalantrans, to either the High Council or the Family Council.
“The most obvious approach would be raising the specter of a Velorian beholden to another Kyros,” Nestor said. “But that would mean reopening old political wounds, something we can’t afford. Nor can we appear to show a lack of confidence in the future of the Patriarchy. And I cannot abide the hurt it would cause Juliana and Libanius, who would grow up in the shadow of that hurt.”
Libanius was their firstborn son – and, though only a year old, therefore heir to the Patriarch. It was part of Nestor’s policy of conciliation that he had been named for Libania, wife of Kyros and Komnenos kin by birth. But now Nestor was putting it to the Family Council how to deal with the possibility that Velor might propose to place another Companion here.
There were also matters involving the Indrans to be taken up by the Council, and several domestic policy issues, but Kalla’s topped the agenda. On purely domestic matters, she did not volunteer any proposals.
After much discussion, it was Flavia Choniates who broached what seemed the obvious solution to the double Companion issue. As a woman of business, it had come naturally to her. Perhaps it had also come naturally to Symeon, but he usually deferred to his wife in such matters.
“It’s an issue of unfair competition,” Flavia said. “Given that the Patriarchate is no longer in the market, the only potential buyers are great businesses – greater than our own, I dare say. But if such a business gains an unfair advantage because it has one of your people at its beck and call, one of its rivals will surely want to offset it. From what you say, the terms of indenture put no limit on what their Companions could be called on to do – including criminal acts. How could we punish such acts? It could undermine the rule of law we have worked so hard to restore.”
“Taking this action will also let our family’s critics in the Synod know that we aren’t beholden to Velor and will not seek such an unfair advantage ourselves,” Symeon added. “It should obviate any temptation by potential adversaries here or the Northern Reach to seek the same sort of advantage.”
Kalla breathed a sigh of relief. Nestor himself called for a formal motion, which Symeon was pleased to offer, and Flavia’s proposal carried the day. Now if only the issue of the air and space flight program were as easy to resolve…
“We know why the Indrans on Alkmene can’t land their spaceship on Andros,” said Alexios, who as Minister of Science oversaw technological development. “But is it possible for them to obtain one that can? Or could they help us build one that could fly between here and their base?”
“Kumar told me before he left that construction and sale of spacecraft is strictly the prerogative of the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers,” Kalla explained. “His team required special dispensation to assemble its craft here, since it didn’t qualify as a ‘resource.’ But he said he’d bring up our request when he reached Indra.”
Of course, Kumar already knows what the “answer” will be…
“Is that all?” Nestor wondered. “If the Resource Engineers can send people here, why can’t this other Guild? As Patriarch, I could make it a formal request. And if Liessa might intercede for us...”
“I will bring that up with Akash, the new headman,” Kalla promised. “And Kumar will be stopping by here on the way back from Velor to Indra two years from now. He could convey your appeal.”
And perhaps also suggest that there might be a place for another Companion with the Transport Guild – given that the market here will be closed.
Kumar and his contingent had turned over the base to their replacements when the Bountiful Voyager arrived from Indra. Given limited living space and supplies, even with expansion to accommodate larger numbers, it was impractical to house two full complements at once, so it made sense for the departing group to leave as soon as the new one arrived – but for a few involved in the transition – even if it meant heading to Velor before heading for home. As long as the Scalantrans were picking up the tab, the Guild wasn’t about to complain.
“Well, there’s nothing more we can do right now,” Nestor commented. “We’ll still have their groundside people here meanwhile to work on other ongoing projects. We have to keep things moving.”
One of those things was the farcalling system, which Nestor wanted expanded to include educational outreach. Children even in remote villages, he argued, should have a chance to gather around receivers and share classes taught in the capital.
“It doesn’t have to be limited to children,” remarked Alexios. “The Academy could take part – there must be thousands of young people in the outlying themes who find it beyond their means or simply inconvenient to travel here for higher education.”
“Farcalling could also be used to spread information about public health,” added his wife Petronia, who taught history at the Academy in Feodoropolis. “Not to mention giving basic medical education, and conveying word of medical emergencies.”
An off-handed way to raise a delicate matter, Kalla knew.
“It would be a further honor to Dr. Hayama,” observed Nestor, recalling how the doctor from Fujiwakoku had performed a life-saving operation on him when he was only ten. “I wouldn’t be here today but for him,” he remarked. “Perhaps none of us would.”
It was a sobering moment for all of them.
“That is why I have already decided it would be fitting for the hospital be named for him,” he added. “It is the least we can do for him… and for Candida. Perhaps it will help her overcome her grief. I trust there are no objections here.”
None were raised. Everyone here knew how much Nestor wanted to keep peace in the family, to heal the wounds there as well as in the world at large. It was going to be a balancing act, and he would have to avoid giving the public any impression that he still sought advice and counsel from the former Companion.
* * *
Two days after the Family Council session, Kalla flew to Alkmene to confer with Akash Simha, who had settled in as mukhiya. As a new arrival, he was better informed than his predecessor Kumar Patel. She didn’t need to play games with him.
Besides Akash and the other Indran men and women, the Bountiful Voyager had brought components for a prototype solar furnace that might be duplicated on Andros itself to replace the black rock furnace at a foundry near the capital devoted to making uruku steel products. But here today it would serve another purpose: as an energizer for Kalla.
She had used solar energy from her earliest years on Andros to produce orgone, and even flown near the sun when she needed a lot of it. But now that she’d be making additional trips back and forth between the planet and the moon, and bearing heavier loads, it would be more convenient for her to power up at the base. Once the Indrans had tested the furnace out on a sheet of steel – which ran like water as the beam melted a hole in its center – it was time to try it out on herself.
Kalla felt a rush of pleasure as the torrent of energy heated her invulnerable body red hot, then white hot. Her breasts stood out like twin suns, growing impressively larger in moments as they converted the concentrated sunlight to orgone. She put her hand between her legs and gave herself orgasm after orgasm, each more intense than the last. It was heavenly, and she wished it could have gone on for longer, that she could forget that she had any responsibilities – or any qualms about them.
But as she finally came down, she came to her senses. There was business at hand with Akash, and business to come with Indra itself and the Scalantrans and Nestor – business she hadn’t known about until a few days ago, business she would never have wished for. It all came at a time of transition for the Indrans here, as well as the troubling developments for Andros of which she could say little to the family.
Kumar and the rest of the former complement of six had been happy to leave Alkmene after 12 years to make room for their successors. Four others who had served here for only eight years were staying on to help with the transition – they’d join the rest on the Bountiful Voyager on its outbound journey.
Like their predecessors, the 20 new Guild engineers here had been paired off in advance by lot – to avoid any jealousies or other complications. Like those who had left already or soon would, their relationships would be dissolved whenever they returned home. It was different for the dozen Indrans working on Andros itself; they could live with natives and even form attachments with them if they so chose – although actual marriage was out of the question.
Akash, having been at the controls of the furnace, was the only one here to have witnessed her trial by sunfire, and she had felt a twinge of embarrassment afterwards. It was obvious that he knew what she’d been experiencing, and it was equally obvious how he’d reacted as a man – she could see that with her tachyon vision. But she knew better than to allude to it afterwards; her conversation with him and other Indrans was strictly business, mainly the farcalling project.
Fortunately, that was something the Indrans here could help with openly, in terms of raw materials, designs and manufacture. There were pure nickel-iron moonlets within their reach, and also sources of other metals and crystal that could be used in farcaller components.
Of course, Kalla would have to bring the first units to Andros – very carefully. In time, Indrans on the planet would be able to set up manufacturing there. It was going to be boring work, fetching and carrying, but the quality of the moonlet metal and crystal was better than what could yet be produced in any quantity on Andros – and it could be delivered sooner.
Nestor needed something to make a big impression, what with the lead time for bringing air and space travel technology to Andros. It was only after going over details of the technology and logistics for farcalling and even farspeaking that Kalla brought up Nestor’s appeal.
