Chapter no 14 – Fear is a Position

Empire of Silence

I DID NOT LEAVE my chamber for three days, commanding the household

staff to bring and clear away my meals. I do not think I spoke a word in all that time, and I could not have felt myself more a prisoner had I been a guest in any of the Chantry’s bastilles. A frigid, slimy fear had me in its

coils, poisoning me with the certainty that I would fall next. Surely Father’s agents had taken my book with its incriminating letter, acting on suspicions or from evidence in security footage from times that Gibson had not been quite careful enough. I hadn’t even read the letter. I hadn’t had a chance.

Ideas that don’t involve gambling on the charity of pirates. That was

what he had said. Gibson would not have contacted the Extrasolarians. How could he? Father’s theory—that he’d worked out some deal with a

shipboard scholiast to spirit me away—seemed more plausible. What I

would have given to read that letter, to learn the truth of Gibson’s plan. His compromised plan, I had to remind myself. Whatever contacts Gibson might have engaged or suggestions he might have enclosed were now well and properly in the hands of Father’s agents. Those doors were closed. The scholiasts would never admit me without a letter from one of their own.

So I would join the Chantry. I would learn their hollow prayers and empty rituals. I would be taught the procedures for inquisition and the protocols of interrogation. I would become a torturer, a propagandist. I might see the universe as I had dreamed, but it would only be to crush it

under my heel. The thought alone was poison. I have lived a tragically long life, long enough to know the evil that they do and why. I have seen heretics burned and crucified by the score, seen lords brought low by the Inquisition and the vast empires bow to the whim of the Synod. They, who police

mankind, who keep her from the sins and the dangers of high technology, command technologies as foul as those they hunt down.

It was hypocrisy, and I was disgusted as only youth can be by the sins of age and establishment. In my youthful cynicism, I had glimpsed one of those great truths: that for all the Chantry’s talk of faith, they believed in nothing. They committed that ultimate and atheistic error: thinking that there is only power and that civilization arises only from the abuse of the innocent by the powerful. There is no more evil thought, and it was the soul of their false religion. And so I could not be a chanter or prior.

But I knew I would be.

The day of my departure dawned foul as any I had seen: overcast with the threat of storms. I was to take a suborbital shuttle south to the summer palace on my grandmother’s land at Haspida to see my mother for what I knew would be the last time. My father was not there to wish me farewell, nor was Felix or any of the senior counselors. A soft rain already licked at the airfield out beyond the city walls in the lowlands where the suburbs died. Crispin was coming with me, eager as I was for a chance to leave

Devil’s Rest for a time.

Devil’s Rest waited on the horizon, a black smear above Meidua’s foggy lights. A strong gust blew across the flatlands to the eastern dunes and the bald limestone formations that crested from them like the hulks of shattered seaships. It gathered my long coat in its fingers and set the awning snapping above us. The concrete darkened with rain.

“Ready to say goodbye to Mother?” Crispin asked. “What?”

“Are you ready to go and see Mother again?” he repeated, watching me from under those square brows of his, a thin crease forming just above his nose. I wondered what he was watching for in my face, and the paranoia that had grown over the days of my self-imposed exile commanded my muscles to stillness. For a moment I thought I heard Gibson speaking, reminding me that fear was a poison.

So I stilled my fears and answered, “Ready? Yes, I suppose. I’m surprised you’re coming along.”

Crispin clapped me on the shoulder. “Are you kidding? I love the

summer palace. Besides”—he leaned in, conspiratorial—“home’s a bit of a mess right now. You know?” I just stared at Crispin, not sure what to say.

He seemed to shrink before me, the armored gladiator he had been in

Colosso became only my younger brother. I stared too long, for he raised those thick brows and said, “What?”

I pushed a fall of ink-black hair from my face, turning away as I settled my hands into the deep pockets of my coat. My fingers brushed the universal card tucked into the lining of one pocket. Useless now. The

scholiasts would accept no one as a novitiate without a letter from one of the order, and tradition demanded that letter be handwritten in a cipher known only to the order itself. I swallowed and shook my head, undoing the work I’d just done on my hair. “I don’t want to go.”

“What? You’d rather stay here?” Crispin wrinkled his nose, taking in the decade of house troopers standing at attention not far off. “You won’t miss much.” My words failed me, and it took an effort to clamp my jaw shut. I

wanted to hit him, to break his jovial composure. I could see it in the casual shrug of his shoulders. He didn’t want to rule. “I hope Father gets his way. He’s angling for a barony in the Veil, you know? Says our house might move offworld when I’m . . . well.” He trailed off, aware enough to realize that his succession might be an upsetting topic for me.

Through the rain the shuttle appeared. It fell like a raven upon a carcass, the whine of its engines bleeding over the quiet rain. A hollowness sounded in the pit of my stomach, an emptiness that echoed like an abandoned temple. I have felt that desolation several times, but only as strongly one other time: in the dungeons of our beloved Emperor, awaiting my


Crispin brightened. “But you’re going out there! That’s . . . that’s good, isn’t it? Maybe you’ll see the Pale.”

I sniffed. “All I’ll see is the inside of an anagnost’s training cell.”

“Anagnost,” my brother mused, scratching at the fine stubble on his jaw. “Odd word.”

I grunted. “It’ll be miserable.”

“Sure!” Crispin replied, adjusting the wine-red jerkin he wore over his black shirt. “Until you become an Inquisitor and you start dropping atomics on the Pale.” He grinned. “They might even have you advising the Legions at the front.”

Turning away, I made a face. “I wish we’d make peace with the aliens.” Crispin was uncharacteristically silent then, and sensing his flat eyes on me, I turned and found him watching me intently. “What?”