“We both know it is in our mutual interest to accommodate Andros,” he said. “But we can’t play our hand yet. You should tell your Patriarch that it will be a terribly costly undertaking, far beyond the means of your world. All the shinefur on Andros couldn’t pay for development of the kind of industrial base that would be required. You would need vast resources of iron and steel and other metals, advanced forms of what you call pottery. Machines to produce the components, and machines to make those machines, factories to produce fuel for the spacecraft, great expansion of lightning power… the list is nearly endless.”
Kalla knew full well that Andros couldn’t pay for any of that. In fact, it wasn’t even paying for the Indrans’ work here, although the Scalantrans pretended otherwise in the accounts they shared with exporters at their trade fairs. Not that they were cheating the exporters; they were funding the Resource Engineers strictly from their own profits, and the covert aid of Indra itself. How to increase that aid, and keep it covert, would be a challenge.
But she had to keep up the fiction, to tell Nestor only what he would reasonably expect to hear….
Chapter 3. Comfort and Joy
The Great Synod had duly met, and had duly approved a measure prohibiting any further indentures of Companions. That had been per plan; as had been a stipulation by Nestor that Kalla did not have any official standing with the government, or any vested interest in the legislation.
“She is now working with the Indran Guild of Resource Engineers on projects for rapid communication and flight technology that were initiated by Patriarch Methodios,” he said. “I appreciate, and I am sure we all appreciate, her efforts on our behalf. And we can hardly forget that, had it not been for her, I would not be standing here before you today.”
This was as far as he could go without mentioning Kyros. That too was according to plan. But it had been later in the same session, without any apparent connection, that Nestor announced the appointment of Dr. Candida Andros as Minister of Health – a new post justified, he explained, by the anticipated expansion of organized health services and health education beyond the capital.
During her years as a Companion, Kalla had been revered by many as practically a consort to the reigning Patriarch, but reviled by some as only a prostitute – Kyros had played on that. And during his reign, she had exploited the same image to distract him from her efforts to safeguard and then to hide the family.
Since the Restoration, she had had to live down the reputation she had fostered in that dark time. Worse, there were those ardent admirers who imagined that she might be theirs for the asking. She had always had ardent admirers, but when she had been a Companion they had known she was off limits. They had had to indulge their fantasies alone, or with prostitutes or women pliant enough to cater to them. Only now…
Kalla kept a low profile in her relationship with Nikos, speaking of it to only his family and the Patriarch’s. As a high government official, moreover, he had certain prerogatives – one of them being to refer any unwelcome visitors to the factiones. So far that hadn’t been necessary...
It was Nikos who informed her of the Great Synod’s vote, a formality taking place during her visit to the moon, when she flew home. By then the story had appeared in the Nesalonika news sheets as well as those in Feodoropolis, and it had been played just as Nestor had hoped.
“The Patriarch farcalled me the night before the Synod met,” Nikos told her. “So I wasn’t exactly surprised.”
“I still have to tell him the latest from the Indrans. They’re getting down to work on the farcalling network project. I expect we’ll have enough units for a demonstration here within a year.”
“And will there be a demonstration of flight, too?”
“We can’t expect any help there. We’re on our own.”
She hated to lie to Nikos, perhaps even more than she hated to lie to Nestor.
“You had time to fly all the way to the sun?” he asked, observing the state of her breasts.
“No, the Indrans brought the sun to me.”
She told him then about the solar furnace, about how it had made her hot in more ways than one.
“I was thinking about you all the while,” she teased him.
A white lie, and yet there was a truth behind it. However intense her experience with the solar furnace, when it was over it was over. It had served its purpose, but that purpose was impersonal. It left her Velorian body’s orgone hunger fulfilled, but had done nothing for her soul.
Yet here, there was human closeness. She looked at Nikos with loving eyes, and he returned her gaze. To have this man beside her, inside her, was her greatest joy and solace – something to treasure in her heart, before and after. She took him by the hand and led him to the bedchamber.
“Take your clothes off,” she said softly as she donned the gold necklace she had been keeping by the bedside. “Then take me.”
She disported herself on the bed, displaying her gravity-defying breasts with their hard nipples. Her legs were spread, and the heady scent of her Velorian womanhood, already damp with desire, filled the air. Nikos quickly stripped; he was ready – more than ready. And then he was on her, and in her.
Kalla rejoiced as he pounded her into the bed, triggering all pleasure points that lined her womanhood. He cried out her name as he came, and felt her come. And that was just the first round. In the afterglow of their first orgasms, they kissed tenderly for a time. Soon Nikos began moving southwards, kissing her breasts – and then biting her nipples with all his might. She gasped and screamed with delight at that, and even more so when he buried his face between her legs, licking and nibbling and drinking his fill of her fragrant juices.
She came and came, and that was an inspiration for Nikos. When his manhood was ready once again, she rolled him on his back and took top position. Slowly, ever so slowly, she impaled herself on him. She looked deeply into his eyes, and he just as deeply into hers. They didn’t move for a few moments; she savored feeling him deep inside her, just as she knew he savored being there. But after those few moments, they couldn’t stand it any more, and it was her turn to pound him into the bed until he exploded within her and she exploded around him.
Their cries of release might have wakened the neighborhood if the villa had been any closer to the city. They were followed by murmurs of tender love as they hugged and kissed and caressed each other.
So passed the evening and the morning of Kalla’s first day back home…
They couldn’t make love all the time, of course. But they could talk. Mostly it was small talk, about what was going on in and around Strymon, about his family – his sons and daughters and their children were frequent visitors, and accepted their relationship even if it wasn’t sanctioned by law or custom. But they would also still talk – even in bed – about their hopes for the future, which were much the same.
“I don’t suppose I’ll live to take an airship to Feodoropolis,” Nikos ventured one night. “Let alone visit the moon.”
“You could fly with me. Feodor flew with me. And I flew Nestor and the others to Ethrata to save them from Kyros.
“No thanks. I’d be scared out of my wits. In my head, I know you wouldn’t drop me. But in my gut… Anyway, I’m too old for that kind of thing.”
“But not too old to ride me,” Kalla said with a wink.
Nikos took her in his arms and began kissing her passionately.
It was good to make love. It was good to have someone with whom to share her mind as well as her body. In moments like these she could almost forget the secrets and lies that troubled her. Almost...
If only she could share what the Scalantrans had told her – and other matters, such as the treachery of Ennodios, known only to Nestor. She longed to confide in this man, who had brought her such joy and solace. But she dared not.
Chapter 4. Public and Private Lives
“I owe it to you,” Nestor told her a year later, as he prepared to bring a farcalling network to Andros for the first time. “I owe it to the family. And we owe it to them.”
Today, for the first time since the Restoration, he and Kalla were back in Segilla. It was an occasion she welcomed, and yet she was still worried about other matters that were still in abeyance.
The village had long had a sentimental value for her, going back to her years with Feodor, but it had also become a showcase for new technology under Methodios – it was the site of the Flavia’s first marsh gas tank farm, and then the first to be lit by the lightning power pioneered by her sister Eusebia Tornikios, mother of the Patriarch-to-be.
Today it was to be a showcase again – this time for a community-wide farcalling system. The Indrans had raced against time to produce enough units to serve the village itself and outlying farms, and they had come down from Alkmene to set up the system and see to it that it would perform as it should. Nestor couldn’t afford any public embarrassment. But he made no apologies for singling out Segilla
“They deserve this,” he told Kalla the evening before. “Given what they’ve been through.”
And given that they had faced it alone, Kalla thought.
Segilla had suffered under Kyros because of its association with the family of the last Patriarch to bear the Andros name, but its farmer-warriors had fought back, refusing to surrender their arms, and had rallied the militias from the entire surrounding Marakes theme under strategos Andreas Katsulas.
They had abandoned the village, leaving it to be burned again, as it had been burned by Festus a century earlier in his war against Feodor. They had lived off the land and slept in makeshift shelters, but they had survived.
I know that I couldn’t have helped, without showing my hand, without risking the family, she reflected. But that was scant comfort.
The people of the village and the theme had harried Kyros’ forces and disrupted traffic on the Great Northern Road, inspiring the people of other themes along the road to Nesalonika to do likewise. That may well have forestalled an advance on the city and, beyond it, to the Northern Reach...
Segilla was a different kind of village after the Restoration. It wasn’t just that the buildings were new, along with the lightning power system that served them. It was that the people had changed – they had accepted a new way of life and new values. They now honored Flavia and Eusebia, just as they honored Kalla, and took pride in the role they were playing this day in the world’s further progress.
Andreas himself welcomed the Patriarch and his extended family, introducing Nestor’s kin one by one, beginning with his parents Rulav and Eusebia and continuing with Symeon and Flavia, Isidoros and Justina and Alexios and Petronia – and Candida. Nestor had somehow persuaded her to attend; she was polite but distant. But none of the grandchildren were present – the Patriarch had explained that this was an occasion for those who truly knew Segilla.
Eusebia and Flavia were getting on in years now, but delighted in finally getting a chance to take their bows, which they did – to much applause. Kalla was called on only after everyone in the family had had their moments, being introduced as an “honored friend” of the family – she drew cheers for that. But Andreas reminded them all the solemnity of the occasion, and the need for rededication.
“In years not long past, we lived to fight, and fought to live, and some of us died,” he said solemnly. “Today we can live instead to learn, and teach, and ensure that our children and our children’s children never have to suffer war as we did. Let them inherit plowshares rather than swords.”
He paused for a moment to wait for the reaction. People in Segilla weren’t all that religious any more, but they recognized the reference.
“Let it even be so,” intoned Modestos Palamas, praetor of the village elders, who was also kentarchos of its militia unit. He had obviously been cued beforehand.
“Uruku steel plowshares,” Andreas now added.
That relieved the tension, drawing laughter, and then cheers from the crowd. It was also a cue for the groundside Indrans to take their bows. Everyone in Segilla knew the value of their steel in plowshares and other farm tools, and in construction of the steam harvester that they shared with other nearby villages in the theme.
Nothing that strong was needed for the farcallers, but producing the components and assembling them was still too sophisticated an operation for the groundsiders to set up on Andros, although they had been instrumental in upgrading the planet’s foundries to manufacture uruku steel for projects that called for it.
Sanjay Gandha spoke for the groundside Indrans. He was one of the few left of the original contingent; nearly all the others had departed a year before at very same time the Alkmene complement was replaced.
“I could have gone with them, but I wanted to see this work completed,” he said. “And I wanted to work with Ioannes in preparing you to take full advantage of farcalling, and farspeaking to come, by teaching how they have brought people together on Indra, and will bring them together on Andros. Lastly, I wanted to be here on the day and the hour that you, the people of Segilla, first enjoy the fruits of our labors, and your own.”
Ioannes Laskaris took a bow, but said nothing. He and his wife Eirene, whom he had met while in hiding on Gregoras, were familiar figures in Segilla from the days that Nestor’s education program had brought him to the countryside, introducing teachers trained at the Academy and texts newly printed at the capital.
As Minister of Science, Alexios Komnenos spoke at length about the progress of technology generally and farcalling in particular – not just the community system, but the greater sabdabuvai system to come that would sow words across the world. It went over the heads of most of the villagers, but they sat through his many words with great respect as befitted his station. By the time he finished, it was time for a meal break.
There was a festive air to the mid-day meal. The fare was all locally produced, from the salted smoked pork called apaki to the fruits and vegetables, cheese, whole grain barley bread, and himmas – a legume introduced generations ago at the behest of Kalla herself after she had read about it in scientific texts supplied by the Scalantrans. To drink there was Konditon, a wine flavored with cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and muskroot…
Kalla herself spent the meal with Ioannes and his wife. She had a past with the archigos of rural education, but it was only a past – something she had gotten over and that he had… survived.
It was well that he had found love before learning about the fate of his students at the Academy after she had rescued him, Kalla thought – otherwise, he might well have been overwhelmed by survivor guilt. Eirene had seen him through the horror of it. It was another bitter memory for her, another failure – although, as in the case of Segilla, she didn’t know how she could have averted it.
Eirene understood that, and was grateful to Kalla. She and Ioannes kept in touch with her, and she was one of the first to know that they had a daughter and had named her Kalla. That might raise some eyebrows here on the Romanian continent, they knew, but they weren’t about to brook any argument.
“I think they may actually understand better on Gregoras than here,” Ioannes told her during a break for lunch during the ceremonies. “They value the autonomy Feodor granted them, and hardly anyone there ever supported Kyros – even though they’re still conservative about religion; some of them practically worship you.”
That led Kalla to blush, for more than one reason.
“We’re hoping to return for a visit soon,” added Eirene. “We haven’t been back for two years. It’s a long voyage by ship. I wish they still had the Sky Climber.”
“Sometimes I do too,” admitted Kalla. “But the Indrans say they have a better way. It’s a matter of physics. It has to do with the configuration of wings and the flow of air around them. But there has to be a motive power for the vanes that propel the craft – one lighter and more efficient than steam engines. They have engines that burn what they call saraba, which is what gives wine its effect – only in pure form. Not something to drink.”
Ioannes seemed a bit flustered.
“I really should study such things, I suppose,” he said. “But my primary interest is in literature, and I have been studying some of the epics and plays of ancient Hellas not mentioned in our Suda which I have managed to obtain from the Scalantrans, who told me they have them from the Olympians – Homer’s Nostoi, Aiskhulos’ Niobe, to give just two examples.”
Kalla didn’t find this sort of thing terribly interesting, but Ioannes kept at it.
“The gods of our remote ancestors were hardly admirable; in Niobe, they killed a woman’s entire family out of spite. I suppose Christianity was actually an improvement, although I think we’ve progressed beyond it… of course, Eirene would beg to differ.”
Eirene did, but Kalla’s mind wandered. Her thoughts turned to the Galen, who had created her kind. Long before that, they had created the Olympians – who, it was said, had assumed the roles of the very gods who figured in those ancient texts. Had they really been so arrogant and cruel, even worse than the Aureans? And what of the folly of the Velorians?
She couldn’t speak of such things with Ioannes and Eirene. She couldn’t speak of her own troubles and regrets and misgivings with anyone on Andros, even Nestor – especially Nestor, who had his own challenges to deal with…
It was the Patriarch’s turn to speak after the meal, and he made a point of being frank. The villagers already knew the story of his family’s escape to Ethrata, and the necessity for that, but Nestor wasn’t one to let himself or the family off the hook.
“I stand before you today to honor those who stood by us when we were unable to stand by them,” he began. “I would that it had been otherwise, and can only promise you that from now on it shall be otherwise. I am here to dedicate the farcalling system, but I am also dedicating myself to you and those like you throughout the realm – to be not only your Patriarch but your Protector.”
Protector, thought Kalla. Even I cannot be that. Not against what may come. May it not be in his lifetime; perhaps not even in mine. But I can’t tell him about that. I can’t.
“I could go on at some length about what the future holds, but you have already seen some of it come to pass – the looms with which you turn flax into linen for your trousers and tunics, the steel fermentation tanks for your wine, the tools for carpenters and smiths that enable them to do their tasks better and with less effort. You shall see more of the same in the years to come. But for now, let us celebrate.”
Nestor took a farcaller and pressed a series of buttons. A sound something like a bird call could be heard from the building facing the village square in which the praetor and the elders customarily met. Out stepped three musicians and the koryphaios, the leader of the dance.
As the musicians took their places in front of the building with lyre, tambour and flute, the koryphaios stepped into the square, and the villagers formed a circle. As he called out the movements, they danced intertwined with one another, breaking the circle occasionally to hold their hands high or wave them to the left and right.
The formalities were over, but the informalities were just beginning. Over the next few days, bird calls multiplied in the village and surrounding farms as the people played with their farcallers – even when they could have easily just gone next door or a short distance away to say whatever they had to say. What the birds made of it, she couldn’t imagine. After a while, she imagined, things at Segilla might settle back to something close to normal. Only it would be a new normal.