“You really think the Pale are worth saving?”

“The Cielcin?” I narrowed my eyes, then turned away from my brother in favor of watching the approach of the shuttle. Our guards moved slightly, adjusting their posture in preparation, their armor flexing, plates scraping

softly. “They’re the only other spacefaring civilization we’ve ever

encountered. Don’t you think they deserve a bit of”—I gestured at the sky

—“all that?”

Crispin spat on the concrete. “Heresy.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, sighed heavily. “I don’t want to be a priest.”

“Father told me.” I could hear the frown turning Crispin’s voice downward.

“You’ve spoken to Father? Since Gibson’s . . .” I couldn’t get the words out, had to shut my eyes to stem the sudden upwelling of tears. I tried again. “Recently?”

My brother shrugged his ox’s shoulders. “Only for a moment. You should be honored. I hear the Chantry doesn’t take just anyone.”

“Ekayu aticielu wo,” I said. I am not just anyone! He did recognize the language, though, and his pale flesh went paler. “I wish I were going to the scholiasts instead.”

Clearly thrown off by my little show of Cielcin language, he said,

“Heard that too.” The shuttle alighted just beyond our pavilion. Four of our guards hurried forward to secure the craft. “Can’t really fathom why anyone would want that. Shutting down your feelings like that. Don’t you think it’s weird?”

I kept my silence a moment, fixing my eyes on the distant city through the worsening rain. Devil’s Rest appeared almost a part of the storm, a blacker shape amid all that grayness. The way I felt—the creeping terror that Father was not yet done with me—made me wish I were capable of the scholiasts’ mastery of emotion. I wished I could sink into the stillness of their apatheia and forget myself. “It’s a tool, Crispin.”

“I know it’s a tool, damn it.” He took a few steps toward the edge of the awning and the approaching shuttle. “I only asked if you thought it was


“No.” I pushed my long hair back again, squinted through the rain. I wanted to remember this moment, the way the shadowy castle faded into

the rain. I had my sketchbook and pencils in the red leather satchel propped

by my footlocker. “There are stranger things out there.” I jerked my thumb at the sky beyond the awning.

That brought another silence, and my attentions were captured by the descent of two of the guards from the shuttle’s ramp. They gestured an all-clear sign to their fellows in the coded hand-talk unique to our house guard. At once the others turned to take up our luggage. One passed me my satchel with a soft-spoken, “My lord.”

I looped its wide strap over my head and shifted the pack into place.

Dogged as ever, Crispin said, “I mean, they’re all a bit off, aren’t they? A bit mechanical. I heard Severn say once they ought to round up the

scholiasts for heretics, so maybe it’s good you’ll be on the other side.” He

smiled at me, uncertain. I see now that Crispin was trying to be conciliatory, but at the time . . .

“Heretics? You’re honestly going to stand there and tell me that the Earth died to inspire the Exodus? That it sacrificed itself so that we might spread ourselves out among the stars?” I rounded on my brother, glad that most of the guards were out of hearing range.

Crispin—not truly pious, I think, but acting with that strange defensiveness the faithful always find when challenged—thrust out his chin. “Why shouldn’t it have?”

“Because it’s a planet, Crispin.” I waved one hand in a circle. “A rock

somewhere out in space. It’s not coming back, it doesn’t answer prayers.” I tightened the strap on my satchel. “It isn’t coming to save us.” Behind me I heard two of the peltasts suck in their breath, and I turned in time to see one make a warding gesture with his first and smallest fingers. I was past caring just then.

Crispin called after me, “You can’t say that, Brother!”

I ignored him and mounted the ramp, coming up out of the rain and into the cramped shuttle compartment. I did not have to duck under the bulkhead, and ignoring the salutes of the flight crew in their drab uniforms, I seated myself in an armchair by one window. I was seated by the time

Crispin joined me. I could feel him glaring at me across the aisle. After I stowed my satchel beneath the seat, I leaned back to watch our escort file aboard.

After the last of them had passed, Crispin hissed, “You really can’t say things like that, you know.”

Lightning flashed, and the heralded thunder came on swift and sudden, rattling the shuttle before the light had faded. “Or what?” I murmured, no longer caring for this conversation or for time with my brother.

“They’ll throw you to the cathars, just like they did our old bitch of a tutor.”

My fingers tightened into claws on the arms of my chair, my fear momentarily abandoned. “Let them, then. I won’t serve them.” My words were hot as my anger. The way I saw it, I had nothing to lose. In a week I would be dropped into cryonic fugue to slumber until my decanting in

Vesperad orbit. Years would have passed by then, and light-years, and all the stars would have changed.

Even at this distance I could hear the bells of the city chiming and the massive carillon in Devil’s Rest. The shuttle began rolling, and a female voice informed us that we were preparing for departure. Thunder rolled

again, and the jangling chorus of the bells stilled, making space in the sound of rain and whining engines for the chiming of the hour. One. Two.

We were leaving right on time. If Crispin meant to argue with me still, our rapid acceleration drove it from his mind. The bells in the castle banged again: Three. Four. Five. For a moment I felt the thrill I’d wanted, a brief

and shrilling glee as the shuttle burned hard and lifted into the air. Six. Seven. We were pushed gently into our seats for only an instant, and then the shuttle’s suppression field came online and countered our change in inertial mass. More distant than the thunder, I could still hear that massive bell ringing. Eight times it rang. Nine. Ten. Though my inertial mass felt normal again, I imagined that my heart sped on forward, launched from my chest and out into the storm, soaring up and away . . . and was gone, leaving me entirely. While I would come down again, it vanished as a ship at warp, slipping faster than light toward worlds I would never see. Below the mighty bell rang on.

The clock was striking thirteen.

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