“It was good to reconnect with the people there. And with my own past,” Kalla told Nikos after flying back to Nesalonika. “Nestor even promised to have the Ministry of Trade work with Segilla and communities like it to offer Konditon and other specialty wines from across the land at the next trade fair. Speaking of which…”
She opened a bottle of Konditon she’d brought with her, and they drank to each other’s health – among other things. Those other things included the social progress on Andros.
“It’s good to know that women like Eusebia are being honored,” Nikos said. “I was a young man when lightning power came to this city, but I remember having heard her name in connection with it – not as loudly as I heard yours, of course, but I knew she’d been involved in the planning.”
But there were more new things to come, and not all of them would be met with such welcome…
Chapter 5. Signs and Portents
When the Bountiful Voyager returned next year, on its outbound journey, Kalla carried an elaborately inscribed copy of Nestor’s appeal to the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers, which she entrusted to Kumar. She also brought a message for Jaleel on Fujiwakoku, which she handed to Pakiula.
“It concerns the murder of Dr. Hayama Tofky during the reign of Kyros. We are greatly distressed by this, and we can well imagine that his family and the people of Fujiwa will be even more greatly distressed. But because Jaleel is familiar with the language and culture, and has experience as a murasaki, she may be able to express our sorrow and regret better than anything I could write. That is what I beg leave to ask of her.”
“I’m sure your thoughts will be well received,” the historian said. “The Patriarch… was this his idea?”
“No. It simply occurred to me that it might help forestall any future problems with Fujiwakoku should we ever need to call on them for their understanding and support. It also has to do with Androssian politics – while I bear no responsibility in the matter, I thought that it might serve to… ease the situation here.”
She explained about Candida, but then quickly moved on to other matters. She already knew that Nestor’s appeal would be well-received on Indra. What she didn’t know was whether the Guild would manage to indenture a new Companion. There were six candidates on the ship; she had no idea which might be most suitable – assuming the match could be made.
“Amiela seems to be the most intelligent,” Pakiula told her. “I would introduce you to her and the others, but we have been instructed by the High Council not to allow any contact between the candidates and old Companions.”
“Perhaps you could—”
“We could, but it might encourage loose talk among them, and possibly get back to Velor – the High Council wants new Companions to report back on what they see and hear. I think the Council and even the Senate must be worried about what’s happening out here, but they don’t want us to know how much – or to address any specific issues unless it’s unavoidable.”
What she heard from Pakiula about the reaction on Velor to news of the Aurean War and to the problems of Velorians on the other seeded worlds was equivocal at best and deeply troubling at worst.
It wasn’t just that the Senate was trying to increase exports of Companions – that was only to be expected, given what Kalla had learned from the historian during the ship’s inbound stop. It was Velor’s silence on other matters…
The High Council had been advised of the tragedy on Ulakinil, but had sensed an opportunity to indenture Companions to both factions there – only with a “clarification” that future Companions could not be ordered to attack one another, or the Scalantrans.
“So they could still murder Terrans at the will of their masters,” Kalla snapped. “This is madness. And what if those one Companion is ordered to murder are protected by the other?”
“They don’t seem to understand that,” Pakiula remarked. “They don’t appreciate the kind of reception we’ll get on Ulakinil, either. Whoever rules there now may not want to trade with us at all after what happened to Rasasingan.”
“That would be ‘bad for business,’ as they put it,” Pakiula said.
“But what do they have to say about the Aureans?”
“Regarding any future threat to our ships, they told us that they are ‘taking the matter under consideration,’ while reminding us that we had only ourselves to blame for any hostility on the part of the Aureans.”
“And yet they themselves have acquired their own spacecraft, capable of flight between Velor and Erin’lah, where they now maintain a base – officially only for training Companions to protect their holders against domestic enemies, but we believe it is also for some sort of military force.”
“We never had any training of any kind, beyond what we learned about pleasing men while growing up on Velor.”
“None of the training they’re doing now is supposed to have anything to do with the Aureans,” Pakiula said. “Neither is their independent space capacity. That’s still the official line. They obviously don’t trust us. But we can’t trust them – not when it comes to the war.”
“It puts me in a difficult position, especially since I can’t share any of this with the Patriarch.”
“At least we can count on Liessa. She is fully informed.”
“And whoever becomes her new partner.”
“Indeed. Fortunately, the social structure of Indra is advanced enough to allow for indenture of another Companion. We can thus accommodate the wishes of Velor without creating… complications. The same can be said for Fujiwakoku and Siguo, but we do not believe those worlds are ready to take to space, let alone be informed about the possibility of war. As for the others… we may have to make the best of a bad deal. To avoid trouble with the Senate. It pains us.
“It pains me, too. But I suppose there’s no escaping it.”
At least she didn’t say out loud that she doesn’t consider Andros “stable” enough for another Companion…
“None. Not for my generation, in any case. Perhaps the next...”
She gestured to her tlax. She was expecting.
Chapter 6. Upward and Outward
The dedication of the Farspeaking Tower four years later was the greatest event on Andros since the accession of Nestor, and the crowds that gathered at the site outside Feodoropolis numbered in the tens of thousands.
Few in that crowd could see their Patriarch at the podium, and fewer still would have heard his words, or those of other dignitaries on the stage, were it not for dozens of receivers arranged around the tower in concentric circles. Other such receivers had been delivered to towns and villages as distant as a thousand stadia. But that was the whole point.
More than 500 feet tall, the tower could send sounds to receivers all over Andros – not just by line of sight, but by reflection in the upper atmosphere. Like visible light, invisible light came in many colors; some of these were reflected and some not. Kalla, who watched the ceremony from far back in the crowd, had been vaguely aware of all this as a young girl on Velor, but hadn’t given it more than a passing thought.
Science Minister Alexios Komnenos, however, had given the technology a great deal of thought, having taught physics at the Academy and subsequently been enlisted to work with the Indrans on practical applications for Andros. Today he shared the stage with the Patriarch, the other ministers, First Speaker Mousoulios of the Great Synod; Nestor’s father Rulav, Deacon of the Academy, and – of course – the Indrans from the Guild of Resource Engineers.
Nestor himself set the tone of the speeches to follow.
“Today, we bring the far corners of the world together,” he declared. “It is part of our new era of peace and prosperity, of reaching out to each other, and even to worlds and peoples beyond our own.”
Sabdabuvai, the Indrans called it – sowing words. But here it also meant sowing ideas, and even sowing hope. Nothing could ever be the same after today, and this was only the first use of the Farspeaking tower – in the days and years to come, it would become a global source of news and education. Ordinary citizens, moreover, would be invited to farcall the government to offer comments – and ideas of their own.
Kalla didn’t mind being left out of the ceremony, although she had played a role in construction of the tower, helping raise the uruku steel girders and put them in place for the construction workers, veterans of the wind-vane power stations, to anchor with bolts – that phase took a lot of hands. It was also part of her job to catch any worker who might slip, and otherwise fall to his death. There’d been some close calls, but none calling for her intervention – the men were good at their jobs.
Alexios had been there now and again to oversee construction; he wasn’t really needed, but wanted to see the progress with his own eyes. Sometimes he had brought his nephew Alexius, who had studied physics at the Academy but wanted to learn more than he could find in books the Scalantrans had brought over the years. Those books had to be learned by rote – for their world lacked the scientific and technological base to study the ultimate nature of things on its own.
* * *
“It’s called gomansa masala,” Kamana said. “It’s made from beef.”
It was later that afternoon. The speeches had been made, and most of the crowd had melted away. The senior Indrans had also called it a day, but she had been sought out by Kamana Desai, who knew the family history better – having had to hide out with Nestor and his kin at the old Keep in Ethrata after piloting and then abandoning the Sky Climber.
Cattle on Andros had traditionally been used mainly to draw plows on farms, and became a cheap source of meat only if they died from accident or old age. Lamb was favored here, followed by poultry and pork.
“Do you really eat meat from draft animals?” Alexius asked.
“Not draft animals. We don’t even use draft animals any more. We have powered vehicles on our farms as well as our roads. But in the land of Bharat, where our people came from, killing and eating cattle was forbidden. It was a religious law. But we put that behind us, along with other things – like the realms of business and politics being left to males only.”
Alexius still looked dubious.
“Just try it,” Kamana insisted,
“Yes, try it,” Kalla added. “I’ve had it on Alkmene. It’s heavenly.”
So he tried it. And his face lit up at the taste of the beef and exotic spices.
“A true gift of the Heavens,” he said. “Like your people. Like the Scalantrans. Like Kalla…”
Kalla was used to this sort of thing. Alexius had had a crush on her when he was a boy. But she knew by now that he and Kamana were lovers, and that Alexius calling her a gift from the Heavens wasn’t meant as a come-on.
“Alexius is too modest about his own gifts,” said Kamana. “He knows a lot more than he lets on. He’s been talking to me about geognosis – that’s the study of how all the aspects of a world, natural and human, relate to each other.”
“Geognosis?” Kalla asked, startled.
“That’s what he calls it. It seems to be original with him.”
“Somebody, somewhere, must have made it up before,” Alexius said modestly, “It has to do with the resources of a world, and how they’re used, and how each world’s social and political institutions govern that use. Andros has been fortunate in that; lightning power has come earlier than on some worlds – and from wind and water and the sun rather than burning anything besides swamp gas. Even so, steam power for transport and much industry depends on burning wood. Our forests are still abundant, but we should take care to avoid wasting them, or turning too much to black rock or rock oil. The Indrans have found ways around that, or so Kamana says…”
“He’s studying the history of other worlds, including ours,” Kamana broke in. “Not to mention space travel. He’s going beyond geognosis.”
Kalla didn’t want to get into that – not with Alexius, at any rate. Fortunately, it was time for Nestor to make another announcement.
It was a lottery, open to high-ranking Academy graduates whose studies and/or subsequent work centered on resource development. The winners would get to visit the Indrans on Alkmene. Rulav had given his enthusiastic endorsement, and the formal announcement would come the next day.
“I wonder how he thought that up,” Kamana mused.
It was my idea, Kalla almost responded. But it wouldn’t be proper to claim the credit, which properly belonged to Siguo.
She glanced toward the Farspeaking Tower, which rose like a spire from near the trade fairground. She had last been here the day of its completion, and she knew that its purpose was to bring a brighter future. May that future truly be bright, she almost prayed.
As if the others had read that thought, though not the thought behind it, Alexius and Kamana joined her to stroll to the tower and stand beneath it. She gazed upwards, thinking of distant Velor – a world she would never see again. Even if it were possible to return, she thought, she knew that she was needed here. Not for her original purpose, as seen by the Senate and the High Council, but needed just the same.
The sky above was mostly cloudy, but there were a few breaks of blue; and he must know that, beyond the spidery web of steel, beyond the blue, lay Alkmene, where in due time he would join the Indrans. Could Nestor and his people here be wondering whether they might reach beyond the moons?
They couldn’t have any idea why they might one day need to.
Chapter 7. Awe and Shock
Over the years that followed, Kalla got used to carrying winners of the lottery to Alkmene. But it was always a new and unsettling experience for the winner himself. And when he got there, things could get even more unsettling.
There was the gravity, to begin with – less than a third that of Andros. The air outside the station was far too thin to breathe, even if it had had the right mix of gases – you needed a protective suit and bottled air, but it hardly seemed worth the trouble to go outside anyway: the landscape was bleak and, of course, utterly lifeless.
The winner might know what would see, but not how it would feel – or how it might make him think and feel about himself. And he would almost certainly be nervous about the climax of his visit – an intimate encounter with Kalla herself. It might not part of the official program, but he’d have heard about it – it would have been the talk of the Academy.
Yet for young metallurgist Menas Xiphias, whose number had come up this time, one of the strangest things was that the Indrans called him a Terran. Where he’d been born and raised, nobody used that term.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘Terran,’” he said. “I know they taught me at the Academy that any humans of old Earth origin are called that – by the Scalantrans, at least. But still…”
Androssians and Indrans alike were Terrans – no matter that neither had ever seen the ancient homeworld of mankind or had any idea what had become of it. Even the Scalantrans never visited Earth; the Galen wouldn’t allow it.
Menas would soon be working with groundside Indrans at the foundry producing components for Farspeaker receiving stations. He already knew that they had a strong tradition in metallurgy, having brought the secret of uruku steel from the Gupta Empire in the Terran land of Bharat – a secret they now shared with Andros.
In welcoming Menas, Akash, regaled him with the story of one of their legendary scientists, Aryabhata.
“It was he who calculated the value of pi, and the formula for determining the area of a triangle,” she said. More to the point, Aryabhata realized that heavenly bodies like Earth’s moon were spherical and shone because of the light they reflected from the sun – and that Earth revolved around the sun and rotated on its own axis. He had used that knowledge to predict solar and lunar eclipses.
“We had to learn all that from the Scalantrans,” Menas confessed. “And now… I feel as if I’m on trial here,” he confessed.
“Far from it,” Akash reassured him. “Your people are good learners. Look at how far your world had come since Basil. And you yourself are an honored guest of the Guild of Resource Engineers. As Kalla has been from the start. All of us here are working to the same end.”
Menas appreciated the honor, but it still added to his discomfort because, as he told Kalla, the station itself was a letdown. Even with the expansion, it was cramped and utilitarian. He had trouble relating to the Indrans, whose very names he had trouble remembering, and whose behavior – he could overhear them, including Akash and his second-in-command Lalita Johar, in the throes of passion – came as a shock to a young man from a conservative rural family.
“Don’t they have any sense of decency?” he asked Kalla.
“You have to understand their perspective,” she explained. “They’ve giving up a good part of their lives to work with us. They have a strong sense of duty towards each other and towards the Guild; the first Indrans here had to build the station from scratch with sections fabricated on Indra and shipped here, just as they had to assemble their spacecraft in the cargo bay of the Bountiful Voyager. They actually had to live on the spacecraft until they could put up the station, and produce breathable air from local ice to make it habitable.”
“But surely you helped them,” said Menas.
“Only in small things, like helping weld some sections in place. And, of course, I had to provide transportation to and from the ground for them, and for shipments of sun gas and other resources. I had to get their groundside people off the planet in a hurry after Kyros came to power, and the crowding was even worse then. They had to expand the station with materials fabricated from moonlet iron. It’s a lot easier for them now, but it still isn’t a vacation, and they deserve whatever comfort they can find in one another.”
Four of them didn’t even share the limited comforts of the station that day. They were busy at a cavern several stadia away, mining ice for fuel to power the spacecraft. Tomorrow, others would take the spacecraft moonlet-hunting, and be gone for several days. Here at the station, most were busy at things monitoring the hydroponics tanks – the source of most of their food and essential to replacing stale air with fresh. They had little or no time to socialize, and left it to Akash and Lalita to deal with Menas.
Knowing how things stood with the Indrans helped make up for Menas’ sense of inadequacy, and for the embarrassments and disappointments he had had to endure his first day on Alkmene – day in a figurative sense; despite its distance from Andros, the moon was tidally locked to its primary, and its day was the same as its orbit.
Embarrassments like bumping into the walls, the ceiling and even the Indrans because he wasn’t used to the lower gravity. Disappointments like his first look at Andros in the sky of Alkmene when he arrived, it had been mostly of the ocean rather than the land he came from. Like his not having been able to see the stars during his first excursion outside the station, on account of the glare of the sun – and the fact that the faceplate of his suit had to be tinted in any case to avoid damage to his eyes.
“Maybe I’m not cut out for this sort of thing,” he admitted afterwards. “Maybe I’m just too clumsy to work here, if it ever comes to that.” As for the rest, “I guess I was just expecting it to be… I don’t know… more… magical…”
“I was just as clumsy when we set out from Velor,” Kalla said. “We all were. Only in our case it was the ship that suffered. Fortunately, we realized that it was because we had left the gold field, which limited our powers on and in the vicinity of Velor. We had to wear gold after that, just to be on the safe side, although I don’t think that was really necessary – we could have simply learned to be more careful… as you can.”
“I still have my bruises. And my head hurts.”
“They have a pain medicine here, derived from the bark of a tree called Bain. We really should have the Scalantrans bring us some, so we could produce our own.”
She asked Lalita for some of the medication, and that eased his pain, but not his mood. Still, he was able to talk seriously about finding ways to speed the output of steel gears and levers and other parts for commercial and industrial applications.
“We could use it to produce wind vanes for the lightning power stations and save Sidero wood for more creative use in homes and carriages,” he ventured. “We should better manage our forest resources.”
Had he gotten that idea from Alexius?
After talking things out for a while, he was feeling better, and she was of a mind to make him feel better still. When they returned from another excursion outside, Kalla didn’t bother to cover her naked body – and struck a provocative pose for him after he removed his protective suit.
The Indrans had found gold on Alkmene, but had used it only for lightning power devices like farcalling units. But she could borrow enough to allow her to bestow herself on the lottery winners… It hadn’t exactly been her own idea; she had told Nestor about Marzha’s experience on Siguo, and he had thought it might be replicated on Andros.
“Not officially, of course,” he had cautioned. “It wouldn’t be seemly. In any case, you aren’t any obligation. But it would be a pleasant surprise for winners of the lottery – who will have more to their credit than mere delusional fantasies – and it would be good for our program, without the Palace taking any official notice, let alone credit.”
“Indeed, Sebastos,” Kalla said in mock obeisance. She’d already asked Nikos, and he didn’t have any problem with her sharing her favors – at least when they served a seemingly higher purpose, The only one with a problem on this occasion was Menas himself.
“I haven’t had great fortune with women,” he confessed when they were alone together – as alone as it was possible to be at the station.
When he had won the lottery, she had made a discreet inquiry, and learned that he wasn’t known to be involved with anyone at the moment. She got the impression that he was too caught up in his work, too determined to prove himself as a metallurgist, to take the time for a relationship – let alone trouble himself with learning how to please a woman, instead of merely seeking release for himself.
“Your fortune is about to change,” she told him now,
“They’ll hear us,” he protested faintly.
“They’ll he happy for us.”
“Oh God,” he cried.
As he slowly removed his clothes, his embarrassment in doing so was manifest: he had already come in his pants. That had happened before with lottery winners, and Kalla knew how to deal with it.
“I won’t tell anyone if you won’t,” she said. “And I like what I’m seeing.”
What she was seeing was his cock rising again to the occasion. But he was too close to the edge, and shot his load before he could get it into her. She knew how to deal with that too, kneeling to take him in her mouth and make him come again there as she sucked him gently.
“You taste so good,” she told him, and that did wonders for his morale; after his third orgasm, she judged from experience that he’d be past the hair-trigger stage. She invited him to lie back, and staked herself on him. As he filled her, he easily triggered her pleasure points and she came, shouting with joy, letting him feel her contractions. Let him think it was beginner’s luck instead of the natural response of a Velorian…
As Akash might have put it, he proved to be a good learner; and what he lacked at the beginning in skill, he made up for in stamina – a stamina that her pheromones enhanced. It was only when he was physically exhausted that he broke off, and that she let herself come down.
But their idyll was interrupted by a frantic call from Nestor:
“Alexius has had a serious accident at the estate. We need to get him to the hospital. Come right away.”
She left immediately, after a brief word to Menas; he’d have to wait a while for his own return trip.
Chapter 8. Fraternal Trials
Alexius, who had just turned 27, had been trying out a hand-crafted wing with a harness on a hillside near the Choniates estate. He’d taken a long run down the hill and then a jump – soaring a few dozen feet before a gust of wind upended the patang, as he called it, and sent him plunging into the ground.
Flavia was the only witness to the mishap, Symeon having been in the capital on business. But at her age, 56, there was nothing she could do to help, except to farcall the Palace. Nestor had in turn called Kalla – realizing that she could reach the scene faster than any rescue workers from the capital.
Alexius ended up with a broken left arm as well as a number of cuts and bruises. One of Symeon’s men at the estate improvised a splint for the broken arm, and he and Kalla figured out between them how to turn the patang into a litter, using the harness straps to secure Alexius. Then it was off to the hospital, where she was met by Nestor himself – and by Candida, who had summoned her best doctors to treat her nephew.
“Maybe you can talk sense into him–” the Patriarch began to tell his aunt and Minister of Health, once the doctors had taken charge of Alexius.
But Candida interrupted him to speak to Kalla.
“I know I’ve been unfair to you in the past,” she said. “I know how much you care for the family, as family – it’s not as if Alexius is anything special to you.”
Which indeed he wasn’t.
“I began to realize that when Nestor told me about your having Jaleel break the news about Tofky to his family and people. I was terrified about how they would take it, how they might never understand what happened, might never forgive us. But they did, thanks to you. He was a brave man, braver than me, and I miss him desperately. But I can live with that.”
Candida embraced her, tears in her eyes.
“It’s all right,” Kalla said. “We can’t forget the past, but we can change how we feel about it. And we have to look to the future.”
“Indeed,” said Nestor. “We’ll have to get together more about that. But right now, we should talk about how to deal with young Alexius and his flying obsession. It’s a pity that Kamana is no longer with us; I’m sure she could have talked him out of this.”
Kamana Desai had been Alexius’ constant companion, lover and even advocate after the Restoration. But she had finally left for home two years ago. Her family back on Indra had been concerned that she was getting along in years – she was already in her late 30s – without husband or children. Like her fellow Indrans, she valued family; and because marriage to Alexius was out of the question, she felt she had no other choice.
Kalla knew she couldn’t contribute to the conversation about Alexius’ problems, even if she had wanted to, and decided it was time to take her leave.
“I’m needed on Alkmene,” she said. “Have to pick up that lottery boy.”
Actually, Menas could have waited a bit longer. But she wanted to inform Akash about what had happened here, and find out about patangs – could any use be made of them?
Patangs, the mukhiya told her, were flown for amusement. In Bharat, they had been used in competitions at harvest festivals. On Indra, they had once served a few practical purposes like testing the wind or sending messages – there hadn’t been any farcallers back then. But they were deployed from the ground, using long cords – nobody had tried to fly with them. They were nothing like the powered aircraft later developed on Indra.
“He must have gotten that idea from Kamana,” Nestor said, when she returned to the Palace to brief him – after delivering Menas home. “Or simply read up on it, and let it go to his head. Like that thing about geognosis he was talking about at the Farspeaker dedication. He seems awfully full of himself.”
“He didn’t read up on that in anything he studied at the Academy,” added Rulav, who had joined his elder son the Patriarch at the hospital. “He seems to think he needs to make a name for himself, instead of just living in your shadow.”
“Maybe it just comes of being junior brother to a patriarch,” Kalla said.
“He could succeed me as chancellor one day, if only he took teaching seriously. That should be enough for him.”
* * *
Alexius was released from the hospital a week later.
“I told him that if he fooled around with patangs any more, he wouldn’t ever get to visit Alkmene,” Nestor told her. “And I’m not about to let him do that any time soon, in any case. Father is with me on this.”
“So what is he doing now?”
“Playing chaturanga. It’s a game the Indrans brought from Bharat. It’s played on a board with squares, and figures representing ministers and soldiers and weapons on two sides. The object is to capture your enemy’s pieces by moving yours from square to square against them according to the rules, and leave the enemy rajah unprotected so that he has to surrender.”
“They have it here at the hospital?”
“He had Flavia bring it from the estate. He’d been trying to teach the game to her and Symeon – and Constans and Damianos.”
Their two sons, the first named for his grandfather, later martyred.
“How did he get into it himself?”
“Need you ask? From Kamana.”
“Is he any good at it?”
“Fairly. He admits that Kamana humiliated him at first. But he doesn’t seem to mind; he’s a good learner. It’s a challenge for him, and he says he’s getting better; that he might even be ready to go up against other groundsiders before long.”
“Maybe he’s just trying to get on your good side.”
“Kamana was too… before she left for home. They stopped by the Palace once, and she showed us how to make an Indran dessert called faludeh. You take crushed ice and mix it with cereal and a blend of fruits and spices. Delicious! She thought it might catch on here. Of course, it couldn’t be shipped anywhere without a means to keep it frozen.”
“They keep a lot of basic foods frozen on Alkmene.”
“Maybe that’s another technology they could introduce here. There aren’t enough ice houses here for fresh fish and produce. I really should talk to Symeon and Flavia about that.”
“The other groundsiders might be able to advise you. If not, I’ll ask about it on Alkmene,” Kalla promised. “It would fall under the purview of resource management. I hadn’t thought of it until now.”
Too many other things to think about.
Like the indenture of Amiela to the Guild of Air and Space Transport Engineers on Indra – the guild they now needed to work with if they were to introduce aircraft and even spacecraft to Andros. Word of that had come with last year’s visit of the Bountiful Voyager, just like the message from Jaleel.
Kalla suspected the Scalantrans had somehow arranged for that Guild to submit the highest bid for her, given their own interest in the Indran space program. But Pakiula had coyly refused to either confirm or deny that suspicion. Instead, she had introduced her to her six-year-old daughter Bethara, part of the cohort conceived during the ship’s last outbound voyage.
Still, the ship’s historian had agreed to bear a message from Kalla to Amiela, in hopes that she could offer a more candid account of what was happening on Velor than the High Council was willing to share. In particular, Kalla wanted to learn how much the training for Companions had changed, and what they were being told about the reasons for it and the situation on the seeded worlds generally.
Not that it wasn’t important to keep in touch with Liessa, to whom she also sent a message. She still worked with the Guild of Resource Engineers, even though she was now free. And, having lived on Indra for only two fewer years than Kalla had on Andros, she was on intimate political terms with the political and cultural establishments, and her insights could be invaluable.
She realized that her mind had wandered only when Nestor asked what she was thinking.
“About how unimportant our personal troubles are, in the scheme of things.”
“We can deal with them, at least.”
She could only hope that the Indrans and Scalantrans knew how to deal with the troubles nobody else here knew about.
Chapter 9. Strange Tidings
Nikos’ older daughter Nereida had come to visit him, and she was in a bad mood as they got ready for dinner.
“Valens was honored as first speaker in his class at the Academy, and I had to miss it because of the Scalantrans,” she complained. Nikos’ younger son Valens was studying economics, and Nikos made a point of traveling there for the occasion. His older son Belisarius and younger daughter Ariadne both lived in Feodoropolis, so they hadn’t had a problem.
It was three years later, and Kalla was back living at the villa after her latest stint on Alkmene – which meant she too had to listen to Nereida’s rant. She worked for the transport ministry, and was currently posted in Boreapolis, capital of the Northern Reach – keeping track of steamwheeler traffic, making sure that papers for vehicles and their cargoes were in order. But there was more “to order” these days.
“Up to now, we’ve only had to keep track of ranched versus wild pelts,” she said. “The Scalantrans target them at different worlds, and different markets thereon. But now it seems there’s a demand for shinefur with unusual patterns or color harmonies, and most of the ranchers have taken to sub-grouping pelts accordingly. But some haven’t figured it out yet, or sometimes the tanneries don’t separate them and…”
“It must make your work harder,” Nikos said.
“I have to certify that each bundle is categorized and identified correctly,” Nereida said. “The Scalantrans don’t want to be bothered with that, not with the volume being so much greater than even a few trade fairs ago. They want even less to be bothered when they’re also dealing with greater shipments of wine, olive oil and other local products. And with another fair coming up, I was held up.”
Nikos commiserated with her, and Kalla tried to lighten things up a bit.
“Would you rather be certifying Konditon? You’d actually get to try it.”
“I’m not sure I’d be good at that. My taste isn’t terribly sophisticated.”
“Well, would you like to try some now, with dinner?” Nikos asked. Kalla has good taste, and she has been educating me.”
That helped. Nereida even laughed.
“She’s been educating you in a lot of things,” she said slyly. “She’s been good for you, and I’m happy for both of you.”
“Nikos has been good for me, too,” Kalla said. “Better than I could have imagined when we first got together.”
She took his hand and squeezed it gently, a promise of things to come.
Dinner was a matter of lamb, whole grain bread, pulses and greens, prepared by Nikos himself rather than his household staff, which had been given the evening off. He prided himself on putting out for his children when they visited; they all had homes of their own by now. Belisarius and Nereida were married; Valens, like Ariadne, was still single.
After-dinner conversation turned to anything newsworthy from the Reach that might not have made the newssheets.
“As a matter of fact, we had a bit of excitement just before I finished up this week,” Nereida said. “One of Ennodios’ personal staffers had mysteriously disappeared, the factiones told us, and the catapan was really upset about it. He’d ordered a search in and around Boreapolis; his men were even asking steamwheeler drivers if they had booked any passengers or been approached to do so. None had.”
At the mention of the catapan of the Northern Reach, Kalla suddenly had a bad feeling, and it must have shown.
“Is something the matter?” Nikos asked.
“Just a delicate political matter. Between him and the Patriarch, I can’t go into it.”
“Some other members of his staff were murdered by agents of Kyros, in the last days of his reign, or so the story goes,” Nikos said. “Ennodios has been taking care of their families.”
And keeping silent about the truth, Kalla thought. But she decided to divert Nikos’ attention.
“When it comes to political murder, I trust that we are done with that. But it hasn’t always been the doing of madmen. I can remember when, a century ago, Feodor killed a priest he caught raping a woman. The priest thought he’d been within his rights, but the Patriarch thought otherwise.”
Not the entire truth of what happened and why, Kalla reflected. But his outrage was true enough.
“Did men really think rape was all right in those days?” Nereida asked.
“It was mostly a matter of pretended authority among lesser nobles and clergy, who wanted to feel more important than they actually were,” Kalla said. “It wasn’t as if women were legally considered to be property, even of their husbands.”
“You yourself were Feodor’s property in all but name,” Nikos observed.
“And yet he never treated me that way. In any case, it was my own world’s doing. I can’t honestly say that Velor is any more enlightened than Andros.”
“Still, you are free now, by Velor’s law, and recognized as such on Andros by the Patriarch.”
“My experience may not be typical. Jaleel served the family of a lesser noble, not the actual ruler of Fujiwakoku. You already know about Liessa on Indra, indentured to a Guild rather than a potentate. On yet another world called Siguo, the ruler sold chances on the favors of his Companion Marzha to raise money for public works and–”
“So that’s where the idea for the lottery here came from!” Nereida broke in.
“It wasn’t quite the same on Siguo. There, it was mainly an alternative to taxation, and it was open to anyone who bought a ticket or tickets. If Marzha liked a winner, she could invite him back to her bed as often as she wished – as long as she lay at least once with each winner. Once each is enough for me; otherwise I save myself for…”
“As I said. You’re free now,” Nikos said, beaming.
“And enjoying every moment of it,” Nereida added.
Every moment with Nikos, at least. Could he enjoy those moments as much if he knew what I have to deal with?
Just then, her farcaller rang. It was the Palace, but not on family business. There had been an accident at the steam car races, and three drivers were trapped in or under their vehicles.
Kalla flew to the capital as fast as she could, and was able to pry open the cabs of two of the steam cars and lift up the third to enable emergency workers to rescue the drivers. The factiones had her to fly a litter to the hospital with the most seriously injured man, the one freed from under the third car. He might not make it, but she was his only chance.
Palamas, the man in question, didn’t make it. The other two recovered but, she later learned, not enough to return to racing. That was just as well, Kalla thought; she’d never cared for steam car races – and not just because Kyros had encouraged them. They appealed to the baser impulses, not only on the part of the drivers but on that of the gangs cheering them on – and sometimes turning to violence against each other. She’d read of chariot team supporters back in late Roman times even rioting against the Emperor.
Still, she’d done her best in a bad situation, and the news sheets took notice. She began to be called out for other emergencies, like rescuing people from fires and floods and, occasionally, criminals. It worked wonders for her public image. It also meant she had to be sure her farcaller was always within reach, just in case of some emergency,
It had been within reach, of course, when she had been visiting Alkmene again – strictly work, nothing to do with the lottery. That was the only small consolation when Nestor farcalled her with the worst news she had ever heard: Nikos was dead.
Chapter 10. Pain and Sorrow
It wasn’t the first time Kalla had carried a Patriarch to the catapan’s villa, nor the first time she had flown with Nestor. And it wasn’t the first time she had made the flight during a political crisis. But it was the first time it involved a murder.
“I couldn’t tell you before,” Nestor said when they met at the Choniates estate. “It was murder, and it was connected with… what you told me about Ennodios. The killer committed suicide, but he may have left a note. The factiones saw that, along with both bodies. They knew that you were involved with Nikos, so they called me. I advised them to do nothing and say nothing. We have to keep this contained.”
Kalla was overwhelmed by a sudden realization of what must have happened – and then by a sudden pang of guilt.
“I should have thought of it,” she cried. “I should have known.”
And she related what Nereida had told her and Nikos, over a year ago, about the man who had vanished from Boreapolis. At the time, she had thought that he had likely defected – and that Ennodios had been afraid he might reveal the truth about his plans for a coup. But no such revelation had come; she surmised that the defector had been found… and silenced. She had put the matter out of her mind, and hadn’t given it any further thought since.
Nikos had been stabbed in the heart, and bled out on the floor of his study. The knife lay next to him. The young man who killed him had evidently poisoned himself; an empty flask was lying nearby. An envelope was clasped in his right hand; he must have planned that as a gesture, just as he had planned the manner of his death.
“They were found this morning by the household staff, which had been given the night off,” Nestor sad. “They immediately notified the factiones, who haven’t disturbed the bodies, and were planning to summon a physician in any case before doing so, but I advised them to wait outside the villa with the staff until I told them otherwise.”
Kalla noticed there were some papers on Nikos’ desk. Apparently he’d been busy writing something when he was attacked. But she wasn’t in any mood to look at it now.
“We’d better look at the note,” she said instead.
Nestor sensed she was loath to touch it, or the hand that held it, and took the hint by doing so himself.
He tore open the envelope; the note inside the envelope was only two sentences, which the Patriarch read out loud:
“Vengeance have I long desired, and vengeance have I now. This is the only way I can hurt her. She will understand.”
Kalla understood – and broke down in tears. Nestor did his best to comfort her, but to no avail. He had to wait her out.
It seemed to take forever, but at last Kalla came back to practical reality.
“Did he sign it?” she asked, in a voice that sounded tired, although as a Velorian she wasn’t supposed to be able to feel tired, save from superhuman exertion.
“Balfur Rossi,” Nestor read.
“The son of Stefanos,” Kalla cried. “It must be.”
“Nobody was supposed to know about him,” Nestor said. “Except for his catapan. Except for the younger man you spared. Except for us. Ennodios assured me that none in the families of the others were told.”
“Balfur… must have found out somehow, felt that his catapan was… betraying the men who had served him. Betraying his own honor.”
“There was never any honor in what Ennodios was planning.”
“And there was none in what I did. It was just that I could see no other way out. Even if I had told him at the time that you still lived, I don’t think that would have made any difference. And so I did what had to be done. But actions have consequences, they always have consequences, and we have to live with them. And now I have to live with this.”
“I forgave Ennodios. It was a hard thing to do. You have to forgive yourself, hard as you may find it.”
She heard the understanding in his words, and saw it in his eyes. Nestor was not the “mere boy” Stefanos had called him. He was coming into his own as Patriarch.
“And now we have decisions to make, actions to take.”
“We destroy the note,” he said. “We tell the factiones and the family we have no idea who this man was, or why he chose to murder Nikos.”
“They’ll wonder how he knew Nikos would be alone and unguarded.”
“And we’ll tell them we can’t imagine.”
“Just between us…”
“He must have asked around,” Nestor said. “He would have been looking for you, and found out about Nikos. You may not have been flaunting your relationship, but you weren’t keeping it secret, either. We could ask around ourselves, but what would be the point? Shaming innocent people for answering seemingly innocent questions? Once he knew about Nikos, he could have kept an eye out, taken note of who worked here, their comings and goings – and yours. Strictly a matter of patience.”
“Nikos was always content to live here,” Kalla recalled. “He’d have felt lost in that huge estate Jayar built. He didn’t want to engage in idle chatter with officials, or to be waited on hand-and-foot. He conducted matters of state there, but here he wanted just a place to work and think and commune.”
“He was working on something last night.”
Together, they looked at the papers on the desk. The pages were the beginning of an essay about the rights of women, dedicated to Nereida and Kalla…
Chapter 11. Coping and Hoping
Kalla still felt numb, but hid it well enough to get through the funeral for Nikos. His children were still in shock, knowing only that their father had been the victim of a crime that seemed utterly senseless.
There had been a hasty inquest that failed to solve the mystery. Nothing much was known of the perpetrator. He had been seen in the neighborhood, and worked at odd jobs. He had given his name as Abramus Nepos, and claimed to be from a remote village called Baruta in the far east of the main continent – but a farcall to the strategos of its theme had found no trace of his existence there.
That was, and would remain the official story. Only Nestor and Kalla would know otherwise. If the factiones had cause for suspicion, they would keep silent, given that the Patriarch had taken so obvious a personal interest in the matter…
Because they were on the scene, and to spare the Makropoulos family, Nestor and Kalla took charge of making the funeral arrangements. They had to wait a few days for everyone to assemble.
Belisarius arrived by steamwheeler from the capital, where he held a junior post in the Ministry of Trade – he had worked with the Scalantrans for the first time at the trade fair a year earlier. With him came his wife Eudokia and their children – Andronikos and Joannina, a toddler and infant, respectively: too young to have any idea what was going on.
Arethas Sarantenos, like his wife Nereida, had a job with the transport ministry, only it had to with the enforcement of safety inspections for the vehicles themselves, and he traveled a lot – often making surprise visits. They’d put off having children. As for Valens, he was still at the Academy, studying new applications for lightning power; he too came from the capital.
There was more to it than the religious service; Nikos had never been particularly religious, but his office was bound by custom. There was more to it than interment at the Strymon government center just outside Nesalonika that had once been Jayar’s private estate. And there was more to it than ordering a headstone: a modest one; Nereida had insisted that would have been in keeping with her father’s wishes.
“For me, it’s a matter of state,” Nestor reminded Kalla afterwards, out of earshot of the family. “I have to deal with the succession as well as the ceremony. Belisarius, as the oldest son, is the only choice as acting catapan. But he is young and inexperienced, and some might therefore consider it prudent to consider an older relative, or even an outsider, as successor.”
“’Young and inexperienced.’ What Ennodios thought of you,” Kalla couldn’t help adding.
“I can’t help remembering the essay Nikos had been working on that night… and its dedication. By all rights, Nereida should be a candidate for catapan. But that is out of the question. The Synod would never consider it, and Androssians in general would never approve. Women may have a strong voice in the Family Council, but our family is an unusual one – thanks in large part to your influence over the generations.”
Kalla wasn’t in the mood for flattery, and simply nodded.
“Perhaps things will have changed by the time Libanius succeeds me,” he added.
* * *
Kalla returned to her work, because it was important work and she felt a sense of obligation. She brought sections of the solar furnace to the foundry, where Menas was now working, and before long it was turning out uruku steel components for wind vane generators.
And yes, uruku steel plowshares. Well, plow blades…
Nestor had made a point of having the first lot earmarked for Segilla, and Kalla herself saw to their delivery. For a flying woman to descend from the sky with a load of humble and yet valuable goods was a sight to behold, and it was soon the talk of the farspeaking commentators.
There had been still other signs of progress, from the first steel highwheelers that ran on saraba produced from sugar to an Academy educational outreach program that allowed young men and women in far flung regions of Andros to take advanced courses without coming all the way to Feodoropolis.
She brought more lottery winners to Alkmene, and their visits climaxed with the customary reward. She welcomed the relief on a purely physical level; it helped ease the pain of her loss, but she didn’t expect to find true intimacy again – not any time soon. Yet there were other things on her mind – and also something on Nestor’s…